Monday, October 7, 2019

Bike Riding the Gowanus through Everyday Life, Bidding Adieu to Andy V, ¡Pa’lante!

An invasion of cats. 

The little one and the Burghers of Calais. 

Andy Vélezpresente y pa'lante!

Magic places are still everywhere here.  

Eric fighting back tears. 

Bravo Andy!

In the 1970’s,
some my favorite moments
happened on my bike,
Riding to Trenton,
Through the streets of Atlanta,
Down Peachtree
Between cars.
Careening through the air,
Down a hill,
Over a ramp,
In a vacant lot. 
Finding secret places.
Exploring the city.

Those magic places are everywhere.
If we open our eyes to them.
Epic Abstractions and Etruscan Ruins,
Rays of light through glass.
Kids drawing.
Helen smiling,
Buttocks pouting,
Greek and Roman rooms on the first floor,
Sculptures on the roof at the Met.

Dreams with Dad paying a visit on Saturday.
Greeting me from a distance.
Are you really here?
What are you doing?
Dad huffs off,
Leaving just as soon he arrived,
Scraping two elbows.
A lost car.
Always lost.
A smile on a bike among fragments on a Saturday morning.
Morning sunrise.
Looking at our neighborhood, taking new life.
Everyday life is always a struggle.

      High planes drifter lulling me.
Feeling futile.
A week of actions ahead.
Uncertainty grasping.
Wondering if we’ve gone too far or not far enough.
All you need to know of your relationship is right there in that dream.
The cats come to visit.
Dancing in the morning light.

Pouring over the books of the day.
Lefebvre on Everyday Life.
The Overstory Richard Powers.
Looking to fight off the noonday demon.

“The history of a single day includes the history of the world -- and of civilization; time, its source unrevealed…” writes Henri Lefebvre, referring to Ulysses.

“Dublin, the city with its river and bay, not merely a distinctive setting, the scene of action, but a mystical presence, material city and image of the City,

“Dublin, the City, becomes all Cities, the River stands for all rivers and waters…”

“…everyday life becomes less and less bearable, less and less interesting…” confesses the philosopher.

Does it really?
Certainly, its harder to make sense of.
The philosopher continues.
“Everyday life is made of recurences fences: gestures of labour and leisure…hours, days, weeks, months, years, linear and cyclical repetitions, natural and rational time, etc.”

Reading, getting ready for Marxism after Marx with Stanley Aronowitz.
Back  to the source,  yet again:

I ride to class where,
We share our stories. 
One narrative after another.
 “I grew up in the East Bronx,” Stanley begins.
“And played violin.  My mother was a musician and dragged me to the opera.”

My mind drifts to the night. 
“I was born in the Bronx.” Andy V told Sarah Schulman in  the  ACT UP oral  history.  “My dad came from working class people.  My dad was native Puerto Rican.  My mother was born in Warsaw, she was Jewish.  And I was raised both in New York and in Puerto Rico – learned to speak Spanish when I was really young and was bi-lingual and I still am…My father married twice after that. And neither one of them cared very much about their religion, as long as we didn’t take the religion of the other.  I briefly – because we were solicited by a Presbyterian Church worker – attended Presbyterian Church, in my early teens.  Then they started telling us about hell, and I was so busy jerking off all the time and stealing from the donation plate,that I knew that was not the place for me, so I headed right for the theater, and that’s where I found my first tribe…”
The theater, that was where Andy found his first tribe.

Stanley found his in a factory with a union, locating a history of struggle:
“Marxism is one stream  out of the death of Marx in  1893.  Others were not recorded.
Socialism and communism looks to be a worker’s movement,  in which the means of production shifts hands, when the Soviets controlled the  economy….”

I ask if we can move toward Lefebvre and everyday life?  Why so much cruelty?  Why the step toward the totalitarian?

“They really have not critiqued themselves, that they were a powerful state,” Stanley replies.  “Lenin talked about it as a period of war communism, devoting the conflict toward position. They turned on the anarchists who helped them win the revolution in the first place, arresting them, expelling them, putting them in jail.”

