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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Facing tough choices



7/29

Deacon James and I run int each other at the coffee wagon parked on 86th. Each our on breakfast.
Rudolfo again. That same sad face. Woman troubles again. Tiene un Red Bull? he asks, Quiero tomar Red Bull...So we find him a Red Bull and he slowly walks off.
RL walks in. There’s been a surprise. His crew went up into the attic, accessible only by ladder. And found a former resident hiding out back in the shadows, under the eaves. Apparently all three jumped at least six feet. There were also more graphic descriptions. 
Danielle goes upstairs to bring the stowaway down. I was just checking out somethings and they jumped in on me. Happened on me. Surprised me. That’s all. Just checking out some things, he says.
I look at him. Silent.
I’m taking short term jobs off Craig’s list. Looking for  full time job again. Can you just give me one more week?
No. I can’t do that. Here is the address of BRC. Here is the number of the man who’s been working with us. You’ve got to go check this out. You can’t be here.  I know it's tough cboices, but...
OK, I understand. Danielle and I look at each other. Nothing else to do. Feel the sadness. At some point....
Keith comes in. Later this week, he’s due to go to Rochester. To the VA hospital. For a treatment. Where’s Rochester? he asks. I pull up  a map and show him. they sat it’s in the country. Are there horses? I can hear the anxiety in his voice. How far away is it? Danielle looks up from her computer. About 5 hours 12 minutes.
That’s a long ride, he says. I don't know...

I know Keith. . Relax, enjoy it. When you know the name of the hospital, let me know. I have a friend there I can let know. Ask to visit him. 
I’ll be gone a week. He says. I don’t know. I been to Iraq. I don't know...this is different. We talk. I try and reduce the anxiety. But how can I? Tough choices. Another person facing tough choices.
RL comes in. Keith says, I like the hat. RL tips his cowboy hat, says, Thing about ths hat is, all the moivng parts work except for what's underneath... RL has given Danielle two of his prized writings, Idleness leads to vice...a children's story (well kind of, a fable) and a multi-chapter short story, the Company Man...
Need a break. Go up to visit RL. Poet Tim came in earlier. went up to wait for him. Dvorak’s New Wolrd Symphony is playing. From his time in New York. Roger is with them. Tim is trying to make the connection between Antonin and Luba, who produced RL’s first CD. Luba an artist on his own. And a direct descendant of that Dvorak. 
The Dvorak House, 327 East 17th Street 

I explain the statue that the Czechs donated. How the New York Philharmonic stashed it on the roof. When they renamed a part of East 17th Street for Dvorak, the city paid to have his statue moved to across the street from where where he lived. Dvorak Way, they call it. He like so many others, had become one of us, a New Yorker. 
Roger in the Tenant
We talk with Roger. He had played Michel, a war damaged waiter in the Tenant






http://west-parkpress.blogspot.com/2011/08/new-york-times-writes-about-woodshed.html)  two years ago. He’s been downstairs to take pictures of where his old apartment in the play used to be. Now a garbage storage area. He had a cot there. A helmet. A cross. At the beginning of the play he was in his lair, lying on his cot, thumbing through the Bible. He’s glad to be back here at West-Park. He is starring in Matt and Stan’s play. He’s got over an hour before rehearsal time. RL promises to play for him some  Dusty Withers Episodes next time around. It's good to have Roger back in the house.
Outside Geoffrey is in the steps. I didn’t recognize him at first. No more prophet’s robes. He’s wearing jeans and a polo shirt. No African straw hat. A close cropped hair cut. And most surpising, there’s something else. Geoffrey, I say, there’s something different. 
I have taken a good shave  for myself, he says. And indeed he is clean shaven. Clothed. And in his  right mind. And shaved, you might say.

