Two years ago this month, I made someone angry. And that was the part of the story I left out when I blogged about it.
For some reason, I feel now is the time to tell the rest of the story.
Bryant Park in New York City was culminating its summer outdoor screenings with Superman: The Movie. I learned that a week before the show.
I contacted the Bryant Park Corporation to ask if I and an established bookstore could sell Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman before the screening. The book had come out only a month earlier, was (and still is) the only standalone biography of writer Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and seemed like perfect synergy with the crowd that would be coming to the movie that night: young parents with young children. And the book was not a chintzy souvenir that wouldn't survive to the next yard sale. It was something of educational and entertainment value, a behind-the-scenes story of the very passion that drew people to the movie that night.
But Bryant Park said no. Had I contacted them earlier, they said, we might have been able to work something out. And they said they did try to find a way to make it work even with the short notice. But they usually didn't allow vendors during the films so attendees would not feel bombarded. Besides, the park would be too crowded.
I tried to convince them that attendees would not be offended by such an innocuous (and thematically apropos) product. In fact, I suggested the venture only because I felt those particular attendees would actually be appreciative to learn about the book. I said we wouldn't be barking at passersby; we'd simply give them the option of drifting over if they wanted to. I explained that all we needed was a table (which we'd provide) and the footprint to place it on. We would not be in the way.
Bryant Park said they own even the sidewalks surrounding the park so I was forbidden from setting up a table there. However, I learned from a list maintained by the Department of Consumer Affairs that Bryant Park doesn't own all of that sidewalk. The city approves part of it for vendors. So I contacted a bookstore friend and they were keen and kind to partner with me. I told them Bryant Park had declined me but they said they'd done this before and, essentially, the list is the law. However, I did also e-mail my Bryant Park contact to tell him about the list. He wrote that I still could not sell there. When I clarified what the list said, he didn't respond.
The afternoon of the screening, with that list in hand, we asked a Bryant Park police officer if we could set up our table in a spot that was both authorized and unobtrusive. He looked at the list and said yes. So we did. The bookstore was wonderfully supportive.
Maybe it's self-serving salesperson delusion, but somehow it seemed heartfelt to promote that book just before that movie screened. The book had come about because I love Superman and I love Superman because I read many Superman comics as a kid and I read those comics because I became fascinated with the character in Superman: The Movie. It felt like I had to have the book there, at that event in the city in which the film was shot and the character was first published. And the gracious crowd bore that out.
We started at about 5 p.m. and sold for two hours. It was not the kind of synergy people expected to see. That is part of what made it special. And not a single person complained to or questioned us.
Until a bit before the movie began. That's when a woman and man I didn't recognize came up to me. The man introduced himself and it was the Bryant Park staff member whom I'd contacted by e-mail. He and his colleague were steamed—pretty close to livid, actually—that I'd set up there even though they told me not to.
And even though I agreed to their request. Yes, when he told me by email that they owned the sidewalk, I did agree not to set up there. But when I found out that they actually did not own that portion of the sidewalk, I was no longer beholden to him—objectively, anyway.
He told me that the sidewalk technicality didn't matter—I still broke what he had taken as a promise (though I as a rule don't use or agree to that word). And he was right. I did go back on my word to him, but I wasn't betraying him legally. I felt badly that I ended up doing what he asked me not to, but it was within my right. I apologized for upsetting him but not for selling.
It's a moral question that Superman would've answered differently. If Superman gave his word, he would not go back on it even if he was lied to (or unintentionally misinformed). The bookstore continued to try to assure me that I acted appropriately and the park staff was out of line to speak to me the way they did.
What do you think?