ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 20Morning dawned cold and clear. Light rains had blown through during the night, leaving the new day suffused with that certain gelid, golden quality. Sept. 11 weather.
From my bivouac in a forest near the crosses of Arlington, I’d had hours to safely observe the Federal District by night, protected by the natural barrier of the Potomac, watched by the flaring, red eyes of the spectral, hooded figure of the Washington Monument.
No car, no friends, no plan–perfect.
I slipped through the lines under the stern gaze of fascist eagles and grotesque equestrian statuary of the Arlington Bridge and, after coffee and a bagel, I’m at the Beast: the IMF building on Pennsylvania–all Jersey wall and scary cops, the slumbering homeless under a bus shelter, and me.
The limos glide through the check-point.
This old bird sidles up–white bozo hair, a ruined suit, no socks, no shoestrings, carrying a plastic jack-o’-lantern. “Who are you?”
“A mouse. Who are you?”
He holds his jack-o’-lantern up. “Diogenes.” he says, “Want a PayDay?”
“Ron Rosenberg, attorney-at-law.” Man-oh-Manischewitz. Legal representation.
The smell of blood is in the air; Ron’s chumming. Friday, the cops suckered an unpermitted bike brigade into Freedom Square. Clang went the steel box, and then a club-wielding wine-press squeezed the bikers, the dog walkers, the crossword puzzlers, the smelly hippies playing guitars, everyone, into a chute–guilty or not. “You get arrested illegally, 60 percent for you, 30 percent for me.”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“You mean, I could walk out of here with …”
“Six grand,” he said, rubbing his fingers together.
“Do tell?” The fates have hooked me up with a minor legend, this mean-ass Jewish lawyer from Philadelphia: big coal labor cases of the ’60s, civil rights battles, four broken ribs in Augusta, Ga. I latch on like a tick.
“Three for three in front of the Supreme Court. American Federation of Musicians versus Carroll–cross between a Bar Mitzvah and a court proceeding. Marshall told my mother she would have to sit up. I hope you have a green card, miss,” he says to a Wackenhut guard in front of the IMF. I check some Russian bigwig’s ID. A cop snarls at me.
Ron knows everybody: the Bird Lady, who had been camping in front of the White House since 1981; Richard, there since 1997, “Got tired of the corporate life,” he says.
We get shoelaces at the CVS. He gets in a fight with the clerk. “People sometimes use nice language in America,” he says to her. Outside, he sits on a Cadillac.” I’ll admit, I can get confrontational.” He installs his shoestrings and tosses the wrapper in the gutter. “I was at a dinner with Rabin and some people from the embassy. Told them things they didn’t want to hear. ‘Self-hating Jew’ they called me. Only when we were alone, would he talk. Only when we were out of earshot. Rabin said, ‘You’re an interesting man.’ Let’s get some coffee.” It’s one closed café after another. “These people, afraid of a little trouble. C’mon, Ebbett’s is always open.”
Ebbett’s is dark and old and absolutely reeks of power. “Can my journalist friend come in?” The maitre’d is wary, decked out as I am in a crusty Sonic Youth T-shirt, women’s sunglasses and scandalously disfigured Mickey Mouse ears, the odor of the woods. “Certainly,” he smiles slightly. “The dining room, Mr. Rosenberg?”
“I’ll eat at the bar.” Ron has poached eggs. I have a coffee and Maker’s Mark. It’s 9 a.m.
“We were Terkels. They changed the name at the last moment at Ellis. Viking and the Irish they kidnapped. I told this Russian countess once, ‘I’m a shyster, a trickster and a Jew. That won’t affect our relationship, will it?’ Look at this,” he says, holding up a blazing white forearm, “does this look Semitic? What is a Jew, anyway?”
I ask him about yesterday’s arrestees.
“They’ll rot,” Ron says.
“What about habeas corpus?”
