Saturday, October 31, 2009

#304












#304, Phoenix, AZ

Fangs out, everyone. It's Halloween. I was hoping to go as a spooky font this year -- maybe Hellvetica? -- but I'm wondering if that's what all the cool kids are doing. No, I'll probably do what I do most years, which is throw on my white lab coat, write "Zhivago" on masking tape and stick it on my lapel, and go out to find strangers who'll give me candy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

#303












#303, Upper East Side, NYC


Because hand lettering, like dying, is an art, and because I adore making inappropriate Sylvia Plath references the site, I'm linking over today to The Journal of Urban Typography , where hand lettering is not just an art, but a delicious and messy smorgasbord of all things typographical. Go on. Sample a little. It's Friday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

#302












#302, Chinatown, NYC

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

#301












#301, Arlington Heights, IL


Out in the suburbs, you don't see too many of those "rugged individualist" numbers Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about. (What? He wasn't talking about typography?) It's not a slam on suburbia or a commentary on the homogenous strip-mall existence to point out that frankly, it's easier for most folks to hop in the car and roll on up to the Home Depot to get their house numbers than go around tinkering with metallurgy. So when I do spot a bit of ingenuity like this crooked 301, I have to give props to the invisible hand that hammer-and-nailed this into the brick side of a house. It gets points for quirkiness and class, unlike the oversized hardware store "HIS" and "HERS" lettering that graced our next-door neighbor's garage for years and years -- all the more heinous as the store was out of "I"s so the actual text read: H1S and HERS. But this 301 gets it just right.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

#300












#300, Chelsea, NYC


Three hundred days, three hundred numbers, and, in non-Ampersand land, a three hundred page manuscript awaiting whittling. It's nice to have a full plate, and it's good to have a gold, magisterial 300 to ring in the next round in style and symmetry. Three hundred down, sixty-five left to go. Wish me luck. It's harvest time, dammit, and there's still more gathering left to do.

Monday, October 26, 2009

#299












#299, East Village, NYC

The last of the two hundreds. See you in the threes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

#298











#298, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn


When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a performing arts dorm, the closest experience I have ever had in my life to going on the road with Barnum & Bailey's Circus. It was not unusual to come home at two in the morning and find, in the stairwells, one soprano practicing an aria and another painting a chalk outline drawing of a dead body at the bottom of the steps. There were wood-paneled dance studios in the basement, origami in the hallways, and at least one copy of Marat/Sade or Waiting for Godot resting on a side table in one of the suites at any given moment.

There was also, bless it, a magnificent monthly Friday night happening called Performance Hour, where my fellow dormers would congregate in a big open space and foist whatever performative whim crossed their hearts, granted it was wrapped up in ten minutes or less. I was an occasional dabbler in Performance Hour, but never, I think, did I transcend the shining moment when I brought to the stage my rendition of a song that would forever render me as "Spumoni Girl." Not that it's my proudest hour, mind. Just the most memorable.

It was 1993, and I was in knee-deep in indie rock. I carried with me the CDs from high school, all the Smiths, Joy Division, and New Order you could shake a stick at, combined with my exciting new lo-fi acquisitions like Sebadoh, Buffalo Tom, and the Blake Babies. Juliana Hatfield, a member of the Blake Babies, was an object of much fascination for me. To others, she was just another talented, fearless indie-rock chick. I was both in awe of her casual coolness yet terrified (thanks to a recurring nightmare) that if I ever met her, she was going to beat me up. Her hit "My Sister" was in heavy rotation on the airwaves, and it was this song that eventually launched me into the Performance Hour skit I'd never live down.

Many good, and still more bad, ideas are launched in barrooms all the time. In college, we had the dining hall. It was here that our wildest ideas were hashed out, here, over copious bowls of Lucky Charms and Grade D meat cheeseburgers that we philosophized, BS-ed, and called each other's bluffs. One day, after we'd cleared our plates, we got to talking about the day's dessert offerings, and someone happened to mention that they were featuring Spumoni ice cream. Now maybe this is not an exotic thing where you're from, but to my Midwestern mind, this was a new concept entirely. This flavor, this dish, wasn't even on my radar. And just because that's the way the winds happened to be blowing that day, we all got into a deep discussion about Spumoni. Some tried to explain it to me, others shared my ignorance. "I've never had Spumoni," I commented, and that, so I thought, was that.

