Yesterday I made yet another trip to New York City to explore the heights of human achievement, which is what the skyscraper symbolically represents. And to a certain extent, cultural centers like New York City do attract talent from all over the country and world. This eventually makes such cities seem like the centers of human achievement, and its highest expression. This may be somewhat debatable, but New York City is well worth exploring and for this trip I ventured into the great unknown.
My major goal on this trip was to try a new experience, sensory deprivation, using a specially designed floatation spa at Blue Light Floatation. You may be familiar with sensory deprivation floatation tanks from the 1980 science fiction film Altered States. The floatation spa was located in an apartment building in the Chelsea neighborhood.
The bus left us off at the side of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I was planning on taking the 1 Line train from the 50th Street Station down to the 23rd Street Station but it made more sense to use the Times Square 42nd Street station. Unfortunately weekend maintenance was being done on the tracks so the 1 train going downtown was an express train. It took me to the 14th Street Union Square station and I had to transfer to an uptown train to get back up to the 23rd Street Station.
I arrived about an hour early in Chelsea so I wandered around to take photographs. I took lots of photos of subway station entrances because I still find it difficult to find decent photos on the Internet. A tourist definitely needs help locating the subway entrances. For this trip I researched several subway stations I have not used before and I made a special effort to photograph every subway station entrance I saw. While I was in Chelsea I also located the Irish Repertory Theatre and the Cell Theatre performance space which were added to my notes long after my previous trips to the Chelsea neighborhood. Chelsea Hotel was completely covered in scaffolding for renovations so I did not bother to take any photos of it.
My float at Blue Light Floatation went better than expected at least in terms of the procedure. However it did prove to be a little disappointing since I did not experience an altered state of consciousness. First I will describe the physical process of floating and then I will get into the mental aspects. The floatation spa is located in a private apartment but the apartment building reception desk seemed quite familiar with the business being run there. The apartment itself featured an office filled with books and artwork associated with Eastern philosophy. The floatation spa was located in a specially designed room with a filtration unit and other equipment. Essentially you are just floating in a wide tub with some climate control. I had to take a shower in a bathroom across the hallway before getting into the floatation spa. The water is saturated with Epsom salt to help you to float. The big concern is to not to get any of that into your eyes, mouth, or nostrils and this proved to be pretty easy. It did burn my scalp for awhile due to my scalp psoriasis but eventually the pain faded away. The air was little muggy from the body temperature water which I didn’t like but it probably prevented me from going to sleep.
I can’t say that floating made me feel weightless. It actually felt like I was lying on something hard since I could still feel the water pressing on my body’s underside. It was an interesting physical sensation which eases all the tension from your body except for the upper back and shoulders. But for me it seemed to be an entirely physical experience centered on the body. Mentally I got bored after getting used to floating. After about an hour I lost interest in boredom and became a bit more insensate. I lost track of time and felt like I had been in there forever. I had an hour and a half session which may have been too long. At one point it felt like my left leg had gone numb. My mind may have been freed from processing physical sensations, but it did not find anything else to do. I did not experience any hallucinations or even a feeling of transcendence. This was quite disappointing since I pride myself on being a great visionary, someone who can easily explore his psyche. So I was expecting a fantastic trip. Part of the problem may be that the mind is very alert when you enter into new situations. The mind does not want to let go when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Instead, survival dictates that you become even more alert. You can’t really afford to let your mind wander until you are extremely comfortable with your surroundings. Since floating is a radically new physical experience I suspect the mind wants to focus on what is happening.
I knew my time was up when the music began to play, although I did not hear it at first because my ears where under water. I took another shower to wash away the Epsom salt. I did forget to rinse out my ears and found them crusted with salt later on in the day. After getting dressed I sat in the office and drank an entire glass of herbal tea because I was a little dehydrated from walking around Chelsea and maybe from being in what felt like a hot sauna. I made some awkward small talk with the owner before paying him in cash and leaving.
Floating may not be my thing since it seems to be more associated with relaxation and meditation. The goal would be to still the mind and transcend consciousness. But I’m actually more interested in altered states of consciousness which are visionary, but not hallucinatory. A different set of spiritual practices are required for that. Merely transcending consciousness does not compare to genuinely transforming consciousness. Visionary consciousness actually seems to transform your entire world and frees you from social consciousness and self consciousness. But it is apparently very difficult for the average person to experience visionary consciousness and I don’t know of any method to bring it about in somebody who is not inclined to experience it.
