19 Feb


You could see it off the Orange Line from the Maryland side, coming into the Deanwood station. It was tagged in gigantic red letters on the side of a decrepit, gargantuan water cistern shooting up over New York Avenue. The peeling structure belonged to an abandoned warehouse with broken windows and tagged by Cool “Disco” Dan on every possible piece of brick.
It was a strange-looking word.
It came surging forward like a mob with hammers and sickles: the S hurrying the straggling O along, the A and the R striding confidently, the dot over the I and the accents over the second S and C reading like heads craning forward to where the C was pointing, the N holding its rippling banner proudly aloft—the red and white flag of Poland.
You could see it just before you went underground. Before they blew the metro horn.
Before the curtain fell.
I knew the tag well. I had just been in the States a year and a half; an immigrant from another country with its own, similar problems, but with no solidarity.
J. and K. Janiszewski were two marginally employed graphic artists living in Gdansk. During the second week of the August 1980 strike at their hometown’s mammoth Lenin Shipyards, they came up with the tag. Within a month it had become the ubiquitous emblem of a national worker’s movement. I knew that from underground history.
Lech Walesa.
I knew about him too.
1944, 1956, 1968, 1970, 1976—a litany of failed Polish national rebellions. I had learned about them in fifth grade in that other school in that other country. On that side of the world Walesa was a traitor, an underground roach. Stories were weaved and spun by the government. On this side…
On this side,
if you fast-forward,
he’s the president of Poland.
Fast-forward and Vaclav Havel is the president of the Czech Republic.
And a bit more and now Havel has lung cancer.
(Decay is inherent in every complex system)
On this side.
Nobody going to work on the Orange Line in July, 1981 cared about “Solidarnosc.” Or Cool “Disco” Dan.
Or Walesa.
Arpad Goncz.
Nobody going to work on the Orange line in July, 1981 cared about Peron, or Sandra Day O’Connor, Chris Everett-Lloyd and John McEnroe winning the Wimbledon, floods in China, Francois Mitterrand’s meeting with Helmut Schmidt in Bonn, Harry Chapin’s death in a car accident…
The Orange Line took you underground at Stadium-Armory and dropped you off wherever you needed to work.
L’Enfant Plaza.
Capitol South.
Federal Center SW.
The only solidarity on the train was that of the crowd pushing on one another to get out in time. Pressure on the joints. Pressure on the foundation.
The abandoned water tower is still there but someone has scraped off the graffiti somehow without leaving a trace of the job.
Walesa is still alive.
So is Havel.
As is Goncz.
The Orange Line still rolls through, several dozen times a day.
And Cool “Disco” Dan remains entrenched all over the city in black and white paint.
It seems you can’t chop down certain bits of history.
It tags itself to walls and cisterns somehow—you can smell its stench—in a bizarre solidarity with itself across timelines.
Poland is in the news again. Just this morning.
Light a cigarette and step on the brake. Switch away from the ads on the FM.
Nothing changes and everything changes.


3 Responses to “Solidarity”

  1. Slyboots 19/02/2009 at 11:49 AM #

    We had a family in town that hung a Solidarity flag from their front porch. Kind of odd in Montana, but I always thought it was nice. A breath from the outside. Last time I was home, that house was festooned with those little Nepalese/Tibetan prayer flags in various stages of tatty decay. So time does march on.

  2. (S)wine 19/02/2009 at 12:29 PM #

    So strange, while your comment came in I was reading an article on Norman Maclean–from Missoula, as you may well know. Synchronicity again.

  3. jason 22/02/2009 at 1:38 PM #

    FFC TEN rules OK!

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