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  • Category Archives Rebels of NYC
  • Butt Ugly

    Police Riot Concert 2013


    I still make an effort to attend the annual Police Riot Concert, even if just briefly. My photographer friend Bill Shatto and I do it for the photo ops. The crowd of attendees as well as the performers afford some of the best photo subjects in New York City. If you’re looking for a rainbow coalition literally, then come to this event. Here, people are truly many hued – whether hair, clothing, or skin art.

    There are weekend warriors whose idea of punk rock is primarily costume and theater. But there are aging punk rock people, too. There are crusties galore with their signature tag-along dogs. Piercings and body art are de rigueur. Many were drunk and/or drugged and not in full control of their motor functions. The bar was set low for fun – standing or walking was an achievement for some. There was a little bit of slam dancing and stage diving.

    At one point, I spotted one shirtless participant who was sporting an enormous beer belly, covered with tattoos, as was the rest of his body. Another, more modest attendee who was shirted, caught the former’s eye, and, with a bit of body language along with hand and eye gestures, they gave each other nods of approval. They approached each other. They compared bellies. There were high fives and even a warm embrace. It was now a beer belly festival.

    Seeing he had an audience of onlookers, the shirtless one decided to bend over and moon the audience. I did not savor seeing that pimply display, and I believe he knew quite well that neither his rear end nor his tattooed belly were objects of desire. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, however, in this case, the only phrase that came to mind was Butt Ugly :)

    Related Posts: The Real Peel, Misfits, False Assumptions


  • People Live Here

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Between 1500-1700 B.C.E., the Minoan culture on the island of Crete had a highly developed waste management system with very advanced plumbing and places to dispose of organic wastes. Knossos, the capital city, had a central courtyard with baths that were filled and emptied using terra-cotta pipes. They had flushing toilets, with wooden seats and an overhead reservoir. In 320 B.C.E., Athens passed the first known edict banning the disposal of refuse in the streets. The early Greeks understood the relationship between water quality and public health.

    Public latrines date back to the 2nd century BC in Rome. They became places to socialize. Long bench-like seats with keyhole-shaped openings cut in rows offered little privacy. Sanitation in ancient Rome was a complex system similar in many ways to modern sanitation systems. Their waste treatment management practices were the most developed of any civilization prior to the nineteenth century and superior to that of the Dark Ages, where waste was disposed of in the alleys and streets.

    However, it is 2013, and in a civilized world in the 21st century, one would not expect to need signs telling people that they should not defecate or urinate on the street in front of your home. But, as I have pointed out some time ago, many of the living conditions in New York City are not so much different from the Dark Ages.

    At number 1 Jersey Street, a small two-block alley in NoLita, the residents have had to remind the uncivilized how to behave in public with two signs, prominently displayed, that clearly state, both through written word and graphic illustration: Please. No Pissing or Shitting. People Live Here

    More on sanitation: Pickup Day, Livid

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • The Domino Effect

    I am willing to take risks, however, I am not interested in being arrested or going to jail. Unfortunately, this means it is unlikely that I will get firsthand the types of photos had by trespassers who visited the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg as reported by the Gothamist. The series of illicit photos can be seen in their article. A 2010 media tour did NOT include access to the refinery interior. According to the insurance companies, as reported by the Gothamist,

    “the majority of the buildings are filled with large machinery, much of which spans multiple floors. Also, the majority of the buildings do not have solid floors, and instead, machinery is connected to walls and pillars with cat-walks and metal flooring.”

    This type of environment is a dream for many a photographer, what some are calling “ruin porn.” I recently toured the area and photographed the property street side, keeping to the outside of the chain link fence.
    Incredibly, this massive sugar refinery was in operation for over 150 years and only closed as recently as 2004. The plant was built in 1856, and by 1870 it was processing more than 50% of the sugar used in the United States. Who would fancy that this 11 acre, 5 block, industrial site with its iconic Domino Sugar sign would sit along the East River all in plain view from Manhattan? A large mixed-use residential and retail development is planned for the property. The Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) sold the property to Two Trees for $185 million in 2012.

