Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Please note- this is writing in a raw form. It mostly is just my notes written in a coherent form. There is a lot to be expanded on, but this is a basic run down of my New York experience.


After getting off a bus from La Guardia, I transferred twice on the subway, entering the mad rush of New York City. I got off on a stop in Brooklyn and the streets below me on the subway platform looked kind of rough.

I found the apartment building that housed the New York Initiative (NYI), a small but very dedicated group of crime fighters. After sending a text, I was greeted by Zimmer. Zimmer is the President of the Heroes Network forum, one of two major RLSH online meeting spots. I met him in September at the Superheroes Anonymous 3 conference, although I didn’t talk to him extensively there- there were a lot of people in attendance.

After unloading my gear, Zimmer and I jumped on a subway to head to NYC Resistor, self described as:
“ (A) hacker collective with a shared space located in downtown Brooklyn. We meet regularly to share knowledge, hack on projects together, and build community.”
Zimmer has a lot of involvement with hackers, and has spoken about RLSHs at two different hacker conventions, including one in Austria.

“I think hackers and RLSHs have a lot in common in what they do, but a lot of people in this community probably don’t see that.” Zimmer told me as we walked up to the collective, housed on the third floor in a giant warehouse.
It was “craft night” at the collective, and was also open to the public to use free wi-fi. That’s the main reason we’re here- internet service in the NYI building is kind of dodgy, a lot of times you have to sit in the hall of the apartment building to get it.

We returned to the NYI neighborhood and get some food at the Crown Fried Chicken restaurant located directly below the subway platform. The outside of the building is weighed down heavily by giant loopy graffiti. Inside the small space, I ordered fried chicken from a very stern looking man, peering at me warily through a small square in the bullet proof glass.
Crowd Fried Chicken

We brought the food to the roof of the NYI building, which looks just like a set from a Batman movie. It has great views of Brooklyn, and in the distance, the skyline of Manhattan. The NYI has actually used the roof top for sparring matches, adding to the adventurous mystique of the setting.
NYI rooftop

A documentary crew has been working to get footage of the NYI, and have sent some documentaries for suggested viewing, so we watch one of those and then Zimmer sets up on air mattress on the floor of his room for me to crash on. The rest is good- it was a long day of airplane, bus, subway, subway, walking, subway, subway. I kicked back, listening to the noisy Brooklyn traffic on the hot street below.

Friday morning I met NYI team member Tsaf briefly on her way out to work. She is short and muscular and has a very calm, intelligent face. I did not see too much of her over the weekend. My understanding is that she is a somewhat private person, so I don’t want to ramble on too much. I know she is an important part of the team and is trained in the Zen arts and has known her roommates/ team mates Z and Lucid for some time. There is a meaning behind her name, same with Z (and I would guess Lucid- Zimmer is actually a part of his real birth name) but again, these things have personal meanings so if they want to share those stories publicly; I’ll leave it up to them.

Tour of NYI
The NYI is unique in that they are a team of crime fighters that actually lives together- most other “teams” don’t even live in the same city.
Zimmer and I were catching up on the internet in the hallway when Z showed up, longboard in hand. Z wasn’t wearing his mask, of course, and it’s always interesting to see what someone looks like without their mask on for the first time after months of communication online with a masked avatar. In this case, Z looks a lot like I expected, although I thought maybe he might have broken teeth or some wicked scar. Not the case.
The man known as Z

Z gave me a tour of the apartment, which includes a small, narrow bathroom, a small kitchen, and three bedrooms. Tsaf has her own, so does Zimmer- furnished with a desk and huge piles of books everywhere, many on computers and computer programs.
Z and Lucid share a room with two mattresses on the floor, although Lucid often stays elsewhere- he sometimes will be gone a week straight. Their room also has a boxing bag set up on and stand and a weight set. The four also share the apartment with Lucy, a kitten they found on the street, barely alive but now healthy, purring and rubbing up against body armor.

The center of the apartment is the living room, and this is where you realize that the NYI’s lifestyle revolves around what they do. Many other people I’ve talked to keep their masks and gear in their closet, or a trunk under their bed, or in a makeshift HQ in the basement. In the NYI living room, though, almost everything is related to what they do, all arranged in a very compact space.

A dry erase board lists some NYI goals for the next year (example: contact Death’s Head Moth about getting more butcher mail- a stab proof, lightweight chainmail.) A map of the subway system, the periodic table of elements, and a mirror also hangs on the wall- the mirror has a quote written on a piece of paper attached to it that reads “what can be broken, must be broken.”

