Category Archives: Community

Address to local creche committee

This is what I said on June 27 to the Bethel Religious Display Committee. This committee was convened in response to conflict over the placement of this banner, which, for the first time in the town’s history, was in a public square at the same time as a manger scene:

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The committee’s mandate was to make recommendations to the town government about how to deal with that conflict.


My name is Keith Snyder. I live on Main Street.

I timed myself reading this, and it comes to about six minutes, so thank you in advance for allowing me that chunk of time.

The pro-creche side of this seems to honestly believe that people who think differently than they do are mean and petty.

I haven’t been sure exactly how to respond to this. So last week, I didn’t. But something [local blogger] said last week made me realize what I did have to offer. [She] said that when she first moved here, one of the first things she noticed was that very creche in that very square. She said she was struck by how beautiful it was, that it wasn’t religious, that there was no problem with it, and that opinions to the contrary are because of “hatred.”

I would like to share my early experience moving here. It was August, 2014. I had just separated from my wife two weeks earlier, and my two boys and I landed here. And we really liked it. Still do. We liked our street. We liked our neighbors. We liked the grocery store. It had a sushi bar! We liked the bookshops and the bike shop. We felt like we had landed someplace safe.

Four months later, in December, I came around a corner and saw a big creche on what seemed to be a central public square.

And I stopped and just stood there with my mouth open. I know that sounds like the kind of thing you say when you’re exaggerating. But it’s not. I literally stood there with my mouth literally open.

And suddenly, my new, safe little town was a little less safe.

To understand why, you have to understand something that may not be within your experience.

I grew up with swastikas spray-painted on my house and crosses burned into my lawn. Regularly, for years. And, regularly, for years, the local good Christians turned their eyes away, and pulled their shades down. It wasn’t their business. They didn’t want to get involved.

The only person who ever helped us scrub the swastikas off, as far as I can remember, was the German lady across the street, Heinke.

But those weren’t really good Christians.

Here’s something else I saw, not long after I moved here. There was a swastika at the Bethel train station on the sign that says BETHEL. Not big. It was, I don’t know, about this big. And it hung around there for a long time, and none of my neighbors scrubbed it off. Which I understand — it’s just a little graffiti. Probably kids? I finally scrubbed it off myself, as best I could, with a toothbrush. Because it wasn’t important to my neighbors.

But tonight something is really important to you. A little statue of Jesus. That’s important. And which patch of land it goes on, and keeping other people’s things off that land at the same time. Which is odd. Because Jesus never said he wanted a little statue of himself. What he does care about — and he makes this very clear — is how you treat neighbors and strangers. That’s what he says, flat out, that he cares about.

Had you behaved as though you loved your neighbor, and cared for strangers, none of this would be happening. But you didn’t. You want your statues. In a town space. Between certain dates. By themselves. That’s what’s important to you.

And by letting you do it, the town says that’s what’s important to the town.

Okay. I want an atheist sign. And I’m willing to share. I’m hoping to share. I don’t mind that other things are up at the same time. I hope they are. It’s great. It’s sharing. With my neighbors.

I do care that it’s accorded the same respect as other displays. But — respect doesn’t mean that when you’re not using something, you’ll allow everybody else to split the leftovers. That’s not respect. Everybody knows that’s not respect. You know that’s not respect. That’s winning.

To me, sharing is the win.


There are two things I’ve heard pro-creche people say to justify their positions.

One is “I’ve lived here a long time, so my opinion counts for more.” Well, I’ve lived here a long time, too. I’ve lived my entire life in the United States of America. Which is where we are right now.

It’s not the United States of One Group Gets To Choose First And Then Everybody Else Divvies Up What’s Left. You’re entitled to zero special treatment of your display. And I’m entitled to zero special treatment of mine. And this is true whether one of us has enjoyed special treatment in the past or not.

The second thing I’ve heard pro-creche people say is, “There are more of us, so what we want should matter more.”

That’s not what Jesus taught. That’s not what anyone who cares about right and wrong has ever taught.

You’re wrong about this in the moral code of your own religion.


So all that is what hit me when I came around that corner, and saw your creche for the first time. All by itself. In what I was pretty sure was a public space. I saw that my new town doesn’t care. You, I expect not to care. But this was the town putting its stamp of approval on it. Boom. We don’t care either.

Okay. I’m a big boy. I’ve been through much worse than that.

But now that this is all happening? Maybe when there’s a meeting, I’ll show up and say what I think.

You can disagree with me. That’s one of the beautiful things about living here. We can disagree. But next time somebody tells you it’s hate, or you hear that coming out of your own mouth, maybe you can take a second and rethink that a little.

Last thing I have to say. We all have biases. I have one too. I’m gonna own mine. I’m sitting here expecting you to do the least neighborly thing. Because in my lifelong experience — that’s just what my good neighbors do.


Thank you. I have kids to pick up at Quassy, so I’m out of here. Thank you for the six minutes.



