The 181st Street IRT Subway Station in New York City

A station entrance to the IRT Broadway line in New York City is accessible by a staircase.
The station entrance to the IRT Broadway Line in New York
At the 181st Street station on the number 1 local, I see a man humping the platform floor. Two ladies clad in business dress call the police. The police, on arriving at the primal scene inquire, "Sir, will you get the fuck up?"

Detail of the New York City Subway Map
A flock of pigeons flies through the tunnel space. The police carry Onan away. More than one hundred feet below the surface of the street, flanêurs ascend and descend via one of four aesthetically displeasing metallic elevators, brought to life today only by the Dominican men who enter with me listing their accomplishments. “Can you believe it?” one asks. “No, to be honest, I can’t. That’s a brave man. That one. That’s a brave man.” The accomplishments are lost to me. All I know are the sounds. The pleasure in their voices was being.
     The elevator brings us to ground level; the men go quietly; we hurry out to the street. My destination is the Fort Washington Branch of the New York City Public Library. I want to write in a quiet space. To escape the noise. The factotum at the circulation desk points me to an especially quiet place in the back of the library. The patrons are a mix of young teens freshly evicted from the diurnal school duty and retired folks who read newspapers and mind their own business. The Fort Washington Library, like many of the libraries in New York, was a Carnegie gift. It is not my first visit to this particular branch. I remember my last visit here last summer. It is queer to have summer memories during winter. I remember the building that sits atop the tunnel entrance onto the George Washington Bridge. It reminds me of a battered housewife. The rumble of cars and trucks come to the surface of the street with a persistent violence. This is the ugliest building in all of Manhattan. I remember walking past it last summer, while shirtless boys on St. Nicholas Avenue played in the opened fire hydrant. Langston Hughes comes to mind. He was a flanêur of urban American streets. He wrote poetry about memories. About dreams. About IRT trains:
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy
Sometimes a bone
Is flung
To some people
Love is given
To others
Only heaven.
Would you like to read more? Fetch Greig Roselli's book of essays, Things I Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas) for more good writing, dammit.  

A Station Entrance to the 181st Street IRT Station on the New York City Subway Broadway Line

Why One Should Not Teach Roman Numerals to Satmar Hasidic Jewish Boys

On that time I taught a lesson on Roman Numerals to a classroom of Satmar Hasidic children in Brooklyn.
image credit: Greig Roselli
The Romans Dominated Israel Two Thousand Years Ago, but What Does that Have to Do with Teaching Roman Numerals? 
    The boys enjoyed the lesson on Roman Numerals. After forty minutes, the class was decoding X, XCC, MDC, MMXI, and MCMXCVIII.
     Feeling accomplished, Mr. Roselli slept well that night, having been liberated from the usual anxiety that comes from an unsuccessful teaching day at the Yeshiva. Unruly boys and orthodox rules made the Satmar school in Brooklyn a world within a world. Mr. Roselli knew a bad day at the Yeshiva. His first day, he wrote the lower case letter "t" on the board, and since it too much resembles the cruciform shape, was outrightly chastised by his pupils. "The 't'! The 't'! The 't'!" they cried in unison.
     Coming down the stairs, Mr. Roselli exclaimed to another secular teacher who also taught Math, "They crucified me."  The co-teacher said simply, "They didn't tell you not to do that on the first day's meeting?"
There were other incidents (and other things you should not teach). 
     For example, we were not allowed to individually single out the kids. "Don't count the kids," Rabbi Teitelbaum said. "No counting." Check. "No short sleeve shirts." Check. "No bible stories." No religion. "No politics. No women. No sex. Just teach the curriculum." Check.
     It felt like an especial feat to teach class Roman Numerals without a flop-ending. Shlomo, leaving class, said, "Thank you, teacher."
     Arriving at school on the following afternoon, however, the actions of the previous day of teaching bore its inclement outcome.
Called into Mr. Schermerhorn's Office
     "Roselli," said Mr. Schermerhorn from inside his nondescript office next to the teachers' mailboxes. He was an unnecessarily stern and brittle man who appeared to have had clocked too many hours in the New York City Public School system. His hair was a fragile grey "Come to my office for a minute, won't you?"
     Feeling the worst after having felt so proud, Mr. Roselli let himself into Mr. Schemerhorn's office.