There are a number of shelving units in the living room, and no couch, just a collection of chairs. One rack holds arm gauntlets, gloves, a heavy cop flashlight, sunglasses, walkie- talkies, binoculars, batons, and a battle ax. Some metal wire crates are set up as bookshelves with a number of graphic novels, DVDs, and crime fighting and martial art books, with two sheathed katanas lying on top. There is a workbench and shelves near by containing a mess of tools, building materials and body armor. A mannequin head holds Z’s mask, glaring empty eyed and surveying the room. A “NYI ledger of expenses” lies next to it.
Shelf of gear

The perimeter of the room is lined with dried, upside down roses. The sole window in the room looks down on a tiny square of a courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the towering apartments.

Z shows off the NYI collection of weapons, however 99 percent of this collection can’t be used on the streets of New York. He hands me a collection of blunt weapons stored in an umbrella rack of pain- a couple of giant ax handles that can be used as clubs, as well as a simple every day cane. He shows me a pair of stun knuckles, that make a loud zapping sound, and a pair of spiky medieval looking hand guards. They are from China, and look like something Genghis Khan would use to brawl.

A package on the floor has been shipped out by Victim from Washington state. Victim acts as the group’s gadgeteer and he sent them a sampling of polycarbonate squares to test their durability against a variety of weapons. Z shows a panel with a few minor dents in it- the poly carbonate has withstood and NYI attack against it using a variety of knives and blunt instruments.

Show and Tell
When Zimmer and I were at the NYC Resistor the day before, one of the people there mentioned the next evening would feature an inaugural “Show and Tell” night. Zimmer, Z, and I took the subway over and attended to take part.
Zimmer had compared his type of movie to The Matrix and Z’s as Fight Club. I usually don’t use movies as metaphors to people, but in this case I think that description seems to fit it. Both Z and Zimmer have a subversive quality to them, Zimmer modeling himself as a cyber rebel, and Z as a mysterious underground fighter. Their difference in approach leads them to not always seeing eye to eye, but such is the case with many team mates.

At NYC Resistor, fifteen or so people had gathered, showing off things like a portable UV light and a self balancing unicycle (which I later tried and nearly died on). Zimmer took the stage and demonstrated his “North star non lethal backpack.” The Northstar is a powerful but compact LED light, clasped to the chest with backpack straps. The light is blinding and used to daze attackers. When he demonstrates it outside, it illuminates the sky like a batsignal and shines on buildings like a spotlight. The power source is batteries in the bottom of the small backpack, which also contains a first aid kit, CPR mask, and handcuffs. Zimmer also explains the premise of the NYI, and then calls Z up.
Zimmer at NYC Resistor

Z says he has armor “like a poor man’s Iron Man” and shows off his arm bracers, made of stainless steel and leather and held together with truck ties. He then puts on his new mask, to the gasps of some of the audience members. He turns on a LED light attached to the side of it. The mask does have some resemblances to the alien of Predator, prompting one audience member to ask if he also had a missile launcher built into the shoulder.

“Yes I do.” Z joked. The two had drawn the curiosity of the audience. One guy approached them afterwards and said he’d like to be involved in tech support. Another young woman pulled them into a back room to do an impromptu interview for her podcast on Do-it-Yourself culture called "Electric Sheep."
(Note- will post a link to podcast when it’s available)
Distinguished guest lecturer Z

Suspicious Characters
After getting off the subway, we’re stopped by the cops. I’m carrying a metal, beat up, spray painted suitcase and the cops tell me to place it on the hood of the car and open it slowly. I do and the cops paw at Z’s arm bracers inside.
“Skateboard pads.” Z tells them, which the cops accept at face value. One of the officers is a perfect stereotype of a NYC officer- short and plump, Irish looking features, completely sarcastic, and acts like whatever we’re telling him must be a lie. The other officer is of Middle Eastern descent and trying to be a good cop- warning us about the dangers of the neighborhood we’re in.
“Let me ask- yous guys got any drugs onya?” One of the officers asks. We say no, but they collect our IDs and pat all three of us down anyhow.
“You look just like a buddy of mine.” The white cop says. “That guy loves ta smoke weed.” I shrug my shoulders.
The cops say bluntly they pulled over because we were white, specifically saying “skin color.” The only reason for whitey to be in this neighborhood, they say in so many words- is to buy drugs, and if that isn’t our game we had no reason to be there. The cops are surprised when Z and Zimmer point out that they live a block away.
“In fact we’re trying to do something kind of like a community block watch or safety patrol.” Zimmer says.
“Block watch?!” The white cop says “Naw, furgetabout that- the guys in this neighborhood, they’ll shoot you and no one will know who did it.” They talk about the “no snitching” street rule so prevalent in areas like this.
After the police let us go, with more warnings about the neighborhood, we walk towards NYI. We encounter a large group of people watching Avatar in their small driveway on a TV outside. They are clearly no fans of the police and talk to Z and Zimmer about the police hassling people for no reason.
It’s not the first time the two have been stopped by the police- Z was stopped in a late night walk through the park. Another time, the NYI has out on patrol. Zimmer was talking to Staf through an earpiece. He stopped in an abandoned lot to urinate, and as he exited, he ran into the NYPD. The cops thought he was a lookout for graffiti artists, and asked who he was talking to. Zimmer pulled an idea from the HUH?! File and told them he was listening to a Spanish podcast and was mouthing the words. The cops carried on.
Zimmer demonstrates the Northstar

Attempted Bait Patrol
Z bounces from foot to foot, he ducks and weaves and releases a barrage onto his punching bag- Left! Left! Right! Left! Right! Left! Right! Working the bag, delivering haymakers to the sternum and solar plexus. He keeps swinging as he loudly plays some heavy tracks on a stereo from a group called Penthouse(aka 50 Tons of Black Terror) his fists connecting so hard that he leaves deep marks on his hand. Elsewhere in the apartment Tsaf is meditating and Zimmer is assembling his gear and getting into his jeans with built in knee pads and calve high canvas shoes, along with his signature shirt that has the binary code for the letter “Z” down the side.
This is what psyching up for a patrol is like for the NYI. As Z begins strapping on his arm bracers, knee, shin, and ankle guards, I ask what he is feeling as his puts on his gear to get ready to go out on patrol.

“I depends who is around. I know you’ve seen other people do this before. It’s almost like a holy, sacred feeling for me.” He says. After his leg and arm gear, he puts on a vest of butcher mail and a lightweight bullet proof vest, then covers these up with a brown leather sleeveless zip up.

After an hour or so of preparation, the team is ready to go out for a “bait patrol.” The way it usually works is that Z skates ahead first on a longboard. Next is the bait (described as the “nucleus” of the patrol) usually Tsaf or Zimmer. In tonight’s case it is Tsaf, wearing a bright white dress, heavy eye makeup and carrying a bulky purse. The bait walks, trying to lure predators looking for someone vulnerable and is followed about a block behind by someone else. Zimmer is that person tonight. Lucid, who is missing tonight, would act as a runner, skating back and forth between the group. Tsaf is watching for Z, Zimmer is watching for Tsaf, and Lucid would be watching everyone. Communication is vital- all parties are connected by phone.

It looks good on paper, but we encounter some problems. First, I’m trying to keep up with Z, but my board is much slower than his speedy compact longboard. I also have trouble taking the first corner we encounter, raising concerns about Krulos and his board. Although the board rolls fine on the laid back, wide avenues of Riverwest, it is getting more scrutiny in Brooklyn.

Z asks Zimmer to get a pliers so we can loosen the trucks on my board. Everyone is on edge about the break in momentum. After it’s determined the board can hang, we set off again in formation. There is trouble again, though, the phones aren’t working properly and the parties can’t hear each other. There is much frustration all around, and Z decides to call the patrol off.

This may sound like a failure, but I have much respect for the decision. If things aren’t going right and you have a bad premonition of the direction something is going, I think the best thing you can do is call things off before they get worse.
Zimmer decides to walk around for awhile solo. Back at NYI, Z is obviously not pleased but remains calm and fries up burgers for us.


I got a better chance to ride the board Saturday, joining Z as he made several stops on errands throughout Brooklyn. We stopped in Williamsburg, a recently gentrified part of Brooklyn, skated around and got hotdogs from a street vendor. We also stopped at Z’s skateboard shop where he got his board and gear. I got to try out a pretty sweet board that I totally would have bought if I had the funds.
We stopped at Z’s day job [DELETED] and then skated to the bar where Lucid works security and where Z and Lucid spend a lot of time hanging out. Pretty cool place, good people hanging out and a small venue in back where bands play. Reminds me of one my fav places to catch music here in Milwaukee, the Cactus Club.

It’s here I met Lucid for the first time. Very tough looking, built guy but very friendly. I talked to him a bit about the book he was reading Born To Run. Shoes
We ate a bunch of tater tots, checked out one of the bands, and played pool. After a couple hours, Z asked if I wanted to skate around a bit and so we hit the pavement.
After awhile, we spotted an intoxicated young woman stumbling and tripping over her high heels walking down a somewhat abandoned street.

