CORRESPONDENCErnLetter FromrnNew Yorkrnby Robert SpencerrnT-Shirt Vendors BewarernI’m back in Manhattan Criminal Courtrnfor another round of Ihe People of thernState of New York v. Robert Spencer, lookingrnat a misdemeanor conviction. Atrnprevious court appearances, the Peoplernhave offered me plea-bargains of finesrnand community service, but I’m toughingrnit out to clear my name. I’ve beenrncaught iu a Hitchcock nightmare, accusedrnof a crime I didn’t commit. It’srnone of the worst crimes of all here in thernNew York Socialist Republic: I stand accusedrnof being a small businessman.rnWhile Mayor David Dinkins insistedrnthat New York is “not Dodge City,” hernmay hae meant only that Dodge Citrndidn’t have skyscrapers. For the rule ofrnlaw is not much more in evidence in thernCity that Never Sleeps than in the popularrnconception of the Wild Wild West.rnCrack dealers and muggers can roam freernafter the courts hand them token penalties.rnJoel Rifkin has to murder 16 womenrnbefore amone notices the body partsrnin his truck. When a thug tossed arnMoloto cocktail into a passing fire truckrnin Washington Heights, city officialsrnacted quickly to advise firemen not tornrisk life and limb by closing fire hydrantsrnopened during the recent heat wave.rnEven the Man doesn’t dare cross thernBoyz. But there’s crime and there’srncrime! Moscow and Prague and the restrnhave given up Marxist pipe dreams andrnstarted opening up to the free market,rnbut New York Citv government remainsrna bastion of socialist purity. Howeverrnpowerless city officials may be to stoprnmurders and rapes, they know how tornstop their real enemy: independent entrepreneurs.rnAn underground economy alwaysrngrows where state controls stifle legitimaternbusiness initiative; it’s boomingrnnow in New York as much as in Warsawrnin the bad old days. My alleged crime isrnbeing part of it by trying to sell unlicensedrnT-shirts to unsuspecting innocents.rnThe city, ever jealous of its prerogatives,rndemands that even the mostrninsignificant vendor be licensed. Itrnblocks initiative like a mafia bully demandingrnpart of the take of a neighborhoodrnbusiness in exchange for “protection.”rnAt least the mob offered realrnprotection! The city only offers tanglesrnof red tape and a large tax bite.rnConsequently, the Jamaicans andrnAfricans who carry scarves in tote-bagsrnand watches in briefcases fold up andrnmove along when the police come uprnthe block. They know they’re a morernconspicuous and ultimately more dangerousrntarget than the average crackrndealer, for by going unlicensed they underminernthe city establishment’s legitimacy.rnThey might complain about theirrnlot, but they don’t have it much worsernthan the legitimate businesses in thernstorefronts behind them, choked b”rnforests of prohibitive taxes and hyperdetailedrnregulations. My arrest has offeredrnme a glimpse into the actual prioritiesrnof the municipal government as therncitv slides toward Third Worid status.rnThe charge against me originated outsidernthe Democratic National Con’ention.rnManhattan’s embattled businessesrnhad taken heart from the imminent arrivalrnof the Democrats. “WelcomernDemocrats” signs were everywhere. As ifrnNew Yorkers hadn’t ever seen a Democrat!rnI got caught up in the spirit of thernfestivities mvsclf and decided to go tornMadison Square Garden one tnening tornsee the sights.rnEveryone was earnest and readv tornfight for his cause. There were quixotesrnfor Brown and Cuomo, dressed like MikernDoonesbury with vests and roundrnglasses, and a different kind of dreamerrnurging all to “Prepare for the Coming ofrnthe Lord Jesus Christ. October 28,rn1992—Rapture.” (The Democrats’ OctoberrnSurprise?) The most visible specialrninterest group was NOW, handing outrnstickers blaring “Abortion on Demandrnand Without Apology.” Virtuallv eervoncrnexcept the preacher was wearingrnone, mostly on the lapel. But out inrnfront of the Garden was a passel of strippersrnin bikinis, offering weary conventioneersrndiscount coupons; one stripperrntook a NOW abortion sticker and placedrnit on the crotch of her bikini, right on tliernsexual revolution.rnSoon I noticed a man accompanied byrntwo women, pulling a cart along SeventhrnAvenue outside the Garden. Therncart was full of T-shirts the were selling,rnattacking Bush, Clinton, and Perot in anrnextended visual metaphor based on ThernWizard ofOz. I think Perot was the Wizard.rnThe man had drawn the design andrnmade the shirts himself. Intrigued byrntheir rough-and-ready nihilism, I struckrnup a conversation, asking hinr, “Well,rnthen, who are vou for?” Not Brown, notrnCuomo, not even Fulani or Marrou orrnthe Second Coming preacher. No one.rnHe was fed up, he said. He wanted tornmake a little money as well: he told mernhe hadn’t worked in two years.rnOne of the women with the artist, hisrnsister-in-law, began to tell me about thernspiritual benefits of channeling, pausingrnfrequently to try to sell the T-shirts.rnThere were no takers. Soon she becamerneven more distracted as a tall, voungrnblack gentleman in a short pink skirt appearedrnnext to us and began setting uprnvideo equipment. I le w as with a whiternfellow, who despite wearing a charmingrnflower-print summer dress, had not gottenrnaround to shaving his legs. Theyrnwere famous! In the next ten minutes Irnnoticed two different crowds of peoplernstop to tell the black man, “I saw you onrnTV!” One said in Chicago, the other inrnWashington.rnLike everyone else that night, this TVrnstar had a handbill. He called himselfrn”Joan Jctt Blakk,” and he was running forrnPresident. “The Queer Nation Partyrn(and we do mean PARTY, sister) KnowsrnThis Election Is Gonna Be A Drag . . . SornWe Decided to Make It A Real Drag.”rn’I’he channeling fan was enthralled. Shernasked me to hold up one of the T-shirtsrnfor Joan’s camera while she made herrnbest pitch (“It’s a limited edition! It’srnonly ten dollars! It shows how this wholernconvention is a joke!”), and I did so. Itrnwas a festive occasion, after all; who wasrnI to spoil it?rnBefore I could give the T-shirts back tornone of them and moxe on I was approachedrnby a buriy Irish fellow in a newrnFlorida Madins T-shirt, untucked. “Arernyou selling these T-shirts?” he asked mc.rn”Yeah,” I said. It was a festive occasion.rnThe shirts were being sold, right? Whornwas I to obstruct commerce? “Yeah,” Irnsaid, and as I was about to direct him tornthe actual designer and vendor of thernlANUARV 1994/31rnrnrn