I’m sitting in the Rose Reading Room of the NY Public Library, a beautiful space. Of course, that’s almost an insult of an understatement. It’s roughly four stories tall, covered in marble. The ceiling is a glorious rococo surface of substantial depth and detail, with three very large panels that bear painted sky and clouds. The rest of the ceiling is painted and stained in luminous brown and gold. so encrusted with detail that you are lost within them in moments. A balcony rings the room about eight feet off the ground, and above and below it are bookshelves. The space is bisected by an ornate wooden structure where you pick up and drop off the books you request. The rest of the space is filled with long, beautiful tables bearing lamps, power outlets, Ethernet ports, and little numbers to identify your seat. You can bring your laptop in and hook up to the net, and there you find the only flaw: the library’s net connection is glacially slow. But in exchange for free access and the opportunity to write within this mind-palace, it’s a compromise I’m eager to accept.
I’ve brought Seattle with me. My first day in New York was all blue sky and sunshine, a perfect day. Since then it has been gray, cold, and constantly drizzling. My North Face windbreaker, an emblematic piece of outerwear for the Pacific Northwest, has proved surprisingly indispensable here. Considering that I got it free from a bartender who was emptying out his establishment’s lost & found box, I’m pleased at its ongoing utility.
To rejoin the narrative of the last two days, Saturday night was indeed a quiet evening, except for the violent robbery. We had a wonderful dinner at an Asian restaurant, Faan, on Smith St. in Brooklyn near where Mike & Jean-Michele live. They make a glorious huge bowl of soup with roast duck and thick, homemade noodles that was scrumptious. We then fortified ourselves with ice cream and flavored seltzer water and headed for Blockbuster to find a movie.
This location is on two floors, a ground floor and a basement area. It’s not because it’s huge–it’s just a small space. While we were downstairs looking at videotapes, we heard the pounding sound of someone running upstairs. Then someone else was running, and they were both running back and forth and all around. Then a slam and a bam and a rolling series of thuds that could only be a full-fledged, on the ground, desperate struggle between two or more people. Then some more struggling and some more running. And then quiet.
It seemed like this went on forever. And even accounting for the subjective nature of time during moments of tension, it went on for a while. We elected to wait out the thunderstorm in the basement.
When we eventually emerged, all was well. A police officer was at the front of the store speaking with an employee. People were milling around, looking for a movie for the night. But during checkout, the guy behind the counter was tense, breathing quickly, and in a great hurry to get us out of the store. It was midnight, time to close down, and he wanted to lock the doors and run home and dream of a better life where he wasn’t earning six bucks an hour by grappling on the floor with a crazed shoplifter.
The movie we rented? Rat Race, a wacky comedy released last year, and something of a remake of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I’d heard mixed reviews of the film and it looked cheesy as all heck, but for some reason we wanted light relief.
The film started poorly. Gags fell flat, characters were dull, the setups were wooden. Fifteen minutes or so into the film we were groaning with displeasure, consoling ourselves with the aforementioned ice cream and flavored seltzer water.
But slowly, like a train chugging uphill, the film gained ground. Something funny happened. And then something else funny happened. And eventually, against seemingly overwhelming opposition, I found myself laughing more than I’ve laughed at an intentionally funny film in ages. It’s a hoary old thing, full of protracted setups that build until a monumental payoff, real old-school stuff. But for the majority of the film, this stuff really works. Even when it didn’t work, when a gag was lame or a plot twist made absolutely no sense, we did not object. By that time we were rooting for the film. We were team, the three of us and the movie together, pulling hard for the greater good like communists on a collective farm just before the killing frost. When it got lame and Mike moaned with horror, I cried out, “Stick with it! We’re all in this together!” And then it would get good again, even great. In the end, it was a wonderful experience.
They should use that blurb on the video box. “Brings the family together like communists on a collective farm, raves John Tynes of Revland!” At least it would be better than the lonely “Great Transitions!” blurb on the back of the Battlefield Earth DVD, which sits there like the last drunk in a bar desperately hoping to go home with the bartender.
Then night gave way to day and it was Sunday.
We intended to get moving early, as we had a brunch date with a college friend of Mike’s. Instead we left the apartment at 11:30, though thankfully the woman postponed our meeting until 3pm. Mike sat on the steps of the brownstone and we shot three pieces there. For these, the idea was simple: Mike sits there with a galley copy of his book and reads directly from the page. For the first one, he pretended to read from the book and instead improvised a torrid sex scene between him and Jeff Bezos that was drop-dead funny. We did two more which are actually in the book, and then moved on.
Our next stop was Monteleone’s, an Italian bakery specializing in many delicious cookies. The Daiseys are partial to the almond macaroons, and I cannot dispute this opinion. The gag was simple: Mike comes out of the bakery with a box of cookies, hurries over to the camera, and exults in the glory of the neighborhood cookie stores. This required a couple of takes, in part due to people passing on the sidewalk. We then did a short and very strange bit where Mike stands next to a six-foot plastic statue of a pig in a chef’s suit and talks about the other white meat. One of our delays here was due to a guy and his three small children who began romping around at the feet of the pig. This pig stands out front of a pork shop, and the father was doing something of a monologue for his children: “Yes, it’s a pig! And do you see what he’s holding? Pork! He’s selling parts of his relatives for us to eat! Isn’t that disgusting?” The kids laughed and played with the pig while we waited patiently.
