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sense issueone:broken

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance.

‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,

The sound must seem an echo to the sense. -Alexander Pope, “Sound and Sense”

I Hate Perfume................................................6 “It was a scent that spoke to my young brain of remembering what was and realizing what will come. It was the sleeping scent of spring now frozen beneath the snow. It is a time to rest, a time to remember and to look forward.” By Aiya Ono

Braille Tattoo.................................................12 The Braille tattoo is administered by embossing the surface of the arm with a word or message in Braille by surgically implanting stainlesssteel beads under the skin—thereby creating a body modification with the means not just to decorate but to be touched and read. By Catlin Myer

Anamanaguchi...............................................14 “Most of my Game Boys are in pieces. Though we don’t actually do any circuit bending, we modify them to make them sound better for shows. The same way you would buy nicer strings for your guitar or put resin on your violin bow.” An interview with Anamanaguchi by Jessica Griffiths

Yes, She Can.................................................18 “Hello, I am Jean Griffiths and I am here to help.” It was maybe a bit too loud and too English—you know, very Vanessa Redgrave—but I didn’t care. I was excited. By Jean Griffiths

The Itch.........................................................22 M. was willing to consider such possibilities. Her life had been a mess, after all. But the antidepressant medications often prescribed for O.C.D. made no difference. And she didn’t actually feel a compulsion to pull out her hair. She simply felt itchy. By Atul Gawande

Good Americans............................................25 I lifted my foot slightly above the surface to see an atom bomb cloud of red explode beneath the surface. It was the most immense pain I had ever felt. By Robyn Fukumoto

Stargazer’s Disease.......................................34


A test: Tilt your head back so I can drip this topical anesthetic in your eyes. Drop. Drop. Now place your head in this metal holster, resting your chin here. I’m going to clip your eyelids with a little pincher to hold them open, OK? By Mark Polanzak

Rejuvinated...................................................37 “People are more and more disconnected from nature. They have iPods or laptops or video games or televisions—a host of distractions from being present in the natural world.” An Interview by Chelsea Beasley




What perfumer would ever name their store after their hatred of perfume? Christopher Brosius—the proprietor of CB I Hate Perfume in Williamsburg— has done just that. He’s also created thirty of the most bizarre unisex scents you’ll ever hear—and smell—in your lifetime. Despite the store’s name, Brosius seems to have an obsession with smell and memory, most of his perfumes having a personal story associated with them. Each perfume is creatively composed of “accords,” ingredients that capture a single smell: Smoke House, Roast Beef (yes, it smells like meat), Baby Aspirin (think Flintstones Vitamins), Rain, Soaked Earth, Banana Daiquiri, Wet Stone, Ink, Old Leather Gloves, Ocean Breeze, Locker Room, Meadow, Bakery, Laundromat, and countless others.


“One can’t posses the present

but one can possess

the past.”

When I opened the door of CB I Hate Perfume, the “woo’s” and “ah’s” of customers spilled out into the street. Clearly they were enjoying Brosius’ injunction to “Smell anything and everything.” The customers—closing their eyes, inhaling deeply— were absorbed by the scents contained within the hundreds of tiny vials that lined the walls. I couldn’t resist either. Bypassing scents with names like Piggy, Faggot, Wild Hunt, Memory of Kindness and Eternal Return, the first one that ignited that certain something in my brain—like Proust having a bite of madeleine—was Greenbriar 1968. Brosius describes it as a memory of his grandfather—the smell of his grandfather’s stone house in the country and the saw mill where he worked. It’s composed of Sawdust, Fresh Cut Hay, Worn Leather Work Gloves, Pipe Tobacco, Dirt and just a tad of Axel Grease. For me, it was earthy, all olives and soil—I was transported from the glass and concrete of Williamsburg to some sylvan farm deep in the country. As I inhaled the scent, I immediately felt a sense of comfort and relaxation. Wanting to explore other scents, I looked at the various labels of the other perfumes on the shelves. Winter 1972 caught my eye. How would Brosius recreate the smell of winter, more than thirty years ago? With great anticipation, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to Mr. Brosius’ childhood memory. Brosius remembers he was sitting alone at night in a field one day in De-

cember. There were no tracks in the fresh snow other than his own and no sound but his own breath. The air was perfectly clear and nothing was visible except the small cloud of his own breath between him and the infinite stars. He recalls all of them being visible, sparkling silently against the endless blue of space. “I cannot remember anything that is as beautiful as the sight of the sky of that winter night,” he says, “I recall clearly the scent of that winter air. It was the blue frozen scent of fresh snow and silver stars. It was a scent that spoke to my young brain of remembering what was and realizing what will come. It was the sleeping scent of spring now frozen beneath the snow. Winter is still like that for me. It is a time to rest, a time to remember and to look forward. Winter is a quiet time to watch the stars and have hope.” It seems that even the perfumer who will turn anything into an accord despite his talents, could not turn the stars into a scent--instead, Winter 1972 is composed of a Field of Untouched New Fallen Snow, Hand Knit Woolen Mittens Covered with Frost, a hint of Frozen Forest, and Sleeping Earth. To me it smelled more like refreshing winter air and flowers. Ever since I had heard about CB I Hate Perfume, there was one scent that I could not fathom--that is, perhaps Brosius’ most controversial perfume, In the Library. I myself, love spending tranquil afternoons in libraries, especially on sunny days when the sunlight seeps in through the windows. On second

: Formula Sawdust Fresh Cut Hay

+ + Worn Leather Work Gloves + Pipe Tobacco and a healthy amount of Dirt + Faint whiff of cotton overalls covered in Axel Grease

(Smell) thought, rainy days are calming as well--no matter what the weather is like, there is nothing quite as soothing as knowing that you are in a safe enviornment, surrounded by countless books that contain an infinite amount of knowledge and entertainment. It was easy to imagine that soothing feeling I experience when I am in a library, but this was not the case when thininking of what it would smell like. I examined the formula before smelling the scent, which consisted of: Ink of Signed First Edition of one of Mr. Broius’ favorite novels, Russian & Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth, and a hint of Wood Polish. Eager to reveal the mystery, I took a whiff of the perfume--a dense and rich smell of ink chemicals startled my senses but was quickly soothed by a refreshing after-shave-type smell. For all of you who are still unconvinced that ink smell can be pleasant to wear, I say with certainty that it will leave you smelling like the sexy intellectual alla Albert Camus or Simone de Beauvoir. But if you’re more of a poet, who likes to ponder life’s mysteries while experiencing the vast wonders of nature rather than sitting indoors with the philsophers, then M2 Black March may suit you better. Inspired by a poem by Stevie Smith, this scent will leave you smelling tres sexy and fresh as it is composed of Rain Drops, Leaf Buds, Wet Twigs, Tree Sap, Bark, Mossy Earth--all the elements that signal the begining of Spring. If you want something that really reminds you of spring though, there is the pefect scent for you. There’ve been many perfumes created based on floral smells. Perhaps this is the reason the Georgia O’Keefe inspired scent, To See A Flower, at first glance was not particularly interesting to me. Expecting little, I quickly and carelessly took a sniff, when I was dazzled in amazement--What separates CB’s perfume from sthe rest is the hint of bitterness one recognizes as the smell of the stems; making it fresh, organic and most of all an eye opening scent. We were so impressed by Mr. Brosius’ talents to create a world of wonders, that we asked him if we could create our very own perfume for this particular issue,“Broken”. He kindly agreed, being the kind gentleman that he is. This perfume, appropirately titled Broken by Sense Magazine x Christian Brosius is limited to one hundred, each editioned, so be sure to make your way to the gallery before they sell out for good! Broken is composed of: Skinned Knees, Soaked Earth, Rain, Ink from Love Letters, and Crushed Flowers.

: s ula orm F 1. Field of Untouched New Fallen Snow + Hand Knit Woolen Mittens Covered with Frost + a hint of Frozen Forest + Sleeping Earth 2. Ink of Signed First Edition of one of Mr. Broius’ favorite novels + Russian & Moroccan Leather Bindings + Worn cloth + Hint of Wood polish 3. Rain Drops + Leaf Buds + Wet Twigs + Tree Sap + Bark + Mossy Earth + the faintest hint of Spring 4. Delicate spring flowers (hyacinth, daffodils, jonquils & crocuses) + Green Shoots + Wet dirt + a bit of Moss 5. Skinned knees + Soaked Earth + Rain + Love letters + Crushed Flowers 6. Coppertone 1966 + North Atlantic Blend (Wet Sand, Seashell, Driftwood and just a hint of Boardwalk)




Sure, tattoos look cool—but what if you can’t see? Last year, Klara Jircova resolved that problem in a school art project by creating a “touchable ‘tattoo’ for blind people.” The “Braille tattoo,” as bloggers have appropriately termed it, is administered by embossing the surface of the arm with a word or message in Braille by surgically implanting stainless-steel beads under the skin—thereby creating a body modification with the means not just to decorate “but to be touched and read.” Jirkova, a 24-year-old art student at the University of Berlin, LAST YEAR, KLARA JIRCOVA is not blind herself, but, had been exploring disability through art in her “body technology” course when her proposal on the Braille Tattoo CREATED THE FIRST was posted on the school’s website. “This was really meant to be used TOUCHABLE TATTOO. by blind people,” Jirkova insisted, “[and] not something that was supBy: Catlin Myers posed to become trendy.” Nevertheless, bloggers and tattoo enthusiasts, alike, have taken to Jircova’s idea. Hundreds of blogs posted the photoshopped picture included with the proposal—prompting several more copycat images to appear across the Internet. While the concept is original, the method itself isn’t entirely new. Many have been quick to point out its similarities with scarification, a practice that originated centuries ago in sub-Saharan African cultures. Traditional scarification uses fishhooks to pierce an pull up the skin, while soot is used as the sterile “implant” to create a touchable, raised shape. While some African cultures continue to practice it, the needle-and-ink tattoo has become much more prevalent worldwide. It’s not clear how many people have received Braille implants. Jirkova says she probably won’t get one herself (she has no tattoos) but has three friends who want one. “Implants are a little problematic in the Czech Republic,” she says. “It must be a doctor who does it, and it’s not so easy to find one who is interested.” In the United States, sub dermal implants—small subcutaneous horns on the forehead, for instance—have become more popular as a mode of body modification in recent years, but are still fairly rare. Among the blind, there is disagreement about the satisfaction a Braille tattoo might provide. One visually-impaired blogger who goes by Etana wrote that the idea was “not only sensical but sensual in my book.” But others point out that only about ten percent of visually impaired people read Braille. “At the level of universal design utopianism, it’s fraught with problems,” says Stephen Kuusisto, the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening, who has been blind since birth. “Having said that, I agree that we should all have the 12 right to touch each other and read a message.”

Right: One of the many imitation tattoos that have appeared on flikr. Botttom: Jircova’s photoshopped “braille tattoos” in her submitted proposal






anamanaguchi By: Jessica Griffiths

While others were only dreaming in 8-bit music, Anamanaguchi, an 8-bit power-pop band from New York, were cracking open everything electronic to find the sounds inside. 8-bit genre of electronic music uses sound coding from 8-bit video game consoles. Known to the pop culture-savvy as NES, or as the Nintendo Entertainment System to the rest of the world; think less Wii and think more Gameboy and the old Nintendo, that gray rectangular thing with a flip-open front for cartridges. What some would consider an “old” or “broken” technology is, for others, the foundation of one of the hottest scenes in electronic music today. The band put out its first album, Power Supply, in 2006.



