This post is like a Table of Contents. It’s a meta-post of links to photojournalistic blogposts of my trip to New York six months ago, amidst the Omicron wave of Covid in Manhattan, for five days in late January. The links are in chronological order, and refer back progressively, like chapters about my trip.
I was able to film as we approached on the afternoon of January 19th, flying into New York City.
The streets were weirdly quiet and absent of crowds – like I have never seen Manhattan before, even in the heart of winter. New York was dead.
That afternoon and evening I hung out at Summit One Vanderbilt, which was exceptional. Because I purchased the afternoon Premium ticket, the sunset ticket, with access to the elevator to the summit, I was able to hang out in the bar all evening, where I was joined in conversation and fun by rotating groups of tourists (wonderful conversations atop Manhattan), and the elevator to the highest viewpoint was amazing.
had a perfect breakfast sandwich at Chez Nick in Yorkville, a place to which I returned – delicious spot over there. It was the week that people were putting their Christmas trees out for pick up. Many people and hotels instead, turned them into decorative features in front of their buildings.
January 23rd was my chance by appointment only to catch the last days of the chronological exhibition on the ramps of the Guggenheim, Kandinsky at the Gugg. That was, quite frankly, an excellent exhibition.
Five days in Manhattan: Opera. Museums. Observation Bar. Streets. and tossed out Xmas trees – Lakshmi-auntie would approve.
The installation Vasily Kandinsky Around the Circle, at the Guggenheim, curated by Megan Fontanella, opened in October and was closing in February, so I added it to my agenda for Sunday morning, my last in town.
The installation website has excellent details about the curatorial decision making. Kandinsky, a complicated figure, is here sensitively exposed. In this exhibition, Kandinsky’s work unfolds in reverse chronological order, starting with his late-life paintings and proceeding upward along the Guggenheim’s spiral ramp.
“Choose a direction for your perusal of “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle,” a retrospective that lines the upper three-fifths of the Guggenheim Museum’s ramp with some eighty paintings, drawings, and woodcuts by the Russian hierophant of abstraction, who died in France in 1944, at the age of seventy-seven. The show’s curator, Megan Fontanella, recommends starting at the bottom, with the overwrought works of the artist’s final phase, and proceeding upward, back to the simpler Expressionist landscapes and horsemen of his early career. This course is canny in terms of your enjoyment, which increases as you go.”
And, given the way the last year and a half had been, I decided to start at the bottom and go up, in reverse chrono, for the canny enjoyment, rather than the decay into madness.
I had, again, scheduled the earliest appointment of Sunday morning. In this instance, I was walking directly from Chez Nick, so arrived early and was first in line, masked and with my vaccination card and i.d.
I have a series of works that relate to reincarnation. I make copies of, or represent works made by artists I respect who died the year I was born. One of these is a rubber stamp print of Magritte’s Labors of Alexander, his last drawing – which became a three-dimensional sculpture. I had prints and was giving them away and leaving them all about town, especially around the Surrealism show.
Standing in line at the Gugg behind me were a young man from France and his parents. The young man lived in New York and his parents were visiting. We spoke French as I welcomed them and we waited. I gave them a Magritte print and explained my interest in reproducing works by people who died the year I was born. The father was skeptical. The mother only asked, “Who else do you do this with?” I only smiled enigmatically to express I had said too much already and they let us in.
Schjeldahl was right, it would have been totally different coming down from up. But this was a comprehensive exhibition of one of the most remarkable minds of the 20th century, either way.
I cannot disclose why I went to New York in late January as I’m constrained willingly by the contract I signed the day I left from La Guardia just hours before the city was hit by a snowstorm carried on winds of the la niña winter polar jet stream, and snowbound.
I can say it’s an NFT play, signed between me and my former neighbor in Brooklyn, Tom.
“Either you go tomorrow,” Tom agreed,”or you ain’t leavin’ til next week.”
My flight of escapees had mostly bought their tickets within the last 48 hours, with a weather eye on the polar jet stream. We were routed to Denver. The storm shut the city down while we were in the air. I had been in New York City and out in Long Island for two weeks.
Double-dose Pfizer-vaccinated in May of ‘21 and boosted in November, I decided in December of last year that 2022 was going to be different. I was going to travel. I would help the economies of some places I haven’t been in a while. I’d spend some money in some places in our country that I respect and love for cultural and intellectual richness.
I made a new year’s resolution to spend more days of 2022 out of the house where I have been for the last five years than in it. Unlike most of you, for whom the ‘quarantine’ was at most a year and a half of house-boundedness, at that point, I had been bound for several years in a house, in another state from my beloved NorCal, as I cared for my father until he died, allowing him to pass the way he wished, in his home. I was eager to get back on the road, and eventually, home.
