Tag Archives: new york

we’re not here for long

We’re not here for long

Standing in the subway

Listening to a song

.

This is where I transfer

Alongside the others

Two friends meet by chance

Lean in close like lovers

.

And somewhere nearby

A white rabbit’s busy pacing

.

He must’ve forgot

.

We’re not here for long

A parenthesis between the Ages.

“The imaginary place to go to” by Edie Pijpers

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faces on the subway

Faces on the subway

Rarely a second glance

Still, when our eyes meet

It’s something like romance.

Some like their smart phones

Some read their books

Me, I watch the faces

Collect their stolen looks.


e was not for england – a poem

When I was 22, E was not for England.

The country I grew up in wanted me inside a Pink Floyd lyric
Wanted decorum and a pulling up short
It said “that’ll do” and “that’s quite enough”
And “don’t you think you’re overreacting”
And “there’s no harm in giving up.”

And my generation wanted out of that
Were bursting to exhale
To taste, sense, see with new sensation.
My generation had an idea too
Had a quiet feeling that things might break open

I suppose every generation do.

In England in the 90s something happened that was akin to America in the 60s.
We didn’t have Dylan or King or Kennedy
Or counter culture or civil rights or even rock and roll
We had dance music.
And if that doesn’t sound much, consider:
All it takes to turn a strip of dead metal into a blinding white ball of light is this:
A catalyst.

When I was 22 E was not for England.

I took ecstasy for the first time with Aaron Johnson at the Empire nightclub in Teesside at 10.30pm on a Thursday. That was important, Aaron said. Because that way you’d be coming up before midnight and if you were enjoying it you could add another dose, before the club closed.

And first, he said, just try a half. Else you might vomit everything up and we’ll have wasted five quid. And don’t drink too little; you’ll get dehydrated and pass out.

And don’t drink too much; because you’ll end up like that girl who died because she kept on drinking water and forgot to piss.

Leah Betts, she was called. And her parents agreed her death should be used to warn about the dangers of drugs and so the papers were full of it. Showing photos of her lying there in hospital fighting for her life, tubes shoved down her throat and up her nose and her face swelled up so much her eyes were pushed closed.
Her skin was ink blue and red and for all we knew she was already dead.
And over it the headline:
“It could be your child!”

When I was 22 I was doing a dead end job; data entry at an insurance company, indexing cards with customer records on them in a windowless room with a dozen others.
And there was an old guy worked there was a narcoleptic and 20 times a day he’d fall asleep.
I’d listen to him snore
Thinking how that crackle of breath was like the sound an engine makes
When it’s out of fuel and stutters to a stand still
Makes one last revolution before it admits defeat.
And I didn’t want to give in to sleep.
Be like the sleepwalkers I saw each day under nicotine skies
Their faces unwell; their eyes filled with silent rage; suffocating inside
Trying not to think about how or when or why they’d thrown in the towel.
I wanted something more for me
I wanted ecstasy.

I came from a post-industrial landscape
The remnants of dark satanic mills
Replaced by petro-chemical plants.
And I would take the bus (just one an hour)
Past 60s housing and tower blocks that stacked like cigarette boxes in corner shops
And get out at the cinema and watch American movies:
See technicolour heroes always win the day
And sitting in the darkness feel the bitter-sweet longing
Knowing that romance did exist in life. Just somewhere far away.

And you would go each week to your grandparents
Who sat all day in front of TV sets turned low
Like ancient Salamanders basking in the glow
Of halogen suns.

And grandma took wulferin for her heart
And a couple of brandies to take the edge off things at night
And Aunty Mary smoked 40 Benson and Hedges
And Uncle Jim drank seven pints a day all his life.

And I played football with Aaron Johnson
On grass pitches underneath pylons in our hometown,
Which sat in the loop of a river
Like a condemned man in a noose.

Then grandma died and mom got cancer
And a kid from the town threw himself in front of a train
And for me and Aaron Johnson escape was only answer
Because no one had ever taught us how to deal with pain.

So at the age of 22 I stood in the dark recesses of the Empire nightclub
And Aaron laid the half into my palm
I washed it down with a mouthful of beer
Like a Christian taking secret communion
And waited to see water turn to wine.

Maybe you know what happened next
Maybe you’ve been there too
Bought a ticket for a lottery
Asked yourself in the darkness: is this the stupidest decision of my life?
Will I be dead in an hour?
Will I be a poster boy for a government awareness campaign
My parents standing shame-faced round the grave
And all the kids from my old school
Fidgeting on church pews, wanting out,
Like animals in a zoo?

