Archive for 2010
Guaranteed Quoted Verbatim
When: 4-1. Where: Crate & Barrel, Broadway & Houston. Who: Girl on cell phone. Attitude: Bitter. Quote: “She’s projecting a lot onto me and I’m learning not to buy into her movie.”
When: 4-1. Where: Barrow & Greene. Who: One man to another. Attitude: Surreptitious. Quote: “His name never got leaked but he told anyway.”
When: 4-6. Where: 13th St. Who: Woman on cell. Attitude: Exasperated. Quote: “He took over my life. I thought I had it together, I thought I knew what I was doing.”
When: 4-6. Where: Hudson & Bank St. Who: Girl to friend. Attitude: Blissful. Quote: “I have a great life. I love my life.”
When: 4-6. Where: Jane St. Who: Young man to woman. Attitude: Lazily. Quote: “It’s already getting too hot. I wish there’d be a Polar switch so we could have an Argentine summer.”
When: 4-8. Where: Sullivan St. Who: Young woman on cell. Attitude: Neutral. Quote: “I’m gonna walk uptown and get my eyebrows done.”
When: 4-9. Where: W. Broadway. Who: Young woman on cell. Attitude: Furious. Quote: “I said ‘Get the f*** out of my f***ing office!’”
When: 4-9. Where: W. Broadway. Who: Man on cell. Attitude: Also furious. Quote: “Wait for him. What’s the f***ing rush? You’re going to rip out his s***. Use your noodle, Mr. Moodle!”
When: 4-15. Where: Laguardia & W. 3rd St. Who: Man to friend. Attitude: Fervent. Quote: “You can sit having dinner and look right into their apartment — they don’t have any shades!”
When: 4-20. Where: cafe in Tribeca Who: Man to friend. Attitude: Confident. Quote: “I like World War II. I like the Roman Empire.” AND LATER: “They have a chip on their shoulder. They have a second-city complex.”
When: 4-20. Where: 7th & Charles Who: Heavy-set man on cell. Attitude: Neutral. Quote: “I’ve been eating a lot of kashi, you know? To help me lose weight. ”
When: 4-23. Where: Wooster St. Who: Woman to man Attitude: Derisive. Quote: “That’s why they spent millions and billions and zillions of money on systems that don’t work.”
When: 4-23. Where: West Broadway & Spring Who: Street psychic to client. Attitude: Soothing, palliative. Quote: “Not right away. That will happen down the road a ways. ”
When: 4-23. Where: Broome St. Who: Young woman on cell. Attitude: Lethally annoyed. Quote: “Where is this place? I’ve been walking around with this stupid bag for fifteen minutes!”
When: 4-27. Where: Abingdon Square Park. Who: Two old ladies on bench. Attitude: Probably quoting someone else. Quote: “I could be your lovey-dovey. I’m rich, you know. Very rich! ”
When: 4-28. Where: Greene St. Who: Woman on cell. Attitude: Critical. Quote: “That child is still living in 1984.”
When: 4-29. Where: 13th St. Who: Man to another man. Attitude: Amused. Quote: “I told my massage therapist, George, that I had to sign a release to be in the film, but he can’t hear the word release without thinking of it in another way.”
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Out-of-Context Snippets, stated verbatim:
When: 3/2/10. Where: Franklin St. Who: Man to woman. Attitude: Querulous. Quote: “My legs feel like jello.”
When: 3/4/10. Where: West Broadway. Who: Woman to man, business suits. Attitude: Pedantic. Quote: “So Joel would pay whatever, and Carrie would pay whatever, and then they’ll sell it for something above whatever they paid for it.”
When: 3/5/10. Where: West Broadway. Who: Man on cell phone. Attitude: Harried. Quote: “I could use a martini straight up.”
When: 3/9/10. Where: Hudson & 12th St. Who: Man to friend. Attitude: Critical. Quote: “He drank Pepsi like a fish. He did that forever.”
When: 3/9/10. Where: Hudson & Bank St. Who: Man to group of friends. Attitude: Cool. Quote: “I was doing this HBO thing: How to Make It in America...”
When: 3/9/10. Where: Hudson & 10th St., outdoor cafe Who: Woman to friend with baby. Attitude: Sympathetic. Quote: “Every time someone would look at her she’d turn her head the other way and start screaming.”
When: 3/10/10. Where: Battery Park City, at the River Who: Gardener to colleagues. Attitude: Jubilant. Quote: “I saw a redtail eating a rat yesterday.”
When: 3/11/10. Where: W. 4th & Hudson Who: Young woman on cell phone. Attitude: Exasperated. Quote: “This is an expensive city. I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to live here….”
When: 3/15/10. Where: Tribeca Who: Middle-aged woman to friend. Attitude: Facetious. Quote: “I try to hide the fact that I’m pretentious and affected. ”
When: 3/16/10. Where: Greenwich Street Who: Young British woman on cell phone. Attitude: Fed up. Quote: “No one cares about anything. ”
When: 3/24/10. Where: Golden Swan Park, W. 4th St. & Sixth Ave. Who: Two women, early 30′s, gardening. Attitude: Disgusted. Quote: “He’s a dirty, nasty man!”
When: 3/24/10. Where: W. 4th St. & Sullivan Who: Girl to friend (NYU students). Attitude: Nonchalant. Quote: “My grades? I don’t care because nothing matters.”
When: 3/27/10. Where: Greenwich Street Who: Woman to fish vendor. Attitude: Polite. Quote: “Do you chop off the heads right away?”
When: 3/29/10. Where: hardware store downtown Who: Young bearded clerk to customer. Attitude: Convivial. Quote: “I was in a bathroom and some guy behind me calmly said, ‘Hey, that’s a great beard.’ I turned around and there was this really tall man with a just broken nose, blood gushing down his face.”
When: 3/29/10. Where: Tribeca cafe. Who: Waitress to her table of customers. Attitude: Carefree. Quote: “I get to know cab drivers personally, every ride.”
… Vanessa and I … were both … tomboys; … [we were] said not to care for clothes…. Everything to do with dress – to be fitted, to come into a room wearing a new dress — still frightens me; at least makes me shy, self-conscious, uncomfortable. – Virginia Woolf, A Sketch of the Past
In my experience, in both college and grad school, with one exception (Joseph Campbell), the more casually a professor dressed, the more effective he was as a teacher. At Sarah Lawrence the male teachers wore corduroy, nice and baggy. It took the female teachers a few years to exchange their pleated A-line skirts for cuffed flannel trousers. The students (who were 98% female back then), wore jeans as tight as leggings and Frye boots. For class they often changed into hem-dragging, antique satin negligees, a la Myrna Loy, but never forsook those clunky Fryes, which they’d indolently prop on the classroom table in a gesture requisite to igniting the first cigarette of the hour.
Later, when I was at art school at Penn, everyone wore bluejeans except for Neil Welliver, who favored bucolic khaki chinos and khaki shirts, having just flown in from Maine (he commuted). Joe Brainard, one of the many visiting artists from New York City, who was around 25, had a mop of brown wavy hair, oversize glasses, and a boyish look of equal parts innocence and guilt. His jeans had a big red rose appliqued on the crotch, which I chalked up to evidence of maverick genius. He made intricate collages by cutting images out of postage stamps and he wrote poetry. Also, he was gay, which impressed me. How glam to be out, and outrageous about it.
Until I was 18, and my youngest sister 9, we four were attired in identical little dresses with puffy sleeves, and patent-leather Mary-Janes with white knee socks. Our ages ranged from pre- to post-adolescence, and being dressed like a child for so long may have accounted for my arrested development. We called ourselves the “Trapped” family, not thrilled to have to play Baroque recorder–soprano, alto and tenor–with our four girl cousins, who were our ages and lived just two houses down, a proximity that made us think we all had two sets of parents. (The recorder-idea, and perhaps the dressing alike, happened when Mom and Dad saw the Von Trapp Family Singers, pre-Sound of Music, I think, on Broadway.)