Sense recently had the chance talk with Ary Wanaar, a guitarist and programmer for the band. Sense Magazine: How long have you guys been making music together? Ary Wanaar: Pete [Berkman] started Anamanaguchi on his own in 2003 and since the band has seen a couple different line-ups. The current line up—with Luke [Silas], the drummer as the most recent addition—has been around since last January. SM: What drew you to 8-bit music exactly? And what are your influences? AW: In my case, I was so overwhelmed—and frankly sick of—the sounds of modern digital electronic music. When I first heard chip music it was almost a mind-fuck: I had heard those sounds before throughout my whole childhood, yet it was such a breath of fresh air. Hearing these old sounds in a new way was amazing. Anamanaguchi’s influences? Chromeo, Cornelius, Rob Crow, The Cure, Cymbals, Dragonforce, The Fucking Champs, Goblin, Hella, Hi-Standard, Jackson Five, Justice, Lightning Bolt, My Bloody Valentine, Ozma, Queen, Ratatat, Sunny Day Real Estate, Shiina Ringo, Tim Follin, The Unicorns, Weezer, Zombi.... it goes on! SM: What’s your process? How does the music get made? AW: Pete does all of the NES tracking and brings it to the band and we piece it together. We let the songs kinda sit and evolve and make many, many small changes. And! I wrote a track on Gameboy for

the new album. SM: How do you acquire the sound code for the music? And what happens after that? AW: The music is composed in Nerdtracker, an NES tracking program, and is then burnt onto a chip that is put into a hacked Donkey Kong cartridge. It could be any game, really. We actually take the game chip out. SM: Do you ever take apart your own Game Boy? AW: Yes I do. In fact, most of mine are in pieces. Though we don’t actually do any circuit bending, we modify them to make them sound better for shows. The same way you would buy nicer strings for your guitar or put resin on your violin bow. SM: What do you guys think of GarageBand and software like it? I read that there’s an Atari Sings patch on GarageBand with “Magical 8-bit” setting. It’s sort of strange that even this so-called “forgotten technology” is being modernized; once anyone can do it, does that change anything? AW: GarageBand rules! It’s by no means a great program, but in the right hands you can do awesome stuff with it. Most of the built-in sounds suck. There are many ways to emulate the sounds of older gaming hardware. After all, it’s only square waves and crushed white noise: the basis of many popular modern digital sounds. However, I believe you’re voiding the point of making chiptunes if you don’t work within the constrictions of the older systems. For example, on Game Boy (using LSDJ) you only have four tracks to work with: two pulsewave channels, one wav channel and one noise channel. If

you’re using the “Magical 8-bit” setting, you can make hundreds of square waves. Which compositionally isn’t any different from any other computer program—and is quite frankly annoying. SM: I heard you guys used to actually have the Nintendo consoles with you on stage? What made you switch to laptops? AW: We still use the NES on stage! However, it’s as old as we are, and hasn’t held up as we have. Part of the appeal is how unreliable the hardware is, but when it’s too unreliable, we opt for computer. SM: Do you think your involvement in the Blip Festival these past few years has helped you gain attention? AW: The Blip Festival helps the 8-bit movement as a whole and vice versa. Every artist has contributed to its growth ever since it started in 2006.


SM: When’s the new album, Dawn Metropolis, coming out? Can you tell me anything about it? AW: Hopefully it’ll be out by the end of this month. Our goal is to have it up before Blip Festival this year, which runs December 4th to the 7th. Dawn Metropolis going to be a completely audio/visual album, streaming online. It’s being released by the Normative Music Company, an awesome new company that release individual projects in new and different ways. SM: What’s next for the world of electronic music? What would you guys like to experiment with? AW: EVERYTHING IS NEXT. Hopefully people will keep broadening their interests and influences to create more new electronic music. And we would like to experiment with killing musicians that make obnoxious, played out music.



CAN By: Jean Griffiths


Jean Griffiths is an 84-year-old blind woman who volunteered for the campaign to elect Barack Obama in Los Angeles. I’ve been a political junkie most of my 84 years and I have never been so excited by a politician as I have by Barack Obama. I may be blind, but I can still see hope. That’s what he is—he’s pure hope. And I may need a wheelchair but I had to get out there. I had to help. I’ve been in LA how long now? Since Ken died, since I left London—must be five years. And frankly I was losing hope. The politics have been just tragic and pathetic. But now this. It’s been one of the most exciting things I’ve ever lived through and—believe me—I have lived through plenty of exciting things. So a month before the election I asked Theresa to wheel me down to the campaign office on Wilshire Boulevard. And the moment we went in

was no time wasted on anything—and she greeted us. She took my hand and she told me her name was Kareema and she was South African and she said “We got Mandela in and we’re going to get Obama in.” I told her that I could work the phones and that Theresa would dial the numbers. We were a team. So Kareema sat us down at a table with a long list of names and numbers and Theresa dialed and I talked. All the people we called, they were Democrats and for those first few weeks they were all in California. My job was twofold: I had to make sure they were voting early and, if possible, I had get them to come in and help make calls. “Hello...I’m Jean...I’m calling on behalf of the Obama campaign.” I loved doing it. And people

through those doors—what a buzz in that place. It felt like, “I’m home. This is where I need to be.” Maybe it sounds corny to you, and it’s hard to describe, but it was an extraordinary feeling. And Theresa, she’s much younger than me, of course, but she felt it too. Exactly the same. For a moment I just basked in it. The energy was amazing. You could feel the sense of purpose, the urgency. The air was thick with it, I could smell it. And all very positive. And I just announced, “Hello, I am Jean Griffiths and I am here to help.” It was maybe a bit too loud and too English—you know, very Vanessa Redgrave—but I didn’t care. I was excited. And this woman came over to us—that was the thing there, they were just so organized, there

were so nice, all of them. People would say things like, “You’re doing a great job, keep it up.” I was elated—I was doing something important again. Some people would want to talk—I think it was because of my English accent. We were getting close to the finishing line but there had to be no slackening in our effort. If anything we had to work even harder. But sometimes I’d hear snatches of conversation like “Keep your eyes on North Carolina,” or “If Florida comes over then we’re on our way.” Two days before the election they gave me an invitation to come to the Hyatt Hotel in Century Plaza to watch the results come in with other campaign workers. So on election day I worked a couple of final hours on the phone, snatched some rest and went to the Hyatt with Theresa and my son,

“The air was thick with it, I could smell it.”