I set aside money from my small inheritance for this purpose. I granted myself a year of me-time, to travel, write, read and consider places to live, in the wake of my father’s death.
I chose New York first, and landed on the nineteenth day of the new year, amidst the Omicron wave. I was a New Yorker for five years at the turn of the millennium, so I’m prepared with specific goals when I visit Manhattan. It’s a habit learned from my Lakshmi-auntie, who lived in Parsippany for five decades and used the island, and indeed the whole city, with precision and elegance. She still drove into town herself in her 70’s.
I watched her use Goings-On-About-Town in The New Yorker, and Time Out and the Sunday NYT and the Voice, to be fresh, and even avant-garde, to her last days. She showed me the fastest ways to get in and out of the city, down-low parking spots, old-school joints. When I moved to the waterfront in Greenpoint, it was from her place, where I had been staying in the wake of the passing of her husband, my Surya-uncle, back in ‘97. It snowed in Brooklyn that winter.
Now, it was a clear, sunny Wednesday afternoon as I flew into La Guardia. It was in fact the warmest day of the year thus far in the city – 44° F, almost no wind, great visibility. The pilots swung wide to allow us a vantage of the cityscape – the bridges, high-rises and skyscrapers, just a few thousand feet below.
There’s the east river. Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg bridge.
Where I used to live in Greenpoint no longer has a cityscape view because there are massive condominiums there that can be seen in this shot. That bright, shining white skyscraper in lower Manhattan is One Manhattan Square. Extell Development Company sold 100 units there last year. They also sold 100 units at Brooklyn Point, which is the tallest residential building in Brooklyn.
One Manhattan Square and Brooklyn Point, each sold over 100 units in 2021 for a total of more than $400 million in sales. Extell claims it’s the only developer in New York to sell more than 100 units at two separate buildings in a calendar year. The units sell for between $850k – $3m.
When I was a New Yorker, the city taught me how to move through it. I didn’t know what I was going to find now, though, amidst the Omicron wave of Covid-19. New York was a city that had been ravaged in the first Spring of the nastiest respiratory virus in human history, because of its density and diversity – a global city, with international reach.
I came prepared, with my vaccine card showing two shots and the six-month booster, and my matching i.d., with N95 masks. Temperatures were expected to drop later that evening. The forecast was for highs in the teens and low 20’s for the rest of the week. I brought thermals, wool scarf, an overcoat and a fur hat – all of which were useful.
But I made a tight, localized agenda that had me entirely in Upper Manhattan. On my last day, I planned to walk to the Guggenheim to see the chronological exhibition of Kandinsky on the ramps at the Guggenheim, so I rented a hotel a few blocks away on the Upper East side – 92nd street and 1st Ave, near Yorkville. I landed, cruised through baggage, caught a cab to my hotel within 20 minutes, snagged a couple-hour nap, then showered, shaved and suited up for the opera.
Tom and the Opera
Tom and I hadn’t seen each other in almost 20 years. He is an energetic, native Long Islander, who has lived and worked in the city for years. He is as comfortable in the city as any of the boroughs or out on Long Island. He was my neighbor in Brooklyn 20 years ago, when he worked in commodities, on the floor at the exchange on Wall Street. He was there that fateful morning, besuited, running and hustling others away from the crumbling concrete and drifting ash and dust. We saw each other a few days later.
Tom and I caught up last year and I learned he had been through some rough times. But he told me something else that shocked me, personally. He said that nearly 20 years before, I had given him a carved stone or wood necklace and had told him it was powerful. He wasn’t sure if he did something wrong or if it was just the object itself, but he felt that it had cursed him.
That’s no joke. You don’t see someone for years and you are catching them amidst heavy difficulties all around and they tell you that you gave them a totem that may have cursed them – have to take that seriously.
When I looked at the schedule for the Met Opera, I knew immediately I had to take Tom. They were performing Rigoletto. It’s a tragedy about a hunch-backed jester, a pathetic figure, who, upon being cursed by a courtier, believes in and fears the curse, then unwittingly aids in the accursed events which befall him.
The last line of the opera is Rigoletto’s bewildered wail as he cradles the body of his dead child, “La Maladizione!” – which means, “The Curse!”
The first time I went to the Metropolitan Opera it was February of 1998. Two dozen years later, I decided to splurge. I purchased Parterre Center Box seats. I had previously only ever sat in the balconies. This was special.
To enter we had to show ID that matched a proof of vaccination card and if the last dose had been over six months, a stamp for a booster. Masks were mandated. Before the curtain rose, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, masked, came out on stage with a microphone and said, with a sigh of relief, “everyone in your program is performing tonight,” the confirmation that we would be seeing Quinn Kelsey and Rosa Feola . There was resounding applause.