Tonight the steps are empty. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Give us this day: ...for the rain it raineth everyday



7/28
A sit. A talk with Anna on the steps before church. Go around to go in on 86th. A tall woman with a cane wants to be reassured that she’s headed to Columbus. I assure her. She asks will  I walk with her to Columbus? She can walk faster that way. At  first I want to say, Actually, I was just about to go in....when I remember the Samaritan story and feel like a jerk for even thinking that. Of course, I say.
And along the way we talk about the smell of rain the air and how to know when to cross a street when the light doesn’t have the sound warning system, which dpesn’t work that well anyways. She says if I walk her to the Greek diner, she can take it from there. It was maybe less than fifteen minutes of my time.
We begin with Hosea 1: 2-10. Why would God want Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife? John’s answer takes me by surprise. So Hosea can feel what God feels. It’s like the reverse of God knowing us through Jesus. We talk about how whoredom in Hebrew can be either prostitution or adultery. Two different but related ideas. Adultery, unfaithfulness, making other things God. Prostitution, selling ourselves out. You can make the case for both in our culture. 
Those children with weird names God gives Hosea. All that anger of God. And at the end, the restating of God’s love for us. God’s faithfulness to us. Again, these ae not punishments by God but what we have done to ourselves by rending the social fabric, like Obama spoke of yesterday. (It’s true, but what’s his plan?) Like a loving parent, no matter how angry God gets, God loves us still.
Which leads us to the Lord’s Prayer.(Luke 11: 3-13) We talk about the difference between the Catholic versions many of us  grew up with and the Protestant version. Arcadia does what she grew up with in Spanish. The rest in English. What do we hear?
Our father...not about gender. Not about theology. About intimacy. As much as I resonate with a lot of new thought spirituality conceptually, I need something more.The Zwinglian idea that it is  not the Eucharistic elements but we that become transformed.   I can’t, for example, substitute Spirit for Jesus. I can’t relate emotionally to disembodied spirit. I need an incarnational spirituality. Not theology. For certain sure not doctrine. But humanity. God in human flesh. With passion. with suffering. With triumph, sorrow, struggle, joy. That is Holy, or as the Spanish say, santificado.
Thy kingdom come....In Spanish, reyno, reign. It’s not about monarchy. Or structures of domination and power. It is about sovereignty. Authority. A commitment to what King called the beloved community. That frames everything.
Gives us this day our daily bread...we ask for the basic sustenance, without that, nothing else can happen. And our asking must be that clear, that concrete.
And forgive us our sins (debts, trespasses) as we forgive those...mutuality in an imperfect world. Expressing our humanness. And acceptance of each other. God’s forgiveness only as we forgive one  another.
And lead us not into temptation. Put us not to the test.....Few of us are truly evil. Most of us are struggling to do the best we can. Not enough intelligence, time or energy to work out and execute complicated plots. I think of Woody Allen’s devastating new movie Blue Jasmine with thinly veiled references to Madoff. There are some who are evil. For most of us, temptation is not robbing banks. It’s more taking the easy way out. An athlete on PEDS. All of us and our own real or metaphoric PEDS. Especially when we are very worn or tired.
And Jesus’ examples. The neighbor  who has to be persistently pestered until he gives in, gets up and shares the bread. (Is that God? Or maybe flip it and God is pestering us...) Or all that knocking and opening, seeking and finding, asking and receiving. Really?
If I don’t get the $5000 I prayed for is it because I didn’t use the right words? The difference between prayer and magic. We want magic because we want control. Just say the right words...Follow the right steps. Use the right formula, do the right thing. But it doesn’t work that way. 
But we do get what we need. The spirit...OK, there it is again. I talk about how hard it is for me to give it up and let whatever happens happen. Not fatalistic, but accepting.And living in hope that the arc of history does after ll as King said, bend towards justice  
So mach to talk about. We’ve scratched the surface.  
The session meets. Review yesterday’s victory, moving forward with the sale of our manse. Leaving aside politics and surrogate issues, it’s what we needed. The first positive piece to fall into place. the first in a long time.  
On the steps, a young  man covered with a rash is sprawled out. I tell him he can’t  do that. He asks for a little time to collect himself...Jane’s group is  coming. I say OK. Later he’s still on the steps. An Afrian-America man has his milk crate and bags out. Sorry guys, you can’t be setting  up shop.                          I say.
Thyiunger man feels indignant. Settin up shop? Setting up shop?!! I point to all aound us. The yiiungmman starts to get up. All rigyt, allright...I ger it. But with all do respet sor, tjsi os a frickin chirch. Wha woiuld Jesus do?
I say nothing. But that, that is the question. Pretty sure he’d ask the persons name. Where he was from. An dwht he needed. From there he would engage in arealtuonship. Not sure he’d accept tje sststu squo. He’d look fro wah coidl be hea;ed. 
Back inside, I lsiten as Jane’s Sanctuary group discusses its future. It is profoundly moving. I admire so much what they have tried to do even when I don’t fully understand it. And even more I admire the willingness to give in and ask the difficult questions. And troubled and disturbed by how this relates to our journey. Our  questions. our capacity to go deep. To be willing to surrendur to let something new be born. 
I go upstairs to visit with The Representatives as they are rehearsing. 
When I come back down, Jane’s people are dispersing. Jeffrey helps to shut the door. 
I’ll walk up a few blocks and across the street from where Leila and Berik live. A community theatre group is doing Twelfth Night in the garden. The rain slowly builds until it's a steady downpour. The cast gamely plays on unit the end when Feste sings: With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain...For the rain it raineth every day....                                                              




