The night Frederic Martin became an outlaw, a furniture rebel, was wonderfully serene, perfect to spend in a park.
By 8:00 p.m. on September 16, a cool breeze had swept away the day's heat and a full moon was climbing above the live oaks that dot the neatly manicured landscape of Garland's Yarborough Park. Except for the chirping of crickets and the occasional train whistle from a nearby railroad, the deserted park was peaceful.
Martin carefully set up his black and white lawn chair, adjusting it so the chair was nearly horizontal.
Lying back in the chair, Martin strapped on his Sony headset and tuned into WRR-FM 101, the Dallas-owned classical station that was broadcasting a delightful concert performed by the San Francisco Symphony. It was an all-Haydn program.
What Martin didn't know but soon would learn was that as soon as his back touched his chair, he had crossed the line into wanton lawlessness--in Garland, anyway. "Protracted lounging" violates a city ordinance that apparently requires park visitors in Garland to maintain an upright position. Martin would also be forever changed when his behavior prompted a police encounter that he describes as an "Orwellian absurdity in the extreme."
At the time, however, he was clueless.
All Martin wanted to do in the park was relax and forget his worries. Earlier that day, Martin underwent a series of tests to determine whether the testicular cancer he was diagnosed with last October had returned. The results wouldn't be known for several weeks, and the suspense was rather upsetting.
The tests were just the latest round of hassles for the 52-year-old Chicago native, who has lived in Dallas since 1982 and now makes a living as part-time Pizza Hut delivery man.
In June, shortly after he finally recovered from a debilitating round of radiation therapy, Martin says, his tiny apartment began to leak water. The problem culminated when the floor of the apartment above him came crashing down onto his kitchen.
A subsequent argument over the payment of damages in August resulted in an eviction notice, which prompted Martin to hastily throw his belongings into storage, give away his cat, Mr. Puss, and begin living in his beat-up 1982 Toyota Corolla.
Although the car has required an expensive round of repairs, it works well enough to allow Martin to keep his job delivering pizzas, which is how he came to notice Yarborough Park in the first place. Martin observed how empty the park was one day while he was driving around Garland, and he made a mental note to return there in the evening. Not to sleep, he insists, but simply to relax.
Prior to the night of September 16, Martin spent two evenings in the park lying on his chair and listening to WRR. Except for the nosy glances he got from the residents of a nearby home, Martin says, both evenings were blissfully uneventful, and he left well before midnight, when the park officially closes.
Martin's third, and final, visit to the park was also uneventful until about 10 p.m. At that time, WRR began playing a rarely heard recording of the late Maria Callas singing a Beethoven aria, and Martin inadvertently dozed off.
Martin says he was asleep for "five minutes at the most" when the blinding glare of two flashlights jolted him awake. Evidently, someone called the Garland police to report Martin's behavior, and officers Gary Collins and Marc Mendoza were dispatched to the scene.
Instead of asking whether Martin was OK or if he needed any assistance, which Martin would have expected, the officers wanted to know where he lived and ordered him to produce a driver's license.
"I can't imagine why I was treated like someone who was a dangerous tramp. I'm usually clean-shaven and fairly well groomed," Martin says. "Gee whiz, it's a public park. Granted, I drive an old, beat-up car, and at the time I had a suitcase in it and a basket full of laundry. But to me that's not a reason to call the police."
Indeed, Martin is clean-shaven, neatly dressed, and very well mannered as he slowly sips a bowl of vegetable beef soup during a recent interview at Denny's. As the officers examined his license, Martin recalls, he got over his surprise and became indignant.
He wanted to know exactly what he did wrong. After all, he had made note of the park's posted rules and didn't see anything there to indicate that he was breaking the law. Except for a vague no loitering prohibition, the park's visitors are not allowed to camp overnight, litter, drink alcohol, destroy plants, or play golf.
The officers informed Martin that it is unlawful for him to sleep in public. They told him that his chair was a "bed," and he couldn't have a bed in the park. If he wanted to stay in the park, Martin says, the officers told him that he could sit at one of the park's benches as long as he maintained an upright position.
Martin couldn't believe his ears. Could it be true, he wondered, that this "roust" was because he was guilty of "possession of illegal lawn chair with criminal intent to snooze?"
Garland police spokesman J.D. Bettes says he doesn't know if Martin's description of the events are accurate, but he confirms that Martin's behavior was in violation of Garland City Ordinance Code, Section 25.16, which states that "protracted sleeping or lounging" in a city park is unlawful.
"You can do almost anything you want except lay down and sleep," says Bettes, who adds that he'd have to get out his dictionary to figure out what exactly "protracted" means.
According to the American Heritage College dictionary, third edition, protracted means to either "draw out or lengthen in time" or to "extend or protrude" a body part.
So was Martin breaking the law because of the amount of time he spent in the park or because he had "protracted" his body by lying down on his lawn chair?
Apparently the question doesn't interest the city's lawyers, who refused to respond to multiple requests for a legal interpretation of the ordinance.
After determining that Martin was not wanted for any crime, the officers asked him to leave the park, which he did, hastily packing his lawn chair into his Toyota and hightailing it to the pay phone behind the Pizza Hut where he works. Martin telephoned the Garland police to complain about the encounter and then returned to his car, too upset to sleep.
Sometime after midnight, Martin's tranquility was again disturbed by the intrusive glare of a Garland police officer's spotlight and the demand for his driver's license. Martin, convinced that he was now a police target, explained that he was a cancer patient who was living in his car. The officer suggested that he get some sleep and left.
Although Martin concedes that the second officer was polite, he later filed an excruciatingly detailed complaint about the evening with the Garland police department, the mayor's office, and each of the city's council members.
In Martin's mind, this bizarre incident has all sorts of ramifications concerning the policing of public parks.
"What person in his right mind could imagine that we have furniture police, posture police, and wakefulness police?" Martin wrote. "In addition to patrolling the parks for illegal furniture and suspicious posture, I presume there are officers patrolling Bradfield Swimming Pool to arrest swimmers who lie down at pool side to take the sun.
"And as for illegal furniture," Martin continued, "this raises all kinds of product liability issues for manufacturers who fail to warn their customers that possession of certain kinds of lawn chairs may make them subject to arrest."
At the end of the seven-page complaint, Martin attached a copy of Ray Bradbury's 1952 short story "The Pedestrian," which describes one loner's bizarre arrest for simply walking down an isolated street in a futuristic city where there is no crime.
"I wanted to show the police how absurd their behavior was," says Martin, who adds that he can certainly identify with the story's unfortunate main character.
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Martin's complaint has been referred to the officers' supervisor, who will decide whether the officers' behavior warrants a verbal or written warning. The action, known as a supervisory referral, is not as serious as an internal affairs complaint, says Bettes, who adds that in his 20 years on the job he can't recall anyone ever including a short story with a police complaint.
"There's no allegation of a violation of department policy or anything like that," Bettes says. "He just didn't like the way officer Collins spoke to him."
Martin says he expects that nothing will come of his complaint, but the frightening experience now makes him feel extremely creeped out whenever he sees a police officer.
"I try not to even look at those guys, lest they think I'm trying to give them a dirty look," Martin says. "I don't know that I'll ever visit a public park in Garland.