A Stamp of Disapproval

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January 12. Dead of winter. It’s the “No Pants Subway Ride” in New York City. This newly-minted annual event, which takes place in a growing number of cities across the US, emboldens people to traipse around in public in their underwear. The reasons for doing this are varied and, it seems, open for interpretation. But so it goes…

I’m a foot away from a massive marble wall affixed with big silver letters that spell JP Morgan Chase & Co. This is their International headquarters. For the record, I am wearing pants, and, to spare you the suspense, I keep them on.

But this is still a day of deliberate exposure, a perfect opportunity for me to do my small part to help folks like those at STAMPSTAMPEDE.ORG drive money out of politics.

The Chase building lurks over me. I am all alone. And by alone I mean, except for the blurred faces of the people in cars and cabs whizzing past me, I am the sole person on the sidewalk. In any direction. With or without pants. Yes, it’s cold and, yes, it’s a Sunday, but no one other than me is visible, which is rare for New York City. It also happens to be rather ideal. I have a wad of bills in my pocket that are stamped with messages like ‘not to be used for bribing politicians’. All I need is a means to harmlessly affix a few of them to the Chase signage.

Spit, perhaps? Appropriate but gross. A faded green DIY flyer offering the services of a “Computer Guru” is taped to a light post just behind me. The severe swings of the city’s recent weather have crisped the leaflet, as if it has been deep-fried. The jaundiced topside of the masking tape — four tabs pinning each corner of the flyer — have a talcum-like residue of disintegration on it. The sticky side, it seems, is theoretical.

But somehow the dollar bill sticks! There’s just enough tack to keep it in place on the polished black granite. Camera on. Lens cap off. I attempt to frame a decent angle and — click-click — casually fire off two test shots.

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The second shot, however, is photo bombed; a hand reaches in and snatches the dollar from the wall. I am confronted with a Badge. A bulky man with the attitude and eyes of authority. It’s a JP Morgan Security Guard who, like me, is not participating in No Pants Day.

“What are you doing?” he asks, in a deep-voiced patois.

“Um, I’m not sure,” I say sputtering, “But isn’t that great?” I point to the red “NOT TO BE USED FOR BRIBING POLITICIANS” stamped onto the dollar that he’s waving between us.
“Is this yours?” he asks.
“It’s yours,” I say, “Keep it.”
He ignores the offer and says, “Time for you to go.”
“Can I at least get a good picture of this? Would you mind? Can you just hold it up for me?”

Incredibly, a barelegged trio ambles past. He stares. I stare at him staring at them. This is a welcomed yet seriously weird respite from our little confrontation.

“You cross this line, right there,” he says pointing down at drainage grate abutting the granite wall, “And you are trespassing on private property. I’ll have you arrested.”
“Arrested? For leaving Jamie Diamond a dollar bill?”
He has no idea who I’m talking about. He places the bill back into my hand.
I try not to accept it, to give him the opportunity to keep the money, but he’s had enough of me.
“Leave. Now,” he says.
So, I do as he asks. I leave. I head to the subway thinking that the only way that could have gone worse is if I had actually been arrested.

Waiting on the platform for the downtown train, I find myself surrounded by a dozen or so people in their underwear, top heavy with winter bulk. And then two dozen. It’s ridiculously amazing. Most of them stand around as if it’s normal to walk around in public with no pants. Like this is exactly the way it’s supposed to be and I’m the odd one.

I snap a few photos of them. Perhaps the irony will be lost on them, but not me. All those fancy-pants are forever protected in their gilded towers, while the rest of us are the ones caught with our pants down.