Tim Kreider's cartoon did appear in newspapers this week, but he could not send a copy to his webmaster in time to be posted on the site this week before he left for New York to join in the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention. Tim kreider forgot, is what happened. Give Tim Kreider a break. Tim Kreider's is an extremely complicated life. You think it's easy being Tim Kreider? You try it sometime. You'd go crawling into rehab or beg for chemical castration after the first week.
Tim Kreider has dispatched the following account of his experience in New York to The Pain website:
Writing this from my colleague and comrade-at-arms Megan Kelso's office. My entire body is still sore from lugging my enormous bag all over New York yesterday. That goddamn bag not only wore a raw strip into my shoulder but almost got me arrested. I went to the local outlet center before I left Maryland to try to buy a new overnight bag but in the end I was driven out by indecision and the sulky screams of little kids on back-to-school shopping trips. If I'd spent a night in jail those brats would've been responsible. But more about that later.
On the train to New York I sat beside a woman whose boyfriend was in the Secret Service. She’d been eavesdropping on a party of four Republican delegates who’d gotten on the train with her in Virginia and were now seated across the aisle from us. “They’ve done nothing but name-drop and money-drop the whole way,” she told me. I overheard one of the women ask a porter who she should talk to about getting a refund for her ticket since there was no air conditioning in our car. I said to the women next to me, “Now I despise them as well.”
The big march on Sunday was so vast, the streets so tightly packed with people, that we moved at a rate of two blocks per hour. It was like standing in line for four hours. Nothing very interesting to report about this except that, around three in the afternoon, about half a block in fornt of us someone set a large paper dragon on fire. We passed a small group of counterprotesters, including several scarily insane pro-lifers with dismembered-baby photographs and one guy in a ball cap and T-shirt who tried to lead us in chanting "U.S.A.!" I am all for reclaiming traditional pariotic symbolism for the left but chanting "U.S.A." is strictly for NASCAR morons. PLus I don't go for the chants led by leftists, and certainly not by ballcap-wearing Guidos like this guy. We left around three becaue police were assembling in a phalanx five deep and we wanted to see a rare screening of Secret Honor, Robert Altman's one-man film about Nixon.
Wednesday was "A31," a day of civil disobedience around the city organized by the dreaded anarchists. I sketched Madison Square garden until I was told to move along, talked to some prosyletizers for Falun Gong, and spent much of the afternoon in the Cedar Bar, reading the Times, doing sketches, drinking Stella and eating clams, preparing myself for rioting in the streets.
In the Times, the chairman of the New Jersey State Republican Committee was quoted as saying: "New York City is a fortress, and I love it!", which made the prospect of street riots seem refreshing. Megan and I had agreed to meet at Rockefeller Center at four and walk to various locations in midtown where disruptions or confrontations had been scheduled. We'd envisioned them as small, discrete events and weren't sure whether we'd even be able to find any of them. This proved not to be a problem. There was a large protest rally in front of the Fox news building, with a marching band, clowns in flight suits that said "MISSION ACCOMPLICATED," and male cheerleaders with pom-poms wearing giant masks of the Fox news team prancing across the intersections. A couple of Republican delegates (you always recognized them, so unnaturally buffed and groomed did they appear) made their way through our corner of the crowd, led by the woman, pushing her way through saying, "'Scuse, 'scuse, 'scuse..." fluttering her hand distastefully in front of her to claear us away without wanting to touch anyone. A guy standing near me told her husband, "You need to get the fuck out of here." The man stopped and glared at him. "Yeah, I'm talking to you," said the guy, calmly. "Get the fuck out."
The event you probably saw a five-second clip of on the news was the "brawl" at the the central branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. Megan and I were there. The first arrests were made there while people were still gathering, before anything had happened. All that was going to happen was that people were going to be divided into smaller groups, given instructions, and dispersed. Megan and I were lent indelible markers to transcribe the number for free legal aid on ourselves. We were advised to write the number on our inner forearms, a place where it was less likely to be sweat off or smudged but which also has some unfortunate historical associations, which associations only became more conscpicuous and creepy as the afternoon's events unfolded. We were also advised to have a “buddy.” Megan and I picked each other.
