Date: August 15
Time: Around 6:55 a.m.
Location: Walking through Midtown en route to Grand Central, Grand Concourse.
Background: Twenty-four hours after our first Attempt, we returned, looking for moments of consistency, threads of commonality between one morning and the next.
Dictation: Leaving Port Authority Subway stop at Eighth Avenue. Passing the New York Times building, one day after NYTimes.com experienced a complete server outage. Site was down for several hours. Area is cool, refreshing. Sky is blue, probably 60 degrees out. Walking east through Midtown, listening to Fort Atlantic. Streets already full of people going to work. Remnants of the old Times Square: Peep Show, Massage parlor, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Dominos Pizza. Noticing contrast of the dirty New York streets versus the stark cleanliness of the Grand Concourse’s marble floors.
Dictation: Turning north on Seventh Avenue into Times Square. Very few people walking around, too early for tourists maybe. Crossing east in the middle of the street, dodging a few cabs. “GNC celebrates the strength and bravery of the FDNY.” Walking a block south of Conde Nast and the entrance to the old New Yorker office. Crossing Broadway and Forty-first Street. Noticing an empty Citi Bike station. Stacks of newspapers. Cops looking at their phones, eating breakfast. Construction site, construction workers smoking cigarettes. So many iconic landmarks within a block of Forty-second Street. Inscription on the outside of 1065 West Forty-first Street reads: “Why man he doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus,” –William Shakespeare. Sound of a helicoptor. Sound of diesel engine.
Dictation: Crossing Sixth Avenue and Forty-first Street, entering Bryant park. Site of scene in Invisible Man where character gets murdered. Shot by a policeman. Cop shoots him in broad daylight. Right outside the subway station. Fountains in Bryant Park recall to mind the gardens of Luxembourg, and sharing a baguette and some wine and cheese with a girl a long time ago. Bank of America tower. Empire State Building visible through the sky. Crossing Fifth and Forty-second Street, flags of the Plaza visible to the north. Crossing Madison Avenue, Grand Central Station now visible. Crossing Forty-second Street, army of cabs lined up, lots of people walking west. Entering from the south with two hurried, harried commuters.
Writer: 6:57 a.m. It begins.
Artist: There was a really loud construction noise about five minutes ago.
Artist: It sounded like it was inside the building. Everyone stopped and looked in that direction. And then everyone kept going.
Writer: Like a bomb?
Artist: Yeah. Except it wasn’t. You know, yesterday when you were walking out, there were some people walking around, over there in the construction platform.
Writer: Oh yeah? It’s so empty compared to last night. Should we start with the balcony?
Artist: Let’s do it. It’s good to have a consistent spot. Nice to have a routine.
Writer: [Climbing the steps of the west balcony.] Look at that. Did you notice that before?
Artist: No, I didn’t. Even though we were here twice already.
Dictation: Reading the plaque directly above the standing spot on the balcony. “In memory of William L. Butcher. 1907 to 1976. Westchester business and civic leader, founding member of the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority which he served with distinction until the day of his untimely death.”
Writer: What a mystery. Just throwing the word “untimely” in there.
Artist: Wonder if it was related to the station.
Writer: Did he die on the train tracks or something?
Artist: That’s really a horrible thing to write on someone’s memorial, not to end their life with achievements but with their untimely death.
Writer: I can’t believe we stood here for an hour yesterday morning, and then again last night, and didn’t notice this untimely plaque right above us.
Artist: We haven’t been looking up. We haven’t focused that much on the ceiling.
Writer: Do you see the balloon stuck up by. . .what is that?
Artist: That’s Hercules.
Writer: He has a tail. Or he’s carrying something.
Artist: That’s a fleece. He’s carrying a fleece. He’s Jason.
Writer: That’s the Minotaur or a bull. That would make him Theseus. Maybe. I really don’t konw what I’m talking about. There’s a Pegasus on the far wall.
Artist: They’re not really constellations. I wonder what they are.
Writer: You have the crab, you have Gemini.
Artist: There’s Pisces over there. But they’re sort of wrapped around a cord.
Writer: An umbilical chord. What’s today? Thursday?
Writer: When I got home last night, I just started packing books. A weird flashback to packing everything on Sixteenth Street.
Artist: That was just two years ago, right?
Writer: I’m just sitting here putting books into boxes. You can’t help opening the ones that have inscriptions in them. Found a lot of notes I’d written in school, things I’d forgotten, things I’d written about Faulkner or whatever.
Artist: You write directly into the books?
Writer: Yeah. One thing that was cool was that I found a book that had some of my original notes about District of Camelot. And that was wild. Just to see notes and character outlines from six years ago. Kind of blew my mind.
Artist: You didn’t know where they were before?
Writer: They were just in the bookshelves. Wife gave me a list of books to withhold from the boxes so she can read them.
Artist: The books will go into storage?
Writer: Yeah, the new place is only temporary. It’s not that big.
Artist: It’ll be through the Spring basically?
Writer: Yeah. I wanted to keep out Tess D’Urbervilles, one of those old Penguins that had a Nineteenth Century portrait old artists used to do. I want to look her up. Golf clubs. The golf clubs thing is interesting.
Artist: Yeah, New York City is not a big golfing city.
Writer: Or maybe the clubs were taken to a country house or something.
Artist: It’s totally a front.
Writer: At least two trains just emptied out.
Artist: I think an interesting thing about this, as opposed to Chinatown, this is not a place where people just go to chill.
Writer: Right. It’s a place of transit.
Artist: Whereas Columbus Plaza is a place where people go to chill. Or even to people watch.
Writer: Do you hear Rihanna playing in the background?
Artist: Oh, is that what that is?
Writer: [Laughter.] Yes.
Dictation: [Overheard: “Like diamonds in the sky, they’re beautiful. . .”]
Writer: She performed this on SNL last winter. There are like six words she says over and over again.
Dictation: [Overheard: “Attention please! Offering a designated driver to and from the U.S. Open: the 7 Train.”]
Artist: In case you get hammered at the U.S. Open
Writer: Getting slammed at a very distinguished tennis match.
Dictation: [Overheard: Loud clanking noise of mailman or delivery man coming down the marble steps, indifferent to loud noise of delivery vehicle.] 7:12 a.m. [Overheard: “Hey, what’s up Dave!”]
Writer and Artist: [Laughter].
Writer: Moment of morning conviviality. It’s interesting we went the whole first day without looking at the constellation. Or that we didn’t notice Mr. Butcher’s untimely memorial.
Artist: Once more, we need to recognize that the Billy Collins poem in the subway makes for very obvious symbolic reference to the constellations.
Writer: A note about the imagery.
Artist: It’s almost made for the purpose of bringing urban school children. . .
Writer: Into the soft bosom of poetry. . .
Artist: In the parlance of our times. [Laughter].
Writer: I’m going to go buy a Billy Collins book to spite you.
Artist: Our friend, he’s a great writer in Ireland, he’s working on a book, based on a series of articles based on writers who are being acknowledged as being so bad, they become known for historically good writers latching on to them to make fun of them. There was a woman who knew Yeats and the others; they encouraged her to come and read at their events just so they could jibe at her.
Writer: Wasn’t Dickens kind of a joke in his time?
Writer: Someone like Crichton, though. I mean, who the fuck comes up with Jurassic Park?
Artist: Strong intellect.
Writer: You’re sitting around, thinking about coming up with a theme park full of dinosaurs, whose blood comes from mosquitoes who sucked their blood 65 million years of ago, frozen in amber.
Artist: That’s pretty good. Cloning dinosaurs. My friend’s dad wrote a book he was trying to get opted for a screenplay about a group of theologians who cloned Christ from the Shroud of Turin.
Writer: 7:17 a.m. It’s likely that some of the people coming up this balcony saw us yesterday. We would be unusual to them. We would be the aberration in their day.
