Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sneak Preview from The King of the Woods

Here are excerpts from my forthcoming novel The King of the Woods.



The summer went on. My moods were unpredictable. Sometimes I was content with my lot. Other times I was disenchanted. All things considered there was nothing wrong with my life. My problems and issues were nothing out of the ordinary. By all measures, I was indeed privileged. However, there were external factors which stirred deep disquiet within me.


New York was changing. Despite the Wall Street crash the previous autumn, New York was getting increasingly more affluent. Luxury condos were sprouting like fungus all across Manhattan. Many low and middle income apartment buildings were converted in Co-Ops. Co-Ops were corrupt socialism as one Soviet émigré in New York once quipped. Unlike Condominiums, Co-Op apartments were not privately owned but rather collectively owned. A condo was an individually purchased apartment in a building. A co-op by contrast was an investment in the management of a building. The individual apartment was not owned individually but rather through the collective called the Co-Op Board. To move into a Co-Op apartment, one had to make a major financial investment into the building. A Co-Op was more expensive than rentals because rather than paying a set rate of rent each month to the landlord one had to pay various fees for matainance and the co-op board. Rentals were better because the landlord was legally obliged to provide heat and hot water as well as provide the basic services of the building such as plumbing. In a Co-Op it was the duty of the collective but the collective was subject to Board even though officially it was the other way around. The board of each co-op was elected by all the tenants. The President of the Board was also “elected” by all the tenants. The problem was that the co-op became politicized. Many of the boards became petty tyrannies. The President of the co-op board had much power and influence over the building. If a resident got on the bad side of the board or President, life could be very uncomfortable. To stay on the good side, many residents often kissed the ass of the President. Moreover, each co-op had its own rules and regulations. Though one lived in an apartment, the board could dictate and control the personal space. For example, if one wanted to have a guest stay longer than a couple of weeks, the board had to approve. There was very little privacy one had within a co-op. As a result of the condo and co-op boom, affordable housing was becoming scarce in the city. There was also a notable increase of homeless people on the streets.
In mid-August the squatters of Thomkpins Square Park in Alphabet City were evicted by the city. The park squatters refused to obey the new City law imposing curfews in all city parks. Thompkins Square Park was given a special curfew of 11 o’clock. The squatters defied the city. The police were given orders to disperse the park. It became known as the Thompkins Square Park Riot. It made headlines. The police officers covered their badge numbers with black elastic bands. Everyone in the radius between Avenue A and Avenue C between 10th and 7th Street was attacked by the police. Many journalists were also beat. A WCBS News camera man was attacked. Their video footage showed a police office come straight at the camera swinging his Billy Club. After a few whacks from the nightstick the image turned to snow. Alphabet City was a poor slum section of the Lower East Side. In the mid 80s many of the apartment buildings around Thompkins Square Park were converted into co-ops and condos and yuppies began to move in. The yuppies had children. They felt that the park was dangerous for them to take their kids. They also complained that there was too much noise at night during the warm months due to the bonfires, live music and the sounds of several hundred people living, sleeping, drinking, dancing and partying in the park 24 hours a day. It was in response to the yuppie newcomer residents that the City decided to evict the squatters and to renovate the park.
1988 was also the peak of the Crack and AIDS epidemic. In Harlem hospital more than one quarter of babies born were addicted to Crack. Another quarter was born with AIDS. Half of the babies born in Harlem Hospital were addicted to Crack and/or were born with AIDS. The sharp increase in the violent crime rate in the city was mostly attributed to Crack. Crack addicts were more dangerous than the muggers, robbers and the crazies combined. They lacked any inhibition to kill for $1. They would do anything to get high. The extraordinarily low price for Crack created thousands of addicts throughout the city. The low price for Crack was also the reason why they would kill for $1.
Lower Manhattan had been developed for the corporate rich. Battery Park City was built with State funding to house the rich. North of Battery Park City, the World Financial Center was built. The South Street Seaport went from being a desolate and barren area beneath FDR Drive into a tourist attraction. All across Manhattan, Business Improvement Districts or BIDS were established. BIDS were private corporations which owned the streets and buildings of the financial district and Midtown. Many commercial streets had their own BIDS: 14th and 34th Streets had become Business Improvement Districts. Public space was becoming privatized under corporate control.
One day I took the E train to Spring Street when I had to make a delivery for work. As I sat on the local platform going back Downtown, I saw the A Express train. I had to do a double take. The train looked new and shiny but it was obviously an old train. The signage on the front and rear cars of the train was illuminated in digital lettering. I thought it was strange. The Budd Company subway cars from the 1950s had been renovated. The seating was changed as were the internal wall paneling. The windows had been replaced. Before one could open them, now they were sealed shut.
