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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Fifth Business

September 11, 2013 | by

Tom Forcade, Mayer Vishner, Abbie Hoffman, 1971

Tom Forcade, Mayer Vishner, Abbie Hoffman, 1971.

More and more, I find that some of the people I remember best were bit players in my life, ones who were on the edge of my consciousness but who registered more deeply than I knew at the time: the pretty singer who lived on the seventh floor and who hummed to herself in the elevator; the mournful-looking barber who stood in the window of Paul Mole’s Barbershop on Lexington, watching the schoolboys pass; the club owner who laughed whenever he saw me coming and would wave me in to see Tim Hardin without paying; the West Indian doorman of the building on east Sixteenth Street who liked to work the night shift with no shoes on. I barely remember the guy I traveled with the summer I hitchhiked cross country, but I remember the fifteen-year-old runaway I met. Gay Monday Sad Tuesday was her name. It looked like there’d been very few Mondays in her life. I thought about this a few days ago when I learned of Mayer Vishner’s death by his own hand in late August.

Mayer wasn’t a close friend, but our paths crossed repeatedly over the last thirty years, first when he was a late night radio host on WBAI and booked music at Dr Generosity’s (an Upper East Side dive remembered for free peanuts, cheap beer, and an over-zealous sound system), later when he helped run the Saint Marks Bookshop when it was still on Saint Marks Place; more recently as someone who was constantly wandering the upper reaches of MacDougal Street with his laundry or his cat. Sometimes we’d stop for coffee at one of the overpriced cafes near Washington Square. Mostly we’d talk about doing that and figured we’d do it next week, after the laundry was done, after the cat was fed.

All the time I knew him, Mayer looked very much like what he was: an anarchist with a wicked sense of humor and the best pot on the block. He wanted to blow up Wall Street, but he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s cat in the process.

A prankster, albeit a cranky one, he ran with a crowd of full time troublemakers: Abbie Hoffman, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, Phil Ochs, among a few others committed to revolution, psychedelic and otherwise, and committed to the possibility of peace and love. But it’s hard to wage a revolution in an age of property and complacency; Ochs and Hoffman both gave in to doubt and depression and took their own lives. Last week, Mayer followed suit.

A natural contrarian, he distrusted any and all forms of authority and was deeply bewildered by the news that I’d become a father and was raising a son. He simply couldn’t imagine telling anyone what to do. “It’s not like that,” I tried to explain. “The moment they can talk, they start telling YOU what to do.”

He wasn’t entirely convinced, but he agreed to rethink his position.

A shame. He would’ve made a kind and wonderful parent.

 

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The Art of Our Necessities: A Cronut Story

August 29, 2013 | by

cronuthuge

“I’m embarrassed to be on this line,” says a woman in exercise clothes, bending forward to undo her ponytail and swirling it back into a limp bun. It is 6:15 A.M.. Given our errand, I am struck by the number of people in workout gear.

We are on the fabled cronut line. For those who have been spared the media blitz: every morning, hundreds of people queue up under the gingko trees near Dominique Ansel’s Soho bakery for the instantly iconic donut-croissant hybrid. Ansel patented the name after other bakers—from Fort Greene to Jakarta—began frying ring-shaped croissants, forcing them to fumble for alternative nomenclature: zonuts, frizzants, cronies, doissants. The cronut has, famously, paved its own black market; those who want to avoid the line can by them on Craigslist for an 800 percent markup. Want twenty delivered to you by professional line waiters? That’ll be $5,000.

The idea of braving the line arose during a conversation in the hologram-like stage of a new friendship. It would be cool to get to know each other while we wait on line, right? Right? Initially, I naively envisioned something akin to the line outside Magnolia Bakery in 2009; curling just around the block, the commitment of a few minutes. A brief Internet search quickly informed me otherwise. Still, without too much reluctance, we decided to go anyway; partly for the story, partly for the taste, largely just because we could.  

“We’re only here because we were jet-lagged,” says the Canadian tourist in front of me, adjusting her Lululemon groove pants.

“Oh, me too,” the bespectacled older woman in front of her chimes in, clutching a newspaper to her chest. “I woke up in the middle of the night to get water, but tripped on my husband’s suitcase.” She points to her apartment’s window, above a bistro with a French name, where men in baseball caps are unloading boxes from a Naked Cowboy Oysters truck. “I couldn’t go back to sleep so I came here.” Read More »

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Falling Men: On Don DeLillo and Terror

April 30, 2013 | by

USA
New York Police officers are seen under a news ticker in Times Square in New York, April 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Some terrorist attacks become cultural obsessions, while others are forgotten completely. There were three bombings in New York City in 1975, none of which I’ve ever heard talked about, each of which would probably shut down the city if it happened now. In January, Puerto Rican separatists set off dynamite in Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan, killing four businessmen—the same number of fatalities, incidentally, that led us to close the airspace over Boston last week. In April, four separate bombs went off in midtown Manhattan on one afternoon, damaging a diner and the offices of several finance firms. The worst one came in late December, when a package of dynamite exploded in the baggage-claim area at LaGuardia Airport, killing eleven.

