How Macy’s escalator ate my son’s leg
Christmas 1973: Hilary knew I wanted a chef’s apron: pk loved to cook. She took Brian in tow and braved the Macy’s crowd.
Poor bk, five years old or so, was exhausted. Poor Hilary was already laden with packages over and above towing the kid. She drags bk onto a down escalator. bk sits on the step. At the bottom of the escalator Macy’s old escalator grabs bk’s leg and chews the hell out of his calf, not letting go.
People on the escalator had no way to get off without tripping over trapped and traumatized bk and screaming Hilary. Finally someone turned the damn child-chewing machine off. bk was detached and rushed to St Vincent’s ER.
It turned out that escalator violated the safety codes, had eaten many children before bk. The city knew, the city didn’t care. Macy’s knew, Macy’s found it cheaper to pay the occasional family who finds a lawyer and braves the insults and accusations of Macy’s stonewalling lawyers than to stall business by conforming to safety standards.
The problems with profits-first attitudes are that human bottom lines don’t have any idea where God’s bottom line is or what the bottom line of the biosphere is. We think we’re winning, that we’re getting away with it, because we don’t know how to think: which is why we’ve already shot 99% of our chances with the biosphere, never mind how much we’ve shot with God.
I’ll add lots more details as I can: about the hospital, about the lawsuit, about us Knatzs …
Twelve Days of Christmas. One day of Christmas is loathsome enough.
Lawrence Harvey’s Sgt., The Manchurean Candidate
2013 07 14 I read in an earlier version: will edit, merge, de-dup later:
Escalator: To the Gallows [note]
How Macy’s Mangled My Son
In 1970 my Free Learning Exchange, my offer to instantiate an Ivan Illich local learning network, planning to expand it to a cheap, unregulated internet for all possible public information, an anarchist global village, was up. By 1971 it was getting legs. By 1972 it was running. Individuals from the public were registering their expertise, their willingness to share, their terms for sharing, their interests … Some were sending the few bucks we asked for as a minimum. Some were putting quarters into our collection jar. But no one was giving us the real seed money we needed.
Actually, we didn’t need much money: we needed resources. We would have liked donated land, donated buildings, donated transport, donated food … If enough things had been donated we wouldn’t have needed much in the way of currency. Churches, schools, theaters … should have turned their spaces over to us in their off hours. We should have had donated office space, donated paper clips. The phone company should have given us whatever service we needed: ditto the power company, the printers, the ad agencies …
Indeed, part of what I was trying to accomplish involved a total rethink of “economy,” a revolution in cultural habits. We should offer what we have, get what we need, and live together; or, go on killing everything: including our selves. (We chose, of course, the latter.)
By 1973 our yolk, with which we were feeding the public while also trying to feed ourselves, was drying up. The only regular income FLEX had was my wife, Hilary’s: $5 an hour. That paid the rent, fed us, kept volunteers in coffee, pk in subway fare, raised a three- four- then five-year old.
As bk reached five, approached school age, things began to change. The volunteers were discouraged, Hilary was fed up … Hilary was begging me to get a job. Hilary worked at the Barnard Employment Agency. She’d bring me job notices that employers had sent to Barnard: scouting for girls. I finally agreed to try for a position as assistant director in an art gallery on 57th Street, just off 5th Avenue. I actually tried to get it. I did get the job. (Understand: my graduate school had never understood a single one of my lessons, the college I’d taught at had illegally fired me — after making a fuss over rehiring me, my doctoral orals committee had interrupted my attempt to introduce my thesis: wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t even consider it … And I’d vowed never to teach in any school ever again: my revolution would work, or fuck us all.)
So: I’m working at the art gallery. Christmas is coming. I get home, wait for Hilary who said she was going shopping. The phone rings. It’s Hilary, calling from St. Vincent’s Hospital: Brian has been caught and mangled in the Macy’s escalator. They’re in the Emergency Room.
I tear down there. Brian’s leg is a mess. He asks me if he’s going to die. Not knowing a damn thing — except that his death is not allowable — I assure him that he’ll be OK.
Macy’s was crowded. Of course. Hilary was tired. bk was very tired. One last thing to get: a chef’s apron for pk. They take the down escalator. Exhausted Brian sits down on the step, which of course is about to flatten into the turnaround.
Macy’s escalator is old. Macy’s escalator has an illegally wide gap in the stair teeth to the side. Brian’s clothing, then leg, gets snared in the mechanism. He’s screaming. Everyone starts screaming. Finally someone found the “safety” switch and turned the beast off.
Brian didn’t come free easily. The escalator had eaten a good part of his calf: meat, thank goodness, not bone, not vitals.
Over the following days Hilary and I had to put up with greaseball specialist doctors insinuating that if we didn’t hire them, at their enormous fees, we couldn’t be assured of getting the very best care for our son: we didn’t really love him. Misfortune is famous for sometimes being accompanied by a little bit of fortune: one of my best army buddies was an intern at St. Vincent’s that year. He assured us that the regular hospital staff was competent: there was no reason for us to bankrupt our future hiring the greaseballs. I was a follower of Ivan Illich. Having taking on the schools, after having taken on the Church and the United States, Illich was then turning to take on the doctors. He was drafting Medical Nemesis. note I didn’t want any of us to be anywhere near any doctors, any hospitals … any lawyers. But there we were: doctors and lawyers and hospitals were thrust on us: by Macy’s olde-time child-chopper (that escalator had chopped many a child before Brian).