The subways were changing in other ways. Graffiti had been almost wiped out completely on the trains. On the IRT, the trains which were not the new Kawasaki of Bombardier cars had been painted white. The white color gave the trains a sterile look. Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin described them as rolling hospital beds. One day when I went with my mother to pay a social visit to a friend of hers in Brooklyn, I saw a group of teenagers washing the graffiti off a subway car under the watch of a police officer. The kids must’ve have been caught for some offense and as punishment they were sentenced to wash the subway trains of graffiti.
On the political front things were deteriorating rapidly. The Democratic National Convention in Atlanta was a first class disaster. Though Jesse Jackson did not win enough delegates to win the nomination, he had enough to influence the platform for the election campaign. His supporters went to Atlanta expecting to take the convention by storm and to set the agenda for the election. His supporters wanted the platform to include far reaching social reforms in areas of health, education as well a platform for economic and social justice in no uncertain terms. Jackson pledged to implement this agenda for social and economic change in the Democrat National platform to force the hand of Dukakis.
There was panic within the Party establishment. Jackson and his delegates were too far to the left and too radical for the party of capitalism and imperialism. However, they knew that Jackson had the delegates to force the agenda of the Rainbow Coalition into the party platform for the general election. Jackson was under pressure to accommodate Dukakis. What seemed to force Jackson to cave in were the pleadings of Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. She begged him to pull back for the sake of the party and for the Black race. She said that if he pushed his agenda too much, the Party would appear as if it had been taken over by Black people. Scott King warned Jackson that the Democrats would face a catastrophe in November should the party put his agenda in the platform. She further warned there would’ve been a racist backlash against Black people. Finally, she pointed out how Black people had been marginalized and maligned by Ronald Reagan. George Herbert Walker Bush would be even worst. The only way to save Black people from losing their civil rights would be if the Democrats won.
A deal was brokered between Scott King and the Democrat hierarchy. Jackson would have a permanent membership of the Democratic National Committee in a senior position in exchange for scrapping the Rainbow Coalition agenda. Jackson agreed. To the shock of his delegates, he instructed them to abandon their fight and to support Dukakis unconditionally. It was a betrayal of radical liberalism. The Democrats had abandoned the New Deal, Great Society and social justice legacy. The party was now led and controlled by the right wing Democrat Leadership Council under Senator Al Gore of Tennessee and Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. The Dixiecrats were in charge of the Democrat Party once again.
There was something wrong with the world. These external influences seemed fleeting superficial yet somehow I felt these to be harbingers of a very dangerous future. I had a conversation with Emily about it.
“Do you ever feel that the end of the world is coming?” I asked philosophically.
“Yes! Yes I do.” Emily answered affirmatively.
“So do I but I can’t say exactly how or why.”
“Me too! But the patterns are there. I see the same patterns as well. The problem is that I can only see the outline of the pattern. I can see the shape but I can’t make out the form.”
“That’s a good way of putting it.” I concurred. “Everything seems to be normal on the surface. But there are little changes. For example, I walk around my neighborhood and see buildings suddenly have co-op signs on them. There’s nothing wrong with co-ops but it seems like there are too many. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes but I see different patterns than you do. I see it in the way people look.”
“What do you mean?”
“People used to walk differently. That was something I always remembered about New York when I was in Vider. The first thing I noticed in Texas was how differently they walked.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I lived in the city when I was a kid, I used to notice how most people in New York had a certain bop in their step. People used to sort of dance or walk in rhythm to a disco beat, Black people especially. In Texas, people had no rhythm to their walk.”
“Interesting.” I reflected.
“Yes. I remembered how people always walked fast but they always seemed to have a bop in their step. People seemed much more relaxed. Now the bop is gone from people’s walk. Even Black people no longer bop like they used to.”
“Now that I think about it, you are right Emily!”
“Another thing I have noticed is that the city is less Black.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I mean that there are still lots of Black people in New York but the city is somehow less Black.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I was in 2nd and 3rd Grade, I always saw Blacks as the dominate group. It seemed like Blacks were in control. Do you remember how everyone used to talk Black back in elementary school?”
I had to think about it for a few moments before I could answer. “Tell me what you mean?”
“I used to feel that the city was turning Black. I always thought Black people were more powerful than whites. I felt that everyone was turning Black. It was the pattern that I saw. One day back in the summer of ’80 I was on the bus when it suddenly came to me that everyone was turning Black. I saw how white people were turning darker.
“I came home and looked in the mirror. I saw that I was turning Black too. I thought it was really cool!”
“What are you talking about Emily? How on Earth did you possibly think that you and other whites were turning Black?”
“I told you it was just the patterns I saw. It was in Texas when I realized I was correct. Of course no one in Vider was turning Black because there were no Black people. But even in Dallas and Houston where there are lots of Blacks, I noticed that whites weren’t turning Black like they were in New York.
“Anyway, when I came back to New York I also noticed that along with the bop in people’s walk, people were not turning Black. Whites seemed to revert back to being white. Even Black people seem to have stopped being Black.”
