Camille Reyes

Posts Tagged ‘New York’

My (first) Brush with Occupy Wall Street

In Culture, Protest on November 18, 2011 at 12:37 am

I woke up early this morning with my head on a pillow located in the East Village of Manhattan. I had made the short trek from Jersey the night before to assure an early start, not for a protest of the state of affairs in this country, but rather a celebration.

I was to witness the marriage of two friends at city hall. The experience was wonderful, and when the officiant emphasized the power given him by the great state of New York, we truly felt proud, proud of the system of governance that recognizes the responsibilities and benefits of a beautiful union. My civic pride would take a turn in the afternoon, however.

My participation in the Occupy Wall Street day of action was severely limited due to the wedding, a business meeting and most of all, the fact that I was heavy laden with luggage for my trip back to Jersey. Undaunted, I decided to attempt to join the Student-Faculty centered protest in Union Square as this meshed best with my location and one of my specific interests in the movement. As a first-time union member (Rutgers- AAUP), I was also pumped to represent the power of Labor.  However, my meeting at NYU ran late. My phone was acting up. I wasn’t sure if the protest was still in progress. I began to cut through Washington Square Park when my question was answered from above. Four helicopters were hovering around what I reasoned must be the Union Square protest.

The sound and look of the choppers was eerie. Strange how one technology can save lives, kill in combat, and engage in a softer kind of menace: watching. I began to play an easy game in my head I call, “Guess the media coverage.” With several blocks ahead of me, I’d won my game with a blandly partisan-spiced narrative that essentially said the protests were disruptive of commerce, and therefore bad. Never mind that the most famous protest in our history involved the literal dumping of commodities into a bay, a moment itself now twisted and co-opted by a corrupt cause. (My proof of hollow victory would come later after watching news reports, but this is for another post.)

About three blocks away, walking up 5th Avenue, I could feel the mood shift. This kind of “feeling the city” has always been one of my favorite, if bewildering, facets of New York City in particular. The electricity of the place is the stuff of cliché, however the urbanity here achieves a kind of language. I sensed the tension from the people coming toward me. I felt the excitement of fellow travelers uptown. I could see police cars in the distance blocking the street. The old stone buildings had a different presence this day.

And that hum, the sound of the totalizing media eye hovering above, whispered that I might be heading into trouble.

As I got a block away, a kind woman, likely concerned about me and all my literal baggage, shouted to me, “Be careful going up there.” “Maybe I should rethink this,” I thought to myself. In addition to logistical issues, I am a novice when it comes to civil disobedience. I have participated in protests in Portland and Salem, Oregon, but not without a blanket permit. The injustices of the police raid on Zuccotti park three days prior however, spurred me forward. I wanted solidarity. I wanted a collective voice.

I met a wall of onlookers (or participants? The line between the two was blurry-another groovy aspect of NYC) at 5th and 13th. I could not physically move forward, nor could I turn my gaze any other direction, but to my right. There behind a construction zone, facing uptown, was a formation of maybe 100 police officers in riot gear. I immediately began to take pictures, as did many around me. I felt compelled to capture this omen. I was afraid.  Keep in mind they were just standing there waiting for orders, but they had their shields on and batons ready. I had never seen anything like it without mediation. There, unfiltered and without any action on their part, I was spooked by the police. People like to remind us that the police are part of the 99%, yet watching them was a nauseating feeling of “us versus them.”  The picture shown here is terrible in terms of composition—I was too short to capture the breadth of the assembled force and my camera phone was not up to the task. Yet, this is not my point. Taking pictures allowed me some sense of control, and strength in numbers pushed back what might have been a greater fear of calling attention to myself.

Concern for my wellbeing was momentarily interrupted by the recollection of a friend who was almost certainly in the thick of the protest. I texted her a picture of the ominous force, the location and a nudge to take care. In hindsight, the text was a bit naïve, as she has no doubt seen much worse in person, and again, they weren’t doing anything. But I was genuinely freaked out. Were the police scared? How did they feel lined up there with hundreds of people photographing them in a sea of palpable fear?

I stood at the edge of the protest, still unable to move to the Square, and began to look around. There were students in an academic building above W 14th street holding signs in the windows, one urging all students to occupy their classrooms. A small band of protesters, disconnected from the main body I suppose, began to chant below the windows.  A passer-by said to a friend, “Good for them. Bloomberg made it worse by kicking them out of the park.” This was indeed a delicious truth.

I felt like I was observing one suction cup on one tentacle of a giant 1%, mainstream media,Corporate-State eating squid, one of hundreds unleashed across the country. Fear began to yield to excitement and hope.

Sadly (or maybe fortunately based on my luggage-laden state), I had to make my way West to honor commitments in Jersey (and avoid a nasty parking ticket). I still feel energized though, sitting here in my cozy college town apartment, and determined to fully participate next time when I am better prepared for the risks.

A Sense of Place

In Culture, Travel on January 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm

My Lost City by F. Scott Fitzgerald

From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood — everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora’s box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits — from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground. –F. Scott  Fitzgerald

****

The poem is a melancholy ode, one of haunting beauty.  Yet, I look upon this city with eyes not jaded, hopes not dashed.  When I look down from the Empire State I see no limits.  The booms and busts never cease, no matter how high one climbs atop the masterpieces.  The shore might disturb the urban canyons, but I see endless yearning, the potential of a teeming humanity, the indomitable spirit of New York.  This place is still a universe to me.  And though I remember fondly the snowy peak of Mt. Hood, I do not yet tire of my steel fortresses, the wild energy pulsing through their girders.  I wonder if I ever shall.

