Thursday, December 23, 2021

December Surprises, Dead Cities and Pandemic Times Once again


Vigil on Hoyt Street. 

"Greeting fellow workers,
So much exciting news this week!  Union elections in Buffalo, New York, Columbia grad students on strike, and a Café Des Cheap Artistes coming up on: Mon 12/13 at 7 pm at the Jalopy Theater!"  It was that kind of a week. 
The artist at work...making #nobkpipeline prints. DIY activism alive and well.

Sweet last moments before the second line. 

Good morning Brooklyn. Its gonna be a weird few days. Apparently even cats can get covid. Yikes..


December Surprises, Dead Cities and Pandemic Times Once again

All week we ran,

To East River Park on Sunday and Monday, where the shock was setting in. 

We lost.

The courts backed the city. 

A year when the climate crisis hit our shores, knocking holes in our ceilings, flooding our subways, the city’s best solution was to tear down the trees and green space which absorbs water, and pave over a park with a wall few believe will do much to actually prevent future floods. 

Despite community opposition, the courts ruled, offering a green light to tear down the trees. 

The hyper development frenzy continues, backed by the police.

Its just what they do, says Savitri, standing outside the park.

“Save East River Park before it happens to a park near you,” said one of the park defenders on Monday, standing off the Houston Street entrance to the park, as the trees were being cut down.  

“Hold the city accountable.”

“What do you think Ben,” asked Rev Billy.

“Plant a new tree, build a new green space,” I replied, not quite believing what I was seeing as the bulldozers chopped at the trees in the distance.

Later that night the Teenager, who’d been along for the vigil, and I made our way to Jalopy for the Boxcutter Collective’s Café Des Cheap Artistes, artists and activists filling the place. Everyone had masks but the place was still packed. Perhaps too packed. 

Still New York was at it, destroying itself, and creating art, diseases and pandemics moving between us, as we longed for community, fervently evading isolation in favor of a December we could remember, one we could feel, despite it all.

The next morning, we were out the door early, dropping the kid off at the train, to get ready for their school art show.

Across the Brooklyn Bridge we rode to join friends for the morning meditation to #stopline3, greeting JK and Gil on the other side. Friends across the country are facing felony and misdemeanor charges for fighting against the destructive pipeline. 

Finishing the meditation, we rode to East River Park to witness the destruction, past people exercising along the beloved river, signs of the times, waves rolling along the shore. Bike path is closed; park is closed, bulldozers destroying.  They were actually doing it, actually pulling the seats of the beloved amphitheater, where Joe Papp battled Robert Moses over Shakespeare in the Park, a place where we met, shared ideas, danced, built community and beat back pandemic isolation. Make no mistake, the destruction of East River Park, now guaranteed by the courts, will be remembered like the loss of Penn Station and New York's other shuttered treasures.

East River Park Action posted: · 

“We lost our appeal and we lost on the City's contempt. This is a truly a sad day, not only for us but for all parkland. This decision sets a terrible precedent for all parkland... All they have to do now is tack on some park related excuse to whatever they're doing and it will not need to go through alienation or state oversight. They could put a building in a park and say it's for environmental research for the park and it will be ok.

Thank you for your support. We are in mourning.”


 Eileen Myles drafted a poignant essay in Art News  on

The pointless demolition of Manhattan’s East River Park…

“De Blasio’s got two weeks left, a lot of friends in real estate, a lot of debt and, you know, it just feels like looting to me. He’s looting the city, that’s all. That’s what it is.”

It's a fireside sale, looting the commons.

After all, “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

Increase, reduce.

At home, we learned that the plans for the Gowanus Fracked Gas plant plan shut down. 

We win when we organize, says Ken.  At least sometimes we do.

Increase reduce.

At some point,  we stayed in, watching Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by  Hayao Miyazaki. It's a story about trees killed, habitat’s destroyed. Of course, the point is that the planet is resilient; it can withstand a lot of human destructiveness. But there are limits. There are costs when the balance is thrown.

