Thursday, April 30, 2009

#120












#120, Brooklyn Heights


"The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution." - Paul Cezanne

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#119











#119, Columbia Street, Brooklyn


By Freudian slip or by simple accident I just typed "Crooklyn," which really isn't fair. I mean, sure there's a bit of crime here and there, but mostly there are just ordinary citizens going about their business. We certainly don't expect to find ourselves in harm's way at every turn, at least I didn't until I gazed down Kane Street late the other night and found myself face to face with the Abominable Snowman.

Or so I thought. The reality turned out to be less - or possibly more - sinister than all that: a giant salt heap, several bulldozers high, had seemingly overnight appeared at the intersection of Kane and Columbia Streets. For the last few days, the sight has been surreal. A mound of salt dumped along the Brooklyn waterfront by the Red Hook Marine Terminal may not seem to be much to look at, but when it starts to block your skyline view of lower Manhattan, you know something is up. From the Sunday New York Times article:

On Sunday afternoon, an employee of American Stevedoring, which leases the terminal from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that salt was being temporarily stored there before being shipped throughout the state. The man, who was reached on the telephone and would not give his name, said he did not know what the salt would be used for.

“We’re taking every safety measure,” he said. “There’s no harm from the salt.”

Others, however, said that the salty film adhering to surfaces was unpleasant and could damage plants and trees. While it was not as thick as, say, the salt on the rim of a margarita glass, one could trace one’s name in it on a glass table in a courtyard.

I love that: "Not as thick as, say," Reporter thinks to self: oh, hmm, let's see here, what simile will resonate here? Ah yes: "the salt on the rim of a margarita glass." Made sense to me, anyway.

Flyers demanding "Stop the salt pile menace" are papered over every door on Columbia Street. Every door except, go figure, on the one of this 119, which stands boldly downwind of the grainy behemoth. As bulldozers rake over the mountain and swirls of white salt shimmy through the air, I have to wonder what does it all mean? Are residents at health risk? You can't look at the news without seeing those swine flu masks on every face, and I wonder how long it will take before the salt drives us to take similar measures.

Having survived the Brooklyn anthrax scare of 2006 (Brief back story: the man who contracted the naturally occurring form of the stuff a few years ago skinned the hides of goats to make African drums in the DUMBO warehouse mere doors down from where my band was then practicing for our first gig at CBGB's. You can read the full story of the scare here. For days we all worried a bit over our coughs and watched for high fever, and sure we were disappointed not to be able to get past the Haz Mat suits into the sealed building to fetch our amps and white picket fence props. But I think you'll agree that few thing say "punk rock" as much as nearly missing a CB's gig for an anthrax scare.), I think I know when to panic and when not to panic. So rather than clamp my salt mask to my nose and mouth, I'm just going to sit here with my camera and see what happens next. Apart from this bout of sneezing and coughing, that is.

And except for the fact that it appears I'm facing the wrong direction. Again. Damn you, pretty numbers at sunset!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

#118












#118, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn


As the days get warmer and the moldy rattle of the air-conditioning unit beckons like a siren song, while the rest of New York takes to the streets with their abhorrent flip-flops and sun dresses, swilling iced coffees and smiling at their good fortune, a seasonal change afflicts me as well. Instead of my usual routine of slipping on a coat and zipping up a good pair of boots, tossing my camera in my bag and embarking on a pleasant afternoon of wandering and picture-taking, I must now weigh the pros and cons of venturing out into what feels to me like a furnace and to others like "a nice day." Say what you will, but I'm not drawn in by the fabulous new clothes on the emperor. I know that madness is afoot and that spring fever is on the prowl, and this can mean only one thing for my productivity: I slack.

Oh, but don't be fooled. You won't see that I'm slacking. No, on the outside, you'll see only the dogged industriousness of a one-number-per-day poster. You'll feast snack on the photographic fruits of my labor and may even chuckle at my occasional smattering of witty asides or string of non sequiturs. How does she do it? you may wonder. How does she continue to post a number a day when every other sane person is outside enjoying themselves, for crying out loud?

