Window Displays

by

07/20/2007

Herald Square, NY, NY 10001

Neighborhood: Midtown

Herald Square is not a good neighborhood in which to work. In fact, it’s not a neighborhood at all. It’s an area. On street level there is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Office buildings empty into crowds of slow-moving shoppers who move in and out of the oxymoronic Manhattan Mall. They move about at a bovine pace. They take digital photos. They consult maps. They browse stores that inexplicably survive in midtown by selling t-shirts and baseball caps, three or four for ten dollars.

Shoppers also purchase and consume food, edible in only the most literal sense of the word, in restaurants that are familiar to them (recognizable logos, slogans, marketing, menus)—only the prices are slightly higher, though still affordable, if not relatively cheap, particularly for those whose salaries are paid in euros or British pounds.

Everything about Herald Square seems crushingly repressive: the mass of people, the tourist mindset, the crass third-rate salesmanship, a deranged universal hope propped up by the existence of easily affordable products in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.

Many see this situation, in Herald Square, in America, as good, I guess, positive, no harm intended. But, at best, I see it as disagreeable. Cheap things made in far-flung nations sold to people whose notions of New York City come from who-knows-where and whose misconceptions are ably promoted by the city’s tourist board. What’s really being sold to them, and to us, is something very crude and senseless.

The only prudent thing to do is vacate the area.

So I often walk along 33rd Street toward the East Side, to escape. On 33rd, among other things, I’m surrounded by readily-available adult entertainment, garage parking, and Irish-style pubs. But it is Empire DVD that catches my attention. It stands in the shadow of the Empire State Building, sandwiched between the entrance to a garage and Empire Erotica, another video store.

What goes on inside Empire DVD is probably pretty mundane. But what’s going on in its window display interests me. Perhaps it’s because Empire is not far from Macy’s with its famous and elaborate window displays, the ones that attract shoppers and tourists, particularly at Christmas and Easter. Yes, perhaps it’s simply the contrast of these two very different window displays, so close in proximity, using techniques that may not be altogether different.

Macy’s window displays promote Lifestyle, I guess, or Fantasies, which can be had for a price, apparently, if one purchases what’s in the window. Recently: clothing by Michael Kors and Cole Haan, on faceless white mannequins.

Complementarily Empire DVD displays, on a thirteen-inch television, on a continuous loop, the DVD Tyson: Man or Machine.

Invariably, when I walk by Empire, there are several men (demographic: age 18 to 45) standing in front of the store, mesmerized by Mike Tyson as he thoroughly thrashes and pummels opponents in matches that probably occurred fifteen to twenty years ago.

One recent afternoon, with the city simmering in an oppressive heat, I saw a middle-aged man standing in front of Empire, sweating profusely but visibly pleased by what he was watching. He was grinning, oddly, almost maniacally, as Tyson (man? machine?) made mincemeat of a boxer I didn’t recognize. The match may well have taken place two blocks from where he was standing, in the Garden, a generation ago, but here it was again, free, in a window, for his viewing pleasure.

I walked to the East Side and back and the man was still in front of Empire watching the DVD, thirty minutes later, a voyeur in 90-degree heat, 80% humidity. He watching Iron Mike, who said he was scared every time he entered the ring. Iron Mike, who said his sensitivity was his greatest weakness. Whose style, he said, was impetuous. Whose defense was impregnable. Who said he was just ferocious. Who once wanted Lennox Lewis’s heart. Who once said, for the then-readily-available cameras, that he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’s children.

Everybody’s got plans, he’s also said, until they get hit.

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