Friday, February 29, 2008


It is bitterly cold today. I just walked a few blocks from the subway to my office and I feel like I've been wrung out like a washcloth. Frigid temperatures make your whole body clench up, and when you get into the warmth again you're surprisingly exhausted!

Last night I made a quick trip up the Hudson River to Nyack, to meet up with cool cat Chedwick and surprisingly timid Dennis, and their human doppelganger. (Turns out Chedwick and Dennis have a third feline crony, Jeffrey, who I'm told "doesn't like to blog." Who knew?)

Anyway, Chedwick's human doppelganger and I went to an event called "An Evening in Tibet," which featured Buddhist monks performing deep, resonant ritual chants, followed by an excellent film about the Dalai Lama and a panel discussion. The evening was a fund-raiser for the Tibetan Home of Hope, a school for Tibetan children dedicated partly to maintaining Tibetan culture. It was an interesting evening. The movie, "Compassion in Exile" by Mickey Lemle, was especially enjoyable.

Audience members pledged hundreds and thousands of dollars for items like a boiler and a playground. It was heartening to see such generosity, including gifts from celebrities like Jonathan Demme and Didi Conn. (I bought a t-shirt, so I did my part, commensurate with my financial status.)

Then I stayed over at Chez Chedwick - which had a terrific view of the sunrise over the Hudson - and made my way back to the city this morning. Thanks to Ched and household for a terrific exurban experience!

(Photo: Chelsea, Feb. 2008)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Starbucks and Sondheim

Thanks to those of you who weighed in on yesterday's mystery photo. Now I'm leaning toward the Bulgaria/Russia possibilities. At any rate, it's interesting how cats are the same the world over, right? (My cat is lying on me as I type.)

I forgot to mention that on Tuesday evening, as I was walking to the theater, I passed three Starbucks stores during their mandatory training period. You may have heard that all Starbucks stores nationwide closed for a few hours Tuesday to refresh employees on coffee prep and customer service. It was heartening, as I passed each of these outlets, to see the employees inside in their little huddles. Will Starbucks get better as a result? Well, it certainly can't hurt -- if nothing else, maybe employees will be more conscientious about the customers. (For the record, I got a hot chocolate last night and the employees were unusually courteous -- and the drink was perfect.)

I went to see "Sunday in the Park With George," which is a brilliant show in its staging and artistry. As you may know, it's a Sondheim musical based loosely on the life of Georges Seurat and his painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" (which I've seen at the Art Institute of Chicago). The painting gradually comes together on stage, which is fascinating to watch. The show has less emotional impact than other Sondheims, but it's worth seeing.

(Photo: Window in Chelsea, Feb. 2008)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Man with Cat

Several years ago, at a flea market on Sixth Avenue, I was combing through a big box of old photos when I came across this snapshot. I loved it immediately, because it says something about the universal behavior of cats (and cat owners). I bought it for something like 25 cents. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

I have no information about it at all. It seems to have been taken in the Middle East. I've tried doing some Google research based on what little info I can see in the photo (EVA on the gas bottle, for example) but couldn't really get anywhere.

What do you all think? Where was this taken?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I didn’t watch the Oscars this year, so everything I know about the awards and the ceremony I learned from reading the paper and other people’s blogs. But I have very few gripes about how things turned out.

I’m so happy Javier Bardem won. I haven’t seen “No Country For Old Men” yet (remedying that this week) but I’ve always thought Bardem was robbed of his rightful Oscar for “Before Night Falls,” which was an amazing movie. So this helps correct a past injustice.

The same goes for Tilda Swinton. I also haven’t seen “Michael Clayton,” but Swinton has been great in many films, such as “The Deep End.” It’s about time she won.

I haven’t seen “La Vie En Rose” either, so I’m not yet sure how to feel about Marion Cotillard. I was rooting for Julie Christie, because as I’ve said, I’m a huge Julie Christie fan and I loved “Away From Her.” (Besides, is anyone more beautiful?)

I was appalled by the omission of Brad Renfro from the “in memoriam” segment of the ceremony, when the Academy looks back at the significant movie people who have died in the past year. Brad Renfro was screwed up, but he wasn't insignificant; he appeared in several high-profile movies like “The Client,” “Sleepers” and “Bully.” Whoever put that tribute together ought to be ashamed.