“I may be blind, but I can still see hope.” Alan and his wife. It was eight o’clock at night and it was already completely crazy. We only just got in through the cheering crowds before the fire marshals said no more people could come in. The ballroom, where we were, it was completely packed and I was in my wheelchair. And there was a group of young people near me talking and shouting in German and the only words I could understand were “Barack” and “Obama.” And there was someone jumping up and down the whole time—thump thump thump thump. And one man who could only say “Yes we can...yes we can...”


And then, when we were certain, the celebrating. It was one of the most wonderful nights in my life. The only thing like it was V.E. Day in London in ’45. That feeling of hope and community. Good winning out over bad. A fresh start. Pride. What a night. The next day, when Theresa came to the house, she told me she felt strange, almost like she was sorry it was over. So now we’re trying to come up with something comparable to do. But what?




Condensed and edited from the June 30th, 2008 issue of The New Yorker By Atul Gawande

It was still shocking to M.

how much a few wrong turns could change your life. She had graduated from Boston College with a degree in psychology, married at twenty-five, and had two children, a son and a daughter. She and her family settled in a town on Massachusetts’ southern shore. She worked for thirteen years in health care, becoming the director of a residence program for men who’d suffered severe head injuries. But she and her husband began fighting. There were betrayals. By the time she was thirty-two, her marriage had disintegrated. In the divorce, she lost possession of their home, and, amid her financial and psychological struggles, she saw that she was losing her children, too. Within a few years, she was drinking. She began dating someone, and they drank together. After a while, he brought some drugs home, and she tried them. The drugs got harder. Eventually, they were doing heroin, which turned out to be readily available from a street dealer a block away from her apartment. One day, she went to see a doctor because she wasn’t feeling well, and learned that she had contracted H.I.V. from a contaminated needle. She had to leave her job. She lost visiting rights with her children. And she developed complications from the H.I.V., including shingles, which caused painful, blistering sores across her scalp and forehead. With treatment, though, her H.I.V. was brought under control. At thirty-six, she entered rehab, dropped the boyfriend, and kicked the drugs. She had two good, quiet years in which she began rebuilding her life. Then she got the itch. It was right after a shingles episode. The blisters and the pain responded, as they usually did, to acyclovir, an antiviral medication. But this time the area of the scalp that was involved became numb, and the pain was replaced by a constant, relentless itch. She felt it mainly on the right side of her head. It crawled along her scalp, and no matter how much she scratched it would not go away. “I felt like my inner self, like my brain itself, was itching,” she says. And it took over her life just as she was starting to get it back. Her internist didn’t know what to make of the problem. Itching is an extraordinarily common symp-

tom. All kinds of dermatological conditions can cause it: allergic reactions, bacterial or fungal infections, skin cancer, psoriasis, dandruff, scabies, lice, poison ivy, sun damage, or just dry skin. Creams and makeup can cause itch, too. But M. used ordinary shampoo and soap, no creams. And when the doctor examined M.’s scalp she discovered nothing abnormal—no rash, no redness, no scaling, no thickening, no fungus, no parasites. All she saw was scratch marks. The internist prescribed a medicated cream, but it didn’t help. The urge to scratch was unceasing and irresistible. “I would try to control it during the day, when I was aware of the itch, but it was really hard,” M. said. “At night, it was the worst. I guess I would scratch when I was asleep, because in the morning there would be blood on my pillowcase.” She began to lose her hair over the itchy area. She returned to her internist again and again. “I just kept haunting her and calling her,” M. said. But nothing the internist tried worked, and she began to suspect that the itch had nothing to do with M.’s skin. Plenty of non-skin conditions can cause itching. Dr. Jeffrey Bernhard, a dermatologist with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is among the few doctors to study itching systematically (he published the definitive textbook on the subject), and he told me of cases caused by hyperthyroidism, iron deficiency, liver disease, and cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Sometimes the syndrome is very specific. Persistent outer-arm itching that worsens in sunlight is known as brachioradial pruritus, and it’s caused by a crimped nerve in the neck. Aquagenic pruritus is recurrent, intense, diffuse itching upon getting out of a bath or shower, and although no one knows the mechanism, it’s a symptom of polycythemia vera, a rare condition in which the body produces too many red blood cells. Though scratching can provide momentary relief, it often makes the itching worse. Dermatologists call this the itch-scratch cycle. Scientists believe that itch, and the accompanying scratch reflex, evolved in order to protect us from insects and clinging plant toxins—from such dangers as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue, transmitted by mosquitoes; from tularemia, river blindness, and sleeping sickness, transmitted by flies; from typhus-bearing lice, plague-bearing fleas, and poisonous spiders. The theory goes a long way toward explaining why itch is so exquisitely tuned. You can spend all day without noticing the feel of your shirt collar on your neck, and yet a single stray thread

poking out, or a louse’s fine legs brushing by, can set you scratching furiously. But how, exactly, itch works has been a puzzle. For most of medical history, scientists thought that itching was merely a weak form of pain. Then, in 1987, the German researcher H. O. Handwerker and his colleagues used mild electric pulses to drive histamine, an itch-producing substance that the body releases during allergic reactions, into the skin of volunteers. As the researchers increased the dose of histamine, they found that they were able to increase

morphine, can cause itching), increased skin temperature, nervous scratching, or increased sweating. In M.’s case, the internist suspected tricho-tillomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which patients have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair. M. was willing to consider such possibilities. Her life had been a mess, after all. But the antidepressant medications often prescribed for O.C.D. made no difference. And she didn’t actually feel a compulsion to pull out her hair. She simply felt itchy, on the area of her scalp that was left numb from the shingles. Al-

the intensity of itch the volunteers reported, from the barely appreciable to the “maximum imaginable.” Yet the volunteers never felt an increase in pain. The scientists concluded that itch and pain are entirely separate sensations, transmitted along different pathways. Scientists eventually discovered distinct nerve fibres specific to itching. Other researchers traced these fibres to the spinal cord and all the way to the brain. Examining functional PET-scan studies in healthy human subjects who had been given mosquito-bite-like histamine injections, they found a distinct signature of itch activity. Several specific areas of the brain light up: the part of the cortex that tells you where on your body the sensation occurs; the region that governs your emotional responses, reflecting the disagreeable nature of itch; and the limbic and motor areas that process irresistible urges (such as the urge to use drugs, among the addicted, or to overeat, among the obese), reflecting the ferocious impulse to scratch. But M.’s itch was confined to the right side of her scalp. Her viral count showed that the H.I.V. was quiescent. Additional blood tests and X-rays were normal. So the internist concluded that M.’s problem was probably psychiatric. All sorts of psychiatric conditions can cause itching. Patients with psychosis can have cutaneous delusions—a belief that their skin is infested with, say, parasites, or crawling ants, or laced with tiny bits of fibreglass. Severe stress and other emotional experiences can also give rise to a physical symptom like itching—whether from the body’s release of endorphins (natural opioids, which, like

though she could sometimes distract herself from it— by watching television or talking with a friend—the itch did not fluctuate with her mood or level of stress. The only thing that came close to offering relief was to scratch. “Scratching is one of the sweetest gratifications of nature, and as ready at hand as any,” Montaigne wrote. “But repentance follows too annoyingly close at its heels.” For M., certainly, it did: the itching was so torturous, and the area so numb, that her scratching began to break the skin. At a later office visit, her doctor found a silver-dollar-size patch of scalp where skin had been replaced by scab. M. tried bandaging her head, wearing caps to bed. But her fingernails would always find a way to her flesh, especially while she slept. One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, “this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.” She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.’s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.

“At night, it was the worst. I guess I would scratch when I was asleep, because in the morning there would be blood on my pillowcase.”

Good Americans. By: Robyn Fukumoto


The hydraulic

pump of our tour bus broke with a kachunk.

Discombobulated kids spilled awkwardly out of the collapsed door, snapping pictures like tourists and gathered in lopsided circles dramatically recapping the commotion to one another. We would just have to walk the five extra minutes to the village at the end of the gray-brown road settled with dust. “Translate this,” the chief seemed to be saying. An unfamiliar tongue filled the silence. Our tour guide stepped forward and began to recite. “I know you are the good kind of Americans,” he said with a look of apprehension clouding his face. He glanced back at the chief. “I know you are the good kind of Americans,” he restarted hesitantly, “so you will remember us and send us things even when you get back to your homes. So many Americans, we write to them and they do not respond. But you Americans are not like them, I know you Americans will remember to send things to us.” My eyes wandered to the aluminum roof and sloppily nailed wood holding up the walls. From staring out the windows of the bus for long enough, I knew that these materials were luxuries compared to the thatched palm fronds that made up the roofs of most houses here. It would be safe to assume that Americans built this compound for them, and here was this chief, slouching haughtily on his raised chair, with the gall to not only ask for but to expect more. His words seemed to imply we ought to feel guilt. As a ‘good American,’ in the pit of our stomachs, we ought to feel an obligation towards this village. We were rich, they were not, and thus out


of that sin of being well-off, privileged Americans, we were to return to the States and promptly send this village in the middle of Ghana a pity check. Before the chief had taken another breath, we were swamped by a fleet of adorable wide-eyed children grabbing at our hands and holding papers with pens saying, “Address? Present?” The water scared me a little. After getting three ridiculously painful shots injected in my arm to build my immunity against water-borne diseases, which in turn were followed by a detailed explanation of the top five causes of my impending death in Ghana—all surrounding the water—it was pretty clear I was not to hobnob with the water in Africa. But then, here was this massively seductive waterfall-lake combination too beguiling not to interrogate. I would just get my feet wet. The sharp edges of rocks, exactly the same as the ones on the road underneath the immobile tires of our now long forgotten tour bus, dug into my naked feet. As the last possible deterrent in my quest towards sheer escape, I was forced to ease painstakingly slowly towards the basin’s edge. The water closed in around my body. Staring down the massive falls, I just had to maneuver my way under it and slap my hand on its rocky backside—double dare. Call it pure childish amusement— or psychosis—I started towards it. White mist blurred my vision and stung my eyes, while the pounding sound of rain and hollow reverberation from the rock behind it gave the illusion of stepping into static. The sheer mass of the water weighed down my head. My head was bowed, but not humbled, and my hand stretched towards the mossy rock—I had won. As I pulled away from the pounding falls, a large rock impeded

“were ...we to

return to the States and promptly send this village in the middle of Ghana a pity check


my path. Eager for a quick solution, I clumsily maneuvered my foot over quite a large rock that had been mutilated into unforgiving, pointed edges by the force cascading from above. I knew something was wrong before I brought my leg down to the murky bottom. Sharp pains exploded from under my left foot, and when I made my way into shallower water, I decided to investigate. I lifted my foot slightly above the surface to see an atom bomb cloud of red explode beneath the surface. It was the most immense pain I had ever felt. Part nausea, part fuck-me-I-just-cutmy-foot-in-dreaded-African-water, I stood peglegged on the rocky shore as blood hemorrhaged messily from my toe. It was the most vibrant shade of red I had ever seen, many shades more intense than the lazy crimson that oozes out of household cuts and clots and dries quickly into a deep maroonishbrown. The red-red blood pumped into a puddle on the gravel—the pain was severe, but it was the color that held my attention. It reminded me of the red of a patent leather stiletto, but even that couldn’t being to compare. Staring at the puddle, my mind wandered. How long before my blood stained this gravel permanently? How long would a piece of me be present in this gravel in this place? “Why would the female slave prison be worse than the male slave prison?” the girl next to me raised her hand to ask. “Menstruation,” he said matter-of-factly. The boys of our group looked down and blushed, as the girls exchanged disgusted looks, and promptly walked back out of the female slave yard for a more pleasant ambiance. “They would be locked up in here for weeks without leaving,” he

“I would just

get my feet


continued for those of us still in the moldy, dingy communal holding cell of Elmina Castle, a former slave port. Since Ghana was on the west hump of Africa, he explained, it was one of the premier locations for the slave trade. He motioned towards a small barred window on our right. “This is the last look most slaves would get before getting shipped off.” We took turns squeezing in a look. It was a gorgeous view. The faded white of the castle’s façade only added to its charm. A cool breeze from the eight-inch window of sparkling, undulating ocean caressed my face. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. Fantasy had gotten the best of me. The stoically silent guide at the back of the group interrupted sharply, “Some of us will never forget. And that is the truth.”

Some “ of us will

never forget. And that is the


My tour guides made it their responsibility to carry me the three-fourths of a mile back to the park entrance. On their backs, I bounced like a child, every step sending shooting pain up my leg as my foot jerked violently on the uneven trail. Neither of these little men were much taller than I—and when you barely hit 5’3”, you start to question whether you should feel big or they should feel small. At one point, the slightly larger of the two politely asked me how much I weighed. “120ish?” I guessed. His eyes got wide and he started to laugh heartily. More than slightly offended, still in immeasurable pain, and now feeling self-conscious about being ‘the fat girl’ on this man’s back, I asked, “Why, how much do you weigh?” “61.” “Is that in kilograms?” “Yeah.” “Do you know how much it is in pounds?” “No.” Sweat poured down his face and onto my awkwardly entwined arms. We were a little more than half-way there and he was exhausted. The other smaller guide could only carry me for short periods of time—though the one carrying me now probably weighed more than I, the smaller one definitely did not. Each time he hiked me up on his back, I stuck so far up over his head that I had the distinct feeling that I would soar clear over him and onto the banana leaf-ridden trail in front of us. “I really appreciate you doing this for me. And I do apologize for being heavy.” He laughed with kind eyes, pausing to bump me up higher on his back. “This one time, I had this really overweight Dutch tourist hurt herself on the longer trail. That was a challenge.” Eventually we were running—the tall one with me securely on his back, the short one behind us. The pain in my foot had dulled, freeing my mind to drift above us and look down at this sad sight. I was wearing one sneaker, the other foot wrapped in scotch tape and napkins from our lunch. We passed by large-bottomed women

bent over gracefully washing their clothes in the stream. They called out to my guide. “They say they are so sorry for you,” he said. My cynical New York mind would not accept this. I smiled politely. “No one cares that much,” I mumbled to myself under my breath. After the women was a group of kids. “They say they are sorry for you,” he again repeated. “What?” Just as I had opened my mouth, another voice came from behind the cacao trees. Being amongst his people, my guide seemed to gain strength. Where his pace had slowed earlier, he was now running determinedly. More people, more gracious shouts of sympathy—we had finally arrived. Older women in full skirts and headscarves of kente cloth sat in blue plastic chairs gathered in a semi-circle under the cool shade of the canopy made out of trees. When I arrived, there was a small bustle, and one of the younger women got up and offered me her seat. “I’m so sorry for you,” she said. I believed her. I don’t remember where everyone else went when they took me to the hospital. From the outside, the sign with removable letters made me feel like I was about to be saved at a Southern

Baptist church. I was wheeled down into wide concrete hallways between buildings broken up by dusty glass jalousies—it kind of reminded me of my elementary school, which would have been comforting had it not been a hospital and had my foot not been gashed open. I can’t speak to torture much, but of all places you don’t want a needle stuck, I can vouch for that fact that between your toes is one of them. It had just turned to dusk, and the two exposed light bulbs on the ceiling lit the room dimly. A doctor in a white coat and latex gloves came in. “Stitches. Three.” My foot would have to be numbed first, so when my toe would be sewn up like a rag doll, I wouldn’t feel the pain. It was impressive how many times that needle penetrated my toe for how much I still could feel it. It was more than uncomfortable; it was purely repulsive. The sickening sensation of feeling everything—every in and out of the needle, every string being tied, every alcohol-doused gauze strip being plunged into the wound, but without the immediate pain—made me squirm in an anxious detachment. It was my toe, it was my foot—but it wasn’t. It was our last day in Ghana, and I was drugged: malaria pills, painkillers, antibiotics, sleeping

pills, and one small blue one I forgot the function of but still took anyway. I sat, eyes glazed, flip-flops worn between the wrong toes, people-watching through the windows of the bus, oily from excessive American sunscreen. One lone billboard for condoms in the middle of nowhere—‘Champion, agye bebie! Condoms are now available everywhere!’ Merchants selling me trinkets, talking on their cell phones, when their water pipes are so mold-ridden and disintegrated that water needed to be boiled every time before drinking. Listen, you need to get your priorities straight. I wanted to get on my high horse and condemn this act of pure materialistic ridiculousness, but as I fingered my new, ultra-thin, hot pink, unnecessary piece of machinery with the built-in capacity for bullshit, I felt the hot sting of hypocrisy. Like a mother shaking my ostentatious finger, I could see the words forming, “These are not for you. These are for grown-ups. You’re just not ready for this yet.” Truth be told, coming in as tourists, we knew nothing about their culture, their government, their way of life, and each time we, as Americans—there goes that dirty word again—feel the superior need to tell people how to live their lives our way, adding in futile ‘necessities’ to the laundry list of things they need to be civilized, we skew their perceptions further and further away from what they really need. Surprise, surprise, after colonization, after false ownership, after slavery, we are still screwing over their nation—who exactly should I make that guilt check out to? “I give you a present,” a bald-headed little girl said to me, draping a cloth she hade made across my shoulders, “Now, you give me a present.” Her hands were outstretched forming a cup with her two palms. What was I to say, no thank you? To this day when I speak about Ghana, I tell people it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Which it was. But my memories of it are one of the most confusing, touching, overwhelming, and genuine collection of emotions I have. I find them difficult to revisit. My home in America—a twenty-four hour trip away—has displaced me so far from Ghana, even my memories feel removed. The crescent shaped scar at the base of my big toe has healed and almost completely disappeared, making it all too easy to forget, to turn it into a humorous semi-fictional story of a time not so long ago in a place that’s so far away.



B efore my dad died when I was seventeen, there was a chance, for a month or so, that I would be dead first.

