“Get yourself together,” says Ted Hamm, longstanding editor of the Brooklyn Rail. “What’s wrong with you? Are you high? They’re gonna frisk you. There’s gonna be metal detectors. Make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets to get us in trouble. Don’t heckle. Don’t pull any stunts. If I wanted to get arrested I would’ve called Reverend Billy and told him to come down here with me,” explains the white-bearded Mr. Hamm as he waits in line to pass through the security checkpoint outside of City Hall on the morning of New Year’s Day, 2010. “We’re here to do an ethnography of the city elite,” he says, as he scans the crowd of people gathered for the third coronation of Michael R. Bloomberg.
Sitting at Laura’s restaurant in Windsor Terrace the following week, the Reverend Bill Talen is mystified as to why anyone would have attended the celebration of Mike Bloomberg’s subversion of Democracy. “So you attended the inauguration?” asks Reverend Billy. “You were wise to seek spiritual guidance on this matter. To be in the midst of such a corrupt and false process could only spread rust and decay on a man’s soul. You’ll have to do penance. There’s no doubt about it. To start with you’re going to have to get yourself to the first protest rally you can find. Other than that you’ll need these handcuffs,” he advises as he slides a pair of manacles across the table.
“Don’t be alarmed,” counsels the oft-arrested Reverend. “These are the handcuffs of love. I have my own. I’m handcuffed to the table right now,” he explains, pointing to his shackled left hand. “I love this restaurant, so therefore I have to assume that Bloomberg has the bulldozers ready to go. Ready to mow this place down. He has the tanks outside, ready to blast this place into a luxury condominium. I have to assume he’s in the process of working out a deal with Tishman Speyer to come in here and develop us all, because we are all so underdeveloped. Anytime I go someplace I love, I handcuff myself to whatever will hold, to keep the bulldozers, the tanks, and the wrecking balls at bay. To stave off the arson of luxury development that sends tenants scrambling out into the street. What you need these handcuffs for is yourself. You need to handcuff yourself to yourself, so that Bloomberg doesn’t make you disappear and then replace you with an exact replica of yourself.”
Sipping his coffee, Reverend Billy observes that “Bloomberg himself is a replica. He is the luxury mayor of the counterfeit city. Reality won’t be tolerated. That’s why we’ve been seeing mass arrests of street vendors on Canal Street. These venders are undermining the counterfeiting ring that we call corporate branding. They are selling sunglasses, clothing, and handbags, that are supposedly fake. They are failing to charge extra money for corporate decoration. They are exposing the absurd nature of our value system. So Bloomberg has them harassed and clamped with the handcuffs of hate because they are selling items at the use value price, rather than at the exchange value price, the luxury price, the counterfeit price. He has them shipped out to Guantanamo Bay. A plane leaves every morning, packed with street vendors. So if you don’t want to disappear, handcuff yourself to anything that will hold. Handcuff yourself to yourself with the handcuffs of love.”
On the evening of January 21, 2010 a group of protestors has assembled outside of the Mayor’s mansion on 79th Street in Manhattan. “We’re here to protest school closings,” explains Norm Scott, a retired teacher and an energetic activist. “We’re here to stop the privatization of the public school system. People are here from all over the city,” he says pointing to the crowd of 350 people. “We have young teachers, old teachers. We have parents out here, we have elementary school kids out here. They want to keep their schools open. They want to be treated fairly. They can see what’s going on. This mayor and his friends want to privatize the schools. And in order to do that they need to break the organic connection between neighborhood and school. They make some money on Wall Street and in the banking sector, and they feel that makes them experts in educational policy. They have an ideology that puts private over public. They would privatize the air we breathe if we gave them the chance. If nobody stands up to this man we’ll be breathing corporate air and attending Halliburton schools.”
One man, Efrain Irizarry, is selling trademark NO-THIRD-TERM t-shirts among the crowd of protesters. “I know the third term already started. But I still got all these damn t-shirts. I got so many you wouldn’t believe it. My kids go to sleep in these T-shirts every night.” explains Mr. Irizarry. “Protest? I don’t even know what this protest is about son. All these dirty-ass hippies singing their songs and banging their drums. I’m not here for the protest. I’m here all day, everyday. I’m right in front of this man’s house rain or shine. I’m screamin’ bloody murder on this man. ’Cause he did it. He got away with it. The crime of the new millennium. He stole the election. He bought the election. He stole it by buying it. And nobody said a word. I read the papers all the time. They love this guy. That’s why I’m out here every day. Screamin’ bloody murder. I wait for ’im every morning. When he comes out the house I ask him questions. I’m like ‘Mike what happened to term limits man? Mike, does that mean Giuliani gets a third term now too? Mike what happened to the batting cages at Coney Island?’ You know what I’m sayin? The kinda questions the press forgot to ask. But he don’t say shit. He just gets right in his helicopter.”
