Wednesday, September 30, 2009


#273, San Francisco

Oh, California. You've always got so much to say. Since this door leaves little to the imagination about the dweller's political preferences or what breed of animal lurks inside (the oval blue sticker below the 273 says "Wag more, bark less") , I thought it'd be fun to psychoanalyze it for other personality quirks.

Now I'm no expert, but I think you can learn a lot about a person by the design choices they make and choose to share with the world. Notice, for example, how the signs and stickers are lined up: centered and perfectly level, almost in descending order by size, showing a perfectionism not usually seen in the public stickering sphere. Clearly, this person is an obsessive freak, like me. The close juxtaposition of the "Welcome Friends" and "Beware of Dog" might indicate a split personality or indecisive nature. (Or maybe they meant to say "Welcome Dogs" and "Beware of Friends." This is the west coast, after all.)

Even the layout of the numbers points to that so-called rugged individualism San Franciscans are known for. The number plates and typeface are uniform, but here they're sloped to add a bit of visual interest, much like yesterday's slanting 272. I may not have a career in psychoanalysis for buildings, but I do have an armchair degree in speculative architectural nonsense. And trust me, if there's one place in this great country of ours where I could claim this with pride, it's California.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


#272, San Francisco

It was so cold that July afternoon in San Francisco, the numbers put themselves in italics. I found this one on a quiet street in the Mission district in between sound check at the Elbo Room on Valencia and a dinner that consisted of burritos the size of my head. Ever since I first heard American Music Club's album San Francisco, the city -- with its odd combination of cold and California -- has always had a certain degree of romance. An afternoon stroll through San Francisco's chilly, brightly colored streets and improbable doll house houses was just what I needed in the middle of a tour that mostly made up of Arizona desert, crowded vehicles, and hot stage lights. The slopes, the streets, the flower boxes, and the fog: I could get used to this, I thought to myself. Even if it is on that other coast.

Monday, September 28, 2009


#271, Tribeca, NYC

If M.C. Escher collected sea shells, he might have arranged them like this. A gorgeous bit of decorative art over the door of Franklin Towers, a building designed in the first half of the last century by Cross & Cross architects.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


#270, Bruges

It's 30 km to Roeselare, 21 to Lichtervelde, and 270 to Paris from the bell tower in Bruges. It's 366 steps to the top, a feat of exercise I'll never see in the same way ever since watching Martin McDonagh's film In Bruges, about two Irish hit men hiding out in the picturesque Medieval Belgian city. They spend most of the film trying to keep from killing themselves -- or each other -- out of sheer boredom while waiting for instructions for their next job. When they receive news they'll be stuck in Medieval Disneyland for two whole weeks, a trip to the tower seems unavoidable. Or two trips. Or ten.

Climbing the steps of the bell tower is basically the touristy thing to do in this tiny town, and the bunch of overweight American tourists in the movie who announce their intention to climb to the top get a skeptical tongue-lashing from Colin Farrell's character, who is, as Brendan Gleeson's character points out, "about the worst tourist in the whole world." As a backdrop, the tower provides the film with some of its best comic and tragic scenes.

I love it when a city plays a major role in either a movie or a book, when its personality becomes so intertwined with the story that the city itself becomes a main character. I think of Carl Sandburg's Chicago in Harvest Poems, Joyce's Dubliners, or Hemingway's Paris in A Moveable Feast. The authors of these books -- this is also true of McDonagh -- make their cities come to life. We see them, feel them, smell them, and hear them. We see beyond the main tourist attractions and simple set pieces -- though these are often included in the stories -- to the quirks and weaknesses of each place. I love Dublin these days, but after living with the emotionally stifled characters in Joyce's Dubliners for fifteen stories, I sure wouldn't have wanted to see it at the turn of the last century. Chicago's changed since the Sandburg called it the Hog Butcher for the World, but I still imagine it as a place of grit and hard-boiled characters. Chicago, to me, is a man and Paris is a woman. Is it my own experience that makes me think this, or does the writing have something to do with it? Has my view of each place been shaped by what I've read or seen about it?