Artist: You recognize anyone?
Writer: One guy flickered in my recognition. Maybe. Made me think some people have the same path every day.
Artist: You’re right. So they probably recognize us.
Writer: If I saw two people who looked like us, sketching and dictating, I would notice. But actually, I would only notice in certain parts of my walk to work where there aren’t a lot of people. Like right here. Because this is a balcony. Did you notice how that cop came by to check out us?
Artist: Real casual. Super casual.
Writer: Just walked by, took his hat off, didn’t make eye contact.
Artist: Aren’t they supposed to only take their hat off when informing of a death?
Writer: I’m not sure.
Artist: They visit your house, they take off their hat. That’s a very bad thing.
Writer: Big train coming off the twenty-eight track. Here’s the guy with the Zig Zag t-shirt. Bearded gentleman puffing on some cigarette or smoking device.
Artist: The Middle-Eastern looking guy?
Writer: Four cops chilling right in the middle. Way fewer policemen here than Penn Station.
Artist: Penn has way more trains, but also has people going to Canada, Montreal, leaving the state. They have Customs at Penn Station.
Writer: But here we don’t see the cops with machine guns.
Artist: True. No cops with dogs here, either.
Writer: Right. Canine patrols everywhere at Penn.
Artist: They have instructional videos even, that play in a continuous loop.
Writer: Classic. Sweater thrown over the shoulders. The uniform of the blue striped checked shirts tucked into trousers with brown leather belt and shoes, of which I am hardly innocent.
Artist: The original business casual. There’s one very bright star on the Hercules shoulder.
Writer: Like his tattoo.
Artist: Or else some kind of camera. You think there are?
Writer: Ceiling cameras? There’s one right there, by track twenty-eight, and all of those ones, too.
Artist: Those chandeliers are amazing. We haven’t talked about those.
Artist: One in each galley. The Westin, is, uh, promoting this whole centennial. Why the Westin?
Writer: And CBRE. Has to be a bank or some other financial institution.
Artist: Central Bank of the Russian Emigrant. That’s why the woman was here.
Dictation: Walking east and north, noticing a bandaid and used tissue on the ground.
Artist: I’m not going to pick those up.
Writer: Pick it up.
Artist: [Laughter.] No.
Writer: Back to three escalators down, one up.
Dictation: Walking into train tunnels.
Writer: Kind of crazy you can just walk right in without a ticket or anything.
Artist: They’re actually gorgeous trains.
Writer: What is that?
Artist: The board that indicates whether the trains are coming in?
Writer: Way hotter in here.
Dictation: [Overheard: sound of engines exhaling.]
Writer: WHOA. That scared the shit out of me.
Artist: How does this compare to other train stations in the world?
Writer: Maybe like Paris? No, even there you can’t just walk right up to the trains.
Artist: The Florence train station is beautiful, but worn down and decayed. You can walk right up to the train and sit there and chill.
Writer: Look at that. Grand Central Terminal fire extinguisher. That’s cool.
Artist: Almost like the Paris Metro art nouveau.
Writer: Is this just another exit over here?
Artist: What’s up with that bright red light?
Writer: Same as those out in the concourse.
Dictation: [Overheard: voices and jingling of keys.] Walking back into the concourse.
Writer: People just accept the presence of gawkers as a natural course of experiencing this place.
Artist: There’s an entire room of ticket machines.
Writer: but people still persist in—
Artist: Let’s head over to this side.
Writer: Dodging passengers.
Artist: Things are busier now. It’s later now.
Writer: It’s 7:28 now.
Artist: We should refer directly to the Billy Collins poem. If I see it, I’ll take a picture. Some heavy duty suits coming off this one.
Writer: Guy had a Hogs and Heiffers t-shirt on. Only dive bar left in Meatpacking District.
Writer: Meatpacking District.
Artist: Wonder where our friend from yesterday is.
Writer: I haven’t confirmed, visually, any repeat customers. He was the only real character. It would be interesting to walk over there to see if the Big Lebowski was sleeping with his guitar.