“What do you mean?”
“Black people used to be so assertive and outspoken. What happened to Black Solidarity Day?”
Suddenly it dawned upon me the patterns of Emily’s perception. She was right. Blacks had become much less assertive and pushing Blackness on to society like they had as recently as 1982. Black Solidarity Day used to be held the first Monday of every November. It was a set date for an unofficial general strike by Black Americans. On the first Monday of each November Blacks would not go to work or school. I never went to school on Black Solidarity Day from 1st to 3rd Grades. Somehow, I went in 1981 during 4th Grade. By 1982 it seemed to have dissipated and in 1988 it had disappeared.
“You’re right Emily! What happened to Black Solidarity Day? Oh shit! I completely forgot about it until you just mentioned it!”
“What happened to all the Afros? Remember back in the 70s Afros were so popular even white people were wearing them. How come Black people stopped wearing Afros? I hate the flat-tops!”
Emily was correct. The Afros has disappeared. Even Christian at school had a very small Afro compared to the early 80s. Afros had fallen out of fashion.
“You’re right Emily. It does seem that many Blacks are ashamed of the Afro and other Black styles from the 70s. You’re right! The city is less Black.”
“See! I told you so. The patterns that I see are an increase in white supremacy. The KKK is everywhere. Look at Tawana Brawley! I think that the end of the world is coming because people have lost their rhythm and color.”
The abortion issue was the hottest political topic in North America in 1988. The anti-abortion forces were starting to become a mass movement of extreme political activists. There seemed to be two factors which galvanized the reactionary right into action. The rejection of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court by the U.S. Senate was taken to be a declaration of war. The second factor was the sudden legalization of abortion in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada declared the anti-abortion law to violate that country’s Charter of Rights. American anti-abortion activists implored the Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to over-rule the Supreme Court but he didn’t.
The Republican Party was making abortion into a political issue for the first time in a Presidential election. Robert Bork was rejected for the Supreme Court because the Democrats were in the Majority. Though the constitution gave the Senate the right to vet all Executive Branch appointments to the Cabinet and Judiciary, it was seldom that the Senate rejected a candidate for Cabinet or federal judicial appointment unless the candidate was a known criminal or clearly incompetent for the appointment. Bork was rejected on political and ideological grounds. The Republican Party was offended that the Democrats in the Senate rejected the Republican President’s nominee to the court. The party made abortion a political issue. 1988 was the first year of the culture war being won by the reactionary right. The Republicans were aware of the mass mobilization against abortion in the southern states and the Midwest. It played very well for their strategy to win, increase and keep political power.
I felt strongly passionate about the issue. I was pro-choice. I resented anti-abortionists telling other people what they could and couldn’t do with their bodies. I felt that they had no business meddling in the sexual and reproductive affairs of other people. I was sensitive to this as well because I knew that the rednecks opposed to abortion were the same people who would be opposed against Emily being my girlfriend. Emily was in complete agreement with me.
“You know these are the same people who would tell me that I can’t go out or marry a Black guy! Fuck them!” Emily seethed. “First they want to tell me who I can and can’t have sex with. Then they want to tell me that I have no right to decide to keep or to abort a baby. I hate these people! Everyone in Vider of course was anti-abortion.”
“This is also a violation of personal space.” I added. “It’s as if they want to go between my legs and cling on to my balls like this! It’s creepy. It’s as if they want to go inside your body to control you like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’!”
“I tell you, these people are dangerous! I’m so afraid of Bush. If he wins the election things are going to get worst!”
Mick and I finally had a conversation about abortion one Sunday afternoon outside of church. I stated my pro-choice position to Mick. Mick had his doubts about abortion.
“There are moral issues around abortion. When does life begin? Does it begin at birth or at the moment of conception?”
“It’s obviously at the moment of birth. A birth certificate states the day of birth as the beginning of life. That’s why there isn’t a moment of conception certificate.” I rebutted.
“That’s a weird way of looking at it but OK.” Mick answered slightly puzzled by my logic. “But we do know that the baby is alive inside the mother. So an abortion is killing something that is alive.”
“Still, it is inside the mother. It is part of her body. If she doesn’t want to have the baby, she should not be forced to do so!”
“Well if she didn’t want to have the baby then she should not have had sex.”
“What?” Are you fucking serious, Mick?”
“As you know very well, Kevin having sex with someone without being married to them is a sin.”
“Fuck you!”
“Well it’s true. It’s a sin! What about the right of the father? What if the husband wants to have a baby but the wife refuses to have it? Is that fair?”
“You’re such a retard, Mick. First of all a father can’t have a baby. No man can have a baby. If the husband wants to have a child but his wife refuses that’s just too damn bad. He doesn’t own her.”
