The Bendy Tree Memorial, Part 2

September 29

I said earlier “If it had just been a farewell to the tree, I’d have thought it was silly enough to do at night, but not worth commenting on.”

So this memorial was not held at night. That’s in its favor.

It was seriously wacked out though. You would never know we were living in the beginning years of the 21st century!


 
* * *

There were two circuses this day!

_MG_2449
Circus Amok in Tompkins Square Park

One of them was definitely more fun!

* * *

September 30

The spirits are angry! One of them is, anyway. Someone must have committed heresy at the bendy tree memorial, and vengeance was swift. Within hours of the memorial, this willow tree in El Jardin de Paraiso was ripped asunder.

_MG_2506
Vengeance is mine, sayeth some aggrieved spirit.

_MG_2508
Where the heretics were meant to be standing.

Oh, what has been unleashed upon us? Only the sacred words from the long-lost rune stone can save us now!

Oh Wah!
Tah Gooh!
Siam!

Say this repeatedly and you will attain enlightenment.

The Bendy Tree Memorial, Part 1

I am separating the bendy tree memorial story into two parts.

Part 1 is performance artist Bill Talen.


 
***

Part 2 should be up tomorrow. Stay tuned!

The Bendy Tree

On September 14, a group of people led by performance artist Bill Talen (“Reverend Billy”) met in Tompkins Square Park to “pray and sing” at the site of the bent elm, the bendy tree.

The performance was supposed to start at 8:30pm, but at 8:30, people were still milling about.

_MG_1816
People milling about the bendy tree.

It didn’t get underway until around 8:40pm, when Talen enjoined people to surround the tree. They climbed over the fence that surrounded the tree and circled it. There were about a dozen people, most of whom were part of Talen’s Stop Shopping Choir.

_MG_1822

Once around the tree, Talen began his speech. I commented on it the next day on EVGrieve’s report of this performance:

    It wasn’t so much a prayer for the tree as a challenge to the science used to determine that the tree was structurally unsound, criticizing “professional arborists,” “academics,” etc., equating the removal of the tree to gentrification at one point, to removing anything “different”. It was pretty appalling to listen to (except for the singing, which was very good, I’ll say!).

    If it had just been a farewell to the tree, I’d have thought it was silly enough to do at night, but not worth commenting on. As it was, if you exchanged a few of the nouns, it could have been a global warming denial sermon.

Gamma, from Gammablog, was there shooting a video (below). I don’t know if he read what I wrote above, and decided not to include Talen’s anti-academic screed, or if he himself was embarrassed by it, or if he just wasn’t there when it happened, but that part of the speech (which occurred at the beginning) is missing from the video, although there are other disparaging comments about those whose conclusion it was that the tree was unsafe.


 
* * *

Saturday morning, September 20, the people from the Parks Department showed up to remove the tree. This is the video I shot of that event:


 
While taping, a guy standing next to me said “You know, there’s nothing wrong with this tree.”

“Yes there is,” I said. “It’s not safe.” He went on to tell me arborists agree with him, and I should talk to arborists.

I told the guy “They’ve been studying this tree for years.1 They didn’t just walk in one day and say “This tree has to come down! There isn’t some Earth Spirit that’s going to come save it,” but you can’t reason with a man of faith.

Towards the end, I moved to the other side. This same guy there too, with his iPhone. When they cut through the tree, exposing the hollowed-out center, I said to him “There’s your proof,” but he didn’t respond.

* * *

About half way through the process of cutting it down, Bill Talen showed up, in costume, but alone. He attempted to climb the tree, or at least acted as if he was attempting it, then mounted the top of the workers’ truck, and did a modified version of his performance from earlier in the week. He spoke this time of Anne Frank, and the tree she wrote about in her diary2, and what people did when that tree was dying. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and threw it into the crowd I was in, exhorting someone to go to a hardware store and buy a ladder, using his credit card. A guy next to me picked up the wallet, but didn’t leave to buy the ladder.

