YES! Weekly’s Ten Best Street Philosophers
A UNCG alum who makes his living as an informal street vendor, Richard Currier has become one of the city’s best legal minds by availing himself of university libraries. After a recent run-in with Wackenhut security and the Greensboro Police Department at the Friendly Center Wachovia Bank, Currier sent us a 13-page legal complaint, which we don’t pretend to have fully digested, but we gather he would prove himself a formidable opponent in a civil lawsuit. “It is clear that ‘rent-a-cops’ are being used to create dilatory process, and avoid the protections and prohibitions offered by civil rights and public accommodation laws,” he argues. “How do I know? I spent three years in federal court suing South Carolina and Myrtle Beach for creating bogus ‘ex post facto’ municipal ordinances to intentionally avoid federal and state protections.”
We found David Loner, a junior at Greensboro College, reading at Tate Street Coffee on Thursday evening. For fun, Loner was perusing the Erich Maria Remarque classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Raised a Calvinist Presbyterian, Loner has immersed himself in a study of philosophy and theology. “The cosmological argument states that according to laws that are in physics there needs to be an all-encompassing God,” he says. “There’s an ontological argument that says, ‘Wait, look, why does there need to be a beginning of time? Why can’t there be infinity?'” He continues: “I would like for there to be a supreme being, but I don’t think it’s Yahweh. That would be illogical. It’s kind of like going through detox.”
“Red” is one of those people who doesn’t feel comfortable in confined spaces. “If I had a mansion I’d still be homeless,” he says. Frequently found in the Tate Street area, the NC A&T University alum who studied theater under Carolina Peacemaker publisher John Kilimanjaro is known for his thoughtful commentaries about the experiences of the poor, the workings of the justice system, the delivery of healthcare services and any number of other aspects of power relations. He disavows the honor though. “I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, that does not make me a philosopher,” he says. “That makes me a person who’s made a lot of mistakes.
Once a member of the US Air Force, Eric Vaessen has disclosed that he was once charged with guarding a nuclear facility in West Germany during the Cold War. He now holds strong antimilitarist and anti-imperialist views, while still expressing skepticism towards his friends’ anarchistic political stances. A man of athletic stamina, he made occasional trips to Chapel Hill and Charlotte on bicycle until he was injured in a traffic accident last summer. By Richard Currier’s account, Vaessen has been known to hold forth on the English writer Bertrand Russell.
The public library is the place where street meets intellect. Consider: elites now satiate their reading habits almost exclusively at well-appointed book superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. But for many months we would spot Glenn Thomas sitting in the same window at the Greensboro Public Library reading magazines with high-minded titles like The Nation, his long, brown ponytail and thoughtful eyes creating the very image of judicious consideration. We haven’t seen him lately, so we surmise that he’s found gainful employment or he’s relocated to another city that is more hospitable to the idled than Greensboro.
Bill of New York City
When I did an internship at the New York Coalition for the Homeless in 1995, I had a friend named Bill, whose last name has now deserted me. He was the prince of homeless geniuses. A native West Virginian with a thick gray ponytail, his mountain accent had long since deserted him. He rode the train down from Emmaus House in Harlem to our office in Lower Manhattan to repair our computers. Walking with him, I listened to him greet all the Muslim merchants with “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” and he claimed to speak several different languages. He also reminisced about participating in an aborted plot to topple Ethiopia’s Haille Selassie. From there, Bill’s past gets a little murky.
Once homeless, Paul Gydos managed through pluck, hard work and Christian faith to get into an apartment. Like many formerly homeless people, Gydos has proven himself a generous friend to others who are still struggling to get off the street. He’s an active church member with a keen interest in resources for cyclists and improvements to the city’s public transportation system. Talking with Gydos also reveals that his mind brims with ideas about entrepreneurialism and economic development, such as how private investment might be leveraged to save the Flying Anvil and how the restless Smithfield workers in Tar Heel might seize control of their collective destiny by managing themselves.
Formerly one of the guys most likely to be seen behind the bar at the Flying Anvil, Brian Crean has been enjoying some time off since the celebrated music club went under. Some of the hipsters who patronized his club may know that Crean writes philosophical essays, which he shares with a select few. “I try to read about two hours a day,” he says. “I read a lot of Emerson, Thoreau, Schopenhauer, and I just read Einstein’s biography.” Crean has little use for theory, professing an interest in “practical stuff that helps teach you how to live… with compassion, integrity and wisdom. Much of my philosophy is not very intellectual; it’s very grounded. If it doesn’t teach you how to live better, I don’t want it.”
William T. Brown
A graduate student in NC A&T University’s agri-science program, Brown was out in Alamance County delivering phone books on a recent Thursday, but he hopes to soon be teaching vocational agriculture to middle or high school students. We look forward to a weekly phone call from Brown, a friend of our paper, usually in response to a piece of environmental reporting by staff writer Amy Kingsley. He has several passions on this front. To wit: 1) “I stopped to talk to some people out here [in Alamance County]. Land loss is occurring in this part of the county. These people are extremely mad about it.” 2) “Whenever you find development like Fed Ex – any kind of pollutants that are draining from it – it has a direct effect on the water quality downstream.” 3) “Most concrete is impervious. Most construction uses impervious surface. Giant parking lots are the greatest cause of point-source pollution.”
Dixon is a regular participant in Greensboro Food Not Bombs, so that automatically gives him street cred. He’s also an anarchist, a teetotaler and an inventor. Known for his sprawling mechanical drum machine, he’s rolling out a new instrument for a performance at the Guilford College Alumni Art Exchange in February. “I wanted to be able to touch and see a notion of digital or mechanical music,” he says of the drum machine. “It’s usually invisible or behind the screen with lights flashing on an LCD screen. With that machine you use pegs to change the sequence. It’s still this disembodied musical instrument. It’s unlike a guitar, but it still has this tangibility.”