When I left the rather formal, upper-middle-class Miami suburbs of my elegant parents, with their movie-star looks and immaculate grooming, I donned forbidden jeans, buttoned my one skimpy cardigan up the back, and wore boots from then on. I let my hair grow out of the regulation good-girl bob that was styled at a beauty-parlor whenever my mother noticed my hair descending below chin-level. Simultaneously she made a moue and a salon appointment, commenting, “You look like the wild woman of Borneo.” On vacations home from college, that first year, she’d say (only half joking), “Before you go inside the house, step out of those clothes. They should be burned.” It was our little ritual. Of course she didn’t burn them—she washed them, so at least they were clean. (As Hawthorne remarked about Melville, “He is a person of very gentlemanly instincts in every respect, save that he is a little heterodox in the matter of clean linen.”) And someone had to work the matted tangles out of my eventually waist-length hair, which I never brushed. Those behaviors, plus not eating, were my forms of rebellion, in lieu of the drugs and sex everyone else was experimenting with. I never outgrew an abhorrence for having to dress up, but thankfully I did transcend the anorexia.
In Miami, in the old days, we were close to a certain family who were bohemian intellectuals. The mother, who had gone all the way through school with Mom from first grade through college, was a concert pianist. The father, having been mysteriously debarred from practicing law, happily concocted a renaissance-style life at home, painting wild pictures and doing all the cooking. At a time when men had their barbers clip their hair very short, this father wore his in a multicolored frenzy like an orchestra conductor.They lived with their four kids (I guess it was fashionable back then to have exactly four), whose ages corresponded with ours, in a ramshackle two-story mansion (sagging, everything on the brink of collapse and the bedrooms always a creative mess). At a time when furniture came in matching sets, theirs was eclectic, once-good pieces debased by time, which looked as if they’d been collected piecemeal from the Salvation Army. This didn’t jive with the invisible fact that they were quite wealthy. But there was a Steinway grand, and more books (and many in foreign languages) than I’d ever seen in a house. The family disdained air conditioning, which contributed to a pervasive odor of humidity, saltwater and mildew, common in the oldest Miami dwellings. Out back sprawled a huge borderless tract, complete with a derelict fire engine, that seemed a metaphor of their ethos of poetic dishevelment and haphazard nonchalance. The kids went to parties with holes in their shirts, and that made them seem immensely free.
Their aesthetics informed my own. Now that I’m older (well, old, to be precise), it is socially outre to be slovenly. I do consider upgrading my sartorial literacy, but have no real aptitude for it. Recently, on two separate occasions, it was suggested that I make more of an effort. My department head at NYU said, “Wearing the clothes you paint in, to teach, is simply unprofessional.” We’d been sitting in his office, talking merrily about art and philosophy. Suddenly he noticed the threadbare denim (once black, now gray) on my left knee, which that very day had metastasized into quite an unprofessional-looking tear. I apologized and bought a pristine new pair of jetty jeans. But within a day or so they somehow acquired a spot of Permanent Green Light. (Sigh.)
With luck, no one will notice it or care. At least until the pigment works its way into the cotton (for oil corrodes fabric, which is why we prime canvas). But it’s slow. I figure it will be a few years until I have to face the eventuality of that particular rip. Meanwhile, I can make cut-offs of my old flawed jeans, for the summer. Not to wear out, of course. I know better than to make that sartorial blunder.
Turns out the blizzard has coated NYC with over 20 inches. Everywhere are icy fields. What a treat: Macadam and pavement are whited out, under a bone-grey sky. This morning at around 8:00 I take the dogs out. In the past couple of days we’ve seen very few people but colossal dog breeds: light-grey Malamute, jetty Newfoundland, snowy Great Pyrenees — each swaggering dog about 200 pounds and grinning. My own dogs, sure-footed and delighted, are impatient with human caution. We scoot west along Chambers Street. They prance side by side as if harnessed together for the Iditarod.
There’s little traffic. In front of P.S. 234, with its flotilla-fence of large black barks and schooners, a plow and dump-truck work away at a pile whose peaks repeat the ships’ sail shapes in an accidental rhyme. At each curb and corner we navigate massive snow-massifs, and balance our way through single-file trenches incised by shovels or stampeded by boots.
At the river we pass one or two runners. Silhouetted against the gesso-white field: some evergreens, arrowhead shaped; and a few huge Canada geese. In the absence of color — all this white accented with sprinklings of black — shapes dominate. Here is a young African man in a white shirt, chanting from the Koran. He glances up from his small ornamented book to smile, his melodious voice blending in the overarching silence.