Friday, July 31, 2009


#212, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Thursday, July 30, 2009


#211, South Street Seaport, NYC
Ampersand fans, here's another for the collection.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


#210, Highwood, IL

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


#209, Rome, Italy

It's a sultry night here in Albuquerque as I sit roistering on a plush blood-colored couch in Burt's Tiki Lounge, sipping water from a bottle bought in a gas station that featured live scorpions in a glass display case over the rack of Hostess fruit pies. There's no A/C, it's July in New Mexico, and in a few hours I will be stomping around on stage with a fiery red accordion. If there's one thing you learn on tour, it's how to adapt to your surroundings. By midnight I should be edging my way toward heat-induced delirium. Or, if I'm unlucky, spontaneous human combustion.

The dusty highways of America's southwest are by turns desolate and full of peculiar beauty. The day's drive was hypnotic. We drove for miles in our Ford van through the painted desert, gazing out at stretches of arid scrub and pointed saguaro cactus. Tumbleweed blew and distant dust devils swirled. Temperatures bubbled into the triple digits. Maybe I've seen too many episodes of Road Runner or paintings by Georgia O'Keefe, but I really did expect to run into a cow skull by the side of the road.

Speaking of skulls, I do have an affinity for the things. There's a character in Martin McDonagh's play A Skull in Connemara who takes pause from his gravedigging to contemplate the peculiar things we all have inside our heads. The Poor Yorick scene from Hamlet is another good example. I've no stomach whatsoever for the blood-and-guts end of anatomy (as I was reminded two nights ago at the Rogue bar in Phoenix when, post-show, the friend of a guy who makes his living preparing cadavers for medical students excitedly showed me a picture of a skinless corpse on his iPhone), but the bones inside us don't bother me a bit. Give me a cartoon skull and I feel positively warm and fuzzy.

Today's Italian-style skull gets right to the point. Danger, risk of death, keep out, pirates: when you see a skull on a sign, you know somebody means business. I've collected quite a collection of skull signs along the way. This little guy makes a nice companion to the 209. Just don't touch it -- it's evil.

Monday, July 27, 2009


#208, Smith Street, Brooklyn

Proud home of Rocketship Comics. Stop by if you're ever in town.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


#207, Siena, Italy

Saturday, July 25, 2009


#206, Arlington Heights, IL

Friday, July 24, 2009


#205, East Village, NYC

Thursday, July 23, 2009


#204, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


#203, East Village, NYC

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


#202, Times Square, NYC

And this is basically how I feel every time I am forced to encounter the swirl of lights and chaos that is Times Square. Though I imagine were I to spend enough time inside the "Celtic Pub," I'd be seeing the world this way as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009


#201, Chrystie Street, NYC

Sunday, July 19, 2009


#200, Lower East Side, NYC

Over the past few years, it's become innundated with improbable high rises and lifeless luxury hotels, but you can still count on the Lower East Side for some good old-fashioned grassroots murals. I've seen plenty of graffiti spray-painted over shop windows protesting the yuppification of the LES, but I'm about style as well as substance, and this wall of misbehaving kitties gets it just right. The full text of the newspaper headline reads: Lower East Side Rejoices as Yuppies Commit Mass Suicide. Not pictured is the syringe by the kitty's side.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


#199, Greenwich Village, NYC

There's something very removed about sitting in a lush back garden in Portland, Oregon while contemplating this panel of stained glass on a funeral home on Bleecker Street in New York City. The architectural half of my brain has entered a temporary state of suspended animation. I may as well be staring at a fossilized nautilus, trying to explain carbon dating.

I'm being lulled by the smells of lavender, sage, and nectar. I'm listening to the sounds of water trickling in a fountain and my band mates strumming songs on the ukelele and unpacking groceries. We're staying in a beautiful empty bungalow and enjoying a day off on our very busy cross-country tour. My brain is not just on Pacific Time but on Pacific Pace, that is to say, a bit more lackadaisacal than usual. But if I open up my laptop and tune in to the wi-fi (signal name: "Suck it Trabeck"), I can still hear, ever so faintly, the music of the blogosphere. I can see the approaching milestone of 200. And I just wanted to check in to let you know I'm still here, number collecting and font hunting in cities and bars all across the country, from the morning diner coffee to the free PBR's at night.

Urban funeral home architecture may be worlds away from a green, overgrown garden, but so goes the sequence. Like racking up nightly gigs and ticking off towns and cities on a map, posting numbers in order is a project that has only a certain degree of certainty. You can't plan too much of it in advance. There's bound to be odd surprises along the way. Maybe there's a nice yin and yang to it all: life and death mixed in all together; nature and technology mingling harmoniously. I don't know. For now, there's a singalong I need to join.

Friday, July 17, 2009


#198, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Thursday, July 16, 2009


#197, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


#196, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


#195, Smith Street, Brooklyn

Monday, July 13, 2009


#194, Jay Street, Brooklyn

Sunday, July 12, 2009


#193, NYC

#193, New Haven, CT

It's been heavy on pictures and a little light on words for the last few weeks, but I've got a few good words to spread before I crash out on my air mattress here in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The first bit of good news is that fellow Balthrop, Alabama band mate and resident artist Toxey Goodwater (known to some as Michael Arthur) has just had an article posted on the front page of the New York Times website. It's part of a new series the Times is running called "Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times." If you've checked out our show live, you'll recognize the whimsical, energetic style of his drawings. Every night for the past five nights, I've had the pleasure of squeezing the old squeezebox in front of some of his projected drawings. You can also check out Michael's blog, Just Drawn That Way, which was (and continues to be) a big influence and inspiration for me as I started this project. Y'all should run over to the NYT and check it out. Congrats, Toxey!

Tomorrow morning we ship out to Fargo to play with our friend, the talented and very sweet Josh Ritter. And I've heard a rumor the Andrews-sisters-inspired trio The Bandana Splits will also be making a guest appearance. Got friends in Fargo? Tell 'em to come out to see us! In the meantime, best wishes from everyone here at Balthrop, Alabama. And don't worry -- I'm getting some good numbers on the road.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


It's been a long time since &7's last game of Match the Number to the City, so I thought I'd dust off a few for fun. For those new to the game, the rules are simple. Take a look at the following pictures and try to match them to the city where they came from. Bonus points awarded for logic, but as always, random stabs in the dark are actively encouraged. Possible cities for this round include (in alphabetical order): Chicago, Dublin, New York City, Rome, Venice. Good luck!




Friday, July 10, 2009


#191, Dublin

This may be one of my favorite stories ever. Today's 191 comes from a plaque on the O'Connell Street Bridge. The entire text of the plaque reads:


Now Dublin is a town of many plaques. After you've passed the seventh house that tells you Oliver St. John Gogarty "kept rooms here," it's easy to stop paying attention. The plaque to Fr. Pat Noise is welded into the concrete expertly and wouldn't attract any attention unless you were looking for it.

The best part? The plaque, as well as the priest it commemorates, is a complete hoax. It appeared mysteriously on the most prominent bridge in Dublin in 2004, wedged into a hole that had been left behind by the removal of the short-lived Millennium Clock (a hoax in itself -- but that's another story). The plaque remained there relatively unnoticed until newspapers drew attention to it in 2006. The Dublin City Council threatened to remove it but later had a change of heart. You can still see the dedication to Fr. Pat and his ill-fated carriage there embedded into the concrete of the bridge.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


#190, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Hypothermia is a small price to pay for these shots. The second the snow starts falling, I am out with the camera, stomping around for hours in the sleet and snowdrifts until I can't feel my toes and the thought of a cup of hot coffee becomes like a drink of water to a man in a desert. Plus, my first New York memories involve snow, so every time we get a good blizzard, I'm reminded of why I fell in love with the city in the first place.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


#189, Brooklyn Heights

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


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

You might remember Carmel-by-the-Sea, the beautiful coastal town in California with the odd affliction of no house numbers. Me taking a vacation there was a bit like a teetotaler going on a pub crawl, but I made do. Bereft of my usual places to look for numbers, I had to look elsewhere. Down, in this instance. This 188 comes from a plaque in front of the Tor House, the residence of Robinson Jeffers. In 1914 Jeffers moved to Carmel and built his house out of stones, bit by bit, where he lived for the rest of his life, writing poetry in the mornings and building stuff in the afternoons.

