THE RESTLESS GHOSTS OF BAIERSDORF
Longreads, February, 2017
For hundreds of years Baiersdorf, a Bavarian village, has cultivated horseradish. It was quick to put it in use to celebrate the Führer. For the harvest festival peasants made swastikas out of horseradish stalks. Soon, Main Street was renamed Adolf Hitler Street and Seligmann Street became Horst-Wessel Street. The little park in the center of town became Adolf Hitler Park, and its big oak tree the Hitler Oak.
TAKE IT FROM A GERMAN: AMERICANS ARE TOO TIMID IN CONFRONTING HATE
The Daily Beast, January, 2017
Late in the evening on Christmas day, Stephanie Pazmino slashed a black, transgender man after he offered her a subway seat. “I don’t want to sit next to black people,” Pazmino told the victim. A couple of weeks ago a man walked into a 7-Eleven in the Bronx. He had no intention to purchase anything but wanted to use the store’s microwave. When the Muslim clerk told him that this was against store policy, the man responded that he could do whatever he wanted. He told the clerk to go back to ‘his country’ and threatened to physically harm him.
The Guardian, February, 2017
When I visit Alex – a few days before what would have been his stepson Pete’s 26th birthday – he offers to take me on a tour of his little town. Clad in beige vinyl siding, the mobile home where Pete killed himself looks neat but impersonal. It hadn’t yet snowed enough to sugarcoat the scenery. Alex tells me that Danielle wasn’t able to return home after Pete’s suicide. She grabbed her pets and daughters and moved in with neighbors.
DOES THIS MAN DESERVE TO DIE?
Texas Monthly, July, 2016
Jeffrey Wood and Daniel Reneau had only known each other for a couple of months when, on the morning of January 2, 1996, Wood waited in the car as his new friend entered a Texaco station in Kerrville. When Wood, a 22-year-old with no prior criminal record, heard gunshots, he went inside the store to find the attendant, Kris Keeran, shot dead. Wood says that Reneau then pointed his .22-caliber handgun at him and forced him to steal the surveillance video and drive the getaway car.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
The Observer, July, 2016
Let me be entirely honest: while I don’t wear any makeup or go to the circus, the predicament of the clown isn’t so foreign to me. When my family hit the height of its dysfunction, I became the class clown, taking whatever half-hearted laughs I could get. I’m not exactly bipolar, but often bounce from happy to sad within minutes. After an evening spent entertaining a group of strangers, I might go home and cry in my pillows. Not surprisingly, when I had to buy a car, a little red smart car seemed like the only right choice. It has happened that I crammed my husband, two cats and two rabbits into my tiny car, only to be the target of soda cans hurled by teenagers. So when I saw that an astonishing selection of 60 clown paintings was up for auction on eBay, I quickly contacted the seller in the hopes of meeting a kindred soul.
Longreads, December, 2016
Witty and personable, DancingDark’s frequent giggles easily turn into tears. The 37-year-old is committed to doubting “mainstream narratives.” When 9/11 happened, things just didn’t add up. There were suspicious delays in the media coverage and some dude down at the World Trade Center mumbled, “Bin Laden, Bin Laden…” Is it possible that the American government had staged the attack to legitimize its invasion of Iraq and take all their oil?
READING OUT LOUD IN A TIME OF TERROR
Lithub, December, 2016
With few exceptions, my husband has read out loud to me each night before we go to sleep for the last eight years. Originally, the reading was supposed to calm us after an active day, but in recent weeks our ritual has taken on a special dimension. We have struggled to conceptualize and respond to Trump’s hatred and his path of evil. Where to go from here? The forest appears darker now than it had ever been.
THE TRANSGENDER BODY IN ART
The Guardian, November, 2016
Captain Wright, one of the subjects in transgender artist Ria Brodell’s paintings, lived until his death in 1834 with Mrs. Wright and an abundance of rabbits. They were “respectable gentlefolks”, according to Brodell’s extensive research. When Captain Wright died, his neighbors were astonished to learn that he had a body that would be assigned as female. Demoted to a “creature” by the newspaper, his body attracted a crowd of curious spectators. Captain Wright is one in Brodell’s series Butch Heroes, which reimagines historic men who were assigned as female in the format of Catholic holy cards. The portraits – some of which are currently on view at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle as part of the show Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects – are touching and amusing at times. They speak eloquently to the fraught history and present of the transgender community.
