Tuesday, June 30, 2009


#181, Broadway, NYC

"My barber was back at work in his shop; again the head waiters bowed people to their tables, if there were people to be bowed. From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood -- everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora's box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits -- from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "My Lost City", July, 1932

I read this on a beach in Monterosso under an orange and green striped beach umbrella, chewing a fresh nectarine, my sandals cast off in the damp sand, the air smelling of sunblock, my hotel key lodged in the sand, the Ligurian Sea stretched out before me with its lush, lulling, repetitive blue waves. I looked up from the pages of the book, squinting into the sun, thinking of how my mind could often understand things so much better when I was far away from them, how Hemingway could only write about Michigan when he was in Paris (or was it vice versa?). When I returned to New York, I understood the passage F. Scott Fitzgerald had so eloquently described about his lost city, understood the disappointment far better in Italy than I would back in New York, when the illusion once more had me in its snare. Something had shifted in that weak mirage, its glitter less glittering, its thick air a bit thicker. But what was it? What was the full measure of that loss?

No, it is not endless, this thing that is the city. It is fallible, faulted. It smells of fresh petrol and stale coffee, it is rough and edgy. It has limits. And to take what is its flaw -- to convert this crushing realization into beauty -- requires a more eloquent pen than mine tonight.

Monday, June 29, 2009


#180, Upper East Side, NYC

Seeing double isn't just today's picture, it's how I'm feeling after being shipped in on Alitalia flight 610 from the idyllic, beauty-drenched cities and villages of Italy back to the loving, traffic fume-sucking environs of JFK. As soon as I get some shut-eye and hook myself up to my vino IV, I'll be back with the commentary you've come to tolerate so well.

In the meantime, thanks to all who left little messages for me in the comments. I plan on opening them little by little over the next few days like all those postcards I should have written and didn't. And as for the last five days' numbers, I had to kick Blogger a few times to get them up, but there they are. Sure wish I'd had Murf to help me out.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


#179, East Village, NYC

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009


#177, Greenwich Village, NYC

Thursday, June 25, 2009


#176, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


#175, Elk Grove Village, IL

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


#174, Upper East Side, NYC

Monday, June 22, 2009


#173, Soho, NYC

Sunday, June 21, 2009


#172, Upper East Side, NYC

Saturday, June 20, 2009


#171, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Friday, June 19, 2009


#170, Upper East Side, NYC

Thursday, June 18, 2009


#169, Lower East Side, NYC

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


#168, Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


#167, State Street, Brooklyn

It's going to be wordless here on &7 for a little while while I kick my feet up and soak up some summer. I'll be back with more pictures and stories soon. And remember -- just 'cause I'm wordless doesn't mean you have to be. If you have any comments or questions, keep 'em coming. I still love reading your responses, and I'll have more for ya when I'm back.

Numbers, like death and taxes, are still a certainty. So keep dropping by, y'all. Happy June till we meet again.

Monday, June 15, 2009


#166, Montague Street, Brooklyn

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009


#164, Bruges, Belgium

Before setting foot in the medieval town-meets-Epcot Center world of Bruges, I'd heard it described as "the Venice of Northern Europe." Comparisons like this are always unnecessary and lead to more dangerously asinine comparisons like calling Jackson Heights "the Williamsburg of Queens." Let's just call Bruges, Bruges, and please can we move on to the mussels and Belgian beer and the architecture?

Now I had about two hours, cycling alone at dusk one fine June day while the church bells rang out from the tower, when I thought to myself, "I need to move here. Right now. I need to move here and write my novel here and see windmills every day." The brightly colored Dutch billy buildings, the network of labyrinthine streets, the cobblestones, the solitude - once you got away from the circus of the square - were transporting in the best way possible. Absolutely. I could get used to this.

