So then, yesterday I was kind of all over the place. I walked from home to Penn Station via Sutton Place and First Avenue to Rockefeller Center and then down to the SASB, where the much-anticipated footnote awaited. I had found a book online, called “Getting Up”, which chronicled the graffiti scene in New York from the 1970s and early 1980s. I had seen the book online before — it is only available in excerpts — and I had read a few times already the two pages of discussion about PRAY. I had not noticed, however, that in that discussion was a footnote which contained a citation to a New York Post article about PRAY. The footnotes were not part of the excerpted pages of this book, so I had the option of either ordering a used copy online or going to the SASB and requesting it. Buying it would have run me about $10, going to the SASB would run me $5.50 in subway fare and whatever monetary value I might place on my time. But buying the book online would not eliminate the necessity of actually going to the library, since that is the most obvious way I know of to get at the microfiche copies of the New York Post.
I went to the library on Thursday, and filled out a request form for the book. After about an hour and a half of waiting I said fuckit, and went home. It is supposed to take no more than a half hour to get a book this way but, as I waited and waited, I remembered every other experience I’d had with this process, and how it seemed to take longer and longer every single time. I will be wise to this next time, and file requests and come back for them the next day, or see if I can make requests online (I did not notice a way to do that but I’m smart, right? I’ll find it if it is there.)
I got an email at 10:30 pm saying my book was now available for pickup. So I went back on Friday and yay, there it was. I found my footnote, with a citation for an article headlined “Divine Graffiti” on page 31 of the November 29, 1978 issue of the New York Post. Solid, right? I noted that and took pictures of the rest of the citations and bibliography, and headed to the microfiche/microfilm room.
My motivation and even determination to get at this article was momentarily derailed by the sight of one of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Oh man, she was something to see, and I think I was having enough trouble looking away from her that she could tell I was ogling. We don’t do this anymore, post #MeToo, but I was always afraid of doing it long before that. It didn’t take #MeToo for me to know that even looking for a prolonged few seconds at a woman can get you yelled t, and nobody but nobody is going to side with anyone but the oglee.
But that matter is for another discussion. Once in the room and after the thunderbolts and lightning subsided I got the proper roll of microfilm and started flipping through the pages, heading page 31 of the November 29, 1978 issue. There it was. Page 31, that is. But where was “Divine Graffiti”? Wherever it was it was not there, at the location cited by the author of “Getting Up.” There is no way to know but I’d be willing to bet I am the only creature alive who has called out this mistake in the references section of this book, published in 1982. My first thought was to contact the author, but even if he’s still around the chanced that he’d remember this needle in the haystack of life would be hopelessly remote. The scenario of being like Robert Caro and leafing through every page of the Post from 1978 onward entered my thinking. Besides the possibility of finding this story the pursuit would also be complemented by improving my chances of getting the drop-dead beautiful microfilm librarian into conversation, revealing to her my magnificence and hers to me.
But that’s cockeyed thinking at best. I don’t know what mistake was made in the citation. Was it the wrong year, the wrong newspaper, the wrong everything? Skimming through other citations in his bibliography the author seems to have favored the Daily News over the Post, so maybe he meant to cite the Daily News instead? Who the hell knows, and I doubt if the value of whatever content is in the story rises to the level of being obsession-worthy. I would think it’s a short little sidebar piece, probably with a photograph of one of PRAY’s etchings, but other than that I cannot imagine it contains anything I have not seen already.
I have been intrigued to hear other anecdotes about PRAY’s identity and possible background. Was she really a nurse in the psych ward at Bellevue? If so I would think her writing is all over the payphones at that hospital. I wish I had thought of that when I was admitted there a few years ago, though I should be able to go look for her again without anybody bothering me. There were, as I recall, payphones all over the place at Bellevue (on the first floor), but I don’t think any of them worked… Not that that matters in this case. I also found a description of her technique and tools to be intriguing.
So anyway, the quest for a fucking footnote came up snake eyes, at least for now. In the meantime I continue to find PRAY’s work on more and more phone booths around town. Those words rise up like distant fireworks, almost subliminally, oh-so-barely visible but oh-so-very-there once I see the glimmer of the words’ outline.
The style of the lettering is astoundingly consistent from one phone to the next. It’s like she went around with a stamp or iron that could somehow press the words into the steel surface of the enclosures. But that’s not how it worked. She meticulously and earnestly scraped out every single letter.
The more of her I find the more of her I want, and the more I find the more I feel her presence, standing on the same spot decades ago sending this message that I have come to find and that I strain to see. To any passer-by with awareness of such things I must look like a fucking loon sticking my head into every phone booth I pass, looking for religion.
Soooo, it was either on Sutton Place or First Avenue yesterday that a woman asked at me: “Andy?” I didn’t catch her at first but when she repeated the question I kinda smiled and said no, I’m not Andy. She looked mid- to late-60s, and seemed sand and normal, whatever the hell that means. She said I looked exactly like someone she used to know named Andy. She also seemed a little embarrassed to have made this mistake, so I tried to be nice by telling her about the time I heard a guy shouting my name, or what I thought was my name, on Third Avenue at 49th Street. He looked normal (again, whatever the hell that means) and had a sane demeanor about him. I approached him, still thinking he was calling my name. It’s not like he was trying to lure me into a corner or anything, he was just out there smoking a cigarette outside an office building. We shook hands and that’s when I discerned he was actually yelling “Art?”, not “Mark?” Then he said about smoking pot at the horse races, or something like that, to which I responded that I had no idea what he was talking about. Again, though, the encounter was entirely amiable when I said “Oh, you’re saying ‘Art”, I thought you said ‘Mark’…” Then he laughed and said I was a spittin’ image of his friend Art, except that I weighed about 100 pounds less than him.
The takeaway from this encounter was that there is a fat version of me walking around somewhere.
I told that little story (much more succinctly) to the woman who thought I was Andy, and I think she got it that I was just trying to be nice. I thought later I could have extended the conversation by saying “Hmmm, I wonder if you remind me of anyone I’ve ever known…” She might have but I’d have to have gazed upon her countenance a little longer to make a connection.
OK, I’m at the coffee shop. It is now 3:30pm and I have work to do.