Ben Katchor


11:00 a.m. On Broadway between 102nd Street and 106th Street, there are two rare examples of a rapidly vanishing form of storefront signage. Three-dimensional, standardized plastic letters, molded in the primary colors, attached to a white, corrugated plastic background. Above a storefront on 105th Street, the letters forming the word “Superette” are positioned in a gentle arc. A block further uptown, and across the street, the letters of “Arnets Discount Children’s Wear” are arranged on straight lines, each word in a different, standard size. The narrow range of possibilities within these standardized signs gives the potential customer an idea of the range of merchandise he can expect to find inside the store, and this honesty is refreshing.

       Memorable street vendors seen this week:

       Jehovah’s Witnesses standing with magazines in their hands. Absolutely no attempt made to interest passersby.

       Salesman of large peacock feathers with quills dyed in various lurid colors.

       Woman selling assorted plastic bottles of cosmetics and creams outside of the Associated supermarket. Obviously old merchandise arranged on a deep, round tray.

       Man sitting near a large file cabinet with drilled-out lock–for sale.

       2:30 p.m. On the subway, I looked over someone’s shoulder into a copy of The Chief–the civil service employee’s newspaper. Two-inch-high front-page headline: “SANIT WORKERS, FIREFIGHTERS EXAMS IN ‘98.” This archaic-looking journal, with its brilliant red logo, is filled with mysterious acronyms, and endless lists of jobs, scores, and insider lingo. It reminds me of the old vaudeville trade papers.

       6:30 p.m. I imagine that after the thousandth poor soul wandered in looking for yesterday’s or last Sunday’s paper, the Pakistani owner of the newspaper/candy/magazine/cigarette store between 101st and 102nd decided not to return his unsold stock of newspapers each day. Several days-old papers are randomly intermingled on a rack inside with the current editions; some remain outside where they were originally placed on sale. This unusual service reminds us that a report is forever news to the person who has not yet received it.

       8:30 p.m. Standing at my window, watching the traffic on Broadway, I realize that the old term “yellow cab” is now a misnomer. Taxis today are painted various shades of orange, maybe yellowish-orange, but not yellow. Almost no two, when compared alongside one another, are the same shade of orange. As I recall, the old Checker cabs were actually painted a true yellow.