Jeffrey Babbitt

Jeffrey Babbitt who would be killed a year & a half later at Union Square by a chess player
Jeffrey Babbitt

A couple day ago I was looking through old photos to upload to this new Amazing Strangers Gallery and by chance I stumbled across pictures and video I’d taken on the day I’d met Jeffery Babbitt. In September 2013 when I’d heard one of the regulars had gotten killed at Union Square, I looked up the victim’s name. I was immediately saddened when I recognized him.

Jeffery was one of those guys who never made a nuisance of himself. He stood out because despite being a little odd looking he had a memorable style. He was a Greaser. His pompadour and sideburns harked back to the early 80s and made me think he was probably into Sha Na Na or Fonzie. In the 80s (Jeff would have been in his early 30s) there was a resurgence of that 50s Outsiders style. Combine that with his love for fairies, which he wore sewn to his coat, with pink, aqua or lavender colored tee shirts, I likened him to Emilio Estevez’s “Two-Bit” character’s ironic obsession with Mickey Mouse.

After finding the photos and watching the video again for the first time in years, the memory of meeting him that day came back clear as day.

My friend Samir had brought over her new pet mouse, Fitz, and while I was filming Jeffrey came over and started petting it. I was really happy he’d finally come over because before that I’d always wanted to take his picture but never had reason enough to ask.

In the video you’ll notice that he’s a little hesitant to walk away. That’s because while I was filming I was smiling, and wanting him to hang around, but I also wanted the video to look natural, so I let him walk away. Before he got out of earshot though I turned off the camera, called him back over and asked to take his picture. I told him how I’d been seeing him around for as long as I could remember, dug his style and would it be okay if I took some photos. I made sure to get good shots of both sleeves.

jeffery babbit cartoon illustration
Jeffrey Babbit drawn in remembrance of a true Union Square character

Jeffery obviously deserves to be counted as one of the Union Square originals. He should have made it to the postcard years ago. So yesterday when Shaggy said I should add him to the drawing I’ve been working on of all the characters from postcards past, I thought it was a great idea. He suggested I draw him flying up to heaven, which was inspired, because up until that point he had no idea about Jeff’s love for fairies. Drawing him ascending up to the Union Square in a sky with fairy wings truly completed this piece.

union square amazing strangers cartoon drawing
All of the Union Square characters for Matchgame Postcard gathered at park digitized in Adobe Illustrator

He was as gentle of a man as he appears in the video. It’s a travesty his life was taken a couple years later in such a violent and ugly crime. I hope these images and video are seen by the people who love and miss him most.

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Limbo

Amazing Strangers

Wendell Headley art
Wendell Headley digitized in Adobe Illustrator for Amazing Strangers logo

We’re almost completely back. There’s been a few tolerable days at the park between 45 and 50 something degrees. Some footage has been shot, and almost everyone’s falling back into their designated compartments, waiting. Impatiently waiting. You can see it in their eyes. Signs grumbling through his routine not quite spritely enough to be smacking me on the back of my head and calling me a dildo butt. Roman is lurking around, but ducking out of my camera’s view. Jeremy’s annual promise that this is the last year he’ll be doing Free Hugs. Matty Ice is dizzily wobbling around in his oversized winter coat. Even Qween Amor stopped by to chat a bit. No sign of Wendell yet. The first Wendell sighting is when it’s official.

For a few years now I’ve been trying to figure out a better symbol for Amazing Strangers other than that Coney Island-like face. For some reason it was a puzzle that confounded me for a long time. What face or image sums up the Square? Then, a week or so ago it hit me. Just before I was drifting asleep, I had an epiphany. And it was Wendell. Wendell is obviously the face of Union Square! It took some time to figure out how exactly to draw that trademark hat of his, but eventually I nailed it.
The new face of Amazing Strangers. I hope he’s alright with it.

Amazing Strangers of Union Square NYC logo

Speaking of which, I’ve also been getting inquaries from you people asking how it might be possible to donate money to specific Union Square Strangers. And I’ll tell you what won’t work. Giving me money to pass on to them. I can’t imagine what my life, the videos, and a day at the park would become if I turned into the guy for them to come to for dough. And I can’t imagine there’s any sort of charity specifically pertaining to Union residents. However, if you’ve got a workable solution, I’m open. Until then the best I can tell you is to go to Union and hand it to them yourself.