The Metropolitan Opera has suffered, like every arts institution, during the pandemic.
This production received great reviews for Conductor Daniele Rustioni and promotional material all featured the open throated face of Quinn Kelsey in clown makeup. The baritone has made a name for himself performing Verdi, and in particular, portraying the beleaguered Rigoletto. The program read: “Quinn Kelsey, a commanding artist at the height of his powers, brings his searing portrayal of the title role to the Met for the first time,” but Kelsey had been unavailable for performances on the 9th and 14th. There was a buzz from the hope we would get to see him with the soprano Rosa Feola, a pairing about whom much had been written.
The set was unique. Though the original opera was based on a story by Victor Hugo set in the mid 16th century, the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, was set in pre-Revolutionary 19th century France. The current staging at the Met uses the Weimar Republic as the context, contending the times were comparably beset by careless inequity.
Production is directed by (Tony-award winning director) Bartlett Sher – the New York Times has described him as “one of the most original and exciting directors, not only in the American theater but also in the international world of opera” – and Set Designer Michael Yeargan. The costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber, were thus 20th c. German.
The set had a massive revolving structure upstage that allowed for feature performances downstage, nearer the audience, for greater intimacy. There was a full apartment above a bar in one set, and Donald Holder’s lighting was agile, an active element of the production, spotlighting soloists seamlessly as they employed the entire stage.
Piotr Beczala, charged with the most famous role, Duke Mantua, was good. But a standout performance, in addition to Feola and Kelsey, belonged to Andrea Mastroni, the bass singing the part of the murderous blaggard Sparafucile.
What always amazes and delights me about the opera is that there are no microphones. The orchestra is not amplified, neither are the singers. We all sit quietly, no cell-phones or beeps or bells or whistles to bother us, and we focus for two and a half hours on these live performers making music in an extravagant production – entranced. People try not to even cough during the acts. I love that.
Kelsey was masterful.
Tom and I dined at The Smith, across the street from Lincoln Center and shared a blunt as we sauntered to the performance – it’s legal now to smoke a joint on the street in New York. It wasn’t when we were neighbors – not that it stopped us much then, we were just furtive.
Now we just stood by the fountain on the plaza, in front of the big Chagalls and the other patrons and the cops and shared a blunt. Tom is a blunt smoker, which is not my style, but when I am with him I partake.
He went to Fordham, which is just next door to Lincoln Center. He pointed out his old dormitory building, as we smoked. We shared a blunt before going in, and again at the intermission. To be clear, quality marijuana doesn’t attack my memory of the opera, it enhances it.
We left singing:
La donna è mobile/ Qual piuma al vento,
muta d’accento/ e di pensiero.
Sempre un amabile / leggiadro viso,
in pianto o in riso / è menzognero
**END Wednesday January 19th**
Ten days later, I checked the tide tables and took the accursed totem that I gave Tom twenty years before out to Lido Beach at just past high tide, recited the gayatri mantram, and chucked the thing out to be taken away by the sea.
I’d never read a single word of Jennifer Egan’s work until Manhattan Beach, released by Scribner this month, despite that Egan has published four previous novels and won the Pulitzer and a National Book Critics Award for A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010), a novel that has been acclaimed in effusive terms for its inventiveness and originality in all quarters of the literary community.
Everything I read about Goon Squad makes it seem like my type of book. Weird, futuristic, made-up languages; character-POV-shifting chapters … I don’t know how I missed it. Trust me it’s on deck.
Though I’m late to the party, I think it might give me a different perspective on Manhattan Beach. I read it as a straightforward, third-person novel set in the mid-20th century.
Nearly all the early reviews of this novel mention how different it is from Jennifer Egan’s previous work and in specific, often quite vociferously, from Goon Squad. For an author who has been exploratory and inventive with form, Manhattan Beach is a contrast, a historical period piece.
But it turns out Egan worked on this novel considerably longer than any others. She told Alexandra Schwartz in a long form interview for the New Yorker last week she had been working on it for the last 15 years, struggling to put together a story “anybody is going to want to read.”
I recommend it.
Manhattan Beach is an extremely well-researched and fast-paced story set predominantly in Brooklyn near the end of World War II that transports the reader to New York City in the mid-1940’s and fills it with presence and character. Egan has crafted an intriguing family story with which to reveal the city and the times, with particular focus on life in and around the Brooklyn Naval Yards.
The protagonists Anna Kerrigan and her father Eddie, and their family, friends, colleagues and enemies carve out their lives cast in the meager circumstances of a wartime economy that we know from history is coming to a close. Manhattan Beach takes us on a richly detailed tour of the corruption and culture of Brooklyn, New York, the Mafia and the Navy in a very particular period in history: the handful of years before the end of the war, between Pearl Harbor and the fateful flight of the Enola Gay.