Filed under Community, Favorite, Religion, Whatever

Simple machine

I WAS DEPRESSED when I woke up yesterday morning, and weight loss had reversed since I got sick earlier in the week, and it was 15° out and gloomy and there seemed no point. So I posted on Facebook:

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Because I’d posted something all tough-sounding, now I had to be able to say later that I’d done it, so I eventually found all my winter cycling clothes (not the Lycra ones, the jeans and parka ones) and went outside.

Because I keep a very cheap bottom-end single-speed fatbike outside, and still have the buckskin mittens I got in the Arctic and never thought I’d use again, I could ride to my new workspace without worrying about getting stuck there if it snowed during the day.

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Because cycling drives your psyche clean, I got there in a good mood, and because even 3.7 flat miles is a workout on a 60-pound bike with 15psi tires, I got there in a good mood and invigorated—and hungry.

Because I was now in Danbury, I didn’t have to eat random leftovers out of the fridge.

And because I was invigorated and fed, and have always loved any unfamiliar cold sweet drink, I was friendly and happy.

Because I was friendly, I got into a friendly conversation with one of the guys who started the Hackerspace, and because I’m “the book design guy,” was taken forcibly by the lapels and hauled across the street, to a medium-small press, where I was introduced to the publisher and acquiring editor.

Because I don’t have a headlight on this bike yet, I rode home just before dark.

Because I was home before dark, I had time to check out Open Mic Night at my local coffeehouse, which I liked better than the open mics I’ve checked out at local bars. I have a new song that’s almost done.

Because I hadn’t written all day, I felt the day had been a failure. But not the kind of failure where everything’s hopeless, which is how I’d felt in the morning; the kind where you know it actually is a failure of sorts, but because you got your riding in…eh, you know, no point being despondent. And the lard thing was pretty funny. Just do better tomorrow.

Here’s the lard thing. I have no idea how to count calories when buying Chinese food cooked by the owner of the grocery store:

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THIS MORNING I weighed in at less than 220 for the first time since November.

I was also a little sorrowful for no very clear reason, and a little sick, still. But the depression wasn’t so bad. And because I didn’t want to break the new streak, I rode to work again.

Bicycling gives you the same ideas you get when you’re falling asleep, only you can write them down when you get there. When I got to the Hackerspace, I wrote down what the climax and ending of this novel are.

(Because bicycling also replays painful old gaffes on a loop, I imagined how people I’ve been weird to—because at specific times of my life, my personality wasn’t back together yet—would react to the book. Eh, Snyder. Yeah, don’t like him. YOU can, I’m not saying otherwise. We all have our tastes, and none are wrong. Just…you know…*raised eyebrows and shrug*.)

(Because bicycling also pumps good mood through your entire being, I remembered I don’t actually care all that much that I sometimes fumble the social thing.)

Because I know the climax now, I’m taking a break from plotting and narrative and working on blurbable reviews. Publishers Weekly will call it one of the first masterworks of the early twenty-first century. The New York Times will marvel that a genre writer could have produced such a layered work of subtle complexity. These are advance blurbs, and subject to change.

I will be accused, by my friends, of snobbishly distancing myself from genre, and will patiently explain what I really meant in the interview. My explanation will be grudgingly accepted, but only four of my friends will still talk to me a month later. That’s a net gain of two, so this works out great.

Metal tubes, cables, rubber, leather. Gears and levers. Miracles.

Bruno the Big-Boned


Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Books, Community, Danbury, Divorce, ebook production, Freelancing, Hackerspace, Makerspace, Senseless acts of beauty

Dear 34th Precinct

August 24, 2012:

I’m leaving this up because I wrote it and meant it. However, I’ve learned more since then, so I can’t stand behind it. There may be another blog entry coming—not sure yet.

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Filed under Being a grownup, Civil rights, Community, Inwood, NYPD, Safety

From almost nothing

Nook on the bed

BECAUSE I BOUGHT a Nook Color a month ago, it was lying on the bed.

Because it was lying on the bed, a child picked it up and pushed some buttons.

Because he pushed some buttons, he saw a single-player chess app.

Because they didn’t get bored taking turns with the single-player chess app, I bought them a chess set and a chess book.

Because they requested it, they now get a section from the chess book and a game every night at bedtime, instead of a story.

How to Beat Your Brother at Chess


Dyckman Boys

Because we ride bikes, we get up to Isham for the Inwood greenmarket most Saturdays. It’s .6 miles. We wouldn’t walk it, and the subway or bus would cost $9.

Because the boys have a new travel chess set I got them so they could play on the bus after swim class, they brought it today and set it up where kids run around.

They explained the game to a new opponent and attracted an audience of kibitzers.

Chess audience

BECAUSE THEY’RE SO fixated on chess, and because we ride bikes to the Inwood greenmarket, and because bikes engage you with your surroundings instead of isolating you from them, they zeroed in on two men playing chess while we were riding past on Seaman.


