Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

. . . But I Know What I Like To Laugh At

I've been thinking over my favorite artists and I'm starting to worry that I don't actually like art at all. Because although I've studied art and decided on favorites, just like any humanities major would do, it turns out that my favorite artists are all the funny ones: Paul Klee, Rene Magritte, Claes Oldenberg, Marc Chagall, Roy Liechtenstein. Do I like their use of color? Damned if I know; I'm colorblind. Is their composition brilliant? Couldn't tell ya. It doesn't seem to matter to me what their genre is, just as long as they traffic in whimsy.

I could, of course, attempt to defend this with high-sounding philosophy. I could tell you that art is an attempt to express the ineffable, and that the gesture that most reaffirms life is not the accurate expression of reality qua reality, but the joyous surprise, the playful dream rendered plausible and concrete. To an extent I even believe this, since it overlaps neatly with my concept of jokes-as-my-personal-religion. But when it comes right down to it, I think I just love cartoons. And I love the artists I do because they make cartoons more socially acceptable. Take, for example, Klee's "Twittering Machine," which, if rendered in black and white, could be a one-panel straight out of the New Yorker:

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I was reminded of this the other night when I was taking the A train to the Village. All the stations on the A line have more or less the same structure---same turnstiles, same white tile on the walls, same beleaguered-looking attendants in scruffy glass booths, etc. But a few of the stations have distinctive character. The station at Columbus Circle, for example, is festooned with art relating to Christopher Columbus. The station at 81st and 8th Avenue, which leads directly into the Museum of Natural History, has pictures of fossils and insects everywhere.

But my favorite station is the one at 14th Street and 8th Avenue, which is the home of an installation called Life Underground, by Dean Otterness. And Dean's work is exactly the kind of thing I love. It's not exactly one artwork---rather, the entire station is sort of haunted by tiny bronze cartoon characters acting out subversive little ironic tableaux, often involving policemen, money, and/or getting eaten. I took a few camera-phone pictures a few weeks ago and finally figured out how to mail them to myself, and with any luck, they'll appear here where I paste them:

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And here's my favorite, which actually invades public space:

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There are at least eight more tucked in various crannies, and I keep finding new ones. Anyway, it's precisely this surprising little touch of warmth and humor that makes 14th Street my favorite stop, and Dean Otterness my new favorite public artist. In fact, when you consider how much I love subway trains (an issue I'll deal with in a future post), and the fact that it therefore mixes humor, art, myth, and surprising humanity, I'm tempted to say that the 14th Street station is the closest thing I have these days to an honest-to-god chapel.


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