Early Man

No TV, no computer. I make these wooden vases, I turn them on a lathe.

Location Inwood
Rent $1,002.60 [rent stabilized]
Square feet 700 [four-room apartment in 1907 building]
Occupant Captain Max Patterson [woodworker, marine and terrestrial]


You have a captain's certificate: "Master of Steam, Motor, or Auxiliary Sail Vessels of Not More Than 100 Gross Tons Upon Inland Waters." What about the ocean? I can go on the ocean but it's very complicated.

Atlantic or Pacific? In the last five years, I sailed across the Gulf of Mexico four times. In '99, I sailed from Salvador, Brazil, to Ghana.

The PBS special Middle Passage Voyage! With your love for the sea, why are you in Inwood? It's part of my quirky lifestyle. I love New York. When I moved into this neighborhood about 11 years ago, it was the last decent deal in Manhattan, my first real adult home. I didn't have to have a roommate.

If you lived in Titusville, Florida, where you grew up, would you be partly on land? No, I have my urban lifestyle and my more far-flung life. Variety is the spice of life. A lot of my sea adventures happen in winter. I was on my sailboat during 9-11. I was behind the Statue of Liberty in Liberty Marina, in New Jersey. The night before, it had rained really hard, I was in my boat bailing out water. May I demonstrate something? [ He comes over, put his hands on my shoulders and . . . ]

Oof. I felt the percussion from the first airplane hit. It felt like somebody pushing—like I pushed you. The sound went right across the water. We hopped in a launch to see what we could do. All these people charred and covered with ash were going across the river. That afternoon, there was nobody around North Cove—a few loose dogs. My boat is now out on City Island. I have a great photo of her.

Where do you go in her? I'm going to take her to Martha's Vineyard this summer.

Where did you get all the scabbards? Samurai swords—I found them. I found the musket in a trash can.

I'm feeling an era here but I'm not sure what. What haven't you seen? [ He shakes his finger.] No television, no computer. I make these wooden vases. I turn them on a lathe. I just spent several years working on the Maritime Hotel, the Matsuri restaurant. It's quite a spectacle. I did all the walnut work.

Walnut . . . is a European American wood. It's very somber, very soothing. It's dark and deep. It is extremely hard—that's why they use it for gun stocks and pipes. Real hardwood trees take years to grow. When they grow slowly and under the right conditions, they produce a very stable wood.

I wonder if that applies to human intelligence. Pine grows very fast. People buy pine futons and they're out in the trash in a year.

You work on luxurious apartments. Last week I built an African mahogany deck on Barrow Street. It's a very rare wood. It's got fire in it. The owner saw another deck just like it and wanted one. I started doing woodwork when I was on boats. Sailors are called jacks. That's where jack-of-all-trades comes from. Sailors have to be very stable people because what they're on is constantly moving.

You just showed me an old bag with ropes and string. I like to do fancy knot work at sea. It's a sailor's ditty bag. That's a Turk's head and that's a crown sennett. [He puts a small object on the table.]

A wooden seashell, how transgressive! I model them after real shells. Shells are all one line, interior and exterior.

Like the Guggenheim . . . sort of. Remember the Möbius strip? It's never ending.

Is the animal born first or are they born inside the shell? I think mollusks grow their shell, but there are other animals who adapt to recycled shells. Hermit crabs do that.

 
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