As its residents are well aware, spring time comes and goes very quickly in Manhattan. First it rains, then everything blooms at once, then it gets scorching hot. Early May is a sweet spot for temperate weather. I was lucky to spend a week in the city this May, and it did not disappoint. The townhouses in my mother’s neighborhood were covered in lilac blossoms, and the brave were out riding bicycles up First Avenue.
The neighborhood in which I came of age, the East Village, has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Retail establishments, especially restaurants, have a very brief life span—barring a few holdouts that have managed to stay relevant. I tried to visit a shoe store that’s been in business almost forever, for example, and found a construction site instead (below at top left). More significant changes have occurred closer to Astor Place and Cooper Square, where luxury towers were erected in the 2000s and the street grid was altered. There is now no road in front of my old building, just an expansive, and not very attractive, plaza. (There’s no service access in the rear either… it’s a stranded building.)
Typically when I go to New York I fill up my time with necessary tasks. Over the past few months I’ve tried a new tactic: incorporating one fun thing to serve as an outlet. Art museums used to be that thing, but these days they feel more like work. I’ve become a fan of a particular podcast over the past couple of years—Mission to Zyxx—a science fiction-rooted improvisational comedy with great sound design. When I’m in town I try to see the cast members’ live shows or the occasional live performance of the podcast. This May I saw Alden Ford and Justin Tyler host UCB at Subculture, which is essentially a stand-up variety hour. Alden plays main character Pleck Decksetter on Mission to Zyxx, and Justin has collaborated several times as Pleck’s mentor, Derf. It was really great to laugh and relax and hang out with these two very talented performers and very nice people. They’re hilarious too.
The venue, Subculture, on Bleecker Street just west of the Bowery, dates from the turn of the twentieth century. In this era in this neighborhood (called “Noho” for “north of Houston”1), and in much of Soho as well,2 there was a flurry of cast iron architecture, wherein iron substituted for stone as ornament on the façade. These buildings have steel frames, which allowed for greater floor-to-floor heights and larger windows then in previous commercial buildings; the raw materials for today’s opulent lofts. This steel was heavy—lots of iron. Subculture is located in the basement, where the footings of these structural columns are exposed (see the image above). I’ve never actually observed these footings before, even though the building where I grew up has the same structural system.
The image at the top of this post shows the Manhattan skyline set against that of Long Island City, in Queens, taken from the Amtrak train. I hope to be back in the city soon.