I know I’m a dork, but at least I have the energy to be diverse. Other dorks geek out about one particular thing – you know, medieval war re-enactments, Heavy Metal Magazine, the band Rush but I am more of a dilettante, slightly dorking out over 20 things or so. I spray a fine sheen of nerd over my interests, which gives me the appearance of being curiously well-rounded, rather than vaguely creepy. I also have a moderately well-sharpened fashion sense, and can put most strangers at ease with a well-placed bon mot.
One dorkout of mine is an affinity for cartography, or the study of maps. Fortunately, Tessa shares this obsession (her mom even called her Miss Map in the ’70s I reminded her that after next year, she’ll be Mrs. Map), so she doesn’t automatically recoil in horror every time I come up with something mappish to throw on the wall. To me, maps are a no-brainer; they’re usually very pretty, lots of blues and greens, practical, and let you know your place in the world. Jackson Pollock said that he painted from within, because he “was nature,” and nothing looks more like nature’s desire for abstract entropy than a map.
See how silly Cape Cod looks, notice the Michelangelo/God finger touch of Gibraltar and Spain, the sexy way Africa and South America belong together. I pity the states Wyoming and Colorado, so square and mandated; give me the squiggles of North Carolina and the squashed-bug appearance of Maryland.
I mention this because we found a map in the barn yesterday (it will take us years to go through all the boxes in there) in the back of a book called “Manhattan ‘How to Get There’ 1941.” Basically, it did the same thing X-Man does for New Yorkers carrying a Palm: give it the address, and it’ll tell you the cross street. The “How to Get There” also gives you the bus or subway stop, suggesting that both were used just as frequently (not true these days). Laurie Williams looked up her address and said, “The 2nd Avenue bus to 6th Street yep, that’s still how you get to my place.” I’d say the book is probably about 75% accurate today.
It’s the inaccuracies that are the fun stuff, and there’s loads of streets that don’t exist anymore, elevated trains going down 1st Avenue, and forgotten neighborhoods that are now the left turn lanes on the lower portion of 6th Avenue. It’s the kind of book fellow dork Kevin would have on his Manhattan street necrology page.
One thing’s for sure: when you hold this book, you suddenly feel the tight brim of a hat across your forehead, you look down to find yourself wearing a smart tie, and you’re at the corner of 22nd Street and 4th Avenue, looking for a dame who wanted to meet at the five-and-dime counter next to the I.R.T. stop. It’s 1940 and starting to rain, and things are about to get interesting.
the fold-out map of Manhattan, 1941