Because Inwood has an active Twitter population, I knew one of the players by reputation.

“You can’t play,” I said, “but you can watch.”

“They can play!” offered the man I’d recognized.

So we braked and walked our bikes over.

The men welcomed them, talked to them, challenged them, and taught them the game of Pawns.

They, in turn, cracked one of the men up when I said, “Hey guys, tell him our name for en passant,” and the boys yelled in unison, WHACK ’IM WHILE HE’S RUNNING!

(“I’m running, I’m running—WHACK!” the man riffed, chuckling.)

After two games of Pawns, the boys played chess, with much better kibitzing than they’d had at the greenmarket, and I learned that Sundays, they set up multiple tables for whoever wants to play and actively help kids with the game. I also learned the man I was talking to had ditched his cigarette as the boys came up. They don’t want to teach that. Just chess.

Because it was all so cool, I forgot to take pictures.

Then because the whiny hungry crabbies had arrived, we said thank-you and rode home.

Broadway Boys

We ride bikes.

I got a Nook Color.

Therefore life has gone in a completely unforeseeable way.

Children’s chess, Sundays 10am–3pm, Seaman and 207. All are welcome.





Filed under Bicycling, BikeNYC, Bikes, Chess, Community, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Inwood, Kids, Parenting

David Brooks feels superior to you

FROM DAVID BROOKS’ New York Times article, Let’s All Feel Superior:

…a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption.

None of us? Not one? Really? Or are you just talking about yourself and the herd, David?

Because I don’t disagree that you and the herd are cowards.

IF I EVER have two seconds before a meteor hits me, and I want to tell my six-year-old boys what a man is, this is what I’ll say:

A man stands up.

If I misjudged the meteor and I have another thirty seconds or so, I explain that when I say “man,” it’s because of my personal associations with the word, not because women are excluded from the thought, and that because I have boys and need to address what they will do when they are men, I’m being specific with my language and we’re all male.

If it turns out it wasn’t a meteor, it was just a Nerf ball with orange streamers taped to it, I retrieve my glasses and return to my point:

Standing up is difficult. We’re trained since childhood to be good, be nice, be respectful of authority, do what all the other children are doing, strangle our natures for the good of the collective and the sanity of the teacher. Sheep training begins on day one of preschool. Sit still, don’t speak without raising your hand, don’t yell, don’t hit, don’t object, don’t allow yourself to be triggered when your sense of right and wrong is activated. Never take responsibility for halting an injustice. Leave the scene, find a teacher, and assume authority knows better than you do. Be a social animal. Go along to get along.

Here’s what I guess nobody ever taught you, David Brooks: To know you’re going to stand up, you have to decide what you’re going to do in advance when you walk around that corner and find that child being abused, because that’s the very moment when your herd mentality and your subordination to authority and fear of physical harm are going to kick in. Yeah, you got that much right in your article: You are going to feel those pressures and fears, your adrenaline is going to go crazy, and your moral blinders are going to slam shut.

But none of those—not one—is what you’re going to do next.

So what are you going to do next? Do you know? Apparently the answer is yes: You spent a whole Times article forgiving yourself, in advance, for doing nothing.

But you don’t speak for the grownups, child.

I DON’T THINK you even speak for the children. I think you speak for the Times writing you a check to get people mad.

BUT LET’S SAY I’m wrong, and you write things you really believe, with no consideration for the number of comments and page hits a little button-pushing gets you.

You invoked the Holocaust: I invoke Oskar Schindler.

You invoked Rwanda: I invoke Gisimba, Wilkens, and an unknown army major.

You invoke you: I invoke me.

The main difference between us, I imagine, is that I know who I can stand to be afterwards. I don’t know whether I’m strong enough to do it when an army is approaching—I haven’t been tested, hope not to be, and frankly doubt I’m up to that—but I know what I’ll do if I see a child being raped.

You say you don’t?

I accept that.

So many people do nothing while witnessing ongoing crimes, psychologists have a name for it: the Bystander Effect. The more people are around to witness the crime, the less likely they are to intervene.

THIS IS TRUE and incontrovertible.

It also doesn’t support your premise. It’s about groups. It has little bearing on one person encountering one person committing an atrocity on one person.

May I, and those who believe as I do, be given the opportunity to prove ourselves. Because it will mean that when someone needs help, we—not you and the herd—are there.

For some of us, it’s a test we will feel the need to rise to.

Some of us won’t.

Some of us will.



Filed under Being a grownup, Bravery, Community, Favorite, Kids, Parenting, Whatever

The Vigilante

RECENTLY I WAS referred to in a news story as the guy who organized some community bike rides at night in response to an uptick in nighttime sexual assaults in the area. Now, something you should know is there have been two whole rides so far—we’re busy, I’m sick, we have kids, the economy sucks—so if the story were just about that, it would be a little premature.
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Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, BikeNYC, Community, Favorite, Inwood, Safety, Whatever