Filed under: New York, Travel, Writing | Tags: 9/11, Ground Zero, New York, September 11, South African, Tour, Tribute Center, World Trade Center, WTC
By Dean Stattmann
It was a typical sunny Tuesday afternoon in Johannesburg, South Africa as I stepped off the school bus and onto the sidewalk in front of my house. Another strenuous day in the eighth grade had passed, and I was ready to relax. I walked through the garden, my backpack already on just one shoulder, and into the living room. As usual, I put all my stuff down on the floor and then went to the kitchen to get some lunch. After returning to the living room, I flopped down on the big black leather sofa and began eating from a bowl of noodles as I flipped through the channels, looking up at the big television screen in front of me. I remember how tedious it was navigating through the channels back then. We had satellite TV and there must have been at least 300 stations trying to get my attention every time I turned the thing on. That day was no different. I remember clicking through the cartoons, the food networks, the travel channels, the music videos, the breaking news and the sitcom reruns – all to no avail. At some point my mother called me. She asked me about my day and then mentioned that I should watch the news – something about a bomb. As I backtracked to CNN, I remember seeing something along the way that caught my eye, deciding to come back to it afterwards. When the news came onto the screen, it was exactly what I had expected – news. It seemed like the same news that was on every other day – intangible events in places I had never been, and most likely would never go. The banner across the bottom of the screen said something about trade but I wasn’t really paying attention. I raised my hand towards the screen, my fingers still clutching the remote control, and I changed the channel. That day was September 11, 2001.
On March 5, 2009, I stood in the winter garden bordering the West side of the World Trade Center site. Pressed up against the large glass window, I listened to the verbal accounts of people who lost loved ones that day. I was on a tour. The WTC Tribute Center on Liberty St. was offering unguided audio tours, and today I was here with my college journalism class. Looking out onto the baron 16-acre site, I tried to imagine the towers, the signature of a New York that I would never see. I attempted to visualize them, 110 floors above the ground, bustling with over 50,000 employees from hundreds of companies. I looked around, trying to find a structure of similar scale so I could at least have some kind of reference. Nothing came close.
Then I thought about September 11. Right around the time I put my noodles in the microwave, a plane traveling at over 400 miles per hour ripped into the ninety-third floor of the North tower, killing 1,365 people on impact. Seventeen minutes later, as I searched aimlessly for something entertaining to watch, another plane mimicked the first, this time with the North tower in its sights. At over 500 miles per hour, it turned floors 77 through 85 into a smoke-filled inferno, leaving only the outline of the plane stamped onto the side of the building, the way cartoon characters get slammed into the ground. Within a half hour, the North tower had been reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble, flattening out in twelve seconds.
And then the scariest realization of all: If I had been standing in this exact spot on that same Tuesday, I would be dead. The force of the collapsing towers shattered the windows of every single one of the surrounding buildings, destroying most of them. The newly renovated winter garden in which I was standing was unrecognizable on September 11. The voice coming through my headphones poured out scores of statistics about deaths, casualties… body parts. After a while, they just felt like empty numbers, like people without faces. I later researched those numbers and found that almost every source, from CNN to New York magazine, had different figures. They say that the death of one is a tragedy and the death of millions is a statistic. I find it tragic that there isn’t a definitive statistic.
After the tour, I still felt detached from the events of September 11. I had definitely learnt a lot, but I just didn’t feel it the way I thought I would. It was only afterwards, during a brief walk through the WTC Tribute Center, that it hit me, hard. Displayed modestly against a plain white wall, stood a mangled steel beam – formerly part of one of the towers – that had been removed from the rubble. The sign said not to touch but if this wasn’t going to make the events of that day tangible then nothing was. When I put my hand on the oxidized steel, it occurred to me that this was my first contact with a day that has consumed the lives of thousands of families for the last eight and a half years. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I felt guilty, almost disgusted by my ignorance. I wanted to help someone or at least do something, but it was too late.
My trip to ground zero consumed my thoughts for the rest of the day. I tried to think about how this could have been avoided. I tried to imagine losing someone I loved. I tried to comprehend what the fuck would drive someone to do something like this. I came up with nothing. But one thing I couldn’t shake was my admiration for New York City and its ability to move on. If I learned anything from that day, it’s that no matter what, things will happen in life that are outside of our control. Sometimes we’ll like them, and sometimes we won’t. But when tragedy inevitably strikes, all we can do deal with it the best way we can, and then move on.
Filed under: College, Fashion, Lifestyle, New York, News | Tags: Broadway, Broome, Fashion, Topshop
By Dean Stattmann
A rickety old van pulled up outside New York University’s Weinstein dining hall at noon today to give away free promotional gear from renowned British retailer Topshop. Wait, what? That’s right. After over a year and a half of rumors, the fashionable giant from across the pond will leap right into its brand new home on Broadway and Broome St.
SoHo is so incredibly New York, yet anyone walking around this retail mecca for the first time would have a hard time placing themselves. Any international designer worth mentioning is represented in this tiny quarter of lower Manhattan and TopShop has finally decided to follow suit.
