November 20, 2010

As a result of my Archives classes, it happens more and more that I find links and references and connections and suggestions to this field, no matter the subject, no matter the angle.  It would probably be the same if I studied medicine or business, or stenography.  In movies (from the B-movie docu-melodrama The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977) or the David Mamet short internet video Lost Masterpieces of Pornography), in books, conversation, the newspaper, on TV.  When I moved this past summer, I viewed all my crap as an absolute organic archive that needed to be organized, indexed in boxes, and partly de-accessioned.  I am not so much an obsessive person, and didn’t grow up in an obsessive household, but I try make nods of justice to the things I spend time being interested in.

Couple weeks ago there was a big story in the NY Times about WikiLeaks, a rogue primary source website, which released over 300,000 classified documents about the Iraq War.  WikiLeaks is run by Julian Assange, who is posed in the news as a maverick, paranoid information scientist from Australia.  He looks like a character in the movie Inception.  The US government has condemned the leak, but claims the documents don’t report anything previously undisclosed.   Three months earlier, WikiLeaks let out 77,000 secret documents on the Afghan War.  As an archive student, this is about as close to the TV show 24 as the profession gets.  Julian Assange may not be Jack Baeur, but is he an archivist?

Assange has a certain amount of control over these documents, which he obtained through alleged contacts in the military and elsewhere, and then entered into an agreement with the Times, Der Spiegel and the London Guardian to publish the papers.  Assange had nothing to do with their original creation, but now claims them with a supreme authority, against the will of the U.S.

Assange recently spoke in Sweden with Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 outed 1,000 pages of  Pentagon documents with secret information about the Vietnam War. But Daniel Ellsberg was a political insider, an analyst for the RAND Corporation.  He was hired to do research on the war, collecting a body of documents, and make a report, the conclusions of which Congress ignored.  Julian Assange is a civilian with the pedigree of a computer hacker; he is a laymen agitator.  But he got the info before the news media did.  The Fourth Estate does not need yet another reminder of its decomposition, even in New York, the biggest newspaper city in the country.  History makes cataclysms, then repeats itself, like the river in the movie Deliverance.

Julian Assange is not without precedent, as neither are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Wars are conducted on grand scales by secret information, and the 20th century has been witness to both a geyser of awareness of human civil rights, and a staggering commitment of atrocities typically documented with painstaking archival detail. All in all, the average American is not so easily ticked off by the higher order of things, unless personal livelihood is going to be affected, either when the President goes “Socialist” on health care, or one’s relative is fighting in the war overseas.

. . . . New York, a port city, at the forward guard of civilization, urbane and smug, fiercely multi-ethnic, super-crowded, spewing wealth, is at an advancing stage of acting as its own curator.  San Francisco might have followed this sort of juncture of metropolitan self-awareness, but the technology industry has kept San Fran’s attention on the future, rather than the past. In The Social Network, that new Facebook movie, the money and the action is in Northern California, not New York, where old business paradigms are a stifle.

NYC, in the guise of curating its past, which thinks ahead to the uses of the future, also destroys it.  NYC established the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the late 1960s: it took 300 years for the city to recognize itself as a work of art, which is strange for a town so vainglorious.   And still, as social theorist and New York Intellectual Nathan Glazer says in From A Cause to a Style, “New York is not – not yet – a museum city,” that despite its low manufacturing base and high cost of living, its population increases each year (as does its volume of sightseeing tourists).

Every New Yorker has a moment when a favorite place closes for good. Sometimes I wish, as Chumley’s, McHale’s Pub, Carmine’s and Gino have lately disappeared, so would “Saturday Night Live.”

Gino, Lexington Avenue

Gino, Lexington Avenue, crowd, two days before closing

Charlie Sheen on the rampage at the Plaza isn’t exactly F. Scott and Zelda jumping into the Pomona fountain. And when people like Dick Miles, the table tennis champion, pass away, a piece of the city dies too.  And so I have been a tour guide for the last 6 years and am studying for work in Archives.

Dick Miles

Vet Day

November 17, 2010

Air Force Jet, Veteran's Day Parade, NYC, 2010The Army bands in the Veteran’s Day parade, marching past the office building on Fifth Ave, sound peculiarly like a mix of Korean folk music, the sweater-vest patriotism of Charles Ives, and the theme score for The Terminator movies.  Guys dressed up in desert fatigues standing around Humvee tanks; men in green dress raiment and berets with trumpets, getting ready to march, flaunt and flex the art and muscle of the Armed Forces.  A big banner with a Skull, Sword & Wings: “Kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out!”