Later that night, I was in my room with my guitar. A nineteen-year-old alone in her room with a guitar is a dangerous thing indeed, and one with a notebook nearby and nothing particular to do that night is still worse. Juliana Hatfield's song "My Sister" had been in my head since dinner, and as I was strumming the chords, I idly realized that "Spumoni" had exactly the same number of syllables as "My Sister." Today, this sort of nonsense is constantly present in the junkyard of my head, and I know to ignore it. Back then, it was nothing short of creative inspiration. Frantically, I began composing words, and in fifteen minutes flat, I'd penned an entire set of lyrics to Ms. Hatfield's song, all about, yes, the ice cream.

Performance Hour was coming up, and I decided that would be the ideal time to premiere my song. So I did. And then, in the span of three or four minutes, the Juliana Hatfield love/hate ode to her (imaginary) sister became my love/hate ode to my (imaginary) experience with Spumoni ice cream. It was a runaway hit. Years later, I would be at a party, introducing myself to someone, and their eyes might light up and they'd say, "Spumoni Girl!" Yes, yes, I admitted. That was me.

If you're unfamiliar with the original, you can check it out here. I guarantee it's far better in it's pure, untainted form than with my snarky take on it. Still, certain lyrics I can't listen to without hearing my own ice cream-inspired words superimposed over it. ("She had the greatest band, she had the greatest guy/She's good at everything and doesn't even try" is forever: "It's got the weirdest colors all mixed up in it/It looks like neapolitan on a bad acid trip.")

Strangely, shortly after my debut at Performance Hour, my nightmares involving Juliana Hatfield beating me up began to taper off, then they ceased altogether. Anyone who says art is no way to channel demons has a stiff argument coming from me. Yeah, me. Spumoni Girl. Don't forget it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

#297












#297, New Haven, CT

Friday, October 23, 2009

#296












#296, Chinatown, NYC

Something cryptic for the weekend. These Chinatown numbers have got me turned all inside out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

#295












#295, Baltic Street, Brooklyn

For years I have walked past this 295 and admired it. The oversized numbers, the distressed finish, and the slight cheekiness of the font have always been a refreshing sight, and the grumpy lion door knocker to the side somehow holds the whole weird diorama together.

Today was a sunny October day today, one of those warm-but-not-too-warm fall afternoons where the air smells a little fresher and the yellow leaves look a little yellower. Hoping to re-capture my much-loved 295 in the flattering slant of setting autumn sunlight, I set off with my camera and was much maligned when, upon reaching the house, I saw that the three cheeky numbers were gone. Just -- gone. The brick beside the red door was bare. All evidence of the 295 ever having graced the brick had been copiously scrubbed away. I've been going through withdrawal over the recent uglification of my beloved 4 Verandah Place, so this came as extra bad news.

Injury often follows insult, and sure enough, I saw that the oversized 295 had been usurped by a trio of ugly white vinyl numbers over the fanlight window, so uniform they may as well have come with their own green generic stripe and bar code. Fresh red flowers had been planted nearby -- doubtless to show off the new look -- but all it managed to do was lend a funerary air to the scene.

It's always sad when a neighborhood loses a landmark. Yes, I sometimes miss spying into the depressing, interior of the OTB across from Raccuglia Funeral Home, but now I have a wonderful boarded-up derelict storefront to make me even more depressed about the human condition. Restaurants close, cafes shut down. It happens all the time. But sometimes it's the disappearance of smaller details that tugs the heartstrings a little harder. Because then you wonder: did anyone else ever notice this? Am I the only one that's bummed about its absence?

This particular subtraction from the 'hood is going to hurt for awhile. Was it vandalism? Did someone steal the numbers? Or was this somehow someone's misguided idea of improvement? I may never know. But for now, I'll rest a little easier knowing that at least I managed to capture it on film and share it with the rest of you before it went to the great number line in the sky. Amen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

#294











#294, Chinatown, NYC

An awning in Chinatown? Or the rejected design for some post-apocalyptic roller derby jersey? You make the call.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

#293











#293, Monterey, California


Thanks, jolly fisherman. I haven't had an ambassador for my numbers that wasn't a skull (see here and here) in quite some time. Perhaps he'd like to meet his Midwestern counterpart Murf? He's a bit of a landlubber, that Murf, but dude can deliver your mail and fix your washing machine in fifteen minutes flat.