    The image of sugar has been tainted for some time. On the one hand, sugar is synonymous with sinfully sweet goodness; on the other hand, it has over the last decades been pointed to for many health-related ills. Diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, etc. Whether by William Duffy, author of Sugar Blues, published in 1975, Gary Taubes of the New York Times’ article “Is Sugar Toxic,” or by Mayor Bloomberg with his recent ban on large sugary drinks (over 16 ounces) in New York City, the white crystalline substance has been likened by many to a poison.
    As I toured the Brooklyn property, I came across a large sign with the classic Domino packaging. The words “Pure Cane Granulated Sugar” brought back memories of the pure white ingredient of candies and confections, not poison. The complex of industrial properties in Williamsburg, like sugar itself, is likely here to stay. That’s the enduring power of The Domino Effect :)


  • All Things Feral

    I recall a conversation with my sister about children and a viewpoint expressed by Polly Platt in French or Foe. In this book, various aspects of French culture are laid out by the author, an American living in France married to a Frenchman. According to Platt, the French, who believe that they brought the world civilization, see the importance of discipline in child rearing as well, with children viewed as “little savages” who must be civilized in order to enter society. Children are expected at a very young age to behave like adults, even, for example, sitting well behaved throughout an entire meal in a restaurant.

    I summarized for my sister the discipline imposed on children by the French and their expectations. My sister concluded that this type of child rearing was cruel. Strict discipline of children is certainly a contentious subject, however, with what I have seen in the subways of New York City which at times can appear to be like Lord of the Flies with children and teens acting out and even cursing their parents in public, perhaps a bit of French thinking might serve us well in the taming of children.
    The conversation with my sister regarding wild children was appropriate coming from a French perspective – not only is my family of French ancestry, but also, perhaps the most well-known case of feral children is that of Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron. The story is the basis for Truffaut’s film L’Enfant Sauvage.

    In 1797, a boy was first discovered and captured by hunters near Saint-Sernin, France. He was taken in and studied by a young medical student, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who named him Victor. At the time of Victor’s capture, he was estimated to be about 12 years old and was naked, filthy, had numerous scars on his body, and was wild, unsocialized, and unable to speak other than guttural sounds and squeals. It was speculated that he been raised by animals and was a true “feral child.” Although there were many hypotheses regarding his origin, nothing was ever substantiated, including any rearing by wild animals. His interests were very basic, and he was highly attuned to activities, sounds etc. During his time with Itard, he wore no clothing, eliminated by squatting on the ground, and would neither use utensils to eat nor sit on a chair. Little progress was made with his socialization, and Victor died in Paris in 1828. You can read more here.

    I have always been fascinated with stories of feral children, and on a raw, cold, bleak November day nearly a decade ago, I got as close as I ever have at meeting someone who certainly appeared untamed. I was passing through Washington Square Park, which was deserted, excepting one lone musician who was sitting on a concrete bench playing guitar, seemingly oblivious to the cold. I recognized him, having seen him previously a handful of times playing in the park, often with a wild, disheveled appearance. He was playing blues with occasional use of a slide, which I love. His raw, edgy style and interpretations of blues classics were very engaging – I listened to a few songs standing in the cold and left a dollar in his open guitar case. When I asked his name and he said Feral, I confirmed the spelling, lest he had thought that I had asked about his disposition or temperament.

    Years passed and I had not seen him since that period. Recently, at the Folk Festival, I scanned the program and was excited to see Feral Foster listed as the closing act. He played and sang an original composition, The Whole Wide World. I really liked it and after his set, introduced myself. He gave me one of his CDs, all original songs, i.e. no covers – a difficult road to travel for any musician, but a necessary path for anyone looking to make their mark. I saw him a few days later at The Gaslight, a club on MacDougal Street in the Village. His music still has a rawness and his playing style and persona has an idiosyncratic and untamed look and feel, befitting a man named Feral. Whether it is a film like L’Enfant Sauvage, the rearing of children in France, or my meeting of Matt Foster, from early on, there has been a thread in my life of All Things Feral :)

    Photo Note: Top photo courtesy of Bill Shatto.


