…and hello again. I’m back from a week-long visit to New York *, where I spent several days buried in the archives at the Jim Henson Company — and if you’re at all a fan of Jim Henson or the Muppets, then you can imagine just how much fun that is. (But really, take the amount of fun that you think it is, then multiply it by ten, and you’ve got a much better idea of the Actual Fun Level.)
The archives themselves are physically located in the company’s new digs out on Long Island — needing more space, they moved from Manhattan a while ago. As I was staying in Brooklyn, I had to travel to Long Island City by subway every day — and I’ve gotta tell you, even though I’ve taken the subway in several cities around the world, for some reason, I was terrified of taking the New York subway. I was worried I would have no idea how to purchase tickets or use the system — and meanwhile, in my befuddlement, I would be clogging up the system, blocking the way for New Yorkers trying to commute into the city who would now be late and surely fired because I was costing then two minutes. Yeah, I’m a mess that way.
Fortunately, Agent J was kind enough to lend a hand and show me that it was actually really easy — and it was — and I’m pleased to say I took the subway regularly with no problems at all except for (1) missing my stop one day when I wasn’t paying attention, and (2) burning several dollars when I mistakenly entered on the wrong side of the platform and had to exit and re-enter (and thus pay again) on the other side of the street.
Each day, then, I would take the R train, as it made its hour-long trip from Brooklyn and boomeranged off Manhattan to curve into Queens. Here’s my stop each day — 36th Street, near Northern Boulevard:
After exiting the subway, it’s just a brief walk up the street toward the Jim Henson Company — which is located in this unassuming white building right here:
Now, don’t be fooled by this building’s rather industrial facade. It’s like Clark Kent: behind the plain blue suit and nerdy glasses lies something wonderful. Go through these doors, take the freight elevator up several floors, and when the door comes rumbling open, you’ll see a simple white sign (among a sea of similar square signs) that lets you know you’re in the right place:
The Jim Henson Company takes up a long stretch of space at the end of the fourth floor, wide enough so that both sides of the workshop are lined with windows. There’s a long wooden meeting table just inside the front door — with a Skeksis throne in one corner — and just behind the ornate reception desk (with a Kermit phone sitting on top of it) is a wonderful, life-size photo of Jim, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and Caroll Spinney performing on Sesame Street. Beyond that, the workshop stretches out as far as you can see, weaving its way around large white pillars that march up the center of the space.
And what a space it is. Several Elmos sit on a table for adjustment. Miss Piggy waits patiently on another bench as a number of incredibly talented people sew her new costumes. Snuffleupagus hangs from a rack for repair and restoration. A young woman glues feathers to a Muppet arm. Classic rock vibrates from a boombox on a middle workbench as two craftspeople cut and glue and sew in front of a wall of plastic drawers with labels on them like “Monster Fur” and “Eyes.” The magic you see on the screen of any Jim Henson production is due to the hard work of these master craftsmen, and I’m humbled, and a bit intimidated, at being in their presence. So I try to stay out of their way.
Meanwhile, I’m in good hands as Archivist Karen Falk (and her awesome assistant Crystal) brings me box after box of materials, which I spread out on a desk in the workspace they’ve generously provided for me — a quiet side office, lined with windows overlooking Long Island. Here’s a bit of my mess as I worked one morning, poring over scripts, receipts and correspondence:
By Friday, like a kid in an amusement park, I was wishing I had just one more minute to keep reading before I had to catch my train back to Maryland. It may be too ambitious to try to emulate Neal Gabler — who allegedly read every page contained in the Walt Disney archives for his spectacular Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination — but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try. I’ll be back soon.
* Actually, I was there the week of September 27, but haven’t the chance to blog about it until today…