Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Mementos of Occupy Richmond (4:00 AM - 1:00 AM 10/31/11)

Reminder: This story is told backwards. Got that, anonymous reader known as Chris?

4:00 AM Monday morning in Richmond, VA 10/31/11 –

“They are in the trees.”

“Can I go in there?”

“Please. “ I direct the young man with the hot Krispy Kremes to the new hiding place of 7 of my homeless friends. We just finished the breakfast I rescued from camp but it was cold. A little hot grease and sugar is always welcome.

Big Daddy and his stuff have been taken to his old spot. Police cars keep driving away. The State Police plane is gone. The dump trucks continue to bawl in the night. The frost is suddenly moist which feels colder.

I look back over my shoulder as I walk toward my car. In five minutes I will be inside. Sure I am sleeping on a futon in an office for 3 hours, but it is a mighty fine place compared to where I am leaving these people. I say a prayer and exhale it into steam.

3:00 AM , The worst day in recent memory – I need to give up. I will never get all the stuff. There’s too much. The heavy equipment of the city clean-up crews sounds like a baby crying. A damn big baby. We got so much out and onto the sidewalk thanks to hard work and the police relaxing the 15 minute rule by well over an hour, but in the end the library, the storage kitchen, between 30 and 50 unmanned tents, the signs… we just couldn’t do it.

I scrape the mud or maybe dog crap off the bottom of the tarp with a plastic scimitar I found in the gutter. The red paint has mostly flaked off the scimitar but the crap sticks. I shove the tarp into my already over-stuffed car.

I take a break and sit on the cold curb. My exhaled air misting around my face would be really beautiful under different circumstances. Now I just appreciate that it blurs my view of the dump trucks, the police cars, the piles of hastily salvaged stuff all over the place.

My new best friends are a police officer and his supervisor who looks like a really friendly and gentle Stalin but that’s mostly just his hat. The officer is a homeless liaison running folks up to the overflow shelter to get them out of the cold. Most do not take him up on the offer. In fact, Last One tells me afterwards that he did not trust them enough to accept the ride. I let the supervisor know that a friend of mine with an SUV is coming to move Big Daddy to his “permanent outdoor residence.”

“That is great,” he replies. And I’ll be doggone if he isn’t serious.

“Thanks a lot. Shame you don’t have a bus.” He gives me a warm smile. Then again it might have just been a grin and the hat made it look warm.

On the cold curb I look around. I’ve lost Jesus and Lightup. The liaison tries to help me find them but I am not allowed to cross the park. The liaison tries to comfort Big Daddy. Mama disappeared before the near-riots started. Now with the raid Big Daddy fears she won’t be able to find him. He’s also afraid of going back to his old spot under a bridge.

“Y’all gonna’ take me in if I go back there?” Big Daddy asks.

“You know we don’t take you in for that. How long have we been knowing each other? Come on, man. You stay sober and you don’t get arrested, right?”

Big Daddy gives the knowing nod of the lifelong alcoholic which says, “Oh yeah, I kind of forgot that part.”

I am by myself for just long enough for the despair of the night to come in. The police raid is bad but the homeless being displaced is worse. The train hoppers were worse. The breakdown of Occupy for hours while dealing with the train hoppers was way worse. I cry for awhile. My neck and legs are killing me from lugging around stuff in the cold for hours. And my right breast hurts.

I had been dressed for bed when I started breaking down my tent. When you are a woman living in a tent, dressed for bed means taking your shoes and bra off. I’d only gotten the shoes back on. Cold. Running around. Braless. My right nipple was dangerously chafed. I started laughing to myself. Police brutality! Victimized breast! Occupy Victoria's Secret!

I get back up and pull together breakfast. I have about a dozen homeless people with me on 7th Street. There are only four to eight police within sight. The Occupiers are on 8th, in custody, or somewhere away from downtown. General Lee has headed back to his monument.

Pretty is very upset and cold even though she is so wrapped up she looks fifty pounds heavier. She stays close by me.

“Why are you the only one who is still with us?” she asks.

“I’m kinda homeless these days myself,” I respond. “Luckily I got some more guest rooms and sofas to use.”

The rest of the crew laughs.

“I’m all out of guest rooms,” Pretty says.

It gets quiet.

Then Last One says, “What the @#$% are we going to occupy now?” We all laugh loud, hard, and long.

2:00 AM, The coldest morning of Autumn, 2011 – General Robert E. Lee strolls into Kanawha plaza. Who knew he was so hot? I mean that guy is fine. He looks way better in person than he does on that monument.

