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New York, New York

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  • New York, New York

    “Start spreadin’ the newwwwws….”

    The drive cross-country was long but had some very beautiful scenery along the way. (Well at least as much beautiful scenery as an interstate highway could allow...) On the whole, the trip was pretty uneventful. Fortunately we had a family friend that was living in Brooklyn and he had generously offered me a place to stay while I worked on finding a more permanent living situation.

    I remember seeing New York City for the very first time from a distance as I approached from the highway. I was a little bit nervous and excited all at the same time. I had never seen New York before. I was finally here… This was the Big Apple… I was about to start the next chapter of my life.

    Upon my arrival to New York, I went straight to the admissions office at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for my formal interview…. Fortunately that went well and I enrolled for classes that were to be starting in about a week or so.

    As I was leaving the admissions hall, I saw someone pinning a notice to a bulletin board announcing they had a room to rent. As it turned out it was just around the corner. I went and looked at it and what did I know, I had only been in New York a few hours… I said, "sure, why not... I’ll take it.”

    The “apartment” was going to become available in about a week, but just so that I did my due diligence, I looked around elsewhere in Brooklyn for an apartment as well… Well, that was certainly an eye opening experience… “New York” pricing versus “Wisconsin” pricing… in the end I took the “value priced” apartment that I had looked at on my first day.

    Being in New York for the first time was very exciting and quite exhilarating for me. I had just come off of a six-month train ride, um, I mean “study abroad program” around Europe and now a few weeks later, here I was in New York….

    Little by little I became more and more adventuresome riding the trains from Brooklyn to New York City and back… I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge; I went to the top of the Empire State Building at night… I slowly started to acclimate.

    The “apartment” I moved in to was one of the original town homes in the area. I believe it was built in the late 1800s…. it was the type of town home that was built before the larger more stable, modern and fire resistant “brown stones” were built. As such, it had…”character”….if it was for sale it is what would be referred to as a “fixer upper”… and that would be being kind. But for three starving architecture and art students… it was just fine.

    My roommates and I discovered a hatch in the third floor ceiling that went up to the roof… the roofs on my street were fortunately all in perfect alignment such that one could see straight across to the East River and New York City…. to a direct view of the Chrysler building… which stood prominently bright in the distance.

    It was quite a magnificent view at night…somehow going up there to relax after the sun went down lessened a lot of the apprehensions I had of what the future would hold.

    Many nights I slept up there… many nights, just like I had done back in Wisconsin as a boy… I talked to the night sky… Little by little, New York started to feel like “home”… and yeah, everything would be all right.

    The school bell rings…Fall 1983

    Classes started and I was excited. There was an interesting mix of people at Pratt from all over the world. One of the classes I had enrolled in was called “Morphology”; Morphology is basically the study of the forms and shapes in nature and how they apply to architecture. A devout follower of Buckminster Fuller, of the geodesic dome fame, taught the class.

    This particular class met in the evenings… sometimes running quite late as I recall. I found the ideas and concepts we talked about in class extremely fascinating. The geometric models we had to make were right up my alley…the class really made sense to me.

    During class, however, there was this one person that seemed to always be talking and making jokes… most of the time, he was actually quite funny and everyone always laughed… However, there was a small part of me that due to what was my more “serious” nature at the time, found this to be, well, at times, a little bit, obnoxious.

    As I got to know this person a little better each week in class, it soon became very clear that aside from his humorous nature, he was also extraordinarily intelligent. Well, that person, as it turned out, was none other than, Mario Henri Chakkour. I found out he was from Lebanon and I heard bits and pieces of the stories of the war he went through before coming to the states.

    To give fair and unbiased reporting, I found out later from Mario that he too had drawn a conclusion based upon initial impressions... he found my “serious nature” to be, *ahem*... rather annoying… Gee go figure… Everything was in balance I guess….or out of balance as the case would generally be.

    And this was how Mario and I first met… two different personalities from two different parts of the world...

    The semester went on without incident. I went back to Wisconsin for Christmas that year to see my father, brother, sister and grandmother.

    Spring 1984

    The spring semester I took a design studio with Theo David (who would later in time, as things came full circle, do work for the Dahesh Museum).

    Theo had an architecture office in New York as well as Cyprus and had done work in the Middle East. I told him of my plans at the time to do work with a friend of mine in Saudi Arabia after I graduated. He told me of a “study abroad” program (hey, there was my favorite phrase again!) that he conducted over the summer in Greece and Cyprus. Well, sign me up…

    The spring semester came and went. I did not see or talk to Mario very much during the spring and summer of 1984. We were not in any of the same classes and we did not live near each other. It would not be until the spring of 1985 that I would come to learn of everything that he was going through at the time I had first met him… as well all that had transpired in his world that ensuing year.

    Summer 1984

    The summer of 1984 six others and myself went on Pratt’s summer program in Greece and Cyprus. I had visited Greece the year before and I was excited about going back again. The first month we were on an extended travel and sketching tour and then the second half of the summer we each worked in architecture offices in Cyprus… in the evenings we worked on our design studio projects for school.

    Theo had set me up in a large office that did a lot of work in Saudi Arabia and Oman. I was finally being exposed to the work I wanted to do. I was truly happy.

    But then the world seemed to stop… again…

    On one beautiful morning toward the end of July, I was walking through downtown Larnaca, Cyprus on my way to the office I was working in. I remember feeling especially good that day… It was an absolutely beautiful July day... the warm sun was out and there was a magnificent breeze in the air... I had done several pages of writing the night before that kind of helped put a lot of the inner personal and spiritual issues I was dealing with in to perspective.

    As I entered the office, the secretary came up to me and almost with tears in her eyes handed me a telegram. I unfolded it and it simply read:

    "Your father has had a heart attack and died. Please call home."

    That was all it said. I had to read it a few times to really grasp what I was seeing. Just a few years earlier we all had to deal with the drawn out death of my mother to cancer…knowing that her death was coming… and now this… the other extreme… the almost unexpected… the words read like a brick to the side of my head.

    I packed my things, got on a plane and flew back to Wisconsin. Arriving back home was a bit surreal… I had been traveling for several days; sleep deprived and then had to deal with my family and another funeral. My heart broke when I saw my younger brother. My sister and I were in college and kind of had some direction in our lives as adults… my brother on the other hand was still just a kid. Making plans for the future for each of us to be ok was one of the most difficult times in our lives... again.

    After a week or so…. I got back on a plane and flew back to Cyprus… I don’t know if this was the healthiest thing to do at the time… I just needed to get running again… I just wanted to finish my schoolwork… I just wanted to be busy again… and I guess I wanted to bury once again all the emotions I was feeling.

    Fall 1984

    In addition to going to school, I also started working in several different architecture offices in Manhattan. Working in the City and doing projects around Manhattan was a great experience. I was finally working in New York City! The extra money certainly helped with school… but it also allowed me to start to explore what was becoming more affordable and accessible at the time… home recording equipment and electronic keyboard synthesizers.

    It was also during this time that I had the opportunity to meet architect, philosopher and artist, Lebbeus Woods. Leb taught and gave talks at Pratt about his work and views on "futurist” architecture here in the present. I was one of several students that got the opportunity to watch him work at his home studio in Manhattan. His architectural drawings at the time were absolutely nothing short of amazing to me… I mean, this guy could draw like no one I had ever seen before. It was from watching him that I started creating my own style with which to draw and present “visionary” architecture…. Many of the drawings I have shown here in Daheshville are the evolutionary results of watching Leb work all those years ago.

    As my last semester at Pratt approached, I started to think about what I wanted to do “next” in my life. Should I stay in New York and work in the city or continue on with more schooling? The only thing I really wanted to do if I did stay in school any longer was to go to M.I.T. In the end, I decided to apply to the graduate program at M.I.T. for the fall semester of 1985.

    The architecture program at Pratt was not all that large and as such news started to spread that not one, but TWO Pratt students were applying to the graduate program at M.I.T.

