High Line, Low Key

[There’s a slideshow, which will be much more interesting than this post, I’m sure. This is one of those lengthy rambles / reminiscences / meditations (ha!) in NYC.]

Last week, I had a conference in NYC, so my co-workers and I stayed at The Inn on 23rd, a great little hotel (14 rooms). Amy & I were in the Skylight room, which is on the top (5th) floor, in the back of the building. Awesome space, really quiet, and the skylight was just marvelous (except when I was leaving the shower to gret dressed and realized that I may have given a free show to the people in the adjacent office building).

The hotel was a 1.5-mile walk from the convention center, so I managed to get in my customary 3+ miles of walking each day. It wasn’t the same without Rufus & Otis, but I figured they wouldn’t take well to the din of the city. Or the cat who lives in the lobby of the hotel.

On top of the round trip (and the extensive walking inside the convention center to visit clients and sessions), I walked another 2+ miles on Tuesday evening, to meet up with coworkers and advertiser-pals for dinner at Il Cortile, a wonderful Italian joint on Mulberry Street. I’d never been down Mulberry before; my only exposure to it was the Billy Joel song and a dream-sequnce from Moonlighting, c.1988. As Mulberry heads south toward Canal St., almost every storefront is either an Italian restaurant or a souvenir shop. Each of the restaurants had a guy on the sidewalk, trying to talk people into that joint for a meal. I don’t recall ever seeing that in the U.S. before. As opposed to having seen it in every single European city I’ve visited. So that was nice.

I decided to take that walk after a day at the conference (rather than cabbing down to the restaurant) when I opened my RSS reader in the evening and found a note that a couple of cartoonists I like — Frank Santoro and Dash Shaw — were going to have a conversation / Q&A at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo. I’d never been to that bookstore, so I thought I’d walk down, see it and Frank and Dash, and dash.

McNally Jackson was fine, but walking among the shelves made me lament the fact that bookstores don’t mean as much to me as they used to (because of online accessibility and the immensity of my personal library, not because I don’t read anymore). On the other hand, the conversation between Dash & Frank was awfully entertaining. I only got to stay for the first portion, which consisted of Dash asking questions and Frank answering while also discussing a number of panels and page layouts projected on a screen behind them. Frank, whose work I’ve seen but haven’t read (I’ll get to Storeyville this week, before I see Frank a week or so from now at TCAF), had some very ‘interesting’ remarks about his approach to drawing. As someone who’s seemingly incapable of visual thinking, I find it illuminating when artists talk about how they see / render the world. (Speaking of which, you should read this article about Jaime Hernandez in the Village Voice.) In this case, I enjoyed hearing Frank’s takes on how he can’t use photo-reference, the benefits of collaboration and the assembly-line style of mainstream comics production, the importance of grounding scenes in space, why he won’t use gutter space between panels (because of the “black dot” optical illusion at the intersection of perpendicular gutter spaces) and why he’ll sometimes write “LAKE” in a landscape sketch rather than draw waves, shading, etc.

I sorta blissed out over this stuff. See, I was in the midst of three days of conversations about the pharma industry, contract manufacturing, bankruptcies, executive idiocy, the decline of the West, and the like, so it was really just a joy for me to hear two smart guys talk about making comics.

SO: the rest of the week was the aforementioned pharma-conference, which went fine. I got out Thursday afternoon, picked up the dogs, got home and promptly fell asleep for 45 minutes, till my wife called, so I could pick her up at the bus stop.

Friday was an absolutely frenetic day at work, trying to get the May issue into shape. My production manager was supposed to return from an 8-day tour of Italy the previous weekend, but the volcano in Iceland left her stranded in Rome. There was no sign of her as of Friday, so I just took care of everything I could, and hoped all the ad materials will be in place when we send the book out this Tuesday. (She got home over the weekend and spent most of Monday busily trying to get our magazine together.)

And then there was Saturday, which brings me to the center of this post. Amy had a photography class / seminar in NYC on Saturday afternoon, so I drove her in and then spent the next four hours wandering around. I was really looking forward to just strolling through the city in a different way than I did during the week: no suit, comfy shoes, bright sunlight, and no work-emails to keep up with.

I had a few destinations in mind — LEO Design, The Liquor Store, Porto Rico Importing, and maybe Beto Hernandez’ book signing at Midtown Comics — but really I just wanted to wander. Like the way I’m doing now!

My first stop was LEO, following a recommendation by The Sartorialist a few weeks ago. It was a cozy store, with three friendly staffers behind the counter, one of whom talked me into buying a pair of cufflinks that I should not have spent quite so much money on. That said, they are gorgeous little things, aren’t they? I mean, I am an editor, right?

I chatted with the clerk (owner?) for a bit, and perhaps too eagerly mentioned that I had the afternoon free because my wife was in class (as we all know, of course, no man can resist my charms). He asked me if I’d visited the High Line park yet. I hadn’t, and Amy & I had talked about it during the drive in. I asked him where the best access point is, and he directed me to 14th and Washington St.

For those of you not in the know, the High Line is a stretch of abandoned elevated rail line on Manhattan’s west side that was recently converted into a park. Well, a 10-block length of it was; there’s another mile or so that they’d like to rehabilitate, but I think that’s under dispute with the MTA. I saw part of the unconverted line last week during my walk back from the Javits Center and I thought, “Boy, that sure doesn’t look like a park.” Also, on one of my walks home, I took 7th Ave. and discovered the irony that the Fashion Institute of Technology operates out of a monstrously ugly building. But that’s just New York.

Anyway, I took his advice, stopped off at The Chocolate Bar on 8th for a coffee and a brownie, walked up to 14th, and took the elevator up to the High Line (the stairs were blocked by construction).

The High Line is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with Bloomberg’s New York. Or it’s a symbol of the city’s revitalization, or its Disneyfication, or something else altogether. I forget. I can tell you that it’s pretty up there. The views aren’t breathtaking, but it’s an adorable oasis. I mean, it’s not like people are clamoring for a view of Chelsea and the hideous new architecture. You should take a break from this meandering post and check out my pix from the High Line. I’ll wait.

* * *

Enjoy it? I even cataloged a bunch of those awful new buildings for you! I’m the best.

Anyway, after the park, I decided to take a long walk to TriBeCa and visit The Liquor Store, J. Crew’s men’s boutique. Amy & I tried to go there on Easter Sunday, after a brunch with some friends in the Village, but discovered that it was closed for the holiday. I was bummed, because it was a longish walk and Amy didn’t have the most comfortable shoes on. Still, she’s a trouper. Also, I think she’s just happy that I’m finally interested in dressing well. There’s a whole other lengthy / self-justifying post about my new-found interest in (understated) fashion, but I don’t have the heart to write it just yet.

That Easter walk was down high-fashion-retail-centric West Broadway, which was crammed with shoppers and outdoor-brunchers. Last Saturday, I walked downtown via Greenwich St., two(ish) blocks from the Hudson, and the population grew sparser with each block. Crossing Houston was a non-event, in contrast to the usual frenetic crossing as you head further east. Here, it was all office buildings and occasional storefronts. One of the most telling signs of its business-only vibe was when I saw a Starbucks that was closed on weekends.

Canal St., on the other hand, was marked by the endless procession of cars trying to get to the Holland Tunnel. I crossed that at a light, headed over to Varick, and made it to the Liquor Store pretty quickly. Of course, it was a disappointment. The shop carried a few things unavailable at a regular J. Crew men’s and the catalog — like $250 straw hats (!) — but the store really wasn’t anything special. Even the layout, a converted liquor store, worked against it, as 6 or 7 shoppers and a couple of staffers added up to a cluttered, unnavigable space. Still, they conned me into making the trip, so I guess that’s working for them.

Crestfallen-ish, I headed back up to Canal St. The volume of people grew rapidly and I began getting a little antsy. Foolishly, I turned up Broadway to head back north. The funny thing about Broadway between Houston and Canal is that it’s like an outdoor version of New Jersey. Seriously: it’s just one mall clothing or shoe store after another. There are a couple of other NYC neighborhoods that also make me feel like they’re aspiring to be a high-end NJ mall, an irony that I’d find funny if it weren’t so sad.

Anyway, bugging out from the sudden overload of noise and bodies, I ducked into Muji, one of the only B’way stores that isn’t in NJ. Readers with too much time on their hands may recall a Muji visit in one of these meandering posts a few years ago. For those of you who don’t, I put the link there for a reason.

The Muji (Japan’s Ikea) store was busy, but I found it immediately calming. Something about the simplicity of the designs on display just puts me at ease. I found my thought patterns mimicking those structure of that Warhol book I just finished, except I didn’t come up with any good aphorisms.