It's possible to fall in love with a place -- or (ahem, Las Vegas) fear and loathe it -- based on a book, a movie, or even a set of photographs. It's also possible to be reminded of the places we've traveled to, lived in, or loved by revisiting it through another's eyes. Bruges would've been the last place I'd have thought to set a movie about two hit men, but now I'll never be able to think of Bruges without them.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


#269, Henry Street, Brooklyn

Friday, September 25, 2009


#268, New Haven, CT

Gothic fonts are very near and dear to my heart. A childhood fascination with Olde English gradually developed into an out-and-out obsession with the dark and ornate typefaces. In fact, the only thing potentially better than a good Gothy font is the good Gothy font's name. There can only be one Olde English, of course, but plenty of other spin-offs exist and they need names, too. Enter the other playas: English Towne, Lucida Blackletter, Middle Saxony Text, Kingthings Spike, Xenippa, Blackwood Castle, Prince Valiant, Sketched Cassius Broken. Incidentally, I've always longed to use Lucida Blackletter as a nom de plume. With a parade of names like this, I can easily see entire operas being played out. But I do wish I could come up with the perfect name for this lovely Gothic hand-painted font where the number 8 resembles a Pokemon character.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


#267, Broadway, NYC

The city had been in mourning for weeks, and it wasn't done yet. It had been a Friday of black umbrellas and bad nerves, the air humid and heavy with grief. I woke Saturday morning to the cover of The New York Times with the photograph of the lone bugler at ground zero. The newsprint smelled fresh. His dark coat billowed in the wind.

Across the room, the email with the message "Fw: Memorial" was still in my inbox, just where I'd left it. Where else, I wondered, might it have gone? These things, even when you don't see them, they're there. You feel it sure as the humidity, sure as the thick New York cloud cover.

The plan was to meet on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. It hadn't occurred to me to ask for more details. It was simple enough: I was looking for a group of people who were all looking for our friend, who was no longer there. I thought they would all be waiting for me. That we would recognize each other instantly and the stories would start flowing even before we got to the halfway mark into Manhattan, even before the bar on Elizabeth Street on the other side. Of course, there is an awful lot of Brooklyn on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Seeing no one waiting at the entrance on Tillary Street, I headed alone along the sloping walkway, the New York skyline coming into view, starting with The Watchtower and its banner imploring one and all, once more, to Read God's Word Daily. I looked at the Verizon building instead, its red swash of a logo ugly as ever. Already the day was lost to them: words, ads, words. Was there no escape?

Alone in a black raincoat I walked, hood up, the afternoon shrouded in mist. It was fitting, the weather, but this gave me no satisfaction. I marveled, not for the first time, at the tautness of the cables, the efficiency of the bolts and steel girders holding up the bridge, the magnificence of the arches, as I walked toward Manhattan. Tourists posed and snapped pictures, backing into the bike lanes to get just the right angle. I thought of my friend, trying to bring the proper mood into view. I was looking for the right angle to understand the tragedy that had befallen him, he who loved his bicycle and wrote clever haikus and loved this city dearly. I couldn't feel it, only observe the thoughts that flitted across my viewfinder. I was a tourist unto my own grief.

Broadway was awash in rain and grime, City Hall a dim mirage. I remembered the Julian Opie installation that had been on the steps some years back, orange LED people walking as if on an electronic treadmill. I'd smiled last winter when I'd spotted more of the light-people installed on O'Connell Street in Dublin, the last of them hula-hooping insouciantly outside the Hugh Lane Gallery. The ghosts were more real than the people. I didn't mind. The ghosts were good company.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


#266, Midtown, NYC

The concept of sister cities is one that intrigues yet eludes me. The famous U.S. twin cities -- St. Paul and Minnesota -- make sense; they're both major metropolitan centers who happen to be situated on the union of the Mississippi, Minnesota, and St. Croix Rivers. They're equal in size, geographically close, and they're midwestern, so they're very nice and excessive rivalry doesn't seem to be much of a problem.

My hometown, on the other hand, has for years claimed a specious connection as sister city to Termini Imerese in Italy, though I've always been curious how this was ever decided. One has a patch of land populated with live elk; the other ancient aqueducts. One's close to Chicago; the other borders Palermo. I'm pretty darn sure you can get pizza in both places, but beyond that, the bond, to my mind, remains fuzzy. But no matter. If one city wants to befriend or adopt another, far be it for me to say no.