“What Lefebvre was doing in Dialectical Materialism, we know from the Soviet experience, abolition of private  property leads to new  forms of autocracy,” posits Stanley.

Lefebvre begins with a nod to Hegel and our everyday struggles.
“The life of the Spirit is not that life which shrinks from death and seeks to keep itself clear of all corruption, but rather the life which endures the presence of death within itself and preserves itself alive within death.”

 “Everyday life was the layer below means of production; it was the activity people lived,” Stanley continues.  “The basic problem was the question of everyday life.  It disappears under capitalism. Many of us are wage slaves, said Marx.  Lefebvre builds on this.  Sartre, Camus, Raymond AronMaurice Merleau-Ponty, - they all hung out calling for a new revolutionary line. His break with the party was 1947.
What is everyday life – to  attain it in everyday life.
In the neighborhood, the family as an arena of politics.”

Riding  home from Stanley’s house, I think of the kids, of Andy V, whose memorial  is later on in the day, of his everyday, a fight the my uncle over climate change, the book group later in the afternoon.  Constant questions about everyday, one day could be everything, if I try to get it right.  Can we turn it around?

The little one and I talk about the task at hand,
Share some noodles over lunch.
She bids me adieu.
I head to Activist Informed Reading Club.
Joni is hosting.
Catherine, Julie, and  Emily are there.
Petunia reviews the text.
In between stories about Ralph W E.
And Kathy Acker.
We should read her Dox Quixote says Catherine.
We’re not all sold on the Overstory.
A great concept, but the subjectivity of the trees remains to be found.
Not like the Giving Tree, Anne Frank’s  Diary, and JRR Tolkien where the trees are everything:

“I thought all the trees were whispering to each other, passing news and plots along in an unintelligible language; and the branches swayed and groped without any wind. They do say the trees do actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them.”

When their travels come  to an  end, Sam finds a favorite tree missing:
‘They’ve cut it down!’ cried Sam. ‘They’ve cut down the Party Tree!’ He pointed to where the tree had stood under which Bilbo had made his Farewell Speech. It was lying lopped and dead in the field. As if this was the last straw Sam burst into tears.”

We'll make an army in the trees and bring the earth and the people on it to their senses.”
writes Italo Calvino in The Baron in the Trees.

Few such sentiments emanate from the Overstory of interconnection and ecology, hippies in the woods, a world in metamorphoses, inspired by Ovid and Whitman.

  The work is anti-human and for good reason. Bulldozing trees at an astonishing rate, polluting, removing mountaintops, humans are the worst, we lament.

“To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful story,” writes Powers.

We don’t  quite buy it.

“I listened to it from South Bend to St Paul and back,” gushes Joni.

 “The activists can annoy me,” quips Emily, lamenting the cult of one upping she saw in Occupy.

“I fucking hate righteousness.”

I wish you’d known Andy.

Next time we’ll read poems.

It’s a good time to laugh. 

There is plenty sunshine left.

The little one and I ride, exploring vacant lots and quiet, empty alleys along the Gowanus.

The sun shining on the water.

Secret places remain. 

A fence is open to another lot.

Another place to jump.

“I see a gleam of happiness in your eye Dad,” smiles the little one.


“I wrote about you today,” she tells me.

“EB White prompts us to write about New Yorkers,

Who bring ideas from elsewhere.

You  came from somewhere else where you rode everywhere.

Now you ride everywhere here.”

Still time for Andy’s memorial.

Generations of ACT Uppers there.


See you in DC on Tuesday, we chat, trying  to keep up the struggle.

Carlos recalls, bringing us together.

Channeling years and years and years of friendship, as if a Greek Chorus, Jay Blotcher offers a tragicomic eulogy for Andy Velez.

Published with permission of the author.

“Good evening.