Upon leaving Blue Light Floatation I walked east to the Flatiron Building. I took a lot of photos of that since it is an iconic building but I was also interesting in documenting the subway station entrances around the area. I took a R train heading downtown to reach the Cortlandt Street Station. The subway stations in downtown Manhattan are now interconnected to two major transportation hubs; the Fulton Center and the World Trade Center Station. There are many long passageways between them and it is even more confusing than the Times Square transportation hub. Although I intended to come out at a Cortlandt Street Station entrance I somehow wound up at the Fulton Center which was all right since my goal was to check out the entire area.
The Fulton Center is a very futuristic transit center and retail complex with an oculus, the Sky Reflector-Net. I took lots of photos but I didn’t actually go into any stores. Eventually I found a street exit and quickly found St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway. I took lots of photos of the facade facing Broadway because I don’t think I took any photos of that side of the church on previous trips. Next I photographed the Cortlandt Street Station entrances outside Century 21. This part of my trip was all about taking photos and seeing the new development around Ground Zero. I entered the World Trade Center Station which is also known as the Westfield World Trade Center. The entire structure is sometimes referred to as the Oculus. It looks like the backbone and soaring rib cage of a strange, gigantic creature. It houses a shopping mall, Westfield World Trade Center, and a transit center, World Trade Center Station. That is a little confusing but not as confusing as what you find in the interior which is a vast hallway that leads to numerous passageways. It is easy to get lost in this sprawling public space. The Oculus has clearly become a tourist attraction in itself. I saw lots of people crowding the balconies where you can take the best photos. I forgot to mention that this was the Memorial Day weekend so everything was very crowded. For example, I tried to get a few photos of the 9/11 Memorial reflecting pool but there was a solid line of people all along all four sides. I did manage to find the restrooms in the Westfield World Trade Center shopping complex but I’m not sure I could find them again. I only entered the Apple store in the Westfield World Trade Center because I’m a bit interested in new devices. The only Apple product I now own is an ancient iBook laptop.
I had a 4:00 p.m. ticket to the One World Observatory. I had a little time left even after wandering throughout the Westfield World Trade Center so I went across West Street and explored the Brookfield Place, yet another shopping complex in the area. I don’t know why downtown Manhattan needs so many high end shopping complexes. And none of them have a single store I would be interested in since I only like a nice bookstore. The Brookfield Place has a Winter Garden, a glass-enclosed hall like a greenhouse with a stand of palm trees. I walked through the Winter Garden to the Hudson River marina where you find excellent views of the Jersey City skyline. There seems to be a lot of construction going on in Jersey City. I saw a new skyscraper in the Jenga style. The Jenga style skyscraper has each floor jutting out from the building core at different lengths so the skyscraper looks staggered. Tribeca also has a Jenga style skyscraper, 56 Leonard Street, which I photographed from the One World Observatory.
Getting into the One World Observatory required waiting in a long line. Fortunately I bought a ticket online so I wasn’t in the longest line. But you should still give yourself a good thirty minutes just to get up there. I had to go through security which was annoying. All you had to do was go through a metal detector but it was fairly strict. I had to take off my belt and empty all my pockets. I did leave my watch, my glasses, and some metal cuff links on. Then there was a long process of being herded like cattle through a series of guest experiences of no real interest to a bank of five elevators. The elevator ride was amazingly short and featured a brief multimedia presentation on all four walls. Even the Observation Deck itself required going through some up-sell hoops until I finally came to the windows. Every window was being hogged by other tourists making for a bit of a wait to take some photos. The only thing that made this worthwhile was the aerial views of downtown Manhattan which are actually quite enlightening if you have been studying the urban geography as I have. It is pretty cool to look down a skyscraper canyon from an interior vantage point. I saw several buildings under construction.