“I disagree with you. It takes two people to have a baby except for the Virgin Mary of course. I believe the husband has the right to decide whether or not he should have a child or not. The Bible does say that the purpose to marry is to have children. Sex is not for pleasure. Sex simply for pleasure is a sin. It’s enjoying the flesh. Sex is to reproduce.”
“That’s bullshit. I have sex with my girlfriend not to have kids but to have fun.”
“You are sinning a lot Kevin. First, you are having pre-marital sex which is a sin. Second, you are having sex for the sole purpose for pleasure. That is the meaning of fornication. Finally, you are having sex for selfish reasons. Suppose you get your girlfriend pregnant, what then?”
“First you fucking idiot, we wear condoms. Second, I don’t believe The Bible when it says that the point of sex is simply to have kids and to have sex only with your wife. If Emily got pregnant, she would most likely have an abortion. That’s fine by me. I don’t want kids anyway!”
“Don’t you see how immoral that is? First of all how can you call yourself a Christian when you don’t believe The Bible? You’re a hypocrite, Kevin! I also think that you just want to have sex for pleasure but not take it seriously. You don’t want to face the consequences for your actions. If your girlfriend gets pregnant, your attitude is get an abortion and get it over with. That’s very selfish of you.”
“What do you know about it, Mick? What do you know about sex anyway?”
“I know what sex is all about. I’m not stupid about sex, Kevin. Sex is a gift from God. It is the best gift that God ever gave us but he gave us the gift to use to glorify him. Sex is not for our own selfish purposes. That’s why fornication is a sin. It’s stealing a gift from God without glorifying him.”
“What if a woman has sex and is not married. What if she can’t support the baby? What then?”
“That’s the point! If she didn’t sin and fornicate she wouldn’t need an abortion. If she waited until she was married like she’s supposed to, then she wouldn’t get pregnant. She is abusing God’s gift. The best way to avoid abortion is not to have sex until you are married.”
“I don’t want to get married, Mick. Lots of people don’t want to marry. Are you really saying that if you don’t marry then you shouldn’t have sex?”
“Yes.”
“You can’t be serious, Mick. Are you saying that people should get married?”
“The Bible says so. ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ Jesus says that it is right that a man looks for a wife. A woman must find a man. If you choose not to marry and have kids, then you are disobeying Jesus’ commandments. Yes everyone should get married and to have kids. If you don’t want to marry and have kids, then you should not have sex!”
I stared at Mick for a few moments. I was stunned that an 18 year old boy would actually believe what he said. It was more stunning that he even made the statement in the first place. I took a good hard look at Mick. I saw there was an ocean between us. We had two fundamentally different outlooks of life. There was nothing that we agreed upon. Our values were different. If Mick was the living embodiment of Christianity then it was something which I wanted nothing to do with. I finally answered him.
“Well, Mick I guess we disagree. I don’t believe that one must be forced to marry and have kids or not have sex at all. Even if The Bible says so, I still disagree with it. What if someone is not a Christian or religious? Should they still be forced to marry and have kids? Should they be forced not to have sex? Why should they be forced to live according to The Bible?”
“Because The Bible is the Word of God! Because The Bible is the truth! Everyone should be forced to obey The Bible!”
“That’s tyranny!”
“It’s not tyranny it’s the Law of God!”
“The Law of God is tyranny if you must be forced to obey!”
“No Kevin, Satan is tyranny. Tyranny is evil. Tyranny is Hell. If you disobey God then you go to Hell. Then you suffer eternal tyranny. God doesn’t force you to obey but then you pay for it with eternal damnation!”
“You’re really fucked up, Mick. If you justify that women should not have abortion because they disobey God you are dangerous. Annie Lennox was right with Missionary Man. You are saying they must obey God or they will go to Hell.”
“No you are twisting around my words, Kevin.”
“No I’m not. You yourself said that everyone should be forced to obey The Bible!”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“What did you mean then?”
“I meant that if everyone obeyed The Bible then there would be no sin in the world. That is why people should obey The Bible.”
“Then why did you say that people should be forced to obey?”
“That was a bad choice of words, I admit. I meant that people should be strongly urged to obey The Bible and to obey God. I think that Christians have a mission to strongly urge people to obey God. I think that if more laws were based on The Bible that would be a good way to do so.”
“Mick, that's forcing people to obey God. Everyone is forced to obey the law. If you break the law, then you go to jail. You are suggesting that if people don’t obey God then they should go to jail.”
“That’s not what I’m saying!”
“Yes you are!”
“I am not saying that if you don’t believe in God or Jesus that you should go to jail. I’m saying that if the laws were written to reflect God’s Law then it would encourage people to live a life without sin. You wouldn’t be forced to believe but you would be encouraged to believe.”
“No, no, no, no, no Mick. You are not going to pull this one over on me! I understand your implications quite well. You are trying to impose God’s Law over everyone. What happens if people disobey God’s Law, then they would go to jail. Am I right?”