Today's number is the typographical complement to yesterday's Montanian 265, with a dash of good old New York urban decay thrown in for good measure. Places have declared themselves sister cities on less evidence than this. So today, I'm declaring Manhattan and Missoula honorary siblings, and let's see how many people I can unite, insult, or just plain baffle.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


#265, Missoula, Montana

Missoula's enduring memory may prove to be the ecstatic hootenanny Balthrop, Alabama stirred up at the Badlander, but I did enjoy a pre-gig sunset stroll through the streets of this eclectic Montana town, hunting for numbers and adeptly avoiding a fight that had broken out across the street between two shaggy, heavily intoxicated citizens. Undeterred by the fisticuffs and spurred on by the buzz from a free PBR tall boy combined with an empty stomach, I hit the town.

Cities set within beautiful natural settings always come attached with a strange longing. You understand what the town planners were thinking, setting up shop in a valley surrounded by golden foothills and the Wild West's famed big sky. Yet there's something that doesn't quite fit about it. Nature, with its fragrant pine trees and lurid pink horizons, always seems to win out over our pithy contributions of traffic lights, restaurants, banks, and slipshod convenience stores. I tend to be either all city mouse or all country mouse: give me skyscrapers or give me grain silos. So Missoula, with its purple-mountain-majesty-obscured-by-parking-garage vistas, took a little getting used to.

There was a lovely and incongruous Art Deco auto/body shop not far from the venue that alas, yielded no numbers, but it did lead me around the block to where this simple but classy 265 was waiting for me. It turns out that the 265 has an East Coast twin. Tune in tomorrow for a typographical double take.

Monday, September 21, 2009


#264, Chelsea, NYC

Let me get this straight. You're given a doorway like this -- elegant and ornate, dripping with color and Baroque charm, a veritable jewel of a building on a quiet side street in Chelsea -- and you stick faux gold hardware store numbers over your door? I won't deny the utilitarianism of the Peel N' Stick numerals (ahem, see #263), but seriously. Enough is enough. Back of the class, 264. For shame.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009


#262, New Haven, CT

Friday, September 18, 2009


#261, Broadway, NYC

Thursday, September 17, 2009


#260, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

It's slanted; I'm enchanted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


#259, Chelsea, NYC

Like any writer on an assignment, I fluctuate between moments of artistic inspiration and moments of stultifying inertia as I strive to keep the momentum going. I take pride in my daily parade of 365 numbers. I tend to them as carefully as I can, adding water and sunlight when needed and withholding when appropriate. As writerly quests go, it's hardly Bill Bryson trekking the Appalachian Trial or a trip round Ireland with a fridge, but as it is, it's my own little cross to bear, teeny splinters and all. I don't like to draw attention to the splinters, but at times, when the pitying accompaniment of the world's smallest violin grows too loud in my own head, it becomes too much too bear alone.

After 258 nearly drove me to the neurologist, I've had all the signs of hitting a slump. Oh, what the hell, I think. I'll Google "259" and see what comes up. I scan with hopeful interest Wikipedia's two pages on 259 (yes, there are two), and while I briefly consider the entertainment value of riffing on the fact that 259 is equal to negative 379 in the Burmese calendar, I realize even the zany Mr. Wiki is not providing me with enough historical, architectural, or comic fodder to fuel an entire entry.

Undeterred, I Google "259 numerology" to see what bubbles to the surface. My reward is not instant. I click and I scroll, I weigh and deliberate. But then, my sharp eye roaming the dark inner depths of the internet's famed series of tubes, I hit the jackpot. I happen upon a numerology site that is so far gone into the realm of the illogical that I am captivated. It is a site that associates, dictionary-style, certain words or phrases with each number, ranging from 1 all the way up to 2538 (with gaps and curious omissions therein). 1=creation. 2=mirror. And so on. Only it's not so simple. Most numbers have entire lists. And the lists, gentle readers, are glorious.

