Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hell's Kitchen, Sept. 2007

When I wrote about simplicity yesterday, I was coming at it from a consumer angle - that we really don’t need all this stuff, the newest plastic gadget or watermelon in February. But that’s only one aspect of simplicity.

On a deeper level, it means feeling the sun on your face, feeling your breaths in and out, feeling each footfall as you walk, seeing what’s in front of your eyes. Not getting caught up in the dramas of your mind, the crisis of the latest story. That’s true simplicity, and again, I only sometimes recognize it, because I’m as susceptible to drama as anyone.

In the comments yesterday, Reya mentioned the complexity of her thoughts. (That’s why we all loved your blog, Reya!) I may have an advantage here, because honest to God, my thoughts are not all that complex. I pretty much just stroll along, trying to pay attention to what’s around me and avoid being swept away by daydreams. When something really upsets me, I learn all I can about it and then try to remember what's really real.

My father was diagnosed with lung cancer at the beginning of August - not a total surprise, because he’s smoked for 50-plus years and we all knew he had a “spot” that the doctors were watching. The news was upsetting, but at the same time I could meet it with a kind of clarity. I tried not to get caught up in “what ifs.”

I flew down to Florida to spend time with Dad before his surgery. He’s since had his operation, and he seems to be doing well, though healing will take a long time. I don’t mean to gloss it over - it’s been hard for him - but ultimately it’s just a knot of renegade cells. And for the moment - which is all that’s real - they appear to be gone. Is this denial? No, it’s simplicity.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

An article in this week’s Newsweek addresses the latest trend in memoir-writing: the “year of” memoir, in which, for a year, the writer does something unusual. Recent books seem to involve actually not doing something. Or, more accurately, taking something away from modern life to see what it’s like to do without it.

A.J. Jacobs, in “The Year of Living Biblically,” avoids a lot of modern conveniences to live according to the restrictions imposed by the Bible. Barbara Kingsolver skirts the convenience of year-round supermarket produce to shop locally for seasonal food in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” Judith Levine wrote “Not Buying It,” in which she doesn’t shop at all. Sara Bongiorni restricted her shopping to avoid Chinese goods in “A Year Without ‘Made in China.’”

I think the trend toward subtracting things from life is interesting. Americans have shown warring impulses on this topic: We seem to want simpler lives, and hence magazines such as “Real Simple” flourish, but we still buy more and more. We know what we’re doing is pointless, but we still do it.

I’ve long been a fan of simplification - not just in shopping, but in everything. I really think that’s where the key to happiness lies, in removing distractions that make us frantic and speedy. I’m not always successful at it in my own life, but I continue to work on it every day - not buying stuff, turning off the noise-making media, spending time doing things more slowly and purposefully.

This profusion of books reflects the same impulse in all of us. As Ron Hogan, a blogger who covers the publishing industry, tells Newsweek: “We’re such a hyperaffluent society, what else is left for us to do than take things away from our lives?”

And thereby find more.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Greenwich Village, Sept. 2007

I found this interesting sticker on the back of a stop sign. I have no idea what it says. If anyone reads Japanese, or has any ideas, I'd be happy to know what you think! (I hope it's not just an ad for a sushi restaurant.)

My boss and coworker are away this week and part of next, so I'm alone in my department. I enjoy the solitude, but at the same time it can get pretty busy.

On top of that, my sinuses are giving me fits, for some reason. I thought that was only supposed to happen in the spring! But maybe plants are going to seed now, before the frosts of winter, and somehow that's kicking up my allergies. Who knows.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Upper West Side, Sept. 2007

