Friday, October 18, 2013

The Haunted Season

Much time has passed, and there is much to be told. I’ll break these posts into a series of segments, starting from last Summer. Bare with me while I dust the tools needed to render these months with volume and life. I suspect I will have it in good shape in a blog or two.


In a dark cave, I fry my eyes over sizzling light, piling lines upon lines until I hear the faint murmur of a heartbeat. My film is an embryo. Within my studio there is an artificial cold, a seeping, air conditioned bite that covers every cubic inch of exposed skin in a manufactured chill. Its that unnatural sensation of a vacuum sealed, modernist building that makes one feel preserved by some unnatural force of scientific refrigeration. I need a break, so I step out into the sunlight...

My eyes saw what stretched before me through a bright Polaroid filter. White-hot Summer hazes blurred the distance with warm streaks; just as well to enjoy the sand before me, pasted onto my bare shoulders.  Coney Island wheeled a whirl of ants about a boardwalk waiting to fulfill Summer dreams. My vision bounced with the subtle disturbance of walking. I scanned from the towels to that smile, beaming behind a pair of huge tinted windows that tend to rest on the face during that time of year.

“Would you like to go see a high school friend of mine?”

Above ground the subway is a treat, and your eyes can scan the landscape, imagining all the songs and stories flying past deep eastern Brooklyn from the subway window.  Wood striped buildings speed blurred in the foreground, shrunken midground rectangles drift by like lazy clouds with faded painted advertisements, and a distant blue mass of ever-receding weathered structures hangs solid in the distance. An ambient rustle rises like a shouting static and we are thrust back into darkness. The world becomes the underground once again. In the quiet black I explain Logan. “He was a role model of sorts, I unintentionally followed in his exact footsteps.”  His Texas Art Association flag hung daunting between the U.S. and Texas in the high, cylindrical atrium circling the entrance of Frisco High School’s southern wing. This signified one of the many contest won first by him that paved the path of our future successes. Two years after Logan, I succeeded him as President of the Art Club, then as a merit scholar to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Now he waited in a yet unknown part of that distant northern city.

Greenpoint opened its arms with generous breathing room atypical of New York streets. Warm three story wood panels gave nods hinting a half-century of secrets behind their smiles. Former industrial patches felt repurposed by a wave of artist weary of the heavier rent and pretension in more bohemian areas.  Brick buildings revealed waist high patios of bars surfing along the sidewalk, inviting a step into the expansive hub beyond. Wood beams supporting high roofs that gave way to pockets of monochrome life ripped from Picasso’s tone-driven phases. Past the bar and cafe porches you might glance through corners of espresso scented conversation under lights of reclining blue, or follow a trail of smoke across a moody bar cast in sheets and shades of red. Fresh air drifts into open front restaurants with an ornate wooden structures ripped from a high-class, old west saloon. Dim under the shadow of the bright day, clouds of scent bekon the senses to the cool space. Or, maybe to take the spiraling wooden staircase dividing the tall room up to rooftop views of the skyline across a dark river. We pass groups spilling out into the sidewalk talking over beers in a wide alleyway sloping down into the water. The collages of clothing are some paint splattered and all assembled from bits of bygone generations. The identifiable style works in a strange, layered harmony. I recognize this ever shifting uniform of the artist adorning the open loading dock of a motorcycle shop. Bikes pushed aside accommodate sizzling grills and stocked coolers. Tireless work and stress have hardened a cynicism that escapes from me unexpectedly, and robs me of the social skills I had known so effortlessly throughout my life. It is with no little self consciousness that I “casually” slap hands with a hometown friend. But in the carless and dwindling sting of Summer heat, the flow of artistic discourse and eager storytelling comes freely. Talks of past and future meet in a humble alleyway across from the bustle of millions. Distance from those millions allows a heavier blue to set across coming night. We were told to pee in the Gutter; so named was a dive bar with carpeted walls thick with hunting trophies, candy machines generations old from trucking depots, all lit through a smoky haze by hanging green pool table lamps. A strip of windows running like the foreman's observation tower of an old factory overlook a five lane bowling alley attached via staircase to the bar. We marked the spot for a later gathering of friends for bowling, billiards and birthday wishes. The Gutter is a deep purple blotch against a night sky, crouching by a river at the end of an alleyway; It is a beautifully isolated place teeming with its own ecosystem like the underside of a forest rock. Stumbling back to the alley I notice an ever-present ambiance of electric energy across the East River, and appreciate the small solitude that held our gallery party quietly out of sight.

