In Victorian England, during the Age of Exploration, men of culture formed fraternal societies, based on the intellectual academies of ancient Athens, whose object was to investigate the great philosophical and scientific questions of the day. The members of these Athenaeums spent long hours questioning the possibility of free will, worrying over the existence of God, and raising money to sponsor some of the most important expeditions of all time. Dr. Livingston’s exploration of Africa was sponsored by a Victorian Athenaeum society. So was Sir Richard Burton’s discovery of the source of the Nile.
One hundred fifty years later, the Jinx Athenaeum Society, a modern-day operation organized by East Village pseudosophisticates who work in advertising, Web design, and magazines, meets monthly at the Gershwin Hotel in Chelsea for hourlong navel-gazing sessions. Jinx president “Laughing Boy” Deyo (pictured left) and chairman “Lefty” Leibowitz (right) have been friends since their high-school days at Horace Mann in the eighties (hence the sophomoric nicknames). They fund both the society and its self-published ‘zine, Jinx, with the profits from their Web-design company.
Like its Victorian predecessors, the Jinx Athenaeum Society concerns itself with the pressing issues of the day: the Chinese nuclear menace, the Second Amendment, and the relationship between aesthetics and personal freedom, as illustrated by an argument over whether the Birkenstock shoe should be banned. The Jinx Society sponsors exploration too – “urban exploration,” they call it, which means, essentially, that they don’t need to travel north of Queens or south of Long Island to do it. Instead of hiking to the summit of Everest, Jinx has sponsored a (highly illegal) trip to the top of the Manhattan Bridge, what they call urban mountaineering. Instead of tracking the source of the Nile, they’ll break into an abandoned Manhattan subway tunnel and photograph graffiti from the eighties. Like any serious adventurer, they say they are looking for the “untouched frontiers,” those places inaccessible to a more cautious public. And like any serious adventurer, they wear the native garb of the environment they seek to explore. So instead of the hardy greens and browns of the natural world, they do all their exploration in well-tailored business suits – what they describe as “urban camouflage.”
This month’s meeting of the Jinx Athenaeum Society featured the induction of its new poet laureate, Timothy “Speed” Levitch, New York City tour-guide star of the indie documentary The Cruise. Levitch promised to uphold the Society’s high standard of “adventure, underground style, and defiance of fear.” Also present was Jinx veteran “Bleach” Evanchik, who wore a tasseled maroon fez and a medal pinned to the breast pocket of his blue suit. “For distinguished service,” he said proudly. In the tradition of the great explorers, Bleach subjected himself to intense physical and emotional deprivations, riding the subway – every line in all five boroughs – for 24 hours straight, an experience that in his mind, at least, was as harrowing as Peary’s conquest of the North Pole.