Every neighborhood has its characters in New York City, and in my father’s Queens location there is a guy I know as Wild Bill. I do not know his real name, nor do I feel compelled to find out, but WB (as some of the local kids call him) is an eccentric, slightly scary, and infinitely funny old coot who walks around in a trench coat even in the summer. I am sure he is not homeless because he is never unclean, but I have no idea where he lives. He has been spotted getting on and off a city bus with a cup of Starbucks coffee, so I figure he has some source of income to keep him in grande cappuccinos and Metro Cards.
After not seeing him for a rather long time, I ran into him yesterday and noticed the copy of the New York Times under his arm wrapped in the iconic blue plastic. I started thinking maybe he swiped it off a lawn somewhere, but the cup of java in his other hand made me think not. The best way to describe WB is that he looks kind of like Nick Nolte when he got arrested that time for drunk driving. His eyes dart back and forth over the aviator sunglasses he wears on the end of his nose, a cigarette is always in his mouth, and it seems as if he is always nervous and wants to keep moving.
On this beautiful day WB was very animated as he told me that he quit Zuccotti Park. I asked him why and he said, “Man, the pigs ruined the party for me, took away my tent, but some people are going to stay until the frost is on the pumpkin and Santa comes out of the ice and snow and brings them nothing but coal.”
Okay, WB is a little creative but he is honest as far as I know. He went on to say that he had some friends there and ate very well for a long time. He didn’t say whether he was committed to the OWS cause or that he just wanted free eats, but then he has told me about his “hippie past” spent in San Francisco where he protested all the time, mostly against the war in Vietnam. Later, he came here to New York “to protest everything from A to Z.”
He says that he knew Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Tom Hayden and admits to getting arrested more times than he can remember. He also says “My brain is more fried than an egg on a Manhattan sidewalk in July.” I do recall many years ago seeing him walking around with a black T-shirt with “LSD” on it in big white letters; therefore, I think WB is ostensibly telling the truth, or at least the way he remembers things.
I asked him if he felt that the protesters would really stick it out over the winter, and he said, “The core will, man. They are committed. They don’t care if the pigs come in there with a tank; they’re going down fighting.”
We talked a little while longer and, as our conversation was ending, I asked WB if he was going back to Zuccotti Park any time soon, and he said, “No man, the thrill is gone.”
I asked where he was going, and he looked around and then pointed up to the sky, and I started thinking the worst until he opened his trench coat and revealed a Hawaiian shirt. Now, looking more like Nolte in that picture than ever before, he said, “Don’t worry, brother, I’m taking a flight to paradise. See you in the funny papers.” Off WB went in the brilliant sunshine, sipping coffee and carrying that New York Times. In that instance I suddenly understood that WB was a summer soldier and a sunshine patriot, and he seemed not to have a problem with that; neither did I.
If Zuccotti Park is still occupied come the spring, maybe WB will return to the fold, or perhaps he will join Occupy Honolulu or something like that. No matter, the neighborhood will be less colorful without him in the days ahead.
Happy trails, WB. Happy trails.
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