We are all feeling those limits, especially now.   

Still, the rickety city is glorious, even as it's falling apart.

That's what it felt like all week. 

That's what it felt like as friend after friend dropped by to chat outside Barbes, Slavic Soul Party playing inside, many of us hanging chatting outside.

Some didn’t want to meet up, given the ever encroaching Omicron variant.

Each day, more cases.

Vaccinated and boostered I had had it with caution.

On Slavic Soul Party played. 

It was crowded again like Monday at Jalopy.

We just stayed a bit. 

And got a test the next day, just to be sure. 

News I was negative by Thursday. 

So was the teenager.

All week students finished their presentations on practice and policy.
One student talked about depathologizing to build a helping relationship, onward and outward. Others presented on trauma informed practice approaches to gang violence and child abuse, miscarriage and veterans, foster care and intimate partner violence, poverty and climate chaos.  One told the story of Nixzmary Brown, a kid from  Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn,  killed by her parent stepfather; another of Jr Guzman Felix, chased by a gang after hiding out in a bodega, the owners sending him outside where he was knifed and killed, in a case of mistaken identity. “This class is not for the faint of heart,” my student sighed finishing his presentation on Jr. “But its life.”  The whole class began to laugh. Catharsis feels good.  Sometimes it's ok just to really look at it all, even amidst the chaos. We all bounce back. We have to. But sometimes it's hard, he explained, reflecting on our semester reading Trauma and Recovery and the Body Keeps the Score, taking our adverse childhood experiences tests, coping with our various triggers and memories, breathing out the darkness, shaking it out, reading about the hard things that go on that we have to come to grips with and help others heal from, remembering and reconnecting all the way.

Two presented on the traumas of the pandemic, as if it was past tense, from a far away time, one that seemed to change everything, yet does not seem to be over at all.  Maybe it’ll never be? 

After the Union meeting, I went out to meet with the old RTS gang. 

21 years ago after Buy Nothing Day, 1999, when we held jail solidarity for the arrestees, charged with dancing too much on the city streets.

Year in year out, we’ve met to celebrate the anniversary, sometimes inside, sometimes outside.

The invite list still includes Chuck R who was outside with us, providing support for Brad W, and company, who were inside, doing time for dancing in Times Square, imploring the city to dance more and buy less, an obviously arrestable offense. The police were particularly violent that day, smarking Mark down head first to arrest him. When Brad and Mark got out, they grabbed the next flight for Seattle for the World Trade Organization Meeting demos. 

Today Brad and Chuck’s emails bounce, seemingly reverberating through time. 

It's all part of the collective mythology we share, here in the city.

First we chatted outside at the Magician, unpacking the debacle at East River Park.

Virginia was one of the arrestees, telling stories about jail that afternoon, for protecting the trees.

Why would NYC forgo a model that emphasized resilience and biodiversity that cost less?

Why would the city take a public space in a middle of a pandemic?

Oh yea, the Mayor has debts, Eileen Myles reminds us.

Pave a park, but up a condo?

On we chatted about the city and Glasgow and what comes next for our planet.

And we started to wind up, people standing to hug and say goodbye.

I began to ride home.

By the time I got to Delancey, I was wondering why I was leaving at 1045.

And turned around to meet my friends at Welcome to the Johnson’s for more.  

Timothée Chalamet was leaving as we were arriving. 

More friends from the gardens, bikes, and burning man worlds were stumbling in, ready for more. Inside, we talked about the solstice and the the blues, Burning Man Parties and actions, drinking cheep beer till closing time, chatting away, in that crowded bar with little ventilation.

What could possibly go wrong?

On we yacked riding back home late in the night. 

THe next day, I woke up with a scratchy throat. 

I guess there is the NYC party gene we all feel from time to time.

Sometimes it is important to lose one’s mind.

