The Beer Campaign: a Man, a Mask, and a Wall by Alex Gustafson and Wes Parnell

Lying in front of a trash can, a man in a cheap, pinstripe suit sets up for his campaign: ‘The Mexican Wall Fund.’ His cardboard sign sits next to a Dixie cup, collecting funds for tonight at the bar. Tourists flock around him.

People stop and stare throughout the day, extending their selfie sticks to capture a picture with him. He slowly puts up the ‘Trump Okay Hand Sign,’ entertaining them, taking his time with every gesture of his hand. Donald is either putting on a show, or he is flipping through football stats on his cell phone, depending on how much beer he consumed prior to lying on the sidewalk.

“I don’t do it for the money,” Donald said. He isn’t homeless, nor does he consider himself a beggar—he calls himself a street artist.

When asked what would happen if he were to ever meet Trump, Donald perks up and raises his eyebrows. He smiles widely, his face turning red. “Yea, I was kind of imagining that situation, he would probably say ‘take your mask off, who are you?’ and I would say ‘take your mask off!’”

Photo by Wes Parnell

After a summer managing a seasonal bar he owns on the Jersey Shore, Donald returned to the city looking for something to keep himself occupied. He heard of a man in a Trump mask accepting five dollars cash to be punched in the face and 100 dollars to be “pissed” on, Donald got the idea to put on a Trump mask and see what would happen.

Without the option of watching football or basketball this time of year, Donald felt the need to find something to do.

“I’m a gambler,” Donald said. “I bet a lot but since, like, there’s no sports on I gotta do something.”

The act began as a social experiment, testing what New York would offer to a man mocking the presidential nominee. After his first day sitting on a bench in Union Square, he earned $100. That’s when Donald realized this was a real way to support his sports bar lifestyle.

Photos by Wes Parnell

Donald was told several times that he should move from Union Square to Midtown because he would make more money, but he did not care about the money. He made the move in hopes of a better crowd.

Donald found fame and misfortune on the streets of Midtown. Adopting a bar called “Off the Wall” as his new spot, Donald set up shop: reclining, waving, and impersonating Trump. People with a sense of humor laughed and smiled as they passed by. Others scowled or even harassed Donald. Some poured liquids on his face and cup of cash. He was never able to identify what those liquids were.

Donald even managed to catch the attention of the federal government, receiving threats from the FBI, CIA and Secret Service.

He claims that what keeps him going is the knowledge that President Trump personally knows and disapproves of what he’s doing.

“Security from Trump Tower came down and said I cannot do this within five blocks within his own properties,” Donald recounted. “so I’m like ‘Oh! [President Trump] knows about me!’”

Photos by Wes Parnell

Donald ventured away from Trump Tower and parked himself on Broadway and Exchange, a block away from Wall Street, right in front of The King’s College. Here Donald encountered a higher level of success, partially due to the droves of tourists walking up Broadway from the Charging Bull, but he still faced ideological violence.

Donald recalled a particular sharp-dressed banker who threw garbage at him and poured some sort of liquid in his cup. The banker came up and kicked his backpack, and Donald had to kick back to make him run away. The next day the banker returned, screaming at Donald and proceeding to pull his pants down and stick his butt right in Donald’s face.

“That was the only time I had to take my mask off and literally kick his butt!” Donald said.

He does it for the entertainment—he likes to bring people smiles and make enough for him and his friends to enjoy a night of drinking. He’s been told that if he changed his sign to something like “impeachment fund” he would gain more interest and money, but that’s not the goal.

The only people who know what Donald is doing are his two brothers.

“My former roommate once came to me to talk and I was ashamed he was going to recognize me from my eyes,” Donald said. “He asked me something like, ‘what are you doing here? Why are you collecting money?’ And I was like, ‘habla espanol’ because shoot, you know, he could recognize my voice!”

Photo by Wes Parnell

Despite saying he was ashamed, he was more concerned with being labeled a ‘beggar’ as he was with being recognized. Donald simply doesn’t think it is important for people to know what he is doing.

At one point outside of Rockefeller Center, Homeless Services came and asked him if he needed a place to stay or food to eat.

“Do I look like a homeless person?” Donald asked, slightly confused. “Kind of,” Homeless Services responded. “Oh shit, maybe I do,” he thought to himself. He feels bad when people think he is homeless, because they are giving him money to help with food and shelter.

“It’s my beer money,” Donald said, happy and unashamed. “Everyday, all the money I make, I take it to the bar and spend it all. It’s not for paying my rent or anything. I take it to the bar, and it’s all gone.”

While Donald wears a political mask, he stays out of the ideological debates.

Photo by Wes Parnell

“I definitely don’t like the guy but I’m not saying I like the other option—they’re all dirty,” Donald explains, “It makes me sad that in a country with so many great people [that] it came down to a final choice between a crook and a dumb guy.”

Donald is at home in the dingy irish pub on the back corner of Trinity Place. His laugh fills the pub and his voice carries on without breaks in between his words. He is wearing a New York Giants jacket, a flat-brimmed New York Nets hat, and a shirt reading, ‘Nova Scotia: Canada’s ocean playground.’ Donald drinks like a German and thinks like a New Yorker, his accent carrying hints of his childhood in Poland.

With a firm grip on his Coors Light, Donald claims all politicians need to know how to do is lie, shake hands, and pretend not to be racist. If they are too good and genuine, then he says “they will end up like Kennedy.”

While President Trump may not make it to re-election, Donald is not worried about the future of his business.

“I don’t really look past tomorrow,” Donald said. “But let’s say 3 more years, a new president comes. Then I can replace the sign with ‘I lost my job—I don’t have no money.’ ”

“It’s hard to categorize what I’m doing,” he says. “ It’s an in between, but I want to tell you straight up it’s not about the money, I don’t care if I make five dollars or 50 dollars. Of course it’s great to make 50 dollars and go to the bar and say ‘wooh drinks on me! Shots on me!’ And yes it’s weird being a business owner and lying on the streets, but I guess I’m crazy enough.”


Photography by Wes Parnell

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