Then about a year ago, I was excited to learn that Martin McDonagh, whose writing I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, had written a screenplay for a sort of noir hitman film based in Bruges called, er, In Bruges. The trailer hit all the right notes for me: dark and fast-paced with that peculiar vinegar-flavored humor that McDonagh's plays are known for. Instead of an idyllic medieval writer's retreat, the Bruges of the movie is basically a candy-colored tourist-infested hell imprisoning the two main characters, played brilliantly by Brendan Gleeson and, a guilty pleasure to admit, Colin Farrell.

In Bruges was one of those stories where setting truly played a major role, and I love getting wrapped up in stories (whether novels or films or even songs) where the story can not possibly be extracted from the setting. Try to imagine Roman Holiday set in Halifax and you'll see what I mean. And as far as choices go, I loved the underdog quality of this choice. If it was anyone other than Martin McDonagh, the proposal for a hitman film based in the rinky-dink sized medieval town of Bruges (usually not a good sign when everyone who hears the title asks, "Where's Bruges") would have been laughed out of the theatre, and not in a nice way. But it didn't. It got made, and I thoroughly enjoyed every gruesome minute of it.

Poor Belgium. Brussels is great, but "it's no Paris," Bruges is beautiful, but it has to be sold as "the Venice of Northern Europe." I'm here to tell you without shame that I love you, Belgium. I love your inferior cities, your mad architecture, your dark chocolate, and your mussels mariniere. I love who I have been in your squares and streets and what you stir up in my windmill-chasing soul. I'll probably never extract another number for you, Bruges, all the rest of the year, but with material this rich, who's counting?

Friday, June 12, 2009


#163, Turtle Bay, NYC

It doesn't matter how true they are, stories about old New York always sound to me like fairy tales. You can be a realist and call this part of town East Midtown, or you can stick to those dubious historical guns and claim you're walking around in Turtle Bay and see how many people look at you like you're crazy when you drop the name in casual conversation.

Take this fact, for instance. This 40 acre parcel of land was given to two Englishmen by the Dutch colonial governor of New Amsterdam. It was once called "Turtle Bay Farm." Perfectly true! Historically documented! And yet it sounds like you just said that Williamsburg was once a magic castle that bred little dragons. No, wait. That's true.

In any case, I like this neck of the woods, if only because it contains my dearly beloved Chrysler Building. I know, loving the Chrysler Building is like being a Yankees fan - it's just too easy - but I have searched high and low for a skyscraper so stunning and shiny and elegant and I haven't found one. I did, however, find this well-weathered 163. Keep an eye out for vertically positioned numbers in your 'hood: they're harder to find than you think.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


#162, Los Angeles

I had to cheat in Los Angeles. In that vast land of highways and endless roads, it seemed every number I found was a four-digit number, and this just wasn't flying with my particular Julian calendar. So I did a little creative cropping. (My game, my rules.) I was wondering if anyone would notice. But of course you would. You're smart like that.

I was totally confused by the lack of sidewalks and the where's-the-downtown downtown, but I felt a real affinity for the type on buildings in L.A. Great numbers, there were few, but the artistry and color in the hand-painted signs was great eye candy. Plus, a canary yellow building looks good in a place where the sky is always blue.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


#161, Elk Grove Village, IL

This unremarkable suburban curb, spray-painted and stenciled with a 161, makes me feel weirdly homesick. Fitting, since I grew up in the two-story blue-gray house just behind it. There was no American flag in the 161 I knew - patriotism wasn't quite the growth industry that it is today - but I do recall, in my all-noticing, Harriet-the-Spy way, taking special notice of the fact that all the houses in our neighborhood had the addresses painted on the curb and thinking this was important.

The original black and white 161 was there for years. It underwent a slow fade into obscurity until the village repainted them all, this time with a bright white background with a much larger, tall, forest green stenciled number. The new number existed alongside the ghost for years, and I looked forward to seeing them both when I walked home from school. It was a comforting sight. The numbers - almost more than the house - meant I was home.

Now both of them have faded, replaced by this flag, though I did hunt doggedly for clues to their existence (much to the consternation of the people peering out at me through what used to be my window). Visits to the past can be cool, and then they get creepy, and then it's time to drive off, wondering if the toboggan hill in front of you has sunken over the years or if you always remember things as in a rearview mirror where objects are smaller than they once appeared.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


#160, Upper East Side, NYC

Today's image reminds me of one of my favorite pictures, which I unearthed recently in an attempt to locate a flat surface in my apartment. I tend to take more pictures of architecture than people - nothing personal, it's just buildings are more well-mannered and easier to stare at - but this one stands out in my memory. It's a photo taken of me in Dublin, circa 1995, standing in front of a Samuel Beckett lamppost.

Now I know Ireland loves its writers just like New York loves John Lennon in his New York City t-shirt. You can see likenesses of Ireland's Writers everywhere you go (all of them except, it seems, female ones), gracing the walls of pubs, staring out from postcards like a dull game of Celebrity Squares. (Not to forget this shot of Sean O'Casey and James Joyce moping on the side of a pub.) But a Samuel. Beckett. Lamppost. This was really too much. My friend Kate had me pose in front of it. And, as expected, it was like posing in front of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It doesn't matter what you do or what face you pull. You will be upstaged by the kitsch. I am wearing the expression of one who has no idea how to post in front of a Samuel Beckett lamppost. Go figure.

The lamppost was looking fairly grotty back then and this was fourteen years ago, so I imagine that the Sam's guiding light has been knocked down and succumbed long ago to the swipe of the Celtic Tiger's fickle paw, but if there are any Dublin readers who can give a guess as to where this picture was taken, let me know.

I can't smile, I'll smile . . .

Monday, June 8, 2009


#159, Luquer Street, Brooklyn

More off-kilter numbers, this time from the lovely Luquer Street, a quiet charmer of a street on the border of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook that I've written about before. The appealing crackling state of the 9 almost distracts me from the presence of pale peach, which is generally a deal-breaking color for me when it comes to architecture. There are many reasons I will never live in Miami, and this shade is one of them.

Color can really make a difference in buildings -- whether we perceive them as warm or cold, or whether we find them welcoming or not. I'm reminded of some of the scathing remarks about New York from writer Edith Wharton, who was way more of an expert in snarkitecture than yours truly. Wharton managed to take down the beloved brownstones of New York City a few notches by comparing their stately, earthy hues to something dipped in "cold chocolate sauce."

So a question for you, my dear readers: are there colors that attract you to certain buildings, or colors that repel you? Would you ever live somewhere or not live somewhere based on the colors of your surroundings, whether it be in buildings or in nature? And are there times when you'll make exceptions? For me, it was the hideous pink barn of Klemm's nursery (now demolished) in my hometown, a site so filled with fond memories I was willing to be more forgiving. Any colors for you that make or break a place?

Sunday, June 7, 2009


#158, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

The numbers themselves are unremarkable, but the state of disarray is appealing. Between the crooked 8 and the vaguely equestrian 1 heading up the pack, this one looks alive to me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


#157, Upper East Side, NYC

Many years ago I lived in this neighborhood, now I only go there to part with loads of cash, be stuck with needles and find myself roaming the streets in a daze shortly thereafter, foaming at the mouth. No, this isn't the Lower East Side, it's the Upper East Side, and if you think that my subjecting myself to this altered state is in any way recreational, then clearly you haven't been to see my dentist.

My most recent trip to this curious neck of the woods was several weeks ago. If you've been following my grid, you'll see that I had a few numbers to get under my belt. So rather than focus on my very deep-seated dentist phobia, I intended to turn my journey to the Upper East Side a number-hunting expedition that would be so successful it would overshadow the dental agony that was the true purpose of my journey. I was not so easily hoodwinked.