It's true that there were some young guys who felt brave and thought they looked cool by taunting the police with the name "fascist" and sieg-heil gestures, but it's also true that the police arrived tense and nervous and expecting trouble, which only made the crowd more volatile. So that when the police arrested some kids for hanging a banner on library property (although the library is public, this particular branch, the Astor-Lennox-Tilden, is privately owned) the crowd got very hostile, surrounding the officers and chanting "Shame!' and "The whole world is watching!" and the usual things they chant. Another arrest turned into a scuffle and the police immediately formed a phalanx and marched slowly across the front of the library, inexorably driving us all back while ordering us to disperse. A phrase I’ve since heard used to describe the N.Y.P.D.’s tactics is “preemptive policing”—in other words, arrest ‘em all and let the judge sort it out. Megan and I have a firm no-jail policy and shift between the roles of participants and observers from moment to moment as the situation seems to require. After we'd been driven off library property we just watched for a while, standing on the sidewalk in front of the building. The police set up a perimeter around the library until further notice, effectively shutting it down. I asked one of the officers whether the library was still open to patrons (I have a New York Public Library card), and was told, quote, "No," and given that bland, challenging cop full-eye-contact look. "Yes it is," snapped a middle-aged woman standing near me on the sidewalk. "I called the library and they said to come in." She had a class to attend there and was very annoyed. "I'm a native Manhattanite and I've never seen the police this keyed-up and scared," she said. She'd thought the news was exaggerating about New York being turned into a police state, she said, "until I saw this." Being denied access to the public library--which is, all inflated protest rhetoric aside, the last bastion of a free civilization--by a line of police activated something very youthful and pissed-off inside me and I stood out there for a long time, waiting to be let in. I even called the library, but they weren't answering their phones. Eventually we had to give up and go away.
It was not long after this that I was almost arrested. I was standing outside a Republican event, by an actual red carpet, studying faces and clothes of delegates for reference in future cartoons, when I notced one policemen pointing me out to another. One of them walked over and asked me how I was doing, with the casual civility that I imagine precedes hundreds of hours of confinement. A firm, insistent hand was placed on my arm, and I was asked to come with him. It seemed likely that I would be placed in the back of a police car with no further questions. My sense was that someone had decied that I would be arrested on charges to be determined later. "That bag looks suspicious to me, what do you think?" the officer who had my arm asked another. My bag was opened and searched. ID was requested. About four different police officers asked me, all with the same casual civility, where I was from. Luckily my legendary politeness and the preposterous contents of my bag (which included a Fantastic Four T-shirt) defused the situation, and I was apologized to and told I was fee to go. Also possibly relevant is the fact that the only political affiliation displayed on my person was a NIXON button. I asked whether I was free to go, and a policewoman told me I was, but showed me that she'd written my ID information down on the palm of her hand, like you'd do in a bar at last call. "So... can I have yours?" I asked her. "You wouldn't want it," she said. "I come with a lot of baggage." "Yeah, so do I," I said, hefting my bag back over my shoulder. "Apparently dangerous."
A block later a woman stopped me to ask what had happened. She'd seen me being searched. "Can they do that," she asked, incredulously, "just stop you and search you on the street just for standing there?" I explained that legally, no, I'd had the right to refuse, if I'd been willing to spend forty-two hours in the Tombs and then be vindicated in court six months later. (Actually, detainees were held in a warehouse or depot at Chelsea piers, a space without anything to sit or lie on, with grimy, oily floors, for up to sixty hours. Some of them got chemical burns.) "Yeah, I saw the whole thing," she said, shaking her head, still hardly able to believe it. I saw the same incredulity on a woman's face when she was told by the police that she couldn't continue down the street on her bike--they were closing it. All over the city you saw that expression: Can they do this?
