They weren’t all down in Union Square, but notice the dog is the only one paying attention to unsavory characters getting off the train from upstate. Just outside Grand Central, looking up West 43rd Street. Shortly after 5:00 PM this evening. Tuesday. May 1, 2012.
You all know I’m an honorary Jew, right? I’m sure I’ve boasted of this before. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. My best friends were Jewish. My first job was as shabbos goy at the orthodox synagogue. Friday evenings my job was to go over and turn off the lights. Saturday mornings I came back to turn them on again. I was paid a few bucks PLUS whatever I wanted to sample of the deserts for that day’s bar mitzvah or Saturday night’s or Sunday’s wedding, which had to be delivered on before sundown on Friday.
Naturally, I attended a few seders. More naturally, for eight days I got to feast on matzo.
This you consider a feast? A cracker?
But such a cracker!
That was our afterschool snack. Either Sandy or Chuck or Jerry would invite us all over to his house and we’d empty a box. Peanut butter on matzo! Now that’s a party in your mouth!
For years after I left home for college, every Passover I bought myself a box and a new jar of peanut butter.
Then I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where for the first time in my life I was living among the goyim.
No Jews among my colleagues. No Jews among my students. No Jews among our friends. As far as I knew, there were no Jews in our neighborhood. There was a synagogue a few blocks from our apartment. A very small place. I’ve been in lakeside cottages that were bigger. And on Saturdays they didn’t exactly do a booming business. The only Jew I knew, it seemed, was me and without the company of my tribe I didn’t feel like my honorary-ness counted for that much. With no one to (vicariously) celebrate Passover and Hanukkah with or wish Happy Rosh Hashanah, I lost track of the holidays. No more matzo. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure I could have found any if I’d tried. Probably if I’d looked hard enough I could have bought a box at the local Kroger. But after a couple of years I started forgetting to remember I wanted to look, if you know what I mean. By the time we left Indiana for Syracuse, New York, which, by the way, is where the Midwest begins, so it wasn’t quite like returning to civilization, I was out of the habit of even remembering the I’d had the habit of buying matzo.
But this year will be different, thanks to Barry Lewis, a columnist for our local paper, and, incidentally, a friend. Barry loves matzo. He grew up on it, not as a Passover tradition, but as what he calls “a year-round delicacy.”
Which, he goes on to say, “might explain why my mom thought ketchup on spaghetti was exotic.”
When Moses led the Jews and, as Cecil B. DeMille reminds us, Edward G. Robinson, out of Egypt, they carried with them in the desert dough that, in their rush, didn't have time to rise.
To commemorate the Exodus and freedom from bondage, Jews during the Passover holiday eat matzo, a bland, cracker-like flatbread made of flour and water, and refrain from eating bread and other tasty leavened products. We do this as a way to punish ourselves in the present for the pain we suffered in our past. We do that a lot in my religion.
Of course, Barry had always thought of himself as a matzo connoisseur. But as he found out, a person can’t claim he knows matzo until he’s taken a tour of Streit’s, “the last family-owned and operated matzo company in America.”
As he says, “When a Streit's guy talks matzo-making, you listen.”
Barry went to Streit’s recently. He listened. The Streit’s guy doing the talking was Alan Adler, Streit’s director of operations.
We were in his cluttered office with multiple desks and family pictures of matzo bakers, including portraits of his great-grandparents, Aron and Nettie Streit, who left Austria in the 1890s. In 1925, Aron opened a matzo factory on the Lower East Side. Today, on that same site, folks can peruse the corner grocery store for matzo, matzo meal and matzo ball soup mixes, as well as gluten-free cake mix, chow mein noodles and Texas ranch brisket sauce. Adjacent to the store and the office is the factory, with a conveyor belt that moves millions of pounds of matzo annually.
The fact that this alleged madam was born in Scotland is not the most interesting thing about her---the guard pig at her country home who chased away a cop and her “friendship” with the Morgan Stanley investor broker helping her finance her new “dating” service and her animal rescue work and her third husband the realtor and once upon a time local football hero and her brother-in-law being a sheriff’s department detective and her bodyguard Sly being a former New York City cop and her four school-aged children and the pro athletes coming in from out of town who knew that for a good time visit Anna’s and her assuring nervous clients that she had sympathetic connections high up in the police department all trump her ethnic heritage in the colorful character department. But I can’t help it.
I hear she’s a Scot and all I can think is “A Scottish brothel?” and I picture tartan wallpaper and tartan curtains and the girls in kilts and a blindfolded bagpiper in the parlor instead of a piano player and Mike Meyers greeting the customers with “If it’s not Scottish, it’s crrrrrrap!”