I haven’t processed the video of him on the truck, and subsequently being arrested, because I don’t want to promote his nonsense. As I wrote before, I’m tired of the preacher schtick. But that by itself wouldn’t prevent me from posting a video of one of his performances. It’s the anti-rational argument he gives regarding the tree that I won’t promote. Some other time, some other performance, and I’ll put it on YouTube, but not this one.

Tomorrow, Sunday, September 28, he will be at the tree again, this time for a memorial. I will be there with my video camera; maybe I’ll be able to post it!

In conclusion, I just want to say that this looks way better now!

_MG_2437

* * *

Meanwhile, not a word was uttered regarding a tree at the Avenue A and 7th Street entrance to the park, that was cut down on Monday, September 15. No memorials were held, no prayers, no circus acts. It was so… normal!

_MG_2446

=-=-=-=-=

1 There was a cable attached to the taller tree behind it, holding it up. It was put there years ago. People have been aware of the precariousness of this tree for a long time, and did what they could to preserve it.

2 My god! Where do you even begin?! The significance of Anne Frank; the significance of fascism, and specifically Nazism; even the significance of the chestnut tree (it was the roots of a chestnut tree that revealed the meaning of existence to Antoine Roquentin in Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea). This elm doesn’t come close to any of those. Talen debases them all with his comparison!

Tompkins Square Park 26th Police-Riot Reunion

Time certainly flies. It seems like only yesterday I was writing about the Tompkins Square Park 25th Police-Riot Reunion, and here we are now at year 26.

It’s raining as I write this (8/2 – 08:15) — it’s forecasted to rain all day — but the show will go on, rain or shine, says the promoter.

The weird thing about weather.com is that when you look at the summary forecast, it says one thing:

26-tsp-reunion-weather

but when you check the hourly forecast, oftentimes it says something completely different:

26-tsp-reunion-weather-hourly

What’s up with that? How are you supposed to know what to believe?

Another thing I don’t like about weather.com is that when you connect, to find out what the weather will be, you’re met with links to videos that have nothing to do with the weather:

26-tsp-reunion-weather-videos

* * *

Since it’s Saturday and I’m not working, I don’t have to plan ahead what to wear or take with me. I’ll base my decision on whatever’s happening at 12:45. I’ll take an umbrella, just in case. I don’t want my camera to get wet. And it’s six hours long, so I’m going to bring my book!

This year there are only two days of concerts. The bands are:

Saturday
Iconicide
Nihilistics
Ruckus Interruptus
Transgendered Jesus
Urban Waste

Sunday
Bowery Boys
Hammerbrain
David Peel
Penguin
Rosabelle Selavy
Sewage
The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

* * *

Saturday

I arrived at Tompkins just before 1:00pm, when the flier said they would begin.

Little did I know that they meant begin building the stage!

26-tsp-reunion-building-stage
12:48

I called my wife and told her I could help her take her books over the The Strand to sell now, after all, as she had wanted, instead of at some unspecified time in the future, as I had wanted.

When I got back over to the park, at around 2:30, Chris Flash was introducing the weekend’s events:

26-tsp-reunion-chris-flash
Concert organizer Chris Flash

He talked a bit about the riot, the days that followed, and the inception of The Shadow. When he was finished, he said there were still ten minutes left and anyone “who can speak coherently, who isn’t a complete lunatic” could come up and speak. Fortunately, only one lunatic spoke. Unfortunately, he wasn’t incoherent.

The bands finally started at around 3:00. I couldn’t stay for the whole show, though. I had to get back to the garden where I’m a member, for the screening of “Your Day is My Night,” part of the MoRUS “Women of the Lower East Side” film festival.

* * *

Sunday

It’s clear to me now that the flier distributed to promote this show was wrong: it was not scheduled to start at 1:00. I arrived just before 1:00 again, and sat on a bench watching the stage builders rebuild the stage.* I thought about waiting until 3:00, but it rained earlier and it was very humid, and I had a lot of work to do at home, before picking up my son from Grand Central, so I decided to just pack it in and go back home. I didn’t see any of Sunday’s show, so the only video I have is of the first three bands that played on Saturday.

But before that! One of the people in the video featured prominently in a previous Quilas piece. Do you know which one? The first correct responder will receive the Quilas Certificate of Recognition, suitable for framing!

certificate-of-recognition

Now, on to the video!
 

=-=-=-=-=

* Wasn’t the deal with the city that they would provide a temporary stage, in exchange for tearing down the bandshell? Did the time expire on that deal, or did they just renege? Or is it something else? Answer in the Comments section. You won’t get a certificate, but doing the right thing is its own reward.

The Pathology of the “East Village”

[Updated 10/10]

I started a version of this article many weeks ago, after a post on EV Grieve
ran with this photo:

eliciting this comment:

evg-heroin-tsp-0805-1635

Then recently, in an article about a memorial in Tompkins Square Park for a “crusty” who died, one commenter wrote:

evg-comment-light-violence-0919-1052 1

Comments such as these are not uncommon. There’s some troll element, to be sure, but most of it is legitimate (in that it’s not trolling). Since that time, I slowly gathered examples to demonstrate that there is a vocal faction of people in the “East Village” who are basically misanthropes. I wasn’t very active collecting this, but all of a sudden a truckload of it fell into my virtual lap!

But first, I must digress.

***

Early in the week of September 22, this sign went up in my neighborhood:

atwe4sba-anti-drug-mtg

On September 24, this story ran on EV Grieve:

evg-drug-mtg-story

I attended the meeting. My original estimation of the number of people in attendance was 35, including the representatives of the 9th Precinct and District Attorney’s office, but I was later told that the sign-in sheet at the desk showed it was closer to 50. Almost everyone had a story, of drug use (mostly heroin) taking place in their vestibules, dealers operating out of a renovated but unoccupied building, dealers having keys to the NYCHA buildings and operating out of them, members of community gardens who have all but abandoned the gardens because of drug dealing in them… They came from all through the neighborhood, from 3rd and 5th Streets as well as both avenues, even Houston Street. Many of them said they heard about the meeting from EV Grieve.

The attendees were 80%+ black and hispanic, most over 40. Some live in the NYCHA buildings under siege. Some were representatives of shelters and treatment centers in the area. Many have lived here since the 1980s and were founding members of the community gardens on the block. That might fit the demographic of people in this area who attend meetings, but it also demonstrates (spoiler alert!) that they weren’t young transplants trying to sanitize the neighborhood.

There will be a follow-up meeting October 9. In the intervening time, people with sales/use taking place in their buildings will approach the owners and try to get the building registered in the city’s Trespass Affidavit Program. And everyone was urged to call 911 when they see drug sales/use taking place. The 9th Precinct rep said that despite the number of stories people had, there have been very few calls, so they were not aware of the severity of the problem.

***

It didn’t take long after EV Grieve’s post for the rats to emerge! One response on the blog itself:

evg-drug-mtg-0925-1320

But the EV Grieve Facebook page is where the worst appeared. (Coincidentally enough, an article appeared on Slate the same day, titled “Facebook’s for Middle-Aged Narcissists”.

I divided the Facebook comments into two categories: Presumptuous; and Misanthropic.

Presumptuous

0924-0905b

0924-0936

0924-1003

0924-1009

Misanthropic

0924-0904

0924-0905a

0924-1016

0924-1025

0924-1214

0924-1323

0924-1649

One of the things discussed at the meeting is that the dealers will smile at residents, to try to ingratiate them. It’s no different than greeters in stores: it’s part of their selling strategy. To think that this demonstrates beneficence on their part is naive.

