The Gates: Monitoring Day 1 - A Special Day

February 23, 2005

This was a special day in many ways.

I had been too ill with a head cold to work for the first two days of the week, so when I got there the third day I was the only person there for the first day. How special I would be! I wouldn't know anyone, where to go, what to sign, or who to ask. Yay for me!

I thought it would suck a little, I thought I would have to ask a bunch of questions and suffer a bit of distance from people until they got to know me. If only I had been so lucky.

I felt as though I was a drunk frat boy crashing a sensitive art student's poetry reading/party with the ass ripped out of my pants. The person to whom I was told to report was off, so there was another blue-vest (supervisor) standing in, and all I learned from the stand-in was that his picture was in the New York Post for the second time that week. Oh, let me be generous, he also gave me a xerox map of my area.

What I needed to know was where people gather, how to send messages around, when we went to lunch, how to turn in equipment, etc. etc. etc. What I learned was that I was the least interesting part of what this person regarded as a largely uninteresting job, particularly with regard to his rising profile in the NYC tabloid press. The rest of the crew for my area were just as friendly, just as warm, just as happy to have me around. I felt as welcome as Barbara Boxer at the White House.

So, it would have sucked were it not for the work itself. Monitoring the Gates, as I was told by Jeanne-Claude and Christo personally today (another high moment I'll get to in a minute), is primarily about being available and mindful enough to locate and manipulate curtains that have blown in such a way to not hang freely, as the artwork demands. You are given a telescoping painter's pole with a tennis ball screwed on the end, you use this device to wrangle wayward curtains back into line.

When not doing that, you hand out the free swatches of material the Artists have made available for distribution to the public. That's a lot of fun. That is, until you run out. Thereafter, this part of the job becomes explaining to disappointed members of the public that you have no more swatches, you don't know who does, and that you're very sorry you could not give them one. That is not as much fun.

When not doing that, you answer questions. The most frequently asked question is "Do you have any swatches?" The next most frequent is "How much fabric did they use?" The answer, almost 100,000 square meters. After that, "How much do the bases weigh?" About 650 lbs. I was also asked frequently "What is this?" Art. And "What's going to happen after they are taken down?" Everything is recycled. There are about two dozen other questions I get asked, but much less.

So, once I had studied my Xeroxed map I walked around and found the boundaries of my area, and I also found that no one else in the area, none of these friendly souls, was paying any attention to these boundaries. No matter. I play by the rules, they can turn it into whatever they want.

One thing I discovered very early on was that a VIP was having his picture taken in my area, on a bridge over the body of water in the southern end of the Park known as "The Pond." There was a full-on high-end photographer crew there, with klieg lights, umbrella reflectors and the whole deal. There were a bunch of really big and burly guys in expensive cashmere coats with earplugs in their ears milling around. I just casually walked around them and did my job. One of the Gates on the bridge was frequently getting wrapped up, I had to make several trips right through the set to take care it.

Every time, some smiling lackey would come up and shoo me off the bridge, every time I would inform then that I would already be off the bridge if they hadn't stopped me to tell me to leave. It was comical. I didn't know who was coming, I didn't ask, I didn't care. I think this made them a bit uncomfortable because I think they assumed I knew who it was and were wondering how I had penetrated their veil of security.

Pretty soon, every blue-vest supervisor at that end of the Park was milling around my area as well. Gosh, aren't I special! I have all the supervisors (my experience of them has heretofore ranged from the polite tolerance of the minimum possible amount of contact with me to the not-so-subtle isolation of turned backs and averted gazes) suddenly standing around in my area doing nothing but taking up space! Yippee!

So, I hear some cutie in a business suit whisper "he's on the move" into her cell phone as I hear a familiar voice behind me. It's Mayor Bloomberg. He's coming to have his picture taken. That is so special!

So, he stands on the bridge and the pesky Gate gets wrapped up behind him. I move to a position such that I will be able to quickly get to it once there is a break in the action. The security guys have already figured out that I'm just indifferent, so they're relaxed, but my supervisor rushes up to grab me by the arm and say "No, just wait until they are finished."

I have no intention of doing anything else, but his thoughtful intervention allowed him to get into a much better position to take *his* pictures of the Mayor. And, he's doing all this on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's dime, something which I'm sure they would regard as VERY special.

Mind you, this is the same person whose job it is to help me find my way around. Despite that, all I have learned form him thus far is that (a) his picture has been in the New York Post twice this week, and (b) he could get a better picture of the mayor if I would step to the side. I was disgusted by the guy, and I don't disgust easily.

Mayor Mike got his pictures and left, and guess what? I'm suddenly all alone as a Gates worker in my otherwise very populated section of the Park. A few minutes ago I had five blue-vests within arm's reach, now it looks like I am the only Gates worker in Central Park! How special!

The rest of the morning is delightful. Once my blue-vest overlords disappear, I get down to the real fun of being a monitor: fixing wrapped Gates, giving away stuff, and answering questions. It is almost non-stop joy. I love the work, the people love the work, I get thanked constantly, hugs, kisses on the cheek, posing for pictures, it's the coolest job in NYC for a day.

At lunchtime, I gather at the place I am guessing is the spot to gather so that we all can go to lunch as a group, and no one else is there, so I walk alone up to the Loeb Boathouse and get a meal. The food is good, as it was during the installation. The rest of my team straddles in and reprimands me for not waiting for them. They claim they were where I was at the same time I was there. If it were not so pathetically lame I might have gotten pissed, but I didn't. It doesn't matter.

I eat quickly and return to my area, long before lunch is over, because I would rather be in the Park with the visitors than in the boathouse with my crew. I get mobbed for swatches, the free give-aways, and I give them all out except for four that I plan to save for myself. I am figuring someone will contact me to distribute more swatches during the day. This never happens. Instead, I have three hours of disappointing people ahead of me. WooHoo! Special, special, special!

I have figured out how to walk my area so that I can monitor my Gates, as well as about 50 others, and I am standing talking to a tourist when I feel a tap on my shoulder. It's Jeanne-Claude, and Christo is right next to her! I greet her.

She smiles and says "Your last job as a monitor is talking to people. Your first job is unwrapping Gates, there are about 6 Gates in your area wrapped up, Christo will show you."

I'm dumbstruck. I had just walked through, I knew my Gates were all fine, but I follow Christo down the walk, he looks down the line of Gates and says to me "Thank you, thank you, thank you" and walks away. I have no idea what all that was about, but the crowd had figured out who they were by this time and were mobbing them and applauding, so I just decided to take another walk through my Gates to make sure. I did. They were all fine. I have no idea what Jeanne-Claude had on her mind, but she was gone when I got back. Whew! That was special!

I had several delightful conversations during the rest of the day, interspersed with the slightly sad task of denying that I had any more swatches. I had forgotten about the four that I decided to keep for myself.

Then, a very pretty, 20-ish, British girl asks me for a swatch, she has another girlfriend with her just as stunning, and after I explain to them that I am out, I try to explain that they should return the following morning when the chances of finding a swatch are better. They tell me they can't, they are leaving in the morning, this was their last chance to have one. I feel their disappointment and it bothers me. They walk away plainly sad.

I reach in my bag to get the other peanut-butter and cracker sandwich I stashed in there and feel the four swatches I had saved earlier (and until then had forgotten about). I run after the two girls, who are in the process of being denied swatches by another Gates worker, and motion for them to come to the side. I pull out two of the swatches and they both light up like pinball machines, shrieking with joy. They each hug and kiss me, then they skip away obviously delighted that they'll be able to take home their own piece of The Gates. After they get about 20 meters away, the first one stops, turns to me, waves, and says "You've made my holiday!" She has the biggest, brightest smile on her face.

Two other women, both New Yorkers more my age, walk up and say "You're getting a lot of action, you must have swatches!"

I say, "I have two more."

They say "You have two more hugs coming."

I say "I'll take 'em." They both hug me warmly, and now I am really out of swatches.

So, it's a great job, in spite of the fact that I haven't been so rudely rejected by a clique of peers since high school, I had a great day today. The gift that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have given just keeps on giving, and I'm on the list.