The Big Apple
Neither my triumphant stroll on the Jersey side of the Hudson, nor the pleasant riverfront vistas I saw as the Ferry chugged toward New York adequately prepared me for what I encountered once I disembarked. New York City was almost unrecognizable. Gone was the crowded and energetic metropolis of wide sidewalks filled with people always hurrying somewhere. The city seemed almost deserted, as if this were a Sunday at 6:00 in the morning.
There was messy debris strewn all over the streets, and I saw many shuttered storefronts. Some had broken windows suggesting that violence had visited here recently. Several of them were pocked with bullet holes.
I had lived here years ago when I was a bookkeeper in Brooklyn. I knew quite a bit about the city. But this was no longer the place that had always excited me. This was NY, NY purged of diversity and dynamism. It was a city homogenized, like one big, plain Republican suburb.
Where was the wide swatch of humanity that ranged from street dwellers to the Rolls Royce set? Where were the people of varied ages, ethnicities, and races? What happened to the workers perpetually repairing the city streets? The shoppers crowding Macy's and those ubiquitous Chock Full o' Nuts diners? It was spooky. Certainly, this was no ghost town, but just as certainly it was a pale imitation of its former self.
A true sign of this new New York was the paucity of taxicabs and delivery trucks. Not quite traffic-less, but the streets were not gridlocked. From my earlier years, I remembered bicycle messengers flitting between pedestrians and traffic as if they were dancers in some kind of mechanized ballet; but I didn't see any bike riders this time. No pedi-cabs either—fewer people hailing taxis—buses, yes, but none bulging with passengers.
I had always been impressed by subway entrances in the Big Apple. They were like great viaducts with rivers of tough people cascading downward toward noisy underground caverns, just as counter-bursts of travelers flooded up from the darkness and onto to bustling streets. I didn't see such counter-streaming this time.
Above all, I missed the lines. People in New York City were always in lines: for tickets, for transportation, for restaurant seats, for restrooms, for museums, for cash registers, for service—always lined up waiting for "my turn." I saw no queues this time. Gotham appeared to be without purpose or the vitality to find one. This was not your father’s Midtown.
As I walked through the city I passed several police cars and military vehicles. Occasionally, I'd see a policeman strolling on the sidewalk, but most stood around in small groups talking to each other, not paying much attention to the passersby.
There were checkpoints that the authorities had established at various intersections, but these were easy to avoid. I preferred to remain as anonymous as possible, so I took the less-travelled streets and never encountered one checkpoint.
I felt grungy after my long trip, but I hoped that the soiled clothes, unkempt hair, and unshaven face would act as camouflage. If the authorities did have a photo of me, I sure didn’t look like that anymore. In my mother's favorite term, I looked like nobody owned me, and that's how I wanted it to be right now.
As I walked up 44th Street toward Broadway, I was struck by the theater scene. Nothing: no shows, ticket booths closed, some venues actually boarded up. I did see posters promoting current musicals and dramas, but those productions had apparently been cancelled. Even Sardi’s restaurant, the famous home of delicious pre-theater dining, was shuttered.
When I reached Times Square, however, matters changed dramatically. There I encountered a crowd of several hundred people, and the mood was festive. But Times Square wasn’t as I remembered it either. I recalled a place with mesmerizing displays of glowing neon and flashing light bulbs. This is where the Camel cigarette billboard pumped out smoke rings that floated over sightseers every few seconds, where massive billboards for Chevrolet and other national products were displayed in multi-colored incandescence, where movie marquees proclaimed the latest movie titles ranging from new family classics to hardcore porn.
But this evening it was all about political extravaganza. The JumboTron was showing Republican propaganda films and Public Service Announcements urging people to embrace Republican Party values. The news crawl that wormed its way around the ABC News studio revealed a string of GOP victories over liberals: Enemies of the State Crushed in St. Louis and New Orleans; Republicans in Full Control of California; Birch Greets His Commanders at the White House Following Democrat Capitulations in Oregon and Washington; Resistance in Chicago and Detroit Crumbling.
