No Sleep in Brooklyn

Posted on December 07, 2018

The other day I took a muscle relaxer for back pain and leg cramps and this resulted in heavy sleep, then the next day I drank really strong black tea and milk, often with ice in a glass skull mug with a straw. By the end of that day I began to feel fearful with a thumping heart and had panicked dreams all night. Eventually waking early the following morning, I decide to head down to open my mailbox, looking for a check I’ve been expecting. I also have a thank you card to mail for a job interview. The worst outcome would be to see one of my neighbors on the coop board, because many of my conflicts and petty fears originate there, and also I’m trying not to reveal my unemployment. 

Sure enough it’s half past six and exactly the person I don’t want to see is in the elevator. But then I remember our face to face encounters are always better. He’s wearing a sweatshirt that says “I went to Stuyvesant so just assume I’m right.” I guess even though he’s retired that high school achievement is still a source of major identity for him. Of course he asks if I’m working at home and of course I say I am, even though I look like I’ve been up doing crack all night and I certainly am not working at anything. 

I do take a walk up hill with my little gold envelope. This interview didn’t go especially well, I have already sent the card for the one that went better on the same day. While having this walk I observe my new neighborhood. I do feel a bit of an imposter here, but I’m having a day of imposter syndrome and try not to feel that too deep. We don’t have a coffee shop here. I could get a smoothie, but I can’t get a chai, I can’t get a vegan Ovenly cookie, I can’t get a coffee with soy milk, or that new silly oat milk or whatever unless I’m at home. I do appreciate the fruit shakes we have in this neighborhood but I have to be in the mood. For Ali's Roti I have to have cash, and be in the mood to walk up the hill and wait on line. But I do pass the restaurant and they are not open yet. I realize I haven’t had their breakfast lineup which I think includes porridge but the staff is still setting up. 

 One of the places I can go, and do go is the family run White Castle which has the vegan Impossible burgers, if you get them without cheese. You wouldn’t think I would have much in common with Wu-Tan but there we are. I can’t get a vegan slice, or pad thai on foot, but I can get vegan fast food, just pretty much rolling out my door. I like the family that owns it, they have employees too, but it’s often family members, and they advertise this on their work shirts. Today, this early in the 24 hour cycle of the White Castle there is a problem with the ordering screen. They rebooted the system and the girl has to call to find out where my burgers are on the screen. I can see she’s drinking from this gorgeous over the top travel mug that’s like 20 oz at least, is kind of pink iridescent, with a gold tone sippy top. She’s working and sipping out of that and I feel like she’s really honoring the coffee in her life. The other worker is wearing a headset for the drive through, and she’s got a folded up square of paper between the speaker and her ear. She’s the one who makes my hash browns. There is a solitary couple facing outward at the bar that faces the drive thru exit, it’s like they are disowning the rest of us. 

And then a woman comes in, she’s wearing flip flops, and she has kind of ashy ankles and feet. She’s wearing a sweatshirt as a makeshift head wrap, but she’s got patterned leggings that look fine, and her top and skirt looks fine. She’s holding a thin section of newspaper with a large red printed area, and a book. She keeps laughing and writing on the paper, and slapping the book, in between attempts to get staff attention. The staff is kind of in their own world, but they also know what’s coming. This restaurant has only one bathroom, it’s marked the ladies room and you have to be buzzed in. I actually only know this from coming here and listening to interactions with customers and staff. I’ve never seen even the door and since I live across the street I’ve not needed it. Anyway this woman leans and stretches to get noticed behind the counter and then says “ha! Ha!” and writes a notation on her paper. She finally asks to use the ladies room, but no one hears her. 

Finally my burgers are entered in the computer, it’s a long wait for those because they only start them when ordered on a separate grill. My hash browns are long done and sitting under the red lights. The woman finally asks again to use the bathroom as one of the counter ladies floats toward the back to make my order. And the employee says very sweetly “No, it’s just for customers baby. You will have to go somewhere else.” And the long skirt wearing lady, with the feet that have a look of street life, walks out the door. I know I have a longish wait and I stand and turn around towards the windows, which have a panorama view of two intersections. The sweatshirt headed woman walks into the little island in the parking lot with bushy landscaping. And I can’t see her but I can see her bobbing sweatshirt headdress. And I realize she’s doing her ladies room business in there. It goes quickly so I assume she’s only peed in the White Castle bushes.

