Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Day of the Eve of Thanksgiving


Beautiful, mild sunny day. James has been here. Only a piece of the building and neatly folded cardboard to remove. Has George been here again? Did he spend the night? Is there a faint whiff of urine here?


A quiet warm day. Stop for my morning coffee at Barney Greengrass today. Time to start a new routine. Deacon James and I work together. He’s wearing another veteran’s advocacy pin today: “Leave no veteran behind.” He tells me about a reunion of his civilian police group, trained to ride with, support the police. Seemed like a good thing to do after he left the service. I look across the street. The wooden racks and strings of lights are going up for the soon to come Christmas trees.

* * *

When I open the doors for P______ , a late afternoon glow bathes Amsterdam. She comes into my office, sits down. “Rev. Brashear, this is where I come to talk to God. God hears me here.” She looks around the sanctuary. “We can worship in here.”
“Well, there’s the heat....”

“We can wear coats...”

We review her case. The mixture of real and unreal. I tell her that I understand about the burning electric x -rays they send through the ceiling, but it’s probably not a good idea to talk too much about that with other people. She’s put together a massive conspiracy theory, including the mayor. With his massive communications network, he’s behind the cameras they’ve installed to monitor her behavior. Sadly, she believes it’s a conspiracy based on “race”. “They’re all Jews,” she says. She needs a lawyer, fast. Her appeal runs out on the first. I call Gary, an attorney from another church, a close friend church on the east side. I tell him she’ll be calling.

While we’re talking, a man walks in. Another one of those tweedy Upper Westside New Yorker magazine types. I go over to talk to him, introduce myself. “I’ve lived here thirty years and never been inside this church,” he says. “So you’ve been landmarked. Is that good or bad?” “It’s complicated,” I say. He introduces himself, Richard Barry. I explain our plans, our hopes, our vision. “it’s beautiful,” he says, “always wanted to see inside...” I tell him about the coming clean up day, the crafts fair. “You’ll have to come back,” I say.

While we’ve been talking, P___ has been kneeling in prayer at the front of the sanctuary, then in the pulpit. We go back to my office. She shows me a candle she’s taken, to help her prayers. “Let me show you something,” she says. And opens her purse to show me a small can. Inside, another candle. “I always carry this with me,” she says, “so i can pray anywhere...”

She too has noticed the smell on the steps. Her sense of smell is highly acute. We get some clorox and wash down the steps. I lock up. Go back outside. She thanks me, kisses my cheek.

Walking up the street, to go visit Rachel, I call Gary again to give him the back story. He’s been great for us. Defended Hugo when he was arrested for spray painting the scaffolding to protest the Landmarks process. Hugo refused to accept a plea bargain in exchange for a day of community service. When the case was heard, it was dismissed. Free speech won out. Gary will check with their landlord- tenant expert. The night is warm.


A brisk sunny autumn day. Perfect for the day before Thanksgiving. I stop at Barney Greengrass for my coffee. Run into my colleague Katherine and her husband John, who’s been helping us with our project. They’re picking up their Thanksgiving fish orders. I remember all those years we stopped here on Thanksgiving morning to pick up sable and Nova on our way to our annual family meal in Valley Forge. This year son Dan and I will head to Allentown.

Outside the church, Cristiana Pena from the Columbia Preservation Alumni is waiting for me. We’re going to put up flyers for the clean up day coming up on the fourth of December. We talk of our plans. When I mention Allentown, she tells me she went to Penn State. And when I ask her where she came from, she surprises me with South Dakota. “That’s a long way,” I say. “That was the idea,”she says, “but turns out State College was smaller than my hometown. Big school in a cow pasture,”she says, “that’s why I came here next.”

We open up the window boxes, tape up the signs. I’m happy to see these signs and the poster for tonight’s interfaith service at our temporary home at St. Paul and St. Andrew. It feels good to see so many signs of life.

After Cristiana leaves, I finish my clean up. Butts, matches, papers, an empty can of grape flavored high octane, high alcohol, high caffeine Loko juice. Someone asks for directions. An old African-American woman asks me to help her tie up her bags, get them into her shopping cart. The guys from Ready, Willing and Able in their blue jump suits are hitting the streets with their brooms. And the sun is bright.

* * * *

Kate Wood of Landmarks West comes with Stephen Gottlieb, an architectural preservation consultant from Greenwich Village, to tour the church and begin developing a priority list to get us back in the building. They are joined by Susan Sullivan of the “Friends of West-Park.” Although Kate was here for our vigil the night before the City Council landmarks vote, she hasn’t seen the rest of the building, Susan hasn’t been in here for years and Stephen never. And so we tour every inch, ruins and all.

And once again, I do not feel embarrassed. It was, after all, the landmarks intervention that led to the end of the process that would have changed all this. And now, there is my growing sense of hope. Stephen has much information regarding the fire marshal that we haven’t thought of.

As we reach the end of the tour, Susan says, “I know it seems daunting, but...” and i respond, “I am not daunted.” Stephen says that it’s not as bad as he thought. Even the mold. Just like Ted thought. Step by step....

So they will need to consult with the Belnord folks and see where we go next. I say that the “you will need to’s” need to be turned into an actual plan.

Outside, we look at the gates. They have to go first. There’s no more need for them. They only speak of abandonment. There’s no more homeless problem. We’re back. And present again. Stephen talks of a church in Paris where the ”hippies” congregate on the steps. And how cleaning them makes them, well, clean. Somewhere in this conversation Susan seems moved.

We will meet again, see where negotiations,plans will go. It’s time for me to visit my old friend and life mentor Jack. And get ready for tonight’s service. The temperature is dropping. It’s the night before Thanksgiving.

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