One day shy of the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001, thousands gathered at ground zero while President Bush attended a commemorative ceremony. Paying tribute to the perished may have been part of the plan, but for many, there was another item on the agenda: protesting against the administration.
A reporter joined the protesters, holding with a makeshift sign that read, "THANK YOU, Mr. President."
The photographer who accompanied was somewhat concerned about safety, but the reporter responded: "As long as I don't get hit, I'll be fine."
Many New Yorkers are quite immune to strange behavior, and apparently it requires more than a sheet of legal-size paper bearing an unpopular opinion to elicit such a reaction. Most people simply stared as the reporter walked past — some with curiosity, some with stifled giggles. Others glared, as if the sign said, "Thank you, Hitler and Hussein! You've made the world a better place!" A minority averted their eyes as soon as they saw the reporter, a popular practice among those who don't want to be bothered by a person of questionable sanity. If the police blinked, it was only out of necessity.
Those who did respond clearly had something to say. Eye-rolls abounded, and under-the-breath remarks ran the gamut from profanities to "Oh, please" to a sincere "Good girl!" A teacher from Brooklyn broke into hysterical laughter. She showed the reporter a magnet that depicted Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney in an unquestionably compromising position.
"He plays the gay card and the abortion card, and I don't think that's as important as health care and education. Our children do not know how to write," the teacher, who would identify herself only as Ms. Long, said.
A bespectacled, stroller-pushing man remarked, "He's killed thousands of people! You're thanking him for that?"
One man whipped out his cell phone and requested a photograph, more out of mockery than support.
No one was quite as outspoken as a silver-haired protester who told the growing crowd that what Mr. Bush had come to commemorate was what he had orchestrated himself. "America is part of the axis of evil — not the people, but the government," he said. "He'll be remembered as the worst president in history."
Later, in an attempt to pinpoint the commander in chief's driving route, the reporter spoke to dozens of policemen, but their responses were as varied as those of the passersby. One claimed absolute ignorance. "It's a Secret Service matter," he said. Another gave assurances that Mr. Bush would drive past Centre Street. Later, an officer said the president had already departed. Five minutes after that, the reporter was told that Mr. Bush was still at the site. That seemed like better information, seeing as he is scheduled to be in New York today.