There was also a theatrical stage erected for the occasion. It stretched across Broadway and totally stopped pedestrian and vehicular movement. On the large platform a band played rock and roll classics while people in the audience danced or just cavorted in generalized happiness. It looked like a swingin’ Republican Love-In. A large, slightly-faded banner atop the stage proclaimed MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
Clearly, I had come upon a victory party, a celebration of an almost-total Republican triumph. And in the spirit of event, pretty white girls meandered throughout the crowd distributing political buttons with slogans appropriate for the time. One young lady pinned me with a button that said “O’Reilly Was Right.” I dared not remove it for fear of bringing attention to myself. Instead, I began dancing, feigning celebration, and appearing to be one of them.
The mood quickly shifted, however, when the music ended and spotlights began flooding the stage. Soon a Master of Ceremonies appeared and began introducing local celebrities and authorities who walked on stage. It was difficult to see the actual personalities when they appeared, but the entire affair was presented on the JumboTron, so it was easy to recognize the famous people. Many of them came from Fox News. I must admit that it was odd seeing a twenty-foot projections of Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, but there they were along with several others who were stationed at the network headquarters just a few blocks from here.
Between the spasms of applause, I overheard people excited about the highlight of the evening, the introduction to the city of its newly-appointed Mayor. As I understood it, the city had been without executive leadership since Mayor Al Sharpton, a Democrat, was arrested and shipped off to a reeducation camp in Arizona. In fact, through eavesdropping I learned that Democratic mayors throughout the country had been deposed and replaced with Republican appointees.
As excitement grew among those in the audience, a helicopter appeared in the eastern sky. It flew ever closer then swooped down toward us, apparently planning to land nearby. Within a minute the chopper made its way to a roped-off area at the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway. It landed with a great deal of noise and wind. I could see people leaving the craft and heading toward the stage while onlookers began applauding and screaming.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please,” the MC blurted out from the stage. “Are you ready? Are you ready for the moment we’ve all been waiting for—not for just this week, but for decades? It’s time to greet our new mayor, a true Red-State Republican Mayor—not a RINO like Lindsay, Giuliani, or Bloomberg. Arriving here fresh from his great victories over liberals in the West, please give a loud Big Apple greeting to the REPUBLICAN Mayor of New York City, General Jeffrey Spitz.
The crowd exploded with delirious joy. I, instead, felt a wave of nausea as I realized who had just flown in. The mad Commandant of Camp Limbaugh was now in charge of the greatest metropolis in the United States. If I needed renewed inspiration for my mission, seeing General Spitz imposed as mayor did the trick. Clearly, it was time for me to leave Times Square and move on toward the East River where the United Nations campus was located.
Inconspicuously, I wedged my way through the happy crowd and continued walking east on 44th Street. As I was leaving, on the JumboTron I glimpsed Mayor Spitz placing victory medals around the neck of Fox News commentators while he praised their contribution to the reactionary cause. The crowd, predictably, went wild with approval each time a name was called.
Along 44th Street, I passed many latecomers coming the other way, scrambling to reach the festivities. I seemed to be the only person leaving the event. I hoped that such deviation wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Within two blocks, however, the crowds dissipated and soon I was practically the only person on the street. It was nighttime now, so I avoided the street lights and walked near walls and closed storefronts.
That’s why the flash of light I encountered at 44th and Madison Avenue was so unexpected. But I crossed the intersection and kept going, puzzled somewhat by what that explosion of bright light meant. In less than a minute, however, I heard police sirens headed in my direction and a truck full of U.S. Army soldiers raced past me. Fortunately, I was partially hidden by a large tree. But it didn’t take long to realize that this commotion was all about me.
I moved faster now. Behind me I could see police cars with their lights sweeping left and right across 44th Street. I could also hear the rhythmic pounding of boots running along the pavement. I was now the hare and the hounds of Hell were coming fast.
I ducked into an alley, but the chase continued. Around buildings, down deserted alleys, across parks and deserted avenues I ran for my life. I lost all sense of geography. I just ran, not knowing where I was headed. I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t run directly into a police patrol or a truckload of soldiers. Still, the sirens, the lights, and the sound of boots followed me.
