The fabric of real New York is often obscured by exasperation. The city’s too expensive, too crowded, too corporate and has sold out to international investors parking nefarious earnings in apartments that are driving up prices for all the rest of the people actually living here.
But occasionally, one stumbles upon scrappy outposts that harken to the creative energy making real New York colorful and exciting.
This happened to me, recently, and inspired me to actually get off my lazy ass and write one of those forever-threatened (but never executed) Yelp reviews – a love letter to the creative types who pursue passion and make real New York badass.
Dear Louis Rossman – You made me fall in love with New York, again.
So my computer blanked out on
me over the summer.
I stood up from typing to refill my coffee, returned seconds later, and the computer had turned off. Weird.
I clicked the track pad, then the space and return buttons (somewhere between two and seventy-six times) with varying degrees of force. Then I hit the on/off switch.
It re-booted and miraculously
re-started for fifteen seconds until: poof.
My screen went dark.
And I couldn’t revive it.
The next day, I went to the Apple Store in Grand Central (talk about spectacular location) and the Apple Genius diagnosed it as “electronic anomaly.”
Him: It happens more than you
Him: Did you have it backed
Him: It’s only 2 years old.
For $450 we can send it away for a new motherboard.
Me: Will my 736 documents
randomly strewn across my desktop be saved?
Him: Most likely not.
Me: Welp, how do I do that?
Him (suddenly under his breath and leaning closer to me): There’s this guy on the Lower East Side. My colleagues around me would be pissed if I told you about him. But go to him.
(And the Genius Bar guy typed
out a phone number on his iPad to show me.)
A few hours later, I stumbled
upon the least charming storefront in New York City and walked in. A dude at a workstation
a few feet from the front window had multiple monitors and cameras pointing at
him, his desk, his hands, and his face.
He looked at me, said hello, then turned back to his work while saying, “What can we do for you?”
It was very efficient – not overly Midwestern-ly warm, nor in that NYC way of mild annoyance at being in the service industry.
Also, I felt like I’d stepped
into Mr. Robot.
He was Louis Rossman. The owner and head technician. Or as he later said to me, “The Mac Janitor.”
I explained my situation, he nodded, took my computer and immediately unscrewed the microscopic screws, himself.
Taking in the entirety of his operation, there were four or five more technicians doing varying things in the workplace – answering phones, organizing boxes, and presumably repairing all manner of tech. It was the organized chaos usually hidden from public eye but that makes real New York so much more exciting. It was thrilling to witness because it had the air of scrappy DIY’ers saving technical lives. I stared until jolted from my awe as Louis piped up at me: Yep. Your motherboard. I can replace it for $350 in a couple days and transfer data for $100.
Me: Is my data safe?
Louis: Is it backed up?
Me: LOL. No.
He pulls some thing looking
like a micro thumb drive out of my motherboard and says, “Looks fine.”
He grabs another laptop near
him, puts my data thumb drive thingy into that
computer’s hard drive, hands it to me and says, “Start uploading to Google
So I turned on this other
random computer that suddenly had all my data on it.
Huh. That’s how it works? Everything that makes my computer mine is
imprinted on that mini-thumb drive and plugs into the other doo-hickey that
must be a motherboard but looks like the crumb tray in a toaster.
I copied my ten million
documents to upload.
Google drive told me it would
take approximately 3 hours.
I sat there for one hour watching
the status of my upload tick down far too slowly. Meanwhile, Louis was a
At the same time that he
dissected a computer (I didn’t realize it was mine…his hands worked so quickly
and, well…they all look the same), under the watchful eye of his multiple
cameras, he calmly answered questions of his employees who shouted out without
care of interrupting him, answered the consistent main phone line, and greeted
every single European tourist, hipster, delivery person and desperate person
like me without the slightest hint of being overwhelmed.
He was a master – unshakably
calm at the epicenter of a business driven by panicking techno-idiots like
myself. We rubes who dropped, shook, spilled upon and generally abused our phones
and laptops were the cogs in the wheel making his business hum at a
An hour later, he hands me my
computer, says, “Stop your back-up. Just put it back in here.”
My computer was fixed.
Him: You had water damage.
But I didn’t see any spills.
Me: Weird. Could it be
He popped onto the monitor in front of him and reversed the real-time video screen to show me the motherboard he’d just fixed. He pointed out a circuit that had blown and apparently started a chain reaction. (Or something. Not sure I understood it all.)
I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I thought I loathed it as a kid, but…you know what? – I miss the Boy Scouts, because as an adult I realize that scouting made me better.
When I was in ninth grade, my
mom bribed me to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts: Eagle. It was
contingency-based bribery where I got a stereo at Christmas (one of those big
box ones that included CD player, dual tape deck, radio AND record player on
top) but said, “But I’ll take this back
if you don’t earn Eagle by the end of the year.”
But a far greater motivation was getting out of scouts to reclaim my cool, since at the time, it was not the case that scouting made me better; it tortured me.
