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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

The Soul of Wit

November 14, 2014 | by

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Photo: Carpe Donut NYC

While contemplating the purchase of a hot-cider doughnut at the aptly named Carpe Donut truck, one finds oneself thinking about food-truck names. Many have; it is one of the consolations of modernity that we live in the golden age of food-truck nomenclature. Or at least the first age.

Anyone who has worked in a business district or watched an episode of Street Eats knows it’s not enough to have a truck and a grill: your name should ideally be gimmicky, fun, and filled with attitude, to underlie the anarchic spirit of the whole enterprise. Sexual innuendo is of course desirable. Puns are a plus. In the words of an academic with whom I once spent a tedious dinner, “Language informs consciousness: we know this.”

But did you know that there is a food-truck-name generator? Of course there is. (I have no knack for it; my key words—scampering, spinster, maple—were apparently not sufficiently cheeky, even after I added sullen to the mix for extra attitude.) But then, I didn’t really need it; I already have the perfect name. Ogden Nosh. We’ll sell franks, but of course, they’ll be called Doggerels. The way some fast-food chains give their customers discreet Bible verses on the bottoms of cups, we’ll force-feed our patrons nonsense verses. And, naturally, on the side of the truck will be written the following: “A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.”

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Cabinet of Wonder

November 10, 2014 | by

Mmuseumm revitalizes the tradition of the Wunderkammer.

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Courtesy of Mmuseumm

On a recent weekend, Manhattan’s smallest museum was bustling. A man and a woman in matching red sweaters examined a display of North Korean household products and then rows of watches emblazoned with the face of Saddam Hussein. A child squinted at a row of pool toys from Saudi Arabia in censored packaging; she frowned at the strange black shapes that had replaced the women in bathing suits. Nearby, a man was having a caricature done of himself as a Halloween zombie while a small crowd spilled out onto Cortland Alley to watch. Later, though, on a Monday afternoon, the space was quiet, closed to the public. It was just me and the Down Syndrome dolls, the display of mounted moss samples, a soft babble of speech from a little video screen on one of the higher shelves, and a question: How ought we to think of this?

The “this” in question is Mmuseumm, a single-story space converted from an old elevator shaft on the edge of Chinatown, about four paces wide and four paces deep. Each of its three walls has four rows of floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with a red, velvety material and brightly lit: at night, the whole place shines, an island of light in the alley’s murk. On my second daytime visit, I found Alex Kalman, one of Mmuseumm’s cofounders, down on his knees lint-rolling dust from the velvet of the lowest shelf, just beside a bizarre chip-and-snack tray under glass. Over the next hour, we sat outside in two folding chairs while Kalman told me about Mmuseumm’s genesis, purpose, and current form. Then he left me, generously, to wonder at the place on my own. Read More »

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When Paris Learned to Smile, and Other News

October 28, 2014 | by

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Gerard Dou, The Extraction of Tooth (detail), ca. 1630.

  • The triumphs of late-eighteenth-century French dentistry—professionalization, a commitment to canine conservation and oral hygiene, skill in making and installing artificial dentures—were a crucial element in the complex process ... call[ed] the ‘Smile Revolution.’ Only when an open mouth was able to expose white teeth (or, failing that, white dentures), only when dental hygiene dispelled the miasma of halitosis, could a full smile exposing the teeth be countenanced.”
  • At eighty-five, Hedy Pagremanski likes to plant herself on street corners and paint the disappearing buildings of New York. She’s done more than eighty of them. “We have learned that whatever was, isn’t … I once went to the Landmarks Commission and said, ‘What buildings are coming down?’ And they said they never know until the wrecking ball hits. And that was about twenty years ago.”
  • Tony Kushner on Tennessee Williams: “Because he was mining himself, his self, so endlessly, at some point what you call a kind of calcification of the heart manifests itself, and the self-mining becomes a kind of self-devouring, self-cannibalism, even; the business of putting your self and your inner life on stage over and over becomes a form of self-consumption.”
  • The French culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, has never read any of Patrick Modiano’s books—actually, in the past two years, she hasn’t read any books at all. “I haven’t had time to read anything in the last two years except for a lot of notes, legislative texts, and newswires,” she said. Some have taken this news poorly. “Nothing will uplift us, the soul is an illusion,” one commentator said.
  • Lubricious opening lines: Do they attract or dispel readers? (The opening line that prompted this debate is Christos Tsiolkas’s: “My mother is best known for giving blowjobs to Pete Best and Paul McCartney in the toilets of the Star-Club in Hamburg one night in the early sixties.”)