All of a sudden I couldn’t see right. One day I was sitting in the back row of the classroom, note taking from the chalkboard up there at the front, passing notes at a safe distance from the teacher’s eyes. The next day, I was somewhere in the middle of the room, squinting, although squinting accomplished very little. Soon enough, I was in the first row and couldn’t read the damn words on the board. My mom and dad were informed by lab-coated men that there was more than a small chance that their son had a tumor right behind his gray eyes. I was what? 12? 13? when this all went down. Some of the sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes of the events that followed the tentative diagnosis are not going to leave me until I get my fair share of dementia down the road. The maybe-brain tumor took me on my first subway ride in Boston. Me and my mom and dad were underground, on a packed Orange Line train, headed to the Mass Eye and Ear Clinic. I remember precisely where we were going because I recently saw the Mass Eye and Ear Clinic and finally figured out that we were not, in fact, back then, headed to the MessiahNear Clinic on my first subway ride. What great names for horrible places! We visited the Floating Hospital, which delighted my mind – I wanted it to actually be a ship, but it’s just a concrete slab with sick people trying to get well and healthy people trying to get them well, we hope. We visited Children’s Hospital, which I had hoped looked exactly the same as a regular hospital but was staffed entirely by elementary schoolers running all over with stethoscopes around their necks. And Mass General, which I thought was the exact center of the galaxy, wherefrom all mass and matter emitted. A test: stick your head here, then we’ll enclose it with a white globe. We’ll put straps on your neck,

DISEASE By Mark Polanzak

so you won’t move your head. Hold this clicker. Now click when you see a tiny white-hot dot of light move into your field of vision. Do this for, I don’t know, an hour? A test: Here, give me your arm. Inside this hypodermic needle you will find a fluid that lights up your insides like toxic sewage. You will vomit on the floor right here in the office. We’ll clean it. You’ll vomit again. You’ll be super confused. Now get on in this tube. Stay there for, I don’t know, an hour? A bonus: when you go home, pee. Your pee is going to look fucking awesome. Call your family in for them to see this hyper orange, otherworldly pee, but don’t expect Mom or Dad to enjoy it (you won’t realize it at the time, but it reminds them that you are being tested for an abhorrent eye disease). Your brother won’t care at all. He’ll tell you it’s gross, because he doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s listening to a lot of Nirvana and Pearl Jam right now, and would really appreciate it if you all just chilled and left him alone, all right? But you two aren’t close yet. You will be after Dad dies, though. In a weird way. Then, in a good way. A meeting: The doctor was fat and bald and the room was actually dark, not like a doctor’s office at all. I was in the special chair in the middle of the room, parents behind me in less special chairs, and the doctor wheeling around in front of me in a slightly special chair. The doc was telling it straight. “What do you want to be when you grow up, Mark?” he asked. “A radiologist,” I said. I liked hospitals and XRays. “Hmmm,” he said. “I don’t know about that.” Then the doc started to explain to my parents— talking right over my head to them—that their son’s vision was just plain awful vision, and it would only get worse. “It’s not horrible, though,” he said. “He may not be the architect on the site, because of the eyes, but he could be laying brick.” My father laughed, shook his head, and whisked me and my mother away. It took months—that doctor with the architect line hadn’t diagnosed me right. The doctor with the toxic fluid didn’t either. Nor did the MRI dudes. Nor the globe and dot brigade. The man who diagnosed me right had to perform this: A test: Tilt your head back so I can drip this topical anesthetic in your eyes. Drop. Drop. Now place your head in this metal holster, resting your chin here. I’m going to clip your eyelids with a little pincher to

hold them open, OK? Now, I’m going to adhere clear electrodes onto your eyes, like contacts with wire sprouting out. Keep your eyes straight ahead: watch this TV screen that will be showing snow, for, I don’t know, an hour? Do nothing else. The nurse will moisten your eyeballs. Then, days later, in a regular doctor’s office, “You have Stargardt’s disease!” “Stargazer.” I said. “It’s a one in 100,000 shot. Macular degeneration. Your parvomagnular cells in your fovea have died and because of—” This was lost on me. The analogy that I give people today goes like this: think of seeing, of vision, of taking in visual stimuli as being in a movie theater. You have the world and its light, which are the images from the projector. You have the lens over the projector that focuses the light onto a screen, which acts just like the lens on your eye, focusing the light and images from the world onto your retina. Your retina is the screen. In the center of the retina is the macula. Now, go to a movie theater, and, before the film starts, rip apart the center of the screen. You have Stargardt’s disease. All I have is peripheral vision. When I look right at something, it vanishes. The cells in the center of my eyes are dead. They do not register any stimuli. But when I’m looking around, reading a book, or checking out ladies at the beach, I don’t see a nothing in the middle of everything. My brain has ceased to interpret information from those cells, because they have been crying wolf for so long now: it tricks the rest of me into thinking that my eyes have a full field of vision, even though they don’t. You see? I can force my brain to listen (look at) what is missing in the center, though, when I want to. All this does is create a floating blob of nothingness. I do this for fun. In all the fiction classes I’ve taken, I have been told to write about Stargardt’s disease. Create a character with it. Give him a dilemma. Make the effects of the disease inform the dilemma in enlightening ways. But that’s impossible. It’s too perfect. The metaphors too easy. The disease so rare that its appearance in a story would be blatantly conceptual. Red-flag-artifice. No one would believe it, care about its many meanings in my life. A test: Create a character. Give him this weird eye disease. Now give him a dilemma.



By: Chelsea Beasley

Ten years ago, Brook Park was a vacant lot with nothing but pitbulls and drugdealers. Harry Bubbins and the South Bronx Community have rebuilt it into an organic garden and community center, brimming with activity and a whole lot of veggies, proving that just because something is broken doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Sense had the chance to sit down with Harry, the park’s founder, and some of the park volunteers, Tanya, Emily, Kalu, and Nathan, to learn about how it started and what it is that they do. It is constantly being rejuvenated—and there are still more plans for the future.


“There’s also a lot of opportunity for free play where young people can interact with their own environment without a fixed outcome” Sense Magazine: How did Friends of Brook Park start? Harry Bubbins: We started Friends of Brook Park in the 1990’s. This lot was just an overgrown, abandoned lot with weeds, trash, and lots of drugdealers and pitbulls. Now, we grow food and climb trees here. There’s also a lot of opportunity for free play where young people can interact with their own environment without a fixed outcome; they can create their own imaginative designs.