I was far too obsessed with being cool in school, desperate to eschew any sense that I was “less than” – (which largely meant gay. Yeah – that was my fear – that I’d be called “fag” or “pansy” or whatever label that essentially meant “less than.”)
And being cool or at the top of the social food chain meant I wouldn’t be considered “less than”.
Being a Boy Scout was not cool – especially in junior high and ESPECIALLY in high school. And that was what I hated about being a Boy Scout. Sadly.
In my suburban Denver scout troop, we didn’t have some conservative religiously-veiled dogma. There was no cultural preaching. There was just an over-arching sense of Scouts doing “good” and the difference between right and wrong. And I found a niche within my troop that ultimately meant scouting made me better at being me.
It wasn’t a troop full of toxic masculinity in the slightest.
Tons of my favorite childhood memories were made through scouting: camp-outs (which I thought I hated, but in reality were really fun), camp (not over-flowing with with toxic masculinity and generally care-free), and a consistent community of quality guys that got together weekly to…I can’t even remember now…have meetings and…talk about stuff?
Put all these things together and I learned not to be afriad of nature, leadership, and random skills most of which I’ve forgotten but actually gave me tremendously broad experience. Further, scouting made me better at poker, shit-talking, late-night conversations and a certain amount of political arguing. Again: thanks to camping.
The Boy Scout values are, in my adult hindsight, invaluable. I paid little attention to the Scout law or the substance of the words that we recited at every turn:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.
(I typed that without google help – it’s still ingrained in my muscle memory.)
And when I occasionally think on the significance of those words, what better brain-washing to give a kid, eh? Think about each one of those values.
What more could we ask for of ourselves, of society, and of our children?
But when I said “we will roast hot dogs over a fire”, they were IN.
We kayaked forty-five minutes on the Connecticut River to pitch a tent in a clearing on an uninhabited island.
Honestly, it wasn’t hard-core at all. We built a fire, roasted hot dogs and ate M&M’s, hiked for twenty minutes (all the while me thinking TICKS TICKS TICKS TICKS), while I sipped a thermos of Moscow Mules.
But I know this is unthinkable for most people. Scouting made me better at thinking “Come on! Let’s just do it! It’s not rocket science. Pack a bag of M&M’s and let’s camp!”
I bored my kids with my “when I was a kid this was SO much harder” routine as I reminisced about the shitty camping equipment I was forced to use. Trust: military quilted sleeping bags and tents from the 70’s were NOT user-friendly, durable, warm, compact or lightweight.
At the little campground with my kids, I was all about “yes” and not setting limits. They explored, they dug around, broke sticks, and poked around in the fire. I had no reason to say “no” (the Moscow Mule helped).
At one point, my younger kid looked guilty as he made the fire flare up after tossing a pile of dried leaves on top. But I said, “It’s OK, buddy. I want you to learn about fire’s behavior. Plus, I get it. It’s fun to poke around.”
Isn’t poking around in a fire the best part about camping? (Scouting made me better at s’mores, too. Obvi.)
I mean – no forest fire are
going to start in humid-ass Connecticut. And if our fire had sparked, I was
prepared to quickly stamp it out.
This is all part of it – experimenting, pushing limits and learning.
I didn’t bring Swiss army
knives or even an axe (the fallen wood for fire-building was plentiful…and we
will carve wood next summer.)
But I gave them the flavor of camping. And they liked it!
(My 40yo+ body was not a huge fan. My neck and back were seriously creaky, afterward. For summer 2020: get a blow-up pillow.)
But this has all made me think my kids are missing out on these experiences I took for granted (nay: supposedly loathed). My friends found it such a big deal that I was camping, and despite being a gay tap-dancer, I wasn’t remotely intimidated to strike out on this mini-adventure. It’s in my educational background to know camping ain’t that big a deal (particularly when the weather’s perfect and you’re only 30 minutes from home) and nature is meant to be experienced.
Of course I’m looking past the conservative religious hijacking of Boy Scout culture, their leadership largely being old, conservative men, and their tumultuous history with the queer community. Let’s face it – they’ve adapted pretty amazingly DESPITE their leadership and strong rooting in conservative communities. And they’re coming out on the right side of history by including girls in the ranks and embracing children through the the queer community .
So anyway, now that my kids are growing up in NYC, I feel like they’re at the ripe age for having SOME KIND of value-laden extracurricular education.
I wish there were someone else lecturing them on the difference between right and wrong (besides me) and giving them survival skills (besides me).
When that internet apocalypse comes, the Russians hack all our phones and Trump’s tariffs stop all imports from China, all hell will break loose. And suddenly tying knots might actually be super helpful – not to mention reading a map, using a compass, and not fearing nature.
There are several NYC-based
Scout troops (most of them affiliated with Catholic Churches), but none of them
are convenient for us. (And by “convenient”, of course I mean within a
ten-minute walk of our apartment.)
Wouldn’t it be awesome to
start an inclusive troop at the LGBTQ Center on 12th Street? – ground
zero for the gay rights movement?
I love the irony.