Maybe you’ve been there too
When the floodgates open
And serotonin soaks you like a summer shower
And everything is Technicolor
All is love
And you can’t believe you’ll ever get higher
(And you won’t)
And just for those few hours
It’s as if God reached down from heaven above and said to you:
My boy, you must never be afraid or give up hope
You must know that I am with you
That I walk beside you every step of the way
And the people you share this grim northern town with are your brothers and sisters,
And the world around is beautiful and bountiful and will give to you, and keep on giving
So long as we all shall live.

And here was Aaron beside me,
Hypnotized by the beat
And in the darkness I grabbed him, and called ‘I fuckin’ love you man!’ in his ear.
And he turned to me and grinned
And at that moment it was as if we had found each other for the first time;
Had met in some new way.
Like creatures living in the abyss of deep sea
Who looking across the expanse of eternal night
See one another as specks of colour illuminating the blackness.
Bioluminescence.

We bioluminesed that night.

I took ecstasy once more with Aaron. At 70s night at Club M. 15 quid in and all you could drink.
But the law of diminishing returns is writ large over every addict’s grave and that night Aaron threw up in the bushes after necking four pills and swore off it and cleaned up and got a job in a call center
And, a few years later, a wife and two kids.

And I kept wandering; unable to settle down.
Because something had changed in me after ecstasy.
A filter had been removed; a veil had been lifted.
In some strange, nearly imperceptible way my vision had been shifted
And the real world was never quite the same.

And on I went and in the distance saw the lights of New York
Like a million souls before me stepped onto Broadway.
Looked around the movie sets of my youth.
Thought to myself: In a world of shifting perspectives,
I could get used to this view.

So I stayed. And now I’m old enough to feel morning aches,
And heartburn and to empathize with period pains.
And I go running in the park at twilight when the fireflies are out on summer nights.
The fireflies, who long ago learned to feed themselves a chemical
That breaks down in them and makes light.

So this is where I’m at in my story.
And now I’ll tell you where I hope to be.
I want tell my friends I love them without shame.
And fill a room with the warm glow of communal bliss
That touched me that Thursday night
And do it using only heart and mind
And no trick of chemical binds.

I want to face my troubles down
Risk a burn or two to wake myself up
Because discomfort is better than numbness,
Numbness is giving up.
I will shine my light
Not fade to grey like grandad in his chair
Search for the lights of others in the darkness
Since there is life in knowing someone else is there.


what makes us better than a neanderthal?

This story was published on CNN’s science blog, Light Years, on April 6, 2012.

How did modern humans conquer the planet? It’s one of the most intriguing questions in the whole of science.

early human diorama in natural history museum

Right now, sitting pretty at the top of the food chain, it’s tempting to see our 200,000-year rise to power since the emergence of the first homo sapiens as a fait accompli: The evolutionary endpoint of a story that got started on the African savannah via the two key innovations of bigger brains and the shift to walking upright.

Yet for our ancestors things were not so clear cut. For a start they were not (as we now find ourselves) the only game in town. When Cro-Magnon (ancestors of modern humans) migrated north from Africa’s Rift Valley to settle Europe around 40,000 years ago, the continent was already populated by another breed of hominid, the Neanderthals. Within a few thousands years the Neanderthals were wiped out and the Cro-Magnon had taken over.

Why was this? What special attributes did our ancestors possess that the Neanderthals did not?

As Ian Tattersall, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History points out, the fossil record often throws up more questions than answers. Neanderthal skeletons, for example, show that they had stronger builds and the same-sized brains as Cro-Magnon. They were sophisticated tool-makers and animal remains found at Neanderthal sites reveal they were skilled hunters, expert in bringing down large prey such as woolly mammoths. Based on this evidence there is no obvious reason why we made it and they did not.

But Tattersall thinks we need to look beyond the fossil record to find the secret to our success. One place to start looking, he says, is in the Lascaux caves in southern France. Discovered accidentally in 1940 by four children, the Lascaux cave complex contains hundreds of paintings of animal figures in caverns larger than football fields.

Talking at the museum this week to promote his new book, “Masters of the Planet: The Search for Human Origins”, Tattersall describes a visit to the caves as “one of the most profound experiences of my life.” It’s more than just the beauty of the paleolithic art that moved him, however. The cave paintings, he says, prove early man’s ability to think symbolically. Horses drawn on to the cave walls are symbolic representations of real life horses.

