Friday, July 27, 2007

Court Square, Queens, July 2007

I have two competing subjects to write about today, and since this is my last post before my retreat, I’m going to tackle them both.

One is the use of the Beatles’ song “All You Need is Love” in a diaper commercial. The other is the death of the Weekly World News.

Random, right?

Well, they’re both issues I read about recently that stirred me up.

Like many people, I hold the Beatles in a position of almost religious esteem. They were the perfect yin and yang of songwriting, the ideal balance between cerebral artistry and melodic pop fun. So when I first heard that “All You Need is Love” is going to be used in a Luvs diaper commercial, with “Luvs” substituted for “Love,” I was pretty appalled.

Unfortunately, the story I read didn’t quote Paul or Ringo - who have long since lost control of the use of their music - on what they thought of the development. For me, that was the key: What Would the Beatles Do? (WWBD)

But then I remembered “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon, and its effective use in ketchup commercials in the ‘70s. When I was a kid I actually grew to like the song by hearing it on TV. So maybe Luvs will actually be something of a boost for the Beatles among new listeners - kids who otherwise don’t know their music.

Besides, I can’t help but think that John Lennon would have found the whole situation laughably absurd.

As for the Weekly World News, I’m just sorry to see it go. It’s the supermarket tabloid that used to scream headlines about Bat Boy and Bigfoot and Aliens landing in your backyard.

When I was in college, the WWN was a staple impulse buy on late-night beer runs or snack food expeditions. My first boyfriend, Mike, used to love the WWN and we’d often read it together and laugh uproariously.

It’s one of my treasured memories of Mike, who died from pancreatic cancer just a few years after we broke up. When he was sick, I mailed him a WWN to cheer him up, and he wrote back a postcard that said “Thanks, but I broke down and subscribed!”

When I worked for a newspaper in Sarasota, I wrote an article about a church that was holding a fundraiser for a Romanian immigrant who needed a new prosthetic arm. (This is the kind of weird assignment you sometimes find yourself doing in local journalism.) The Weekly World News, of all places, picked up my story. And darned if little old ladies all across the land didn’t send money to buy that Romanian his arm. (He got it, too!)

The Weekly World News certainly never elevated anyone’s IQ. But I think it was actually far less harmful than a lot of the tabloid celebrity junk that’s being printed now - and that I never bought, even in my most late-night, drunken collegiate moments.

Enjoy the next week, everybody! Until August 6!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Broadway, SoHo, May 2007

Had a little crisis last night with my computer. I had a friend over and we decided to watch “Ugly Betty,” which I have never seen, by streaming the video from ABC’s Web site. Unfortunately I found that I need some kind of computer update (of course) and was having trouble with the download from ABC. So my friend suggested watching it through iTunes instead.

I had no idea iTunes even offered TV shows, but apparently it does. So I tried to download “Ugly Betty,” only to find that, once again, I needed a newer version of iTunes to watch it. So I downloaded the newer iTunes.

Panic! Upon completing the upgrade, iTunes NO LONGER WORKED. It just gave me a message saying my operating system was too old to run the new iTunes. I couldn’t see any of my music or go back to the original iTunes.

By this time, my friend was rolling his eyes and we’d pretty much given up on “Ugly Betty.” But I was not going to give up my iTunes without a fight. So I looked around online for options to revert back to the older iTunes, which involves deleting a lot of files and moving things around - enough fiddling in the computer’s inner workings to make me nervous.

Finally my friend suggested calling his partner, who told me how to easily upgrade my operating system. I downloaded OSX upgrades from Apple, and all seems to be well again.


Computers definitely offer interesting opportunities to confront our control issues, and our frustrations when things don’t go as planned!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hell's Kitchen, June 2007

This has been an interesting week at work. Much of my time has been consumed by a disagreement between two employees - I’ve found myself in the role of conflict mediator. It’s been more than interesting. It’s been downright hard.

I’ve tried to understand and weigh both sides, and to help the ever-widening group of people involved to also understand. I’ve tried to do justice to the offended employee while being fair to the one accused of offending.

It’s surprisingly difficult to make everyone happy. Listening seems to help a lot - really listening to those complaining, whether directly affected or a bystander. And keeping a level head, needless to say, is essential.

I think the issue is more or less resolved. But wow, how taxing it all was. I don’t think I’ve been this tense at work for years.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Long Island City, Queens, July 2007

Photos of flowers are so easy...but something about the sunlit pink against the black background was especially nice.

I'm off on my Zen retreat in just four days! I feel a combination of excitement (at the prospect of embarking on a long, intense period of practice) and dread (also at the prospect of embarking on a long, intense period of practice). This is a typical feeling for me just before a retreat -- as much as I love it, all the sitting can be difficult and uncomfortable. Funny how I can love something that, at least in the immediate sense, is not always especially pleasant.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mercer Street, SoHo, June 2007

I can't remember whether I've used this photo before or not! I hope I'm not repeating myself. At any rate, I love this piece of street art, especially with its shiny gold glow on that black background.

I've been seeing fireflies in my back courtyard the last few weeks. Isn't it impressive that here, in the middle of a city block hemmed in by concrete and traffic, there's enough of an ecosystem to produce fireflies in summer? Sometimes when I look out my window at dusk I see them flashing on and off, hovering amid the branches of the horse chestnut tree. A little summer magic in the heart of Manhattan!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Long Island City, Queens, July 2007

There's an art museum called P.S. 1 in Queens (yes, it used to be a public school) that's affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art. Every Saturday afternoon and evening during the summer they hold a sort of party in the courtyard, with a DJ and dancing and beer, and lots of people lounging around in hammocks. I went yesterday with several of my friends from Queens, and we had a ball.

We were really impressed with the diversity of the crowd. A very wide age range - mostly 20- and 30-somethings, but also many people older than that. All races. Gay and straight. It was pretty impressive to see a single event that drew so many different people, all mixing it up on the dance floor.

And what a great idea to really animate an art museum, and overcome its essentially formal atmosphere!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Long Island City, Queens, July 2007

My cat seems to be going through a rough patch again, health-wise. She got a bladder infection last weekend, which necessitated a visit to the "cat emergency room" on Sunday night (and never mind how much THAT cost). She's been on antibiotics all week, but the vet cultured the infection and belatedly realized that the antibiotics we've been giving her are not the most effective for this particular bacterium. So today we're going to switch to another kind.

I am so lucky that she'll take medicine in her food. Otherwise I don't know how I would get any medication down her.

The most sobering news was that her kidneys are not functioning well. This apparently can be masked by hyperthyroidism, so now that we've corrected that problem, the kidney issue has moved to the fore. But I'm not sure there's much we can do about it. It's just something that happens to old cats, and I don't think it represents an imminent danger. But you never know.

For now, she seems pretty outwardly healthy. She purrs, plays, eats well and keeps herself groomed. I'm going to start calling her the "Million Dollar Cat."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Window Washers, July 2007

I went to the dentist on Tuesday for my regular semi-annual cleaning. (As the old commercial said, "Look ma, no cavities!") Afterwards, I walked from my dentist's office, at 54th Street and Park Avenue, across town and down to my office at Eighth Avenue and 40th Street.

It was a nice morning for a walk, and it seemed to be the day for window washing. I passed several crews out on the sides of buildings, cleaning the glass from suspended platforms.

This is not a job I would want. I normally enjoy cleaning anything, but having to do it from such a precariously suspended structure would just freak me out. I'm not great with heights, despite living in the tallest city in the world. As long as there's a barrier between me and, well, falling, I'm fine. But I'm not sure I'd feel very secure in one of those contraptions.

I remember reading about a Buddhist monk who had such a finely honed ability to remain in the moment that once, when he was traveling on an airplane and an engine caught fire, he merely watched it burn from his seat, enjoying the colors of the flames.

To be a window-washer is to employ a similar skill: To set aside the fear of what could happen, and instead be present to what is happening. Why be afraid that the plane will crash, when ultimately it won't? Why be afraid that you're in danger of falling, when as long as you're careful, you're not?

Still, even as I understand the futility of that fear, I'd be afraid on an airplane with a burning engine - just as I'd be nervous on one of those platforms!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sunnyside, Queens, July 2007

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Suzanne Vega, just released a new CD, which I picked up Tuesday morning on my way to work. Predictably, when I walked into Virgin Records in Times Square and asked a clueless clerk where I could find the CD, she had no idea.

"What kind of music is that?" the clerk asked.

Fortyish adult music, I wanted to say. But I refrained.

I went and found Suzanne on my own. And I'm happy to say it's a great album, very New Yorky and romantic and nostalgic. It's called "Beauty and Crime." The New York Times had a great article about Suzanne on Sunday.

I met up last night with a couple of guys who I knew in college, now passing through New York. Haven't seen them in 20 years or so. We had a couple of beers and had a great time talking about our college crowd and the years since!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Broadway, SoHo, July 2007

I’m reading a pretty entertaining book right now, called “Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale.” Author Jennifer Trynin tells the story of her rapid ascent as a popular musician in the mid-90s, and the subsequent implosion of her career. (You might remember Trynin’s song “February,” which was the only single of hers I knew.)

As the book jacket says, “Major labels offered millions of dollars in deals. Billboard put her on the cover. Everyone knew she was the next big thing. But then she wasn’t. Catapulted to the edge of rock stardom, Trynin plummeted back down to earth.”

She’s a good writer, and the book is an easy read that really pulls you along. It’s just the kind of book I need at the moment, after having taken months to finish Christopher Isherwood’s excellent “Berlin Stories,” and abandoning Charles Kaiser’s “1968,” which was just way too politically focused for me. (I just don’t care that much about Eugene McCarthy.)

I also recently read Ian Frazier’s “Gone to New York,” a collection of his essays and articles from The New Yorker, which was terrific. I love a good New York book.

So, what’s everyone else reading? Any recommendations?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sunnyside, Queens, July 2007

After my post yesterday expressing my photographic preoccupation with graffiti and street art, Reya asked me if I miss noticing shadows. I do miss it. I think my eye has changed a bit, in that now I look at different things when I shoot photos. I used to be much more attuned to general lines and patterns, as opposed to the literal "writing on the wall."

Part of this may be due to the change in seasons. Summer shadows, although intense, are often much more generalized and diffuse, with leaves dappling the sidewalks and walls. Perhaps they make a better background than a main subject. Winter shadows are cleaner and more linear.

But even as I make these distinctions - which I'm not all that certain about - I laugh at myself for doing it. I mean, come on - classifying shadows? Setting values on them? Judging them, in effect? How silly.

I'm not worried. This is just a phase I'm in. I still know a good photo when I see it. I just have to be open to the seeing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Columbus Circle, June 2007

I went back to the Zendo yesterday for the first time in about two weeks. It was terrific to finally get a chance to sit peacefully and for an extended period of time, though it was also difficult: the day was hot, and I felt very drowsy. As much as I tried to follow my breathing I occasionally found myself half-dreaming, in a state that wasn’t quite consciousness. I’d have to drag myself back to the surface again, back to the breath and some measure of alertness.

Practice waxes and wanes for many people, and I’ve felt separated from my practice. I’ve had so much going on: social events, co-op board business, my weekend in Southampton, my move to the new office building and all that entails, my bout with the flu. My head has been rolling with duties, thoughts, and yes, delusional compulsions, too.

So I was happy to sit again, as hard as it was, and I’m once again renewing my vow to return to sitting more frequently. I really need that time to find some space, to renew my connection with life. Without it, I stop seeing - I wind up rushing around busybusybusy and forget to notice, well, virtually everything.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

W. 29th Street, July 2007

This is plastered all over lower Manhattan. An older example here - it was painted over recently.

Went to a friend's house yesterday for a housewarming party. He lives in a great part of Queens called Sunnyside Gardens, where attached houses all face internal common courtyards full of trees and grass. It's an urban forest - really idyllic! I had fun meeting some new people and talking to some old friends, and then walked around a bit taking photos in Queens.

I've taken so many photos of graffiti and street art in recent months that I'm finding it hard to retrain my eye to see shadows again. Or maybe I just haven't stumbled across many good ones. In any case, I feel like I want to get back to more general photography, but I discovered yesterday that you can't really try too hard. You just have to let it come.

I told everyone at the party about the Kim Richards/Paris Hilton revelation, but apparently I'm the only one who really cares about that. Hmmmm.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Broadway, July 2007

This is how I felt yesterday when I learned an interesting bit of celebrity trivia: Kim Richards, the child actress who played Tia in Disney's 1975 movie "Escape to Witch Mountain" and thus was a famous contemporary of kids in my generation, is Paris Hilton's aunt.

Good Lord. Wholesome little Kim Richards? Who's only a few years older than me? How can this be possible?

And whatever happened to Ike Eisenmann, anyway?

They were among a small group of child actors in the '70s with whom I felt a kind of familial bond. They'd show up frequently on TV or in a movie, a familiar face, just like a relative at a family reunion: Melissa Gilbert, Lance Kerwin, Matthew Laborteaux. I had no idea my childhood pseudo-family extended to Paris Hilton.

