Monday, October 31, 2011

#62: Graveyard Shift

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

#65: Icelandic Eckleburg

Reykjavik, Iceland

This optometrist's sign reminds me of the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg that haunt the pages of The Great Gatsby. That is, if the doctor was swanning around Iceland on a clear summer's day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#66: Route 66, Amarillo

Amarillo, TX

This mural was painted on a wall in Amarillo, not far from the venue where we dropped in two summers ago on tour. We drove through some strange thick green skies listening for the weather report on the crackling radio, and I think we ended up doing load-in in a tornado.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#67: Extreme Makeover: DUMBO

Jay Street, Brooklyn, 2009

Jay Street, Brooklyn, 2011

Today's &7 Extreme Makeover takes us to DUMBO, that gritty hipster-magnet 'hood with the ponderous acronym. DUMBO happens to be home to Saltmines, where I've spent many a night stomping about and making noise in the Balthrop, Alabama rehearsal space. There's also Saltlands studio, where we like to go when we feel like eating bags of cookies, then having someone hit "record" and twiddle some knobs to make us sound good. This 67 is just across the street from the space, so I've spent a good amount of time gazing out at it during breaks as if I were a weathered cowboy squinting off in the sunset.

It's rare that you'll see one unique, hand-painted number painted over to make for a different unique, hand-painted number -- generally, twee little arts-and-crafty things are painted over to make way for Big Ugly Mass-Produced Manufacturing stuff -- but that's exactly what went down here. Then again, it's a strange place, given to artistic shifts. I haven't quite parsed the meaning of the myriad objects I see on display around this building near the waterfront -- one appears to be some kind of chihuahua shrine, if that gives you some idea. I do know that 67 used to be the home of Jay East, an Asian antiques and collectibles store, before high rent shut it down.

So what's the verdict on the change? I don't like to play favorites with my subjects (all right, I do), but I have to say, my loyalties rest with the original 67. Those jaunty serifs, that boastful I'm-bigger-than-a-venti posturing, that lovable combo of peeling paint chips -- it's a great look.

And speaking of the band, guess who's gearing up to hit the road again? The van is packed and my band mates have already heaved off, but I'll be joining them in Jacksonville for a stretch of beautiful autumn days of music-making and air mattress surfing. Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania: If you know what's good for you, keep your numbers locked up at home. It's open season, and the bounty hunter will be after 'em.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#68: Lunenburg Red

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

#70: Mom Vs. Bob Dylan

My mom turned 70 this May. So did Bob Dylan. For years Mom has pointed out -- rightfully so -- how she and Bob Dylan were born a day apart but she "looks a lot better than he does." So this year I decided to honor Mom with a little compare & contrast card.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

#72: The Big Texan

Amarillo, Texas

If you eat the entire 72 oz. steak at the Big Texan in Amarillo, Texas, the darn thing is free! There is, however, no prize for picking at the macaroni & cheese and side of string beans -- the vegetarian's sad (and oddly disappointing) consolation dish. We sailed out of that steak joint, grabbed some toothpicks, and hit the Mother Road running.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#73: Lou Reed's Traffic Signal

Soho, NYC

It's practically a law of science that those used "HELLO MY NAME IS" stickers never seem to end up in the trash where they belong. There they are, completely useless now that the meeting is adjourned, the crappy Au Bon Pain coffee has been drunk, and the mingling with insufferable colleagues is a thing of the past. What's a worn-out sticker to do but affix itself to random inappropriate surfaces? I've seen them all over the city on desks, traffic light posts, mailboxes, and sidewalks, you name it. Mostly, it's litter and I find it merely irritating. But I confess there is one I have developed a soft spot for.

On a traffic light near Chelsea Piers, there is a crosswalk signal along the West Side Highway that bears this mysterious instruction, courtesy a used sticker: TO CROSS STREET, PUSH LOU REED AND WAIT FOR SIGNAL.

It's a long traffic light, so I have plenty of time to contemplate it every week, so much so that it has almost taken on some religious, Zen-like quality, a koan if you will. It never fails to elicit a smile. Up till now I haven't seen anyone obey the sign, but surely it's only a matter of time? If Lou Reed is pushed onto the West Side Highway and no one sees it, does it make a sound?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#75: Iceland Blue

Reykjavik, Iceland


So I took a trip to Iceland in August. I ate a chunk of 1,000-year-old ice, walked on a glacier, drove through lava fields, took pictures of horse skulls, and basically had my mind altered. When the dust settles around my writing projects and my deadlines slacken, I'll even get to write about it. In the meantime, these photos and this Reykjavik blue reminded me of a Georgia O'Keefe quote I saw on the wall when I went to the O'Keefe museum in New Mexico:

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way – things I had no words for.

I look at this shade of blue and it tells me more about Reykjavik and Iceland than anything in my travel journal. No doubt I'll try to blather on about it later on anyway, but it's good to know that when words fail, I can always return to the source.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#77: Union 77

Smithfield, Dublin

The iconography of this may not resonate in the same way with my Dublin friends, but to my American eye, this 77 immediately stood out. With its bright red-orange circle and cobalt numbers, it's a dead ringer for the Union 76 logo. Where I grew up, this giant orange orb at gas stations was as unmistakable an image as fast food's golden arches, a familiar and well-loved sight on road trips. (The best of them actually lit up and rotated.)

This was real ooh-ahh 1962 World's Fair technology, state-of-the-art stuff back then, and why anyone in the year 2011 still gets excited about a giant rotating orange ball is a little puzzling. But apparently I'm not alone. There's enough of a cult following that a "Save the 76 Ball" campaign made sure that ConocoPhillips (as they are now re-branded) donated a couple to museums. They even put up a few new rotating balls to wow the oh-so-jaded public -- who, frankly, are probably more concerned with paying 4 dollars a gallon for gas than they are about "saving" some dinky old orange sign.

I like this one quite a bit. It's like if the Union 76 logo ate a Pac Man, went to Smithfield, and found a nice, industrial gray wall to settle down with. I wish it luck in its future endeavors. Should anyone ever want to tear it down, they'll face some stiff opposition from the "Save the 77 Ball" campaign. While I probably won't get the Irish Georgian Society behind me, I can probably pull a couple strings at An Taisce. Those folks will object to anything.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

#78: Nostalgia Kills

Galway, Ireland

My Nostalgia 2011 tour of Galway didn't go so well, at least on certain counts -- I now remember the day trip mostly for the rain and how I spent an entire lunch copying down, verbatim, the certificate on the wall from a 1989 Soviet fleet in praise of McDonagh's fish and chips. But I did stumble upon some good numbers when I wasn't being all interior n' pensive, and this is one that actually made me stop in my tracks it was so friendly and welcoming. In this age of mass production and commercial uglification, I'm a sucker for stuff done by hand, and I will do my best to document any and all such numbers I come across in my travels. It was back to near-empty pubs, soaking wet socks, and tables-for-one not long after, but at least I have this reminder that sometimes the joy isn't in re-visiting what used to be, it's in being open to surprises you didn't even know were there.

I sometimes wonder if the person who drew this address on their door had any idea that their unassuming piece of handiwork would one day, however briefly, brighten the spirits of a water-logged girl in from New York City. (Look -- it even has a snick in it!) But it did, and I'm grateful. The best promise I can make to myself is to never, ever go back to Galway and try to look for it again.

Friday, October 14, 2011

#79: Fresh Delivery, But No Threes

Red Hook, Brooklyn

I know land lines and traditional phones are going the way of the dodo, but have we really fallen so far as to be unable to even cobble together an accurate rendering of what one looks like? Look at this phone. Now look at the numbers encased in its aw-shucks, folksy little grid. Notice anything amiss? Yep. This is either the work of a revisionist 3-hater or the work of the world's worst Sudoku player. Either way, I have to stand up for chronology here -- sure somebody has to. I will, however, bestow a few crumbs of brownie points on this deli sign for charm -- the more I try to work myself into an indignant state over its inaccuracy, the more the wonky telephone grows on me.