A PILGRIMAGE TO BEAST JESUS
Hyperallergic, November, 2016
A few weeks ago my husband and I vacationed in northern Spain. The focus of our trip was Romanesque churches, sculptures, and frescos. We saw some memorable artworks on the first part of our trip, among them a sculpture of a cheerful saint holding her detached breasts in one hand while waving hello with the other and a 12th-century Mozarabic relief depicting an old man pulling a unicorn’s tail. We then decided to take a break from art and head to the Pyrenees to go hiking. There, we discovered that in Spain — and only in Spain, I believe — stray cats cling to the sheer, rocky mountain bluffs like Alpine goats. I posted a picture of some of these felines on Facebook with the question, “How many cats do you see?”
ARTISTS GRAPPLE WITH AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM
The New York Times, March, 2016
For several weeks in February and March, the Whitney Museum’s fifth-floor gallery has been drenched in the slamming of gates, the rattling of keys and the bellowing of prisoners and guards. The artist Andrea Fraser recorded the sounds at Sing Sing, the infamous prison 34 miles up the Hudson River, then fed them into a gallery that’s roughly the same size as the prison’s A Block. “Down the River,” her commanding work, alludes to the practice of separating slaves — and prisoners to this day — from their families and sentencing them to backbreaking labor on the South’s cotton plantations. It is a show that prods viewers to consider “the institutional and symbolic polarization that increasingly defines American society,” Ms. Fraser said.
THE CRUELTY OF KINDNESS
Aeon Magazine, March, 2016
No-kill advocates consider the killing of animals to combat overcrowding in shelters offensive and heartless. And sure enough, the ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ brand was originally based on a wholesome and noble sentiment. But with little to no oversight, it fosters an underbelly that has left the no-kill movement in crisis. The promise of life often leaves cats or dogs languishing in cages or transferred from foster home to foster home for years. Animals are given out sick, with minimal to no prior medical care. While numbers are still hard to come by, hardly a day goes by when a rescue or foster home isn’t exposed for overcrowding, neglect or, notably, hoarding.
MOMENT OF IMPACT
Psychology Today, March, 2016
On a midwinter night two years ago, Beatrice saw a skull appear in the pattern of her bedroom curtain. A thick layer of snow blanketed the Long Island town where she lived with her parents and younger sister. Everyone else in the house was asleep. The skull was silent, but Beatrice knew what its presence meant. She laced up her boots. It was time to run.
A 22-year-old college junior majoring in English literature, Beatrice had barely left her room in two weeks. At first, she’d had a gnawing sense that her friends were talking about her behind her back, privately hissing about what a terrible person she was. Soon, glances from family members telegraphed that they too were against her.
KING OF KUDZU
Orion Magazine, October, 2015
King Kudzu sits next to his little house by the side of Route 441 surrounded by reindeer. There is kudzu everywhere. Kudzu stars, kudzu Christmas trees, kudzu angels. It is only late August, but already the King is getting ready for Christmas, the busiest season of the year. He is the creator, soaking and cutting and weaving and bending while occasionally glancing up at the sky. The early fog has risen, making space for the summer sun. In the face of such grandeur, how could you not believe in something bigger than yourself?
SWIMMING WITH OLIVER SACKS
The Paris Review (online), August, 2015
Every morning a group of us, including Oliver, would swim across Eagle Lake. Our host, Harriet, insisted on accompanying us in her little metal boat. The motorboats that in recent years had taken over the tranquil lake could not be trusted; it would be easier for them to spot a little boat powered by a very tall and assertive woman than the school of little fish that we were.
THE ANSWER IS NEVER
Longreads, April, 2015
The mainstream conversation is colored by if-arguments, eerily reminiscent of the 1950s, when women without children were pitied (and, possibly, pitied themselves). If I had found the right partner… If I had had enough money… If my childhood hadn’t been so bad… Whatever the reasons, they all suggest that something went wrong. I don’t have any if-arguments (which doesn’t mean that things don’t go wrong in my life). I simply never wanted to have children. Not when I was 20, not when I was 30 and not today.
BLACK, JEWISH, AND ADOPTED
Tablet Magazine, February, 2015
To Lin and Peter it didn’t matter what color their kids were. Bespectacled and bald with an impish gleam in his eyes, Peter would look in the mirror and think, “Man, you’re looking pale today!” Other, white children often looked sick to him. It always struck him as odd when people said, “You’re sooo good to have adopted that baby!” His wife’s response was, “Hey, we wanted kids. They were sooo good to exist.”
