16 August 2014

christopher street

I started to tell this to Yeshwant when we were having dinner after attending the Pride march in Manhattan this year. I started to choke up when I told him, which surprised me. "You touched something," he said, kindly. I thought I should write some of it down before I forget.

Growing up in Ohio in the '70s and '80s, I was a late bloomer. I didn't come out until after I had moved to California after college, and so spent my high school and college years in frustration and self-loathing and fear, the way so many of us have and do. It's hard to believe what a different time it was, from the vantage point of just a few short decades later. There were some gay guys at my high school, of course, none out but some we suspected, and of course there were a few out men and women at Kenyon. But a remarkable few, it seems now, and inevitably they were the folks who didn't fit in as well to begin with and in a sense lost little by being out - or maybe they chose to be out and thus lost little by not fitting in in other ways.

And so I was threatened and so resolved not to be like them in ways I now regret. What can you do? It was a different time. All you can do is try to forgive yourself.

But I knew I was gay, deep down, and sometimes I even allowed myself to be aware of it. After I learned to drive - I think maybe while I was still in high school, but in any case certainly during the vacations when I was in college - I would drive myself to the main library in downtown Columbus. I would go there to do homework, to work on research papers, or just to have a refuge from my world and my life. Inevitably I would roam the periodicals; I would read the Cleveland Plain Dealer for the greater detail about the Indians and Browns, or read about roller coasters in a magazine about amusement parks, and just browse and see what else existed that they weren't telling us about at the boys' academy.

One day I found the magazine called Christopher Street. I can't say why I picked it up; surely some of it had to do with the title including my name. Maybe I looked at the cover and saw it was about gay stuff. In any case, that's what kept my interest. I'm pretty sure it was the only periodical about gay stuff in the entire library system. There were some books, but they were iffy; a lot of them were of either the "how not to be gay" genre or the "the gays are taking over" genre. Christopher Street was up to the minute (or the month, anyway), and it was catholic in the topics it covered, and it was unashamed.

So I would pick it up and read it, maybe in the stacks, maybe in a corner somewhere, glancing up every so often to make sure I wasn't being spied, by someone I knew, or by a disapproving librarian. I don't particularly remember what the articles I read were about. A lot of them were about AIDS. Some were probably about politics that I didn't especially understand. There was some artistic photography, I think - not nearly enough. And the ads were as interesting as the articles, of course. I remember at times getting aroused, and having to deal with that while I was trying to sneak it back to the shelves without being spied. It wasn't so much the content that made me hard, I think; it was just the idea of homosexuality being on display - and unashamed.

Does it seem sad, me hunched in a corner of the library poring over the pages of Christopher Street? It was; it added to my frustration. But it wasn't, too. It was the rare opportunity to feel hope and imagine liberation.

Eventually, the summer after I graduated from college, I visited New York. I stayed for a couple days with my college classmate Steve in his tiny apartment in Cobble Hill, around the corner from where I'm living now. During the day he would go off to work and I would go exploring; we would meet up for lunch maybe - I distinctly remember carrying out the ludicrous corned beef sandwiches from the Carnegie Deli and eating half of them by a fountain, and him carrying two half sandwiches home - two more lunches, which mattered on his publishing industry salary. I don't really know what else I saw during those few days; some of Central Park, maybe. The urban liveliness of the Upper West Side was something I had never seen until then, and I was naive enough not to care about its yuppiness. I think I went to MOMA.

And of course, one afternoon, I made my way to the West Village and found Christopher Street. It wonderfully did not disappoint. I fell in love with the whole Village, which was then and still is, even in its gentrified form today, more human-scaled and inviting than any neighborhood I've been to. And I walked up and down the street, mostly just being there, and feeling the glorious anonymity that New York can confer upon you, especially glorious if you're 22 and gay and not yet out and face-to-face for the first time in your life with the possibility of not living in permanent and unrelieved shame. Have I used that word too many times? Then it was the feeling of the liberation I had imagined suddenly, for a few hours, becoming real.

I went to a newstand where they sold, alongside Time and Newsweek, and probably Christopher Street, a dizzying array of gay porn. I bought some, without thinking much about the question of where I was going to put it when I got back home. I'm not sure why that matters, other than completeness. Maybe it was the closest to expressing my sudden liberation that I could manage.

Anyway: sooner or later I went back to the rest of the world. New York never stopped calling me after that; Christopher Street never stopped calling me after that, even now that I'm here. On the way home from Jersey City, more often than not, I hop off the PATH train one stop early, walk up the stairs, and emerge into the light of the late afternoon. To my right, down the hill, is the pier; to my left the couple of bars and sex shops that are left among the salons and shirt boutiques. It's still a reasonably raffish mix - less than it used to be, of course, but you can still spot the carefree child underneath the grown-up demeanor the world keeps forcing on her. 

