- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Eldon came to work on October 20th through the City Hall entrance on the Chambers Street side. He took a look through a front window before settling into his office. The view was ominous: television camera dollies, miles of coaxial cable, a string of blue NYPD barricades scattered through the park, plus a large police communications trailer and two arrest vans. Already there was a phalanx of cops guarding the steps of City Hall, with other operatives communicating with God knows who on their cell phones.
At lunchtime he was told that it would be difficult to order in lunch. Betsy Twinsett came to the rescue with a plate of macaroni and cheese defrosted in her microwave. The mayor pronounced it delicious.
By two o'clock the Wambli balloon had appeared, this time accompanied by a band of ALAers and supporters carrying a black coffin-shaped box with a large WAMBLI R.I.P. sign attached to it. They, too, were talking intently on their cell phones. Could they be phoning up the police? The park was soon full: a group brought by bus, mostly wearing jeans and plaid shirts, and bearing the sign AMERICAN STAFFORDSHIRE DEFENDERS; a motley assortment, mostly men, and unmistakably off-duty cops, with such signs as JUSTICE FOR FASCO AND BRADDOCK and SUSPEND HOAGLAND NOT THE COPS.
A limousine pulled up and discharged a group of familiar-looking passengers -- a pop singer, two grade-B actresses, a hero from one of the soaps. Plus Daniel Storey, an actor with a couple of modest movie successes, who, it was rumored, was torn between playing Hamlet and starting a campaign for the United States Senate seat that George McTavish would be vacating. Ralph Bernardo, the ALA leader, rushed over to greet them. Then came a yellow school bus, bringing a delegation of young blacks and Hispanics -- the grassroots delegation assembled by Councilman Hayes -- along with a collection of fearsome-looking pit bulls.
They were not the only ones accompanied by canines. Several of the ALA supporters, looking like the professional dog walkers often seen on upper Manhattan streets, maneuvered a motley assortment of animals. They either were enthusiastic dog owners, had borrowed the mutts from friends or had rounded up strays. (The majority were strays, collected over several days and tethered in Bernardo's apartment.) All told, there were perhaps 150 creatures weaving among the legs of the protesters.
The makers of a dog food called GROW-l, seizing an opportunity, had set up a trailer on the far side of Broadway and four teenagers eagerly foisted sample cans on passersby. Another entrepreneur operated what appeared to be a hot dog vending cart, selling something called cabbage sausages -- no meat. There were few takers. A vendor of T-shirts, a picture of Wambli on the back and of Eldon with a large "X" over his face on the front, did better.
Then there were the Veganettes, a troupe of girls tricked out like high school majorettes, offering carrot sticks and chanting, "Meat is poison." Not to mention a zaftig blonde, wearing a short skirt and a tight blouse over a part of her impressive décolletage, carrying a stick festooned with imitation sausages, flaccid and limp, and a placard reading MEAT MAKES YOU IMPOTENT.
At three o'clock, a half hour into the official rally time, City Hall Park had overflowed and the crowd, still growing, began to fill up lower Broadway. A posse of cool black boys, emerging from the J&R music store, got caught up in the throng and began shouting Public Enemy's rap song "Fight the Power." Students at nearby Pace College, emerging from classes, also joined in. They had heard about the troubled sixties (even from their parents) and now delightedly joined in a genuine public disturbance, though most were not fully aware of what the commotion was about.
Then there were the organized groups: Francis Xavier O'Noone and the St. Sebastianites brandishing SAVE THE MONKS signs; a small crew waving the red-and-black Albanian flag and holding aloft a banner identifying them as the Albanian Defense League (HOAGLAND: PICK ON SOMEBODY YOUR OWN SIZE, one of their signs read, with presumed reference to Genc); and another band, wearing feathered bonnets and face paint, calling itself the Native American Protective League (REMEMBER WAMBLI -- THE BRAVE EAGLE).
The ALA supplied all who would take them with placards, the most modest of which said NEW YORKERS LOVE DOGS. Others were more provocative: ELDON HOAGLAND -- MAN'S WORST FRIEND; EXTERMINATE THE PIT BULL (this under a photograph of Eldon); EUTHANIZE WAMBLI'S KILLER and SPAY HOAGLAND. Plus seemingly hundreds that simply said RESIGN! RESIGN!
The mayor had said that there would be business as usual, Wambli rally or no, but he did watch the proceedings, which were televised live on New York One. Gullighy was with him.
Eldon was detached, even though the increasingly more boisterous carryings-on were directed at him. The detachment was not aloof, but instead reflected his belief that he was experiencing some sort of temporary hallucination that would come to an end. It just did not seem possible that the Incident could have stirred up so much passion.
The roving cameras captured details that would not have been observable to a spectator in the crowd. When a camera panned on the delegation of uptown pit bull owners, there were the usual signs -- PIT BULLS YES, HOAGLAND NO or ITS VARIANT, PIT BULLS SÍ, EL DON NO. But there was one that read george hayes democratic club.
"What the hell is that sign all about?" Eldon asked.
Gullighy, his connector cells at work, immediately figured it out.
"Some mischief making by Councilman Hayes."
"But why is he advertising it?"
"Here's my guess. He rounded up those street dudes, had them report to his East Harlem club, where they picked up those pit bull signs. And somebody grabbed the Hayes sign by mistake. George will be furious."
"George furious? What about me? My technology zone plan is the best thing that could ever happen to his district. So why is he organizing against me?"
"Do I need to draw a map, Eldon? If he and his buddies get rid of you -- which, of course, they'll never do -- Artie Payne becomes mayor, right? And George becomes power broker number one for him."
"Good Lord. And where is our public advocate, by the way? Is he out there, do you suppose?"
"Putter? Hell, no. He's staying as far away from this one as he can. And besides, it's a nice sunny day so he's probably up at Deepdale, getting in a round or two while the weather's still nice."
As the cameras moved about, they picked up the diverse groups in the mob: the St. Sebastianites, now kneeling and saying the rosary, though it was unclear for whom or for what cause they were praying; the hip-hop boys; the Albanians; the Native Americans.
"Where are the Chinese?" Eldon asked ruefully.
"Probably at home eating dog stew," Gullighy wisecracked.
Randilynn Foote watched the goings-on from a window in the Governor's Rooms.
"Raifeartaigh, this is great! Putting the blocks to Eldon. Look at 'em -- ever see such a collection of shit stirrers in your life?"
"Look at that blonde with the sausages. 'Meat makes you impotent.' Hee! Hee! You think those sausages are meant to be limp dicks?"
"I think so, Governor."
"What will they think of next?"
Foote's adopted Labrador, at her feet, began to whine.
"Shut up, Albert. Look at all your brothers out there. Demonstrating for your rights!"
The governor continued to laugh and shout delighted expletives as she viewed the maneuvers below.
"Raifeartaigh, you think there's a real chance this will bring the mayor down? Will he have to resign? Is that possible?"
"It's all crazy, Governor. Anything's possible."
"That means Putter becomes mayor, doesn't it?"
"I believe so."
"Delicious thought. We could handle him. A whole lot better than Eldon."
She turned to the third person present in the room, her young politics resident, Sheila Baine, who was sitting quietly at an adjacent window. Foote's predecessor had started the politics resident program (carefully avoiding the titillating word "intern") as a means of attracting bright postgraduate students into public service. Foote had continued the custom and picked Sheila from a group of fifty-five applicants, all with astounding résumés. Sheila had both undergraduate and law degrees from Yale and a master's from the Kennedy School at Harvard.
"Opposites attract" must have been the guiding principle that led to her selection. The two women, the governor and her aide, could not have been less alike. Sheila, thin and attractive in a bookish, bespectacled way, was soft-spoken and perhaps even a bit shy. The closest thing to a swearword in her vocabulary was "darn" and it was used sparingly.
As befitted her status, Sheila seldom spoke in the governor's meetings -- she attended all but the most private and sensitive -- unless called upon; but an observer could tell that she was absorbing everything she witnessed or heard. And when the governor did recognize her, as she occasionally did, her questions and observations were concise, intelligent and to the point -- and free of cussing (though she often told her boyfriend that she was getting an additional master's degree in profanity and invective).
"Sheila, just for fun will you check out what happens if Eldon resigns? Does that putz Putter automatically become mayor? I don't get involved, do I? See what you can find."
Below in the streets, Ralph Bernardo was trying to get the crowd's attention. He wanted to speak, and Daniel Storey, at his side, patently hoped to do the same. The barking and howling of the dogs and the crowd noise in general made the effort futile. Even with his bullhorn turned up to top volume, there was no way of causing the din to subside. So Bernardo did the next best thing and got the crowd to begin chanting, "Dog killer...resign. Dog killer...resign." The bedlam was extraordinary; had anyone had a rope, and had Eldon appeared, he might well have been lynched, strung up from one of the elms or beeches in the park.
By contrast, Governor Foote, with Albert the Labrador on a leash, boldly walked out the front door of City Hall, and was greeted with cheers. The crowd parted and allowed her and Raifeartaigh and Sheila Baine to reach her car, which was then guided by police and demonstrators alike to a clear route uptown.
Eldon observed her exit without comment, except for a constricted sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh.
When the masses tired of their "Dog killer" chant, a sweating Bernardo and his cohorts began shouting "Arf! Arf! Arf!" -- a cry that both the humans and the canines took up -- a Dionysian cacophony that was frightening.
"I suppose it's better than Sieg Heil," Eldon said, as he observed the frenzied mob on his television.
By now it was four o'clock, the bewitching hour under the ALA's permit, and the police inspector in charge made his way to Bernardo and reminded him of this. Or did his best to do so, over the din.
Bernardo responded by shouting, "To the bridge!" over and over through his bullhorn. He started a surge that was so powerful the police could not stop its flow. Until, that is, they reached the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge and faced what appeared to be an implacable shield of massed police in riot gear.
At this point the ALAers and their recruits began releasing their dogs. In the face of this onslaught, the police shield collapsed. The NYPD's praetorian guard was prepared for human protesters, ready to knock heads and, if worse came to worst, confront the mob with a blast of tear gas. But dogs nipping at their heels and slithering among them threw them into confusion. Soon there were dogs, but not demonstrators, loose on the bridge; traffic came to a halt as drivers attempted to avoid killing the unleashed animals.
Earlier, when Bernardo called for a march on the bridge, Amber Sweetwater, at his side, rang up a number on her cell phone. She was calling a fellow ALA foot soldier waiting with another group -- and another pack of dogs -- on the Brooklyn side. At her signal, these dogs were released amid the Manhattan-bound bridge traffic, unimpeded by police, who had not foreseen a two-front war.
The ensuing chaos was wild. With the Brooklyn Bridge effectively shut down as the evening rush hour began, traffic backed up throughout downtown Manhattan and soon there was a snarl that spread to the East River Drive and the other spans to Brooklyn and Queens.
The tie-up did not end there. Throughout Manhattan, minibuses ferrying pilots and flight attendants from their hotels to La Guardia and Kennedy Airports were stalled. Countless early evening departures to other American cities and overnight flights to Europe were canceled for lack of crews -- or for that matter, passengers, who were also caught in the gridlock. By midevening air traffic throughout the country and in much of Europe was in a tangle rivaling the land-bound one in New York, with incoming flights halted before taking off in Chicago or Los Angeles or diverted to Philadelphia or Boston. The Animal Liberation Army had effectively disrupted a good part of the Free World.
Unable to travel by car to Gracie Mansion, Eldon was hustled out of City Hall and onto the uptown subway by a heavily augmented detail of police. By the time he got home, walking the last blocks from the 86th Street subway station, the blaring of car horns from helpless and angry motorists on the East River Drive was deafening, even inside the mansion with the windows closed. He longed for a drink or two -- or more -- with Leaky, but realized that would hardly be responsible behavior when besieged law enforcement officers were trying desperately to untie the biggest traffic jam in the history of New York City.
By nine o'clock the worst was over, and traffic again began to flow. Eldon and Edna watched the untangling with relief on television, between telephoned progress reports from Danny Stephens -- and a call from the president asking if the mayor wanted federal troops sent in. But there was a slight chill in the room as an elated Ralph Bernardo, being interviewed, vowed to stage a repeat protest a week hence. "We're going to demonstrate every Wednesday until our animal-hating mayor resigns."
Copyright © 2001 by James Duffy