“Not necessarily.”
“You said that the legal laws should adopt the Law of God. What happens if you break the law? You go to jail, right?”
“No not always.”
“Sure not always but there is some form of punishment. You have to do community service, pay a fine, and go on probation. There is some form of punishment.”
“Of course there is. It’s the same way with God. If you disobey God’s law then he punishes you by sending you to Hell. If you break man’s law then you go to man’s jail. If you break God’s law then you go to God’s jail!”
“So you are saying that if God’s Law was to be incorporated into Man’s law then people should go to jail.”
“Not always. It depends on the type of law that is disobeyed. The important thing about putting God’s law into the legal system is that it would discourage people from sinning. It would do a lot to prevent people from going to Hell when they die. It would also encourage people to believe in Jesus.”
“But Mick! Why should people who are Jewish, Moslem or not religious be forced to obey The Bible?”
“Because The Bible is truth! Because God’s Law is better than Man’s law. Because everyone should accept Christ as their Lord!”
“I tell you that you are a tyrant Mick. This is why I hate people that are pro-life. You are all dictators.” I felt anger boiling inside of me. I stood up and menaced Mick. I was so angry with him that I could’ve punched him. Mick was intimidated by me.
“Kevin, you need to read The Bible and pray! You have too much hatred. You have shut your heart off from God. Let’s pray right now.”
I punched Mick in the nose. He head fell back as he jumped to his feet. He let out a scream. He held his hands to his nose. He gave me a look of surprise and fear. I wanted to hurt him more.
“What’s the matter with you Kevin? Why did you punch me?” Mick’s voice was muffled as his hands covered his face.
“There’s nothing the matter with me, Mick. There’s something wrong with you. I’m going to kick your fucking ass!” I advanced on Mick.
Mick started to back away from me. I punched them in the chest. He turned and tried to run away. I tripped his feet and he stumbled. I was blind with fury. I landed blows on his head and back. I started kicking his buttocks and legs.
The voice of an adult shouted. “Hey! HEY! KEVIN STOP IT!”
I looked up. It was the Vicar Tee Alexander. He looked at me with stern disapproval. I stopped beating Mick.
“Why are you two fighting?” Tee Alexander asked.
I turned towards 3rd Avenue and ran away.

The 1988 Presidential election was in full swing. Michael Dukakis had a strong start in the campaign. Early opinion polls showed him with an 8 point lead over Bush. However, the right wing attacks were taking their toll. Massachusetts was maligned by the right wing talk radio hosts and pundits to be an extremely liberal state. Dukakis was attacked as a socialist at worst and a tax and spend liberal at best. The Republicans said that Massachusetts had the highest taxes in the country. If Dukakis was elected, warned the Republicans, American taxpayers would see a dramatic increase in their taxes. The Reagan tax cuts would be reversed and higher taxes meant more big government and less business. Less business would mean fewer jobs. The state of Massachusetts was dubbed Taxachusetts. Moreover, Massachusetts was too tolerant. Dukakis was branded as too tolerant to be President. Massachusetts was after all, the home of the leading liberal politicians of the country: Edward Kennedy. Barney Frank was the first openly gay politician to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. What in the world was going on in Massachusetts? During the campaign Bush cited how Dukakis signed a bill making bestiality in Massachusetts legal. What was the matter with those immoral and sick liberals in that state? Watch out America! If Dukakis becomes President, the country would be taken over by liberal, homosexual and bestial socialists from Massachusetts.
Still, Dukakis was leading in the opinion polls. In the head to head debates, Dukakis had clearly shown himself to be a better speaker and articulate with his policy ideas than the stumbling and incoherent Bush with his mantra of “A Thousand Points of Light” and “Read my lips, no new taxes!” When asked where he would lead the country, Bush replied that he wanted to have “a kinder, gentler America.”
Bush’s running mate for Vice President was Dan Quayle. Quayle was an unknown Senator from Indiana. Dukakis’ running mate was Lloyd Bentsen, the Senator from Texas. In the Vice-Presidential debate, Quayle came across as a moron. He looked like a deer in headlights. He had no grasp of the issues. He appeared as a high school student trying to look smart in a suit. During the debate he made so many gaffes of grammar, pronunciation and facts. The public audience on TV laughed at him. Bentsen said that Quayle was too young and inexperienced to be Vice-President or President. Quayle defended himself by comparing himself to John F. Kennedy. Bentsen fired back: “I knew Jack Kennedy. I worked with Jack Kennedy. You’re no Jack Kennedy!” Quayle was devastated. He quickly became a liability to the Bush campaign. The Democrats saw Quayle as the Achilles heel of Bush and began to hammer on his stupidity and political unawareness.
The Republicans were on the defensive. Bush saw his numbers slipping against Dukakis. The strategy of attacking Dukakis as a liberal was not working because of the negative publicity of Dan Quayle. Finally, the Republicans went for the jugular. The Bush campaign started running the Willie Horton ads on TV.
