Sprouting beneath the Brooklyn Bridge
New York is a hard place to be earnest. This is one thing newcomers learn fast, long before they've memorized the subway map or pinpointed their favorite pizzeria. The entire city – every electric, shaking, rattling square inch of it – consumes the ardent and the naive, chewing and grinding us with its big asphalt teeth, until we're all spit out together, several months later, as freshly minted cynics.
So how, exactly, to explain the appeal of the outlandish Telectroscope gadget, planted not far from the legs of the Brooklyn Bridge? Here's a toy, like Francis Drake's spyglass – studded with the odd, useless lever or meter – dropped amid the warehouses and art galleries of Brooklyn, and rimmed by a crust of rocks and debris, as if it had erupted from under the Hudson River.
Here's a device, connected to London by a fiber-optic cable running under the Atlantic, that allows New Yorkers to peer back at their British counterparts, to gawp, wave, laugh, make funny faces, and hold up white boards bearing salutations and cross cultural commentary. Here, in short, is a glorified, double-sided webcam, dressed in Victorian-era whimsy. But at the base of the Telelectroscope on the Fulton Ferry Pier in Brooklyn, dozens of adults are pressing their faces wildly against the glass, jostling for a spot at the front of the line, laughing, giggling, and shrieking.
As I dash onto the pier several minutes late and sweating under the midday sun, I see a man lift his dachshund overhead. "Here buddy," he smiles, as the dog peddles its legs anxiously. "Now you've seen the glorious shores of Jolly Old England."