In Herald Square we got caught up in a dense crowd surrounding an ill-advised outdoor broadcast of Hardball. A police blimp hovered ominously overhead, the crowd called a young Republican delegate who was trying to make his way through a fascist and threw popcorn at his head, and it was getting dark. It seemed like things might turn ugly there soon, so, finding our exit blocked in three directions, we ducked into the subway and fled to Chumley's, our favorite West Village bar--only to find othe restaurant side of it occupied by a Republican dinner party. The "Stop the Bush Agenda" stickers we'd been given earlier drew a few looks. Happily, the presence of the Republicans fostered a spirit of giddy camraderie among all of us in the bar side, the same kind you usually only feel during blizzards and other natural disasters. Even the waitstaff was unusually friendly, wishing us a cheerful good night just because we weren't complete assholes.
Today we're going to a labor protest so that Megan can ogle labor guys, and then to a mass panty flash held by the "Axis of Eve" so that I can ogle the panties. It seems unlikely that any harm will come to us at these events, though my friend Ennio says he once saw a construction worker punch out a police horse during a protest rally, which I have only ever seen in Blazing Saddles. ("That was not good P.R. for us," Ennio said. "There were human interest stories on the horse for days.") I will send another dispatch after I get home. For the moment, at least, I am alive and at liberty, or at least unincarcerated, which is not exactly the same but good enough for now. I have to say, though, that the dismal sight of a fence of orange netting labelled "POLICE LINE--DO NOT CROSS" strung across the entrance to the New York Public Library, guarded by a line of police officers with truncheons idly drawn and flanked by those mournful lions Patience and Fortitude, was far more shocking and offensive to my American sensibilities than was being detained, questioned, and searched just for staring at the wrong people.
Safely back home in my isolated retreat on the Chesapeake Bay, enjoying a cup of coffee after the first deep sleep in a week. You don't realize until it's over how exhausting it is just to stand around packed into large, tense mobs, surrounded by people who would not so secretly like to break your head. You expend a lot of energy just being calm, even though you're not aware of it, and when you finally get back to the safety of your own home, you just collapse into a chair, bone-tired, with barely enough energy to lift a glass of whiskey to your lips.
Wednesday's highlights were the labor rally and the panty flash, which turned out to be complimentary events. Megan and I had been invited to the labor rally by my friend Ennio Morricone (not his real name), who introduced us around and gave us union swag (free buttons and T-shirts saying MACHINISTS FOR KERRY) when we arived. The labor rally was, needless to say, well organized, with all the right permits and really good PA equipment and big video screens and a relaxed and chummy police presence. Unfortunately the very first thing that always happens, as Ennio explained, is that someone reads off a list of the names of about forty-five union vice-presidents, lulling everyone into an obliging stupor that will last for the next several hours. One of the guys in Ennio's union likened it to Catholic mass: everyone has to be seen to go, but once you're there it's rote and interminable and you tend to sneak off just as soon as you respectably can. Union leaders gave the same speeches that everyone had heard before, punctuated by laid-off workers telling their all-too-predictable stories. Ennio provided a sotto voce commentary that made the presentation considerably more interesting for me: "I know this guy, he's actually pretty funny"; "a complete jackass"; "he is the most repressed homosexual in the world." After putting in an hour or so Ennio suggested we catch a beer before heading down to the panty flash.
Organized Labor could learn much from the Axis of Eve. They had advertised a "mass panty flash," which attracted a big and closely attentive audience. The Axis of Eve were all dressed provocatively in various uniforms (which I guess is an oxymoron): halters, miniskirts, thongs, garters, fishnets, tights, fatigues, wreaths of flowers, cowboy hats, aviatrix glasses, American flags wrapped around their waists like sarongs.
Megan noted that when she made eye contact with any of the
boy photographers who were training their lenses on the ladies they immediately
looked all sheepish, as if they would like to explain to her that they were
just working, it was just a job. She also felt that the mood of the crowd
as the choreographed event began was like the crowd in a strip club; silent
and tense and watchful, voyeuristic rather than participatory. She had a point,
but Ennio and I were like, whatever, smart lady. Ennio got out his digital
camera and took many photos while I, like Zaccheus, climbed up into the crook
of a tree to catch a glimpse of the blessed sight. Within two minutes The
Man told me to get down. I tried to explain that I was working, showing The
Man my sketchpad, but to no avial. The Axis of Eve blew whistles and called
cadence while they marched in place and chanted anti-Bush slogans. Some of
them stripped off their halter tops to reveal nipples painted with purple
hearts. Somewhere in the middle of their ranks, inexplicably, was a guy in
a funky Renaissance-fair outfit, with a big floppy hat and iridescent robes,
who danced very enthusiastically indeed. Who knows what his deal was. There
never was any climactic "flash"; everyone was already displaying
about everything they legally could. It had all been an effective gimmick
to draw a crowd, but I, for one, was not disappointed. As the event ended
and the Axcis of Eve did an about-face to exit, a phalanx of photographers
followed them at a crouch, their cameras aimed assward. Afterward we all bought
I had originally planned to stay long enough for the big march on Sunday, the night before the convention began, and maybe a day or two longer depending on what was hapenning--certainly no later than Wednesday. Every morning poor Megan had to patiently overcome my superstitious dread of the mounting improbability of surviving another day here to persuade me to stay on another day. In the end I stayed through Thursday night, for the rally outside Madison Square Garden during Bush's speech. It had been organized by the A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition, who organized the big antiwar protests before the invasion of Iraq but also have a dubious crackpot agenda that encompasses a lot of issues about which I could care less. We stood around lamely holding our signs listening to distant, distorted shouting about Palestine and Mumia (I now long for the day of his execution only to put an end to the goddamn chanting) and making up our own Seussian rhymes to parody the slogans being shouted around us. The best things that happened there were 1.) I shook the hand of a girl whose sign bore an allusion to The Big Lebowski (“This Aggression Will Not Stand, Man”) and 2.) I saw my very favorite sign of the entire week, which said, in an elongated scrawl, “SMOKE WEED,” illustrated with a crude, three-lobed marijuana leaf. “Legalize Hemp” is just trivial and stupid, but “SMOKE WEED” is taking a stand we can all get behind. I finally had to stop myself from looking at this sign because I was beginning to weep with laughter and my friends were looking at me. Eventually it got dark and the circling helicopters and snipers on the rooftops started to unnerve us, so we agreeed to go get the duck bacon at our favorite Szechuan place, only a few blocks away. It had just felt good to be out in the real world doing something instead of home watching TV.
When I got home I had a message on my answering machine from my beloved groupie Alicia, who’d called on her way to Burning Man just to tell me she loved me in case "anything happened" to her there. She seemed to feel the same fatalistic dread about Burning Man that I had about ther R.N.C. I've been to Burning Man before, and in fact they felt similar, in some ways; by the end of every day there you were so exhausted and overloaded with impressions that you could hardly keep remember what had happened that day or keep it all straight. I imagine that Alicia and I had very different experiences at our chosen destinations (for example, there was not much likelihood of my getting fisted, unless it was by the N.Y.P.D.), but it's possible that they are both equally meaningless events. The sorts of West-Coast ecstasy techies who go to Burning Man like to talk about it in utopian terms, but basically it's a lot of people doing drugs and having sex and feeling self-congratulatory about it in the desert. The R.N.C. was a lot of people waving signs and shouting slogans and feeling self-congratulatory about it in the city, with a rejuvenating dose of pure hate thrown in to supercharge things. Ultimately, they're both theater. Which is fine. Theater can be diverting and cathartic and sometimes even edifying. But what matters about theater is not so much what happens onstage as what you take with you when the lights come up and you have to walk back out into the real world. There are two months left until the election, and in the latest polls Bush is leading by double digits.
Several readers have written to urge me to
market T-shirts of my cartoon "1 Termers." Very well then. I am
now selling "1 Termer" T-shirts through cafepress.com. You can order
yours at http://www.cafepress.com/thepain
for a mere $15.99. These will serve to rally potential voters in the remaining
weeks before the election and become grim items of memorabilia after Bush's
illegitimate victory. Some of the proceeds may go to the Kerry campaign or
MoveOn.org, or, depending on the poll numbers, I may just blow it all on booze.