Crackpot theories, in and of themselves, are not particularly fascinating to me. It's very easy to dismiss and laugh at another's belief system, and frankly, I'm not into that sort of thing. What I am into, however, is a good round of absurdity chased down with a shot of flabbergasting lexical gymnastics. A few examples from the curious numerology site, taken at random:
85: Diversity, Writer, New Tools, Sacred Oil, Divine, Reckless Path, Red/black Specks, Nuhwhrlaha, Virgo, Confidence, Happiness, Cool Man Cool, Molybdenum, Atomic Japan, Know it All

170: Creativity, Synchronicity, Attribute, Belly button, John Wilkes Booth, Necronomicon, The order & value

190: Responsibility, Two head are better than one, Inventive New Myths, Nothing, Babe of the Abyss, Circuit Board, Great Britain, Tryptamines

194: Of course I will love, Stephen Hawkings
True, one person's treasure is another's overflowing spam box, but I found these interpretations hard to resist. But sadly, after all of my strenuous research, I found that the space for 259 was left blank. Blank! And so I'm entrusting it to you, my dear readers and fellow lovers of absurd word games, to come up with your own list of word associations to match the mysterious number 259. Ready? Set? Go. The Babe of the Abyss awaits your reply.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


#258, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Because some days, this is what living in the city feels like.

Not to cast aspersions on A. Mesh, MD, but there is so much wrong with this image. The sign is poorly designed. Spaces between letters and commas are chaotic. Letters and words are squished rudely together. I feel a headache and urgent need to attend the pain clinic simply from looking at this. It's recycling day, or maybe it isn't. The "this side up" arrow is pointing sideways. The garbage cans are all clustered together, crowding like harassed commuters on the rush hour subway.

I searched in vain for weeks for a 258 that would please the eye, only to find a vortex on every block that showed promise: a garden here, a church there, a school that takes up half a city block in every space where a 258 should be. Infinite possibilities turned to dead ends, false leads, frustrations, which in turn led me circling back to this every time. Broken-down boxes and dregs of city living. Neurology, headache, pain clinic. I think there is a message in this.

Because some days, this is what living in the city feels like.

Monday, September 14, 2009


#257, Venice, Italy

Because good things come in threes, here's one more red stencil to add to the past weekend's collection. We're back, once again, with the Venetian style of red-painted-on-white, this time with a bit of a wonky angle to keep things interesting. The asymmetry of this one appeals to me, as do the layered states of decay. But enough about the elegant decay of Venice. Let's go to where the action is. Follow me, won't you, a few hundred miles away from the lagoons of northern Italy and the lulling waters of the Adriatic Sea to a lively volcano town near the coastline known as Naples.

San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, is much beloved among Italians and Italian-Americans. Not only is a vial of his 1,700 year old blood said to reliquify several times a year, but he's got a feast day that's become one of New York City's biggest blow-outs. Officially, San Gennaro's feast day falls on September 19th, but like all good holidays, it's been commercialized beyond logical comprehension and stretched out over eleven luxurious days.

The San Gennaro festival is still bringing its tradition of cannoli, carnival, and the not-to-be-missed (and oh-so-Catholic) fried Oreos to Little Italy through September 20th. So if you're in New York and haven't gotten your fill this year of religious figurines and frozen daquiris served up in plastic cups the shape and size of a femur, now's your chance. If you do go on Saturday, the feast day itself, you can partake of the parade and watch the statue of the saint be paraded up and down Mulberry Street from his home in the Church of the Most Precious Blood. You can probably also dunk a clown for a mere few dollars, if past years are any indicator.

And skeptics, trust me on the fried Oreos. Unsatisfied after one? Sickened at the prospect of a half dozen? You'll still walk home with a brown paper bag chock full of grease and powdered sugar, which you can wash down with a king-sized sugar-laden vaguely liquor-laced beverage of choice while singing along to the latest bad Italian pop song being blared from a sausage vendor's half-busted PA. Who says Catholics don't know how to have fun?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009


#255, Smith Street, Brooklyn

The late, great Patois restaurant once resided here; now it's another vacant Smith Street storefront awaiting further instructions. I miss the fluffy slices of French toast, the lazy weekend brunches, and the way my hair and clothes would always smell like smoke after sitting at a table near the fireplaces in the winter.