Sunday, July 28, 2013

The crutches were gone by late afternoon




7/26
A large bag of food. A crutch. A milk crate.
Karen comes in, soon filling the sanctuary with her piano, her voice. When she finishes, she talks some of Hawaii. And as she turns to leave, I invite her to come some Friday night and share her music. She’s aware of the limitations of our old family piano now in residence there. 
Luli comes in with her friend Jeanette to see the old Papp theatre upstairs. Hmmmm...
Ethel is wrapping up their work, ready for their summer break. I will miss them. It’s getting near the time when New York clears out for the summer. As friend by friend leaves, a sense of emptiness grows. I’m not going anywhere. And Matt and Stan and the Representatives are just moving in.
By late afternoon, the crutches are gone.
Glen surprises me by bringing by a turkey sandwich on ciabatta from the restaurant where he works in Central Park. Along with Evan who’s just breaking in on Broadway. They help RL with some set up for the open mic and then we dig into our conversation about Glen’s upcoming night of readings. Once again bringing his theatre creativity to his church.
Never know what to expect for open mic. I’m intrigued/anxious to learn that Sgt. Keith intends to bring his comedy stylings inside tonight. And it looks like the gang will be coming in too.

Christopher has appeared. And disappeared.
Guantanamara
When I come into the chapel, a young Latino is playing guitar and soulful version of Guantanamera. Soon a young barefoot woman from California, Ariel has taken the stage. With her own personal songs. She's working on her own style, sound. I like her work. (https://www.facebook.com/arieleisenmusic) There is a world of young woman singer-songwriters. 
Tonight a do a set of New Mexico songs. Ariel makes a point of telling me she really liked the last one.
Ariel Eisen
Pat’s guitar friend Tim shows up late and plays some piano with RL as he closes and then eventually picks up the guitar and some long flowing Garcia licks come winding their way into the night.

Up to RL’s studio for a brief critical review. When we leave, it seems two women singers have come in and joined Marc and his friend. As the one from Atlanta begins Killing me softly with his song.... my night is over.


Stomach tied in knots thinking about tomorrow.

7/26
Back from a successful day at Presbytery. At least the apartment deal is moving forward. We’ve got a contract to sign. One piece....fitting into place. A step, that’s all. And not done yet.
Don’t like the looks of the steps. Guy sprawled out. Large wet area. Joe tells me he’s just washed down everything with bleach. But this configuration has gone on too long. No movement. Time for a change.
Stephen and I on the Staten Island ferry on our way to the Presbytery meeting

Saturday, July 27, 2013

henry IV, part...................



