I am an amplifier.
I was browsing sci fi with my friend Chris, a drummer from Baltimore who was visiting New York City. The librarian was saying, “Unless it says ‘Reference’ all books in the Occupy Wall Street library are for taking. Especially fiction!” I was happy to see copies of my book were out: either gone for good or in circulation.
We’d been there about 15 minutes and it was his first time to an OWS space. He was delighted to see that the scene was more punk than it seemed on the news. As a veterans of ’90s hardcore, we agreed that there was a distinct Punk Planet vibe, as if the beloved zine had returned as slogans on cardboard or duct tape rather than perfect bound. It made me want to do a subculture decoder ring for mainstream media: can’t they see those “hippies” are all radical punks and conscious hip-hop kids? Not all dreads are the same.
I was telling him about Friday, the day of the proposed cleaning. I got off the subway in the dark with the tower half shown in deep fog, work lights casting eerie underworld shadows. I had a sick feeling that I was going to be caught.
Wandering in the dark among strangers I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was T., a fellow counselor from the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. He was standing there with his trumpet, listening to the announcements. “I’m glad you’re here,” I said. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said. And in a minute I followed him a few steps back to her group, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a rag tag, 20 deep crew of brass and drums who show up wherever the progressive edge needs a noise in the streets. They too look and sound like the punk I cherish: queer-inclusive, multi-cultural, intergenerational, and welcoming. They warmed up with a melancholic cool jazz tune, all quiet, color, and shading. It melted into the tropic morning and dulled the harsh scrapes of brooms on the pavers. Then a blazing klezmer tune enticing passersby to stop and listen. They came a march with plenty of negative space. A crew surrounding filled the silence with chants, and with all assembled the color guard whisked them into the crowd. I was still a little scared but no longer felt alone.
It’s hard to explain fear to someone on a sunny day in the park, even a park surrounded by cops and surveillance cameras. So instead I showed him how I got over it. While Chris was mining the plastic bins for Hemingway someone nearby in the media section began a mic check, the public broadcasting system of OWS. “Mic check,” I said. My voice was louder than I had wanted. Chris gave me the side eye. I’ve always been shy, gladly behind the scenes. It was working at Rock Camp, a place where we teach 150 kids a week to make music without fear, that I had to model loud without embarrassment or anger. But my friends had never seen it. “Could anyone who has,” I repeated. It came naturally the second time. “A story about their inability to pay student loans,” I continued. “Please come to the media station.” Wait, is that it? “Thank you.”
Chris had already returned to digging the fiction and didn’t bother to question. I found a book too, Lauren Beukes’s Moxyland, a distopia novel set in South African where corporate governments forbid photography nearly everywhere, police uses cell phones to dole out corporeal punishment, and biotech firms brand cool kids’ insides. It felt like a book I’d been looking for forever. I was glad someone had mine and I, hers there in the park.