The large jonathan

New York Index:

Duration of trip: Nine days.

Number of Broadway shows seen: Four

Number of Broadway shows seen choreographed by Shana Carroll: One

Number of trashy books read: Four

Number of trashy books so bad I left them behind in the airplane seat pocket: One

Number of museums visited: Four

Number of polystyrene penises seen: One

Number of boroughs visited: Two

Number of Bed, Bath & Beyond stores visited: One

Number of weddings viewed in Central Park: One

Number of Metro Card swipes unsuccessfully attempted: Fourteen

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Near Lafayette and Prince: Summer in the city

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The source of my infatuation

My mother went to Vassar in the 1930s, and many weekends she’d take the train down to Manhattan and go out drinking with Princeton boys. She was enraptured by essentially everything, the subways and the hotel bars and the nightclubs where you could get crazy to swing music. She saw Benny Goodman live! She told me that several times, and she played “Stompin’ at the Savoy” on the record player.

We were far away from New York, in a small bungalow on a small street in dumpy Pasadena, California. There were copies of the New Yorker piled up on the table, and books by John Cheever and John O’Hara and all those drunk-in-Connecticut boys. She read me Thurber’s Columbus stories as I was going to sleep — I knew “The Night to Bed Fell” better than I knew “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” When I was 10, I knew who Peter Arno was.

So Manhattan is, for me, is the island of romance. Every inch, every cross-street, every run-down diner and barren lobby. I was nostalgic for things I have never even seen. Even after all these years, even after working there and sweltering there and killing cockroaches there, I still think of New York as the pinnacle of civilization.

There weren’t any cockroaches in California, so I thought that they, too, were sophisticated.

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Artistic conversations

“This would be a good photo, right here.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You know, essence of Brooklyn, food truck-based Cuban restaurant, Greenlight Books, diversity, strollers, those kinda hats that…”

“Yes, but not really a photograph.”

“Well, Jeez. OK. Jeez.”

(later)

“So this would be good. Fort Greene, Walt Whitman, Brooklyn Eagle, just a sense of the…”

“It’s a plaque.”

“Yes, but you could do something with it. Get a kind of, maybe, a young writer of literary fiction, with her baby, with two babies, multi-racial babies, and…”

“Not a photograph.”

(later)

“So this, this –“

“You could just take photos with your phone, you know. Use them in the blog.”

“But I didn’t take any photos in Brooklyn.”

“Use your skills. Word pictures, killer descriptions, metaphors, similes, evocative whatevers. You’ll figure it out.”

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Only known photograph from Brooklyn (snapshot by JC)

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Notes on a meme:

It is a commonplace now that Oakland is the new Brooklyn. I guess that means that the center of creative energy and youthful exuberance has moved from Manhattan (or San Francisco) to its less glamorous neighbor to the east, the formerly poor and clueless sister city now made relevant and hip by changing demographic times. Let us come together in this boutique of  hipitude.

Of course, that’s not true. Maybe it was true for 17 seconds in 2004, but now property values are inflated in both places and the inhabitants are the about-t0-be-rich looking for a nice condo in the colorfully changing neighborhood. The new rich are a little more multi-hued than the old kind, but they’re still the same breed, Mad Men of the 21st Century, flocking with others of their own species, secure in their uniform uniqueness.

But in both places, it is possible to squint at the older buildings and see the communities now vanished, ethnic affinity groups clustered in neighborhoods, changing with the waves of immigration that have defined America. Now it’s all the Culture of the Deracinated, a commercial potpourri of ideas from German minimalist poets and Puerto Rican muralists and Japanese cartoonists and Ghanian percussionists.

 Brooklyn has much more stringent height limits, so it will keep its lovely tree-lined brownstone-lined streets, as opposed to Oakland’s growing collection of grotesque condos. Which seems great, until the phrase “Potemkin village” occurs to you.

 Brooklyn is Oakland on steroids; Oakland is Brooklyn with a human face.

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Trashy book report

“The Accident” by Chris Pavone: Someone writes a tell-all book about Rupert Murdoch. Complications ensue. Murdoch appears under a pseudonym, but it’s all very wink wink. Three cheeseburgers.

“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley: Someone kills Roger Ailes (pseudonym again) and some other folks. Why? How? Who? And why is Bill O’Reilly (pseud.) acting like such a dick? Fortunately, one moral man and so forth. But still, what fun. Four cheeseburgers.