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Monday, February 25, 2008


Yesterday, just a few days after the biggest snow of the winter, I felt the first hint of spring. As is so often the case when seasons change, the light -- more than the temperature -- sent the alert to my animal being. Yesterday was a brilliant clear day, and the sunlight was bright and warm, even though temperatures were chilly.

I went to the Zendo in the morning for our first service in the new space. It’s a nice space but it felt a bit cramped ("intimate” would be a friendlier way to put it). Yesterday we had unusually high attendance, though -- I doubt it will feel that tight during the course of a normal week.

Then I zipped out to Brooklyn to meet my friend Bryn for lunch and exploring in Greenpoint. We found some great graffiti and later Bryn’s partner Jeff made dinner, which was fabulous. Greenpoint is an interesting neighborhood, traditionally Polish but, like much of New York, changing and gentrifying. It was nice to be outside in that bright slightly spring-ish sunlight!

(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, yesterday.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Animal Stories

I recently read two amazing animal stories -- one sad, one happy.

First, the sad one. Apparently, in Florida, common fresh-water turtles are being voraciously hunted, partly to feed an appetite for turtle meat in Asia.

When I was growing up in Florida, I lived on a lake. So when I read this article, my mind immediately jumped back to the turtles I’d find there as a kid -- the weird-looking softshells with their long snouts, the menacing snappers. When we took our rowboat out on the lake we’d pass half-submerged logs that were covered with turtles, lined up and sunning themselves like little old ladies in Miami Beach.

It astonishes me now to think that those turtles, so abundant in my own backyard, are being hunted en masse for food. (Occasionally we’d catch one on a fishing line and view it as a terrible accident. We never ate them, though some Floridians do.) It’s even more mind-boggling to think they’re now being eaten by people on the other side of the planet.

Somehow, in thinking about globalization, this is not a scenario I ever envisioned.

The happy story was about Nubs, a mongrel from Iraq who was saved by a U.S. Marine and sent home to live in America.

I lived in an Arabic country for more than two years, and I’ve seen how dogs are treated there. Dogs are considered “unclean” and street dogs are often subjected to all sorts of torment. It’s a cultural thing.

Nubs went through his own traumas, but thanks to the Marine, he’s got a new lease on life. It can’t have been an easy task to get that dog back to the states. Some of my Peace Corps friends adopted animals while in Africa and brought them back -- including my roommate Juliet, who brought our cat home -- and it was a heck of a lot of work.

So kudos to Maj. Brian Dennis and his fellow Marines. Nubs is a lucky beast.

(Photo: Random cat in Brooklyn Heights, Feb. 2007)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Starbucks Fatigue

I saw on the news that Starbucks is laying off several hundred employees. I know the economy is bad, but this is scary. And yet, not wholly unexpected, as I’ll explain in a moment.

In New York, if there’s one thing that’s a constant in life, it’s a packed Starbucks. Sometimes the line is only a few people deep, but often it’s more like six or eight people deep, and forget finding a place to sit. (I’m usually stuck behind people getting triple-skinny-latte-mochachino-somethings, when all I want is a tall coffee -- but that’s another story.)

Everyone jokes about how there are too many Starbucks in this town -- and it’s absolutely true, because sometimes there’s a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks -- yet they are always full. So apparently the demand is there.

Quality, however, is another issue entirely.

Years ago, in the late ‘90s, going to Starbucks was kind of a special event. In my corner of Florida, the only Starbucks cafes at that time were in Barnes & Noble bookstores. I’d take my journal there, get a coffee and write for a while. I felt like I was getting an exceptional product from skilled staff.

Now, pressing into these crowded New York stores, I no longer feel that way. Customer service (if it can be called that) has been in a precipitous decline at Starbucks. There seems to be a lot of employee turnover, and I don’t get the impression that anyone working there has been very carefully trained. (The other day I heard a customer ask the guy behind the counter which of two drinks was better. His response: “Oh, I don’t drink coffee.” D’oh!)

Far from being special, Starbucks has turned into just another fast food experience. The tables and condiment stations are grimy, the furniture is worn -- it’s McDonald’s with earth tones.

