My wife, the Beautiful AP, wants me to participate more in The South Shore Audubon Society so that, as she says, “You don’t become more of a hermit.” She is wrong. I am not a hermit; seriously I’m not.
“You are going to the protest of the Williams Pipeline on Wednesday in Rockville Centre,” she said in her I will not brook any dispute voice.
“I don’t want to go to the protest,” I brooked. “I have work to do; a few deadlines are coming up.”
“You are going to the protest at Kaminsky’s office,” she said. (Kaminsky is a New York State senator.)
“Oh, for God’s sake,” I brooked again.
“You need to take a stand,” she said.
“Oh, come on, I made calls and sent emails; how much more do you want me to do?”
“It’s Noon until one o’clock. One measly hour,” she said. “You can take a break from writing.”
I stopped brooking.
I have learned that marriage is a loving relationship between two people where one is always right and the other is the husband. I have on some days awakened in the morning, turned to my wife and said, “You are right. I’m sorry.” That’s before anything actually happened that day but if something did happen, then I was covered.
“And I will make you a sign,” she said generously.
“I have to carry a sign?” I was almost at the whining stage.
“Of course, it’s a protest,” she said.
I nodded. Then I said, “How do you want me to dress?”
“You can wear shorts and even your crocs,” she said.
“The shorts I’m wearing now?”
“No, those make you look like a bum,” she said.
“You told me the other day that the other pair I had made me look like a bum.” Was it possible I could win this argument by trapping her in her own words?
“Those make you look like less of a bum than you do now,” she said.
So I lost.
Okay, I have two pairs of shorts; one makes me look like a bum and the other makes me look like less of a bum. I choose (because I must) to look like less of a bum.
She made me a sign. It looked great. I was now ready to protest the possibility that this pipeline might be brought to New York to carry gas.
The Williams Company says we are going to run out of gas; the people I am protesting with say that there are alternatives. Truthfully, I haven’t studied this enough to know what’s what scientifically, but I do know that some of the people I’m going to march with seem to have a handle on the issue. One thing is certain; my wife has a handle on me.
The day of the event, I told AP to call me from her job (she is a librarian) and wake me at 11am so I can scurry out of the house to get to Rockville Centre early to find a parking space. I had been up since 3am writing and I knew I would need a nap before I tackled protesting.
“Be friendly and charming to the people there,” were her last words to me.
“Okay, okay,” I said as my last words. Friendly and charming? Am not I always friendly and charming?
On protest day, I sat in my recliner and immediately fell asleep. No worries about oversleeping, because my wife will call me at 11.
I opened my eyes for a moment, secure in the knowledge that I had plenty of time. After all, AP hadn’t called me yet. I looked at the clock and it was 11:13! She forgot to call me! Damn! (Admittedly, part of me was gleeful that my Beautiful AP had made such a glaring mistake. She couldn’t win a debate about this! I would finally win one.)
I jumped from my recliner and ran into the bedroom. Where the hell were my “not as much of a bum” shorts? Where the hell had I put them a few days ago? I ran around the bedroom like a chicken without a head (that’s South Shore Audubon birding-talk).
I looked under the bed; I looked in drawers. They were on the bed. My wife had put them on the bed, along with a t-shirt. There was a note on them: “The sign is in the car. Be friendly and charming. Wear this so you won’t look like more of a bum. Have fun!”
In the back seat there (of course!) was a beautiful handmade sign. It said: Just Say No to the Williams Pipeline. (But I still had her on that wake-up call.)
And off I went.
About a mile and a half from my home, I was to turn left onto Lakeview Avenue and go straight into Rockville Centre which was about two miles away. Lakeview Avenue does actually have a view of a pretty lake at one point.
Oh, crap! There was construction on that road. I’d have to take another street to get farther up so I could get onto Lakeview from there. I turned left onto Hempstead Avenue as I was at an intersection called the Five Corners which has five different streets converging on themselves; one of which is Lakeview.
I turned right almost immediately onto Nassau Boulevard which is the block on which my beautiful wife grew up. I got to the end of the block and, oh for God’s sake, I couldn’t turn either way onto Rolling Street as a construction truck was on the left side and another construction truck was on the right side. They were huge and there was absolutely no room to go around them, and going straight ahead would land me in someone’s living room.
Time was ticking.
