Category Archives: Urban Semiotic

The Eight-Year Jersey City Crossing Guard Who Lost His Heart

I do a lot of walking in New York City and Jersey City.  There’s one particular corner in Jersey City that always strikes fear deep in my heart and stabs me down betwixt my toes with absolute pity and terror:  The “crosswalk” — angularly located at the bisection of Nardone Place and John F. Kennedy Boulevard West — spans five lanes of traffic, at least six turning car angles aiming straight at you, and a long walk that means you actually must run as fast as you can to make it safely across the street.

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A Skewed Semiotic: When a Picture Speaks the Wrong Thousand Words

Nicholas Kristof wrote a fascinating couple of opinion articles for the NYTimes over the last two weeks, and the reason for some reader dissent and confusion in the first story appears to stem from a core misunderstanding — purposeful or not — about the image.

Here’s what Kristof wrote on February 22, 2014:

As an infant, Johnny was deaf but no one noticed or got him the timely medical care he needed to restore his hearing. He lives in a trailer here in the hills of rural Appalachia with a mom who loves him and tries to support him but is also juggling bills, frozen pipes and a broken car that she can’t afford to fix.

The first error Kristof makes — but has yet to apologize for, or clarify — is labeling Johnny “Deaf.”  Deafness is a cultural condition from which one does not get “healed” so the proper term should have been “hearing loss” since the “Deafness” was not actual, but imagined, by Kristof.

The real outrage aimed at Kristof was not over his inappropriate use of “Deaf” — but rather the way some of his readers felt he was celebrating a degenerate lifestyle of poverty in this image:

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When Your Third Place Does Not Want You: Elderly Entitlement and Fighting the New Old Korean Queens Gang

I’ve been following an ongoing saga in the New York Times concerning a local McDonald’s restaurant in Queens and how elderly Koreans in the neighborhood have taken over the place as their community hub.

This new, “old,” gang doesn’t really buy anything and they stay all day long taking up space and not making any money for the business.  There’s a Senior Citizen Community Center nearby, with van service for those who cannot walk that far, but the retired don’t want to go there because it’s in a Church basement.

The one thing you take away from reading about this ongoing conflict between elder entitlement and the business needs of McDonald’s is that the old people — like the Millennials behind them — believe they have the freedom and the right to sit wherever they want, and linger as long as they wish, with no repercussion whatsoever. Asking them to leave to make room for others is a cultural slap in the face that will not be tolerated.

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Clench Your Fist, it’s Time to Play: “Knockout the Jew!”

Have you heard of the “Knockout” game lately happening in Brooklyn and Hoboken and Syracuse and St. Louis?

If you’re Jewish, or old and feeble — or female! — prepare yourself for a face-meeting-sidewalk event you’ll never forget, if you live to tell about it, as young strangers on the street punch you in the face without warning.

This horrible street game is called “Knockout” because the whole idea behind the crime is to see if you can be knocked unconscious, and left “lights out” on the pavement, with a single punch to the face.

The “knockout game” that outraged the Syracuse area earlier this year when two teenagers playing it attacked and killed Michael Daniels on West Brighton Avenue is getting renewed attention as reports spread about Jews being targeted in Brooklyn and the death of a homeless man in Hoboken, N.J.

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating reports that a group of men is playing “Knock Out the Jew” in Brooklyn. A 64-year-old man told CBS New York in a report posted Tuesday that he and his 12-year-old son were attacked. Video in the report also shows a 19-year-old Jewish man being sucker punched.

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Three Days of a Hundred Years of Darkness: Hurricane Sandy and 12 Months of Nothingness

One year ago today, 8.5 million people in the New York City area were without heat or power as Hurricane Sandy blasted the soft middle of our lives — thrusting us backward a hundred years behind a wall of water into at least three days of cold and darkness:

Monday night, at 11:00 pm sharp in Jersey City, New Jersey, the lights went out and stayed off until last night at 7:43pm.  That’s three days without power or heat.  Hurricane Sandy was a massively nasty beast, and we’re just now starting the recovery process.  We are hungry and scavenging for food.  Supermarkets are closed.  Few places have power.

For many of those directly touched by the floodwater a year ago, life has yet to return to normal, and many will never recover the good lives they once had before the storm; and that is a clear failure of the government safety net and the lack of any sort of real social fabric that meshes us together.  The King has no clothes, and we don’t, either!

When it is better, and more profitable, to cut and run and abandon than it is to stay and rebuild and recover — we all have a problem.

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Chasing Cobblestones: Underfoot and Smothered in Asphalt in the Jersey City Heights

When I was on my recent Red Squares walking tour of Jersey City, I happened upon some street construction that gave me a chance for an aesthetic and professional mulligan: Exposed cobblestones on their way to disappearing again for three decades!

I whipped out my new iPhone 5S and awkwardly began taking photographs to make up for a previously lost opportunity articulated here in a comments stream from two months ago:

I did not take photos of the cobblestones! Gah! I was always mesmerized by them and felt such sadness that the beauty would soon be covered up. I’ll have to look for another street in the area to document! …

Our cobblestones were like square granite bricks and they were put in the street end down — creating a long-lasting, and deep stone that would never wear away. …

I only know the cobblestones here are so massive because I tried to dig one out to keep! I couldn’t do it. Too massive. Too heavy. Too deeply seated in 1600 soil! …

They just covered up the old cobblestones again. They’ll be hidden for the next 30 years until they re-pave it all again.

Here we go!  Caught, in situ, exposed cobblestones half-dead under hot, new, asphalt — and a burning morning sun — but now also half-alive for forever and a half-life, exposed, and memorialized here in this article!

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