Artist: Aka Ted Kaczinski.
Dictation: [Overheard: voice about how to get to the Yankees game.]
Writer: Check it out. There’s some money beneath you. A dime and two pennies. Found artifact.
Dictation: The dime retrieved and deposited into pocket.
Artist: Two more people. It seems like later in the morning. There are more people at the information booth.
Writer: More passengers, more people. Trains seem to come in every four or five minutes.
Dictation: 7:34 a.m.
Artist: This is a good spot.
Writer: Yes, a good vantage point. For whatever reason, I just thought of the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” when Will Smith’s character sees these business men and wonders what they do and wonders how they make all their money. And whether he can do it, too.
Artist: That’s the most insane capitalistic American dream idea. It’s a true story.
Writer: What is fundamentally different about these guys who undoubtedly go to high rise apartments and make beaucoup dolares and what factors of their lives led them to those places makes them different?
Artist: My all time favorite movie ever is this movie called A Thousand Clowns. It’s a late 1950s movie with Jason Robard. And it’s sort of semi-blacklisted because of its overtly Marxist themes. The screenplay was written by Herb Gardner, and it did well. It was nominated for best picture in the 50s, same year as Gone With the Wind.
Writer: Wasn’t that in 1939?
Artist: Not Gone With the Wind then.
Writer: Some other juggernaut movie like Ben Hur maybe?
Artist: Yeah. It was the 50s. Maybe 61. Murray Burns sat on the Upper West Side and he plays this guy who basically has no work ethic whatsoever. Just takes everything half seriously.
Writer: How does he live? Another set of golf clubs! What is up with that?
Artist: That’s a scheme, dude. But so, he’s on unemployment. He’s taking care of his nephew who’s 12 or so. Takes place in the course of one day. The boy has come home from school, the boy has an extreme sense of responsibility, sort of an adult attitude. Informs him that because of an essay he wrote on the benefits of social welfare in school the School Board is looking into his emotional well being at home, and whether it’s appropriate. And Robard learns that he has to convince A.C.S. that he’s on a job track. And what really happens is that the social worker comes and falls in love with him because he’s so whimsical.
Writer: Do they get married?
Artist: Well, it’s all in the course of one day.
Writer: I just got a picture of that hero, having his sandwich, holding his golf clubs, with the American flag in the background.
Artist: So the reason I thought of that film is that the opening scene is all quiet. He and the child walk out onto the empty street and the boy keeps trying to talk to him, and the boy goes: “Why is it that you brought me out here?” And he says something like, “I want you to observe a very disturbing horrible thing.” “What?” “People going to work.” And then a bell rings and all these people come out who are going to work.
Writer: Ah, young people living the Manhattan Dream. Their own jobs, their own money. They’ve made it from Ohio or wherever. There have always been such, and there always will be.
Dictation: 7:41 a.m.
Artist: It’s gonna get crazy when we get closer to 8. The business man is engaging with the golfer. Why would he arrive with his golf clubs but then camp out to have breakfast for like 20 minutes? He’s really going to town on that breakfast sandwich.
Artist: You think they have mini golf ranges in the upper level of these financial offices?
Writer: There could be a net, maybe. Ten feet, you just tee off. The more businessy man thing to do is have a putter, a green, because the ball returns to you. It’s a stylish thing. You putt while the people in the office sit in your chair, and you disagree over multimillion dollar deals. Or, as I imagine it, you offer some multimillion dollar deal on the condition that you make your first putt.
Artist: That way when you conduct shady business with the mob, they can hold you down, and put golf balls in your mouth.
Writer: Put a tee in the mouth. What movie is that from?
Artist: That’s a well documented move.
Writer: The mob is not without style.
Artist: They make use of their environment.
Writer: Check out this guy. One of those fold up bikes. Another man with a cane, but not tapping it in the conventional way.
Artist: He’s using it, but not on the ground. He probably has restricted peripheral vision, worried he’s going to bump into something on his feet.
