Mentoring The Chambers…


With the passing of C.S.’s dad who was a revered teacher at Hunter College I am reminded of the passing of the rabbi who saved my life.

Back then I was still wrapped up in running with the DeCeps. Everyone would meet up at CyberTron (Printing H.S.) and decide what the day would entail. Running through West 4th Street or resolving some beef at one of the city’s high schools. I wasn’t aimless, but I was prA’li just shameless. I met the rabbi and his family indirectly and quite by accident. I went into the Metropolitan Lumber and Hardware store on 10th Ave that was up the block from Printing H.S. (Graphic Communications H.S. for those not from NYC). They had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign posted in their window I had spotted and since this put me close to the fools at Printing, plus what I considered an endless amount of tools like boxcutters and hammers I was always down to work.

I wasn’t going to high school anymore. I couldn’t go. That shit was boring. Sitting in a classroom was boring as all hell. The world outside was moving at 100mph with no brakes and that is what I wanted to be a part of. In the waiting area, as I was filling out the application a white in a suit asked me if I was looking for a job. I told him I was and he gave me his card. His business was looking for a mailroom clerk and he wondered if I would be intererested. I told him I was. I just had to go to his office which was in the area. 1841 Broadway. Across the street from the New York Coliseum at Columbus Circle. The firm was called the Cutler Organization and I had met the owner DON CUTLER. They were a bunch of tool salesmen [ll].

The Cutler’s had a small family owned business where they sold brands of tools and work equipment to retailers throughout the Quad-State region(NY, NJ, CT, PA). I handled their mailroom tasks at the end of the day and some other small errands which took me around Manhattan almost daily. The Cutlers didn’t pay me a king’s ransom but they gave me the freedom to roam Manhattan all day long as long as I made sure I got the mail into the post office before 5pm everyday. Down the hall from the Cutler’s office were these architects who I occasionally picked up mail from. One afternoon I visited the architect’s office to pick up their mail and as I was chilling out in their waiting area the rabbi invited me inside of their workspace.


I had never been in a real architect’s office before then. The office was located on the Broadway corner of the building and it overlooked the Circle and the southwest part of Central Park. There were drawings laying around on desks that resembled some of the technical drawings I had been taught to make at Brooklyn Tech. Yeah these drawing were way more complex but I understood them and the concepts they were expressing. I told the rabbi that I knew how to make these plans and he laughed, like “Oh really now?” I watched as some of the architects were using the AutoCAD system to make their plans and details. Computer assisted drafting was the new-new and that was what I had learned in school.

Later that year the Cutler’s decided to relocate their business closer to their home in Long Island so my job there was going to be ending. By this time I was an uber-serious 17yr old who wanted to make some real money as opposed to running around Manhattan in a group of thirty-fifty kids wreaking havoc and the what not. I found a job as a surveyor’s assistant in Kew Gardens with a firm called Montrose Surveying Corp. For the few months I worked with these men I learned a tremendous amount about land surveying and how ancient the NYC elevation benchmarks were. The info we used was based upon calculations done by the Dutch way back when. Sure it would be updated, but the Dutch set it off and their numbers remained in place.

My time at the surveyor’s didn’t last for more than several months. My problem was that I was still an insolent kid who thought he knew everything he needed to know. Mr.Montrose called me into his office and told me that although he liked me he was given bad reports of me from the field staff. I knew just who too, this racist fat fuck who was always making me hold the point when we visited vacant lots. I hated holding the point because that meant I was the dude always in the muck or the weeds or the broken, burnt out bullshit. The was NYC in the late 1980’s mind you. Not the fabulous shit you see nowadays. This dude also made me the gopher since I was the youngest in the crew. I may have told dude to go fux himself. Yeah, I prA’li did.


I went for a couple of months without a job and I began to get ruthless again. More stolen cars and more stick-up capers were the result. I was descending down a path of selfishness and immorality when my mother told me it was time for me to leave. She was ultimately right about her decision too even though when you talk to her now she regrets that moment. I packed a large garbage bag of my shit and I put it in the trunk of a stolen car and I was gone. I didn’t come back to my parent’s home for exactly ten years but that is another drop. This drop is about my years in the wilderness and the man who protected me in order for me to return to my family in one peace (always intended).