By the way, when was the last time you really looked at the keypad of a phone? (Oh, right. About five minutes ago, when you were crossing the street, sending that text message.) And did you ever notice how telephones have the numbers 1, 2, 3 at the top while calculators have 7, 8, 9 at the top and 1, 2, 3 at the bottom? (Let's not even bring this hand-painted phone into the picture -- it's complicated enough already.) And if you're scratching your head now, wondering why they're arranged differently, then fortunately, I've tracked down the answer for you.

Actually, it was my friend Kristopher who first pointed this curiosity out to me. He's one of those friends who spikes your punch, plays all your favorite New Order records, and then tells you all sorts of engineering trivia, which believe me, if you don't have a friend like this, you need to get one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

#81: Hands Down

Red Hook, Brooklyn

Between yesterday and today, I'd say Red Hook is pretty much knocking it out of the park with this eighties series. This #81 is one of my all-time favorites, a local neighborhood hidden treasure I love to breeze past on weekend bike rides -- the perfect blend of accidentally-on-purpose beauty and industrial decay.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#82: Abandon All Hope

Red Hook, Brooklyn

I don't know about you, but I'm vaguely terrified at the thought of what lies behind this door.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

#86: Efflorescence, With Cables

Phibsborough, Dublin

If "Efflorescence, With Cables" isn't the name of experimental musical suite or avant-garde tone poem, it should be. Plus, efflorescence is one of those great words that you only learn if you spend a great deal of time staring at decaying buildings and looking for le mot juste. Efflorescence means "to flower out" in French and is a condition you see in lots of concrete and masonry when water is driven out and salts come to the surface. Add some wires and some dripping paint, and voilà! -- an Ampersand Seven accidental masterpiece.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

#87: Luquer Street Special

Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn


NOTE: This is a re-post, mostly because I love this 87 too much to replace it with anything new. Long live Luquer Street!

On the edge of Red Hook, just beyond the point where the Prospect Expressway twists into Hamilton Avenue and not far from the Sunoco gas station with the flashing sign that misspells its own name, two bright, Vaudevillian beacons blink out a bright 87 in lights of green and yellow. The numbers are mismatched in size but perfect partners in crime plastered against the stark charcoal gray of their brick building. Driving late at night along the featureless expressway, one's eyes can't help but be diverted by the sight. It's as if a piece of Times Square fell off the delivery truck on the way to Manhattan. But as soon as you notice it – blink, and it's gone. I had noticed it before – usually late at night, usually on the way back from some band practice or gig – but it was some time before I ventured on foot to see the iconic numbers from street level.

Luquer Street in Brooklyn is a quiet 4-block street that stretches along the border of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. As much as I always want to say it with a hard "Q" sound (as in "liquor", on which many of my decisions are based), residents pronounce it "Lu-QUEER". The always fruitful Forgotten New York ("Celebrating 10 Years of Forgotenning") launched a full investigation into the Luquer name based on the evidence of maps, including some dating back to 1866, that show the spelling as "Luqueer." Who knows why or when precisely the second "E" was dropped, though the correct spelling (based on the Luqueer family, who owned a good deal of Brooklyn's Twelfth Ward) is in fact with two "E"s.

This particular portrait was snapped during a snowstorm, one of several we've had here in New York this winter. Somehow the sight of this slightly gaudy, lovable 87 in the whitewashed scene brought me a feeling of great joy. Unlike some other neighbors I could mention who seem to shove their ugliness uniqueness down your throat, this 87 always strikes the right balance of blatantly bizarre and charmingly homespun. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#88: Twin Infinity

Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

#89: Oklahoma, O-K!

Oklahoma City, OK

My first photo from Oklahoma, y'all. I haven't given this state much love, but it's time to change all that. Who cares that neighboring Texas is home to the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere? Oklahoma is home to the tallest spiral slide in America. And since it's AMERICA, that's real BIG.

But enough bragging. This brightly colored 89 comes from outside The Conservatory, this fun dive bar venue in Oklahoma City where we played on tour a couple of summers back and I think I lost about 8 decibels of hearing. (Give me a shout if they happen to turn up.) I do remember feeling pretty thrilled that outside the club, sandwiched in between Fox Valley Motors and the record shop, there it was on a rickety cracked sign for the club: our name in lights! Well worth it after driving past endless signs for hardware, liquor, and loans.