And there are the kids, of course. The other day, I walked out of the wind tunnel of the PATH station's stairway, and there were four or five beautiful young people standing  there, studying, or at any rate holding, a "wanted" flyer handed out by the police. All of them black and gay or queer or trans*, standing, in the way William Whyte described, at the busiest spot in the block. A guy in the same sort of business-casual crap that I was wearing brushed past them with a snarl as he headed in to catch his train. I couldn't hear what he muttered exactly, and that kept me in my place, but I wanted to chase after him, yell at him "Leave those kids alone! Don't you know where you are? Don't you know this is sacred space?"

It is that. Not for me, exactly; every time I walk up the street or linger, less often, on the pier, I feel like an interloper, a tourist, maybe an anthropologist, maybe a middle-aged man seeing the old crush who because of time and chance never quite became his lover. But for those kids: so unlike any version of me that ever was, and yet such kin, occupying that same place that isn't school, isn't home, where the possibility of becoming the fullest possible expressions of themselves exists. It's a relief and a joy, every time, to know that that Christopher Street still exists. 

minimum wage in seattle

Some thoughts about this, with appreciation for the fact that insisting on more is what has made a victory like this possible.

1) It is a victory - an extraordinary one, and extraordinary if only definitionally: it has not happened anywhere else. There's an article in Slate - which you should read cautiously, because it is written in apparent obliviousness to its bias - that suggests this is the highest minimum wage in the world. In any case, it's certainly the highest in the united states. That's worth claiming as a victory, even if its not complete. 

It presents an opportunity to demonstrate that higher wages need not come at the expense of economic well-being. It might fail on that accout, btw, primarily because of  the local nature of the statute - jobs may flee to Redmond or Everett or Tacoma (in a way they can't when tied to an airport, or when the minimum wage is national or statewide or even regional. It presents on opportunity to show, if you will, that a tide rising from the bottom lifts even more boats. 

3) $15 is kinda huge, even 7 years from now. Well, it seems likely to be huge. Inflation being as low as it is, and with no strong reason to expect a near-term change, there's reason to believe this will not meaningfully increase workers' take-home pay substantially now and in the future. 

4) The loopholes are giant, but it's worth keeping  in mind that the availability of a certain number of higher-paying entry-level or unskilled jobs is likely to push wages higher across the board. At least it seems to me. Workers are going to gravitate to higher-paying employees; in order to attract the same talent, employers not covered by the law are going to have to respond at least to a degree. And this holds true across the board, and has an effect even on skilled laborers and office workers already making more than the minimum. 

5) It shows the path to higher wages to other places contemplating it. It changes the conversation about what's possible, politically and economically, in places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. 

6) When a former version of me was watching football, I watched a lot of Ohio State. Their coach used to say the most important play in football is the punt. Which I take to mean, you need to be able recognize that you have gained the ground you can gain at that particular moment, consolidate it, and regroup for another go at them when the opportunity is better. I think everything that shifts the status quo in our direction is a victory, and we should take it, and then keep going. I offer this not to convince you but just to say where it is I tend to come from. 

I think those on the right tend to be much better at doing this than those of us on the left (whatever those terms mean). 

7) I work for a giant bank. That undoubtedly skews my vision.  

plan to divide red hook enacted at library cb6 meeting

(In which I channel a kind of Bizarro Fiala.)

A well-orchestrated campaign to prevent Red Hook from gaining improvements to its library found success at a meeting of the Landmarks and Land Use Committee of Community Board Six on Thursday evening.  Led by pro-development interests in Red Hook, in coalition with board members and other individuals from Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Greene, the forces opposed to adding amenities to the library won a delay in the committee’s vote, a possible precursor to killing the project.

Killing the plan would make it more likely that the amenities would land in a neighborhood such as Park Slope or Fort Greene, explaining the presence of the activists seeking to forestall action in Red Hook.
The project, led by a nonprofit group called Spaceworks, would turn about one-third of the public space in the underused library into multipurpose rooms, which could be used for a variety of activities including afterschool programming, rehearsal and classroom spaces for Red Hook’s various arts groups, as well as more traditional library activities such as reading groups and community meetings.  One of the primary users of the space would be Cora Dance, which provides afterschool programming to 200 youth.  Cora would be able to expand its afterschool programs through use of the space.  Nearly every person at the meeting, including many who spoke out against the project, testified to the valuable benefits provided by Cora’s programs.

