A few interesting articles I read this week:
by Joe Keohane, Slate.com, February 23, 2011
The decline of dipping on the rails is extraordinary. Subways were always the happiest hunting grounds for pickpockets, who would work alone or in teams. There were classic skilled canons—organized pickpocket gangs—at the top, targeting wealthier riders, then “bag workers” who went for purses, and “lush workers” who disreputably targeted unconscious drunks. Richard Sinnott, who worked as a New York City transit cop in the 1970s and ’80s, also admiringly recalls “fob workers,” a subspecies of pickpocket who worked their way through train cars using just their index and middle fingers to extract coins and pieces of paper money—a quarter here, a buck there—from riders’ pockets. “They weren’t greedy, and they never got caught,” says Sinnott. Bit by bit, fob workers could make up to $400 on a single subway trip; then they’d go to Florida in the winter to work the racetracks. Many of the city’s pickpockets trained elsewhere, “and if they were any good, they came to New York,” Sinnot says, with a touch of pride. “In the subways, we had the best there were.” Pickpocketing remained fairly rampant for years. Glenn Cunningham, who was part of an elite NYPD anti-pickpocketing task force in the 1980s and ’90s (he currently handles security for Robert De Niro’s hotel and film festival), says that pickpocketing in spots like Times Square was “out of control” at that time. “I made tons of arrests with those guys. We were like cowboys.”
by A. A. Gill, Vanity Fair, April 2011
What you actually find when you arrive at L’Ami Louis is singularly unprepossessing. It’s a long, dark corridor with luggage racks stretching the length of the room. It gives you the feeling of being in a second-class railway carriage in the Balkans. It’s painted a shiny, distressed dung brown. The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository. In the middle of the room is a stubby stove that also looks vaguely proctological.
Up to the 19th Century mentally ill people were sometimes chained naked in squalid conditions in places like London’s Bethlehem hospital which became synonymous with chaos (its name being contracted to bedlam) and where tourists would pay to see the freak show. Then came the extreme rationalism of the Kirkbride plan which created a very unusual form of architecture for asylums throughout the Anglosphere that was used until the 20th Century. As a result of their demise, most are abandoned ruins today, giant, rotting testimonies to a bygone era of clinical Victorian discipline combined with neo-Gothic extravagance.
The Kirkbride plan consists of an enormous a symmetrical staggered wing, like a bird made out of lego. Men are on the left and women on the right in wings that radiate from the main entrance for increasingly violent or incurable patients. Early mental institutions where patients had to pay for their own incarceration would also vary in class (rich to poor) on the y axis. The staggering of the wings ensured the flow of air through each, purging them of diseased vapors perhaps, such was the Victorian obsession with fresh air, from outdoor Tuberculosis wards to seaside promenades and piers.