Saturday, February 28, 2009
More tales of the city
The neon's hard to read in this photo, but this is the facade of the Virgin Megastore, seen from across 14th St in Union Square; the store's closing down soon, another megalith falling away, which is maybe why the big V isn't working. so that the sign on the side reads "irgin." My friend Michael said he went in this store the other day, remembering back when he first went to huge music stores and liked discovering something new there, a feeling that couldn't be recaptured on this visit. It occurred to him as he left that going to a big music store was probably something he'd never do again. Not that it would be missed, exactly, but that it was something of marker in a life, when you notice something in the world changing. I've been thinking along those lines myself during these few days here, how clearly New York isn't the place I moved to at the beginning of 2001. Eight years isn't much in the life of the city, but how rapid the change seems in just that little while. Even in just this space. The Zen Palate on the east side of the square were we used to get takeout gone. The vast messy improvised memorials after 9/11, the days of people gathering in the square every evening. The hundreds of pairs of boots set out to mark the deaths of soldiers in Iraq (and that was thousands of deaths ago). My friend Marie at the die-in to protest the invasion of Baghdad, and how I'd planned to "die" myself but couldn't do it, not even as a gesture of protest. Some of the change seems beautiful: the booths and tents of the Green Market opening and folding up again, the procession of trucks of food and flowers, and the pet adoption fairs on the corners with the guarded or open-faced animals and their hopeful attendants. The guys with the big plastic jars you put money in for the homeless. That strange big bas relief sculpture on the south side of the square, which used to emit smoke or fog. The endlessly increasing numbers on that lit-up clock that stand for what?
No nostalgia here; it's the endlessly changing urban body. I go away for a while and the city does not miss me one bit, though in a day it lets me back inside again. Michael thinks we are probably better off without the Megastore, faded temple of possibility, monument to the idea that it was a good idea to have everything in one place. This might be the era for the microshop, the one-off, the smaller and more flexible project. What are we going to do with all those big old empty boxes?