Date: August 14 (“Captain’s log: supplemental.”)
Time: Around 5:30 p.m.
Location: L Train en route to Grand Central Station, the stairs, Grand Concourse, and finally the Campbell Apartment.
Background: After an interesting, if largely uneventful morning Attempt, we decided to schedule our next encounter for the evening rush hour. Both Attemptors worked a full day and reconvened in the station at the appointed hour. On the L train, I observed an enormous woman eating an entire fried chicken, while periodically handing pieces to her son (or some small child within her care). The other riders of the train did not seem interested in the woman eating an entire fried chicken, casually, on an extremely cramped train full of several hundred people.
Dictation: Began the Evening Attempt at 5:32 PM on the L train platform at 14th Street and 8th Avenue. The train filled up quickly, waited several minutes before leaving. Proceeded two stops to Union Square – 14th Street, where transferred to the uptown 4 Train. [“Ladies and Gentleen we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us.”] Sound of air conditioning in the train. Sound of rails grinding through Union Square. Sounds of foreign conversation. Coughing. Sounds fade. More coughing. Distant sound of trains on rails.
Dictation: [Intercom: “We are experiencing delays on the number 4, 5 Train service due to a stalled train at 68th street. At this time, that train has resumed service. Delays remain.” Waiting. Waiting several minutes. Coughing. Waiting. Eight minutes later, waiting on the train. Man (or possibly self) clears throat. Overhead: “This is Grand Central, 42nd Street, Connections to. . .[fades] This is a Bronx bound 4 Express Train. The next stop is. . .[fades].”
Dictation: Entering Grand Concourse at 5:48 p.m. Much much more crowded. Hundreds of people in all directions. Ten times as many people as the the morning. Several thousand people, maybe, most of whom are standing around, looking at things, taking pictures, and some who are actually commuting. Finally spotting co-Attemptor under the flag.
Writer: It’s crazy!
Artist: Yes, it’s crazy! How’s it going?
Writer: Good, good. The 4 Train had major delays.
Artist: Me too.
Writer: This is wild. I’m really glad we’re doing an afternoon attempt. Ten times as many people, easily. Time is 5:53 p.m.
Artist: A lot of tourists. Lot of people taking pictures.
Writers: Lot of people lounging around waiting for trains.
Artist: The light is pretty much the same.
Writer: Old friends, lovers being reunited.
Artist: Check out the Tom Wolfe looking character.
Dictation: Man in seersucker suit. May actually be Tom Wolfe. Visible signs of reverse commuters.
Writer: Look at that older Russian beauty in the middle, taking selfies. She would be great if I could zoom in with this. The zoom with this is no good, though.
Artist: It’s impossible to portray this many people.
Writer: Try capturing the motion.
Dictation: Lots of people taking pictures of themselves with the Concourse in the background. Foreign voices in the background.
Writer: Just got a text about our apartent. Don’t know how anyone has our number, though, since the craiglist ad only had my email.
Artist: You already found a subletter?
Writer: Yeah, the first people.
Artist: Well, it’s a great spot.
Writer: I told some of my coworkers today about Burlington. They were shocked. One said: “That’s where social lives go to die.” Another predicted that we would be hippies within a month.
Artist: What’s wrong with that?
Dictation: Balance of people seems much more dense in the northeast side of the station. Guy sitting in the corner with his mac laptop open. Keep wondering if we will see someone we know. Well dressed Asian man with circular spectacles. Very stylish. Very stylish.
Artist: Not in a rush.
Writer: Tourists in hats, carrying Hershey’s bags.
Artist: Isn’t the Hershey’s thing in Pennsylvania?
Writer: Probably a big chocolate store in Times Square.
Artist: Definitely more people enjoying the balcony.
Writer: Way more people taking pictures of everything.
Dictation: Woman pushing an empty stroller. Father carrying the baby.
Artist: Check this guy out.
Writer: The guy with the green shirt?
Artist: Check out the old Russian beauty. She’s waiting for someone.
Writer: Why would she be taking pictures of herself while waiting?
Artist: She could be very vain.
Writer: Or she could be notifying the person about what she’s wearing. Taking pictures and sending them to the person she’s going to meet.
Artist: Or she’s a mail-order bride.
Writer: Right. We obviously have no idea if she’s even Russian. I’m not even sure why I assumed that she was. She just looked—she’s not dressed like an American woman of that age, a certain age.
Artist: I get the Russian idea there. She could definitely be Russian. She’s Eastern European for sure.
Dictation: The “Russian” woman is wearing a peach-colored dress down to her thighs, low neckline, anxiously scanning the crowd. [Overhead: gameday service to Yankee Stadium. . .]
