[being a chronological account of the hours surrounding this festive event, held on Th 5 Nov., 2015, in the Melville Gallery at South Street Seaport, New York]
[For more pictures, go to Underwater New York’s album.]
8 am: A week of golden sunshine gives way to damp, drizzly November. #ishmaelweather
6 pm: After buying ice and seltzer, I meet Nicole Haroutunian and Nicki Pombier-Berger, two of the three founders of Underwater New York, who brought Black Seal rum and ginger beer. Clearly they’ve thrown parties like this before.
6:30 pm: Chris Piuma arrives with books and chalk art.
7 pm: The party starts, in the shadow of the Duke of Wellington. The figurehead was made for the ship of the line HMS Waterloo, built in 1833 to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat and burned by angry cadets after it was refitted as a training vessel in 1918. It’s not clear how the figurehead arrived in New York City.
7:15 pm: I spend the first part of the party handing out square cards and squeezing hands.
7:50 pm: The show starts with Nicki and Nicole from UNY. They introduce me with a generous reading of “Asymmetrical Kicking,” the poem from which I cribbed a line for the party cards. “Air feels empty after so much water.”
8 pm: I thank people and institutions, and then try to explain why after fitting Ocean and City inside a Book I wanted to go one step smaller with the little square cards.
8:05 pm: Elizabeth Albert tells a wonderful tall tale about Herman Melville in Staten Island, fictionalizing omnibus schedules and dreaming of white whales.
8:15 pm: Chris Piuma speaks about Punctum Books and its utopian projects.
8:25 pm: Matt Zazzarino, after head-faking the crowd by claiming not to like reading his work in public, has us rolling in the aisles with “Super Ocean 64.”
8:35 pm: Dean Kritikos lays down New York seas as he navigates the asphalt with his buddy Jean-Paul Sartre in “New York, Oceanic City.”
8:45 pm: I give the masthead philosopher the last words in describing our Oceanic evening:
And thus, surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments: yea, serenely reveled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being do I myself still for ever centrally disport me in mute calm, and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe in eternal mildness of joy. (87: 303).
10 pm: Many of us shift the scene to Fresh Salt on Beekman Street.
12 am: Amazingly, the bar and kitchen are still open. Most of the grad students are still going strong. My old college buddy Sherif Wahba, in from Dubai, shows up and starts ordering scotch.
1:30 am: The bar’s still open, but I’m not there anymore.