You gotta ride, gotta run, gotta stay up late with others.  More theater, more end of year art shows, more Lower East Side ghosts to dance with, making our way through an end of December, with events every night, to hear music, go to the theater, see friends and test a few limits. 

Saturday we went to bread and puppet, wearing masks, greeting a few friends inside. 

After the show, the teenager got notice one of her friends had tested positive.

I just saw her for a second for a hug, she told me.

Might have been enough. She started to cough. 

On her way to dinner, she took a rapid test.

Call me when you get the result, I asked, as I departed for mom’s house.

An hour later, I got word. 


But you were negative on Thursday.


I turned around. 

Tried to find take home tests on the street. 

Everywhere was sold out. 

Scratchy throat the next day. 

Still no tests.  Long lines. 

Went to meet a friend who had a spare.

First half hour after the test, one line is all there is.

Hoping for negative.

I start to celebrate. 

It's like waiting for a pregnancy test.

The instructions say wait ten more minutes.

A tiny second line starts to appear.

Two lines. 


My first positive.

Two vaccines and a booster later, still positive. 

The breakthrough is real.

No Christmas with the family. 

Texts to everyone I saw last week, a panicky text loop.

Lots of apologies. 

Negative on Thursday, positive Sunday. 

I guess it was inevitable, says the teenager, looking down the barrel of vacation in isolation. 

Pretty soon everyone is going to get it.

Each day a record number of new cases.

I’m trying to stay positive.

It ain’t always easy. 

Life is what it is, the yin and the yang of it is what it is.

Scratchy throat, stuffy nose, etc. 

COVID is a physical disease. 

But it's also a social affiliation, born through community contact.

The mental health challenges of prolonged isolation, compound with each day.

Friends help, even from afar.

No one is judging, just curious, everyones getting tested again.

We are all wondering about what party we went to with whom, where we got hug, with whom, were they vaccinated, where did we stop for a drink, or a bite, or a dance, or go inside for a minute or eat. 

The hot party was on the inside. Looks like the crowd who went in suffered it, breathing on top of each other, a few more positives.

And now, we are home, isololating, texting, wondering who has Timothy’s digits. 

I think he’s in London.

Someone should call him.

Looking back at the week, the visit to the valley of the wind, where trees hold our secrets, the roots warning each other about the bulldozers, the squirrels wondering what happened, our friends look out for each other, telling jokes, and trying be to safe as we navigate a world of pandemics and climate change, hyper development and a disappearing commons.

I guess I’ve always had a propensity for the social diseases; they’ve always come my way. 

Maybe you can write another book in your quarantine said one friend when she heard.

Maybe I will.

For now, I'll grade and write and look at the city and its people, everyone tracing who saw who, who hugged who before they saw who. 

Each day new record numbers. 

A friend has to cancel plans to train up to see her family.

Another has to miss a trip back home after her brother died.

I haven't seen mine in months. 

And a strange message from Jalopy

“Dear Friends,

Given the current situation this will be of no surprise, but we just found out that a couple of people who were in attendance at the Cafe Des Cheap Artistes on Monday December 13th at the Jalopy Theater and Tavern have now tested positive for Covid 19. We do not know of anyone in attendance who was positive at the time that they were at the event. However, we cannot be 100% sure that is the case, so in the interest of full transparency we wanted to let you know. As always, getting tested, if possible, is a good idea. Stay safe and let's help each other get through this.”

Go write another novel during your isolation. 

I like that idea. 

Lori Gross posts:


 · “2021 Solstice Haiku

Cherish the darkness

For in our dreams we can fly

And dance in the light..”


Each day, we light more candles on the roof and hope for some peace.

"Empire Report Breaking News Alert:

New York broke its single-day COVID case record for the fifth time in a week Wednesday, an astounding 28,924 new infections that mark a 30% jump from the record set earlier this week, as new state data shows the stark rate of vaccine efficacy decline when it comes to new infections for certain age groups.


Stay tuned to Empire Report for updates…”

a tiny second line says it all. 

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