Playbills from the 1910s line the walls, featuring stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, along with a signed poster of Buffalo Bill. Ms. Olmsted sat at a Prohibition-era table, built with a hidden lower level so that tipplers could quickly hide drinks. Downstairs by the bar, beyond the heavy wood-and-stained-glass swinging doors, a plaque from a wine and spirits company saluted Bill’s for outlasting Prohibition: “Another proud survivor,” the plaque reads, “of those ‘dry’ years.”
Bill Hardy, a jockey and boxer, opened Bill’s in 1924 as a speakeasy with his wife, a Ziegfeld girl. The ’20s may have been roaring, but Mr. Hardy idealized the 1890s, and fashioned the place after that decade, creating what may have been one of New York’s first retro bars.
Still, the bar bore the trappings of its time and was outfitted to withstand raids. There was a lever on the bar that, when pulled, would shuttle bottles of liquor down a chute to a basement pit filled with sand so that the glass would not break. A false brick wall in the basement still opens to a secret room where liquor was kept.
That’s Bill’s Gay Nineties, sadly soon to be no longer on East 54th in New York City. The landlord’s refusing to renew the lease. No explanation given. Maybe he just doesn’t like the singing of the star football player who’s said to come around Wednesday nights to warble along with the gang gathered at the piano. Bill’s owner’s looking for a new location but hasn’t committed yet so for a while the playbills and the vintage photos of once upon a time movie stars and athletes and the piano and, I hope, the beautiful wood and glass front doors and the saloon-style swinging doors leading into the downstairs bar are going into storage. Last call’s the 24th. The blonde and I are hoping to get back before then for one last round. But in case we can’t and you’re in the neighborhood please stop in and have one for us.
One of the bartenders there makes a wicked sidecar.
Saturday afternoon, after lunch, wandering around the Village before wandering over to the theater to catch the play, we wandered into Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers and wandered out again, the blonde clutching a bag containing Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon.
But while we were inside we got to talking to one of the owners who responded to the blonde’s expressed admiration for her store with pride and gratitude and, as you might expect of any small business owner these days, a touch of anxiety about the economy. Partners & Crime is holding its own, she said, but she was worried they were starting to feel the pinch.
The store’s weathered the rise of Amazon and outlasted Borders. From the sidewalk out front you can look down Greenwich Avenue and see a Barnes and Noble.
But now come kindles, now come nooks.
The owner doesn’t get the attraction. She’s one of those readers, like me, like the blonde, like she’d hoped all her customers, for whom the love of reading is inseparable from a love of books, the printed on paper kind. To her there is nothing like a book, and nooks and kindles are nothing like a book.
They’re missing the feel of books. The blonde and I know what she means and we start trading things we like about books besides the words on the page. The weight and shape of a book in hand. The sound it makes as you open and shut it, the sound as it slides from a shelf or when you set it on the nightstand. The tickle of the page on your fingertip as you turn it. The smells, of paper, of glue, of ink, of dust. All the little sensual pleasures that most of us take for granted until we’re asked to defend our attachment to these old-fashioned and cumbersome blocks of wood pulp and which I suspect sound to kindle and nook owners like defenses of manure and flies by horse lovers talking to the first automobile owners, as far as the three of us are concerned, they’re as much a part of reading as the decoding of the ink splotches on the page.
The owner’s antipathy for ebooks isn’t simply due to aesthetics and sensory deprivation. Staring into computer screens isn’t her idea of fun and relaxation.
All day she’s staring into screens, ringing customers up, researching books and authors, placing and filling orders---you can shop Partners & Crime online---paying bills, dealing with email.
But her main objection is practical. Ebooks represent the enemy. A downloaded book is a book not bought in a store, her store. This is why she calls buying a nook or a kindle going over to the Dark Side.
The owners of Partners & Crime take pride in knowing the books in their store and in being able to make excellent recommendations. That means a lot of reading ahead, so to speak. Publishers and publicists help out by sending them advance copies and galleys of new books before they’re published. Lately, they’ve been getting “offers” of digital advance copies. “Just let us know what platform you prefer,” those doing the offering add brightly.
This amuses and exasperates the owner.
“Can you imagine what our customers would think,” she says, “If they came in here and saw us glued to a kindle?”
Why actors hate critics. Sam Waterston’s daughters, Elisabeth and Katherine, have parts in CSC’s The Cherry Orchard, which caused the guy sitting next to me, as he flipped through his program before the play began to observe to his companion:
“Waterston Sr. is in Lear at the Public. He’s so past it, it’s embarrassing. He shouldn’t have waited. He’s too old.”
It wasn’t just the words. It was his tone of having been personally offended by Waterston’s decision to do Lear, as if he’d asked for and then ignored this guy’s advice. Apparently the guy is a working drama critic. The blonde has permission to shoot me if I start talking like this.
Bored to Death’s novelist and unlicensed detective hero Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) on a case that’s more Harold Lloyd than Raymond Chandler.
