Loops & Booms

September 28, 2010

I started an internship last week at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I am not getting paid, and most likely not receiving credit towards my degree, but the internship is a currency worth more in value to my future than a paycheck. I am gaining my first experience in the archival world. I hadn’t been this nervous before a “first day” since taking the microphone and standing atop the red doubledecker bus for my first Downtown Loop, in 2004. Those jitters resulted from having to stand in front of an audience of 54 bus passengers for 3 hours, and come up with stuff to say about New York City along the route. It had nothing to do with any investment in a future career (in Western Europe, one must go to school in order to become a tour guide, but at Gray Line, one must simply have a pulse, which is what gives the job character).

Much has been made recently in the pop discourse about young people maturing later in life than they might have been expected to in previous generations, from cover articles in the New York Times Magazine to the subtext in the movie Cyrus. Baby Boomers have done a punchy job of stalling old age, like indulging youth-oriented market branding and co-opting the identities of subcultures.  Boomers are as ubiquitous on Facebook as are 18 years olds. Anyhow, I am going back to school in my 30s in order to get “a real job.” And it is to impugn one’s good intentions to use the post-Bailout era as a justification to take an unpaid internship. As said, this is currency of delicate value to my livelihood. And the Brooklyn Historical Society building, built in 1881, is an inspired place to spend a Friday, good for the constitution.  A magnificent Mauve Years terracotta emblazoned high-windowed Queen Anne monolith: antiquarian, resonant, invigorating, and itself archival.  And even if I won the Lotto tomorrow, I would still give bus tours at Gray Line on the weekends.

Robert Shaddy, Professor and Chief Librarian at Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, made a guest appearance in class last week while our professor was off on some archival swashbuckling in South America. Dr. Shaddy was encouraging and eye-opening in his breakdown of the Special Collections at Rosenthal. I was especially piqued when he mentioned a potential new acquisition of materials to the Library’s theater collection: apparently the estate of Dom DeLuise, the portly and snide and nuanced comedian of the 1970s & 80s, wants to donate the actor’s theatrical materials to the College. Dom DeLuise was Burt Reynolds’ sidekick in the Cannonball Run movies, a Mel Brooks stock actor, and a regular zinger-slinger on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Besides the scholarship of historical documents and the exegesis of rarefied information, this is the sort of thing that bolsters my decision to have entered library school.

I was not on campus when the tornado hit Sept. 16th. I stood on the 17th floor of the Croisic Building on 26th & Fifth Avenue, and watched from the window as the apocalyptic dark clouds rolled east over Manhattan. Dr. Ben Alexander, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Queens College Libraries, is requesting submissions of images of the campus that were captured during and after the storm. Contact Dr. Alexander at Benjamin.Alexander@qc.cuny.edu.  I drove to a wedding in the Hamptons the next day, and saw all the fallen trees along the Long Island Expressway.  Guests at the wedding who drove out the day before told stories of driving through the storm on the L.I.E., sharing lanes with maniac Queens drivers dodging tree trunks at 50 miles an hour.  My neighborhood in Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, got lambasted by the storm – vans buried under uprooted umbrage and streets closed off – but I didn’t take any pictures.

The Tingler

September 16, 2010

First class of the Fall semester, two weeks ago, was like a William Castle movie. William Castle was a gimmicky film director of 1950s era grade-B schlocky pulp horror movies that employed interactive gizmos in the theater to shock the audience. Movies like House on Haunted Hill featured “Emerg-O,” (a floating skeleton over the crowd) and Homicidal, which offered a “Fright Break” for terrified theater viewers, or Mr. Sardonicus, where audience members decided the fate of the characters by a “Punishment Poll.”

I’m not saying that, in my first class, the seats buzzed or Psychedelo-rama lit up the walls of Razran Hall, but that, instead of just rehashing the syllabus and overviewing the class material, the Prof. engaged the class to do stuff with objects, as a device to portray the nature of the course.  It is a Library & Info Science class, where I am studying for a Certificate in Archives and the Preservation of Cultural Materials.  Basically, I just wanna graduate and get to work with cool rare shit.

Usually students hate it when you have to pair up with other students right off the bat – the usual anti-biorhythm discomfort of unknowns – but it is typically a productive method.  A graduate studies program is especially a melting pot of intentions. In any classroom, the group dynamic is full throttle.  After having not be in a college classroom in thirteen years, it all came back in a hot swoop last spring 2009 when I first enrolled at QC. There is always the one or two people whose voices must be heard, by everyone, right away, and they must incessantly let teacher know that they get at all times what he/she is teaching, whether the student is psychically indisposed to chemical balance, or just a buttinsky.  Sometimes you want to turn around with reserve and tell them politely and quietly, OK, you can shush now.  Of course that would be bad scholarship.  Anyhow, these are only jarring exceptions to the enthusiastic camaraderie of intellect and multi-situational subtly of my uniquely peerless fellow library students – and future professional colleagues.

This past Labor Day weekend, I participated in a William Castle retrospective of his movie The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, at Film Forum on Houston Street.  In the movie, the Tingler is a giant half lobster-half cockroach creature that feeds off human fear, and strangles your neck with its two-pronged fore-claw.  At the appropriate scene in the movie, when the Tingler is let loose to wreak deadly havoc in a movie theater, the actual Film Forum theater went dark and the ushers caused panic with their flashlights, “The Tingler is in the theater!”  The audience screams, and I – a shill all along – stand up with a rubber Tingler around my neck, shrieking in death throes, and with the flashlights on my ravaged person I stagger out the exit door to perish.  It was a star performance to a sold out crowd – the old showbiz!

Fear factor aside, my involvement with The Tingler was an Archival experience, very relevant to my QC studies.  The technologies employed in William Castle movies are rarefied and vintage and long out of practice.  Film Forum’s repertory office of enlightened information scientists directed a series of performance with old-timey, unused and acutely collected  materials: the Tingler doll, seat-buzzers, LSD light shows, scripted actors, etc.  Ideas of theatrical instance come back to life, and the ticketed moviegoer is part of the action.  For me, an actorly participant and victim, I tried to get internship credit towards my Library Science degree, but the academic committee snootly refused.  That’s OK – I let the Tingler loose in Room 1104 at Kiely Hall.