Artist: More people at the Apple store. Bad sales I bet, but good marketing scheme.
Writer: Yes, everybody sees the Apple every day. There are more people sitting on the stairs now. I’m going to try to get a picture of her. [Descends into concourse.]
Dictation: Sounds of foreign language, undeterminable. “Sorry,” bumps into someone. Returns from the crowd up the staircase.
Writer: I got her, but it’s not the same. Her sense of stability in the midst of the crowd is what’s interesting. She’s stationary like everybody else. If you watch her while everyone moves past her, her anxiety is more palpable.
Artist: I think that’s what’s most amazing about this. There are one ore two points that stay absolutely still, while everything else keeps moving.
Writer: Yeah. Because, over on this side, it’s a larger crowd, it’s stationary, but there aren’t as any people right in the middle, people who said let’s meet under the clock.
Artist: Like these people over here. I hope we get to see who’s meeting her.
Dictation: MTA workers waving goodbye to each other for the day. Three N.Y.P.D. officers walking toward the west balcony. Telling a kid he can’t sit there. “Hey, you can’t sit here.” “Fine,” he says.
Artist: I wonder if we can stand here.
Dictation: Russian woman looks anxiously over the crowd. N.Y.P.D. walks past us showing no apparent concern. Because we look like all the other tourists. Taking pictures.
Artist: We could be tourists.
Writer: Much more anxiety about meeting people. There’s no large scale visible sign about which trains are here and which are not. Hard to say which have arrived.
Artist: There’s no sense of people arriving. A sense of people waiting. The people standing in the middle are definitely waiting for someone, not waiting to leave. They’re waiting by the information booth, the main spot.
Writer: People on the periphery are waiting to leave, people who are out of the way. Couple people on cell phones, but not many, as if you wouldn’t be able to reach them because they’re under the tunnels.
Artist: What tunnels do these trains go through?
Writer: New Haven Line follows Park and exits at 99th street on Park Avenue. Runs above ground to 125 street where it stops.
Artist: Lot of interesting age groups.
Dictation: Different ethnicities. Fewer men in suits. More casually dressed in the afternoon. Man wearing a Diadora soccer jacket. Man carrying an Italian newspaper. Russian woman still waiting, been waiting 15 minutes or more. Probably 48 years old. Checking her phone again. Middle aged man carrying a satchel with one hand, a newspaper with another, light blue shirt tucked in. Blonde European dad with blonde European children tourists. Positive energy. The anxiety is in the waiting, but the people coming through don’t mind.
Writer: Should we check out Campbell Apartment?
Artist: Yeah, it’s only 6:09. Where’s our woman?
Writer: She’s still there. [Overhead: “Any unattended items will be . . .”] Light’s coming in a little bit more now. Must be a Yankees game tonight. Check that out. [Points over the crowd.] Three escalators coming down, one going out, inverse of this morning. Oh, whoa, there he is!
Artist: Oh, hey!
Writer: Same guy. All day. Still itching. Looking at the escalators. Our hallucinatory friend from this morning.
Artist: For that picture, I also have this picture.
Writer: Man in a flag of some kind.
Artist: Seems to be a Northern European tennis convention. Oh, wow. It’s a convention of some kind, right here in the station.
Writer: Some kind of tourist convention of teenage or young 20 somethings.
Artist: Did you say Teenage Mutant Ninja Twenty Somethings?
Writer: [Laughter.] How crazy is it that the homeless guy showed up twice?
Dication: First sign of continuity in the day. Lost sight of Russian lady. Milling around near the clock. 6:13 p.m. No sign of our friend waiting for her lover. Young European group is yelling. Large pregnant woman in green dress.
Artist: That guy looks like he’s from an English boarding school. Or maybe a Dutch boarding school. From the 1950s.
Writer: Pixelated harp on a t-shirt. Woman holding up her nose with a finger.
Dictation: [Overheard: “Look out!”]
Writer: [Smell of french fries.] Have you noticed the lack of smells?
Artist: There’s a piece of paper on the floor.
Writer: It’s so clean here. For how many people are coming through every day.
Artist: The paper says, “Concierge at 15 Central Park West.”
Writer: Reunited! An old friend.
Artist: Maybe a sister?
Dication: [Watching the Russian lady with her friend]. The moment of hugging. An old friend.
Artist: Or a sister. They could be sisters. We were right here for it. Twenty feet away.
Writer: It was perfect. So much happening in transit.
Artist: What was that woman’s sign?
Writer: I wasn’t sure. The sign said “New York City agent for Canada.” I gave her a thumbs up and she gave me one in return.
Artist: Some dust, some crumbs. All pushed to the side. That’s how the floor is so clean. “Protruding nail shall be hammered into place.”
