Brooklyn Library Closure Chaos

I have failed twice so far in my attempt to return a library book. On the first attempt I packed the hefty 600pg book in my bag and headed out for the day. I notice there is a branch near my first event, so hop on the subway and go to the library a block away. Locked gates, no book depository, no explanatory signs. I call the branch to find out they (and the rest of the branches) are closed for a weekend-long systems upgrade. I laugh and continue my day, lugging around this extra weight for hours.
Today, I’ve done my research. There are certain branches of the Brooklyn library that allow after-hours book drop. I venture into below-freezing temperatures intent on getting rid of this albatross. Nearing the library, I see a man with bags scattered around him in front of the deposit. I stride purposefully toward the slot, book in hand. “You’re not going to be able to fit it in there,” he says, gesturing at the overflowing depository. No kidding. Trust and chaos at the Brooklyn Heights library, where people have smashed their books into the bin, and spilling out for anyone to grab.
021913_library_overflow
“Do you know what’s been going on? They’ve been closed for days,” the man asks. I mention the system upgrade, which hopefully will bring printers online to place helpful signs in the doors of closed libraries during future upgrades.

Melville in NYC

The snow started to come down thickly, swirling around me as I stood on the tip of the Battery, the southernmost tip of Manhattan, the first Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. This is where Ishmael watched streams of people drift to the edge of the water:
“There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes… Its extreme downtown is the Battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there. Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see? Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries… But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land… They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in.”
I am enacting such a literary cliché by reading Chapter 1: Loomings while sitting here, but I cannot resist. There is something magical about the water, some primal impulse that drives us to gaze contentedly at it. “It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all,” Ishmael says. I find myself wandering water-ward when the same conditions strike me, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul… whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.”
Taking the information from poets.org, I created a map of Melville’s main locations in New York, although you could argue that the entire area south of Canal Street would have been open to his strolling. The Wall Street of Bartleby is buried deep in the bones of today’s monumental skyscrapers. Some buildings that were contemporary with Melville are still visible, like the James Watson house at 7 State Street, Federal Hall, and Trinity Church. For the rest of the tour, it’s fun to get a feel for places he names, like Coenties Slip and Whitehall, and to get a sense of the size of his New York.
To do it yourself, check out the Melville walking tour in NYC.

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

Gorgeous glimpse into the scattered, philosophical, whimsical thoughts of Sontag during the years between 1964 and 1980. She writes surprisingly little about her chemotherapy and recovery from breast cancer, and a lot about her complicated relationship with her mother, apparently a drunk who withheld love from her daughter. My favorite bits are cobbled together below, but what struck me was her wrestling with not being genius, with her going all in on her love affairs, her struggle with not wanting to be alone but recognizing the value and productivity of solitude. Another thread that keeps popping up in various places for me is the idea of removing oneself from what is going on in order to create something new (consume less of what others produce). To some extent, I identify with her “settling” for her average intelligence, although SS was far beyond me.

I’m not ambitious because I’m complacent. I knew that I wasn’t smart enough to be Schopenhauer or Nietzche or Wittgenstein or Sartre or Simone Weil. I aimed to be in their company, as a disciple; to work on their level. I have a good mind, even a powerful one. But I’m not a genius. I’ve always known that. My mind isn’t good enough, isn’t really first rate. I know my mind has gone a step forward by virtue of being alone the last 2 1/2 years, don’t have to package and dilute my responses because I share them with another person. I’ve got this thing – my mind. It gets bigger, its appetite is insatiable.

These minutes, writing this in the lobby of the Ambassador – at a table spread with a white cloth, by the open doors on a fine Saturday morning, having just finished a big breakfast (two boiled eggs, etc.) and alone, alone (David upstairs, still sleeping) – watching the other people in the lobby, on the terrace, passing on the street – have been the first moments since the beginning of the summer in which I’ve had some sense of well-being.