Hilary’s mother was our safety net, poor woman. She guaranteed whatever fees were necessary to find a lawyer, make Macy’s take responsibility. Such fees of course proved unnecessary, the first lawyer we talked to took the case on contingency: but we were able to get his attention by showing money at the door. (Actually that’s lawyer’s main attention thereafter was on Hilary: he’d drip all over her, pushing me in the corner: it had been made clear to him at the outset that pk didn’t have the bucks; but Hilary was female in spades: cute, neat, English: from London.)
The lawyer researched the situation. Many a child had been eaten in that very spot. Macy’s had done nothing to repair the escalator. It was cheaper to stonewall, to deny, to insult the victims … and then to settle the occasional lawsuit, if the victim’s family hadn’t been insulted off: I’m sure that many a distraught and inexperienced family took Macy’s initial salt-in-the-wound offers. (What I don’t understand to this day, or rather I do understand, only too well, is why the lawyer wasn’t suing the city and state as well as Macy’s: it was the government that was allowing Macy’s to do business while mauling a certain regular percentage of the population!) (Macy’s pays more in taxes than the statistical victims! If Donald Trump got chewed, it might be different: the escalator might get fixed: and Macy’s might be bankrupt.)
We stuck to our guns. bk got paid.
It wasn’t easy. Hilary didn’t want to stick to her guns. She wanted to settle at the first offer. She feared, rightly, that if it came to trial, she would be accused of being a negligent mother.
Well, there was some truth to that: she did have the kid on the child-eater in trying circumstances. Christmas murders many an innocent. But her negligence was perhaps “1%” of the matter; Macy’s negligence was the fell bulk. Macy’s knows what Christmas is like. Macy’s milks it. Macy’s knew what its escalator was like. … (Further, Brian was ready to say it was his fault: he was the one who sat on the dangerous escalator. True, but he was a child, couldn’t maturely assess the complex causality: and he couldn’t have known the escalator was dangerous until it bit him.)
I think the lawyer wanted to settle, take some money, get onto his next case. I stuck to my guns. Macy’s caved: at $25,000. The lawyer said Take it. The lawyer clearly didn’t want to push further. I accepted that the lawyer would be useless, counter-productive from them on. We settled.
The state forced Brian’s money into the Bowery Savings Bank. The law forced Brian’s father to be the complainant — the services of my chattel had been compromised. That was the law’s stance. But Brian’s father had no say whatever in how the money was held and invested for Brian: for his coming of age: his 18th birthday. I don’t doubt that there were all sorts of friendly deals between the Bowery Savings Bank and the judges. The Bowery certainly did not offer the best interest. This is the state, looking out for “us.”
But that’s not the end, or even the point, of the story. That is this:
Years later, visiting Macy’s, again being seduced by their convenience, when shopping I would inspect that escalator, measure the tread. They hadn’t fixed it!
I bet they still haven’t fixed it.
Oh, yes: and when Brian was five, about to be school age, Hilary kidnapped him. That way neither she nor her mother had to discuss his education with pk, the deschooler.
Hilary’s excuses were good enough for all concerned — concerned not to use due process: I’d smacked her. I was broke. Both are true. What’s never been discussed is why I smacked her, why I wanted to smack her harder. What’s never been discussed is the real reason, given immediately above, why she kidnapped him: or why nothing got done to correct it.
Brian’s mauling by Macy’s escalator formed the core of a letter I wrote to Ivan Illich, reporting to him how FLEX was losing what little grip it had on the public: I’d lost my volunteers, my son had been mangled so our goddam Towers of Babel could turn a profit, I’d lost my family, I’d lost my meal ticket …
I didn’t hear from Ivan for more than a year after that. His eventual answer confessed to having carried my letter with him the whole time, reading and rereading its “poetry,” unable, inadequate, to respond. Ivan’s close referred to his own poverty — a loaded, Christian, Illich word if ever there was one.
2013 07 14 That letter, all Ivan’s letters, went missing for decades as I got bumped up and down the east coast of the US, scrambling to stay alive, to still try to communicate. Recently I found that particular letter from Illich: I’ll recreate it here asap.
Yes. Poverty is what followers of Christ choose: whether they want it nor not.
The churches, in not turning their resources over to Illich-deschooling, proved once again how immune they are to God, how far from any leading-edge god: and of course the schools too, and the government, the media, and the public.
Escalator to the Gallows:
My title echoes a French film. The film has nothing to do with my subject: I just like the title: and the inimitable Miles Davis sound track.
My FLEX had Illich and Deschooling Society on display at all times. I touted him from soap boxes. I put Illich text online in the 1990s. Deschooling I was transcribing manually, then PennSt put up a digital version. I copied it, edited it, improved, corrected it. Then mine got censored, all my domains, 4,000 text files. Then I put it back, I’m still putting it back; but I’ve never gotten more than a paragraph or two of Medical Nemesis online. But others had, in the 90s. I linked to them. Don’t know what’s happened since: they got censored too? went bankrupt? changed their mind. I just did a search, now you can find it, find it yourself, I have other things I’m way behind on.
Further note: the best I know Illich’s copyrights were transferred to his Cuernavaca friend, VB. I wrote her, told her I was posting transcriptions. She never blessed my efforts, never forbade me, simply didn’t answer.
The whole damn Catholic Church could have gotten behind Illich, and me! Didn’t.
How come the Temple didn’t get behind Jesus? Could have, didn’t. Looks the same to me.
2016 04 07 I now see I had a version of this story: this one, and added another: bk on Macy’s Murderous Escalator
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