Massachusetts had a very progressive criminal justice system. The state attempted to rehabilitate convicts back into society. During the last six months of a sentence, the convict was slowly released back into society. They were allowed to leave prison during the day to look for work or to enroll in school on the condition that they returned to prison by the evening. As convicts came to end of their sentence, they were allowed more freedom. The state had a furlough program. Convicts were allowed to leave prison on weekends before having to return on Monday. Willie Horton was one such convict. During one of his weekend furloughs he raped and killed a woman. The Republican ads featured a mug shot photograph of Willie Horton who appeared to look like a deranged Black man. The ad then revealed the picture of his victim. She was a young all American white woman. The music in the ad was scary. Watch out America! If you elect Dukakis, Black men will rape and kill white women.
The ads worked. Dukakis saw his polling numbers start to tumble. The Willie Horton ads ran for 2 weeks everyday on every TV station in the country. To complement the Willie Horton ads and to put a fine point on their message, the Republicans attacked the progressive justice system of Massachusetts. The furlough program was the subject of attack. The ads featured men in prison uniforms walking in line to prison. The prison gate was a revolving door. The convicts walked in and right out through the revolving doors.
My exchanges with Danny Schutzer became sharper. The Debate Society held a school debate a week before the election. Danny was to present the Republican side. I was picked to present the Democrat side. There were two debates held for a special assembly. The entire student body was present for both debates. Mr. Koski, the faculty advisor to the Debate Society moderated the debate.
“We are holding this assembly on the election. The function of democracy is to have an informed citizenry. One of the key fundamentals of any healthy democracy is an open debate about political, social and economic issues. Even though most of you are not old enough yet to vote, you are still citizens of the country. Elections affect your lives both direct and indirectly. This is why we are holding a debate on this Presidential Election.
“The Debate Society at Stuyvesant is a club where students come to discuss the issues affecting the world at large. We focus on critical thinking using the skills of language and rhetoric. Debating is not arguing or having screaming matches. Debating is not simply expressing one’s personal opinions. Debate is a dialogue; an exchange of ideas. Debating is the competition of ideas, philosophy and principles. Most important in the skill of debate is to be able to see the opposite side of each argument. At the Debate Society, we learn to debate and take positions that personally we might disagree with.
“Today we have two members of the Debate Society present the positions of the Democrats and Republicans. To present the Democrats position is Kevin Blake a Junior. We have another Junior to present the Republicans position, Danny Schutzer. Each one will have five minutes to give their opening statement. Then they will ask one another questions to which each one has to answer. At the end they will present their closing arguments. I will keep time to ensure punctuality. I will also ensure that the debate is even tempered and fair. Danny Schutzer will start off with his opening remarks.”
Danny stood up to the podium and began.
“My fellow Americans, the last 8 years have brought about unprecedented prosperity to our country. More Americans today have jobs than they did 8 years ago. Inflation has been kept in check. America is a strong nation again. 8 years ago, America was a nation on its knees. We were the laughing stock of the world. Our enemies kicked us around. We felt ashamed to be Americans.
“Ronald Reagan was the genius behind our country’s recovery. Ronald Reagan created more jobs than any other President in history. Ronald Reagan created more wealth than any other American President. There are more millionaires today than at any other time in our nation’s history. Every week there are one hundred new millionaires made in America.
“How did Reagan accomplish this? We have to look at the country under Jimmy Carter and the Democrats. When Jimmy Carter was President millions of jobs were lost. Wages were declining. Taxes were high. People were earning less but paying more taxes. We had an energy crisis. Carter let the Arabs boss us around. We became subservient to Rag heads. The Iranians took over our Embassy and Americans hostage. What did Carter do about it? He did nothing about it. Carter mismanaged the economy and our military. Carter let a little country like Iran walk all over us.
“As soon as Reagan became President, our hostages were freed in Iran. He cut taxes and welfare. He made the world safe from Communism. He prevented Fidel Castro from becoming the dictator of Grenada. He had fought against Communism in Central America. He has attacked our enemies. Terrorists are afraid of America. Colonel Khadaffi in Libya knows not the mess with America.
“If we want to keep our prosperity we must vote Republican. If we want to keep America strong we must not go back Liberalism. If we want to remain strong and free, we must vote for George Bush as President. The Liberals don’t want people to be rich. The Liberals don’t want jobs. The Liberals don’t want America to be the strongest nation in the world. The Liberals want us to be poor. They believe that equality means that everyone must be poor. Liberals do not want people to work or to be self reliant. They want people to be on welfare except for middle class people to work so that our taxes go to support Welfare Queens who buy Cadillacs. The Liberals want Russia to be stronger than us. The Liberals don’t believe that criminals should spend their life in jail or that murderers be executed. We see the results of Liberalism with Willie Horton. If the Republicans were in Massachusetts Willie Horton would have never have been released from jail. If he raped and killed he would sit in the Electric Chair! Republicans believe in prosperity, jobs, power and hard justice for criminals and murderers!”