And hopefully so would the
But this is not a manifesto
for me starting my own Scout Troop. I’ve got bags to sell.
During a recent conversation with parents about potty training kids to poop healthily, a friend of mine stated unequivocally, “Pooping in the ocean is the best.”
Meaning: when they are at the beach, they have no problem
just letting a turd slide out and float away.
I thought, “Really? It’s that easy? And don’t you think
that, even in the ocean, that’s pretty disgusting and a turd could float next
to a child who’s playing in the surf and they could ingest that shit?”
Then again, I get the curiosity…. you’re on a hike on the
NaPali Coast of Kauai and there is literally not a soul around you and you’re
on a gorgeous beach all to yourself and you might or might not be clothed and
you’re like, “Hm. I wonder what it would be like if…”
Not that I would know.
This all makes me think that we, as a society, are far too preoccupied with our bathroom habits. I mean – don’t get me wrong, I don’t want someone else’s poop floating past me. Ever.
But as a parent, I’ve had a lot of poop on my hands; and I
A couple of years ago, I had my kids in France visiting
family. We were at a playground and I had with me my own two kids and my niece.
Seconds after our arrival (and certainly after I’d said “before we got to the playground, anyone need to poo?), my older kid approaches saying, “Daddy? I need to go.”
Me: well, go behind the bush.
Kid 1: No…I need to poo.
So I grabbed my kiddo’s hand and we jogged over to public toilets that strike fear into the hearts of Americans – just two foot prints in the middle of a porcelain square with a hole in the middle. The French call them “Turkish toilets”, which I’m pretty sure is tremendously derogatory and not one that immigrated with the “technology” of a squat-and-hole. Oh, well.)
Anyway, yeah: a squat-over-the-hole-and-go.
Luckily, my kid wasn’t remotely fazed. When you gotta go…
So I hiked up her dress and watched as she squatted all the way down (surprisingly easily), one hand holding the dress, one hand paranoiacally on a questionably-dirty porcelain wall. She relaxed and went.
Phew. Crisis averted.
Then I looked around for toilet paper.
None to be round. Zero. Nope. No toilet paper.
Only after this visit to the squat-over-a-hole-and-go did I learn these Turkish toilets are meant to be a clean drop. Even in diarrheal emergencies, it’s how our bodies were designed, you don’t really need to wipe, and it’s how we should be pooping all the time, anyway. The toilet (most likely an invention by European royalty to separate us from the “savages” have resulted in generations of IBS, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids. We really just need to squat in the woods and go, like our ancestors.)
No toilet paper necessary.
But I digress.
So I’m looking around for toilet paper and see nothing. In
desperation, I searched in a trash can to see if there’s something, ANYTHING I can use.
My kid’s yelling at me from the toilet, still hovering.
I’m in a flop sweat frantically searching for anything for
I walk into the toilet and reach over to wipe my kid’s bare
It was completely clean (see aforementioned discussion of
A second sweep for good measure (still nothing), at which
point slow-motion set in:
I felt a movement in the breast pocket of my button-down shirt
as I slowly felt my Ray-Bans fall…
…out of my shirt…
…and straight toward the 4-inch Turkish hole of French poop.
One hand was wiping, the, the other hand steadying myself
against the wall, and I’m literally bent over my child who’s squatting under
me. The probability of a disaster where I fall on top of her and we both end up
sitting in a (remarkably clean) 3’x3’ porcelain basin that catches poop AND
pee, was high.
I couldn’t catch my glasses.
They fell out, circled the hole like those
quarters–in-a-spiral-thingy at museums, and plopped.
Into my kid’s poop.
And you bet your sweet ass I got my kid safely out of the
way and re-robed, and then I figured, “I already have one hand dirty,” and
reached into the hold and got my glasses.
They were shitty, for sure, but just a little bit. I washed
them at the sink, nearby (that didn’t have paper towels. Because of course it
didn’t) and, well…put them back in my pocket.
Fear not – I wasn’t going to wear them, and the shirt needed
That was a lot.
I happened to be at the playground with a friend (a French dad) and I asked him about the toilet paper situation, and he said, “Well, Gavin, that’s why French parents carry this.”
He pulled out Kleenex from his denim jacket.
Mind you, it was summer, hot as balls, and this guy wore a jacket to the playground. Because that’s how you do it in France. Shorts aren’t fashionable – it’s just the Germans who would wear shorts in public (along with their Birkenstocks and socks.) And you bring a jacket. Just in case. Or at least a scarf.
(And mind you – I love French scarf culture. We need to
adopt that, America. Do you realize how effective it is just to wear a scarf in the fall and spring? No jacket necessary.)
Seconds later, my younger kid told me he needed to poop.
I exchange a look with French dad friend, he hands me his
Kleenex, and away we go.
Second kid also needs to poop badly. And he’s never done a Turkish toilet, either. We run up, he squats, balances, all’s fine, no biggie. Funny how, in the moment, apparently potty training kids to poop healthily won’t stop them from squatting, like this. When you gotta go…
And thank goodness I won’t have to sully my hands, again.