HB: We have a community garden section where we grow vegetables-local schools, after school groups, or classes manage or adopt a bed. They plant vegetables and get to see what the whole life is like in a garden.

Emily: I come here on Wednesdays, usually, and there’s a group of high school interns who come. So we spend some time sitting around the fire and talking with each other, but we also spend a lot of time working-chopping wood, we’ve cleaned out and planted two beds, we’ve been working on the SM: What is so important about having green space compost, we walk the labyrinth together-so it’s a in this particular area? combination of really doing work together and also just spending time together, and talking about what HB: In general in Western Society, people are more it means to be out here. and more disconnected from nature. They have iPods or laptops or video games or televisions-a host of distractions from being present in the natural Kalu: The work my fellow teammates and I acworld. There’s concrete and asphalt and glass tow- complished was so refreshing. Driving on the way ers and banks everywhere. But some communities to get to the park we were passing convenience have even less access to green space than others, stores and old apartment buildings. As Brook Park and the South Bronx is disproportionately undercame into sight, we all knew where our destination served. There’s also no official New York City was. It sticks out like a magnificently sore thumb. park in the entire South Bronx waterfront which is I nor many of my teammates expected to find such over 100 acres serving hundreds of thousands of beauty and serenity in such a neighborhood. When residents. We have nothing comparable to Battery we entered it this morning it was a diamond in the Park or Hudson River Park or Brooklyn Bridge rough but as we left, it shone brighter than ever Park in the South Bronx. before. There were still sticks in the ground and rocks in piles as we left but we all left with an unTanya: It’s really hard in the city where all kids rivaled sense of accomplishment. The work we did have for their playground is concrete, so I really today made such an impact on the little garden. We think that it’s a big deal for kids to be able to have moved logs and rocks, as well as relocated mulch a garden and spend time outside, growing food and woodchips. Others built new areas for vegand learning about little animals. Its important for etables and herbs to be grown and new tool sheds. people in the community to realize that this is here Thanks to us there are wood benches by the fire, for them to use. and borders along the plants to protect them from animals SM: What kinds of activities and programs do you have?

Nathan: We use the park to have activities-playing music, signing petitions, bringing the people together. Brook Park is very important-its probably one of the most important organizations in the South Bronx. HB: In the future, we look forward to tearing up the asphalt, planting more fruit trees, creating a natural labyrinth, and outdoor eco-classroom for the local schools, and daylighting our underground Brook to create a natural water feature.

Brook Park in 1992

Kalu: Brook Park has changed for the better, and thanks to our contribution, will keep changing and become better and better.

If you don’t have the time or room in your tiny New York apartment to grow a garden, you can still contribute to the community by cooking some simple dishes made from organic vegetables recommended by Mr. Bubbins. The prices listed are local farmer’s market prices, to promote a healthier and better life for everyone.

Brook Park in 2008


Baba Ghanouj

1 1/2 cups chopped Parsley$1.50/bunch 1 cup chopped Green Onions, $1.00/bunch 6 diced Tomatoes $2.50/lb 2 Tbsps Mint $1.75/bunch 3 TbspsGarlic $1.25/head 1/2 cup Medium Bulgur $1.20/lb 6 Tbsps Frankie’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Sicily, Italy), Frankie’s Spuntino, $25/liter Juice of 6 Lemons $1.86/lb Sea Salt, Marlow & Sons Pepper, Sahadi’s

3 Eggplants $1.60/lb 3/4 cup Tahini, Sahadi’s $4.35/jar 3 Tbsps Frankie’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Sicily, Italy), Frankie’s Spuntino, $25/ liter 1/2 cup juice from Lemons $1.86/lb 1 Tbsps Garlic $1.25/head Sea Salt, Marlow & Sons


BLIND TASTING New trends in conceptual dining have

By: Catlin Myers

restaurants turning off the lights.

A new twist in conceptual dining has restaurants turning off the lights and focusing on the food. The new fine dining fad, which originated in Switzerland, is placing diners in blindfolds or blacked out rooms, and being served, in some cases, by a wait staff equipped with night vision. The idea is to eliminate the visual distractions often prevalent, and put the emphasis back on the food. The first “blind dining” restaurant, Blindeuh, opened in Zurich with less trend-focused intentions. The Blind-Liecht foundation, a support group for the visually impaired, set up the restaurant in 1999. The goal “was creating jobs for the blind and handicapped,” said Arian Schaffner, the manager at Blindekuh. The restaurant, which is often booked up months in advance, serves tradional Swiss cuisine in total darkness, allowing patrons to experience fine dining as a visually impaired person might. The concept has since taken off in Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, with each new location adding its own variations of sight deprivation. In New York’s West Village, a group called Dark Dining Projects takes over the small CamJe Bistro monthly to serve blindfolded diners dishes, like pesto-crusted chicken and salmon, allowing foodies to enjoy cuisine without distraction.

Other restaurants, like Beijing’s The Whale Inside Dark Restaurant, aim to do more than heighten the senses. Blind dining is used as a way to lower social inhibitions among the typically “shy” Chinese, according to Chen Long, owner of Whale in the Dark Room. “People feel a lot more comfortable when they can’t be seen by others” he says, adding that it is a good way to “break the ice” for China’s growing Internet blind-dating community. Despite its culinary and social benefits, blind dining has its drawbacks. Food requiring sharp utensils, like steak, is eliminated for obvious safety reasons. One patron complained, that she was distracted more by the noise than the food, “I kept wondering about the conversations and reactions of the table next to me, and couldn’t enjoy the food.” Others find the amount of trust given to the restaurant staff daunting. Without sight, a diner must be completely reliant on the waiter for guidance on how to eat, and what they’re eating. Not that everyone considers this a bad thing. “It may seem, at first, a recipe for disaster,” says the manager of London based Dans le Noir, Nicholas Chartier, “[but] when you cannot see, you depend on the waiter to guide you, so a special relationship develops… It makes you rethink everything.”



Sense Magazine  

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offens...

Sense Magazine  

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. 'Tis not enough no harshness gives offens...