Dumbo. It is not a name that inspires confidence. Instead, in my mind it conjures up the Disney elephant of the same name. Then, in my mind, it reminds me of that insane and philosophically difficult statue that used to be at Union Square during my occupation there — the Gran Elephandret, the 15,000 pound, 26 foot high bronze elephant standing on its trunk. It left Union Square the same day that I did, June 1, 2012 – for me, the 75th day occupying Union Square; for it, the 365th day.
Dumbo is actually an acronym that stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Sounds like a perfect place for an Occupier. We have slept under a few overpasses and marched across a few bridges since September 17, 2011. But all that are other stories.
The Occupy Bus Tour found itself in Dumbo looking for hidden treasure — that is, a good parking spot in New York City close to the Financial District. We availed ourselves of the latest technology, powered by solar cells on the bus roof — computers and the World Wide Web. There is a website that has a searchable, variable parameter map of New York City (and other cities) with information regarding all the street signs relating to parking on every street. Bingo!
Yes, That’s another word associated with many images, sounds and stories — bingo. Fortunately, it doesn’t have anything to do with this story except as a stand-in for eureka! (which itself conjures up an old, bearded Greek guy in a bathtub . . . yes, it’s another story).
Dumbo. Anecdotal stories we had heard recently indicated good parking down thataway. The wizardry of the Web divined through the computer LCD screen of my laptop crystal ball told me that there were streets in Dumbo that we could park in the same spot for 6 days in a row. Jackpot!
Another emotional word that: jackpot. Too bad it belongs to another story.
Before I go further I should describe what we were looking for in a “good parking spot”. As already indicated, a spot where we were forced to move as few times a week is a high priority. Looking for parking spaces can become a full-time job in this city, and that is a job we don’t want for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it wastes energy — the fuel for the bus and motivation for us.
Another top priority requirement is access to restrooms. Public restrooms are an even rarer resource than parking spots. Good public restrooms in this city are the Holy Grail for Occupiers and homeless people. New York City could use another million public restrooms — an indication of how unsustainable this urban Goliath is. Since everybody has to eliminate waste, and it is mighty unpleasant and unhealthy to not eliminate that waste, you’d think there would be ample consideration given to that point everywhere people live. You’d think, but obviously the bosses didn’t . . . but then, they have their own private restrooms so they are not so concerned about the public.
That is just another indication of how insane this society really is: shit is fucked up and bullshit everywhere on every issue. That is why reform, liberal or otherwise, won’t work. An entirely new game of Society needs to be started.
Restrooms come in several varieties. There are the ones to use in emergencies — because you’d never even walk into them otherwise. Those are better than nothing, but not at all desirable. A step up from there is tolerable, but also not sought after. A good restroom is one that has enough privacy and access to take a sink bath, wash a couple items of clothing, eliminate waste in peace, and get water to drink. Drinkable water, and access to that water for a number of vital uses is mandatory. You’d be surprised at how many public restrooms do not have good, clean water access. But that’s another story. Paper towels are also a primary consideration because it’s hard to dry any part of your body with the lackluster wall air dryers in this City, even if it is in a private space. Good soap, actual soap, instead of the near ubiquitous anti-bacterial liquid most restrooms here have. I can’t call that stuff ‘soap’ because it does not clean dirt off of you, it just kills bacteria. Then there’s the whole issue of indiscriminately killing beneficial bacteria, and the issue of aiding resistant strains of harmful bacteria, like MRSA, to develop.
These two priorities usually lead us to public parks — perfect places for Occupiers.
After restrooms comes dumpstering quality in the area in regards to food. Organic is always sought after because what sense is there to eat Monsanto’s GMO poison? My job as a medic is to keep us healthy. There’s no way I can do that if we are eating Monsanto’s fake food. So, organic food stores in the area are essential for a parking spot to be considered a good one. Although, for a short stay just a supply of dumpstered bagels or donuts is enough for any Occupier. It ain’t easy being a hard-grounder.
Next down the list of priorities is the quality of the spanging and busking in the area. Donations are hard to come by, and each donation is a treasured nugget to remember. Therefore we must get out on the streets and work at spanging and busking. To put it simply and quickly (for a book can be written on each topic and still not cover it all), spanging is begging, and busking is begging with art. Make no mistake, each is work. Spanging is tedious and nearly mindless. It is akin to so many of the wage-slave jobs that break the human spirit that this fanatic farce of culture demands be maintained in order for it to survive. Neither is a free hand-out. If you don’t believe me, try it sometime. You’ll never do it again unless you have to in order to survive. So when you see someone spanging or busking show a little human kindness — anything helps, yo. Anything.