The pain of the visit was alleviated somewhat by glancing from time to time at the Us Weekly with Robert Pattinson's highly distracting hair on the cover whilst I lay in the dentist's chair at a compromising angle, my mouth being poked and prodded with needles, drills, and an instrument of torture called, somewhat ominously, "the explorer." Of course, there was the added prospect of getting some good numbers to go along with my grinding headache, and on that count, I wasn't disappointed. The design of the door even has this cool molecular model feel to it, proving once more that science and art can connect. Just don't expect it not to hurt.

Friday, June 5, 2009


#156, Lexington, KY

Last year, while on tour with my band Balthrop, Alabama and Dawn Landes, we stopped over in Lexington, Kentucky to play at a great dive bar called The Dame. Two nights after we played, they began to knock buildings down. I asked Alex Brooks, a friend and letterpress artist (whose mad skillz can be seen on the latest Balthrop tour posters - scroll down: it's the one with the hands), who lives in Lexington, to write about what happened. What follows after the jump is his take: part history, part eulogy of this lost establishment. The photos are mine. Lastly, take a peek at some of Alex's work at his site, Press 817. Alex has threatened to board an Ashland, KY - Penn Station train with 250 lbs of type metal so NYC can gain a letterpress artist and I can buy him some bourbon as thanks. Let's hope this is the case.

* * *

The ‘Dame Block’ was a collection of bars / dives / venues that grew up organically over the past ten years or so. The Dame was the only large music venue in town. Mia’s was the lesbian bar & restaurant. And Buster’s was the punk dive pool hall, which was also sort of home to us. This block brought together all the different factions of young & exciting culture in Lexington, a home for young artists and musicians who aren’t welcomed in the traditional art circles which all have a slightly antebellum feel. Suddenly, the Webb brothers announced that they had secretly bought the entire block and were planning on demolishing everything to build a 40 story hotel & luxury condo development. It stunk of good old boy politics and back room deals. The burgeoning community that lives, works & plays downtown reacted overwhelmingly against this development, as out of scale, as crushing our nascent cultural center, and as destroying an entire block of historical buildings. There were protests, we organized a non-for-profit to fight the development, finally just begging to be heard, begging for compromise. “We need culture,’ we said, “not luxury condos.” The Webbs made a show of listening, only to do exactly as planned. As a further show of disrespect & arrogance they started knocking down buildings during our 4th of July parade, when all of Lexington gathers around that block. A year later we’re left with a ‘crater of mud’ in the center of downtown, with no signs of construction. I could rant for pages.

This alley, that I am so ceremoniously pissing in, will be a pile of rubble in a week, and then a mudpit, and then, supposedly, a 40 story luxury condo tower. They don’t get it, and I should have said so, should have told them that me pissing there was like pouring out a 40 for the dead, the only place in town I’d ever felt comfortable, slumped in a ratty booth, punk rock and pool tables and regular people, not rich Irishmen at McCarthy’s or Harvey’s, which used to be the Melodian, which again was our place, but now is some swank ass polo shirt frat boy bullshit. And now I’m pissing on it because I won’t be welcome within five hundred feet of this luxury condo development whose “inviting street level businesses” will consist of a Starbucks, a Chili’s, some stuffy men’s clothing place, and a bar just like the other five within a block which all make you feel like your guts rotting out from the inside, the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. I don’t fit in there. And for once I did fit in here, and it’s all shit now, so I’m pissing on it. The alley dirt turning to mud.

I should have said all this to the coppers, the fat one just stood there, quizzical, waiting for me to say something, their flashlight lighting up my face in the narrow brick alley. Instead I looked at the tall skinny one and burped.

The skinny one says, “We’re tryin’ to keep this part a’ town nice, and we can’t have people doin’ this sort of thing in the alley.” Which is ironic. It is so ironic that even in my stupor the irony is concrete, I can feel the grit of it.

Finally they’re letting me go. And the skinny one saying, “Don’t do this again,” I swear he says this without a drip of irony. I drift around the corner and rejoin the Kentucky hipsters outside, drinking brazenly on the sidewalk, packed with bodies and spilling out into the street. Another beer. Some of Burch’s bourbon flask. Someone has a 48 case of PBR in their messenger bag because the keg’s run out inside. My phone vibrates.

It’s a text message from her. “I’m in front of The Dame if you want to talk.”

She was standing there, lit up by the street, alone in the thronging crowd. The two of us, surrounded in the middle of the sidewalk, outside the double doors of The Dame. I don’t remember what I was thinking, only that I wanted her to take a walk with me, and she wouldn’t go. The car headlights streamed by one after another. The two of us, standing there, staring at each other, saying nothing. --Alex Brooks

Thursday, June 4, 2009


#155, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


#154, Smith Street, Brooklyn

Smith Street is my neighborhood backbone; without it, my whole city would fall apart. You can get keys made, shoes resoled, accordion straps fixed, lattes prepared, prescriptions filled, and enjoy a nice 12 or 16 oz. goblet of something hoppy and delicious at Bar Great Harry to keep you going for the second half of the day.

Between work and play, I probably spend more time ducking in and out of Smith Street establishments than I do in my own apartment. It's not a particularly pleasant walk: the traffic above ground moves with aggravated impatience, punctuated with frequent honks, and you get the noise from below as well. The F train runs along Smith and you can hear the rattle of subways through the grates in the sidewalks, which you always have to tiptoe over because of the encroachment of that boarded-up site around Degraw that's been there forever.

Dodging parking meters, delivery boys on bikes, opened cellar doors, and squinting on the walk through the mid-day Smith Street sun trap are all part of my daily routine. Still, I love it, because it's my 'hood and there are friendly sights like this bright red 154 to look forward to. And if you look closely at the window, you can see the reflection of falling snow, a treat on an otherwise ordinary February morning earlier this year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


#153, Lower East Side, NYC

The Quality of Life Task Force: four sweatshirts in a bogus taxi set up on the corner of Clinton Street alongside the Williamsburg Bridge off-ramp to profile the incoming salmon run; their mantra: Dope, guns, overtime; their motto: Everyone's got something to lose.
So begins the prologue of Richard Price's 2008 novel Lush Life. I am so in love with the language, the characters, the world of this book that I could eat it up like a late-night falafel. I don't read crime fiction, but I love film noir and I have been known to get sucked into a Raymond Chandler pot-boiler on occasion (not to mention the Brooklyn Paper's police blotter, which I've riffed on before). So the experience of reading this book - a crackling good tale set in NYC's Lower East Side full of wisecracking cops, conflicted bystanders, hipster blow-ins, vanishing Virgin Mary apparitions in Yemenite delis, and police procedurals - has been like getting sucked into the world's best Law & Order marathon, only better, because it's a book. And fitting, because Price, in addition to churning out some amazing novels, has won an Edgar award for his work writing for the HBO series The Wire.

Want more? Here's how Price opens chapter 2:
At 4:00 a.m., the first to come on the scene were Lugo's Quality of Lifers on the back end of a double shift, still honeycombing the neighborhood in their bogus taxi, but as of 1:00 a.m. on loan to the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, a newly installed laptop mounted on their dashboard running a nonstop slide show of known local taggers.
There's an art to these sentences. It's part hard-hitting journalism - answering who, what, where, when, why, and how in a one-two punch - part fine-tuned word selection ("honeycombing the neighborhood") and part attitude. When I see the phrase "bogus taxi" I already can hear a Sam Spade-like voice in my head, channeling all the hard-boiled private investigators I've accumulated in fictions over the years. It borrows devices from newspapers, rags, and pulp fiction to set up scenes and keep the plot hurtling along. And yet there is a music to this writing that is all Price's own. I'm only up to page 94, but I've had to put the book down I don't know how many times just to relish the sentences.

