Friday, May 14, 2010

A humid lunch with Velma

I had lunch with Velma on one of those unbearably humid afternoons last week. That morning I spent the entirety of our phone conversation trying to convince her that we should go out for lunch instead of sitting by the peace fountain in the soupy air (I honestly didn’t want to go all the way up to Morningside Heights). But she insisted and so there I was that very 1 PM eating her infamous tuna sandwiches and slurping down her homemade iced coffee which, I should add, was very tasty.

I told her so: “Velma, this iced coffee is delicious.”

“There’s a secret to it.” There’s always a secret to it with her.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep. Vanilla extract. Just a couple of drops.”

“Good idea. It really makes the grade.”

She smiled ramming my shoulder with her flat palm. It almost caused a spill, “Good, I know what a coffee snob you are.” 

She’s right. I am. “Have you gotten Nick to start drinking it yet?”

“Who, that princess? He started drinking tea just to piss me off.” That sounded like Nick. “He’s a real ball-buster.” There was a pause. Dottie was fond of that term.”

“It’s consummately Brooklyn.” I said.

“It’s consummately, Dottie.”

I couldn’t help but notice the sweat droplets running down her forehead, but I graciously ignored them as I was fairing no better. “Where is he?”

“Who Nickie?” Running some errands.”

Then I just couldn’t help it. “It’s hot,” I blurted.

“This? Nonsense! This isn’t heat.”

“Well no, you’re right it’s humidity.”

She grimaced. “Don’t be a little smart-ass. I know the difference.”

“Velma that mouth,” I smirked. There was no customary return. She seemed more sensitive than usual. There was something going on with her. “Velma, what’s up?”

“How do you mean?”

“You’re a little testie.”

“Really?” She started fidgeting. “I’m just busy, sweetheart.” She went quiet for a good thirty seconds. “I’m too old to be busy. I want to slow down a bit. Spend some time with loved ones and all that.”

“Are you feeling ok? Physically?” It was a valid question. She is in her nineties.

She seemed to drift off again for a split second but whipped back right into place, “What? Me? Oh yeah I’m an ox. Look, don’t worry about me.”

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?”

“No. No, I’m good. But I did have you up here for a reason.”

I figured as much: “Oh yeah? What for?”

“It’s the journals.” I figured. “It seems like we’ve all tried to get them out there and keep them going but—“ She was cutting me loose and as well she should I really wasn’t consistent with them. “—it’s time to stop them. And I figured out why.”

“You did?”

“Oh yeah. Sweetheart, they just don’t make sense without any context.”

I gave the confused look, “What do you mean?”

“There’s no frame of reference. No one really knows what’s going on. So let’s put the entries on the backburner. We can revisit them when people get more of a hold of the story from your graphics novel.”


“Right.” With that, out of the thick curtain of air, Velma’s white peacock (I couldn’t distinguish which one was which) came running down toward the fountain and perched itself on the bench next to Velma.

“Oh Christ, Mimi’s out.”

“Is that bad?” I asked half expecting her to run out onto Amsterdam Avenue.

“She’s just being nosey.”

“Nosy?” I didn’t know peacock’s had a penchant for gossip.

“Yeah then she’ll go and tell Rudy (that’s the blue peacock) that I was having lunch with a handsome young gent and they’ll both give me attitude because I wasn’t with them.” Velma turned her head toward Mimi and shouted. “BECAUSE THEY’RE TWO LITTLE BRATS!”

Mimi whipped her head around and glared at Velma. My eyes grew wide.

“Now she’s going to prance off and tell Rudy. Watch.”

Mimi did just that. After giving Velma the meanest evil eye I’ve seen since my Sicilian great aunt Agnes, the white pea fowl trotted off toward the cathedral.

“So…” Velma sighed.

“So you’re letting me go.” I huffed.

She pulled back in terror, “WHAT?” Not at all!”

“With no journals to type, what’s next for me. Well besides finishing the Wonder City.”

She flashed that patented Velma smile. “We’re switching gears, sweetheart. Eat your lunch and I’ll show you what I mean.” 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

St. John the Divine

Since the name of this blog is Building the Wonder City  I thought it would be fun to take out my trusty (cheap) digital camera and shoot some structural works in progress.

The perfect place to start is St. John the Divine Cathedral on 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Not only is it the base of operations for our heroine, Velma Graydon,  it's also New York's longest ongoing building project. Its charter was drawn up in 1873 but a turbulent economic climate put the venture on hold until 1892 when the first cornerstone was finally laid. From that point on it was a roller coaster of financial woes and untimely key player deaths that made completion of the cathedral a near 125 year work in process.

The plaque near the main entrance says it nicely (like Sarah Vowell, I'm a sucker for a good plaque):

Because architects were replaced mid-stream, the nave was started in a Romanesque style whereas the choir, crossing, and apse were later constructed in the Gothic tradition making it an architectural patchwork of form. To this day, many New Yorkers refer to cathedral as St. John the Unfinished.

In 2001 a fire severely damaged the nave and north transept. It also left the organ unusable. After seven years of restoration the cathedral reopened the area in 2008 and the result is truly awe inspiring. Also after an extensive scrubbing the organ is now fully operational.

A little known fact: Madeleine L'Engle, author of the beloved classic A Wrinkle in Time was a volunteer librarian at St. John the Divine and then the cathedral's writer-in-resident. She was laid to rest there after her passing in 2007.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Here's some further progress on page 39. After some work on the water and the whale swimming away, I think it'll be finished. This page took a week to ink (with a very stiff, small nib), but I think I can now say I'm an expert at drawing tiny people in a crowd!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A page in progress

A full page panel I'm working on of the crowded Coney Island beach.