Showing posts with label A Baboon on Wall Street. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A Baboon on Wall Street. Show all posts

24 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, 2.2: A Baboon on Wall Street (Cont.)

"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. " - G.K. Chesterton

"The observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes." - Charles Baudelaire

After three or four days in one place, I start to get itchy. I've noticed this since I started this trip; I intend to visit my friends and family for a week, and after 3 days I'm starting to think I need to get my shit together and go. This urge has nothing to do with being tired of the place I am; and it certainly has nothing to do with the gracious company of my hosts.

And I'm not all that surprised about the return of the itch; I've had it as long as I can remember. What surprises me is that it's kicked into hyper drive. What used to take at least a month is taking a few days.

I'm not entirely sure what it means. It may not mean anything. It may mean I'll have to do this forever. Or until the bones in my feet and ankles disintegrate into dust.

This thought isn't nearly as disturbing as it maybe ought to be.

Another thing I'm noticing is how easily I slip into that ethereal social class that has been given so many names, almost all of them derogatory, full of judgement, fear, and derision.

Because a lot of times, when people refer to other human beings as bums, it's a rooted in fear. Fear of The Other. Fear of The Truth... that Truth being that most of us are closer to being without a home and without a job than anyone wants to admit. And, yes, there are those who feel no need to help their fellow human beings, feel no responsibility to help the least of us -- and I won't get started on them here.

Since leaving Ashland, I've been called out at least once in each city by other travelers -- you may call them bums, you may call them homeless -- at this point, I prefer to think of myself as something of a conscientious malingerer -- which is to say,I'm a traveler, an observer of the human condition. A a techno-hobo. A bum.  Lately I've been lucky enough to visit friends. But I'm also aware that I can only crash on people's couches for so long before my itch to get away and their need to not have their routines permanently disturbed will get in the way of any good visit. And I also realize that I am more fortunate than many in similar states of living and most who could consider themselves better off. The universe has not seen fit to give me a temperament that would allow me to make tons of money or to be the family man my father was; but I am absolutely wealthy in regards to friends. And I hope that I'm able to return the favor, in some fashion to each and every one of them.

I wrote briefly about the first time this happened in Norfolk (Nor'fuk) -- still Number 1 in my list of Most Inhospitable and Wretched Places (which also includes the whole state of Alabama, a Denny's Restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, and every Gym and Health & Wellness Center on the Planet. So you know, I take this list very seriously.) It happened to me again in the Washington D.C. Greyhound Bus Station. That time, I was again approached by someone trying to ask for money. The man, who was black and was probably around my age, stopped short and started talking about how he knew we were alike -- called us brothers. First he talked about how cold it was outside. Then he said something like this.

"I know," he said. "I know you and me, we're alike. You know... you're like me. You... uh... travel around. Yeah. The blue eyes," he said. "The blue eyes, they don't lie."

He then stood up to approach someone else who might actually have money; but before he left, he shook my hand.

When I was down in Lower Manhattan with my friend and very kind host, Susan, I was approached yet again. The subway ride from Queens to the World Trade Center took about an hour, and it was early afternoon by the time we got there. Susan took to the place where she participated in an Occupy Meditation Circle. It was this circular space created with the bricks and some cement benches to surround a tree that, when it was planted, was meant to be a memorial for the victims of the 9/11 WTC attacks. She explained that during the first Occupation of Zuccotti Park, there had been an altar of sorts.

Altar in Zuccotti Park
From Flickr, by Michael J. Nolan. The altar was  also cleared  along with the rest of the encampment by NYC Cops in the dead of night. I knew Dorm RA's in college like that. They'd "test" the fire alarm at 6 in morning to catch girls in the shower. Classy.

Being there... at Zuccotti Park, in the shadow of the World Trade Center Site, close enough to Wall Street to make the city barricade it like something truly important goes on there ... gave me reason to pause. When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, my initial impression was skepticism. But as I watched, and as I learned more about it through the eyes of my friend Susan, I wanted to leave Mount Carroll and see it for myself'. That didn't happen, for a variety of reasons. Sitting there, in what was for Susan still sacred -- though changed -- space, I tried to come to terms with the fact that it's entirely possible that I missed out on the beginning of something that could come to have more significance once Spring arrives. And in some ways, even though the space was "clean" -- the only remaining evidence there was a couple of guys at the other end of the plaza -- one flashing a homemade Pro-Union sign and the other -- according to the words written in white marker on the black sheet he used as a cape -- was a "OWS Black Knight Til Death."  They were both engaging people in an apparently polite way, since no one -- including the jackbooted private security guard -- did anything against them.