Friday, September 11, 2009


#254, East Village, NYC

The search for beauty in senselessness. The need for something brave, stupid, astonishing, and full of love when it matters most. August 7, 1974: why not turn our minds, if only for a moment, to what happened on that day in lower Manhattan, to when Philippe Petit committed an act of impossible grace: he put a rope between two towers that he loved and went for a walk.
"There is no why," he said. 'When I see three oranges, I juggle. When I see two towers, I walk."
You can read Michael Bierut's beautiful piece on the documentary Man on Wire here. You can rent the film most anywhere. But you don't need a DVD to do something senselessly beautiful today. There is no why. Just how.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


#253, Midtown, NYC

They predicted rain; it didn't rain. There was no reason not to do what I did, which was walk through the streets of Manhattan for four hours. No music, though I could have listened to music. No reading on the subway, because I wanted to pay attention. What am I paying attention for? What is it that I am waiting to hear? Of all the days I actually wanted to see Dr. Zizmor and his demonic rainbow and promises of clear skin above the subway doors, and I didn't. Fall half-asleep on the A train waiting for my stop, which could be anywhere. The rush hour lullaby of New York City: stand clear of the closing doors, please.

Why walk for four hours? The east side was giving me no love. The color-stripped, flaking drag of 1st Ave was like a bad dream I've had before; Stuyvesant Square's bright color an improbable piece of taffy. So I walk to the west side, where at least I know I could end up near the high line. I traverse the city on 18th Street for no real reason. I could have chosen 17th or 2nd and it would have been the same. The best recipe for grief is sheer exhaustion. Is the city real? Am I? Are you? Stay away from those thoughts, those abstractions: it's a bad neighborhood. The only thing left to do when you get to 8th Avenue is cross 8th Avenue. That's it. There's nothing more to be done.

Why avoid that street in favor of another? Remember the days when underground, you used to hate the watchful eye mosaics at the Chambers Street stop. Whenever the train pulled into the station, for months, you had to look away. Today you pause at each bike lane as if at a station of the cross. Do you pray to remember or do you pray because you are afraid? Traffic goes by; it pays you no mind. That girl is waiting for you to step out of her line of sight so she can hail her taxi and hit uptown. You smell the shish kabob cart's offerings, listen to its sizzle. Everyone is in such a hurry.

Look up. The answers aren't there, but there is a sign for a bakery with a painted cupcake. There is a glass-fronted condominium you can't imagine who will live in. To look up and not ask why, but only remark, if anyone should ask what's on your mind: I was not expecting sun today.
--For Eliseo

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


#252, Smith Street, Brooklyn

Call me civic-minded, call me Zen, but there's something about the transient nature of chalk graffiti that appeals to my sensibilities. I've written before about my enduring crush on Ellis G., the street artist who patrols the streets of Brooklyn at unknown hours, drawing beautiful chalk outlines around fire hydrants, street lamps, and bicycle wheels, giving the shadows of everyday objects an odd luminosity. But a few months ago, in a little alcove on Smith Street that was seemingly unloved and abandoned, I was intrigued when this (non-Ellis G.) message appeared on a doorway.

My head filled with questions: Who is the couple? Do they still live there or have they been evicted? Why has the wind and the weather beaten them so, and does that have anything to do with the dismal state of the buzzer? And, of course, the next obvious question that comes to mind: Who the heck is ELBOWTOE?

Street artists can be a notoriously canny lot. Some seek attention; others do their work on the sly. But this one, shall we say, toes the line between the two. So just for fun, I've compiled a list of little-known facts about the elusive Elbow-Toe, just in case you were wondering about the, er, face behind the rest of the anatomy.

1. Yes, the name was inspired by the ubiquitous Neck Face. Yes, he knows it's absurd.
2. By day, Elbow-Toe works as a senior programmer. He probably uses his real name.
3. He used the word "echelon" in an interview.
4. He works in other media: chalk, charcoal, paper, paste-ups, woodcuts, ink.
5. Elbow-Toe likes doorways and alcoves because of how they frame his work.
6. He does his art in Brooklyn mostly because he claims he's too lazy to go to Manhattan. (It happens.)
7. Elbow-Toe listens to Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart.