I have a book called "Hal Borland's Twelve Moons of the Year," a collection of short essays that Borland, a nature writer, contributed to The New York Times back in the '70s. There's an essay for each day. Today's is about the changing seasons:
Frost has come to rural fields and gardens and the fires of life burn low in the insect world. The bugs and beetles are nearing the end of their time. Crickets and katydids seem to sense it; when you hear them on a warm evening now there is a new sense of urgency in their calls. Bumblebees sleep late, sometimes in the shelter of a tousled zinnia blossom, and wait for the sun to warm their blood enough so they can fly. Most butterflies have had their day and slumber as hostages to tomorrow in the egg, the cocoon, or as caterpillars.
I do seem to see fewer bugs now. I haven't noticed any fireflies in our back courtyard, and the big houseflies that congregated inside our lobby doorway seem to have disappeared. It's hardly cold - in fact, at the moment we're having a bit of Indian Summer, and I doubt there's frost on any rural field. But the bugs still must know the season is changing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

And now, a blast from the past. How may of you remember “The Red Balloon”? It’s a French film about a boy who finds a red balloon that seems to have a mind of its own. It follows him all over Paris as he rides buses, goes to school and browses an antiques market.

I saw it many times as a kid, either as a movie at school (remember those huge, clunky projectors?) or on television - I can’t remember which. Well, last night, on a whim, I decided to see if it’s on YouTube. And of course, it is. Enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Upper East Side, Sept. 2007

Our big controversy has been the visit from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As you’ve probably seen on the news, his appearance at Columbia University was attended by a zillion demonstrators, including many who said he should never have been allowed to speak. He wasn’t allowed to visit ground zero.

I don’t get this. We’re supposed to be a free country, and it seems to me that the way to counter hateful perspectives is to permit their expression and then point out how wrong they are. Pushing someone away, trying to shut them down before they say anything, is not the way to resolve differences. It only makes them stronger. Ahmadinejad believes some scary things - he insists there are no gay people in Iran, for example, though people have been repeatedly executed there for gay activity. But the only way to counter such bigotry is to air it out and then point out its wrongness.

I keep thinking about those surveys that show people’s acceptance of gays in general skyrockets once they know a gay individual personally. Ahmadinejad thinks he doesn’t know any. For him, it’s all a big abstraction.

So should his views be aired at Columbia? Well, like it or not, the guy is one of the leaders of a country that’s going to play a critical role in our foreign policy. Aren’t we supposed to know our adversaries? And maybe if we listen to them, find a starting point for change? Refusing to engage an adversary just allows hostility to flourish.

And so he wanted to go to Ground Zero. Why not? Iran didn’t destroy the World Trade Center. None of the hijackers were Iranian. Wouldn’t it do the Muslim world some good to see Ahmadinejad laying a wreath at the site, paying respects? Wouldn’t that remind extremists of the essential humanity of the victims?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Upper East Side, Sept. 2007

Anyone who doubts the social power of the Internet should meet up with some of their Web friends. Even if you’ve only known each other in cyberspace, when you meet face to face, you FEEL like you know each other. It’s a real relationship; it’s not an illusion.

I’m part of a loose-knit group of photographers on Flickr who document street art in New York City. We all run around and try to capture transient stickers and wheatpastes and spray-painted stencils before they get painted over or cleaned away. We all look through and comment on each others’ photos, keeping track of what’s going on out there in the world of the street.

Yesterday we finally got a chance to get together - eight of us. We met at a centrally located gas station on Houston Street and walked around SoHo shooting stuff, while talking about how we got interested in all the art around us. We compared notes on the artists and on the peculiarities of Flickr, spending a couple of hours out on the street and getting a late lunch. It was really fun! And just like when I met Reya and Ched back in June, I sort of felt like I knew them all already!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

Yesterday was another daylong retreat at the Zen Center. My teacher mentioned the interesting intersection of our retreat with Yom Kippur and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In discussing the basic unity of all spiritual paths, she quoted Ch’an Master Wu-men Hui-hai, who was asked how Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism can be reconciled. (In today’s world, we might ask this question of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.)

“Employed by people of great capacity they are the same. As understood by those of limited intellect, they differ. All of them spring forth from the functioning of one’s self-nature. Whether a person remains deluded or gains illumination depends upon the person, not upon the difference or similarity of the doctrine.”

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Meatpacking District, May 2007

People in my family have a very strange sense of humor. Here’s one of our e-mail exchanges, from Thursday, as an example.

Necessary background: Years ago, when I lived in Florida, a tiny oak tree began growing in a potted plant I kept on the balcony of my apartment. I transplanted it to my mother’s yard in Land O’ Lakes, a Tampa suburb. My mother has complained about this tree ever since: It drops too many leaves, its branches rub on the roof, etc. My brother J.M. and his wife Kristen recently visited my Mom, who has two cats, Ikky and Neffie.

Mom: Stephen, I want you to know that your oak tree is producing vast quantities of acorns. You can hear them hit the house at that end of the house. During a recent windstorm it was wild. JM, were you and Kristen bothered by these falling acorns? Soon the entire ground will be covered to the depth of one inch. When I look up into the tree, there are still millions.

J.M.: It is a sign. You should stew them and make mead in the tub. Or weave them into a nice hat.

Me: The squirrels will LOVE them!

J.M.: I'm with Stephen. Let the squirrels eat them, then weave the squirrels into a nice hat.

Mom: There are not enough squirrels in LOL to eat these acorns. I was talking to Ginger, my neighbor, the other day, and they were falling all around us. She was perplexed.

J.M.: One man unravels the mystery of falling apples hundreds of years ago and yet the residents of Land O' Lakes are confused by acorns?

Mom: Of course, Ikky can catch squirrels. He deposited a headless one at my front door.

Me: Yikes!

Friday, September 21, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

My blog pal Reya asked me yesterday why I joined the Peace Corps in the first place. Kind of a long story!

I joined in 1992, after about three years working for a mid-size newspaper near Tampa, Fla. I had grown up near Tampa, went to college in Tampa, and I’d never been out of the country except for a week in the Canadian Rockies a few years before.

But as a kid, I’d collected stamps, and those stamps got me dreaming about all sorts of exotic destinations, from Albania to Zimbabwe. I knew there was a whole world out there that I wasn’t seeing. I also felt frustrated in my job and unhappy with a relationship I had at the time, and I felt the need to make a dramatic change. I wanted to rough it for a while, get away from my cushy American existence, learn and grow.

Helping people, to be honest, was almost a secondary motivation. It was part of the equation - I liked that I could be of help while challenging myself too - but mostly I wanted to shake up my own life.

Peace Corps requires a two-year commitment for most jobs, so this was no small step. I applied in summer of 1991, and drove down to Miami for an interview with a recruiter. I told my bosses what I was doing; they were supportive.

Being a language person, I thought I would wind up teaching English. But the recruiter said the teaching programs required more experience than I had, and suggested I pursue health instead. She said I could get qualified for health by volunteering at a local hospital and getting CPR training.

So I did that. I worked in the Emergency Room at Tampa General Hospital for about six months, and took a CPR course. In the spring of 1992, the Peace Corps invited me to Morocco. I had told them I’d go anywhere in the world, but I really wanted Africa - so Morocco sounded great to me!

And it was exactly what I wanted. It was challenging in ways I’d never expected, and helped me grow dramatically. I had the true “mud hut” experience, living in a one-room rock house in a tiny village that had no electricity or running water. I loved it - the simplicity of my life, the long days just hanging out with the Moroccans, the excellent food and amazing hospitality. I did a number of projects with another volunteer living nearby and some on my own, and traveled a lot in Morocco and West Africa. My world grew exponentially!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

When I was wandering around Bushwick a couple of weeks ago, I saw this bicycle leaning against a signpost and thought it was sort of picturesque against that stark wall. It wasn’t until I raised my camera that I noticed the red “sign” on the signpost. Definitely not a street sign -- but what was it?

It was a piece of street art painted by GoreB. Several New York artists produce “boards” like this that they bolt to signposts. Somehow the boards remain without getting stolen, which always amazes me - I guess it’s just hard to get them down. They’re always fun to find, though sometimes hard to photograph.

Last night I went to a meeting of gay Returned Peace Corps Volunteers - yes, there is such an organization here in NYC, though it seems pretty loose-knit. There were about seven guys there, and we just talked and compared notes on our Peace Corps experiences. I was shocked to find that one guy who had recently served found Peace Corps to be a homophobic environment - I think that's the exception rather than the rule. (I'm talking about the organization itself, not the people in the countries where volunteers work - in that case, it all depends on local culture.) I detected no homophobia within Peace Corps at all, but I did not come out to the Moroccans with whom I worked - only the Americans.

I just finished an excellent book: “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. It’s about the creation of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, and a mass murderer who was on the loose at the same time. A great read!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hell's Kitchen, Sept. 2007

I'm having one of those weeks where I feel like I am perpetually behind. So, unfortunately, I don't have much to contribute today to the national discourse. Must be off!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

You may have heard about Sally Field’s remarks at the Emmy Awards. But you may not have heard the remarks themselves, thanks to the Fox network.

In her acceptance speech, Field praised the mothers of the world and suggested that if mothers were in charge, there “would be no goddamn wars in the first place.”

Fox blanked out not only the cursing, but the whole latter half of the sentence, thereby ensuring that no one heard Field’s anti-war sentiment. Funny how that is. Except, of course, that it’s not funny at all - and I'd say that no matter what political opinion she expressed.

Completely unrelated: Yesterday someone found my blog through a Google search for “boy scout paramilitaristic.” I’m always glad when I can raise the profile of the Boy Scouts!

Monday, September 17, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

The weather was so cool yesterday that it was almost chilly - people broke out the jackets. Fall is upon us!

In fact, it was great running weather. I hadn’t been running in more than a month - I’d done the Stairmaster at the gym, but somehow I got out of the running habit. So yesterday, I took off down the path along the East River, thinking I would take it easy and not run my full route, which goes all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge. (Between five and six miles round-trip.)

At first, it was tough going. But about a quarter of the way I hit my stride, and found that I could run the whole distance. It was almost like my body just had to remember what to do. It felt so great!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

I found this post-it note on the subway yesterday:
Nice board dude. Big wheels. So I take it you cruise. So do I. Mine is the same way.
I'm trying to imagine the circumstances under which someone would write such a note. I'm guessing it's about a skateboard. Did the writer and recipient know each other? It even sounds a little like a come-on, if you ask me.

Last night I went to see "Across the Universe," Julie Taymor's movie about the '60s scripted entirely around Beatles songs. It's surprisingly good for what's essentially a jukebox musical, with psychedelic film effects and trippy sequences featuring animation and giant puppets. And I am a hard-core Beatles fan, so I wouldn't be saying that if I thought the movie disrespected the songs in any way.

I wish we had some of that '60s idealism and passion these days. Not that it wasn't misused, even then, but now people seem awfully complacent and cynical - me included, sometimes!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

Sorry about that photo yesterday - I thought it was kind of motivating, but apparently some people found it depressing. I didn't mean it that way, honest!

Moving a little slowly this morning. I was out last night until 1 a.m., which is utterly unheard of for me. (I'm such an old fogie.) I went to see the brilliant Teddy Thompson at the Bowery Ballroom, at the suggestion of a friend. Teddy is the son of folkies Richard and Linda Thompson, and he put on a great show. His musicianship is impeccable, though his material is a little too "country" to be ideal to my tastes. I also really liked his opening act, Christina Courtin - even bought one of her CDs. She had a kind of Bjork-like voice, I thought.

We also went to Moby's tea cafe, Teany, where I had the most interesting chrysanthemum tea - there were literally little chrysanthemum flowers suspended in it. Very subtle, and such a neat change from my old standby, coffee!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hell's Kitchen, Sept. 2007

Proving that there’s a bit of the beast in all of us, I had an interesting experience with “customer service rage” the other day.

I went to Dunkin Donuts for a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone. On the menu, it said double cones were $3.49, with waffle cones an extra 60 cents. So I ordered a waffle cone, two scoops, and paid with a twenty.