Demystification Part the First is complete, as I've confessed before to keeping a running stockpile of photographs from which I can pluck the coming day's number. But Demystification Part the Second is that this arsenal of numbers is far from fully loaded, and I am coming up on deadlines. Days for which I have no number. Rather than panic, I reserve the right to act as any sensible person working under deadline will act. No, I don't mean skip the assignment, and I don't mean make up excuses. Too easy! I'll do better than that. I will distract you with my special effects.

Any student worth his/her salt or any teacher of such a slackadaisical student will be familiar with this pedagogical cloak and dagger. The guidelines are simple. You stick to the assignment's bare bone rules. You show up. You give it a go, you even do it on time. But to compensate for a pathetic lack of content, you decide to dazzle your reader with a dizzying array of fonts, BS, and novelty-laced visual aids. You with me yet?

In this first example, note how the sepia tint to the image combined with the advanced "edge blur" function appeals to the viewer's craving for nostalgia and old-style sophistication while simultaneously granting you, the lazy photographer, a sensible yet artistic air. Never before has looking so authentic been so easy or, for that matter, inauthentic! If writing a caption to go along with that photo, why not try a classic serif font to grant your work a whiff of antiquity? Or how about a cryptic batch of webding to add that special je ne sais quoi to your writing? Substituting a bicycle for the letter "n" hasn't failed me yet, and I think you'll find similarly satisfactory results.

Still not convinced? Here is a sure-fire technique I have culled from years of observation. Why not try a bright, obnoxious color to get your reader's attention? Or how about blurring your numbers and amping up the contrast for a touch of computer-generated psychedelia? By this point, your audience will be so enthralled by your stunning vision, your bold originality and finesse with the color spectrum, that they will not even notice that you, er, don't even have a #119 lined up. Yet.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not endorsing regular reliance on these techniques over the long term. Moderation is key. There's still no replacement for the simple, undecorated image and a thoughtful, simple paragraph or two in response. But the mercury here is rising and deadlines are looming, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Which is why tomorrow's post very well end up looking like this last image. I don't ask for your forgiveness. Just so long as you're prepared for the possibility. Now if you'll excuse me, there's an AC unit I have to be installing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

#117











#117, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California


Carmel-by-the-Sea is the only decent-sized town in America - to my knowledge - to have the peculiar affliction of no house numbers. Mail arrives to its inhabitants on last names and cross streets alone, on a wing and a prayer as they say, and hopefully in the hands of a competent postal service employee. So what's a number aficionado to do, let loose on these mean, anarchic, un-numbered streets? Why, look harder at everything else, of course.

The postal bugle is one of those long-standing images that has a comforting universality. I've spotted the symbol elsewhere in my wanderings (in Dublin - though minus the crown, naturally) and love the simplicity of the image. And the bright red's a nice touch as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

#116













#116, Dublin


For reasons that are as yet unclear to me, I have recurring dreams about the DART. The DART is the commuter rail system in Dublin, and I often dream I am on a lime green train car that is snaking along from Connolly Station to Tara Street Station at rapid speed, then from Tara to Pearse Station, then Pearse to Grand Canal Dock. In these dreams am hurtling along a line through a place that is both Dublin and Not-Dublin, in that odd dream-logic. Here, in this photograph, is one of the unassuming railway bridges that this supposed magical vehicle of transport passes over. In person, it's just an ordinary railway bridge. There are drops of rain dripping from the dark overpass and cans of Bulmers crushed on the ground. There's no special magic to it. I look with a casual eye on the yellow sign with the No. 116 and the warning below: "If bridge is struck by vehicle please telephone Iarnrod Eireann" and wonder if anyone reads it, let alone heeds it. And I try to connect that ordinary black and yellow checkerboard arch, that network of hanging electrical wires and branches, that real life bridge with the bridge I pass over in my dreams.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

#115












#115, Lower East Side, NYC


Ah, monochrome. It's not often you'll notice these hidden patches of monotonous color in the streets of New York City, and when you do, it's kind of a miraculous sight. In a city of perpetual sensory overload, it's an effect you only get from fixing your viewfinder on a small square of space and clicking.

My camera helps me focus not just a lens but my mind as well. It's my way of making sense of the city, of blocking out the rest of the visual noise. With each snap of the camera, I'm capturing little bits of New York's soul, which is my artistic revenge on the place that, on a hectic day, can steal away large chunks of mine.

As for the materials here, I can't quite figure out the number. It appears to have been manufactured with strips of electrical tape. But I have to wonder: how did the color match come out so well? What with all the famous specialty stores - a store for buttons, one for rubber stamps, another for accordions - one wonders if there is a tape store down in that historic Bargain District where you can drop in and select any color tape imaginable. It's one of my favorite things, by the way: calling the Main Squeeze on Essex Street and hearing the tagline on the message: "for all your accordion needs." In a city this big, you have to account for a lot of needs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

#114












#114, East Village, NYC

It's about time I showed EVil some love. No, I don't mean the opposite of good, I'm talking about the East Village. You'd think with all the asinine nicknames cooked up over the years for New York or Brooklyn 'hoods that EVil would have caught on earlier. No, instead we are subject to anxious realtors foisting BoCoCa on us, which you can certainly say ten times fast faster than "Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens," but what was wrong with just calling a garden a garden? On second thought, I'll retract my suggestion. It's a small step from EVil to WeVil (the West Village), to NoCanWeWeBroad (North of Canal Street, West of West Broadway), and Hell'sea (the zone between Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea). Better to nip it in the bud before anyone starts getting any more zany ideas.

When I first moved to the city eight years ago, I spent most of my time wandering and exploring the East Village: the Den at Two Boots on Avenue A, KGB bar on East 4th, A Salt and Battery (the chipper with an atmosphere oddly like a lonely high school cafeteria), and the various Irish pubs near the photography studio where I worked as a desk girl, greeting vapid models and making kick-ass cappuccinos for the Italian photographers. The grid layout and numbered street names made it easy for a newcomer to get around, and I loved taking it all in: the noise from the basketball courts, the decaying building facades (Dude, that Led Zeppelin cover was shot here!), the surprise of finding a used book store or tea salon on one of the unassuming blocks.

This 114 is pretty uncharacteristic of the more worn, do-it-yourself aesthetic found in the East Village, so the sharp, pristine shapes caught my eye immediately. The numbers seem to hover in mid-air, shadows clinging to the dark door behind it, like a well-heeled stranger clutching her handbag or his briefcase a little tighter upon discovering they've ventured into the wrong neighborhood. But you just feel like clamping a hand on that stranger's shoulder and saying, "Hey Buddy/Hey Lady, relax. No one's gonna swipe your stuff. No one's even looking at you." Except this is a number. And of course, I'm always looking.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

#113












#113, Venice, Italy


In Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, the young Venetian traveler Marco Polo tells the old Kublai Khan stories of fantastic, impossible cities, cities made of "exceptions, exclusions, incongruities, contradictions." One has a thousand wells with gods living in the buckets. Unmatched shoes tumble down in avalanches in another. Bored citizens of one city leave at the same time and start an entirely new life in a new city. Drainpipes and cobblestones merge, girls holding skulls milk the carcasses of dead heifers, memories are exchanged with a glance. The cities have names like Euphemia, Valdrada, Eudoxia, and Fedora. When Khan demands that Polo tell him stories about Venice instead, Polo admits that "Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice." Clever bastard, that Marco Polo.
"Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little."
For me, what isn't fixed on film is fixed in writing, in notebooks: the eighty-cent prosecco, the dead ends at canal edges, pigeons in the piazza, the sputtering engines of the water taxis, gondoliers' oars rolling gently to the sounds of an accordion, the porticoes passing by with delicious slowness. There are a thousand Venices packed inside of one Venice, and the one I took a shine to was this one: the steel and crane, the rust belt-meets-maritime outskirts, the faded 113 on a slab of concrete. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

#112












#112, East Wall, Dublin


There are many reasons to keep good notes while globe-trotting for cool numerals, and here is just one. It can be summed up in two cautionary words: satellite imagery.

