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Strawberry Fields Forever ’08: a bid for president

When asked what historical figure they’d most like to study this year, an astounding 22 of the 35 students in Ms. Ellingham’s eighth-grade history class at Susan B. Anthony middle school in Minneapolis answered, “Yoko Ono” and/or “John Lennon.”

Which bodes well for the political ambitions of one Gary (nee Ayrton) Dos Santos, the so-called Mayor of Strawberry Fields who wants it known that he’s running for president of the United States and intends to bring about world peace. Asked what message he wants to relay to the American people this late in the game, the 44-year-old native New Yorker thinks for a beat and offers: “I love you.”

Imagine that. A presidential candidate professing love, the one thing none of the others has mentioned, the one thing that has the potential to rise above the fray, to go beyond the unification rhetoric and cure the divisiveness that ails the country. All you need is love, love, love, etc., which makes a lot of sense in these end times, especially when you’re sitting with The Mayor on the bench he’s manned every day and many nights for the past 15 years in West Central Park. I’ve sat with him a few times on my trips to New York, most recently in July.

Spreading the love
There, just a few feet from the “Imagine” circle in Strawberry Fields, the 2.5-acre section of Central Park that Ono dedicated in 1981 in honor of her late husband, The Mayor squats and spreads the Lennon love. Homeless for as long as he can remember, he festoons the circle with peace signs he makes out of flowers, bagels, grass, sticks, pot leaves, acorns, pine needles, banana peels, and anything else he can get his mitts on. People passing by take the baubles and drop change in his guitar case.

“I’m running as an independent, and I’m trying to show people that there’s things I want to do for this world – can you please not walk on the circle?” he barks to a tourist who momentarily steps on his hallowed ground. “Thank you.”

“I’m honoring a brother I care about, and there’s no reason the world should be like it is and not like he wanted it to be. The people realize it more and more: They want the peace. But the government don’t. That’s why there’s going to be a revolution. I don’t want it, but it’s going to happen, and soon. Revolution.”

At the moment, there’s a kind of hush about the revolution. With or without The Mayor, Strawberry Fields is a place of peace that hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world visit each day. Ashen faces, quiet with their own thoughts, meld with fast-talking and – walking tourists who snap a picture and move on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Dakota apartment building, outside of which Lennon was murdered and where Ono lives.

“My father lived on 70th Street, between Columbus and Broadway, so I came over here to stay close to my father and hang out with the Grateful Dead brothers and sisters,” says The Mayor. “I used to have a 10-man tent in the back of the park in the willows, and everyone would crash there until the cops got pissed off. But if we stay busy here in the circle, they don’t hassle us. So I keep the circle clean and make peace signs to honor the brother (Lennon) that way.

“The first donation I ever got was seven dollars and two bags of some of the best skunk I’ve ever smoked. I smoke a dime (bag) a day, and I’m telling you it took me a week to smoke that. It was that good. I don’t know who the brother or sister was who gave that to me, but I wish they’d come back!”

On tour with The Mayor
The Central Park cops gave Dos Santos the moniker of The Mayor years ago, and it stuck. So much so that tour guides regularly tap him to tell visitors about the Lennon legacy.

 

He’s been bugged by the cops and Lennon purists, but the man has obviously found his calling.

“I let ’em know the history of the brother and the place,” he says. “It’s important. The brother was important. His spirit’s alive. People come here to talk to the man upstairs, the universe, John, or whatever. Some come back to see me. There are people I see every year. They come back and say, ‘We love what you do. We come to see what you’re going to do.’ I’m the last man standing. I’m gonna get the peace, because the world wants it.”

According to The Mayor, Ono has visited a dozen times or so during his 15-year time in office, most recently three weeks ago when the two exchanged silent peace signs. “She comes down no matter what the weather is and sometimes hangs out,” he says. “She comes over and hugs the tree that’s to the right of me. She just hugs it. I don’t ask. She has her reasons, and I respect her reasons.”

Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler came by a couple years ago and signed an autograph that said, “To Gary — thanks for keeping it real.” He’s hung with members of the New York Dolls, Joe Namath, Al Pacino, John Madden, Dustin Hoffman, and former UCLA and NBA player Bill Walton, who is a frequent visitor. All make the pilgrimage to the circle for a shot of love and an audience with The Mayor, who sums up his run for the White House like this:

“John said one thing: ‘Flower power didn’t work. Start again.’ “

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