5th Avenue & 53rd Street

13 Feb

I seem to recall Speed Levitch talking about midtown Manhattan in the documentary The Cruise and saying something along the lines of, it’s a “20th century creation. Civilization has never looked like this before.” Maybe that’s why I’m unable to ever fully get my head around the place. It’s probably just the sheer number of buildings and the fact that they all contain a story. And the way it’s laid out in a grid, seemingly so tantalizingly straight forward – this street connects to this one, and so on, making me think that I could somehow take it all in, systematically. But then it’s tough to even go one block without wanting to linger, without feeling positive I’ve missed something. And I have missed something. So I linger; I run back and forth; I tilt my head sideways; I mutter to myself. You should see me inside an art museum.

I get hung up even on office buildings. I start imagining what it would be like to have a corner cubicle in one of those spaces, so you could see outside and watch the street each hour. I’d work in an office for that. I would get paid, right? As a child I always liked the notion of a little home just directly above the madness – peeking out of the curtains at the world below. There might be some kind of philosophy in that. The closest thing I’ve found to it in midtown is going inside a church. From the madness into something else entirely, just like that. I like to pretend that I’m invoking the old medieval right of sanctuary when I go in there. It’s amazing to me that all their doors are still left open.

If you’re looking for sanctuary on 53rd and 5th then head in to Saint Thomas Church, on the northwest corner. Don’t worry about the Rolex Building or the former Tishman Building across the way at 666 5th Avenue (although the lobby there does contain some sculpture by Noguchi, the same dude who has the small museum in Long Island City). The current St. Thomas Church was completed at this location in 1914 and designed in a French High Gothic style, or as the architects put it, “as medievally as possible.” All right guys, you did a good job. You know, people are always going to Europe to look at churches, but hey, we got churches right here! And leave it to those Catholic-emulating Episcopalians to build a really pretty one. The reredos looks like what Dante must have felt ascending into heaven. That’s right, reredos – what do you call one of them things?

In keeping with the medieval theme, there is a tiny wooden door on the 53rd St. side of the church. It’s really perfect. No steps, no entryway, no distance from the street at all – this shit ain’t modern. We don’t do it like that anymore, especially in this city. I mean sure, the door is locked, but just staring at it takes me somewhere else. When I was in Venice, at night, I kept imagining there would be assassins behind every narrow corner that I passed – you know, caped men wielding knives. Does that make any sense? I guess I mean even entering a doorway might have meant something different back in the day. Collectively different. That was when churches might have markets inside their naves and apses – a constant crowd with dogs and people napping. Now am I for public napping? You’re damn straight I am! Dogs? Whatever! Using the past as metaphor and lesson for my own emotions? Yes, yes, yes! But I will say this about the present: it’s right now, and I’m alive in it. You gotta respect something like that. Oh yeah, and we have baseball too.

(Originally posted Jan. 9th, 2009 on Takethehandle.com)

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