A Day in Culture: Jeremiah Moss, Blogger and Writer


The Culture Diaries

It’s the final weekend for Ray’s Pizza, the true original, which has been on Prince Street since 1959, so I head down for a last slice.

3:55 P.M. From the East Village I take a roundabout way, across Houston Street, where the two artists known as Faile (Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller) are putting the finishing touches on their giant mural, a comic-booky collage that brings to mind the organic degradation of street advertising and art, layer upon layer, ripped and peeled. The city is like this in places, one stratum revealed beneath the next, except in the places that have been excavated down to bedrock to make the past disappear. I end up talking to one of the Patricks while the other Patrick is pasting a Chairman Mao to the wall. Patrick tells me how the images and text have all been pulled from comics, movie posters, and other ephemera. He says, “We consider ourselves scavengers” of pop culture. And then Chairman Mao needs direction. “Tear it a little more,” Patrick tells Patrick. “A little more. That’s right.”

4:05 P.M. Houston takes me to Eldridge then to Stanton, where I think to detour into the Fusion Arts Museum, one of those places I’ve been meaning to visit but never have, only it’s not Fusion Arts anymore. It’s a new gallery, something called Lambert Fine Arts. The once colorful gate of bicycle parts, propellers, and bombs has been painted solid gray. I go inside anyway and check out Terrenceo’s paintings on pizza boxes, portraits of people taking their own photos in mirrors with cell phones, our tepid new expression of despair. Downstairs, Allison Berkoy’s spooky dolls are muttering to each other with their talking video faces, none of them listening to what the others have to say.

Back outside, saggy-pants boys on the corner cheer for a trio of pirates, who go sailing past on bicycles tricked out in cardboard schooners. Halloween? Or just hipsters?

4:27 P.M. Then it’s the lumberyards and kitchen supply stores of Chrystie Street. A luxury boutique has moved in next to Sammy’s Roumanian. It makes me nervous with its de riguer gold-leaf lettering and bespoke suits, its use of the word atelier. In Sammy’s entryway, I duck in for a quick look. They’re setting up for supper. A seltzer siphon sits regally on every table. One man shouts to another, “I know he was taking photos of her bellybutton!” I help myself to a free offering of Alka-Seltzer’s “effervescent tablets” in personal packets and a one-page Dictionary of Basic Yiddish. It’s all jokes from another era. What is a FARGENIGEN? A date with Elizabeth Taylor. KNADEL? A delayed atom bomb. And KANE EISHORREH can only mean Tommy Manville. Who? (A later visit to Wikipedia will inform me that Manville, dead in 1967, was a playboy, heir to an asbestos fortune, and immortalized in a song by Irving Berlin.)

4:31 P.M. My own supper awaits at Ray’s, so it’s on to Delancey and across Bowery, through the ravaged Lighting District that used to feel like walking inside a giant crystal chandelier. Now it’s the usual condos, galleries, boutiques. You could have snapped it all together from injection-molded plastic sheets.

4:35 P.M. On Kenmare, an abandoned brunette wig sits on the sidewalk, drawing attention to itself. People point and stare, skip around it like it’s an animal that might bite. They take its picture. Who knew a wig on the sidewalk could be so otherworldly?

4:45 P.M. I go back up Mulberry and peek inside Rocky’s Italian Restaurant. They just got the boot from their landlord after thirty-odd years in business. Their brand-new neighbor, foodie favorite Balaboosta, is getting the space instead. This is how it goes these days on Mulberry. Through the plate-glass window, the chefs of Balaboosta sharpen their glittering knives. I keep walking.

4:50 P.M. At Ray’s, the sign in the window says October 30 will be their last day, but there’s no fuss. It’s business as usual. People crowd the counter, slices fly out the door, the cashier calls everyone “Hon.” I get a hot slice, sit alone, soak it in. A construction worker in hardhat gets on his phone and says, “Hey Carmine, what’s goin’ on?” Carmine. Little Italy is shrinking like a sandbar at high tide. Just outside, people obediently go for cupcakes, exiting with heads bowed, eyes glued to iPhones, thumbing reviews to Yelp.

5:16 P.M. I take a miserable photograph of the oily crust on my paper plate, call it “Remains,” and call it a day.

Jeremiah Moss is the pseudonymous author of the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. He has also written about the city for The New York Times.