Bob Smith USA

girl in pin teddybear suit with green balloon art
Sasha Janegs digitized in Adobe Illustrator

If you haven’t seen the documentary I was in from 2004 “Bob Smith USA,” Neil Abramson (the director) has set up a place on Vimeo where you can watch for just $1! It’s hilarious, and strongly recommended viewing.

Right now I am at Astor Place Starbucks. It’s pouring rain outside. I’ve been doing some art. This lovable picture of my friend Sasha is some proof of that. And just like everybody else mentioned above, I too am in limbo. Impatiently waiting.
And we wait.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Artbucks Coffee

Inna art
Portrait of Inna digitized in Adobe Illustrator

My ex messaged me last month saying, I keep waiting for your annual ‘winter sucks and I’m lonely in this cruel city’ message, but none has come. Are you happier this year? I hope so.
Well, I’m now officially in winter’s pattern. Wake up – Coffee – Starbucks – More coffee – Art – Go home – Finish art project – Sleep.

That’s it kids. That’s my life come winter. I mean, I know that’s not 100% the case, but Jesus Christ, it’s a difficult pattern for me to shake. Good news is though, I’ve been producing what I consider to be some of my best pieces. I’m proud of these portraits that’ve been coming out of me. Yesterday I finished this Inna Portrait (above), and I swear I went to sleep gazing at it (A selfishness I’ve allowed myself since I was a teen), and imagining myself waking up to 10,000+ Likes, an Inbox filled with emails congratulating on what a spectacular job I’ve done, and knocking on my door demanding sex. None of that happened of course, but it doesn’t slow down the desperate need I’ve got to draw. So instead I just send those emails to myself, and pound on my own door. There it is, as the ex requested.

Shaggy looked at me sketching Inna last week and said “What’s your obsession with Inna? How many times have you drawn her?” And I realize that posting this one the day before Valentine’s Day may seem like love, but it’s not. I mean, I do love Inna like a friend, but I am not harboring a deep seeded crush on the girl. I do think she’s an ideal subject. Her style is something that deserves to be drawn again and again. So Shaggy, including the little cartoons of her I’ve put on the Matchgame Postcard, the answer to that question is now officially 5.

Soo Catwoman art
Soo Catwoman digitized in Adobe Illustrator

I know I keep repeating myself with subjects. Inna for instance. Yolandi, of course. Also, Soo Catwoman. But for whatever reason I just have to draw these people again and again. Their aesthetics just please me so. And if Im sitting and drawing, I’m doing something good. In fact, I’m at my best. And that’s reason enough.

All of this too I hope will encourage inquiries about hiring my artistic talents. Yes, I am available for work. Now more than ever. After the holidays things slow down, and they usually don’t pick up again until Spring. So if you know of any jobs that pay for this level of drawing & Adobe Illustrator skills, please contact me. I’m really good! And worth every penny.

anglerfish art
Anglerfish digitized in Adobe Illustrator

Presently though I’m working through the disappointment looming on the horizon of not being able to afford printing Batman Jesus Dressup magnets. I thought I’d have enough after the holidays, but the holidays are over, and I’m coming up short. I’m hoping these next couple months I can get the necessary work and sales to solve it, but at the moment they must be put on hold. Do stories like this encourage sales & paying gigs to appear in my mailbox? I suppose this is exactly how I’ll find that out.

Latest art & photos with videos attached –

Morgan Forgives Me

Something I never expected to happen occurred this last week. Morgan forgave the injustice she felt I’d done to her a couple years back.

What happened was, when I first saw Morgan back in 2010 or so, I knew I wanted more. More Morgan. I was dying to draw her (as it’s no secret I’ve got a soft spot for punker girls) and add her to the postcard. I admittedly was also dying to nose my camera into her life some. I still hadn’t even introduced myself when I was handing out the 2011 postcard with her on it.

morgan cartoon
Morgan drawing from the 2011 Union Square Matchgame postcard

I forget who it was that showed it to her, but I do remember seeing her precious reaction. I wish I’d been filming because it got the cutest smile out of her. A smile that read of flattery with just a touch of embarrassment. From that point on she started hanging out and letting me film her. And there was always something to film when she was around.