There are some neat passages about shopping in New York in the book. I went into Macy’s on 34th St. one day last week on the way home, and it reminded me of the part where A goes underwear shopping with B. Warhol ‘writes,’ “I would rather watch somebody buy their underwear than read a book they wrote.” I found a casual dress shirt at Muji and convinced a couple of women to buy their famous fold-up cardboard speakers. I thought about buying one of their notepads, but I have too many notepads that are nearly empty. I haven’t written in my journal more than once in the past three weeks. I need to get back to a weekly early-morning breakfast at the Skyline Luncheonette, where I’m the weird guy who starts writing after finishing his meal.

After Muji, I returned to the fray, hurrying up Broadway to get back to NoHo and put some distance between me and the madding crowd. Not likely, on such a lovely day, but at least it’d be a different madding crowd. I stepped into Porto Rico Importing to buy some coffee beans, since my regular brand seems to be under embargo. The store was busy and crowded, but the smell of all that coffee was as comforting as Muji’s clean lines. I used to go to Porto Rico’s store on St. Marks Place, but the charms I once found on that street have largely dissipated. It was a mutual breakup; the street got more touristy-punk and my interests in buying comics and used CDs has waned. I still have a sentimental attachment to the neighborhood, since St. Marks Bookshop is where my wife & I first laid eyes on each other (in person; our first contact was online, so it’s not like it was a totally blind date), but New Jersey-fication has crept into this area, too.

With 24 oz. of coffee beans wrapped up in my pack, I stopped for a schawarma around Minetta & MacDougal, where I listened to a couple of NYU kids discuss how prep school didn’t prepare them for the possibility that they’d get poor grades for not attending classes. I laughed to myself, then thought about how these kids were literally half my age, and stopped laughing. A few years ago, a pal of mine who’s an NYU prof invited me to one of her classes. I thought maybe it was a grad class and the girls were in their mid-20’s; they were freshmen, mostly 18.

For some reason, I then subjected myself to walking through Washington Square Park. Parts of the park are being worked on, so the tourists and students were packed into a much smaller area. No one offered to sell me weed this time, but no one mistook me for a narc this time, either. At the center of the park, as the leaf-canopied path opened up to bright sunlight, I was reminded of the bridal photo-shoot Amy did here last November, and what a lovely time that was, even though I was sick/exhausted in an undefined way.

From the park, I walked up to Forbidden Planet, in hopes of finding the new issue of Pete Bagge’s Hate. Embarrassingly (for them), they didn’t have any copies. I did manage to pick up Brendan McCarthy’s new comic, so it wasn’t a waste of time. I wrote off a stop at Midtown Comics early in my wanderings; trekking up to 40th would’ve been too out of the way, and the neighborhood would’ve reminded me too much of the previous week’s walks up to the Javits Center.

Instead, I headed back toward the garage where I’d parked on 13th St. It was near 5 p.m., and Amy’s photo-class would soon be finishing, so I’d have to pick her up around 28th. I had a coffee and a gelato at an Italian-ish dessert place that would have been laughed at by the Mulberry St. crowd, but I’m as much of a tourist as everyone else.

She called, and I picked up the car and headed west along 13th to 8th Ave., which would take me uptown. Under normal circumstances. In this case, sawhorses blocked off 8th Ave. at 14th St. for a street fair, forcing all traffic west or east along 14th. I phoned Amy and told her to head over to 10th Ave., so I could pick her up there and then head over to the Lincoln to get back to NJ.

8th Ave. was a crawl. Traffic police were only waving through a few cars at a time, mostly from the designated left-turn lane. I was trapped in the center lane, waiting for my turn. At one point, the two cars ahead of me were waved through, but as I started to advance, the cop held up the open palm of “stop.” I flinched with rage, and he walked over to my car. He gestured for me to lower the window. I did, and he said, “Sir, I know that you’re frustrated, but –”

I cut him off, saying, “– Oh, I understand. It’s just that the car ahead of me pushed his way through and ended up getting rewarded for being a douchebag. Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, there’s a lot of volume because of the fair, and technically, this lane isn’t even allowed to make a left turn,” he told me.

I looked at the street fair, then back to the cop. “Hey, man,” I said, gesturing at the fair, “I can drive straight through that, if that’s what you’re saying, but I really don’t think you want to deal with the paperwork.”

“. . . Good point,” he said, strolling back to the intersection. I soon drove away, under the High Line, to pick up my One True and return to the only home I’ve ever really had.

[Here’s that slideshow link again. Thanks for sticking with me.]

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