Filed under: Fashion, New York, Travel, Writing | Tags: Artist, Colors, Dean, Man, Musician, Old, Painter, Poet, SoHo, Stattmann, Tour, Walking
By Dean Stattmann
I recently did a walking tour of SoHo. Except instead of using a tour guide – a.k.a. walking encyclopedia – I opted for a tour of the self-guided persuasion. I thought that this would provide me with a more personal experience; I imagined that it would allow me to discover my SoHo.
I began my tour, as the New York Times suggested, on Broadway and Houston. Armed with a wealth of information obtained on the internet the night before, I was ready to venture into what I imagined would be an intriguing world of historical anecdotes and interesting facts.
Twenty minutes later, after knocking out the Singer Building and the rest of the “must-sees,” I decided that this tour sucked. Despite my best efforts, there was nothing personal about it. The facts were still the same, the buildings looked the same to me as they did to everyone else and quite honestly – despite my history major – I have an extremely limited interest in the subject.
I put my two-dimensional guide back in my pocket and started walking. I went where I wanted to go; creating my own tour if you will.
After taking a turn onto Wooster St, I was stopped by an elderly man with white hair, wearing a grey coat that extended to the floor. “Lovely lighting today!” he said.
“Excuse me?” I replied
“For taking photographs,” he said, gesturing towards the camera slung over my shoulder. “You can get some great photos today.”
I’m not going to lie. I thought this man was crazy. He seemed way too excited about the absence of clouds in the sky. He also had a peculiar growth on his forehead that resembled an M&M trying to escape from the inside of an inflated balloon.
His next comment threw me off even more.
“You should wear more colors!”
“I’m sorry… what?”
“Colors. You look depressed,” he said. “Are you depressed?”
“I don’t think so. No, I’m not depressed.”
Granted, I was wearing blue jeans and a grey hoodie. But in my defense, I was wearing a pair of extremely bright red shoes, a point that I made to him, hoping to convince him that I wasn’t depressed. Besides, he was wearing a grey frikkin’ coat!
When I asked him about his “adventurous” wardrobe choice, he looked at me, and began slowly undoing the top button of his coat. Then the next one. Then the next one.
By the time he had undone the last button, I had nothing left to say. If someone ever went back in time, stole Joseph’s technicolored dreamcoat and fashioned it into a three piece suit, this man was wearing it.
“Ok, you win,” I said
He just smiled
“Where did you get that?”
“I made it.” he replied
Following a brief exchange about his desire to appear out of the ordinary at all times, it was soon revealed to me that this man was a photographer, a painter, a musician and a poet. However, with technology as his arch nemesis, he assured me that I would not find a word about him online. He didn’t even give me his name.
“There’s some great light today,” he said again as if he hadn’t just said the exact same thing moments earlier.
“Yes there is,” I replied. And with that, we walked our separate ways.
I had discovered my SoHo.
Photo by Dean Stattmann
Filed under: New York, Writing | Tags: Addiction, Adebola, Bowery, Cocaine, Crack, Dean, Drugs, Homeless, Homelessness, James, Kiki, Macklin, Mission, New York, Stattmann, Steve, Zakrzewski
By Dean Stattmann
New York is a city where even the wildest dreams can come true. It is also a city in which 100,000 people experience homelessness each year. And one step into the Bowery Mission will teach you that it doesn’t take a lot to go from one to the other.
Humbly situated at 227 Bowery, nestled in between Stanton and Rivington Streets, is the Bowery Mission, an organization that has offered a helping hand to New York City’s less fortunate for over 130 years.
Providing help and resources along every step of the way to recovery, the Bowery Mission has truly taken the problems of homelessness and addiction in New York City into it’s own welcoming hands. Beyond accommodation (Participants in rehabilitation programs can stay as long as one year), the Mission also provides three cooked meals a day, computer learning services, employment resources and most importantly, a safe, friendly environment that encourages recovery and total rehabilitation.
“We’re here as a beacon of light,” says James Macklin, Director of Outreach at the Bowery Mission. Macklin – himself an alumnus of the Mission’s rehabilitation program – found himself in need of such a beacon when he lost his business to cocaine in the early 80s. He came to the Bowery Mission with nowhere else to go.
Fortunately, the Mission, which has since moved from its former location on Canal Street, has devised a rehabilitation program that has its residents hopeful that a better tomorrow is around the corner.
“We believe that rehabilitation comes from a change of the heart,” says Macklin. “You have to change the way people perceive themselves, you have to change their perception of life and then you start them off on a brand new track.” By new track, he is of course referring to one of faith.
Religion is a key component at the Mission – which hosts three mandatory prayer sessions daily – and many of its residents attribute their recovery in part to discovering a spiritual side to them that they never knew existed. One graduate of the program, Steve Zakrzewski, was the Senior Vice President of one of the largest quality services organizations in the world before crossing the line with alcohol.
“AA didn’t work for me,” says Zakrzewski. “I realized at that point that I needed a long-term program. A social worker at the hospital told me about the bowery mission and they got me a bed. I came here and life was completely different from that point on.”
