The Wrong Number, The Right Flagstones?

thanks, burritobreath and wilwheaton!

A minute ago I saw a photo burritobreath had posted to tumblr of The Wrong Number Cocktail Lounge, which was reblogged by wilwheaton, and then reblogged by someone I follow into my own feed? How did it get there? The algorithm? [update: my timeline was set to show me things liked by people I follow.]

This image of The Wrong Number was posted by Brooklyn Magazine in 2013

But that’s not important now. Because, I mean, just look at it, isn’t it obvious? Don’t those fake, painted over flagstones look like the flagstones Jasper Johns saw out of his taxi window on the way to the airport in 1967, but which neither he nor David Whitney could find when they got back, and so Johns had to paint them from memory? The flagstones which became a frequent and fruitful motif for Johns for years to follow? In the raking light of burritobreath’s image, they even have some cross-hatching.

The Wrong Number closed in 2009. It was a mobbed up dive bar on the corner of West 7th St & Avenue T in Gravesend, the far side of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. And I guess it’s on the way to the airport if you’re coming from Coney Island to LaGuardia, or Staten Island to Idlewild. Was the airport story a cover? Did he see the flagstones on his way to or from Coney Island? Was Johns actually in cahoots with the mafia in the 1960s? Just, as they say, asking questions!

oh wow it’s on the side, too, I think this image is from Philip Carlo, who wrote The Butcher about an 80s mobster named Tommy Pitera

Then there’s the question of timing. Johns’s story is from 1967, and his paintings soon followed. The Wrong Number was reportedly in business “for over 35 years” when it closed, which only gets us back to 1974. Were the faux flagstones there before that?

Jasper Johns, Harlem [sic?] Light, 1967 [sic]

So except for the location being on the far side of the city, two boroughs away, and the whole different decade situation, I think it couldn’t be clearer that these are the fake flagstones that inspired Jasper Johns.

This is what it’s like when an artist changes the way you see the world. Every time I see a fake flagstone wall in New York, I will wonder if it’s this, is this the one Johns saw that time, have I found it? It’s like a curse.

Meanwhile, the most salient discussion of The Wrong Number is in the extraordinary comments thread of a 2005 post of pictures from Bensonhurst on David F. Gallagher’s legendary photoblog, LightningField. It’s a kind of internet that is as lost to us as the flagstones were to Johns, and all we can do is remember, and try to piece things together.