I would be myself
1. If I would understand less of what others mean
2. If I would consume less of what others produce
3. I would smile less; eliminate the superlatives, the unnecessary adverbs and adjectives from my speech
Because of #2 I am not fully present in many experiences: more armored, I can absorb more. More open, I would be filled by one or two things, I would confront them more deeply.

Another mini-thought. When I had this idea this morning in bed, I was so delighted at having a new thought- it’s been so damned long! I’ve been sure this year that my mind was shot to hell, and I was becoming just as stupid as everyone else – I wanted to do something to express my pleasure. So I spoke out loud, rather self-consciously: “Well, what do you know. An idea!” Or something like that. And the sound of my voice in this room with nobody but me here profoundly depressed me.
I never talk out loud to myself… I find it very painful. Then I really know I’m alone.
Maybe that’s why I write – in a journal. That feels “right.” I know I’m alone, that I’m the only reader of what I write here- but the knowledge isn’t painful, on the contrary I feel stronger for it, stronger each time I write something down. I can’t talk to myself, but I can write to myself. (But is that because I do think it possible that someday someone I love who loves me will read my journals and feel even closer to me?)

It is not natural to speak well, eloquently, in an interesting articulate way. People living in groups, families, communes say little – have few verbal means. Eloquence – thinking in words – is a byproduct of solitude, deracination, heightened painful individuality. In groups, it’s more natural to sing, to dance, to pray: given, rather than invented (individual) speech.

Not only must I summon the courage to be a bad writer, I must dare to be truly unhappy. Desperate. And not save myself, short circuit the despair. By refusing to be as unhappy as I truly am, I deprive myself of subjects. I’ve nothing to write about. Every topic burns.

…Changes in the body, changes in language, changes in the sense of time. What does it mean for time to go faster, for it to seem to pass more slowly? Jasper’s observation that the reason time seems to go faster as we get older is that we think in larger units. At forty, it’s as easy to say “in five years” or “five years ago” as it was to say “in five months” or “five months ago” when one was fourteen. Brodsky said that there were two subjects: time and language.

The next ten years must be the best, strongest, boldest

To feel the pressures of consciousness, to be informed, to understand anything, one must be alone. Being with people, being alone – like breathing in and breathing out, systole and diastole. As long as I’m so afraid of being alone, I’ll never be real. I’m in hiding from myself.

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York

A bit wordy but perhaps necessarily so to pack in as much detail about the life of the underclass in historical New York. Burgeoning full of stories of slums, gangs, prostitutes, freak shows, immigrants, actors, bohemians, drinkers, brawlers, cops, and more. Filled with fascinating tidbits like the fact that Victoria Woodhull ran for president in the 1872 race on the Equal Rights ticket, with Frederick Douglass as her VP candidate.
Sante’s afterword a picture of New York in the 1970s, the abandoned, decaying city, that began to turn around once Reagan was elected.

Will Oldham chatting with Sasha Frere-Jones and Alan Licht at Bookcourt in Brooklyn