It’s an American story about a Brooklyn family and how their life is changed in a tumult. The war hangs at a distance and we see the city – and in particular the Navy Yard and its surroundings as most young, able-bodied Americans are being sent abroad to fight.
Anna is a tremendously likable character and her journey at the Navy Yard to become a diver is a fascinating and well-detailed arc that weaves through the mystery and intrigue of her father’s disappearance and the nefarious underworld of the gangster Dexter Styles.
Egan’s style is crisp, well-researched and yet poetic when necessary. Balanced in approach, one doesn’t get a nostalgic feeling for this period, but rather a view of it as if through a veil. The story unfolds, characters slowly discover things and we get to see something we haven’t been able to see.
The sea – riding upon it, staying alive in it, walking in divers gear and trying to see through it – plays a significant role in this work and yet it, like the war in the distance functions more as a powerful medium for the development of the characters.
By contrast, the plumbing of Egan’s characters – their thoughts and emotions buffeted about by war, crime and sea change – is lucid and clear. Egan is excellent at interior monologue and reflection by her characters. She gets at rooted feelings with wide-open eyes. This often results in gorgeous passages.
The story includes a brilliantly imagined voyage on a merchant marine vessel named the Elizabeth Seaman. The nod to Nellie Bly goes unmentioned, a subtlety at which Egan is graceful – letting history fall into place where it belongs.
Egan captures the longing and isolation of Eddie Kerrigan, in his stateroom 47 days at sea, suddenly gripped by the notion that he has forgotten the face of his beloved –
” – could hardly picture her anymore. Faraway things became theoretical, then imaginary, then hard to imagine. They ceased to exist.”
Then, almost immediately, a torrent of thoughts pour through him about the first time they met, about her children and their times together. Finally he concludes,
“It was all still there, everything he’d left behind. Its vanishing had been only a trick.”
The story here, of a child and father separated by fateful decisions who alternate between avoiding and seeking one another out, is woven expertly and filled with surprises that emerge, unfolding until events feel inevitable. That’s good storytelling. The characters have a weight and realness to them because they endure and grow. There are deaths and children and gangsters and action.
But the story takes place in a different America, a different New York and it’s glaring on occasion. Characters deliberate over ethically conservative matters with earnestness but it never escalates. How women are perceived, how abortions and unwanted children are handled; these matters are described but never raise up into full blown issues. Racial hierarchies are described with the vernacular of the day: “micks,” “wops” and “Negroes” but racism never emerges enough to be addressed as an issue. It’s just how things were is the feeling one gets.
Manhattan Beach faithfully portrays some Brooklynites, in particular Irish-American, Italian-American and Naval families during World War II and an era of transition from a more sexist, racist and somewhat naive past just up to the doorstep of a future we live in today.
I review without spoilers, so I’ll conclude by saying Manhattan Beach is a great book. New Yorkers will love it and Egan will be helped during awards season by that. But more, I enjoyed Jennifer Egan’s language – lovely turns of phrase – and her character’s introspections. She has managed to create a compelling tale from immense research.
In Spring of 2000, Hachette-Filippacchi Inc.,hired me and a half-dozen others to work as independently-contracted temporary employees to fact-check and conduct research for George magazine – whose founder and editor-in-chief John F. Kennedy, Jr. had been killed in a light-plane crash amidst fog off the coast of Maine eight months before. They hired us to ensure George remained, in the wake of its founder’s passing, an audible element of the political discourse during the Election of 2000.
As a national magazine which was read by hundreds of thousands of voters in many states, particular focus was paid to the Presidential Election between Vice President Al Gore and George W. Bush, the Governor of Texas.
My fellow employees, under Editor-in-Chief Frank Lalli, were a tight-knit, smart and savvy crew. In fact, on Election Night we were all together at Mr. Lalli’s beautiful upper westside home where he had invited us to watch returns. But Karl Rove’s fat face and a flipped state later, many of us were back in the office. A few of us stayed up most of the night and by 10 a.m. I was not alone in the office when I was posting coverage of Florida on the George website.
Though admittedly not a heavy-hitter politically, George was engaged throughout the Election and maintained an immense audience of voting readers before the magazine was finally brought to an end in 2001.
I also covered The Election of 2004 and the Presidential Race between George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry for KPFK, 90.7fm Los Angeles and in part for Pacifica Radio. Some of that 2004 Election work exists here and online at Pacifica’s Audioport and in the Pacifica Radio Archives, but I have complete digital copies of everything I did for KPFK and Pacifica between 2003 and 2005 backed up on disc in my studio as well.