  • Tanglewood Anyone?

    The same teacher who was the subject of my story Cello Class was also the woman who warned me one spring that there she would NOT be giving lessons over the summer because she refused to spend summers in New York City. Anyone here on a full time basis sees ample evidence of a mass exodus of many residents during the summer months, with benefits to those willing to stick it out. Restaurants that typically require reservations now have empty tables, streets now have readily available parking spots, tickets are available for shows normally sold out.

    Of course, nothing comes without a price, and much as Vermont looks like paradise until one spends a winter there, New York City is quiet and easy during the summer for good reason. The relentless heat turns the city literally into a concrete jungle, now including steamy tropical weather, without any respite, save air-conditioned spaces.  Nearly everyone on foot finds themselves making pit stops in cool shops, many nearly vacant with unusually attentive salespeople who well understand your reason for visiting – after all, they are also likely thinking the same thing – why I am in New York City during the summer heat? In this jungle, one will not find fruit hanging from trees but instead will find the waste of such foods littering the streets, where walking becomes a slalom between shoppers and mountains of garbage. The season that so many love can be a living hell in New York. After all, the best thing about summer is being outdoors, the very thing near impossible to enjoy here most days here until evening, if that. There are no cool mountains to ascend and no refreshing ocean breezes.

    Summer music festivals, which combine the joys of the season outdoors with musical performance, can be found throughout the world. We do have such in the parks of New York – Central Park’s Summer Stage, Prospect Park’s Celebrate Brooklyn, Washington Square Park Music Festival, Tompkins Square Park Police Riot Concert, among the larger. There are also many many other music festivals as there are street fairs, parades, and a plethora of activities. The problem is that a blistering day makes these all but intolerable, and years of attending these makes one realize that although, as I have heard many a New Yorker extol, there are perks of summer festivities here, nonetheless, the environment leaves much to be desired. The seasoned New Yorker who has spent too many summers here begins to ruminate on where one would have, could have, and should have been, like Tanglewood.

    If you have been to an outdoor concert like Tanglewood in the Massachusetts Berkshire mountains, you know what I mean. Here, one can lie on a clean lawn with a candlelit picnic, perhaps with wine, while lying under a black sky popping with stars on a summer evening and the sounds of world-class musicians wafting over, accompanied by cool evening breezes. On the other hand, for many, the urban equivalent will be lying on the hard, filthy asphalt ground of a well-lit park, trying to listen to musicians who compete with others in a small space as well as deflecting crusties, the homeless, drug addicts, and miscreants of every persuasion. Fights occasionally break out between many of the disenfranchised, understandably frustrated by their lot in life, only exacerbated by the unabated summer heat and humidity which lingers all night. The occasional police vehicle arrives to settle the differences of those who would be pointless to arrest, while at other times, an ambulance arrive to collect the maimed who will only be repaired and released to replay the same violent scenarios at another time. Tanglewood Anyone?

     


  • The Big Mouth Does

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Philip Garbarino promoting his book, The Devil Repents.

    Many people do not like New Yorkers for a number of reasons. In all fairness, for a number of good reasons. New York is a city that is brash with people who are aggressive and competitive. It’s a sieve for success, filtering out those who can’t make it here or, like Dwanna, those who just don’t want to make it here. It is the ideal home for the self-centered, the narcissist who wants the largest possible audience to fan his or her flames. It is perfect for attention mongers and drama queens. And for those who prevail, it is a place where someone can make it big.

    I am always astounded at how the real estate market here manages to be buoyed up regardless of the economy. The average 2-bedroom apartment in Manhattan sells for $2 million. A New York Times article reports that in Brooklyn, there is a shortage of single family brownstones with bidding wars driving up prices beyond the listing price. With pricing like this, obviously this is a city where many have achieved material success. It is also a home to the megalomaniacal or where it may at times be difficult to distinguish between the enormous success and the megalomaniac. It is a place where one truly must abandon preconceived notions or be faced with people like Mark Birnbaum, who, despite appearances and notions to the contrary, is who says he is and has done what he said he has.