Here is the Gist of the Conversation With the Yeshiva's Assistant Principle:
"What were you teaching your class yesterday?"
"Roman Numerals."
"Roman Numerals?"
"Yes, Roman Numerals."
"We don't pay you to teach off the curriculum, Roselli. We pay you to teach the book. Nothing more nothing less. Don't get too creative or we'll get parents calling."
"But, Roman Numeral are in the book, Mr. Schemerhorn."
"Do you want me to receive a call from a parent asking why their son is learning Roman Numerals?"

I didn't answer. Schermerhorn was not a Satmar. It was easy to tell. Schermerhorn was a man without joy. The Satmars are normally a joyous bunch. Despite their strict religious rules.
"We pay you to teach the curriculum. I don't want to have to explain to a parent or to  Rabbi Teitelbaum. Are we clear?" 
"Yes. Don't teach Roman Numerals."
"And turn in your lesson plans on time."
"We want a good teacher better and a better teacher best." 
"That's true." 
"Is that all?" 
"Yes, that's all Roselli. Get to class."
Feeling Dejected Who Are You To Turn To?
After school that day feeling puzzled and slightly dejected, Mr. Roselli asked his co-teacher, "Are we not allowed to teach Roman Numerals to the kids?"
"I've never heard that one." 
"Schermerhorn just told me not to." 
"Did he tell you not teach off the official curriculum?"
"Yeah, he did. And he gave me that better good best teacher shtick."
"Maybe because the Romans tortured enslaved the Jews? Haven't you read about Roman imperialism?"
"Yeah, maybe that is it."
"Wouldn't it been funny if Schermerhorn had said, 'Roselli. Stop torturing the kids with Roman Numerals. I want you teaching them the cardinal numbers, not the Roman numbers.' That would have been fucking hilarious, don't you think?"

"Yeah what if he had said, 'Roselli, since we pay you to teach the curriculum, goddammit, I want you —' and at this point, he bangs a ruler on the desk -- "to teach the goddamn curriculum.'"
"Yes, Mr. Schemerhorn, of course!"
If you liked this story, read more from the book Things I Shouldn't Have Said and Other Faux Pas.


100 Years at the New York Public Library in the Midst of City Budget Cuts

At the one hundred year exhibit of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, there were tours this past weekend of the stacks of the arts and humanities research library, the Stephen. A. Schwartzman building, the one with the iconic lions. The stacks are seven levels divided by catwalks (which also extend outward beneath Bryant Park). The stacks are beautifully hewn cast iron bulwarks donated by Andrew Carnegie. Walking along the catwalk, one can look down and see floor upon floor of sheer "book." To take such a tour stirs the soul and restores hope in humanity. The books are categorized by size (not by Dewey or LC, which are the two most popular category systems in the United States).  
Reading Books in the Rose Reading Room  
To read one of the books in the research collection means filling out a request slip and waiting fifteen minutes for your book to be retrieved by a page who, once it is located on the shelf, sends it up via a Ferris wheel conveyor belt. It is all so mechanically proper and print oriented. The card catalog was scrapped in 1983, but interestingly enough, even though the catalog is digitized now, the library took photographs of every card and bound the images twenty to a page in a printed dictionary catalog of the collection. Why do this? Librarians through the years made notes on cards indicating other sources in the collection to consult and other such marginalia that is beneficial for researchers. The bound dictionary catalog is a snapshot of the collection before it went digital. 
Even With a Glorious Library in Manhattan the Truth is Libraries Still Suffer from Inadequate Funding 
The sad news in the wake of such a glorious centennial celebration is that budget cuts plague public libraries even though library usage is at an all-time high. To advocate for libraries is so desperately needed. Libraries are a public service to be ranked with the necessity of schools, hospitals, fire houses and police stations that make up a viable, literate population. Please advocate for Libraries today.

On Thinking About Creativity: Are We Artists Or Not?

Creators come in different
shapes, colors, and sizes!
If you think you may be a writer, an illustrator, a photographer, a graphic designer, a sculptor, a songwriter, or a dancer, a filmmaker, a novelist, a poet, a dreamer, a baker, whatever, know a few things. Your art will fail you. The words will not come. The images will not appear. The lens will not capture a perfect reality. The story will not form. The movement will falter. The notes will not pluck. The cake will collapse.


Feeling Strangely Homey in Bushwick (Travels in Brooklyn)

After moving out of my graduate dorm at the New School, I had to couch surf and spend the night on a couple of trains before I could move into my new place in Brooklyn.

Still Riding the LIRR
In case anyone is wondering if I'm still riding the LIRR, I wanted to report that I am staying with a friend in Bushwick (home of New York's proletariat) until my place in Sunset Park (home of the Latino/Asian middle class) becomes available.

My hosts have been exceptionally gracious. So to thank them for their hospitality, I say "thank you guys!"
Living Unsettled
In the realm of general blog writing, it must be noted that living unsettled is a perfect catalyst for writing. Writing is integral to homelessness, I think. To write is to be unsettled. Good writing does not come out of stability. Writing is an effort to find the tension and seize upon it. Don't you think?

Last night Tompkins Square Park was filled with people for the annual Howl festival. I really don't know what the Howl festival is so I can only infer from the experience (since I didn't ask anyone) that it was a costume party out in the open treeness of the park. But isn't the Howl festival supposed to be about poetry and art?

I particularly liked the group of four dressed up as some kind of dragon creature.

Today will be another day living as a free-floating plankton in the sea we call the city of New York.


Why I Like Wanderers (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Love the Epic!)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Love the Epic!
On Loving the Greek Epic Form
Odysseus slays the suitors (while Penelope and Telemachus Look On)
I have a penchant for Greek epic. It's the absolute in the epic I adore. The epic form does seem outdated. But it lives on in presidential speeches and high arching ontologies. Odysseus is an epic wanderer. He's clever. He's stubborn. And he risks the lives of others for his own gain. That's who he is. I think they call it an archetype. Odysseus the man of many wiles. They don't call him that for nothing. I don't like the epic for all those reasons, though: I like the epic form simply because I like to think of the stories of Homer and so forth as unmoored from traditional metaphysics.

Living Life Like I Am a Character in a Novel
I live more like a novel. Or at least when I read novels, especially contemporary novels, that is the vibe I feel. Maybe I should say I want to live my life novelistically rather than epically. Or maybe I should say to live one's life like an epic is foreclosed to us. To think of the world metaphysically has never been all that simple, or might I say, successful. We see in the novel something akin to what it means to live day to day in our modern life. We see in the epic something "satisfactory" to quote the Wise Men in T.S. Elliot's poem about the former dispensation of gods forgotten.

A New Dispensation: God is Dead
I would say the new dispensation is the forgetting of God. Of absolutes. God is still around. We just forget to not believe in him so he sticks around, lingers, like a photograph of a former boyfriend you keep for memory's sake.

I am not saying this mantra "God is dead," in a purely Nietzchean sense, but maybe more like God has been dead (no one killed him), and we like to keep his poster still tacked to the wall.

I'm The Type of Guy Who Likes to Wander 'Round
Which is why the wanderer is an apt modern trope. For Odysseus, it is a mark of human fragility and the inevitable consequence of a man who forsakes God. For the modern wanderer, it is not so much the case we wander because of something the Greeks called excessive pride (hubris). Still, instead, it is a search for different authority unrelated to a top/down structure of power. To wander is more like to stumble about looking for what authorizes existence.

We wander because to stay still is too Medieval.

We keep it going. Kierkegaard's category of immediacy, it turns out, is not a definition of despair but rather an accurate depiction of humanity. If the immediate man is the despairing man, then I would have to claim that all men are despairing.

Growing Up and What That Means for Me
What happens to philosophy when it grows up? Does it become a wanderer sans the narrative script of Greek verse?

I only say all this to mask a more autobiographical story.

I've been in flux. I am in between apartments. Moving from one place to another always unsettles me.

Or maybe it's the tracts passed out in the subway stations announcing the end of the world on May 21, 2011.

And, Finally a Dedication to Walker Percy and György Lukács
I dedicate my homelessness to Walker Percy and György Lukács. No, don't worry, I am not writing a doctoral dissertation on those two guys. It would be fun. I am lucky if I can land a teaching gig this summer. Pay my rent. Eat hot dogs on Coney Island and manage to subsist on anything that can be stir-fried in a wok.

Peace out.


Photograph: Lovers NYC

A series of photographs capturing love in and around New York City . . .
The Wall, The High Line, New York City, 2010
Love, Brooklyn
A Couple Sit Near the Bronx River