But student life is not Army life.  Still, a couple of things that might have provoked a quick stark derangement of self-reflection occurred last week in class.  The class broke up into small groups, to create our own finding aid based on a fictional archive.  We chose David Bowie.  A fellow student, who later admitted her birth year as 1988, said she had never heard of David Bowie.  I usually find it an anti-social and offputting reaction to say to people, “You’ve never heard of that, really?”  It is often a person’s way of masking smugness with incredulity.  “I guess no one should expect anyone to have heard of anyone,” I said.  But David Bowie?  The Diamond Dog? Ziggy Stardust? The White Duke? Blue Jean? The All the Young American Modern Love Changes Dudes Jean Jeanie Man Who Sold the 1984 World?

Then the other day, again broken into groups, having to pretend to arrange a mock archive, and given an 331/3 RPM vinyl record from 1966, one guy asked, “What’s 331/3?”  He is a musician, though I should not take for granted he should know that.  And it wasn’t exactly generational.  If I had assumed he didn’t know, and tried to exAir Force Jet, Veteran's Day Parade, NYC, 2010plain it to him, I’d have felt like kinda of a jerko anyway, because he might have already known in the first place, and it’d be a needley condescension.  All in all, my David Bowie vinyl records gained value for the archives.

This week, George W. Bush broke ground on his Presidential Library, located at Southern Methodist University.  Bush hopes his papers will shed new light on the bad decisions he made while leading the nation into two wars and the collapse of the economy.  Bush now puts his trust in the power of history to vindicate his actions and preserve his legacy, but surely Bush’s papers will be the archival proof that he was never a man who put his trust in history.

North Jersey

November 9, 2010

I watched the movie Big Fan (2009) on Netflix “Watch It Now.”  I rarely use this offer from Netflix, since I have to watch the movie on my computer, which is in my studio work space, the man cave, and the old rustic wood floor is a tad slanted, so my wheeled desk chair sometimes rolls off toward the other side of the room when I am not diligent about staking a good angle towards the desk.

Big Fan takes place in the physical and psychological cross-hatches of Staten Island and Jersey.  This is your author’s childhood homeland territory, aside from the fact that I have not spent much time in Staten Island, except for a few deliveries of janitorial supplies I made when I drove the van for my father’s company in high school.   Staten Island does not have as bad a stereotype as does New Jersey, which makes it stand out much less in character than the Garden State.  Even MTV canceled their Staten Island reality show.  “City Island” is roughly the Dutch translation, ironic for the least urban of boroughs, known for Republican politicians, Mafia McMansions and where Madonna’s 1980s video for “Papa Don’t Preach” was filmed.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, where Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Aaron Burr and Jack Nicholson are from.  The only place on the planet with better pizza and bagels than New York, is New Jersey.  Thomas Edison, Kinetoscope, New JerseyBecause of bad reality TV, and the 20th-century industrial outlands of Hudson and Essex Counties, where chemical plants, beer factories, and stacks of supercontainers sprawl for miles en route from Newark Airport towards the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels into Manhattan, New Jersey has garnered a bad rep for lack of grace, charm, fresh air or good manners.  But the worse the rep, the better the mystique, the guts, the potential for sublimation.  In 1903 the first movie Western was shot on South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey, the same town where I went to prep school, and Thomas Edison concocted the Kinetoscope.  Solar panels were invented in NJ, ironic for a state unfairly bullied as the armpit of the U.S. – anyhows c’mon that’s Long Island.

The “big fan” in Big Fan is Paul Aufiero, played by stand-up performance artist, character actor, and Tom Scharpling radio call-in personality Patton Oswalt. Paul is a parking lot attendant who lives with his mother in Staten Island.  He is a football fanatic and his team is the New York Giants.  Paul and his buddy Sal drive over the Goethals Bridge along Rt 21 through Newark out to East Rutherford, Big Fan, Patton OswaltNJ to tailgate at Giants Stadium.  They never buy tickets, but watch the game from a TV they power through their car battery in the parking lot (the same parking lot my friends hung out at Grateful Dead shows in the early 1990s, before Jerry died).  Paul and Sal are blue collar dudes in their late 30s, zealots of the Giants franchise but priced-out of the stadium.

