By: Colleen Bauer
Ben Alessi, 21.Photo courtesy of Ben’s Facebook
"This might not be funny to you, but in case you didn’t realize, I’m doing stand-up comedy. And I can’t stand up," Ben jokes as he starts his interaction with the audience of the show at West Chester University, where he is a student.
During his performance, he had kept his MacBook on his lap and recorded video from it so that his friends that couldn’t make it there could watch it later.
“I couldn’t go up on the stage, though; it wasn’t handicap-accessible,” he tells me.
Ben Alessi, a 20-year-old from small town Harleysville, Pa., was struck by a car on Delaware Avenue outside of The Roxxy nightclub in Philadelphia about two years ago. He hit the windshield, sending him 10 feet in the air. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Feb. 14, 2010, would be the last day he would walk. He was in an induced coma for a month and is now a paraplegic.
“I broke my spine, my spinal cord was compressed, my neck, my ribs, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of everything – really though – oh, and a punctured lung,” Ben says, explaining the long list of what he physically suffered. “I guess the worst thing, though, is nerve pain. Imagine the pain you get in your butt when you sit too long. Times that by a million then by 5,000 – that’s where I’m at every day.”
Not only has the accident affected him so much physically, it’s changed his outlook on life completely. It inspired him to look to the future with positivity. When I asked him what advice he would give to any person, he says without hesitation, “Sometimes you can’t just suffer and be mad. You have to suffer and be grateful. The best way to deal with suffering is gratefulness, for sure.”
Not only does he feel that he personally has adjusted well to his accident but he thinks his good friends have as well and have been nothing but supportive. As he watches his younger friends grow up, he feels he’s inspired them to have a more optimistic outlook on things.
“Be easy” became a motto to Ben as motivation and inspiration to make a change from the careless life he lived before the accident. “I experienced life when it was easy and thought it was hard, and now I’m experiencing life when it’s actually hard. Like, when I have a good day now, I have a better day than when I thought I had a good day back then,” Ben tells me as we sit in the living room of his West Chester apartment.
“Be easy” was not only a personal motto and way of looking positively on life, but Ben made it into something much bigger than just that.
He had always had ideas of starting a clothing line prior to his accident, and creativity started at a young age.
“The first designs I put out were in like 5th grade. But nobody gave a fuck about me back then. So then I learned what people liked, and then in high school everybody knew me,” Ben says.
In the time Ben spent in rehabilitation, he came up with more up-to-date designs that jived with the “be easy” theme, and all of the designs he’s made himself. The first and one of the most popular designs was a T-shirt that reads “be easy” in a cloud of smoke.
Before he knew it, Ben had a huge client base. It started out as friends and acquaintances from high school supporting him, and the word spread quickly to many others. He estimates that there are at least 2,600 Easy Threads Clothing shirts out there to date.
His shirts always display the Easy Threads Clothing trademark and his initials appear on every piece of clothing somewhere as well.
Tank tops, T-shirts, snapback hats, hoodies and crewneck sweatshirts in an array of colors and designs clutter Ben’s apartment. A black and yellow Easy Threads T-shirt that reads “bang bang” hangs from the wall in his living room. Hundreds more are piled in boxes.
He continues to sell the clothing on his website. His clothing line has been somewhat of a help towards the more than $600,000 medical bills he owes, but Ben says, “it’s about the message – not the money.”
However, a concert at Penn State University last April donated a part of its ticket sales to the “Be Easy Paraplegic Fund.” The fund was founded by Jordan Rolon, who is a freshman in PSU’s Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. Rolon essentially made the concert happen and it was a sold-out show, which featured Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller.
Not only does Ben obviously strive for success and popularity of his own clothing line but he also tries to support others. He was recently featured in a music video that promoted a friend’s clothing line, See Me Apparel. “I want to help other people who have clothing lines as well, and with the marketing aspect of it,” Ben says.
He’s extremely open to helping other people with their ideas and he’s also open to anyone’s thoughts for his own company. “If anyone has ideas or anything for Easy Threads, give them my Facebook or my number. It’s all about people’s input,” Ben tells me.
He’s always trying to come up with newer, fresher ideas to continue his sales today. He looks to the future confidently and optimistically despite the everyday struggles he’s easy adapted to cope with. “Opportunities are endless but it’s frustrating. I’m definitely down a lot but I fight through it. God makes stronger people go through more shit. If I wasn’t able to handle this, God wouldn’t do it.” ETC designs. Photo courtesy of Ben’s Facebook
On his bucket list (next to getting a chance of meeting Jay-Z), his biggest goal for the future is to eventually be able to walk, but he claims he tries not to burden himself down with those things he can no longer do. He’s learned to simply do the things he can and the things he needs to do. His apartment is made handicap-accessible and a long silver ramp leads from his front door almost all the way to the sidewalk, which he flies down as we leave. We go to the corner of the busy, narrow West Chester road and wait to cross as an ambulance wails by. Ben looks at me and laughs “That would have at least made it a little convenient.”