Patrick Sauer's Election Tour of New York Part Two: Queens and Staten Island
Corner of Springfield Blvd. & 97th Ave, Queens Village, Queens 12:30 p.m.
I’d never been to Queens Village, which is, as it turns out, a village in Queens. It’s part of the more suburban swath of the borough, the eastern edge of the city where people live in these mysterious domiciles called single-family homes. I went looking for a friendly neighborhood priest, I like talking to priests. I got a bit lost and stopped a young woman to ask for directions. While we’re at it...
“I voted for Obama. He’s the best for working families. I’m a nursing assistant and if Romney was elected, I would be scared.”
Sanda, 29, is from Haiti, she’s been in New York City for a decade. Apparently, paperwork doesn’t bother her. I ask her what I now realize is the actual question of the day.
“We lost power for seven days. We lived by flashlight. The response was OK maybe, but my little boy was so scared. He’s 1.5 and he’s afraid of the dark. I let him sleep next to me. We got through it.”
“Can I take your picture?”
“Oh, no!” Sanda was off, but she turned back and pointed me in the right direction.
Saints Joachim & Anne Church, 217-19 Hollis Ave. Queens Village, Queens 12:52 p.m.
Father Robert Robertson opens with a joke.
“I waited for an hour and a half, I thought I was finally getting gas, but they told me I was in the line to vote.”
The good padre mistakenly thought I wanted to talk about how his parish was affected by Sandy, so I decided to let it flow.
“We have a big complex here and it’s funny. I had light, but no heat, another priest had heat but no light, and a third had both. The school lost power and we didn’t think our 500 students would be back this week, but it came back on Sunday. Attendance in church has been down because nobody has any gas and they might not even realize we have heat.”
Fr. Robinson says his parish is primarily Haitian, with a fair number of Hispanics and a few old European holdouts. I ask him what it was like after the earthquake in 2010.
He took a long pause, choosing his words carefully.
“There is no comparison between the two events. Hurricane Sandy has been terrible, but the earthquake was deeply traumatic. I would ask parishioners and they would count on their hands, I lost nine, ten family members....
Another long pause.
“Four out of five of our community was affected by the earthquake. The sense of despair eclipses what we’re experiencing now. We took in a dozen or so refugees, gave them scholarships, but people go home and their families are living in tent cities with next to nothing. Over the past week, I’ve made the Freudian slip of saying ‘earthquake’ instead of ‘hurricane.’”
At this point, sitting in a quiet solemn room across from a true Man of God, Obama and Romney seemed a million miles away. But it is what I came for, and I did want Father Robinson’s thoughts on his brethren telling followers a Democratic vote bought them an express lane to Hell.
This ellicited a wry smile.
“I am not in a political party as neither entirely satisfies my moral requirements for doing the right thing,” said Fr. Robinson. “I do, however, follow the level-headed members of the Catholic hierarchy. My parish is mostly for Obama, but our prayers are totally neutral because I can understand that someone else may have different values. We pray for wisdom and prudence in the voting booth.”
If Fr. Robinson ever abandons the cloth, he should move to NSFW HQ, his poker face is righteous. When I press him a bit on his vote,
“I did vote this morning. Remember the joke about getting gas?
4 Express Train from Atlantic Station to Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan, 3:45 p.m.
I take a flier on the subway by standing and announcing that I am looking to speak with a Romney supporter. And, just like when our city's homeless and/or teenagers trying to raise money for their "youth basketball team," stand and ask for your attention, I was met with silence.
I sat back down, started dicking around on my phone, and I felt a slap on my knee. Thanks to years of subway etiquette, I didn't even raise my head while sliding over.
That's when a soft voice whispered to me, "I voted for him."
It took me a second to realize an actual Romney supporter had sidled up next to me, revealing her inner-secret, like we were in a rolling aluminum confessional.
Loraine, a strikingly lovely Guyanese woman, voted for Mitt Romney and doesn't want the world to know. Her Burberry bucket hat seemed like a disguise, which I found impossibly endearing. I inquired as to why she wanted Romney in the most ham-fisted way possible.
