From this angle all I can see are his boots, more particularly the black military boot, buckled in silver that is blocking my ability to finish my chalk drawing. It is three in the morning and I am about to be arrested. I am using chalk to draw out the blueprints of where the tents had been prior to the dismantling of the Occupy Wall Street encampment by the NYPD in Zuccotti Park. The park sits on a north to south slope just two blocks south of Wall Street and just above the site of Ground Zero. Surrounded by a modern black framed building to the east and a marble brick building remnant of opulent French architecture to the west, in the waking hours these buildings cast an almost permanent shadow over the park, chilling its cement degrees colder than the surrounding areas.
I am kneeling on the cement in what had been the Meditation Circle during the encampment. I can hear the echoes of chants and vaguely see the circle of brightly dressed meditators in my memory. Time has left a shadow imprinted upon me, a memory of the altar built of candles varying from glass cased Virgin Mary candles to hundreds of tea lights. I can recall the heavy smell of sage and frankincense. I can see the yoga mats laid out neatly across the cement. Now the red and deep grey cement forms a circle around a small yearling elm tree, which in turn is surrounded by cold steel blue benches. A lonely businessman sits with his briefcase open on his lap, his eyes blank for he is merely a statue. Directly across the street is a towering, two floor Burger King. Its familiar lighted logo helps cast light onto my drawings.
I had already drawn the blueprints of most of the park under the watchful and suspicious eyes of a crowd of twenty NYPD officers and their white shirted captain. What had been the drummer’s arena was to the east of the meditation circle. Before the eviction, bright clothed drummers had hammered in unison for hours upon hours during the day and into the night, while crowds of tourists swayed unconsciously to the ever present beat. In this mostly dark moment, however, it was an empty set of four stairs overlooking the street and the Burger King and pizza joint on the other side. From the former drummer’s circle you could look straight up and to the right and be humbled by the frame of the 9/11 memorial building. Heavy steel frames, mostly deep red were piled, it felt, as high as the eye could stand to look without looking directly into the sun. What seemed like hundreds and hundreds of feet up the memorial frame someone had spray painted Local 616 in fluorescent orange.
The center of the park had served as our makeshift kitchen, which served 10,000 free meals every day. It had been a bustling center of operations, but now it was quiet. Two cement chess tables complete with benches sat beneath where an eight by ten tent had covered them. Two ten foot wide circles stretched out around another pair of saplings, these with white glittering Christmas lights. In fact, the entire cement ground of the park had been laid with intermittent lights. Every ten feet or so what should have been just another floor brick was a thick glass cover to a floor lamp. It had the effect of making the park appear to be a chess board in the evening.
On the side facing Wall Street was the 15 meter tall sculpture of bright orange. I had never taken the time to look into its origins but had heard the rumors it was called “Liberty.” There was in fact a certain spot where one could stand where the humbling orange sculpture seemed to appear as a massive dollar sign towering over the business people who rushed to and from their workplaces every day. As I drew, I heard the sound of the falafel trucks closing down for the evening. In the days of the encampment there would be almost ten of them circling the park, each truck highlighted by massive photographs of meal options. In this moment, in the tense darkness, there were only a few left. One or two I could see out of the corner of my eyes, packing up their tools for the few hours before dawn.
Now, as I stared at the boot of the police officer, who informed me if I got any chalk on him I was going to be sorry, I tried to recreate the beautiful altar in the meditation circle. I drew dripping candles with flames, flowers and sets of beads. I knew my arrest was imminent and put my heart into the last few flower petals. I wasn’t facing the park, but from my kneeling position I could imagine the empty chessboard behind me. I vaguely hear the park official tell me stop, and the sound of police officers echoing his commands, but I wasn’t finished. As the police officers circled around me and the captain made his order, I held on to my chalk as tightly as I could.