The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

The Seedy Splendors of the Love Motel, and Other News

September 29, 2016 | by

Jur Oster & Vera van de Sandt, Capri, from Love Land Stop Time. Image via Hyperallergic

  • Herman Melville ended his life as a failure, with no inkling of the posthumous glories to come. It sounds so miserable when you put it that way, doesn’t it? And in many ways it was. But his final years had small pleasures of their own. Mark Beauregard writes: “Having failed commercially as a novelist, he had spent the last twenty-five years of his life out of the public eye, and he had written poetry nearly every day. Mostly, his verse was tortured and cramped, and he often drew his themes from unlikely sources: ancient Greece and Rome, the Holy Land, myths, gods, and temple architecture … Six days a week, he walked west from his apartment at 104 East 26th Street, across lower Manhattan, to the docks along the North River (as the Hudson was then known). His job was to check ships’ cargoes against their bills of lading and write reports, for which he earned four dollars a day (a salary that never changed). He walked back home in the evening, an unwavering routine. After dinner, he wrote poems late into the night.”

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Black Pearls Before Swine

September 22, 2016 | by

Florence Foster Jenkins is remembered as a failed opera singer. What can we learn by listening to her today?

Florence Foster Jenkins.

When Florence Foster Jenkins made her self-financed public debut as a singer—in October 1944, when she was seventy-six—she sang “Clavelitos,” crying “Olé!” and flinging carnations at the audience in Carnegie Hall. For her encore, she had the carnations collected—and then pelted the crowd again. “Olé!” they roared back. Her friends cheered, hoping to drown out the screams of hilarity and derision.

Born in 1868 to a wealthy family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Jenkins had been a talented child pianist. She eloped with, then separated from, a man from whom she contracted syphilis, transforming herself into a working woman who supported herself with piano lessons; an heiress; and a socialite, arts patron, and founder of the musical Verdi Club. By 1944, she may or may not have known that her invitation-only recitals and vanity recordings of operatic arias had attracted a cult following. “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” Jenkins famously (maybe apocryphally) said.

But soon after reading the New York Post’s damning assessment of her Carnegie Hall debut (“she can sing anything but notes”), Jenkins suffered a heart attack and, within weeks, died. Today, her notoriety endures in five plays and three films, including a new Meryl Streep movie, and in a tradition of private entertainments reminiscent of Jenkins’s own soirees: at midcentury critic and photographer Carl van Vechten’s parties, “Often the evenings were spent innocently, writhing on the floor in laughter at Florence Foster Jenkins.” Streep first heard her at a theater students’ gathering. Even I heard first Jenkins’s “Queen of the Night” over digestifs at a New York dinner party. Read More »

Don’t Be a Jerk (Unless You Really Can’t Help It), and Other News

September 16, 2016 | by

A still from PBS’s Blank on Blank.

  • Before YouTube, people were convinced that all poets were boring, lifeless people who made little ink marks on pages—very sparingly, at that. Fortunately, there’s online video, and there’s never been a better time to witness poets at their mediagenic best. Austin Allen writes, “However scruffy by academic standards, online video libraries have dredged some remarkable treasures from obscurity. Even as they change the way new poets present their work, they’re reshaping our relationship to the history of the craft. ‘Read at random,’ Randall Jarrell advised, and now poetry lovers can view at random too, free-associating our way through the most precious archival footage. It’s a new mode of research, a conjuring of spirits to our private theaters, where at a moment’s notice we can evaluate—or just savor—records that scholars a generation ago would have killed for … What videos give poetry fans above all are performances: windows onto authors’ conceptions of pieces we’ve carried in our own heads; cadences we never detected on the page; obscure material, curiosities, ‘extras.’ ”
  • Honest question: Are you a jerk? No, silly, not a soda jerk—a jerk jerk! An asswipe! You probably think you’re not—that’s so like you—but maybe, giving you the benefit of the doubt, you’ve never had a reliable, fail-safe way to measure your own jerk quotient. Eric Schwitzgebel is here to help, with science: “The first step to the solution is to nail down more clearly what it means to be a jerk. I submit that jerkitude should be accepted as a category worthy of scientific study in its own right. The word jerk is apt and useful. It captures a very real phenomenon that no other concept in psychology quite does. Jerks are people who culpably fail to appreciate the perspectives of the people around them, treating others as tools to be manipulated or fools to be dealt with, rather than as moral and epistemic peers. To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority. The nugget of folk wisdom in calling certain people jerks is to highlight this particular species of deficiency.” 

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Dating History

September 1, 2016 | by

How a book about Chinatown made me remember my first New York date.

Mott Street at night, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mott Street at night. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve spent much of the summer totally captivated by Tong Wars, Scott Seligman’s comprehensive account of Manhattan’s Chinatown at the turn of the twentieth century. The book narrates the half century of history that followed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which made it illegal for Chinese, known at the time as “Celestials,” to immigrate and become naturalized American citizens. Those who traveled to New York from the American West (the New York Herald described them as an “army of almond-eyed exiles”) often found jobs as laundry workers and, according to Seligman, not a few of them spent their evenings gambling illegally in low-lit basements or nursing serious opium addictions.

In Tammany Hall–era Manhattan, Chinatown covered the area between Mott Street, Pell Street, and the Bowery. The neighborhood was the site of violent battles between the Hip Sings and the On Leongs, gangs that fought each other using everything from hatchets to bombs. Doyers Street, the dramatic alley off Pell Street, saw so much violence that it became known as the Bloody Angle. (“More people have died violently at Bloody Angle,” the Times reported in 1994, “than at any other intersection in America.”) Read More »

The Mutes

August 25, 2016 | by

Louis-Emile Adan, The Suitor, oil on panel.

Louis-Emile Adan, The Suitor, oil on canvas.

Denise Levertov’s poem “The Mutes” appeared in our Winter 1965 issue. Levertov was born in Britain but immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-five; she died in 1997. Read More »

Being Seymour Glass

August 17, 2016 | by

Why I borrowed a name from Salinger.

An illustration of Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by Jonny Ruzzo, 2013.

Ask someone who Seymour Glass is and they’ll tell you he’s a Salinger character: the eldest of the precocious Glass family, a misanthrope who shoots himself on vacation in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” But if that someone works in the New York fashion industry—specifically, in the editorial departments of select glossies—their response might be, Didn’t he used to work here?

That’s me they’re thinking of. Read More »