The sky was grey and the air was cool.
I walked over Ashmont Hill with a black backpack heavy with paper. I had some drawing paper and crayons and pencils and pens. I had about twenty old issues of Workers Vanguard. I had the day off and I was going downtown to take some pictures of Workers Vanguard in newspaper boxes.
I’ve been downtown in Boston a lot lately. Workers at seven hotels are on strike and I have marched with them and raised my fist in the air. I have also distributed Workers Vanguard and talked to workers about the paper and about the strike. I also brought some back issues of Workers Vanguard.
I rode the subway train into Boston with a clipboard on my lap to copy a drawing from ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ In the cellar lined with bricks two men face a wall piled with bones.
I rode through the dark tunnels at 10:10 in the morning. I had a backpack filled with the revolutionary newspaper Workers Vanguard. Yesterday I had gone to the striking hotel workers picket lines and given my last current issues of Workers Vanguard to union members in the line. A picture I had taken at the ‘W’ Marriott hotel near the central Boston Public Library was featured with a story about the strike. I would have gone back to join the labor union picket lines if the picket lines weren’t so noisy. The UNITE HERE Local 26 union seems to have loud noise from banging drums and chants through bullhorns as their signature. I wear earplugs, and even wore noise deadening earmuffs, but the noise still rings in my ear long after the picket line is over.
I noticed that I had about twenty back issues of Workers Vanguard on a shelf. The articles are still relevant because Workers Vanguard has a magazine style length to stories that are ‘think’ pieces, not just a current report of the news. The writers try to highlight Marxist principles and working class guidelines. The articles should stand the test of time. As I flipped through the somewhat yellowed stories I noted that the issues were all from about 2011 to 2012. I guess I left them on an isolated shelf. I usually try to pass on issues of Workers Vanguard so that as many people as possible can see the paper.
I had an impulse to simply toss the old papers into the recycle bin. Who wants yesterday’s papers? But…each issue of Workers Vanguard could be an intellectual awakening for the right person. Years ago someone gave me an issue of Workers Vanguard that had an article on the conflict in Northern Ireland. I read the long piece in one sitting and then read the long article again. The next morning I mailed a subscription to Workers Vanguard.
So, I know the power a well written article in a revolutionary newspaper can have.
Years ago I had been around the Socialist Workers Party who had a newspaper called ‘The Militant.’ The people in the SWP castigated the Spartacists and Workers Vanguard because the Spartacists opposed a separate nation for black Americans, the Spartacists opposed gun control, and the Spartacists did not oppose nuclear power plants. But, in my mid twenties I began to meet people who explained the Spartacist ideas with more sympathy. One of the people I talked politics with gave me the copy of Workers Vanguard with the ideas on Northern Ireland. After reading that I sympathized with the Spartacists and Workers Vanguard, and not the SWP and The Militant.
I was carefully drawing the cobble stone floor of the cellar that Poe described in the Cask of Amontillado. Brick by brick the wall curved up as I went from light to dark as the train moved from the grey light of the day to the underground tunnel and the darkness through the window glass. There was lots of space on the train at mid morning. I had three seats to myself. I was drawing with a mechanical pencil with thick lead. The lines were not heavy, but I could scan the drawing later and thicken up the lines.
When I went to the strike picket lines yesterday at the Westin Copley Hotel across from the library the line looked pretty big with more than twenty or thirty people circling with signs and banging orange five gallon buckets in a rhythm. They made no attempt to stop the cars driving up to the front door on a ramp. The strikers parted politely as their picket line was crossed.
I located a newspaper box with a plexiglass display window right outside the library’s Boylston Street entrance. I slipped my finger to loosen the plastic clip that holds the paper tight and put a Workers Vanguard paper in to be displayed.
I walked down the street past the various people in front of the election day polling station set up in the Boston Public Library. A group of three people were holding signs advocating a ‘Yes’ vote on Question #3 protecting transgender rights. A lone man stood with a ‘Charlie Baker’ sign boosting the Republican governor of the state for re-election.
I looked up at the brownstone intricacy of Old South Church across from the library.
A group of rough looking homeless people were sitting on a ledge near the Green Line subway entrance. Next to the subway entrance near a bus shelter there were about four plastic newspaper boxes with display windows. I put three more Workers Vanguards on display.
There are a number of food stands in Copley Square and I walked past to some newspaper boxes to the side. Some say that Trinity Church, in Copley Square, is the most beautiful building in Boston.
One of my socialist activist friends said he liked the modern building behind the church.
I walked down the street past the building at 500 Boylston. An architecture critic said that the building looked ‘like an opera set’ when it was built some years ago. I think the aging process has added a little gravitas to the building and it doesn’t look like a stage construction anymore.
I put some papers in the boxes at Arlington Street Station.
I just happened to pull out an issue on Gay Rights when I was using the Bay Windows news box. Bay Windows is a gay oriented weekly publication.
I looked across at the Public Gardens and the fall colors on the trees. The pictures I found on Google Maps to illustrate this piece are from a warm sunny day. Today was a cold grey day. I had a hood and gloves to warm myself with my jacket zipped to the top.
Walking down Boylston Street was pleasant. How nice to be in the city with time to simply stroll along the sidewalk looking for free newspaper boxes.