It is 2:00 in the morning during a police raid in Richmond, Virginia and I have at last determined that I am indeed not going to jail tonight. The police are allowing us to help each other out and to break down what we can. There just aren’t enough of us. Over half the tents are empty.

I have gotten Big Daddy settled on a curb. The Mario Brothers got all their stuff out. Jesus and Lightup are on the other side of the park. I got her stuff out and checked in with him. We are going to meet up in an hour and I will get them back into their usual “residence.” I watched as the police took down Peachy’s tent before I could get to it. Damn.

I think the Occupiers who have chosen to be arrested are already in custody but am not sure. On this side of the park we can’t hear as much with the bulk of the confrontation action occurring in the center of the plaza. But we do have Robert E. Lee and he is mighty sexy in that mustache, suit, and carrying tents.

I got what I could from the far kitchen but it was just too much. I had to concentrate on the near kitchen. As I head back to the 7th Street side of the park, General Lee yells, “Mic check!” No one told him that the people’s mic has been out of order for hours.

“Mic check!” one male voice replies.

General Lee looks right at the police who have just kicked out an Occupier with a digital camera and proclaims, “Protecting the public includes protecting the rights of the public.”

I take a two second break to swoon. What a shame this guy was a tool of the racist patriarchy 150 years ago. He certainly sounds like an eloquent Occupier except it is real clear he has showered very recently. As have the police.

The police would be clearly non- Occupiers even if they were wearing sweatshirts and worried looks instead of matching uniforms and muscle tone. They appear calm, well-rested or caffeinated, very clean, and warm. The only thing I begrudged them all night was their coats. My homeless friends are getting increasingly wide-eyed and cold as the raid continues.

1:15 AM - 10/31/11–
“Your fifteen minutes are up.”

Or something like that. Everything is so surreal that I am numb. The magnified voice from the police does not seem real. The fact that every single pole joint in my tent malfunctioned the moment I saw the horses could not have just happened.

Suddenly I remembered a recurring nightmare I’d had while sleeping in tent city that the horses had trampled my tent while I was inside of it. I could see the shadow of their legs and hooves as they reared up before killing me. What a stupid dream. Those horses are absolutely beautiful. And a whole block away from my tent which is now in a pile at my feet. A pile that should be more transport ready than it is. Stupid pole joints.

“They’re coming in!” I yell.

I break out into a clumsy run to the sidewalk with my wet, poorly folded tent in my arms. I see the Mario Brothers out of the corner of my eye. They seem to be walking in circles. I look back.

Uh oh. Peachy. He hasn’t come back. He left a few hours ago after the train hoppers were evicted. Maybe I can get to his tent.

Oh no. Big Daddy. Big Daddy is just standing outside his tent.

“Your fifteen minutes are up.”

 Shit. My middle aged, mama ass is gonna’ get arrested after all. Damnit. I gotta get Big Daddy out.

1:00 AM, End of the First Occupation – Lights go up in a surprisingly Spielbergian fashion. Lincoln, my ass. A lot more like ET. A very calm, professional, and martial voice announces the arrival of the Richmond Police Department. Statutes are cited. Demands are made. Confidence and calm exuded

I can see them on 8th Street. A line of dark uniforms, a dozen police cars, large safe-looking vehicles. I resume packing my tent. Male voices begin screaming law-enforcement-specific epithets  involving sex acts and swine from inside their tents. Redundant young voices ring through the camp. “They’re here. Get up. The police have arrived.”

Well, duh. Is that a plane I hear? I guess that means my buddies from my former employer are at the party, too. Hello, State Troopers!

I check my watch and do the first shout, “15 minutes!!!!”


Note for non-Richmonders: A film crew is in town shooting a movie about Lincoln. The city has been blessedly more concerned with Occupy, elections, a missing and miraculously recovered child, and weather than Steven Spielberg. But they tell me he’s in Richmond somewhere. I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup of one.

Also… I am not shitting you. A hot blonde guy in full nineteenth century costume with a sweet, huge mustache came in after the raid had started and jumped right in clearing out tents to the sidewalk. Halloween or Hollywood – who knows?

The last installment of Mementos will cover the almost six hours before the raid including the invasion of the train hoppers, the many brinks of riot, General Assembly, and the writer of Auspicious Jots cursing more than she has since... well, maybe ever. Ironically, many of the expressions used were taught to me in the radio room of the Virginia State Police.

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