Sunday, November 07, 2010

Down on the Bowery

Walking on the Bowery today, I caught an exhibition by Sophie Crumb, and a pictoral of the ghosts of ballparks past.  Strolling along, I caught myself looking -no, staring - at this old building, which had fallen into a state of sad disrepair. The bones were still there, as they say, and as I stared at its shell I wondered about its stories.

Do you ever do that with an old building?

Wonder where it came from and what it had to tell, and how it morphed into its present state? It is now nearly hidden beneath advertising it supports.  Advertising something that it is not.  It is a sturdy building from the late 19th century -- when the the neighborhood was mainly immigrants from Germany.  There are two side entrances - it might have been a German beer hall?  Later a yiddish theatre?  And finally a flophouse? 

Off the first floor is a big glass pane, where once they may have rented suits by the day.  Or maybe it was a milliner?  Those who lived here over these many, many years - their individual stories, the high flying parties, the romance, and the break-ups, the domestic violence -- all combined with time and the times conspiring to leave it still standing, as it is now, a relic of former glory.  What would its builder think?  Is this how he had imagined his creation might end up?  Would he be proud?

Do you ever wonder that about people?

Stare at an old person and wonder how they ended up the person they are?  Which personalities in their lifetime, the cruel and the kind, shaped them into what and who they are now.  What they would have been like had they weighed more or less importance on one influence or another.  If different events, times or values had informed them, would they be the same?  Do they match what's inside?  Or do you see something inside that is all but lost, vanished, a shell of the person they were meant to be?

Do you ever do that in the mirror?

1 comment:

Tony said...

Oh yeah -

As I begin to look more and more like that old building on the Bowery, I try not to actually look in the mirror these days, beyond what's necessary to shave and brush my rapidly disappearing hair.
Looking at myself metaphorically, I sometimes wonder what influences might have caused me to turn out differently - who knows, I could have been rich and famous. But I'm not, so is that a result of outside influences, or a result of my fundamental "character," to use an old-fashioned term? I think it's the latter. Although "environmental" factors can have an effect, for good or ill, I think a person's fundamental nature seems to be the strongest influence on how they turn out.
Nice post, Jesse.