32 Hours

by Philip Greenspun.

Home : Travel : New York : One Vignette

At 8 pm, Mohammed Mohammed drops me off at 83rd and Park at the St. Ignatius church where David Chesky is recording the Westminster Choir singing a bunch of modern psalms (Vaughan-Williams, Ives, etc.). The choir is comprised of people who are often successful soloists; they get together once a year or so to do something really great. They were accompanied by the new organ, a towering structure of dark wood supports, gleaming metal pipes, and light wood bass pipes. It is a work of art by itself, made recently in England and I was surprised that the price was only $1 million.

In my world of computers and networks, mediocrity and "good enough to ship" have become pervasive attitudes. It was inspiring to be around people who still strive for perfection and sometimes achieve it. David and his recording engineers obsessed over the imaging and balance, fighting for a centimeter of microphone placement at times. The choir and conductor obsessed over the shaping of every note. Perfectionism doesn't square that well with regular sleep; the session didn't wrap until well past 1 am.

I returned home to collapse on the sofa, listen to Beethoven on our landlord's semi-hifi, and finish Coupland's Microserfs, which is brilliant in passages albeit somewhat lame at the end. Typical is a character's theory that Type-A people suffer from a whole range of diseases that they unwittingly pass around to each other via the Door Close buttons on elevators; this character always presses the buttons but with his elbow.

Four Swedish college girls are staying with me, one of the privileges accorded to those who are subletting 2700 square feet of space in the Village. Only Maja came home by the time I crashed (2:30); the others stayed out dancing until 4. In the morning, we five went out in their Saab for photo sessions by the Empire State Building and Grand Central. I spent the afternoon writing code at Hearst, interfacing the relational database to the Web. At 6:30, I went around the corner to get some pictures for a Hearst writer's "Iguana Women of Manhattan" story. The subject was Julie, a tall slim blonde recently back from modeling in Tokyo, and Willie, a medium-sized green iguana with a long tail. I took two rolls of them them together in the bathtub before going back to Hearst for more programming.

Limelight is a huge church at 20th and 6th Ave, about five blocks from my apartment. 1500 people/night worship there, but in a somewhat modern style: partying until 6 am, ingesting drugs, living off their parents, and moving to techno dance music. At 12:30 am, I walked with Maja and Linda past a line of 300 people waiting on the sidewalk. The beefy bouncer out front was all smiles: "Oh, Mr. Greenspun from Hearst. You're on the media list. Go right upstairs with your guests."

I headed straight for the foam room, a sort of above-ground pool filled with thick foam in which 10 people writhed to thumping music. Every now and then someone would emerge from the foam and get hosed off with an air gun. Maja and Linda dived right in. I exposed a roll and a half then roamed the club looking for more action. After I finished framing a picture, a fellow sitting next to me asked for my business card.

"He must have really admired the way I framed that last picture," I congratulated myself. My chest swelled with pride.

Instead of pocketing my card, however, he used the long edge to grind up a white crystalline wafer against a dollar bill into a fine white powder. Then he spooned some of the powder up with a corner of the card and snorted it. Although he didn't show exactly Japanese manners in the handling of my card, he was polite enough to offer me some. It was only then that he noticed the camera. "Oh, you've got to stay for the Hot Bodies contest at 3."

"I'm tired," I responded. "Are you sure it is worth it?"

"Believe me," he intoned, "it's worth it."

An Emcee bounded onto stage at 3 and pulled five volunteers for the contest out onto the stage. The crowd stopped dancing and pressed against the railings and each other, straining to catch every nuance of the contest.

One thin guy and four busty women proceeded to strip naked on stage, encouraged by the emcee and the audience to perform as best they could (though none came up to the standard set by my friend Christina, a Times Square professional). My favorite comment was the emcee's about one contestant "she's going to be in this month's Playboy, it's her birthday, and she's really fucked up."


Text and pictures copyright 1995 Philip Greenspun.