Date: October 21
Time: Around 2:58 p.m.
Location: Columbus Park, walking southwest.
Weather: Agreeably warm, but cooler, cloudier.
Background: After sitting for thirty minutes, we started walking west, southwest, around the park’s southern perimeter. Sounds of the park changed; it grew quieter. We passed the soccer field on the sidewalk, outside the park, and reentered the park in “the middle” near the Comfort Station. The following information about the history of the park appears on a New York City Parks sign:
Columbus Park was named in 1911 after Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), the Italian explorer credited with discovering American [sic], or at least with awakening Europe to the opportunities available there. Bounded by Baxter (formerly Orange), Worth (formerly Anthony), Bayard, and Mulberry Streets, the site has alternatively been named Mulberry Bend Park, Five Points Park, and Paradise Park. Situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in Manhattan, adjacent to the infamous “Five Points” and “The Bend,” Columbus Park stands at the crossroads of the history and culture of New York City.
Until 1808, the swampy area was near the Collect Pond (now Foley Square) and hosted a set of tanneries. In 1808, the pond was filled and became Pearl Street. When the filling began to sink, the odor became foul and the buildings depressed. As a consequence, the area became host to one of the most notorious tenements, known for its wretched living conditions and rampant crime, earning such nicknames as “murderer’s alley” and “den of thieves.”
In 1842, on a visit to United States, English author Charles Dickens made sure to visit the notorious Five Points, and he wrote about it in his American Notes in the most detestable terms. He described it as “reeking everywhere with dirt and filth,” concluding that “all that is loathesome [sic], dropping and decayed is here.” But it was in the 1890s, when plans for the construction of a park were already underway, that the area’s notoriety achieved new heights. Danish newspaperman, Jacob Riis devoted an entire chapter of his epic How the Other Half Lives to “The Bend,” detailing the “foul core of New York’s slums.” He likened the filth and dearth of sunlight to a “vast human pig-sty,” claiming that “There is but one ‘Bend’ in the world, and that is enough.”
Transcript of events observed while in transit through the park:
Dictation: Moving. Someone sleeping. No skateboarding, no dogs allowed, quieter around western flank of park, more poker, five or seven card stud, more poker. Girls coed soccer, many men sleeping on the ground, artificial turf, luxury high rise to the left, Chinese style architecture across the field, sun falling behind City Hall, young wealthy looking attractive women playing soccer with middle aged men, basketball, volleyball all in sight. Talent level of soccer game is average, below-average.
Dictation: Old Chinese man counting hundreds if not thousands of dollars of cash at the edge of the field. Tiny baby shoes tied to grocery cart, soccer ball came off cart to me, kicked back to game. Thousands of dollars of cash, the Lewis J. Lefkowitz something building, criminal courts building, small bamboo garden. Discarded blue rubber glove. Please curb your dog. Cosmos elisum elisum.
Writer: “Justice is the firm and continuous desire to render to every man his due.”
Dictation: Green streets. Chinese man eating fried chicken out of a bag. Discarded Dunkin Donuts bag. Discarded pack of shanghai tobacco, 8 mg of tobacco, expensive looking. No fumar dentro del parque.
Dictation: Walking south, nearing Hogan Place, shot misses the goal wide, attractive women playing soccer with below-average looking men. Please do not spit in the garden. Please do not through cigarette butts in the garden. Iris hollyhock. Strawberry daiquiri dogwood. Cornus alba. 80 Centre Street, delivery only. Hogan and Baxter.
Dictation: After 30th birthday, stealing police cones after drunken birthday party. Undetected by police despite immediate proximity of same. Chinese man attempts to dunk, resorts to layup. Indian family with children, park closes at dusk. Worth Street.
Photographer: “Adventurous pregnant woman attempts to use restroom.”
Dictation: Nikita catnip. Burkwood verburnum. Speckled bird. Comfort station, more Chinese board games, drinking fountain, woman raises water to mouth from hand, sound of drinking fountain, water sprayed all over face. White couple arguing about nutritional value of food for children. No dogs allowed. One urinal, one toilet, flooded, water everywhere. Sounds of urinating into urinal. Sign: playground rules prohibit adults except in the company of children. More photographers.
Photographer: “They give us free ultrasounds, Tidbit was playing with the cord, doing flips.
Artist: “Are you guys going to find out what gender?
Writer: “Yes, definitely.”
Photographer: “Decreases name choices by 50 percent.”
Artist: “When is next ultrasound?”
Photographer: “December: when we find out whether it’s a boy or a girl.”
Dictation: Document everything that’s written. Sign: park closes at dusk. Facts are important, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse, Worth and Baxter, parameters of the park, our subjective experience exists within this. The insignia of the park, one of the maple leafs. Mambo Italiana, Chinatown Little Italy historic district, close to the historic 5 points.
Dictation: Dwarf Russian spire. Shasta daisy. Gangs of New York. The Bloody Angle. Gladiolas. Sunflower. Foxglove. Heucrea. Amsonia. End of Mulberry Street. True light Lutheran Street. Chatham Towers, 180 Park Row, the Verizon Building, from southern most corner of park. Chinese Wah Leh Funeral Home, 212-962-2230. Funeral Service Parking Only. 914-850-1776 apartments for rent.
Dictation: Fake sunflower pinned to a real sunflower. Brighton Florists Inc. 24 Mulberry Street, all occasions, we deliver. Wah Wing Sang Funeral Corp, 26 Mulberry. Mosco Street. Verbal aural sounds like Moscow. Chopped down bamboo stalks, rhododendron, stop the noise.
Dictation: Mosco and Mulberry, Bangkok Center grocery with Thai characters, Sam’s traditional style deli, breakfast, lunch, sorry we’re closed. 21st Century art in beer bottle form, the new Heinieken star bottle.
Artist: “Check this out.” [Crossing Mulberry Street]. “Those are paper or very cheap fabric shirts, paper tie, paper phones, fake cigarettes, offerings you burn for ancestors.”
Dictation: paper house, paper yacht, paper iPad, paper sushi, rip off Covaltine Ovaltine, paper TV, 3d glasses, phone, Marlberough, pomade, toothpaste translated into Black Man toothpaste, Gaoji toothpaste with black man with top hat and red bowtie. Entire store for funerals, paper beer, paper Heiokein [goes into store on intersection of Mulberry and Mosco Streets].
Dictation: Hell bank notes, to keep your ancestors out of hell, you burn them, paper chocolate, paper laptop, Chanel bag, paper wine, paper dollhouse, BMWs, paper roast pig, a real cactus, says thank you to storekeepers.
Writer: “Fifty-six minutes.” [All three reenter park and continue walking].
(This is part 2 of a nine part series. To read the Third Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Chinatown click here.)