We were all born and spent a majority of our lives in Massachusetts. So it only made sense to depart from the Bay State together and consider that day, January 13, 2013, as the beginning of this trip, though arguably it started some months earlier for each of us separately. Leaving our worried parents behind in Sturbridge, we set forth into the world, wherever the winds (or fossil fuels) may carry us. In the week since Sunday, we’ve thus far made it to the city of Washington in the District of Columbia, our empire’s densely populated and Congressionally unrepresented capital. Today begins a series of posts playing catch-up.
We’ve been operating under a couple of self-imposed guidelines beyond our usual kindness and curiosity: no interstates and no spending of money that pre-exists the beginning of the trip. Both of these have required some flexibility in our living experiment, some evaluation of their validity and viability, and indeed have led to some refreshing surprises about the abundant goodness in people’s hearts.
A week ago, our first dose of road magic was sprinkled upon us by the gracious pixies fluttering from above no further than Shelton, CT as we passed the glorious Wiffle HQ off Route 8. Like obese toddlers outside the Wonka factory, we gaped and gushed about the machinery: pallets and pallets of Wiffles, tubs of Wiffle powder, window-strings anchored by Wiffle balls. Disappointingly, no one was home. Our initial plan was to look sketchy all about the building for long enough to elicit an incredulous employee (maybe Old Man Wiffle himself?) or a bemused cop. When this didn’t yield any results we wrote them a reverential letter, packed with sincerity and naïve optimism about the future of the world, and moved along.
It’s hustle, it’s bustle, it’s New York, bitches! And behold! Castle Braid, an artists’ haven nestled in Brooklyn complete with an epic tower (as is required of all castles) and a plethora of aesthetically stunning sculptures assembled from repurposed societal waste, more often than not doubling as functional furniture and fixtures. We spent two nights there with the theatrically-centered, intellectually-grounded, and sarcasm-challenged Rebecca and our new robot-sympathizing comrades, Jay and Zac, overflowing with similarly artistic dispositions and rife with rock/roll. Our first night set the tone for what we anticipate to be a recurring theme in our wanderings: an engaged, exciting, and, of course, lengthy discussion about humanity and the universe which, in this instance, dealt an awful lot with the potential of artificial intelligence.
While our pals toiled the next day at their various day-jobs, we trekked over the Manhattan bridge to its eponymous island and picked up a game of basketball with some local kids in Columbus Square, next to Chinatown. Games were four-on-four, so we snagged a kid named Armando to better our team, and faced off against some exceptionally talented Chinese boys who could sink threes like it was baby Skee Ball at Chuck-E-Cheese. After an invigorating loss and an elaborate series of clumsy fist bumps and coded handshakes, the language of which Jesse and Mark deciphered about as well as Basque, we left with the satisfaction not only of having been active, but also of having bridged what we initially perceived as a gap between self-segregating groups of Asian kids and black kids on the courts. What’s funny about all this is that while the games before us were seemingly divided by race, no one seemed to think even half of twice about the fact that we were the only white kids and that ours was the first game incorporating all races present. It’s unclear whether this was a divine example of people simply not even noticing race (I mean why should we anyway? Biologically, there isn’t even such a thing), or people doing a really good job of deliberately acting as if they didn’t notice. Either way it was refreshing.
Shortly thereafter, we met up with Jay in the looming shadow of his Zuccotti Park-adjacent place of wage labor, aka Wayne Enterprises. He had particularly interesting insights on Occupy Wall Street by virtue not only of his insuperable proximity to the movement’s primary encampment, but also by working in one of the very industries targeted by the protests. Jay does IT for a corporate law firm. While agreeing that his job in the ebony tower facilitates the continuance of societal structures that make the world worse more often than they make it better, he does this arguably bad thing in order to afford the good things of living in a place like Castle Braid and, especially, creating his art, currently a rock musical version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Rebecca, too, performs actions that she herself considers an undesirable means to an end: working in private equity to finance acting. Such difficult decisions define us, and it would be lazy to argue in favor of or against such choices without a whole lot of reflection and a whole lot of words. But we can’t escape the necessity of considering the consequences of our actions, whether it be working questionable jobs or not working jobs at all. For their part, Jay seems more or less settled in his acceptance of the current arrangement, while Rebecca seems more to be seeking the courage to quit.
As far as OWS itself, Jay struggled daily with the irony of sympathizing with the protestors philosophically, while working for his company concretely. He spoke of occasionally visiting the friends he had at the camp during lunch or after work, while also having to walk by it every day to go to work. When threatened with arrest for not using the designated entrance to the Batman building in the lead-up to the police attack on the camp, he found himself frustrated with… everything. He came to see the protests as a kind of ineffectual mockery of what he was doing, even as he views much of his own behavior as a quiet mockery of our society.
And then the camp was gone.
Jay described going to work past the suddenly empty park as feeling “creepy” and found himself regretting ever having wanted it to be over. He still works in that tower. Occupy- as a physical presence- no longer exists.
Overall, we were left with the impression that Occupy, for many, lingers mostly as a ghost– a charming memory in the minds of progressives resigned to continued compromise in the face of an apparent lack of better options. No one we talked to seemed content with the status quo, but ideas on how to move forward seem tentative and incomplete at best.
Rebecca came to meet us after work and we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, talking, taking in the skyline (including the Orwellian horror that is the Verizon building… who sits on a planning committee and actually approves this crap?), and enjoying and adding to the popular art. Después de una cena vegetariana deliciosa por cortesía de Rebecca, otras cuantas discusiones, una sesión de improvisación musical, otra carrera de Adam, unos juegos en el cuarto de juegos y una buena noche de sueño, cruzamos Manhattan y seguimos con nuestra exploración mundial a través del paisaje bonito de New Jersey.