7/25
Henry walks in. Has a lot with him. It’s been awhile. I’m worried about having no money. He begins to tell me the story of how his father had died in Florida. He’s pulling out visual aids. An American flag. Several medals, including the distinguished medal of honor.  A program from a funeral. A book on Seminole County Florida with a picture of the old homestead. And a picture of the first Henry D. I’m the fourth, says Henry. And last. Line stops with me. And there’s a new tie in with the flag. 
Soon the story is something like a movie running in my head. I hear the call from his sister. The long bus ride to Florida. The sun and heat. The old African-American funeral home. The motel room provided by the cousins.The buying of a new suit, shirt and tie for the funeral, the cousins again. The funeral overflowing with people come out to this honest man who ran his own auto body shop. The prayers of the preacher. the trip to the graveyard. The folding of the flag into the traditional triangle, presenting of the medals. 
The big meal after, greetings from seldom seen, slightly known cousins, the gentle joking and warmth of family spending funeral time together. The pictures of the family ancestors, clearly intermarried with the local Seminoles. The inevitable arguments with the caretaker who had tired to get the will changed. And the long bus ride back.
I ask about his mother. She died in my arms in 1977, he says. Danielle and i do the math. He was 17. And what happened since then? To wind up on the streets of Brooklyn or at this church in Manhattan. 
I give him enough for a meal and a Metro card. Talk to him about the Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness.  Give him Marc’s number. Tell him to use my name. 
When he’s gone, Danielle and I look at each other. How does it happen? I mean , we know, but it’s still a mystery.
During all this, Rudolfo looks in with those big sad eyes. Still wishing he were back in Cuba
Thatcher comes in. Met him yesterday afternoon at the gate with RL. A classic successful businessman from Bronxville, temporarily on the Upper West side while work is done on his house. 
He told a story about how he’s left the church. But came back when he heard a preacher start a sermon with I shot a man 20 years ago...(RL liked that). A story if personal transformation. How he was succeeded by Buddy Ennis from Atlanta, well known nation. And then succeeded by a musician who people loved. Growth at every stage.
So now you know how build a church, says RL
How’s that? I say.
Start by shooting somebody.
i give Thatcher the full tour. He’ll stay awhile and char awhile with RLstudio. On his way out reminds me that he works in the area of web devlopment for non-profits. I hope something can  come of this as we are stuck in a negative web space and its getting (IS!) embarrassing. And none' sure how 8
The line ends with me, said Henry. 



Thursday, July 25, 2013

Heading in that direction



7/24 
                                                           Zeljko's My Dream Is

Pillows. Why are people leaving pillows on the steps? They have to go immediately to the garbage. And a shoe brush. A shoe shine brush. Yes, a shoe shine brush. 
Danielle has found a purse. We figure out that last night our neighbors from across the street met here. Good to see Luli. Told her to tell Martin to call me. Sure enough, a woman comes looking for her purse and we have it. Minor miracle.
Max and Gabe are back to work again. RL directing them as we work on emptying out the 4th floor. Getting ready for Matt and Stan and the Representatives who are already here rehearsing when the cleanup's not going on.
Bella here too, sorting out papers.
As for me, I’m completely consumed with working out a strategy to get our real estate contract in front of our presbytery on Saturday. My colleagues at our neighborhood  Study this morning all helped in developing the way to make this happen. Our system exists to facilitate mission. But that doesn’t prevent some  from using the rules to play out their personal battles. My colleagues have helped me feel we can do this. So it’s all in to make it happen. Despite my anxiety, the process of working a strategy still engages me, gets me going.
As soon as I’ve done my first draft, Danielle and I grab the rubber gloves and head outside. Sean was still here when she arrived. Apologetic, open. She brought him clean clothes. The rest is up to us. Throughout the afternoon, the aching sensation in my nose, the queasy stomach will remain. And there is no champagne today.
Although the sounds of Ethel in the balcony comes close.
Late in the day Zoran drops by. Zeljko’s co producer. Serbian filmmaker himself.Professor at the School of  Visual Arts.  My host at the screening last week. His students worked with Zeljko in shooting My dream is....I give Zoran the whole tour. 
We head to Slightly Oliver for conversation. Tums out Zoran comes form the vestigial Jewish community of Belgrade. Grandparents were Holocaust survivors. He is a bearded bear of a man with a lust for life and an incisive mind. He’s done the Southern European Film Festival in LA. Wants to bring it to New York City. West-Park maybe?
But even more so, is interested in a film series on confession. One of those times  where you throw out an idea and start to see what gathers around it. We talk about the word in its fullest sense. In the popular mind, it’s about a statement of guilt, or responsibility. Truth telling about what I did. On the deeper level, confession is an honest, naked statement of who I am. At my core.  Or who we are, collectively. Need to sit with this. See where it goes. Perfect for what we’re trying to do. Lust for life, creativity. Not exactly champagne. But moving in that direction...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yo necesito mas angelitos