If there's one thing I'm learning from reading this novel, it's how gratifying simple details can be. I tend to overuse similes in my own rough drafts and have to pry them out later with a good editor's wrench, but one thing New York reminds you of (though this is true anywhere), is how you don't have to compare anything to anything else. The thing itself is enough. For example, here's a street scene from just a few hours ago, free of embellishment, just the facts, ma'am:
Nine o'clock at night in the subterranean subway station at West Fourth Street, waiting for a downtown F train. An echo of a melody rings out, diabolical and frantic, and at the helm of the xylophone is a guy in fur, a head-to-toe Pepe Le Pew suit zipped up the back, skunk tail and all, a hot pink scarf wound around his neck, hot pink knock off Ray Bans clamped over his skunk headgear. With his paws he clamps two mallets: soft-edged, fuzzy, making the sticks vibrate with the speed of his playing. A dishwater blond commuter, dressed in pale blue windbreaker, drops a dollar in his instrument case then disappears into a Coney Island/Stillwell Av bound D train. He cracks a woodblock, grins.
And that's the pleasure of reading a good book. It makes you look at your environment and notice more closely. I could've written off what I saw a few hours ago in the short-hand irony of "Hipster dressed as skunk plays music in subway - freak show." And to some extent, mentally, I did. But then it's more fun to really look, listen, experience, and describe, than to just roll your eyes or snap a pic and call it a night. Though it's a big, exhausting, overwhelming city, so there's a time and place for that, too.

Monday, June 1, 2009


#152, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

"Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents." --Arthur Schopenhauer
Any book lover can attest to this: when we buy books, we think we're buying the time to read them. That's what makes it so seductive. The same holds true with art supplies, office supplies, organizational tools, and so on. I can't tell you how many times I've bought a new planner or date book and, by doing so, been flooded with a sense of immediate organization: THIS will be the year that I actually stick to a system, I tell myself. Rolodex, Moleskine, At-a-Glance, you name it, I've tried it. No matter what the product name, the same thing happens: I fill in a few dates and deadlines, carry the pretty new planner around with me proudly for the first week, resentfully for week two, then forget it entirely during the third, at which point I'll live happily on Post-it note reminders, frantic impromptu to-do lists and memory until ten months later, when the new planners come out and I start the whole process all over again.

Until now. Recently, I stumbled on a post at Notebookism. com that outlined a system for tracking projects and to-do lists that was so simple it was deceptive. It resembled your average tick-box to-do list, with one main exception. There were circles instead of boxes, and instead of two options - done or undone - it broke it down into pieces. You could cancel, delegate, do things halfway, or prioritize. Brilliant, really. Here's a sample. You can read more about the system here if you want, but basically, that's it. Simple, visually striking, and effective.

After looking at this pleasing system, I decided to try it out with my numbers. After all, it's mass chaos in here with hundreds of collected photos, some gems and some stones. I started using an At-a-Glance monthly calendar, bought cheap at an office supply store, that actually tells you what day you're on - one of those dubious features like the "Useful Information" conversion tables in marble composition books that tell me how to convert quarts into gallons when what I really need is how to fix Chapter 11 of my novel-in-progress for crying out loud. For example, you can see right away that June 1st = 152 (but you already knew that, didn't you?). This has been immensely handy for making sure I have my upcoming posts prepped, and for helping me panic rationally when I don't.

In my case, I also write the day's number in larger font so I can easily see what numbers I might need in coming weeks. Here, a blackened circle means "got it," an empty circle means, "I don't got it," and a half-circle means, "I got it, but it ain't great; do better." So there you have it. Today's 152 is half-empty or half-full, depending on how you look at it. This project's been a good one to remind me that sometimes a process can be just as interesting to dissect as a product. And if you're intrigued by the circle system, give it a whirl. It's free and it doesn't eat up time, so you'll have more time to spend procrastinating doing the things you really want to do.

Skeptical? Converted? Flabbergasted? Do tell.