Made it through a day of work yesterday without any apparent ill effects. I wouldn't say I felt great at the end of the day, but then, I never feel great at the end of a workday - so it looks like business as usual.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sixth Avenue, July 2007

Well, I'm happy to report that things have vastly improved on the health front - all your good luck wishes must have helped. My fever went down drastically yesterday just after lunch, and this morning when I got up my temperature was normal. I feel a little like a wrung-out washcloth, but still, that is an improvement. I'm probably going to go back to work today, though I am going to endeavor to sit at my desk as much as possible!

I did go to the doctor, but as with most viruses, there wasn't much he could do. He gave me a prescription for an antibiotic because he thought I might have a sinus infection - I had headaches - but I'm not going to fill it. To badly adapt a phrase from Lloyd Bentsen, I know a sinus infection, and you, sir, are no sinus infection.

I watched an entire season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" yesterday, and I'm utterly addicted. A coworker loaned me the DVD (and thank God I had it, in my deliriously bored state) so I hope I can borrow others from her. The resemblance to "Seinfeld" is remarkable. I also watched "Syriana," which was confusing, but I got the general gist of it: Big Oil = BAD.

My court testimony never happened. As it turns out, the hearing was continued, as hearings often are. Stay tuned for part two of that story in a few weeks.

Thanks again for all your good wishes. It was nice to sign on and get so much positive, healing energy coming from blogland.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sixth Avenue, July 2007

I usually don't think of the postal service as particularly sexy...but obviously someone does.

I'm still sick - ugh. My fever got to 103 degrees yesterday, which freaked me out a little bit. I'm going to the doctor this morning. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Henry Street, June 2007

Came home last night from a dinner with some folks from the Zendo, and felt a little achey and strange. Took my temperature. 100 degrees! Great. Is this what happens when you spend the weekend with small children? My Mom always said little kids are virus factories.

To make things more interesting, I'm supposed to testify in court today. I'm president of my co-op board, and we have a building-related case coming before a judge. I've never testified before, and I'm not looking forward to doing it while feverish.

Life throws some curve balls, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

East Village, June 2007

After a long, long spell of unseasonably cool weather, summer has finally descended like a wet washcloth. It’s sticky and humid and smotheringly hot. The nights aren’t so bad - with my fan I’m pretty comfortable - but walking around during the day is fraught with unpleasantness. Like when one of those big city buses go by and you get a face full of superheated diesel fumes.

And my office, like many air conditioned buildings, is absolutely frigid. So I walk through an oven to get to work, and then plunge into a refrigerator.

I’m not a huge fan of air conditioning. I like to be in touch with the natural world - “Mother Earth,” in today’s photo - enough to feel the weather. I think it’s important for our biology, somehow. Of course, if it were dangerously hot, I’d turn on the air, but otherwise I think we’re meant to be slow and reserved with our energy use at this time of year.

In a few weeks I’ll be off to my annual Buddhist retreat, where we have no a/c at all. So sleeping without the air is probably a good way to prepare!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Southampton, N.Y., July 2007

Back from a weekend in Southampton with my friends Pam and Bryan and their two children. As the novelty in the family, I wound up being the center of attention for little Amanda, who’s three, and who wouldn’t let me out of her sight. It’s always such an ego boost to spend time with a little kid!

We swam in the pool, where we tried to show Amanda how to dog-paddle, and we lazed around the house. We took Amanda to soccer practice. We went to Sag Harbor for ice cream, and had a little birthday party for Pam, a friend of mine from the Peace Corps. It was all very domestic. (Amanda’s little brother Spencer was there for all of this, but he’s a mostly quiet baby, and tends to blend into the background!)

Small kids can be very intimidating. They’re so unfiltered, they’re likely to say anything. But they’re also very Zen - invested in the moment, and full of the energy of the moment, whether it’s happy or sad or something in between. (It’s rarely in between.)

Of course, they’re deluded too, full of desires that demand to be met. But you can see flashes of their little Buddha natures as they watch a bug or play a game or color in the coloring book - the intensity, the focus, even the kindness.

I don’t know how parents do it. I’m exhausted!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Baruch College, June 2007

I’ve had a busy Broadway week. I went to see “110 in the Shade” on Tuesday night, with Audra McDonald, and it was terrific. For some reason I was initially kind of lukewarm about seeing it, but her accolades are well-deserved - she puts such incredible energy into her performance. The rest of the cast is excellent as well.

