Onan The Vegetarian

Dan Hoyt shows off his raw-food wizardry.Photo: Jennifer Karady

As soon as the subway doors opened, Thao Nguyen could sense she was in trouble. A short blond man boarded the train and locked his eyes on her. She felt a jolt of panic as the uptown R accelerated into a tunnel and the man sat down across from her and started rubbing his crotch. Nguyen, 22, was wearing a blouse and long pants, having just come from a job interview in Soho. He unzipped his fly and grinned.

She looked away but could see the man’s increasingly agitated reflection in the pockmarked train window. To avoid eye contact, she reached in her bag and pulled out her camera-equipped cell phone. She turned it on. Turned it off. Thought about the Mace canister she was carrying as she fumbled the phone to the floor. When she sat up, the man had his penis out of his pants.

Just a few feet away, a Japanese tourist couple chatted, oblivious to the goings-on. Nguyen’s Mace was right there, at her fingertips. She thought one more time about using it—then snapped a picture instead.

The man zipped up, and when the doors opened at the next station, he bolted. Nguyen took a deep breath and a couple of moments to compose herself, then looked at the shot she’d taken. There it was, captured in the lurid yellow subway light. She got off the train at 34th Street to report the incident to a policewoman. The officer took the report but didn’t want to see the photo. So that evening, Nguyen, a Web designer, uploaded the image to the girl-power site Laundromatic.net, hoping someone would identify her flasher.

Soon, the page filled with posts from other New Yorkers who had been flashed, ogled, or groped on the subway. “Why does this always happen on that damn R train?” rainey_daze wrote. “This has happened to me TWICE on there.” More sites started linking, and within a week, some 45,000 people had seen the picture. On August 27, the Daily News ran the flasher photo on page one, propelling the story around the world, from TV stations in Japan and the Netherlands to papers in Israel and Australia. “Holy shit! That’s Stu from accounting!” one wag wrote beneath the photo on Gothamist.com, noting the wholesome appearance of the perpetrator.

With his black polo shirt, dress socks, and sensible sneakers, he simply didn’t fit the widely held perception of subway perverts. Weren’t they supposed to be greasy men in shabby raincoats? Some are. Just two weeks before, local blogs had linked to photos of a real “old-school trench-coat flasher,” in the victim’s words, with hollow eyes and an unshaven chin. But this one looked like a soccer dad.

Dan Hoyt lives on East 10th Street, in a tiny room behind a shop. His roommate sleeps on a loft over a door that leads to the basement, while Hoyt, 43 and divorced, sleeps on a raised wooden loft with a couch and coffee table underneath. Next to his bed are stacks of videos, including Starship Troopers, a 1997 sci-fi comedy about an invasion of space bugs. I scan for porn movies and blow-up sex dolls, to no avail.

Hoyt, who’s five-three and light pink, is prying the top off a young coconut. “Just look at that meat,” he says, poking around with a knife. “It’s really, really soft and fleshy.” He dumps the coconut water into a blender, adds a few macadamia nuts and a glop of raw vanilla extract. He presses a button. The machine whirs. Twenty seconds later, I’m sipping a beverage Hoyt calls nut milk. “High alkaline,” he says. “Really good for you.”

Soon, he’s stuffing endives with a “cream cheese” made from puréed coconut, macadamia nuts, shallots, lemon juice, and salt. Using a food processor, he makes a cake of coconut flakes, pecans, vanilla extract, and dates, topped with sliced figs. He also makes chocolate pudding out of avocados, honey, and cocoa powder. “The kids love it!” he boasts.

Before he became last year’s most infamous subway masturbator following his September 1 arrest, Hoyt had semi-fame in New Age circles as an innovator in the city’s small but growing raw-food scene. In 1999, he and his ex-wife, business partner, and best friend Tolentin “Mun” Chan opened New York’s first raw-food restaurant, Quintessence, on East 10th Street. They had room for only seven tables, but lines formed out the door. Woody Harrelson, Crispin Glover, and Lou Reed ate there. Carol Alt invited Hoyt to do a segment on Fox 5’s Good Day New York.

