"My penis has given me the ability to heal," Te' DeVan "Rocketman" Kurzweil told The New York Observer last January. "I need someone who has a headache, congestion, back pain or any other pain?and the power of my penis, without touching you, through the power of my hand, will heal you."
Forward to June 27. Kurzweil awoke at 9:37 this morning in his New Jersey home, prepared a breakfast of scrambled eggs and parmesan cheese, then bought a used gas mask at his neighborhood Army surplus store and took a train into Times Square. There he attempted to recruit as many New Yorkers as possible to protest in front of a Queens grocery store he believes is operated by men directly connected to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"I'm gonna stand outside the store yelling like a maniac, 'You're a fucking terrorist! You're a terrorist! You're responsible for Sept. 11!'" declared the 23-year-old Kurzweil, who stands 6-foot-7, holds a psychology degree from the University of Michigan and makes his living as a street-based faith healer. "At which point you can assume they'll come out and fight me. Terrorists don't like attention being drawn to them. I'm really good at drawing attention, so I'm like the Anti-Terrorist."
According to Kurzweil, the grocery store?located in Jamaica, Queens?employed Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta a month prior to the 9/11 attacks, and is responsible for last fall's anthrax scare on the East Coast.
"I casually went up to the guys in the grocery store and said, 'Hey, didn't Mohammed Atta used to work here? I swear he used to work here behind the counter,'" Kurzweil said. "And the one guy goes, 'Maybe, I don't know.' And the other guy goes, 'Yes, he used to work here.' And then I asked them about the anthrax, at which point they proceeded to laugh, and it was that kind of awkward, knowing laugh."
And so Kurzweil traveled to Times Square, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and carrying a poster that read TERRORISTS ARE IN JAMAICA, QUEENS, then went on to say that this grocery store MADE ANTHRAX/CONSPIRED/ MOHAMMED ATTA.
"The fact I know this and the cops don't nine months after the fact scares me," Kurzweil told numerous passersby. "This is the truth and it's right under my nose, and I told the FBI and they ignore it. They said they don't have time? These people tried to anthrax my friend. This is the truth, and I'm not an FBI agent but I know this is the truth."
Unfortunately for Rocketman, only one man besides this reporter agreed to join him on his journey to Queens: Cyril, an unemployed West African actor who had a bit role in the successful 1996 movie Twister.
"I believe him," Cyril said. "You know, if something goes down there?if shit breaks out and we fight these men?only the blacks will come to our aid. Only the blacks will fight with us against these men."
"If I don't do this?if I stop now and these guys kill more people?I don't want that on my conscience," Kurzweil said as the three of us rode the subway to Queens. "I couldn't live with that, knowing I could've done something. Yeah, there's a good chance I'm going to get really hurt today? Terrorists don't like it when you blow up their spot. When you flush these people out, yeah, there's danger involved. But I totally believe in the afterlife, you know? I totally believe in something so much greater than we can understand."
Minutes later Kurzweil and Cyril stood facing a small grocery on Hillside Ave. with gas masks donned, holding the TERRORISTS ARE IN JAMAICA, QUEENS poster and screaming at every bystander in sight. Before long three men came outside. Instead of telephoning the police as one might've expected with two men?one of them crazy-looking?screaming outside their establishment, they repeatedly photographed Kurzweil and Cyril. Then they approached me, standing across the street.
"You came here to cause trouble," one said.
"No," I replied. "I'm just a writer."
"No," the man scowled. "You came here to cause trouble."
Later that night, Tommy Smalls and his wife, Hope, who worked for an insurance firm previously located on the 51st floor of WTC Tower Two, called me at home. Tommy is the friend Kurzweil claims terrorists "tried to anthrax." Tommy and Hope, former Jamaica residents who now say they're in hiding, are the source of much of what Kurzweil says about the grocery store. It's a story they told to the Village Voice pseudonymously last December. They spun it out for me, the most intricate conspiracy theory this side of The X-Files.
"I went into the store Sept. 10 and spoke to [the owner's son]," Tommy said. "And he said, 'Tommy, you work in the Trade Center?' And I said, 'No, Hope works in the Trade Center.' And he said, 'Well, tell her not to go to work tomorrow.' ?As far back as July 24 they were telling us, 'That's not a good place to work.'"
Tommy and Hope lived then on the second floor of a seven-story apartment complex one block from the grocery store. Both claim that a man who identified himself as Mohammed Atta temporarily lived in the apartment across the hall, and that the building is currently being investigated by the FBI.
When asked about this, the building's superintendent said he isn't allowed to talk to anyone. The FBI was equally unforthcoming when we called.
"[Atta] told us his name," Tommy said. "And I made a joke to my wife: All he needs is a 'C' and a 'K' and it would be Mohammed Attack... He used to say, 'I kill Americans?I'm gonna kill a whole planeload.' That's one of the last things he said to me. He said, 'Remember my face. Remember my face.'"
Across the street from the grocery store is a thrift shop. The woman who runs it now says she was confused when she told her story to the Voice back in December?a story of antagonistic Arab and Indian neighbors, of strange packages and warnings and a white powder found in one of her tea cups. She told the Voice that she developed a mysterious illness and lesions, was tested and proved negative for anthrax. She also said that 61-year-old Kathy Nguyen was her customer. Nguyen died of inhalation of anthrax on Halloween. "I know it was [Nguyen]," she told the Voice. "I remember: She said she worked at Ears and Throat."
Indeed, Nguyen worked in the stock room of the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, and how she contracted anthrax is still an official mystery. Hope claims that 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren, who died of anthrax by Thanksgiving, also visited the store, though the owner denies it. CNN reported Nov. 23 that the FBI had been looking into the possibility Nguyen and Lundgren had been in the same location.
When we spoke to Nguyen's friend Gina Ramjassingh, however, she said she doesn't believe Nguyen had been in Queens. Calls to Lundgren's niece weren't returned.
Back to Tommy and Hope and their story.
"In mid-August, 17 men came out of [Atta's] apartment with suitcases," Hope said. "I tell you, the man lived in that apartment with nothing."
"Before the World Trade Center they became very cocky, very animated," Tommy added. "I knew these guys six, seven years and they were never like this. Right after the World Trade Center they were the happiest people in the world, talking about how bombs are going to fall from the sky, how people are going to be afraid to open their mail."
Later, "Rocketman" Kurzweil called on the other line.
"Hey man, I just fell asleep in Penn Station," he said. "And I had the poster and my backpack under my feet, and I woke up and they were gone. Think about it. Why would some pickpocket want my poster? I think I'm being watched, man. I know I'm being watched."
Research assistance: Ned Vizzini