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A Free Spirit Bullies my Friend

So yesterday I’m at Union, and I’m sitting with this kid who’s a fan of the site, and he’s cool, and we’re talking. At one point I leave to go to the bathroom, and when I return there’s a couple sitting where I had been sitting. I don’t mind at all and just sit off to the left of them so they’re now sitting in-between me and my friend. There’s a comfortable space between us all.

Then, this guy shows up who’s their friend. He comes right up and sits next to them, which is directly on the step behind my friend. He puts a foot on either side of where my friend’s butt is on the step, leans around and says “You don’t mind if I sit here, do ya? You’re gonna look like my girlfriend! Hahaha!” And the three friends laugh. My friend doesn’t move from his seat, and I see the guy behind him shrugging his shoulders and smirking like, “Haha, I guess he’s not gonna move!”

It was clear that what he was hoping for was to be able to forgo any sort of respectful, “Hey. Would you mind moving over a little so I can sit here?” and instead just hoped his obnoxiousness would make the kid leave and sit somewhere else. When he sat down he didn’t know I was the kid’s friend, so he figured who gives a shit?

A minute goes by and I’m stewing over it all, and I say to my friend, “Hey, can I take your picture? This’ll be good. Trust me, you’re gonna want to remember this moment.”
So I get up and snap a picture.

Bully sitting emo kid
“Free Spirit” attempts to make my friend leave by sitting directly behind him like this.

I’d made myself known, and some more awkwardness is introduced to the situation. The three of them all get quiet and just stare down at their phones, flicking their fingers up and down on their screens. Total quiet. Of course I can’t keep my mouth shut now that I’ve already opened it and say, “Ya like this? It’s the new kind of tourist. They come all the way to New York City just so they can sit with their friends and stare at their phones the whole time.”
My friend is hearing me, but isn’t really saying much. I keep on going because I can’t seem to focus on anything else. “That’s a great move you did to get your seat.” I compliment. And he responds with something along the line of, “You like it? Haha, It’s good, right?”
“Yeah. You need a place to sit, so you just straddle up behind someone, put a foot on either side of ’em and tell them they’re going to look like your girlfriend if they stay there. That’s a real asshole move!”

They’re all half nervously laughing, and half staring into their phones hoping it’ll all just go away. Of course I can’t let it go since the sitting arrangement hasn’t altered in the tiniest way. I say to my friend (but actually to the whole group), “That’s what happens. People come to the city and think this is how we all treat each other here, so they act rude because they think that’s just what we do.”

Now the guy says something like, “How do you know what I’m thinking? You’re the only one who seems to have a problem with this. Just let it go, buddy. Just stop talking about it. ” and “Listen. If he had been a girl I would have been nice and asked if it was okay” To which I shouted, “Yeah, but he’s just a guy so fuck him.”
And this shit he just said proves my whole fucking point. He did it to be alpha. Being polite to my friend, in his mind, is a form of submission to another guy. So to show he’s superior, this is how he approached the situation where there isn’t enough room to sit. It’s stupid fucking alpha male bullshit. And I’m seeing myself as a teen being just like this kid and having this stuff done to me all the time. This guy’s there with his friends, the kid is alone and a little smaller, so this is how you’re supposed to treat him.

Then this hippy guy who’s been playing the goddamned flute on the other side of us turns to me and says, “Hey buddy. Just let it go. You’re the one who keeps talking about it. Quit bringing up the past. What’s done is done. Let it go. Just drop it.”

See now, I’m baffled that everyone is treating me like I’m the one who’s the problem, and not this guy.
“How would you like it if I sat right behind you, put a foot on either side of where you’re sitting, right here and here” I point to the space on his sides, “and then leans in and says in your ear – If you stay here you’re going to look like my girlfriend?! and then laugh about it?”

At some point in here Shaggy arrives and asks what’s going on. I describe it all to him. He laughs about it, then tries to get me to leave the situation with him because he sees I’m fuming. I totally refuse to leave and Shaggy walks away, the whole time trying to get me to go with him. Very stubbornly I don’t budge and tell him, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here. There’s more that needs to be said.” Mind you, still nothing has changed in the seating arrangement this whole time. My friend is still sitting in-between this stranger’s feet.

This hippy guy says something like “I wouldn’t mind. Maybe where these people are from that’s a normal thing to do, to be close to each other” or some shit like that. And the guy sitting behind my friend is saying “Buddy. Just drop it. I didn’t do it to be an asshole. I’m a nice guy. I’m a free-spirit…” [Yadda yadda]. I swear to you he said “I’m a free spirit” to which I responded, “Yeah, you’re all free spirits who just take and take and take.”

“Buddy. Just drop it. I didn’t do it to be an asshole. I’m a nice guy. I’m a free-spirit…” [Yadda yadda]. I swear to you he said “I’m a free spirit” to which I responded, “Yeah, you’re all free spirits who just take and take and take.”

At this point his buddy chimes in “Listen. He is my friend and he’s a nice guy with a sense of humor. You’re just misunderstanding…”
And I keep going with my “Yeah, he’s a really great guy who forgoes any sort of courtesy wherever he goes and just sits where he wants. And if someone’s there? Fuck him because he’s a free spirit!”

Let me make it perfectly clear here again that still no change has been made to where this guy’s sitting. His feet are still my friend’s armrests.
Finally there’s some quiet. I shut the hell up for a minute. They all just sit there. The guy at some point quietly moves his feet up so his knees are up against his chest, still quite stubbornly not moving from where he’s sitting – so as not to admit defeat I’m guessing.

I say to my friend, “Would you like to sit over here where there’s space so you don’t have to look like this guy’s girlfriend?” To which they all gasp, including the hippy guy, that I can’t just let it go. My friend does indeed get up and move and sit in the space next to me, and there’s more awkward silence.

Finally after a minute more the guy says to my buddy, “Look. I’m sorry if I disrespected you. I didn’t mean to. Now can we all just mind our own business now and drop it?” And my friend says “It’s cool. No problem.” And I say, “Thank you” and the guy says to me, “I’m not saying this because of you. I’m saying this to your friend!” I tell him, “That’s fine with me. It’s about time. I’m just trying to help you be better people. Be polite. And I appreciate that you apologized.”
They’re all – “Okay. It’s done. You’re cool. We’re cool.” And I wash my hands of the situation and move over to where I’m not facing it any longer.

Don’t get the idea from any of my self-debasing as I tell the story that I regret at all saying anything I said, or standing up for my friend.
They still stuck around and sat there for a while, until one after another, people I know at the Square were coming up just to say hi, or hang out, and they realized I knew a lot of people here. So after about 15 minutes of this they finally got up and left. We all shook hands, and my friend thanked me for sticking up for him. I asked him if he was at all bothered by the guy’s move, and he had a sense of humor about it. He even said he thought about lying back into his lap to pretend he was the guy’s girlfriend.
I, on the other hand, felt like I was in the fucking Twilight Zone being the only person there who saw the guy’s move as being as rude and obnoxious as it was. Hell, I’m still fuming about it the next morning.

See more on this story’s page of Amazing Strangers.


Welcome to NormalBob.com (the new Latest Updates location)

This winter has turned out to be the longest of winters I’ve ever spent away from the site. Not that I haven’t been able to keep myself busy, but it did in fact turn out to be a much needed break. Since October of 2000 I’ve not gone once without making some sort of content update at least every couple weeks. And on average, consistently updating it a couple times a week, for 13 years! But the internet’s changed drastically since then. One of the changes I’ve witnessed is there being less of a need for constant obsessive updates. Competing for continual content on the web is a no-win race, and can quickly lead to extreme burnout.

Happily, I can now confidently say that the struggle to maintain a significant flow of traffic is no longer necessary for me to maintain a stable income. The steady demand for Jesus magnets on store shelves has freed me from those worries. That’s what I’ve spent the last year working to guarantee. Cold calling stores, sending samples, and fulfilling orders has proved to be a very fruitful venture. Asking my Facebook friends for names of possible stores has done what in the past I thought impossible – A useful purpose for Facebook.

Have no doubt however that the site remains my pride & joy. I’ve got big plans for 2013. The one that’s in the forefront of my mind at this exact moment is the project I just put the final payment on this afternoon. The Prophet Mohammed Dressup magnet sets!

Mohammed Magnets & Postcards
Mohammed Magnets and Postcards ($30)

Seriously, the last time I felt this excited about a project was when I received the first Jesus Dressup magnet samples back in ’04. Earlier this week the Mohammed samples landed on my doorstep, and let me tell you, they are a sight to behold! If you see me on the street, feel free to ask to see it! I am one proud papa. And the new version of the online game (you’re dressing him in modern men’s fashions from Target & The Gap) is available for play immediately! There’s also Prophet Mohammed postcards available for purchase too. 100% legally mailable postcards that can be sent through the US Postal Service for just pennies a piece! No envelopes required so The Prophet’s image can be seen the whhhhhooooollle way! Across the nation and over oceans! I encourage you to get a pack for yourself to send your heartfelt wishes to friends, loved ones and anyone else you think might appreciate seeing the long lost Prophet. I’d also like to think that this latest endeavor will give my Hate Mail section a much needed shot in the arm. We’ll see what happens now won’t we?

