A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Monday, February 4, 2019


Just a few steps off Mercer Street in NoHo, there is vast, darkened loft spangled with stars. Arrayed among the Corinthian pillars are tubular pods, each about the size of a Smart car, with a neatly made bed inside and a moonlike lamp suspended above it. The air smells faintly of lavender. It's silent but for the whir of a white-noise machine and the occasional rumble of the BDFM subway beneath the floor.

This is the Dreamery by Casper, where prospective Casper mattress purchasers can try out their beds in real time. Setting aside the corporate gimmickry, and the twenty-five-dollar fee for a forty-five-minute nap, it's a magical place to escape from the city.

You enter through a starry tunnel, where nap concierges in pajama tops greet you: "Have you napped with us before?" There are seating areas, bowls of nuts and saltwater taffy, a cooler of La Croix and Chameleon Cold Brew, and a shelf of boring books if you need performance enhancement. More-provocative books, like The Anatomy of Sheds and The Rise of David Bowie, are on unreachable shelves above the check-in desk.

The changing area is, admittedly, distracting. On the day I visited, "Put Your Hands Up" pumping through the speakers had me reaching for the array of complimentary amenities, including stylish earplugs (who knew there was such a thing?), Hello charcoal-bristle toothbrushes and toothpaste, Sunday Riley serums and cleansers for pre- and post-nap, and extra pillows and towels. There are lockers and curtained rooms with sinks where you can slip into your loaner Sleepy Jones constellation-print pajamas and slippers. You could spend half an hour prepping for your nap.

In the entryway to the nap room, a wall sign suggests that after your ablutions, "You are getting very sleepy."  Then it's time to head into the nap room through a door with a moon-shaped window.

The concierge shows you to your nap pod, called a Nook, where a sign tented on the pillow welcomes you by name. The curtains are drawn; the lights are dimmed. You sense a gentle airflow that keeps the Nook from feeling stuffy.

You tuck yourself in beneath a downy comforter on high-thread-count sheets (which are laundered between naps). There is a bedside plug for your phone, free WiFi (of course), and you can download a sleep-inducing meditation from Headspace if you're having trouble getting into the mood.

I cuddled up (my mattress was the Casper Wave, though it hardly mattered) and felt constellations away from downtown Manhattan—and from the rest of my daily life. It was hard to believe I was in pajamas, clutching a pillow, and about to fall asleep at 12:30 p.m. on a weekday in a wooden pod in a silent, pillared loft in the city. It was the ultimate decadence.

I was the first napper of the day, but when the lights rose to brightness forty-five minutes later, there were several waifish young women gearing up for their own midday naps, and a guy in track pants bounced around the lounge, clutching his pajamas to his chest, grabbing handfuls of almonds. "Is there, like, a Frequent Nappers Club?" he asked.

Monday, January 14, 2019

TOUCH: Mother Pigeon's touchable street pigeons and rats

Mother Pigeon, a.k.a. Tina Trachtenburg, makes soft sculptural pigeons and rats out of fabric and wire. You can sometimes find her in Union Square Park, sheathed in her handmade feathered oufit, with her “flash flock” pecking at the pavement around her. As she adds whiskers to a rat’s nose or wraps a pigeon’s foot in yarn, she receives visitors—both human and avian—who are alternately fooled, startled, repulsed, charmed, and intrigued by her lifelike creations. For Mother Pigeon, an animal activist focused on the rights of urban pigeons and rats, this is all part of a day’s work.

Crafted from acrylic felt, fake fur, and fabric scraps, and stuffed with recycled clothing and polyester, her handcrafted birds and rodents are, unlike their living cousins, touchable—even cuddly. Customers cradle them in their arms, nuzzle them against their shoulders, stroke their heads. Often, New Yorkers’ love-hate relationship with the animals transforms on the spot.

A few weeks before I met Mother Pigeon, I encountered one of the objects of her activism at one of New York City’s free Rodent Academies, also known as “Rat Trainings,” where community members learn how to combat the city’s rat population. Held in a Hunts Point coffee shop after-hours, the seminar—which offered free wine and free rodent-proof trash bins to attendees—provided tips for making your building and neighborhood unwelcome to rats. “Stress the pest” was the mantra. One technique that definitely wasn’t suggested was snuggling with the pest.

“It would be nice if we weren’t constantly torturing them,” Mother Pigeon told me. “I can’t bear to see them suffer.” She admires street animals for surviving under extreme circumstances, in the shadow of popular disgust, and facing unreliable food sources (though some New Yorkers might beg to differ). 

Mother Pigeon’s animals are born in her Bushwick home workshop, where I visited her just before the December sales rush: it turns out velvety vermin are a popular holiday gift. As we talked, two rats nibbled on a slice of felt pizza, a sight that would likely horrify most apartment dwellers.

Mother Pigeon creates three styles of rats—the roughed-up Pizza Rat and Subway Rat (above), and the more-refined Park Rat,

as well as two types of pigeons: the Times Square Pigeon (downtrodden and grouchy) 

and the rakish Park Pigeon.

She also feeds live pigeons in her neighborhood—one hundred pounds a week of organic Amish pigeon food. She knows all the regulars, just as she does in the park.

Once or twice a week, her husband helps her transport her suitcase of sculptures by subway to Union Square, where she holds court, fielding questions, smiling for photos, and greeting customers, while advocating for her cause. 

Some typical comments: “That scared the shit out of me!” “Look, the real ones are confused.” “I hate pigeons—but I like yours.” She tells me, “My favorite is when people come by and say they hate pigeons, and I give them ‘Adoration of the Pigeon’ [her screed], and they come back and say they are now feeding the pigeons.” Often, people purchase the sculptures to convert an intractable friend or family member. “I still wait for the day when someone buys the whole flock,” she says.

There’s even a soft sculpture of Mother Pigeon beside the donations box. So far, though, no one—not even the pigeons—has mistaken her for the real thing.