***

I don’t think there’s a single one of them who doesn’t argue from a white-privileged position. Why is it always older, white people who glorify drug sales/use? I think it’s because they know they won’t be directly affected by it — only peripherally, like the people who think Giuseppe Logan being mugged is a small price to pay to keep people they don’t like out of the neighborhood.1 They chose to live here when they could have chosen to live somewhere else.2 They see it taking place, but it’s not their lives that will be destroyed by it.

No doubt they find it romantic, or adventuresome. This is their “authentic” New York neighborhood. This is how they define themselves, as people who lived under harsh conditions and survived. There’s a song (I forget the name of it) with a line “New York is where people go to live out their fantasy of being Lou Reed.” It’s telling that no one ever imagines themselves to be Johnny Thunders!

lou-reed-johnny-thunders

***

I want to be clear that I’m not lumping together everyone who moved here in the 1970s/80s, only the sociopaths. There were definitely people who had a larger social vision, of taking back the land, of the right to the city. But these people did not view the heroin trade as positive in any way.

Marlis Momber, a local photographer, has a photo called “No No Drugs 1986” that shows a demonstration winding its way through the streets of the “East Village”. A copy of it hangs in the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union:

no-no-drugs-1986

Other examples:

local-east-village-momber
Photo by Marlis Momber, via The Local East Village.

villager-marlis-momber-interview
Interview with Marlis Momber, in The Villager.

drugs-demo-nyt-1983
Pace, Eric. “Lower East Side Residents Protest ‘Drug Drive-Ins’.” NY Times, October 23, 1983. [Almost 30 years to the date! –Q]

***

Looking at current movement in this area, you would think these people would oppose the heroin trade because it wasn’t local. Opium poppies do not grow locally. The processing is done outside the neighborhood and employs no local residents. The dealers live outside the neighborhood and for the most part, so do the buyers. There is nothing local about any part of it.

=-=-=-=-=

1 Two days after the claim that “light violence is a small price to pay”, this story appeared on EV Grieve:
evg-giuseppi-logan-jumped

2 Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan, “The Fine Art of Gentrification,” THE PORTABLE LOWER EAST SIDE, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 1987, 22 Jan. 2013.

Cop Shoes

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the Tompkins Square Park 25th Police-Riot Reunion concerts. That is, I went for a little while. I don’t know if anyone stayed for the whole thing.

I was there taking pictures, because I read in the Comments Section of another blog:

tsp-riot-reunion-bands

and I’m a sucker for crowds.

Well… let’s just say it wasn’t “huge”.

cop-shoes

This leads me to the first part of my story. Take a look at the guy standing on the left side of the photo. I didn’t focus on him – I was just getting a crowd shot – but I saw him giving me the eye. I knew right away what he was thinking: that I was a cop.

“Are you a cop?” he said.

I chuckled. “No,” I told him. He didn’t say anything, he just turned away, and then back again. “Look,” I said, “let me tell you something. The one way you can tell who’s a cop, no matter what else they look like, is by their shoes. Cops need shoes they can run in. You can see,” I said, holding out my besandaled right foot, “I can’t run in these.”1

I don’t know if he was satisfied by this or not, but it’s not important. It’s a good story.

***

As I mentioned in Scofflaws, All I had a problem with my foot. It was caused by the heel of my left shoe collapsing over time, until I developed a severe pain in my heel, called plantar fasciitis. I got rid of those shoes and switched to a pair with firmer soles, but they were only a temporary fix. The pain didn’t get worse, but it wasn’t getting better quickly enough. I knew I would have to break down and shell out some serious money for real shoes if I ever wanted to walk again without hobbling.

As luck would have it, I have a friend who works at a shoe store that specializes in fixing people’s feet. He does the same type of production work I do, but because he does it in a shoe store, he can get a discount on shoes. So after putting it off long enough, I went to his store.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but the salesman examined my feet and made his suggestion: sensible shoes with support in the heel and in front, and orthotic inserts. They’re over-the-counter inserts that he modified to give me more support beneath my third and fourth metatarsals. This is what they look like:

fluchos

I have to tell you, these are the most comfortable shoes I’ve had in a long time! The pain in my heel is gone completely when I wear them, and only barely noticeable when I take them off. What they say is true: you should treat your feet like you’re going to have them your whole life.

Anyway, cop shoes. I told my friend before I left the store that they looked like black, nurse shoes. He said they weren’t so bad, and when I saw myself in a full-length mirror I saw that he was right. But they do look like cop shoes. No longer will I be able to convince hardcore fans that I’m not a cop.

The story next time:

“Are you a cop?” he said.

I chuckled. “No,” I told him. He didn’t say anything, he just turned away, and then back again. “Yes you are,” he said. “Only cops would wear those shoes.”

“What about nurses?” I said.

“No,” he said.2

***

After I had decided on my current shoes, I asked the salesman what he had that I could get next time, after my feet were back in shape. He showed me a pair that were good, that have the support I need. So this will be my next pair. If I put away a dollar day, I can get them in 450 days!3

mephisto-wingtips

=-=-=-=-=

1 Conversation not verbatim.
2 Conversation likely to be verbatim.
3 A little less, with the friend-discount.

On Yuppies and Gentrification

At the recent Tompkins Square Park 25th Police-Riot Reunion, a number of horrendous bands played over a three-day period. One of them was
David Peel and the Lower East Side.

These guys are definitely a novelty act. They’ve been around, in one form or another, for almost half a century. The only reason I’m writing about them is because they have a song called “Die Yuppie Scum”, that they played at the police-riot commemoration. “Die Yuppie Scum” was a slogan, if you will, that was spray painted on just about every surface in the “East Village” during the 1980s. It was the frustrated attempt by those with the propensity to spray paint onto things to vent their wrath at the most visible appearance of the changes taking place around them. However, the connection between yuppies (“or in more sober terms … the ‘new middle class'”) and gentrification is a spurious one:

    The patterns of consumption associated with the new middle class, including patterns of housing consumption, are presumed to result from the higher incomes and the greater spending power of this group. In short, we would expect that the emergence of a new middle class would result in an increase in the aggregate share of income earned by this social stratum – an identifiable redistribution of income toward the centre. …

    But when we examine income distribution over the past several decades, the pattern is not so simple. Far from suggesting a redistribution of income, the aggregate data present a picture of remarkable stability overlain with cyclical fluctuation. Despite postwar economic growth, the poorest 20 percent of the US population did not earn a significantly greater proportion of the social pie and nor did the richest 20 percent have to relinquish its half of the pie. If there is any fluctuation from this stable distribution of income, it suggests rather that the minimal democratization of incomes that pertained into the mid-1970s was significantly reversed by the 1980s. By the 1990s, the disparity between rich and poor was greater than at any time in the last quarter-century. As regards a new middle class, presumably located in the third and fourth quintiles, their numbers remained very stable through the 1970s but actually fell significantly beginning in 1982. Far from suggesting the rise of a new middle class, the 1980s, which witnessed the most intense gentrification, would seem to have corresponded with an actual shrinking of the new middle class.1

    Share of aggregate household income in the US, 1967–1992

    yuppies-income-chart
    US Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1993. Money Income of Households, Families, and Persons in the United States: 1992. Series P60-184.

It doesn’t make for catchy song lyrics, but there you are. Some people have made this their mantra, so it would be hard for them to give it up now. And of course, today you can even wear your contumely!

die-yuppie-scum-tshirts

So here is David Peel and The Lower East Side performing “Die Yuppie Scum” at the TSP25APRR. I found the link to this video on another blog. (I commented that David Peel was the white Wesley Willis, but the comment was rejected by the blog owner!) It starts out sounding like “Gloria” but then goes into the Wesley Willis sound. I will spare you having to listen to the entire thing. If you want to though, click on the YouTube icon and you can watch it on YouTube.


 
Wesley Willis (1963 – 2003):


 
=-=-=-=-=

1Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier (London/New York: Routledge, 1996) pp. 96-97.

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