I was in my room, working, and I heard someone enter the bathroom, and then the toilet flush, and so I opened my door a crack for a glance.
In the hallway, emerging from the bathroom, was a short, squat man, gray-haired with a bald temple. I felt a kind of indescribable rage, almost like a personal affront. How dare she — in my home?! An hour later, I watched her escort the man to the door. Another part of me was so angry I wanted to evict her immediately. The rest of the day, I wrestled with my thoughts, my mind feverish with indecision: Should I say something?
Should I tell her boyfriend? Should I call her dad? Was it any of my business anyway? I decided to wait, see if it happened again, and just a few days later, it did. This time, it was a tall black man wearing an ill-fitting suit and tie, like thrift-shop formalwear. He, too, emerged from the bathroom and disappeared into her room, and after an hour or so she escorted him to the door, again in the blue pumps and rumpled ivory dress.
I took to Google: What to do if my roommate is a prostitute? More than what to do , I was seeking clarity on why it bothered me. Who was I to judge if Jenny chose an unorthodox profession? Why would I care if she used her room to ply her trade? On Yahoo Answers and in Google Groups and various other forums people wrote about similar experiences, and the consensus was: I wondered about the practical aspects of her work: Does she have a Backpage ad?
Did she use Craigslist? Could I find her on The Erotic Review? Sit her down for a talk. Point her in the right direction.
Instead, when we met in the kitchen the next afternoon, passing between the refrigerator and the trashcan by the sink, I decided to bring it up. I was washing a dish, the water running lightly, and she was behind me, waiting for something in the microwave.
She turned slowly to face me, nonchalant, with a thin smile. What are you going to do about it? She offered no further explanations, and we both retreated to our rooms. Let us, as adults, discuss this situation. In return, she took me for a fool. The words infuriated me, and I began to plot her eviction. Several days passed, however, and still I did nothing. We had just finished dinner at a SoHo restaurant, paid the check, and were about to head to her place when my phone rang.
It was my landlord. There was trouble at the apartment. My thoughts went to the men. My date raised an eyebrow to me. We were outside the restaurant, in the cool night air on a quiet street, a jittery yellow cab passing over the uneven cobblestone. Landlord says someone called The response came a few seconds later. I stared at that text, uncomprehending. She had been dead, in fact, for the past twenty-four hours, in her bed, in our apartment.
My thoughts in those moments would later seem incongruous with the event itself, but at the time they were automatic, a cascading stream of impolitic ponderings. I hung up the phone and looked at my date, who was gripping my arm and staring. My date reacted as I expected. Of course I was O. Mostly I was just annoyed that her death was getting in the way of my evening plans.
Jenny and I had lived together for four months, but I barely knew her. An overdose of what? I called my landlord, and told her what I had learned: No, she need not worry about a thing. The police will take care of it all.
I was out of town, I said — not a lie, although not entirely the truth either. My date gripped my arm tighter, as if the news of death created some erotic charge, at once frightening and gripping, and we went off together to her apartment a few blocks away.
In the morning I took the subway home, and remembered: My roommate was dead. It felt surreal, and I found myself ruminating on the nature of death, and youth, and the way we often know so little about the people living just several feet away from us. It appeared that someone had taken the cat. Later in the afternoon, my phone rang. I felt momentarily caught off balance.
She had seemed like a rootless child, unattached, unaffected. I knew she had parents, a little sister, extended family somewhere, but I knew so little about them they were almost unreal to me.
Her entire life seemed confined to her room across the hallway, as if she mattered to no one but herself. I am so, so terribly sorry. This must be so devastating. I could hear him sniffling on the other end of the line. There were the signs, of course.
It was heroin, Steve told me. Her boyfriend, who was an addict, had introduced it to her. When I hung up, I felt guilty for feeling as unmoved as I did. Her father, at the same time, seemed to expect exactly that.
As if he knew that someone like me would be affected only by the trouble of it all. Here were people reminiscing about her, friends writing about the time she helped someone with a college essay, or about high school adventures, or that time they got passed-out drunk and high on that crazy spring break trip. Two days later, her aunt came. She packed some of her clothes into a few large trash bags. The bed that was ordered online just four months ago. The easy chair Jenny had brought from her childhood home in Westchester.
