Accordionists are rare birds these days. Like supermarkets, landlines and cash, they speak to me of a disappearing time. I first fell in love with its elegiac sound at the age of two, when my parents hired a dark and handsome accordionist to perform outdoors at a garden party. I was never sure if it was him or his miniature piano-like instrument I was crushing on, but watching him turn squeezed air into music was mesmerizing. Walking across Central Park on a moody November day, I found this contemplative performer perched near the angel fountain at Bethesda Terrace. His eyes were closed and he was lost in a contagious reverie. Soon, I’d caught it too.
The city streets used to be places where you could blend in and disappear. No longer. As a resident New Yorker, I hate to think of how many tourist selfies I’ve accidentally appeared in. I imagine little pieces of myself in phones all over the world. Somewhere, in some remote place, a returned tourist is undoubtedly giggling over my backside in leggings in one of their shots.
Between ubiquitous cell phones and street cameras, you are more likely to be tracked, recorded, photographed and broadcast while going about your daily business than ever before. According to the World Atlas, New York City is the fourth most surveilled city in the world after London, Beijing and Chicago. It’s making the streets safer, but in exchange for what exactly?
I took this photo of artist JR’s giant Peeping Tom pasted onto Galerie Perrotin’s brick facade this past summer just as a man walked by. It’s art about the act of looking: from the outside in, as a curious act, and as an intervention. Ironically, as I captured the image, I became a spy on the man walking by underneath. I was watching the guy watching his phone and capturing it for the Internet.
It’s a sign of the times that in Gary Shteyngart’s new comic novel, Lake Success (Random House, 2018), the troubled hedge funder Barry Cohen leaves New York via Greyhound bus to find anonymity. Trashing his phone and credit card to avoid his persistent high-octane assistant, he goes on the lam in search of the self he has lost. It seems it’s now easier to get lost on the highways of America than in the streets of New York.
Anonymity is a bubble that could instantly pop. Maybe, like Tom Hanks and Madonna, we all need to wear sunglasses and baseball caps outside. It’s nice to be unseen in broad daylight.
A crazy thicket of scaffolds is turning New Yorkers into moles. The other day I walked two long dark and dingy scaffolded blocks in a row, turned a scaffolded corner and walked yet another without seeing open sky. I wasn't just a mole. I was a mole in a maze.
City laws promote the erection of scaffolds, but don't legally limit how long they can stay up (for details, read here). As a result, they're out of control. Something must be done. An obvious step is to regulate how long they can stay up. But there's an easier idea.
When I walked under this Hanging Garden of Scaffold outside Cafe Lalo (the Upper West Side destination pastry shop where a scene in You've Got Mail was shot), I realized exactly what was needed. Uplifting interior design.
I propose The 2018 Scaffold Law of Aesthetic Uplift to stop the blight. Imagine the possibilities. Tiki Scaffold, Fiesta Scaffold, Disco Scaffold? Big Apple Orchard, King Kongland, Lady Liberty Lot? Think of blocks of lights at Christmas! Consider the stage sets outside Broadway! Tourists would come from all over to visit The Big Scaffold. Twinkling light and fake flower businesses would boom. People would actually mourn when the tunnels left.
Goodbye, mole people. Hello, party in the streets! What do you think?
Whistles are a stop sign for the ears. Traffic cops, lifeguards and referees all use them to control the flow of action. But whistles have a happier side, too. A child with a whistle skips to a self-made joyful rhythm. Whistle-blowing can be fun, but it's not always easy. Sometimes it takes deeper convictions than lungs to blow a metaphorical whistle in corporations and government.
The annual NYC Pride March through Greenwich Village has always been a compelling mix of resistance, protest and celebration. The theme of this year's march (June 20, 2018), "Defiantly Different," protested the Trump and other world government administration's ongoing efforts to strip LGBTQIA protections and rights. Serious signs of protest joined bucketloads of glitter, confetti and rainbows on marchers and their floats.
