The greatest photograph ever taken of Jersey City

Ugh. I am so jealous. My neighbor Jodi took the photo I’ve been trying to take for years. And it is so amazing:


This is of a man carrying what I believe to be two goats (that’s just a guess), one stacked on top of another, walking down Newark Ave in India Square, probably en route to a butcher or restaurant. It’s a very common scene on Newark Ave – a burly man in a rubber apron and boots, carrying some array of dead animals, slung over his shoulder. They’re usually out in the mornings.

I’ve been an ethical vegan for over nine years. I’m not even used to thinking of meat as an option to eat. But one thing I think of often is: if I were to eat meat, it would be very easy now to do so – just go into any suburban grocery store and buy your chicken breast all perfectly filleted; cut up just so, so that you don’t even have to think of it as an animal. It could be animal, it could be soy – whatever, it all looks the same. You don’t have to think about it. There it is, all pre-packaged and perfect for you, just cook it up real quick and it’s ready to eat.

About fifteen years ago, I remember walking down Newark Ave and watching a guy pull out four or five skinned goats from a truck. He just flung them over his shoulder like they were nothing – legs dangling below, the stomaches stacked up one by one, hauling them off to wherever he was headed. I remember being at first taken aback by the horror of it – so many dead animals – and then by his brute strength (they had to be incredibly heavy, right? How much does a dead goat weigh?). And then just by the alienness of it all – of the glimpse into another way of life so different from mine. He just walked matter-of-factly, down Newark Ave, while I sort of staggered behind him, trying – but failing – to take a picture. It was all I could do. I almost couldn’t process what I was seeing.

I hate to put too much on this moment, but in many ways, this – to me – is Jersey City in a nutshell. It’s all about being confronted in a way you can’t ignore, with a way of life you only barely knew existed. Did I know that there were people who carted around dead goats for a living? I mean, I guess – but I never really thought about it. I definitely never saw one with my own eyes, let alone many of them over the years. Nor did I ever admire the strength it took to do such a job, or the strange beauty inherent in it.

Looking at this photo, I can’t help but think of a Francis Bacon painting – and yet, there’s something about the photo that makes the Bacon seem almost kitsch. The Bacon is a set-up, a metaphor; this is reality, walking down the street, just making a living. I hate to be like “it’s art” because it’s really so much more than that. It’s reality. It’s life. “Art” feels like a pose. This is something else.