Phil Howard at Castilian Communications

An orange flower placed in a scafolding near 19th Street and Broadway; close to where I worked back in 1991. (Photo by Jack Szwergold; Taken April 10, 2017)

Phil was a co-worker or mine at Castilian Communications. I worked there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were a publisher of European graphic novels and such that they translated into English. It was a small scale operation that operated out of the owner’s loft on East 19th Street near Park Avenue South in Gramercy. The pay was decent and it was better than working at a fast food joint or some other menial job.

While my job was mainly to deal with customer queries as well as process and pack orders, Phil’s was far more editorial in nature. He was British and hired around 1991. He literally sat near the boss’s desk and did copy editing. Phil’s desk was barely a desk and was almost comically small, but it was still a higher station in the office food chain than mine.

In many ways he was roped off from the rest of us workers in order processing. But since this loft was an office, and storage was often just piles of boxes in the middle of the loft, I interacted with him more than most people in the office on a daily basis.

Meaning I got to have a lot of deep, bullshit conversations with him. One of the first deep, bullshit conversations I had with him was about chimps in zoos.

I think he was reading a newspaper one day and there, right on the cover, was some article about animals being kept in unpleasant conditions in zoos.

I think I said something along the lines of, “That’s horrible. They should make the zoos more hospitable to animals and less of a prison for animals.” Phil’s face got red and he just blurted out, “Animals shouldn’t be in zoos to begin with!”

We talked back and forth about this and I agreed that zoos weren’t pleasant places, but I contended that most people would not even know — or care — about animals at all if it weren’t for zoos. His contention was we lived in a modern world, zoos were barbaric p, and people can just learn about animals for books, video and even the burgeoning world of computer multimedia. He was especially protective of chimps, “Chimps are very smart creatures and should not be locked up in cages,” he blurted at me.

It was hard to disagree with that so we mutually agreed to disagree and the workday went on.

Another time we talked about Gerard Depardieu. He was splattered all over the covers of newspapers because of an interview that resurfaced from 1978 where the actor talked about his rough childhood when he was 9 years old and said something along the lines of, “I had plenty of rapes, too many to count. But it was absolutely normal in those circumstances. That was part of my childhood.”

“What a creep,” I said.

“It’s no big deal,” Phil blurted back at me without missing a beat.

I was kind of shocked and basically confronted him and said he admitted to being a part of gang rapes as 9 year old and that’s fucked up.

“So what,” he nonchalantly responded with a shrug. “It happens all the time in Europe. That’s the way it is over there.”

I wanted to point out how he was defending the rights of animals to not be locked up in zoos a few weeks back and was now excusing gang rape of humans but didn’t want to go there. He was higher up on the office totem pole than me, and a rape debate during the workday would not be a pleasant thing to get into.

So I let it pass and went on with the workday.

Months later we were at some after work party in Williamsburg. It was a Friday night and this was one of the first times I had ever gone to Williamsburg for some hipster party and such. So it was novel and fun despite the fact Williamsburg was kind of dumpy and creepy at the time.

I showed up a little bit late, so everyone else was a bit more lit than me. So I was able to sit back, drink a beer and watch people more inebriated than me interact.

At some point Phil sat next to me and started talking to his wife and others about some supposed snuff videos they spotted at local video stores in the neighborhood.

“Snuff videos?” I asked.

“Yes, Jack,” Phil leaned Ed in and said to me, “Videos where people are killed onscreen.” He took a chug of his beer and continued, “It’s usually homemade stuff. Mostly women tied to chairs in crappy rooms being slowly killed by someone.”

I sat back, stared at him and asked, “Really? You think that it’s real?”

To which Phil responded, “Who knows. Maybe it’s fake. It looks real enough!We rented a few videos out a week or so ago and it was cool.”

“It was great!” his wife leaned over and blurted out at me.

I winced my face a bit and then Phil asked, “You live over in the other side of Brooklyn, right?”

“Yup!” I responded.

“Well, you know maybe you can give me a list of gritty video stores that might have more videos like that,” he said. “Most of these things are homemade so other video stored should have other snuff videos.”

I nodded and said, “Sure.”

Never mind that I genuinely never saw such videos at any of the video stores near me in Brighton Beach or in any neighborhood nearby. I nodded in agreement to end the conversation and went back to doing what I was there to do: Drink beer and eat snacks on a dumpy couch in a dumpy apartment somewhere in Williamsburg in 1991. To party.

When Monday came around I tried to figure out what I would say to Phil. I mean even if I knew video stores near me that rented creepy stuff like that, I didn’t want to share them with him. I didn’t consider his request “slumming” at the time, but in retrospect that clearly is what it was. The guy fetishized death, but I was also fetishizing the unfamiliar neighborhoods of others in New York; the places a guy like him would consider “edgy” and “rough.” Places where he can parachute in, get some “edge” and leave.

But as the day went on Phil never touched on the subject or asked me about the list of video stores. As the week passed, he never asked about it at all in anyway even when we interacted about other things. Either he forgot about it or just didn’t care, but it was all a relief.

The week simply went on as it usually did: We worked and did our jobs and that was that.

An acute perception does not make you crazy. However, sometimes it drives you crazy.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

#HimToo: The Online Movement Pushing Dangerous Myths About False Rape Allegations

Moral Harassment Healing Series: Admitting That Evil People Exist

On Trying to Not be Ethnic

A New Project Aims to Make Residential Care More LGBT-Friendly

A thank you from our December grantee, Not In Our Town

Affirmative Action in US, lessons for India on reservation

MoSoul Is Fighting For Black Freedom And Liberation

Angry Young Trans Thoughts

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jack Szwergold

Jack Szwergold

An acute perception does not make you crazy. However, sometimes it drives you crazy.

More from Medium

Whoopie Goldberg Was Partly Right.

Growing Friday

The Court drowned democracy

Notes On A Very Bristish Scandal