Many years ago, when I was living something of a lonely life in Dublin, a friend of mine who was an excellent letter writer also sent me the Jeffers poem Divinely Superfluous Beauty. It's a poem I still come back to.
The storm-dances of gulls, the barking game of seals,
Over and under the ocean ...
Divinely superfluous beauty
Rules the games, presides over destinies, makes trees grow
And hills tower, waves fall.
The incredible beauty of joy
Stars with fire the joining of lips, O let our loves too
Be joined, there is not a maiden
Burns and thirsts for love
More than my blood for you, by the shore of seals while the wings
Weave like a web in the air
Divinely superfluous beauty.

Monday, July 6, 2009


#187, Pearse Street, Dublin

Once again, it's time for me to hit the road. This time I'll be taking my trusty accordion, camouflage sleeping bag, and pair of red patent leather high heels cross-country for a month on the road with Balthrop, Alabama. I hope to take advantage of the wireless in the van (a technological advance I still don't understand) and keep the updates fresh, but if it's a little quieter around here, you'll know why. As always, I hope you'll still stop by to see me. Expect a few lags here and there as I try to keep things running smoothly, but know that the numbers will keep on coming. So don't be a stranger, Camus.

If you live in the U.S., we're casting a wide net this time around, so chances are good we'll stop by your town. Check out the list of tour dates and see if we'll be in your neck of the woods. Be seeing you anyway, one way or another. Till then, the van awaits. Load 'em up!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


#186, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

The homemade, homegrown quality of this one is wonderful. Hidden on a brownstone block of assembly-line hardware store numbers, this 186 stands out. I like how the uneven layers and textures of the paint on the number plate match the rough lines in the brick mortar. And I do love a good upright infinity 8.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


#185, Brooklyn Heights

This art deco baby skyscraper at 185 Montague is one of my favorites. This stretch of Montague Street begins with a row of towering banks and is pleasantly cluttered farther down with mom-and-pop frame shops pressed together cheek-by-jowl with chain shoe stores. If you can manage to weave your way through the inevitably crowded sidewalks and take a moment to look around you, there are some real architectural beauties. I'm a sucker for anything deco, but I particularly love the panels of elegant geometric decoration, teetering halfway between the mechanical and botanical.

Friday, July 3, 2009


#184, Turtle Bay, NYC

Whenever I see glass this shade of green, I think of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and a description of a jacket made of "bottle green acetate cloth". At the time I first read the book, I'm sure I was probably more fascinated by following the ins and outs of the game of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy than what Lenina was wearing, but over the years, for one reason or other, it's her bottle green jacket that's stuck with me most. It's as iconic to me as that Famous Blue Raincoat.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


#183, Irishtown, Dublin

It's official: my Quixotic quest to bring you 365 numbers in 365 days has reached its mid-way point. I searched earnestly for a 182 1/2 to commemorate this milestone with perfect mathematical precision, but that messed with my sense of symmetry and anyway, there weren't any. So let's slice it at 183 and call it even.

With milestones come inevitable questions, such as: Why start a mad project like this in the first place? (A: Because, like Everest hacked into hundreds of pieces and scattered across dozens of cities, it's there.) What will the next half of the year look like? (A: Still workin' on it.) And, perhaps most interestingly: What to do after hitting 365? After all, as a novelist, I'm a long-distance runner writer. I'm in things for the long haul. But I've grown rather fond of the immediacy of these daily dispatches and exchanges. It's a nice break. It reminds me that I'm more than a mad scientist toiling and cackling maniacally in a a castle populated only by dust mites, messy manuscript pages, and cobwebs. A romantic role which, by the way, I quite relish.