Monday, October 19, 2009

#292












#292, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn


In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton has a dig at the much-loved brownstones of this city, whose "uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce." A slight, yes, but were that chocolate to be the chocolate from Jacques Torres, I doubt her dis would carry much weight. If we could team up the right typographers with the right chocolatier, I'd eat this 292 in a heartbeat.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

#291












#291, Broadway, NYC


Absolutely not the first image that comes to mind when I think of Broadway: that's what makes this one so charming.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

#290












#290, Capri, Italy

Friday, October 16, 2009

#289











#289, Budapest

Skulls: they make me feel so warm and fuzzy. I found this lurker painted on the Sz├ęchenyi Chain Bridge, which spans the Danube and connects Buda to Pest. If you like this little guy, be sure to check out the non-stop skullfest over at Skull-A-Day. And while you're there, why not download the delightful Skullphabet font? It's free and it's cute, and with Halloween just around the corner, the time for free skull fonts is now. Kind of brings a whole new meaning to the word typeface, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

#288











#288, Chinatown, NYC


"Don't belabor the Fibber's grime."

One hundred and fifty pages into the manuscript, eyesight rapidly deteriorating, caffeinated to perfection, and knee-deep in what my fiction writer's Bible calls "The 10-Percent Solution": today has been a good day.

Nothing pleases me more than sitting down for the very first time with a freshly printed manuscript, a carefully chosen pen, and a cup of coffee. I allude to it in my "About Me" box, but I really do have my moments of Just So, where my entire mental well-being depends upon the careful arrangement of items on a table at a certain time of day at a certain angle in a certain light (to quote Nick Cave quoting everybody else).

I nearly steamrolled some business-suited lady this morning in a panic to claim "my" table by the wall. She, inching intrepidly behind me, wanted the freshly-evacuated table for a business meeting. I had to explain, calmly, that if I didn't sit exactly six inches away from exposed brick with my back to the espresso machines facing out onto the window at a quarter past ten, my brand new Sarasa fuchsia-colored pen parallel to the 300 pieces of paper I had spent the last four years of my life laboring over, that I would probably, and very quickly, lose my sh1t. I didn't say this. When the business-suited lady asked if she could have my table (foolishly attempting to barter it for one of the world's most inauspicious tables ever, the Bermuda Triangle of the morning rush) I said quietly yet firmly, "Sorry. But I was hoping to get some editing done. The light is better here," and sat down. Besides, possession is nine tenths of the law, and the second I saw that table open up, I possessed that table.

What does all of this have to do with my blog, and have to do with numbers? One thing, mainly. Reading through a hundred and fifty pages of my own work, I've had the chance to notice my habits, both good and bad, as a writer. One thing about us scribblers, is we can often fall in love with certain ideas, words, or sentences that somehow feel important. This is good. This is how we write, and get excited about writing, and continue to do so. But when you're in the final revisions of a novel, there is no room for that fluff, filler, and palaver you love so much. You have to be choosy and merciless. If it doesn't serve the story, you cut it.

That is what the 10-Percent Solution is all about (with thanks to Stephen Koch, who penned said Bible). You like something you've written? The odds are it'll be better if it's ten percent shorter. (This current post is a "do as I say, not as I do" anti-example of the 10-Percent Solution. Just so you know.)

All writers have obsessions. I am utterly obsessed with place: scenes, settings, objects, buildings, angles, and architecture. I am, however, also writing a book with a narrator who is not me, and for whom frequent 600 word discourses on pub signs in Dublin is not suitable. One thing that's made the editing process easier is the knowledge that all these "thinky bits", these set pieces, these musings about the world I see around me, can have a home. It's called Ampersand Seven, and yes, it's become a lovely, flexible, Hydra-headed monster, a halfway house for my obsessions, a place to hash it all out and share the love.

A quickly scrawled note in the margin of page 146 reads, in small block fuschia letters: "DON'T BELABOR THE FIBBERS GRIME." It's a reminder for me to come back to the section and cut, eliminate, spindle, and mutilate many of my laborious descriptions of a hygienically-challenged rock club in Dublin I'd frequent as a late teen and in my early twenties. Thickly coated black paint, sticky floors, peeling band stickers: this stuff goes on for pages. It's a good reminder for the novel, but it's also nice to know that, when the urge grows desperate, there is a place to belabor it, a repository for all that obsessive description. And that's here.

I think it was reading Sheila's very funny post today (Don't even TRY, CHiPs!) that got me thinking about the bizarre yet dead-perfect mantras we often -- at times accidentally -- come up with: words of wisdom forged in the hot magma of the moment that says it all perfectly. So for the next few weeks, if you notice a little more unhealthy obsessing over lime rot or serifs here, you'll know why.

