Reaction to spider bite sends Stuy Town man to hospital

Roommates and friends Mohammed Tavakoli (left) and Andrew Garber

Roommates and friends Mohammed Tavakoli (left) and Andrew Garber (Photo courtesy of Mohammed Tavakoli)

By Sabina Mollot

For Mohammed Tavakoli, a Stuyvesant Town resident and law student, last Wednesday evening started out as a typical weeknight. The 24-year-old was at home with his two roommates, who are also his friends and fellow students at New York Law School, and had been watching a movie. At one point, the roommates headed outside for a smoke, Tavakoli joined them and then they went back inside.

About a half hour later, Tavakoli started to break out in hives. At first no one noticed, even him, since it was dark in the room. But then Tavakoli started to feel short of breath, and figured he would just go to bed. His roommate, Andrew Garber, was more concerned, thinking the symptoms pointed to an allergic reaction, and he suggested that Tavakoli go to the hospital. But he refused.

“I hate hospitals,” Tavakoli admitted in an interview with Town & Village this week, “and I’m stubborn. He was persistent, but I didn’t want to do it.”

Instead, Tavakoli figured he would just take some Benadryl. But in just 15 minutes, which is the time it took for Garber to return from the store with the medicine, Tavakoli had taken a turn for the worse. His airway was blocked. Garber “wanted to call me an ambulance, but I didn’t want one,” said Tavakoli, who insisted on walking to the hospital himself. “It’s across the street.”

He quickly changed his mind once they got outside, though, since the men spotted a cab dropping someone off in Stuy Town and hailed it. At this point, “I was about to black out,” said Tavakoli. “I was gasping for air.” The next things that happened were a blur. Within seconds, Garber had asked the driver to pull over.

Then, he warned Tavakoli he’d be feeling a punch and jammed an EpiPen into his friend’s thigh. Garber happened to have the pen because of his own severe allergy to nuts and he suspected Tavakoli might need it, too.

This was fortunate since it likely helped save his friend’s life. Tavakoli recalled that though he started to black out, a few seconds after being shot with the pen, he felt fine again.

Still, a few minutes later he was being admitted to Beth Israel hospital, and this time he didn’t try to refuse medical attention. It was at Beth Israel, where doctors gave Tavakoli anti-venom and kept him at the hospital overnight for observation.

“The doctors said that if I hadn’t received the EpiPen when I did, my life could have been in serious danger,” said Tavakoli.

They also explained to him that he’d gone into anaphylactic shock, which was the result of being bitten four times on the arm by a spider. With the hives that had appeared earlier having gone down, Tavakoli was able to see that the spider’s fangs had left marks that looked like large mosquito bites. No one at the hospital could tell Tavakoli exactly what kind of spider it was, other that it was a big one.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d get bitten by a spider,” said Tavakoli who suspected it happened outside his building. “We’ve ever noticed any spiders inside.”

Not having previous known he was allergic to spider bites, he was naturally grateful for Garber’s knowledge of allergy symptoms and how to treat them in an emergency.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Tavakoli, “but he can never eat a cupcake without fear there could be a trace of nut in it. We ended up joking about it, like, ‘Who knew your allergies would come in handy some day?’”

Though the experience left Tavakoli somewhat shaken up, he said he’s doing fine today. He contacted T&V, he explained, to make sure his friend gets some recognition for his actions.

“So far, the only recognition Andrew has received for his quick thinking is a few pitchers of cheap beer and a Batman cupcake,” said Tavakoli.

Mohammed Tavakoli, Andrew Garber and Danilo Castelli at a recent event at the 69th Regiment Armory that Tavakoli and friends were hosting

Mohammed Tavakoli, Andrew Garber and Danilo Castelli at a recent event at the 69th Regiment Armory that Tavakoli and friends were hosting

But odds are Garber is aware of Tavakoli’s gratitude. The men, along with being roommates, are best friends, despite their religious differences. Tavakoli is Muslim and Garber is Jewish. Additionally, their other roommate, Danilo Castelli, who is also a good friend, is Catholic.

Not shy about poking fun at their different faiths, the invitation on their housewarming party read like the opening line to a joke. “What happens when a Jew, a Muslim and a Catholic get together?”

As for how they deal with the prickly subject of Middle Eastern politics and the current Israeli incursion in Gaza, Tavakoli admitted he and Garber generally just try not to bring it up. Instead, the three roommates often spend their free time cooking dinner in their apartment, listening to oldies in their extensive record collection or playing Area 51, a 90s-era arcade game they also have at home.

“We’re a bunch of grown men, so it’s a little sad, but we shoot aliens together,” said Tavakoli.

Other times, they just make the most of living in Stuy Town.

“There are squirrels and chipmunks,” said Tavakoli. “We have friends who are a few apartments over so we have each other over. We really love it.”

Tavakoli, a native of Toronto, Canada, met Castelli, 25, and Garber, 24, at New York Law. The third year students moved to the community two months ago, after previously living in a dorm and now live in a converted three-bedroom apartment.

Gramercy food tasting festival to return

Paella is served at the Casa Mono table at the 2013 Taste of Gramercy event. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Paella is served at the Casa Mono table at the 2013 Taste of Gramercy event. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood, a food festival and fundraiser that debuted last year by the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates (GNA), will soon return for a second helping on Irving Place.

The event, which was attended by over 400 people last year and had 20 restaurants participating, will be held this year on Saturday, September 13 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. This time, there are 22 restaurants that will be offering tastings of their signature dishes, including the new Indian restaurant A Spice Lane and Almayass, a Lebanese restaurant. Also involved for the first time is Farm to Me, an organization that distributes farm products to retailers and consumers. The name, too, is new. Originally, the event was just called Taste of Gramercy.

Like last year, Taste will take up one block, Irving Place between 17th and 18th Streets. How much the event costs depends on how much attendees want to eat. A $30 ticket will buy tastings from six booths. (This is the early bird price through August, though. Tickets go up to $40 in September and $50 on the day of. An $80 ticket on the day of the event entitles an attendee to have a tasting from every restaurant. Proceeds from the event will then go towards expanding the healthy lunch options at two neighborhood schools: PS40 and School of the Future. Any unserved food will be brought to the Bowery Mission.

Alan Krevis, president of the GNA, said he’s hoping that the event will appeal to foodies around the city as well as people living within walking distance. “I think there are already more than just local people,” he said. “What we saw a lot of last year, because it was such a beautiful day, people would just happen to walk by and say, ‘This looks great.’ They were primarily neighborhood people, but we also saw a lot of people staying at the W.”

Gramercy Neighborhood Associates volunteers at last year’s event including Gary Horowitz, GNA President Alan Krevis and Antonella Napolitano

Gramercy Neighborhood Associates volunteers at last year’s event including Gary Horowitz, GNA President Alan Krevis and Antonella Napolitano

The tasting menus have not yet been decided on by the participants, but last year popular dishes included the meatballs, gnocci and eggplant rollatini from Paul & Jimmy’s, tuna tartare cannoli from The Stand and shrimp paella from Casa Mono, all of whom are returning in September. A few other participants are Ichabod’s, Giorgio’s of Gramercy, Ainsworth Park, Jack’s Sliders and Sushi and ExKI NYC. Water will be provided by sponsors Watermelon Water, Fogo and Trader Joe’s and coffee will flow at the 71 Irving stand.

What there won’t be are alcoholic beverages, with GNA board member Ellaine Day explaining the permits were just too difficult to get.

“That’s a nightmare of permits,” she said. “It’s very expensive to sell alcohol.”

“We don’t want to grow too fast,” Krevis added. “That’s why we stayed at the one street level, because we want to keep a handle on it.”

Meanwhile, Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood almost didn’t happen at all. Last year, when a GNA board member first suggested the idea to Krevis, he initially shrugged it off, thinking it would be way too big for a small organization like his to handle. “Honestly, it is a lot of hours for us to put in,” he said, “so we’re just focused on this event right now.”

As a result, another fall event the GNA is known for putting on each year, the Canine Comedy Parade, has been put on hiatus. “It needed a rest,” said Krevis. Instead, the GNA will be organizing an event with Baruch High School and College in October.

For tickets to Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood, visit