I was on the way to Kim’s Video on St. Marks Place this morning to return Brokeback Mountain (I made it through the final scene dry-eyed, but when the credits rolled and Willie Nelson’s voice sang “He was a friend of mine. Every time I think of him, I just can’t keep from cryin,” I sipped my beer and let the tears come.). I stopped for coffee and a croissant at 18 St. Marks. Truth be told, I passed the storefront – since I still associate the Clifford-sized plaster dog atop the awning with Good Dog, the Chicago-style hot dog joint that had until recently occupied the space – but I did a double take when I noticed it was once again open, now called Spot’s Café.
“What happened to Good Dog?” I asked the gruff, heavyset man clad in a maroon apron who seemed to be the owner.
“Just didn’t work out I guess.”
“But you kept the dog?”
“We named him Spot.”
I’d interviewed the owner of Good Dog and the artist who created the giant plaster dog back in March of 2007, when the dog was lying on his back, with his tongue hanging out like he wanted a belly rub, taking up the entire store. Owner Alex Tisi had been optimistic that a third hot dog joint might make it in the East Village, but given the minute half-life of businesses on St. Mark’s, it’s no big shock that Good Dog’s mascot, which took six weeks for sculptor Catalin Nastasoui to craft, outlasted the eatery itself.
Now that the dog has been adopted and re-named, we want to make sure his roots are not lost. Here’s that interview:
So how long have you been working on the dog?
Catalin Nastasoui: I think, uh, six weeks. I started in a studio on Chambers Street.
Alex Tisi: The reason he was not finished in his other location is because he was not going to fit in the elevator with his ears.
And where’s he going to go when you’re finished?
AT: Up here on an awning.
How are you going to hoist him up?
AT: It’s not drastically heavy. Four people could move it with no trouble at all.
CN: Two people, even.
What’s he made of?
AT: He was carved out of one big square piece of Styrofoam, then covered with a layer of resin.
CT: Or five.
AT: The dog’s name is JJ, by the way.
How would you define your respective relationships to JJ?
AT: I’m the dog’s father.
CT: And I’m the nurse. The delivering nurse.
Where does the name JJ come from?
AT: It’s the dog’s name, for some reason. It’s what he answers to. His tail will wag when he’s happy to see you. That’s what those wires are coming out of his bottom.
How did you get this job, Catalin? Did you and Alex know each other?
CN: We’ve known each other for a long time, I would say five years.
AT: Catalin is a prominent sculptor who is doing this as a favor. Every now and then you have to do things that are fun.
Does that mean he’s doing this for free?
AT: For a modest gratuity. With all the hours, it’s less than minimum wage.
What will make JJ’s tail wag?
AT: It’s actually a motor inside of him, robbed out of a Ford Taurus. It’s a windshield wiper motor, which gives you the exact motion you want for a tail.
What color is JJ going to be?
AT: It’s Golden Retriever red-brown. The actual color is called Golden Retriever. We always were partial to blondes… You notice for his East Village look, we gave him a spiked collar.
So is JJ supposed to be a Golden Retriever, or just a dog?
AT: He’s just a generic dog. When we call him a mutt, he gets insulted.
Have you done anything like this before, Catalin?
CN: Yes. I do ceramics. I’ve done large ceramic sculptures, but not here. In Europe.
Anything out of Styrofoam?
CN: No, but it’s just another material. It’s light, and it’s kind of agreeable with being carved, without involving any tools besides a knife, a saw, and some skill.
AT: And some space.
You’ve got a lot of competition in the East Village, with Crif Dogs and Dawgs on Park.
AT: A lot of competition, but nothing like this. That’s basically why we leaned toward this format. The Chicago-style hot dog is much larger than a regular hot dog, and it’s topped with pickles, relish, mustard, chopped onions, hot peppers. If you’ve ever gone to Wrigley Field and gotten a hot dog there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The hot dogs will actually come from Chicago. To the best of my knowledge, we’re going to be the only one [selling Chicago dogs] in New York.