Writer: [Laughter.] Chinese proverb.
Dictation: Woman walking by with leopard print dress and Engel and Vocher German publishing tote. Woman with mushroom tatooed onto her left shoulder.
Artist: There are a lot of publishers around here.
Writer: Yeah. Scribners is around here.
Dictation: Woman with dreadlocks using a cane.
Artist: Doesn’t look like she neeeds it.
Dictation: Three women using canes in the middle of Grand Central. Proceeding, using their canes. Couple pushing baby in a stroller. More and more women with canes.
Artist: Should we view the scene from the Apartment?
Dictation: Disgruntled looking obese man in a pink shirt with a blue tie. Soldiers in camo with sidearms under the American flag. Blind woman proceeding into Lexington Avenue tunnel. Two young men carrying skateboards.
Artist: I don’t think they were fully blind. Restricted visual fields, maybe. Imagine having a significant visual impairment and trying to meet someone here. Maybe they were tapping their canes as a signal, to meet each other.
Writer: Right, right. Incredible. I love the people who are visibly waiting. Yeah, let’s go have a drink.
Artist: Should we go? I’m really glad we did the afternoon.
Writer: It’s such a different experience.
Artist: Says access via Vanderbilt Avenue. [Proceeds into side tunnels.]
Writer: Feng shui, Chinese cuisine. What does that mean?
Artist: It’s the art of arranging things in a room. It means literally: wind and water.
Writer: Those are two adjacent nouns?
Writer: The side tunnels, the ventricles are wild. Let’s see. Vanderbilt Ave was out in that open foyer.
Artist: It’s right above us.
Writer: Should we try those stairs right there?
Dictation: Chase bank ATMs, drinking fountains. [Artist] calls it a water fountain. [Writer] calls it a drinking fountain. Surprising since we’re both from the west coast. Some weirdos call it a bubbler. Vanderbilt ave, the Cambpell Apartment. Must be an exterior entrance. Leaving Vanderbilt Ave.
Artist: “You have to leave to come back.”
Dictation: Campbell Apartment: “Cocktails from another era.” A bunch of wealthy looking attractive people. 15 Vanderbilt Ave. And now we reenter. Entering the Campbell Apartment. Sounds of older men asking about areservation.
Writer: Hi, how are you?
Writer: Can we just cruise up to the bar?
Hostess: Sure, go ahead.
Dictation: Lovely, lush interior. [Voices of douchey sounding guys.]
Artist: Would be better vantage point up above?
Writer: What do you want to drink?
Artist: Not sure.
Writer: Probably a Manhattan.
Artist: Maybe I’ll get a Martini.
Writer: The location demands a Martini.
Artist: A dirty martini of any kind.
Writer: Gin or vodka?
Artist: Either way.
Dictation: [Overheard heated voices: “It’s gonna happen! It’s gonna get fucked up!” Respondent: “You know what? It’ll be too late at that point. You have to come in higher. We can probably get away with it.”]
Writer: Hi, can I have a Tanquery gin Martini stirred up with olives? And the same thing, dirty.
Artist: [Returns from upstairs.] It’s actually open to anyone, there are just no tables.
Writer: Let’s just keep an eye out. I want to take pictures in here, but want to wait till we finish our drinks.
Artist: Definitely an insider place.
Writer: A lot of moves being made. Everyone seems to be drinking those punch bowl things.
Artist: Last year there was a month where I found money like everywhere. I would look down at the bar and find a twenty or a five.
Writer: It’s only 6:30. This is about the time when a bar like this would be blowing up. Women dressed nice, men a bit more casual.
Artist: Everyone here works in the financial industry.
Writer: Agreed. These are people who have just gotten off work. All the groups sitting down—I wonder what he’s making.
Artist: A mojito, probably.
Writer: We don’t get priority here.
Artist: What’s up with this area?
Writer: It’s reserved. Check out that safe over there. John W. Campbell. Wonder how much the drinks will cost. Probably twenty bucks. At the Algonquin it’s 22, but you can sit down. And you order from someone who comes to serve you. Both of the hostesses are wearing pearls. Did you notice that?
Artist: Check out those people sitting down. Did you see them?
Dictation: [Overheard voices: I did five games in seven days. I did Texas on business. I did Philly—Baltimore and Philly with the kids. Then I went to Cleveland. Then my brother met me. . .]
Writer: I love it when you can order a Martini in a bar and the person doesn’t look at you like you’re an asshole.
Artist: That’s all I have [hands out money].
Writer: I’m just going to have 45 bucks out. Practicing attemptors, in the heat of the moment. [Addresses the bartender.] Thank you. One is dirty. I’ll ask him.
Dictation: [Overheard voice: “The whole fucking desk is a shitload of ones. I don’t know how bad his ways are. They never hire those guys.”]
Writer: Cheers. Let’s step out of the firing zone.
Dictation: [Overheard voice: “It could happen, yeah.”]
Writer: 37 dollars for two Martinis.
Artist: Yeah, not bad. Very nice.
Writer: The Attempt continues. This is perfect. Look at those champagne buckets behind you.
Artist: Those are lovely. Check out the griffin above the fireplace.
Dictation: Griffin with six stars descending in a parbolic arch. All the cocktail waitresses have the same black dresses and plunging necklines.
Artist: Check out the Ming vases on the lacquered cabinet.
Writer: They’ve probably been here since the beginning.
Dictation: Swarthy gentlemen crushing a Red Bull soft drink before entering, absolutely murdering his Red Bull soft drink before coming in.
Artist: What I really need to do here, since I colored the morning one with coffee, I need to color this one in with martini.
Writer: Lots of deals getting closed at the bar.
Artist: Lot of discussion about finance. Guy behind us was talking about how in this day you can just do anything. There are no rules. You can make a killing on internet based technology, an the American Dream is a very different thing than it was.
Writer: Which guy was that?
Artist: Really tall. A little bit dark, short hair, white shirt. He was saying that to a woman who seemed mildly impressed by his insights.
Dictation: [Overheard voices: “I’m a representative democrat, so if I don’t represent my district, it’s a dueling philosophy, hey, you know. I’m supposed to work to do the best for my outfit. No, not at all. They are rumors, essentially. When I was in Korea, this staff sergeant of ours. . .the navy medics. Took a weekend to Soeul, there were three of them. . .”]
Writer: Wish we’d heard that from the beginning.
Dictation: [Overheard voices: “They were drinking all night, came in. And he was like, ‘I believe it. Kind of. But. Why?’”
Dictation: Consuming an olive.
Dictation: [Overheard voices: “He got into a big fight in Okinama, with the Japanese police.”
Writer: This is natural light. This is great.
Artist: A totally different experience.
Writer: Makes the photographer an outsider. We are here for different reasons. And that makes us inherently outsiders. This is the kind of place where we would come here with our wives for a special occasion.
Artist: This doesn’t appear to be a special occasion for any of these people. This is a regular occasion.
Writer: There are those consuming it for the experience, those for whom it is a normal experience, and those for whom it is an experience to be celebrated.
Artist: That guy who you said was hitting on that chick at the bar, he looks like the guy from Less Than Zero.
Writer: What’s the fratty friend’s name? Biff, or Rip, or Skull?
Artist: Who James Spader plays in the movie?
Writer: The guy who watches the snuff movie and gets a hard-on.
Artist: He’s a meat head guy.
Writer: He’s a meathead who goes to Harvard. He’s like Saw, or Blade. . .the Martini is great because it hits you immediately.
Artist: You’re basically drinking pure alcohol.
Writer: That girl is getting attacked by those two guys. Less Than Zero and that other guy who swooped in. The other guy still has his jacket on and it is a better jacket.
Artist: How about we do the same time tomorrow?
Writer: That woman in the corner is listening very attentively. She’s wearing a blazer and listening very instructively. Woman in the white jacket is subjugated to the woman in the dark hair, who’s trying to explain something.
Artist: Oh, you’re right. It’s a very uncomfortable interaction.
Writer: The woman who got champagne isn’t drinking it. The other woman got a beer.
Artist: Such a fake laugh.
Writer: She’s still wearing her work badge. Out with a coworker who’s her superior.
Artist: Check out these dudes with the white shirt. Did you hear what he said? He’s like a very overtly gay dude who’s with his female friend. He’s like, I don’t know. If I get trashed tonight because of you. And it felt like it was a bad thing, but he was like, it’s not a bad thing.
Writer: Less Than Zero. He’s a bad man.
Artist: We got to get in on that conversation.
Writer: The gentlemen in front of us has an interesting look. Buzz cut. Very thick glasses. Nice tie. Nice tie that’s tied too long. Very tight trousers. New friend shows up wearing a backpack. Tipsy girl greets him happily. Let’s go over to Less Than Zero and get a beer and see how that closes out.
Artist: Should we have a quick listen?
Dictation: [Overheard voices: “Here’s our alums, and Adam Lee came up!”]
Artist: Very different.
Writer: We’re probably, what, 100 yards from where we were this morning. We’re still in Grand Central. Makes you wonder where’s the room like this, that’s not available to the public?
To read the original book that inspired this experience by Georges Perec, click here. To read our First Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Chinatown, which took place six days before Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York City, come in and start your own Attempt.