Volume 81, Number 18 | October 6 - 12, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Photo by Jefferson Siegel
Bob Arihood in Union Square covering a Critical Mass bicycle ride in July 2005.
Beloved blogger Arihood’s loss leaves a hole in heart of Ave. A
By Jefferson Siegel
Late Saturday afternoon, intermittent rain fell on Tompkins Square Park. Lampposts blinked into life, their glow diffused by a dense mist that coated drenched paths.
Few would have noticed the scene was reminiscent of Edward Steichen’s iconic 1904 photograph of the Flatiron Building. There was one photographer who certainly would have recognized the opportunity and likely would have created another classic image. But he wasn’t there.
As rain returned and drifted through the leaves and onto benches and chess tables, sad news about that photographer was rapidly spreading. Bob Arihood, who lived in the East Village for almost 40 years, who documented the vanishing soul of the area first in this newspaper, then in his blog, Neither More Nor Less, and always in unparalleled photography, had been found dead in his home the night before. He was 65.
All that week, Bob’s closest friend, Michael Falsetta, worried that Bob wasn’t answering calls. As it became obvious something was wrong, Mike rushed to the E. Fourth St. apartment. He and Bob’s longtime neighbor, Jimmy Dunn, banged on the door. They called 911. After 45 minutes they called the Ninth Precinct. Eventually, they made their way inside, where they found Bob lying in bed, one leg dangling over the side, one arm reaching up. He appeared to have been dead for several days.
Bob was a presence in the park and especially across Avenue A in front of Ray’s Candy Store, his Leica M9 always at hand. Anyone who spoke with Bob would feel they had found a kindred spirit. His depth and breadth of knowledge of history, science and the human condition informed countless conversations.
If you turned a corner and saw Bob, you knew the next five minutes, or five hours, would likely be the most interesting part of your day.
Bob was born in Indiana in 1946.
Photo by Jefferson Siegel
Bob Arihood in a familiar pose, shooting Guillermo, of whom he also recently posted a video on his blog.
“Bob was a very independent person,” his younger brother, Leslie, said by phone on Tuesday from his home in Lafayette, Indiana. “He was ready to talk to anybody. At our mother’s funeral, it was constant conversations with people.
“He was so good at everything, he gave me an inferiority complex.”
As a high school freshman, Bob started playing football as a pass receiver.
“He pulled a tractor around to build up his leg strength,” Leslie recalled.
Bob would go on to study engineering at Purdue University, graduating in 1968.
“When he went to Purdue, he thought they weren’t doing things right. Because of his independence, he couldn’t sign up for anything,” Leslie said.
“There was a period when he was fascinated by guns. Then he would build things. He started off in the area of science and never really left it.”
Bob would move to Chicago for a short time but found that big city too confining.
“New York City has so many different things going on, so many different kinds of people, Bob could just dive into things,” Leslie explained.
Bob arrived in the East Village in the early 1970s and in 1976 moved into the E. Fourth St. apartment that would be his home for the next 35 years.
Early on Bob performed consulting engineering work while dabbling in photography. By the early 1990s he bought his first Leica M6, a high-end rangefinder camera with a built-in light meter. The die had been cast.
Bob began wandering the slowly evolving streets of the East Village, often at night. Burned-out building shells and empty lots were giving way to renovations and community gardens. Gentrification was about to rear its head.
In 1988, on his way home from a date, Bob found himself in the center of the Tompkins Square Park riot. The park, which had become a homeless encampment, was ordered cleared after a 1 a.m. curfew was imposed. Bob was not participating but nevertheless was beaten mercilessly by police.
“I squealed like a stuck pig,” Bob later recalled of the severity of his beating. Subsequently, more than 100 complaints of police brutality would be lodged.
The events of that night may have shifted his focus toward the less fortunate. Bob started concentrating on the people and businesses that gave the East Village its soul. He documented injustices.
Around 1999 Bob dipped a toe into the swirling waters of photojournalism as a photographer for The Villager. Over seven years as contributor to this newspaper, Bob’s photos won several awards, including for his protest coverage of the 2004 Republican National Convention.
In 2006, Bob struck out into the rapidly growing blogosphere with what would become an award-winning blog, Neither More Nor Less. As writer, photographer and editor, Bob was able to set his own agendas and deadlines. His reporting became must reading for locals, as well as a worldwide audience fascinated by the cauldron of stories served daily.
Early coverage followed the plight of Jim Power, the “Mosaic Man.” Power, an artist, had created a virtual mosaic trail of artwork on the streets. Bob followed Power’s work and his subsequent housing troubles. Bob was instrumental in helping Power, a Vietnam veteran, find a home in community-assisted housing.
“Bob befriended me years ago. He helped me out tremendously and he never stopped,” Power recalled, adding he plans to create a mosaic in Bob’s memory on the lamppost on Seventh St. and Avenue A.
Another frequent subject of the blog was L.E.S. Jewels, known for dropping his pants while blocking traffic and reaching inside the window of a local bar and taking pitchers of alcohol from the crowds of drinkers.
Some of Bob’s most popular posts involved Jewels’ wedding to local artist Amy Sanchez in 2007.
At a memorial gathering Tuesday night, Jewels looked somber.
“Bob had the biggest heart of anybody in the neighborhood,” Jewels said, adding that he had now been sober for 70 days. “He always had a dollar if I needed a drink or a coffee. Bob recorded parts of my life that I couldn’t remember.”
Neither More Nor Less won the Village Voice “Best Personal Blog” award last year.
If you wanted to find Bob, you headed to Ray’s on Avenue A where he could be found almost any time of day or night. As if he was a good-natured gravitational field, people found themselves drawn to Bob for his wit, wisdom, compassion and, most of all, his conversation.
Bob never refused to give a handout when asked for change, often pulling a dollar from his jeans pocket. If you were having a private conversation with him and someone walked by, they could join in without hesitation.
Bob rarely displayed anger, but when he did, it was ignited by those who denied or were ignorant of facts and science.
He often derided the 9/11 conspiracy theorists who would claim the impossibility of steel melting or buildings collapsing. Bob would recite the exact temperature steel melts at (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit) and launch into an informed discourse about structural integrity, load-bearing weights and modern building methods.
One night when asked about global-warming theories, Bob barked, “Al Gore is a clown!” but then calmly listed and disproved, point by point, many of the theories Gore put forth in his book and film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Several months ago, organizers of the Occupy Wall Street movement began a series of Saturday-night planning meetings by the Hare Krishna tree in Tompkins Square Park. At their first meeting, Bob started taking photos, whereupon several people told him he had to stop. Bob gave them a brief lecture on First Amendment protections and the freedom afforded those in public spaces. He declined to educate them on the wisdom of holding sensitive meetings in the middle of a public park.
At another meeting last month, Bob stood watching the same crowd with Rob Hollander, founder of Save the Lower East Side.
“Bob was the most interesting conversationalist in the Lower East Side, knowledgeable on so many fronts, whether the history of the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt or the technological novelties of the Cooper Square construction,” Hollander said.
“He maintained an interest in several sciences well beyond engineering. An extraordinarily compassionate man toward ordinary folk, he reviled the corporate moneymakers and protected the people around him that he documented. He was so much more than just a great photographer.”
Bob’s most recent cause, and success, was to save one of the area’s longest-running and favorite haunts, Ray’s. Bob remembered the 1970s when Ray’s was a demilitarized zone of sorts. Cops and miscreants would meet for a drink or a smoke in this neutral space before returning to the mean streets.
A small storefront best known for egg creams, Belgian fries and the latest Polish newspapers, Ray was now deeply in debt and on the brink of closing.
Once Bob began highlighting Ray’s plight on the blog, mainstream media soon followed and a David vs. Goliath storyline was born.
Fundraisers were held, volunteers came to clean the old floors and a delivery service was started to increase sales.
“I’m very upset about Bob,” Ray said after hearing the news on Saturday night. “I have tears coming down every minute. It’s a big loss. Without Bob, something’s missing.” Ray has placed Power’s mosaic plaque bearing Bob’s name in his front window.
Most recently, Bob’s concerns turned to his own future.
“A lot of the time it was struggling and how to make a living, and these young people with their cut-rate photography,” his brother Leslie said.
Bob’s back problem worsened, so much that last year he spent several weeks in the hospital.
But the streets still beckoned. On Sat., Sept. 24, Bob made his way Downtown to the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park. He walked with hundreds of marchers all the way up to Union Square, where police began netting the demonstrators. Mass arrests followed. When the nearly 100 arrestees were carted off and the crowd dispersed, Bob went by subway back down to the encampment, staying until almost midnight, continuing to document the scene.
The next day he walked into Ray’s. Eyeing a front-page news photo of a young woman being arrested by a swarm of police, Bob pointed to the picture and said, “I got that on video!” His final blog post was a one-minute interview with a woman who was pepper-sprayed.
Bob’s close friend Mike is, like most, inconsolable.
“After childhood I never had a best friend,” Mike said. “There was a point in time we’d spend hours together and for years I saw him every day.
“I may stop coming to the East Village,” Mike continued. “The only reason I came by is to hang out with him like the old days. Now there are no more old days.”
“Bob always had your back,” said Krissy Hursh, his friend and neighbor for 20 years. Hursh cried several times while speaking at Tuesday’s memorial. “If you needed someone to talk to, if you needed a friend, you’d stop by Ray’s and talk to Bob.”
Another old friend, “Avenue A” Jay Pappas was one of many addressing the crowd of Bob’s friends Tuesday night.
“The smaller you were, the more he cared about you,” he said. “He was a rock with feet.”
Teenager Aiyana Knauer met Bob recently and cherished their conversations.
“Bob cared about the stories of people that other people would have forgotten,” she said.
“He was the Weegee of Avenue A,” declared John Penley, a longtime East Village photographer and activist.
“ ‘Bigger than life’ is a cliché,” said Chris Flash, publisher of The Shadow newspaper, “but I can say that about Bob and he would roll his eyes if he heard that.”
“I see Bob over the years complaining about this or that,” Bob’s brother, Leslie, said on Tuesday. “Maybe it’s because he could see what was wrong. He wanted to engage people.”
Bob Arihood was a true Renaissance man in every sense. His passing is an incalculable loss to the East Village and to all the lives he touched.
The 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.”
Bob’s body was flown to Indianapolis on Wednesday and driven 65 miles to Lafayette. Sunday night there will be a visitation and on Monday Bob Arihood will be buried next to his parents.
There are plans to preserve his photographic archive in one location after his estate is settled.
Friends plan to gather on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Tompkins Square Park and at the 6 & B Garden for a final sendoff.