Yesterday I went on a walkabout. First, to drop off two bags of cotton to Goodwill. The first bag was filled with several hundred dollars worth of button-down shirts that I used to wear although, honestly, when I looked at them I had no memory of this. I can't imagine why they appealed to me in the first place, except perhaps back then I had a different definition of success and wanted others to see it in me. That seems almost a little too facile—a word I just typed out without being certain of its definition but with a strong instinct I was right. Just like those stupid shirts.
The other bag contained sheets and towels. I'm not sure if it's some breach of donation etiquette to drop off sheets and towels at Goodwill. Is that considered too intimate? I mean, I had sex on some of those towels. I decided to part with the sheets because I'd been sleeping in them for over a decade, easily. And I didn't want to sleep in them anymore. I have had this compulsion to get rid of any material that touched my body in an intimate way, and start fresh. I wish I just made decisions that were free of subtext, but my brain always has a parallel track of subtext running alongside every thought. It's like my party trick—the one that makes everyone disappear.
Saturday was the most perfect autumn day I could imagine. It practically smelled like pumpkin and Indian corn. And, as I walked to Goodwill I discovered, nearly by accident, that I live only a few blocks from Broken Angel, a stunningly ramshackle bit of architecture that seems to be standing on its tiptoes, stretching just a bit above the neighborhood's skyline to be noticed. Broken Angel was featured prominently in Dave Chappelle's Block Party, because the concert was staged right next door, in the crook of the elbow where Quincy Street bends away from Downing. I had never seen nor heard of Broken Angel prior to seeing the movie, but the building and its owners are pretty unforgettable.
And as I approached that corner I caught a glimpse of Broken Angel's crooked glass spire and it reminded me of Hoffman's Playland. Hoffman's was a very low-to-the-ground and miniature theme park that probably held no appeal to anyone over seven years old, when you're still within a reasonable age to enjoy things like a caterpillar-shaped train that went around a railroad track in slow, bumpy loops. My brother, sister and I loved that caterpillar and as it made its revolutions around the track, we would tirelessly smash the horns facing each passenger. The horns were shaped like the face of the caterpillar so it was sort of like punching a smiling insect in the face, and I'm not even sure which of the horns even worked because the caterpillar train would just produce this tinny cacophony of honks as it went around and around, and it was impossible to identify the source of each or add them up to make sure every horn was accounted for.
There were two other things I remember very well about Hoffman's. The first was another train ride around the park grounds. (This was a one-trick pony kind of playland and many of the rides were just variations on a theme, and that theme was Going Around In A Circle Slowly And Waving To Someone Holding A Super-8 Camera. The vehicle for achieving this changed but the motion never did.) What was remarkable about this train ride—it had no horns, sadly—was that at some point during its revolution around the park it would pass through a little barn-shaped tunnel and you would be plunged into darkness for about half a second. This is as close as Hoffman's came to approximating any kind of real adult thrill. The suggestion of death, etc. And it would never fail to freak us out. You would save up your energy to scream your head off as you entered the tunnel, though Hoffman's did nothing to corroborate the frightening nature of this taste of darkness. In fact, at the entrance of the tunnel was (if I'm remembering this correctly) a flat wooden cut-out of a clown dressed as a fireman or something equally friendly. Or maybe it was a train engineer in denim and ticking. Either way, it wasn't a pair of demons raping a woman, which is an image included in the mural that adorns one of the rides at Coney Island.
And, finally, there was the giant ferris wheel. This was a rite of passage for all kids, as they graduated from the "kiddie" training ferris wheel to this towering wheel. (Surely one of the "5 Major Rides" Hoffman's touts on its web site, though I can't imagine what the other four could be. I guess the Female Circumcisor could be one of them. That one has a horn, but only in the beginning.) Besides the thrill of slowly rising high above street level, the big ferris wheel provided a kind of beacon signalling the park was in close proximity. Spotting the wheel became a family game, and I'm sure many parents elsewhere had an equivalent way of distracting their kids—asking them to look out for the statue of Rob's Big Boy, etc. Since she was the oldest and shrewdest, my sister often cheated and would claim to see the wheel just because she'd memorized other landmarks on the way to Hoffman and knew, even if she couldn't see the wheel that moment, in the next one someone else would. (I like my sister so much more now than I did then.) Once the wheel came into sight, all hell would break loose in the car. It was like shots of adrenalin plunged through our breastplates, and we couldn't wait to punch that fucking caterpillar in his stupid fucking face. FUCK THAT GUY!
So, coming up on Goodwill, my heart fluttered when the tip of Broken Angel first came into my field of vision. It really is stunning in both its unusual height and its total refusal to conform. It's not even trying to be different; it just can't help it. And as I got closer I started thinking about the unusual couple who own the place and, just as they entered my mind, one of them passed me on the sidewalk, walking his Jack Russel Terrier. I have to confess I was a little disappointed in his choice of pet. A purebred seemed a bit bourgeois. I was hoping for something with a ridiculous underbite, or raccoon.
Later that day I walked to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and stopped into an old vintage/junk shop called Repop. Lots of strange, exciting curiosities there, including turn-of-last-century medical supplies and a real magician's cabinet. (With a big silver question mark decorating the front.) I picked up a competitively priced toaster—which I needed for my apartment, and was incredibly happy to find one of pure metal design and cloth power cord and in perfect working condition—and a small, pale green reading lamp with a beautiful (original) porcelain shade. Lately, I have had excellent luck with lamps.
The woman working at Repop was so perfectly suited to her environment that it seems a shame to even describe her. She looked like she'd stepped out of a Lynda Barry comic strip, or a used record shop in Seattle. And as I walked through the store, picking up items and asking her questions, she always responded in the same way. "That's cooool," she'd say. Or "that's awwwwwwesome." Never any more information than that. Nothing that would help you make a purchase unless you made all purchases based purely on emotional response which, lucky for her, I do. When I would ask if something worked, her enthusiasm was so great and positive that it almost sounded like sarcasm. It was actually off-putting. But, really, she just loved her job. She loved what she did all day. And that feeling must be really healthy.
The lamp photographs very well, as you can see:
But the toaster does not, what with all its highly reflective surfaces:
In general, I've gotten some really nice photographs of smaller details in my apartment. I'm discovering I am very successful at focusing on an extremely small area, but I get troubled by how often I lose focus when I step back and try to see the place more holistically. I suspect that is a very familiar problem. It's one of my 5 Major ones.
[UPDATE: One detail I neglected to mention in this story was that, upon seeing Broken Angel in person for the time, it was recovering from a small fire in one of its towers. As I was walking home this morning, looking for the peak of Broken Angel over the skyline of low brownstones, I wondered if the recent fire would draw the attention of city's Department of Buildings. After all, Broken Angel is a sort of hand-made, ramshackle structure. Sure enough, not 15 minutes after the thought ran through my own head, I found this story through Gothamist, about the city trying to force the residents of Broken Angel to vacate unless the building is brought up to code. It breaks my heart, because I can easily imagine that these two staunch individuals would prefer to die beneath the crooked angles of their incredible home than live in some hard-edged government-subsidized housing that's probably still above their means.
There is, however, a thin ray of hope. The couple's son is trying to collect donations to help raise money to bring Broken Angel to code, preserve an unusual piece of Brooklyn architecture, and keep his parents in the home they dreamed of and built together. You can read his plea here. Even if you don't think it's appropriate or fair to send people to send money to help refurbish their private home, I would argue that Broken Angel is also a kind of public landmark and community sculpture. And in that sense, I would encourage trying to preserve it, and its humble sense of ambition.]