I only spent a half hour at the One World Observatory because I had a reservation at Chumley’s in Greenwich Village for 5:30 p.m. I gave myself an hour to get there because I needed to walk to the Chambers Street Station and then take the 1 train uptown to Christopher Street Station. This actually only took me thirty minutes so I had some time to kill in Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village is probably one of my most frequently visited neighborhoods so I just saw many establishments I’m already familiar with. I did stop in at Three Lives & Company which happened to be open. Unfortunately I was dead set on buying drama books and this book store does not seem to have a book shelf for drama. They had a lot of poetry which tempted me but I’m not too keen on poetry right now. Eventually I walked out without buying anything which was a shame because Chumley’s is a good place to show up at with a book. Chumley’s is a famous literary haunt where hundreds of writers used to drink and write. It is not far from the Cherry Lane Theater so I took even more photos of that before it was time for my reservation.
Chumley’s is now a pretty upscale sort of place which probably appeals to literary types, but not struggling writers. Struggling writers won’t be found writing at such an expensive restaurant. The walls are covered in framed photos of famous writers and celebrities associated with Chumley’s. There is also a row of book jackets from the literary works that may have been written in part at Chumley’s. The place is a shrine to literary glory so I could not resist basking in it. I was shown to a table facing a large photo of the poet Dylan Thomas. Nearby I saw an old book jacket for one of his books, Quite Early One Morning, published by New Directions. This book was unknown to me. Apparently it is a collection of stories, poems, and essays written by Dylan Thomas shortly before his death. Since Dylan Thomas died in New York City at the White Horse Tavern, it makes sense that he would have been writing and drinking at other establishments like Chumley’s. In honor of Dylan Thomas I ordered a glass of Guinness beer. But just one glass because I wasn’t aiming to drink myself to death. I also ordered John’s Terrine, not knowing what the hell that was. And what exactly is terrine? Terrine is a French forcemeat loaf similar to a pâté with a large amount of fat as well as pork. Basically it was a small square of greasy meat of various types served cold. I also got two pieces of bruschetta bread and a smear of some kind of jelly I used with the bread. This wasn’t much of a meal so I also had a dessert, the tiny cherry chocolate ice cream sandwich. All this cost me an astounding $52.27. This is a pretty steep price tag just to bask in some reflected literary glory, but perhaps that is a testament to how highly we value literary excellence. Or maybe not.
I’m pretty sure I saw Victoria Blamey, Chumley’s chef, working in the kitchen which I could see from my table.
Chumley’s is on Bedford Street, not far from the Edna St. Vincent Millay House, the narrowest apartment building in New York City at just 9.5 feet wide. Supposedly Edna St. Vincent Millay would occasionally tend bar for Chumley when he was away, back when Chumley’s was a Prohibition Era speakeasy. I’ve read a biography of the poet, Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and even used this in a play which ponders if poetic beauty can will its own existence even given the resistance of a selfish visionary. Long before I developed any interest in Edna St. Vincent Millay I probably read some of her translations of Charles Baudelaire’s poems in a New Directions paperback book. All of which is to say that something brought me to Chumley’s and my presence there should be respected. It wasn’t just a matter of being a tourist, no matter what Chumley’s has become.
I had no other firm plans for this trip. But I did want to do a little shopping. Drama Book Shop closes at 7:00 p.m. so I could have gone there but for some reason I thought they closed at 6:00 p.m. so I went to Barnes & Noble at Fifth Avenue instead. At Barnes & Noble I bought three books I found in their Drama section; Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare, Oresteia by Aeschylus translated by Robert Fagles, and Playwrights and Power: The Making of the Dramatists Guild by Thomas J. Walsh. I didn’t know there was a book on the history of the Dramatists Guild so this was a significant find. I used to be a member of the Dramatists Guild before I got completely discouraged with my playwriting. Now I have resumed this ambition with more serious intent but I’m hesitant to rejoin the Dramatists Guild because it seems like an exclusive club that has nothing to offer me. But it might be interesting to learn why the guild exists.
On the long bus ride back home, without a comfort stop I might add, I did some intense brooding on my frustrated literary ambitions. Everything I really need can be found within myself, because I yearn for something which does not exist in the world. I can only be satisfied if I create it myself. Therefore there is nothing I need to be given. But I do think I need to be a little more focused and intent. The next play I intend to write really gets into this matter of being driven to greatness even when it risks your comfortable life. The protagonist will actually be a fairly successful artist and satisfied with his career choices until he meets somebody who reminds him that he still has not reached his full potential. And that is what shakes up his world. Essentially I am taking a concept that emerged from my last play further, that savage beauty makes its own destiny. Determination to be brought into existence is what makes beauty so savage. This is possibly a misinterpretation of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, but it is an interesting idea.