My glass and steal cave is unmoved by my exhaustion. I can hear the film’s pulse daily now, as drawing by drawing 12 frames a second begins to give way to animated movement. Every morning of my Summer I wake up bathed in a diagonal stripes of hazy orange from my window, and yet march midday into that vacuum sealed freezer. 3am shuts down the building’s power, and during my walk home even New York is asleep or drunk. There is progress, but the bags under my eyes ask me if there could really be another school year of this in me.

Back on that above ground stretch of tracks we seek Far Rockaway. A slowly rattling tram coast from the foggy ephemera of grassy marshes that mark the end of ever more sparse buildings. The shuttle conductor calls goodbye to last stop, and we roll past the end of the subway and step off the shuttle into an alien world.  Through a wall of fog, sun-bleached, pastel houses emerge on stilts from the swamp below. Horizontal two by fours snake endlessly twisting and joining to form curving sidewalks and paths overhanging the water below.The corners of the city wear a different face and abide no rules. The fact that our destination is so called, Far Rockaway, is evidence of its remote and appreciably overlooked nature. Iron gates shut on an abandoned stone courthouse. Tall grass swallows the bottom 5 feet of courtyard and ivy playfully circles the deeply carved “justice” overhead. A row of plastic condos attempt to place a resort mask on the tiny strip of land, but fades a block away like a passing set propped up on two by fours. Heat beats splintered grey poles holding a zig-zaging tapestry of telephone wires. Shoes from my parent’s childhood swing by a breeze from those black lines. Hills supporting trees and dense, clinging vegetation have long replaced the rooftops of even brightly colored wooden homes.  Clean sands, few humans, and miles of boardwalk stretch before us. I spend some time being happily manhandled by aggressive waves before retiring. I am a contented spectator to the sole surf spot within city limits.


I’ve lost count of the hours spent in sterile toil. I know how my characters move, how they feel. Its always that cryogenic cold, and all other life forms have gone home for Summer. The film can’t go on if I don’t, so why don’t pace myself? Still, this fictional world is takes shape beneath my fingertips. I could take comfort within my creation, if not for the horror of its content.

That annual text from Liam arrives on schedule.
Once again, Liam runs the pre-college program. Once again, the pre-college kids didn’t deplete their supply of Coney Island cash. Once again, Liam’s loyal friends must take it upon themselves to selflessly help devour a thousand dollars worth of rides, food, and beer before they expire.

Scenes 26-28 done, need to add steam to 45, the background needs to be re-done on 19, can 25 be cut? Why hasn’t my sound designer emailed me back yet?

A graphic novel commision dangles before me. I toy with the idea, and bring sketches to a domineering glass and steel skyscraper. A screaming war tower that will not be ignored, it juts from the meek three story average of Brooklyn to rival Manhattan’s giants. The security guard next to a waterfall directs me around frosted glass walls to an elevator. See-through fabric is the first thing I notice as my client’s model girlfriend answers the door. Directing me inside his apartment, the walls are lined with strange, expensive looking modernist paintings of genetailia. For a few sessions I bring revised sketches to this palace of vintage collector’s vinyl and leather furniture. The son of a famous author reviews them over a view of the skyline beyond.

The project is dark, and the writer, my potential benefactor, well connected. Actors from popular television shows have already starred in the movie set to premiere alongside the graphic novel. A dense script follows a public shooter through his crime and the media circus that follows. It’s a black look into the psychology of a monster, a statement about domestic terrorism. Heavy content and time constraints cannot balance alongside my growing film. After a difficult discussion, I pass on the offer. On the night I leave the project, my closest friends and I suspend our disbelief to enjoy a midnight premiere in a dark theater. For the night, we share a space within the fiction of Chris Nolan’s final Batman film; For three hours, we become carefree children rooting for the fantastic. Friends and strangers share a different fate in the same screening across the country. The public shooting feels a little close to home for more reason than one.

Weeks go by. I’m buried beyond light in the shafts now, and blindly mine for the heart of the film. The handles of my pick run sores up and down my palms. A bounty of progress stacking up in my cart make the effort somewhat worthwhile.

We christen my final RA training with a massive Lounge Monster decoration to welcome a new crop of freshman. The project is temporary, but leadership hopes to inspire an afterlife in memory.

Scene after scene litters the floor of the completed pile. Drawings number in the thousands, characters move onscreen, yet there i barely a dent in the wall ahead.

