I was driving to see my daughter on the other side of town. Approaching an intersection, I slowed down, but then accelerated as the light turned green. I didn’t even have that oh-shit-I’m-about-to-be-in-a-car-accident moment. Nah. I never saw it coming.
The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed. My brain was broken. No memories of what happened. Amy Rose had to tell me the story: “Danny, you were hit by a police car on his way to a call. He ran through the red light, plowed right into your van, just behind your driver’s side door.” And then she told me, you know, how she had told me this story already. Probably seventy times in the last seven hours.
It was a complete fucking nightmare. After the accident, I thought everything would be fine. The police would pay for my van and cover my hospital bills. Or maybe I’d even sue and receive a big chunk of money. But, so far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the city blamed me. They waited a week to issue a ticket. “Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.” And then sued my insurance company for $26,000 to replace their SUV.
The accident was on January 11th. More than a month later, I was still having residual symptoms from the concussion. Fog. Depression. My knee was pretty jacked up. After realizing that the police were trying to fuck me over, we consulted a lawyer friend to see if I had any recourse. I just felt so frustrated, angry, and confused. Amy Rose would catch me crying randomly around the house. Breaking down.
We were deep into February by the time life gradually began to feel somewhat normal again. But then March hit, you know, and the world imploded.
Learning to live with the new reality of COVID-19 has been pretty bizarre. Nothing is normal. You always feel wobbly. Like you can’t get your feet underneath you. And Florida just had 15,000 new cases yesterday, so it’s not going away anytime soon. Within that first month alone, I probably lost out on $5,000 dollars in retail sales. It hurts. I’m not going to lie. But I try to keep perspective. The company losing money isn’t that big of a deal compared to the fact that people are dying.
The company: Weathered Wood. We’ve been in business for over eight years now. Before that, I was just a commercial carpenter, you know, a pull-my-oar kind of a guy. Woke up every morning. Went to my construction job. But, man, I fucking hated it. While I was incarcerated, I spent a lot of my time making art. So then, on the outside, I desperately wanted to be involved in something like that again and potentially even make an income from my creativity.
When I moved to the Capital Region, after getting off work, I would walk along the Hudson River and hunt for cool shit. Especially driftwood. I’d find so many amazing and unique pieces. Many times, they were art in and of themselves. At first, I would just mount the coolest pieces on a board, but then started making stuff with the driftwood. Little abstract sculptures. Mirrors, lamps, arbors, horses. Pretty soon, I was selling my stuff around town out of other people’s little retail stores.
At my construction sites, after remodeling a structure, I noticed how they often threw the original lumber into dumpsters. And some of the structures in this area are fucking old, you know, built between 1850-1890. So I would dumpster dive. Take this history-rich lumber, reclaim it, and turn it into furniture. One-of-a-kind pieces that you can’t find at Pottery Barn. Eventually, we were doing so well selling furniture, I thought, “Why don’t we just get our own store?”
The store is in downtown Troy, NY. One of the tri-cities: Albany, Schenectady, Troy. The home of Uncle Sam. Haha. At one point in history, because of its proximity to the river and location between New York City and the Adirondacks, Troy was actually one of the richest cities in the union. My house is directly across the street from the Burden Iron Works. Henry Burden. He had a high-production factory in the 1800s that could make a horseshoe a second. Imagine that.
They say, though, in the 1980s, like during the crack epidemic, people were afraid to even come downtown. But in my years here, there’s been a real revitalization. Part of the “Main Street America” movement. Today, downtown has this buzzy, artistic vibe. Mom-and-pop shops. An amazing farmer’s market. In fact, last year, the Troy Riverfront Farmer’s Market won Best Farmer’s Market in the fucking nation. For quite a while now, too, we’ve been located right in the heart of the farmer’s market.
For some reason, I refer to the company as a “we.” When I say “we,” it’s really just me. Although we do sell work by local artists. And Amy Rose is set up inside the store now, too. It’s one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made. The name of her company is Rose Hair & Healing. Earlier this year, we built her a little salon in the back of Weathered Wood where she specializes in cuts for queer clients. And also does her energy work, you know, physical and emotional healing.
So COVID definitely put a damper on things for both of us. But Amy Rose has been back to work a lot. People need their hair cut! And the store is open for business as well. Right after my accident, the community rallied, contributed to a GoFundMe, and helped me buy a new van. Sales are way down, yeah, but there are still people who want me to build them some custom stuff. For now, we’ll just accomplish what we can accomplish. Keep the lights on. Survive.
On May 25th, the police murdered Mr. George Floyd. For more than eight minutes, they had a knee on his neck while onlookers videotaped. I was fucking outraged. How could you not be? That Saturday, we went to an afternoon rally in Albany, and it was powerful to see so many people standing up, speaking out, and saying, “No. We’re not going to tolerate this anymore!” That night, in Albany, there were riots.
We held a couple of our own peaceful demonstrations in front of the police station here in Troy. Me, Amy Rose, and a handful of other people. We’re not like civil rights leaders, though, so we had no idea what we were doing. But we showed up, you know, engaged officers as they entered and exited the building. Put them on the spot. They’d say things like: “We hear you.” And: “We’re doing a lot to change.” Bullshit. We all know it. Like Rage Against the Machine says, “Some of those that work forces / are the same that burn crosses.”
When word came down that there was going to be a big Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Troy, we were really excited. One day, though, like a week before the rally, we saw the store owner across the street walk out with all of this plywood. He started boarding up his windows. And then we heard news from the other side of downtown: a bunch of restaurants had also boarded up. The next thing you know, the entire fucking downtown had boarded up. That mentality, that fear, took off like wildfire.
I didn’t want to board up, but it’s not my property. The landlord said to me: “Well, Danny, if those fifteen-foot tall windows get smashed, those windows that cost $5,000 apiece, then it’s on you to replace them.” We’re still in the middle of this crazy pandemic, remember, and New York State was just now allowing retail stores and restaurants to begin re-opening. And now, our entire downtown looked like a war zone! I was furious. Because that shit sends the wrong message. That we’re more concerned about property damage than we are about the atrocities going on in this country.
The first night that the boards went up, crowds of people came out and plastered the town with inspiring messages about the movement. I put up a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign. And another that said BLACK-OWNED BUSINESS. Local graffiti artists and painters went around and used the boards as canvases. Some of the business owners blared music into the street. It was like a block party, a little creative festival, you know what I mean? There was so much positive energy.
The next morning, however, I was heartbroken. In the middle of the night, some slimy lowlifes had spray-painted across my storefront: ALL LIVES MATTER.
Lately, I only wear Black Lives Matter gear when I leave the house. So, you know, I get into a lot of “conversations” with these All Lives Matter people. Like two days ago, I ran into a local guy. Some friend of a friend. He saw me pull up, and as soon as I got out of my van, he said, “Oh, no, Danny, all lives matter, all lives matter.” Okay. It depends on my mood whether or not I want to entertain these assholes. I explained, “Yes, all lives do matter. However, disproportionately, black people are killed by cops. Black lives are in danger right now.”
That’s the simplest way to answer the All Lives Matter people. It’s either that, you know, or give them a superman punch right to their fucking face. But I’m not trying to go back to jail anytime soon, so…
In the days before the rally, we put everything on hold and threw ourselves wholeheartedly into the movement. We decided to turn Weathered Wood into “protest central.” We put out calls on social media for volunteers and donations, and the community responded. Masks, snacks, and bottled water came piling into the store. People gathered out front to make homemade signs.
The morning of the actual protest, I passed out snacks and water, but spent 90% of my day patrolling the crowd, looking for bad actors. One kid came into the store early to drop off a donation. He wasn’t with anybody. And his entire face was covered. Like, fully wrapped. Protestors were wearing face coverings, but this felt odd to me. We had everyone who donated sign a registry, so we could send thank you notes. But when I asked, “Do you want to sign the registry?” He said, “Nope.” And just walked away. Way away.
So I followed him for a little bit with a couple of my friends. A loosely-assembled security team. He stood in a section where you couldn’t even hear the speakers. With his arms crossed. Not clapping. We kept an eye on him. Took a couple of pictures. And then went and asked the police: “Is there any chance someone can have a talk with this kid? Find out his story?” And the police said, “No way. We’re not going into that crowd.”
Fucking great. All over the country, there have been counter-protestors at rallies looking to incite violence. Some of these crazies, you know, have been running protestors over with their cars. This kid could have had a knife. Or a gun. Like the kid who shot up that church, Dylann Roof, he sat down and prayed with the people he eventually massacred. And that was a small group. We had 11,000 people in Troy that day. I thought, “Holy shit! There could be dangerous players anywhere.”