“But I know his routines. I’m here every day. He comes out in the morning, and then he gets in his helicopter. They land the helicopter right in the middle of the street. They fly him four blocks over to the 6 train. He poses for pictures at the turnstile. Then he fires the token booth clerk and replaces her with a Metrocard machine. Then he gets on the train, everybody in the train car has to lie face-down on the floor with their hands behind their head. Then the train goes 150 yards, and then stops in between two stations, and then Bloomberg exits through a private tunnel, and then gets back in his helicopter and flies to Bermuda to get a manicure and pedicure. He goes to Bermuda every day. He loves that spot. He bought a house down there because he wanted someplace to practice his Spanish. See, he thought they speak Spanish in Bermuda. It sounds like a Spanish name right. And nobody even told him. He just goes around talkin’ to everybody in Spanish, and they just nod, mumble some bullshit, and keep on wit’ his manicure. But see, he couldn’t even find somebody to tell him they speak English down in Bermuda. Everybody just tells ’im what he wants to hear. He called up the editorial board at the New York Times, and he said ‘Hey guys, they speak Spanish in Bermuda right?’ and they just said, ‘Of course Mike, whatever you say. In fact Mike, we’re speaking Spanish to you right now. And you’re speaking Spanish to us. You’ve just gotten so good at it that you don’t even notice when you’re speaking Spanish. Call us if you need anything else Mike.’ You know what I’m sayin,’ kid?
In late April of 2010, Emanuel Ajiboye, founding member of the Consortium of Subversive Architects, stands in front of Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn just a few hours before the bar is set to serve its final drink. “I’m headed for a different bar,” explains Mr. Ajiboye as he begins to walk. “Bloomberg might be here any minute with a padlock and chains ready to shut the doors on this place. We won’t tell him where the next bar is. It’s gonna be a secret bar. We’ll have a secret password. We’re gonna have to repeat the password in our heads all day if we wanna remember. Because there is a constant war on memories in New York right now. And the result is that we can’t even remember if there was a time when Mike Bloomberg wasn’t mayor. Zizek wrote that Berlusconi is the perfect politician for our time, because he combines crude populism with technocratic media dominance. But it’s actually Bloomberg who’s found the perfect recipe. Bloomberg combines the permanent state of emergency with the tranquil sedation of consumer capitalism. Ring the alarm—it’s a life or death emergency, everybody go to sleep immediately. Bloomberg government is like government by anesthesia. He puts you in a deep sleep, all so that he can cut your chest open with a saw. He is the richest man in town and he’s also the mayor. He supresses dissent with his charitable donations. This is rule by Philanthropy.
The New York Times probably has a reporter drinking in Freddy’s right now. Man, they love writing articles about places that are closing down. Bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, roller rinks, whatever. But that reporter’s mind is divided. Half his brain is thinking about the lamentation he wants to write on the final drink being served at another classic bar in a disappearing New York, and the other half of his brain is thinking about real estate opportunities. In the end the article will be perfect. Some harmless observations about the bar that’s closing down, no real questions asked, and maybe some anesthesia to prep for all the progress that’s coming on the horizon. Every morning I read that paper, and then when I’m done I go in my backyard and I set that shit on fire. And every day it’s the same thing. The lady who lives above me comes to the window and she starts screaming, “You’re choking me to death with that smoke.” And every day I tell her, “Lady, that’s not me, that’s progress choking you to death.”
“The only thing I buy on Black Friday is drinks,” explains Ted Hamm, sitting on a bar stool at the reincarnated Freddy’s Bar on November 29th, 2013. “Just a few more weeks and it’s all over. Raise your glass high.”
As the bar fills up for the evening, and happy hour comes to an end, there is little left to do but wait for the B63 bus back to Bay Ridge, scribble a little Christmas poem on a Santa Claus napkin, and wait and for the days of Mike Bloomberg to come to an end.
The batting cages in Coney Island are gone, and the street vendors are all at Guantanamo Bay.
But we are the dirty ass hippies, out in the street, singing our songs and banging our drums all day.
He’s got the bulldozers and the tanks, Halliburton schools, and plenty of progress to choke you to death.
But we are handcuffed to the barstool, counting the days, till rule by philanthropy draws its last breath.
The time is almost here, when the richest man in town, and his permanent state of emergency will finally vanish.
He will pack up his golf clubs, jump in his helicopter, and then he’s off to Bermuda to practice his Spanish.
The kids are asleep, snug in their beds wearing NO THIRD TERM T-shirts, and clutching their wish lists.
Raise your glass high New York City. It’s all over. And we’re still here. All five boros, Merry Christmas.