Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not. ~ The Lorax
I get to the parade route pretty early, around 10:30am, and stake out a really sweet corner @ 52nd St.(?) and 5th Ave., just one block away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Pope’s destination that day. I am hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pontifex Maximus, hoping that he will catch a glimpse of my five-foot nanothermite? sign.
A labyrinth of tall, black steel grate stands between non-ticket-holding onlookers and the route of the procession.
I stand patiently and quietly on my side of the grate, holding the sign so that its message can be easily read by anyone who might be heading toward the cathedral along Fifth Avenue. I affix a pair of “nanothermite?” bumper stickers to the plain wooden back of the sign, so that pedestrians behind me can also read the word.
Through the morning and early afternoon, people pass, and they respond to my subdued activity by a range of responses, to which I have become accustomed in the several years that I have been doing this. Responses typically fall into several clearly-defined categories:
— Some ask “What does that mean?” to which I give my stock response, “It is the type of incendiary that is present in all World Trade Center dust, and it really ought not to be there.” This class of respondents will either choose continue the discussion, or not. They will either agree or disagree with the hypothesis.
— Some will take the time to commiserate about the sad state of civic engagement, world and national affairs. I welcome your companionship. Hang out for as long as you want. Few activities are more enjoyable than chatting with a friend.
— Some simply nod uncomprehendingly and continue on. I wish that you would not do this. I am not only willing, but eager, to answer any questions that you may pose, to the best of my ability.
— Some are well aware of the debate in which I am engaged, and for whatever reason, they mindlessly spew venom. I pity you the internal torment that would cause you to manifest cognitive dissonance in this manner.
— Some nod, smile, or say “Good job,” but under their breath, without breaking stride. This, to me is the most interesting response, and the most telling. Men in business suits seem to respond disproportionately in this manner. What this says to me is that you are aware of the problem, you appreciate my efforts, but you are scared. You fear that your position in society could be jeopardized by your perceived sympathy with the cause. And you fear that you are being watched.
I offer poetry booklets and/or bumper stickers to all who indicate any form of solidarity.
Several times during the day, Officers of the Law try to get me to move along, to which I give my stock response, from Melville’s, Bartleby, the Scrivener, “I would prefer not to.”
Cops really do appreciate that response, by the way, though sometimes they pretend not to. It breaks up the monotony of their day, to hear something so ridiculous and unlikely. But it will only get you so far with the police.
At one point, a female officer agrees to accept from me a booklet of poetry, and so I hand one to her under the steel grate. She returns to her cadre and leafs through the booklet. She returns to to me after a little while, and says, “I don’t want this thing. I don’t agree with what you are saying here.” She rudely folds the booklet and attempts to slip it back through the grate, the apertures of which are far too small to accept the mass of folded paper. Her objection is to one poem in particular:
It is not the idea of imprisoning people in the middle of an unforgiving ocean, in a steel and concrete fortress, surrounded by concertina wire, to which she objects. She simply cannot abide the proposition that the 9/11 criminals be shown any mercy whatsoever. We are gathered here to see Pope Francis, conduit of divine forgiveness to millions around the globe.
Is this officer aware that she is following the orders of 9/11 criminals?
After this, whenever police officers approach me, to tell me to move along, their superiors wave them away. There are instructions from the seargent now, they are not to speak to me, under any circumstance.
Finally, as the slated time for the procession approaches, a final round of police officers appears on our side of the barricade, with orders to clear the sidewalk. These cops mean business. There are three of them, all barking loudly, expecting to be obeyed, but not necessarily by me. As the police have been instructed not to speak to me, I wonder if there are also special instructions as to clearing the sidewalk of my person.
They bark. I would prefer not to. They continue to bark. I would prefer not to. This is an order, not a request. I would prefer not to.
One officer shoves me. I stagger a step, but remain. He shoves me again. I stagger another step. One officer grabs me by a backpack strap, another by my belt, a female officer bulldozes, but I dig in. I see that the situation is hopeless, that I will end up at the other end of the block, whether I want to or not, but still I try to slow my progress by every available means. I drag my hands along a black-painted, steel grate fence, but cannot grab it, because the inner edges are razor sharp.
On the other side of the grate is a large group of school children queuing before a stand of metal detectors, and I want for them to see my sign. I want for them to see me, not screaming obscenities at the police, not striking back at them, but standing my groud, to the extent that this is possible.
And finally, there is the Atomic Wedgie. One of the officers affixes all posterior clothing firmly in the crack of my ass, so that my feet barely touch the ground. It is now time for me to walk with them peacefully to the end of the block.
The kids are amused, and maybe slightly perturbed, by this scene. They bring out their phones and snap pictures, maybe even take video recordings of the event. They are our only hope for a better future.
And I was there, doing my job, for them.
addendum: requesting your assistance
As I said, many people were taking pictures of me on this day.
A reporter from the Associated Press had just interviewed me at the time that I was hauled away. She looked rather distressed at seeing me handled in such a manner. I would like to tell her that I am just fine.
Several journalism students also interviewed and photographed me over the course of the day.
I have searched the Internet for any record of my protest, other than that which I have here presented. Also, I have searched for any record of my previous demonstrations.
As far as I can tell, there is nothing.
If you have any record of my activities on this (or any other) day of protest, please contact me directly. It would be really great if you could send photographs, videos, or written accounts of my activities, and really, really great, if you provide written consent for me to publish these.
Please forgive the selfie-ish tendencies that would lead me to make this request, but in this dark, dark digital age, I believe it is quite natural for a person to seek some external confirmation of his existence.
My name is Marley Engvall.
25 maple street
florence, ma 01062
I will respond to anyone who contacts me, by whatever means your message was sent. If you do not receive confirmation from me that I have received your message, I have not received your message.