    Recently while in Washington Square Park, my attention was drawn to a man with a huge crucifix, dressed as the devil. Such a thing will provoke interest and garner attention. There was no shortage of onlookers or those seeking photo ops with Satan. I learned that this was Philip Garbarino, promoting his first book of a trilogy, The Devil Repents. The book is selling directly from Philip’s website. Chapter One can be found for free there as well. An ebook is available from Amazon. I spoke to Philip briefly and videotaped the conversation. Garbarino was eager to mention his acting credit in the film The Bronx Tale, directorial debut of Robert De Niro.

    I have no idea as to the quality of the writing or what Philip’s aspirations are. Although perhaps not a necessary condition to success, in a city where everyone and everything is screaming to be heard and seen, self-promotion is a more likely road to success than a quiet unassuming demeanor or the meek, with Donald Trump as perhaps the best example. I do like real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran’s pithy and poignant remark:

    In New York City, the meek don’t inherit the earth. The big mouth does.

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Unknown Bikers

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    The outlaw spirit is alive and well in New York City. On my visit to Salerno Service Station on Saturday, April 28, 2012, a small group of bikers convened at the station. I brought it to Mario’s attention, and he informed me that there was a club house for the East Williamsburg chapter of the Unknown Bikers around the corner at 41 Maujer Street. I found them somewhat intimidating, but Mario assured me that the bikers had posed no problem to them at all over the years.

    As I sauntered over to Maujer Street, I noticed that the street had been closed off with traffic cones to all but the motorcyclists. My timing was perfect – within seconds of my arrival, the street was filled with bikes and bikers.
    Others were taking photos and filming, and I followed suit. I am always careful around bikers, not knowing what type of reaction I might get taking photos. I was scrutinized by numerous members, but it appeared that I had some type of tacit approval.

    Certainly bikers come from all walks of life and, to some extent, are like the rest of us. But there has to be an element of iconoclasm for someone to ride a Harley, join a motorcycle club, and wear a jacket proclaiming membership. There is a defiance, a renegade outlaw free spirit that has surrounded motorcycles since their origins, and belonging to a motorcycle club and wearing a jacket certainly makes that statement.

    It was clear that some type of event was underway. I asked the nature of the gathering, and I was introduced to the organizer who informed me that this was a charity effort, the 4th Annual Alie Run of Bikers Against Childhood Cancer Foundation. The final destination of the bikers would be the Brooklyn Hospital. Salerno Service Station is one of the sponsors of the event.

    The organizer assured me that the members were regular people just like everyone else. Admittedly, I was surprised that the nature of the meeting was a children’s charity event. Actually, motorcycle charity rides are common throughout the United States. I imagine some cynics may feel that these efforts are only bad boys trying to ingratiate themselves with the public. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Here, in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it looks to me like goodwill, courtesy of the Unknown Bikers :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • General Malaise, Part 2

    (see Part 1 here)

     

     

    It’s a music festival, political protest, slumber party, social club, and bookstore. A place for the activist, party goer, malcontent, happy hippie, angry man, disenfranchised, frustrated, and defiant. It’s Occupy Wall Street. And there, you will find a General Malaise.

    Related Posts: Eyes on the SignsFalse AssumptionsFall Out Against the War


  • General Malaise, Part 1

     

    I generally avoid “covering” news events – a short blog article rarely does a subject justice. And there are certainly better sources for such topics, as well as news journalists qualified to do the investigatory work.

    But Occupy Wall Street has become such a phenomenon that even in the city with all that goes on, the demonstrations, marches, and occupation of Liberty Park is a topic of conversation amongst almost any group of people. I have been asked by virtually everyone I meet whether I have been down to the demonstration area, as well as whether I would write and photograph about this demonstration.

    What is most remarkable is the lack of specificity regarding the goals of the movement. This very lack of goals has been the dominant issue in discussions about the event, both by the news media and the public. It is so odd to have a major political movement that is defined by not being defined. There are a number of specific complaints. Different groups with different agendas are part of the movement, such as We Are the 99 Percent. But taken all together, the whole thing feels like a general malaise.

    I recently visited the headquarters for the demonstrators – Zucotti Park, now dubbed Liberty Park, located at Cedar Street and Broadway. I was surprised to see such a large encampment in the heart of New York City’s financial district. The occupation is scheduled to last 60 days, ending in mid-November. The occupants are a strange hybrid, like political protest meets Rainbow Gathering. There are also booksellers and entertainers. I timed my visit with a major march, which can be seen in the photos. I did not witness any violence or arrests, although I understand that there were some police actions and allegations of excessive force.

    There’s anger, frustration, confusion, and finger pointing. It’s a very serious case of General Malaise.

    See Part 2 here for more photos and a video.

    Related Posts: Eyes on the Signs, False Assumptions, Fall Out Against the War


  • Crusties are People Too?

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Part 2 (see Part 1 here)

    I had hoped to learn a little more about Morgan and her background. In a way, one could say I had made her acquaintance. When I approached her lying in the grass on Sunday, greeting her with “Morgan Maginnis,” she jumped and ran as if she had seen the devil incarnate. It took some conversation and persuasion to convince her that I was the man who had photographed her only a few days earlier.

    She told me a little about her past – that she was from Los Angeles and that her parents had died from a combination of alcohol and an auto crash. She said that she was a college graduate with two degrees and has a job in demolition. I was told that she had just been featured in Vice Magazine and that this was her big break. Her pet rat had already died.

    I told her that I had written part one of a crustie story, that I was featuring her and that I had referred to her as “cuddly and disgusting.” I hoped she was not insulted, but it was my honest reaction to having her arms encircle me from behind while correcting an email address. She was charming, cute and filthy all together.
    She and her friends laughed and found it an apt description. One said that they were all disgusting. Perhaps, in her world, cuddly, even with a qualifier, was quite a complement, because she seemed rather pleased, repeating the phrase several times to her friends.

    On Sunday, however, things took a turn for the worse. I looked for Morgan to speak to her and glean a few more details of her life. When I found her, she was crying and recounting her day. Trying to get more drugs to supplement her methadone. Food stolen, as well as other incidents common to the homeless. Morgan is clearly angry and frustrated.

    A confrontation with a black man spun out of control. She grabbed his bag, throwing it at him as well as away from them. She accused him of being like other blacks who had raped her. The ranting, vulgarity and drama escalated. She was running through the park, screaming and throwing things. Bystanders were running scattershot in fear of being a victim. I was wary myself. Although the acting out was largely drama, Morgan is not incapable of inflicting bodily harm and I learned that she has been arrested numerous times.

    Like those who naively believe they can domesticate a wild animal, I left feeling a little foolish, thinking that a relationship approaching normalcy could be had with a drug addicted crust punk. I had descended to the bottom, and I am saddened by what I see there. Drugs are unforgiving, and their allure is a cruel mirage. It’s a world of false promises of peer respect and the charm of nihilism and anarchy.

    The future is dim for these individuals, and their lives will likely be quite short. No one wants to invest time in fanning dying embers. They are the trash of contemporary society and the only talk I hear is where to relocate them. They are filthy, disgusting, and violent, so get them away from here. Only the sanctity of human life and the 5th/6th Commandment prevents many from suggesting the simplest solution while asking the rhetorical, Crusties are People Too?

    Other Related Posts: Jenn Kabacinski Part 2, Jenn Kabacinski Part 1, Misfits, Stephanie, Police Riot Concert

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Crusties are People Too, Part 1

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Christian Meets Chaucer and Crusties


    Let’s create an impossible scenario. Start with a Bible-thumping preacher standing on a small stool, screaming scripture aloud in a park using amplification. The police arrive after a noise complaint by a hostile man with a long white beard and hair – the incarnation of Mr. Natural ala R. Crumb. He also complains that he does not believe the preaching is biblically accurate (not an arrestable offense). The preacher informs the police that there is case law that says preaching with amplification is not illegal and that only volume can be regulated. He looks for the court ruling on his iPhone and will fax it to the police precinct. The police back off.