In 2008, I was no longer working as a journalist, but did cover Obama’s Victory in Iowa for KPFK and produced short Audio-Visual Installments for Freshjive on the Internet. These were amateurish and clunky by design, yet carried considerable data for anyone who had tuned in to the broadcasts I produced for KPFK four years before.
When Obama won in ’08, I was with Lloyd Dangle, who hosted a book signing and Election Night Returns Party at the Riptide in San Francisco. Earlier in the day I had a drink with former SF Mayor Willie Brown at the St. Regis – we discussed Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s plans for appointing a Senator to replace disgraced Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, forced to retire.
This year,I did not work as a journalist, but rather observed as a reader of the news media and a regular Californian voter.
The biggest single predictor of the elections of the 21st century has to be the margin of difference in registrations for the two major parties.
There are many reasons for this: smaller parties are being absorbed and disappearing for lack of membership, corporate interests fund the two major parties only, people threatened by one of the two parties runs to join the other and the demography of the nation is changing.
I have successfully predicted the last two elections as a result of my study of data and my knowledge of voting history. I think I see the electorate again.
Some points on 21st Century US Elections:
It’s impossible to write a blog about all my experiences voting and covering General Elections in the United States in the 21st Century, but suffice it to say there is a distinct difference between these and the Elections of the latter half of the 20th century, in which I also participated.
2003 was the Recall Election and spawned recalls in the 21st Century because of Schwarzenegger’s success.
2008 was the Youtube Election.
2012 was the Twitter Election.
Money and media are the driving forces of what has become a political system mired in divided, brutal contests between two immense parties which are financed primarily by corporations and special interest groups that define their policies.
We are in desperate need of a new Federal Elections Reform Act, as was passed in the early 1970’s.
Our democracy is sick. Hardly half the people with the right to vote even participate.
We need to update, nationalize and standardize voting procedures and make them more secure. We need to increase registration and participation. We need to subsidize the creation and maintenance of additional parties in the face of the massive expenditures made by Republicans and Democrats that have taken elections out of the reach of the common person. We need proportional representation in Congress.
Have been saying all of this for years, and it has only gotten worse. Here’s hoping the young people who are increasing in numbers at the polls pull off what my generation couldn’t.
I found this interview I did with Eric Drooker on the Great Lawn in Central Park. Before I post it on the date it took place, I’m putting it here – because I think more people will hear it that way. Hope so.
It was a bright spring day, and I was coming out the glass doors of my office building in the central village when I suddenly felt as though I had walked into a Woody Allen movie. Through the glass of the open door, I saw playwright, actor and artist Wallace Shawn coming down the street carrying a large, heavy duffel bag containing some odd-shaped things that looked like bowling pins.
It was 1997 and I had just seen The Designated Mourner, Mike Nichols’ film of Shawn’s year-old play first performed at the Royal National Theater, London. I was so surprised I nearly struck him with the door and so he looked up and caught my eye. I paused there in the middle of the sidewalk and just stared at him and he gave me a little smile as he continued down the block.
I came to learn later that the famously private Shawn often made his way about the island on foot carrying a heavy bag – as a kind of improvisational exercise perhaps, but described in one article as an eccentricity.
I told this anecdote over and again in my New York life until the summer of 2000 when it became appended, after I read a tiny theater listing in The Village Voice:
The Designated Mourner
Wallace Shawn’s wonderfully nasty and clever drama returns to the New York stage. This three character piece examines the aftermath of a war in an unnamed country in which notions about high and low culture have murderous consequences. In this incarnation, Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg. Andre Gregory directs. 21 South William Street, 21 South William,532-8887 (Soloski)
Louis Malle, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn were at the heart of one of the most important movements in theater in New York in the latter half of the twentieth century. They took responsibility for the barbaric provincialism of the North and West more than nearly any white artists in the field and created storytelling of examined intellectual tenor.
On the summer solstice of the year 2000, I took the 6 train down to Wall Street and walked to an old, crumbly house at 21 South William, at the base of the World Trade Center Towers. I was sitting on the warm stone steps of the little house – still in sunlight on the longest day of the year – when I looked up to see a small, slowly moving figure walking toward me. It was Wallace Shawn. He wore dark clothes and a light, thin scarf around his neck that he was worrying at a little as he walked. He seemed to be in a placid, meditative, pre-performance state. I was awaiting a companion and was the only person sitting outside the small theater when he arrived.
He nodded and smiled as he approached. I stood and quickly congratulated him saying I felt The Designated Mourner was one of the most important American plays of the era. He smiled, thanked me and asked if I had a seat. I told him I hadn’t yet, but hoped to by waiting list or if not, then at another performance that summer. He said he hoped so, too and went inside.
