Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Life in New York

Spring activities in Central Park. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015. A warm sunny day, yesterday in New York.

Life in New York. I didn’t have any appointments midday and so I was in the neighborhood except to go crosstown to get a haircut with Lyudmilla, my seventeen years haircutter at Jean Louis David on Broadway and 75th.

Lyudmilla has me in and out of there in fifteen minutes max. I thought Monday would be a breeze; she’d be waiting idly by with comb and razor. The only problem yesterday was the guy before me – a young guy probably in his thirties, dressed in some kind of athletic pants and shirt, thick, steel-thatchy dark hair, was taking his time.
The guy’s hair was so short as it was but after Lyudmilla finished and gave him the hand mirror so he could see his hair from each angle, he decided he needed “a little ... over here ....” And she said okay and started more trimming. Then? “... Oh don’t you think this needs to be cut back a little to go with the other side ...” Okay. Then? “... Uhh ... on top here, this needs just a small, tiny trim ...” and he patted the right side of his head.

I was going nuts in my own head, like a typical New Yorker. I’d been told it wouldn’t be more than twenty minutes and the clock was ticking onto forty. I’m thinking the guy probably hates his hair. Most of us do. Except for those of us who are losing it or don’t have any. This guy had a thick head of thick hair and it was kinda wavy-curly so that there wouldn’t have been any straight lines on the nape of the neck or around the ears because the hair wasn’t straight.

Finally, on the fourth mirror-around, it looked pretty good to him. Then Lyudmilla asked him if he wanted a shampoo? ??!! That was my reaction. A shampoo? Couldn’t he have washed it in the shower before coming for a haircut???!!
No Dave, he couldn’t. So too bad aboutcha! That was my New York drama for the day. When she was finished with him, it was my turn. It was quick. Probably ten instead of fifteen. I loved it. I washed my hair in the shower at home first. Aren’t I something?

Everything looked fine on the first mirror-around. I never liked my hair. It’s straight and fine and always hangs in my face like an adolescent (much of which remains within as you can deduce). But now I can say at this age, at least I have all of it. Or most of it.

Nevertheless besides all my Manhattan belly-aching, I got to go to Fairway where they have good prices and great produce, and Citarella next door where they have good prices and great foodstuff. And it was a beautiful day. Driving through the 79th Street transverse, the bowers of forsythia are now spilling over the roadside stone walls. I came home and put my two medium croton plants out on the terrace for the first time and washed them down.
In any spare moment, I’m still reading Donald Miller’sSupreme City; How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America” (Simon & Schuster) as I’ve reported here before. It’s one of those books where every time I close it, I can’t stop thinking about the characters.

Walter Chrysler on the cover of Time, April 20, 1925.
Yesterday I read about Walter P. Chrysler and the building of the Chrysler building. This was the end of the 1920s. They were beginning to build skyscrapers. Fred French, Frederick Brown, Irwin Chanin, Emory Roth, Benjamin Winter. Every new building had to be taller than the one before. (So you see, our current obsession with height is nothing new.)

The story is a tale of the tycoon and his architect. Move over Ayn Rand. Chrysler put up the money himself, and followed the building from conception to design to construction to occupancy. When the Chrysler building was completed, it was the tallest building in the world. (Until the following year when the Empire State Building went up.) From his office, he could look down on the General Motors Building!

Walter Chrysler knew what he wanted. He and the architect never quite hit it off although in 2005 -- one hundred architects, developers, critics, and historians were asked by New York Skyscraper Museum to choose their ten favorite Manhattan towers. Ninety of them named the Chrysler Building. The Runner-up was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building of 1958. 

Chrysler was a charismatic man, born in 1875 in Warnego, Kansas, son of a railroad engineer; a boy who eventually built his own locomotive. But automobiles, he could see, thanks to Henry Ford, were the future for his generation and the world. The first time he bought an automobile (that he’d saved up for), he couldn’t drive. Instead he took it apart and put it back together.
Walter Chrysler with the 1924 Chrysler Six.
He did this several times, before he first drove it. By that time he knew everything about how a car was made and why it worked. Within a decade or so, he built his first car, called the Chrysler Six. It was 1924. It was the car that changed the public’s image of a modern car (versus Ford’s old-style box-like machine). It was also a big hit and beat out Ford in sales for the first time. 

“New Yorkers by the hundreds bought it at show rooms along Automobile Row – on Broadway above 50th Street the largest concentration of car dealerships in the world,” reported author Miller.  

It’s exciting to read about the individuals who were building a city that became the focus of the dreams of millions throughout the century. Almost all came from simple, working class and lower working class backgrounds. Ingenuity, imagination, drive/stick-to-it-iveness and incipient generosity was their bankbook.
 

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