A bunch of keys on a key ring, a bracelet of blue beads, a MetroCard, a bag of cosmetics. It looked just like it had before she moved in: I closed the door to look behind it, and noticed a taped-up card, from HashtagThePlanet. I thought about how our physical possessions are like phantom lives: It made me sad, but I had little use for the rest, and ended up putting most of it out with the trash.
The stuff sat on the edge of the sidewalk for a day or two, and through the window I watched as people passed, glancing at the items. Some stopped to pick through them, holding up items for inspection, taking what they pleased, until the pile was about half the original size. Then the trash collectors came and tossed it all into the monster-mouth of their truck, until nothing was left but a shattered light bulb that slipped out of one of the bags, now spread in tiny bits of glass among the fallen leaves of a nearby honeysuckle tree.
We humans are far more complex than the news headlines and clickbait would have you believe. Let the Narratively newsletter be your guide. Two decades after NYC sought to relocate its infamous tunnel-dwelling denizens, a years-long investigation reveals a few hardy souls still toiling and thriving beneath the city. The mouth of the tunnel is wide and dark, swallowing the light and all that breathes.
Rubble is scattered along the train tracks, bordered by retaining walls covered in numerous layers of graffiti. This is where it all started. Here by the parkway with the blasting trucks and the roaring cars, near the filigree arches of the Riverside Drive viaduct, here with the gravel crunching under my feet as I run down the railroad into this hollow mouth. This is where they live, deep into the depths of the city, way underground, lying in the dirt.
Sure, you know about them. Of course you know about them. Here in the tunnels. Their eyes have adapted to the constant night that cloaks them from the topside world. And one day they will spill outside and burn us all alive, and they will reign over our flatscreen joys and our organic delights.
The lost ones, the hidden ones. The broken and the ill, the wandering, the gone. Jon has been homeless for more than fifteen years. Like many of the people interviewed for this article, he did not want to give his full name.
He has been living here for a while now, in a small space between two support beams that can only be reached with a ladder. A plywood roof protects his hoarded belongings from seeping water. The place is crammed full. There is an old mattress on the floor, and cookware, blankets and electronics stacked on makeshift shelves. Jon says he did prison time. He is bipolar and suffers from major substance dependence.
He used to be a gang member in the Bronx. He used to be a family man until he got disowned. He was a furniture salesman. The FBI is looking for him. He used to know Donald Trump. His real story has been buried long ago under thick layers of improvised memories that grew more detailed by the years, the man slowly becoming a collage of himself. Today is a good day for Jon, despite the rain and the cool weather.
It makes them feel alive. Like alligators in the sewers. Jon offers me a sip of vodka. He tells me to stay safe and to watch out for trains when I go back walking into the tunnel.
I hear him talk to himself as I go away from the entrance and from the white sky. The smell down here is the one of brake dust and mold. I can see rats scouring for food and drinking from brown puddles in the tracks ballast. The city growls over my head — a distant growl muffled by the concrete, almost a snarl, like something cold and foul spreading over the long stretches of stained walls, like a dark and wild beast curling up around me and breathing on my neck.
A dark and wild beast silently trailing me. Stories about underground dwellers were already flourishing when the first New York City subway line opened in The expansion of extensive sewers and steam pipes systems had brought a newfound fascination with what laid below the streets.
But it was only in the s that the first widespread depictions of real-world tunnel residents appeared in New York. A New York Times article by John Tierney was the earliest to outline the phenomenon, looking at people living in an abandoned train tunnel beneath Riverside Park, along the banks of the Hudson River. Collective imagination took over quickly.
An instant hit, it chronicled the organization of those underground societies, describing compounds of several thousands where babies were born and regular lives were lived, with elected officials, hot water and even electricity. However, the book was promptly criticized for its inconsistencies.
A article by Cecil Adams further demonstrated that many accounts were perhaps more sensationalism than truth. Still, while the essay might have been inflated or romanticized, it was nonetheless true that the homeless begging in the streets of New York were merely the tip of the iceberg.