Hardly exhaustive, but we don't want to give away all the mystique, right? Till then, it's got me thinking of other possible monikers that might pepper the neighborhood walls and sidewalks someday. But between you and me, I don't think I'm ready for the wisdom of Waist Foot.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


#251, South Street Seaport, NYC

Once, in a New York City not so long ago, the Fulton Fish Market actually resided on Fulton Street and the South Street Seaport smelled like a proper seaport. That area on the east side of Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge has been stripped of some of its character and sanitized over the years, but vestiges of the old character remain if you know where to look. This brick and terra cotta beauty on Water Street has been holding steady in the same location since it was built in 1888. The Italianate decoration above the door is decorative without being fussy, and the lettering above the door is both quirky and dignified. The uneven spaces between the letters bear the marks of being hand-crafted, and check out the reverse umlauts underneath the No.

One of my favorite books, my desert island book (especially if the desert in question is Manhattan), pays homage to the old Fulton Fish Market. It's called Up in the Old Hotel and it's by Joseph Mitchell, one of the most gifted reporters of the sights, sounds, smells, and characters that made up New York City around the middle of the last century. I know I just described Nabokov as having prose so good you could eat it with a spoon. Mitchell is what happens when you're scouring the very bottom of the newspaper that held your fish and chips, scooping up the salt and vinegar, hungry for more. Finger-lickin' good is what it is. But don't take my word for it. Have a taste:
Every now and then, seeking to rid my mind of thoughts of death and doom, I get up early and go down to Fulton Fish Market. I usually arrive around five-thirty, and take a walk through the two huge open-fronted market sheds, the Old Market and the New Market, whose fronts rest on South Street and whose backs rest on piles in the East River. At that time, a little while before the trading begins, the stands in the sheds are heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and half a dozen foreign countries. The smoky riverbank dawn, the racket the fishmongers make, the seaweedy smell, and the sight of this plentifulness always gives me a feeling of well-being, and sometimes they elate me. I wander among the stands for an hour or so. Then I go into a cheerful market restaurant named Sloppy Louie's and eat a big, inexpensive, invigorating breakfast -- a kippered herring and scrambled eggs, or a shad-roe omelet, or split sea scallops and bacon, or some other breakfast specialty of the place.
It's delicious. When I read the essays in this book, an old, would-be forgotten New York comes to full-bodied life. Never mind the fact I'd spit out a kippered herring if you plopped one on my plate. It's prose, dammit, so I can have all that I want.

The Fulton Fish Market still exists, only it's in the Bronx now. It moved there in 2005 and still functions. About a year ago, in honor of Joseph Mitchell's centenary, the New York Times ran a piece about "Up in the Old Hotel", the essay in the book of the same name that pays homage to all things fishy and seaporty. So you can imagine my delight at spotting, in the sidebar of the article, a black-and-white photograph of the author himself leaning in a doorway, looking dapper and attentive. The doorway? No. 251 Water Street. You can check it out here. Hungry for more? Get the book. Bring napkins.

Monday, September 7, 2009


#250, Greenwich Village, NYC

Earlier this year, I was reading the paper in a musty hotel bar in Dublin when I got the news that Patrick McGoohan, the star of the 60's television show The Prisoner, had passed away. I've never been a big television watcher, but reruns of M*A*S*H and DVDs of The Prisoner are my two exceptions, so I was sad to hear of his passing.

The concept behind The Prisoner, for those of you who've never seen it, is vaguely Orwellian. "The Prisoner" in question, played by McGoohan, is a sports-car driving man-about-town who finds himself, after resigning from an undisclosed business/company/agency, subjected to poison gas by a man in a top hat in his flat in London. When he wakes up, he finds he's trapped in a creepily idyllic town known only as The Village. The dress code is mod meets French 60's films meets Disney: lots of primary colors, stripes, and capes. Instead of names, everyone is assigned a number. McGoohan, though he rails against it, is known in The Village as Number Six.

It's hard for me to say I'm going to Greenwich Village, AKA "The Village," without thinking of The Prisoner. Even as I type it, it's on my mind. And as I look at the backdrop to this 250, the bright spot of sunlight reflected here in a Mercer Street window transforms itself into the Rover, the giant white bubble that acts as border patrol for The Village. Try to escape, and the Rover will bump, roll, bounce, and track you down, then envelop you in its outer membrane. In other words, you're toast. Looks like I'll be stuck in The Village for awhile.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


#249, Venice, Italy

Because Venetian building numbers are so uniform -- the red stencil/white oval that you see here is standard throughout most of the city -- searching for numbers in Venice quickly became about finding unusual settings more than seeking out numbers themselves. Here, the rolling font of the shop sign caught my eye. These vowels don't have serifs: they are full-blown freaks of nature with tails. And what's up with the half-inverted quotation mark? Something pagan must be afoot here, I thought to myself before slinking off to imbibe more vino.

The shop fronts of Italy, with their well-designed (if cryptic) signs, are a joy to take in and photograph. But striving to capture the signs of Venice came with its own price. While few things in this world freak me out more than a cart full of clown paraphernalia, I was S-O-L in this carnival-loving city. Clown and mannequin crap was at every turn. I had little choice here but to leave a vestige of this shop-window intact, weeping porcelain mask and all.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


#248, New Haven, CT

Labor Day weekend is upon us, that harbinger of fall, giver of picnics, and definitive nail in the coffin of summer. The annual emptying-out of New York City has already begun, as urbanites with more money and plan-making ability than I escape the daily grind and flock to greener pastures for the last weekend of summer. Since I plan to spend the weekend here in the city hunkering down to get some serious work done on my novel, I can think of no better figure to evoke than this book-reading contortionist. Not only is he smart (he's a Yale man), doubtless we'll be suffering some of the same eyestrain, mental exertion, physical aches and pains, and moments of occasional beauty as we devote ourselves to our senseless labors of love. I think I'm in good company. Wish us luck, and have a good weekend yourself.

Friday, September 4, 2009


#247, Lafayette Street, NYC

You have to imagine the slash, but 24/7 seems a pretty fitting number for a firehouse.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


#246, Tucson, AZ

It's a sad fact of modern life that in nine bands out of ten, the band sticker will outlive the band. Think about it. How many times have you ventured into a venue, strolled over to the bar, and noticed the legion of band stickers plastering the black plywood sound booth? It goes without saying that nearly all the names are for bands you've never heard of: Ninjas Who Met God. Wax Fang. The Suicide Instigators.

Vandalism aside a moment, there's something heroic in it, a tragicomic element to the endless trail of bands who were never big enough to even be forgotten, their clever names overlooked night after night for years, their website addresses dismissed, their industrial strength adhesives enduring far longer than the band itself.

The impulse to stick band stickers on walls: I've never had it, but for years I've been an avid recorder of it. This particular sticker, clearly more transitory than the indoor sound booth variety, was an accidental element to the 246. I didn't even notice it until looking over the photo again. It's tiny, but you can see the shape of the traditional eye chart. It's for Dilated Peoples, an underground hip-hop group based out of California. They're still around. Who knows? Maybe the Dilated Peoples, clinging ardently to a variegated wall in Tucson, will be one of the brave few to outstick the band sticker.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


#245, East Village, NYC

Vladimir Nabokov, whose prose I could eat with a spoon, had more than a way with words. He also had an odd perceptual knack when it came to the alphabet. In his memoir, Speak, Memory, Nabokov describes his experience, as a child, of looking at particular letters: "Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl." The phenomenon, grapheme-color synesthesia, occurs when a person perceives letters or numbers as having certain colors. It's one of those gifts, like perfect pitch, that you either have or you don't. I don't, though if you want to see something that's going to mess with your head, check out this picture.

But let me revise that last thought. Just because I don't have perfect pitch doesn't mean I can't recognize when a note is out of tune; similarly, just because I don't have grapheme-color synesthesia doesn't mean I can't recognize when a number's color is "off." I almost didn't want to post today's number. Why? Because the color brown is wrong. It is so wrong for this 245 that it makes me itch. What's up with that?

In the same vein, I've seen examples of text whose appearance goes against their meaning but doesn't bother me at all. A company with a fleet based in my hometown, the Yellow trucking company, has a logo with the word "Yellow" set against an orange background, the sight of which pleases me immensely.

It seems my wanna-be synesthesia only responds in the negative. I don't walk around seeing indigo-colored 4's unprompted. But I could be a quality control inspector for this stuff. I'd give green 87's the thumbs-up and boot off the assembly line red 50's and yellow 185's. But, like many of my other skills (inventing vampire jokes on the spot, for one), there doesn't seem to be much demand for it. Alas.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


#244, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn