#78: ANTHONY DREAMS OF SUSHI

February 9, 2018

Artwork of the most famous sushi chef in the world, Jiro Ono at Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo; image adapted from the documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, 2011 (art from fortgordon.com)

(As I have been hosting book signings/receptions for my new bookSticks & Stones | Steel & Glass, this story from my youth stands out both brightly, dimly and humorously. Also, don’t miss my lecture and book signing at the nationally-attended Modernism Week, February 23, 2018)

This wasn’t funny at the time, but such a speed bump on my career path was a building block in my character—at least I hope so.

Self Portrait, New York, New York, 1980’s (photo by Anthony Poon)
Self Portrait, New York, New York, 1980’s (photo by Anthony Poon)

I was dreaming of sushi. More accurately, I was tired and disoriented, as life loves to do to those who choose to participate.

As a young Manhattan architect in the late 1980’s, thrilling yes, but it was late and I was hungry.

All I could think of was to pass some time at my favorite bookstore. (Yes, books. As I said, it was the 80’s.) Urban Center Books, a store focused exclusively on design was the magnet retailer for all architects. This shop also launched many authors, organizing media events, interviews and exhibits.

I figured I would just pop in, peruse a few books, and then leave to take home some sushi from the local market.

Helmsley Palace Hotel, New York (manipulated, original photo from wsj.com)
Helmsley Palace Hotel, New York (photo from wsj.com)

The setting. Urban Center Books resided in the old Villard Houses, an 1880 residence on Madison Avenue designed by McKim, Mead & White. In 1968, the city designated this Italian Renaissance mansion a landmark.

But in 1981, the Helmsley Palace Hotel opened a 55-floor skyscraper next to and on top of the Villard. An aggressive black glass tower squatted on the elegant mansion.

Though the four-story Villard wings remained, it was as if the Sphinx’s head had been replaced by a massive 600-foot tall computer monitor, but with the ancient legs left to be.

Photo montage by Anthony Poon, HP monitor (photo from ebay.com) and Sphinx at the Giza pyramid complex, Egypt (photo from ancientexplorers.com)
Photo montage by Anthony Poon, HP monitor (photo from ebay.com) and Sphinx at the Giza pyramid complex, Egypt (photo from ancientexplorers.com)

As I turned into the courtyard between the two landmark wings, light and sound poured out of the Urban Center doors. A book reception? There would be food. I had no invite, I was young and stupid, and only twenty-three. To say I crashed the party would be too dramatic. I merely slipped in to get myself a little dinner.

Urban Center Books, New York, New York (photo by Urban Center Books)
Urban Center Books, New York, New York (photo by Urban Center Books)
Omakase sushi platter (photo Anthony Poon)

I proceeded unnoticed around the room, glass of wine in hand, feasting on finger food. I had, oh yes, spotted some sushi at the end of a long buffet table, when I pulled right up into the face of an architecture professor who I did not like, and who did not like me: Lars Lerup.

I was certain he did not remember exactly who I was. After all, I would’ve been just another young face in his class subject to the intellectual abuse he felt he had the right to parcel out. All I could muster up to ask was, “What brings you to New York, professor?”

He stomped off with no response.

Walk This Way, Ansan, South Korea, by Jeffrey Inaba
Walk This Way, Ansan, South Korea, by Jeffrey Inaba

‘Stealing’ a few more pieces of sushi, I ran into Jeffrey Inaba, a former schoolmate. I expressed how it was such a strange coincidence that our West Coast teacher was present here on the East Coast.

The featured book, Planned Assaults, by Lars Lerup
The featured book, Planned Assaults, by Lars Lerup

Jeffrey dramatically pointed to the main table. Aghast, I now saw that the Urban Center Books was hosting a private party in honor of Professor Lars Lerup and the launch of his new book, Planned Assaults.

Not only did I crash a party, but I crashed Lerup’s party, an exclusive event for a prestigious if insufferable architect. AND, I had asked to his face why he was in town, while munching on his sushi.

As I said, I was only twenty-three. And hungry.

© Poon Design Inc.