At the point of near exhaustion, I heard a female voice yell in my direction. “Hey, you, over here! Quickly. Quietly. Come here.”
I had no time to quibble, I just sped toward her voice in near panic.
“Quick, come this way. You have friends,” said a short middle-aged woman with a British accent. She motioned me to move quickly into an unlighted building nearby. I followed. We went downstairs to the sub-basement, then through a concealed passageway and down a long earthen tunnel. We walked at a rapid pace for about ten minutes.
“Very few people know of this place,” the woman said as she led me deeper and deeper in this unknown part of the city. I didn’t protest. As long as there were no authorities down here, it was OK by me. This woman had just saved my life and my mission.
Finally, she stopped. “You’re safe now,” she said. “The police won’t come down here.”
I thanked her and introduced myself by the first name I could think of, Frank Marciano from Las Cruces, New Mexico. She just smiled. “I’m Judy Patterson,” she said, “and you’re not Frank Marciano from Las Cruces, New Mexico. That’s an alias. We know who you are. You’re Michael Tenney, and we’ve been expecting you.”
“How do you know me? How did you learn I was coming?’ I asked with understandable amazement.
“We knew you’d be here. We had faith that you’d make it through enemy territory,” Judy replied. “Our world depends on it.
“When the flash of light went off at the intersection back there, we knew it must be you. You see, the Republicans have developed a foolproof identification system.
They feed a photograph of a wanted person into their traffic computers, and closed-circuit cameras go off whenever a person with those facial characteristics passes the sensors. An ingenious system, but they use it only for high-profile enemies. And since New York City has been purged of Democrats, it had to be you, the Last Free Liberal.”
“Well, I don't know about being the ‘Last Free Liberal,’ but I’m sure glad you found me. If you hadn’t, I’d now be the latest jailed liberal, maybe worse than that,” I said. “Thanks for risking your life for me. But, please, tell me where am I?”
“You’re among the Cave People. That’s what some New Yorkers call us. We just call ourselves The Beneath,” Judy explained. “Our turf is this elaborate expanse of tunnels and caves. They’re left over excavations from subway construction and urban renewal projects. Several hundred people live down here. Rent’s free, I might add,” she said with a smile.
“It’s amazing. You even have electric lights,” I observed.
“We tap into the city’s electric lines,” she continued, “just as we tap into the water mains for drinking, cooking, and bathing. We’re also organized for obtaining supplies. We go to restaurants and get uneaten food from their kitchens. We find our clothes at Salvation Army and Goodwill outlets. Our mattresses and blankets come from above, too. Some of us panhandle for cash, others actually work in salaried jobs. But all income goes to maintenance of this cooperative arrangement we’ve set up.”
I was impressed at the survival skills The Beneath demonstrated. And while not perfect, these subterranean digs were tolerable. “You’re welcome to stay here as long as necessary,” Judy added.
“Who lives here?” I asked. “What’s their future?”
“We’re a little bit of everything, Mr. Tenney,” Judy explained. “We have a handful of liberals who are hiding from the great purge going on Upstairs. There are street people here with no political agendas. There are even a few liberal Republicans alienated by what their Party has done to the country. Name the gender, race, ethnicity, profession, sexual preference: they’re all represented among The Beneath. From grade-school dropouts to Ph.D.’s, everyone finds solace here.”
“Why don’t the police and the military just raid this place and close it down?” I asked.
“It doesn’t seem to be worth the price,” she remarked. “It would take too many resources to fight here. We know this complex of caves like the backs of our hands. The cops, they’re clueless. We have weapons, too. Lots of people would die. And besides, most of us are not political, we don’t care who runs the country.
“All this weighs against a police assault. They know we exist somewhere underground, but where we are, specifically, and what the final cost of a raid would be, these are unknowns that must cause the authorities to leave us alone. Unless, of course, they catch us Upstairs. They’re always looking for us up there.
Her explanation seemed plausible enough. But, I calculated that once the city was fully pacified and the reeducated Democrats returned to cooperate within the new order, the police and military would eradicate the underground community. There were few things conservatives hated more than inefficient human clutter.
“What are you plans now that you’re safe in New York,” she inquired. “Is there something we can do for you? We would be honored to work with you.”
I was touched by the support Judy was pledging. Without many specifics, I carefully explained to her the essence of my mission, stressing the importance of reaching the Turkish Embassy at the United Nations. “I must meet a contact there, or else my efforts will be wasted,” I remarked.
“That’ll be a tough assignment. Access to the United Nations building and the various embassies has been severely restricted by the Republican authorities,” Judy warned. “That section of town—now called the International Settlements—extends for only a few blocks around the U.N. building which is on 44th Street between First Avenue and the East River. The place is crawling with military people. There’s a virtual wall of armed men and women keeping Americans away from foreign diplomats, and keeping foreign diplomats away from the new conservative arrangement.
“And with Navy ships anchored in the East River, the U.N. building is totally surrounded. When you add complete censorship of communications into and out of the U.S., you understand how the United Nations has become a political island blockaded from the rest of the United States. People of the world are dying to know what’s happening in here, but the flow of information has totally dried up.
“By the way,” Judy added, “who’s your contact at the Embassy of Turkey? Maybe we can get him to come here instead of you going there?”
I sidestepped the question, preferring to keep to myself the name of Dr. Hadiye Ataturk, and the fact that she was a woman. I also failed to volunteer any details of the blueprint inside TC-Two. I felt that the less people who knew about the plan, the better it was for everyone involved. Plus, why would I want to burden Judy Patterson with my contact’s name or details of the master plan, especially if something went wrong? She'd be tortured for information. So, as long as Professor Watanabe’s pouch was still around my neck, its contents would remain exclusively mine.
Nonetheless, Judy’s bravery in rescuing me and her graciousness in providing shelter allayed my anxiety about living underground indefinitely with people I didn’t know. But that night, this latter concern evaporated.
After showing me to the cave where I was welcome to stay, Judy introduced me to some of her friends and fellow Beneath residents. Who knew Cave People could drink so much wine. Following the consumption almost a case of delicious pinot noir, we became a friendly fraternity of the oppressed.
There were so many aggrieved people here, especially the former school teachers and social workers. They discussed the city bureaus for which they worked and how conservatives used privatization of city services as the pretext for discharging most civil servants.
De-liberalization became so intense in reactionary New York City that before turning all public schools over to private companies, petty local Republicans even changed the name of any school called after a prominent Democrat. Among the city’s high schools, for example, Grover Cleveland High School became Chester A. Arthur High, and Eleanor Roosevelt High became Callista Gingrich High School. Good-bye Edward R. Murrow, Harvey Milk, and all the Kennedys. And public schools named after prominent African-Americans were renamed for black Republicans. Names of high schools honoring Martin Luther King, A. Phillip Randolph, W.E.B. DuBois, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Paul Robeson were changed. Only Frederick Douglass High School made the cut because Douglass had been a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln.
There was real animus against the conservatives down here. I was assured that no one preferred living underground to living Upstairs, but conservatives detested city workers so much they wanted them driven out of the model society they were building. Living underground was for these people much safer than trying to assimilate into the new reactionary utopia.
One man who was particularly upset with Republican politics was Bradley Red Leaf. He introduced himself as a full-blood Indian, Mohawk and Shinnecock by ancestry and one heck of a computer engineer by profession. Brad had been driven below during the first days of the Federal Orthodoxy Law. He lived here for now, but he spoke passionately about returning to the dignity of Upstairs. He talked about tribal and personal assets seized by conservative usurpers. He vowed to take revenge against Republicans some day. I was impressed by his anger and the energy he seemed to draw from it.
It was Brad who persuaded me to begin writing this present manuscript as a permanent record of the demise of the United States as we had known it. Since I planned to hide underground for a few days while I devised a scheme to get into U.N., he suggested that sharing my experiences might set the record straight. As he explained it, my testament could act as an antidote to the right-wing propaganda that would inevitably flow from court historians, those sycophantic journalists and other writers who surrounded President Birch and published only praise for his administration. I actually began composing this present manuscript shortly after Brad mentioned the idea.
