There's always noise. People don't so much talk as yell. They are right next to each other in the hallway -- proximity doesn't matter. They are communicating with children -- or children with adults -- tenderness or respect doesn't enter into it. It's all yelling, all the time.
There's always noise. Quote music unquote. Car horns. Breaks screeching. Large trucks (which somehow thrill me.) A very persistent fish crow.
Sometimes the noise reaches a crescendo.
I have to assess it, then. How sustained? I have to predict it. Will it continue to be sustained? It's like I'm hearing a sine curve, or whatever the proper math term is, and I have to predict it. Where is it going? increasing or diminishing?
If I feel it is increasing, and sustained, I call the cops.
Last night. Near midnight. Screaming. Middle of the street. Cars can't go. Horns honking. A woman. Throat power of Madame DeFarge. Brain power of a squashed banana on the sidewalk. Look out window. Yup. Same spot where two guys got shot to death.
Same spot where, when I walk in daytime, I walk past reliably twenty black guys who do nothing all day but stand against the wall, one foot against the wall, one foot on the ground. Young, healthy, muscular, well fed, smoking swishers, talking into cell phones. As I pass them, I struggle for eye contact with them. I seek it the way you seek a destination on a map.
I am ready to say "Good morning" or "Hi" and they assiduously turn their faces from me. Their black faces are way too good for my white face. No greeting? No acknowledgement. No shared air.
That's what that stretch is like in the daytime. It's now night.
It's more than a little weird that my contribution to this neighborhood is calls to the police. I hate cops. I am working class. My mother described vividly to me the cops kicking my dad in the stomach as he was lying in the street. He had had too much to drink. My dad was otherwise a good man, hard working, etc. But that night, cops kicked him in the stomach.
I have been arrested. I have been harassed by cops. I have also been rescued by cops. These are all hitchhiking stories I can tell you some day.
I have been in protest rallies. I have seen a cop go overboard with one of my fellow protesters.
And I'm just someone who chafes against authority. The blue uniform is a barbed wire fence and I come from a long line of people who throw themselves against barbed wired fencing, who are always on the outside looking in.
So that I am the one calling the cops rather than running from the cops is well ironic.
Police arrive surprisingly quickly. Maybe because others have called before me? Maybe not. Mayor Jose Torres had been holding one of his bread and circuses events nearby -- another three days of orange cones, stopped traffic, amusement park rides, fireworks, greasy food, and monstrously fat women in tube tops and short shorts dragging skinny kids in flip-flops. Maybe that fueled this. Maybe cops were close.
Screaming doesn't abate after cops arrive. Honking goes on.
I am watching from window in darkened apartment.
And this is what I see: a cop getting out of his car. In this maelstrom. In one of those cities where BLACK LIVES are snuffed out with regularity and NO RICH WHITE LIBERAL GIVES A DAMN or learns the names because ... these black lives are taken by other black lives.
Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Grey. See? I know all those names, from Kansas, NYC, Baltimore. I cannot tell you the names of the two black men shot to death in this exact spot I can see from my apartment window, because those two black lives were taken by a third black life. Killed by a black man? Your life does not matter worth a damn to anyone but your crying mother.
"Hands up don't shoot" "I can't breathe." I know all those quotes. I cannot tell you what the man who was stabbed to death on my doorstep said as he died, because he was an Hispanic stabbed to death by another Hispanic, so his life does not matter worth a damn to all the compassionate ladies whose hearts bleed for Michael Brown, thief, bully, and druggie.
Now, to understand this part, you have to understand how important speech is.
I do virtually nothing in Paterson, including take out library books -- I don't -- because people in Paterson can't speak. Guttural. Confused. Mishmash of English and Spanish and Urdu and anti white rage. "Do you sell mouthwash?" "Yes, here are our cups." "I'm looking for mouthwash." "Oh, you want mouse?" It's more than "I don't understand." It's "I'm not on that planet."
I am watching from my window in a darkened apartment, and this is what I see, and what brings it all home to me.
The cop gets out of his car.
Now, see, it's that simple.
There is chaos in the street. The street that saw two murders not long ago. There is inarticulate screaming, throngs, angry drivers, darkness. Who knows what weapons.
And the cop gets out of the car into *that.* Into incoherent screaming and rage and the land unreached by speech. We're still in that phase in 2001 where the bone is hitting the dry packed earth.
And I thought, my God, how much I would not want to be a cop.
And he is brave.