Submitted by box_nyc on Wed, 06/27/2018 - 22:24

I still miss the legendary Carnegie Deli since it closed two years ago, another institutional nail in the coffin of what used to be Gotham, leaving me with a lingering sense of indigestion, sometimes bordering on despair. No, not over corned beef, mind you. But indicative of what this town has become: beige and quotidian, barely itself.

There’s no question that 9/11 irreparably changed its soul. The recovery, or rather the response, from which has been as a solution as radical as a sex change. The intervening years since that fateful day in 2001 have seen it purged, amputated, dislodged, extracted and erased of every kind of idiomatic chiaroscuro, whether of temperament, rhythm, patina or silhouette; scrubbed of every delicious, scabrous contour and characteristic; devoid of vexation, serendipity and surprise. It’s Stepford. Worse, it’s the remake of Stepford. Only it’s where New York used to be.

I'm so tired of mourning it, so bored stiff even discussing how predictably colorless it’s become. And I’m not alone in feeling this way, as this recent, rather excellent essay in Harper’s fully expounds, speaking directly to my sense of malaise like balm to the heart.


Submitted by box_nyc on Wed, 06/27/2018 - 21:22

Hey, Lord & Taylor, that was cagey, sending me some kind of an invitation for a “shopping get-together,” whatever that is, paired with Esquire magazine, no less, a publication last relevant in 1973, at least journalistically, just so that that magazine’s head of men's fashion would share his “curations” for fall. Notwithstanding that I take no style cues from anyone but myself, least of all some clueless glossy aimed at a demographic of aspirational lemmings, I’m writing to express my extreme displeasure with you on that sneaky introduction of yet ANOTHER new logo: this one a subtle tweaking to hat obscenely tacky signature written with a Sharpie that you released late last year — and, gallingly, at Christmas, no less.

Your branding gurus have argued that it was time to update the grande dame of speciality stores — harrowed thinking, if there ever was — but do you honestly believe that closing the counter of that A and adding a loop to the tail of that Y doesn't remind you of standard cursive writing from a 20th-century elementary school chalkboard and NOT the signature of a venerated emporium that’s already achieved its bicentenary? You keep fucking up, Lord & Taylor. Is this some kind of Canadian drubbing? Because I did not expect this crap from Hudson’s Bay when they bought you. No, what I expected from a company incorporated by English royal charter in 1670 as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay — when it functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America before European states and later the United States laid claim to some of those territories — was unassailable taste.

I’m shocked you thought this subtle bit of graphical sorcery was lost on my eyes; and if you thought this was some kind of olive-branch solution for the previously egregious misstep, you are as misguided as you are benighted and I'll have none of it. This limp, fallow gesture is even more abominable than I could have imagined. I grieve the loss of your dignity as America's oldest department store, and I pray for the souls of Messrs Lord and Taylor, who founded you with higher ideals. You are over 200 years old, goddamn it, act your fucking age! First, stop your palling around with Wendy! Yeah, don’t think we didn’t notice you’d been hanging around her lunch table. WTF? If she wants to wear that ghastly font, fucking let her — she’s BENEATH you! This is conduct unbecoming that I cannot countenance.

I demand a full restitution of your 1970s logo, in case you’ve lost all manner of heritage! It is eminently readable, classic and stylish and that’s the best thing that can be said of anyone or anything. Now pull up your stockings and get in the race!


Submitted by box_nyc on Wed, 06/27/2018 - 19:55

Not long ago, The New York Times’s much-vaunted Fashion & Style section — that soi-disant arbiter of the beau monde — declared the extinction of the New York dinner party; its headline tauntingly entitled, Guess Who Isn’t Coming to Dinner.

Guess what? They are coming, at least to my dinners. I’ve three teeming guest books that speak to 20-plus years’ of fantastic evenings chez nous! A proper dinner party requires generosity, foremost. And not of the pocket. One can have eight to a seated supper on $50. But it necessitates a generosity of time and an attention to detail, expending effort days before to polish silver and iron linens (neither is a picnic without a maid), and to clean the apartment (the only time it gets cleaned) and then fragrance it: popping down to Zitomer for the usual blue Rigaud candles that the Carlyle uses in the Gallery (Red Room); or heading to the Davidoff shop for the Charleston oil to fill the Lampe Berger.