As I was about to make a quick U-turn to find another route where there was no construction, a third truck had shown up, right behind me! Right behind me! I couldn’t go anywhere as this monstrosity had taken up the whole street. I was trapped like a chicken without a head is trapped by a farmer as it falls to the ground stone dead. (I’m not going to do anymore gruesome South Shore Audubon bird references.)
If I’m stuck here I will never get to the demonstration. My wife will kill me the way people kill turkeys on Thanksgiving! (More death in my analogies. I’m beginning to think like a killer since I joined the South Shore Audubon Society.)
So I made a courageous choice right then and there. I drove up onto the sidewalk, skirting the truck and headed back down Nassau Boulevard.
I did finally get to Lakeview Avenue, away from the construction. At 10 minutes to Noon I arrived in Rockville Centre where parking a car is a competitive sport. Would I find a parking space within a mile of my destination?
Yes! A car pulled out and I quickly zoomed into the space. I was just around the corner from where we were slated to meet. Glorious!
I grabbed the sign from the backseat, fed the meter every quarter I had, and headed to the corner. As I turned I looked down the block. It was empty. We were supposed to meet outside Kaminsky’s office which was about 200 feet away. No one was there except some mailwoman pushing her cart.
Did I have the wrong day?
Then I saw them; about 20 people standing outside the lobby of the train station. Many looked like left-over hippies from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some folks were young —but most people today seem young since I’ve gotten much older than I was in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Maybe I looked like some aging hippie too.
Several members of the South Shore Audubon Society were expected to be there. Not one.
So I stood in the midst of the 20. I was smiling charmingly and trying to look friendly. Some people smiled back at me. At least I think they were smiling back at me. A lot of them looked as if they were bums, just like me! Take that, you Beautiful AP, some of us do not have to look corporate as…damn it, some guy in a three-piece suit just showed up.
Everyone had signs; mostly homemade and almost all of them were not so hot. Mine was the best—I mean, my wife’s was the best. I mean mine (my wife’s) even had holders in the back to make it easy to put your arms through it. That’s craftsmanship.
Then there were some professionally made flags on poles that had seen much better days long, long ago. These were addressed to Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor. Wait. I thought Cuomo was against the pipeline. That was confusing. Why yell at him if he already stated he is against the thing we are all against?
Audubon members arrived: Franklin was carrying a huge bag of pistachio nuts— unsalted” he announced. Richard, who could have been a movie star in the 1920s, with his classic good looks, arrived. That guy never looks like a bum.
Our VP, Brien who is a terrific writer and hard-hitting activist, stood next to me. A lovely lady, and like my wife, a librarian.
Across from me arrived Jim Brown, another former librarian (there’s something about those librarians) and his wife Gail, another director. Jim is a past president of the South Shore Audubon Society and he is also a big wheel in the Green Party of Long Island.
Yes, you could say this was a progressive demonstration. Some of these people look at me weirdly when they find out that I have friends that range from super-conservative all the way to socialist. Hey, I take ‘em as I like ‘em.
Now Franklin is an interesting guy. On our bird walks, he collects garbage to throw out once he gets home. He also knows a lot about plants some of which he rubs on his skin to keep the mosquitoes away.
“Hey, Frank, I bought one of your books – the confession one,” said Franklin.
“Ah, Confessions of a Wayward Catholic,” I said. I love it when people buy my books. I just love it. From 5th grade on my life was basically dedicated to having people read my stuff or, at the very least, notice me.
“I gave it to my mother,” said Franklin. “She’s a hundred years old.”
“Wow!” I said. “I hope she liked it.”
“She hated it. She said she didn’t like your Irish humor.”
What the hell? My Irish humor? What does that mean? Oh, come on, she’s a hundred years old—an old battle ax right? What does she know about humor, Irish or otherwise?
I looked at Franklin and swallowed hard. I tried to stay charming and friendly to him as I turned away from him. I was elated when a whole ton of pistachios fell out of his bag. “You might have to clean that up,” I said to him (charmingly and friendly) pointing to the mess on the sidewalk. Then I walked over to Jim and Gail.
Did Franklin have to tell me my book sucked? Really? Couldn’t he have lied and told me his mother loved it and I had made her last days a fun experience?
More people had arrived while I was having my heart broken by Franklin. I noticed Marilyn, another very active board member of the Audubon Society. She took some flyers to hand out to passersby.