Technology and I are reluctant bedfellows. I have slowly shed many of my Luddite ways over the years and tried to embrace the technology. Google Maps and its wicked step-sister program, Windows Live Search, have provided me with several fruitful minutes of satellite image browsing as well as valuable years hacked off my life expectancy as I, fuzzy-eyed and hopeful, scan blurry swathes of green, trying to locate the exact coordinates of the tin roof and back garden of the place I once lived in Ranelagh. Or suddenly it becomes vital that I view the old grain terminal in Red Hook from various enticing angles. It's not so much a slippery slope as the ultimate slurry pit. It's deep, it's mucky, and emerging from it with dignity is no easy task.

The trouble began in earnest because I couldn't quite place the street where I found this decaying 112. I knew it was the East Wall section of Dublin and I was fairly sure I could track it down with a simple 2-D map and a bit of legwork. So ensued a black hole of time in which I scoured RTE news clippings (my friend had told the story that there had been a shooting very close by in December on the Shemalier Road), birds-eye views of nearby roads, and my trusty photo archive. I soon realized the fruitlessness of trying to match coils of barbed wire in a photo I'd snapped with a picture taken from, well, outer space.

Undeterred, I found myself ensconced in another time warp. This one, however, caught me off guard. Quite near the section of map where I found the 112 (Church Road, for the record, as far as I can tell), I happened upon a patch of land that seemed utterly logic-defying in its insistence that every road in the vicinity was called by the same name.

Everywhere I looked in this patch of Dublin 3, it was nothing but water, the N1, and Alfie Byrne Road.

Now I realize I could simply have embraced the technology and been content to direct you to the Google map of the area in order to demonstrate the mind-boggling oddness of the arrangement. But Luddite ways die hard, and before my left hand knew what my right was doing, I was tracing over my computer screen, vertically, with a Pilot Precise pen and a sheet of paper from my printer tray, the white glow of pixels beaming beneath my manic hand and Alfie Byrnes flowing like ambrosia from my pen. I think you'll agree I may yet be called to the vocation of cartography. Or maybe I just need to cut down on my coffee intake.

If the author had taken better notes on that cycling excursion, this catastrophe of cartography would never have happened.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#111












#111, Soho, NYC


Without quite realizing it, I embarked on a sort of impromptu Rorshach test last week right here on &7. I posted a 106 that had an intriguing, mysterious air about it. A few of my faithful readers offered their remarkably inventive interpretations of what was obviously just a trio of inverted acorns gathered for a nefarious neo-druidic ritual. (Duh.) Sure, one could conceivably take the lazy Freudian's approach and argue that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a number is just a number. But what fun is that?

This issue has reared its pointless head, of course, because this 111 is a fairly accurate representation of what it looks like in my brain. Forget the MRIs and CAT scans. Rogue New York street artists have their fingers both on the can of spray paint and on my pulse. Although I did participate in a handful of plays in high school (showing my full range as an actor by playing, at various points, a murderous old lady, a libidic southern girl, and a possessed young nun who suffered the stigmata), I remember shunning the choice of the comedy & tragedy masks on my high school class ring because frankly, I found them neither comedic nor tragic. But these hysterical, hyperbolic, Sharpie-drawn faces really have nailed my fluctuating emotional states in a way those masks never could. Well done, nameless street artist. If only you'd worked for Jostens in the early nineties, I might've been able to put food on your table. A can of Pringles, at the very least.

So for my readers: if you happen to find yourself in that Rorscachy, personality inventory kind of mood as I so often reluctantly find myself, studiously taking online quizzes that pose philosophical queries like "Who's Your Inner Rock Star?" and "What Type of Goth Are You?" and if you'd like to while away some time in the Ye Olde &7 Archives, here's a question for you: which of the numbers pictured so far best represents what's inside your head? You can dig through the archives or just give me your most recent, knee jerk of a response. Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, April 20, 2009

#110











#110, Soho, NYC



Cool, classy old school number plates like this one pop up all over lower Manhattan, especially in Soho. Once you start looking, you'll notice them on the sides of the buildings in inconspicuous places, usually some distance away from the front door. You can find lots of good number plates like this one (I like the monochrome and the squared edges of this 110), but I'm amazed at the number of missed opportunities: buildings that have the decorative plate without the number. Instead of placing a row of digits ceremoniously in the middle, there will be some slapdash hardware store gold sticker address numbers plastered artlessly to the glass of a nearby door. They don't make 'em like they used to, but at least they preserve 'em.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

#109












#109, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn


Never seen the No. on the other side like this. Must be one of those "rugged individualist" doors I heard tell about.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

#108











#108, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn


The first time I passed by this wall on Wyckoff Street, it was a crisp autumn day a few months before the last election. The only thing more impressive than the stunning array of mosaics, beads, shells, and glittering jewelry glued to the side of the house was the stunning civic-mindedness of the house's inhabitant who'd set out hanging file holders stuffed with blank voter registration forms. Giving back to the community as both artist and citizen while the rest of the country was going around in a tension-filled bubble, muttering bipartisan hostilities, buying guns and/or looking for loopholes in Canadian citizenship websites? I didn't know what to gawk at first.

The artist behind the mosaics is Susan Gardner, an artist who lives at the address. Her mosaics immediately called to mind the lampposts of Jim "Mosaic Man" Power, whose work you've probably seen if you've ever taken a stroll through the East Village. (He's done nearly a hundred of them to date.) Gardner's creations are bright and whimsical and clearly the work of someone out to beautify the neighborhood one broken dish at a time. Of her work-in-progress she writes:
One day in 2001 I went outside and started gluing things to the front of my house. I have not stopped yet. My hope was to make a celebratory statement that would cheer and amuse. The neighborhood has embraced and encouraged the project. The joy of sharing it with strangers has made me very happy.
You can see more images of Gardner's wall here, though I recommend taking a stroll past it in person. It was a pleasure to stumble upon it by accident, but it makes a good destination for a Boerum Hill amble, as Lost City has outlined for you. I, for one, am glad to have it as a neighbor.

Friday, April 17, 2009

#107












#107, Lower East Side, NYC


Fire escape BBQs: one more reason to love the LES. Or if someone wants to have a turf war with me and claim it's Chinatown, I'm game.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

#106











#106, Arlington Heights, IL



Lest I be accused of hating on brick, I should preface this by saying that few things meet my eye more approvingly than a good brick wall, preferably one in a state of artful semi-decay. But there's just a quality to the brick work in a lot of Chicago's suburbs that just rubs me the wrong way. You see it mostly in those boxy bungalows they built in the 50's like they were going out of style. (In this case, they were out of style to begin with, so they have simply folded still farther inward on their own ugliness with the passing of time.) The colors are unappetizing, the textures unpleasantly rough, and there's just. So. Much of it. So I do appreciate it when a brave soul tries to brighten up the dullness with something unique and homespun. There's a block in Arlington Heights (the town where I was born) that has a whole series of these hand-crafted address signs: a squirrel nibbling on a nut for 117, a jaunty girl behind the wheel of a Studebaker in 110. Yet there is something creepy about these three whitewashed trees that I can't quite put my finger on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

#105












#105, Fifth Avenue, NYC


Magnetic poetry is one of those things that always sounds like more fun than it actually is. A box full of magnetized words, a fridge, and endless possibility is what this novelty box promises you. Yet how quickly you realize the limitations of the form after your witty friend has infiltrated your kitchen once more and composed his twenty-first haiku using the "sausage" magnet in a rude manner. As you grimace ruefully at the lowbrow leanings of your friend's oeuvre, you realize that he has a point. There are only so many fun things you can do with even the "bloody" and "knife" magnets. (I'd have opted for the inclusion of "zombie" but alas, I was not asked.) I mention this today because the oversized numbers of this 105 look to me like giant magnets stuck to a strip of aluminum over a revolving door. Not magnetic poetry per se, but they do call to mind those brightly colored alphabet magnets that you still see in preschools and on Aimee Mann album covers. And so I like to think of the pleasant anarchy that would result if movable type were introduced on buildings.

Here's a whimsical experiment: New York City (or insert alternate city of choice if you believe, erroneously, that NYC is not the center of the universe) is one big refrigerator. All of the letters on buildings and street signs are magnets. Rearrange the letters on your favorite restaurants, street names, subway stops or buildings and see what new signs you could create to wreak linguistic havoc on the metropolis. Need inspiration? Take the Met Life Building. Wouldn't it be more fun to go to the "Fungible Limited" instead? Or what about Ray's Famous Original Pizza? Imagine the joy if instead you could tilt your head skyward and read "Our fizzy malaria's soaping." I, for one, would love to hop off the F train as a disgruntled MTA employee shouted "Dance, ye settler!" instead of Delancey Street into the subway intercom. Some, in fact, already do this, often completely unprompted.

Puzzled? Baffled? Can't seem to rearrange the alphabet? Then do what I do: cheat. Try the Internet Anagram Server for instant gratification. They've got you covered. But be forewarned: the site should come with a Surgeon General's Warning label. It's rather addictive.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

#104












#104, Upper East Side, NYC


It's not often you'll find me on the Upper East Side anymore, and when I do go, it's usually on my way to the Whitney to cash in on my free CUNY ID museum pass. But when I do find myself walking along those genteel streets between Lexington and Park, Park and Madison, I look up in wonderment at these mausoleums of apartments and wonder who lives inside them. Every so often I'll spot a waving flag from the parapet that lets me know I've stumbled upon an embassy. And these aren't doorman buildings, so the pedestrian is denied even the humanizing sight of a man in a forest green suit with piping down the legs and gloves and funny hat. No bikes chained to the railings, no delivery boys bringing Have a Nice Day bags of food to the fourth floor walk-up, no doors slammed and no sweatsuits running out to the gym. People don't live in these buildings; they're disinterred from them.

I had the pleasure this evening of attending an event on the (keepin' it real) Lower East Side that my friend Stephanie curated at the Angel Orensanz Foundation called Library of Dust, based on a series of photographs by David Maisel. The photographs are eerie still lifes of chemically corroded copper canisters containing the unclaimed ashes of psychiatric patients from a state facility in Oregon -- the asylum of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" fame. It was one of those quintessentially New York evenings that makes you feel like you've been lowered into a vat of boiling, bubbling culture and you're either going to get a great dish out of it or die trying. Geoff Manaugh from the yummy architectural site BLDG BLOG was on hand to offer insight into Maisel's photographs. You can read Geoff's excellent essay on the project and see some photographs here; I can't recommend it highly enough. Geoff was a great speaker and provided my first barometer that I was in serious culture vulture territory. You know when someone prefaces a reference to Rothko admitting, sheepishly, that this is "a little cheesy," that you are in some dangerous waters, my friend.

Still and all, the event was both intellectual and lurid, two of my very favorite things, and it got me thinking about art and memory and class and insanity and human remains, and while it cultivated in me a serious need for some fresh air and a Leffe blonde, it was a worthy meditation. As far as compare and contrast goes, the evening had it in spades. It was discomfiting to sit in a roomful of educated New Yorkers and stare at a screen with images sleekly projected from a clear podium (upon which a MacBook was placed like an objet d'art) and hear ten-dollar words bandied about while looking at images of pepper canisters of dead psychiatric patients' ashes. Some of the cans had peeling labels and all had numbers. Numbers were carved into the lids of the cans and written alongside the carved number again with a red grease pencil. There was the guilty twinge: should I be getting excited about this?

In any case, Maisel's gorgeously corroded photographs and the sublime decay of the Orensanz Foundation building itself, a hauntingly lit old synagogue styled after (what else?) Chartres cathedral, offered an antidote to the clean architectural order of today's 104. And if you saw what happened when a clean-up crew decided to place the decaying canisters of ash inside identical black boxes, as they did in 2005, imprisoning the unique chemical blooms inside what appear to be Ikea shelving units, you might have sighed as well. Symmetry can rob us of our humanity. And not everything ugly is meant to be so neatly contained.

