Friday, September 30, 2005

Mobtown Shank

"Also, NEW YORK CITY HAS THE HIGHEST CONCENTRATION OF LIARS!!! A study performed by a group of college advisers recently found that because New York has such a dense population and because everybody is trying to impress everybody that people are forced to LIE ON A DAILY BASIS!!!!!"

Neil Tobias's Student Body column in the Mobtown Shank is unstoppable.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

More on the shootout in Harlem

I was wrong, wrong, wrong about the newspapers ignoring the shootout.

According to the papers, police fired 77 shots during the gun battle. The suspect, 25-year-old Cedric Rooks, who was already on parole for robbery, took bullets in the neck, shoulder, and hip. The other 74 bullets, plus however many Rooks fired off, went into trees, apartment windows, and car windows. Glass from car windows and windshields lay all over 115th Street.

When you walk by now, you can't tell anything happened there.

Cedric Rooks is in stable condition at Harlem Hospital. He is one lucky motherfucker, 74 times over. Or else he's really, really skinny.

Internal Affairs is investigating. We'll see what they find.


Didja hear about the crazy shootout in Midtown? Guy robs jewelry store, cops show up, guy holds gun to owner's head, then darts out and has a shootout with the cops?

Didja hear about the shootout in Harlem?

I was on edge after the murder in my neighborhood Saturday night, but was beginning to forget about it by last night. Came home a little late from a lecture on campus Tuesday night and didn't mind the idea of walking up Fifth Avenue from 110th to 116th, which can be a little sketchy. In fact, the walk was longer this time--the bus driver said "Last Stop" at Adam Clayton Powell, so I had an extra two blocks to walk on 110th.

But I always feel safer once I get to the firehouse. It's halfway up Fifth Avenue. It's lighted well, and there are big, mean, tough firefighters in there to defend me (and if they can't, at least there's an ambulance there).

So I passed the firehouse, sighed and looked at the moon, turned the corner, let myself into my building, harrumphed up three flights of stairs, and went to bed. But then I thought about school, and I couldn't sleep.

The lecture I had attended was about how to get started on our Master's projects. Bruce Porter, author of Blow, talked about how to write a gripping, compelling, engrossing, enchanting, en-everything-ing story. He showed us two great long-form articles. He said--I'll paraphrase--I spent my fall semester at Columbia back in 1724 sleeping on the street with Bowery derelicts, that's how I got my Master's story. He talked about how a former student knocked on a sex offender's front door and, though sheer honesty, curiosity, empathy--humanity, brothers and sisters, humanity--got said rapist to share his innermost secrets with the world (or at least the readers of New York).

I had been thinking of writing something called "Something Something Something: How Something is Related to Something, but Not How You've Always Thought About It, You Know What I Mean, Hoss?"

So I woke up and thought about stories I could do. I have "topics," okay, but what's the story? And my topics aren't that great. Maybe it's because I'm not reporting enough. I should be out on the street more, seeing things I never dreamed I'd see.

Silence, for somewhere between 5 seconds and 5 minutes.


I am not exaggerating the number of bangs, for I will present evidence of at least 28 shell casings if you stick with me here.

I didn't know if it was a gun. I thought guns wen't POP, not BANG.

I walked downstairs, (allow me to dramatize this) intrepidly. (Not just an adverb, but an adverb preceded by an unnecessary comma, for emphasis.)

I stuck my head out the front door of my building, saw a sketchy guy (well, anyone would have looked sketchy at that point), and darted back upstairs, cowardly.

I went out on my fire escape to look for cop cars or ambulances. A woman next door had stuck her head out the window.

"Was that a gun?" I asked her.

She said--I'll paraphrase--HAHAHAHAHAHA you white bread so-and-so, what farm did you grow up on?

I grabbed my pen and pad, and walked downstairs. I walked down 116th toward Madison. I turned right on Madison.

Holy Jeezisballs, look at all these people! I could see, a block away, that telltale bouquet of people standing on a corner, craning their necks, slits of red and blue light sneaking out from between them. The cornrows, the baggy pants, the sotto voce "muhfuckin poh-leese."

I hope you don't think I'm being glib, or stereotyping. I mention these things because this kind of thing happens to these people all the freaking time. That's who was standing there.

Look at the URL for the Times article I linked above. The end of the URL is 28rob.html. It looks like a prisoner's number. And that was Midtown. We'll see what goes in the paper about this.

There were cops, cop cars, cop everything all over the place. The whole block was roped off. I walked up to a cop, and he said, "Let us take care of business. Go over and stand on the corner."

There were cops in uniform, cops in suits, cops in golf shirts, cops in boots.

I stood and listened, and this is what I heard.

"Whoever was hit was dead."
"Me and you, do or die."
"Them plainclothes niggas was the ones that did it."
"There were guys shooting each other, and they started shooting at the cops."
"They didn't have to do it like that."
"This isn't the movies. This is the 'hood."
"They put him in a bag."
"He's dead."
"They put him in a black bag."
"It was like 1,000 shots it sounded like."
"That fucked me right up."
"That felt like the OK Corral."
"It woke me up. I thought I was dreaming."

They didn't say these things to me, they said them to each other. All the said to me was, "Hey, he's with the news." They referred to me in the third person when they spoke directly to me.

I went around the block to see the other side of the scene, at 115th and Fifth Avenue.

More of the same.

I approached another cop.

"You're going to have to go to DCPI with that."

A man named Jermaine told me what he thought happened. He saw part of it from his window. A few more people talked to me after that. Then I talked to a cop. He had his arms on the roof of his car, and he was resting his chin there. He looked weary.

"You doing okay?" I asked.


His version of the story matched what some others had told me, minus the suspect being unarmed and the cops shooting him while he was down. The following is the assembled account of several people's testimony, all of whom made me skeptical in one way or another.
The officer arrived at the scene with a cup of coffee in his hand, he said, and the shooting started immediately. Some plainclothes officers had approached a "suspicious male," as the DCPI likes to call it, in front of the firehouse at 114th and Fifth Avenue. The suspect started shooting.

The cops shot back. The man fell, got up again, and started running. The cops yelled, "Drop your gun!!!"

(I should mention I'm not confident about the chronology. You can feel free to take any of the above sentences and shuffle them around. I am narrating the way I would play Tetris.)

A chase and firefight ensued. They took the path just north of the firehouse and ran through the projects. They got to 115th Street. They stopped there. There was much gunfire along the way. At some point, an ambulance took the suspect away.

Two hours after the shooting, I saw seven upside-down plastic cups in front of the firehouse. I assumed they covered shell casings.

Fifth Avenue was taped off most of the way from 114th to 115th Streets. There cops stood. Many cops, mostly there to guard the crime scene.

I talked to a bunch of young guys across the street from the firehouse. These are the guys who are most likely to get pulled over, and they are the ones about whom people say things like "50 percent are in the criminal justice system."

"He was already hit, already down, and they just let out on him."
"They're shooting down the block uncontrollably, I mean, there are people outside. This is the city that never sleeps. There are still people coming home from work."
"There are Asian people in my building, and even they came outside to see what's going on."
"When I got here, they were still looking for the gun. If they knew what was going on, they should have the gun."
"See that flashlight?"
"They need training. They need to go to Iraq."
"The cops were running from the scene, not to."
"There were cops coming out of the bushes in the projects."
Seeing that the suspect collapsed in front of a 24-hour bodega, one of the young men said, "He was trying to get a cold beer before he went out!"

A man's gotta sleep. I'll continue this later. Nighty-night, wherever you are.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Last night around 10:00 p.m., Max Manning was alive. A moment later, he was dead.

Someone pointed a gun at Manning and either thought or did not think, “Yes, in fact, I will take this man’s life away from him.” Then he curled in his finger the way you would beckon a friend or a toddler would pick his nose. A scalding lead pill entered Manning’s skull at a velocity no human has ever traveled.

There it remained, I imagine. Max Manning either saw it coming or didn’t see it coming. He either fell forward, smashing his nose on the concrete, or he fell backward, his head trailing his body by a split second and snapping to the ground with a sound he could no longer hear.

I found out about the murder this morning through a police report listserv. The subject header on the e-mail was “23 PRECINCT – HOMICIDE.”

I don’t read all the e-mails I get through this listserv—there are a lot. But for some reason I opened this one. Immediately, I saw “70 EAST 115 STREET.” I live at 16 EAST 116 STREET. I thought, “Perhaps there are streets by that name in other boroughs.” I went to the NYPD website. I live in the 23rd Precinct.

I closed my browser and decided to browse the crime scene. I walked south on Fifth Avenue and turned left on 115th Street. I looked left—odd numbers. I looked right—30, 36, 50. I crossed Madison.

Between Madison and Park, 115th Street is more like an alley. It’s just tall buildings and wide concrete spaces. The buildings don’t really have fronts or backs; they are just pillars of brick laced with fire escapes and air conditioners. The open spaces are just long walks for the people in these projects, who walk everywhere they go. The darker it is, the longer the walk.

I looked up and saw a blue, rectangular sign high up on the building. It said, “70 E. 115th St.” I looked back down and saw a parking lot, a short fence, and a sidewalk. There was a metal trash can on the sidewalk.

A bunched up bundle of police tape—POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS—spilled out of the trash can onto the street. Well, I can’t really cross it when it’s bunched up like that, can I?

I saw no blood. I saw a tall Hispanic man walking with his young son, holding his hand. They were not talking. I looked around and saw more sidewalk and bodegas with their metal gates pulled down. I went home.

Around 8 p.m., I received another e-mail: “23 PCT UPDATE.” It contained the original e-mail, verbatim, in all uppercase Courier New, like a weather bulletin:



Confines. M/B/29. Unknown. Unknown. Removed. Pronounced. Pending.

Below the original e-mail, an update:

*******UPDATE 09/25/2005 1810 HOURS JS*******




Max. “Hey, Max!” Max, Schmax, he doesn’t really need a name anymore, does he?

After reading the update e-mail, I realized it was almost 10 p.m. At 9:35, I poured myself a glass of Jameson and put a couple cigarettes in my pocket.

At 9:55, stomach warm and strong, I grabbed my Dictaphone and walked out the door.

116th Street is not an alley. Bodegas, bargain stores, and restaurants line the street. There weren’t many people out, though. It was dark, the only lights coming from inside the bodegas. The ground seemed to stretch out in front of me as I walked. My heart raced. I walked past people whom I would have looked in the eye yesterday, and I did not acknowledge them.

I put on a screw face. Not an “I’m not to be fucked with” face, but maybe more of an “I just saw something fucked up, don’t bother me” face.

I turned right on Park. To my left, a Metro North train rumbled over La Marqueta, the market that splits Park Avenue in half. No salsa music played, and spicy smells did not make my mouth water. The block was completely deserted.

I saw yellow light peek from around the corner of 115th Street, and I exhaled. The corner bodega was open. At least someone would be around. I turned the corner.

There it was, right across the street. Twenty-four hours earlier, Max Manning did something here that we’re all going to do, in a way none of us wants to do it.

In front of the bodega, a man on a pay phone raged at someone. “You go STAND somewhere where you GET some motherfucking RECEPTION!”

A police siren wailed in the distance.

I crossed the street at approximately 10 p.m. The trash can was full of trash now, and the police tape spilled out from the bottom of the can.

Maybe UNKNOWN SUSPECT told Max Manning that he was going to waste him.

Twenty-four hours earlier. To the minute. You’d never know, unless you got an e-mail about it, or you were a Manning, or you pulled the trigger. If I had been running my Dictaphone twenty-four hours earlier, it would have either captured or not captured two men screaming at each other. It definitely would have captured a crack, the sound that surprises everyone, what you think will sound like a cannon but sounds like a whippersnapper.

I didn’t stay long. I did think about what would happen if someone told me he was going to kill me. I thought about reaching in my pocket, hitting the record button on my Dictaphone, and saying, “Please tell me your name. If you’re really going to kill me, please have enough respect to tell me the name of the person who will take my life with him everywhere he goes in the future and won’t be able to share it with anyone else, even if he wanted to.”

Then they’d catch him, because he wouldn’t know I had a tape running.

I went back across the street and walked into the bodega. A man bought beer and asked if he could buy loose cigarettes. He couldn’t.

I walked up to the counter. “Do you know anything about what happened last night?”

“I heard someone got shot, but I wasn’t working last night.”

The fuck you weren’t.

I walked back up Park. It seemed even more deserted. Bagged trash lined the curb. At 116th Street, I turned left.

The man who had asked about loose cigarettes now walked out of a bodega and poured a miniature of liquor down his throat. Then he snuck up on a man who was talking to a woman and a child. He grabbed the man’s shoulder. The man, alarmed, opened his eyes wide in shock. Then he saw who had grabbed him, said, “Nig-GUH!” and shook his hand.

As I crossed Madison, I reached for my keys. “Always have your keys out when you get close to home,” they tell you. I thought about the first week in my apartment, when it took me anywhere between one and five minutes to jiggle the key and open the stubborn lock. I’ve since learned to open it in less than two seconds. I thought about a bullet slicing my brain during those two seconds.

I opened the door and walked up three flights of stairs, the clacking of my shoes echoing off the tile. I thought, “Ahhhh, home.” I remembered my friend telling me earlier in the day that she had looked at an apartment in a sketchy neighborhood in Baltimore. She didn’t feel safe there, but she wondered if it would be “white bread” to turn it down.

“No, no, no,” I had said, having just read about Max Manning. I thought about how lucky I was to have the option of saying, “no, no, no,” how I can choose to move somewhere with a lower risk of being robbed, beaten, or killed. I thought about a friend from childhood who once asked me why in the world I would want to live in the city, and I wished I had superhuman powers so I could pick a giant project out of the ground and put it down next door to his house.

Once I got back in my apartment, I googled Max Manning. Thousands of results for Max Manning, former Negro League pitcher, came up. Not only is there nothing left of Max Manning on 115th Street, but now he suffers the eternal, virtual indignity of having his online presence—if there even is one—buried beneath the legacy of someone famous who happens to share his name.

I called 411 for his phone number. There is no listing for Max Manning on 229th Street in the Bronx, but there is an M. Manning, the operator told me. “I’d like that number,” I said.

“Hold, please,” said the operator. A robotic voice followed: “Please hold while Verizon connects you to—”

I hung up.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Heavy Posting Meme

From RUFNKM, the hot new self-referential meme:

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

Here's mine, from a tag team post my friend Jeremy and I wrote when he visited me in Paris:

Jer, how good was the Boeuf Bourguinon I made tonight, and how pretentious was the presentation?

Oof, not only self-referential, but self-impressed. Look not to blogs for humility.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Just read this clip from an interview of photographer Eliot Shepard at Gothamist:

Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.

Let's see, I was in midtown just this past Wednesday, I think it was.

I can definitely relate.

Midtown hung me up today. Having a Monday deadline for a profile and a bunch of readings breathing down my neck, I thought I might be able to take the edge off by doing my work in the gorgeous Rose Main Reading Room at the NYPL's Humanities and Social Sciences Library. It's open from 1 to 5 on Sundays, so in the morning I went downtown to read the paper over a coffee, then headed up to 42nd St. to go to the library.

I got there before the library opened, so I found a seat in Bryant Park, cracked open the paper, put on my iPod, and lit a cigarette. Immediately, this tall bearded white guy carrying 4 or 5 bags walked up to me. "You got another cigarette?" he asked gruffly. I pulled out one of my "earbuds" and said, "Sorry, this is the last one from the pack." (Which was true; I wasn't just saying it.)

"You're full of shit," he growled, and walked off saying something else that I couldn't make out.

"No, I'm serious," I said, and he barked back something unintelligible.

I had no reason to be upset. This guy is in an unenviable situation and obviously doesn't have very much control over himself. But it still ruffled my feathers.

Later in the afternoon, after leaving the library, I had to fight the usual throng of tourists on 42nd St. on the way to the subway. Now, I try. I do. I've been a tourist many times, gawking and getting in the way. I try to understand. But I was cranky. "These annoying voices," I thought, "these awful teenagers, these people from places I hope I never, ever have to go." One group had taken over the whole sidewalk. Two of them stood at the curb, and their friend was standing on the other side of the sidewalk, fiddling with his camera. I walked right through their picture.

Then I walked up to a newsstand to get a pack of cigarettes.


I looked at her incredulously, thinking, "$6.50 in my neighborhood is bad enough."

She recognized the look. "Eight," she said.

Oh, haggling, are we? "No. Seven," I said. Why I didn't say $6.50, I don't know.

"Seven seventy-five."


Then I get on the subway. I start reading the paper and totally tune out. The train pulls into the the next station, and...


Some guy throws a huge, overstuffed black trash bag onto the subway car and sprints back out to the platform. My heart skipped a beat.

Then he came back on with 3 more bags. At that point I realized that he was just carrying aluminum cans and had to make two trips before the doors closed. But the metal clanging of the first bag, combined with the sprint back to the platform, scared the crap out of me. Just total visceral fright, before I even had time to think about it. I mean, throwing a big black bag on a train and running off? I don't usually feel on edge on subways, even after 9/11, London, etc., but I guess it's there in my subconscious.

Anyway, it was just one of those days where this clamorous city grates on your nerves. Kind of still is, with the women downstairs screaming in the middle of the street at 1 in the morning (and I thought Hampden had good screamers).

Speaking of Hampden, I was thinking this afternoon how nice it would be to be back there. Nice, sweet, quiet Hampden. Then I got home and read about this bizarre murder at Falls Road and 36th Street. Just sad and awful. And very strange, in a John Waters interprets "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" sort of way.

Ah, well, I'll take a stroll through the park tomorrow and everything will be fine.

Friday, September 02, 2005

B. Crocker

"Q: Who was Betty Crocker?

A: One of the best-known women of the interwar years—Betty Crocker—never existed."

Oh, yes she does. Downstairs from me.

Balls not included

What, the pawn shop wouldn't take it? Saw this at the bus stop across the street from school. I don't know what this bucket enthusiast expects to get in New York with those ten dollars.

Notice it's marked down from $15! They're putting a lot of work into selling this bucket. I bet they could get at least $15 for this out in Flushing Meadows right now.