No other species of early human left artwork behind and this, he says, is the crucial difference.

The capacity for abstract thinking is the key to our success. All our creativity stems from it. But abstract thinking is not only useful for making art. Early hunters, for example, reporting back on the movement of reindeer herds would be disadvantaged if those hearing the report could not make the mental leap of faith needed to understand that these herds existed even though they had not seen them.

“It is this capacity for ‘what if’ thinking that sets humans apart from all other creatures,” says Tattersall. He says it’s no coincidence that this advance in human cognition came along at the same time as language. “Symbolic thinking is impossible to imagine without language,” he says.

There is no evidence either way to tell us whether Cro-Magnon spoke language with each other, though Tattersall is certain they did. It’s also impossible to say if linguist ability was something early humans acquired or it was innate. Noted linguist Noam Chomsky has argued the later. He believes humans are born with an ability to learn oral language. Hence a toddlers amazing talent for stringing words together in the proper order even though they may never have heard the sentences before.

According to Tattersall, humans may have possessed the ability for language for millions of years before some, as yet unknown, cultural stimulus set it in motion. This is a common trend of evolution, says Tattersall, who has been researching our history through the fossil record since the 1960s and has written several books on the subject. “Birds had feathers for millions of years before they learned to fly. You acquire a feature and, much later on, you find a use for it.”

Of course, the capacity for symbolic thought is just one theory of how humans got to the top of the food chain, and there are many others.

It may have been, as some anthropologists have argued, that in a prehistoric age where nature was red in tooth and claw and fearsome predators such as saber-toothed tigers roamed the landscape, our ancestors were simply the most efficient at killing off the competition. Disease or drought may have played a part; so too may climate change.

That human’s unique way of seeing the world helped them on their rise to becoming the masters of the planet seems indisputable, however. Whether it was the one, big thing that made all the difference; that we may never know.


on the trail of native america

A version of this story was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Sept 10, 2011.

On a groggy late summer’s day on Manhatten island I’m taking refuge in the marble-domed George Gustav Heye Center, near the start of Broadway, admiring two pieces of flint. Not just any pieces of flint. Dating from between 11,000 and 13,500 BC, these are among the earliest evidence of Paleoindian culture in any museum collection in the world. Each has been carved in fluted points a few centimetres long.
the mohawks helped build the empire state

To archaeologists, they are Clovis points. To the rest of us, they are easily recognisable as the lethal tips fashioned by early hunters before being fastened to wooden shafts to make spears. Aside from their antiquity, the really interesting thing about the spearheads is where they were found: just 320 kms north of here in Washington County, New York State.

So when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that later bore his name to claim New York on behalf of the Dutch East India Company in 1609, the natives who greeted him were part of a continuous occupation that had gone on for millennia.

Yet in less than 400 years they have almost completely disappeared.

Back in Hudson’s day, there were no such countries as Canada or the United States of America. Now I’m in north America’s largest city on my way to a native American festival across the border to learn more about the sad decline of such a proud culture.

I begin at the George Gustav Heye Center, opened in 1994 in the historic Alexander Hamilton US Custom House as the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian. The spearheads, like most of the collection, were gathered by George Gustav Heye himself, a New Yorker who quit Wall Street in the late 19th Century to indulge his passion for Indian artefacts.

Heye was one of the few men of his era interested in preserving the continent’s pre-Colombian past, amassing 800,000 pieces in his lifetime. He opened his first museum in 1922 in order, as he put it, to “unveil the mystery of the origin of the red man”. Yet despite his best efforts little material evidence of Manhattan’s native history has survived.
There is the name of course. Manhattan derives from the word Manna-hata written in the logbook of one of Henry Hudson’s officers and meaning “island of many hills” in the language of the Lenape Indians who lived there. There is also the route of Broadway, which follows an old Indian trail.

Ironically, the most striking example of Native American craftsmanship in the city in existence today are the skyscrapers. In the Twenties and Thirties Mohawk Indians were employed in the construction of some of New York’s most iconic landmarks, including the Empire State – sadly, because they worked for such low wages and reputedly had such good heads for heights. Like the Lenape, the Mohawks were native to New York State and a large proportion of them were driven inland or had their population decimated by disease in the wake of European colonisation.