Dinner at 8 means dinner is served at 9, probably 9:30. Serve comfort food and limit individual courses and plating unless one has help. Everyone brings a bottle of wine. Have two or three standard guests on hand — stalwart friends, whom you know to be gracious minglers — to engage those who’ve been invited for the first time and are apt to plop down and never budge. The music must never intrude on the din of conversation but be kept at a decibel level of instant recognition. Yes, even the most zealous non-smokers ask for cigarettes, so buy the generic brand and put them on the side tables. Keep ashtrays everywhere; emptying them frequently allows the host to circulate. Serve one round of cocktails, then move to wine, and don’t let your guests get too sauced before supper. Subtly alert each guest which setting his/her goblet came from, so that when you adjourn to table you won’t have eight befuddled drunks trying to determine where they’re seated. Dispense with the boy-girl seating etiquette (that’s a rather pedestrian rule like not wearing white after Labor Day): instead, seat your guests according to what they have in common, and make that clear to them to get the ball rolling. Seated at the head, the host must look about regularly during dinner to see who’s quietly pushing peas, and rush to engage them with some flattering tidbit for the others to turn their attention toward. Consider this gesture something akin to social CPR; and a thoughtful guest list should preclude this from ever happening.

After supper, repair to the living room for dessert/brandy/port. Unless they ask for coffee/espresso, it is not on the menu. Suggest instead they open the sterling Dunhill cigarette box for a more holistic digestif: fresh, abundant marijuana, and lots of accoutrements with which to smoke it (discreet pipes and one-hitters only; rolling papers are déclassé). Pour more wine. Lots more wine. Those with jobs or children are likely to leave early after midnight. Fine. Bid them farewell, politely, but first make certain they sign the guest book. Keep the wine flowing for the stragglers, and then turn up the music and dance!


Submitted by box_nyc on Wed, 06/27/2018 - 13:56

Sometime ago, my friend Armen sent me a video from the now-revived Gothamist, containing some rediscovered footage of singer and East Village resident (at least in 1993), Iggy Pop giving a tour of the neighborhood I would leave behind a year later. At the time, he was living at Christodora House, a high-rise luxury condo conversion built in 1986 at the corner of East 9th and Avenue B that was the first nail in the coffin of gentrification to this once-anarchic oasis; and a far cry from this building's philanthropic origins as a settlement house for low-income and immigrant residents when it was erected in 1928.

In 1993, lived at the southwest corner of East 6th and Avenue B, which looked upon the community garden, so this retro tour of an East Village I left 20+ years ago was bizarre in the extreme, especially since I have mixed feelings about the three years I lived there: I was back at school, at Columbia, where I’d left a suite in university housing to move in with my brother, who’d occupied several East Village apartments since the ’80s and now had a vacancy in his then-current two-bedroom flat: a spacious domain-cum-salon, of sorts, furnished with the overflow of art and books we collected, not unlike our current Upper East Side dwelling and not unlike Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who seemed to popularize this interior mode unbeknownst to either of us, as we were more preoccupied with the spate of weekly dinner parties we gave, as well as the larger 75+ oyster and drinks bacchanals with which we enticed intrepid friends generally too fearful to venture past Avenue A.

I spent a lot of time walking this neighborhood, known as the Lower East Side well before the colonization of the actual LES below Houston; since today’s LES was, at least in 1993, still completely off-limits to nice white colonists, like me, who knew little about the local proclivities for heroin and gang violence, two attractions that flew in the face of my more pressing interests in cashmere sweaters and Belgian shoes; neither of which I could afford on a student’s work-study stipend, but neither of which were impervious to my recklessness with what few reserves I had, obviated by pleas to my Mother for additional school books and the like, that necessitated augmenting funds to my allowance. Apparently 1993 was a seminal year in the life of this neighborhood, as evinced by the nostalgic show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art some years back; a fitting locale, since they led the revival of what was once the big bad Bowery back in the day, with its flophouses, jakey bums and other undesirables.

But if the cultural and political tides were turning in 1993, this was relatively lost on a still 1980s-esque East Village, where an eager Iggy walks his beat in this video, identifying his favorite haunts like the late and lamented Pedro's Bakery, home to what were comically cheap and corpulent sandwiches, right there, on Avenue C, then still a grotty and rather dangerous destination for most — but not for Iggy and certainly not for me. The centerpiece of this video, from my perspective, is the recorded capture of street peddlers, purveying their wares each Sunday, when these merchants of theft were out, en masse, their teeming inventory of fenced goods from the better neighborhoods sprawled across the sidewalks, typically on blankets, like an urban Harrods for the underclass. Ever the eager consumer — endowed with impeccable taste but impecunious otherwise — I made out like the proverbial bandit in these parts: a frontier of drugs and guns at night, to be sure; but on Sunday mornings, the sabbath for those of us who get high off a bargain.

I would rise at 6am to be the first one on the scene — not easy with the previous evenings often spent on a stool at the recently lost Temple Bar on Lafayette. If ever I’d had an athletic bone in my body, I don’t think it’s bragging to say how quickly I could scan the merchandise for the kinds of items that most of the neighborhood patrons ignored. This shit went for literally nothing: gorgeous tweed jackets, $2 and $3; silver tea services, $10; so much Staffordshire and English ceramics and transferware, I could plate a banquet; club chairs (I picked up two Harvard chairs for a friend of mine, $5 the pair) and ottomans, objets d’art and the other decorative adornments to a drawing room so favored by the rich: a globe on a mahogany pedestal, some representational sculpture that would make for tasteful bookends, and lots of botanical prints and art that never offends; linens aplenty and other outrageous deals.

Because the bulk of the shopping demographic hailed from the projects on Avenue D, where only the electronics, kitchen items and other devices that either glittered or held some sort of sheen were coveted, I had little competition for the finer neckties and the like. The vendors all knew me, and knew my scam, but they also knew they could count on me. In a day’s grab, I’d drop $40, which was a ton, considering how much I’d bring home; and sometimes I'd have to dash back home to drop off my treasures and grab two more empty tote bags. I was addicted to Avenue C, and the high that came from stealing was staggeringly euphoric. Of course, my proximity lent itself to getting there before this market caught on — like all good things in this town — with those in-the-know bargain hunters, venturing from other neighborhoods and bringing  about the eventual dégringolade of this “flea market.” Some of them would see me with bags piled with fresh plunder, and I’d lie and tell them it was a dry day, to discourage them from staying. I’m not proud of my bloodthirsty avarice in those days: a student’s life left my purse strings hamstrung by anything retail.

But back to the video: Iggy walks by a maroon Volvo wagon at one point, just like the one I had: a 1981 DL. (How I loved that car. Got me through five accidents and a DUI, but I digress...again.) Back to the video. In it, the NYPD’s cars were still light blue, still late ’80s-era Chevy Caprices. I love that Iggy hates cops and details his various arrests for us. I’ll certainly spare you mine. I also love that Iggy cannot pronounce Lois-I-EEDA, despite an international existence that finds him saying something in French and German and letting us know he’s lived in Paris and Berlin. In all, he’s actually quite conventional for someone I always thought was “[In New York] the streets are laid out a certain way....” Do you mean, a grid, Iggy? No, he’s not articulate, alas. But he’s earnest as hell and I like that. As I watch, I wonder, too, if that squatter’s park on East 9th between B and C is still there...and that hideously painted façade Iggy liked a little up from that park? Oh, that’s right, Iggy was making “Coffee and Cigarettes” for Jim Jarmusch when I lived there. Yeah, I wouldn’t call it acting either, Iggy. I hate when people say CON, for Cannes; it’s not that it’s pretentious, it’s that it’s ignorant.

So funny to see those streets as they were, still abandoned, occupied by the squatters, whom Giuliani would later evict with his power of eminent domain. It was still such a chill place to live, back then, in that there was nothing to see, or go to, past Avenue B, which itself was lean on attractions, outside of a bodega or two, and a couple of bars for the locals, mostly, and Time Café, which served great drinks but had an awful menu. Iggy moving into the Christodora must have been scandalous: it was considered blasphemy among the locals to even look in that direction; and sheer sedition if one moved in, especially if having already lived elsewhere in the ’hood. Sleeping with the enemy and all that jazz.

Of course, Mars Bar is now gone, so how long before 7B becomes a Le Pain Quotidien? It was a small neighborhood in those days; but by the following year, I saw the writing on the wall, and when I had to leave for Savannah, I said goodbye for good to heroin addicts in my stairwell and Jersey boys peeing on my front stoop. I was over it.

I never should have left Morningside Heights.


Submitted by box_nyc on Tue, 02/13/2018 - 22:47

I had a most delightful reunion with an old friend when the Times Magazine debuted a new face to its family of typography, those extant fonts exclusively finessed for the Times by the great British type designer and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Matthew Carter, who was commissioned to refine this face for the pleasure of the Old Gray Lady, just as he has the with numerous others deployed in their pages.

I saw this old pal first on the cover, where, to my sheer joy, I recognized its jovial entry, always there to add a pronounced sense of mirth to the proceedings. I first met this chum in the middle 1970s, when CBS used it for a good deal of their advertising (much of it in the Times, too), the kind that all three TV networks once ran daily, back when they were still the dominant fare in home entertainment. If you don’t already know this font, it’s my sincere pleasure to introduce you to ITC Kabel Pro Black, the chubby variant and Good Time Charlie, shall we say, in a family of lithe and leggy types with august Nouveau and Deco origins, dating to 1927, when the great designer, Rudolf Koch, introduced this typeface, while still in the employ of the Klingspor Foundry, in Nuremberg, then one of the great centers of printing. If you aren’t the kind who appreciates underlined words disrupting your read — those seemingly tacit requests to jump to another page — allow me, please, to identify ITC Kabel Pro Black for you, directing you to the second image above.

But first, let’s question why the Times would have seen fit to match the byline of Adam Davidson, sheathed in Mr Carter’s version of Stymie — known as a slab font for its utility as a headline type — with this jovial debutante? Tandem heft alone is not why Stymie seems to live up to its name. No, I’m not sight-challenged, I can see the serifs of Stymie that are meant to complement what ITC Kabel Pro Black hasn’t got; but these fonts simply don’t work together, each wrangling for the supremacy of the marquee, their corpulent audacity a boxing match between heavyweights. Which renders for us something of an ironic metaphor here, given the opportunity the Times had to pair ITC Kabel Ultra with the more appropriate face, the one used in the prop newspaper headline: Hoefler & Co’s elegantly versatile Knockout, seen on the cover in its No. 67 Full Bantamweight version (third image above).

This disparity in weight would have trumped the convention of pairing serifs with sans-serifs, especially since a reduced point size for Knockout would have stood out handsomely. Alas, not so the stocky Stymie. But, of course, the really smart solution would have been to pair ITC Kabel Pro Black with one of its cousins; in fact, the slimmer ITC Kabel Demi, known to many as the face of L’eggs Pantyhose (fourth image above), would have done the trick nicely. But this was not to be. This debutante’s cotillion was — yes — stymied.

Now, lest you think such a festive reunion would have left me deflated after Stymie’s officious interference, something of a post-cotillion after-party was awaiting me on the Contents page of the Times Magazine. There, ITC Kabel Pro Black went into high gear, doing what it does best: serving as a display font for a run-on of letters and sentences, spacing tight, kerning tighter, just as CBS once engaged it, when, to highlight the strength of their comedies, they ran a full-page ad in the Times, that simply read:

Hahahahahahahahaahahahahahaha.... You get the picture.


Submitted by box_nyc on Tue, 02/13/2018 - 22:38

Maurice Sendak’s death left a gaping hole in my heart: his books were among the first I remember with sentient and sentimental appreciation, published at a time when he was still building the reputation for which he would be lionized, receiving numerous awards and citation-honors — the Caldecott and Laura Ingalls Wilder Medals, among them — for the genre of children’s literature he reinvented. I read “Where the Wild Things Are” when it was first issued in paper; but it was his “In the Night Kitchen,” published in 1970, which I received — hot off the press — in cloth, from Scholastic, purveyors, back in the day, of mail-order books through one’s local school district, that left me most rhapsodized. I remember, too, its trim size, more vertical than the horizontal heft of its predecessor, and more so resembling the books of my parents; in gleeful contrast to the oversize design so characteristic of children's books, a pejorative association to my eight-year-old self yearning to be a grown-up.

“In the Night Kitchen,” the tale of a Mickey’s nocturnal journey through a kitchen bakery — where he assists in making a cake after almost becoming one himself when he drops into the batter of this milieu — has always borne its share of controversy, not least for Mickey's unabashed nudity, anatomy in plain view, despite the all-around visual resemblance of the book to Little Nemo, whom Sendak had often cited as a general influence on the books he wrote and illustrated. Apparently, Little Nemo never disrobed. But Mickey does with glorious abandon when he floats amiably from his bed and into the custody of the bakers, all of whom look just like Oliver Hardy, of the comic duo whose films were another staple of my youth. I don’t recall having any kind of visceral objection to his naked state; or any reaction at all. After all, I looked quite the same in my birthday suit. I daresay I was more intrigued with what I’d intuited was his apparent insomnia — an affliction I always suffered but had no idea befell other kids too — even as Mickey, so the story goes, is sleeping soundly when he’s awakened by a noise and finds himself uprooted from his bed, divested of his PJs and blissfully sent aloft. But among what I loved most about this book was Sendak’s style of illustration, a kind of trippy surrealism that I’d begun to divine was very much the vogue in 1970.

And everywhere it appeared, this phase of graphical and animated psychedelia, so contrarily benign, given the illustrated effects of the hallucinogenic drugs from which it sprang. I was enthralled by what seemed a more sophisticated use of cartooning than the customary elements that comprised comic strips and most TV animation of the day, the tropes of typical kids’ fare. Madison Avenue was not immune to this kaleidoscopic fashion either: whether employed in adverts for Life Savers, Wyler’s powdered-drink mixes or Levi's, among other brands. One of the most effective campaigns ever -- now the stuff of advertising legend — was created for 7Up by J. Walter Thompson, which positioned this fizzy drink as the Uncola: an attempt to court the youth demographic with lemon-lime flavor against the cola-war dominance of Coke and Pepsi, which, it was further asserted, represented the Establishment. Coca-Cola would later counter that it was The Real Thing, and the Pepsi Generation would add that it had A Lot to Live, a Lot to Give. These were free-spirited times, to be sure, an age of us versus them; and Maurice Sendak, whose social criticism was neatly tucked into everything he wrote, understood that unremittingly.

In contrast to the cross-hatching style of illustration for which his previous book, “Where the Wild Things Are,” was widely noted, “In the Night Kitchen” bore a striking similarity to this distilled aesthetic of psychedelia — made famous by Peter Max, of course, and, among others, Heinz Edelmann, who provided the art direction on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” It was a time of unrest and experimentation and wonder; only the summer before we had landed on the Moon. This Age of Aquarius was, for me, a template of euphoria and a feeling that the best was yet to come. Gladdened by my own so-thought perspicacity, I was, as they used to say, feelin’ groovy.

Thank you, Mr Sendak.


Submitted by box_nyc on Thu, 02/08/2018 - 22:10

I owe the genesis of this blog to my very dear friend Armen Enikolopov, who, in addition to creating its template, encouraged me to record the many observations I’ve opined to him, across the numerous adventures we’ve had while walking so much of this city we love, often on Saturdays. While wandering through Soho recently, we popped into a shop with an intriguing window display that suggested vintage or antique wares, but was, in fact, an emporium of neither; more so a crowded assortment of what is laughably categorized as “bohemian chic.”

The merchandise consisted of random apparel and items for the home, if, say, one’s home, or rather one’s second home, is situated in some former hippy enclave like Woodstock or anyplace in Vermont; places where everything is apparently casual and breezy, until you examine the price tag and gasp at the inflated arrogance of such an idyllic head trip. Sure, everything is artisanal and homespun, a kind of granny’s closet wonderland, devoid of glamour and anything resembling the civilized precincts of urban debauchery such as too many martinis, lipstick stains, Cole Porter or Bobby Short tickling the ivories, women of dubious repute in sable, the perennial bachelors a shade too natty and, always, voluptuous clouds of cigarette smoke.

Au contraire, this shop in Soho bore a decidedly different ethos, its decadence a paean to someone else’s sense of luxury, where the women wear shapeless gauzy things and sensible shoes (the kind in those Jill Sander adverts), and not a stitch of makeup because they think themselves too serious for that kind of artifice. They’re eternally pretty, these women, whose too-long center-parted tresses worn that way since teen-hood have now turned to grey; a companionable aesthetic to their wizened men who prefer fleece to flannel, or even, tweed, but can't resist donning a fedora when they blow that alto sax they acquired for its remote provenance to Coltrane. You know, because they’re cool, those hats, those cats. These aren't dressy folks, mind you, because they're too earnest for that level of swell; except that they expect you to believe the price points for this folksy escapade, this quotient of cool, aren’t telegraphed in the most obvious way.

Which is part of the scheme of this duplicitous quest: that bit of longing for another time and place, where these folks of the natural sort have purchased a world less harried, less fussy and less urbanized: a world comprising a safety of objects. A world meant to evoke a nostalgia for that someplace else. But it’s not someplace else, for it's no place at all. Rather like the subject matter of the late Thomas Kinkade, so-called “painter of light,” whose wishful landscapes might have illustrated any number of fairy tales, these lost worlds are a total fiction — a commercial waiting to be made, except that it already has: just ask the folks at a place called Hidden Valley.

For quite a few years, they ran a rather clever campaign intended to evoke another time and place, with grainy footage suggesting the Super-8 home movies of a mid-20th century youth, right down to clean-cut kids of delineated gender (no Gap/Old Navy androgyny here): where girls wear dresses and headbands and boys in dungarees are acquainted with the barber’s chair. This carnival landscape of the good ol’ summertime subtly disguises the healthy vegetables proffered where cotton candy used to be; and dipping them into Hidden Valley’s Ranch dressing is what makes them all taste so good.

It was an effective campaign in large part to their spot-on anthem, that zippy, rat-a-tat-tat exuberance replicating the peppy sound of four-part harmony that once serenaded us all en masse, by way of the Mersey River, in the late 1960s. Unlike the wares of that shop in Soho, with its expensive bric-a-brac randomly stabbing at one era or another, the Hidden Valley jingle and its relative sound can be located on a cultural map that defined a moment in time, when the AM dial on a transistor radio was the grail of every band and only three television networks decided your evening's viewing fare.

You might recall this once-dominant harmonic ubiquity, whether in pop hits from forgettable one-hit-wonder groups, like Harper’s Bizarre, or from the TV themes of yesteryear shows, such as Love American Style, To Tell the Truth, and in fifth and final season opening of That Girl in 1970-71, to which swinging, saccharine lyrics were added to the melody; a so-thought modern departure from its previously brassy, orchestral version. The irony behind this feel-good, late-’60s pop sound was its engineered nostalgia, the evocation of a certain something — not unlike the wares of that store on Broome Street — during a time of social and political unrest, from Viet Nam and the sexual revolution and various civil rights movements, to the indelible cynicism still to be wrought by Watergate.

Behind the scenes, were two men, brothers John and Tom Bahler, who emerged only to front a now-forgotten band of their own, called The Love Generation, before Ford Motor Company hired them to create The Going Thing, the fictional musical group introduced in the fall of 1968, in a tie-in with Ford’s youth-oriented campaign, for which the strapline affirmed, “Ford has a better idea.” Ford even introduced versions of this theme in the UK and in Australia, where they had a better idea about designing and building arguably better Euro cars, like the Cortina, saving the land-yacht Country Squires and rear-engine, immolating Pintos for the US market; but that's the subject for another day. The Going Thing was so popular — their matching outfits and wholesome cheeriness a contrast to the prevailing image of the youth movement -- they appeared everywhere, even on NBC’s counter-cultural sketch-comedy cult hit, Laugh-In. They recorded several albums that were available for promotional purposes at your local Ford dealer too, had you been so inclined to collect them while buying a new Mustang.

The Bahlers were pros at augmenting the sounds of others; hired guns as session vocalists who supplemented or supplied the vocals on most of the recorded music of America’s first packaged boy band, The Monkees (plus Davy Jones); and later, among other musical confections of that era, The Partridge Family (plus David Cassidy), as well as the brand-extended Brady Kids (minus Mom, Dad and Alice), who leapt from a 1972 episode as the Silver Platters to a record-label deal. If this sound reminds you of a better time, it’s because for some of us who were kids back then, it was. But if you’re hearing it for the first time, I hope you know better than to be one of Barnum’s specimens who would pay $6 for travel-size toothpaste with antique graphics, just because it extols all-natural ingredients.