That was before we even encountered the scary dudes at the Uncle Sam bus stop. Wearing flak jackets. Carrying knives and billy clubs. I yelled out, “What the hell are you doing here?” And they said, “We’re here to defend your first amendment rights.” Yeah right. So we pushed our way through the crowd, up to the stage, and gathered the biggest brothers we could find. By the time the flak jacket guys were approaching the crowd, we had like 200 people there to confront them, surround them, and say, collectively: “You’re not welcome here. We want you to go.”
The police claimed, after the fact, you know, that they had eyes on these guys the whole time. And maybe you heard about this on the news? In their cars, police found loaded guns without serial numbers. Gas masks. And a tactical militia manual. One of these guys was active military! They were from an organization called The New England Minutemen. Affiliated with the Boogaloo Boys. Insane rightwing dudes who think white men are being marginalized in our society. They’re looking to start a second Civil War.
So that’s what was going on in our city. Fucking psychopaths with firearms. Two blocks from my store. I told that story over and over, so many times, until Amy Rose got sick of hearing about it. She was like, “Bro, it was a community protest, not the fucking ‘Danny Show.’”
In a few days, at some city building behind the DMV in Troy, county legislators are meeting. To honor the cops. And congratulate each other on what a great job they did at the rally. So there’s a group here in town—Justice for Dahmeek—planning a vigil-style protest outside. To let the city know that we are unhappy with this response. Why are you honoring the cops? The cops are the fucking problem.
Dahmeek McDonald. An unarmed Black man. Shot in the back by police. Dahmeek survived, but that cop was never charged. This has been happening in Troy, over and over, for years. In 2016, the police murdered an unarmed Black man, Edson Thevenin. And the city, right up to the mayor, covered it up. And the cop that murdered Edson Thevenin, he actually just died of COVID. So they’ll be honoring him specifically at this event. That dude was a murderer and a part of the systemically racist policing that goes on in this country. Why are we publicly celebrating him?
Never mind the budget that Troy just passed. I can get you a copy. For 2020, they allotted $207,000 for Public Health. And guess how much they gave to the police? Twenty million dollars! Twenty million. It’s atrocious. We have a tiny little city, and our police have a fucking tank. I’m not kidding. They have a vehicle in their arsenal that can withstand an RPG. What do they need with that? Why aren’t they figuring out how to commit some of that money to poor communities and better treatment of minorities?
Everything is so fucked up. For a while now, the only thing that I’ve wanted to do is make art. I can’t sit still. Or hang out or read or even watch TV. I just need some release. So, at night, I’ve been going in my backyard, having a couple of cocktails, and painting by the fire. I gesso a bunch of boards, hang them on my fence, and then layer them with color. A combination of acrylics and spray paint in wild swirly motions. I’m still in touch with my art teacher from prison, and when he saw the work, he described it as energetic.
More recently, I’ve been painting outside of the shop. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, they shut down the block and let restaurants put their tables in the street. And I’m down there anyways, you know, so I put on little performances. Last Friday, I whipped out a painting in 45 minutes. And then poured on some chainsaw gas. Lit part of it on fire. Somebody posted a crazy picture of me on Instagram. Barefoot and shirtless. Ripped jean shorts. Gray beard. Bald. I’m always surprised when I see myself in pictures. How big I am. It’s like, “Geez. I look like fucking sasquatch.”
So I’m building some hype for the work, yeah, and I have sold a few pieces already. But these paintings are really supposed to be a cathartic kind of thing. To get away from all of the overwhelming seriousness. And just be immersed in the movements of the universe itself. Tap into some place that’s free from the day-to-day anxieties of being a fucking human on Earth. It’s not so much what I’m trying to express, but more where I’m trying to get mentally. Or what I’m trying to get past.
Because the righteous indignation that I feel. It’s almost a block for me to be able to live my life. Between my own history with the system. And this ongoing and unresolved situation with the local police. Everything’s been slow, you know, so I don’t even have a court date until August. And then to see all of these Black people being killed in the streets. And then, throughout the pandemic, the general lack of leadership in this country. The disregard for human life is fucking horrifying.
It’s almost enough to make me want to go back to robbing banks.