• Joseph Kolb

Breaking New Surfaces

Several Thursdays ago I hosted a movie screening on my rooftop. It’s an idea James and I had floated around since we moved in at the beginning of the summer. The roof is nice, as far as roofs go. Familiarly shiny. The back of the building faces out into all the other backyards which all form a sort of partitioned courtyard. Three or four buildings down there are several ancient mushroom clouds oaks that separate our end of the complex. Across the way, the units appear empty, and the lights stay on in one or two of them throughout the night, revealing their emptiness. Our neighboring building on the right is under construction. All through the summer the workers would wake me early with the sounds of their power saws and hammering then later eye me kindly, eating their sandwiches on the stoop, as I left the apartment. In the last several weeks they’ve been absent.  To the West, the Chrysler building glints at us through the hazy night, our one section of the skyline. When you lean out to get a better view, you can touch the tree tops. They wave calmly back and forth from their own weight. Peer down and you’ll see the dark emerald abyss that is our backyard, a densely shaded oasis of greenery, still unvisited since we’ve moved in.

Halfway through June, Megan, James and I, having stayed up for almost the entirety of the night, decided to take the stairs to the top and watch the sun kiss the day good morning. I’m such an aspiring morning person. We stood at the South end, where the shining silver floor of the roof slants up to signify the front of the brownstone and watched as the light hit the opposite building faces — yellow, white, pink — in silence. I love the serenity of the early morning when I manage to wake for it. The unwinding moment felt aligned with my feelings about returning to New York, the sort of readiness that waiting for a sunrise evokes, of laying yourself out to be touched by it. Our apartment was mostly unfurnished and I didn’t have a job. But I was ready for my own potential, finally. After, we all went back downstairs, where I dozed on the couch while James made home fries in the cast iron. A week or so later we would rewatch Rear Window. My previous viewing had been during a sweltering heat the preceding summer, solitary in my room, feeling I had few friends in the city. The film fits my new feelings about a New York neighborhood, what it means to live here (outside of the murder, of course.) 

Months later, with August about to end and James due to move out on Friday, their sublease almost over, a screening felt right. I was and am sad about their leaving, and wanted to do something to commemorate it, even if indirectly. I wanted an excuse to bring some people together. Movies are made to be watched together. Even as we move away from theater culture, even if you only end up sitting together in mostly silence, films are greatest as a shared experience. What’s better than collective screams, gasps, tears as you watch a story unfold? 

The idea was partially conceived in mid-July when I went to Hauser & Wirth for a rooftop screening of Blade Runner. Hayley and I walked there from her job in the Bowery to meet Courtney and Troy. The last time I watched Blade Runner was alone, living in a sublet in Hell’s Kitchen and dealing with bed-bugs in February winter. As we walked we talked about artistry and our goals. The light was yellow overhead, making the streets buttery. I was reminded of a conversation with Amrit in May, about authenticity. I realized I’ve stopped worrying about being fake. Imposter Syndrome is always on the mind, yet I was telling the truth on the phone when I told them I’ve gotten over mine, mostly. 

Hayley and I were walking through the same streets we would weeks later to brunch on W 4th after seeing Midsommar for the second time in Times Square. I had been hungry and ate a granny smith apple through the scene with the cliff. Hayley kept shooting me the evil eye in between bursts of laughter. Afterward, I would go to sit in the fountain at Washington Square Park and let the emerald pool splash onto my feet and watch the kids dance under the streaming water.

We arrived at Hauser & Wirth too early, but Courtney was there waiting for us. Forty or so nice folding chairs, sofas bordering the perimeter of the roof, blankets waiting nearby, and the projector screen parallel to the horizon. Courtney and Hayley got drinks and I looked out at the New Jersey horizon sun setting, the idea of being in this city settling in finally after a month. I realized I had applied for a job here a month ago. I had seen this roof in pictures on Facebook a year earlier. We sat talking for almost two hours before the film finally started, and I stayed until Rachael visits Deckard’s apartment to ask if she’s human, finally beginning to discover that she’s not, before I left. I had seen the film before. Spending time with my friends was more important. 

What I love about New York is how you can return to the same places and associate them with a dozen or more different memories of different times. At my apartment, while waiting for House of Wax (2005) to download onto my laptop, my friends and I discussed this. The sensation seems more pronounced having gone to college on Long Island first, where the interpretations of New York are filtered and shaped by weekend visits, the adjacent-ness. There’s a cafe near my apartment that I’m writing in now that I stopped in once with someone I was seeing at the time two years ago and didn’t visit again until I moved here. Once, Megan and I took a ferry from Pier 11 up to Astoria and stumbled across a Latin festival in Astoria Park. I work part-time in the coffee shop on Wall Street by the ferry now. My friend Catherine used to live in Alphabet City and my friends and I could never figure out where she lived. I pass her apartment all the time now, leaving the studio. New York feels innately transportive, in a way that perhaps is not specific to itself but seems to be to me, having returned after almost a year, transportive to my own past. Or maybe more than I ever I feel my time up until now falling in on itself neatly, making way for the future. 

I was a high schooler when I last (and first) watched House of Wax. It was one of those things where I absentmindedly recorded it on DVR and then watched it after school some Friday, fast-forwarding through all the commercials, missing the redacted bloody bits. At least six years have passed since then. I sat huddled cozily on our blankets with my friends watching the screen, two shower curtains hung up on some twine, cast against the graphite sky, the moon blurry above. James, Sam, and Hannah quipped as the film picked up. We all shared pastries and popcorn. It was a small and significant night, affirming solidly at the end of the summer that I belong here! And how relieving. My favorite moment of the night was when Paris Hilton faltered and fell while being pursued by the black-drooping-hair-and-mask villain. She’s exhausted, after discovering her dead boyfriend and fleeing in her skimpy pajamas. Running through an obscure factory warehouse and tripping on a grate, her end is seemingly imminent, and you can see it on her twisted, sweaty, melodramatic face.  

“Queen, get up!” And she does.

#summer #moving #houseofwax #movies #blog #nyc #life #brooklyn #Journal

©2020 by Joseph R. Kolb