Famously, the Lenape lost Manhattan in a treaty with the Dutch in 1626 in exchange for $26. What’s less well know is that the reason they gave away their homeland so cheaply was due mainly to their having no concept of land ownership. To the Lenape, you could no more own the land than you could the sky. And anyway, they believed the Europeans merely wished to share the island with them.

The Lenape were exiled to Oklahoma. But the majority of remaining Mohawks now live north of the border on reservations in Quebec where I am now heading to visit a Native American festival being held in Kahnawake Mohawk territory on the south shore of Canada’s mightiest river. One of the festival organisers tells me that Kahnawake means “place of the rapids” in the Mohawk’s native Iroquoian language.

We drive there on a grey afternoon, crossing over the pregnant waters of the St Lawrence and into the reservation. Battered clapboard houses, gas stations selling cliché Indian souvenirs and scores of smoke shacks line the roadside (tobacco is sold tax-free on the reserve).

The streets are deserted, the houses shut up and the only sign of life is a few scattered children playing on porches. My host Jean takes me to a café where an old photo of the town’s lacrosse team hangs on the wall. Lacrosse, like the smoking of tobacco, is one Native American tradition that caught on with the colonisers. We sit outside watching vast cargo ships slip by on the St Lawrence Seaway, the canal linking the Atlantic to the Great Lakes that runs through the reserve.
“The locals are wary of outsiders,” says Jean in hushed tones. “They prefer to be left to themselves.”

The Mohawks came here from the 16th century onwards. Since then they’ve been involved in a long resistance struggle that continues today. In 1990 the nearby Mohawk community of Kanesatake was involved in a land dispute with a local mayor that ended in a violent standoff and the death of one police officer.

A twenty-minute drive from the Mohawk communities, Montreal feels like another world. Established by French fur traders around the same time the Mohawks came to the region it has developed into Canada’s second city and the country’s cultural capital, with over 100 festivals taking place throughout the year. With a largely bilingual population speaking French and English, it is a friendly, cosmopolitan town that offers a nice melange of Gallic charm and North American practicality.

The city’s annual Just for Laughs comedy festival is finishing and a fashion festival is about to get under way, but I am here for the First Peoples Festival, a 10-day celebration that brings together indigenous artists, musicians and filmmakers from around the globe. Held in the city every year for the past two decades, the festival’s focal point is in the Place des Festivals where traditional teepees are assembled in front of the stage and where a ceremonial flame is lit the first night.

For the opening night the headline act on the main stage is Samian, a rapper from the Abitibiwinni First Nation in western Quebec. A star among the province’s indigenous community, his arrival on stage is greeted by screams from adoring fans and the words from the announcer: “A voice for aboriginal culture.”
He raps in French and in his native tongue, Algonquin, which he learned from his grandmother. “My language is dying out and it’s important I do what I can to save it,” he explains.
Elsewhere there are films, poetry readings and displays of traditional song and dancing.  “This is obviously not Just for Laughs,” says Andre Dudemaine, the chief organiser of the First Peoples event. “We have an agenda to create space for aboriginal artists. There are severe problems burdening our native communities. Unemployment and drugs are the two that come to mind. But there are reasons to be optimistic too, one of which is the festival. Ten years ago a platform like this could not have been imagined.”
We speak amid the gentle bustle of the Quartiers Des Spectacles, where most of the 100-plus festivals locate themselves. I wonder how he hoped to stand out in such a crowded marketplace.
“If you really want to know about the authentic culture of this land then this is the only event that offers that opportunity,” he says. “It is a chance to participate in a living history.”


of jazz, rock, rap and new york

It was a cold night in Harlem. The speakeasy was down some steps in the basement of a brownstone on West 133rd Street. We rang the bell and a small, neatly dressed black man with a gold pendant round his neck opened the door a fraction. “Is that you Gordon?”jazz

Our guide stepped out from the shadows and into the thin line of light escaping from the doorway. “I got some guys here itching for good jazz. Think you can help out?”

In the back the band had set up on a small stage: A dusty upright against the wall, the sleek contours of the sax reflected in a solitary spotlight.

“Billie Holiday played here when she was a teenager hustling for gigs,” Gordon said, as the heavyset Venezuelan on piano struck the chords of the first number. “She treaded these same floors.”

From the speakeasies of Harlem to the nightclubs of the Lower East Side and the street corners of the Bronx, New York is a city that lives and breathes music. Almost every genre of popular music has found a home here down the years and many of the greatest musicians of all time have, like Holiday, called the city home at one time or another: Bob Dylan started out in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village; Madonna began her ascent to pop heaven in a crummy apartment in the downtown, juggling playing in local bands with shifts at a donut store.

