1981, Jeff Mermelstein began taking trips to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he gravitated toward the abundant supply of bizarre characters populating this town made famous by Bruce Springsteen. Drawn to the seedy atmosphere and entranced by the taffy-rich colors, Mermelstein was mesmerized by the sights: a pink lady at a baby parade, a startled bag lady dressed in red, a cat-show judge named Mr. Friend. Things kept getting stranger for Mermelstein, whose first magazine assignment wasto photograph
animal actors, including the legendary four-pawed performers Morris the Cat, Lassie, Benji, the Merrill Lynch bull, the Exxon tiger, and Zippy, a performing chimp. "I still feel the excitement of hugging Zippy," Mermelstein has noted, "and watching and photographing
him in his bus as he entertained at a Bar Mitzvah on Long Island." Inspired by these encounters with the odd and unusual, Mermelstein began to vigorously prowl the streets of New York City during the mid-'80s...