Only when my change came back did I realize I’d been overcharged -- the bill came to $6.50 or something. I pointed out the problem, but the counterman said I’d ordered two scoops, which is apparently NOT the same as ordering a double. He charged me for two single cones, plus an extra dollar (?) for the waffle cone.

I tried to argue my case -- that the menu was deceptive, that $6.50 was way too much to pay for an ice cream cone, that waffle cones were only 60 cents. Finally, I just told him I wanted my money back. He said he couldn’t open the register.

Throughout all of this I got more and more frustrated, because he also didn’t speak English very well. I could tell that as I was trying to firmly and rationally make my case, he didn’t understand a good part of what I said. He just had a sort of blank expression.

“Look, in ENGLISH, ‘two’ and ‘double’ are the SAME THING,” I finally said. And as the words came out, I suddenly realized that I was being a complete jerk. I was arguing over a couple of bucks with a guy who probably made that much in an hour, and by impugning his knowledge of English I was perilously close to making an ethnic or cultural slur.

All of which was quite illuminating. Zen teaches us that there are no divisions, that all our “us-and-them” ways of looking at the world are utter falsehoods. I saw that within me, at least at that moment, there was an “other” -- an angry man, maybe even a racist. I was also making an “other” out of the guy at the counter.

I don't think I was wrong in the dispute, but the whole episode was still embarrassing. I doubt I'll go back to that Dunkin Donuts any time soon. And if I do, I’m ordering a “double.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007

Lorianne at Hoarded Ordinaries calls these "alien eyes." To me they look a little like diamonds, at least in this case. The reflection came from a factory or warehouse window with a lot of little panes.

This summer has been so remarkable. I think I've run my air conditioner about five times! We've had a few hot days, but for the most part it's been very temperate and pleasant, and last night I actually got chilly enough to pull up my blanket.

I think it even smells a bit like fall this morning - crisp. The air trips a switch in my animal brain, telling me that slowly and surely, the season is changing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Midtown, Sept. 2007

I dream’d in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth;
I dream’d that was the new City of Friends;
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love -- it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.

-- Walt Whitman, 1860

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, Union Square turned into a living memorial. Someone erected models of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on the plaza near 14th Street, and they were decked out in flowers and candles and notes of despair and consolation. I found the verse above on a card tucked in with the rest, and remember it as the most poignant message of all.

Monday, September 10, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

As I was walking in Chelsea Saturday morning, I passed a woman having a stoop sale. (That’s the New York equivalent of a yard sale, for those of us who don’t have yards.) I browsed her stuff and we began chatting. I didn’t really see anything I wanted to buy, but I did take a closer look at a black t-shirt.

It featured four portraits of Liberace, done Andy Warhol-style, with lots of colors. The shirt was from the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. (Who knew?)

“Oh, that’s a great shirt. It’s five dollars,” said the woman, who proceeded to entertain me with a story of her visit to the Liberace Museum.

When I continued to hesitate, she said, “Tell you what - I’ll give it to you for $3.”

So I bought the Liberace shirt - more to help out this woman’s yard sale than anything else. Because as I walked away, I became more and more certain that I would never wear it. Though I admire Liberace’s ability to be campy before anyone really knew what that meant, I did not want to wear a portrait of him - much less four portraits.

As I continued walking and photographing for the next couple of hours, I carried that silly t-shirt, trying to figure out what to do with it.

Finally, about five hours later, I was on the Upper East Side. I’d walked all through Hell’s Kitchen, spent time reading in Central Park and was now going to the subway to meet a friend in Queens. All in the good company of Liberace.

Then I realized where I could get rid of him. Housing Works has a thrift store on E. 77th Street. So I took the shirt there, and sure enough, was able to donate it.