HBO’s Bored to Death isn’t everyone’s bowl of tea. (That’s a pot joke, folks. Pot figures prominently in the lives of the characters and regularly in the plots on Bored to Death.) It puts the blonde on the floor. One of the most discerning, creative, and intelligent people I know feels that the characters are her friends. But I know a man of refinement, wit, sophistication and taste the show leaves as cold as mackerel. (Hello, Jim!) I get a kick out of it, mainly for Ted Danson. It’s his best work since Cheers. I also enjoy the way it makes use of New York City. Not as a backdrop. As a character, which is what it was on Law and Order.
The show’s producers know their way around town and expect us to as well. When Jason Schwartzman’s character makes an escape from an S & M club in the Village and appears to run from there up to and through Times Square it isn’t a case of the director sending viewers post cards: “See, folks at home, our show is set in New York City! Enjoy these lovely, random shots of familiar sites you’ll recognize from movies and other TV shows set here!” It’s a joke. We’re meant to get that Jonathan has run a specific route and that that’s a very long way to run, especially encased head to toe in black leather.
But what I really like about Bored to Death is that it’s one of the last great detective shows on TV.
Schwartzman’s character, Jonathan Ames, is a novelist who has set himself up as private detective. He’s not a cop. He’s a real P.I. “Unlicensed,” as he’s always scrupulous to point out, but still, as an impressed character in this season’s finale calls him, a shamus. Jonathan is a modern knight-errant. Like Marlowe. Like Spenser. Like Travis Magee and Don Quixote.
Yep. Bored to Death’s creator, also named Jonathan Ames, also a novelist, but not a shamus, except in his imagination, compares himself and his show’s main character to Don Quixote.
Although only the TV show’s Jonathan sallies forth into the world to tilt at windmills, Ames says that they both suffer from the same delusive daydreams and the cause of the daydreams is the same as Quixote’s. The old don’s brain melted from incessant and obsessive reading of medieval romances. He was, as Ames puts it, “driven mad by literature.”
Ames and Jonathan were also driven mad by literature. Incessant and obsessive reading of detective novels melted their brains.
Tuesday night at the Paley Center for Media, Ames sat down to talk about wrapping up Season Three of Bored to Death with Dick Cavett, in a nod to Cavett’s cameo as himself in a recent episode. (Ames asked Cavett if he’d had any trouble playing Dick Cavett. Cavett said no, he had lots of prior experience playing the Dick Cavett roles nobody else wants on a number of sitcoms.) In that episode, Cavett has Jonathan on his show and the interview is interrupted by Jonathan’s nemesis, the sneering, effete, literary poseur Louis Greene, played by the incomparable John Hodgman, crashing onto the set while hanging upside down on a rope.
Sad to report, Hodgman was not to be found at the Paley Tuesday, upside down or right-side up. But Ames and Cavett carried on, getting their laughs right-side up and without acrobatics, through wit, charm, bad jokes, and demonstrations of amazing and useless verbal talents---Cavett has a gift for creating anagrams, Ames can repeat any word he hears immediately backwards.
By the way, although much of the material for Bored to Death takes off from incidents and characters from Ames’ real life, he doesn’t have a nemesis like Greene. Greene is the incarnation of voices inside Ames’ own head when he gets down on himself, which he does regularly. The sort of spiteful and insulting things Greene says to Jonathan, unprovoked and apropos of nothing, whenever they meet---“Your most recent publication was unwarranted and undeserved. Did you know that?”---are the sort of things Ames will say to himself of himself.
“I’m my own nemesis.”
Bored to Death started as short story for Esquire Magazine, Ames told Cavett. He was spending the night at the apartment of a “very nice young lady” and, unable to sleep, sketched out the whole story in his head.
I had always wanted to be a private detective and had thought of putting an ad on Craigslist but didn’t because I knew there would be legal ramifications and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I just wanted to follow people and get into fights and do heroic things. So I didn’t put the ad up. but then I got the idea that a character with my name could do that and then I could live it out in the story.
Cavett asked if Ames saw himself as a sort of Raymond Chandler figure like Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep? Not exactly, Ames replied. More like that gaunt and ramshackle figure in rusty armor out of Miguel Cervantes’ great novel.
I was intrigued after reading Don Quixote by the notion of being driven mad by literature. And so the same way Don Quixote came to think he should be a knight by reading all these books about chivalry and basically lost his mind…my idea was that I had read so much detective literature that I thought I should be a knight. So I wouldn’t actually be cool like Bogie. I’d be more deluded, like Don Quixote. So that’s what Jonathan is. He’s also a Don Quixote.