"Don't belabor the Fibber's grime." That is all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

#287












#287, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

#286












#286, Portland, OR


I spot an old hand-painted sign through the holes of a chain link fence, and it's like I'm a kid who's just heard the Mister Softee ice cream truck. Paint it on a garage, throw in an abandoned parking lot into the mix, then drape some telephone wires overhead, and well, that's like you just dipped it in chocolate. Yes, I have been focusing on my off-line writing, and yes, it appears I've skipped one too many square meals along the way whilst furiously revising and overcaffeinating. So if I just throw some numbers at you and yell, "Bon appetit!" just be patient with me. I'm finishing a novel. It's what happens.

Monday, October 12, 2009

#285











#285, San Francisco

Sunday, October 11, 2009

#284











#284, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Park Slope, Brooklyn is known for its idyllic, family-friendly, brownstone-lined streets. But when danger does pop up in Park Slope -- and believe me, it does -- good thing there's Dark Hard Thunder Man to save the day.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

#282











#282, St. Mark's Place, NYC

It's roughly the size of a bottle cap, situated near one's shin, and almost lost amid the swirl of eye candy on a busy, mosaic-clad street pole, but somehow this 282 got my attention. You can find it on the traffic island close to the giant rotating Astor Place cube, where all the disaffected youth hang these days, and I doubt I'd have noticed the tiny number it if it weren't for the traffic light holding me up. Traipsing up and down Manhattan's massive sequential grid is one sure-fire way to find numbers, but it's the unexpected catch like this one that keeps things fresh.

If you've ever taken a stroll through the East Village, then you're probably already familiar with the artwork of Jim "Mosaic Man" Power. Maybe you've stumbled upon one of these colorful lamp post mosaics, too, noticing a sudden patch of beauty in the middle of a harried, ugly commute. He's decorated close to a hundred street poles with his vibrant mosaics along a two mile stretch. Shards of mirrors, chunks of ceramics, wild patterns, and colorful lettering: once you start noticing his pieces, they're impossible to miss.

Power, a Vietnam vet and much-loved figure in the Village, has been steadily beautifying his 'hood shard by shard for over twenty years. And he's still at it. He was spotted at the St. Mark's Block Party just a few weeks ago, adding more bits of colored glass, plates, mesh, marbles, and whatnot to the neighborhood street furniture.

You can read an interview with him here, see some pictures, and learn more about the where the mosaic trail starts and ends. But the best way to see his stuff? Take a walk. And while you're there, be sure to hit St. Mark's Bookshop, which has been steadily emptying my wallet coin by coin for over eight years.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

#281











#281, Brooklyn Heights


This one's for Radge. Any more shots like this, and we'll be needing a whole district.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

#280












#280, East Village, NYC

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

#279











#279, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn


I've written before about the enduring charm of the seven with a slash through it -- a marking now known, at least in these parts, as a snick (thanks, Ray Gunn) or a snig (if the slash appears particularly sloppy, insouciant, or just plain cheeky: thanks, Jackie) -- but the 7 that thinks it's a Z is a new one on me altogether. This one first jumped out at me during a snowstorm, when all sorts of everyday, usually unnoticed aspects of my neighborhood suddenly appear. A cursory inspection of the 7 showed that the anomaly at the bottom is most definitely not snow. So what's up with that? This anarchic little number, while puzzling, does please me. But let's hope it's a one-off and not some kind of weird typographic trend. Once numerals start thinking they're letters, it's going to be unholy havoc getting any math done.

And speaking of the weird squiggles and symbols that afflict our common alphabet, do check out the perennially pleasing Paul Muldoon's ode to the symbol @, posted over at Design Observer. (Any takers on how to pronounce "@"?) I would gladly listen to Paul Muldoon read to me the alphabet, and the mind boggles to imagine what linguistic gymnastics he could get up to if he ever takes on the mighty ampersand. Fun & games.

Monday, October 5, 2009

#278












#278, East Village, NYC

Sunday, October 4, 2009

#277











#277, Broadway, NYC


Writing, revising, red-penning, over-caffeinating. Back soon with more words as soon as I've un-mired myself from some of the others. The novel, dammit, must get done. For now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the picture show. You may not see it, but I've been putting in a thousand words here each day.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

#276












#276, East Village, NYC

Friday, October 2, 2009

#275












#275, Venice, Italy

Thursday, October 1, 2009

#274












#274, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn