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, âUnless it says âReferenceâ all books in the Occupy Wall Street library are for taking. Especially fiction!â I was happy to see copies of my book were out: either gone for good or in circulation.
Weâd 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 â90s 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: canât they see those âhippiesâ 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. âIâm glad youâre here,â I said. âIâm glad youâre here,â 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.
Itâs 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. âMic check,â I said. My voice was louder than I had wanted. Chris gave me the side eye. Iâve 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. âCould anyone who has,â I repeated. It came naturally the second time. âA story about their inability to pay student loans,â I continued. âPlease come to the media station.â Wait, is that it? âThank you.â
Chris had already returned to digging the fiction and didnât bother to question. I found a book too, Lauren Beukesâs 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 kidsâ insides. It felt like a book Iâd been looking for forever. I was glad someone had mine and I, hers there in the park.