This period is gone. That they spoke their own language. Creepy stuff, straight out of a horror movie… Most was made-up. I personally never witnessed unusual stuff. Written in an abandoned crew room of the F subway line, these words were the reason I ventured into the tunnels in the first place, looking for the invisible, guided by local dwellers along the years to seek foundations of humanity in the foundations of the city.
All the stories I had read about the Mole People before descending myself had two things in common. They all showed simple human beings who were in no way comparable to the legends that had been told, and they all included a man named Bernard Isaac. I met Bernard Isaac for the first time in A place to find peace and take a break from the chaos. Isaac was at the very center of the Mole People legend. His BA in journalism and his studies in philosophy had somehow led him to work as a model, then as a TV crew member, then as a tour guide in the Caribbean where he began smuggling cocaine to the States.
The father of two sons with two different women, he never cared much for family life, preferring to spend his smuggling profits on parties thrown at his Upper West Side penthouse. Soon he was broke, friendless and on his own.
By the late s, he was sleeping in the Riverside Park tunnel. The tunnel was known by homeless people since its inception in the s, when it was used by trains to bring cattle to the city before the freight operations ended. Its population, limited at first to about three or four individuals, quickly grew at the time Isaac settled in, evolving into small tribes of vagrants who built thriving shantytowns in the newly abandoned space. Few risked getting down into the tunnel. But those who did go down called it home, and it became a haven for the destitute to unwind without fear of getting arrested or attacked like people on the streets often were.
One day, three men asked Isaac for a toll as he came by the th Street entrance to the tunnel. Soon interest came from all around the world. In the encampment, the dwellers had a familiar place to be, watch TV, read or smoke. Rules were simple but strictly enforced. Some, like Isaac, were at home in the darkness, and would not have lived anywhere else.
Most who lived here did not consider themselves homeless. As word spread of the tunnel, a growing number of graffiti artists came to paint the seemingly endless walls that flanked the train tracks. We dared to be ourselves. Some residents were still eager to leave, only to come back later.
Another who attempted to go to the surface was Bob Kalinski, a speed addict known as the fastest cook east of the Mississippi, who could fry twenty eggs at a time when on amphetamines. A heart attack forced him to try his luck with the public housing system in He too returned in the following months. The sense of belonging simply was too strong. The tunnel was a better place for him to be alone in freedom. I keep walking along the tracks. Jon must have passed out drunk, now, somewhere behind me.
Every noise is threatening in the tunnel, and I find myself constantly looking over my shoulder, ready to face something too awful to name. Was that a train I heard? The metallic vibration of a dragged chain? It smells like death here. The pungent stench of rotting meat. The smell of death all over now. Are those eyes glowing nearby? I lean against the wall and try to breathe calmly, reminding myself this place is only populated by old memories and the occasional homeless person looking for a safe place to be.
The rumbling feels closer. I see rats scurrying by, racing into the obscurity. Then I see the charred remains of an animal in the corner of an alcove — a raccoon maybe, a big rodent with liquefied flesh, burnt fur and missing limbs. I walk away holding my breath. The ground is littered with discarded books and magazines. A broken crack pipe has been left on a cinder block.
There is a garden chair, and overturned crates and buckets. A mangled teddy bear. His clothes are spotless, regularly washed at a nearby laundromat. Maybe talk to some people.
An ex-girlfriend and a kid. He rents an apartment from a friend when his kid comes to visit, a clean studio in a gray Washington Heights building. I nod and he goes into an abandoned service room, returning with two mugs. I hurt a lot of people. I collect cans, it keeps me busy. I do it all week long. The coffee is nice and strong.
The streets are full of opportunities if you know where to look. I deal with what I have. The worsening quality of the local drugs means accidents are now more frequent than ever, with overdose-related deaths in In the buildings he helps maintain, he occasionally sells the tenants K2 — a form of synthetic marijuana that recently boomed across the city, especially in East Harlem where a homeless encampment was recently dismantled. This is who I am. We both eat in silence.
