Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Canal Street, North and South

Old Timey Camera Guy

Saw this dapper gentleman sitting on a window sill outside a store on Broadway the other day; the contrast between the man's old-timey flash camera and the hip new clothing store behind him made me stop. This fellow, who looks like he walked out of the 40s, with his cocky felt fedora and his antiquated equipment, is a remnant of the past, blending in with the new, and what NYC is all about these days. Much of New York is unrecognizable from when I lived here before, half a lifetime ago in the early seventies and then later, in the eighties. One can get used to anything, but still...

Take Wooster Street for example.

  mysterious floating globes

 chairs for the king and queen

I remember hanging out on Wooster Street in Soho, going to the Wooster Street Theatre, a funky gathering place for the downtown art scene, to see the experimental theatre group Mabou Mines, where David Brisbin wrung the neck of a rubber chicken in Dead End Kids. Now it's a consumer's paradise, with expensive art galleries and furniture stores up and down the street. One website advertises condominiums on Wooster Street as: "The Heart of Soho, the Art of So Many." Another tells the story of David Wooster, whose moniker was borrowed to name the street:

David Wooster was a lackluster Revolutionary general who was killed in action. He led his CT troops in the Battle of Harlem and the Battle of Long island. While Wooster was adored by his undisciplined soldiers, he was considered inept by his fellow officers, including General Washington. Wooster died in a brief battle with the Briticsh at Ridgefield, Conn. on April 17. 1777. Congress voted to erect a monument to him, but never followed through.

 David Wooster?

or the real David Wooster?

Ironically the Wooster Collective (a group of ephemeral street artists) presented a Banksy film premiere, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," in LA last night...


 I didn't know Banksy loved rats!

...probably the only creative use left of the street name known as Wooster.


My first ever living space in NYC was on Canal Street near the Pearl Paint store.

I lived with a jazz musician who I'd met in college; we lived on the north side of Canal near Broadway, close to where I'm staying now, only now I'm on Broadway, south of Canal.

Every night after work, I'd trudge up five flights of stairs, stepping over bodies of Chinese restaurant workers laid-out on the landings, drunk or drugged out or sleeping off an 18-hour shift. The apartment smelled of chow mein and fish sauce, and the grease from the restaurant below hung heavy in the air. I had a job at the main Public Library on Fifth Ave after begging the HR lady to take me on, even though my typing speed was an abysmal 30-wpm. Because I was such a poor typist they put me in with a special group of employees: ex-heroin addicts assigned to on-the-job training  through a methadone maintenance program. I guess the librarian thought I'd be a good fit. 

For the most part I liked the group of recovering addicts, who treated me as their mascot. These men and women sincerely wanted to come clean but methadone was no savior. I witnessed this sad fact first-hand when we lunched together in beat-up Bryant Park, not the well manicured garden it is today. To get through the working day, they'd drink out of brown paper bags during their lunch hour or get high, sing old songs from "Hair" (many of them, part of the original cast) and then drag themselves back to work, happy to be filing. I was cool with it since I'd no idea what I was doing or where I was going with my life, only that I knew I couldn't live on Canal St. with the jazz musician or negotiate the Dewey decimal system forever. And so it came to pass that I left the jazz musician and NYC and my job all at the same time. A leave taking necessitating a quick departure; I regret I didn't even say goodbye to my pals at the library.

I'm still using Pearl Paint as a sign post to find my way home.


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