Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Klan in Manhattan

Once, back when I was living in Brooklyn, a publicity-hungry branch of the Ku Klux Klan decided to hold a rally in New York City. According to the news stories, they were going to set up a stage near city hall and give all of Gotham an old-school redneck earful. They must have figured that they’d get a lot of television airtime by imposing themselves on the world’s media capital, and they were probably angling for more respect from their dipshit allies all across the racist right. After all, sheet-wearing is passe among even the frothiest of frothing dingleberries, and maybe they imagined they get brownie points from the cooler kids in the bigot scene if they dared to show their pointy hoods in our great Gomorrah of Jewish- Catholic- Black-Latin-Asian-Gay-Secular-Liberalness.

Now, I’ve always been drawn to the strange, the sick and the absurd. This event promised to exceed my wildest expectations in all three categories, so I made it a point to stop by. I didn’t have to work that day and city hall was just a brief subway ride away. I assumed the whole thing would be comprised of thirty dorks wearing their Holiday Inn linens, a few hundred curious New Yorkers, and fifty thousand cops protecting the first group from the second. This was pretty much the case, although I made the beginner’s mistake of forgetting to factor in the crazies. New York City is unsurpassed in the number, variety and impressiveness of its street crazies, and I should have known that an affair like this one would bring them out in droves.

Their presence swelled the crowd from the high hundreds into the low thousands. There were the shout-incoherently-at-cars guys who, thanks to the Klan, had suddenly been given the opportunity to shout incoherently at a whole new audience. There were the scary blank-stare people who make long subway rides home from the Bronx such a menace. There were the unshowered-chess-playing-misunderstood-geniuses, all of them eager to take this event and force it into their elaborate, conspiratorial worldviews. In fact, there were so many people jammed into that tight corner of Manhattan that I could only see the tops of the Klan’s silly hats. They seemed to have a few banners unfurled, but I couldn’t read them. They also had a public address system, but not a single word of their speeches carried past the phalanxes of police officers surrounding them. This was fine with me. I didn’t care to listen to pompous morons prattle on, I was there just to drink in the spectacle.

And what a spectacle it was. For awhile, I was hemmed in between an army of squawking pre-teen girls and the Lost Tribes of Israel. And, as anyone who’s spent time in any of the major East coast cities can tell you, I’m not referring to the Biblical Lost Tribes of Israel. No, I’m talking about the weird cult that shows up on street corners from Boston to Pittsburgh, issuing forth long, amplified, stream-of-consciousness rants intended to “prove” that the black man is the direct descendant of somebody-or-other and, consequently, holier than pretty much everyone else. For this occasion, they had gotten up in their best sparkly robes and brought with them a crudely rendered gallows, complete with a miniature klansman dangling from it. On the lynched doll’s chest, if I remember correctly, were the words “KLAN FAGGET!”. I watched them until they started to watch me and then I moved on. I find it’s in my best interest to avoid confrontations with that sort. I left the little girls to deal with them.

A little further on, I settled in among a more normal bunch of fellows. We stood on our tiptoes to have a look at the klansmen in the distance and shared witty banter along the lines of, “Can you believe these motherfuckers?” and “These motherfuckers are fucked up.” and “If all these motherfucking cops weren’t here, I’d be going apeshit on those backwoods motherfuckers”. It was all very merry and light-hearted, but soon I found I couldn’t keep up. I’m a nice Middle-West lad, after all, and it sounds ridiculous whenever I try to say “motherfucker” twice in a sentence. I didn’t want to be laughed at or, worse, be thought of by my fellow New Yorkers as one of those motherfuckers who felt the Klan didn’t deserve to be called “motherfuckers” fifty times in two minutes. So I excused myself and continued on along the fringes of the crowd, picking up all manner of strange literature along the way.

Eventually, I happened upon a surreal scene. A young black couple came along with a small child between them. “Do you want to see the Klan?” the father asked his son and the boy chirped back, “The Klan!”. As the wife stood beaming at the two of them, the dad hoisted the kid up onto his shoulders and pointed at the tiny stage way off in the distance. “There’s the Klan!” he said and the child squealed with delight. “They used to be bad, but now they’re just sorry,” the mother added. “The Klan! The Klan! The Klan!” the kid cried, an expression of pure joy on his face. “They’re pitiful, ain’t they?” the father asked, “They’re nothing to be scared of, right?” The mother yawned then and the father put the kid back down on the ground and together they strolled on, away from all the noise and commotion.

I left soon after. I had seen enough and I was starting to get hungry. I stopped at a hotdog vendor a few blocks down and bought a knish. While the grizzled old dude was making my change, I mentioned that the Klan was having a rally just up the street. He just handed me a couple of damp dollar bills and said, “I don’t want nothin’ to do with those assholes...” He had the right idea, I think.