Urban, Boolean

New York City as a Boolean Algebra problem; also the first piece ever written for Ftrain, at the tender age of 22.

It's a complicated place to live, but a map of New York City is a cultural Venn Diagram; you can break down the components and see the prejudicial logic that underlines the place. I live in Brooklyn, on a street wedged between Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, on 9th St, below the overlapping shadows of the F train and the elevated Gowanus Expressway. In September, at a McDonalds below the Gowanus, some Black kids from Red Hook stole a watch from some Italian kids from Carroll Gardens. Walking home in a rage, the Italian kids beat a 41 year old Con Ed employee, nearly killing him, because he looked like their 17-year-old assailant.

So get out your Hagstrom Map and draw the lines: the set of teenagers in Red Hook are Black and Hispanic, the set of teenagers in Carroll Gardens are Italian. You'll find some, but little intersection. Get a clear plastic sheet; layer it on top. This will represent time of day. Color in the entire area with the exception of those empty places close to the dock. These are the places you can walk through the areas during the day and feel safe. At night, there are only a few lines of real safety (because those streets are crowded) and several of relative safety.

A third sheet: this one is knowledge. The least known areas of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens are strictly unsafe, regardless of ethnic makeup. Know where you are at night in New York and you'll remain safe. Midnight wandering is not rewarded.

You could go on forever: the fourth sheet could be public services. The parks in Red Hook are sloppy and overgrown, uncrowded, their benches broken. A forgotten area. The subway stop closest to me is decrepit and crumbling. Another bad sign. Carroll Gardens park is well-tended by the community and carefully mowed. The sidewalks are not mossy; the yards are tended.

I redraw these internal maps, the voting districts for my private country, based on race and faith, on experience and hearsay, every day. I ask Jacob, downstairs at work, if it's good to go to Pelham Park in the Bronx. "Yeah, that's way up there, out of the South Bronx. It's fine. Lots of bike riding." And how about Flushing Meadows? "Flushing Meadows is great, perfectly safe." The wrong color skin can get you in trouble if you're not careful. Subtle but plain, residents draw their own Venn diagrams. Herd animals, we choose our friends from the set of people who find our jokes funny and our faces familiar. And we sketch out our maps so that we can hear the news of a beating and say "I'm safe. I know where I am."




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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