The city has also witnessed many seminal moments in pop history – the birth of hip hop in the Bronx; The Beatles’ first appearance on American television recorded at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway; the arrest of Sid Vicious for the murder of his girlfriend at the Chelsea Hotel.

Tapping this rich vein of history takes a few days and is best accomplished in the company of one of the handful of tours focused on the musical heritage. The tours are subdivided by genre and usually presided over by amiable obsessives who can give you chapter and verse on the relative merits of bebop or the significance of Joey Ramone’s favorite brand of soft drink (it was Yoo-Hoo in case you were wondering).

Gordon Polatnik runs tours in Harlem. A softly spoken 50-year-old, his mild manner masks a lifelong passion for the neighborhood’s jazz history. He ran a café here for five years mainly, he admits, “so that I could have live jazz on the menu every day.”

His tours reflect this concern with the contemporary scene and feature at least two live performances. In between he led us through Harlem, along streets filled with distinguished brick rowhouses that date back over a century and which first welcomed African Americans driven out of midtown Manhattan in the years before World War I. This migration brought with it dance halls and gambling dens that jumped to the erratic new sounds of jazz and ragtime.

In the roaring twenties prohibition drove the liquor underground into the speakeasies on 133rd Street, known then as Swing Street. The new law did not dent the party, however, and society figures and celebrities such as Mae West clamoured to the area and to renowned venues like the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington’s orchestra were the house band.

These days the music venues are a little thinner on the ground although the Apollo Theater on 125th Street has been running a talent night every Wednesday for so long that it can boast that Billie Holiday got her big break there.

“The city is a proving ground,” said Gordon as we climbed back up to the street into the crisp air of the Harlem night. “Anyone can come here and get a gig. That’s the genius of New York.”

——–

Standing in front of the downtown tenement Bobby Pinn held up a vinyl copy of Led Zepellin’s Physical Graffiti. Overhead the sky was clear blue and though the sun cast a shadow on the artwork it was still possible to see that the building on the album cover and the one across the street on St Mark’s Place were one and the same.

“Now,” said Bobby, a fast-talking New Yorker with bleached blond spikes and an inexhaustible supply of rock and roll anecdotes. “Which of you is gonna tell me what’s missing on the Zep album?”

Our small band of rock geeks scratched heads in shamed silence as yellow cabs clattered by and skinny young things in black jeans weaved past on the sidewalk.

The tenement on the album has a level missing, Bobby said. Apparently this cosmetic change was ordered by the band after it was discovered that one of the group’s drug dealers lived in the building. “Taking away the dealer’s floor somehow made sense. There’s heroin logic for you!”

Bobby began his rock tour in the heart of the East Village, formerly the Lower East Side. A hundred years back large swathes of European migrants made the streets around here the most densely populated on the planet. In the post-war years this beat-up slum was a perfect haven for penniless artists. Bobby showed us the St Mark’s Hotel, a flop house frequented by Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, who nicknamed the eaterie on the ground floor “the respectable bums cafeteria.”

A hundred yards or so down Second Avenue he pointed out the site of the Fillmore East, a concert venue where Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin vied for top billing alongside acts like The Who, who premiered their rock opera Tommy there. On the sidewalk a mosaic plastered onto the base of the traffic lights commemorates the venue, now a savings bank. The mosaic contains the names of bands that played the Fillmore as well as a shard of the guitar Pete Townsend smashed on stage during the Tommy show.

Today the Lower East Side is a sanitised version of its former self, replete with boutiques selling retro clothes and yoga centers (“What we’re rebelling about now is the influx of yoghurt,” said Bobby). But in the late seventies this area was awash with drugs and crime. Nor were these problems confined to the downtown. The city was bankrupt and a blackout in the summer of 1977 led to widespread looting.

Out of this chaos came creativity. The emerging music scenes of punk and new wave were at the vanguard of this creative surge. Homegrown bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie cut their teeth in venues like the legendary CBGB on The Bowery. The Ramones played their first gig there “in front of seven people and the bar dog.”

At the same time disaffected teenagers uptown seized on the chaos to forge a new musical form. JDL is part of the Coldcrush Brothers, a rap act from the Bronx formed in 1979. “Back then the city was in disarray,” JDL said. “Slum landlords were burning down apartment blocks to get the insurance money. These places had no amenities and were deserted. As kids we held parties in them that turned into jams, never guessing this thing we did for fun would turn into a multi-billion dollar industry.”