When I arrived at Pratt my freshman year, wood framed dutch townhouses from the age of lithographs sat overgrown in the back of campus. Time stretched with hands of vines to pull them beneath the earth. In 2012, Pratts swings its mighty hand, heavy with 50,000 dollars of tuition multiplied thousands of times and students over. In an instant, there are four livable townhouses. The rest are soon on their way.  It seems strange to see abodes from what were so long mighty and beautiful ruins. None the less, someone manages to tastefully install air conditioner in this Parthenon. Within one is a fleet of retired RAs, old friends, and like minded artists. Sitting on the stoop of Gandalf house, as it came to be named,  my friend Uriah is approached by an ancient man weaving polite and pleasant stories from his time in that same house in the 6 decades before. Annabeth’s name inadvertently reveals the coed housing, and the gentleman bolts at an unnatural and appalled speed. In proper form, his politeness never ceases despite disappearing muttering into the dusk. Fun and unusual events seem to go hand in hand with Gandalf house, from poker tournaments with missing people, to mattress sledding that ends in ambulances, and even a snowball fight with the building itself. One of the formative visits to the house in the waning days of 2012’s Summer delivered us into the hands of terror and wonder. A dear friend, one Jared Schwartz, and I are approached with the possibility of some urban exploration. The air brakes hiss and we step from the bus with a thankful nod for our specially requested stop. We stare at a city block far from home. Like much of Brooklyn, its surrounded with developing and remodeling construction. Fortunately our treasure isn’t in the war path of city planners with a taste to replace history with high-rent, “modernist” apartments. It was long ago paved over and hidden from the hands of profit and time. Encased within a city block, our target is barely visible above the surrounding rectangle of architecture: it is guarded on all sides by giant storage facilities, brownstone apartments, tall businesses, and the kind of unidentifiable warehouse-like structures people rarely ask questions about. Circling the block, we survey our points of entrance. Along the brownstones, there are several locked rod-iron gates, plus a taller gate in the backyards with sharp spikes and a sheer fall. We say no thank you to the iron spears. It is a Sunday, and all but a few storage facility employees are absent from the massive parking lot. In the back, a rusty ladder in the corner of an aluminum sheeted wall look promising, though the razor wire atop it daunting. The strip of carpet we find is thick enough to avoid being pierced by the razor wire, but narrow enough to make the vault perilous. When we see the added fun of the 10 foot drop into a thicket of thorns and branches, we set it aside as a plan B. Passing the  polished steel of the generic business, we know the route is impenetrable; even the owners likely don’t have access to the space beyond. We come finally upon a long stretch of dusty lot buzzing in front of an unmarked warehouse. Clandestine, dirty trucks match the men loading concealed products onto them. Walls of tires, scrap metal, and conveniently placed machinery wall off the inner circle around the warehouse. Rows upon rows of tightly packed vehicles form 100 meters of cover across the parking lot. Products padlocked and sealed criss cross the warehouse alternately in unmarked vans. Employees in low set hats furtively exchange “goods.”  Waiting for a shifting of men and a change of gaurd, we dart behind an old el camino, wait for a driver to pass, then swing under a detached bed of some forgotten eighteen-wheeler. On counts and turns we play human tetris with the parking lot, hoping to avoid detection and whatever vague consequences come with it.We slide through the cab of a doorless car and arrive at the mountainous cinder block wall at the back most edge of the compound. From the roof of a rusted hatchback propped diagonal from the ground, we pull ourselves upon the stair casing wounds in the cinderblock layers. We are swift and careful; Although we are deep beyond the workers, the lowest through-path between the multiple layers of cinderblock is several stories high, and easily spotted from a distance. Down we climb through a spiraling, concrete hole, atop twisted, rusting relics of what was once a chain link fence, and into a forest of scraggly weeds. We are in.

What stands before us is a massive, encased and forgotten power plant over a century old. What stands behind is a sheer grey wall, with a message sprawled in ancient graffiti several stories tall, a threat to frighten an eternity of visitors, “We are coming.” Gravel crunches underfoot below a waist of weeds dipping into a valley. The echo of our footsteps in this forgotten world are hollow and unimpeded; for now at least we are alone . A moat of twisted trees, wreckage, slip holes, metal, and other unseen dangers fill the chasm between us and the power plant. Cautiously, we forge a path across large stones, crossing a felled tree to stand ground level on the massive building’s loading dock. Without collecting cuts and scrapes in the brambles surrounding the building, this seems to be the only access. Our courtyard landing is an island of concrete slowly splitting and sinking into the waving sea of patient branches. Dilapidation did little to lessen the strength of iron bars, bricked windows, and massive immovable doors with no handles. Branches and shrubs reach from the side to shade and hide the bottom loading dock’s path to the basement. To enter this haunting giant from the lower door seems suspiciously close to the premise of a horror film, especially as it sits a leg’s-break down with few climbing options. We shrug it off and lower each other down. Together we heave the mighty bulk of the massive sliding sectional door enough for Anna to dart crounched into the darkness. A resounding slam shatters the errie silence of our stadium sized concrete encasement as we let the door fall. We climb vines back to ground level. Long moments pass, followed by a heaving creek. The handle-less door heavy with a hundred years gives way from inside. We fix a crack in the door with a loose cinder block’s guarantee. The immediate dark is too dense to make out details of your belt buckle, but the sprawling first floor is guided by stripes of luminance. Columns strike the ground with a radiance almost solid, spilling glow into hazy white pools around the base. We hop between puddles against indistinguishable mechanical silhouettes. Moving slowly, we pray hard against unseen pitfalls to the unknown levels underneath. We span the space between us and the forest of light to a rusty industrial staircase in the adjacent corner. Heavy iron supports holding wide stone steps seem coated but not invaded by cancerous oxidization. We brave the space beyond the waning arms of the bright columns across ancient dark steps. The handrails, are many years absent. Overhead a pin of light opens and swallows us into a deep, light flooded room. As we suspected from the scarcity of the silhouettes below, most of the machinery from the building’s days as a power plant has been salvaged when the ship sank. Forsaken metal chunks form the structure for the rumor of the building’s second age. We now look assured upon the remnants of a homeless civilization. Standing now in a bare colosseum, high stone ceilings stretch immense distances. Speckled missing bits of wall and window fall like knocked in teeth in rectangles of sunshine along the perimeter. Jared and I stand across from what was once an ornate, circular stained glass window. This giant sits atop the summit of a hill, and a breeze reaches up from below. Cobbled chunks of Brooklyn neighborhoods stretch miles towards the waters in the far east. We hover in the relative silence of the wind, watching paradoxes of buzzing. Civilization flanks and ignores us within our doubly isolated enclaves. Sheets drape, tied to the tops of beams and pieces of machinery.Squares of cloth meet and form private rooms. A yellowing scholastic notebook is filled years ago with ideas for begging. A middle schooler’s optimistic font recalls neither math notes nor diary entries. “Luke, I am your father, need cash for new death star.” one line read. This and many others fill the notebook. The levity with which one so young solicits dinner makes me wonder with what shape the soul is crushed. We part the curtains to peak at spilling piles of collected, stained toys and shoes. A mattress across a box-spring of egg-crates gazes out a window. Across the hall, a border of shelves all but barricade the entrance to another room, a narrow passage accessible by pushing inward on heavy cabinet doors and walking through the hole in the back. A bed faces outside again, and the room is empty save for a copy of the Giver, and a bible verse scratched into aluminum. 

We zig zag through the rooms and echoes of the lives before us.Ascending floors each stretch stories high. Crowned by graffiti, the top floor is a day glow tower with an immensity to dwarf all rooms prior, spilling with makeshift rooms and hovels like a pueblo dwelling in the land of the dead. The ground tells a darker tale here, as the rainbow shards of crack viles glitter next to piles of herion needles. 

Still, there is something monstrous and beautiful in this surreal place. Original architecture subsist through the cavernous mounds of operator’s stations at either end of the room. Wires soar in horizontal  arcs hundreds of feet overhead. Decorated manikins float next to mobiles of discarded bicycle tires far above reach.  

What would have seemed a gaudy and unbelievable lair for a comic book gang  held our breath in its reality. All seems out of scale above. Gaping chasms in the roof show us a micro version of Anna taking pictures in the graffiti caves below. 

Meanwhile, oversized versions of common machinery make one feel dwarfed next to the 30 feet of oxidizing fan blades. These behemoths are cloned in lines across the sides. We head back to the cinderblock touch point. Before our reunion with the loading dock, Jared and I make a brave stop in a basement packed with blinding darkness. A haunting presence feels buried alive amongst the generators and the sinking mud. Remote corners bare witness to the history of a lonely dwelling. Far from the communities that would take shape above, something crouched in the chilling damp generations prior. Scattered, fading evidence a half century old whispers remembrances of a life gone by. Paper crumbles beneath the hot yellow sword of our shared flashlight, and the ancient line of shoes and gloves seems best undisturbed. We depart lest more concrete remains of the years spent in darkness revealed themselves in some pitiful, unvisited corner.

We ride with ripped pants and dirtied nails past the brownstones streets. Homes congeal from independence into the solid walls that form our neighborhood streets. I know I must return to my state-of-the-art prison soon. Air brakes squeal our address. The scent of fall is a cool wind through a dense warm haze, spiced with the bursting blood of leaves leaping and spilling from trees: A smelling salt to sharpen the senses from the Summer’s ether. Cross the gates of Pratt awaited our final year in Brooklyn.