Summer in the City

One night an old Pontiac driven by an overburdened father of six went out of control on Avenue A and crashed into a corner building, bringing the whole thing down. The noise was overwhelming, an explosion. People came running from bars and bedrooms. The tenement–empty for years–just dissolved into a hill of bricks, from under … Read more

Corpus Delicti

Inventory of the effects of Nils F., deckhand, found dead of undetermined causes in doorway on Ruelle des PrĂȘtres, Toulon, 19 February 1933. One canvas duffel bag. Two cotton jerseys, off-white; four pairs woolen underdrawers, off-white; three pairs woolen socks, blue; one pair serge trousers, gray; one pair waxed canvas trousers, blue; one cotton shirt, … Read more

Turf

This was the view out my back window in New York City for more than ten years. That time (1979-1990) was the heyday of Wild Style, when graffiti truly became an artform, as is documented most vividly in Henry Chalfant’s photographs. These tags, though, are primal. You can imagine them–in chalk–festooning an alley a century … Read more

Vile Smut

Reminiscing about my early days in the used-paper trade, I find that I can become tender if not actually moist-eyed at the thought of the publications that were both produced and purchased by the raincoat brigade. You young people today, saturated in smut, are so jaded and jaundiced and all that you may not immediately … Read more

Who Owns New York?

That is the apt title of the Columbia University fight song. It’s odd that I remember it, because I can’t have heard it more than once or twice–my time there was the absolute nadir of school-spiritism, fraternities, attendance at sporting events. The old traditions were dying like bugs in a jar, and I did my … Read more

Case Study

The subject, a recent immigrant approximately nine years of age, was asked to depict his mother. It was specified that he should present her in a particular context of his choosing: a setting or activity. The resulting picture is of considerable interest. The woman is only marginably noticeable, and then only because her coat presents … Read more

Rod and Custom

After I wrecked the gull-wing Porsche I acquired an Aston Martin–James Bond model, of course–then a Lotus when my Jim Clark fixation got into full gear. I never could afford the Isotta-Fraschini I truly coveted, but for daily use I could choose among a dandy Rover (right-hand steering, which could get a little tricky), a … Read more

Skins

Aside from brandy and cigars, no product on the market is packaged quite as traditionally as cigarette papers. Nearly every item on your grocer’s shelf gets an image update every few years to make sure it passes the nowness scan the shopper’s eye performs as it scrolls down the aisle. The rolling-paper package, however, like … Read more

Horror Vacui

In this picture you see me, fleeing from my home of seven years. It was in fact a farmhouse, although its grounds had long ceased being a farm. It was a nice house, and beautifully situated. The view from the back–meadows tumbling toward a pond with a ridge behind, the valley angled to the right … Read more

The Appeal to Reason

What caused me to pick this item out of the trash heap was not its title–there are better editions of DeQuincey’s book out there (if none so pocket-sized)–but its publisher. Appeal to Reason was America’s leading Socialist weekly between its founding in 1897 and its demise in 1922. Yes, its offices were in Kansas. At … Read more