I stayed in the car for almost two weeks. I showered at different friends houses and ThunderCracker, who was real cool with his mom told her about my situation. Mrs.Washington let me stay at her house for a couple of weeks. T.C. and I were up to no good though and I got arrested on some robbering shit. Mrs.Washington loved me dearly but she will tell you that I was the worst influence on my peers because I was the one with street and technical smarts. When I got out of jail I went to my grandmother’s house in Co-Op City. There was a full house up there with my great-grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles and a bushel of cousins but my grandmother made it all work with the force of her personality. I decided to look for a job again.

I put on one of my grandfather’s blazers. My grandfather smoked a pipe so everything he owned smelled aromatic. I put on his blazer and drove a stolen into the city with my mind focused on going one place. The architect’s office. When I arrived I was greeted by his wife, ANN. T.C. and I would later agree that the rabbi’s wife was one of the finest women around. I told her that I was looking for a job and asked her if they migh need someone to work for them as a messenger or a friday. Back in those days you called your gopher a friday. I don’t know why, you just did. ANN went inside the office and broke out the rabbi. He told me that they didn’t need a messenger, but they could use a draftsman apprentice.


Dope. I told the rabbi I would be back to start on Monday. Since this was Wednesday I was ready to hit the streets and do some capers to celebrate. The rabbi cut me short. I didn’t start on Monday. I started TODAY. Gulp. The office seemed so much larger now. The rabbi introduced me to his son whom I had known from visiting previously as well as his other son who wasn’t in NY at the time but in Italy. There were two architects working for the rabbi. They loved to give me a hard time because they knew I had more charisma and swag then they did. There was an office within the office that an architect named MARVIN rented out. The rabbi gave me a drawing board for my desk. I remember how awesome it felt to have a swivel stool with a backrest. I was now an architect.

I was far from an architect. The rabbi taught me that the architect “knows a little about a lot”, while the engineer “knows a lot about a little”. This wasn’t to downgrade the engineers who worked with us and were very important but to help me understand that the architect’s responsibility was to the bigger picture. To make sure that all the trades and systems were seamlessly integrated with one another and to make the systems work for the end user. As complex as architecture is, the rabbi made it look simple and accessible. He wasn’t one of those artists that designs shit that no one uses or worse, never gets built. He designed buildings and spaces that hundreds of thousands of people used almost daily.

The rabbi gave me a great assignment early. He was contracted to do some minor remodeling at a former theater space turned discotheque called Palladium. Since he had done the conversion many years ago for the nightclub impresarios Steve Rubel and Ian Schrager they continued to call on him. The rabbi had me do the drafting for the plan and then bring the drawing down to the nightclub’s office for their review. The Palladium was an incredible expansive space when the lights were on. So was Studio 54, the Tunnel and Danceteria. I was so impressed when I learned that architects were responsible for creating these spaces. All I had done up to this point was hang out in nightclubs. The rabbi showed me the inside of these spaces like I had never seen them before. They were quite ornate and beautiful.


I was still young however and still into doing things that 18yr olds do like hanging out all night and occasionally getting arrested. This would upset the rabbi sometimes. I can remember him yelling at me several days after I had returned to work from being arrested. It wasn’t demoralizing either, but more impassioned and sincere. He pleaded with me not to throw away all the things I had just for bullshit. The next day the rabbi asked me if I knew anyone that needed a job. Since he had given me my own computer and I was now drafting projects the rabbi was willing to put someone else on to do the running and printmaking duties. I called up ThunderCracker instantly. For once Mrs.Washington could see that I wasn’t dragging her son down with me but I was uplifting him. This was one of the greatest moments of my life.

The rabbi consoled me through ThunderCracker’s passing, he pushed me to go to college to learn more about the world. The rabbi even paid my tuition so that I didn’t have to apply for loans. Basically, the rabbi became my parent when I was estranged from my actual family all the while he was showing me the lessons of the importance of family. The rabbi had three sons. Two followed him in the architecture business and the the third is an architect of sorts when you consider the adaption and integration of computer systems in our everyday lives. You can also catch him in a movie – ‘Pee Wee’s Big Top Adventure’. What the rabbi gave everyone was the knowledge and motivation to be your own person and he also had the most Herculean work ethic I can remember. The rabbi never got sick. I’m not even sure he slept.