All right Bob. Stop. I’m too excitable about all this right now. There’s more to talk about.
*Catches breath.*

There is, of course, another exciting year of Amazing Strangers at Union Square about to begin just as soon as the weather gets agreeable. Which reminds me – Shaggy is coming out with his own line of products this year too! His book, DEATH TO THE READERS, is available on Amazon for just $3, and available in print very soon. There’s also going to be tee shirts too, which if you’re an observant follower you’ll see Shaggy’s been wearing it in some of the videos that’ve been posted recently.

I have a list of art projects I’m working my way through too. As they happen you can rest assured they will brought to your attention. This leads me to the next important update. My Latest Updates section of the site is being archived for good, and this spot here at normalbob.com is where all things related to all of my sites will be posted. IMPORTANT: If you have a subscription to the old Latest Updates page you’re going to have to resubscribe at this one. The old one is no longer operational. Nothing will change about the layout at normalbobsmith.com, but I’ve come to realize that the web does demand that I present a format more friendly & familiar to today’s first time visitors. And here we are.

So please, click the Subscribe button on the right and stay tuned for another fun year from me,
Your only true friend,
Normal Bob Smith.

Drawing Yolandi

Yolandi Visser art
Yolandi Visser signature snarl portrait digitized in Adobe Illustrator

Earlier this year (Feb 2012) I drew this snarling picture of Yolandi Visser of Die Antwoord. I’m a big fan of the band and drawing her with that signature snarl came pretty easy. However, while researching images of her, I noticed a trend – Every artist who’d attempted, few drew her without the snarl. And the ones who tried with any sort of a normal facial expression failed (in my opinion) at capturing her unique likeness. They succeeded in drawing some girl who was perhaps trying to look like her, but none would leave you to confidently proclaim, “That is Yolandi Visser.”

In the months following that first illustration I’d randomly stumble across other caricatures of her where different artists couldn’t seem to agree on whether or not her eyes were too close together, or far apart. Is her nose big or tiny? Is her mouth little or huge? And for some reason these questions seemed to be plaguing the renderings throughout my searches at Google Images.

After realizing all of this, I assigned myself the personal challenge of capturing a recognizable likeness WITHOUT the snarl, or growl, or sneering. A normal facial expression that is clearly, unquestionably, a portrait of Yolandi.

After my first few stumblings I found myself running into these same corner-cutting solutions other artists before me had fallen into. Make her eyes farther apart and that’ll separate her from any other girl with that haircut. How about her eyes closer together? No, that’s not it either. Clearly a tiny little button nose is what makes her so adorable. Nope. Well, she doesn’t have a big nose either. How about no nose at all? Then the viewer’s eye can sort it out. Right?

Five illustrations later and I was getting nowhere. Simply putting sharp, shortened bangs on a strange looking little girl wouldn’t cut it. And I swear to you, with each sketch I put to paper she got uglier and uglier. It was terribly, terribly frustrating.

I put the project away for about a week before I could return to it again. I had to try something new. A new angle. That was the key.

Yolandi Visser art
Yolandi Visser Portrait digitized in Adobe Illustrator

It wasn’t until I stopped trying to draw her straight on and instead tilted her head to a 3/4 view that it started to come together. Her mouth protrudes, and that’s something difficult to convey head on. Her nose is neither big nor tiny. It’s flaired, and the nostrils are well defined, coming forward as part of her Gelfling-like mouth. Her eyes are certainly big, but not googly. They’re neither too far apart or too close together. That in itself is a curveball for a caricature artist. And as a girl who was walking behind me at the coffee shop pointed out, “She has Nordic eyes. Not Anime eyes. Think Bjork. Not Sailor Moon.”

It was the three-quarter view that gave me the base to sculpt the shape of her face around. It’s the first right thing that happened in this project. After I had a completed sketch, I scanned it into my computer and traced it in Adobe Illustrator. This is where I can cheat some more and do all the gradual tweaks that you miss on the first (my case, 7th) attempt. Tilting the eyes, adjusting the mouth position and the curve of the upper lip, then adding color, and the white lashes & eyebrows to drive it all the way home.

The whole idea behind this project was that the final piece could be used as a display model for a Yolandi Dressup game. And if you want to get a feel for the confidence level I had going into this, I wasn’t going to spend the $12 on the yolandidressup.com URL until it was successfully rendered in Illustrator.

The whole process took place over the course of a month (that doesn’t include any building of the dress up game, art for the clothes, etc.). I’m proud to say that I feel vindicated. I drew a perfectly recognizable illustration of Yolandi with a variety of facial expressions to choose from, allowing me to be the creator of the greatest ever Yolandi Dressup game on Planet Earth (at least at this particular moment).

I urge you to check out the fruits of my labors at YolandiDressup.com, and try out my latest invention – a Clothes Toolbar on the far right side of the page. It’s my solution to getting all the clothes you’d want in a dressup game without all the art having to be tiny. The game is loads of fun, and I hope one day to hear she agrees.