I wonder if I should say something, don’t know what good it would do if I did. Ultimately inertia makes the decision for me. More people come in, and they look serious about their morning, rolling suitcases, and I feel like I blend in more with the atmosphere of people who have been up all night, but maybe no one can tell. One older woman wants a breakfast sandwich but she’s trying to get egg whites. The counter worker is asking if she wants the breakfast slider which is eggs cheese and bacon, or “The breakfast” which is on whole wheat toast, and as far as I can tell is also that same stuff but not tiny sized. The employee keeps saying “The breakfast is on wheat toast, do you want it, it’s $3.46” and she leaves to ring up an order from a car and comes back and asks again if she wants it. Finally the woman concedes that she will order “The Breakfast” and pays with exact change. I look out into the street, through those windows again. A cement truck comes up Remsen avenue, has the word “City” on the front painted in graffiti style. I’m handed a greasy clear bag with my food.  The drum turbine of the truck also has the same word “City” as it spins by, turning up East New York Avenue, “City”…”City”…”City.”

Why I’m in favor of a NY Constitutional Convention

Posted on November 05, 2017

This week I saw colleagues in the media who organized and joined a union, under threat that the business would close if they did, threats that were made true a week later. And in the background of this, are the unions of the state of NY unanimously fighting to defeat the mandatory constitutional convention referendum, or proposition 1 on the ballot this November 7. Our constitution which expressly gives the right to collective bargaining, but does not mandate employers negotiate with our unions, it gives public employees the right to a prevailing wage but is mute on prevailing wages for other employees. It gives the public pension system the weight of an inviolable contract, but gives far less protection to the other workers of our state. And to my distress, unions, including my own,  have looked at a convention, as only something that should not happen. They have decided that our only hope is to cling to what was gained in the 1937 convention in the new deal era, and have not been ambitious for the social justice goals of a new generation. Meanwhile there’s nothing in our NY constitution that requires a private employer to recognize a union, penalizes them for closing rather than deal with one, and only the Taylor law compels NY state to negotiate with public employee unions.

I have two grandfathers who were prominent labor organizers and academics. (they were both married to my grandmother at different times, she was also involved in the labor movement, as was my grandfather’s second wife Pat.) They became labor organizers in furtherance of social justice, because they were socialists as well. They did not know for sure what the end result of this work would be, in some cases they failed. But they and the labor movement in it’s infancy, saw working people in their numbers, and tried to unite them as a weapon aimed at massive corporate power. They did not know it would work, but they saw the huge unmet need, they saw poverty, they saw exploitation, they were thinking of humanity as a whole and trade unionism as a means to an end.

I cannot claim any of that work as my own, I have only in recent years worked at a job which was union eligible and part of my excitement on taking the job is I would finally have job protections not afforded to most people in my industry. Protections which I had lived without for so long and also could become a helper in the union so we could keep those and make our workplace better. I immediately went to meetings and became a steward and eventually supported a candidate running against the incumbent president. Our union has discovered gender and racial pay inequity, made our findings public and I saw a new ambition to fix this in a candidate who was a woman of color.

I grew up in activism in an era of identity politics, and I participated from a young age in work to safeguard reproductive rights against constant assault. We are in an era where these issues are in a new crisis. The movement for black lives, queer equality, trans equality, the rights of the undocumented, women’s equality and reproductive rights could see gains in NY if we held a convention. Our legislature and governor have not kept pace with what is needed, and have not done anything in the year since Trump was elected to shore up the protections in abortion rights, trans rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, that are being assaulted by our federal government right now. We’ve made no changes to address the deaths of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley.


The center left and progressives have a huge registration advantage in NY state, membership in labor unions is higher here than anywhere else in the country. We voted for Clinton by 60%. Those advocating a no vote on this convention, are looking at that strength, our support for labor and progressive values, and calling it weakness. They are looking at a process that is more populist than our status quo state political environment and they are calling it undemocratic. They call out the fact that our state senate districts are gerrymandered and choose to continue to return to power those who would perpetuate it, and block the only process with a chance of ending it. By rejecting a convention they are choosing to live by the political process most affected by gerrymandering, the normal legislative process, one which will not lead to a less gerrymandered future.

A convention is less sensitive to gerrymandering, it dilutes the effect of it in three ways. The first way is that there are 15 at large delegates, which are elected by a statewide popular vote, these are not subject to districting at all. The second is that there are three delegates per state senate district. Even with these districts engineered as they are have produced 32 to 31 democratic majority to the Senate, it is not a ruling majority because 8 Democrats have accepted lulus and special favors for their districts in exchange for not supporting the Democratic leader. A few of these districts drawn for the relection of GOP incumbents have also voted for Clinton in the presidential election, some of them have democratic assembly members. Eight total voted to return their republican senator and also Hillary Clinton for president. Once three non-incumbents are running for delegate in these purple districts, they are going to shake out a few extra dems. The last way that populism rules the results of a convention is that all the amendments are presented to voters for an up or down vote. The popular will, a direct democratic process is what determines the final outcome of a convention.