I passed by the Edgar Poe statue and a curiosity shop on Boylston Street across from Boston Common. I thought of taking a picture of the Poe statue, but my battery had died earlier. I saw a little girl of about ten taking pictures of the statue with her family standing by. She squatted down and got a closeup of the raven.
In my backpack, on my clipboard, was the drawing from one of Poe’s stories. And here he was in the street in metal. The man died when he was in his forties over a hundred and fifty years ago. Poe was born in Boston, and a part of him is still living on the streets of Boston.
I lingered looking in the shop window of the curio shop. I dare not go in, or I would be tempted to buy something. I have enough curios in my home already. More than enough. I have a fake Raven to remind me of Poe’s poem.
Outside the Masonic lodge I put some Workers Vanguards to illuminate the illuminati.
Would something about Quebec be esoteric enough for them?
I went down Tremont Street and then down Avery Street to see the strikers at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. There was a group of maybe a dozen picketers marching with signs and banging their drums. I had joined that line yesterday. I had no current papers to offer them today.
I went around the corner to watch the strikers picket line in front of the ‘W’ Marriott hotel on Stuart Street. I had a ‘gift card’ for the Panera Bread restaurant and found the tables by the window a great view of the street, and the strikers.
As I ate I read the Workers Vanguard report on the hotel workers strike. The article emphasized that the strikers were not trying to stop deliveries or people from crossing the picket lines. The strikers and their leadership are relying on public sympathy. Good luck with that.
I thought about Poe’s short story ‘The Man of the Crowd.’ In the tale a man is sitting in a restaurant in London watching the crowd go by outside noting the different characters and imagining their backstory. He spots a strange short man with a crafty look to him. On impulse the narrator leaves the restaurant and follows the man as he makes his way across London over a number of hours. The short wiry dark haired man of about sixty seems to fit in everywhere and speaks to all kinds of people, upper class, and the lowest of the low.
I first read that story in college on the recommendation of a Marxist professor who I seem to remember saying that London was the character. I’ve wondered about the story and gone back to the work many times over the years. Who is the little old man who goes all over the town and seems to slip by without people noticing?
In describing the man, the narrator “describes a set of contradictory characteristics: ‘there arose confusedly and paradoxically within my mind, the ideas of vast mental power, of caution, of penuriousness, of avarice, of coolness, of malice, of blood-thirstiness, of triumph, of merriment, of excessive terror, of intense – of supreme despair’. The man’s dress, too, is contradictory: his linen is dirty but ‘of beautiful texture’, and through a tear in his cloak the narrator glimpses a diamond and a dagger.’
I don’t have any diamonds unless I look up a picture of one on my phone. But, I was stopped going into Boston City Hall yesterday because I had a knife on my belt.
After thinking about the Poe story for many years it suddenly dawned on me that I was like the character in ‘The Man of the Crowd.’ I travel around the city, among rich and poor, high class, and workers, and I manage to slip through.
As I ate and read I watched the picket line across the street as the signs moved in a circle and the drums thumped on. I took a picture a few weeks ago that was featured in Workers Vanguard.
I set off down Washington Street with my backpack lighter. I passed by Caffe Nero where I had a pleasant conversation and coffee after a Workers Vanguard sale to hospital workers who had been on strike. I remember the odd mismatched furniture the place featured that did give a homey feeling to me.
At Downtown Crossing there were a few free newspaper boxes, and I got more papers out to display.
I walked down the pedestrian mall on Washington Street thinking of when I had sold The Militant in front of the old Filene’s department store. My father worked there and he was one of the only people who bought the paper from me all those years ago.
On the other side of the building there is now a set of ‘stairs to nowhere’ that people can sit on. I used to hand out leaflets for striking garment workers outside of Filene’s decades ago. About a year ago, after an anti-Fascist demonstration on Boston Common I sat talking with my friend Rod who I used to hand the boycott leaflets out with all those years ago. We talked a lot of Trotsky and revolutionary class struggle back then, and he is still an interesting person to talk to. He was the person who gave me my first copy of Workers Vanguard. When I used to say to him that I supported the Socialist Workers Party and The Militant he said, ‘No, you sound like a Spartacist reading Workers Vanguard.’ He was right.
A few steps further down there were some final news boxes to put papers in next to the church that David Duke gave a speech at in 1991. Workers Vanguard and the Spartacists organized a large rally to oppose Duke and his ‘Klan in a Suit’ message. I was on the workers defense team that provided security to the rally.
Today I was at the same place putting a newspaper with working class centered ideas in plastic newspaper boxes. Here is where I ran out of papers. A seven year old paper, and the headline could be from yesterday.
I looked across the street to the Old Corner Bookstore, which no longer sells books, and thought of all the famous authors who had stopped by that location in the distant past. Back in the 19th century people like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens had business to do with the bookseller and publisher located there. That spot was also the site of the home of Anne Hutchinson who was expelled from Boston in 1638 for speaking about religion when women were expected to be silent.
On the other side of School Street there are sculptures to memorialize the Irish Famine of the 19th Century. A lot of Irish ended up in Boston because of the bad conditions in Ireland.
My papers where gone and all I had in my backpack was my drawing paper and clip board and crayons and pencil. I was ready to ride the Red Line home and draw on the way. I hope someone who is looking for answers bumps into one of my messages in a bottle.
On the streets of Boston, Poe has the last word, speaking of bad hotels…