It was 4:30 a.m. when Nocturnalist awoke to a kneecap hitting our shin. Mired in sleep, we were disoriented — where were we? The necrotic chill of the slab of pavement we lay on suddenly registered and we snapped awake: It was Monday at Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street’s de facto headquarters. With hundreds of people flocking to the park, a half-acre plaza in the financial district where the protest movement has made its encampment for the past month, it seemed incumbent upon Nocturnalist to check out what has arguably become a hot new nightspot.
(It was a decision we regretted somewhat as the knee socked us again, and then again, in the dark. The couple in the doublewide sleeping bag next to us, we realized with a jolt, may not have been sleeping.)
After dark on Sunday, the fluttering blue tarpaulins were reminiscent of “Mad Max.” But the tone was largely civil, and could be inspiring: the place reverberated through the night with heated ideological conversations not usually heard outside of freshman dorm hallways. At daybreak they began anew.
Dinner was free, if you had the intestinal fortitude: it was provided by Grub, a Dumpster-diving collective. At 9:30 p.m., a couple was swing dancing to live accordion accompaniment in the southeast corner. On the western end, three girls Hula-Hooped with illuminated hoops.
Billy Wittreich, 23, rolled cigarettes and gave them away at a booth decorated with a flickering jack-o’-lantern engraved with “99%.” It’s to prevent edginess among protesters who would otherwise have nicotine withdrawal, he said. More than $5,000 had been spent on tobacco and supplies, he said, for this peacekeeping mission.
Nearby, Nocturnalist ducked under a tent flap into the mortuary glow of a blue tarp shelter, where a cluster of self-described anarchists sat on a sofa and passed around a Guinness at midnight. Even here, they said, class hierarchy oppresses. They were the “real” poor, they said, with no place to go home to, no place to shower and no shiny laptops for blogging the revolution. “When I write,” one said, “it’s on a pad and paper.” Others toasted.
Around 1 a.m., most people in the park nestled into sleeping bags, on slabs of cardboard under silvery heat blankets, or — for the lucky few — on comfortable air mattresses. They slept alone or in twos or threes — or with uncountable numbers of tangled feet poking out from grubby blankets. One man spooned his guitar.
Cuddling (for warmth) is de rigueur, said Richie Machado, 20, who has spent nearly every night of this month here spooning with new friends and strangers. Leaving, he said, is going to be sad. “I’ve figured out a solution,” he said. “I can start my own commune of snuggling.”
Indeed, as Nocturnalist searched for our own sliver of concrete, offers of spots were made by kind people. None were female.
We chose a boisterous corner for safety, as a few people who seemed to be homeless nested too close for comfort elsewhere. As dawn approached, some people ranted to no one for hours.
Around 5 a.m., the aforementioned couple still tangoed in their sleeping bag next to us. On our other side, a Beats-obsessed young man suffered his fifth hour of logorrhea — begging for Nocturnalist’s pillow in spontaneous bop when he wasn’t writing us a disturbing poem and shoving it into our sleeping bag. We gave up on sleep.
Nocturnalist jumped up to investigate around 5:40 a.m. when two men began brawling nearby. When we returned to our nest 10 minutes later, we found the aspiring beatnik at last out cold — on our pillow.
We left it there under his head, and went home to bed.