It’s deeply sad to me that my own top level union, and organized labor in general are taking the view that protections we passed in historical conventions are enough. That we have no responsibility to the New Yorkers not enfranchised in this document, especially workers outside unions who have no right to healthcare or paid sick time. They have looked at the state with the highest concentration of union members in the nation, which is in no danger of a right wing takeover, and raised the spectre of one on a flimsy premise. They have looked at one of the best moments to seize the both the resistance zeitgeist and a natural demographic advantage to make progressive change NY and called it dangerous. My friend Tony and I wrote an editorial on just how strong we will be in a convention.

And more problematic to me, is telling a us we need and have a majority of voters to vote no, to protect pensions that cannot be lost in this process. And deluding that very majority that it is powerful enough to reject a convention, but that this same majority would somehow not exist if proposals weakening future pension protections came back to them on the ballot. We’re a strong enough wave to stop a convention, but somehow this same group would be too weak and drain away if they needed to vote no on specific amendments that weakened labor protections put in front of them after a convention. This is incredibly cynical.


I’m am fighting for passage of this referendum because I am not satisfied with the way NY state politics play out. The corruption, the 98% incumbency re-election rate, has all gotten worse in the 20 years since New Yorkers last rejected this vote. I’ve come to embrace term limits as the chemotherapy needed for a cancerous system. Today’s progressives can use this tool to bring our constitution and NY into the 21st century by voting yes on the referendum on Nov 7th. We can insure equality for women and trans people, we can allow early voting and same day registration, which our constitution currently prohibits. We can improve labor standards by including a right to paid sick leave for all full time workers, and cost of living increases to our state minimum wage. We can update and codify reproductive rights, we can mandate ethics reform, fully non partisan redistricting, we can create a full time legislature with no outside income. We can insure cases where people are killed in police custody are given state jurisdiction, we can reform cash bail and streamline our courts, we can legalize recreational marijuana. We can even, like bold progressives of the past, create an even greater safety net in our state by including a right to healthcare. We can make our state a place where many of Trumps harmful policies stop at our borders. Our state can be a progressive sanctuary if we remake the constitution to reflect who we are.


Building a cat climbing wall

Posted on June 07, 2015

So I’ve mostly finished building a cat climbing wall. It needs more attached toys and some finishing touches and my walls need paint. But I will put up this photo of my cat Otis using it for now, though he had to be somewhat bribed with treats. Because it is a minor triumph of my silliness.

I belong to this place

Posted on November 08, 2014

There are many 'goodbye cruel world' stories about leaving New York, I'm sure all those people are right. Each of the writers seems to have independently discovered to their surprise that the city they may have loved does not reciprocate. New York does not return your emotions. It is indifferent to you. Those of us who belong here know this viscerally. And that's what this post is, a story about belonging in this city, whether that's a good thing or not.

Family vacation in Westbrook CT

Posted on July 22, 2014

So here are some of my pictures of my sisters, and their cousins, my neice at the beach. Westbrook is on the Long Island Sound, the Sound is very calm like a lake, but still salty and with tides. My dad and his wife rent a place there every year now for the last eight years. So it’s become a family tradition.

image by Amber Sexton

I don’t know what more to say really…I don’t have any kids but it’s always neat to take pictures of the kids because they are doing stuff, also they are my family and sweet girls.

image by Amber Sexton

image by Amber Sexton

We had a fire on the beach, and I’ve never been up there when there was a fire. The neighbors always seem to have fires and set off fireworks. This year we had sparklers, and I remembered all the joy of sparklers, and also burning blisters onto my fingers touching the hot wire when the sparkler was spent.

image by Amber Sexton

The neighbors, also use glow sticks, and set off roman candles, we are sparkler only people.

image by Amber Sexton

The neighbors also light sky lanterns, which are positively transfixing floating across the sky. I didn’t have a lens to take an image that would make it look like anything other than a glowing dot. Or a series of them, because they sent out several. I thought they were so beautiful, but I also couldn’t shake how irresponsible it was to send a flame out in a little balloon in the sky. Of course it seemed like it was fine, but my stepmom had seen one fall and hit a house once and go out. Luckily it did, it’s litter being dropped somewhere out of your eyeshot also. Still it was a guilty pleasure, looking at these glowing floating flames fly off into the distance and wink out when they got too tiny to see. I hoped that they really went out at that point and never caught anything on fire and were just living a short life that I didn’t have to be nervous about. But I’m more the sparklers type, where you know if you do something dumb, then it’s just your own fingers to worry about.

image by Amber Sexton

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