These were underground disturbances, moments of disorder that helped warp the culture, even if they weren’t absorbed or even remembered. In 1975, Don DeLillo was thirty-nine, living in the city, possibly beginning work on Players, his fifth novel and his first about terrorism. Long before it became obvious, DeLillo argued that terrorists and gunmen have rearranged our sense of reality. He has become better appreciated as the world has come to resemble his work, incrementally, with every new telegenic catastrophe, every bombing and mass shooting. Throughout DeLillo’s work we encounter young men who plot violence to escape the plotlessness of their own lives. He has done more than any writer since Dostoevsky to explain them. Read More »

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Edith Wharton by Design

January 24, 2013 | by

800px-The_Mount,_view_from_Edith_Wharton_bedroom

The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts. View from Edith Wharton’s bedroom. Photograph: Magicpiano.

People who live in New York might agree that there is very little reason to find yourself between Fourteenth and Forty-Second Streets unless you absolutely have to. Go past Union Square, and you’re liable to bump into everything from confused tourists to people selling knockoff Louis Vuitton and Fendi bags worse than the ones you can purchase on Canal Street in Chinatown. The twenties into the thirties can look like a never-ending row of scaffolding at certain stretches, with C-grade delis and fast food chains hidden beneath, leading you finally to the terrifyingly bright lights of Times Square.

For the better part of the decade in which I’ve lived in New York, this experience is probably what has kept me from the middle of the city. But when I moved from Brooklyn into Manhattan, and started taking daily walks up the various avenues from the West Village to an office on Twenty-Eighth,  I began to learn the history of certain buildings I passed along my way: admiring the townhouse at 28 E. Twentieth Street where President Theodore Roosevelt was born; the splendor and history of Gramercy Park; the row of buildings in the Flower District that seems unremarkable, until you realize that this block of Twenty-Eighth between Fifth and Sixth was once known as Tin Pan Alley, and filled the American Songbook. With each block, the twenties became more and more magical, especially on the days when I managed to avoid the crowds scuttling down the sidewalks—those less hectic New York days when I could look up and admire the various gargoyles and the golden dome of the Sohmer Piano Building. The architecture of the twenties distracted me from my daily grind, but it was on an evening trip to the grocery store that the area I once shunned suddenly took on an entirely new meaning. That night I noticed the red plaque on a doorway next to a Starbucks at 14 W. Twenty-Third Street that read, “This was the childhood home of Edith Jones Wharton, one of America’s most important authors.” Read More »

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Furious George

December 27, 2012 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

George Leonard Herter ran a sporting-goods store in Waseca, Minnesota, by day and self-published bizarre cookbooks, travel guides, and hunting books by night. I fell into Herteriana six years ago, after reading about him in an article on out-of-print cookbooks. I was promised “the origins of women’s panties, the best time of year for eating robins and meadowlarks, the effects of menstruation on mayonnaise-making and the unheralded kitchen pioneering of Genghis Khan, the Virgin Mary and Stonewall Jackson,” though this barely scratches the surface of the strange world of George Leonard Herter. I immediately started collecting his books. Happily for me, Herter was prolific. I am now the proud owner of the three-volume Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices (volumes two is delightfuly subtitled Plus Famous Restaurants and Night Clubs of the World ), How to Make the Finest Wines at Home in Old Glass or Plastic and Jugs for as Little as 10¢ a Gallon, The Truth about Hunting in Today’s Africa and How to Go on Safari for $690.00, and several others. I picked up George the Housewife, one of my favorites, at Bonnie Slotnick’s cookbook store in New York a few years ago.

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Falling Hard

November 27, 2012 | by

You see things differently when you’re in love. Two outpatients from a methadone clinic slap each other on the corner. A goiter rides the crosstown bus. We attend a dinner party; none of the dogs have tails. Men in the map room of the New York Public Library surveil passing breasts. Nights slip by. I sit on the curb outside a magazine launch and watch a famous author pour cold water down a woman’s arm. “Don’t be jealous,” my companion says impatiently, cupping his own elbows. “He’s only applying a temporary tattoo.”

I was in love and then I wasn’t, and sometime during the drifting gray interim I was told by a bookseller friend to read Renata Adler’s 1976 debut, Speedboat, a novel that had long been out of print but was absolutely, he insisted, worth the trouble of the search. I did not know whether this recommendation was meant to be sympathetic or encouraging, but I found it on eBay in two minutes, for three dollars. My friend was correct, as booksellers usually are; it was as though the novel had outstretched arms and I fell in.

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