November 03, 2005

Novel Excerpt: Burn Baby Burn

What do you get when you mix up Monte Reel's article about President Bush in Argentina, the impending election, and the Guatemala thoughts from earlier this week? You get this excerpt from my nebulous novel

The Sunday before the RNC convention began in 2004, I met my friends Richard and Brian to go to the huge United for Peace and Justice protest march. We marched for almost 20 blocks, up from Union Square and down one avenue to 34th St. and 7th Ave., alongside rows of police barricades and orange mesh fences, just one bare block away from Madison Square Garden and the Convention—that’s all the closer the thousands of security forces would let protestors go.

I cheered along with 400,000 other people along that long parade, everybody waving anti-war, anti-Bush, and anti-Republican signs and ringing bells, one big long crowd of angry, peaceful people, the closest New York ever came to changing the whole country’s mind about the election.

A group of kids in black clothes and black bandanas steered a paper dragon into the middle of the street—stopping right in the middle of 7th Avenue over there, and suddenly, they set the whole paper dragon on fire and nuclear-shaped smoke cloud shot into the sky.

People cheered, whistled, banged drums, rattled bells, cans, buckets and screamed like crazy watching this lunatic, beautiful stunt. A couple more kids in gas masks and black clothes charged the police line, panicking the crowd, all of us packed like fraternity kids in a phone booth and bottlenecked by the police barriers.

The bucking crowd was spooked, nearly stampeded, crammed, wild, and coughing from smoke until all around us, twenty people dispersed through the crowd, started chanting, DON’T RUN DON’T RUN DON’T RUN like a slow voodoo mantra, smoothing the air with their hands.

There was the most tangible feeling of twitchy madness, tension and release in that 30-seconds, police tackling kids in the noise and smoke, another line of riot police edging closer, closer, under the spotlight of 50 cameras and thousands of mixed up people holding chaos like a bird trapped inside their cupped hands, but no one let loose, no one else charged, and the trash and smoke fluttered down from the sky and the police line parted, letting this packed, hot crowd pass peacefully.

No matter how you feel about the Republicans, I know you have to appreciate that sublime, broken moment when that dragon burned. While most places never reported the story, we made some noise and smoke that day, for a couple minutes the whole mother-fucking thing burned and I was so proud of our city.

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