On a recent Thursday morning, Eugene Frank, a white-haired 67-year-old in a blue shopkeeper’s smock and a pair of black-rimmed glasses, stood on a ladder, tabulating the final inventory for Joseph Meyer Office Supplies Inc. The narrow, dust-choked shop at 48 Howard Street in Soho will close its doors at the end of August, after more than 70 years in the neighborhood.
“Oh yes, yes, yes,” said Mr. Frank. He had found what he was looking for: a carton of ribbon for a teletype machine. “You’d see them in these old black-and-white pictures. The police would say they were receiving information over ‘the wire.’ They looked like a big electric typewriter spinning out stuff on a roll of paper.”
Sorting through the shelves, Mr. Frank-the son-in-law of the store’s deceased founder-turned up all manner of outmoded items and long-defunct office-supply brands left over from the 1950’s and 60’s. There were two-foot-long leather-bound accounting ledgers, Burroughs adding-machine ribbons, Cooks “Burro” paper clips (“In ‘Burro’ There Is Strength”) and Lilliputian boxes of “Noesting” gold paper-fasteners. For 50 cents, there was a Blaisdell “Klenzo” typewriter eraser-the same kind Eugene O’Neill used.
Mr. Frank was not exactly misty-eyed to see the old stuff go. But if he wants to see it again, he can-in a British art gallery, as part of an installation by a conceptual artist named Christine Hill. Ms. Hill has been amassing a cache of Mr. Frank’s inventory to convert into a series of art exhibits. In addition to paper clips and erasers, she now owns Mr. Frank’s handwritten cardboard signs and the pulley system he built to hoist documents and supplies up to his mahogany desk on the second-floor balcony.
“I think she’s putting together a gallery of, uh, I guess you’d call it ‘ Back to the Future ,'” Mr. Frank said. “I gather she’s doing sort of a retro shop. I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘museum,’ because to me that’s a rather … I don’t want to say ‘rigid,’ but frozen sort of thing.”
On Thursday morning, Ms. Hill, a tall, coltish woman, nosed around the inventory and rhapsodized about Joseph Meyer, whom she referred to as an “authenticity provider.” She’d been frequenting the store for nearly two years, and in that time she’d developed an addict’s passion for office wares. Ms. Hill spoke of recently finding a “motherlode” of Avery gummed labels, which she called “hard to find and quite beautiful.”
Ms. Hill’s first installation from the Joseph Meyer store will be in Liverpool, in a refurbished boarding school acquired by the Henry Moore Foundation. After that, Ms. Hill will set up another version of the office in the Ronald Feldman Fine Arts gallery on Mercer Street in Soho. Later, she plans on using the materials to open a working stationery store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
“A living diorama,” Mr. Frank called Ms. Hill’s idea.
Ms. Hill smiled. “Exactly.”
Such recreations are not new for Ms. Hill. In 2000, she created a replica of a late-night TV show based on Late Night with Conan O’Brien . She built a studio and shot a pilot in the Feldman gallery, featuring herself as host. As one art critic wrote of Ms. Hill’s “social sculpture,” her “concept of art is so far out of the known universe that its confusion with life is nearly total.” (It turned out that Mr. Frank isn’t a stranger to conceptual artists: His landlords are Christo and Jean-Claude, the artists known for swathing large tracts of land in reams of fabric. “Very, very good landlords,” Mr. Frank said.)
“I’ve got something fabulous for you to see!” Mr. Frank exclaimed to Ms. Hill. He pulled out a pale green posting machine covered in a half-inch of dust. “If you want to go retro, that’s the machine. It’s about three generations older than what they’re using today. I don’t have anything older than that.”
The machine proved to be too ugly for Ms. Hill’s sensibility. Mr. Frank looked disappointed. Ms. Hill turned her attention to the dark recesses of his office, where piles of unidentified packages were crammed. She wanted to know if other office-supply sellers had been snooping around.
“Are colleagues of yours buying this stuff out?” she asked.
Mr. Frank said no. “They want stuff they can sell,” he said. “They don’t want stuff that belongs to the dodo birds.”
The Grinch of Ground Zero
Todd Hulin, a lanky 30-year-old animator with Buddy Holly glasses, lives with his girlfriend Nina at 110 Greenwich Street, just two blocks south of Ground Zero. The only thing between Mr. Hulin’s apartment and the space where the Twin Towers once stood is the Deutsche Bank building, which last year on Sept. 11 was left badly charred and barely standing. Mr. Hulin and Nina exited their building running.
When they were finally able to return to their apartment early last December-after spending three months staying with friends and in a cramped room at the Algonquin Hotel-Todd and Nina weren’t sure what condition they’d find their neighborhood in. The last they’d heard, the landing gear from the first plane to hit the towers was being cleared from the street in front of their building.
But after wending their way downtown through a maze of police lines and checkpoints, Todd and Nina reached 110 Greenwich Street and found themselves amid more than debris and devastation. There they encountered crowds of camera-wielding tourists, all mugging against the backdrop of the wreckage and making their way through a colony of vendor tables laden with all things Ground Zero: Ground Zero T-shirts, Ground Zero hats, Ground Zero DVD’s, Ground Zero key chains, even Ground Zero snow globes.
At first, Mr. Hulin tried to take it all in stride (the Osama bin Laden toilet paper was kind of funny, he thought), but after months of jostling through the crowds just to get to his front door, he’d finally had enough. Mr. Hulin, who is also a graphic designer (and happened to be unemployed at the time), gave vent to his anger the way people do nowadays: He created a Web site.
Groundzerothemepark.com went online in mid-July of this year, and depicts Eiffel Tower–like reproductions of the Twin Towers replete with viewing platforms, a shiny pink Ferris wheel and a concession stand superimposed over a photo of the actual Ground Zero site. Mr. Hulin has also posted his own tongue-in-cheek manifesto decrying all the gawkers and tourists, and especially the purveyors of “blood-stained capitalism.”
Mr. Hulin called groundzerothemepark.com his first political statement. Sitting in City Hall Park on a recent afternoon, however, he seemed less an angry activist than a resigned resident.
“It’s the American ideal,” he said, fiddling with the straw in his iced coffee as he watched the crowds pass. “If I don’t buy a trinket and take a photo by it, how can I prove I was there?”
Mr. Hulin said that the downtown residents complain a lot about the crowds these days. He built his Web site partially in the hopes that it would create a dialogue among locals and visitors-but so far, no one other than Mr. Hulin himself has logged on to the message board.
Mr.Hulin is originally from Shawnee, Okla., an hour from the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. There were curiosity-seekers after the bombing there, too, he said, but nothing on the scale of what he sees before him now.
“At first, people visiting Ground Zero seemed much more reverential. The gravity was present because it was so visually gut-wrenching. But as it got more cleaned up, it became more of a tourist trap-which is ironic, because it started looking more like a construction site,” he said.
Asked what he thought the fascination of Ground Zero was, Mr. Hulin reflected for a moment. He watched a pair of fanny-packed tourists pause to photograph a nearby squirrel digging in the grass under a pine tree.
“I guess people just love a hole in the ground,” he said.