New York World

article nyworld1 New York World

Float It!

What could float our city’s sunken Olympic hopes for 2012? How about the Titanic? The year 2012 will mark the centennial of the world’s most famous maritime wreck, and RMS Titanic Inc., which has salvage rights to the ship, thinks that lower Manhattan would be the perfect spot for a Titanic museum.

“For Titanic, it would be a hell of a homecoming,” said Arnie Geller, the president of RMS Titanic. “The Titanic started out trying to get to New York harbor in 1912, so if we could ever bring the artifacts through the harbor, it would be an event.” Or, as some might say, better late than never.

The museum—proposed for Pier A in Battery Park City—would feature 20,000 square feet of delightful detritus, including a 17-ton hunk of the hull and a fake—yet menacing—iceberg. RMS Titanic, which mounts periodic recovery missions, has already dredged up more than 5,500 items, from socks to cigarette rolling papers full of salty tobacco and unopened vials of perfume.

“There’s all kinds of neat things,” said Mr. Geller, who is 64 and lives in Atlanta. “If we are ever are able to recover the baggage from first class, we have great textile-conservation people, and we’ll eventually wind up with an exhibit of fashion from the Titanic.”

Many of the recovered Titanic artifacts have already toured the world, spooking crowds from Seoul, South Korea, to Las Vegas, Nev., where an exhibit cropped up at the Tropicana Resort and Casino earlier this year. And Mr. Geller himself is no stranger to the touring life. Before he hitched his fortunes to a sunken ship, he managed pop stars like Cyndi Lauper. Chaperoning the Titanic, however, poses a different set of challenges. For example, when a passenger’s address book went missing in 2000 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the F.B.I. was brought in. The book was discovered at the home of the security guard who had reported its disappearance.

“This poor guy—he didn’t understand what Titanic was,” Mr. Geller said. “He just saw all these people coming in and thought it would be worth a couple bucks.”

At a Titanic exhibit in Cleveland, rumors swirled that the night watchmen had been scared off by ghosts.

“All that really did was increase the attendance,” said Mr. Geller. “But I’ve spent a lot of years with these artifacts, and I haven’t had that experience.”

Ghosts aren’t the only restless souls out there. The vessel was born in Belfast and, according to Titanic buffs, the Irish want it back.

“They are very proud of the Titanic in Belfast—very proud,” said Shelley Dziedzic, an archivist and former president of the Titanic International Society. “They had high hopes.”

Ms. Dziedzic, who works part-time at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in Fall River, Mass. (she used to play Lizzie, she explained, until she got too old for it), said that her own hopes for the proposed New York museum are high, so long as the exhibit and its souvenirs are tastefully conceived.

"Sometimes I have objections to some of the stuff that’s sold, like Titanic candy,” she said. “I’m hoping that, whatever is sold in the gift shops and whatever is sold in the museum, they never lose track of the enormous loss of life.”

Some Titanic fans think the salvagers already have. Take Edward Kamuda, president and founder of the Titanic Historical Society. Mr. Kamuda, who strolled the Titanic’s decks as an extra in James Cameron’s blockbuster film, has run a Titanic museum of his own in the suburbs of Springfield, Mass., for the last 42 years.

"We’re very much opposed to going down and retrieving anything from the ship,” he said. Mr. Kamuda calls the salvaged objects “grave goods.” His society’s collection, he added, features donations from survivors, along with other flotsam that didn’t sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We have John Jacob Astor’s life jacket,” he said. “And we have a deck chair from the ship.”

No matter what RMS Titanic Inc. does, said Mr. Kamuda, he would never move his society’s museum to New York.

"We were given a chance to go there, but we’d like to keep things here, because this is where our society was founded, more or less,” he explained. “And Springfield, of course, has the Dr. Seuss memorial.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Geller’s plan still stands a good chance of tanking. He is currently wooing the developer who holds a long-term lease to Pier A, Wings Point Properties, but even if that group favors his proposal, the city’s Economic Development Corporation will have to provide its blessing.

"They are certainly one of the front-runners, given their historic edge,” said William Wachtel, a partner at Wings Point. “It’s a tribute to the immigrants. I think it’s a win-win-win.”

Conley Rollins, the Economic Development Corporation’s chief of staff, seemed more immune to Titanic fever. “We have not taken a position on the Titanic museum,” he said. “I know generally that people have thought about that, discussed it, but it has not been formally presented to us, and we have not formally made a decision as to whether we would consent to it.”

The hurdles are high, but if the Titanic plan can clear them, Mr. Geller estimates that the museum will take a year to build. Before anything can happen, however, Wings Point must come to terms with the National Parks Service, which plans to use part of Pier A for screening visitors to the Statue of Liberty. And the pace could be glacial. Security screenings began a few months after 9/11; they are still conducted in temporary tents on the Battery Park promenade.

—Jessica Bruder

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Hot Schnook

Michael Showalter, who wrote, directed and stars in the upcoming film The Baxter, invented a word to describe the character he plays, a dorky accountant named Elliot Sherman who gets left at the altar by his dream girl, a beautiful but chilly magazine editor.

A baxter (a cross between dexter and bowler) “is sort of a lovable schnook,” said Mr. Showalter. “He is insecure; he blusters a lot; he has to learn how to take risks. When the girl leaves him, he always agrees.”

Another defining characteristic of a baxter is that he’s “not your typical leading man”—which Mr. Showalter, though tall, dark and handsome, is not. (He admits that he “had envisioned someone better-looking in the part.”) The 35-year-old from New Jersey is more like that cute, goofy guy in high school whom all the girls had secret crushes on, but who was too shy—or perhaps too kind—to make a move.

Mr. Showalter, who’s not married and doesn’t have a steady girlfriend, has had the same friends for almost 20 years, and despite some significant acting gigs—in the original cast of Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play How I Learned to Drive, a part in Sex and the City and a small role in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs—he seems to live without major drama in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn is kind of baxterly,” he says. “It’s kind of the less obvious choice, the road less traveled.”

The Baxter also stars Elizabeth Banks and Peter Dinklage. Ms. Banks said she based her portrayal of the brittle bride, Caroline Swann, on a well-known local: “Caroline is a very WASP-y, tightly wound professional woman. I based her on Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue.”

The movie’s straightforward sweetness is somewhat of a departure from Mr. Showalter’s comedic style, which he began to hone when he and some friends at New York University formed the State, a sketch-comedy troupe. They were given their own MTV series from 1993 to 1995; the popular show was picked up by CBS but dropped after the first episode. But Mr. Showalter and State members Michael Ian Black and David Wain have continued to collaborate: They made the 2001 film Wet Hot American Summer, in which Mr. Showalter played Coop, an awkward camp counselor with a bowl cut (another baxter). Currently, the three men are appearing in Stella on Comedy Central. The half-hour show recounts the misadventures of roommates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, all of whom wear suits even though they don’t have jobs or even really act like adults. (In one scene, they run into three pretty women who disgustedly remark that the guys smell like chicken nuggets. They don’t react, but in the next scene we see them casually pulling chicken nuggets out of their pockets.)

The show is conceptually thoughtful, using a single camera and experimenting with form. But Mr. Showalter insists that the whole thing isn’t as esoteric as many viewers assume: “People view the show to be a lot weirder than we do. People use words like Dada and avant-garde and abstract. We don’t think of it in those terms. We just think it’s funny and silly and slapsticky.”

Reviews have been mixed, perhaps because it’s hard to believe these guys who seem so smart could be so dumb. But they’ve got a prime slot between Reno 911 and The Daily Show, and the network is madly hyping the new series with posters of the comedians’ faces all over the city.

Mr. Showalter is levelheaded about Stella’s fate. “I’ve had enough experience with the business to know that the bigger picture is sort of the same—which is that my life is the same,” he said. “It’s great to get all that press, but it doesn’t really last if the show doesn’t do well.”

The movie, which opens in August, is perhaps closer to his heart. “The other things have all been collaborations,” he said. “Hopefully, from The Baxter, people will see not only a different side, but a more individual expression for me.”

But he doesn’t identify completely with his creation.

“I don’t think I’m the guy that’s always left at the altar,” he said. “I think that Elliot has a lot of ideas about love and romance, that he has a kind of very fixed idea of what he’s looking for. And he’s wrong. And I think a lot of people, myself included, make that mistake.”

—Shana Liebman

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Overheard on the Second Avenue Bus

One teenager to another: “I can’t remember if I’m a virgin!”

—Sparrow