“Let’s do an impromptu bait patrol. You fall behind and I’ll skate ahead.” And so we followed the woman for several blocks, trying to be inconspicuous. I hung way back and gave Z a thumbs up periodically. The woman got to the bus she was stumbling toward.
We skated back to the bar, but Lucid had already left, so we took the subway back. The subway was crowded with an intoxicated group of people singing and clapping loudly.

Washington Square Park

On Sunday, the main event was a meet up in the afternoon at Washington Square Park, where Dark Guardian invited people to meet for the first time and discuss ways to organize group patrols.

Dark Guardian led a well publicized effort to confront drug dealers hanging out in the corners of the park. He actively approached the dealers and told the dealers to leave the park, first alone and then joined by varying sizes of other RLSH joining him. The dealers responded angrily, some left and some didn’t, one flashed a gun in his waistband to the group.

Today, these shadowy corners of the park are closed off to construction. It is a warm but cloudy afternoon, bringing in occasional rain to the park, where a Science fest is going on. The meet up spot is by the giant arch gateway of the park, guarded by two statues of George Washington.
Dark Guardian is joined by a fellow named Mike, who lives in Manhattan and works security at clubs, he’s interested in the whole concept, but hasn’t adopted a code name or persona.
Mike, The Conundrum, Dark Guardian

Next to show up is The Conundrum, of New Jersey. Conundrum is dressed plainscloth- jeans, glasses, and a t-shirt advertising the punk band Bad Religion. His costume is a modified gray hoodie with holes cut for goggles with gives him the appearance of a steampunk frog. He is going to med school, is interested in charity work and occasionally patrols New Jersey. Patrolling alone unnerves him at times. Jersey can be a rough place, and he recalls a fitting homemade street sign that read “whatever you’re looking for- you passed it.”

Hunter and Blue
appear. Hunter (note- not to be confused with another RLSH of the same name)is tall and intense looking. He wears a mask identical to The Comedian's (of Watchmen), causing him to sweat quite a bit and is chomping and puffing on a big honking cigar.
“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” He says to Dark Guardian, and introduces himself.
Blue is thin, wearing a suit with a blue tie and tinted spectacles. He occasionally checks in with someone via iPhone and says he’s interested in the meet up because it seems like a “worthwhile endeavor.”
I had never heard of the pair before, so I can’t speculate more about them. Zimmer showed up a little while longer after dealing with the subways mangled F line.

Several other people were supposed to show but couldn’t make it, including Phantom Zero, Nyx, Champion, and others- Life was also out of town.

After Hunter, Blue, and Mike parted ways we headed to a diner. Zimmer, Dark Guardian, The Conundrum and I grabbed a window street and discussed a variety of topics including the nutritional value of pizza while people rushed by on the busy Manhattan streets next to us.
Zimmer, Conundrum, Dark Guardian

After lunch me and Zimmer went back to Washington Square Park to meet up with one of his friends, and the three of us headed back to NYI, where we chilled out watching a movie and playing video games. I tried to sleep early for the traveling ahead the next day.
Hopefully Dark Guardian will be successful in his quest to unite a large group of people in NYC to work together.


Although at times the NYI sounds almost like a militia of borderline vigilantes, my experience visiting with them reveals something more shocking- they are everyday people just trying to live their life. Some of them have had rough, even criminal backgrounds, but that was then and now they are trying to give back by protecting whoever needs their help. They have normal day jobs, friends, and enjoy life in New York.
“There’s a lack of decency in the world. That’s something we’re about- we’re not trying to just be bad ass dudes. We’re trying to be decent people.” Z says.

I left a note thanking the NYI for their hospitality.
I passed by a church near the NYI House on my way to the subway station to head to the airport. A menacing barbed wire fence surrounded the back end of the building, where a sign announced they offered free meals every afternoon. A large pile of trash had accumulated on the corner. Inside the fence, under the church’s sign, the marqee announced in block letters:


  1. Fantastic article, man! Gonna make for some killer stories. Living in Atlanta felt kinda weird before I migrated back to Florida, but the idea of the big city sounds great right now with the lack of employment. Fuckin' college kids...

    I think I oughta make a trip to New York sometime and meet these caped types. Maybe even chill with a few villains I know about up there.

  2. Tea Krulos,

    Very well written, and most interesting. A very compelling read. This article has convinced one to put your upcoming work on the "must purchase" list.

    Thank you, and so much rich detail. New York is about 5worlds away from here.

    -Lord Malignance
    (Would not last 30minutes in New York)

  3. Hi, anyone know where to buy Northstar LED light Zimmer wears? I can be reached at pbss8@yahoo.com