As for the record shop employees next door, all I can say is this: the kids are all right. I picked up a nice stack of Handsome Family, The Fall, and Kurt Weill CDs at The Conservatory, which is the last time I think I've done such an old-fashioned thing. Oklahoma brought that out in me, I guess.

My notes from our gig at The Conservatory are pretty brief, but I think you'll get the idea: "Venue a big concrete box w/ bright graffiti outside. Cheap theatre seats inside, a bar behind velvet rope, no soap in the bathrooms and free beer." Smells like tour to me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

#90: 90 Paces, Collins Barracks

Collins Barracks, Arbour Hill, Dublin

All throughout the courtyard of the Collins Barracks, you'll see these hand-painted numbers on the walls. Near the entrance, the signs on either side read 100 PACES, and the numbers count backwards from there: 90, 80, 70, and so on. Back when the barracks was occupied by the British army, the numbers were used to train soldiers in rote military drills, but after the fight for Irish independence, some prescient soul must've tipped them off that Ampersand Seven was coming 'cause they vacated the barracks but left me the numbers. Thanks, Irish army!

The Collins Barracks now holds the decorative arts wing of the National Museum, but it's also a pretty good place to sit in a courtyard, take a couple pictures, and eat a croissant smuggled from your hotel, just in case you were wondering.

The barracks, built starting in 1701 with bits and bobs getting added on throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, is just about the oldest building in Dublin, second only to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. If you've ever seen the film Michael Collins, or anything else about the history of Dublin and the fight for Irish independence, then -- well, let's be real here. You can probably barely see any of these old buildings through all the continuous gun smoke and heavy whiff of history.

In 2006-2007, the courtyard of the barracks was also home to a site-specific art piece by Sean Taylor called 100 Paces, which invoked the long-past military drills and filled the square with sound and choreography. I wasn't there to see it, but through the magic of the internet, a little morsel of this public art remains.

It's definitely worth a look around. I'm usually too busy haunting the courtyard to remember to ever go inside. But next time I'll have to take those extra 90 paces.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

#91: When Entrance Is Sought

Soho, NYC

This door in Soho gets top marks for design, typography, and overall cleverness. The passive voice, not so much.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

#92: Grünlich Grau

Red Hook, Brooklyn

Some time ago, I happened upon a head-scratcher of a cultural relic: a series of commercials for the German DIY home improvement store, Hornbach, featuring Blixa Bargeld of the experimental German noise band, Einstürzende Neubauten -- a band perhaps best known for making their instruments out of scrap metal and banging them on whatever happened to be laying about. In these ads, Mr. Bargeld, dressed like a walk-in on a Wim Wenders film, his dark hair slicked down, sits at various desks and reads from the Hornbach catalog with aplomb. His manner is so dramatic, his finger pointing so intimidating, and his consonants so violent he might be reading an angry political manifesto. But he isn't. He's describing furniture. If you can imagine, say, Marilyn Manson reading the IKEA catalog out loud, you might be prepared for some of the cognitive dissonance I experienced on first watching.

Then there's the deadpan ending of each thirty-second commercial, which involves him invoking a sort of cowboy's yodel, German expressionist style. I really don't know what to make of it.

My favorite of these videos -- though it's hard to pick just one -- is the one where Blixa, reading from the Hornbach catalog, is worked up in a fever pitch as he utters the words grünlich grau, which simply translate as "greenish gray." I happen to like this color in real life, so the sound byte from the commercial always goes off in my head each time I see it. Today's number, though a little more grau than grünlich, is a good example. If you want to see the commercial in full dramatic action, I highly recommend thirty seconds of your time to watch this clip. You will never see greenish gray in the same way again.



I've been waiting for this 92 to roll around, if only because every time I pass it in Red Hook on my way to Rocky Sullivan's, I think again of Blixa. And I hear his German growl spitting out each fierce syllable like he could cut your throat with it. And while it doesn't make me want to buy any home improvement items, it does make me smile.