Now, some of this has to do with our culture. Ten or fifteen years ago, quality coffee and cafes were new in many parts of the country, leading to a certain level of consumer excitement that inevitably subsides over time. And in New York, as I’ve said, these are busy stores -- they’re bound to experience wear and feel a bit like a cattle chute.

But still, I’m not surprised that Starbucks has lost some of its mystique and, consequently, its business. I continue to go to Starbucks, but lately I’ve also made more of an effort to patronize other, independent coffee purveyors. The coffee may not even be as good, but somehow, I enjoy it more.

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kathleen II

My recent post on Kathleen Turner and her appearance at the 92nd Street Y has attracted a bit of attention! The Y posted a video of the event and even linked back to me, quoting from my post. (Gulp!)

I also got a nice note from Gloria Feldt, who interviewed Kathleen and helped her write her book, "Send Yourself Roses." She has her own reader blog about the book.

I am not used to such attention. Ah, the miracles of Google and news feeds!

(Photo: Graffiti in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Haiku Graffiti

O snail
Climb Mt. Fuji
But slowly, slowly!

According to Wikipedia, this haiku is by Issa, and was used in J.D. Salinger's "Franny and Zooey." I found it scribbled on a wall in Brooklyn. It's a good prescription for handling huge tasks: little by little, step by step. Unfortunately it doesn't address the frustration we sometimes feel when things go too slowly!

I went to see another documentary film last night, this one a finished product by a friend of mine. It's called "Passing Poston," and it's about the disastrous internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It also explores how one of their camps, on an Arizona indian reservation, actually helped the Native Americans. The U.S. government arranged to have the Japanese housed there to justify public expenditures on infrastructure on the reservation, and Japanese labor built structures later used by the indians. Of course, the whole experience was still terrible for the Japanese-Americans. It's a very interesting movie.

On the way home on the subway, I saw one man reading this and another reading this. So we know at least one copy of each book was sold.

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chez Steve

I thought you all might like to see some photos of my humble abode. Yes, this is what a New York City studio apartment looks like. This is what passes for the living room -- and bedroom.

This is a close-up of the bookcase in the top photo. The bookcase itself came from my grandfather. Some of the vases -- the tall red one, the short blue one on the right, and the big beige one in the middle -- were wedding presents to my grandparents back in the 1920s. The elephant bookends up top were theirs, too.

Here's the side of the room across from the bed. You can see my cat, lying in her favorite spot next to the heater. (She spends her entire life in this spot from October through March -- except when she's lying on me.) On the heater I keep souvenir rocks from my travels. The baobab tree atop the stereo is made of grass -- I picked it up in Madagascar.

This is the corner where I meditate. I set up a cushion right there next to the little Buddha statue. The big white seashells on the bookcase came from Sanibel Island, Fla. I found them on the beach the summer I was 12.

From the living area, there's a step up into the dining area and kitchen. My father made my dining table. He used an old government surplus desktop of solid wood, and attached the legs and braces. Pretty cool, huh? These days, he says he's amazed he did that.

And here's my little kitchen, more justly called a kitchenette, I suppose. You can see why it's hard to cook anything too elaborate. But I do have a four-burner stove; some studios have stoves with only two burners.

And that's it -- life in the city! You can see why I'm obsessive about not collecting stuff and keeping things neat. When you live in such a small space, it's a necessity!

Technically, my co-op requires owners to have rugs, to keep down noise. But I hate rugs, and I never wear shoes in my apartment, so noise isn't really a problem.

I'll spare you the entrance hall and the bathroom.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I spent yesterday afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I made an effort to visit rooms that I don’t normally see. I started in traditional African art and then meandered through objects from New Guinea, collected by Michael Rockefeller. I moved on to European furnishings, glassware, ceramics and other items, with lots of gilded Sevres porcelain and entire rooms imported from English country houses. (Not really my style, but interesting.)

I finished up in European paintings, where I've been many times, and visited some old favorites: El Greco’s “View of Toledo,” and landscapes by the Dutch masters Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. One of Hobbema’s paintings depicts a Dutch village in the 1600s, with dirt roads and scattered cottages under a leafy grove of trees, backed by a church spire. That painting really transports me back to a time when the world had far fewer people. It seems so peaceful.

(Of course, they had to worry about those plague fleas hopping around, but never mind.)

In one of the furniture rooms I saw a massive Dutch linen cabinet carved with mythic scenes, including one featuring Phyllis. The fact that I did not know there was a character in Greek mythology named Phyllis reminded me of this news article.

I walked home in the dusk on Park Avenue, where the sidewalks were empty and I could peacefully enjoy the city lights and the naked branches of the winter trees against the sky.

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fab Four

I spent yesterday wandering around Red Hook, in Brooklyn. It’s kind of an adventure to get out there -- Red Hook has no subway service, so you have to take the subway to Carroll Gardens and then either ride the bus or walk. I opted for the latter, naturally, and I had a great time. You know me -- I always love to explore.

I’m about to start Bob Spitz’s massive biography of The Beatles, which came out a couple of years ago. It’s been sitting on my shelf for months, and then Friday night I had some intense moments with the Fab Four. I came home tired from moving all day, poured a glass of wine and put on “Abbey Road,” and the album literally stopped me in my tracks a couple of times: at the first gentle strings of “Here Comes the Sun,” at the dreamy vocals of “Because,” at the wistful “Golden Slumbers.” So then I put on “Let it Be” and the White Album, and they did the same: especially “Good Night,” in all its lush orchestration. Yesterday I kept up the pace by listening to “Magical Mystery Tour.” Wow! Records so good they give me chills. Now I’m psyched to start the book!

And speaking of perfectly-balanced artistic expression, Vanity Fair this month has an article on the making of my favorite movie of all time: “The Graduate.” Fascinating!

(Photo: Shadow of the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge, with the top of the Manhattan Bridge in the background; Dumbo, Brooklyn, Jan. 2008)

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I took the day off yesterday so I could help our Zen center move. We’ve been priced out of our former space, right on Broadway in SoHo, one of the more pricey quadrants of Manhattan. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate a deal on a smaller space in the same building, so it was just a matter of boxing everything up and moving it two floors higher.

It’s funny -- the Zendo, when you see it, seems like a mostly empty room. It’s just meditation cushions, an altar, a few big plants by the window, some shoji screens. But then there’s the office, and the kitchen, and all the accoutrements that make a Zendo whole -- some people need chairs, for example, and we have tables for special events.

Pretty soon, you’re hauling a bunch of stuff upstairs.

The job was complicated by a couple of bureaucratic problems that kept us from moving a few things into our storage space and some continuing work on the new quarters. But overall, it went pretty smoothly.

And it was fun. I’ve found that spending time with my fellow sangha members on projects like this really tightens bonds. It’s how you get to know people. Practicing Zen has been interesting because most of it is silent sitting, and as a result there’s not a lot of interaction among Zendo members unless you step outside the standard practice periods.

So moving was good for that -- hanging out, joking around. I might even go back to help set up.

(Photo: Spigot in Dumbo, Brooklyn, Jan. 2008)

Friday, February 15, 2008


Last night I went to see Kathleen Turner speaking with Gloria Feldt at the 92nd Street Y. They’re out promoting Turner’s new autobiography, “Send Yourself Roses,” which sounds pretty interesting. It’s not only about her acting career but also her more recent battles with both rheumatoid arthritis and the bottle.

Turner is funny, even a bit of a ham -- which I suppose should be expected from a famous actress. She’s a hoot, making dry quips in that husky, slightly slurred, vaguely European diction of hers. (Her father was in the foreign service, and she grew up all over the world -- her speech seems vaguely flavored with this Internationalism.)

She talked about a lot of stuff -- her father’s disapproval of her acting career and his sudden death when she was 17; being nude in front of strangers and under heavy camera equipment during the filming of “Body Heat,” which put her on the map in Hollywood; the pain she began feeling during the filming of “Serial Mom” that got so bad she thought she was dying, and eventually was diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis.

I’ve liked Kathleen Turner ever since I saw “Body Heat” in the mid-80s, and I’ve seen her twice on stage -- in London in “The Graduate” and on Broadway in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Now that I think about it, though, I haven’t seen any of her films in quite a while. I think it’s time to add “Body Heat” and “Serial Mom,” at least, to the top of my Netflix queue.

At the end of their talk, I went down the hall past the stage door to find the bathroom -- and Turner stepped right out in front of me! (She seemed very TALL!) I smiled, she smiled, and then she set out to meet the crowd waiting to buy her book. I didn’t try to talk to her. But I think our arms touched as she passed me.

(Photo: Doors in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Last night I went to a screening of a documentary film being made by a coworker. I don’t think I should say anything about the subject of the movie, since it’s still a work in progress, but it was terrific. Impressive, moving and absorbing.

I’m amazed that someone who works full time could find enough energy to work on such a huge project. That just blows my mind. I barely have enough energy at the end of the day to open a can of soup!

(Photo: "Rock of Peace," Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2008)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I finished my Paul Bowles novel last night; what an excellent writer! The passage I gave you yesterday really spoke to me, partly because it’s so Zen in its admonition to pay attention to life and acknowledgment of how hard it can be to do so, but also because I’ve been feeling that way myself lately. Time is passing! Am I paying attention?

There were lots of little Zen moments in “Let it Come Down,” although the characters are seriously flawed. (Even worse than most of us, I suspect, though I suppose it wouldn’t have been a very good book if they weren’t.) Bowles is such a nihilist -- no one ever comes to a good end.

Yesterday we had more snow than I’ve seen so far all winter. It began coming down in the afternoon, whitening the sky outside the glass walls of my office. As I walked home I noticed that the falling snow became blue in Times Square, reflecting in mid-air all the neon and the lights from the jumbo video screens. Kind of a cool effect!

The office building where I work has an atrium that’s carefully planted with moss and eight birch trees. It’s kind of our own little Zen garden. Those birch trees looked so great in the snow -- a slice of New England in Midtown!

(Photo: Patch of light in Dumbo, Brooklyn, Jan. 2008)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


It was an obsession of Eunice Goode’s that there was very little time left in the world, that whatever one wanted to do, one had better get it done quickly or it would be too late. Her conception of that segment of eternity which was hers to know was expressed somewhat bafflingly in a phrase she had written in her notebook shortly after arriving in Tangier: “Between the crackling that rends the air and the actual flash of lightning that strikes you, there is a split second which seems endless, and during which you are conscious that the end has come. That split second is now.” Yet the fact that her mind was constantly recalled to this fixed idea (as a bit of wood floating in the basin of a waterfall returns again and again to be plunged beneath the surface by the falling water), rather than inciting her to any sort of action, ordinarily served only to paralyze her faculties.

-- “Let It Come Down,” Paul Bowles, 1952

(Photo: Vespa parked by chain-link fence, Brooklyn, Jan. 2008)

Monday, February 11, 2008

More Doves

After yesterday’s post I decided to find the passage about doves in “Cross Creek” that I remember reading years ago. It turns out that little pink feet are just the beginning of Rawlings’ description:

“The little West Indian ground doves are enchanting. They are of the softest gray, with ashes of roses breasts, rosy beaks and tiny pink feet that make a lacy pattern in the sand. They walk rapidly with a bobbing motion, and fly in small explosive bursts, like a milkweed pod popping open. They are amorous, as doves should be, and mate several times a year. I once saw a pair consummate their union on the tip of a crepe myrtle bough, most precariously, and other pairs have mated at the edge of the bird-bath. The male makes a pretense of ferocity, and after having crooned softly for hours to his mate, suddenly ruffles his feathers and pursues her with what would pass for viciousness if she were not so easily and happily caught. I think of them as giving their throbbing call the year around, but I am sure it is a concomitant of the mating, and since the breeding is so frequent, it is only now and then that I realize I have not been hearing the sweet sad cry from the roof-tree.”

So, as it turns out, ol’ Marge was writing about ground doves, not mourning doves -- but they’re so closely related that much of the description carries over. She even offers an explanation for why I hadn’t been hearing the birds during the past few months -- and why they recently perked back up again. Perhaps the weather was sufficiently springlike to set their hormones surging.

Unfortunately, yesterday afternoon, we had a fierce, windy snowstorm. It was bright and sunny all morning, but at about 3 p.m. a howling wind sent objects crashing in the courtyard and literally minutes later, it was snowing. It didn’t really stick, at least here in the city, but temperatures plummeted.

I guess that probably cooled their ardor.