Last night I went to see “Frost Nixon,” the play about David Frost’s legendary TV interview with Richard Nixon in 1977. Again, more good performances, but I thought Michael Sheen as Frost was stronger than Frank Langella as Nixon - and Langella won the Tony. Go figure!

Now I’m off to Southampton to spend the weekend with some friends. I think I need a bit of a blog break, so I’ll be away from the blog (and Flickr) until Monday. In fact, I may not even take my camera - SHOCK.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Catherine Street, June 2007

If any of you were expecting fireworks photography today, I have to disappoint. But let me soften the blow by explaining that it is impossible for me to take a good fireworks photo! With my little point-and-shoot, all I ever get is a colored smudge in the sky. I didn’t even try to take photos this year.

Pictures of fireworks seem a little pointless to me anyway. If anything is meant to be transient, enjoyed only as it occurs, it’s fireworks. What would they be without the motion, the resonant percussive explosions, the smell of the drifting smoke?

For a while, I thought we might get rained out last night. My friends Jan, Helen and I made our way down to the river shortly before sunset, and found ourselves caught in intermittent drizzle. We did bring umbrellas, but you can’t really watch fireworks from beneath an umbrella!

Then, magically, the rain stopped just as the show was ready to begin. We stood and watched, a crisp breeze blowing over us, and had a great time. The engineering of fireworks is amazing to me - how do you pack bits of powder and whatnot so that when they explode, they create a smiley face? Or a cube? It’s pretty incredible.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Monroe Street, June 2007

Finally getting around to posting this morning. As you can see, I'm moving more slowly than usual. Guess this will be the theme of the holiday - which is a good thing!

It's still freakishly cool here in New York, which is such a change from our normal July 4 weather. I'm supposed to go with a friend tonight to watch the fireworks over the East River - when we've gone in years past we've sweltered. This year promises to be much more pleasant.

Hope to get out and take some more photos, too. Don't want the well to run dry!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Chatham Square, June 2007

On Saturday as I walked through Chinatown, I stumbled onto a little rally or celebration in Chatham Square, overlooked by the somber statues of Lin Ze Xu and Confucius. There was fun Chinese pop music playing, and balloons and flags. An arch had been erected covered with Chinese writing. Of course I had no idea what any of this was about.

I lingered for a few minutes, enjoying the color and the sounds, and I took some photos which I posted to Flickr. If any of you read Chinese, fill me in, OK?

Update: I should know by now not to post a question without doing a little research first. With a few Google and Wikipedia clicks, I figured out that the middle flag is for Hong Kong, which was handed over to the Chinese exactly 10 years ago on June 30. Hence, the celebration.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Kenmare Street, June 2007

On Saturday, I went to see “Evening,” a new movie with a roster of incredible actresses including Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave, with the hunky Patrick Wilson thrown in for good measure. It was an ambitious movie and it was more or less effective, but I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t as good as it should have been with that cast. I’m not sure what the weakness was.

Toni Collette is a personal favorite of mine and I make it a policy to see everything she does. As usual, she was one of the best things about this film. She’s great.

Then, on Sunday, I went to the Whitney Museum to see its exhibit “Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era.” I have always been infatuated with the ‘60s, which were just barely out of my reach - I lived through the latter half of the decade but I was too young to remember any of it. It’s fascinating to consider how profoundly the world changed between 1965 and 1970, in many exciting and traumatic ways.

Anyway, this was a great exhibit, with groovy psychedelic light shows, poster art, album covers, music and even tabs of LSD on display. I came home and immediately put on “The White Album” to preserve the mood!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Spring Street, June 2007

Yesterday’s entry got me thinking about the human need to classify the world around us. After all, I don’t just classify and categorize street art. I classify everything, in one form or another, as do most of us.

I think I picked this up as a kid, when I collected rocks and shells and leaves and stamps, and learned how to sort and determine which items belonged to which larger group. Was the rock igneous or sedimentary? Was the stamp from France or a French colony?

Yet classifying is fraught with problems, particularly in the natural world, where nature doesn’t always conform to our neat specifications. It’s one thing to classify a stamp, but something else to classify a snail. Particularly when it looks a lot like a neighboring snail that we determine, for some reason, to be a slightly different species.

Perhaps this is why Zen frowns on dividing things up artificially. Because the lines don’t really hold and the barriers aren’t real. Establishing barriers is the first step toward determining what we like and what we don't, and what's good and what's bad, and in extreme cases, what we allow to live and what we kill.

The snails are themselves and each other, and even more so, they are us and we are them.