I like writing about place, memory, and space. I like photographing my cities. I like the challenge of a good project. And while I'm perfectly content to let the project end at 365 as planned, I also feel the enthusiast's restlessness. The mad desire to globe-trot in search of some inconsequential thing, a piece of architecture or a forgotten plaque: ghost signs, ampersands, writers' residences, wrought iron bootscrapers. Something. Anything.

Rather than tax my own brain cells, which are still a bit sun-dried from Italy, I thought I'd open this question to you, dear readers. After all, you're the ones following along and helping to feed the obsession. After the bell tolls on 365, what next? Keep going or start all over again? Go in order? Out of sequence? Or is it time to venture into the unknown? Time to pack it in? I have plenty of ideas, of course, but I'm curious to see what feeds you as well as me. Tell me what you've enjoyed. Tell me what you'd like to see more of. Be as hare-brained, serious, whimsical or as obvious as you'd like. My obsessions tend to have strange and unpredictable onsets, so who knows what will happen next. But I value your two centses, my pretties. Indulge me a little &7 mid-semester report. Won't you?

And one last note to those out there who simply like lurking, thanks for reading, too. I do this primarily for myself, but it's gratifying to know that these pictures and stories exist now in a space that -- like the numbers I discover -- are there for whoever happens to come across them. Not everyone will notice them, and fewer still will care, but I share for the sake of those who take pleasure in those small moments of discovery. Of not just looking, but really seeing. Thanks for making this such a worthwhile endeavor.

And so. Time to raise a glass, take a breath, and look fearlessly forward. Bring on the next 183!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


#182, Sandymount, Dublin

Sometimes, in order to amuse myself, I imagine that one hundred years from now, in the humble borough called Brooklyn, pilgrims from all over the world will flock to the places immortalized in the songs and stories told by my friends and I. Imagine Bloomsday in Dublin -- where Joyce fans and people who simply like to wear silly Edwardian garb dress up and go from site to site, gathering at the Martello tower in Sandycove where stately, plump Buck Mulligan descended the stairs, or the railway platform where Stephen Dedalus got in a fist fight.

In this alternate universe, music fans toting Balthrop, Alabama CDs will ride the F train to Carroll Street just like in the song; they will disembark at Bar Great Harry with certain as-yet-to-be-finished novels and say, in hushed whispers, "The greats gathered here and drank the Captain Morgan Liquid Gold!" Who knows? Maybe there will be little writerly plaques on the sidewalk outside the Fall Cafe or the Red Hook Pool someday. Posterity's a fickle mistress. I like to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Today's 182 has two additional footnotes: one is, of course, the fact that I am clearly cropping out the final number (bonus points to anyone willing to guess it), which I do entirely without shame. The second concerns a delusion brought about by my own daydreaming, a serious byproduct of much city wandering.

I'd spent that cold January morning in Dublin breathing in sea spray and enjoying a sunny seaside stroll. After noting this beautiful inscription on the door of a Martello tower (pictured here), I circled the rounded structure for a good ten or fifteen minutes, not understanding why it was shut and locked. You see, in all my daydreaming on that coastal road, I had convinced myself that I'd wandered eight miles or so south of where I actually was, far enough to reach the Martello tower featured in the opening scene of Ulysses - now a James Joyce museum. I was utterly puzzled as to the lack of fanfare. I did - after a friend gently questioned the sanity of my sixteen mile amble - realize that I had somehow mistaken Sandymount for Sandycove - one Joycean place for another - and muttered to myself that it was a shame, because I really wanted to write about Joyce for my 182. It turns out the coast has a whole peppering of similar Martello towers, a detail I'd never before noticed. Too into that sea spray, apparently.

But I feel a certain warmth toward the number now, not in spite of, but precisely because of my mistake. Let's only hope those Brooklyn-bound literary pilgrims of the future don't mistake Bar Great Harry for, say, Angry Wade's up the road. There are some diversions worth the error. But trust me. You don't want to miss the draft list and the good people of BGH. Posterity, take note.