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Stuff I did
This issue: The haves, the have-nots, and an American Mayor’s chapped asshole
By Ian Murphy
A week ago, I was sipping Mimosas with Haitian hookers on the seventy-foot yacht of a Belgian diamond dealer in Fort Lauderdale. Through no cunning of my own, I’d found myself on a depraved, drunken safari of utter opulence. The Filipino crew steered the ship down the Intercoastal Waterway, intermittently refilling my thirsty glass. I even had the opportunity to board a truly egregious display of wealth: a hundred-foot, ten million-dollar vessel which was owned by the widow of a former Texaco CFO, an acquaintance of the diamond dealer. We sampled fine scotch from a miniature Texaco pump on the bar. Someone pointed out a mansion belonging to Wayne Huizinga, owner of the Miami Dolphins, Blockbuster, and Waste Management. Badly sunburned and soured by a repugnant envy, I cursed myself for not pursuing a career in garbage collection. I slept soundly that night.
Tonight, I’m drinking coffee with labor activists in a “tent city” in front of city hall in Buffalo, NY. I haven’t slept in over a day. The Coalition for Economic Justice has set up camp in the large circular median that marks the city’s center with a hundred-foot obelisk dedicated to William McKinley. No one in this town will ever forget where they were on that fateful morning in September of aught-one when they heard news of McKinley’s assassination at the Pan-American Exposition. We were all touched by his now infamous last words: “Fuck you, Buffal—oh!” It’s all gone downhill economically from there. We had a steel industry for a while, but it up and ran off.
Recent news that my hometown ranks second nationally in poverty—a hair behind Detroit—was met with little surprise locally, and some amount of frustration over our perennial loser status. Four Super Bowls, and now we can’t even beat Detroit. Pitiful.
But I digress. This dozen-tent “city” has been erected by the CEJ to demand a living wage for city workers. EMTs and seasonal—laid off for one week a year—sanitation workers; two-hundred grunts, in total. Buffalo’s Mayor Byron Brown will take notice, we hope.
About seventy-five people showed up earlier for an interfaith pep rally. “What do we want? Fill in the blank! When do we want it? At some future point!” One Rabbi quoted Leviticus as an ethical foundation for worker’s rights. If only we let the wisdom of Leviticus guide us, there’d be plenty of quality jobs killing fags, I believe was his point. Holy-rollers have been cherry-picking scripture to champion social justice since abolition in this country. Despite their delusions, they have the capacity to be good people. However, hearing such an abhorrent and contradictory text praised as moral authority, I vomited a little in my mouth. I’m not a well man.
I was heartened when another Rabbi took the mic, blew into the shofar—a hollowed ram’s horn—and someone in the crowd chimed, “Ri-co-la!”
The plan is to remain entrenched in front of city hall until the Mayor responds to a letter composed by the CEJ and signed by fifty religious leaders, which was delivered yesterday. There’s talk we’ll be arrested if need be. Being dragged out of a government building in handcuffs on camera is every protester’s dream and nightmare. In America we have a special “protester class.” A clique of largely white, financially-secure college kids, who’ve the luxury and time to keep a hobby “fighting the man.” Like all Americans, they vainly yearn to be on the TV, but the prospect of a night in the clink is a fright too authentic. One kid kicked out the jams from his iPod station. We played tag, drew slogans on the sidewalk in colored chalk, and ordered pizza. It was, like, pretty cool, I guess, or whatever, and stuff.
Lying on the concrete in a camouflage sleeping bag next to a trash can, I wonder, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t make a ‘living wage,’ not by a long motherfucking shot!” I once again found my self envying trash collectors. Lazy bastards get to sit around all day, working hard for a lavish $8.15 without benefits, and they can’t find the time to protest their own dreary lot. These people are busy “working,” I’m told, and many fear retaliation from their employers if they organize. It’s better to keep a low-wage gig than to lose a higher-paying one. To stand in the workers’ place is the sole value of the protester class, aside from lurid tent sex, which can happen at any time. And did; high-five!
Dawn creeps up on us. I’ve been awake for fifty-five hours. As I’ve said, I’m not well; all the protester-coitus in the world could not assuage my nerves. Coffee and bagels rile the ten-or-so troops that stayed overnight to be showered with rain and timed sprinklers. The religious folk are due to return in the afternoon to force a confrontation with the Mayor. There’s a long day of waiting ahead. Two city workers wash off the colorful slogans with a hose. Empathy or not, everybody’s got a job to do. We meet the same attitude inside city hall. The blue-shirt posted at the door to the Mayor’s office is sympathetic and affable, yet clings to the Nuremberg defense. He won’t tell us where the mayor is, or if he intends to meet with us. The activists divide their day sitting patiently in front of the Mayor’s office, and hounding him at meetings, to no avail.
By three-thirty, about twenty religious leaders and activists have amassed in the hallway before his office. CEJ Project Coordinator Micaela Shapiro-Shellaby whacks me forcefully on the top of my head. I apologize for falling asleep. Across the hallway, I see the image of Eugene Debs feverishly tap dancing in the swirls of the marble floor. He’s wearing loaves of bread for shoes. I give him a thumb’s up. Debs reciprocates knowingly.
At sixty three-hours without sleep, I’ve hit pay dirt: a lucid state of REM consciousness; dreaming while awake. And as any rogue journalist will tell you, this is the perfect frame of mind for engaging in civil disobedience, especially when one is too impoverished to procure proper narcotics. Times are tough; we all have to make do.
The Mayor eventually emerges from his office. He lurches curiously, facing away from us, bent at the hips. “I’d like to speak with you all,” he tells the small crowd, using his hands to mouth the words with the cheeks of his buttocks. “But I’m already late for another appointment.” It was amazing; you couldn’t see his lips move when he spoke, and the hallway was at once filled with the delicate scent of rose and jasmine.
The activists persisted, and the Mayor was left with no option but to give them audience. Brown was reminded that it was he who, as an ambitious councilman, helped write The Living Wage Ordinance in 1999. According to the ordinance, city workers, and those contracted by the city are legally entitled to $9.59 per hour with benefits, or $10.77 without.
“It’s not my fault! I can’t be expected to enforce every single law I’ve written! Come on, dudes, give me a break!” The Mayor’s ass deflected in a shrill falsetto. The righteous crowd pushed for a meeting with the Mayor’s head, but his cheeks demurred: “I’m the Mayor’s advisor and liaison on this matter. The Mayor is willing to enter into a dialogue, but it has to go through me!”
The Mayor’s ass was mad with power, possibly possessed.
“The power of Christ compels you!” commanded Deacon Jim Anderson, splashing holy water across the Mayor’s backside. “The power of Christ compels you! Devil be gone from these governmental buttocks!”
The Mayor’s pants steamed, and an unholy guttural moan emanated from within. “You fool!” scolded the Mayor’s angered ass. “Guards! Show this man who he’s dealing with. Chop, chop!”
“Yes, Sir!” cooed the two guards, eagerly rushing to the doubled-over mayor, undoing his belt, and taking down his trousers.
“Bwa ha ha ha ha! The Mayor’s unclothed posterior spoke freely, without aid of the Mayor’s hands. “You can’t stop me! And soon I’ll be more powerful than the Mayor himself! Bwa ha ha ha ha!” The religious leaders stared ahead stoically, as if they’d seen such a sight a thousand times, perhaps during choir practice. I moved closer for a photo and a better audio recording.
Head of the CEJ Allison Duwe hid her revulsion, and pressed the Mayor’s bare ass for cooperation.
“You there!” the Mayor’s wind-blown orifice cut her off, fixing its puckered eye on me askance. “Why are you recording me?”
“I’m with the press,” I explained.
“What news organization?” the Mayor’s ashy cheeks flapped with suspicion.
“The BEAST,” I responded with some fear of physical harm (I did, after all, attempt to solicit sex from the Mayor’s wife by phone).
“Oh, I’m definitely not having that,” the Mayor’s ass whined. “Byron! Wake up, man, we’re out of here!”
“No wait,” the crowd of determined protesters yelped in unison. “What if he shuts off the recorder?” offered one.
And I did. I slunk away, back into the margins, where I belong. After sobbing softly for a moment, the Mayor’s buttocks composed itself. “What you people don’t understand,” said the Mayor’s frustrated cavity, “is that poor people are stupid, and they don’t deserve money because they’re so stupid! We’re in a global competition, and if these dumb people want a better job, they shouldn’t be so dumb!” The Mayor’s privileged bum was starting to make a lot of sense. “Like, go to college, or something, dude!” the haughty asshole directed to the one seasonal sanitation worker present named Dwayne. “Dwayne is a stupid fuck—I mean, seriously, he picks up garbage for a living. Why should I care about someone who’s stupid enough to be poor? Poor people are just gross!”
“But, Mr. Mayor,” plead a man from the Working Families Party.
“OK. We’re done here, people,” spewed the Mayor’s gapping lower bowel. “Um, I’ll have my people call your people, or something. Guards!” A security officer swiftly draped the Mayor over his shoulder.
“Where to, boss?” he whispered into the Mayor’s flabbergasted butt hole.
“Steam room! I’m tense! Chop! Chop!” We all left voluntarily soon after.
Through much perseverance, Allison Duwe finally managed to finagle, by phone, an official meeting with the Mayor himself. As of this writing, the meeting has yet to take place, nor is there any indication that a meeting will garner concrete progress. There will undoubtedly be a good deal of further bloviating and obfuscation on the Mayor’s part. And the forces of good will keep pressing the issue.
It’s now seventy hours since I last slept. All I have for dinner is a can of tuna fish and a mealy orange. I peel the orange. It tastes of champagne, and I recall my brief Floridian tryst with the ostentatious trappings of concentrated wealth. I sit on the front porch of my apartment, which devours most of my income. I peer up and down the street. I close my eyes, hoping to envision a grand yacht with scantily clad islanders beckoning me aboard.
Splayed across the porch’s concrete steps, I wake the next morning to the pneumatic racket of a garbage truck idling a few houses down. Sore and foul smelling, I wearily drag the trash bin to the curb.
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