Responding to a question from the audience, Ames cheerfully admitted to being a fan of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But although there are resemblances---one being the presence of Ted Danson---the two shows have different tones and sensibilities due in part to the way they’re put together.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is entirely improvised. The actors are given nothing more than an index card with a short summary of the character they’re playing, the set-up of the scene and where it’s supposed to head, and that’s it. Ames made a guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He was playing an accountant. Somehow, whoever was supposed to give him his index card forgot to give him his index card.
Bored to Death is tightly scripted. Danson and Schwartzman often make suggestions in rehearsals about how to make this or that line sound more natural. Zach Gallifianakis will actually be encouraged to ad lib when it’s felt his character needs to do or say something really crazy. Hodgman will sometimes add a flourish or two at the end of a line to make the line more “Louis Greene.” But for the most part what’s said on screen is what was written in the script.
Wrapping things up, Cavett told Ames that working on Bored to Death was one of the most fun things he’d done on TV in a while. Ames said that Cavett was a delight to work with and invited him back on the show, which prompted Cavett to ask if they’d had any guest stars they didn’t want back, any prima donnas throwing their egos around?
Ames said no, the only trouble he could think of having with a guest star was with an actor who wasn’t a star and didn’t get to be a guest. Ames had cast him, thinking he’d be hilarious in a part, but when they had the first table reading of that week’s script, the actor was terrible.
Afterwards, Ames conferred with the director, the writers, and the stars. Everybody agreed. The actor was terrible.
Even Ted Danson, who is apparently one of the kindest, least critical people in show biz, said, mildly, “I don’t think he’s going to work out.”
The decision was made. Fire the guy. Decisively, Ames took action and pleaded with the director to do the firing.
Some time afterward, Ames was on the Brooklyn ferry and realized that that actor was sitting right in front of him.
The final two episodes of Season 3 air on HBO Monday, November 21 and Monday, November 28 at 9 PM Eastern. Before Ames and Cavett got to talking, Ames screened those two episodes for us. Not going to tell you much about them, but I can’t resist a couple of spoilers. I’ll try to be cryptic, but you might want to stop reading here.
First, it turns out there’s a reason Jonathan is able to turn into a real detective in a pinch, sometimes even displaying a Mike Hammer-esque talent for fisticuffs and gunplay.
Second, fans of Super Ray will be glad to hear there’s a Raymobile!
The two Michael Moore fans I wrote about in the previous post are probably just as disappointed as I am that our group split up and lost track of each other when we hit New York or we might have been in this picture too. True, the tall guy second from the left’s no Michael Moore, but still.
Tim Robbins and members of Teamsters Local 445 at Occupy Wall Street, October 5, 2011. Photo courtesy of Teamster Nation.
Rushing to identify with Occupy Wall Street could well threaten Mr. Obama’s re-election by putting off the very swing voters whom the president needs…Appearing to condone the crude personal behavior of Occupy Wall Street protesters can also further erode Mr. Obama’s standing with culturally conservative blue-collar voters.
I’d pay money to be there to hear Rove say this to the faces of some Teamsters and explain to them why they don’t count as blue-collar voters.
Lots of good stuff at the Teamster Nation blog on the union support for the Occupy movement.
Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me…
Some last notes from my march with Teamsters Local 445 at Occupy Wall Street two weeks ago. October 5, 2011. It’s gone way beyond ironic, past ridiculous, to pound your head on the desk infuriating that we’ve got a whole political party that revolves around white, suburban, heterosexual Protestants who think of themselves as an oppressed minority, victims of racism and religious bigotry, barely holding out against the forces of secularism, internationalism, communism, feminism, homosexuality, and the would-be imposers of Sharia law. As far as they’re concerned, they are the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and doing for the least of his brothers and sisters means doing unto themselves and sticking unto everybody else, including and especially the hungry, the homeless and friendless, the sick, and the imprisoned.
All these years of watching the Religious Right hard at work trying to take over the government and turn the United States into their idea of a “Christian” nation built around not a single one of Jesus’ teachings and I still don’t understand where these Christians got their notions of what it means to be Christians.
But that’s probably because my own notions of what it means to be a Christian are parochial. As in parochial school. From kindergarten through eighth grade I went to a Catholic School where I was taught by nuns who year in and year out emphasized five lessons. “Love one another as I have loved you,” “Do unto others…”, the good Samaritan, the Beatitudes, and Matthew 25: 31-46:
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’…
‘Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters…’
…that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us, that you cannot get into heaven without a permission slip from the poor.
The bus taking us home from New York City was about ready to go but we were still missing two members of our contingent. HVALF’s Beth Soto, who was in charge of keeping track of us, was worried. Our MIAs were a pair of older women---I’m not going to guess exactly how old, I’ll just note that they both had grown grandchildren, which means they were old enough to be great-grandmothers---and Beth was concerned that they had gotten lost or that they’d worn themselves out in the march or that one or the other of them had suffered some sort of physical breakdown. Neither of the two was carrying a cell phone. No way would Beth have let the bus leave without them but she wasn’t sure how long to wait before calling out the cavalry.