“You know,” I said to Jim and Gail. “This might look like a walk for affordable senior-citizen housing.” They laughed. See? I am funny.
The three community organizers leading the protest, two young women and one young man, herded us cattle to Senator Kaminksy’s doorstep.
I was checking out the new arrivals when suddenly a loud, deep, female voice started singing the Star-Spangled Banner—through a hospital mask! She had trouble hitting all the notes, which may or may not have been due to the mask. But people clapped amiably when she finished and then toddled off into oncoming traffic. I was relieved she wasn’t a part of our demonstration. There is a hospital nearby.
Now the male community activist went over what chants we would be using that day.
Chanting is a brilliant way to stop people from thinking. Warriors of all types chant before battle; religious people chant in churches and temples; picketers and protesters chant too. Monks chant their mantras to get them to go where no man or woman has gone before. I’m not a public chanter.
Then Guy, another member of our board of directors, came up alongside me. Guy is an activist’s activist. He knows every politician on our section of earth, and he belongs to several societies and civic clubs. Guy also has a huge pond in his yard – right there that endears him to me as I am a fish lover.
“So I see we’re making an activist of you,” he said.
“I did this long ago,” I said. That’s true. My past had some interesting demonstrative moment. I led two demonstrations when I was in college against the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, too many of the demonstrators seemed to hate our soldiers who were just guys who had been drafted. I had friends in the army, guys who didn’t go to college and were not deferred as I was.
In my first year of teaching three of us decided we didn’t like the superintendent of schools’ policies so we dressed like priests, went in front of the huge picture window of his office, and hung him in effigy. The superintendent wasn’t happy about that and was probably relieved when the principal later fired me for a different, but equally outstanding offense.
I’ve led union marches; I even once emptied an auditorium when the PTA allowed skits that maliciously made fun of teachers. I simply stood up and told those who were disgusted with this crap to follow me. A thousand students and teachers walked out, leaving the PTA parents stunned.
We planted ourselves outside Kaminsky’s office and the chants began. I didn’t chant; I just looked over the approximately 50 people who were now there. I was holding my (wife’s) beautiful sign but I was looking at each and every demonstrator to see which ones were crazy. Political action can be much like religious action. Some people wrap themselves in their beliefs to the point where they are—let’s be frank here—totally and completely nuts. Unthinking, chanting nuts.
There were some hollow-eyed idealists and others amped up way beyond the level of this event. After all, we weren’t confronting hordes of soldiers of the Chinese regime out to club us into submission. Our group was chanting against politicians such as Kaminsky and Cuomo who probably would vote as we wanted them to vote.
But most of the people present? Just regular folks.
For the first 15 minutes we stood in a horseshoe formation outside the office building. The prongs of the horseshoe touched the front façade; the curve was at the street. Between the prongs was a big flag.
The three community organizers walked about inside the horseshoe conducting the chants. People were into this big time. Individual protesters would shout out as if they were in some evangelical church meeting. “You tell ‘em! You tell ‘em!”
Then one of the young women organizers stepped into the center between the prongs and called everyone to order. Silence. She then thanked all the groups that showed up to demonstrate today, and the list was interminable. There seemed to be more groups represented than there were actual people there.
The speeches began. The first was Jim Brown who represented the Green Party and the South Shore Audubon Society. He had a prepared speech which he read and it was a good one; comprehensive, intelligent, and devoid of cheap chanting tricks.
As the next speaker was introduced, everyone noticed a newcomer. The newcomer would steal the show. No subsequent speaker could hold the crowd’s attention once the newcomer showed up—not that the subsequent speakers had much to say anyway. Nope, Fido had arrived at the protest and all eyes were on him.
Around the fourth speaker some woman with dyed blonde hair on a 60-year-old head grabbed Fido’s leash and brought the dog to the center of the horseshoe, so all of us could see her romping with him. She pet, cuddled, coddled, and commanded the dog to perform tricks. She completely upstaged the speaker!
While I was happy that the speeches were over, one of the organizers announced with great fanfare that there was to be one final speaker. Everyone applauded, although no person had yet been announced.
Then the person was announced—doggie-girl! The very one who had stolen the attention of most of the crowd with her antics with the dog, got up and called for the crowd to…chant. Oh, boy, would my wife hear about this!
Finally we took a group picture and my civic duty was done.
Will I attend other demonstrations? I don’t know. Ask my wife.