7/23

Los angelitos de Angelo


Max and Gabe are back. To provide RL with the muscle needed to begin cleaning the place out. To get ready for Matt and Stan and the Representatives but more so to just get the place open and empty again. Remove the last remains of #ows. And associated collateral space fillers. There is the beautiful arts and radical spirit of the place. And also the ever threatening spirit of decay. We gird our loins, dig in, get to it. RL’s goal to make the small chapel a truly useful and appealing performance space.
Bella has also come in to help us organize the massive amounts of paperwork, files, boxes of unsorted histories.
Walking down 86th Street, I see the wheel chair. Oh man, it’s Sean again. We talk. I am asking you, please don’t put me in this position, OK?
Just gimme a little, OK?
I sigh. OK.
Two hours later, the same. Two hours later, I’m messed, OK, man? Can’t get in the wheel chair like this. It’s embarrassing. I need some time...I sigh again. OK...
David comes in to join RL and his muscle. It’s sweltering in the gym. Tomorrow is big stuff pick up day, and that's what they’re up to, taking out the big stuff.
Danielle and I are talking and in through the door breezes Angelo and a woman friend come in  to look at his artwork. He is a will o’ the wisp. A character in a magical realist novel by Marquez. Before he leaves, another bevy of angelitos flutter above my desk and land. I had said to him Yo necesito mas angelitos...I wonder how his upscale exhibit on 57th worked out. If I could ever get him to land long enough..
Back from a neighborhood meeting on food justice. There’s a food cliff looming November 1 when the SNAP food program will be cut back yet again. Food stamp recipients will see their benefits cut by $30-50 a week. One legislator said the way to end hunger is to end food subsidy programs.( Uhhh...like the way to end drought is by getting rid of water. (They’ll figure it out...) Who even remembers that in the ’70’s, hunger was all but ended in the US?
My old activist friends continue to argue for didactic advocacy programs. My experience is that they don’t work anymore except with faithful septo and octogenarians. Unless we can come up with a way to experience and then reflect, it’s a pointless activity. We begin talking about getting members of our congregation ot try living half a week on the current snap budget and then the rest of the week on the post cut budget. As a beginning. A doorway in.
Mayor Bloomberg, our health conscious mayor, believes school breakfast programs promote obesity. I can’t even respond to that.
Ralph and Ethel are in and playing. Mysterious chamber sounds dancing in midair.
Sean. He’s still there. I go out to speak to him One of the owners of the condo next door passes by. Gives me that, O there’s West-Park again look. I just nod and say, hello.
And still later...Sean, it s]'been nine hours man...
Just leave me alone man, just leave me alone.I can hear in his tone my friend is not currently present. Soon begins a tirade. A threat to tell the world what an uncaring pace this is. How I wouldn't let him in, even during Hurricane Sandy. How the people across the street have no idea what it’s like have no feet. (True, that...) I never offered him water. Yesterday’s tickets don’t buy today’s rides. He’s flying a mile a minute.
When I try to talk to him, a youngish woman walks over. Excuse me sir, is he bothering you?
He’s been here 9 hours, no good for him...or anyone else..
ou have to understand sir, not all of us come from the same place. Others come from different circumstances. You need to understand...
Wait, just wait, I’ve known him for over a year now...
And what is a church supposed to do? How can you call yourselves Christian when..
I can see where this is going..do you really want to hear the story here?
We expect more of a church...so between the condo people who believe i’m irresponsible and disrespect the neighborhood and the liberal middle class subway commuters who  believe I’m a non-caring non-Christian ..basta ya...come over on this side awhile...see how you like it...how the world works...
But as Sean continues to rail, my visitor begins to back away.
I come inside to write these things down. Marc looks in, says Don’t work too hard....