If I do grow weary of the roar, I hope I’ll have the good sense to return to the Columbia River Gorge and bathe my eyes in the quiet beauty, the wonder of my adopted home, my Portland.  Sitting alone at the edge of Punch Bowl falls, I decided there, in the middle of Eagle Creek trail, that I would someday drive 3,021 miles to settle nearby, to view it in every season.  I kept my promise, and nature kept hers.

Before I return to the land of impossible green however, I dream, as only a New Yorker can, of capturing words filled with such exquisite pain as Fitzgerald’s.  I want to write Gatsby sentences constructed out of platinum stardust.  This is the place to do it.  This is where he did it.  From his glorious rubble, I will imagine pages on new palimpsests, always holding close his egg, this city, and my Western home.

To Joy, with love

In Philosophy on December 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm

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I’ve been stressed lately.  The last time I was genuinely stressed involved a software company in Washington and a overdeveloped sense of responsibility.  The culprit this time is academia and a overdeveloped sense of politics.  I’ve been playing the “what should I get my PhD in” game, and losing.  A friend helped me realize today, through one of her web sites, that I was putting the strategy before the horse.

Before I pick mad gifted doctoral program #1 (of 6-10), I need to stop, collaborate and listen.  Who knew Vanilla Ice was a philosopher?  Me, that’s who.  What do I WANT to do?  I chose NYU and grad school even though it meant some pretty large professional sacrifices, not the least of which was working for the best PR agency in the universe.  This choice has proven to be a magical one–exactly what I was destined to do.

My dad and I talk about destiny a lot.  He believes that we already know what we know, we just have to uncover it.  Sounds a bit like Heidegger, Plato and a lot like my dad–my Cuban American poet/anarchist. I toss a certain spiritual, God directed element into that mix thanks to my mother and her mother before her.  Walk on down the line.  I wish more people could look at life in this manner.  It might not be the most productive system, but it sure feels good. Kudos to mom and pops.

I want to perform, period.  I love sharing, be it through writing or singing in particular. A doctorate would work wonders for my writing, no matter the Humanities field.  I relish the scholarly discipline and the incredible feedback of the academic process.  Yet, I also want to share broadly (hello, blog; next stop world) and the academy holds very few open houses.  Then there is the music. 

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A Grocery Fairy Grows in Brooklyn

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2009 at 1:37 am

I discovered a Key Foods grocery store only a short walk from my apartment the other day.  This is noteworthy since I had a back busting adventure recently on the subway stairs with “carty,” my little laundry/grocery cart.  So I rolled on over to Key to buy my staples (fizzy water, turkey, Amy’s organic honey bunnies, <other items requiring no cooking whatsoever>).

I get in the check out line with one person in front of me when the universe grinds to a halt due to some special coupons from the shopper ahead.  Like every other narcissist on the planet, I engaged in a short soliloquy, “I always pick the wrong line.”  Inside, I was thrashing as if I were a three-year-old mainlining pixie sticks. My face, however, was the picture of calm, like sleepy Gulf coast waters.  Grocery chi.

Finally I moved up, but the woman in front of me was lingering.  She kept looking at my groceries and the cash register.  At first, I felt slightly violated.  Maybe I don’t want a total stranger to know that I own a kitchen magnet that says, “If it fits in a toaster, I can cook it!”

Then, she repeatedly asked the check out clerk the amount of my bill.  Comparison shopping?  Surely no one eats like me.  Then, she says, “Don’t worry, I got it.”  She swipes her credit card before I realize I’m having a fairy godmother moment.  “Why?” I asked in complete shock.  “Because you had to wait so long,”  she replies.  “Who are you?” She would not tell me her name as I stood there flashing a smile to the space station.  I thanked her profusely.

Gives the expression, “only in New York” new meaning.

The Goog

In Culture on August 19, 2009 at 12:42 am

A friend encouraged me, okay ordered me, to go to a museum today.  I needed to get over my preference for activities with friends (in short supply at the moment), and experience the cultural theme park stretched out before my feet.  I chose the Guggenheim for the current Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) exhibit.  When I went to the Getty Museum (built by Richard Meier) in Los Angeles many years ago, I frankly was more moved by the architecture tour than the art hanging on the walls.  I know relatively little about architecture, and my chilly relationship with spatial relations makes it an impossible career choice.  Yet, I remain a fan–the kind who would rather read a Rand passage about a building than pretty prose of a pastoral landscape.

Speaking of nature, FLW was quite fond of it, intending his buildings to be at one with the site.  He detested cities, an irony which was not lost on him, however he envisioned some spectacular urban plans.  I particularly liked this quote from one of the cases: “I have found that when a scheme develops beyond a normal pitch of excellence the hand of fate strikes it down,” said Frank Lloyd Wright.

I wanted to learn more about those hands of fate.  Sure, the exhibit captures his consistently amazing pitch in grand style, but what of the drama behind the scenes?  We have a long-standing joke in the advertising business.  You know the one where the client looks at a mock up and says, “I like it, but make the logo bigger.”  I wish it were a joke.   I imagine some tycoon, belly spilling over a glorious Wright blueprint, saying, “Frankie, it’s grand, but lose the windows.” Where’s the extortion?  The hideous compromises?  The sliding of Falling Water into the earth? One description did make me laugh out loud, likely annoying other patrons nearby.  There is an office tower somewhere in Oklahoma that was commissioned to be two or three stories tall.  FLW submitted a plan for 22 stories to the owner.  They compromised at 19.  I think I’ll remember that the next time I’m called upon to negotiate.

I suppose since the exhibit is housed in the Guggenheim, itself a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, my imaginary incendiaries would be sacrilege.  After all, Wright died just days before the inauguration of the fantastic structure with its endless spiral ramp atrium.  The bones bleed class, and the Upper East Side address doesn’t hurt either.  I love it when buildings upstage their art.  Kandinsky?  Nah, I’m with Frank.

The Guggenheim