Over the decades, ACT UP has utilized a variety of tactics in its war on AIDS: Picketing, phone zaps and die-ins.

But our most powerful weapon has been Andy Velez’s sharp tongue.

Just like anarchist Emma Goldman, Andy adored stirring up trouble. Mischief  -- with redeeming social value.

It kept people on their toes.

Because, like Emma Goldman, Andy felt: If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

Andy’s defiance took the form of creating a quip for every occasion.
To some, these quips seemed glib, crass -- even wildly inappropriate.
Andy loved wildly inappropriate.

But Andy’s audacious lines were not random. They were well-planned. They were designed to defuse a tense situation with cops. Designed to remind us of the need for laughter in the face of tragedy. Designed to give hope.

Andy’s sayings were old, new, mostly borrowed and, yes, often blue.

So now, let us savor some samples of the Wit and Wisdom of Andy Velez – the unexpurgated version.

Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Does anyone still wear… a hat?

Some people can brighten a room just by leaving it.

Cut the crap.

Upon being introduced to someone new: I think we dated during the Eisenhower administration.

Now don’t dawdle, Amaryllis.

I am a woman of color.

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.

If bubbe had balls, she’d be a zeyde.

Cut the crap.

Never let good taste get in the way of an important protest.

Ooooh, that looks like a penis – only smaller.

Cut the crap.

This one was reserved for hypocritical politicians and members of Big Pharma: Kiss me before you fuck me, why don’t ya?

On the subject of death, Andy would say: When a loved one departs, the conversation with them doesn’t end; it just continues on a higher level.

And finally, when somebody went on too long at an ACT UP meeting, Andy would hold up a laminated index card that said “Sit down!”

So I will. Thank you, Andy.”

The mood of the room lightening.
Mark Milano recalls Andy V
Telling it to ACT UP.
And then a tribute to a friend,
As only Judy could, singing
You're Nearer."
As she did in 1961.

“I have to read it or I’ll never get  through it,” says  Jim Eigo, beginning his tribute.
Watching Jim, I’m  thinking  of all the actions with Andy, Jim, Eric Sawyer, and Mark Milano.
Countless actions.
Anniversary action after anniversary action.
But now one less.
It’s a hard departure.
But I guess they all are.
Still this one hurts.
ACT UP’s bard, Jim explains:

Sometime in 1989, in the middle of my first 5-year stint with the AIDS activist group ACT UP, Andy Velez said to me, “Jim Eigo, you are ACT UP’s Greta Garbo.” I did not have the courage at the time to ask Andy what he meant by that, so I let the matter rest. Then sometime in 2013, toward the beginning of my second 5-year stint with ACT UP, Andy said to me, “Jim Eigo, you are ACT UP’s Greta Garbo.” It took me a few weeks, but this time I did work up the courage to ask Andy if he was calling me aloof, Garbo’s signature trait. Andy looked at me like I was crazy & said, “Oh no, I mean your cheekbones.” I think these incidents, 24 years apart, underline 2 reasons why Andy was such a good activist. The first is his dogged consistency. That Andy, for 32 years, not only sat through but actively participated in the creative chaos of ACT UP meetings is proof enough of that. And that he was talking about cheekbones instead of character shows how much Andy, as activist, as a lover of theater & live music, as a queer who came of age well before the Stonewall Uprising, understood the importance of the selves we compose & show when we’re out in the world.
Two photographs from my Velez memory bank. In 2013 Andy & I went to the Public Theater to see the David Byrne/Fatboy Slim musical about Imelda Marcos “Here Lies Love.” The tickets we bought put us on the ground floor, without seats, slated to dodge the tumult of the dynamic staging. But Andy asked to speak to the house manager & somehow, at no extra charge, secured us the 2 best seats in a sold-out house, overlooking the center staging area, perfect for 2 distinguished older guys.
Here’s a more activist photo. Steve Helmke, who’ll be speaking soon, was ACT UP’s point person in our effort to secure a sane, medically-based national policy on HIV & organ donation. But in mid-December of 2013 it was Andy who, with his firm, skilled negotiation with the cops, enabled the most beautiful ACT UP demo I ever attended, as activists & loved ones marched through Rockefeller Center after dark, behind the brilliantly-lit tree, to commemorate Lamont Valentin, a fine young activist & new dad who had died unnecessarily due to benighted policy. We died-in. The ground was freezing. After 30 seconds I got back to my feet. Andy gutted it out. When he at last got up, I hugged & thanked him for making this smart, heartbreaking demo possible. This evening I’d like to say again, “Thank you, Andy.”