He actually laughs. “Habeas corpus? They think you’re ordering pizza. Unless they cough up the cash, they’ll sit there ’til Monday. You can’t get a writ of habeas corpus during the weekend in D.C. No judges.”
“You’d think the feds would know the game.”
“Oh, they know,” he chuckles.
I query him about corporate personhood: the 14th amendment, the Slaughter House cases, the Waite court of 1886, and Santa Clara versus the Southern Pacific Railroad, The Hayes-Tilden fiasco. Plessy v. Ferguson. He gets years and decades right, centuries off.
“You understand the crux of the issue. All these big corporations could be knocked to their knees with a lawsuit. Corporate personhood is a legal fiction. Brandeis knew it. Black knew it. The Waite court was bought and paid for by the corporations. It would be a good case. Winning,” he said, grimacing, “under this court, would be impossible … ” Ron sits ruminating. “Lincoln was a railroad lawyer, you know? Illinois Central.”
The march is beginning to form up.
“Saddle up, pardner,” I say. “Time to get busy.”
“Lemme pee. I’ll see ya outside.”
We stroll down 15th.
“You know where we’re going?”
“Just follow the helicopters,” I say.
“You look like you oughta be playing football or something,” he says to this huge cop.
“Linebacker, Steelers, early ’90s. This trick or treat?”
“Yes.” Ron holds out a PayDay.
“Naw. Gotta watch my figure.” Dude probably weighed 300 pounds under all the radios, guns, black ballistic nylon and Kevlar.
Down at the Washington Monument, the tourists are outnumbered by the thousands of masked, tattooed, kids.
“The Children’s Crusade.”
“No, this is like the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The Platinum Brigade,” he says, holding up an invisible credit card.
“Trustafarians,” he laughs. “Let’s throw some rocks.” Ron’s serious.
Soon he is down slope doing the electric boogaloo with some tattooed love child. It morphs into a Jewish folk dance–lotta soul for an old dude.
The parade forms up and we are separated. The boisterous mob lines down 15th, past the worried faces pressed against the glass at Ebbett’s.
The column lurches and stops, while the organizers haggle with the cops. Then we are in Farragut Square. Effigies are hung from the Admiral and set ablaze; the flames and the smell of smoke arouse the crowd. Nappy Dreadlock produces a U.S. flag.
“Not here,” a march organizer argues. “That is all the people in Iowa will see. It’ll hurt the cause.” An intense debate develops. “I agree with your right to burn a flag, but this isn’t the place.” CNN has a camera fixed on the flag. Eventually it is settled: No flag burning today. The crowd erupts in whistles and cheers. Debate. Consensus. What a concept.
But, Lord, I’ve been walking and sleeping in the woods for two days. My container is weary. I sit heavily on a curb.
“Who are you?” this beautiful woman asks.
We chat and wander. Just a pleasant little stroll down the cop-choked streets, around the yelp of sirens. Back at the IMF, the situation has gotten tense. Some kids got popped wiring up an incendiary device in an alley. I sense a kill box forming up and I am right. The announcement goes out and a third of the kids flush like quail. We punch out to a nice supper at Dupont Circle.
“So where are you going?” Solveig asks.
“What do you mean?”
“I walk until I get tired. Then I lie down.”
She wants to take me back to Frederick, Md., but she has a houseful. “I hate leaving you like this, here.”
“No sweat. Little old mouse always find a little corner to curl up in somewhere.”
I am alone in this city I do not know. I head back to the safety of that Virginia forest.
On the Metro, I sit next to this blond kid. He has a fresh copy of Nobel Prize winning, maverick IMF economist Joseph Stiglitz’s book Globalization and Its Discontents. “I haven’t seen that yet.”
“I didn’t even know anything about this stuff until yesterday,” the kid says.
“I got arrested.”
“Yup. Held me for 19 hours. Never told me what for. My friends got the whole thing on tape. I was just down from New Hampshire.”
“They read you your Miranda?”
“Tell you what, write down this phone number.”