    Spring 1985

    Sometime in the spring of 1985 I had heard who the other Pratt student was that had applied to the M.I.T graduate program…. I heard through the grapevine that it was none other than Mario Henri Chakkour. I had not seen or spoken to Mario very much over the past year. One day at school I finally ran in to him. I went over to him and extended my hand. I shook his hand and wished him all the best of luck with his acceptance to M.I.T.

    In finishing up my tenure at Pratt, I had a few creative “elective credits” I needed to fill. I talked to one of my professors about an idea I had of giving a concert and performing some of the music I had been composing. I was really hooked on electronic music and had two keyboards by this time. My professor thought it was a great idea and actually agreed to give me a grade for it. (Gotta love "elective credits") A couple times a week, I would carry all my synthesizers and amplifiers in to the auditorium at Pratt and practice… it was an exciting and very creative time for me…

    One day, as I was “noodling” and making really cool electronic sounds in this big auditorium… in walks, none other than Mario. I was happy to see him again. We spoke briefly, and he told me that he too was into music and that he composed and played as well... I said "wow, that is awesome", but I guess in my haste to get back to my “work”… I apparently made him feel like I was ignoring him. The fact of the matter was my time in the theater was somewhat limited and I had to carry everything back to my apartment again when I was done, which was several blocks away. It must have taken me ten trips each way, each time... ahh, to be young and physically fit.

    At one point, when I was taking a break and talking to some other students, Mario who I didn't realize was sitting behind me, taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I would like to "view New York City from the sky"... I said "what???" Mario said, “Yes, go flying in a small plane…” I said, “You own a plane???” Mario said “No, I rent one…”

    I said, “Wow, Mario, cool! That would be awesome… I’d love to!”

    I find out later from Mario that his offer to take me flying was actually propagated on the misconception that I had snubbed him, and in return, he wanted to take me flying to "teach me a lesson"... remember the part about how I thought Mario was "obnoxious" and he thought I was "annoying"???

    During the course of my preparing for my music concert, a friend of mine who lived in Manhattan suggested I meet a friend of hers who was visiting New York from London. I met with her and found out she was a dancer… that got me thinking… I will add dance to my performance! Why not… I figured it had to be more interesting than just watching me play the piano and keyboards.

    Houston, (or as they say in New York, "How-stun") we have lift off…

    It was probably a few days later in the week after Mario and I ran in to the each other in the auditorium that we scheduled our first flight together. This was on the evening of March 7, 1985. We flew out of Westchester Airport, in Westchester, New York.

    Mario flew a Cessna 172. For those that aren't familiar with airplanes, a Cessna 172 is a four passenger plane with the wings on top of the cockpit, thereby affording tremendous visiblity to the ground below. I guess in retrospect I was a little bit nervous (nothing to do with my thoughts relative to Mario’s piloting skills, its just that I had never been in such a small plane before), but truthfully, I was really more excited than anything. Mario doesn't know this, but I went in the bathroom right before our flight and said a small prayer in the mirror anyway...

    So after my last rites, um, I mean "little prayer", Mario and I walked through the airport hangar to get out to the tie down area where our plane was. We walked by some of the most gorgeous jets and airplanes I had ever seen in my life. The "executive hangar" was like a stage set from the show "Dallas". These planes were stunning... they were the real deal...

    As we got to the Cessna that we were taking out that day, I watched Mario go through all the detailed pre-flight inspection procedures... I remember thinking, "wow, this guy is thorough!" Well obviously, this was a good thing... It just started to snow ever so softly as we taxied to the runway… Mario called the tower to confirm that things were still VFR (visual flight rules) we heard back that they were and that we were a go.

    Mario said, “well, I guess we’re going…” We then got clearance from the tower and just as he was starting to give the plane full throttle for takeoff… I put my hand on Mario's forearm and said, “just so you know, I trust you with my life…” I guess in some way I said it half jokingly… maybe to calm myself, maybe to make myself feel better like I needed to calm him… I don’t know...

    Anyway, the flight was AMAZING. There was a very low cloud ceiling as we flew from Westchester down to and around Manhattan. Manhattan at night, at a low altitude in a slow moving plane cutting across central park… is an experience I will never forget…. And in today’s day and age... an experience no one will ever have again.

    And to think that what started out as something originally done to "teach me a lesson" turned out to be such an amazing experience.

    We flew again a few weeks later on March 17, 1985.

    March 21, 1985

    Mario and I were planning our third flight together on this day. I had wanted to bring a girl friend flying with us so that she could see “her city” from the air as well. She was going to meet us at the airport in Westchester.

    On the drive up to Westchester Airport from Manhattan, after a period of some silence, for some strange reason I was feeling, well, I guess, a bit uncharacteristically “chatty”. Mario and I were slowly getting to know each other on these long drives to the airport and back as well as having some amazing experiences flying over and around Manhattan and upstate New York at night.

    I guess because it had been on my mind, out of the blue I asked Mario,

    “Do you believe in God?”

    Mario hesitated for a bit and said,

    “Yes I do… but my understanding of God may be a little different than most…”

    Then I said,

    “well, there are signs pointing everywhere that Jesus may return soon…”

    Mario said,

    “Oh? Like what?”

    I said,

    “well, the return of Jews to Israel… and you know, everyone always thinks that Christ is going to return on a big cloud out of the heavens… exactly like he DID NOT do the first time around… I personally think it will be in the one manner that NO ONE would ever think of or expect… I think when he returns, it will be just like it actually says in the Bible…’like a thief in the night’…”

    Mario responded to me, in the most serious, and solemn of tones I had never heard him speak in before…

    “David... Christ did return and I knew him personally. He did come like a thief in the night and his death went even more unnoticed…”

    I had never heard such words uttered before... I had never heard Mario speak in this serious and commanding tone before… I had never entertained the possibility of Christ coming to earth AND leaving with nary anyone knowing about it…

    Yet, in those simple words, something completely opened from deep within me. It was as if the hours and years that I had pondered this very notion, the return of Christ and endless prayers of how I wished I could be with him… all flashed like an electrical charge through my entire system in a brief instant…. Kind of like one’s life passing before their eyes I guess…

    All I said in return to Mario, as we drove along in the dark to Westchester Airport on that night of March 21, 1985… was…

    “ I believe you…”

    To be continued….
    Last edited by Johnson; 04-07-2009, 03:58 PM.

  • #2
    truely amazing, i wish i have the ability to write in such a smooth and interesting way. I just can't imagine the moment Mario said that Christ already came... that would have been imaginary.


    • #3
      Thank you Chad... and it actually happened as simply and verbatim as I wrote it here. There was no fanfare, no big build up... it was just a very poignant and "in the moment", moment.

      While certainly my head started to spin with questions... my response of "I believe you" was all I said, and it truly, truly captured the reality of everything that I felt right then and there.

      To step back, and remove myself from the story for a moment... what does a story like this tell us? I think it certainly describes one way of how "belief" can work. I think it shows that for each of us, on an individual basis, when a person is "ready" to accept and believe something that has been opened to them, the moment will somehow, just "be there".

      Another little piece of background to all this, which is every bit as important as the story itself, is that friend of Mario's, a fellow Daheshist, was asking Mario earlier that very same day, "Are you going to talk to David about Dr. Dahesh?"

      Mario told him he was reticent to do so because he had told so many others before and then lost them as friends. Mario told him that David was becoming a good friend and he didn't want to spoil the friendship, and besides, David pays for half the plane rental!

      It wasn't until sometime later that Mario told me this story... it still makes me chuckle every time I think about it.

      But then I had to go and "spoil" all that by asking him if he believed in God...

      You can't make this stuff up folks... reality always has way more plot twists and turns than fiction.
      Last edited by Johnson; 03-16-2009, 03:25 PM.


      • #4
        I totally agree, but with all my respect to every honest person on this earth how many are there like Mario... It is a big question that does not have a satisfying answer for me yet.
        Alot of rocks breaks down by the ocean waves and few remain.