Saturday, May 09, 2009

Broadway Eric and the number 5 tattoo

As this was the first full week in which the weather did not threaten to return to the city with a chill, he thought it would be a good time to retake his favorite bench on Broadway.

"I like it here," said Eric, 32, who returned this week to his seat beneath a flag that flies the nation's colors. "It's a good place to people-watch."

Soon, he will bring out the congas upon which he will accompany other musicians during informal jam sessions in front of his bench during the day, or on weekends inside the drive through tunnel of the Adirondack Trust Bank down the block, which he said has some of the finest acoustics in town.

"This is a much different place than where I grew up in Newburgh," he said, recalling a main street that was defined by boarded-up windows.

"My dad moved here about 20 years ago, after he and my mom split up. I was 12 at the time. I finally moved here in 2000," he said.

"Here, it's nice. There's a real sense of community. Every day is different."

He was diagnosed with mental illness more than a decade ago, but with help of medication, he is able to live on his own and tend to his own domestic needs.

"I'm on disability, and I've been taking meds for about 12 years. I've kind of come to the realization that if I didn't take the medication, I wouldn't be able to live on my own like I do," he said.

The city has changed architecturally in the nine years since Eric has been here, but the self-professed people watcher has noticed other changes.

"When I first moved here, there were a lot more hippies and punk rockers. Maybe they all grew up and moved away," he said.

"Then in came the little hoodlums, the riff-raff. Them I didn't like, but now they've all gone somewhere else, or to jail," he said, rolling up his sleeves and displaying an extensive array of tattoos that he describes as the style of modern tribalism.

He said he regularly visits the tattoo shops in town, where every few months a new apprentice will be hired. In exchange for allowing the apprentice to try out some of their work on him, Eric has collected a lengthy string of tattoos, free of charge. "If it wasn't free, I wouldn't have so many of them," he said with a shrug, displaying colorful spider-like webs that cover both kneecaps, as well as a multitude of designs that cover his toes and fingers, arms and legs. In the center of his forehead, is the number 5.

"Why number 5?" he was asked.

"Because it's my favorite number," he said, "but my dad's not too fond of it."

"He doesn't like the number 5?"

"He doesn't like it on my head," he replies.

Thomas Dimopoulos, 5.02.09

Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos can be reached at

Battling the Bullies

By Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Post-Star, 5.06.2009

SCHUYLERVILLE, NY - It was 2003, and life was going pretty well for John Halligan.

The husband and father had a loving family, a home in Vermont and a long and stable career at IBM.

He was away from home, on a business trip in Rochester, when the phone rang in his hotel room that early October 2003 morning -- a call that shattered his world.

"It was my wife. She said, 'John, you have to come home. You have to come home. Our son is dead. Ryan killed himself.'"

Halligan's voice still cracks with pain when he tells middle-school students the story of Ryan's life and warns them of the pressures that contributed to his death.

"Somewhere around fifth grade, there seems to be a meanness switch that kicks in," Halligan told an auditorium of several hundred sixth- to ninth-grade students in Schuylerville during a recent visit.

"You need to be so careful in the way you treat each other online. It's so easy to hide behind a screen or a cell phone and say things you would never have the guts to say to someone's face," Halligan said. "In Ryan's case there was no black eye or anything physical. It was just words.

"I believe, in the end, my son died because of depression. And that depression was undetected. It started with the bullying."

As computer use has increased among children, so have instances of cyber-bullying. About one-third of all teenagers who use the Internet claimed they had been targets of annoying and potentially menacing online activities, according to a 2007 survey released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

"Bullying and cyber-bullying are different issues. Bullying can be more predominant with middle school students. Cyber-bullying runs the gamut; it's all ages," said Matthias Donnelly, superintendent of schools at Greenwich.

Children who show a sudden reluctance to use the computer, who avoid discussions about what they are doing on the computer, or who appear uneasy about going to school might be victims of cyber-bullying.

"The means of communication among students have changed so radically in the past 15 years," Donnelly said. "They communicate with each other in some immediate ways. The problem is the communication is very impersonal. Students might say things they would not say in person."

In Greenwich, the school responds to bullying by issuing an in-house, informal restraining order, with staff and parents made aware of students banned from being seen with one another.

Last year, a student-run club called Everyday Heroes sponsored the first anti-bullying week at Greenwich Junior/Senior High School, where club members visited seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms to speak about the effects of bullying.

In Queensbury, Middle School Principal Douglas Silvernell said that even though cell phone use is prohibited in the school, gossip and rumors can be spread by text messages or cell phone calls that students make on their own time.

"You still get some of the cyber stuff, as well as things like two kids popping off on Instant Messenger where someone spills the beans on somebody's secret," he said.

"Our guidance staff and our office staff have these conversations on a regular basis to try to teach students how to treat each other and interact with one another," Silvernell said.

In Queensbury, sixth-graders take part in a 10-week class on online safety that includes cyber-bullying. Students are also shown the video Halligan produced about his son, Ryan.

"We talk about bullying, but a big part of the problem that we don't talk about are the bystanders," Halligan told the students in Schuylerville.

"As a bystander, you're giving the bully power. When you're part of that group, you're part of the problem," he said. "Peer pressure is the most powerful tool we have, and we can use that in a positive way."

Ryan Halligan became the focus of another boy's bullying in fifth grade.

By the summer of 2003, just before Ryan entered eighth grade, he was on the computer all the time. Unbeknownst to his family, he spent the summer battling gossip and rumors being spread about him online. A few months later, he took his own life.

"My wife and I fantasize someone would invent a machine so we could go back in time. The harsh reality is you can't. There is no do-over in this story," Halligan said.

In his son's memory, Halligan lobbied lawmakers in Vermont and helped pass the state's Bully Prevention bill, which was signed into law in 2004.

Local laws lag far behind.

"Today, New York state is one of the few states in the country that does not have a bullying protection law," Halligan said.

New York's shortcomings are also highlighted by the watchdog organization,, an advocacy group that gives 38 states "passing grades" for their anti-bullying laws. New York is one of a dozen that received a failing grade.

Halligan said he is committed to talking to students to make them aware of the dangers of bullying and the importance of their own lives.

To the students in Schuylerville, he said, "Don't ever believe, even for a second, that if you were gone you wouldn't be missed."

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