Every week Paul calls in to his favorite sports radio show, Sports Dog, and unleashes a jeremiad of pro-Giants, anti-Phillie Eagles pontification.  Paul prepares his remarks solemnly and monkishly in his parking lot ticket booth, scrawling in the pages of his spiral notebook.  When Sports Dog gives the cue, Paul is on fire.   Big Fan tightly and evocatively conveys the evangelical AM airwave cadence of Mid-Atlantic sports buffs, with a fierce flair for the beer-battered technocratic verbiage of football and the buffalo-wing braggadocio of gridiron shit-talk.

During the week Paul works at a parking lot, and on the weekend hangs out in a parking lot, a visual rhyme with the mentally-imbalanced stagnancy of which his family accuses him.  Paul may not have a girlfriend, but he is not a deviant or hard-up.  His mother castigates him for not being normal, like his goombah brother, a personal-injury lawyer, and plastic-lipped, bobinkus boobed sister-in-law.  The whole family gathers around the TV for the premiere of his brother’s cheapo commercial, but they have no respect for Paul’s artistic act of nighttime orations on the radio (his mother instead bangs on the wall for him to shut up).  Paul is a true outcast, but never is it believed that Paul is unhappy, and when he stomps about in defiance of his mother’s wish for him to be other than he is, “I don’t want what they have! I don’t want it! I don’t want!” he is not being lazy or unfocused or a slacker, but asserting the viability of his alienated convictions.

Not only does Paul debunk society by living with his mother – the epitome of a loser – but defies authority by refusing to press charges against Quantrell Bishop, the Giants superstar quarterback and Paul’s diehard hero, who stomps the crap out of Paul in a paranoid, coke-induced, midtown nightclub thrashing.  Paul’s lax, evasive and disaffected response to this incident triggers an onslaught of oppressive needling by his family, the media and the cops.  Like Buddha in a Giants hoodie, Paul’s interests are selfless and serve a higher purpose, and he’d rather Quantrall play than sue the quarterback and ruin the team’s record.

Bret Schundler, eating a hot dogThe backdrop exurban environs of Big Fan work on a tri-state axis of NY – NJ – PA.  Paul lives in NY, the team plays in Jersey, and his arch-enemy is “Philadelphia Phil,” an orotund “cheesesteak bozo” who calls in Sports Dog with inflected diatribes against the Giants. It is fall football season but no leaves are shown changing to mahogany, hunter, or gold. The sky is slate gray, and the most vivid hues are the team colors painted on fans’ faces. Taken as a metaphor, Big Fan portrays a sort of American common denominator interpretation of reality as a growling, binary-obsessed face-off, like 21st century game shows or political elections.  Paul’s individuated moral sense submits to such tension.  But after he is smacked down by Quantrell Bishop, Paul is forced to act upon a sequence of decisions which both transcend and subvert his estranged, creative American self, against the dreadnought of cultural expectations in which he floats a livelihood.

Paul is familiar, either first hand or second hand, or I sat next to him at Sharkey’s in Clifton, NJ eating garlic wings; or taylor ham and egg sandwiches at The Short Stop, a greasyspoon trucker diner in Bloomfield; or stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the mens room urinal at a bar in the Ironbound section of Newark where stewardesses hang out.  Sometimes it’s a good movie that stupendously, mysteriously, musty and steep, greenlights your faith in the ways of your own world and that beyond it….

Can’t Get No

November 5, 2010

On the way to work the other day, in the rain, glancing at the covers of the papers on the newstands – the NY Post, Daily News, AM New York – the headlines showed a bombastic and smartass and altogether manufactured corral of attitude against Obama, in reaction to the Republican “shellacking” of the Dems in the midterms the other day.  It serves politicians very well that America is a country that often never employs history to activate the future, but is instead a fanatical masochist for the making of the same mistakes over and over and over again.  “It would be hard to argue that we’re going backwards,” said President Obama after the polls closed. “I think what you can argue is we’re stuck in neutral.”