Hoyt first discovered raw food in the mid-nineties through his neighbor David Jubb, who runs a health-food shop on East 12th Street called Jubb’s Longevity. Jubb wears a Hare Krishna–style topknot on his head and is prone to oracular pronouncements. (“The ancient ones wanted us to know it’s no secret why death occurs,” Jubb says, “so they put eat in the middle.”)

The photo that started it.Photo: From left: Courtesy of Thao Nguyen; New York Daily News

Hoyt became fascinated with Jubb and his belief in breatharianism, the idea that it’s possible to live on nothing at all. From 1995 until October 2004, Jubb says, he subsisted almost entirely on one cup of herbal tea (with honey) per day. The rest of his nutritional needs were produced by “intestinal flora and friendly yeast”—plus his own urine, which he drinks two or three times a day. “It tastes a bit like seawater,” Jubb says of his drink, which he pronounces “you-Rhine,” like the river. “It can be a little foreign, but eventually it gets to the point where it’s quite enjoyable.”

Breatharianism was discredited as a hoax in the eighties, after the leader of the Breatharian Institute of America, Wiley Brooks, was discovered gobbling chicken potpies when he thought nobody was looking. Brooks blamed air pollution for the slipup. Although Hoyt himself hasn’t tried breatharianism, he believes it’s possible under the right circumstances. “If we lived in a 100 percent pure, natural, perfect Earth, we probably wouldn’t need to eat,” he says. “Especially if you’re living on a mountaintop in Maui, with good sunshine, breathing in ocean salts and nutrients.”

I’ve met women who enjoy it. I had a woman tell me, “you know, that sounds exciting to me.”

Jubb also taught Hoyt about raw foods, a fad popularized in the early sixties by Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian immigrant to Boston. Widely credited with promoting wheatgrass juice and alfalfa sprouts, Wigmore also talked a lot about what you can’t eat. Milk, meat, eggs, and cheese are off-limits for raw-foodists; so are bread, soy milk, and tofu. Some raw-foodies, including Jubb, also condemn the “runaway sugars and strange, undigestible proteins” in corn, oats, beets, bananas, and carrots, which leaves little more than a handful of vegetables, fruits, and nuts—and none of those can be heated over 118 degrees Fahrenheit, because that would allegedly destroy key enzymes. “Enzymes are our life force,” Hoyt explains. “They do all the work to keep our bodies young, happy, alive, and vibrant.”

Hoyt tells me of pictures taken with Kirlian photography, a technique used to measure auras. “An organic raw vegetable has a huge rainbowlike aura,” he says. “A cooked organic has less. And a cooked, factory-farmed vegetable has almost no rainbow at all.”

Hoyt grew up plagued by severe dyslexia. “I’m an incredibly bright person, but I was always put down and put aside,” he says. “In college people would turn around to me and ask me questions. I would explain things to the other kids, but then we’d take a test and they would get an A and I would get a D.” Later, he dropped out of an Ohio technical college. “If I stayed there,” he says, “I would have wound up fixing TVs.”

Originally, Hoyt’s plan was to be a rock star. After arriving in New York in 1988, he played around the East Village with an industrial synth band called Lysdexic (a nod to his disability), then made a demo tape that never got picked up by a label. “What Korn is doing now, I was doing in 1988,” he says. “If I had just stuck with it, I could have been Nine Inch Nails or Linkin Park.”

Hoyt explains that he has dealt with his various disappointments by throwing himself into fast and dangerous sports. He has screamed across motocross courses, bombed down ski slopes. “Then I moved to New York,” he says, “and everything just kind of stopped.”

Without skiing or bike racing as an outlet, he took to exposing himself in public. He is very matter-of-fact about it. “It’s the possibility of being caught or discovered, the thrill of doing something crazy,” Hoyt says, comparing the feeling to one he had many years ago, when he was skiing Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon and abruptly veered from the trail, flying off a 40-foot cliff for no reason. “I’ve raced motorcycles, raced bicycles, skied competitively. I’ve hit trees at 60 miles an hour. Been run over by a motorcycle. I’ve broken arms, broken my leg, tore cartilage in my knee.”

Since 1994, when he was arrested for a lewd display on the 8th Street N/R platform, his thrill-seeking hadn’t gotten him into trouble with the law again—until recently. Hoyt says he doesn’t make a habit of touching himself on the subway, but he occasionally reveals his penis in other settings. “There have been situations in a bar or nightclub where you’re fooling around with somebody and yeah, you’re exposed. It’s nothing really accessible. Just sort of hidden, but risky. If someone looked closely, they could see what’s going on.”

Some people are offended. “Everybody has their limitations,” Hoyt says. “For some people, it’s very, very wrong. Everybody has things to hide—things they don’t tell their best friend. I’ve seen Websites with scat and stuff and I think, What? Who would possibly be excited about that? But there are people who probably look at me and say, ‘How could that possibly be exciting in any way?’ ” As for his R-train exploits, Hoyt says, “I’ve met women who enjoy it. After this incident happened, I had a woman tell me, ‘You know, that sounds exciting to me.’ She wouldn’t mind being on the other end.”

Spotting his photo on the Daily News front page of August 27 was quite a buzz kill for Hoyt, who’d hosted a party the previous night with Chan at the Jivamukti Yoga Center on Lafayette Street. Mun’s Dynamic Life Festival, as they called it, was a way for the duo to introduce people to their shared passions. Before an audience of about 150, Hoyt showed off concoctions like hemp-seed burgers and raw mango-blueberry pie.

At the peak of their success, Hoyt and Chan owned three Quintessence restaurants around the city. The Upper East Side outpost shuttered during the winter of 2004; their Upper West Side branch, at 87th and Amsterdam, closed abruptly in January. In the weeks after Hoyt’s highly publicized arrest, his restaurants received prank calls on a daily basis. “Do you have sperm on the menu today?” inquired one caller. A blogger discovered Hoyt’s name was an anagram for “hand toy.” Raw-food enthusiast Denise Mari says she dined at Quintessence “40 times in a row” when she first switched to the diet; later she took six months of classes with Hoyt to prepare his recipes on her own. Before his arrest, she admired him. Afterward she wondered, “Do we abandon somebody because this happened? Or do we say this was a friend; we stay by them?” For some, the choice was easy. One Quintessence regular posted an irate e-mail to a local raw-food list, arguing for a boycott of Hoyt’s eateries. Other adherents believe he simply fell off the program. “I don’t think he was eating totally raw,” one wrote.

Convicted of public lewdness, a misdemeanor, on February 27, Hoyt is awaiting sentencing on April 18, when he’ll likely receive two years’ probation. He’s already begun court-ordered counseling, but he finds the sessions “a little long-winded.” He’s looking into an alternative therapy called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which Hoyt believes removes emotional problems like stains from a shirt. “They go right to where the stress points are and eliminate them,” he says.

The subway incident has spawned a mini-movement of sorts. Inspired by Nguyen, a 15-year-old Queens girl used a cell phone to snap her own picture of a man who flashed her on the 7 train on March 3. A group of Nguyen’s East Village fans have started Hollabacknyc.com, a blog that encourages all women to “holla back” at street harassers by taking cell-phone pictures and posting them online. Nguyen “took the leap to say, ‘Uh-uh. This is not okay,’ ” says Hollaback co-founder Emily May. “She’s our princess,” adds another co-founder, Lauren Spees. “He picked the wrong person to do this to,” Nguyen says.

Not surprisingly, Hoyt himself disapproves of such tactics. In his account, the perpetrator is Nguyen, who misread his intentions (he claims he was already mid-masturbation when she stepped onto the train) and then humiliated him by posting his picture on the Web. He says he didn’t even realize he’d been photographed. “Even so, I wouldn’t imagine somebody throwing it up on the Internet for millions of people and destroying your life like that,” he says. “It’s one thing to take it to the police. But on the Internet, I read a lot of people saying, ‘That was not too cool of her. That was really screwed up.’ ”

Hoyt believes that if he and Nguyen had only met under different circumstances, she might really like him. “You know, she’d go, ‘That guy’s pretty cool. He’s got this restaurant, and he’s fun,’ ” Hoyt says. “She’d probably want to go out with me.”

Onan The Vegetarian