    Another preacher begins, his voice volume greater than that generated by the small amplifier used previously. Simultaneously, a young man is reading loudly from a text, directed at the preacher. I cannot recognize the language – I assume it is a religious text, perhaps in Hebrew and ask him about it. He is an English literature student and is reading the Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English at full volume. It’s a war of words…

    A crust punk eating potato chips takes an interest in the Canterbury Tales and stands near the student, following the reading. Another crusty in bright orange hair joins them and eagerly introduces her newly acquired pet rat to the student. Christian meet Chaucer with crusties. It is like a family reunion.

    I become too friendly with the crusties, particularly the one with orange hair. I ask if she minds if we take photos. She grants my wish, and my photographer friend Bill and I go into overdrive, shooting away. I learn that the woman’s name is Morgan Maginnis. She is very nice, as is her friend, Hays. I ask her a few questions and I videotape her. They give me their email addresses. I am both warmed and disgusted when she wraps her arms around me from behind and takes my pen to clarify one letter in the email address. She is cute, cuddly and very dirty.

    Late that night, I run across Morgan, Hays and a group of their friends several blocks from the park behind a luxury highrise apartment building. They recognize me. I stop, say hello and chat. One has an iPhone and asks me to take group photos of them. I take photos with my own camera and assure them that I will email them photos. I ask them direct questions about sex and drugs. They give me direct answers. Are we becoming friends now?

    Crusties have been a big problem in the parks. They have been unruly, troublesome, belligerent, drug addicted, homeless, typically jobless and leave garbage strewn everywhere with a virtual campsite in Washington Square Park. You’re not supposed to like them. But I learn that Crusties are People Too

    Note: In Part 2, we get a little closer to Morgan through text and video.

    Related Posts: Jenn Kabacinski Part 2, Jenn Kabacinski Part 1, Misfits, Cosmetics, Crustie, Stephanie, Police Riot Concert

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • She’s Too Tough to Care 2


    Furtive glances at onlookers and passersby, foolishness thinly veiled as toughness. Packs of cigarettes going for as much as $14.50 each. Street dealers trading in “loosies” – cigarettes sold individually.

    In New York City, smokers on breaks huddle in doorways and alcoves in the streets, almost like common criminals or social pariahs. The walls are closing in rapidly. Effective May 23, 2011, smoking will be banned in all parks, boardwalks, beaches, recreation centers, swimming pools and pedestrian plazas. On April 1, 2003, smoking was banned in New York State in all enclosed workplaces, including all bars and restaurants and construction sites. Even France, considered by many the last bastion of cigarette smoking, banned smoking in public places in 2007.

    At one time, as opposition mounted and the negative effects of secondhand smoke were becoming known, there were debates about the freedom to smoke. There were even accolades for the joy of smoking. Empty words now. Many who have smoked (I did for a short time in college) will agree that joy neither lures people in nor keeps people habituated. The difficulty of quitting and withdrawal drives this more than anything else. Although I do not drink alcohol, and it remains a huge drug problem, a glass of wine with dinner is pleasurable and in moderation, alcohol may not be harmful.

    When I was young, cigarette smoking was permitted and tolerated virtually everywhere. Even those who despised smoking and had no smokers in the household, kept ashtrays and begrudgingly allowed guests to smoke in their home or car. It was considered courteous to accommodate. There was smoking in planes, trains and doctor’s offices.
    Efforts to discourage youth from smoking were ineffective since this was one of the major rites of passage to adulthood and an act of defiance for the very young. Movies like He’s Too Tough to Care, written comedically in an effort to be less preachy, were equally ineffectual. See She’s Too Tough to Care here.