In the latter years the rabbi fought with cancer. Since he was a former boxer he had the resolve and the reserve to go the distance. He never once conceded a round. I call this man the rabbi because he was my spiritual master. He taught me that God exists and I didn’t need to look anywhere other than myself to find the spirit. You have to look beyond the Talmud and current interpretations of the rabbi to understand what this term means. These men are the teachers for our civilization, they are the leaders whose words match their deeds. If I can take one sentence from him to sum up everything he taught me it would be this. “All I have that is mine is my word and when that is no longer the truth I have nothing.” Today I am giving thanks to the rabbi because without his teaching I don’t know where I would be right now.


40 Responses to “Mentoring The Chambers…”

  1. misterchane says:

    cool drop, mr penn….you and combat jack should have book deals already

  2. Johnny Sagan says:

    Touching. (haha, pause!) All praises due to our mentors in life. I think the origin of calling an assistant a Friday is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe…Friday was Cruesoe’s right-hand man. (pause again?) Anyway man, big up The Rabbi!

  3. 1969 says:

    All it takes sometimes is one person to care to actually change someone’s life. Great story!

  4. Polotron says:

    I recall wondering why we only had them BS T-squares back in HS. Y’all had T-square Lambos.

    Good people, the Shalats. And the woman who gave you “Bloch Hesse and Shalat” when you called, was one of the nicest people EVER.
    It’s funny how people that see the good in you make you want to do better. The inverse is true as well.

    Cybertron = Printing? That’s some ole Destruct propaganda right there (Whattup Menasor?!). Ralphie & Prospective and all the surrounds….

    And I can hear their (Graphic) mouths already…

  5. Amadeo says:

    Son if I ever get set, I’ll fund your book.

  6. nerditry says:

    Goddamn it this was too good. I’m ruined for reading through the rest of today.

    Is being a mentor your goal, too?

  7. depth my g! Definitely a good reflectionary piece……I needed this jawn today

  8. 40 says:

    Too many great words strung together in this drop so I’ll keep it simple in the commentary.


  9. Kiana says:

    I loved this! You’re a rabbi too DP. Continue to teach brother.

  10. Lion XL says:

    Can the congregation say AMEN!

  11. Lion XL says:

    BTW…every time you share this story you give the Rabbi new life, and honor his passing.

  12. the_dallas says:

    Polo, CyberTron was wherever two or more gathered. On Ralph, at Printing, def the Sign Of The Times park and even on the platform at W 4th St

    BTW Lo, I ran into KeithCat and he told me to tell you to get your ass on Facebook

  13. the_dallas says:

    Lion, that was exactly my purpose for this drop. I had a huge meeting today and I was called into this project by other people specifically because of my expertise. Without the rabbi and his family I don’t know what I would be doing now with my life. This week reminds me to give thanks.

  14. Three things:

    1) While I don’t disagree it’d be hot (II) for DP and CJ to do books… “Book deals” are, in 99% +++ cases, a license to LOSE money, especially if you figure out the time to $$$ ratio. Doesn’t mean it ain’t worth doing but it ain’t easy money– if you can get any money at all.

    2) That said, somebody/bodies should be slipping DP some GRANTS, especially on the film side.

    3) ’95 I was a runner in Garment District, mostly yarn samples to design houses etc and I rocked DP in cargo shorts look almost exactly– substitute beef & broc Tims, a Knicks cap plus the occasional detour to Show World and Peepland and we’re twins. The cold looks I’d get from “fashion” turds was priceless.

  15. Tony Grands says:

    “Is being a mentor your goal, too?”

    The student becomes the teacher…

  16. TheRevolutionWasTelevised says:

    big ups to all those gettin their starts in the mail room.

  17. ovid bowsprit says:

    It’s Big Top Pee Wee, Dallas, not Big Adventure. LOL. Nice paean to my Herb.

  18. the_dallas says:

    Aw shit Andy, cats out the bag that I never saw the movie. Your mom said you looked nice in tights tho'[ll]

  19. ovid bowsprit says:

    dallas, I have to say thank you. You brought me to tears. -as

  20. atifl says:

    great drop DP, we all need mentors in life forreal, its just a case of who you choose as your mentor and whether you want to emulate them.

  21. Mark Dub says:

    Sounds like you have a couple of big pairs of SB Dunks to fill btwn your Pops and The Rabbi. No worries; I think they left you with all of the right tools. GREAT DROP, big homie.

  22. $ykotic/Don McCaine says:

    A big difference from a couple of months ago huh?

    And I so forgot about those Timb’s…

  23. verses says:


    Ive been a long time reader of this site and this post is why i dig your drops (none). Ive always gathered from your knowledge on urban issues, architecture, history etc, that you learnt that school somehwere. Architecture has been (at least use to be) one of those professions that was taught through actual practice and not so much through text book theory perse.

    Architecture is boring the shit out of me at the mo. Maybe its cause the ‘rabbi’ I had (none) whilst I was fuckin around at architecture school kept me interested and motivated…and I learnt shit loads. But in my immature ways, I moved on prolly too quickly before he dropped some real jewels on me (none). Im gonna call the old bastard now and hook a meeting…just for old time sakes.

  24. verses says:

    oh and regarding the look at the mess you made drop, you got to check out this BBC documentary called ‘The power of nightmares’…someone has put the whole thing up on youtube in like 9 parts or sumthin…trust me, you wanna chek it out…if you already have, then my bad.

  25. Tony Grands says:

    Shouts out to Bank of America mail room circa ’99-01!

    Shouts out to my Pops!

    Shouts out to Dallas Penn for keeping hope alive…

  26. p-city says:


    All BS’n aside, D. You have got to write a book…

    Seriously, dude


    (You’ve got me thinking about my rabbi today, too…)

  27. ADB says:

    This is a Hall of Fame drop DP. Inspirational.

  28. ddconyers says:

    this post could easily be turned into a t.v. pilot.

  29. 911 says:

    “Clap for him.” You have the ability to make the reader feel like they are there. Shits crazy.

    You deserve w/e accolades come your way.

  30. Jesse says:

    This was amazing. You truly inspire people out here, Dallas. You have become The Rabbi. Thank you.

  31. the_dallas says:

    Thank you for finding this page as you do what you do in this life.

    I know I can’t choose my nickname and I appreciate that some of you regard the drops on these page as edutainment, but please don’t be disrespectful to the titles of rabbi, or professor, father, dad, uncle and especially brother.

    every brother ain’t a brother because a Black hand squeezed on Malcolm X the man.
    The shooting of Huey Newton?
    From the hand of a nig that pulled the trig.

  32. Brooklyn_Lo says:

    When you talk about Brooklyn Tech it makes me remember how bad I was at technical drawing. I spent my last year at Tech in holding power; before Mr. Cuzzocrea asked me to leave the school. LOL

  33. BIGNAT says:

    i knew when i had the time i should come back and read this one. since i am sick today it was the best time good drop dp. it’s like i tell the little ones in my family do what you want but one day you won’t be a child no more. the only person you going be able to depend on is you. i personally left my parents house on my own a couple weeks before my 20th b-day. the reason being bothered when you going go to college instead of working i actually did go. i just got kicked out because i never went to class i was busy messing with girls. *sidenote i tried two more times same problem college i was not ready for. tired of the constant barking from 2 people i barely see because i was barely at my parents house. when they left for a vacation i left to. my mom was hurt for a while because she said. she felt like i should have at least said i was not going be coming back. or left them a note but i was fed up i moved in with a buddy of mines and his fam. 5 months later we had our own place and 2 years later i got my own place. there were times that shit was hard and i wanted to go back but i couldn’t. i think there are times in your life when you have to have pride in yourself and do what you gotta do. one of my older brothers he was my rabbi at that point he taught me how to keep my lifestyle in check. he taught me that even though i don’t have that 6 7 figure salary i could live well. he told me to cut out making that fast money on the streets. one point i had crazy cash the street money and the legal money had your boys pockets fat. i stopped because out of all my brothers i was the one that has never been to jail and he put that in my head plus it would crush my mom. i was never thinking that my actions affected other people if i don’t live with them. i thought once i was out the house people would care but not that much.

  34. Joyce Marie says:

    ….”and you can bet your life times that and twice its double, that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed….” ~Stevie Wonder~ “As”

    In your case, in the path of the Rabbi. Great post!

  35. Kristine says:

    Wow, Dallas!

    I finally got to read this passage in one sitting, and I enjoyed every single word… Learned soo much from this.

  36. You inspired me to get back on my writing deen with this one brother. Job well done. I’m happy you are still here to tell your story. Peace.

  37. Abdul says:

    great read DP.

  38. Justin says:

    Damn this was a good drop!

  39. Wondermatics says:

    Great read not have a psychiatrist moment but your lucky he found you or you found him not everyone had that mentor figure

  40. Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any points for rookie blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

Leave a Reply