Monday, April 13, 2009

#103











#103, Brooklyn Heights


Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's 3.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

#102











#102, Soho, NYC


With those industrial sized dots and hint of spray paint, it almost looks as if renegade street artist the Blind was here, adding more of his braille to the buildings of NYC. But dude's in France. And Soho's old buildings are full of great textures like this.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

#101












#101, en route, California


Few things are more iconic than the road signs of American highways. One look at that emerald green and white sign and I'm ready to stock up on crappy gas station food, grab a cherry Icee, and hit the road, windows down, doing cool aerodynamic things with the plane of my hand. Someone told me not long ago that the pull created by driving with the windows down actually uses up more energy than driving with the windows up and air conditioning on full blast. Maybe you've been told this "fact" too. People who tell you things like this are killjoys that should never be listened to under any circumstance. Anyone with a big fat super-sized freedom-loving American soul knows that the only way to enjoy the open road is to breathe it in at 65 m.p.h., windows down, with the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime cranked up on the stereo. If you can do this on a coast or region far from home, so much the better.

Road trips are very near and dear to my heart. I dwell now in a big city. I shop at the local supermarket and support public transportation. I ride my bike and walk and take the bus and enjoy not having to navigate New York City traffic or deal with alternate side of the street parking, and I feel warm and fuzzy when I see those SubTalk signs telling me I'm doing good things for the city and the environment, even as that guy with the guitar and the mini Marshall strapped to his belt on the hurtling A train is playing "Baby Can I Hold You" for the thousandth time. But deep in my subway-taking, cheerfully cycling, pedestrian's soul beats the wild heart of a broad who just wants to get behind the wheel.

It was on road trips out west, sitting in the back of a huge blue Econoline van with my brothers in the back and parents in the front, that I learned the collector's thrill of the license plate game. I hunted the plates of passing cars and parking lots, hoping to collect all 50 states. One year we even got Alaska and Hawaii, our quest stuck at 49 until West Virginia sped past. I doubt if &7 should exist if I hadn't had such early training in delightfully pointless hunting and gathering.

It comes as no surprise that the American landscape is changing. Strip malls and exurbs have replaced prairies; cities like New York are constantly built up while others, like Detroit, are just as rapidly abandoned. Roads and highways form the arteries of this complicated network. Under constant duress, pounded with jackhammers and slathered with fresh coats of asphalt, they are no less susceptible to change. There's so much else going on and so many Ikeas popping up like Whack-a-Moles you long to pound back into the soil that as you pass through this vast landscape, you may not even notice one of the biggest changes going on right before your eyes.

Look closely at these road signs. Notice anything different between the two? It's subtle, but you can see the faint change. Check out the lettering. The first, like the San Francisco 101, is an example of Highway Gothic, the favored font for U.S. roads for more than half a century. The second shows Clearview, a typeface designed by Don Meeker and James Montalbano. It was designed, as the name suggests, for higher clarity and is the font of the future for American highways. You can read the full New York Times article on it and I can promise you it will change the way you see road signs. (Photo credit: Don Meeker)

Don't notice Clearview anywhere? Still feeling Highway Goth and can't figure out why? Check the list to see if your state's still rockin' it old skool.

I fear my enthusiasm may have driven my band mates crazy when we hit the road for our summer tour last year. "There's Clearview! There's another one!" I shouted from the back of the van as we coasted through Kentucky and Alabama. It's a small change, yes, but an important one. And a hell of a lot of fun to look for while you're eating that packet of Chex mix, listening to D. Boon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

#100












#100, Freeman Alley, NYC

Welcome to the triple digits. We stand by our claim.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

#99












#99, Dublin


This burnt-out shell of a car was festering in the parking lot of a convent school. It was a quiet April afternoon in a well-to-do section of Dublin, and apart from the ruins of a car, there was nothing at all amiss in the surroundings: birds chirping, leaves blowing softly in the breeze. The parish office was open, so I went in and asked the nice old ladies about it. It turned out to be the handiwork of a teenage pupil, and the car happened to belong to the parish priest. A dumpster had also been set on fire, and the air was fresh with the smells of burnt rubber. The school has, two years later, since closed down and the car was towed away without ceremony or fanfare. Some answers raise more questions than they answer. And some sights are all the more terrifying, more beautiful for being so out of place.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#98












#98, Soho, NYC


About sixty codfish eggs will make a quarter pound of very fizzy jelly. Grumpy wizards make toxic brew for the evil queen and Jack. Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow. No, Stephen King is not ghostwriting my blog and I haven't been hijacked by spammers. So what gives?