Turned out they weren’t lost. They weren’t hurt or sick. And they were far from worn out.
The two appeared at last, strolling towards us down Albany Street as briskly as if they were half their age and instead of marching to occupy Wall Street they had spent the better part of the afternoon occupying a nice tea shop where they’d enjoyed a satisfying but light dessert.
They wore big smiles and as soon as they were in earshot one called out in a high, fluting voice:
“WE SAW MICHAEL MOORE!”
“And Tim Robbins,” said the other.
“AND TIM ROBBINS!” said the first. “WE SAW MICHAEL MOORE AND TIM ROBBINS!”
At the end of their march the two washed up in Zuccotti Park against a knot of people surrounding Moore and Robbins who were giving joint interview to a TV crew. The reason they were late was they’d stayed to listen to the interview and then hung around hoping to get close enough to shake Moore’s hand. They’d have shaken hands with Robbins too, but it was Moore who was their true hero.
“You know what I love about him, when I really loved him?” the first one said, reining in her excitement for the moment. “When they stuck a microphone in his face one time and asked him how he’d become such a radical and he said he was just doing what the nuns taught him.”
This impressed both women because they were products of Catholic schools too and they attributed their own liberalism to the nuns who’d taught them all those many years ago.
The crowd of journalists and photographers around Robbins and Moore never did thin out for the women to get close enough to shake their hands, but that didn’t seem to have disappointed them too much.
“I CAN’T BELIEVE I SAW MICHAEL MOORE!” the first cried out.
“And he was wearing his orange cap,” said the second approvingly, as if Moore had put it on, not for them, but because the nuns had asked him to.
Here’s a clip of Moore and Robbins giving that interview. I can’t make out if the two women are chanting for Moore along with the crowd.
Guy can work up an appetite occupying Wall Street and I can’t tell you how many times during last Wednesday’s march I was tempted to jump a barrier and make for a hot dog stand. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It wasn’t fear of cops that kept me in line. I’d like to say it was solidarity. What it was, though, is that I decided to hold out for something more than a hot dog. I wanted a sandwich. Corned beef. Pastrami. Roast beef. Something substantial but portable because I’d be taking it on the bus. Roast beef! Roast beef on rye with Russian dressing! That’s what I wanted. I figured, I’m in New York, I’ll find a good deli, I’ll be golden.
Turned out to be a more difficult proposition than I expected.
The first and only place to eat I saw when I came out of the bottom of Liberty Park onto Church Street was a Burger King. No big deal, I thought, as I walked on, Bound to be something better not too far along. And there was. I passed several inviting-looking bars and pubs and although they all looked crowded if I’d had the time to sit down to eat I’d have happily gone into any one of them. But I pressed on, confident of finding a deli just up the block or around the corner, and if not then a pizza joint---I’d settle for a slice or three---or a falafel stand.
Now here’s where I show that despite the many times I’ve been to the City I’m still a tourist. Sure, I was in New York, but I forgot to take into a account where in New York. The bus was picking us up over on West Street and that meant I was wandering deeper into the ghost town the Financial District and the area around the site of the World Trade Center becomes at night. It wasn’t that there were no places to eat. There were none that were open.
By this time I was starving and now, facing the prospect of going without food for an hour or two until the bus stopped at a Thruway rest stop, I began to grow a little desperate. Desperate enough that if I’d spotted a McDonald’s I’d have made for it on a run. Not desperate enough, however, to try the dismal and dingy-looking Thai restaurant I found down a side street in a block of otherwise empty storefronts. A few more futile circuits of the neighborhood and I might have been that desperate, but then I turned another corner and…there it was.
It was a clean, well-lighted place, small but not cramped. Not many tables, but the tables that were there were full. A good sign. The tall, cheerful counterman looked, I thought, more Persian than Jewish, but what was I expecting, the Carnegie Deli? This was New York in the 21st century not New York in a movie in 1950. More to the point, the counterman seemed to appreciate the urgency in my voice as I placed my order.
I had another urgent need.
“You got a rest room?” I asked as he set to work on my sandwich.
“Right through the door at the back,” he said pointing with his knife.
The door at the back had a fake brass plastic sign that said in large raised letters ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I entered, hoping that all I was risking was that they were out of paper towels.
The door was metal and, it turned out, soundproof.
The risk was to my hearing. The music was pounding. It was so loud I couldn’t make out a tune. All I could hear distinctly---feel, really---was the drums.
The room I’d entered was dimly lit. The walls were painted black. It took me a few seconds to realize I was in a bar and a few seconds more to realize that the woman bartender was topless.