Longing for the girl from Shanghai



The Chinese girl from Shanghai is here when I arrive anxious to hit the Beckstein. Soon her music is filling the walls with beautiful sound. Classic piano repertoire. 
RL arrives ready for the crew of David, Max and Gabe to start the clear out work. Short day. RL has business to take care of and a Harvey to see. 
Stan and Matt and the Representatives are here to start rehearsing Bazarov, their adaption of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Most likely moving from an old factory in Brooklyn  to Williamsburg’s Manhattan extension, namely West-Park. It’s great to have them here. 
Do the full walk through for Matt and Stan. Talk to one of their production, people. Megan about resurrecting the Speakeasy, Woodshed’s summer installation/performance piece two summers ago. 
Session gathers. An upsetting phone call with Presbytery. Still confronting the old narrative about who we are and what we are doing. That problem child image. The use of polity in a punitive way. It is deeply disturbing.So we have  to figure out, how to respond? Can we develop a strategy? I feel sick to my stomach. But need to move forward.  Think like strategy. And we talk about real estate. Coming closer to being on the same page with a plan. Let’s try again.
When Jamie and I come back from the B, there’s a crowd on the steps. She is very upset. She doesn’t know the whole story. It’s hard. Many churches have given up and closed their steps. We’ve continued to keep them open because of the relationship with Reachout and the success in getting people housed. But this crew, without the discipline of Sergeant Keith, concerns me. How does it look to the neighbors? will never be a convincing argument for me. Of course I don’t want neighbors scared either. Or thinking that we're irresponsible and disrespectful of ourselves, let alone the neighborhood. Of course I don’t want to be, and I hate the word, enabling. But there’s also a part of me that gets very angry. That wants to say, no you don’t get to make homeless people invisible. You don’t like seeing them? Great, do something about it. Create more low rent housing. Demand a more coherent mental health system. The response to being upset is not making people disappear. This is not a good business plan for me frankly, but I’m angry. And tired. A long time neighborhood homeless guy Tony offers t help me out. Then demands money. Angry. And tired. 
I'm longing for the girl from Shangai again.

A basket of summer fruit



7/21

I hear rattling at the door. Assume it’s one of the gang. But look and it’s a young Asian woman. She wants a place to pray. She goes into the sanctuary. And soon I hear beautiful classical music coming out. Later we talk. She’s here for the Mannes summer festival. Very competitive. Very hard to get practice time. have to draw numbers. Wait in line. I tell her she’s always welcome here. She said she wanted to pray, but playing the piano, well, better....

Another day with a lot on our agenda. Trayvon Martin. Still. And Detroit is bankrupt?!!! Say what? 
  So we start with Amos 8:1-12 I start with a visual aid. A basket with raspberries, blue berries, grapes, strawberries. I ask,  What do you see here? Answer: a basket of fruit. What kind of fruit? Summer fruit.What does that mean? Fullness. Richness. Abundance. Plenty.

So then we read: This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit.* 2He said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A basket of summer fruit.’* Then the Lord said to me,
‘The end
* has come upon my people Israel;
   I will never again pass them by.
3 The songs of the temple* shall become wailings on that day,’
says the Lord God;
‘the dead bodies shall be many,
   cast out in every place. Be silent!’ 

