Friday, May 9, 2008

Retro-Journal: Urban -- and Philosophical -- Adventure in Early 2002

Today, audiences thrill to the big-screen adventures of Speed Racer — much as they thrilled to our debate on congestion pricing for Manhattan traffic on Wednesday — but six years ago…

I first met people who explored the City not horizontally but vertically, the “urban exploration” buffs of the Jinx Society, who ventured into sewers and aqueducts, climbed skyscrapers and collapsing old rooftops to see history close up and brave this ever-changing town’s Invisible Frontier, as the title of Jinx leaders LB Deyo and Lefty Leibowitz’s book put it. Both men are true patriots, in love with America’s past and its future potential — and oddly enough, it was the spectre of communism that first brought me into contact with them.

I accompanied my Marxist friend Sander Hicks to his debate against LB on globalization — part of the monthly series that would fission off from Jinx some three years later to become the Debates at Lolita Bar, hosted by me and moderated by Michel “the Brain” Evanchik. I recall that the very week of 9/11/01, the cover of National Review, planned before the attacks, was an article critical of the antiglobalization movement and its manifesto of the moment — which was very popular at college campuses across America — Empire, co-written by widely respected Italian terrorist/murderer Antonio Negri.

Even before the ruins of the World Trade Center had settled, some guessed that, given the target, the antiglobalization movement might be responsible. It wasn’t that far-fetched an idea — Sander, for example, is no terrorist, but until reading the works of Gandhi in recent years, he had seen old-fashioned violent revolution as a viable option, and in his debate against LB, he cautiously defended the thinking that sometimes leads to, say, vandalizing a Starbucks if an important enough political point needs to be made. Ironically, Sander (who had already founded two publishing companies) would go on to own two cafes, the Vox Pop coffee/food/bookstore/performance spaces of Brooklyn and Manhattan — and he would conclude (as he argued in a debate I hosted just six months ago) that 9/11, far from being orchestrated by the antiglobalization movement or even al Qaeda, was essentially an inside job.

The Jinx Society members, by contrast, spent the morning of 9/10/01 (as I would later learn reading their book) climbing to the top of the George Washington Bridge, some four hundred feet high, and marveling at the cityscape, not realizing it would soon change forever. And though the audience voted against LB in the antiglobalization debate, he would go on to win his first Jinx Society debate ever a short time later against a less worthy opponent (me), an opponent with what is apparently a less popular position than antiglobalization: the view that morality is objective rather than subjective. (In truth, I feel I let civilization down that night — but that night I also altruistically introduced my opera-singing Brown alum ex to one of my oldest friends, Chuck Blake, and they briefly dated, so some good was perhaps accomplished.)

Another political thought crosses my mind: Jinx leader LB Deyo, with his hawkish and conservative but non-Bible-thumping views, stoic no-nonsense demeanor, interest in Teddy Roosevelt, athletic and stocky build, courage in the face of physical danger, and mastery of deadpan humor, reminds me just a bit of…

deyo.jpg mccain-capitol.jpg


I had begun work in January 2002 at the American Council on Science and Health (helping to create their blog, HealthFactsAndFears), in my mind defending a global order of science and industry improving conditions for all of humanity, despite the ingratitude of humanities majors and NGOs everywhere (and as I’ll explain to an NYU class on public relations on May 28, ACSH is not a PR operation for business interests, which I hope won’t disappoint them).

If that wasn’t free-market enough, though, I found myself attending the wedding of future Arkansas state rep Dan Greenberg — who had actually talked an attractive Wall Streeter into moving to Little Rock, if you can imagine possessing such mojo. At the wedding, I met the lovely Susan Cross, one of four women over the years who have demonstrated their swing dancing skills to me in a way that makes me repeatedly vow not to let women see me bumbling my way through attempts to swing dance (though the big dance up Fifth Avenue eight days from now, the May 17 dance-protest against NYC cabaret laws, may tempt me into making a fool of myself again).

Another of those four women was Jamie Foehl, who I met in 2002 and with whom, fittingly, I just this year visited the swing-dancing shrine that is Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom commemorative plaque, taking these pictures of her while I was at it. As if it weren’t enough that she’s telegenic and light on her feet, Jamie is literally a card-carrying Libertarian and would occasionally take out her card to prove it — though she’s more interested in that practical application of capitalist theory called advertising than politics per se. (Pity she wants kids, like an alarmingly large portion of the female population seem to, but we remain friends.)

But enough about materialistic concerns like science and capitalism (much as I admire those two things and genuinely believe them to be humanity’s greatest and most beneficial achievements so far) — the second half of my 2002 would, to a large extent, be dominated by religion, of all things, in the form of my unlikely romantic relationship with future professional Catholic chastity crusader Dawn Eden, who I first really talked to at length at a party at the home of our mutual friend and fellow NYPress veteran J.R. Taylor, having spoken briefly on at least one prior occasion, at a Fabiani Society gathering after we both approached speaker Jonah Goldberg to ask questions — with Goldberg, perhaps more presciently than Dawn or me, mock-concealing himself behind a curtain to “get out of our way” as we began talking to each other.

That was a classy move on his part — but he disappointed me on another front, when I asked if I could write a review of the first Lord of the Rings movie for, telling me NRO would most definitely have a review of the movie — by him. During this Month of the Nerd, I cannot hold that against him. My piece about Lord of the Rings ended up on — and its publisher, Read Schuchardt, roughly as Christian as Dawn but more interested in media theory and a bit more philosophically flexible, will be speaking in NYC on May 22 (6:30) at the Albert Ellis Institute about similarities between medieval and modern-corporate symbolism, so another reminder about that in two weeks.

Plainly, in early 2002 several important pieces of my recent/current life were put in place — things begin to look a bit more like the world we know today. And with this entry, we’re 3/4 of the way through my Retro-Journal — fifteen years down, with five of the strangest still to come.

UPDATE 5/23/08: Oh, and this being the Month of the Nerd, it’s embarrassing that I forgot to mention (as I said I intended to) that around early 2002 I wrote the second and third of the Justice League comic book stories that I did for DC Comics, with the March 2002 issue of Justice League Adventures (#5) giving me an opportunity to symbolically blow up two troublesome ex-bosses, Web marketing guru Seth Godin and then-ABC News producer Mark Golden, in the form of a deranged Green Lantern named Godun I created who was partly influenced by them.  But hey, it’s not like I based an outright villain on them, so I must like them on some level.  My enemies don’t deserve even to be in comics.


LB said...

That’s a pretty fair comparison, Seavey, except that McCain is a wimp.

Todd Seavey said...

I admit that McCain’s mania for anti-global-warming regulations does give him just a whiff of hippiehood.

As for your old debate opponent (and former building super) Sander Hicks, I see he will be teaching the people of Keene, NH (at Keene High School) about his take on 9/11, on 5/17/08: