I first encountered Norman Hasselriis in the summer of 1987. Barely nine years old, I was far too young to understand his work. A child of the suburbs and the city, I found rural life freaky, and didn’t get my parent’s perverse desire to spend our summers traipsing around the Catskill mountains visiting one potential death trap after another. Inevitably, there were no serial killers in the barns we toured or monsters in the campgrounds we slept in, but that always felt like a lucky accident. When we stumbled across Hasselriis’ store in the hamlet of Oak Hill (population 277, as of the 2010 census), I was convinced that we’d finally found our local Ed Gein.Read More
I am a master at leaving.
The first time I left home, I was four years old. Without telling anyone or asking permission, I carted all my toys up the stairs to where my grandmother lived – on the second floor of our house in the suburbs of New York City – and declared that I lived with her. Over the following decade, I did – and that was 10 times longer than I would stay in any one place for the next 20 years.Read More
First published in The Guardian, July 17, 2014. Read the original here.
Even before I was a travel writer, I approached sights described as "magical" with a good deal of skepticism. Too often, I have been promised miracles and delivered slights-of-hand – the usual bravura and bluff of tourism. The bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico was one of the few places that made good on its promises. Maybe the only one. By day, the warm shallow bay looked unremarkable, even somewhat dingy compared to the crystalline waters of nearby Caribbean beaches. But at night, the flash and spark of the tiny phytoplankton in this Mangrove lagoon filled me with literal awe. It was like living lightning.
Since January, however, the bay has gone dark – and no one knows why.
Theories abound, as a number of articles have explored in the last few months: too much human usage, or strong winds that have disturbed the bay's infinitesimal inhabitants. Like many rare ecosystems, bioluminescent bays are fragile, and the shifting patterns of both weather and tourism can affect them greatly. But it's been hard not to notice what's been missing from these discussions: climate change.
This oversight is particularly glaring given that this isn't the first of Puerto Rico's bioluminescent bays to go dark in the last year. Grand Lagoon – just a ferry ride away from Vieques in the town of Fajardo – went out for most of last November. The same explanations were debated then: unprecedented extreme weather events, or run-off from several nearby construction sites. No doubt either – or both – were contributing factors. But somehow, the conversation (at least in the media) never seemed to connect what was happening in Fajardo with global environmental concerns.
Given the ever-increasingly serious warnings about climate change – which 97% of climate scientists now agree is caused by human activity – it would seem to merit at least a small place in the popular discussion of these back-to-back mysterious ecological collapses.
Scientists who specialize in bioluminescent plankton have – to little fanfare – already warned us that these creatures are endangered. Two years ago, Dr Michael Latz, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told New Scientist magazine that "as global warming changes ocean flows, these micro-organisms are increasingly at risk". Scientists atCanada's Dalhousie University showed that, since 1950, the worldwide population of phytoplankton has declined by 40% due to the rising sea surface temperatures caused by a warming planet.
We also know that the indirect effects of climate change have dangerous ramifications – the likes of which we are only just beginning to comprehend. Those strong winds and extreme weather events that have buffeted the bays? Increased sea surface temperatures – driven by climate change – may contribute to them as well, as we know from studying hurricanes. "The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes ... have all increased since the early 1980s" reports the 2014 Third National Climate Assessment: "The recent increases in activity are linked, in part, to higher sea surface temperatures."
Like a pot being brought to boil, the seas are heating up.
The first time I visited Vieques in 2006, tour operators encouraged me to swim and kayak in the bay, but told me to avoid the motorboats, since their dirty engines created diesel-fuel dead zones. Since then, locals have developed new conservation guidelines: no swimming or touching the water with your skin at all – things I wish I had known not to do. But these and other protections have done nothing to save the bay's famed bioluminescent organisms.
But this isn't just about one or two tourist attractions on small islands in the Caribbean. Bioluminescent bays are rare because they are much more fragile than your average marine ecosystem. Like canaries in the proverbial coal mine, their loss is a warning that hardier creatures and more common shores will be endangered soon.
I was taught in elementary school that we live in a world with five oceans – an idea that feels laughable now. There is only one ocean – the world ocean, a vastness that ignores the political demarcations of maps and men. Its problems cannot be solved piecemeal, and more and more studies suggest that we might not "solve" them at all. Long before we detonated the first nuclear bomb or undertook a Cold War, nature invented the idea of mutually assured destruction – and she might just hold true to her end of the bargain.
If we are to do anything to begin to address the problem we have created, it will require a clear-eyed look at its true magnitude, and an understanding of the interconnectedness of our world – and its waters. Environmental concerns must be integrated into personal, political and commercial decisions on every level. We can no longer pretend that our trash disappears forever when it hits the wastebasket, or that we are not implicated in the environmental degradation of the far-away countries who now supply our ravenous need for consumer goods.
The phrase "think globally, act locally" might be mocked for its utopianism, but it's a mantra we need to heed when it comes to the environment. Otherwise the lights will continue to go out, in Vieques and around the world.
I don't even have a good picture of the Vieques bio bay to remember it by – like all real magic, it looks shoddy in reproduction. Perhaps, like the Grand Lagoon, it will come back, at least this time. But how often must nature flip the switch before we start paying attention?
First published on VICE.com, July 5, 2014. Read the original here.
Like many gay porn stars, Colby Keller has a knack for versatility—and I’m not talking about how he’s worked as both a pitcher and a catcher. In between working for the top companies in gay porn—including Randy Blue, CockyBoys, and (controversially) Treasure Island Media—Keller has put his anthropology degree to good use, writing about art, barebacking, and capitalism on his blog, Big Shoe Diaries.
For years now, I’ve wondered about what goes on in the dirty mind behind Keller’s goofball grin. When someone told me Keller was giving away all of his possessions—except for a plaque of Lenin—as part of an art project, my curiosity was seriously piqued. With all of his possessions discarded, Keller's now embarking on “Colby Does America… and Canada Too!”—a lengthy road trip to make art, meet people, and get laid. In each state Keller will film himself fucking a guy in the back of a van in the name of art. Wanting to know more about the Marina Abramovic of gay porn, I caught up with Keller at a Pret A Manger in New York to discuss his art projects, capitalism, and why porn is better than his “horrible, evil job” at Neiman Marcus.
VICE: Why did you decide to create your van project?
Colby Keller: I don't have a house, I don't have a home, I don't have a destination, and I don't—for at least the immediate time period—want to think of one. The van is a way of thinking about home on the road, and also thinking about our future, because we're all probably going to have to set out in vans and move around, and there will be a lot of displaced people, and a lot of people will die. I want to embrace this future we're making for ourselves and that capitalism and this horrible landlord are forcing me into. There’s a porn trope where they're going to fuck the whole country, so I’m gonna fuck America! America has certainly fucked me, and I'm going to fuck back—but in a nice, positive way.
What made you become a porn star?
I was taking courses at the University of Houston in their studio art program, and I really didn't like it. So I dropped out of the program and graduated with a degree in anthropology, but there aren't a lot of lucrative jobs out there in the field, and we were in another recession. I was also curious about porn. My favorite site was Sean Cody, and just on a lark, I was going to send in some nude pictures, totally expecting to be rejected—actually, I kind of wanted to be rejected. I wanted them to tell me I wasn’t worthy! And then they came back and said, “Oh no. We're actually interested.” I was like, “Oh man. God, they're into it! Do I have to do this? I guess I have to.”
I eventually got other jobs while I was in Texas. I worked for Neiman Marcus, a horrible, horrible, evil job. They didn't want to consider me a full-time worker, even though I worked there for two years, 70 hours a week, just cause they didn't want to give me health insurance and they wanted to pay me $10 less than anyone else on staff.
You often discuss capitalism. Capitalism clearly affects our work lives, but how does it affect our porn consumption and sex lives?
I have some guilt when it comes to that, because porn specifically presents a problem. Does porn inform people's sexuality, or does porn simply try to access those things in your sexuality to sell itself to you? Obviously, the product always does this thing where you're never completely fulfilled, so you buy more of it. As a porn performer I feel somewhat responsible for that, because sometimes the images that porn produces aren't healthy ones. It's very formulaic: We're going to give each other mutual blowjobs, maybe the top will eat the bottom's ass, then there are three fucking positions, then they both come. Who in [his] right mind has sex like that?
You’re a porn performer and also an artist. Do you identify as a performance artist or as a visual artist?
I try to think of it as everything. I don’t want to put a limit in terms of what mediums I can use, but to me the main medium is Colby Keller. Art projects for me need laws—creating a law gives you the power to break the law, which is the best part of having one—but I don't want rules to limit the kinds of tools I can appropriate as an artist.
With performers like James Deen pursuing porn and other careers, porn has become more mainstream, like it was in the 70s. Why do you think this is happening?
Part of that is about the structural and financial problems that the business itself is encountering, and about social media. The late 80s and early 90s were the golden era of gay porn, and models got paid really well. Companies controlled the images of their models under an exclusive contract. They would do all the work of marketing you and making you a star, kind of like the old Hollywood system. Now there's much more pressure for the models themselves to do promotional work—to be on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. In some ways it’s good to have ownership of that image, but also it's a lot of work you're not getting paid for.
Horse riding, gun shooting, rock climbing, river kayaking—no, we’re not talking about the latest Brad Pitt blockbuster. It’s the ideal county journey for spirited, outdoorsy types.
When the sun sets on Friday night, the adventurer’s weekend begins with a kayak ride down the Hudson River. Atlantic Kayak Tours (914-739-2588; atlantickayak tours.com), with locations in Cortlandt Manor and Staatsburg, New York, offers a variety of evening rides. Watch the moon rise over the Palisades or paddle all the way out to Cold Spring, New York. It’s a great way to get physical without being stuck in a gym on a Friday night. Make sure to bring a flashlight and some waterproof gear. ($25 to $65 for a half-day rental)
Cowboys are the original American adventurers, so why not spend an afternoon following in their footsteps? Start the day with some good old-fashioned gunplay at Coyne Park Rifle and Pistol Range (771 McLean Ave, Yonkers 914-377-6488; coyneparkrange.net). This indoor range has everything you need to become the next Wild Bill Hickok, and you don’t even have to bring your own rifle (though handguns are BYO). For new shooters, who must be 21 or older, it offers several NRA-developed orientation and safety programs.
In the afternoon, visit Boulder Brook Equestrian Center (291 Mamaroneck Rd, Scarsdale 914-725-3912; boulderbrookequestrian.com), where you can have a private lesson ($60 for a 30-minute adult lesson) on how to bridle, saddle, and hold the reins, Scarsdale-style. Group and individual lessons are available in the largest indoor riding ring in Southern Westchester.
Start the day off right with a long, leisurely hike through the Westmoreland Sanctuary (260 Chestnut Ridge Rd, Mount Kisco 914-666-8448; westmorelandsanctuary.org), a nature center and wildlife preserve in scenic Mount Kisco. The Sanctuary covers 640 acres of wildlife habitat, and offers more than seven miles of trails covering a vast array of terrain, from rocky cliffs to bountiful wetlands. Trail maps are available on its website, so you can plan the perfect hike before you go. If you want to learn more (or if you have little adventurers with you), stop by the reconstructed 200-year-old farm building, which is now the nature center that offers bird watching, a small petting zoo, and other educational programming.
Once you’re warmed up, it’s time to go for some real exertion. Work those arms with a trip to The Rock Club (130 Rhodes St, New Rochelle 914-633-7625; climbrockclub.com), a fully equipped rock-climbing center in New Rochelle. The main climbing wall is a giant, three-dimensional installation that stands 40 feet high. The facility has courses for every kind of climber, from complete novice to seasoned expert, with more than 200 possible climbing routes overall. Beginners have their own area to experiment with rock-climbing, so don’t be intimidated if it’s your first time. All necessary equipment is available onsite (to rent or buy), as are instructors and climbing partners.
IRVINGTON, N.Y. — Painted in gold leaf, the words “Knowledge is Power” adorn the entrance to the reading room in the Town Hall of Irvington. The lettering is elaborate, the phrase itself like an incantation. As a child, I read it nearly every day as I entered the library. The words seemed to promise something the room did not deliver, something more than institutional lighting and faded encyclopedias.
The room contained other hints of forgotten grandeur: the swirling blue glass mosaics that surrounded the windows, the gilded quotations on the ceiling beams (cousins to the one above the door, but dust-covered and dull). Daydreaming, I’d make up stories about the room involving heiresses, artists and priceless antiques. I had no way of knowing that I wasn’t far off; the reading room had a secret, or perhaps I should say the reading room was a secret, forgotten by the world.
“I wasn’t aware of the room when I moved here,” said Michael John Burlingham, a great-grandson of its famous designer,Louis Comfort Tiffany. Mr. Burlingham had come to Irvington to research a book about Tiffany. He knew that Tiffany had begun visiting Irvington in 1863, when Tiffany’s father purchased a summer home there, but that was all. By the time older residents told Mr. Burlingham about the room, the unusual circumstances surrounding its creation had left it in a state of limbo.
In 1892, a group called the Mental and Moral Improvement Society donated the land for the town hall to the village, but with one condition: that the village maintain a free reading room in the hall. Helen Gould, the daughter of Jay Gould, the railroad magnate, donated $10,000 to have the reading room designed and decorated by Tiffany.
In the century that followed, Irvington expanded rapidly. By the late 1990s, it was clear that the library would have to move to a new, larger building. But the conditions of the original gift meant that the Tiffany room would have to stay in the town hall. By then, the room was in poor condition and used for storage.