The former DJ now leads tourists around his old neighbourhood showing them significant markers in the story of hip hop, including the location of the first documented hip hop party on Sedgwick Avenue.

“The reason New York is such a force in music is the diversity,” JDL said. “The drive to make it here is phenomenal. So many people come here to see it, to live it. It’s what makes this the greatest city in the world.”

A version of this story was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on May 21, 2011


new york street arab

Being some reflections of a man selling art on the streets *

No. 7 – For world peace, sit on my face

A couple of posts ago I complained about being generalized against as an Englishman in America. Now I’m going to entirely undermine myself by conforming to the stereotype by quoting Shakespeare. But not to worry, Old Bill’s a hero of mine and his being dead has the added advantage that, unlike the Royals, I don’t have to read about it in the newspapers every time he gets married or goes to a party in a stupid costume or farts in a restaurant etc.

For world peace, sit on my face

“All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare. “And all the men and women merely players.”

Today in Union Square the human theater was out in full force. Shakespeare would have loved this place. I think he could have found enough material to get him going on a new comedy, at least a few tragedies. Two tragedies were playing out today on the steps by the southeast corner, just a few yards from where you may recall the sewer monster was beached last time round.

These two bums slept the whole day. They missed the World Falundafa Day celebrations going in the square just a short distance from where they were snoozing. Falundafa (or Falun Gong) is a spiritual practice started 20 years ago and which now claims to have millions of adherents around the world, 70 million of them in China.

The main principal of this “spiritual practice” (“It’s not a religion,” a young man who claimed to have had his life turned around by it told me), the main thing seems to be you have to sing really crappy songs off-key. As a result, watching the celebrations roll out was like witnessing an episode of American Idol filmed live from a mental asylum. I can only imagine what the bum’s dreams were like. Hideous nightmares no doubt soundtracked by screaming sirens and the hounds of hell howling at the moon.

The afternoon’s performances included Mr Wang Chin, who apparently won an MTV vocal competition, singing the catchily-titled “We are aware.” Actually Mr Chin had a decent tenor but “We are aware” sounded like it had been written by a sixth grade music teacher suffering a mental breakdown. According to their promotional literature, the Falundafas are persecuted for their beliefs in China. It is a terrible thing that someone should be persecuted for their belief. For their singing, well that’s another matter entirely…

One man who managed to stay awake through World Falundafa Day was Derek. I call him Derek to protect his identity and because, to be frank, I don’t know his name. I’ve seen Derek in the square quite often and he’s intrigued me. You’ll soon understand why. Today I got some of his story. I was set up next to Elinor, who sells elegantly stylish sketches and prints on wood blocks and cloth. We started chatting with Derek when he wandered by holding up the same sign he does every week.

The sign reads: “Peace through sitting on my face.”

In his other hand Derek holds printouts of photos showing various members of the public (all women as far as I could see) squatting over him as he lays prostrate on the sidewalk. The photos look less erotic than painful and it’s a wonder he hasn’t dislocated his jaw by now.

There are lots of questions spring to mind at this point I’m sure but rather than attempt any amateur psychology on Derek and his strange pastime I’ll just try to repeat as faithfully as possible the conversation we had with him.

“Why do you this?” We asked.

“I like the scent of a woman when she sits on my face. And I think it promotes world peace.”

“Right. And how’s that?”

“Well, I think if more men were able to connect with their masochistic sides then there would be less frustration and less violence in the world.”

“Have you been arrested?”

“I sometimes get hassled. I went to the site of the World Trade Center when Obama was there a few weeks ago and the cops were coming up to me. But when I showed them the photos they thought it was great. A lot of men in uniform are into that masochistic stuff you see.”

“Is it easy to get volunteers?”

“It depends. I think it has a lot to do with my mood. This week I already had four women do it so the hunger is not there as much. When I really want it I try harder to get it.”

“Does it pay well?”

“I don’t get paid to do this. I’m 29 and I live at home with my parents in Brooklyn.”

“How do you get by?”

“Well I get my meals cooked for me and I ride for free.”

“How come you ride for free?”

“Listen. If I can get people to sit on my face then I can sure convince them to swipe me onto the subway.”

All the world’s a stage! Happy World Falundafa Day!

* The title of these blog posts was taken from an essay about New York’s population of homeless children written in 1890. In no way, shape or form is it meant as a reflection on people of Arab descent. I just like the words.