Will Oldham has a book out, edited by Alan Licht after a week of continuous interviews (“Week long drive to nowhere”), then hour-long follow up phone conversations to clarify and flesh out the book. Will dreamed of this book being the last interview he’d ever have to make, preferring to point journalists to the book if they were searching for answers about his life. Alan Licht is a musician who toured with Oldham, and also a writer, so was a natural choice for Will to pick to turn his chatter into prose. Will’s idea was along the lines of filmmaker on filmmaker, a la Wim Wenders, to have another musician chat him up about the past twenty albums. After Licht’s first draft failed Oldham’s test, he was directed to read Herzog on Herzog for more of the tone and structure that Oldham wanted.
Sasha Frere-Jones read a paragraph that explained why Oldham always selects new and different musicians to both record his albums and perform live, basically following the film tradition that you wouldn’t want to recruit the same twelve actors to produce play after play after play.
Shit talking about the friend (unnamed) who performed badly live during the Italian tour. But then onto anticipation about his concert tomorrow at the Lincoln Center, as part of the American Songbook series. Apparently they asked for a set list yesterday, and when refused, they asked for a “ballpark set” which they also did not get.
I do believe Will has a bit of a stutter, a completely controlled stutter, perhaps it is just for show.
When asked about how he got “that sound” he talks about records he got from the library, from thrift stores, secluding himself from what music was current (“Pavement, who?”), teaching himself how to read music using old Scottish traditional song books. The first recording was done in Bloomington, Indiana with friends in school there for audio tech, he would record at night and work at a daycare teaching kids how to garden.
Ignorance, stupidity, chance will all hit you. Mistakes will be made.
We are all new people every seven years, the length of time it takes to regenerate cells.
Asked about Arise Therefore, Oldham waxed about the Minnesota studio having a pool they’d crank to 100+ degrees, then whoosh open the sliding doors to fill the room with fog, watching Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii’s movie. “The drum machine was probably the smartest, most compassionate drummer I’ve worked with.”
Why songs about Florida? Because he knew Jimmy Buffet had figured out the secret formula.
“Harriet the Spy scared me into not keeping a journal” but then he found a collection of random writings in tin cans.
Microphones and PA systems remove your sense of how your voice sounds, you just have to get over it.
Babble, Kevin Coyne, Dagmar Krause
Gershwin tunes like Sherlock Holmes stories in that they present problems then solutions, within a three minute piece which you can listen to over and over.
Asked if he’d sell out and do some commercial work for extra dough, he says “I always try to write hit songs” but then goes more seriously into the fact that creating good solid work is more satisfying than getting paid for something you don’t like. “If my parents were dead, I’d be a happy homeless person.”
Inspiring, uplifting. And oh hai, there I am, third row, in my grey hoodie.

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

The time and temperature clock reminds me that it’s -3c and 12:30pm, meaning I’ve spent two hours this morning finishing this book from my 16th floor perch overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve watched the looming towers reflect sunrise, obscured by fog, back-lit by sunset, dusted by snow, busy with traffic. I’ve walked across from Brooklyn into the pulsing beast of Manhattan, and the reverse. I suspect my three speed cruiser bike is not meant to mingle with the high speed bikers shooting across the wooden slats of the walk, but mostly I fear biking in island traffic. This location has been a terrific place to wrap up this book, itself an in-depth and fascinating exploration of the fourteen years it took to build the bridge.
Washington Roebling, chief engineer, remains the hero of the story, inheriting his father’s plans for the bridge but making daily changes and solutions to problems. Emily Roebling emerges as a strong stand-in for her husband after he is severely incapacitated by the bends, or the caisson disease, named after the bridge building (coming up too quickly from pressurized air). The team of assistant engineers that remain fiercely loyal to Roebling without defecting from the project also deserves mention: C.C. Martin, E.F. Farrington, Hildenbrand, McNulty, Paine.
The villains of the story are the politicians and the fraudsters: Boss Tweed’s blatant skimming of money from the project, J. Lloyd Haigh’s provisioning of faulty wire, and the myriad of politicians attempting to oust Roebling from his role as Chief Engineer on grounds of his sickness. “Honest John” Kelly withholding New York’s scheduled payment for its costs of the bridge stopped work in August 1878, for which the bridge company took the city of New York to court. Various ferry companies and businesses along the waterline collected to attempt to halt the work, many years into its construction.
It’s a story that we know the ending to; the bridge is successfully built, and lasts for a good fifty years after opening before any work is needed to upgrade it. The opening day was a holiday in Brooklyn, and most of NYC gathered at the water to watch the ceremonies and fireworks. President Arthur marches across from the New York side, meeting the Brooklyn dignitaries at the Brooklyn tower. At midnight on May 24, 1883, the bridge opened to everyone. Tickets cost $0.05 for the train and carriages, $0.01 for pedestrians.
Footnote: Should I be happy with only one typo in 500+ pages? p 488, President Arthur is wearing a white “tie”, I assume, and not a “white tic”.