Articles by

<Adam Klasfeld>

07/02/08 12:00am

The New York City tabloids wouldn’t know what to make of the Anarchist Bookfair, which happened this past spring.  If the Post attended, its reporters would probably have been disappointed that there was no sign of bicycle bombers.  The Daily News would have been shocked that nobody plotted mass destruction for the next political convention.  These anarchists were mostly interested in reading books, attending lectures, and sometimes networking with activists involved in nonviolent dissent.  Unfortunately, everybody knows that harmony and civic involvement make bland newspaper copy. 

But there was still hope for hell-raising because a group called The Bad Egg Collective planned to stage a protest.  They argued that the event betrayed the ideals of anarchism because the vendors sold their books for profit; the lectures created a hierarchy between the speaker and the spectator; and the format encouraged consumption over creativity.  In short, the Anarchist Bookfair was insufficiently anarchic.  To express his dissent, the leader of this group planned to bring a photocopier and pass out flyers.  This was something that I could scoop the tabloids on: anarchist in-fighting.

As I approached the book fair at Judson Memorial Church, friendly Trotskyites passed out pamphlets from the Partisan Defense Committee and Workers Vanguard about the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row.  One woman invited me to participate in the upcoming protest in Philadelphia.  While I sympathized with the cause of a man who was framed for shooting a cop, the demonstration was planned for the first night of Passover, and I already had plans to attend my family’s Seder.  Between my religious and familial loyalties, I found out early on that I would make a poor radical activist.  I picked up some newsletters and made a modest donation instead.

I entered the main hall where over forty vendors were proudly hawking subversive literature, but the protest was nowhere in sight.  Eventually, I found it on a corner, where there was a strange handmade wooden structure with a red cardboard sign that had “COPY BOOKS HERE!” badly stenciled in black magic marker.  It looked like a lemonade stand from a left-wing Peanuts comic strip, but the contraption was more sophisticated than it appeared.  The wood was hand-cut with a rotary saw, and it held a digital camera pointed at a pane of glass that enclosed a book.  The copier worked by photographing the pages one by one and sending the images to a laptop computer.

Its inventor Andrew Cady estimated that he only paid about $15 for the materials.  He bought the wood, glass, and hinges at Home Depot, and he already owned the electronic equipment.  His friend Steve, who was standing next to him, managed to program the software that made it function while stoned the morning of the event.  It took about a week to conceptualize and build the machine, and it stood before the room as a work of shabby ingenuity. 

(Andrew later told me that an inventor from Japan made one out of LEGO bricks.  You have to admire Japanese craftsmanship.)

In any event, one man was so impressed with Andrew’s invention that he handed them his business card to shoot ideas off each other about spreading the technology.  I never expected the protest to have such a warm reception.  For hours, the two of them had taken books they wanted to read from vendors and digitized them onto CD-ROMs, and not once did anyone try to stop them.  Instead, they got free books and a potential business opportunity.

Something had to be done.  I thought that maybe the vendors never noticed the books being taken, and I offered to ask each vendor to photocopy one of their books to see how they responded.  My first stop was the stand of the publishing house Seven Stories Press, where I picked up the collection of repressed journalism Censored 2008. 

“Excuse me.  Do you mind if I photocopy this book at that table at the corner?” I asked an attractive twenty-something who was manning the booth. 

“Sure,” she replied, as if I just asked her to borrow a pen.  “We don’t mind if it’s you guys doing it.”

I later found out that Seven Stories Press has four separate offices across three countries.  Its New York branch is located in Tribeca, one of New York’s most expensive neighborhoods.  I was beginning to see Andy’s point about anarchist-industrial-complex.  Keeping up radical bona-fides can be a matter of sound business policy.  In any event, I loved this particular journalism anthology, and I owned it on disc after about five minutes of photographing the pages.  I thanked her when I gave it back, and she thanked me for returning it.  She might have thought I would pull an Abbie Hoffman.

The next table was run by an anarchist collective called “A New World in Our Hearts” that runs direct action campaigns like urban gardening and food aid throughout Brooklyn.  It had a book about Mumia called Dead Blossoms that got me intrigued, and they also had no problem with my asking to copy it.  Still, it was one thing not to pay an international publishing house for a book and another to do the same thing with a charitable activist collective.   I offered them a donation when I returned it.

