During September 2012, I set a challenge for myself: Write a new 1000 word story each day for the entire month. Most will never see the light of day, but some might surface in some form or another. One I posted for Friends on Facebook who were curious about how the project went. It was inspired by something I saw on a walk the day before I wrote it. Here’s the photo I took and the (unedited) story I wrote.
16 September 2012
James had never used a typewriter before but he was getting the hang of it. He had to hit the keys with his fingers harder than he expected or the letters came out too faint on the paper, or didn’t print at all. He had to get used to the manual carriage return necessary at the end of each line and the clumsiness of the shift key to capitalize letters. The project manager told him not to worry about mistakes – she called them typos – just to keep writing his story. It might have been a little easier if they had electric typewriters, but that wasn’t a possibility here on the edge of Foley Park. Besides, the old fashioned typewriters were part of the statement being made. Occupy was all about making statements.
James had seen posters for the first anniversary of Occupy. Technically speaking, that would be tomorrow. The police had already closed and barricaded Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street protests had begun, in anticipation of any trouble. James didn’t believe that would materialize, since the whole movement had pretty much faded into obscurity. But he couldn’t afford to get arrested again, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So instead, he decided to check out today’s harmless festivities, which included speeches from key figures like that crazy guy who spearheaded The Rent’s Too High party, performances by activist musicians such as Michelle Shocked, information stands handing out leaflets or selling buttons, and assorted street projects like this one with the typewriters.
Six beat-up typewriters, each a different brand, were placed atop a row of six identical plastic blue step stools along a concrete walkway. People were invited to sit on the ground and type their personal experiences or thoughts about Occupy on bright yellow sheets of paper. The stories were then slipped into clear plastic covers and hung on the backs of nearby benches for passersby to read. James wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in his story. He wasn’t a typical Occupy protester. In fact, his clean-cut good looks where almost the antithesis of the stereotypical wild-eyed, matted hair, grunge-style denizen of Zuccotti Park that the media liked to portray.
He hadn’t even been in New York when it all started. He was attending college in Boston. Over the summer his rent had gone up, his work-study job had fallen through and he had spent what meager savings he had managed to scrape together during the spring semester. He had no idea how he was going to be able to continue to pay his tuition, pay for books, pay his rent, or pay for food. He had scoured the city looking for any kind of work without success. He would’ve washed dished in the sleaziest diner but men with college degrees had those jobs to feed their families. So he had started hustling.
It had happened almost by accident. He was standing outside a bar, where he had just asked about work and gotten another sad shake of the head, wondering which way to go next. A middle-aged man in a three-piece business suit approached him, said he’d heard him asking about a job inside and, if he was interested, he had a job for him. James naively asked what kind of job. The man stroked his bulging crotch, said he was parked just around the corner and he’d pay fifty bucks for a quickie. And so began James’s new career path.
It was demeaning and disgusting but it paid the rent. Barely. He didn’t make enough to cover the cost of tuition, so he had to drop out of college. A month later when protestors set up camp in Dewey Square, opposite the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, James found a community of like-minded individuals and regular hot meals. He didn’t want to lose his apartment so he never stopped hustling, but he spent his days in the square, learning the jargon and chanting the slogans. And on that cold December afternoon when the police moved in to end the occupation, James was one of the unlucky ones to be arrested.
A couple of months later he got arrested again, this time for soliciting and lewd behavior. How was he supposed to know the guy was a cop? It didn’t matter. James didn’t have enough cash to pay the fine and was left with no choice but to opt for a short spell in jail. While he was inside, he got evicted. He would’ve thought that was funny if it hadn’t been so serious. The first trick he found after he got out paid him enough to buy a bus ticket to New York City. Another hustler told him there was a lot more opportunity there, gave him a few leads. Yo, Boston, he thought, as the bus pulled out of South Street Station. Occupy this.
James looked up from the typewriter and noticed a lot of people were taking his picture. Maybe he’d show up on the front page of some newspaper tomorrow and get discovered. For what or by whom, he had no idea. More likely he’d just end up on somebody’s Facebook page. He pulled the yellow paper from the typewriter, slipped it into the plastic cover, got up and handed it to the girl who was in charge. She thanked him for his time and without even glancing at his story, took it over to hang it with the growing number of other stories tacked on the back of a park bench. Who was going to read all those pathetic stories anyway, James wondered. Not that it mattered. Nobody cared. Nothing was ever going to change. The whole Occupy movement was just another load of crap. They were all a bunch of loud-mouthed losers and dreamers. James didn’t really have anything in common with any of them. He left the park and headed uptown. He had a date with one of the one-percent.