On Patrol With the Guardian Angels!
Plus! Eric Adams Watch!! Items of Interest!!!
Welcome to Issue #48 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Good lord, people went bananas for Diane McDonald, the supermarket cashier I profiled last week. I got more “likes” on this post than on any issue in CAFÉ ANNE’s short history. Maybe I should dedicate this newsletter entirely to profiling death-friendly grocery workers.
You’ll be happy to hear that Diane invited me to sit on her stoop and help her dole out treats on Halloween night, so there may be a little Diane update. At the very least, I’ll report back on what candy she was giving away.
In other news, every-candy-on-Earth shoutouts to new paid subscribers Erika J, Katie W., Diane M., Juli B., Rob W., Nasha, Amy, and Lisa B. Also to Catherine M. who Venmo’d 20, and Jenn in Canada who snail-mailed a $20 check. And especially to Xeni F. who bought a gift subscription for Amy M. So sweet! Nothing says “I heart you” like a gift subscription to a free publication.
I am very excited about this week’s issue, as always. We’ve got the latest edition of Eric Adams Watch, some bonkers “Items of Interest”, and an account of my evening on patrol with the legendary Guardian Angels. Please enjoy.
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Sicilians, Rats and Smoking Weed
I continue to enjoy the exploits of Eric Adams, whom my friend Aharon refers to as “New York City’s first AI-generated Mayor.” As a profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #10 of the mayor’s doings:
OCTOBER 10: At an Italian heritage celebration, the Mayor opens his remarks by declaring, “One of the saddest days of my life—and I remember it like it was yesterday—my mother sat me down and she says, ‘Baby, I need to be honest with you. You’re not Sicilian!’”
OCTOBER 17: Targeting what the city’s sanitation commissioner refers to as the “all-night, all-you-can-eat rat buffet,” the Mayor announces a new trash collection schedule. “Everyone who knows me knows one thing,” he says at a press conference. “I hate rats!” He does not mention his 2019 effort, as Brooklyn Borough President, to get the city to adopt an “amazing rat trap” that lured the rodents with food before drowning them in an acid bath.
OCTOBER 18: At a press conference in Times Square, the Mayor suddenly flashes an expression of delight. “One law that was passed is clearly being practiced right now—cuz I smell some weed!” he says. “Someone is smoking, heh-heh, heh-heh-heh!! Someone is smoking some—heh-heh-heh!! Some—alright!”
On Patrol With the Guardian Angels!
I’ve been wanting to go on patrol with the Guardian Angels—the legendary NYC vigilante group—since last October when I profiled the outfit’s Queens commander, Bruce, for Issue #4. He later invited me to join his squad for an evening. I said yes, of course, but then I got busy, and then Bruce almost died.
I was happy when we reconnected last month and Bruce reissued his invitation. He even said I could bring a buddy. I knew just who to ask: Ralph Gardner Jr.
When I was a freelance columnist for the Wall Street Journal covering NYC business for the metro section, Ralph was a staff columnist cranking out four stories a week, covering any NYC topic he pleased. He since left the Journal, and like me, launched his own Substack blog, the boldly-named “Ralph’s Newsletter.” He also has a weekly radio segment on WAMC Northeast Public Radio. I thought it’d be fun if we both joined the patrol and wrote separate accounts of the same evening.
When I told Ralph my idea he immediately agreed to the plan. He even sent me a story he had written about the Guardian Angels way back in 1980 for the Soho Weekly News which was, at the time, the ultra-fringe alternative to the already alternative Village Voice. “I may be dating myself,” said Ralph.
Last Monday evening—patrol night—Ralph and I met for dinner at Amazing Grace, a Filipino restaurant on Roosevelt Ave. in Woodside that serves as an informal HQ for Bruce’s squad.
Confused by the menu, we order the Filipino equivalent of gringo fare—BBQ pork, white rice and chop suey. Ralph orders a Coke. “I usually bring a flask with me, but I didn’t think that’d be professional,” he says.
I fill Ralph in on the background. Bruce first joined the Guardian Angels in 1979s, as a teenager. He took several decades off and returned a few years ago, now in his mid 50s. The financial advisor quickly climbed the ranks and currently serves as the organization’s First Command Leader for Queens, training and directing a small squad that patrols the streets and subways twice a week.
“Bruce” isn’t our hero’s real name, I tell Ralph. For safety and privacy reasons, Guardian Angels use code names. Bruce, in fact, gave me my own code name—”Sparkles”.
“If you’re lucky,” I add, “maybe he’ll give you a Guardian Angels name too!”
