New York in the Forties


At the office. Not a jot of snow remains on the ground outside. The sky is the color of freshly asphyxiated Caucasian. The only color in sight belongs to a school bus heading down the street; what it’s doing downtown I can only guess.

Know what I hate? You put your kid on the bus, go home, and through the window you see another bus come along two minutes later. Makes you wonder if the first one was some fake bus, scooping up the neighborhood kids for nefarious purposes.

Yes, the dreaded Fake Bus.

The answer to the coffee shop trivia question was “Bolshoi.” It’s from a Jeopardy page-a-day calendar. I wonder if Alex Trebec gets a cut of those. Probably gets a flat fee for his mug on the box. There’s a fellow with a good job. Even if it means he knows his obituary’s lead sentence will probably be phrased in the form of a question.

The question, or rather answer, was “Russian for big, it is also the name of the national ballet company.” So you don’t have to know it’s Russian for Big, which seems unfair to those of us who do know it. I gave the barista a little discussion of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. He humored me.

Overslept this morning. The alarm went off, but I was deep in a dream of indentured servitude. All the Ukrainians I knew had been pressed into some sort of hard labor, and I got swept up in the fun. We all got an instruction book that said “Penalty for not showing up for work: death. Penalty for shirking: death. Penalty for disobedience: death.” And so on. Just the sort of employee manual you want to keep reading, if only to find the infraction that did not merit death. Penalty for gentle sobbing: thrashing with a splintery board, that sort of thing. I decided I would not go to the labor camp – it was apparently a 9-to-5 sort of thing, and you drove to the Gulag in the morning – and that’s when the alarm went off. I went back to sleep, keen to see if there would be any reprisals, but I had lost the narrative.

Woke in a small panic: so very very much to do. I had to file three columns by noon. This I did, but it did not leave with the usual sweet feeling of Tuesday Relief (a separate emotion from Friday Release, of course, and totally at odds with Sunday Dread – which, I should note, has now infected Saturdays as well. Happily, Friday Release now kicks in around Thursday night, when I’m doing the Diner; the moment that sucker’s up, I’m done. Even though I’m not.) The dull mood continues to this moment;  I have a dial-tone mood today. Must shake things up. Maybe remixing my own ringtones would help. Yes, that’s the ticket.

Well, links for today. I'm in the mood for architecture. And you? No? Tough.

Before you click: the audio off button is in the lower left-hand corner. And you may discover, to your surprise, that your Flash player is out of date. That said:

Interesting new expensive condo project. (I love these sites. Real estate is like an ecumenical version of politics; everyone has an opinion, but no one gets angry. Unless Trump is building a 95-story buiding next to theirs. It's like sexy weather. Much more fun to discuss) It’s a rehab of a 1920s office building. The views are sweet, but I don’t like the bathrooms; looks like a slaughterhouse for a leather-clad German cannibal. And I have one request of a kitchen: be a kitchen. Not that I’m in the market. Who is, I have no idea; how many multi-multi millionaires are there in New York? I know, I know – it’s not just New Yorkers who buy these things; people from all over the world want a pied a terre for their monthly trips to loot Tiffany’s. Splendid views - I think that's the Banker's Trust in one shot. The Masons hold secret 33rd degree meetings in the top.

Do people in New York sit around and think about big condo projects in Minneapolis? I think not.

Gaah! It's Moloch Plaza, the Clown-Assisted Soul Consuming Machine! (It’s in Toronto.)

GAAAAH! JAYSUS!  It’s Louisville. I hate this sort of architecture. Hate it. My first reaction can be summed up by Marge Simpson. (Sound file.) On the other hand, I almost sort of like it – but only if it existed in the middle of nowhere, was the centerpiece of an anarcho-pagan festival, and was burned to the ground at the end of the week. No, that’s not entirely true. It’s interesting, as my mother used to say when she didn’t want to give offense, but if anything sums up a rather  . . . confused culture, it’s this one. It’s the Tinkertoy pegleg that’s really unforgivable. What is that? A catheter? Will millions of gallons of waste fluids and spent lubricants thunder down that chute on the quarter hour?

This I like. More than anything else in the picture. Including those Helmut Jahn towers – sure, they make a stab at emulating classic skyscraper design, but like most of his stuff, it looks overscaled and flabby. We have one of his buildings here, and while I’ve always loved its 80s look, it does suggest a gigantic R2D2 who joined the Blue Man Group as part of some drag Transformer routine.

On the other hand: here’s East Germany’s “ugliest but best-loved building,” a gigantic Parliament / Entertainment Complex opened in 1976. I think it’s a mistake to tear it down, just as it would be wrong to demolish all the Stalin-era palaces of Moscow. Most Seventies-style interiors are being lost in the US, for the usual reasons – people want something new, the old look is actually hideous, things fall apart, pipes leak, etc. But the main foyer of this hideous thing is instantly recognizable to anyone was in their teens or 20s in the mid 70s, because that’s how things were going to look.

Today: the end of ACME. Sorry, but it’s time to move on, and I seem to have exhausted the cool 40s urban shots in the library. Not too many to begin with, alas; huge amounts of old photos were thrown out several years ago. Yes: thrown out. That was before I got there, or I would have backed up a U-Haul and taken the lot away. Enjoy the last one – it’s a single image, and it’s huge, 250K. But an apt conclusion. See you tomorrow. 

c. 2005 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."