The show was sold out and when my friend arrived we went in to add our names to the waiting list – we were numbers 7 and 8. Ten minutes before curtain the stage manager came down a set of small stairs into the foyer to announce there were 6 seats available. There was a group of three atop the waitlist and two couples ahead of us and I assumed at that moment we weren’t going to be seeing the play that night but suddenly, there was some discussion at the stage manager’s podium.
The couple ahead of us was trying to decide if they wanted to be split-up for the evening as there was only one seat left after the first five guests were seated. They took what felt like an interminably long time to decide – curtain time had passed. Finally, they agreed they would go to an early dinner rather than be split up and gave up the remaining seat. My close friend Daniel encouraged me to go take it. I paid the $10 fee and ran up the stairs toward the performance space.
The stairwell and indeed the whole house was dark save for a line of yellow electric lamps with yellow bulbs meant to guide the audience to the room in which the performance was to begin. A wonderful old and musty smell hung in the air. I followed the lights slowly until my eyes adjusted and I had some grasp of which floor they were headed toward and then ran the last flight in order to get to the performance which I was sure had begun. At the top of the stairs I nearly ran into Wallace Shawn who was standing, holding a chair and waiting.
“Oh good,” he said, “You made it.”
He carried the chair to a place at the edge of the audience, set it down, gestured for me to sit and then made his way to the carefully lit back of the room that was the performance area. There was no stage between audience and performer, just a subtle line on the floor, created from where the chairs ended and the lighting began.
Shawn then turned and faced the audience. The lights were dimmed quickly and he struck a match and lit a small piece of paper on fire which floated as it turned into ash, slowly up to the ceiling, “I” he recited, “am the designated mourner.”
!ting was the name of the first audio magazine I ever conceived of and produced. It was made with Brent Kirkpatrick, Gordon Borsa and several other volunteers – an edition of 5,000 half-hour ( fifteen-minutes a side), cassette tapes to be placed on subways, park benches and buses all over New York that looked like this:
The concept was to collect sounds from the five boroughs in, under and around NYC in Spring of 1998 and eventually in each season to see if there were distinct seasonal changes in the soundscape.
Produced by new friends, meeting in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for the first time, we created a voicemail for people to call and leave feedback which connected to a onebox e-mail account.
Here is a ten-minute excerpt of the audio with text describing and captioning content :
On June 10th of 1998, a warm summer evening in New York City, I conducted the Pulaski Bridge Drop, which was based on a bet or dare.
I told the architect Peter Dorsey and his friends at a dinner in Manhattan in 1998, that I would drop off the Pulaski Bridge – between North Brooklyn and Queens – into the Newtown Creek on the photographer Kenny Trice’s birthday as a performance present, and I did.
This blog entry is a chronological placeholder for videotape footage of the event which needs to be digitized and cut to be posted.
— 55 West 13th Street, Manhattan, New York, noon
Today is a Monday in February and the sun is shining in New York through clear skies. It is cool but not cold and the blue in the sky is high and whitened by a thin wintriness. These events are from last week:
Karmic Rubber Band
B., my neighbor down the hall is a recent arrival in New York City from Austin, Texas where he has been for the last 6 years. Prior to that he lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Now he’s 27 and lives in our warehouse building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and works in Manhattan at a retail bookstore (a national chain) and at The Bottom Line club. Last week, he had friends in town visiting from Baton Rouge.
MT., 27, and JO., 22, punks traveling from Baton Rouge to New York and back in a little, two-door, Honda CRX within which they were also sleeping, were staying alive by eating peanut butter sandwiches and MRE’s – Meals Ready to Eat, military rations purchased by MT.’s father, a soldier – while on the road. They were young scrappers who had taken to living in condemned buildings in Baton Rouge to keep from having to get too many jobs. They had been on the road for a month or so.
I met them briefly the night before last Monday morning when I ran into them in the hallway outside B.’s door. I asked them that morning what they were up to. They were building a frame for B.’s bedroom wall. I offered them some marijuana to help them stay focused and get through the task. They accepted, so I left them with a small amount of weed and my pipe and lighter and headed off to work.
I got into work and had a message from my friend M. who was taking the day off from work and planned to be downtown near my office. We made plans to meet for lunch. By 3:00, I hadn’t heard from M. so I decided to get some lunch for myself before my 4:00 meeting with the Vice President and several members of the Accounting department. I walked out of my office, though, and saw M. just walking towards me in the street. He had just gotten to the building. It was the first coincidence of the day. I took M. around the corner to Bar 6 on Avenue of the Americas for lunch.