The incentives paid by the Department of Homeless Services to landlords renting out shelter units far exceed the ones given for providing tenants with permanent single room occupancy lodging. In , the average stay was days at the Freedom House , a homeless shelter on West 95th Street managed by private company Aguila Inc. Conditions are appalling inside the Freedom House. Garbage piles up in the courtyard for rodents to feed on. Sometimes a TV is hurled out a window , or the police close the street after someone is stabbed in a fight.
The NYPD regularly raids the place looking for people with outstanding warrants, targeting domestic abusers and failing to arrest the major dealers or car thieves roaming the area. The year-old knows enough about shelters. She will never go back. She was sixteen when she got pregnant with her daughter Alyssa.
Jessica was then diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and admitted to transitional housing in Brooklyn. She says that within a month, social services was badgering her to place her three-year-old in foster care. I called my sister and begged her to take care of Alyssa until I found a place of my own. But it was the right thing to do. At least she is with family. When she grows up I will explain it all to her. She looks away, tears rolling down her face.
Once her daughter was in the hands of her sister, Jessica was sent to the Freedom House where she stayed for seven months until Aguila notified her of her imminent relocation. She began sleeping in a subway tunnel after transit authorities made her leave her spot in the Herald Square station corridor on 34th Street, dragging her by her feet when she refused to stand up from her mat.
She spent about two months living in a recess by the subway tracks of a Midtown station, protected from the elements and from harassment.
She wrote a long letter to her daughter there. She never sent it. I miss you everyday. I love you so much. Soon she will give them to her daughter. Trash as far as the eye can see. Brooklyn might be the oldest resident of the Riverside Park tunnel.
Now fifty-four, she has been living here since , when she discovered the place by following feral cats. Like Bernard Isaac, she appeared in various films and documentaries. She has perfected her story for journalists along the years. Everything she relates is recited like a school lesson.
Her stint in the Marines. The death of her parents and the loss of her family house. The kids lighting her cardboard shack on fire in the park. Her boyfriend BK and their issues. The food bowls left at her door for the forty-nine cats she feeds. She is a tough woman who speaks her mind, and she has the unyielding attitude of someone who has trudged through life.
Her bandana and dreadlocks make her look younger than she is. That would be nice. The stew is surprisingly tasty. You never get used to it. After she finishes eating, Brooklyn shows me a pile of recycling bags filled with countless Poland Spring water bottles collected at a nearby bodega.
Brooklyn is disappointed when I tell her I have to go. She calls one of her cats as I keep walking to the south end of the tunnel. The whole place feels like a grave. A cathedral for the dead and the fallen. Nothing is left from the former shacks. Even the smallest pieces of debris are gone. A raw, burning power that some, like Isaac, will seek their whole life. Sane immediately sprayed the quote on the wall. A train rushes by, almost silent with its unbearably bright lights, the air swelling around me as the cars dash past.
This place is not for anyone to be , I think. I wait for dreams to come. Sleeping in the tunnel is an alien experience, but the sight of rain falling down the ventilation grates and streaking the chiaroscuro light is worth it alone, definite proof that poetry can endure anywhere. This is the final byproduct of the city. This is a dark and wild beast inviting you to come closer because nothing will ever be all right, but she will always be at your side to keep you warm.
Amtrak Police Captain Doris Comb started calling for more enforcement, effectively pushing the homeless out of the active railway. Different times were looming ahead.
They feel rejected and decline assistance. Bernard Isaac still held a grudge against Comb eighteen years later, for having seized the universal key to the exit gates an Amtrak employee had given him. Some flatly refused to cooperate and gave up all hope of being granted Section 8 apartments. Margaret Morton would later write in a New York Times article that this solution had been by far the most economical for the city.
As the photojournalist Teun Voeten would discover in , some of the former squatters later achieved normal lives again. There would even be success stories. Then there were the others. One would commit suicide, sitting in front of a running train. Another was found dead in his apartment. Another succumbed to AIDS. Bernard Isaac passed away in late , closing a chapter of an old New York legend. His ashes were sprinkled across a creek in his native Florida. The legend was gone, but homelessness was more real than ever.
According to Coalition for the Homeless, between 58, and 60, persons slept in NYC municipal shelters every month of , an all-time record since the Great Depression, with numbers increasing for the sixth consecutive year. There were 42, homeless children across the five boroughs in Everything else becomes a symptom. The cause is lack of affordable housing. The median Manhattan rent jumped more than seven percent in August compared to the same period in , while affordable housing placements fell sixty percent between and At the time of his declaration, only five people had been found living in the Riverside Park tunnel, but a different community was already growing on a nearby dead-end street dubbed the Batcave.
His Goya reproduction has been damaged by water. In a few years from now, it will be completely gone, washed away by the elements.
Morning light is different in the tunnel — colder maybe, and whiter, casting long straight beams onto the rails. Wind gusts make dust rise up in whirlpools. A blue jay flies past a grate. I wake up and New York slowly comes to life. Carlos lives holed up in an old sewer pipe of about six feet high by five feet wide near the south entrance to the Riverside Park tunnel. He is one of the few original dwellers who stayed.
His house is small but very practical, entirely concealed by a metal lid he takes great care of pulling on every time he gets inside. His electricity is tapped from an outlet further down the tunnel, allowing him to store his food in a refrigerator and have heat during winter.
I read a lot. All kinds of books. I read them and I sell them. The increased police patrols make his life less simple than it was a few years ago, but he keeps an upbeat attitude about it. Sometimes they try to make me leave.
Carlos shows me where a decomposing body was found by Amtrak workers in , months after taggers had discovered it. Two femurs bundled in cargo pants, neatly laid into an old child stroller, with pieces of leathered skin still attached to them, and a skull standing on top of a nearby pole.
We find the old man sleeping on a couch behind a safety wall. Inside, a sentence is underlined in blue ink. We stay a moment at his side before I finally leave the tunnel, emerging from the wet ground behind a grove of trees.
The streets seem slower than usual. Hurt just makes us hurt. And hurt lives in the land of the lost, and unites them in missing love and broken homes, for five cents a can, cans per day. The few Mole People left today survive in hurt. They are relics of a New York that was, and witnesses of a world so estranged that nobody truly remembers it anymore.
Most are too late for the topside life. How easy it would be to go away and never come back. But this is their city. This is their home. These are their minds wandering and their time slipping. Their hopes and their thirsts until the sun goes down. Away — to a place made of birches and wet leaves and blue afternoons and muddy clothes, a place where dark days would be foreign — a place for them and all the unseen, warm as liquor, where hurt would be sweet and love would be real.
Seventy-five years later, its gay stars are finally opening up. The hotel was likely decorated with muted colors in the modernist style of the previous decade. All available supplies needed to go toward the war effort. The story was similar in baseball.
With most of the Major League Baseball players deployed, executives decided to fill the gap with female players, paving the way for the A. When she told the story later in her life, she gave the reason: In Their Own League.
Players had to attend charm school and wear lipstick on the field. Their uniforms had skirts instead of pants — not great for sliding, but deemed appropriately feminine by league owner Philip K. Though it was never explicitly stated, historians and players alike say the rules were in place, in part, to prevent the women from being perceived as lesbians.
Donahue was in Nova Scotia for the winter when she met Henschel, who was 19 at the time. The two women hit it off, keeping in touch when Donahue moved back to the U. The next day was her birthday. For seven decades the two told almost everyone, aside from their inner circle, that they were best friends. For 70 years theirs has been a love story, originating in a time when the only love stories we were allowed to tell were those between a man and a woman.
Try to ask most former players about the issue and they clam up. The players could have lost more than just their baseball careers if they had been open about their queerness. They could have lost their families, occupations, and reputations, too. That stigma has carried on for decades. She was the first to start an N. She then played for the independent, otherwise all-male St. Paul Saints and Duluth-Superior Dukes. Indeed, that same year, the book SportsDykes: Stories From On and Off the Field was also published.
She understands today that talking about being a gay athlete is a double-edged sword, in a way. But this stereotype existed long before Borders was even born. Cahn in her book Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth Century Sports. It was this perception of female athletes as unfeminine and unfeminine women as lesbians that led Wrigley, a chewing gum manufacturer and president of the Chicago Cubs, to insist that his players be appropriately feminine in appearance. When the affair was between teammates, chaperones would refuse to let the suspected couple room together and gauge the reaction of the players to confirm their hunch.