"A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Maybe this one is more familiar. This sentence, as you may recognize, is an arrangement of letters that includes each of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet at least once. I remember learning it when we were taught the lost art of cursive handwriting in school. Typographers use it as well to show off every serif and flex every muscle of a new font. But they also added a whole host of nonsensical phrases into the mix when I wasn't looking. Ergo, the codfish, evil queen, and black quartz.

Trying to match a vernacular example of type like this beautifully spiked 98 with a modern day counterpart is a little backward. The original was here first. But there's a curious need to know the names for things. City-dwellers and those unused to things like trees may notice this tendency when stolling into a botanical garden. Your eye may be drawn to the flower, but you also find the unstoppable urge to look at the tag to see what it's called. Ah, yes, Myosotis sylvatica, you say, filing this name away the way you would a street sign or name of a restaurant. (Or maybe you just call it by its common name: Forget Me Not.) There's satisfaction in knowing what something is called, even if the flower existed far before the name.

I went font-hunting for this unusual 98 and found a close contender in Retablo. It isn't an exact match (and, for the record, I think the original number I photographed nails it better) but it was still fun to try. For the curious, Identifont is an online source that lets you type in any small sample of text (letters and/or numbers) and see what it would look like in hundreds of different fonts far more exotic than your typical Times New Roman/Helvetica. But you can also try to track down the name of a font by going through a play-by-play questionnaire that helps the very smart computer identify it based on a combination of characteristics. (Is it sans serif or serif? Is it upright or slanted?)

And while you're there, you can also see your new favorite nonsense phrases played out in your font of choice. I, for my part, was very glad to receive news that the new farmhand proves strong but lazy, picking just six quinces. But maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

#97












#97, Buda, Budapest


Today, &7 takes a look at the mysterious wall plates of Budapest: What are they? What do the numbers mean? Why do they look like they've been poked with industrial-strength thumbtacks? And what's up with the arrows?

I was fascinated with these cryptic signs that I found all over buildings in Budapest. Each sign was smaller than a license plate and could usually be found at eye level in a relatively inconspicuous place: on the side of a building rather than near a door. There was never any accompanying text -- not that the Hungarian would've been much of a clue -- and I was left doing what I do best: wondering what it all meant.

Sifting through the archives to come up with today's 97, I was reminded of this 97's uncanny resemblance to 72. I wish now that I'd compiled more, but here's a sampling. A cryptic triptych, if you will. Say that five times fast. And if anyone knows what these symbols represent or wants to take a guess, let me know.
















And put on your Advanced Hieroglyph hat for this last one:



Monday, April 6, 2009

#96











#96, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Sunday, April 5, 2009

#95












#95, Buda, Budapest


Because it makes things easier, I try to learn the language of the places I visit. I can say "I'd like the check please" in Czech and "I need help" in German. I once knew how to ask for a cigarette in Irish and I can drink to your health in Italian. One thing I cannot do, however, is make heads, tails, or middles out of Magyar, the Hungarian arrangement of the alphabet they insist on calling a language. Now, I know the Magyar tongue is a rich and complex language unlike any other European or romance languages, and I'm sure there is a beauty to the Finno-Ugric language group that is related, somewhat distantly, to Estonian, Finnish, and a handful of other minor languages found in Western Siberia, that I'm just not grasping. But what can I say? I can't be a master of everything.

This inscription comes from a museum plaque in Budapest. I know neither who nor what the text says and I haven't a clue what the 95 represents. So I'm opening this up to my readers, skilled as you are in navigating the unexplained intricacies of the Word Verification word system, to interpretation. Who, or what, is "OVAROSI TANACS"? Is it man, woman, mineral, or vegetable? Or is it something far more nefarious? And what's so special about that 95?