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Rote Learning

October 20, 2014 | by

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A postcard of the Bleecker Street IRT stop, 1905.

“I’ve never seen the point of New York,” someone said to me last week, in a foreign city, upon learning that it was my hometown.

I must confess to being nonplussed by this. I hadn’t fielded such an idiotic remark since middle school. Back then, I would have responded in kind with some nonsense—“Well, since it’s not pyramid-shaped, neither have I,” or something about John Stuart Mill, if I knew about him—but now this did not come so easily. Most of us have long since learned that there’s not much sport in breaking the fine-print clauses of the social contract.

And most of us learn the hard way. My most shameful memory is of creeping around a tree, perhaps in second grade, at Reynolds Field, and hissing, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” at a mystified five-year-old. I knew instantly that I had not conjured the mystery and allure I’d been going for; that I was, in fact, an ass. I have never admitted that before. I wonder if that kid remembers it. I really hope not.

But now I am a grown-up. So I quoted to him one of the few things I know by heart:

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

I finished. We stared at each other blankly.

“That was E.B. White,” I said.

“I meant it rhetorically,” he said.

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They Put Him in the Freezer

August 11, 2014 | by

Last call at the Blarney Cove.

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Photo: Gabriel Herrera

For a long time, when I came to the end of something—a walk across the bridge, an absence from the city—I would find myself inside the Blarney Cove, a hallway-sized Irish bar on Fourteenth Street between Avenues A and B. The place’s gravity came from its total disregard for the passage of time. Its drywall ceiling was never finished. Its walls, wood paneled with patches of green-and-white striped wallpaper, likely hadn’t been redone since the seventies. Outside, four or five customers perpetually gathered for a cigarette, tending to the drunken chain-smoker’s belief that tomorrow will never arrive. Among this crowd, you could always spot a straggler with a folded dollar between his fingers. “Can I buy a cigarette?” he’d ask the group, waving the bill he couldn’t afford to give away. “You can just have one,” someone would say. (As the straggler knew, at the Blarney Cove, no one ever took the dollar.) Once, I asked a regular from Harlem what it was about this odd and dreary bar that made him take the trip more than one hundred blocks downtown just for a drink. He paused, as if it had never before occurred to him to consider his commute, and then said, “It feels like home.”

There was no more lonesome jukebox in the five boroughs than that of the Blarney Cove. Over the years, I watched all sorts of people haunt the bar’s four square feet of danceable floor—a grizzly man in a cowboy hat, a college girl with big hoop earrings—each gyrating in solitary defiance of the sleepy night. Some nights, after the loafers took their positions along the bar, an older woman named Kiko would walk in and ask each of the men to dance with her, one by one; slumped over in thought and beer, they’d always decline. I watched her once as she swayed her hips to Lucinda Williams’s “Drunken Angel,” alone. Read More »

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Overheard in New York

August 8, 2014 | by

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Georgios Jakobides, The First Steps, 1889

Now that it is going to be sold, my grandparents’ house, and the summers we spent there, seem cloaked in romance. I remember the trips to the thrift store, the games in the phalanx of sheds, the maple bars from Red’s Donuts, nature walks with my uncle, reading Green Mansions in the woods. It is easy to gloss over the rest.

It was a place of strong smells. Mint in the yard. Eucalyptus trees on the drive. Talcum powder and Lysol and always a potato rotting somewhere in the kitchen. It would have been a good place to be blind. Or, it would have if every inch hadn’t been covered with constantly shifting stuff.

I can’t seem to stop thinking and writing about my grandparents, lately. Well, they’ve been on everyone’s minds as they clear the property and sort through the family politics. I suppose I’ve been fumbling for some sort of eulogy. I’ve started to write about singing gay nineties songs around the piano, about family holidays and the day we all dressed in costumes for a group portrait. But I don’t think any of that really tells the story. If I were to try to say goodbye with one story, I think it would need to be a conversation I overheard one day. My grandfather called every evening; I walked into the kitchen to find my mother on the phone. 

“Has Mom agreed to this?” A beat. Then, exasperated, “Then that’s not a suicide pact, Dad; it’s a murder-suicide.”

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