So all’s well that ends well: The woman sold her shirt and made some money; Housing Works got a donation; and I came away with a good story about a silly impulse buy!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

You may have heard that Madeleine L’Engle died the other day at the ripe old age of 88. She’s the author of “A Wrinkle in Time,” which was without a doubt one of my favorite books as a child. One of my mom’s friends loaned it to us after her children read it and loved it -- she thought I might like it as well. I buried my nose in it and couldn’t stop reading. I took it along on a terrific beach vacation to Longboat Key, Fla., and the setting only added to the magic of the book.

It was a fantastic tale all about time-travel and psychic energy and, most fundamentally, love. I can still picture our beach cabin, with me lying on the worn couch reading, in a place I loved with people I loved. I was about 12. I was sorry when the book ended, but so happy with the places it took me.

So thanks, Madeleine, for that Wrinkle in Time!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

My teacher gave a terrific talk on Thursday about intimacy. Not only how to be intimate with others, and let down all the barriers that prevent us from really knowing other people, but also how to be intimate with ourselves. Before we can know and trust anyone else, we have to really know, and really trust, our own self.

I am terrible at this. And even that sentence is an example.

I tend to intellectualize everything -- not that I’m particularly smart, but just that I see the world through a very cerebral lens. As a result, I often cut myself off from what I’m really feeling. My body and my emotions become secondary to intellect and reason.

I also label everything -- like calling myself “terrible” above. As my teacher said:

“For whatever reason, all the causes and conditions that have led to where we are right now, so often we pull away -- and we separate our self from our self. We tell ourselves we’re very bad or we tell ourselves we’re very good, and it really doesn’t matter which, except one feels a little better than the other temporarily. Or we ought to, or we should, or we can’t -- and we separate and we separate.”

She points out that sitting is a way of training ourselves to really BE with ourselves -- our physical being, our breath -- as we watch the mad scramble of our minds. It’s a way of learning intimacy. And boy, do I need that.

My teacher has been posting many of her dharma talks online, and if you’re interested, you can hear this talk here. It really spoke to me, reminding me of some of the elementary reasons for practice.

Friday, September 7, 2007

East Village, Sept. 2007

Take a look at this Web site. You probably won’t be able to read it, because it’s in Japanese. But you can look at the photos -- including the ones of me!

This is the result of a project by a Japanese acquaintance of mine, Asao Teshirogi. I met her when she came to the Zendo one night to report an article for a Japanese publication about Zen in America. Later, she asked me to be part of a book project called “Breakfast in New York,” in which she writes about New Yorkers and their lives, starting with what they eat for breakfast.

She insisted that she wanted to see my normal morning routine. So she and a photographer came to my place one morning about 6:30 a.m., and took photos of me meditating and having breakfast with Armenia. I can’t read her text, but I ran it through a Babel Fish translator and it’s basically just a description of my mornings, my Zen practice and my life and work in New York.

It was really fun to be part of this project! It hasn’t become a book yet -- Asao’s publisher went bankrupt so she’s looking for a replacement. But the Web site is kind of fun!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

E. 31st Street, August 2007

Saw another great old movie the other night: "Lost Horizon," Frank Capra's 1937 film version of James Hilton's novel about the legendary Shangri-La. Really beautifully filmed, and starring a young Jane Wyatt of "Father Knows Best" fame. She always spoke with the most marvelous accent -- very East Coast blue-blood.

I have not been sitting lately. I keep telling myself I'm too busy and then I spend hours on the computer and watch old clearly I'm not THAT busy. Why all the resistance to something I love? I think it's partly just inertia...when you spend all day racing through life, it's hard to make yourself stop. But of course that's all the more reason to stop!

So now, I'm going to go sit!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

SoHo, August 2007

Did you hear about the lifeguard who rescued the shark? Here’s the beginning of the story, from the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (Sept. 4) - When a Coney Island lifeguard spied a shark near an upset group of swimmers, he did what he thought was right: He rescued the fish.

Marisu Mironescu, 39, said he was prompted to action Monday after seeing about 75 to 100 people circling the 2-foot sand shark off the beach and "bugging out."

"They were holding onto it and some people were actually hitting him, smacking his face," said Mironescu. "Well, I wasn't going to let them hurt the poor thing."

