This is contributor Jessica Hall’s weekly column, in which she interviews the street and homeless people she meets around the city. This week she spoke with Michael De’Shazer II, 20, who was selling his self-published books (Park Bench Publishing House) in Union Square. Michael: "I just wrote these books, I think you’ll enjoy them, would you like to take a look?"
My dad’s Michael De’Shazer senior. He’s almost famous in Memphis. He’s one of the top guys at Fed Ex; I’m the Michael De’Shazer of New York, but I was born and raised in Memphis.
Tell me about your first book.
The Wade Scandal. It’s a political thriller about the first independent president of the United States getting involved in a scandal in the Middle East involving biomechanically engineering humans. Basically, he’s doing necessary wrongs to accomplish good for the world. It’s the idea of necessary evil for ultimate benevolence.
When did you write this book?
When I was 17. In high school we constantly took trips to Washington, did the whole presenting a bill on the senate floor thing, and when I was doing the bills it always seemed to me that if one group benefits, one group has to suffer, and I wanted to write a book about a president committing treason to help the world as a whole.
How did you get this idea?
I had an internship for Government Investigative Bureau in Tennessee. I was surrounded by detectives, ex CIA, FBI. GIB is mostly sex crimes and homicide.
What were the detectives like?
It’s almost like they’re trying to be like in the movies. My favorite
was the narcotics division and SWAT team. I learned to break into cars
and I got to throw the cuffs on some people, and I used the experience
for the book.
Why did you move to New York?
To be a writer. I consider myself more of an artist than a writer, I
write to evoke an emotion and I don’t write like anyone else. The other
day I flipped for attention.
What do you mean?
I flipped over a cab. (You can see him on the site, streetflips.com
where he throws himself into the air and flips over the hood of a cab.)
No one was paying attention so I flipped over a cab. Then I got a lot
of people to watch. No one bought a book though. That’s my alter ego;
I’m like Batman at night and book potzer by day.
What’s a potzer?
It’s what chess players call amateurs. I’m an amateur book potzer.
Your books are self-published, do you do everything?
I do all the designs, typesetting, distribution. Everything but editing.
Who is your editor?
College colleagues, family, librarians, beauticians.
I have a really good fan base in the beauty shop market in Tennessee.
Women need something to read while they’re getting their hair done.
Pieces is the biggest hit in the beauty shops. It’s about strippers,
God, cigarettes, crime and faith. It’s a non-linear narrative.
You look too young and clean cut to know about cigarettes and strippers.
(By the way, when I got home and started reading the book, I was immediately
reminded of how deceiving looks can be. "My truck’s upholstery was
marred with sweaty aromas of pubis." So much for clean cut!)
I lived in a house full of lesbian strippers for a year when I was
18-19, in New Jersey. They were all fems. I don’t know if you’re
familiar with lesbian lingo, but they’re girly girls and they like
girly girls. I met them in the park my first week in New York City. It
was 4 bedrooms with 5 strippers, my girlfriend and me.
Wow, life’s rough, huh?
We never fought. Never, ever. But that life style is a crazy lifestyle.
I moved out because I wasn’t focused anymore. They just started when I
moved in. It’s all a progression, first cigarettes, then pot, then
amphetamines. They were going to school, then less and less, and then
they dropped out.
Right now I’m married to my literature.
You said that you were homeless at one point?
For two weeks. I wanted to see what I was made of. I hitchhiked from
Orlando to Miami. It was pretty hard to get picked up. It took me 3 1/2
days for a 4-hour drive. Then I stayed on the beach in Miami for 3-4
nights. I got a nice little tan every morning. There’s a lot of
homeless people in Miami, they live in the park and on the bridge.
I spent the rest of the time in New York. I flew here. I already had
the ticket. I tried to stay in Central Park but there are raccoons and
it’s hard to sleep at night with all that rustling. I slept in the
subway. Whole Foods is a great place to take a bath. Starbucks
bathrooms are dirty. Everyone uses them.
What else did you learn while you were âhomeless’?
Your senses are heightened. When you have little to nothing, you
appreciate things more. Now I’m a better person. I appreciate a quarter
and a smile.
Where do you get your ambition?
I don’t know.
Come on, don’t you want to give some credit?
My father. He’s my hero. He came from nothing. He was born in the slums
of Chicago, and now he’s a successful businessman. He gave me this
quote, from Ralph Ellison: "Life is to be lived and not controlled, and
humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat."