Subject: New York City Stories
Date: Wednesday, October 29, 2003 9:21 AM
..... The Halloween party was maybe more spooky for the other folks than for my room mate and I, because we had found the place earlier. Mainly it was just an excuse to get off alone with girls. This place was an old boarded up church or chapel that was on the corner of a cemetery, out in the country. A side door was locked with one of those mortise locks that can be opened with a skeleton key. For light (and sound effects) we had a plumber's lead melting furnace thing that we borrowed from a construction site at the school (we actually did take it back later, after all the gas was used up). With no lead ladle in place it put out a flame a foot or so high and made a pretty good roaring sound. We sat around and snuggled around some and some folks told ghost stories and that was about all there was to it. At that time I think girls had to be back in their dorms by 10PM or something like that on weekends, so it did not go late.
Here's a better story: Went into the city once with one of my room mates who was from Queens. We ate lunch with his father at this fancy bank where he worked. They had a very ritzy dining room (a restaurant really -- you ordered from a menu) right there in the bank. Chase Manhattan I think it was. So we were dressed up a bit, with ties and sports coats. (I probably had to borrow a coat from him.) When lunch was over we hit the town to poke around a bit. This was in the summer of 1969, when attitudes about security were a lot different than they are today, even in the city. At that time there was a famous landmark in NYC at Times Square. The New York Times had their building there and all around the front of it there was a moving message sign that could be seen from blocks away where they would put up the latest news headlines for people to read. So we wandered into the Times building like we own the place, looking all preppy and all, no real object in mind, just poking around. And before long we found ourselves up on the third floor where there was this little room with glass walls off in the corner of a large room full of cubicles. Maybe we were in the news room, I don't know. Anyway, this little glassed-in room was just packed to the walls with machinery -- all these little wheels and gears whirring around and sparky stuff. All very interesting to us engineering types, so we try the door, find it open and go inside. It's hard to describe in a way that makes it as vivid as it really was. Inside, we were like inside the machine -- it ran all around the room except for just barely room for two people to stand in a little space in the middle, covering most of the walls and extending out onto counters built all around 4 sides of this little room. There was a window to the outside in one wall. And hundreds, thousands of little whirring gears and wheels. This was before the days when computers were common of course (we had a 'mainframe' at school, maybe one of the few in the state, but PCs were not even dreamed of back then). It didn't take us long to figure out that this thing must be what was making the sign work. I'm sure some mischief would have soon come to mind, but there was no time for that because as my friend Morty bent over to get a closer look at something the end of his tie brushed against one of the wheels and was instantly ripped off his neck (it was a clip on, lucky for him) and sucked deeply into the works where it brought everything to a screeching halt. I mean it suddenly got so quiet in that little room you could hear a pin drop. Things started to smell hot. Believe me, we beat it out of there Muy Pronto. Nobody in the big room seemed to notice, just like they had not paid the least attention as we walked in. So we got clear of there, out on the street and all we could think of was to put distance between us and the Times Building. (Being young and naive we didn't realize that we were probably safe as soon as we got clear of that floor of the building.) So we're trucking along the sidewalk when I notice that folks seem to be paying a lot of attention to back where we came from. Only then did we check out the sign. It was stopped dead in it's tracks, spelling out various gibberish characters, with some lights brighter than others and in fact burning out in bright flashes even as we watched. This suddenly became very amusing once we realized we were not going to get busted for it. People on the street probably thought we were crazy, laughing, high fives all around. But before we got back to his place (having had enough fun for one day), Morty got a case of the guilty paranoia. For a long time he was sure cops were going to come and get him, track him down by his fingerprints or analyze the tie or something.
Before that summer, like I say, security was pretty loose in the city. We used to get up on the roof of most all of the big buildings. None of the doors were locked, or if they were it was with that kind of lock that you can 'card' open by sliding a card or pen knife down beside the lock. My favorite though was the MYSTERIOUS ABANDONED SUBWAY STATION under (I think) 56th street. This was a complete subway station that for some curious reason had been closed and all of the street entrances were just paved over. When you rode the train standing at the front of the first car you could see it -- the train would just zoom through like an express passing through a local station. Since there were no lights, I think most people looking out the side windows didn't even notice it. If they ever even looked out the side windows -- there's not much to see when you are down in the tunnel. Anyway, that place became my favorite hang out. I would take the train to the nearest station and then just walk off the end of the platform and hustle down the tracks to the abandoned station. There are these little nooks every hundred yards or so that one or two people could just squeeze into if a train came while you were in the tunnel. Let me tell you that is a trip. The wind tries to suck you right out of there and you can literally reach out and touch the side of the train speeding by at what seemed like at least 60 miles an hour. But usually there was time between trains to make it if you sort of jog / run all the way. About 10 blocks or so. When I first went there, there was no sign that anyone else had been there since it was closed. There were these strange old posters for Broadway shows that were long gone (except I remember thinking it funny to see posters for 'Hello Dolly' which was still running at that time), and out of date advertisements. The electricity was still on, and sometimes I would turn on the lights and stand on the platform, thinking maybe I could lure a train to stop by mistake, but it never worked. I stopped that, though because I thought that if I kept it up it would bring the heat and spoil the fun. Around toward the end of that summer I made friends with a couple of Puerto Rican kids and showed them the place. They were awe struck. By now, if it is possible to get there at all, it is probably either full of homeless people or a major gang hangout.
But it wasn't the Times incident that brought about the lockdown in the city that summer, though I'll bet they kept the door to that little room locked after they managed to pull Morty's tie out of the works and change all them light bulbs. It was another incident that really caught the business folks attention and got them thinking about pranksters and the havoc they could wreak in unsecured areas. Remember, these were the days of the Vietnam war protests. At that time there was a loosely organized band of political pranksters who had above average publicity skills. I don't know how many they were but it was probably not as many as folks thought or as it seemed from some of the stuff they did. Like running a kangaroo for President against Nixon the second time -- he's the perfect politician -- he can't talk so he can't lie, and he has a pocket for the money. (There is a poster I made recently on the comix page of my website.) They actually got him on the ballot as an independent candidate in several states. Well, one day the Yuppies got an idea which was brilliant in it's simplicity and elegant in the way it exposed the basic greed of those who run the business world. At that time visitors could go to the New York Stock Exchange and sit on a balcony that they called the gallery and watch what was happening on the trading floor. Millions of dollars worth of stocks and bonds changing hands in a frantic frenzy of noise and emotion which is still today something to see. The commerce of the nation focused into one blazing pinpoint of frenetic activity. So the yuppies went down to their local bank and got a big stack of $1 bills (later the best estimates were that it was likely less than $1000 in all) and a few of them made their way into positions around the gallery of the Stock Exchange. Where at one coordinated moment they threw the money out onto the trading floor! Bedlam reigned in the Stock Exchange that day. Millions worth of trading was stopped dead as stock traders and their lackeys kicked, pushed, and elbowed each other aside the grasp the lowly bills. If I remember correctly there were minor injuries and trading was actually suspended for the remainder of that day. (An historic and drastic event which has happened a few times in the history of the exchange.) Needless to say, the gallery was closed the next day and for months after, until bullet proof glass could be installed to prevent any further such mischief.
NOTE: Research after this was written: The Exchange was never actually closed that day. The Yippies were expelled by security forces and continued their theatre on the sidewalk outside for some time. Amazingly, the whole event was announced on the radio for several days in advance, yet either the authorities allowed it to happen or were totally oblivious to those radio announcements.