“Danny,” Mr. Koski interrupted. “Your time limit has expired.”
“Vote Republican! Vote Bush!” Danny ended his opening statement.
The students were equally divided. Half of them cheered and applauded and the other half booed and hissed. The auditorium was polarized. The atmosphere was tense.
“Now Kevin Blake will give his opening statement.” Mr. Koski indicated me.
I took to the podium. I scanned the auditorium. I saw Emily’s face in the third row. She shouted: “Kick his ass, Kevin!” I smiled.
“The past 8 years have been a disaster for the country. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. In New York, there is no more affordable housing. If you want to rent there are fewer places to do so. Ronald Reagan is a racist President. He refused to make Martin Luther King into a holiday. He said that Black people were to blame for Apartheid in South Africa. He has cut money to schools. He has made cuts to all the social programs in the country. Ronald Reagan should be impeached!”
Half of the auditorium erupted into rapturous applause and cheers. The dissidents booed and catcalled. Arguments were starting in the audience.
“Ronald Reagan should be impeached for treason!” I continued but had to stop as the auditorium became rowdy.
“Traitor!” I heard a voice yell.
“Commie!” I heard another voice.
Mr. Koski rushed up to the microphone. “Settle down everyone! Settle down! We have less than a half hour for the debate.
“Ronald Reagan illegally sold weapons to our enemies! That’s not what the President of the United States should do! The Republicans do not believe in equality. The Republicans only care about rich white American men. They don’t believe in pro-choice. They don’t believe in Affirmative Action for minorities. They do not believe that poor people should have the chance to go to college. The Republicans talk about trickle down economics. But the only thing that trickles down is urine!”
The auditorium erupted in laughter and uproar. The sophisticated vulgarity of the joke got everyone’s attention. The Blacks and Puerto Ricans were especially tickled. Many Black girls keeled over holding their stomachs in pain from laughter. The Black and Puerto Rican boys repeated my line and laughed over and over slapping each other five.
“The Democrats,” I continued, “Are the party of justice and equality. It was under the Democrats that Civil Rights laws were passed. If it weren’t for the Democrats, Blacks would still have to sit at the back of the bus in the South. The Democrats want social and racial equality. The Democrats want everyone to have a fair square. The Democrats care about the poor in society. The Democrats want to eliminate poverty. The Republicans talk about prosperity but only for the rich. The Republicans hate the poor. The Republicans hate Black people.
“I want to end on this. Ronald Reagan has made more nuclear missiles than anybody else. The Republicans would be willing to nuke Russia the first chance they got. Remember when Reagan went on TV and said that the country would start bombing Russia in five minutes? If you want peace and equality, vote Democrat! If you want to end the voodoo economics of trickle down urine, I urge you to vote Dukakis! Thank you!”
The second mention of trickle down urine caused another uproar in the auditorium. Most of the audience clapped, cheered and stomped its feet as I sat down. The Republican supporters sat in stony silence. Danny gave me a look of disbelief. He hadn’t expected my line of attack. I grinned at him. I was enjoying the attention and getting the audience to laugh. Mr. Koski spoke into the microphone.
“We only have 20 minutes left for the debate. I will ask Danny and Kevin to step up to the podiums. The two will ask each other questions and they will have rebuttals. Danny will present the first question.”
“Do you think that the country is better off now than it was 8 years ago?” Danny asked.
“No, the country is worst off now than it was 8 years ago.” I answered.
“Look at the statistics! The unemployment rate is lower than that it was 8 years ago. There are more millionaires now than there was 8 years ago. I think the country is much better off!”
“Kevin,” Mr. Koski kept the debate on pace. “You may now pose your question.”
“If Ronald Reagan is such a great President why did he commit treason? Why did he sell weapons to the Iranians?”
“First of all Ronald Reagan didn’t commit treason. Ronald Reagan didn’t sell arms to Iran. Oliver North did that without the President’s awareness. Oliver North made a mistake but it was an honest mistake. He had to fight the Sandinistas in Nicaragua! The liberal Democrats in Congress wouldn’t authorize war or money to aid the freedom fighters! They would rather let Communism flourish in Central America than to fight. Liberals are afraid to fight. Liberals can’t fight. Oliver North, Reagan and the Republicans are not afraid to fight! Americans are fighters. We don’t flinch from our enemies! We fight for Democracy and Freedom!”
“So rather than flinching, the Republicans only trade and make secret deals with our enemies do they?” I rebutted.
“It’s Danny’s turn to question.” Mr. Koski intervened.
“What was so good about Jimmy Carter? Name any good things that Jimmy Carter did. What good did he do for the country?”