WHERE WE WRITE: NEW YORK CITY VIA BAVARIA, GERMANY
Poets & Writers, November, 2014
I find that not knowing about a place and its cultural peculiarities allows you to approach your subject differently. Not better, just from a different angel. This angle, of course, causes blind spots to appear, things I should have seen but didn’t.
A PHOTOGRAPHER IN THE CITY: GARRY WINOGRAND’S NEW METROPOLITAN IRONIES
Tablet Magazine, August, 2014
New York’s chaos leads us to look away and hide inside ourselves. It’s impossible to fully digest the complexity of a city where more than a third of the residents hail from abroad, a city where rich and poor work side by side yet know little about each other. You can spend a whole day on its streets and in the end not remember a single person of the thousands you passed. To open your eyes and face—really face—this Moloch is daunting.
UNTANGLING THE KNOT: MY SEARCH FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE MODERN FAMILY
Longreads, October, 2014
The last 40 years have brought more freedom, openness, transparency and equality to families. But as we were harvesting these fruits of family democracy, our expectations and demands gave birth to a conundrum of unfulfilled needs and misalignments that have never been solved.
THE JEWISH MUSEUM TRIVIALIZES THE JEWISH GIANT
Tablet Magazine, May, 2014
When I was little, I often climbed up onto the stone wall to catch a glimpse of the Jewish cemetery. My teachers told me it had been locked to protect it from vandalism. My tiny body perched on crumbling sandstone, I looked for the ghosts of a long-ago people who seemed to hover restlessly and colossally over our little town.
ULTRA-ORTHODOX PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH MENTAL ILLNESS FACE THEIR OWN LONELY STRUGGLES
Tablet Magazine, May, 2014
When Malka was young, Lake Carasaljo, in Lakewood, New Jersey, was so clear that she could see the glasses she once dropped on its sandy bottom. Malka grew up by the lake and raised her six children on its shore. Now 48, she has two girls and four boys ranging in age from 11 to 25. Over the years, her lake became muddy. It was picture perfect—until it was not.
The Hairpin, March 2014
The first weeks of wordsearch were easy: For a Polish word we would go to Greenpoint; for Mandarin and Cantonese, Chinatown and Flushing. But soon things slowed down. Where could we find some of Cameroon’s more than 200 tribal languages? And who in New York speaks Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Pangasinense and Waray, some of the many unofficial languages of the Philippines? Franzi and I ventured on to the Missions to the United Nations.
The Paris Review Daily, February 2014
I did consider it a small miracle when I began to receive letters from men who had borrowed the book from Richard. Prison is a dark world far away from ours, and communications travel slowly. We may have forgotten “them,” but they never forget us. My book quickly made its way around Richard’s cell block; several prisoners mailed me their reviews, chronicling their ambitious attempts at self-improvement and their struggle to prepare themselves for a world that doesn’t want them back.
A FIRST HALLOWEEN AFTER PRISON
The Awl, October 2013
Each year, “The Castle”—a West Harlem halfway house whose nickname comes from its miniature lookout towers and its gray crenellations—puts on a Halloween celebration for its residents and the general public. As a huge fan of Halloween, which is not generally observed in my native Germany, I was eager to be there when Angel, one of 60 or so halfway house residents, celebrated it for the first time in more than three decades.
The Hairpin, October 2013
Every morning, when the massive, black iron gates open, I jog past the ragged stonewalls towards the old mausoleums. I jump over tombstones and weave past undertakers. Western Queens doesn’t have a big park with old trees and ponds; what we do have is Calvary Cemetery, America’s largest graveyard. Wedged between the Brooklyn-Queens and the Long Island Expressways and carelessly dissected into four jagged parts, Calvary borders Sunnyside, Woodside, and Maspeth. With more than three million burials, it is big enough to accommodate my lifelong fears of death and dying, of seeing too much without being seen.
OF LONG-WINDED FEMALE WRITERS AND ROLE MODELS: REMEMBERING MAEVE BRENNAN
The Hairpin, September 2013
One recent morning I awoke cranky and tired due to one too many Cosmos and a third night of insomnia. My first book was published a few months ago and I naively thought I would finally have some time to relax, some time for “pure happiness.” But it suddenly seemed like the real work had only begun. For months now I’ve been struggling with… let’s call it exhaustion. Yet again the difficult question loomed: how do we writers experience and accept obstacles without being buried alive?
HOW A CONVICTED MURDERER PREPARES FOR A JOB INTERVIEW
Longreads, August 2013
Right after his release from prison Angel was forced to join a long chain of “job-readiness” classes. Welfare gave Angel $134 in cash every month, and Shelter Plus Care, a housing subsidy program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, contributed $260 towards his $475 monthly rent at the Castle. The remaining $215 was covered by the Welfare Department (renamed Human Resources Administration, or HRA, to emphasize its new objective). To be eligible for the $215 HRA rent subsidy and the $134 in cash, Angel had to embark on a seemingly endless journey through a maze of institutions. In search of support, he patiently trudged through many of New York’s state and nonprofit agencies that render services to ex-offenders.
LIVE NEXT TO A FILTHY ANIMAL HOARDER? DON’T EXPECT MUCH HELP FROM THE CITY
Gothamist, August 2013
My husband and I first noticed the stench of animal urine at our housewarming party in 2008. Our neighbors, two elderly cousins whom I will call Maria and Anne, were the first guests to arrive. We had met them on the sidewalk after we bought a landmarked row house in Queens. Both women were exceedingly kind and said they loved animals, a passion we shared. Maria told us she had six dogs and “many cats” and was active in animal rescue. Maybe Maria’s smell was just a little accident?
DINNER WITH BRUCE
Contexts, August 2013
Rumor has it that it was celebrated in all the prisons in upstate New York. The cook at the Harlem halfway house calls Bruce “The Institutional Junior,” after the originator of “The World’s Most Famous Cheesecake.” In prison, Bruce baked most weekends, particularly during football season. He used a pan and put a lifter on the little stove in his cell to keep the cheesecake from burning. “I used to do it for therapy,” he explains.
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
The Drum, June 2013
The podcast “Pomp and Circumstance” traces the challenges and successes of a young blind man negotiating life in New York City. A version of the essay first appeared in the American Literary Review where it was awarded the 2011 nonfiction award.
Listen to the podcast…
A TALK WITH A MODERN-DAY PETROGLYPHIST
Hyperallergic, May 2013
Three years ago, the artist Kevin Sudeith left New York City to create stone carvings on immovable rock outcroppings across Canada and the continental US. A modern-day petroglyphist, he has also created more than two dozens images on rocks in undisclosed locations in New York. While this isn’t exactly legal, it can be viewed as a kind of thoughtful and permanent graffiti. (And speaking of illegality and disclosure: When I buried my cat Mietzi in my Queens backyard, Sudeith carved a tombstone for her.)
A BLACK OUTSIDER ARTIST IN A WHITE ART WORLD
Hyperallergic, Feb. 2013
I recently went to the National Arts Club to watch All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert, a documentary about a 68-year-old African-American outsider artist, which is currently being screened at various locations in New York. I had come across Rembert’s leather paintings at the most recent Outsider Art Fair. I was struck by the artist’s decorative, almost ornamental treatment of gruesome subject matter. Rembert’s multihued cotton-field paintings depicting women and men performing tedious, backbreaking labor are almost cheerful, considering the theme of racial oppression and injustice. His repetitive handling of characters and paint gives his work a patterned feel reminiscent of some children’s books. Yet the contrasts are fierce and unforgettable. The painting “All Me II” (2002) portrays countless prisoners in a chain gang holding baby blue hammers for breaking rocks. While there is something whimsical about the depiction of the prisoners, the way they are crammed onto the leather canvas, their bodies interlocking, suggests the iconic images of Auschwitz’s mass graves. People considered dead while still alive.
ALYSE EMDUR: FANTASY BEHIND BARS
Art in America, Feb. 2013
When L.A.-based photographer Alyse Emdur was a little girl she would accompany her mother and sister to prison to visit her older brother, who was serving time for car theft and drug possession. In 2005 she came across a picture of herself and her brother posing in front of a romantic tropical beach scene. Other photos show her brother with and without family members in front of a bucolic stream, a cozy cottage and lush greenery. The hand-painted murals in prison classrooms and portrait studios record fantasies of freedom. To the prisoners and their families these scenes keep at bay the intense feelings of powerlessness, shame and loss caused by crime and incarceration.
A PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS A RABBIT
The Iowa Review, Spring 2012
“Unlike rabbits, the stereotypical German is stationary, predictable, and consistent. She plans ahead, stays close to home, and doesn’t risk awkward jumps. But rabbits and I—we are übermütig. Composed of the German preposition über (beyond or above) and mütig, which derives from the noun Mut, or courage, übermütig is commonly translated as carefree, coltish, and slaphappy. But none of these translations captures the adjective’s condescending quality. A German who is overly courageous isn’t a hero. A German who fails to consider where her jumps will land her is conceited and presumptuous.
“Rabbits and I live in the moment; we have a hair trigger and aim high. A truly happy rabbit doesn’t take into consideration the powerful strength of her springy hind legs. When she is exuberantly joyful, she puts on “binkies,” a series of Jerry Lewis jumps that land her in unforeseeable places. As a result, she bumps into walls and against chairs and slides across hardwood floors.”
HOW I DID NOT BECOME HETTIE JONES
Epiphany Magazine, Spring 2012
“In the Blue Room at the 92nd Street Y carrot pieces cover the floor and multi-colored paper hands stretch out on a board listing the day’s activities: Playtime, meeting, snacks, story, work time, outside, rest time. Fast forward 25, 40, 50, 80 years and our highlights have evolved. On this first day of memoir class, Anna reads about engagement rings, and Tom about his academic successes and his previous efforts at writing a memoir. Antonio reads about his son’s allergy to nuts and Wilma about her mother’s allergy to bee stings.
“Wilma is moved to tears by her ER scene.
“ ‘Bravely done!’ Hettie Jones calls out. ‘Everyone cries in this class.’
“I make a mental note: No crying—and no stories about allergic reactions in memoir class.”
THE OTHER ARBUS
Tablet Magazine, Fall 2011
“Photographer Diane Arbus was an accomplished artist and a troubled person. Two recent books disagree on the extent to which one led to the other.”
ARTISTS ON THE EDGE—A KENTUCKY SAFARI
The Nervous Breakdown, Fall 2011
“Maybe I should have been alarmed by the website’s photo of an old man playing with hula hoops and large blue rubber balls. I myself don’t enjoy juggling, riding monocycles or face painting, but I thought that at Artcroft in Kentucky horse country I could relax and be myself. Besides, herding goats and digging for potatoes in a landscape I had thought existed only in Swiss chocolate commercials seemed like the perfect complement to writing my book about murderers.”
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Tablet Magazine, Summer 2011
“Growing up in Germany, I was raised to be unpatriotic. But in multicultural New York City, where everyone loves a parade, ethnic celebration can also carry undercurrents of hatred.”
MY FORTUNE TOLD IN FIVE ACTS
The Nervous Breakdown, Spring 2011
“The first ‘psychic’ reading I got some 12 years ago was involuntary. A shoddily clad heroin addict in Hamburg screamed my future at me: “YOU WILL DIE WITHIN THE NEXT THREE YEARS!” Pressing my face against the subway window I quietly started sobbing.”
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
American Literary Review, Winter 2011
“Edwin and I met at Visions, a nonprofit in Manhattan that helps blind people to live and travel independently. I came to Visions to find out what it is like to live without sight. “You should write about the blind man,” Edwin told me. “You should write about me.” I watched him being trained to hold on to and trust in things unfamiliar to him and noticed that he sees and fears different things than I do. That interested me.”
THE NOISIEST NEIGHBORS IN THE WORLD
The Nervous Breakdown, Winter 2010
The title of the short audio play tells all. Almost.
BETTER SIGNS IN SUNNYSIDE
Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Winter 2010
“While every Home Depot has someone assigned to paint simple sale signs or operate the sign-printing machine, sign painter Nelton Small’s expertise and dedication stand out. Richmond, the store manager, even attributes the overwhelming success of Home Depot’s first “Ladies Night” to Small’s flashy campaign (think high heels, champagne flutes and power tools).”
BECOMING AMERICAN IN NEW YORK
Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Fall 2009
“Smirking from behind a big pile of files, the immigration officer started the routine. Was I a prostitute? A drunkard? A member of the Nazi party? Or of the Greenpoint YMCA? The officer handed me a form and told me to read a sentence from it. ‘Alright,’ he interrupted me before I could finish. ‘Now write: ‘I honeymooned in Puerto Rico.’ ‘ He caught himself. ‘ ‘Honeymooned’ isn’t a real verb, but write it anyway.’ I did and we both chuckled.”
HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT JAY?
B-Side Radio / Public Radio Exchange, Winter 2008
“In her audio play Sabine Heinlein tells us about a guy who generates so many good stories, he’s taken on mythic proportions. We don’t actually meet ‘Jay’ just the people who love to talk about him.”
NYU Magazine, Spring 2008
“For years, ‘stay the course’ has served as a Republican mantra for the Iraq war, even amid the conflict’s increasing unpopularity. Meanwhile, some high-profile Democrats have been accused of “flip-flopping” on their support for it, among other things. Now, a new study by department of psychology assistant professor David Amodio suggests these reactions could reflect a deeper cognitive difference between partisans—not merely politics as usual.”
AVANT-GARDE RX: A NEW CLINIC OFFERS ACTIVISM AND ART
NYU Magazine, Spring 2008
“NYU’s Environmental Health Clinic, which officially opened last October at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, marries conceptual art with social and environmental activism. It welcomes appointments from ‘impatients,’ individuals who are too anxious to wait for protracted legislative changes.”
CROCODILE HUNTING AT JFK
The Brooklyn Rail, Winter 2008
“Rumor had it that a crocodile lived at JFK Airport—an anonymous source spilled the beans. Among talk of alligators, caymans and other wet slithering creatures, the names Dr. Feinsod and Vetport were dropped. Some measly clues and promises made over cocktails were enough to send me on a quixotic quest for the croc at JFK.”
TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN
Brooklyn Rail, Fall 2007
“Like prehistoric creatures—think armadillos and cockroaches—clowns have survived shifting land masses, tsunamis, the ice age and even Postmodernism. They seem immune to revolutions and change. And, most amazingly, through the centuries those “bottom-feeders of entertainment” (as Diane Keaton called them) haven’t become any wiser. Don’t get me wrong: I am generally not opposed to someone trying to fit his whole extended family into a tiny car or accidentally dropping a giant fried egg onto sawdust and elephant poop. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind teaching a French poodle to sing a chanson. I am, however, opposed to a whole group of people making those very tasks and accidents their profession, repeating them on a daily basis, and passing them down from clown generation to clown generation like some sort of inheritable genetic disorder.”
OF REHAB AND REINTEGRATION: OR, HOW TO LEAD LIFE POST-PRISON
City Limits, Spring 2007
“In five individual interviews, reentry experts discuss ideas about rehabilitation and the difficulties ex-offenders face in today’s labor market.”
ON DUTY WITH OFFICER H.
The Brooklyn Rail, Summer 2007
“ ‘Six-foot-seven? He stands out like a sore thumb!’ Officer H. squawked in a Brooklyn accent when, one freezing night, I rode along with him and his partner. We combed the streets of Williamsburg for the sore thumb. We were looking for trouble, for petty thieves and small-time crooks. Once I had gotten all comfy and warm in my bulletproof vest, Officer H. took to calling me detective. He meant to be funny. He was chatty and charming, but quiet and still when he picked up speed.”
LISTENING TO ROBINSON
The Brooklyn Rail, Spring 2007
“The Holy Name Center runs a one-woman case management program and offers showers to homeless people. On four weekdays from nine to two, Christy Robb, Holy Name’s caseworker helps people like Tyrone Robinson navigate through the convoluted requirements of the welfare system. On weekdays, between six and nine in the morning, Robinson takes a shower, picks up his mail and sometimes walks up and down the badly lit chapel. At other times he rests on the chapel’s wooden pews or looks through its stained glass windows out onto the street.”
BUMMING IT ON MANHATTAN AVENUE
The Brooklyn Rail, Winter 2007
This story is only five blocks long. It starts at 1050 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. Exiting the building, I open the door carefully. An elderly man with a greasy gray ponytail sits on my stoop sipping beer from a brown paper bag. He ducks when he hears the doorknob twist. We greet. My next-door neighbor is upset about the man hanging out on my stoop. “Can’t he hang out on his own stoop?” he scoffs. But the man and I have a silent agreement.
ACQUIRING SOFT SKILLS THE HARD WAY
The Brooklyn Rail, Fall 2006
“A few months ago I arranged to observe two attitudinal job-training sessions at STRIVE in East Harlem, where I watched 18 idlers be put into working order. As claimed by the acronym—Support and Training Result in Valuable Employees—STRIVE is a non-profit organization that teaches ex-offenders, welfare mothers, high school drop outs and former drug-dealers how to develop the characteristics that our work-obsessed culture associates with success: a positive attitude, steady eye contact, a firm handshake, and a curse-free vocabulary.”