Try to imagine your heart in a place where –anything– helps. It hurts. Right?
Hint and spoiler: we do the work that props this cruel capitalist culture up. Without us working for the 1% it will disappear. If we work for ourselves . . . we then share in the abundance of the planet, i.e. our quality of life will go up. Quality of life, yo — that’s what it’s all about, not money. Quality of life.
Busking is a creative way to spange, and therefore is not nearly as mindless, but after a while it becomes tedious. Tedious because it is still a job, and it still does not pay a living wage — so you find yourself out there working long hours at busking in all kinds of weather regardless of your desire. Appreciation for your art is sometimes all you get, and sometimes that is enough even though you still go to sleep on the sidewalk cold and hungry.
But that’s another story . . . or is it?
Access to the Metro is also a consideration. Preferable is a subway with a straight shot to the Financial District, but any station will do. In this specific story a Metro station is not a high priority because we were looking for a parking spot within walking distance of the Financial District. Any such walk is not going to be short, so a Metro station still has some consideration in this story. All Metro stations, however, are not alike. There is an inherent preference to a certain type, and that type shall remain anonymous in this story because it belongs in another story. In any case, soon we won’t have the luxury of using the subway because we simply cannot afford it. We can only afford it now because of the gracious donation of an unlimited card. Once the time period expires, so does our ability to easily use mass transit.
Another indication of the rabid rat race we are forced to run in this society is that the cost of using mass transit is quickly approaching the cost of owning a vehicle. What then, I ask? What then? Walk, that’s what. So we were looking for a spot we could walk from in anticipation of the necessity of using our two legs for daily transportation.
Over all of these considerations, and others (but writing about them would get me further away from this story about Dumbo, which hasn’t really started yet . . .), is something that is always on our minds, even though it doesn’t usually enter into our final decision — the NYPD. The police presence in an area, and the disposition and character of the precinct, is always on the mind of an Occupier. But it is only there as an awareness fact — we will do what we do regardless of the police presence, their disposition or character. No justice, no peace. Fuck the police.
Even still, after all these many months of oppression, unprovoked harassment and vindictive immaturity emanating from the NYPD, as well as the daily evidence of their stupefying ignorance of their job, we still treat the police with the respect due a human being. It is an unalienable right we fight for and therefore we cannot but respect it in all other people — even those misguided goons of the NYPD.
Truth is truth. Respect can only be given through truth. I’m telling it like it is without violence or drama, though descriptive — that is respect even if you don’t like what I’m saying.
So, as I said, we were looking for a parking spot within walking distance of the Financial District. When friends and the Web led us to explore Dumbo we also knew that we each had walked to Wall Street from further than this on multiple occasions. So . . . off we went!
Here comes the main story. Unfortunately, it is shorter than the rambling prologue.
Using our internet research we found ourselves, after a little searching around, parked in the projects in Dumbo. It was a nice spot — with lots of sun for the solar panels. However, there was no public restroom close by. Since we also wanted to visit the OWS Puppet Guild which held their meetings just two blocks away (check out Stacey’s post on that), we decided to stay for a short while. Stacy went to the meeting, and I stayed with the bus. Somebody always has to stay with the bus in New York City because you never know what will happen while you’re gone — especially if you’re an Occupier. There is always plenty to do around the bus so there’s no reason to be bored while on guard duty. Then there’s always the “occupy thing” — setting up for outreach: an info table, a charging station, a free library, a free comfort station, a free medical station, etc.; in other words, there’s always occupying to be done.
My first visitor was a warning of what was to happen throughout the time Stacey was gone. A middle-aged man walking past, stopped, poked his head in the bus and asked who I was. I told him my name, shook hands and explained we were from Occupy Wall Street, and this is the Occupy Bus Tour. His response was “It’s not safe for you here. You should leave.” And without further ado, he left.
I smiled to myself thinking he just didn’t know Occupiers. Hard-grounders are familiar with poor neighborhoods, the projects and street life for a number of reasons, including having lived it all. It is one of the reasons we occupy — we know how fucked up and bullshit things are. So, anyway, I puttered about in the bus for a little bit until I heard someone at the bus door: “Hey, brother, everything OK?”
I went over to answer the door, and we both took a step back when I came into view. The speaker was an NYPD officer I recognized who guarded us a while at Occupy Trinity Wall Street. He obviously recognized me also, but it was evident he didn’t remember where from. I told him I was OK, and he asked why I was there. I told him I was parking for the night, and asked if that was OK. He backed up some more and looked around warily while warning me, “You can park here, but stay aware of where you are. It is not safe here. Stay aware.” Smiling, I thanked him for his concern as he quickly beat feet for his car, obviously frightened to be out alone.
I thought to myself: ‘Maybe it’s dangerous for him because he’s a cop, but I’m an Occupier.’ So back to puttering around the bus I went, though I admit I was already aware of my environment, and knew the dangers. I’m not stupid. I haven’t lived on the streets of New York City for a year and a half without learning, and coupled with my past experiences in New Haven and Bridgeport, I knew that to be unaware on the streets is to be a victim. Long-time hard-grounders are always aware . . . it’s the only way to get to “long-time” status.
Shortly after that visit I received another. A thin woman, looking older than she probably was considering her attire, came bursting into the bus while I was on the computer. She was obviously very high: a bit unsteady on her feet, a bit over-emotional, a bit aggressive. She was angry I was parked there, and demanded “What you all doin’ here?”
I started to explain, and at the mention of Occupy Wall Street I could see she was trying to remember where she had heard of it. That attempt at remembering was over quickly. Within a couple seconds she shook her head and said, “It’s not safe for you here. Why did you park here?”
I told her we were homeless, and lived on the bus. She exclaimed in a forceful outburst, interrupting me, “You ain’t homeless!” That is an accusation I have gotten a lot since I started living on the streets. I wonder why people think I am not homeless. My clothes are dirty, I usually haven’t taken a shower in weeks, I carry all my possessions with me everywhere, I sleep on sidewalks and I have no money — what else do I need to do to prove my homelessness? Actually, I consider the entire City to be my home and so am not without a home — maybe that is what people sense.
Not knowing what to say I simply shrugged and said, “Yo. I am.” But she was already on another topic: “Why do you need a computer?” she demanded, as if a computer was a clue to my real and nefarious identity. I tried to explain, but she cut me off with an animated, “It ain’t safe for you here! Go away! Night comes, you better be gone! Don’t stay here!” And as quickly as she had entered, she left, muttering angrily to herself as she tottered her way down the sidewalk. I thought I heard the word “fool” a few times . . .
Moments later, while I was still considering that encounter, she popped back into the bus with a final warning, “It ain’t safe for you! You should go!” Then she was gone again.
Still unflustered, I went back to my computer work. Soon I noticed a small group of people outside the bus, talking about the bus. They were peering in the windows, trying to see past the curtains. One of them went around to the other side of the bus, where I had the curtains drawn back, and called to the others, “Come over here! Look here! You can see better!”
So, putting the computer down I called out to them, “Yo! Come on in and take a good look.” They gathered at the door, and I met them there. Introducing myself, shaking hands and explaining the bus I noticed all five of them seemed giddy but very nervous. They were all middle-aged, so the behavior was out of place and intrigued me. I told them about the solar panels for electricity and the waste vegetable oil for fuel. I told them about Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Bus Tour. When I asked them to come in to check out the bus they started to physically show fear, and although each did step into the bus eventually, none went more than a step into the bus. All left faster than they entered. Some needed encouragement from the others before entering, an indication of their fear of being, I presume, snatched away by me.
After they all had seen the inside, one shook my hand and told me, “I respect what you’re doing, and I respect that you parked here. But it’s not safe for you here. You should go.”
And then I finally got the message . . . maybe it was not safe for Stacey and I here at this time. Although, being a hard-grounder, I was loathe to admit any public space was not appropriate for me to be occupying — it just had to be done right, respecting the rights of the people already there.
When Stacey came back from the gentrified, hipster part of Dumbo just one block away in the opposite direction from the days visitors (except the cop), I told her of my encounters. Like myself, Stacey did not want to leave, but agreed that perhaps we needed to approach this in a different fashion. We discussed it, and decided to head over to Prospect Park because we knew we’d find a safe, parking space. But we also decided that we are going back to that parking spot in Dumbo, but this time we’ll do it right — we’ll occupy. We will get there early in the day and set up everything we have — info, comfort, library, solar charging, medical, kitchen and, of course, outreach. We figure that by the end of the day everybody living there will have heard the gossip about us (free coffee and food will do that for you), and then being recognized as Occupiers and not gentrifiers we will be accepted. That’s the theory anyway, and we aim to test it out. Wish us luck!
One last thought: we didn’t move until near midnight, and by then the street behind us had filled up with night-people. They were gathering in their nightly party spot, music playing, conversations going between many small groups of people, and the noise level was rising quickly. If we had stayed we would have had an interesting night, that’s fer sure, yo.
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