By: Ty Burr
May 18, 2017

One in a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about objects of talismanic significance. This is the second volume in the PROJECT:OBJECT series. Please subscribe to the P:O newsletter; and purchase P:O apparel and accessories — all profits will be donated to the ACLU!


14 April 1983, Manhattan, New York City — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

To newcomers and the young, New York functions as a giant movie screen for projecting one’s hoped-for scenarios of stardom: The musical, the action film, the drama of conquest, the comedy of manners. I may be the only person who experienced a monster-movie love story.

April, 1983. Twenty-five years old, sardonic and ardent, and of course I was in love but not entirely sure why. She was very pretty and in publishing, which I thought was enough. We were having an affair, but it seemed long distance even when we had our clothes off. There was curiosity but a mysterious absence of chemistry.

Those days I lived in a fourth floor walk up on 29th and Sixth, above the street-level plant stores and second-story massage parlors; it wasn’t Giuliani Time yet. She lived directly south, in Chelsea, and every morning I would leave her apartment and walk the 18 blocks back to my building to change for work.

At about this time, a promotional team came up with the idea of installing a giant inflatable King Kong — life-sized, as it were — atop the Empire State Building at 34th Street in honor of the movie’s 50th anniversary. It wasn’t going well for any of us. Morning after morning, I trudged up Sixth Avenue in a funk of disconnect, and day after day I watched as several thousand pounds of dung-colored vinyl hung limply off the side of the observation deck, resembling not King Kong — not remotely — but the Blob that ate teenagers, entire towns, my heart.

One night, though, the relationship with the woman finally clicked, and we spoke the same language, lived in the shared moment. A future seemed possible, even probable. Hours later, I stepped out into a glowing Manhattan spring morning and there, towering atop the skyscraper 13 blocks to the north, was the great ape himself. He was fully inflated with hot air and raising a rubbery fist to the sky; he was Kong the Mighty, rampant over the puny island at his feet. New York was his now, and I understood that to mean that it was ours.

This lasted for a few hours on Kong’s part, maybe a day on mine. The balloon popped a leak in its vulcanized shoulder, causing rapid deflation. A planned stunt with biplanes had to be called off; people who had travelled in from the outer boroughs expressed disappointment. That evening, the mysterious gulf was back between the woman and I — a sense that we could only talk past each other, never to each other — and after one final, disconsolate night together, I walked up Sixth Avenue sharing a sense of psychic dismay, of complete and abject failure, with the rubber bag hanging shapelessly off the Empire State Building.

The balloon was gone by the next day, with newspapers reporting that high winds had spoiled the stunt. I knew better. I knew it was beauty that killed the beast.


TALISMANIC OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | Judith Zissman on SPINDLE WHORL | Amy Fusselman on BOX OF PENCILS | Josh Glenn on MONKEY WHIMSEY | Mike Watt on DASHBOARD TOTEMS | Gordon Dahlquist on CLAY FOX | Mark Kingwell on ZIPPO | Jennifer Schuessler on BEER-CAN CHAIR | Anne Gisleson on WISDOM TEETH | Ben Ehrenreich on CHROME LUMP | Matthew De Abaitua on HATCHET | Ty Burr on INFLATABLE KING KONG | Jacob Covey on ARGUS COIN | Jessica Helfand on PILL BOTTLE | Shelley Jackson on IMPUNITY JANE | Jennifer Krasinski on LEO’S LIGHTER | Molly Heintz on EVIL EYE | Mark Frauenfelder on MARTIAN FINK RING | Amanda Fortini on PRAYER CARD | Ed Skoog on MAMMOTH IVORY | CONTEST-WINNING STORY: Seth on PEANUTS PAPERBACK.


SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018). 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE . ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.