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Peeler Joe

Lifestyle/Technology | A showman and "grafter," Joseph Ades keeps going, and going ...

Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

NEW YORK CITY-For 15 years Joseph Ades, now 74 years old, has been pitching vegetable peelers on Manhattan street corners. He's been featured in articles in the New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, and most recently the New York Post. He's such a fixture at the outdoor greenmarket in New York City's Union Square that tourists take videos of him and post them online.

Selling outside amid cold and heat would seem to be more of a young man's trade, but Ades proudly calls himself a grafter, not a salesman, and says he learned the trade in his native Manchester, England. There men would set up shop on street corners and hawk shoelaces and other inexpensive items, relying on their patter and showmanship to draw a crowd and make a sale.

Ades found he had the grafter's gift and has practiced the art in England, Australia, and New York, where he operates without a vendor's permit-and so has to move around when the police come. He says he still likes the challenge of going out every day and needing to gather a crowd to pitch his peelers. He told the New York Post that he makes $500 dollars a day doing what he loves.

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I watched him one recent fall day. He'd already set up his workspace: a low campstool sat in front of white plastic storage bins that contained his produce. A white cutting board sat on top of the bins. He sat on the stool, on this day dressed sharply in slacks, a V-neck sweater, sport coat, and tie. White hair and beard set off his tanned face. He calmly ate a baguette sandwich while people strolled past him on the way to the market. When lunch was done he pulled on a pair of plastic gloves, picked up a peeler and a carrot, and started in mid-sentence: "Do this for the kids. You can all do this; there's no trick, no skill . . ." All the while his hands are dicing and slicing, turning carrots into flower slices and potatoes into fries or chips.

As people walked by he continued, never pausing in his patter: "When you peel a potato it doesn't matter if you're right-handed or left-handed, or, like a politician, underhanded." One or two people stopped to listen, drawn in by the Cockney/Australian accent. "If you try to slice like this, as thin as this, with a knife, you'll cut yourself."

Soon he had a small gathering watching him but standing off a few yards. He sensed their nervousness and addressed it: "Come a little closer. I won't ask you for money. You don't have to be afraid." People inched closer. "They're made of stainless steel. They can't rust. Throw it in the dishwasher and it won't come to any harm."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills: "It's five dollars. Or four for 20 and you get one free. Why would anyone want five if they last a lifetime? Because you've got four friends. You can't buy anything from Switzerland that costs five dollars."

It took him about 15 minutes to gather a crowd of 20 in a semi-circle around him. Soon money exchanged hands, he handed out the peelers, and the crowd began to drift away. He immediately returned to his spiel, starting over again-and the same thing happened. He knows his script and apparently loves it.

Vanity Fair visited him in the fancy Upper East Side apartment he shared with his fourth wife until she died in 2007. He recalled a lesson he learned as a boy from an older grafter in England: "Never underestimate a small amount of money."

Friendly confines

The USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future found emerging differences between the way that men and women use the internet and feel about their online contacts. In an annual survey of 2,000 households, researchers found that 14 percent of all respondents said that the time they spent at online social networking sites was somewhat cutting into the time they spent offline with friends, but men reported that result more than three times as often as women did (21 percent to 7 percent).

About 55 percent of all users report that they feel as strongly about their online social networks as their offline ones, but men again took the lead (60 percent for men to 47 percent for women). Not surprisingly, men were more likely to meet in person with their online buddies (60 percent for men to 50 percent for women). Men are still more frequent web surfers, with 53 percent going online at least once a day compared to 40 percent of women.

Two-part eHarmony

In March 2005 a New Jersey homosexual, Eric McKinley, sued dating site eHarmony.com for violating the state's Law Against Discrimination by not offering dating services to gays and lesbians. Last month eHarmony settled the lawsuit with the New Jersey attorney general by agreeing to set up a new website called Compatible Partners that will offer "male seeking a male" and "female seeking a female" matches.

As part of the settlement, which admitted no wrongdoing on eHarmony's part, the company agreed to pay the state $50,000 for the cost of the investigation and $5,000 and a year's free membership to McKinley. It also agreed to use pictures of gay couples in its advertising and state that Compatible Partners is affiliated with eHarmony. The new website must be available by March 31, 2009, and operate for at least two years.

True Crime

Two recent stories, one from the Netherlands and the other from Japan, seemed to suggest that courts are finding people guilty of "crimes" committed in online virtual worlds. In the Netherlands, AP reported that two youths were convicted of stealing a "virtual amulet and a virtual mask" from another boy in the online game RuneScape. In Japan a woman faced charges for the virtual murder of her online husband after he divorced her. Yahoo News reported her reaction to finding out that her online avatar was no longer married: "I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry."

Turns out that neither crime was as it first appeared. The convicted boys in the Netherlands assaulted their victim in the real world until he transferred the virtual objects to their account. They were convicted of criminal behavior in the real world-not the virtual one.

And in Japan, the piano teacher who committed the virtual murder was being investigated for illegally accessing the account of the man whose avatar she "murdered." According to the report, she used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married. He complained to police when he found his avatar murdered.

People may be having a hard time keeping their virtual and real worlds separate, but so far it doesn't seem as though the courts are having the same problem.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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