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Public eye: Alex Vega, 28

New York street interviews: Stories from the sidewalk as told by real New Yorkers about their lives in the city that never sleeps.

Photograph: Allison Michael Orenstein
Alex Vega, 28

51st St between Fifth and Sixth Aves

Wait, didn’t you write your name as Douglas on the release form? Yes, but my older brother’s name is also Douglas, so I go by my middle name, Alex.

Weird. You’re the second Public Eye subject in, like, two weeks who has the same name as his brother. Aw, poor guy! I thought I was the only one.

So what’s up with your parents? I think they just really liked the name Douglas. The family joke is that my brother was named after Kirk Douglas and I was named after Douglas MacArthur.

How’s that working out for you? [Laughs] Not very well. I live my life more like an Alex.

And how does an Alex live? Not very militaristically.

But somewhat Gatsby-ishly? Thank you, yes. I’ve always liked to dress up, but it intensified last year when I was in a car accident. I was left with a shattered ankle, and I had to relearn how to walk and use a cane for a while. I was kind of down—an accident like that shakes up your life. So to cheer myself up I got different canes: One is a wolf’s head, the other is an eagle. I kinda let my cane dress me for a while and it stuck.

What do you do? I teach English and Spanish at Berlitz and I have an afternoon job as an elevator and escalator mechanic.

I don’t know if I’d want my elevator repaired by someone who looks straight out of the 1920s. [Laughs] Actually, you might: You’d be surprised how many elevators look new but were built back then.

Fair point! Are you from New York? I came here 14 years ago. I’m from El Salvador.

Have you been back much? Last time was in 2010. It’s a problem because of my tattoos.

Why? Twenty years ago we had a civil war, and after it was over, the guns ended up in the hands of kids. Now these teenage gangs are going crazy stealing money and moving toward organized crime. Every gang has different tattoo themes. My family worries that one gang will confuse my tattoos for a rival’s, or that the police will confuse me for a gang member.

Even though they’re not exactly gang symbols. I know! My tattoos are geeky—I have mythological creatures and stuff. But my family is afraid no one will scrutinize them.

Now you’d have to worry about them scrutinizing the mustache, too. Yeah. They’d probably just tease me for that. [Laughs]

More from Alex

“I go to a lot of punk shows.”