I got together with my friend Ron Kolm on Friday evening. Ron's a writer of poetry and prose, an editor and a former bookseller. He's also a great person to hang out with while talking and people-watching.
It was a beautiful evening: early June warm in NYC, with a breeze keeping it comfortable. We met at one of those new places in Manhattan, a plaza that wasn't there ten years ago but now, on the shady side of the Flatiron building, across from Madison Square, is ideal for chatting and watching. It's not as crowded as the plaza in Times Square, and because it's sheltered from Fifth Ave. by the Flatiron Building, and Broadway's been narrowed to two lanes, it doesn't feel as frenetically besieged by traffic on all sides. To the north, Madison Square provides a vista closed off at its north end by the trees of Madison Square Park and 1 W. 25th St., the only building on the block, part of what was once the Toy Center. To the north, the Empire State Building looms above, dominating the skyline. Around us, people were in motion.
We chatted about literature, about writing, about photography, about selling books - both Ron and I worked at the Strand many years ago, about the city and about people. Ron, along with several other members of The Unbearables, a NYC based literary movement that dates back to the 1980s, recently published a terrific anthology of poetry, fiction, essays, non-fiction and graphics called The Unbearables Big Book of Sex, a follow-up to their wonderful The Worst Book I Ever Read. They are putting together a new anthology for late 2012 or 2013. In between, Ron's published wonderful short novel, The Plastic Factory, and the Unbearables are doing a new book by Chavisa Woods and republishing PEN award winning poet Steve Dalachinsky's long out-of-print A Superintendent's Eyes in a revised and expanded edition with new photographs by yours truly. Steve is a Walt Whitman for the Twenty-first Century, but in the USA now, poets are prophets without profits.
One of the Unbearable's more noted events was a protest of The New Yorker regarding the poetry published there. It is without irony that while Ron was waiting for me to arrive, he was reading the current issue of the New Yorker. That led us into a discussion, brief as it was, of an article a couple of weeks ago about English usage and its determinators: the prescribers vs. the describers; Strunk & White vs. Webster's 3rd International. Personally, there ought to be a middle ground: we need rules but if they're too strict, they language breaks as it becomes ossified. One of the great things about the English language is how it grows and changes, accepting new usages, casting off old ones that fall out of favor for too long. Listen to how people talk and you'll hear a language that's living. Read the Unbearables and you'll see it in action.
A little later we strolled through Madison Square Park, where tents, pavilions and a stage where being set up for a barbecue feast scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. I like barbecue but this was going to be a festival of grilled meat, a veritable swine-fest, literally a pig-out! The feast would spread through the park and along Madison Ave. from E. 23rd St. and onto E. 26th. I don't care how good the best of it is, there's no way I want to eat in an environment of shoving, sweaty gourmandizing. The irony is I would find myself dodging around the even on Sunday as I headed back to the Flatiron plaza to people-watch.
We walked a few blocks up Madison, settling at a table at wine bar on East. 30th west of Park Avenue South. More people watching, more conversation, only this time over a glass of wine and some appetizers. Ron, ever self-deprecating, explained to the waiter that he didn't know much about wine. A few minutes earlier he was telling me how much he enjoyed in the FlatIron district, and now NoMad, neighborhoods he simply didn't know. I didn't say anything, but I was thinking about the neighborhoods I don't know, of which there are plenty, but for the most part they're out on the fringes. Looking back at the year NYC was told to drop dead, when I took the time to explore all of Manhattan on foot because I couldn't afford to travel elsewhere, I got in the habit of wandering around the city and observing the inhabitants, the buildings, the businesses. I did say that I love the city.
Summer afternoons pass on into summer evenings. We paid up and walked back to Madison Avenue. We talked about Murray Hill as we walked up the hill, or what little is left of it, Manhattan between the Battery and the Upper West Side has mostly lost its topography to the steady erosion of machines, I said "this must be Murray's Hill," even though we were still south of 34th St. where Murray Hill officially begins. I've liked the neighborhood as long as I can remember, with its apartment buildings on the avenues and its townhouses on the still tree-lined side streets. Ron observed that before we got to Grand Central Terminal we'd be walking down it.
And then, when I was done, I realized I hadn't taken a picture of Ron. No problem. Just go here to see him, reading about a walk across Ward Island.