Taking Our Time
“Attention: it is now 11:30. The park will close at midnight. You have thirty minutes to leave the park.”
The three of us–Roger, Billy and me—could leave this park in two minutes, in any direction. It’s a small neighborhood park. But after those instructions blare from the loudspeaker on the golfcart-sized vehicle with its headlight pointed at us, we agree it might take us longer leave to the park. Thirty-one minutes at least.
“Why leave the park at all?” Billy exclaims. “We should kick their asses. Remind them this curfew is bullshit.”
“True enough,” Roger answers, “though we’d get ours kicked much worse.”
Roger got arrested the night the police ran everybody out of the park. Everybody — the punk band, their boisterous audience, the homeless encampment, and every random bystander. Roger was released without charges a few hours later, as were most people arrested there that day.
The next day, the city built a fence around the park as fast as anything gets built in this city. For renovations, they said. Park benches got more armrests so no one could sleep on them. The city removed the stage that the band had played on (and Jimi Hendrix, Sonic Youth, and many others over the years). When the city reopened the park a few weeks ago, it was with a curfew. For a park that never had one, in a neighborhood full of night owls, many of us took it as a challenge.
“One rock,” Billy continues. “One rock on the side of their golf cart. Just to remind them. A lucky shot could take out that floodlight they shined in our eyes.”
We go back and forth on this question for too much of the next half hour. We’ve got a guitar, we should be sharing songs right now. Roger’s are great, like a punk Woody Guthrie. Mine are a mess but I want him to hear some. Billy plays with a band. He would have an album out by now, but the producers who were interested got scared off for the same reason we love his shows: every moment’s a surprise. He might switch songs halfway through, start shouting at a passerby, or even try to climb a wall. Which should make me nervous when he talks about throwing a rock.
“You could throw it,” Roger answers, “but they’ve got spare headlights at the precinct on the next block, right? Golf carts too.” This is how Roger calms Billy down. Concedes he can do anything anytime, and envisions nothing changing from it. Billy sounds a wordless grumble to suggest he’ll think about it.
11:55 and the loudspeakers repeat. The golf cart’s headlight keeps returning to us, since we are among the last people in the park. It’s so bright that I can’t tell how many people are riding it toward us. We walk but we take it slow. No one can say we are not leaving. As we approach the park entrance, ten cops on each side of us tell us to get a move on, their voices a mix of calm and commanding. If I were older I might feel for the cops – how they’ve been assigned to change this neighborhood into a place they can’t afford to live. I might ask them to give us more space, to reassure them that we’re leaving, and we need not argue as to whether it is 11:59 or 12:01.
Billy does have a rock in his jacket, a good size to throw. But even Billy knows we can’t stop the neighborhood’s rent from quadrupling, scattering us past the park, to other boroughs, upstate, and points beyond, as the city finally repairs these streets, for its new residents. All we can do is move slow, nonchalant but tough, and steal back this crumb of time, one minute after midnight.
Jonathan Segol’s first writing was as a songwriter in New York and as a journalist for Street News. He now teaches writing at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY and has just finished a coming-of-age novel about chop shops, Coney Island, graffiti, and Y2K.