The War for Independence at the Hotel Port-au-Prince
Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved.
Direct inquiries to CIS I.D. 75115,1341.
The War for Independence at the Hotel Port-au-Prince
Did I tell you about the war I saw? Not much of a war, I
guess, by contemporary standards... Nothing worth 'we interrupt this
broadcast', nor 'on the spot' coverage with two cameras and a
color-man. But it was a war, or a significant battle in a war. Anyway,
it was the war I have seen.
What happened was this:
=July 3, 1985, 16:41=
A family of asians was walking east along Thirty-Second
Street. They were on the south side of the street. People who walk
Thirty-Second always walk the south side. On the north side, near
Herald Square, is the Hotel Port-au-Prince.
A family of asians? An extended family of asians, with
everything from rickety but unbowed granny to stocky-beefy men to
pretty young matrons to tall, smiling teens to eager kids who were
just as apt to skip ahead as to hide gigglingly behind mommy's hem,
and to do both in the aura of a heavenly smile. All the way down to
two cuties who couldn't leave home without a bathroom attached.
Things I guessed: Coming from the Garden or the Felt Forum,
where one of the taller youths had received his PhD or had been
inducted into the Bricklayer's Union. Either of which, I know from
experience, would bring out the whole brood, to be proud, to share in
the event, and to celebrate the future successes of the younger
youngsters, whose path is that much better assured.
As the family was passing that immemorable office building
that has been so besieged by the Port-au-Principality, a gaggle of
Princely youths ambushed them from all sides. Mostly young boys,
scruffy-dirty in short pants. Foul mouthed and brandishing beer
bottles with 'Fourth of July' bottle rockets protruding. Two of them
had cigarettes lit; they used them to shoot the rockets like bullets,
into the small crowd of asians.
Most sped past them, a rocket hit one of the stocky men. It
fell to the ground and exploded, causing the infants to wail. The man
spun around and swung out at the nearest of the attacking children.
The kid backed away, but a crowd of the Princely began to surround the
What had been a non-event had become an incident. And it was
trending toward a crisis. This is known as escalation.
And now I have to say something about the Port-au-Prince. New
York's intellectuals will remember that hotel from its glory days. But
if they saw it now, they'd wish to forget.
The Hotel Port-au-Prince is a Welfare Hotel. Not precisely
that: it was one of the hotels that was commandeered by the city
several years ago to 'solve' the 'problems' of the 'homeless'. I
should also say that most of the Princely reflect less light than
myself and most of the persons reading this (is that the nice way of
saying they are black?). Also, they are animals. I don't hold it
against them that they're on Welfare. That's irrelevant. I don't hold
it against them that they're (mostly) black. =That's= irrelevant. I
=do= hold it against them that they are animals.
I don't want to tie up your time with a lot of examples of the
animality of the Princely (the hotel's mattresses are changed so often
that my friend the iconoclast says that 'twenty acres and a mule' is
now rendered as 'twenty mattresses and a pea'). You won't believe me,
anyway, so see it for yourself; if you reprieve your lunch, you'll
leave the area cleaner than you found it.
A Crisis Unfolding: The asians organized into a circular
skirmish line. Granny took the center with one infant in each arm and
the toddlers clutching at her hem. The bigger men and youths,
including some of the taller females, took the outer perimeter, with
the matrons and kids making up the second line. One of the men threw a
remark over his shoulder in a language I don't know. Granny gave a
clipped reply. All of them, even the smallest kids, looked
The milling crowd of Princely was growing: smudge-fingered
kids to sticky-fingered youths to fat, angry Princely matrons, to the
few scrawny males who hang-out with the females. Another giggling
gangster shot a rocket at the asians' defensive line. The target, a
tall, broad-shouldered youth, caught the rocket in mid-air and threw
it back toward the Princely. It sped past them, but an angry growl
seethed through the crowd.
Reinforcements. 'The Cavalry's coming!'. Through a process of
communication I don't fully understand, that pocket of Herald Square
was suddenly flooded with asians. Electronics dealers, still clutching
the cassette tapes they were stocking. Street peddlers carrying those
baseball bats that are always on display, but never for sale. Shoppers
with bags from Macy's and Thom McCan. Men, women, children, all come
to the rescue.
The 200 or so millingly enveloping Princely were surrounded.
Trapped between an advancing line and a blocked retreat. The more
muscular of the resucuers elbowed their way forward, like blood cells
surging forward to attack fleeing germs. I heard marching orders in
what sounded like several different tongues.
"Hold it!," called one of the stringy Princely males. "Hold
The asians stopped advancing. They didn't stop looking mean.
"Now, we ain't got no cause to fight!," the Stringy Prince
continued. "No cause at all..."
"umph! them!," yelled a sweaty, flabby matron. "They take
everything and don't leave any for us!"
"Yeah!," called out one of the Rocket Launchers. "And they get
all the good grades in school!"
The temper of the Princely was building, but I noted that most
of the men were trying to calm things down. The asians had managed to
organize themselves fairly well; the shimmering image of a command
structure was emerging in the tone of their rapid conversation.
Some of the more imposing asian males elbowed all the way
through the loose line of Princely to the besieged family. There they
turned and served as an escort for the women and younger children.
They emerged as a convoy, with a firm line of angry muscle to cure the
Princely of bad ideas.
The Princely just stared; the males inspected their shoes.
When the Honor Guard regained the corner of Broadway, Granny
turned to face the crowd of bewildered Princely. "We celebrate peace,"
she said in barely intelligible English, "we shoot rockets that way."
She pointed to the sky. Her gaze swept from the Princely to include
the entire crowd, rescuers and on-lookers. "Happy Independence Day!"
As the asians dispersed, two gangsters shot their rockets
skyward. One smashed his beer bottle on the pavement. He giggled.
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