Monday, October 17, 2011

Reaching for the Obelisk (Occupy Wall Street at the foot of One Liberty Plaza)

It may not be there after today,” my colleague said when I told him I haven’t been to the occupation downtown. At first I had assumed it was just something to keep those same activists busy who perpetuate that never-ending avalanche of emails my tiny donations seem to have attracted to my inbox. After gay marriage was legalized I started to see subject lines that had to do with whales again, so I figured it was about time for the new big thing... Rent went up, my crew asked for a raise, and nothing evaporates nonchalance and cynicism faster than rejection. By then corporate greed did not seem like such a general slogan anymore. Having gotten into the habit of ignoring emails from activists, I had to go check out the occupation for myself, only I was being told that they may be tricked into leaving Zucotti Park under the pretext that it had to be cleaned. “3,000 people are waiting for the cops to kick them out,” my colleague said. I suppose no matter how long the cleaning got postponed, as long as the 3,000 were there that fact wouldn’t change.

The first paragraph is bullshit. There were two reasons why I did not check out the demonstrations when they first happened. One was that I couldn’t picture myself getting into the atmosphere without drugs. I’ve been sober for going on six years, and I still don’t know if I can handle excitement in such a large group of people without them. The other reason was that footage of deputy-inspector Anthony Bologna, a.k.a. Tony Baloney as Jon Stewart called him, pepper spraying some women demonstrators. When my wife said she wanted to go check it out with some coworkers of hers I told her I’d be worried sick, so she didn’t go. Once I got some other people’s impressions I decided that it might not be that exciting or that dangerous.

It was on the outskirts of the demonstration, on Broadway, across the street from the signs, next to Isamu Noguchi’s red cube, facing the black block alien obelisk of a building that is One Liberty Plaza, where chaotic feeling seemed to be concentrated. People who perhaps had planned to just be spectators were milling around, unsure, police officers in clusters, speeding police vehicles, bloggers conducting interviews with their tiny digital cameras. Some tourist-looking youngsters were noncommittally sitting on the sidewalk by the cube. I had planned to be a by-stander when I headed down there, but when I saw the dangerous charge surrounding the wishy washiness of those milling about, and when I felt the sort of serene decisiveness down the hill, across the street in the park, I decided against it. Something simple but important had been waiting for me down there. A reminder of something. I had started to feel it as soon as the subway passed Canal Street.

A short young South American had crossed just far enough into my personal space for me to notice it, and then proceeded to douse her hands in sanitizer. Despite the fact that there were empty spaces in the albeit crowded subway, the people were clustered and slightly smiling. Later the girl found a seat and I’m pretty sure started to speak to a random stranger. The short middle-aged guy with the bald spot and blue shirt seemed ready to do the same. It was like Bulgaria in ‘91. No, there are no subways in the sea-side city of Varna, but the crackling of pure potential was audible in the buses, on the marble plaza by the fountain in front of city hall, at the rallies - of course, all of that ended with a whimper. Corruption maintained its status quo in Bulgaria and fighting it had to be done in much more subtle ways... I wonder if enough of the people on Broadway that day had decided that America has run out of subtle ways, as far the majority of us, the consumers of dreams and education, are concerned. That fact hadn’t dawned on me until I crossed the street and entered the park through an opening in the police barricade.

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