July 11, 2015

Part 2 - How to run away to NYC to become a children's book illustrator


And so continues our homespun tale of New York's newly minted immigrant... stumbling after his dreams. Having arrived in the big city with his duffel bag stuffed with illusions, ignorance, innocence and pluck.... along with hopes & dreams and socks.


Sunday morning, 10 am, Fifth Avenue & 10th Street, Manhattan. I finally arrived at the doors of the fabled Parsons School of Design. It was a place I’d dreamed about for 2 years, ever since getting a partial scholarship. Of course the doors were locked.

For about 4 years I’d been dedicated to becoming an illustrator. I'd been inspired by my late Uncle Ed. He had been an illustrator who worked outside of Philadephia and done very well with lots of advertising work and Little Golden Books. I remember being thrilled as a child to see his name in the artist credits printed in a book. Such fame!

But back to my narrative, I have to say I was disappointed at the sight of the Parsons School of Design. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was probably more than a beat up aluminum frame doorway in an ordinary building off 5th Avenue with just a skimpy name overhead. Later I found out that Margaret Wise Brown had her first apartment in New York City just a few blocks over from Parsons. But I didn’t know that then. She probably used to have breakfast and dinner in the same restaurant that I liked to hang out in around the corner on 5th Avenue.

Ah well, life never fits dreams all that well. I was tired and hungover from 3 days on the bus and I needed a shower. I figured I could pass for a student, so I hunted down the Parsons School of Design dormitory that I’d read about, 2 blocks away. I remember on my way there I passed an amazing carved wooden embelishment on a building that struck me at once as something I'd already seen in a strange dream that I’d recently had. I took it as a good sign that I was on the right track.

Anyhow, my first and last trip to the Parsons dormitory. I took a long hot shower and felt much better. Next item... find a place to stay the night. I didn’t know anyone... school wasn’t open yet, there was no one around. I suppose I’d planned on trying the YMCA... and looking it up in the phone book, it was just a bus ride uptown to the 48th street Y near the United Nations. It all worked out as planned. By Noon I was in my room at the YMCA and ready for whatever lay ahead. I came to feel right at home. Since it was right near the UN there were all sorts of exotic people staying there... never a boring minute, like so much of the rest of New York.

So... room keys in hand, duffel bag stowed... I set out to savor a little NYC culture. First stop the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I don’t know why I chose to go there first... but I sure as heck didn’t regret it. After living in the boonies out West for the last 10 years it was like getting slammed with a 2 x 4 of culture upside the head. I drifted in astonished wonder through the galleries... feasting on culture. I felt like I was a millionaire in those huge quiet granite rooms with skylights and perfect illumination on the paintings. I loved every minute of looking at original oils by Cezanne, Van Gogh, David, Tiepolo, Rubens, Rembrandt... it all reminded me of when I lived in Washington DC, where I went to high school, and the splendors of the world class museums there, that I’d visit every weekend.


Somehow the perfection of the artwork gave me a sense of triumph in my plans. I had radically changed my life. I had gambled and done the right thing. I remember thinking it had been quite a day... beginning with the exhausted squalor of the Greyhound out of Chicago to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to Greenwich Village to the midtown YMCA... and there I was at 3 pm soaking in the renaissance paintings of Vermeer in the perfect lighting and quiet of culture at the Met.

Ah, New York... the city of True Egalitarianism. What a town! If you only live once, might as well have a time of it. That’s sort of what inspired my whole adventure actually... but more of that later.

The days that followed were fun and alive. New York doesn’t let you dwell within too much. You can’t stay bogged down with your own personal problems when there’s all that noise and commotion around you... when you’re amazed every minute at something new and outrageous.

I took right to it all... the noise, the bustle, the craziness. I remember walking by banks that had been bombed and had police tape around them... everyone just keeps moving like nothing had happened. Just being on the streets was a show... an entertainment. Just getting through the day an accomplishment.

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