(Photo: Dumbo, Brooklyn, Jan. 2008)

Sunday, February 10, 2008


It’s about 6:45 a.m. now, with the sky just getting light. I’m listening to a mourning dove somewhere in the courtyard behind my building. I’ve been hearing doves for the last week or so -- I don’t know whether they’ve come back from a winter away (do doves migrate?) or reawakened after a winter hunkered down against the cold. But it’s nice to hear them again.

I used to hear mourning doves often when I was growing up in Florida, as I got dressed for school and went out to wait for the bus. They sat in the pines and maples and sounded their sad, low coo as the sun lightened the sky -- just like the one I’m hearing now. Hearing them again puts me right back in my front yard as an eighth-grader, full of anticipation and dread.

Doves are almost annoying to birdwatchers because they’re so abundant -- a birder will see a silhouetted shape on a power line and for a split second think, “What is that?” And then the unmistakable profile of a mere dove becomes apparent. It’s kind of a let-down. (Having birded a bit myself, I can testify to that.)

The best description of a dove I ever read was in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ book “Cross Creek,” about life in rural Alachua County, Florida. I don’t remember exactly what Rawlings wrote, but I remember her mention of its bright pink legs. I’d never noticed that doves have pink legs. But next time you see one, check it out -- they really do.

(Photos: Tree shadows in Dumbo, Brooklyn, Jan. 2008)

Friday, February 8, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, as I passed an apartment building down the street from where I live, I saw a familiar brand name on a box near the trash cans: Progresso.

I eat a lot of Progresso soup. On nights when I stay home it’s one of my most common meals (well, that and peanut butter). I’m not very diligent about cooking, so it’s an easy way to feed myself.

Something about seeing the Progresso brand name on this box made me walk over and check it out. And there, next to the trash, was a gold mine of unopened cans of Progresso soup. I couldn’t believe it! Two unopened eight-packs of soup and four loose cans.

Naturally, I picked it all up and lugged it home.

OK, I know it’s kind of gross to pick up food that was next to someone’s trash. But this is canned soup -- what could be wrong with it? I checked online to make sure there was no product recall or anything like that, and it seems fine.

A can of Progresso at my grocery store costs about $3. So by my calculations, I found about $60 worth of soup that night. I’ve eaten five of the cans and I’m not dead yet.

I’m exercising my inner “freegan”!

(Photo: E. 28th Street, Jan. 2008)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Mezzanine

Years ago, in journalism school, I learned that “there are no boring stories - only boring reporters.”

I’m sure this phrase was intended to motivate us to be creative writers, even when we were writing about the new sewer plant or the renovation of city hall. It was supposed to make us not hate our jobs while we yearned for greater journalistic heights.

I just finished a book that reminds me of that expression: “The Mezzanine,” by Nicholson Baker. It’s a short novel about one man’s lunch hour, and his trip on an escalator from the ground floor of his office building to the mezzanine.

If there’s a book that better conveys the richness of our day-to-day lives, I’m not sure what it is. Baker writes about going to a drug store, buying a bag of popcorn, developing a dependence on earplugs. And in all of those themes he finds essential kernels of humanity, beautifully complex descriptions and interrelationships.

All around us, life is so rich. Lying in bed as I write this, I see innumerable layers of detail that my mind ordinarily glosses over. The softness of my blanket, for example -- its faintly detergent smell, its sandy beige floral design, its origins in the Moroccan market where I bought it 15 years ago. The smell of my coffee -- the distinct sharp aroma of these beans brought to me by a coworker from Colombia, so much richer than my standard supermarket brand. My purring cat, with her half-closed green eyes and dubious genetic origins -- the lucky result of a union between two street cats in Tampa, Fla., 13 years ago, and both feline parents probably now long dead.

“The Mezzanine” is an exercise in seeing all of this, and seeing the ways our minds process detail, diverging from the main narrative in side-trips of description and fantasy (expressed in the book by expository footnotes). Check it out. It’s a great read.

(Photo: Reflections on E. 28th Street, Jan. 2008)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Well, voting was hell yesterday. Not in terms of crowds or disorganization -- though there were both -- but in terms of the choice that needed to be made.

I was on the fence between two candidates right up until I pulled the lever. All morning, as I worked out at the gym, showered, dressed and ate breakfast, I weighed the pros and cons of each in my mind, and I went back and forth several times -- just as I have for the past several weeks and months. Two very different people with different approaches, and both appealing in their own ways. It was a sort of right-brain, left-brain dilemma -- and which side of my brain should I listen to?

