7. Cigarettes are free. One of the mini-legends in the impromptu village of Occupied Zuccotti is Nick Long, 22, from White Plains, who is known by all as “Nick at Night.” Despite his nocturnal nickname, Nick in fact spends day and night sitting at a stone table not far from the drumming circle on the park’s west end, expertly rolling cigarettes for anyone who asks. That means up to 6,000 rollies a day, paid for with a collection he took up independent of Occupy’s finance arm. Long, shaggy-haired, and good-looking, he has found his niche at Zuccotti. But isn’t dispensing free nicotine unhealthy, not to mention supporting Big Tobacco? Long said that people were sending up bulk donations of tobacco from North Carolina, and the cigs served a crucial purpose because “they calmed people down.”
We were trapped in endless war and financial crisis, in debt and downward spiral that our leaders bickered about, but did nothing to stop. It wore away at people with the implacability of geological erosion. The American empire we never wanted in the first place was crumbling slowly, and nothing we did in our lives seemed to matter. We had learned in the past 10 years that we couldn’t change our fates, not with hard work, taking on debt, education, or even trying to live healthy. Even when we wanted to, we could not stop wars, rein in banks, repair our crumbling infrastructure or take care of each other. We couldn’t control medical costs or the price of an education. Gas was going up, temperatures were going up.
Americans themselves lived quiet lives of untold loneliness, socially isolated. But, as we’d come to learn, we’re always watched by our infrastructure’s silent machines. Lonely, but never alone. It had become an authoritarian failing state, but without the authority, or even the sense of change that comes with total failure. We were dying by bits and pieces, going numb and fading away.
A Eulogy for #Occupy by Quinn Norton