Afterward we made plans to meet in the evening and I went back to work while he strolled off to the East Village. At 4:00, I went with C., the manager of the department in which I work, to the meeting with Accounting. It went all right and when I returned it was already 5:30. M. was waiting outside my office building for me. I brought him up to check out where I work and then we went walking.
We ended up at St. Mark’s Bar in the East Village, enjoying high-flying alto solos by Bird over quartets and quintets of swinging rhythms and over our heads as we sipped a couple of cold beers and talked about music and art. I went to the bathroom. While I was in there, M. got the high sign from a fellow at the bar. When I joined them, we all went outside to have a smoke. Out on the sidewalk we made a smoker’s circle. M. and I introduced ourselves to our host, R. who produced a fat little joint to pass.
R. is a light-skinned brother with a thin, evenly-groomed mustache. He has short, carefully styled hair and full lips that part to reveal a glowing set of teeth when he smiles. We all laughed and chatted as we passed the smoke, talking about all manner of things. Somehow the conversation came around to my space in Brooklyn. I mentioned that I was living in an unfinished warehouse space, that I was working on it to build a live/work studio. R., suddenly looked at me strangely as he pulled on the joint that had just been passed back to him by M. After exhaling, he asked if I was living in Greenpoint. I was surprised that he guessed. All I had said was that my place was in Brooklyn.
He was holding the joint, now-half smoked. He smiled and said, “Do you know a guy named B.? It was incredible: 8 million people in New York and we get pulled out by a guy who knows my neighbor. He was a co-worker of B.’s at the The Bottom Line. We couldn’t believe the coincidence. I laughed and said, “It’s even more perfect because just this morning I gave his friends a little bag to get them through the day.” We looked at each other and for just half a second locked eyes and then collectively looked down at the joint. I looked down at it, thinly burning with ashy flecks across it’s orangey tip in R.’s hand. “That’s my weed!” I half-shouted. We broke up the circle and fell away into individual peals of laughter, three high-flying brothers smoking a j. on the sidewalk in the Village and cracking up
The coaccidence was dazzling. Over in Brooklyn in the morning, I give away a small bag of weed to my neighbor’s friends and not ten hours later in Manhattan, a co-worker of his, unknowingly and independently gives my friend the high sign and ends up sharing a joint with me.
A couple of nights later, on the eve of their departure to Baton Rouge, I took MT. and JO. to dinner. I figured the two young punks would need a little better food than MRE’s to sustain them on the long journey back to the deep South. B. came along with. We went to the little Thai place in Greenpoint a few blocks from our place. When I told him the story of meeting his friend R., I ended by saying, “Hey man, I know I can trust you as my neighbor. I mean I lent you something and I got it back within less than a day, a borough away … I mean your shit is tight … you’re like a karmic rubber band.” And we all laughed and had a good time.
After we smoked the joint down, we went back in the bar to finish our beers. Then M. and I made our way out to my place. We hung out, smoked some more pot as I cleaned up and we made plans to go to St. Nick’s Pub. My hot water still wasn’t working then and I was really funky, so I asked M. if I could stay out at his house that night and he readily invited me to do so. I grabbed up some clothes, threw them into my work bag and M. and I were off to Harlem.
BROTHER CAME FLYING OUT THE SUBWAY DOOR …
… BALD HEAD shining, hollering, “Milky Way, Man, Milky Way!” paid the guy, got the candy and got back on the train before the doors closed. And we made our way on to 145th street. That’s what I wrote down on the back of a business card on the way up to M.’s. with brother unwrapping that thing all casual-like and munching on it as we rolled along. I’ll tell you the things I’ve seen on the New York City Subway one day.
We went up to M.’s place on 145th around the corner from St. Nick’s so he too could change clothes. He had a message on his machine from a woman he had met the week before who reported she would be at St. Nick’s that night. Earlier, after I had given the young punks the weed and come into the office, and before lunch with M. and my series of coincidences and coaccidents, I had written myself a short journal entry:
I have been having crazy nights.
… Just Long Enough
St. Nick’s Pub has an open mic jam session on Monday nights hosted by MC Murph and produced and promoted by Berta Indeed Productions. It features Patience Higgins and his quartet, who host some of the baddest local talent cutting one another in solotime and occasional newcomers and amateurs as well.
When we arrived things were sounding a little cheesy but they straightened up a bit and before long we were sitting and finding grooves as various soloists made their way through Parker charts and other standards. We weren’t there twenty minutes when M.’s friend arrived with her two girlfriends T. and J. – three chocolate-colored, gorgeous women who turned every head in the house at one time or another.
M.’s friend is beautiful. She is thin and curvy, about 5’6” tall in heels and she has a bright smile that she shares when inspired to do so. She is a poet and spoken-word artist who performs regularly in the New York area. Her friends are equally beautiful but uniquely so. T. had long cornrows and a round, gentle face. J. was an Amazon. Well over 6 feet in heels, she was tall and lanky and moved with a gangly beauty that gave her ebony arms a mystical quality.
J. was kinetic. Her arms moved smoothly and hypnotically, yet quickly and out of her own control. We all sat together, listened to the music and talked. J. and T. stood up often and danced, with one another and alone, bringing a desire to the hearts of everyone present and filling the room with the magic of music’s power to move a body and soul. They were sexy and nimble and moving sensually, energized by the swelling music that filled the little joint.
T. even arranged with MC Murph to sit in. She wanted to sing. It was her first time singing at St. Nick’s. She did “On Green Dolphin Street,” and after a little timidness in the first go around came back after the solos to finish strong and clear with only a slight, wavering tremolo to reveal what may have been any nerves on edge. She sang clearly and held her body still to the microphone staring evenly into the audience, smiling at her friends occasionally. We all enjoyed ourselves.
I am new to this place, to these people. I’ve learned it’s foolish to try anything too soon. So I was keeping quiet. Listening to the music and relaxing. I ached to let these three women know how much I admired their shapes and styles, but knew how stupid I would sound saying so. But it’s good, I think, to let people know you notice their beauty even if time and space conspire against doing anything about it in the now. If you have an opportunity, you’ve got to seize it.
J. was talking with us all at the table when she managed in the whirling motion of her long, beautiful arms, to knock over her drink. She pulled her chair back from the table, startled, as we picked up her drink and patted at the table with napkins, telling her not to worry about it. “Oh, God, my arms are just too long,” she apologized as she scooted back from the table, “I’ll just move back here.”
Quickly and for perhaps the first time all evening I spoke up, “No baby, your arms are … just … long enough,” I said, looking directly into her eyes, “come back over here and we’ll just move your drink.” I ordered another round for her and the other women and we were all too smooth for words.
M. and I strolled in the cold, back to his place. On the way I teased him about his friend. He kept saying, “She’s not my girlfriend!” and when he did I heard the desire behind it. We both knew how nice it would be if she were. Before going to bed, we listened to both sides of the Abbey Lincoln album he had bought earlier that day down in the Village. Her voice rang rich and sweet through the Harlem night as I drifted off to sleep on M.’s comfy old couch.
And that’s the story of last Monday.
Tuesday I woke up at M.’s house with a bit of a headache from the gins-and-tonics the night before. Predominantly from the gins, I’m sure. I decided to skip work so I called in sick and stayed in the city. I caught the D down to 59th street and then went walking over to the Upper East Side. I had lunch by myself at a little French bistro – ordered a seared Tuna – and bought a couple of back pocket journal/sketchbooks. Then I strolled over to Gracious Home on 72nd and Third and picked up some paint brushes. I went home and slept. That night I was in, listening to Mingus and watching ships pass the Manhattan skyline as the lights went on in the City.
Wednesday I got up and went to work to try to achieve something, anything. It was good. I managed to make. There was the lecture … gotta get that lecture covered. It has too much to handle poorly.
Thursday I took off from work again, rainy and cold weather and the hot water finally on. I hung out with the visiting kids from Baton Rouge, made a dope deal (scored a $50 quarter bag of some weak-ass shit) and built a shower curtain set up (a “d” rod with a hanging cord to a metal ring in the ceiling of the bathroom). I took the Lousiana punks for their going away dinner that night. Had a hot shower for the first time in my space on Friday morning.
Friday was D. and being out and acting silly – drinks at Bar 6, dinner at L’Orange Bleue (430 Broome Street), drinks at bar ñ and then on to Soho. A late night walk through the East Village and ending up at a little cheesy brazilian bar called Anyway with a guitar duo who couldn’t keep time but could finger-pick like a couple of Brazilian freaks. We laughed and acted silly and misbehaved and were just happy together which we hadn’t been in months.
Then the weekend has been an explosion of food and drink and joyous celebrations of a million senses. My fortune cookies and horoscopes are all overwhelmingly positive and my mind is confused about what I am supposed to be doing. I keep going with the flow.
My new roommates have a 1971 Ford Gran Torino of a metallic green color with a white hard top. It is a beautiful old machine. I now have keys to that machine and on Sunday we loaded up into that low-riding cruiser, crossed the Queensboro Bridge and came into the city. We went to Pongal, the South Indian place in the twenties and then to this really cool sake bar downstairs on 9th street at 2nd in the East Village, it’s called Decibel.
Cruising on a Sunday afternoon. In the green machine.
New York: Manhattan. Brooklyn. Queens.