The wind was on the chilly side. Even though it was in the mid-50's, skyscrapers and city streets make great wind tunnels; so it felt a bit cooler than the actual temperature. I had also forgotten to eat something. I also didn't have any cash on me; but I asked Susan if she could spot me for a hot dog or something, which she graciously did.

Based on recommendations -- or exhortations, depending on your point of view -- from friends, I was looking for both  a Nathan's Hot Dog Stand or a Sabrett Hot Dog Stand. But there weren't any, that I could see. The nearest vendor was a Halal guy, selling everything from kabobs to chili dogs to hot sausages. I ordered a hot sausage and a bottle of water, and Susan got one of those giant salted pretzels -- it was the only vegetarian food he had.

While we were standing there, a man approached me. (I wrote a short poem about him.) He asked if I could  "buy a brother a hot dog." I turned to face him. He was a bit older than me. His skin was dry from exposure; I could tell from the grayness of his skin.( Sometimes, when Blacks have dry skin, their skin tone goes a little gray.) I told him, quite honestly, that I didn't have any cash and that I was, in fact, bumming off of someone else. He laughed and said it was okay. We shook hands and chatted for a bit. He told me he'd just come in from the South; didn't say how far south, but I could tell from his drawl that maybe he was North Carolina... not that he had just come from there necessarily. He looked around and up at the buildings. Then he laughed and smiled and said,

"I like it here."

"You do?" I asked. I figured it was at least warmer down south; but I've also learned that there are things that are more important than the weather. Just because it's warm doesn't mean you want to sleep out in it. "You be sure to stay warm," I told him.

Then I turned because the vendor was handing my lunch. I looked down at it and thought about sharing it the guy; after all, who knew when the last time he ate was, or when he'd eat again.

But when I turned around again, he was gone.

Susan and I talked about the interaction later, after she had read the poem. She said she was getting ready to buy him a hot dog when he disappeared. And seriously, it was like he evaporated. He's been on my mind ever since. And I hope he's okay and that the city's being kind to him. I wish I had been able to be a little kinder, or that he had stuck around so I could share my food and talk to him about where he was from.

But that's how it goes sometimes. You meet other travelers, and then they're gone.

A BIG thanks to SCOTT "Funny Man" MCNULTY for a gracious donation to the re:visionary fund. Every little bit helps. And I appreciate it mightily.

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around. Don't be shy. You pass around less impressive memes.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen, or by going to and donating to THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT. If you DO decide to donate, I will mention you in the blog. Promise. 
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. When I go to Boston, I'm riding a Bolt Bus... which is owned, or is in partnership with Greyhound. Any single guy will tell you... if you can't get the girl you want, go for the cute friend. You just never know.

23 February, 2012

A Baboon In New York, Part 2.1: A Baboon on Wall Street

“Let Wall Street have a nightmare and the whole country has to help get them back in bed again.” -Will Rogers

"The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good." -Gordon Gekko

Big Brother: Police Tower over looking Zuccotti Park.
There's a spot, when you're at the Staten Island Ferry Station, where you can see the Statue of Liberty. It's at a distance, in relief against the western sky and the choppy waves of the Hudson River. I don't know if I'll actually take the ferry out to see it and Ellis Island up close; it's one of Those Things That Tourists Do. I have no interest in being a tourist and I'm entirely too cynical about the condition of our country to get all touchy-feely about it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

When Susan asked me what I wanted to see, I told her one of the things I wanted to see was Zuccotti Park, and that I wanted to go Wall Street, and maybe Time Square. Zuccotti Park was and is the location for the Occupy Wall Street Movement that has spread across the country. When it started in October, I was itchy to be here... but life intervened and I wasn't able to get here. Luckily, my very hospitable friend, Susan, was here to give me a sense of what was really going on -- because I sure as shit wasn't getting it in any of the media coverage.

The first thing I learned... something I don't remember being much discussed... is that the Zuccotti Park, in addition to being close to Wall Street, is located in the shadow of New World Trade Center.

The memorial for the 3000 people who died in the two towers is in the process of being constructed BEHIND two new towers. The construction of One World Trade Center (1 WTC) and another tower were delayed because of disagreements about design, planning, etc.

Sitting in Zuccotti Park, aka Liberty Plaza Park, staring up at the rising skyscraper, it struck me yet again.

We haven't learned a god damn thing.

3000 people die for no good reason, and the absolute best that we can come up with, other than a war in Iraq that made no sense -- in which the official number of American deaths is estimated to be 33,186 ( is a symbol that the business of America is and will always be BUSINESS.

(The actual death toll is probably higher. And if you take into account allies and civilian "collateral damage, the number is staggering.)

Since the encampment was destroyed by the city under the pretense of "cleaning it", most of the occupiers are finding ways to wait out the winter. Another interesting tidbit that was left out nearly all the ridiculously ineffective media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street Encampment -- technically, Zuccotti Park is joint Public/Private property.

In order to build a really tall building to house a Brooks Brothers store and a couple thousand anonymous offices no one gives a shit about, Brookfield Office Properties entered into an agreement with the city to make the Park into Public Space. And because it's Public/Private Property, unlike the other parks in New York City, it's open 24 hours. Thus, Liberty Plaza Park -- a place that was considered part of a 9/11 memorial --  was renamed for Brookfield Chairman John Zuccotti.

I guess you know you've arrived and conquered New York when you can put your name on stuff. And whoever has the most stuff wins.

Then again... there's always a bigger hair piece. Sorry Johnny boy.

40 Wall Street. Right down from the New York Stock Exchange
There's never a Magic Marker around when you need one...

This was as close as I could get. The whole area is blockaded and protected like Buckingham Palace.
... no paint filled balloons, either.

My initial impressions of Lower Manhattan were claustrophobic. Especially Wall Street. The labyrinth of skyscrapers and alley width streets block out the sun. The wheezing mechanical money heart of America thumps and bumps in the dark, hidden by long shadows. Light and air are expelled by the very nature of the place -- which probably explains why so many stupid things happen there.

           It's common knowledge that denying your brain oxygen kills you brain.
           It's common knowledge that an absence of sunlight causes sadness.
          It's not commonly known, however, that over time, the absence of air and light
          will strangle your soul. 

         And then, they name a park after you.

Being in Lower Manhattan on Ash Wednesday was an interesting experience. I'm not Catholic, and except for the fact that my name is probably still on a list buried in an ancient file cabinet at the Bethel Church of Christ in Bethel, Ohio, I'm not listed anywhere as a Christian -- Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise. 

I've made up my own label, primarily for reductive and Facebook related reasons: Zen Transcendentalism. All it means, Dear Readers, is that I believe we are more than what we are. I also believe that experience is its own sacred text -- more sacred than any text that's been handed down and re-translated through cultures and generations.

There's a great quote by Lenny Bruce that goes something like this:

"When you live in New York, even if you're Catholic, you're Jewish."

With all respect to Lenny Bruce, this may not necessarily be the case in Lower Manhattan on the first day of Lent. I saw so many men in tailored business suits and women wearing business couture with ash crosses on their foreheads that it seemed almost like part of the uniform.

Then again, it is derived from the ancient Jewish tradition of placing ashes on one's forehead to indicate mourning. So maybe Lenny Bruce had a point, after all.

The thing is, when you consider the mess that the Financial sector has made of this country -- spare me, please, from that tired adage about the business of America being the systematic rape and pillage of people's life savings or that other one about boot straps and S&M masks -- maybe they ought to be asking someone for forgiveness.

I mean, it can't hurt. Right?

(Cont. in Part 2.2)

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen, or by going to and donating to THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT. If you DO decide to donate, I will mention you in the blog. Promise. 
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. When I go to Boston, I'm riding a Bolt Bus... which owned, or is in partnership with Greyhound. Any single guy will tell you... if you can't get the girl you want, go for the friend. You just never know.