The New York Times
February 19, 2005

Christo Shmisto. Try Cheeto.


YOU return to New York after an absence of a few weeks and so much has changed. It's not exactly dogs sleeping with cats and cats sleeping with dogs, but still.

For example, has anyone noticed that some vandals have seized control of Central Park? These brazen characters have festooned the park with thousands of hanging curtains, each one ablaze with what must be their gang color, saffron?

Any gang that chooses saffron as its hue of terror must be so comfortable in its collective skin that nothing can scare its members. Here we are, in the depths of winter, and these hooligans are flaunting a warm color of spring. The insolence.

The ringleaders are artsy Bonnie-and-Clyde types who go by the handles of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. That should have put the authorities on alert right from the start. People who shun surnames are usually up to no good. This affectation should be reserved for those who have earned such precious distinction: Moses, for example. Buddha. Charo.

This Christo character has apparently been casing Central Park for quite a while, right under the noses of the park police. The other day he bragged about his caper - something he calls "The Gates" - to gang initiates posing as art lovers: "We walked 100 miles and went through three pairs of shoes to pinpoint where each gate would be good. It's a human project. All our projects are very dynamic. They stir emotion because of the cloth."

He got that straight. What had once been a metropolitan oasis of serenity now looks like a psychedelic drive-through car wash. This might explain the throngs of people strolling beneath the curtains, smiling, admiring - and probably high.

What's more, police officers on little scooters are tooling about the park, looking the other way, making believe that saffron has always been a part of the city's wintry flora and fauna. It's as though the police were actually protecting this vandalism.

Someone really ought to report this.

You also learn that in your absence the city filed applications to get trademarks for several slogans that try to distill the grandeur of this great metropolis in a catchy phrase or two. Among them: "The World's Second Home."

The world's second home? Isn't that the slogan for one of those discount motel chains? Maybe this is part of the city's efforts to be chosen as the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Every athlete and tourist will receive a wrapped bar of soap, free HBO and a Continental breakfast of powdered doughnuts and coffee with Cremora. Checkout is at 11.

Other slogans that the city hopes to block others from using are "New York City - We Want Your Business"; "New York City. Where the World Does Business"; "BiotechNYC - Connect.Discover.Develop"; and "Digital NYC - Wired to the World."

They just roll off the tongue, don't they? A spokeswoman for the city said that more slogans had been developed but that these would not be made public until other trademark applications were filed - for fear that someone else might steal them.

Not to worry. It is doubtful that officials from Philadelphia or San Francisco will come across New York's application at the United States Patent and Trademark Office and say: "Dang. If only we had thought of 'We Want Your Business.' "

GRANTED, the Giuliani-era slogan "Capital of the World" is a touch too reminiscent of the final scene of "White Heat," in which a crazed, mother-obsessed gangster, played by James Cagney, screams, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" But with a little imagination, other slogans could be developed that might better capture this city's peculiar style of surly generosity that so endears it to visitors.

"New York: Wire This - Please."

"New York: Need Directions? Now Get Lost."

"New - What Are You Looking At? You Want a Piece of Me? - York. Have a Nice Day."

Then again, "The World's Second Home" may say it best. After all, Christo and Jeanne-Claude managed to redecorate the city's most valued real estate as though it were the living room of their Poconos getaway. And hundreds of thousands are strolling through this outdoor living room, whispering about the bold choice of color.

Which is orange, by the way, not saffron. A Home Depot, Nedick's, traffic-cone orange, an orange that has been one of New York's colors since the days of the Dutch.

An orange the color of Cheetos, like the ones that a mother was doling out the other day to calm her distraught young daughter after a walk through Central Park. "I'm sorry," the mother said. "But that was 'The Gates.' "

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