At Autonomedia’s table, I picked up the book The Art of Free Cooperation, which appealed to my sense of irony.  Again, the vendor had no problem when I asked to digitize the book, and she added, “We’re anti-copyright.  It would be ridiculous of us to refuse you.”  Everyone so far smiled as I calmly explained that I wanted to take the goods they were selling.

Of the vendors, only the saleswoman at AK Press looked even mildly annoyed by my request, but she grudgingly let me take the book Introduction to Anarchism.  It was a small soft-cover that was difficult not to bend while photocopying, and I tried my best not to damage it under the glass.  “Don’t worry,” urged Steve from behind the machine.  “It’s already dead.”  I figured that I was probably too polite to be a proper anarchist, and I brought the book back in more or less the same condition in which I found it.
Concerned that this anarchist melee was not turning out according to plan, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  “Photocopy your books here!” I belted out like a sideshow barker across the room, hoping that would cause more of a stir.  Nobody took offense or even responded, except for one girl who was interested in the offer. 

“Was that obnoxious?” I asked Andrew.

“Yes, it was.”

 “I guess that’s part of the role of the journalist – to be obnoxious,” I rationalized.

“That’s an unhappy way of looking at your profession,” Andrew philosophized. 

Maybe he was right.  I decided to take it easy for the rest of the demonstration.  I looked for more free books at Red Emma’s Bookstore, which was visiting from Baltimore, but by then, the line for the machine had gotten too long.  I decided to quit while I was ahead, and I helped Andrew pass out fliers agitating against profit-making from radical literature.

“Isn’t this crossing the line of my journalistic objectivity?” I worried.

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “It’s gonzo.”

To celebrate their work, his friend planned to buy falafels, and they got an extra one for me.  I came into the event hoping to cover revolution, but I was happy settling for CD-ROM books, new story ideas, and dinner.

As I was about to leave, one young woman looked appalled about the stand.  “Won’t that machine bend the covers?” she complained, and the organizers of the protest shrugged.  She explained that it bothered her because she worked at the radical Lower East Side bookstore Bluestockings.

“That’s where we’re going next,” Andrew said defiantly.

She looked upset and angry before she quietly walked away.  That was about as heated as the protest got.

02/27/08 12:00am

It started out as a love story. At the time, Nate Hill lived in Florida — specifically, a part of the Sunshine State where dead armadillos regularly lay belly-up along the side of the highway. He never thought much about taxidermy, but he liked a girl who liked preserving animal corpses. So he did what any enterprising and romantic young man would have done: He cruised around for dead animals, pulled over when he found one, and made it a gift for the object of his affection.

He never got the girl, but by the time he moved to New York City years later, he’d acquired a new skill that would be the beginning of an artistic career… of sorts.

For the past several months, Hill has hosted the Chinatown Garbage Tour, a scavenger hunt through the neighborhood’s waste sites. He provides the participants with latex gloves and leads the curious through trash containers, looking for dead fish and amphibians. Everyone is welcome, and no experience is necessary.
Although the practice was honed in rural Florida, it was made for New York City, whose dark underbelly is generally where the more interesting pastimes can be found: thrill-seekers hosting parties in abandoned subway tunnels, gourmet environmentalists protesting over-consumption by diving for food in dumpsters. It was only a matter of time before bands of taxidermists made use of Chinatown’s wild assortment of dead animals.
Hill’s free tours attract diverse groups and have drawn sizeable crowds each month. “I like to decorate with found objects,” says Williamsburg artist and attendee Sara Worden. “You know how Victorian hats had birds on them? I was thinking about doing the same thing, but with fish.” A couple of medical students came prepared with their own containers for specimens, and a documentary filmmaker zoomed in on hands rummaging through innards.

Hill helps by giving useful hints to the uninitiated. His website, for example, advises to “Treat that box of dead fish like a lady.” It’s not just a creepy image, it’s helpful advice; you never know when you might find sharp objects buried inside the mounds of slick scales and gills. He also informs participants how and where to buy inexpensive preservatives, and where one is most likely to find frogs (one of the most coveted prizes of the hunt).
As a host, Nate walks a fine line between flamboyance and reserve. He shows up to each meeting dressed in a random costume. When I first encountered him in December, he was wearing a milkman uniform. Is he contrasting the juice of life and birth with the decay of death? Is he using an icon of the wholesome 1950s to make a sly and ironic comment on the underworld of taxidermy? “I just want to confuse people,” he quipped. A month later, he showed up to the tour with the equally inexplicable uniform of a paratrooper. 

On the other hand, he’s not much of a showman. He keeps his speeches short, and is almost always accompanied by his long-term girlfriend. She was conservatively dressed and reserved when I met her, hardly what one could describe as a rogue taxidermist’s groupie. When I asked if it took her a while to come to terms with her love’s hobby, she stated, “I’m a social worker, so I’m pretty open-minded,” as though this should explain it all.

The term for this seemingly unsavory group activity is “rogue taxidermy.” Whereas mainstream taxidermists try to respect and preserve the animals to the best of their abilities, the “rogues” manufacture their own oddities by sewing several pieces of various animals together. For instance, the press material for the Minnesota Association for Rogue Taxidermists boasts about sideshow-esque hybrids like “Siamese Frogs,” “Screaming Housecats” and “Road-kill Opossum.”

Hill takes this interspecies bricolage to new levels of ingenuity with A.D.A.M. (“A Dead Animal Man”), a man-shaped, man-sized thing sewn together from parts of thirteen different animals. He unveiled the creature at the end of January, at his studio in Bed-Stuy, and crowds, who were offered both free beer and free odor-reducing face-masks, shifted uneasily before a man made out of chicken, conch, cow, crab, deer, duck, eel, fish, frog, lobster, rabbit, shark and dog.
Yes, dog. Hill found a decapitated pooch on the side of the road in Florida. He decided to keep it for A.D.A.M.’s head.
Turning the head of a domesticated animal into art takes a dark imagination. Perhaps equally disconcerting to the faithful, Nate says that he’s “obsessed with imitating God,” and he means it. On his website (, he published the Bible Rewrite Project, where so far he’s revised the first 42 chapters of Genesis. His testament starts with, “In the beginning, Nate created Nate.” Add necromancy, and Nate’s project sounds downright Faustian.

It might surprise people to know that in person, Nate is quietly religious, and almost hesitant to discuss his faith outside prepared press statements. “I feel God would have a sense of humor about what I do,” Nate explained to me, as we downed our beers following the tour.

I spoke to him about his beliefs at Home Sweet Home, a taxidermy-themed bar on the Lower East Side, and the place was decorated with what a believer might call the majesty and variety of God’s creation. There was an open lion’s mouth locked in a permanent growl next the liquor bottles, and the bar had a display case with rabbits and owl heads.  Perched on a branch hanging from the ceiling, an eagle — which a bartender confided was smuggled from Canada because American environmental law prevents using them as taxidermy — seemed to keep watch over the drinkers.

During our interview, Hill seemed almost reluctant to talk about his religious beliefs, a reticence at odds with the obvious parallels he’s created with a project named after the first human character in the Bible (not to mention the whole rewriting the Bible thing). I asked him whether he believed in God, and his reply was short and simple: “Yes.” When I asked if he subscribed to any organized religion, he said he was a Christian. There was neither cheek nor sarcasm in his voice, and I wondered whether Hill’s use of religious language in his work was earnest, mocking or posturing. Is Hill making a Lazarus out of the opossum, and is he recreating Jesus’s resurrection with the 13 animals that make up his masterwork? Or is he just putting us on?

It’s hard to say, but judging by the numerous congregants who make the pilgrimage down to Chinatown, Nate’s curious sermons would seem to have an appeal beyond the merely grotesque. And that has to count for something.

12/19/07 12:00am

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway noted, “Travel writers wrote about the men fishing in the Seine as though they were crazy and never caught anything; but it was serious and productive fishing.” Whether that was a professional opinion or literary flourish is difficult to say. After all, he’s talking about a body of water enshrined in legend for its filth, stink, and pollution — the product of Paris’ infamous sewer system — during the 1920s, when munitions were probably still floating around from WWI. Supposing anyone caught a fish there, who would have eaten it?  

Similarly, anyone who walks or cycles along the East River during sunny weather has seen people fishing there, but few actually know what they do with their catches. Intrigued, I headed for Stuyvesant Cove, the area near Con Edison’s water purification plant at East 14th St. There, three fishing rods were propped over the railings into the water, while their owners stood a few feet away chatting, looking at the women jogging by, and otherwise passing time. They had all fished in this spot for years, through all types of weather and on all occasions, but this was the first time they were approached to speak about their hobby with a journalist.

First question: Do they keep what they catch? “I’m a catch-and-release man,” replies Sgt. Efrain Diaz, a veteran who returned from Iraq in 2005. When I ask if he knows anyone who actually eats the fish, all three of the fishermen shoot me an incredulous look that says, “Of course!” “I know a guy that’s been eating the fish out of here almost 20 years, and there ain’t nothing wrong with him,” answers Jesse Ruiz, who sports a tear-drop tattoo below his left eye. The least talkative of them, Fred Doumbe, a tall African-American man, chimes in that he eats them himself and is fine.

They offer a number of theories why the water is clean and the fish are healthy. For one, most of the fish are migratory, and do not stay in the East River — which is actually a tidal strait connecting Upper New York Bay to the Long Island Sound, rather than its own body of water. “They come from Canada and Connecticut,” Jesse points out, “They know that the food’s here, so they come looking for it, but they don’t stay here.” He goes further, saying that the water is clean because a friend who works for an unspecified environmental organization told him that they process the water in a nearby plant. In the springtime, he claims, one can see as far as five feet deep. He even swims in the water when the weather is warm enough.

Is it wishful thinking? The purification plant he’s referring to is close to the spot where they are standing. If you look at the shore near 14th Street, you will find steam rising from the water that’s being boiled and disinfected. And never doubt a fisherman’s wisdom about the waters he frequents. According to Kate Zidar, who runs a free fishing clinic at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, she gets even more of her information about river conditions from the fishermen than from marine biologists, river advocates, and other experts. Since the anglers are there every day, they have far more data.

Still, it’s a stretch to say that the river is pure. New York still uses a combined sewer system found in old European cities and older Northeastern metropolises. During heavy storms, the rainwater mixes with sewage dumped out of CSO (combined sewer overflow) outlets throughout the five boroughs. This practice has caused the city to be found in repeated violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972, which has led federal courts to pass two (ignored) consent decrees mandating a solution. Proposals are currently being made to address the problem, but in the meantime, each rainfall dumps a new batch of debris into the surrounding water. Zidar once asked a fisherman standing next to one of these outlets if he knew what it was. He responded, “Yeah, fish food!”
Safety considerations also depend on a number of factors, from the age and gender of the person to the type of fish and how you cook it. Zidar usually abstains from East River fish because she’s a woman of childbearing age, but she says, “Honestly, if I ever caught a young bluefish on a clear summer day, I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t try it once.” The biggest health risks are caused by mercury and PCBs, which young women and children are more susceptible to, but pose some risk to all. One can minimize exposure to these chemicals by filleting the fish, which takes away more of the toxins than cooking it in a stew. 

In any event, none of this would keep the men that I approached from their favorite pastime. “The only reason I don’t eat the fish is because I’m not a seafood lover,“ says Diaz, “I only keep what I’m going to give away, if it’s legal.” People interested in fishing in the East River need to do more than just bring a rod, bait, and tackle. They need to learn regulations because keeping an illegal fish is punishable by a summons, and the rule is enforced. “They’re never going to get me because I go by the regulations.” 
Sgt. Diaz asks if I would like to see some pictures, and he takes out digital prints from his time in Iraq. He shuffles through some of soldiers taking turns dressing up as mujahideen — “just messing around,” he explains — until he reaches one of him fishing in Saddam Hussein’s private lake. The dictator sent people around the world to find exotic specimens for him to catch. “Saddam would be spinning in his grave if he saw this,” he says, pointing to a picture of himself in uniform, holding a rod in one hand, a colorful catch in the other, and a machine gun around his neck. The time of this interview was one day after the hanging. 

Even so, the picture of the striped bass that Sgt. Diaz caught in the East River makes his catch from Iraq look like a guppy. It measures in at 47” — spanning his torso down to his knees — and weighs almost 31 lbs. That qualified as the largest fish anyone in the group caught that year. “This guy [Jessie] is always trying to beat me. He’s been trying to do it for a couple of years now,” Efrain teases. “I gave him a chance. I went to Iraq for a year and a half. [He] still couldn’t do it.” Jesse’s personal record so far is 38”, an impressive feat, nonetheless. 
The day after I leave will be the beginning of a new year, and the start of a new competition. “We’ll see what happens,” says Efrain. “I’m gonna beat you this year,” taunts Jesse, and Efrain jabs back, “Fat chance.”

08/01/07 12:00am

If Daniel Goldstein doesn’t win the appeal on his lawsuit, the largest single-source development in New York City history will swallow up his apartment building, along with the surrounding 22 acres. New York State has approved the use of eminent domain for the developers eyeing his property, and construction has started across the street. All but two of the units on his block are completely empty, and some of the vacant buildings are already girded with scaffolding in preparation for demolition. Once these small brownstones are out of the way, Forest City Ratner hopes to replace them with a 20,000-seat arena for the Nets basketball team, nestled amid 16 Frank Gehry-designed skyscrapers. These are the last days of resistance to the controversial Atlantic Yards Project, and things don’t look great for Goldstein and his cause — there’s simply too much money to be made.

Bruce Ratner already owns a hefty chunk of real estate bordering the proposed footprint of the Atlantic Yards, and as far as Goldstein is concerned, the developer is now seeking more land to add to his monopoly. A block and a half north of the apartment stands the Atlantic Terminal Mall, whose green-and-brown institutional façade stretches west down Flatbush Avenue. It was built in 2004 over the demolished Long Island Rail Road Terminal; three years later, Ratner is eyeing another functioning rail yard, directly across the street. Although Forest City Ratner will not technically own the land until (and if) the development moves ahead, the MTA has granted them permission to begin construction without formally owning the deed. 

Ironically, one of the buildings condemned to make way for the sports arena is a loft space converted from an old Spalding factory, purveyors of the NBA’s official basketball. That space is located on Goldstein’s street and sits derelict and empty. A short distance away is pre-Prohibition watering hole and neighborhood institution Freddy’s Bar and Backroom, which, if destroyed, would be a real loss to drinkers (and historians) throughout the borough. The bustling Bear’s Community Garden is outside of the danger zone, as far as demolition goes, but it will be hard to keep it green in the shadows of the skyscrapers; it’s in direct line with the tallest of Gehry’s planned buildings, the unfortunately named (and for many, unfortunately designed) “Ms. Brooklyn,” which is projected to block a significant amount of the garden’s summer sunlight.

Though the fight over Atlantic Yards has been well covered, many New Yorkers haven’t seemed to grasp the immense scope of the project, which will include seven skyscrapers far taller than the current tallest buildings (by at least 30 stories). Critics, citing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS Report), contend that, in practical terms, many of the nearby neighborhoods will be in long periods of darkness, with skyscraper shadows stretching as far as the Fort Greene Historic District. Opponents also claim that FEIS proposals for handling game-time traffic surges are woefully inadequate, limited as they are to two road closures, three changes in street directions, and small adjustments for traffic signals.

Author Jonathan Lethem, a prominent activist against Atlantic Yards, called the language used to describe the project “mendacious flimflam” in an open letter he wrote to Gehry, referring to purported “open spaces” that include private rooftops, and the promises of “affordable housing” when only 12 percent of the units are below Brooklyn’s median income, according to Goldstein’s organization in opposition, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB).

As representatives of DDDB, Goldstein and his fiancée Shabnam Merchant are struggling to stop the Atlantic Yards Project, and are in the unique position of doing so by simply fighting for their house. “Since I’m very public and loud and a spokesson for this group, some people think I’m fighting my own personal crusade,” says Goldstein, “but I know from doing this work for over three years that the people here are opposed to it.”

As I visit Goldstein’s place for the interview, I’m surprised to find so many cars parked along his block. He explains that people use the spots for the nearby shops and business during the day, but at night the streets are as empty as one would expect of a residential block stripped of the vast majority of its residents.. And the condominium seems well maintained: its hallways are clean, the intercom works fine, and the elevator functions more comfortably than those of many offices in Midtown Manhattan.

As the elevator lets out on Goldstein’s floor, I notice placards, boxes, and office supplies in the hallway — one of
the protest signs is written in Chinese. Apparently, the proprietor of a fine-art supply store had about 25 legal immigrants make the sign after his business was forced out, but the shop-owner was not allowed to reveal his identity because — pushed into a corner with his business — he signed a contract with Ratner. One of the advantages of living in an empty building is that nobody can object to the use of the hallway as storage space. I leave my bicycle in the hall without locking up. Who would be there to steal it?

When I ask if being surrounded by a big, empty building ever leaves him with an eerie feeling or leads him to worry about crime, Goldstein answers matter-of-factly, as though the idea never occurred to him. “No. Maybe it was because I knew the day was coming, and I prepared myself for it.” 

Needless to say, Goldstein and Merchant (who also started the No Land Grab website) have been keeping busy. I have to wait a few minutes on the couch when I get there because Daniel has to take a business call. When asked to describe his daily activities with DDDB, he jokes, “I get up and start working, and I finish sometime late at night.” Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Merchant is multitasking, preparing food while working on fundraising from her laptop. In addition to their full-time jobs with the organization, they’ve been preparing for a wedding this fall, but their final plans are contingent on the legal battle to keep their home. “Most people plan weddings for a year, but because our very home is up in the air, it’s hard to make plans,” he says.

Right now, Goldstein says that the developers still need to take “three more legal steps” to take over the building. Theoretically, that can begin as early as the fall, because a federal judge recently dismissed their lawsuit (Goldstein v. Pataki), but the plaintiffs — who include all the remaining property owners — filed an “expedited” appeal. It will take four to six months to have the case looked at again, delaying Ratner’s ability to move forward with an Article II or IV action — that is, a transfer of the deeds. “We have to see what the State does,” he says, “if they dare to move forward while we’re doing that appeal. It could be months; it could be years.”

Under the terms of the contracts, none of the former residents who signed with Ratner is allowed to speak to the press, attend public hearings, or donate to groups opposing Atlantic Yards. There’s even a provision in the
contract, says Goldstein, “that they would try to get me to sell.”

“There were a couple of people who said that they regretted what they did,” he says, “not out of any principle, but whatever kind of payday they thought it was, it didn’t turn out to quite be that because of taxes and the way the market had changed.” Though, he adds, some people “made out very well with money. Of course, I knew what they were getting because they offered it to me.”

As for why Goldstein got involved in such a difficult battle?

“This is the first home I bought,” he says. “I’d been looking for a long time, and I bought it because of the neighborhood and the location — just like Mr. Ratner. It started out that I wanted to keep this home. And by luck of the draw, I bought into a building that’s key to this project happening. The project can’t go forward while I’m here. Putting aside my own feelings, that’s a responsibility that I have. I wouldn’t be doing this if I felt that the surrounding neighborhoods wanted this thing.”

I hesitate a little before asking, “What would you do if the eminent domain— ”
“Went forward?”
“I don’t know.” He pauses. “We never discussed that seriously. We’re optimistic that it won’t happen.”   •

04/25/07 12:00am

When I decided to write an article about participating in March’s Critical Mass ride, I was almost certain that I was going to be arrested. After all, it was the first ride since the NYPD rewrote the parade rule to criminalize rides of 50 or more people without a permit. Under the new terms, violators could be jailed for up to 10 days. The police were so adamant about it that they drafted it without a public hearing — after two different versions of it were rejected in legislation. One civil liberties attorney stated the obvious: The cops were out to “get” Critical Mass.

An article in the LA Times predicted that the ride would be the biggest standoff since the Republican National Convention, when the police corralled over 200 cyclists in mesh netting and threw them in a makeshift holding facility along the Hudson. The NYCLU report documenting the incidents of spying, harassment, excessive force, and false arrests totaled 69 pages. By the time I got up the courage to ride, it was too late to apply for a press pass, which I could only obtain through the police department, whose rule I was protesting.

Even though many people were probably scared off, about a hundred gathered at the Union Square starting point. Eventually, one man handed me a white t-shirt with the number 25 written on it in red magic marker. “Do you want to wear this?” he asked, explaining that they went up to 49. He wanted me to be a moving target, an advertisement mocking the parade rule and daring the police to enforce it. I put it on, reluctantly.

The evening started with a half-hour protest, which drew major print, radio and television media. Here’s what was probably edited out of the coverage: During civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel’s speech, when he said, “In Brooklyn, we have a word for this kind of law,” one small group yelled “BULLSHIT!” (The word that Siegel meant to use, he insisted, was “cockamamie.”) Aside from that, a representative from the Five-Borough Bike Club announced his organization’s lawsuit against the NYPD, and leaders from the environmental group Time’s Up talked about their ongoing legal battles. Councilwoman Rosie Mendez told a cheering crowd that she would risk arrest by riding along in a pedicab. 

With that announcement, the swarm began to pedal — headlong into a police barricade a block away. I knew the first person the police shoved into their vehicle. She was a 49-year-old jazz singer named Kim Kalesti, and we’d spoken before the ride. It was her first one. She knew little about it, but had friends prominent in bike advocacy groups and wanted to show her support. Her business card had pictures of red carnations and advertised “BEAUTIFUL SINGING” in pink letters. It was strange to see this woman treated like a criminal. 

The cops ordered the crowd to disperse, and I slipped away into traffic and away from the scene. But I knew the ride wasn’t over. Since there are no leaders, it can reconvene wherever there are enough cyclists to join together. This time, the cops unwittingly helped me find the group. I knew I was getting close when I saw a police squad traveling in their direction. Two blocks later, I joined two other riders meeting with a larger group at Times Square. 

Predictably, as soon as the cyclists rolled into 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue, the cops started handing out tickets, whether or not the violations made sense. People riding in the bike lane were ticketed for not cycling on the right side of the street. Arguments over the fines heated up, and again the crowd was ordered to disperse. Shortly after, a photographer was arrested, and anyone trying to find out why risked the same fate. The flare-ups only got worse, but I would have to wait until after the ride to find out the details.

When we arrived at the Time’s Up headquarters for the afterparty, it felt like a victory even for the people with tickets to fight, and a television crew broadcast the return live.  Critical Mass had never received so much sympathetic media attention. Once inside, people ate and traded stories. Ms. Kalesti, the jazz singer, was back, and was cleared of all charges. I spoke with an older man named Steve Faust, who also wore a numbered shirt. When the cops pulled him over to summon him, they shouted, “Number 19, pull over!”

Since I had a tape recorder with me at the celebration, some people suspected I was an undercover cop. When one person made the accusation out loud, Jefferson Siegel from The Villager vouched for me, “Would a cop wear shoes like that?”

Bike advocates reviewed footage and photographs of the arrests, and I saw a girl I recognized in one video. When we’d walked our bikes on the sidewalk along West 43rd Street, she appeared shy and nervous. I found out later that she was a 21-year-old photographer named Joyce Lin who originally got into trouble for taking pictures of officers’ badges. One cop restrained her and another searched her bag. When he found a knife, several officers suddenly forced her to the ground. She screamed, struggled, kicked, and bit wildly, and she was taken in for assault and four other charges. 

He wanted me to be a moving target, an advertisement   
mocking the parade rule and daring the
police to enforce it. I put it on reluctantly.

The arrests that followed — as related by the DA’s report — could have been written by the Marx Brothers. When videographer Christian Gutierrez had taped the Lin arrest, the police ordered him to go and eventually arrested him for obstruction of governmental administration and disorderly conduct. Then, photographer Jordan Groh snapped pictures of the Gutierrez arrest, and was brought up on the same charges. The police were camera shy that night, and a journalist from another popular alt-weekly was told to stop taking pictures even after he flashed his press credentials. In addition to the three arrests, there were 47 summonses. 

Nobody, tellingly, was taken in for parading without a permit.