Let's Vote on It

Tompkins Square Park was the site of a tree-planting ceremony in honor of Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg lived on East Tenth Street, bordering the park, for 30 years before his death in 1997. I went, even though I was, and still am, ambivalent about him. Thirty people were there. One of the poets who organized the event took the mike. He started to talk about Ginsberg; the tree planted for him; Ginsberg’s name on a plaque; and the importance of Tompkins Square for the neighborhood. A woman standing on the sidelines screamed: “Allen would’ve hated this, he would’ve hated what’s happened to the park.” In 1989, the park was closed for more than a year, maybe two, after the City forcibly evicted squatters and homeless people from it. There was a terrible, violent confrontation, and, ever since it reopened, cleaned up and refurbished, the police surround the park every May Day, expecting trouble. The poet tried to continue, but the woman kept shouting, then demanded to speak at the mike. “Let her,” someone yelled. “Get her out of here,” someone else yelled. Quickly, the organizers decided we’d all vote on it: three minutes, yea or nay. She got them. I couldn’t stay and left thinking how democratic it all was, how right that a worthy ceremony turned into a fractious happening, an existential monument to Ginsberg. It was complicated and funny, too, like living inside a New York joke: “A Jew, an Irishman, and a black man walk into a bar. The bartender says: Is this a joke?”

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