She has so many standout videos. Her and the gang singing “Brown Sugar.” That’s a classic. Her swooping in and rescuing us from the creep who wouldn’t leave. That was an absolutely priceless moment for me. And once, as we were walking back to Union from St Marks, after she’d almost beat a man with a chain she told me, “I need someone to film my life. Someone’s gotta be documenting the shit I go through.” That’s when she invited me to film her – Whatever/Whenever. I asked her, “If shit’s looking dangerous, and you look pissed at me, should I still be filming?” (something I’d witnessed before). She couldn’t guarantee my safety, even from her, but the answer was the same – “Yes. Film it.” And that’s how it began. I never wanted to break that trust.

Unfortunately she didn’t completely understand what she was getting herself into, and on one particular weekend when she introduced me & YouTube to her new beau Devan, it crossed the limits of what she thought she could handle seeing of herself. The video blew up too, and she was getting recognized, and having even to deal with fans from the site. After all of this, I started to see less and less of her, until finally I’d heard she wanted the video gone. She didn’t want to be filmed any more.

I completely respected that. I would even put my camera away if I saw her after that.

I’m never that surprised when someone from the streets finally sees their video, hates it and regrets ever letting me in. In this case though, it was different. When I’d heard it hurt her I was really sorry. So I’m glad we’re friends again.

Accomplished January

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo art
Lisbeth (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) digitized in Adobe Illustrator

Today is the day I was scheduled to fly back to the city after an entire month here in the midwest. That is until “The Storm Of The Century” hit and brought everything in New York to a screeching halt.
No open businesses.
No vehicles on the streets.
No food delivery! And certainly no airports. So I’m adding a few more days to this visit.

My initial goals for January were to learn WordPress, build the site you’re looking at now with that knowledge, and do art. Lots of art. All of these things I swept through painlessly, and I want to share with you these accomplishments now.

Lisbeth

I’m not sure how I went so long without ever drawing Lisbeth , but the other evening when I sat down to do so, the sketch took me about 20 minutes. Then it was completely digitized (above) before I called it a night. Tell me this though – How is it that I draw what I consider to be this striking black & white portrait, post it on Facebook, and it gets just 2 Likes? Has she already been forgotten? Was the remake despised that unanimously? What the hell happened? Anyhow, no matter what people think, this piece is one of several proud accomplishments of January.

Danni Daniels

TS Danni Daniels art
Porn Star Danni Daniels digitized in Adobe Illustrator for dressup game

One of the most exciting things that occurred this month happened as the result of a simple pen & ink portrait I drew of this infamous porn star & performance artist. I was dumbfounded when she made it her profile pic on Facebook. Then it turns out she loved it so much that we’re now working on an entire dressup game to go with it! It’s turning into the most outrageous game I’ve ever worked on. And if you don’t know who Danni Daniels is, Grace Jones referred to her as “the white me.” I will surely keep you up to date on this unprecedented project.

The Sauce

Cute muscular girl in fuzzy white cat costume art
The Sauce (close up) Digitized in Adobe Illustrator

I don’t remember how or when I first stumbled across “The Sauce” on Facebook, but when I did I knew I had to draw her. She’s real life Pippi Longstocking all grown up living out her dreams in the Burning Man universe. I’m just stunned by her. Something I don’t think I was able to keep any kind of a secret in this piece.

The Old & the New

The other accomplishment of the month was learning WordPress with the assistance of the Lynda.com tutorials, and building my new site. Yes, I’ve finally dragged myself out of the dark ages of the web.

The old site at normalbobsmith.com shall remain in tact, but I do not plan to post new content there ever again. For 15 years I’ve been maintaining that URL. Can you believe it? Perhaps I’ll turn it into a complete archive of the site’s history? It could include a tribute to the different elaborate front pages I’ve had over the last decade and a half. Maybe adding back the long lost Super Chic pages and the Unholy Army adventures? A complete archive of everything I’ve done there since Sept 2000. That could be really fun.

From now on though, everything’s going to be here. I’ll be adding the Amazing Strangers section next month, a new art portfolio, and lots more. If you’re finding yourself snowed in with nothing to do, check out the “Select Month” & “Select Category” tabs in the left sidebar. I plan to update those areas with some of the best content from the past, as well as some never before seen blogs I’ve recently run across. You see, back in ’08 I actually went and saved all of my MySpace blogs before they erased everything. How many of you thought that far ahead? I’ve already started incorporating them into the backlog. And while you’re at it, take a look at the new store, and the Mohammed dressup games brought center stage for all the obvious reasons.  It’s safe to say I’m really looking forward to seeing where this new site leads.