“The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: Look, if you want to write a movie, write a movie. Don’t make us read this dysfunctional family drama for 300 pages and then turn it into honeysuckle and balloons for the last 50 pages. Total betrayal. Why do people like this book? Maybe nobody finished it. One-half burger

 “The Second Life of Nick Mason (a Nick Mason novel)” by Steve Hamilton: Left on the airplane. Bad Lee Child. I entirely forget who did what to whom, but one moral man and so forth. The New York Times went nuts for this.  What? One cold half-eaten fry.

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Skyline from Brooklyn side. Five cheeseburgers 

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The persistence of hope

I was walking down 72nd street, planning to walk across Central Park to the Met, which is one of the great experiences available on earth. I was just passing the juice bar, what we had come to think of as “our juice bar,” when I realized: Politics is boring.

Sure the Presidential race is exciting, in a Harry Potter kind of way. Will Voldemort be defeated? We’ll have to wait until November. But really, there are a lot of interesting and complex issues to be considered, and none of them are being talked about in any real way. It’s all posturing. It’s all looking for the message that connects emotionally, which is exactly the opposite of intelligent discussion.

And intelligent discussion is kind of fun. Listening to people who know more than you do: Exciting. It’s stimulating to hear an idea you’ve never heard before.  And do we not crave stimulation of the brain? We do.

For instance: There are two popular musicals on Broadway that deal with aspects of the black experience. They are more interesting than the rhetoric of Donald Trump or Black Lives Matter. “Shuffle Along” is about reclaiming racist stereotypes, in much the same way the the LBGT community reclaimed the word “queer”. Minstrel shows were, after all, based on art forms created by slaves. Why not own them?

“Shuffle Along” is being criticized for being too didactic, but we need a good history lesson from time to time, particularly a history lesson that includes fabulous tap dance numbers and Audra McDonald singing ballads.

And there’s also “The Color Purple,” which has a mostly white audience cheering the triumph of a black woman. The ideas are commonplace, but Cynthia Erivo (holy God she’s good) and Heather Headly make it visceral. It’s a way into the heart of the matter; it’s a way of provoking conversation about the persistence of misery.

We went down to the Bowery to see the New Museum.  All five floors are devoted to women artists. They each had something to say about gender, and it went way beyond “sisters are doing it for themselves.” I thought idly that it would be nice to see an all-male show dealing with gender, but alas, my sex does not seem to be up to dealing with that yet.

And it wasn’t just gender. Nicole Eisenman (and she’s as good as Cynthia Erivo) has a complicated and fabulous vision of modern life, mostly on canvases too large for my little iPhone, but I did manage to capture a little meditation on narcissism called “Selfie”.

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(Snapshot by JC)
 

Even stranger was a piece by Cally Spooner (called, unfortunately, “On False Tears and Outsourcing”) which features dancers miming acts of violence behind a glass wall — outside of which patrons sip coffee and chat.

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“Never mind her; look at my hand”
 

 

We went to the Whitney; same thing. I have one quibble: A lot of the art is political, and many of them have mission statements written in the purest artspeak gobbledygook. I think maybe that’s an artifact of grant writing, which virtually demands large quantities of horseshit. And I suspect that some of the art is pure impulse — hey, this would look cool; how can I get a Guggenheim to do it? For instance:

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Excellent snakes, excellent pelican (snapshot by JC)
 

This is a detail from a huge floor diorama by Rochelle Goldberg called “No Where No Way.” The explanatory card talks about environmentalism in some murky way, but I deeply believe that Goldberg thought “I can make these amazing objects out of stainless steel and ceramic; what the hell can I say about them?”

Anyway: Ideas. Beauty. Musings about empire.

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Parental pride

So yeah, our daughter Shana has a show on Broadway. That was a nice sentence to type. It’s the new Cirque du Soleil thing, “Paramour,” and she choreographed the circus tricks and did some general mucking about. The show is a huge smash financially if not critically, and now she can go home and do her own projects, which is good news for truth and beauty.

Yeah, we went backstage and met the stars, and generally hung around the periphery looking exactly like visiting parents. They all called me “Mr. Carroll,” and I told them about listening to Lincoln at Gettysburg — because I am so very old.

So, you know: New York

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The artist with the wonderful Eisa Davis (snapshot by JC)
 

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Photography by Tracy Johnston

Ornamental marketing by Michelle Mizera

God those captions look ugly. Sorry about that.

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24 thoughts on “The large jonathan

  1. Loved this, Jon. As to those high-rises, most of the ‘hoods you probably visited I Brooklyn are designated historic districts, so the building of those monstrosities is not allowed. In those neighborhoods not yet gentrified, the building is going on big time, old frame houses being torn down to make ways for soul-less concrete. You could almost tell where the borders fall by walking around and seeing the new structures looming in the poorer neighborhoods, while the more gentrified ones are protected.

    Leah Garchik
    San Francisco Chronicle

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  2. Welcome back Jon.

    Here the young, newly registered throngs supporting Bernie Sanders didn’t know that “supporting” means ” Voting!” And that just showing up at a rally don’t move the needle.

    West Coast, East Coast.

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  3. Probably your mom didn’t read you “Harold” because you were 14 when it was published. (Sorry! So hard to stop.)

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  4. Um — *IS* Oakland the new Brooklyn? I was perhaps misinformed. I feel quite sure that Portland is the new Williamsburg, but I was too busy with my career to attend the Gettysburg Address,. so I may be clueless.

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  5. The only reason I knew who Peter Arno was at thirteen was my beautiful Auntie gave me the 1953 New Yorker Cartoon Collection. A great “Large Jonathan”! Nice snapshots. Tracy can rest easy.

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  6. I can’t recall if you’ve said you don’t care about typos here or if you’re hoping to do better than today’s Chron. In case it’s the latter, here are some I noticed: “The Night to Bed Fell” “So Manhattan is, for me, is the” “Men of the 21at Century”

    The first time I visited Manhattan I ate at Schraft’s near Washington Square because I knew the name from the New Yorker (or somewhere) even though I couldn’t afford it. Thurber could have invented my meal. There seemed to be an insurgency back in the kitchen so that the waiter had to keep returning to my table to apologize that they didn’t have yet another dish at that moment. One could hear shouting in the back. The waiter was embarrassed. It was perfect.

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  7. What a lovely trip, and such a cool thing to see your daughter’s show! I also enjoyed your art review. I wonder why it is that the worst stuff stays in the brain along with the breathtaking. I remember seeing a piece at SFMOMA years ago that was a narrow wooden shelf, maybe 15 feet long, filled with slices of bread. I thought maybe there was some symbolism there – wood, grains, staff of life, uh, brown stuff, I don’t know. But even so, do you really need gallery space for that? Invite folks over to your kitchen, for chrissake. Though I note it sticks in my brain, maybe so my brain has somewhere to go when it’s feeling judgey. Maybe that’s the context. Art, judgment, judgment of art… memory? I doubt it. I remember thinking… that’s gonna draw ants. So maybe art, organized marching insect life? We march for bread? Really, they couldn’t put up a nice painting?

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  8. Perfect timing as we arrive in NYC on Monday for 8 days. We have SHUFFLE ALONG, COLOR PURPLE, THE HUMANS and THE CRUCIBLE set. I had learned Cynthia Erivo would be out Tuesday-Thursday so bought Saturday night but now she will be out all week. I hope the understudy is great as they often are but still will be disappointed to miss Ervio.
    Surely we will visit several of the big museums but also smaller ones we have enjoyed each time like the American Folk Art and nearby Museum of Design and Art. Plan to visit the the Museum of NYC (with several interesting current shows), Studio Museum in Harlem, Morgan Library, Museum of the Moving Image, Cooper Hewitt and walk the High Line. And maybe the places I keep meaning to visit like the Morbid Anatomy Museum, Louis Armstrong’s House, The City Reliquary in Williamsburg, Merchant’s House Museum, the Alexander Hamilton House (is it suddenly too popular?), Eldridge Street Museum, El Museo del Barrio. And it might be time to return to the amazing experience of the Tenement Museum.

    I also just discovered Forgotten NY http://forgotten-ny.com/

    There is a lot of eating to do and we need to make a trek to the King of Falafel & Shawarma recently written up in the NYTimes.

    But we have to save time for our daughter, son-in-law and the grandson walking since they moved back to NYC a few months ago.

    But how do you find time to read books? Until I get rid of some books I may not be allowed to go to the Strand Bookstore.

    Thanks again.

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  9. can we count on you for “4 Cheeseburger” recommendations for the rest of the summer? 😉 thanks Jon!

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  10. Have you read Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” yet? She and Mapplethorpe in their teens and twenties in NY. At least 4 Cheeseburgers. BTW there is no truth to the rumor I’m trying to start that Wal-Mart is rebranding Straight Talk as LGBT Talk. No truth at all, though wouldn’t it be lovely to monetize inclusiveness?

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  11. I read this in a hotel room in Kampala, Uganda, and it made me inexpressibly happy. Ten cheeseburgers!!! My heart thanks you.

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  12. Also, I also was raised on “The Night the Bed Fell.” (“Quick! Start naming towns in New Jersey!”) This explains a lot,

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  13. “It’s all posturing. It’s all looking for the message that connects emotionally, which is exactly the opposite of intelligent discussion.”

    Yeah. I just got back from England, and did not see a single word about Brexit — for or against — that wasn’t completely drenched in vested interest and sentiment.

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