This summer, one particular section of the Chelsea Waterside-Thomas F. Smith Park on 11th Avenue, between 22nd and 24th streets, has received an unusually large amount of attention for its taste in design. Not far from the softball field, the dog run and the sycamore trees is a small children’s water park that features a collection of large, colorful plastic sculptures intermittently shooting spurts of water from their tops–and invariably raising adult eyebrows.
“I call it Dildo Park,” said Deric Carner, a 25-year-old graphic designer who works in the area. “It’s a little weird.”
The water park is less than a year old. This is its first summer of operation. Nearby is the Chelsea Hotel, as well as Privilege, a local gentlemen’s club; not far away is the Starrett-Leigh Building, home to Martha Stewart Inc.
“The penis fountains? I love them!” said Robert Spychala, a 24-year-old software developer, when asked about the park.
“Yeah, that’s the first thing I thought when I saw them,” said Daryl Beattie, 23, also a software developer. “But then again, I’m a guy.”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. But now I feel physically insignificant,” cracked Ramon Gonzalez, an I.T. professional.
Some questioned the appropriateness of the park for small children.
“I know people bring their kids here and stuff, but it’s all dildos and butt plugs,” said Yolanda Sanchez, 32.
But most people thought it was okay that kids were playing on the double-entendre apparatus.
“They’re a bit phallic, but luckily this goes over children’s heads, just like Bugs Bunny,” said George Cortino, a fashion editor.
“They’re suggestive,” said Julie Stepniak, a 24-year-old administrative assistant. “I don’t think that children have the same association, but they do like to sit on top of them to keep the water in.”
The designer of the Chelsea Waterside Park is Thomas Balsley, a landscape architect whose design won a competition sponsored by the Department of Transportation.
“See, we definitely got people talking,” Mr. Balsley said, laughing. “People can say what they want to say, but the intent is harmless. I’ve definitely heard a little ‘Only a male could have designed something like this,’ but I had actually submitted two designs. The other contained nine monochromatic egg-shaped sculptures that also sprayed water. Eggs are such a universally embraced symbol that I thought people–kids–would prefer them. I was sure that my project manager, who was a woman, would choose the more feminine forms, but she rejected them!”
“The sculptures were inspired by a park that I visited in Osaka, Japan, which contained similar vertical fiberglass forms that children could play around and hug, but not actually climb on and hurt themselves. Public-park design is much more playful in Japan, and I’m glad I was given artistic freedom at Chelsea Waterside Park. Public open space shouldn’t disappear into the urban grid.”
Especially public open spaces getting these kinds of looks.
“I noticed it for the first time last week. I thought it looked a little provocative, but maybe that’s just my mind–maybe I’ve got too much crap in it,” said Sue Elkins, 40, a teacher. “But I don’t see anyone here protesting. Little kids are still coming here to play–and what do they know?”
Dan the Man
On a steamy evening in early August, Dan Hevesi, a 31-year-old Democratic State Senator from Forest Hills, introduced his father, the City Comptroller and Democratic Mayoral candidate Alan Hevesi, at a fund-raising event at 17 Murray Street, a restaurant near City Hall.
“When I was 7, my dad said he was going to teach me the value of politics,” the younger Mr. Hevesi said. “He bought me a paper shredder!”
The crowd roared. “If you think he’s tight and conservative with the city’s budget,” Mr. Hevesi continued, “you can imagine …. “
It felt a bit like father-and-son night in the Catskills. Moments later, the elder Mr. Hevesi gave a brief stump speech, and in a short while he was gone, off to attend an AIDS benefit across town.
“You’re not missing anything by him leaving early,” Dan Hevesi told his audience. “I can tell you everything he’s going to say.”
Alan Hevesi may or may not win the Democratic Mayoral primary–and if he doesn’t, it won’t be because his oldest son hasn’t tried. Over the past year or so, the tall, blue-eyed Mr. Hevesi, who speaks and gestures emphatically like his 61-year-old father, has emerged as something of a Zelig in the city’s political and social scenes–partly to promote his father’s candidacy, and partly, some say, to promote himself. Touted as a hot New York bachelor on the Fox News Channel and in fluffy socialite glossies like Gotham and Manhattan File , Mr. Hevesi, New York’s youngest State Senator, is a regular at celebrity-infested events, like the W Hotel’s opening party last winter and a party at Sushi Samba’s rooftop garden in the West Village earlier this summer. Prior to Lizzie Grubman’s well-chronicled travails in the Hamptons, Mr. Hevesi even asked the publicist out to lunch. (“He wanted to fill me in on what he was doing,” Ms. Grubman said.)
All in all, it’s a pretty swinging existence in a profession in which one of the biggest social events of the year is a barbecue at former Senate Majority Leader Mike Bragman’s house in Syracuse. Mr. Hevesi, who represents New York’s 13th District in Queens and barrels back and forth from Albany in a black Jeep Cherokee, lives a life foreign to most state -level politicians–and, sure enough, he gets talked about as a potential candidate for higher office one day. “He’s the star of his class,” said State Comptroller Carl McCall.
But to others, Mr. Hevesi’s ubiquitousness is getting to be a bit much. “Enough already with this guy!” one New York publicist said recently. “It’s like ‘Where’s Waldo?’!”
Earlier this year, Mr. Hevesi had lunch with The Observer at an outdoor table at 212, a restaurant on the Upper East Side. Mr. Hevesi, who wore DKNY mirrored sunglasses, sounded worried that his bachelor-on-the-make image would overshadow his political work. In fact, when he was first contacted, he really didn’t want to be written about at all.
“The one concern is that I don’t want that to compromise all the very serious work I’m doing on a number of issues and who I am as an elected official,” he said, taking a forkful of salmon.
Still, no one forced Mr. Hevesi to pose for Manhattan File ‘s 100 Most Wanted Bachelors issue last year, wearing a black Armani suit with a black shirt unbuttoned at the top. The caption below the hunky photograph indicated that he hangs out at nightspots Light, Commune and Lotus–and that he kissed a lot of babies on the campaign trail. (Other most wanted bachelors included Carson Daly, Ben Affleck and Derek Jeter.)
“He’s a single guy and he’s cute and he’s smart; basically, that’s our criteria,” said Manhattan File publisher Cristina Greeven. “How often do you meet a nice, attractive, intelligent politician you actually like?”
A few months ago, in fact, Ms. Greeven took Mr. Hevesi out for a night on the town, starting with dinner at Da Silvano with socialites Rachel Peters, Lulu de Kwiatkowski, Fernanda Niven and Liz Cohen, and ending with drinks at the Park.
“Any time I bring him anywhere, all my girlfriends are like, ‘ Who is that ? What a babe!'” said Ms. Greeven.
But at lunch that day, Mr. Hevesi played down his social life again and again, preferring to talk about his work on health care and education aid. Still, despite his protests, part of him did seem to enjoy his on-the-town status. At one point, he said he liked to eat at the ” really good restaurants”–and earlier, when a reporter visited his office in Queens, there was a copy of Gotham on his desk.
“I’m a modest guy,” he said. “I don’t take it too seriously. It’s fun, it’s silly–I didn’t ask for it.”
Mr. Hevesi’s cell phone rang. The State Senator answered the call and began speaking quietly to the voice on the other end. “So, are we setting something up later?” he asked.
Mr. Hevesi got a little flustered when The Observer asked if the call was from a date. He laughed and sort of stuck out his tongue a little bit, off to the side of his mouth–a gesture, it turns out, he repeats almost every time he thinks something is funny.
“Dan Hevesi doesn’t discuss who he’s dating,” Dan Hevesi said.