Roman’s Public Apology

man with funny sign
Roman Shusterman

I received  an email from Joey Boots yesterday. Roman is in a psych ward, and he wants me to call him there. He thought maybe it’d help to talk to me about whatever it is he’s got going on. He also wanted to make a public apology.

I’d heard Roman wasn’t doing well in August. He’d stopped showing up at the Square, so I started asking people he knew what was up. I was getting mixed details about his whereabouts and wellbeing. Some were saying he was doing terrible, wanting all his videos removed and in a hospital losing his mind, while others said he was all good again and planning to return to the park.

If you don’t know who Roman Shusterman is, he’s the guy who went viral writing his strange but funny sexual declarations on signs and giving detailed speeches about them at the park. He first started his exhibitionist style demonstrations in 2010 when the Free Hugs phenomenon hit the square. He hung around those Free Hugs kids carrying a FREE MASSAGES sign. And it worked!

Those soon turned into “Free Massages + Foot Worship.” Girls who took him up on his massages would then be asked if they’d mind a foot worship session as well. Much to all our surprise that worked too.

Creepy guy kissing bottom of woman's foot in public
Roman foot worships woman while crowd watches

Then there was his “Peace through Face-sitting” campaign, getting girls to sit on his face for world peace. The Fart Smelling Movement, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and on and on and on. Roman is responsible for some of the most shocking and hilarious events I’ve ever witnessed. When asked what’s the most outrageous event I’ve ever seen at Union Square Park, I always give a detailed account of the afternoon Roman Shusterman took a lady “Out To Eat” in front of everybody there on the steps. It’s safe to say I have always adored what he brings to the Square.

man with funny sex sign waving
Roman Shusterman smiling & waving

I put word out that I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to know I genuinely cared for his well-being, and if there was any way I could help I would. I thought Roman needed to be told there’s nothing wrong with what he’s done, if that’s what he was regretting. He’s not hurt anyone. In fact he’s made a lot of people laugh. It’s comedy. Shocking at times, yes. But comedy none the less.

When I got Roman’s number to call, I realized I honestly cared for the guy. He wanted me to come visit him at the hospital, but I am away from NYC this month, so the phone call would have to do. I was happy to do it. I was anxious to do it! I wanted to talk to him myself and get the full story. I also wanted to ease his worry about whatever it is he thought he needed to apologize for. So this afternoon I called him.

The phone was answered by another patient in the ward who had to go find Roman, shouting his name to a room.

He spoke to me on the pay phone there used by everyone. It was clear he wasn’t his usual self. I started right off telling him he didn’t have anything he needed to apologize for.

“I want to apologize for anything I may have said or done that made light of the Elliot Rodger’s tragedy. I don’t feel that way and I deeply regret disrupting that event. I really want to get that out there.”

The top thing on his list was he wanted to make a public apology for any comments he made about being in solidarity with Elliot Rodger. At some point last year he’d attempted to disrupt one of the protests that followed the shootings & suicide. There were a group of protestors there with signs stating that Elliot’s views on women were common among men, and Roman hassled them with his usual “I deserve hot girls” routine. It’s a sentiment similar to Elliot’s. Roman told me he deeply regrets doing this, and making light of the event in any way.

At one point, when we he was telling me about the voices in his head he’s dealing with, the phone disconnected. His time was up and I had to call him back. He explained to me he thought the phone disconnecting was a sign he probably shouldn’t be talking about the voices.

It was clear to me after our 15 minute conversation, he’s pretty medicated and having to deal with a lot of troubling thoughts, paranoia and regret, and these are all weighing on him immensely. He also regrets not having planned better for his future.

Not to diminish what he’s going through, but I also reminded him that in the dead of winter feeling depressed, secluded and hopeless in New York is something a lot of us deal with. Winter can be a nightmare in this, the loneliest city.

Presently Roman’s in a cycle of taking medication and trying to heal. He wants to get back to the Square and regrets letting these events scare him away from it.
He and I have planned to get lunch when I return in February.

One month later…

Artist, Atheist, Anthropologist