A dark damp dreary weekend. A late-March cold snap with the usual absurdly optimistic tulip shoots. Good luck with that, guys. It's supposed to be chilly all week, with threats of snow - typical April, in other words. It's a prom-queen with cold hands.
Nevermind the abandoned buildings above; we'll get to them later this week - and an interesting story it will be, believe me. Or not; I can't assume that everyone will find the tale intriguing, but if I didn't think some people would be amazed I wouldn't write these dang things at all. So forget the bar and grocery store. Let's go to New York.
What does this have to do with anything today?
Let's take a look.
I was amused to see an old haunt in the news. There's some controversy over a Chocolate Jesus statue; the exhibit has been canceled, but it was supposed to open in an art gallery – that is, a perfectly good piece of retail space that could be devoted to something useful, like shoes and hosiery – in the Roger Smith hotel.
I’m kidding about art galleries being devoid of utility; of course they’re useful. I’m not that much of a philistine, although they’re helping me towards that point with great industry, it sometimes seems. When I first visited the Roger Smith, there was a shoe store in the art gallery space (the corner under the sign) and it seemed like it had been there for a very long time. Not one of those hyper-modern places with light-tan walls and giant high-def photos on the wall and a hushed air of wealth and indifference, but an old style shoe-store with brannocks on the floor and clerks whose backs always ached. The sort of old store that seemed left behind by its era, a stump in a stream, eroded but not yet uprooted. It was gone the second time I stayed there, replaced by a gallery, and I never went in. It was never open. Or it never looked open.
The hotel was old enough, but the lobby had a cool post-war makeover. The same bellman, every trip. The same elevator out of order. The same deep scratch in the wood of the door of the elevator that did work. The same thin carpet with mysterious stains; the same 1983 Laura Ashley décor. Sometimes the bar was open. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes there was food. Always there was the sound of the Loose Plate of Midtown, a giant steel slab on the street that went CANK-CANK every time someone drove over it. Car horns at all hours of the day. Garbage trucks in the morning. At night, though, you could look out the window at the Emery Roth skyscrapers across the street, and peer into well-lit empty offices; you could step outside the hotel and see the twin missiles of the Waldorf-Astoria II a few blocks away, threatening the moon. Great location. Lots of memories – for example, I laid out most of the first Motel site at the Roger Smith. I remember it well, because I’d stopped smoking cigarettes, but I’d told myself I could sneak one in New York. I walked up to Citibank building, bought a pack of Winstons; then I went to Rockefeller Center. It seemed like a good place to have a smoke. I lit it but did not inhale and I stubbed it out and threw them away.
Anyway. Here’s the old matchbook for the Roger Smith. Behold the footless one-eyed bellman, stylized for your protection:
It was a chain:
All gone by now, I imagine, or at least in different hands. I used to know something about the actual Roger Smith – for something reason I think he had a connection to the UN which made the hotel a favorite with diplomats, but I don’t know anymore, and the web is silent. We get this unhelpful story from the hotel’s owner, who apparently likes to make up stories about Roger Smith. From what I understand, this owner has interests in the world of Art, and decided to turn the Roger Smith into a hotel / art center. So the lobby gained some modern pictures and sculptures; the keyfobs were replaced with gigantic wooden carvings, and huge flags with abstract designs were unfurled from the façade. Couldn’t miss it. This spiffification did not extend to the rooms, alas. Except for the matchbooks:
Come for the abstract shapes, stay for the Ben Shahn chopsticks!
Anyway: the picture at the top of this installment was a frame-grab from the first Spiderman Movie. Spidey first learned to web-sling on Lexington, it seems, and right by the Roger Smith. That's the green marquee:
He jumps, he shoots, he swings, and we see this view, previously available only to someone who threw himself out the window of the Shelton hotel:
So that's where the controversy about the Chocolate Jesus is happening. In case you were curious. Note: Michelle Malkin's site says that the artist is complaining about a "Catholic fatwa," but it's actually the director of the ex shoe-store space that used the term. As for the artist himself: meh.
New Match & Quirk; see you tomorrow.