Hoping to inspire a restoration, Mr. Burlingham wrote a letter to the town newspaper in 2004, saying “I can count on the fingers of one hand Louis Tiffany’s intact interiors: the Veteran’s Room of the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York, theMark Twain House in Hartford, the Ayer Mansion in Boston and the reading room in Irvington’s Town Hall.”
In response, Irvington residents formed the Tiffany Room Committee and hired a local architect, Stephen Tilly, who had previously restored the Tiffany-designed interior of Congregation Shearith Israel’s Beaux-Arts sanctuary on Central Park West. Tilly and his building conservator, Mary A. Jablonski, found little documentation of the original room. “We had no plans, we had really no pictures. We had a few fragments of a paper trail. But we had the room.”
The room was in bad shape. It was not just in need of fresh plaster and paint; many of the furnishings, including more than a dozen handcrafted Tiffany turtleback lanterns, were in deep storage. The clock, a signature Tiffany piece of glass mosaic work done in a stunning, watery palette, no longer functioned. The mosaics were missing tiles. The chandelier had disappeared, and no one had a clue as to what it looked like.
Together, Mr. Tilly and the committee interviewed residents, searched photo archives, and called upon the Irvington Historical Society and curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Barbara Denyer, a local artist and a committee member, designed a new chandelier.
The village contributed $75,000 toward the renovation. The remainder of the approximately $280,000 cost came from private donations by Irvington residents and local businesses. Two years of restoration turned to three, which turned to five, which turned to eight, but the committee kept going.
The fruits of all the work were finally made public on Sunday, Dec. 9, when the Tiffany Room officially reopened. What had once seemed like a cramped classroom was revealed to be a beautiful, almost meditative space. The restored mosaics suggest the nearby Hudson River, while tables and chairs designed by Tiffany Studios give the room a sense of gravitas. Most stunning are the handcrafted lanterns in the newly minted chandelier and restored wall sconces. The room blends Tiffany’s Arts and Crafts background with his mastery of Art Nouveau design, as well as the period’s penchant for Japanese decoration.
The library’s director, Pamela Strachan, says she plans to use the Tiffany Room for book club meetings and other programs. But for the most part, the room will be open for village residents to use as they see fit, exactly as the Mental and Moral Improvement Society intended a century ago. And though the room’s secrets have been revealed, it will still be a fine place to daydream.
The Tiffany reading room is located in Irvington Town Hall, 85 Main Street, Irvington, N.Y. For more information:irvingtonlibrary.org/tiffany.htm or (914) 591-7840.
THE stores are already stuffed with polar fleece, Gore-Tex and Thinsulate. But as temperatures dip, one unassuming shop in Midtown Manhattan has everything needed to weather an old-fashioned winter in the oldest of ways — though you should start sewing now. It’s the City Quilter, the heart of New York’s quilting community for nearly 15 years and a destination for fabric lovers from around the world.
If “city quilter” sounds like an oxymoron, be advised: The more than 4,000 fabrics it stocks are not all granny prints in periwinkle and dusty rose. With kitschy, retro-1950s textiles and colorful batik patterns, the store walks the modern edge of a traditional form, creating a distinctly New York take on an American craft. Nearly all of its fabrics are cotton, which is easy to work with and wash. And the store sells a variety of fat quarters, or quarter-yard swatches, that are ideal for quilting.
On a recent Tuesday, City Quilter, on 25th St
reet between Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, was a quiet whirlwind of scissors, sewing machines and voices in a half-dozen languages.
“This place is very well known,” said Jean-Claude Becker, a retired research doctor whose mother, Mauricette Bensoussan, was visiting from Paris for her 80th birthday. At the cutting table in the front, Mrs. Bensoussan, an avid quilter, handed a dozen bolts of brightly patterned fabric to a shop assistant as her son converted metric measurements and hand gestures into inches and yards.
“She landed yesterday, and here we are, first day,” Dr. Becker said.
Deeper inside the shop, Sarah Cubbage, the assistant costume designer for the coming Broadway revival of “Godspell,” compared fabrics for a dance number. “I love the City Quilter,” said Ms. Cubbage, 31. “It’s a must-know of the fabric district.”
Like many patrons, she is not a quilter. But the helpful staff and easy-to-navigate shelves keep her coming back. It also helps that the store sells patterns and supplies for making all kinds of non-quilt items, including handbags and toys.
Cathy Izzo and Dale Riehl, the married couple who own and operate the store, worked in television before opening the shop in 1997. Though Ms. Izzo had quilted as a hobby, neither had any formal sewing training. Perhaps this explains the almost evangelical zeal they have for bringing fellow urbanites into the quilting fold. City Quilter offers nearly 50 courses a year, from one-day seminars on silk ribbon embroidery to multisession instruction on quilting techniques. They have also designed their own line of fabrics that draws inspiration from New York images: the subway map, the Lower Manhattan skyline, vintage postcards of local landmarks.
Despite the economic downturn and the fabric industry’s move from brick-and-mortar stores to online sales, City Quilter has expanded over the years. In April, it opened an art-quilt gallery in an adjacent storefront; as the American Folk Art Museum has grappled with budget problems and surrendered exhibition space, the gallery has provided a much-needed place to display high-end quilting.
“It is very unique, and a huge risk for them; they should really be celebrated for it,” said Paula Nadelstern, a quilting artist whose name translates from German as “needle star.”
Ms. Nadelstern, 60, is a member of the Manhattan Quilters Guild, whose group show, “Material Witness,” will be on display in the gallery from Nov. 15 through Jan. 7. A native of the Bronx, she is one of the most celebrated members of the art-quilt movement, and has shown her work in museums across the country. She has been a regular at City Quilter since it opened.
But quilters do not have to be experienced to get the most out of the shop. City Quilter aims to serve all types of do-it-yourselfers, whether they are novices or artists.
“You just don’t know who’s going to walk through that door,” Ms. Nadelstern said. “A lawyer, a doctor or someone who works at McDonald’s. It’s a gamut.”
WALK past the low-ceilinged bar, the jukebox and the pool table. Keep going, beyond the stage where “Queeraoke” erupts every Tuesday, and right out the back door. Feel the sunshine on your face and inhale the relatively fresh air (this is New York, after all) that makes Metropolitan the most popular gay hangout in Brooklyn on summer Sunday afternoons.
For the past nine years, casual backyard cookouts every Sunday from Memorial Day to the end of September (this year, to early October) have drawn local and farther-flung devotees to this small oasis, at 559 Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, a few steps from the L and G trains at Lorimer Street and Metropolitan Avenue.
Here, buying a $2 Bud will get you a ticket for a free burger (or a veggie version), potato salad and a relaxed evening that is the antithesis of the high-priced, high-strung New York gay life celebrated on the reality show “The A List.”
“It reminds me of places I would go in Berkeley or San Francisco,” Damon L. Jacobs, a marriage and family therapist, said at one recent gathering. “More homey, cozy fun than the pristine, plastic scenes one might get in Manhattan.”
The patio does have a homespun feel, with unfinished wooden benches and a corrugated fiberglass roof shading one half. But with two levels of seating and room for dozens of people, it is a home far from the usual space constraints of Brooklyn.
Mr. Jacobs, 40, who lives a few blocks away, absentmindedly played with a yo-yo, one of many he was giving away to entice patrons to take part in a new H.I.V. vaccine trial. For nearly two years, Metropolitan has let him promote the clinical work of Project Achieve at its cookouts, part of a larger pattern of community involvement that gives the bar its welcoming feel.
“It’s like your surrogate family’s weekly barbecue,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Your surrogate family, that is, if you were adopted by a group of gay men in their late 20s to early 40s, wearing tight black cutoffs and bright, stylized T-shirts. But even those who prefer wide-legged jeans have a place here.
“I survive off of this barbecue,” said Jackie Carlson, 28, a dancer and acrobat who has come nearly every Sunday for four years. “It’s definitely the most diverse, I feel, of the bars I’ve been to.
“But I do like my gay-boy bars,” she admitted with a smile.
While women may be in the minority at Metropolitan, they are by no means unwelcome — lesbian or straight.
The bar creates special events for its various constituencies, said Troy Carson, the owner and manager of Metropolitan and Sugarland, another bar in Williamsburg. Ms. Carlson frequently attends Girls, Girls, Girls, Metropolitan’s Wednesday night lesbian party, whose patrons she described as “gays, whatevers, lesbians, everybody.” The bar also hosts craft-making workshops on Saturday afternoons and twice-monthly comedy nights.
“I don’t know any other bar that’s as much of a staple,” said Devon Hong, 31, an advertising art director, as he described Brooklyn’s gay nightlife to a friend visiting from Toronto. “It’s kind of the place you go before you go out anywhere else.”
Mr. Hong and his friend had been in a back booth waiting for the food to be served since 4 p.m., the cookout’s scheduled starting time. But the grill generally doesn’t get fired up until 5 or 5:30. By 7, the line for food can snake around the patio and back into the bar.
Luckily, “happy hour” starts at 3.