    I enjoyed this New York Times headline from January 21, 1908 regarding the passage of the Sullivan Ordinance making it illegal for women to smoke outdoors:

    NO PUBLIC SMOKING BY WOMEN NOW; The Sullivan Ordinance, to be Passed by the Aldermen Today, Makes It Illegal. WILL THE LADIES REBEL As the Ladies of New Amsterdam Did When Peter Stuyvesant Ordered Them to Wear Broad Flounces?

    The ordinance was enforced – Katie Mulcahey was arrested on January 22 – however the law was vetoed by NYC Mayor George Brinton McClellan, Jr. two weeks after passage.

    With the Sullivan Ordinance far behind us, here on Spring Street, it’s another sequel to She’s Too Tough to Care :)


  • Aspiring Rebel


    In a city as large as New York, we are blessed with many nerds and a number of obsessed New Yorkers with a passion for the minutiae of city life. I say blessed, because how else would you learn about the horrors of certain trains using mixed fonts in the Do Not Lean on Door signs? The primary font in the subway system is Helvetica – see Train of Thought, my story of June 9, 2010, about subway fonts and other obsessions, such as H I K O P T U X Y.

    It was noticed by some, however, that there were a number of trains where signs were actually using a mixture of fonts. Apparently, the possible dangers of falling out of trains or any other obvious reasons for not leaning on (and blocking) subway doors is secondary to the nuances of typography. In a 2009 Gothamist article about this discovery, a war of words in the comments section reveals this gem:

    I noticed these when the R160s were new. I wanted to take my copy of Massimo Vignelli’s 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual and thwack someone over the head with it, but that wouldn’t be a good idea since I might damage a valuable book.

    Regulations like Do Not Lean on Door mean very little in New York City. Often, all available seating is taken and with trains lurching, leaning, and stopping abruptly, riders who are standing need to stabilize themselves. Holding onto vertical or overhead poles for extended periods is tiring. Leaning against exit doors becomes a preferred resting spot for many, with each individual door just right for one person. The eight doors (4 pairs per car) become coveted spots.

    Like jaywalking, these regulations are virtually never enforced. The signs do provide many functions however – a good opportunity for study of fonts, a record of unenforced policies, a clean surface to lean against, a chance to display requisite New York City Street Cred and attitude, and an opportunity for the less courageous for an act of defiance which will assuredly go unpunished. A sign and siren for the amateur lawbreaker and Aspiring Rebel :)


  • She’s Too Tough To Care

    Have you heard of the award winning film, Varicose Veins? I would imagine not, but documentary film maker Sy Wexler, born Simon Wexler in Manhattan in 1916, worked as a producer, director, screenwriter, and cameraman in over 800 16mm black-and-white educational films in science, health, sex education, government, and medicine, with catchy titles like Teeth are For Life, High Blood Pressure, and Squeak the Squirrel.
    Parents and school administrations have forever grappled for ways to control the rebellious nature of youth. Since the 1940s, there have been a number of films which, through highly graphic imagery, attempted to shock, awe, and otherwise persuade the youth of America into proper behavior and to shun the evils of driving, sex, and cigarette smoking.

    In the 1950s-70s, there was a very disturbing series of controversial driver’s education scare films produced by the Highway Safety Foundation that featured gruesome footage taken live at the scene of fatal automobile accidents in the Mansfield, Ohio, area. Titles like Wheels of Tragedy, Highways of Agony, and one which I personally had to sit through in a high school public assembly, Mechanized Death. The positive effect of these is debatable. In my school, I saw fellow students screaming and leaving the assembly hall, girls vomiting while some boys feigned being unaffected and laughing. Although these films have cult status now and many are available in their entirety or in montages, I don’t think America is missing much without them.

    Sy Wexler’s film, He’s Too Tough Too Care, did not share this macabre, grisly approach, but instead was instilled with humor. In it, individuals were seen in various scenarios where they met with fatal outcomes due to smoking, like a worker smoking on a scaffold while his cigarette unknowingly burns a support rope. Another memorable scene involves a lab scientist working for a tobacco company expressing dismay to an executive. When asked how the tests are going, he responds not good, producing a stiff, dead rat from his lab coat pocket. All of these scenes were done with a blend of humor. Throughout the short film, the catchy jingle was sung – He’s Too Tough to Care.

    Cigarette smoking today transcends the defiance of yesteryear. There is virtually no cachet – even among the young, the habit appears foolish and over priced. Smokers are virtual pariahs, restricted and banned everywhere. The women in the photo are archetypes for today’s smokers, relegated to the sidewalks of New York City. These women demonstrated the ultimate in defiance, smoking while standing outdoors in a frigid 10 degrees.

    Our coworker Brittany Bartley, however, puts a positive spin on going against social norms. She bikes daily from Manhattan to Brooklyn, over the Manhattan Bridge, in a trip that takes about 35 minutes. Undaunted by yesterday’s cold snap, Brittany still made the journey by bike, even on a morning with temperatures in the single digits. With no complaints. When I discussed my photos of the women smokers with our company graphic artist, she commented that she was infinitely more impressed with Brittany’s braving the extreme cold on a bicycle. I agreed.

    Sy Wexler passed away in 2005, but I see room for a sequel in the spirit of his original He’s Too Tough to Care. Perhaps this is a project for our friend Ferris Butler (see here). For casting, we have two women who smoke in down jackets on the streets of New York City in January and Brittany on her bike to Brooklyn in single digits. I can see the theater marquis now – “She’s Too Tough To Care” :)

    Go here for a sequel to “She’s Too Tough to Care.”


  • Just Don’t Stick

    There’s nothing like a good dream to pique the interest of a therapist, analyst, or anyone psychoanalytically inclined. And there’s no dream like a nightmare – this is where they love to dig in. And when it comes to bad dreams, the top ten list must include being chased by something (known or unknown), Sleep Paralysis, or being naked or nearly naked in public.

    Although I have no particular fear of being scantily clad in public, I have, like many, had my share of dreams where for some inexplicable reason, I find myself in public only in my underwear and have to find my way home.
    It’s that feeling of vulnerability with nowhere to hide which is so particularly horrible and also for me a huge frustration – how did I end up in this predicament and why didn’t I just grab a pair of pants before leaving? Then there is the wishful thinking that, somehow, you can navigate home and no one will notice.

    Last night, conveniently, I had a very bad dream involving this ever popular theme of exposure and vulnerability. I was driving in my car with a customer whom I have known for years and who can be particularly rude, thoughtless, and inclined to engaging in cruel fun. I was traveling with a brand new electric guitar on the passenger’s seat while he was in rear. I had a momentary lapse of consciousness which allowed him to hang the guitar from the exterior of the car while traveling. To my horror, upon examination, the guitar was terribly scratched and gouged, rendering it essentially worthless. His defense was some feeble excuse, attempting to mask his brand of fun.

    Sunday, January 8th, 2011, was the 10th annual The No Pants Subway Ride, a prank event organized by New York City’s Improv Everywhere, who call it a celebration of silliness. This event is not to be confused with the variant No Pants Day, also an annual event, occurring on the first Friday in May. Both are now international events with participants in cities worldwide. In New York’s subway event, participants enter the subway at a number of different points, acting like they do not know each other and traveling in the same casual manner as any other rider. If asked why they are not wearing pants, they typically respond that they forgot. The members convened at Union Square where these photos were taken. Subsequently, some went shopping at Filene’s (see photos on escalator).

    Arrests have been made in the past, with charges thrown out. Although public nudity is illegal (indecent exposure), being pantless in underwear is not a crime (see the Naked Cowboy here), and at least with these people, you will find that charges of disorderly conduct, like their pants, just don’t stick :)

    Afterthought: Perhaps if everyone participated, we could inure ourselves to pantlessness and rid ourselves of at least one genre of bad dream. On the other hand, I am sure the subconscious mind would just find some new flavor of vulnerable activity.



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