Republicans are bullies, and Democrats are pushovers. George W. Bush’s dimwitted high noon sheriff boosterism unleashed super opposition on the left, but he also alienated the far Christian right – the creationists and such types – which in turn instigated both Obama’s 2008 win and the Tea Party’s reactionary mutant gonzo rallying.  A wave of victory for one party is yet just a set-up for the next wave of victory for the opposite party.  As if things will change…  Obama, the first black president, pushed through health care and Wall Street reform, while announcing the “end of combat operations” in Iraq, and jacking up the War on Terror in Afghanistan.  His panache, smooth elocution, oratorical confidence and comportment of physical and intellectual command, constitute a supreme threat to Americans who find it more comforting to be fear-mongered than treated like a thinking adult.  Still, Obama is a politician, and we can only hope is more staunch a man than when Gore wussed-out in 2000 and conceded to Bush after the recount showdown in West Palm Beach, Florida. Benjamin Linus, Lost Someday voters will realize that there are in fact more than two parties listed on the ballot with an empty circle next to it.  If, from the TV show Lost, The Man in Black and Jacob ran for governor, I’d go and vote for the third party: trickster survivalist megalomaniac Benjamin Linus.  I mean, in New York City, Rent is Too Damn High!

And is it a coincidence that George Bush has released his presidential memoir, Decision Points, just as this rehashed threshold of right-wing fever is sweeping the polls?  Here at Campus Whits, I will make a decision point to read the new Keith Richards autobiography, which should prove a wild and cerebral ride….

Meanwhile, the below pic is allegedly the earliest known photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken of Young Lincoln on a visit to Louisville, Kentucky.  The authenticity was determined by Biometrica, a company that applies identity recognition technology to help gambling casinos nab con-artists on the gaming floor….

The Costume Vote

November 1, 2010

Halloween and Election Season arrive when Autumn is at its peak, a good time for the city. And there is something a Halloween costume store has in common with a local campaign headquarters. For a few weeks, each of these places rent space and anticipate a day of climax, after which they close down, to pop up next year. Halloween stores are cramped, unorganized, stuffy, staffed by temp clerks dressed in fangs, wigs and makeup, a “sexy” devil, “The Crow,” or the vampire man.

At campaign headquarters, perhaps for the State Senatorial District, the cheapest commercial space is rented, above a hair salon in a two-floor storefront, a few computers on tables found on the roof of the building, maybe a back room with concrete walls. Staticky carpet and musty fake wood paneling, and a flight of steps that might seem to lead to the offices of a 1940s bounty hunter. The campaign workers are stressed and make impulsive decisions in the creative effort to get votes – as people in a Halloween store pick out costumes at the last minute.Vote Today Pepsi billboard Times Square 2010

Both spaces are transient and sloppy and the mood is manic. The day nears, and campaigners recruit canvassers, and cheap-ass Jack Sparrow outfits are bought, and fake beards and sexy bloody nurse numbers. After the election, and the holiday, the abandoned stores and HQs are left like Times Square on New Year’s morning, a mess of monsters and politics. The outcome on Election Day may prove much scarier than anyone dressed as Jigsaw the cancer man, or Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies. Or Hiram Monserrate.

I moved into my Brooklyn neighborhood, Clinton Hill, in June. Each Hallow’s Eve, outside a few of the carriage houses and old 1880s mansions from when Brooklyn was a suburb, theatrical entertainments are staged by neighbors for the kids and passersby. At five o’clock the area was swarming with kids trick-or-treating. The best costume I saw was a little kid dressed as Colonel Sanders. He had a good goatee and the curly white hair. I have been to Colonel Sanders’ grave at Cave Hill National Cemetery in Louisville, KY, a famous and evocatively landscaped graveyard, where also is buried Harry Leon Collins, an old-time magician whose gravesite had an occult effect.

My ladyfriend and I dressed up as 1920s aviators. She wore the vintage goggles and cap, I wore an eyepatch and fedora, the story being that my eye was injured in a crash when flying over the Sudan in 1921, or some such tale. I bought the pants I wore for $5.99 in the womens section at the cheapo store in my neighborhood. They were Gloria Vanderbilt, and fit well as the legwear of a 1920s pilot adventurer.  My brother was visiting from Redondo Beach, CA. this week, with his gal pal. She dressed as a sacrificial goat, and Fud was the goatherder.

We walked around the neighborhood. The architecture reflects the flush of 19th century shipping wealth, the Brooklyn Navy Yard not far. It was a vintage autumn evening.  Brisk and windy, leaves like sandcrabs crackling across the asphalt and the rows of Italianate townhouses and brick apartments trimmed in Gothic are dim and infinite in the fall dusk.

The house at 313 Clinton Ave performed a “Vampire Opera” with pre-recorded audio, dance numbers to parodies of songs from Phantom, creature shop masks and a Nosferatu protagonist obsessed with candy. It was mainly for kids, though I didn’t see a whole lot of kids standing on the sidewalk and street for the 8:30 show. Most of the crowd were local couples not in costume. Some teenagers passed by, Batman was being chased by Urkel from Family Matters.

