In my words, January 28 – February 3

I made a New Year’s resolution to start swimming. Here it is February the third and I finally am. The pool at the Chinatown Y is quite decent. It wasn’t crowded this afternoon and I got a lane of my own. I started the first lap with a breast stroke, which is easy to do and I like it: I get to feel like a frog. Then I wanted to do a front crawl but my left shoulder hurt so much from the rotator cuff injury I have that I quickly went back to the breast stroke, pain going, gone, and I was fine, a frog again. For the next lap coming back I once again extended my left arm out: wow! it hurt, but I slowly continued the stroke pulling ahead and then reached out and pushed back with my right. There is something about the crawl, a very meditative movement. It makes me feel like I’m getting longer, taller reaching and kicking myself forward. The British wouldn’t do the crawl for a long time; they only did the breast stroke. All that American splashing was barbaric. I went slowly and kept at it. Do as much as you can, and you will do more. I am lucky it’s all in the doing.

I’d been reading and working on a poem making a video out of it. On Friday morning I finished and was planning to put it on the Internet when I heard that Ed Koch had died a little earlier at six. He had been in the hospital, out of the hospital; his feistiness was admirable. I thought about the rumor that he was gay. Pretty much I believe it. The poem I’d been working on is by Hart Crane, who used to hunt for sailor lovers along the docks of Lower Manhattan in the 1920s. The poem, The Harbor Dawn, is really about Crane waking up one morning in some dock hotel or flop house in the arms of a sailor he had picked up, both of them drunk and stumbling. Not a promising premise, but the poem is about the dawn, and that’s a promise, a new beginning, somewhere between waking and sleep, knowing without knowing, eyes opening and listening, the language of a lover, beautiful words said beautifully, intimate and sharing. Some say that Koch was slow to react to the AIDS crisis because he was closeted. I cared for one friend who was in Act Up. As he withered turning purple with widening black circles around his eyes, pissing in the jar I held for him, he asked that his epitaph read: Killed by Ronald Reagan. I don’t know enough to judge. To never have been with the one you love seems punishment enough. I wanted to send the mayor off with the dawn and the poem. “Be who you are and go, over New York, the harbor, the lamp Lady Liberty is holding. Good morning, Ed. Get going.”

It is certainly neither here nor there, but if I were to rank the mayors in the order that I like them, it would be Dinkins, Bloomberg, Koch and Giuliani. Hate is a venom that poisons the hater not the hated, so I won’t say I hate Giuliani. Bloomberg I really like because I had worked many years to save community gardens and Bloomberg finally got them into the Parks Department. He even sent me a letter thanking me for my work. Bloomberg didn’t owe anybody anything so he could do what he wanted. Giuliani needed to hand the gardens over to the developers who had contributed to him. Eliot Spitzer, who was Attorney General at the time, got a court order that stopped Giuliani from building on gardens. Earlier, Dinkins promised that he would save the gardens, but when he got into office there were other priorities: AIDS and crack epidemics, a crime wave, and absolutely no money. Giuliani always gets the credit for the crime going down, but it was Dinkins who implemented the plan that did it. Dave kept the libraries open too. He was like your grandfather which is why everybody voted for him, then everybody didn’t like him because he was like their grandfather: too nice. New Yorkers spit their mayors out. Koch was leaving office when I got involved in the gardens. He was on the side of the development. If Koch had had his way, the west side of Manhattan would be a gigantic highway interstate and not the wonderful piers, parks and gardens that are there now. Michael Bloomberg saved New York City community gardens. After he leaves office, who knows? Mayors to come may once again need to hand over parks and gardens to the developers who contributed to them. The fight continues. City gardeners have to be ready and vigilant.

La Plaza Cultural, a park Mike Bloomberg saved

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