Sunday, Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m.
It’s already dark by the time my two friends and I get to the occupied part of the New Haven Green. We walk over to the food tent, where people are standing around in a circle, talking about movies. A woman in her mid-20s asks me if I plan on occupying for the night. I nod. She gestures toward Elm Street. “You can go over there, or on the other side. Wherever.” She is interrupted by a man on the opposite side of the tent. “Here,” he calls out, in a raspy voice. “I’ll show you where to go. Come over by the security tent.”
As we walk around the food tent to the other side of the settlement, he apologizes. “Don’t mind her,” he says. “She’s new and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She doesn’t know the street. If she knew what she was talking about, she wouldn’t be talking stupid like that.” He points to a small clearing. “Set up here, next to my tent. My name is Joe Comfort. I’m security here.”
Joe comes to visit intermittently as we struggle to set up our tent in the dark. “Do you have a light?” he asks me. He reaches into his pocket, as if for a cigarette.
“No, sorry man.”
“Okay, then you’ll need this.” He pulls out a flashlight and hands it to me. “If you need a rake, it’s over there by that tree. Or ask somebody.”
While I’m standing with Joe by the kitchen, a man wanders over to our tent and starts to talk with my friends.
“Now, that guy standing by your tent, don’t let him in,” says Joe Comfort, pointing to the man, who is wearing a tattered coat patched with duct tape. “He’s a crackhead and a thief, but he does some work around here, so we let him hang around.”
Before I can stop them, my friends invite the man into our tent.
“Hey you,” Joe calls out to the crackhead, “Get out of there now. These kids are new.”
The man yells back, “But they invited me in.”
“You better get out,” calls Joe.
“What are you going to do, Joe? Call security?”
Joe leans over to me. “I am security,” he says, as if to explain the joke.
Outside of what is called the comfort tent, I meet the medic for the night, Sam. He calls the hospital when anything goes wrong. “Last night this girl J-Lo — she’s a part of the movement — got drunk, asked a cop for weed, and shat herself. So I sent her to Yale-New Haven,” he says.
A big man called Moose joins us next to the comfort tent. We discuss the general assembly that was held earlier, where Moose made his first proposal. “I asked for money to fill the kerosene lamps,” says Moose. Sam congratulates him: “It’s not easy to propose to GA. You did a great job.”
“Thanks,” says Moose. “I think the kerosene will be covered by donations though. They passed around a hat. Maybe next week I’ll make a proposal to pass around the hat at every GA. What do you think?”
“That will probably pass,” says Sam.
Inside the food tent, five occupiers are sitting around the heater and discussing drugs. A British man named Tommy Doomsday tells me about the reindeer that live in Russia and in Canada and eat psychedelic plants.
There’s also discussion about the Occupy community. “We get along most of the time,” says Josh, a recently hired chef from West Haven. “There are some real douchebags, and there are cliques, like high school.”
Josh explains that he has only lost his temper once, when people left cooking equipment out in the rain. “If you’re serving over 25 people per day, it’s commercial, and there are health code issues at stake. So, I bugged out. Everybody was like, ‘Calm down.’”
He goes on: “My point is, do we have to tell people to do things? I thought that wasn’t what this was about.”
It’s almost too cold to fall asleep. Outside our tent, people are carrying on into the night, telling stories about J-Lo and deciding whether she’ll be able to stay. Moose and Sam are talking about the legislation they’ll pass and how to maintain the community in the winter. They don’t talk about politics. What’s important for the occupiers is that, here on the Green, they make the rules.
A man is yelling in the distance. I can only understand one out of every few words, but I can tell that he is talking about America. When I wake up in the morning, I find out that it was Joe Comfort. “Joe is an addict,” Josh explains to me, as we warm up by the fire. “He does some work around here, so we let him hang around.”