Members of The Beneath provided me considerable assistance. As well as living accommodations, they loaned me a laptop and a lamp, two indispensible requirements for any writer. Sitting on my mattress for hours on end, I found it remarkably easy to organize my thoughts in book form.
Still, composing this testament has not been without incident. Several times during the process, Judy Patterson visited my cave. She seemed eager to see what I had already composed, even offering to edit the manuscript for me. As friendly as she was, I still declined her offer. This was my project, and mine alone, I explained to her. She understood, or so I hoped.
Two days after I began writing, I had reason to go upstairs to the real New York City. Brad came with me. I just needed a reality fix, a breath of fresh air and a glimpse of the sunshine. Living in a subterranean cavern can be depressing. Again, however, I was not foolhardy while in the open. I moved as unobtrusively as possible, careful this time not to trigger any hidden cameras. I checked each intersection for closed circuit cameras and changed course when I detected anything resembling a photo trap.
When Brad and I returned to the underground, I sensed that someone had been tampering with my laptop. The computer was not exactly as I had left it, and there were smudge marks on the case that did not come from my hands. Moreover, I had left the machine on “Sleep” mode, but I now found it turned off completely. Fortunately, my files were not disturbed, probably because the curious party couldn’t have known or guessed my password. Nevertheless, someone had tried to enter my computer.
Judy Patterson came to mind immediately. This was probably because I had always wondered about her unique interest in what I had been writing. The seed of doubt quickly took root in my mind. Her persistent curiosity about my work; her eagerness to read the manuscript; her willingness to edit for me; and her frequent questioning about my progress: all of these coincidences got me thinking.
I also recalled her probing for details about my United Nations contact. Why was she so inquisitive? Everyone else down here minded his or her own business. Was Judy just being nosey, or was she seeking information for another purpose, perhaps an insidious purpose?
Conspiracy scenarios ran through my mind. What if she were a spy? How perfect would that be for the police: the cops don’t raid underground because they have a mole down here who was already revealing secrets, naming names, and keeping the authorities aware of what was happening below the pavement? Maybe she was a counterspy employed by the Feds—the Pentagon? CIA? Secret Service? Then again, since no one outside the United States knew exactly what was happening here, maybe she was an agent for a curious foreign government which could be foe or friend. After all, she did have a British accent. Then again, perhaps she was simply a political activist—working within a Republican group or as a lone wolf—trying to undermine the last vestiges of liberal resistance.
Rather than confront Judy directly, I decided to lay a trap. Later that day, after writing for several hours, I placed the laptop on my mattress and covered it with a pillow. Brad then rigged up a miniature TV transmitter and aimed it directly at the hidden computer. The camera’s transmission was viewable on his cell phone. Brad and I then announced that we were going upstairs for a little night air. Instead, we retreated to a remote area of the cavern and waited.
Unfortunately, I was right. About fifteen minutes after leaving my cave, we saw Judy enter and begin searching for my laptop. When she found it, she pulled it from under the pillow and turned it on. Then she placed a flash drive in the side of the computer. “I’ll bet she’s trying to defeat your password protection with Crack,” whispered Brad. “I recognize that software. Crack is a sophisticated program of algorithms and mathematical equations that can decipher any protective code, written or verbal. Even the Choctaw Code Talkers in the First World War and the Navajo Code Talkers in World War II would have been understood by our enemies if this technology existed back then.”
We moved quickly to confront Judy before she could exploit her advantage. As we entered my cave she already had her cell phone out and was photographing the laptop screen. She froze when we interrupted her, then surrendered her cell phone and walked away embarrassed yet defiant. She offered no explanation or apology.
No one living in the caves had the legal right to arrest Judy, although we discussed what to do with her. Banishment was as severe and The Beneath could get in punishing those who betrayed their community. So, a group of residents simply escorted Judy to the hidden entrance and commanded her to leave for good. She departed, I understand, with tears in her eyes. Unfortunately, I never learned for whom she was working or if any of my manuscript was compromised.
But with Judy above ground and possibly making contact with police or military agencies, I had to move quickly. A police raid might happen any time. I had to implement my plan to reach the United Nations now…tonight.
Copyright © 2012 J. Fred MacDonald - All Rights Reserved.