The only customers at the bar, two men sitting far apart from each other, stared glumly out over their drinks through cutouts in the wall behind the bar into an even darker room on the other side. I couldn’t see anything in there. I did get a sense of bodies in rhythmic motion but that might have been my imagination filling in.
Believe it or not, this was my first time in a strip club.
I took care of business and hurried back to the deli where, once the door slammed behind me, all was quiet and peaceful and bright and full of good cheer. The counterman handed me the bag with my sandwich. It was as plump and heavy as a Pony Express rider’s saddlebag.
The can of cream soda I bought with it was ice cold.
Out on the sidewalk I took a look at the awning of the establishment next door to the deli, which I hadn’t paid attention to on my way in.
People looking for "a coherent message" in the park would do well to talk to Brendan Burke, a tall, tattooed truck driver with a degree from NYU and The New School, who's based at the center of the park, where four or five young people are crouched over laptops, shouting into the wind in their own way.
"People are informed today. People are online," Burke explains. "People in Kansas do yoga, you understand. Country's different, you understand? There's no more mooks in the citizenry. We are working people and we're not getting a fair shake, so we took to the streets. It's an irrational act, an act of passion, but we need to use self-control and respect. Those who want to go down with the ship will go down with the ship. Those who will be there will be sensible people who are out here for a reason. The kids who are out here who just want to party, well, they're beautiful children and we protect them every night. I can't even tell you what's going to happen after today. The cops may sweep this when the landlord says I want them out.
"Not anti-anybody. We're pro-American citizen. Millions of Americans are getting kicked out of their house. They're losing their education, their health care. They can't take care of their parents. This is about people. Republicans are opening their bills. Democrats are opening their bills. I'll go all the way to $250,000 if you want. Everybody's opening their bills and they're thinking, 'Who's protecting me from people stealing from me?' This isn't what I agreed on when I signed this agreement with this company. You add all these hassles up in your life — your hospital, your credit card, your education, your mortgage — and you're getting nailed.
As I was saying, Wednesday’s march was peaceful and orderly and, as far as I could tell or have heard since, kettling and pepper spray free from start to finish. I was already boarding the bus for home when the batons came out over at Wall Street and Broadway Wednesday night. But I did see one person get into it with the cops.
He wasn’t a protester. He was a driver for a car service. This was on Church Street. I was hurrying away from Liberty Park to catch the bus for home and came upon him just as he was hopping out of his black sedan to start shouting at a bicyclist he clearly felt had done him wrong.
He was a heavyset character around thirty whose opened black suit jacket probably wouldn’t button over his broad expanse of white shirt. His black hair was neat and cut short. He was mad as all get out but he also looked scared, as if in a collision between a bike and a car the car would get the worst of it and so he’d just seen his life flash before his eyes. More likely, of course, he was terrified at having come close to running her over. Or he was thinking of how he might have had to explain the dings and dents in the car to his boss. Whatever it was, he was not happy and he was letting her know it and half of downtown Manhattan along with her.
His car was stopped at a slight angle in the middle of the street. The bicyclist was straddling her bike, facing him, her front wheel about half a foot from his right front fender. If I had to guess what’d just happened, I’d guess she was in the wrong. She’d either crossed over where she shouldn’t have and cut him off or tried to nose out to when she shouldn’t have and he’d barely missed flattening her. It was possible, though, that she’d been headed in the right direction and he’d come up behind her and she had her bike turned around in order to explain to him how it’s impolite for drivers of cars to try to run riders on bikes off the road. Whatever was the case, he didn’t want to hear her side of it.
He cursed her out royally.
Then he cursed out the first cop who’d wandered over to see what the problem was.
Then he cursed out the hipster passing by on the sidewalk who’d instantly taken the bicyclist’s side and was cursing him out.
Then he cursed out those of us who’d stopped to gawk.
Then he went back to cursing out the cop.
Then he cursed out the other officers who came over to ask the first cop what the problem is.
You might think it’s a bad idea to lose your temper with a police officer when you’re in a part of town where there are at least a dozen other officers in sight the first can call on for backup.
But at least with citizens who aren’t carrying protest signs New York City cops are remarkably patient and understanding.
So if you’re wondering how many cops you can tell to go fuck themselves and fuck off and shut the fuck up and let you talk without getting arrested, the answer is apparently five.