Writer: Lots of people still coming into the station.
Artist: Definitely a steady flow of people, more as the morning goes on.
Writer: Golfer is now working on an iced Starbucks now that he’s finished off his sandwich. Carrying his clubs and making a move.
Dictation: [Overheard: “What’s wrong?”]
Artist: What if he just started hitting balls into this room?
Writer: How long would it take for them to arrest him?
Artist: Not very long.
Writer: He’s taking another train. He’s waiting for another train. Why would he do that? He came in, with clubs, and is headed out on another train. Why would you do that?
Artist: What would be the closest destination to here that you would come here for?
Writer: Bronx, 125th street, Marble Hill station, still in the Bronx, Yonkers.
Artist: You could come in from Marble Hill to go to New Haven.
Writer: The person with those clubs has an SUV in the driveway. Doesn’t make sense.
Dictation: 7:45 a.m. More people waiting for trains now, standing around, leaning against the wall. People don’t elect to voluntarily take a 6 a.m. train if there’s a 8 a.m. train. Lots of exit traffic now. Everyone in track 26 is rushing. Must be a train leaving in a minute. Morning reverse commute. Of course that just depends on your perspective.
Artist: This commander here, with the broom and the Mets hat. He’s taken a post.
Writer: He’s taking a moment to himself. Kind of awesome because he has a Grand Central t-shirt on. Lots of questions about this man. He’s 50 with a Fu Man Chu, and you’re cleaning the floor at Grand Central? Have you done this your whole life? Do you do this because you’re actually an undercover cop? He has work boots on. He doesn’t look like the kind of person committed to a life of manual labor. Small stature. Something not what it seems. I mean he looks like a Vermont college professor, not a Grand Central janitor.
Artist: He could be a mercenary sociologist.
Writer: [Laughter]. Except he has a costume, or a t-shirt, that makes it seem official.
Artist: James Agee said that we are all spies.
Writer: I like that. He died at aged 45 from some kind of respiratory thing, didn’t he? He was a Tennesseean.
Artist: Untimely death.
Dictation: 7:52 a.m.
Artist: My grandfather who was in the C.I.A., he invented the technique that is still used by the F.B.I. of planting a recording device in a location in a tree that sent a constant radio signal back to a tree so they wouldn’t have to carry a recorder. The guys would just go to a location and talk. Newspaper in front of face, so he could just sit down and talk.
Writer: So he could communicate back without carrying anything?
Dictation: Proceeding west
Artist: no real artifacts on the floor.
Writer: Could be because of our special friend there.
Artist: Attentive not only to people, but to the floors. Maybe he’s just waiting for things to fall.
Writer: What’s this, though? It’s a whole baguette.
Artist: Next to a hotel room card.
Writer: The Westin. Newspaper called The Epoch Times. “A pivotal moment for all Egyptians.”
Artist: Weird. The baguette is definitely weird.
Writer: Tomcat bakery. Now the tourism starts. People taking pictures.
Artist: The sweeper is definitely still there.
Writer: Just chillin.
Artist: Let’s check out the southern entrance to see if those guys are still sleeping.
Dictation: Noticeably busier now than at 6:45. Two cops standing there. No one is sleeping this morning in the southern corridor. A complete new crop of people.
Writer: That’s interesting that there was no overlap between the days, but there was from morning to night.
Artist: That crazy guy being there last night was very interesting.
Writer: Whether he’d been there all day, or whether he’d come back.
Artist: We need a closing event. This lady with her bag standing there.
Writer: A little frantic.
Artist: She doesn’t know where she is. That sweeper is definitely cool.
Writer: He’s an interesting person of note. He’s just waiting for garbage. He’s waiting for garbage, so he has no task.
Artist: There’s a tissue there.
Writer: He doesn’t see it. It’s such a calm air in here, right now. Maybe this is it. Maybe the closure is just a constant stream.
Dictation: Sounds of feet walking continue.