Brunch followed at a French cafe. Wonder of wonders, they had grits, one of my favorite Southern boyhood foods. I got an order of cheese grits with chorizo sausage, and the dish was wonderful.
Returning to Chez Daisey, we separated. The Daiseys needed to work on the play for Monday’s rehearsal, and I decided to strike off on my own in search of adventure.
I took the F train to 57th St., north of Times Square and south of Central Park. The park was my destination. By then it was dark and biting cold, yet I was eager to see Central Park. I gave it all of twenty minutes before fleeing. It was cold. I started walking south again and found both sides of the street coated in a thick ooze of commerce, ritzy store after ritzy store sucking up real estate and dollars. After a couple blocks of this I realized I was on 5th Ave., a famous street for shopping, and it all made sense.
Then I saw the cathedral. It was a beautiful building, all Gothic spires and stained glass. People were wandering inside, and it appeared some sort of service might be underway. I wanted to see the inside and headed up the steps.
The cathedral proved to be St. Patrick’s. It was more beautiful than I imagined, simply stunning. There was a large crowd inside, with television cameras towards the front, and people in tuxedos were milling around up past the altar. Someone handed me a program and I discovered I’d arrived just in time for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s memorial concert for the victims of 9/11.
I took a seat in a pew to the forward left and stayed for the whole event.
I’m not a devotee of classical music. I’ve got my CD of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain. I played a little clarinet in junior high school for two years and found it miserable. And that’s about it. But this was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a beautiful experience.
What stunned me was making the connection between the music and the performers. sitting there, forty feet from the string section, and realizing the perfect, smooth sound I was hearing came from those people making violent motions with their arms and fingers was a revelation. The sound did not seem to correspond with the particular motions, the starts and stops of muscle groups. It flowed, organic and alive, the sum of all its parts. I realize it sounds obvious to say there is a connection between the performer and the performance, but to really feel that tether between perfect sound and imperfect humanity was a welcome shock.
I couldn’t have told you the music they played, but thankfully the program can. The first piece was a brief “soft brass” selection from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, a symphony I gather the Vienna Orchestra has been performing lately at Carnegie Hall. They then did Haydn’s “Seven Last Words,” an interesting piece with some history behind it. Haydn composed it for a set of homilies built around the last seven statements of Christ on the cross. After a musical introduction, a priest came forward and read the first statement (or “word”) in Latin, English, and German. Then followed the first sonata, inspired by that statement, and so on. An epilogue representing the earthquake following the death of Christ concluded the work. This was very much new to me, and I loved it. The thundering epilogue was particularly enjoyable.
After the Haydn performance, the conductor came forward to read a statement in memory of those killed last fall. He then asked us to hold our applause for the final piece, instead to observe a minute of silence and then exit the cathedral. We all took candles and lit them while the orchestra and a choir performed Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, then paused for a while and quietly made our exit. It was a beautiful experience, and I’m grateful to have bumbled into it by chance at the perfect time.
Resuming my southward stroll I reached Times Square, brilliantly lit of course. I didn’t spend much time there, long enough to poke around the Virgin Megastore and have a hot dog. Then I caught the F train back to Brooklyn.
Exiting on Smith St., I returned to the Sherwood Cafe where I had dinner two nights earlier. It was exactly what I wanted: a quiet place to sit and relax and have some soup and a beer. Then I returned to the Daiseys’ apartment and went to bed.
Today, they are at the Cherry Lane Theatre doing rehearsals. I’m going there shortly. We hope to shoot some interview footage with various people there, asking them in true Jay Leno style, “What is the worst job you ever had?” Then Mike is doing a rehearsal performance of the show for the producers and assorted associates. Tomorrow is another rehearsal day, which I hope to spend at one or more museums. Wednesday we’re shooting a short bit in the office-supply closet at Simon & Schuster.
At this point I believe we have thirteen pieces in the can, so we’re already over our promised quantity. We should hit sixteen easily. Either we end up with more pieces or we cut the weaker ones. Regardless, the project is a success and I’m very pleased with the whole affair.
I’ve also found what looks to be a good solution for our web hosting problems, a company called CI Host who offers what we need at an affordable price. Our problems with the current host continue. Our site is down several times a day for a couple of minutes each time. While it’s down, visitors get a brief error message stating “No web site is configured at this address,” which is rather unfortunate. My first email to the support staff resulted in a form letter about how sometimes in this life things just don’t work right, more or less. I responded with a polite request for more information and so forth. After two more exchanges I finally got a real note from a real person who asked for a traceroute on the site while it was down. I did this and sent it back, at which point I received the initial form letter again. That’s officially the last time I try to work with these fools. By the end of the week we should be up and running on the new host, just in time for the blizzard of publicity and bandwidth-hogging video files to bring the whole thing crashing down or else push us up through the stratosphere into a wonderful new world of uptime.
It’s almost five o’clock, time to wrap this up and take the subway down to the village for Mike’s performance. Web hosts aside, this is a wonderful world.