"Are you Mormon?"
"No," she laughed, "I just like what Mitt and Ann stand for."
"Is there something specific?"
"I don't want to say."
Oh, I get it. My new friend must be a religious type trapped in Sodom and Gomorrah. I surreptitiously type "Abortion," on my phone.
"Oh, I don't care about that," Loraine responded. "I just think Mitt Romney will do a better job than the economy. He won't win New York, but I think Romney is going to win. "
It's normally a cliche, but on Election Day, only in New York is voting for one of the two major parties a covert operation.
We chat for a few more minutes before the train stops at Bowling Green where I will get out to get the Staten Island Ferry. Loraine works in home healthcare for an elderly client on Park Avenue. (We may have cracked the Romney code.) She's been in the U.S. for 17 years, lives in Canarsie (Brooklyn), has four grown children, and two grandchildren. Our time together was short, but genuine sweetness like Loraine's is felt in the bones.
Too bad there's trouble on her home front.
"Voting for Romney, all my kids think I'm crazy."
Staten Island Ferry, let's say 4:15-ish
On this particular Election Day, riding the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty gave me an unusual burst of patriotic pride. Until I remembered that I never voted, and would you look at the fucking time, OhitssolateandthepollsaregoingtocloseandthebombisgoingtogooffandiwillnevergettovoteforBarackObamaagainandisuckasacitizenoftheseUnitedStatesofAmerica.
Sorry Lady Liberty, I truly am.
Every Thing Goes BookCafe, 208 Bay St. Tompkinsville, Staten Island 4:46 p.m.
My buddy Jay packed his two kids into the car and picked me up. I had planned on going to a pizzeria somewhere near the South Shore - the area hardest hit by Sandy - but between last Saturday at the Rockaways and today with Fr. Robinson, I yearned for a polar opposite Staten Island experience.
"There's a furniture shop near here owned and operated by a commune," Jay said.
"Drop me off there," I replied.
For whatever reason, the shopkeeper directed me to the Every Thing Goes BookCafe. They featured a "We Support Occupy Wall St." on the front door, so I was hoping for some angry radical Noam Chomsky burn-the-banks-to-the-ground shit. Nope. This place is much more "smile on your brother, everybody get together" than rage against the machine.
"I don't like having that sign there because it's exclusionary," said Katie, "We don't put up political signs because we want people to feel comfortable and welcome even if we don't always agree with them. "
Damn you people and your decency and niceness.
Katie is a store owner and member of the collective. The group also has a furniture store and a housing co-op, officially an "intentional community" not a commune. (Katie suggests visiting IC.org if you'd like to learn more.)
Katie didn't seem that interested in talking politics, and certainly not in the shouty-shouty way of people on television. She, like seemingly everyone else in the city, had more important things on her mind.
"In terms of priorities, the storm has taken over. It doesn't mean people aren't voting, but when lives are lost and property is destroyed, it becomes clear what's important," Katie said. "Our political system paints a picture of division, but there is a lot of common ground. People crossed party lines to help on Staten Island."
I still was hoping to draw out a little venom, a spittle of some anti-something. C'mon Katie, you live on Staten Island, the only borough that comes close to being called Republican. All I got was rationality and common sense.
"I'm happy to be an Obama supporter and I think the storm showed that the federal government, managed properly, is needed. FEMA is extremely important. I do wonder about those on the South Shore who would normally be voting for Romney, if they understand..."
Go with it, Katie. Spit fire, girl!
"No, I don't want to say that. I guess some people just have a gut instinct that Romney is better. "
Kumbaya, Katie. You are a kind soul.
On the way out, another owner, Steve (I think), asked if I was going to be "making jokes about this place."
Cultish? Kind of, but Confrontation, at last!
No need to worry Steve, you gave me free coffee and an iPhone charge in a time of need.
"Love one another right now, right nnnnooowwwww. "
Three boroughs complete. Next up, the Boogie Down Bronx.