4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
   and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
   so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
   so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
   and practise deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
   and the needy for a pair of sandals,
   and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’ 

How strange that the symbol of abundance, of plenty, should  be the sign of the end. 
Writing almost three millenia ago, Amos is on to exploitative capitalism as explicit as today. The picture of ravenous consumption, dishonesty, failure to honor the traditions about gleaning, about leaving nothing for the poor, it’s where we live. 
And the point is,it’s not about God’s judgment, it’s about the society has already destroyed itself by rending the social bonds that connect us all. It’s written after the exile to explain what led to exile. We don’t need God’s judgment, we’re doing it to ourselves. 
Psalm 52 echoes that theme and then we end with  the gospel. The story of Martha and Mary.(Luke 10:38-42) We understand how concerns of the world consume us, distract us. But we want a different answer from Jesus, like, Martha you come, sit and listen for awhile. Or you women sit awhile, we’ll get the food ready. Hospitality  is a key cultural practice. And she is fulfilling that. So why be criticized? IT echoes back to the Good Samaritan story from last week.  We pass by because of important things on our mind, distractions, obligations...and miss what’s right in front of us...
We finish the day with a prayer. A song. And then our Session meets. Proposals to think about. Strategies for dealing with Presbytery as we try to get our manse sale taken care of. Political strategies. How to deal with candidates. Promises made and broken. Promises still being made.How do we engage in this process? How do you balance Amos style prophetic witness vs. political pragmatism? We struggle for answers. 
The Sanctuary NYC people are arriving. The basket of summer fruit has been eaten.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A wedding. A shabbat brucha. A mitzvah.



7/20

Fred and Stephen  have waited 13 years for today


What’s supposed to be an easy morning begins to turn anxious. Can’t find my keys. And a couple is coming to the church to be married. I call Marc. Luckily he can come and let me in.

But when I get to the church the steps are filled with the gang, several of whom are in a state of well, deshabille, as the French would say. I tell them I’ve got to open the doors, they need to move out. 

Meet Marc at the 86th street door. Can’t get into my office. Will have to wing the wedding. Then I remember I need witnesses. I ask Marc to stay. Need one more. The couple arrive.

I ask them to take a seat in the sanctuary. Marc and I hit the street. He sees a runner stop for the light. Marc approaches him. He looks at me, smiles, comes over. You may not remember. I’m Bruce. I taught your kids in Hebrew School at BJ. You asked me to do some legal work one time, but it was too close. I was here for the gala with Mim and Ted and Asya and Katherine...
Oh man, Bruce, thanks...

So we’re ready. Stephen and Fred have been married in the eyes of God for 13 years. Had a big church wedding, over 100 guests, all that. But it wasn’t legal. So today they’ve come in from North Carolina to make it official.

I tell them the story of West-Park. It’s history. More Light, God’s Love, all. Turns out they used to live on the Upper West Side before their odyssey led them to Michigan, Chicago and finally Charlotte where it’s a quality of life issue with enough New York exiles to make it comfortable. Very new south. But still....

Since they’ve been married, my job is easier. It’s reaffirming what already is. But the words they really want to hear, ...by the authority vested in me by the State of New York I now pronounce you....are met with long awaited tears.

Marc and Bruce sign the witness lines. Bruce says, I’m going to services later but I’ve already had a shabbat brucha. And I say and already done a mitzvah...

Hand shakes and hugs all around. And they’re off to enjoy the city.

Out on the steps, George says, Hey Bob, let me ask you something. Where do you find these people? Referring to the gang.
I don’t find them, George, they find me. 
He laughs. Let me ask you something else. You ever hear of a 14 year old bein drafted?
No. 
That boy says he was. No way. That’d be child cruelty.
He says he’s from Puerto Rico and they do it different there. 
No way. That's a constitutional issue. Child cruelty. Yeah, what’s that group? Yeah, Amnesty International. They against child soldiers. We’re on that damn list, you know? Cause we coerce poor black kids. They get their ass busted. Judge say, you want jail or join the service? That’s how that go. Poor dumb nigger kids. We on that list for sure. No way that kid drafted. Knuckleheads, man. Knuckleheads.

Go with Marc to get an extra key made. Just in case.

When I come back, I look outside. George gathers up his stuff, gets on the 11bus heading north. Back to his apartment. His visit over. What it means to him, spending the night here, I have no idea.

RL and David have been wrestling with the internet. And waiting for Max. He shows just after RL leaves to see Harvey. They did talk and make plans for Monday.
We chat about the Pirates. And Yankees. And tattoos. 