Nice waking up Thursday morning still a free man. Of course I really had no expectation of waking up anything but. Just about everyone I told I was going down to Occupy Wall Street Wednesday with the Teamsters made a joke about my getting arrested. Several good friends told me to call them in the event, promising they’d put up bail money. But, truth is, I felt that even considering the possibility I might end up in the slammer was self-romanticizing. How likely was it to happen? The protesters have shown from the beginning they’re determined to keep things peaceful and non-confrontational, so if things got out of hand it would have to be that cops got out of hand, again, and I figured they’d be anxious not to make that mistake again. They knew they’d embarrassed themselves with the pepper spraying and the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and the City already had one class action suit to deal with, so the police were bound to be extra careful, especially considering that the odds were that every other person they’d haul in on Wednesday would be Union. It’s one thing to be seen on the news arresting dirty hippies and slacker college kids, something else to be seen cuffing teamsters, ironworkers, electricians, pilots, nurses, school teachers, and classical musicians. Besides, one of the benefits of belonging to a union is access to very good, and very fast-working, lawyers.
At any rate, the march was orderly to the point of making crowds at Disneyland look unruly. Orderly to the point that for long stretches it stopped being a march at all and became more like a very long queue at the DMV. We weren’t parading, we were taking part in a twenty-thousand foot group shuffle. If you’ve seen Metropolis and remember the scene of the workers on their way into work, that’s how it felt from inside the crowd.
People around me complained that the police were slowing things down deliberately and trying to make us frustrated and impatient by squeezing in the steel barricades and narrowing the designated marching lanes. Some thought the object was to back things up in order to annoy would-be marchers still stuck in Foley Square in hopes they would get tired of waiting to start marching and go home. Others thought the cops wanted us to make us antsy and irritable so that we’d start to push and shove and break out of line, giving them the excuse to start making arrests and busting heads. People pointed to apparently empty city buses parked along side streets and warned each other to be ready. But I think it was just the case that it’s very tricky to move ten or more thousand people through downtown at rush hour without shutting the city down.
The cops we passed along the route weren’t giving anything away. They were mostly stone-faced and seemed determined to avoid eye contact. They were probably under orders not to let themselves get baited by jerks like the one Sam Graham-Felson saw waving a sign in a cop’s face that read "Quick, sell everything and invest in pepper spray." I didn’t see any jerks like that anywhere around me. Considering who was marching, what a cop was likely to hear from any protesters who wanted to engage was a reminder that police are Union too, fellow members of the 99%, whose jobs, pensions, and benefits are being threatened by the corporate tools in Washington and the state houses all across the country. Right at that moment, up in Albany, supposed Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo was trying to browbeat the Public Employees Federation into paying for his deal with Republicans to cut taxes for millionaires with either big chunks of their paychecks and pensions or 3500 member jobs, take your pick.
Mostly, though, it seemed the marchers were as determined to pretend that the police weren’t there as the cops were determined to pretend the marchers weren’t there. I did talk to some cops, but at the end of the march, after we’d reached Liberty Park and I had to hurry to catch the Teamsters bus for home. The cops opened up a gateway in the barricades and let people stream through onto Church Street.
“Thank you, officers,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” replied a tall, apple-checked, broadly smiling young patrolman who looked as though he was barely out of college, “You have a good evening, sir.”
Other officers nodded and smiled. I thought they seemed relieved that it was all over for the day.
Turned out it wasn’t over. People did get arrested. Twenty-eight were hauled in. You probably know that Occupy Wall Street isn’t actually occupying Wall Street. Wall Street is off-limits for marches and protests and large gatherings of any kind and has been since 9/11. [See editor’s note at bottom of post.] But after the march, a group of protesters decided they would challenge that and they broke through some barricades and started in that direction.
Unless they were idiots, I’m pretty sure they wanted to spend the night in jail. That’s part of the point of civil disobedience. I’m not sure what the rest of their point was.
Editor’s note: That Wall Street itself has been “off-limits” for large gatherings and mass demonstrations since 9/11 is one of those things I just “know.” But prompted by a question from Ken Muldrew in the comments, I went googling for a story that would explain things and turned up zilch. Instead I found news articles reporting that the City had declared Wall Street off-limits in the lead up to Occupy Wall Street. Wall Street has been closed to traffic and there’s been a heavy police presence round the clock. If anybody can explain how come I “know” something that isn’t there to be known, I’d appreciate it.
Also, the updated figure on the number of people arrested is 27.
Moving in and out of the crowd gathering before the march were a number of clergypersons, most of them clergywomen. I counted six women in clerical collars and dark suits. One was Asian, one was African. I don’t know if I should add the hyphen and American. There was something about the latter’s features and her expressions that made me think she might have been from Africa. And if she wasn’t from here, maybe the former wasn’t either. Maybe none of them were. Doesn’t matter. I’m only trying to be descriptive. There’s no point except that from my observations they seemed to be as separate and foreign to each other as if they’d each come here from a different far corner of the earth. While I was able to keep track, I saw the same mildly smiling faces weaving their individual ways about and never caught sight of more than two of them together or spotted any one exchanging more than a friendly nod to another when their paths happened to cross.