This large green team from TD Bank walked by tooting their own whistles and handing out free ones to onlookers. I grabbed one as did the people shoulder to shoulder with me. Individually, our tiny shrill exhales were impossible to hear. But all together, we made some damn serious noise.
Let's not talk about the Mets.
Taunting a Mets fan is like kicking a puppy or pinching a baby. You would have to be extra cruel to want to inflict harm on such a sweet and vulnerable group.
But hope springs eternal at the start of every summer, including on a ballfield shoved under the highway and dwarfed by skyscrapers. Here, Little Leaguers hit and run on a summer morning. Painted by imagination, it's a field of dreams.
The endless traffic rumble from the elevated Parkway? Really the roar of the crowds. The gigantic green metal curved highway supports? The magnificent arches of a stadium entrance in the Bronx. The imposing line of glass building windows? Press box and corporate skyboxes, of course.
Diamonds are precious here. You take what you can get.
Block out those stressed and anxious managers, aka parents, shouting tips and tricks. Keep your eye on the ball, wait for your pitch and swing for the stands. This just might be the time it flies over the chain link fence and straight onto the bike path. See-ya!
And the noise fills up the stadium.
Urban Irony #353: you can shop for growing things while underground yourself. With the onset of Memorial Day weekend, my spring flower craving deepens. The subway florist Botany Bar, buried down in the Turnstyle Underground Market at Columbus Circle, serves up singular orchid "spritzers" on a silver platter. The whimsical shop also concocts air plant "shots," succulent "flights," and a "six-pack" sampler "for your next BYOP event."
I don't just like to BYOP, I also love to seasonally BYOB. Since I can't plant violets on Memorial Day (I've got a park, but no backyard), I drink them. A fragrant bottle of Creme de Violette inspires botanical violet gimlets and brings flower power to my apartment while green thumbs are out in their backyard tilling soil.
I may not have a bed of dirt to run my fingers through, but I can work with metaphors. Here's another: You don't have to have a backyard patio to make your life a garden party.
It was a dark and stormy night when a scofflaw snuck this unloved TV with shattered screen out to the curb. I've seen a lot of random refuse in my time, including an entire piano soundboard and a sweet hand-painted sign saying "Mom loves Norm" (was it Mom or Norm who put it out?). But this was my first sad and forlorn flat screen stuck out in melting spring snow.
All trash tells a story: This one's a double crime in progress. New York City law requires e-waste to be taken to an electronic recycling station. Also, household garbage is banned from sidewalk sanitation baskets. Who could do such a thing? Maybe there's a registered serial number here. No doubt the perp is chomping popcorn and streaming Netflix on a newer model at this very moment.
The questions ask themselves. How did the screen crack? Did the TV fall off the wall or was an object thrown at it? Who opts for Vizio over Panasonic? Let's look at motives. Did a lazy owner with a guilty conscience think, "Nah, not lugging it on the subway. But I'll almost do the right thing." Or in blind denial, "Perhaps someone will want it?" The plot lines are endless.
Spring cleaning can be ruthless. Could have been a condo-owning Kondo-izer (The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up by Marie Kondo) or a foresighted Swedish death-cleaner (The Gentle Art of Swedish Death-Cleaning: How to Free You and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson. Broken TV's certainly do not spark joy or thrill heirs.
The only thing I know for sure. It was a dark and stormy night. All better to avoid the $200 fine.
In Wes Anderson's fabulous film Isle of Dogs, canines are removed from daily life and banished to a remote island. Here in Manhattan, it's the opposite. We're an Isle of Dogs that has Aisles of Dogs. I've seen pets tucked, lifted, dragged, walked, seated and scooped just about everywhere, including to Starbucks and the movies. Trendy owners now bring fur babies to the office, or even the post office (above). The problem is not all breeds are good walkers. Some tire easily on skinny little legs; others may be heavy as bowling balls. Enter, four wheels. Compared to, say, bringing an emotional support peacock to the airport, doing chores with a bulldog in a baby stroller is a walk in the park. But the sight of a regal dog in a cushy throne always makes me wonder. Who's the real master?