Time to take a walk in the Park. And wait for the cool of the evening.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

And for a good night, good night



7/19

This morning, I see Sean on Broadway. Alert. Looking good. I stop to talk.
Sean, good morning.
Hey, good morning.
What’s happening? You said you were ready for rehab...
Yeah. I want to get my electric wheel chair first. They working with me on that. And I done my psych eval. And my physical. They say I’m too vulnerable for a shelter or dorm, they gon a get me my own room.
Who’s that Sean?
Goddard-Riverside.
Of course. You work with them, it works out. Proud of you man.
I get that chair, I’m gonna do the rehab.
Good. That’s good.
Look man, I’m sorry, you know? I know the mess I left. It’s embarrassing,you know? That’s not me.
I know. You’re working on it Sean, you’re working on it. You take care. As I start to walk away, he says, Wait, and I turn around. Thanks for stopping. For taking the time, for talking. 

Later in the day. It’s hot. I’m out for a walk. I see at least three people I’m not prepared to deal with and walk an obstacle course zig-zag back to the church. It’s too hot to think. My patience is running thin.

Work with Christopher on his future plans.

Step outside. Oh no. It’s Edward and Charlotte, back again.
Edward, I’m not doing this again.
I ain’t botherin nobody.
Charlotte chimes in: You go away.
That’s not the point. You can’t be here. Two days ago I had to call the police.
I ain’t been sleepin here. Been hookin up with her.
It wasn’t night. It was the middle of the day.
That wasn’t me. You think all black people look alike.
No man, it was you. The fire engine came. Then the ambulance. The the police.
Wasn’t me.
When they asked you your name, you said Human Being, just like two years ago. I’m thinking he doesn’t even remember.
Ah man. I ain’t hurtin no one.
Charlotte again: You go away. You motherfucker. You get the fuck outta here. You..
Edward: You hush now. Just sittin’ here mindin my own business.
I’m starting to lose it. Edward, I had to clean up your shit ten times. I’m not doing that again.
Ah that wasn’t me. That was someone else...
You were right there man, was no one else. Not again.
Charlotte: You get the fuck outta here.
(Anna and Sergeant Keith are behind me now.)
Charlotte, you take your man and get out of here. Move on.
Come on man, we don’t need to be here. We goin’, we goin’. 
And they’re off to the other side of the street, in front of PC Richards.
That wasn’t right, them cursin’ you like that. Keith says. Back home from where I come from....
It’s OK, Keith, it’s over.

I need to get away.

RL is going about set up for tonight’s open mic. I help him up the stairs with the cider. Danielle carries some six packs.  I just want to leave.

Max shows up. He’ll be tending bar tonight.

Sjoed Hoogma: Writersday
But I’ll stick around and play. Tonight’s surprises are another comedian. (Comedy is harder than writing music. Really.) And a singer songwriter from the Netherlands named Sjoerd who plays by the name Writersday. With some good guitar, some good songs and a mean harmonica. (http://www.writersday.nl/ )

Surprise of the night? Anna sings an original song she wrote back in the 80’s about the lingering effects of radiation on Japanese children. And then an English translation of a sukiyaki song. Her music is sensitive . And intelligent. Like her truest self.

Good to see Beppe. And Nancy. And Jamie.

Sjoerd joins in with his harmonica on RL’s Stay Awhile. And then I get up to do one of my New Mexico songs. Invite him to join me. And give him a break of his own between verses. We actually begin to roll a little.

A lot is  not good right now. But I love playing. I love feeling the calluses come back on my finger tips and thumb. I enjoy the work and effort that takes me away. Which is why I started doing this in the first place.

We wrap things up. Beppe and I head to Slightly Oliver’s. Sit outside. There’s a breeze. RL passes by. I look up, RL, it was a good night. He smiles, touches his finger to his hat brim. So for a good night, good night he says. And heads home.

As we walk back home, the gang has settled in for the night. And George had taken up the south door. George, you keep an eye on these guys, OK? He nods.

Goodnight.