The thing about Andy was his longevity, explains Ann Northrop, describing a man who filled his life with things he adored, bringing that richness to his activism.
A banner hang at St Pats, hung upside down.
Nobody’s perfect.
Courage and constancy was his legacy,
Never doubting.”

Tish James arrives out of nowhere. 
“I’ve come here to celebrate and I’ve come here to remember. 
He’s still with us fighting.”

By this time, I’m weeping.
Tish was there when my Aunt Judy died.
And now Andy.

"You'll Never Walk Alone" from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel is next.

“I’m gonna have a hard time getting through this cause I’m a cryer,” confesses Eric Sawyer.


“Take your time Eric,” we reply.


“How are you Andy?




“Sure sweetie,” he always replied when I called, asking for a favor.


“A great activist and friend. I love you. And I miss you already.”


Sitting there, I’m thinking about Eric’s battles through the years.

Of Andy and his capacity to connect with movements extending far from ACT UP, parades without permits, The  Radical Homosexual Agenda, our 24 – hour Occupy Broadway show, after our Beach Beneath the Streets book talk.

Action after action.

A cool intelligence and wit.

That could move mountains.

And inspire us all.  


We’re about done says Carlos.

And now family, two sons and a granddaughter who brings the room to a halt,

Witnessing of both a grandad and a legend merging in her mind.

If there was a dry eye…

I recall running into Andy at Brooklyn Youth Chorus to see her perform.

“I’m getting a little more selective with my activism now,” he explains, seemingly slowing.

His sons Ben and Abe read from a passage that sounds like Hurray for the Riff Raff's “Pa’lante”

With a heavy sample of Puerto Rican Obituary.
Or Puerto Rican Obituary alone?
                                                                  By Pedro Pietri          

All died dreaming hating and waiting…

From the nervous breakdown streets
where the mice live like millionaires
And the people do not live at all"


From el barrio to Arecibo, ¡Pa’lante!

From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, ¡Pa’lante!

To Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Manuel, ¡Pa’lante!

To all who came before, we say, ¡Pa’lante!

To my mother and my father, I say, ¡Pa’lante!

To Julia, and Sylvia, ¡Pa’lante!

To all who had to hide, I say, ¡Pa’lante!

To all who lost their pride, I say, ¡Pa’lante!

To all who had to survive, I say, ¡Pa’lante!

To my brothers, and my sisters, I say, ¡Pa’lante!



To all came before, we say, ¡Pa’lante!”

A lump in our throats.
Toasts to workers and activists and drug users.
To all who came before…
To those who are here.
And those just getting started. 
Andy Velez keep up the struggle. 

The train takes forever to get home.
But the little one is still up with her sister.
Hanging out, talking about what happened.
Greeting me, chatting away about the day.
Showing  me drawings.
“The history of a single day includes the history of the world…”

Next day at Judson,
We read from Mark 12:41-44
“I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave of out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”
He saw this in all of us.
He saw what we gave.
And applauded that.
Put your trust in the universe.
We have to.
Give what you can.
Think of others beyond yourself.
This is where human life gains meaning, Andy told his kids in letters years ago. 
The struggle over everyday life takes countless shapes, 
Formed with countless stories. 

Thanks Andy, for thinking of the workers and the activists and the invisible among us. 
Thanks  for seeing  us.


Can’t wait to see you in DC on the morning of 10/8.






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