He grabbed the largely harmless shark in his arms and carried it, backstroking out to sea, where he let it go. "He was making believe like he's dead, then he wriggled his whole body and tried to bite me," Mironescu said.

I loved this story! People often kill creatures that they perceive to be even slightly threatening -- a spider, a non-poisonous snake, a mouse. Sharks are certainly a favorite whipping boy. But it takes a special person to look at that shark and see, not a threat, but a suffering fellow creature! Dude deserves a medal!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bowery, August 2007

Remember the opening credits of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”? Mary, in the supermarket, throws some bacon into her cart with a resigned roll of her eyes. It was the ‘70s, after all, and inflation was the word of the day.

Well, that could have been me yesterday at Gristede’s, my local supermarket. Groceries in Manhattan have never been cheap, but geez, these days they just seem out of hand. I spent $40 on 11 items.

My Kellogg’s Raisin Bran is the main offender, at $6.29 for a 25-ounce box. (I eat raisin bran every morning, rain or shine, so I bought two. I definitely need to find an underworld supplier for my cereal habit.)

But everything else was crazy, too. My coffee, Yuban, one of the cheapest brands on the shelf, was $4.99. A can of Progresso soup was $2.79. Two pears were $2.05. The cheapest thing I bought was a bag of carrots, for $1.49.

People who don’t live in New York always think it’s crazy that we eat out so much. But you really can get a decent meal out and about for not much more than it costs to cook at home!

Monday, September 3, 2007

East Village, August 2007

Yesterday I went out to the wilds of Bushwick, Brooklyn, where all the hipster artists are said to be moving now that nearby Williamsburg is infested with condos. I discovered two very different neighborhoods.

One, on the west side of Flushing Avenue, was mostly warehouses and factories. The streets were empty and windblown, with aluminum cans tumbling along noisily and lots of graffiti. I spent literally hours taking photos, stopping only to visit a great little coffee house called the Archive in one of the few populated areas, along Bogart Street. I’m told this area is technically East Williamsburg, and not Bushwick at all.

Maybe Flushing Avenue is the dividing line, because the east side of Flushing was totally different -- very residential. The predominant language was Spanish, and every time I passed a church I could hear boisterous services coming from within. Drivers had the salsa music cranked up LOUD. It reminded me so much of Miami.

Given the beautiful sunny weather and all the graffiti and street scenery, it’s not surprising that I wound up with about 95 pictures! Keep an eye on Flickr -- though it will take me a while to get to them. I’m still working through lots of Manhattan shots!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

East Village, August 2007

As expected, I had a great day yesterday - spectacular clear weather, perfect for wandering around and taking photos. I popped into a great little restaurant in the East Village for brunch (omelette with goat cheese, watercress and sweet peppers) and explored some areas near Avenue D that I don’t think I’ve ever visited before. That used to be a sketchy neighborhood, but like most of New York, it’s now pretty tame.

On the spur of the moment, I went to see “Xanadu” last night on Broadway. Yes, it really is an adaptation of Olivia Newton-John’s famously bad movie (which, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen). The show is a hoot, basically because it laughs at itself the entire time, and never pretends to be anything more than silly. (One character described it as "a kids' play for 40-year-old gay people.") You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Medusa, with her head full of snakes, singing “Have You Never Been Mellow.” Surreal!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Greenwich Village, August 2007

Yesterday was a very quiet day at work. Most of my coworkers cut out in the mid-afternoon, so by 3 p.m. or so I was about the only person left on my floor. I stayed primarily in case one of our editors called and needed something - and they didn’t.

The quiet time gave me a chance to catch up on some work stuff, and when that was done I finally had a chance to update my blog links, which had become sorely outdated. I went to Technorati and discovered several blogs linked to mine - how exciting! - so I added those to the list. Cheers, bloggers!

I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend. I’ll get out and shoot some photos, but otherwise I have no plans at all, which brings an immense feeling of freedom!