Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chase Theater

In this Vanity Fair article (which, months later, I still enjoy), James Wolcott recalls a time when, "Each day in Manhattan (can’t speak for the other boroughs) offered an outdoor excursion into street theater. It was carnival-esque... like impromptu psychodrama performed alfresco."

Those days are mostly gone. But if you want to experience the street theater psychodrama of the Now, pick any night of the week and go to Astor Place. Stand facing the sleek glass tower of Gwathmey's Green Monster, peering in to the Chase Bank, closed for the night.



Under the blue hum of the glowing sign, listen to the soundtrack--snippets of cell-phone talk from the commuters streaming behind you.

"I want to party like it's Sex & the City."



Move from west to east, from cubicle to cubicle. Let your eyes scan the flat, empty desks, impersonalized, cleared of all human traces. There is nothing here to spark or stimulate. Notice that you feel nothing, only a vague, spreading depression.

"Well, yeah, it was bad, but I was totally drinking rosé, so it was okay."



On each computer's dark face, the Windows screensaver bounces up, then down again, then up again. The carpet, the color of a corn husk, denies you the drama of even a spill, a stain, a crumpled note angrily tossed away. Here, there is nothing to wonder about.

"So my mortgage broker called me and she was like, Did you send in your co-op package? And I was like, Of course I did!"



And then, at the end of the line, in the very last cubicle, a spark of sorts, a jolt in the otherwise blah topography: A googly-eyed, egg-shaped knick-knack, green and grinning. A crafty doo-dad. A trace of humanity. And you want to weep, because at least this is something.

Think now of Frank O'Hara's line, the one that used to mean so much: "I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is pretty much the sum total of the present day NYC street experience. I remember several years ago reading an article about the loss of our being able to walk down the street, and think our own thoughts without the constant intrusion of the one sided symphonies of cellphone conversations. I look at this as the finished product. While there's nothing we can do about the former, it's more than sad that the "blue glow" of Chase has now replaced the inviting warmth of neon signs from bar windows.

Bowery Boogie said...

that's awesome. there's always weird shit outside that Chase branch.

F.I.B said...

I remember when Astor Place/Cooper Square area was the site of impromptu flea markets on the sidewalks during the early to mid 80's. I used to sell stuff there occasionally myself and still have some stuff like old issues of PUNK magazine I probably bought for a dollar. I guess this is "progress". They wiped the scum off of the street I suppose....

Goggla said...

Ha, if I could 'favorite' this post, I would!

I'm bummed that the ATM vestibule on 2nd Ave & St Marks has finally been overhauled with the Chase theme. I loved the obscure 80s soundtrack that played in there and the messiness that made me feel like I'd just missed the party...

Alex in NYC said...

Really nice post, JM.

Jeremiah Moss said...

sadly, once a big glass tower goes up, there's not much hope for future change.

snuggle bunny said...

*s i g h*

Ed said...

One thing about the "hipsters" thread, this probably means I should be looking to move, but I'm really not interested in recreating some 1970ish cultural moment. I really just want to be able to walk down the street again and have interesting storefronts to look at and not have to dodge cellphone walkers. First make the city livable again and then try doing the "creative" stuff.

Anonymous said...

God bless, you're really "on" lately. You and I must be in the same mood. Thank you for these.