The highlight of the neighborhood spectacle was a carriage house on Waverly Ave, where the garage was turned into a dungeon cast by props of old movie monsters.Exorcist show, Waverly Avenue, Clinton Hill 2010 In the center, strapped to a bed, writhed Regan MacNeil, from The Exorcist.  The actress thrashed and gargled and mimicked along to a profound audio mashup of sound clips from the movie, satanic backwards-playing LPs, and a psychedelic bad-trip collage of primal snarls and inhuman whinnies.  If this show might have been for kids – to maybe fuck them up a little – it was definitely geared to adults.

I didn’t know what to expect from this local street theater – I had heard that the neighborhood was known for making such spectacles a tradition. Earlier that day I was talking with a tour guide about the scariest movies of all-time. My pick was The Exorcist – only to discover that the little girl possessed by Pazuzu the demon was right up my block.

Tofu Scratch Parade

October 14, 2010

One is often the most productive the more one has on their plate. Sometimes it feels like you gotta go out shopping for dishes, but the more you juggle the more things you might clearly and leanly scratch off the list without having to get too scratched.

There are signs all over the campus of Queens College instructing students how to successfully wash their hands.

After all, the swine flu did first pop-up in the QC neighborhood, as it also did at St. Bridgid’s School around the corner from my old apartment in Wyckoff Heights. But surely grammar school kids are wiping boogers on the same sign in school toilets all over town.

In Hell’s Kitchen last Sunday, I encountered a Peruvian parade, the Hermandad de del Señor de los Milagros de New York in Hell’s Kitchen.

Gray Line is advertising tofu on its buses. I hope some of the tofuvenues are going to the union dues on my paycheck.

I have been hosting a radio show on the campus station, WQMC, which is livestreamed at, every Wednesday eve at 9:15PM for about an hour after class. I’m not sure if anyone except my mom and a few friends are tuning in, and my Aunt Jennie in Ohio,and my brother in Redondo Beach, CA. who archives all the shows – thanks Fud.  All in all, it’s a blast to host The Roister Show, which sets out a palimpsest of music, schpiels, mash-ups and comments by your host Roister.  I haven’t had much time to incorporate interviews, and the phone lines are screwed up in the studio so a call-in session is TBA. The guys in charge, Amrish and Juan, are good guys and run a whambang show down there in the bowels of the Student Union. Tune in people: Weds at 9:15!!!!.  All you QC Knights, let the Roister Show know of any campus doings or announcements you want shouted out on air. It’s not Pump of the Volume, alas, but it also isn’t The Z Morning Zoo.

Last week, the campus was looking fit and ripe and prime.

The Bigot Spigot

October 14, 2010

The headquarters of Gray Line Bus Tours is at 777 Eighth Avenue, between 47th & 48th St.  In the 1970s, the building was a movie theater, Hollywood Cinema, that screened gay porn, and in the 1980s switched to playing revival flicks, but still promoted the second floor theater as the Night Shift, an “all male theatrical center,” which also offered a free continental breakfast to ticketbuyers.  Today, the second floor twin theaters remain intact, with seats and movie screen.  In one theater, which Gray Line advertises as the Blue Diamond, ticketed tourists are given a private show by a Broadway performer.  The other theater is where the tour guide staff hang out in between tours.  We call it the “lounge” or the “theater” or just “777.”

In the theater, I usually have made it a habit to stay quiet when most of the other tour guides talk with each other.  But I do listen, which is something most guides find it impossible to do, and end up blabbing to each other without response, like a batting cage or a one-way time machine.  There is often company gossiping and kvetching and exaggerating.  Other times the banter is highly entertaining and abstrusely informative.  Either way, no matter how alienated the vibe may seem, it never gets too ugly, just weird.

The other day I was alone in the theater with another guide, who sat a couple rows behind me.  I sneezed and he said god bless, and then asked why I held in my sneeze rather than let it out.  I said basically because it was less messy.  Eventually we started talking.  The exchange turned out to be a prime example of why I usually make it a rule to keep silent – it was weird and it was ugly.

This guide has worked for the company a long time, and though I’d see him ambling about 777, snapping caustic one-liners about the epically absurd rigmarole all employees of Gray Line can relate to, I never talked to him.  A few weeks earlier, when I was doing tours with the driver Mamadoo, this guide stopped by the bus. Mamadoo, born in Paris, his parents from Mali, had a laugh over how he thought he looked like Larry David, the comedian and co-creator of Seinfeld. “You watch Curb Your Enthusiasm?” Mamadoo asked. Mamadoo is a big fan.  The guide – I’ll call him LD – didn’t watch TV.

Talking this day in the theater, LD asked what me what a libray science degree entailed, what library science meant. I shuffled a bit in my description until finding the right terms, feeling that this is a question I should have a dense and succinct answer to. I boiled it down to organizing information so that it is most available to seekers of that information, etc.  As an example of the sensitive gravity of the field, I mentioned that it seems to be a pattern that often political regimes which commit the most heinous atrocities also keep the most detailed records of their acts.  LD used this to mention that Hitler “didn’t exactly have a bad idea.”  And suddenly the conversation was no longer about information science.  LD stressed a caucasioid bias against many different American ways of life, specifically Muslims, and generally non-Christians.

I do not usually engage most tour guides in conversation, but when I do, the odds favor that I will encounter a certain disturbed and anti-social psychology. For a few minutes I talked honestly about the job and about school, and LD was prompted to talk honestly too, about an ostensible belief in white supremacy.  He was calm in his enunciation but a suppressed rage roiled in him.  He hadn’t had fun on the bus in years and despised his passengers.  Did he think I was going to go along with all his bullet points of bigotry? No – he just realized he had an innocent listener, and this was a guy who no one listened to.  The irony of course is that his job is to talk to people.  After after a few minutes sniffing the rancid gust of LD’s temperament, I just turned back around to reading the newspaper, mumbling to myself (which is also a symptom of several tour guides, talking to themselves) . . . what the fuck?

New York City of course is a breeder of both enlightened civil consequence and violent prejudice.  A city this multi-ethnic and so fused with wealth and working class, is a pressure cooker.  LD is swallowed up in it, a mite in the teeth of the kracken, and for a few moments he exposed the dark depths in which people foresake human compassion and pragmatic sense, when they have given up common soul.  Clearly a weak man with a helpless mind, LD lashes out against minorities out of belief in his own existential captivity.  Might give him meaning – grossly – and he ends up posturing his negativity as a matter-of-fact.   You can’t argue with such a person – he is not arguing, just whining – but I could see him opening his mouth to the wrong person and rightfully getting his ass kicked.  LD gave a tour of his stance against the world, and I wanted off the bus at the first stop.  It’s an oral history that won’t make it into the Gray Line Archives, unless they got the theater rigged with secret microphones.

Office Spaced

October 1, 2010

Besides part-time work as a double-decker bus tour guide, I am a legal assistant at a small landlord-tenant law firm on Fifth Avenue up the block from the Flatiron Building.  The spare characterlessness of the office space is a result of the obsessive-compulsive habits of my boss, a single practitioner.  All white walls with a few generic framed photographic prints of the old city, not a trace of knickknacks, a set-up of individuality without individualism: the product of a seasoned, smart and sometimes undealable New York control freak.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, 1909Last week the office got a call from a former employee, recently laid off from a big firm, who wanted to see if there was any work to pick up, and there was.  The woman hasn’t worked here in 5 years, and so for her first days back on the 17th floor of the Croisic Building, I ended up training her as a new old employee.  The training was surprisingly fundamental – she took overly detailed notes about tasks which she herself had showed me how to do when I started work there in 2004.  I made a joke, “you must really have blocked this whole place permanently out of your mind!”  Except it wasn’t so funny.  In keeping with the pallid countenance of the office – staid, track-lit, no music, shelves of leather lawbooks unconsulted – nothing had really changed except a faster computer, an updated MS Word and the use of a scanner.  No new clients, no new verbiage, no new forms lists, no new furniture.  I re-trained the step-by-step processes as if for a first time to an old employee now new who had showed me the same the first time.  Duly perplexed, I fought the urge to denigrate the common senses of people.  In NYC, one fights that urge much much, it can easily become a dangerous game played with one’s own good faith, dug into the synapses like bedrock for skyscrapers. I suppose it was my own common sense, to have put myself in this schizoid circumstance, which I really questioned.

As a countersignature, my desk does yield a transcendental view of Madison Square Park and the full Venetian ziggurat of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, built in 1909 and the tallest building in the world for four years.

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  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.