In one case, the suspected lovers were so angry about being barred from becoming roommates that team manager Johnny Gottselig considered it proof of the affair. In another case, a married player was rumored to have fallen for one of her teammates. Another time, Leo said that a married player was discovered to be in a relationship with a woman who was unassociated with the league. Leo claimed he notified her husband, who came and took her home.
However, many of the players came to the league quite sheltered. They often arrived from small towns or rural areas and were quite young when they left home. As a result, it was not uncommon for new or younger players to be completely blindsided by the relationships between their teammates. Dorothy Hunter entered the League in , when she was Well, I just thought they were giving me the gears because I was a green Canadian. But many of the players were unattached. If straight players were married, many of their husbands were off at war or were left back at home on farms or in factories.
It was in many ways the perfect environment for gay women to become involved with each other. But in some cases, the near-inability to date was a welcome reality. It made staying in the closet easier, because there was no time for dating and so there was no need to make excuses. This was something that Borders discovered, too, when she was playing ball in the s.
These restrictions kept some women out of the league altogether. One of those women was Dot Wilkinson, often regarded as the greatest softball player of her time — and perhaps all time. Wilkinson was a hard-playing catcher for the Phoenix Ramblers.
She joined the American Softball Association A. I never thought about anything else. Wilkinson was recruited to play in the A. But it was more than that. She also knew that the league was actively discouraging players from being perceived as exactly what Wilkinson was — gay.
But she had another love, too. Wilkinson and Caito played together for two seasons, until the A. I t is the obituaries that offer the most publicly available clues to some of the players who spent their lives with other women.
The most telling evidence is often in veiled language or titles that are open to interpretation. She attended the mass tryout at Wrigley Field, becoming one of the original members of the league in During the season, she was traded to the Kenosha Comets.
Her contract was not renewed in , forcing her to try out again. After leaving the league, she became a physical education teacher. She is rumored to have impressed Babe Ruth with how far she could hit a softball, and it is said he squeezed the biceps on her arm when he posed with her for a photo. In the Brooklyn Dodgers invited Deegan and two other women to their spring training camp. If she were a man, she no doubt would have been a Dodger. Deegan died of breast cancer in at the age of The two shared their passion for softball: Nusse passed away just six months after Deegan died, at age She was the first chairperson of the Players Association Board and two-time A.
One of the best pitchers to ever play in the A. The girl from Rockford, Illinois, played 10 seasons in the league. In the interest of exploring all sides of the debate, I tracked down a friend-of-a-Facebook-friend who agreed to talk to me about his experience with prostitutes — or "prosties" as he called them — and why he frequents a Toronto brothel. Tim, a divorced year-old from Mississauga who hasn't had free sex in over six months, met me at a pub.
I was shocked at how easy it was to find someone with personal experience and didn't know exactly what to ask. Thankfully, he wanted to share. He admits that "regular sex" would be a better option, but says it's difficult to meet people in his circles. Still, "doing it with someone I see a lot … that'd be better I guess. He tells me about his lost love, his ex-wife. His eyes light up when he talks about their honeymoon heat — but they darken again when the conversation turns.
He starts ranting about one lady in particular at the "house" he frequents. His emotional attachment to her is clear "she's pretty and really sweet, you'd like her, I swear" and he genuinely thinks she cares about him. What about your safety? Tim's response is quick, and blunt: He uses protection, but admits, "when I get to that point and I'm there, I'm not worried about safety. When Tim and I part ways, I walk home, confident in my original advice, but saddened for those who can't avoid prostitution.
The decision to pay someone for sex not only diminishes the act, I think to myself, but devalues both parties involved. Have a sex question?
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African and Mideast Business. ETFs Up and Down. Letters to the Editor. The Real Estate Market. Quick links Horoscopes Puzzles Customer service My account. Article text size A. Open this photo in gallery: Published June 18, Updated May 11, Who knew paying for sex was so divisive a topic. Story continues below advertisement. Follow Amberly McAteer on Twitter amberlym. Report an error Editorial code of conduct. Log in Subscribe to comment Why do I need to subscribe?
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