Zakrzewski is grateful for all the help the Bowery Mission has provided him with, but more so for introducing him to his Savior.
Another success story goes by the name of Kiki Adebola, a Nigerian immigrant who came to New York in the early 80s in search of the American Dream.
“I used to house soldiers and G.I.s in Nigeria,” Adebola says. “I used to show them where to get the weed and the girls. That’s how I was introduced to American people.”
After arriving in New York and enrolling at a college in Brooklyn, Adebola had a prosperous future ahead of him, until his addiction to crack cocaine got the better of him.
“First I was in control of it, but as time went on, it flipped the script on me and I became a slave to it,” he says. “Drugs will take you places that you really don’t want to go, they will cost you more than you would like to pay and they will keep you longer than you’d like to stay.”
Adebola stayed with his addiction for eight years, living on the streets of New York and “hustling” tourists just to stay alive. It was only when he met Macklin that he realized that life could be different.
Listening to the testimonies of these individuals, one cannot ignore their repeated referral to one another as “brother,” as if they were members of a fraternity. In fact, they even refer to the Mission as “the house.” This is the product of an undeniable sense of brotherhood that fills the hallways of the Bowery Mission.
Nobody can save themselves from the kind of perils that are carried through the Mission’s iconic red doors each day, and strength through brotherhood is the only way to win when the stakes are human lives. Thankfully, that is a hand that graduates of the Bowery Mission will not have to play.
“The American dream talks about a house, car, wife and kids – I have all that,” says Adebola. “The only thing I don’t have is a dog named Bingo and a cat named Fluffy.”
Photos by Dean Stattmann
Filed under: Lifestyle, New York, Photography | Tags: Credit, Crisis, Dean, Downturn, Economic, Financial, Fired, Jobs, Lay-offs, Mortgage, Recession, Slowdown, Stattmann
Photo by Dean Stattmann
Filed under: New York, News, Writing | Tags: AIDS, Beer, Bookstore, Cafe, Comedy, Dean Stattmann, Eugene Mirman, Homeless, Housing Works
By Dean Stattmann
The scene at SoHo’s Housing Works Bookstore Café was enough to make the stereotypical librarian cringe Tuesday night, as the venue hosted its weekly “Punch up Your Life” comedy show.
The show, free to the public, hosts popular comedians on a weekly basis to generate support for Housing Works Inc., the organization that runs the store. “It’s amazing what they do here,” said Raina Clark, one of several volunteers that helps out at the Housing Works Bookstore Café at 126 Crosby St.. “They function so holistically, helping these people along every step of the way.”
Founded in 1990, Housing Works Inc. is the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the United States, working to eliminate both AIDS and homelessness in New York, through services like housing, health care and job training.
According to Chaya Thanhauser, Housing Works’ Event Coordinator, volunteers play an integral role in the way the organization functions, and the bookstore is just one facet of a much larger initiative.
Walking into the bookstore, it appeared to be business as usual – shelves, books, tables, books, ladders, books – at least until the bar came into view. “What can I get you?,” asked the bookstore barkeep, leaning over a selection of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Brooklyn Lager and Stella Artois, arranged neatly on a small table. It was like being offered McDonalds at a health spa. “I’ll take a Stella.”
The luxury of choice did not extend to the back of the store, however, where late arrivals prowled the room for free seats amidst a sea of cardigan-wearing, leg-crossing bookstore folk, who collectively resembled a primary color patchwork quilt. The stage – a cozy 8×10 platform – stood modestly against a bare wall, dwarfed by lofty bookshelves offering knowledge on popular music and classical opera.
The show began a little before 9pm, with “Punch Up Your Life” host and Comedy Central’s Jesse Klein taking the stage following some minor audio complications. “It’s always been my dream to be introduced by two people competing to apologize,” she joked as two volunteer workers left the stage unsuccessful in stopping the annoying buzz ringing from the two elevated speakers. But a decibel malfunction wasn’t enough to stop renowned comedian Eugene Mirman, clearly the evening’s headliner, from unleashing his sidesplitting, yet seemingly unintentional brand of comedy.
Currently at the tail end of a book tour, promoting his fake self-help book, “The Will to Whatevs,” Mirman delivered a plethora of fresh material to the eager crowd, including a story of having fire “thrown in his hair” by the high school bully, as well as insight into his theory that God is in fact a 12-year-old boy. “When you look at it, it makes sense,” He exclaimed. “His rules are stupid, sex is still gross and homosexuality is just beyond him!”
After the show, Mirman, a Boston native currently residing in New York, reflected briefly on the event over a cigarette and the sound of cabs honking in the distance. “I’ve been going all over the place because of the book tour,” he said. “But this is a great venue and I enjoyed the show.”
Housing Works Bookstore Café hosts “Punch Up Your Life” every Tuesday at 8:30pm. Next week’s special guests include Chelsea Peretti Christian Finnigan and Hannibal Burress.
Photos courtesy of PetroleumJelliffe and Jina J under flickr’s Creative Commons license