“First of all Jimmy Carter was a humanitarian. He tried to give homes to the homeless unlike Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter set up peace between Israel and Egypt. Jimmy Carter started and wanted to reduce nuclear missiles unlike Reagan who built more nuclear bombs and missiles. Jimmy Carter wanted peace not war.”
“Look what happened in Iran? If he wasn’t such a peacenik, the Ayatollah would’ve never have taken over. Our embassy wouldn’t have been taken over and Americans held hostage. Ronald Reagan would’ve blown Iran off the map!”
“It’s Kevin’s turn to ask a question.” Mr. Koski once again took control.
“You say that Ronald Reagan created more jobs than any other President but if you look at the jobs created they were all at McDonald’s, Burger King and fast food restaurants. In other words low paying jobs flipping burgers. What about real jobs? Where are the real good paying jobs that were created?”
“Listen,” Danny replied, “a job is a job. A job is better than having no job. So what if most of the jobs created were in McDonald’s? Let me ask you a question. Would you rather work in McDonald’s or be a bum on the Bowery?”
I was stunned by the question. Danny blindsided me with that question. It was the most absurd question I had ever been asked in a political discussion. I was confused for a few moments before I rebutted.
“That’s not the point. You said that Reagan created more millionaires and rich people. Are you saying that people became rich by working in McDonald’s which pays minimum wage? There is a flaw in your argument. If most of the jobs created were fast food but more millionaires were created, how did that happen?”
“That’s the problem with you Liberals” Danny sneered. “You don’t understand that there will always be poor and rich. If someone is too stupid to make money, that’s their problem. If they are not smart enough to be rich, why should the taxpayers help them? The reason why there are more millionaires is that these people were smart. They didn’t have to pay high taxes and invested their money smartly. These people in turn started their own companies and hired workers. Hence that is how new jobs were created.”
“Yes all new jobs making minimum wage. So all these millionaires were those who started fast food franchises?”
“What’s wrong with fast food franchises?”
“Nothing except they don’t pay enough to live on.”
“But they still provide jobs.”
“What’s the point of having a job if you remain poor?”
“Then you should be smart and become rich.”
“So you are saying that poor people are to blame for being poor.”
“Yes of course! That’s the difference between liberal and conservatives. Liberals want to punish the rich…”
“And Republicans want to punish the poor!”
“Boys!” Mr. Koski intervened as he saw the debate degenerate between us.
“Are you poor, Kevin?”
“Danny!” Mr. Koski exclaimed.
“No, I’m not poor.” I answered.
“Kevin and Danny!”
“So if you’re not poor why do you care about poor people?”
“We are running out of time! Kevin, make your closing argument!” Mr. Koski looked nervously at his watch.
America is becoming a country between poor and rich. The Republicans have only created minimum wage jobs. The Republicans want to get rid of minimum wage. They don’t want to increase it. They want to decrease it. Bush and Quayle will only make sure that the rich become richer. The middle class will find themselves too poor for rich and too rich for poor. The middle class and the poor will suffer more under Bush. There will be more racism in the country and Blacks will find it harder to get good jobs and education. A vote for the Democrats is a vote for more wages and real jobs. A vote for Democrats will be a return to racial equality. Thank you.”
“Make your closing argument, Danny.”
“Liberalism has almost destroyed the country. If you want to graduate from school and have a chance to become rich, then vote for Bush….”
The bell for the period sounded. It was the end of the debate. The students cleared out. Mr. Koski lectured us.
“That was a terrible debate. I will never let you two ever lead any debates again! It was nothing but ideology and personal emotion. Both of you were poor. I took score. You both lost. If this was a serious competition both of you would have been disqualified. We will take this up at the next meeting. Good day, gentlemen!”
My parents and I watched the Election results on TV. Dukakis won New York State which was a relief. Bush took New Jersey which came as no surprise. When Pennsylvania went to Bush, we became depressed. By 11 o’clock Bush was projected to be the winner. It wasn’t Ragan’s 1984 landslide but it was still a Republican victory.
“Well,” my mother sighed, “There’s no change. It’s going to be four more years of the same thing.”
“Things are going to get harder for us. Bush is going to kick Black people in the ass.” My father said with sad resignation.
The next day at school, Danny gloated over Bush’s victory.
“Liberalism is dead!” Danny declared. “Jimmy Carter is going to remain a peanut farmer and Dukakis got sent back to Socialist Massachusetts. America is great!”
Emily was never the same again. She took the election very hard. She became depressed. She fell deeper and deeper into depression. She was never happy afterwards. Emily had her moments of joy but her confidence in progress was shattered for ever.
“Bush comes from Texas. That means that the KKK is really in power. There is no hope for America, Kevin. We are all going to be killed and enslaved again. There is no freedom for us. In the future, we are all going to become victims of the KKK. It’s over, Kevin. Liberals like us are going to die. I already feel dead.”

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