Bruce shows up in the traditional Guardian Angels uniform of red beret, red silk baseball jacket and black pants. I’m happy to see that he looks pretty great, considering the fact that he has COPD and emphysema and isn’t supposed to be running around without his oxygen tank. He is accompanied by another squad member, “C-4,” an intense looking man in his early 50s. I ask about his code name.
“C-4 is a plastic explosive,” says C-4. “Military grade.”
“They’re quiet, but they can explode any time and destroy everything in sight,” Bruce adds.
“Is that a good description of you, C-4?” I ask.
“Yep,” says C-4.
Next to join us is Chagi, a 38-year-old Queens woman who works in HR.
“‘Chagi’ is a kind of Korean Taekwondo. Lethal in kicks!” says Bruce.
Chagi, who laughs all the time, says she joined the Angels in 2020. “It’s something I wanted to do for years.”
I ask her to recount a favorite adventure.
“One time I got grabbed on the train, from behind,” she says. “That was a close call.”
“Did you knock his head off?” Ralph asks.
A fourth Angel joins our table.
“Let me introduce to you my bro Krab,’” says Bruce. “Bro, grab a seat. This is Sparkles. She and Ralph, they’re going to be with us for the night.”
“K-R-A-B, that’s my code,” says Krab, who sports black-frame glasses and a goatee. “I’m a Cancer.” He shows me the crab tattoo on his arm.
Krab, who is Asian-American, joined the Guardian Angels after a spate of Asian hate crimes in 2020: “I told my wife, we gotta do something about this. There was a recruitment in Flushing. We went, me and my wife, and I met Bruce.”
He’s retired from the UN, where he worked for the Department of Public Information. “But I still have to do the humanitarian work,” he says. “I still have the fire in my gut!”
“I promoted him to be the Monday night patrol leader,” says Bruce. “And when I retire, not if, for health reasons, there’s only one man I can think of that can fill my position.”
“I’m going to retire ahead of you!” says Krab. “I’m the most senior of the group. I’m 63 years old!”
“But our future is here,” says Bruce, pointing out the young man who had quietly taken a seat at the table behind us. “Azreal. He’s only 24.”
The official meeting starts and Bruce reveals the night’s plan. While the original idea was to patrol the subway, there’s new marching orders from on high.
“Rock called me,” says Bruce, referring to Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa. “I don’t know if you heard about that politician in Astoria who said if there’s any danger to call [city complaint hotline] 311. So Rock made a flyer that we’re going to distribute in Astoria.”
The flyer reads:
***SMALL BUSINESS ALERT***
If you see a conflict that appears to be escalating
If you see someone having a mental health crisis
If you see someone experiencing drug overdose
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS CALL THE NYPD!
The new plan is to patrol one of Astoria’s main retail strips—a busy thoroughfare of mom-and-pop bars, stores and restaurants—while distributing the flyers for small businesses to hang in their windows.
We split into two groups. Krab drives to Astoria in his litte Toyota with Chagi riding shot gun and Ralph and I in the back. They discuss Bruce and his insistence on patrolling despite his medical condition.
“This is his life,” says Krab. “If you took the Guardian Angels from him, I think he’d be depressed.”
The four of us wait at the designated gathering spot—the corner of Ditmas Blvd. and Steinway Street. It takes a while for the rest of the squad to show up. Even in Astoria, even if you’re a Guardian Angel, it’s hard to find parking.
We head west on Ditmars Blvd. with Bruce and Krab taking the lead and C-4 holding up the rear. The Angels don’t have any special legal privileges and they don’t carry weapons. Most are martial-arts trained, however, and they’ve also got their highly visible uniform—still recognized by nearly everyone in NYC. Their very presence, the thinking goes, can deter crime.
“People say, ‘We need you guys more than ever,’” says Chagi.
Our little squad, in fact, is greeted—and thanked—by passersby just about every 30 feet. I’ve never seen so many fist bumps exchanged in one evening.
Among the most enthusiastic folks to greet the Angels is an older woman I quickly dub pink-quilted jacket lady. She stops the squad to air her complaints about Ecuadorean gangs, prostitution, gambling and narcotics. “What are the cops doing? Nothing!” she says.
She says she made 100 calls to the 110 Precinct, and got no response: “Their hands are tied by AOC and the left-wing progressive agenda—funded by George Soros!” she says.
She studies Bruce and Krab. “Are you Filipino mafia?” she says. “That’s what I call all the Filipino nurses.”
“Yes,” says Bruce, clearly amused.
She thanks them for their service. “Keep two guns in the house!” she reminds them, by way of a farewell. “One registered and one unregistered. And shoot to kill!”
The Angels spend the next half hour patrolling Ditmars Blvd. and chatting with shopkeepers. It’s hard to take notes while walking, and then it starts raining, which blurs the ink, so I don’t have the best record of this sequence. I can report, however, that Bruce and the gang successfully hung flyers at Eddie’s Barbershop, an Italian wine bar, a smoke shop, and a deli. Krab positions the posters and Azreal handles the taping.
“He’s my tape guy,” says Bruce. “See how fast he is?”
Shopkeepers thank them and offer them coffee. Random guys on the street express an interest in joining the Angels and take recruiting flyers. At a ramen joint, Bruce thanks the owner for hanging a poster and adds, “One day, if I have money, I’ll eat here!”
And then it really starts pouring. The Angels take shelter under the awning of the Thirsty Koala Artistan Café and wait for the rain to stop.
Bruce entertains Ralph and I by explaining the secret hand signals the Angels use to communicate on crowded subway cars, and asks again if I might want to join the squad on a permanent basis. “If you join us, you’ll be the video girl!” he says. “I’ll do all the breaking and taking down…I’m the one who takes the bullet!”
Another 15 minutes pass and the rain continues. Bruce looks a little tired and suggests we all head back to “the AG” (shorthand for Amazing Grace). “The crime is always going to be there. I don’t want to burn my people out,” he says.
But Krab wants to keep going. When the rain lets up, he suggests heading back east to hit the shops on the other side of the street.
There are fewer stores open on the north side of Ditmars, and we cruise along. Bruce and Krab are disconcerted to discover a totally unattended laundromat and search the joint for a manager. “Maybe the guy is in one of those dryers,” jokes Krab. “Call 911!”
While they complete their mission, I chat with Azreal, the baby of the group. He says he joined the Angels a year ago because he wanted to help people. He also works the graveyard shift at a bodega in Woodside.
“What’s behind your code name?” I ask.
“‘Azreal’ is the Archangel of Death,” he says.
“In what realm?”
“He’s one of the Jewish angels,” says Azreal.
“Do you know about this, Ralph?” I ask my colleague.
“I don’t know,” says Ralph. “I’m a bad Jew.”
Azreal uses his phone to look up his namesake on the Encyclopedia Brittanica web site and plays the audio for me. “Azreal: The angel of death who separates souls from their bodies…” says the robot lady voice.
Krab and Bruce leave flyers at the abandoned laundromat and we move on.
“So is this a typical night?” I ask C-4.
“Yep, typical night.”
I wait for him to elaborate, but he does not.
“It’s a lot about just showing up and making an appearance,” I observe. “Deterring crime.”
“How long do you think you’ll keep going?
C-4 is suddenly chatty. “Not much longer. I’m 51 so I don’t know how much more I have left in my tank. You do as much as you can with what you got. But I don’t do it for the thrill. I do it for the responsibility.”
“Guys!” Bruce interrupts our conversation. “What train are you taking?”
He’s calling it a night. “Bring them to the trains and take Chagi home,” he tells Krab.
“Sparkles!” Bruce addresses me, by way of a farewell.
“Wait!” I say. “You gotta give Ralph his code name!”
“I don’t think I’ve earned it,” says Ralph.
“No, says Bruce. “You haven’t earned it. Not yet.”
I’m thrilled that I have a code name while Ralph does not. “Yay!” I say.
Then Krab ruins everything. “Ralph’s your real name?” he says. “I heard ‘Marcus.’”
“Marcus Aurelius,” says Bruce. “Well, if you heard Marcus, then that’s his name then.”
“That’s me!” says Ralph.
“Was he the guy in ‘The Gladiator?’” says Bruce.
“Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic,” says C-4. “And the emperor. He was a Stoic writer and the Emperor of Rome.”
“I”ll try to live up to it the next time we get together,” says Ralph.
“Study your Stoicism,” says C-4.
And then it’s just us the two of us again. Ralph and I take the R train back to Manhattan.
“Your name is pretty classy, for a Guardian Angel,” I say, feeling resentful.
“It is!” Ralph is beaming.
We talk about the stories we’re going to write. I’m not yet sure how I will frame the evening, because really, not much happened. “It would have been so much better if someone had gotten shot,” I say. “It really wouldn’t matter who.”
“Yeah, right?” says Ralph.
PS: You can read Ralph’s account of the evening here.
PPS: Bruce learned a few days after our patrol night that he’d won a big leadership award from Filipino Abroad Voices United. He’s flying to LA today to accept his prize at the awards dinner. Bon voyage and congratulations Bruce!!!
ITEMS OF INTEREST
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!