And I know it’s sentimental of me, especially considering my own apostasy, but I like thinking they weren’t together, that each one had found her way here on her own and not as part of a group, that they weren’t from here, or at least only one of them was, that even though I only counted six I missed half of them, that there were in fact twelve, that each of the other eleven was from some distant point on the globe.
You may remember that some time after Jesus left them for good, the apostles dispersed. They each went to a different far away land to spread the word. Peter to Italy, John to Greece, Andrew to Russia, Thomas to India, and so on. In my days as an altar boy I was taught that the authority and powers to forgive sins and turn bread and wine into body and blood derived from the apostles whose own authority and power derived from you know who. This makes every Catholic priest an avatar of Christ, although I don’t remember the nuns using that word. The line is complicated by the Reformation but whatever the Church wants to claim about it being the one, only, holy, apostolic church, I think it applies to every Christian minister. It’s a shame so many of them, Catholic and Protestant, don’t seem to remember whom they’re standing in for.
My favorite of the signs I saw yesterday wasn’t a protest, it was a joyful boast: Proud Union Mama.
My least favorite said: Even God Hates Wall Street.
God, if He, She, or It exists, not having the time, He, She, or It doesn’t take sides like that. Besides, God hating anyone’s particular enemies? That’s how they think.
But we know how Jesus felt about the moneychangers, and storing up treasure on earth, and rich people and needles’ eyes, and the poor and the downtrodden. We know what he said to the rich young man who wanted to know what he had to do to be saved and he’d say the same to any young hedge fund manager who asked that question today. We know the kind of company he preferred to keep. All the apostles except Matthew, the tax collector, and the other guy, the politician, were working men. If Jesus came today and said to them, Follow me, he’d be talking to Union men and women.
So we can make a good guess where Jesus would be if he could and we can be pretty sure that, since he can’t be there himself, he’d be there in spirit and in the persons of his avatars.
I couldn’t work my way through the gathering throngs to get close enough to talk to any of the clergywomen. When I asked folks I was with if they’d heard of any group of female clerics who’d come to Occupy Wall Street, they suggested they might all be from nearby Trinity, which is a very progressive Episcopalian congregation. So I googled up Trinity’s website when I got home.
For a number of weeks now, “Occupy Wall Street” protesters have encamped in Zuccotti Park, a square of open space just north of Trinity Church and south of St. Paul’s Chapel.
Trinity Wall Street respects the rights of citizens to protest peacefully and supports the vigorous engagement of the concerns that form the core of the protests – economic disenfranchisement and failure of public trust.
As a prayerful community with a deep history of relationships in Lower Manhattan, Trinity continues its pastoral outreach and welcomes any of those involved in the ongoing situation to parish spaces. Many protestors have found the opportunity for rest and revitalization in Charlotte’s Place, Trinity’s new neighborhood center, and have expressed deep appreciation for the hospitality there. We welcome any of those involved in the protest for pastoral care and reflection.
With its long history, Trinity is also a place where meaningful conversations between people with divergent viewpoints can happen. We also offer our meeting spaces to groups for conversations and forums on issues of public concern.
As the protest unfolds, I invite you to hold all those involved in your prayers: the protesters, neighborhood residents and business owners, the police, policy-makers, civic leaders, and those in the financial industry – all – and to consider the ways we might take steps in our own lives that improve the lives of others.
He’s an ironworker from California, here in New York for a job that’s been pushed back. He arrived in town on September 17, when he learned two things. He’d have to wait to be called to work and Occupy Wall Street had begun. He decided to come downtown and see what was what. He’s been back every day since.
He’s not camping out. He has a room uptown in Spanish Harlem. But the job’s been pushed back again and he doesn’t see how he can afford the rent on the place here and his apartment back home. He’s beginning to doubt the work is really there.
In case you can’t read the tattoo, it says, “Union Ironworkers Built America.”
This is the first protest sign we saw as the bus made its way towards Foley Square. It…oh wait…that’s not a protest, it’s a request.
Actually, we were still a long ways up Broadway when we passed this guy and he was not a part of the protests, just an ambulatory tourist attraction. I like it that he’s using his cell phone to take a picture because there were twenty-one cameras trained on him from our bus.
Thanks again to Teamsters Local 445 and the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation for letting me hitch a ride on their bus down to Occupy Wall Street Wednesday. Thanks also for this t-shirt. They gave me a really cool Teamsters baseball cap too but my old blogging comrade Tom Watson swiped it. Have to admit though, it looked pretty good on him, although the whole length of the march he kept having to explain to members of various unions who stopped him to embrace him and call him “brother” he was only a voluntary Teamster.
I wore my T-shirt but did not get hugged.
I’m going through my notes and editing my photos from the march and will start posting reports this afternoon.
In the meantime, Jeremiah Horrigan of the Times Herald-Record was on hand to cover our group and you can read his story (with video) right here.