The new spaces would have a separate entrance, enabling their use during the evening hours and weekends when the library is not open.
Among those speaking out against the plan was longtime Red Hook resident John McGettrick, who has frequently campaigned against projects that would bring jobs or improved educational opportunities to Red Hook’s lower-income residents.  Among the projects that McGettrick has opposed are Ikea and Fairway, which are two of the largest employers in the neighborhood, as well as South Brooklyn Community High School, which has provided a pathway to a high-school diploma for many local youth who were not able to find success in previous school experiences.

Attending along with McGettrick was George Fiala, a local blogger who has had ties to the real estate industry. In the week leading up to the meeting Fiala sent out a large number of tweets, Facebook posts, and blog articles ginning up opposition to the project.  Fiala claimed not to have known of the project until recently, but subsequently it was revealed that in fact he was well aware of it, having received and responded to many press releases, mailings, and emails announcing the project. Fiala has not said why he withheld information about the project until the last minute.
Fiala, in his guise of journalist, did not speak publicly at the meeting, but afterward wrote two editorial pieces detailing his objections to the project.  In the latter of these, he accused Spaceworks of “colonialism”, and then suggested Cora should look to the real estate industry for support. Supporting Cora, it may be assumed, would help pave the way for developers to remake the Red Hook landscape, a different form of colonialism that Fiala apparently supports.

Fiala and other opponents managed to turn out several individuals from more wealthy neighborhoods, such as Judi  Francis, an activist from Brooklyn Heights, and Lucy Koteen of Fort Greene. Koteen, whose neighborhood abounds in performing arts spaces like BAM, BRIC, Mark Morris, and the Irondale Center, seemed unaware that Red Hook has almost no equivalent spaces.  She was in attendance with several members of a group called “Citizens Defending Libraries,” who in their campaign against the Brooklyn Public Library’s management appear to be using Red Hook as cannon fodder.
Also in attendance was Eric Richmond, who owns a space called the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope. Richmond’s objections to the project were quoted extensively in the Brooklyn Paper. He has been mired in a years-long battle to save his space from foreclosure, and it might be that his interest in the affairs of Red Hook is the result of the fear of the competition that might come from the proposed spaces. Richmond may also want to obtain the Spaceworks funds for his own purposes.

A small but vocal group of Red Hook residents heckled speakers and disrupted the meeting with comments dismissive of the proposal, the library, and Cora.  Among the Red Hook residents in attendance were several who have emerged as reliable allies of those who would seek to gentrify Red Hook at the expense of current community residents.  They included prominent supporters of the $23,000-per-year Basis Independent School which is being erected in an industrial zone of Red Hook – a zone developers would love to convert to high-priced residential buildings for the sort of individuals who can afford Basis.  The school is the first beachhead in this battle. Other Red Hookers who spoke out against the project were several employees of the Red Hook Initiative, which competes with Cora for funding and participants in afterschool programming.
A number of those present used the tactic of praising Cora and the intent of the project, and then proposing pie-in-the-sky alternatives that stand no chance of succeeding. McGettrick dismissively acknowledged the merits of the project, and then proposed a fanciful and unrealistic alternative of placing the multipurpose spaces on the roof of the library.  Representatives of Spaceworks and the library said that such a solution was unaffordable and impractical for a number of reasons. Wally Bazemore, one of the Basis supporters, suggested that Cora should simply obtain money for rehearsal and classroom space from Ikea. Bazemore seemed unaware that Ikea has provided very limited support to local arts organizations in the decade it has occupied a corner of Red Hook. Similarly, other “supporters” of Cora suggested going to public officials for support, perhaps unaware that a typical appropriation from a council member to a small community group might total five to ten thousand dollars - certainly not enough to build out a space suitable for teaching young children.

Prominent among the Community Board members speaking out against the plan was Hildegaard Link, a Park Slope resident.  Link lives close to the Park Slope branch, which has meeting rooms for the public, as well as the Central Library, which has three meeting rooms, an 189-seat auditorium, and a cafĂ© – so she is obviously familiar with the kinds of services and amenities modern libraries provide.  Nevertheless, for Red Hook, she said, the library should only have books.  She extolled a vision of the Red Hook library as a place solely for “the written word, the spoken word, and the listened-to word” – the finest library of the nineteenth century, perhaps.
Other community board members echoed this sentiment. These members seemed to be implying that they think the illiterate children of Red Hook do not deserve more advanced amenities such as arts programming until they learn how to read.

The board tabled the proposal, expressing a desire for further information from Spaceworks and the library.  Absent a sea change in public expressions of opinion about the project, it seems doomed to fall prey to the ongoing strategy of pitting neighbor against neighbor in Red Hook, while developers and wealthier neighborhoods reap the benefits.