I did make a choice, obviously. And almost as soon as I did, I rued what seemed lost by not voting for the other candidate. But I also know if I’d voted for that one, I’d regret what I’d lost by not choosing the first.

What a luxury, when you come right down to it -- two candidates strong enough to make me WANT to vote for them!

(Photo: Trees reflected in the Conservatory Water, Central Park, Feb. 2008)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Last night, as I was going to the Zendo, I stood near an older gent busking on the subway platform with an accordion. I’m a sucker for accordions -- I have no idea why -- and as you know, I’m also a huge fan of ‘50s and ‘60s pop culture. Thus, if an accordion player launches into “Lara's Theme” or “Never On Sunday,” it is virtually a personal rule that I must give them a dollar.

Of course, that’s just what this guy did. After hustling a little too rapidly through something from Tchaikovsky he started “Lara's Theme” (from the movie "Doctor Zhivago," and also known as “Somewhere My Love”). I gave him a dollar, quite happily. Then there was an awkward period when every time he started something new he looked at me for approval, because I was his only acknowledged fan, and after a few songs I was glad when the train came.

When I was a kid, I had a music box that played “Lara’s Theme.” My grandmother had given it to my mom as a gift, and after a few years my mom -- not particularly the music-box type -- passed it on to me. It was shaped like a victrola, with a gold aluminum horn, and the box was clear lucite so you could see all the little parts working when the music played. I had it for years, though over time the horn got dented and the lucite box began to come apart, so much so that eventually it interfered with the mechanism and “Lara’s Theme” was forever silenced.

At least, from that particular source.

(Photo: Bleecker Street, Jan. 2008)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Eating, Walking

Wow! What a weekend! I’ve had the busiest social schedule EVER. I was out for every meal: Dinner with Jan and Marcus on Friday; brunch with Kate and Katherine on Saturday, along with some pals of Katherine’s from Switzerland; dinner and a play with David and Gregg Saturday night; brunch with Mark and two of his friends on Sunday; and dinner with Sybil, Jesse and Nina last night. For me, that’s very atypical. I’m usually enough of a homebody that I stick around the house for a peanut butter sandwich at least once during the weekend.

On top of all that, I did lots of walking and exploring. Katherine, Kate and I walked all through Williamsburg, Brooklyn, possibly the richest repository of street art in the entire city, on Saturday. I probably took about 200 pictures, and edited them down to 120 or so for Flickr. We found some really great stuff.

And yesterday, when the weather turned warmer and we had a beautiful clear, blue sky, I walked from 16th Street in Chelsea to 77th Street on the Upper East Side, cutting a diagonal across midtown and resting with a book by the boat basin in Central Park. More great photos!

The Super Bowl is a non-entity in my life, but last night as I lay in bed, the city suddenly seemed to go wild. When there’s any big game I can occasionally hear crowds cheer, but this was different -- a sustained bout of yelling and horn-honking. I thought, “Well, we must have won!” It went on so long that I got dressed again and walked up the block just to see what was happening -- and it was pretty much madness all around, people running around in the street and spilling out of the big sports bar on the corner of Third Avenue. I could never get that enthusiastic about football, even with a few beers in me, but it was fun to watch. Go Giants!

(Photo: Graffiti, Elizabeth Street, Jan. 2008)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

In the Empty Room of Perfection

Opened my eyes to the amulets
Of trees--
Green leaves, falling miracles,
Falling, one by one,
On the street. In Japan we bought

White porcelain tipped into palm-eyes
And icicles, pots shaped like
Peach stones and glazed in sky blue.
We touched the rims of the world's glaze
But arrived without anything. Then

You gave me my own room without old things,
Without decorations, without paintings
That hang on the walls
Only to become new walls themselves, without
Shapes that interfere
With what I must be.

My dreams were unshaped and unpainted. I
Lived with the fantasy of the sea -- shaped
Always on the verge of words. You--
Looked for emptiness the way lovers seek sleep,
Burned currencies
And seeds of your own beginnings. How easy
For us to change into fire-birds, fly
Past history, oceans, striking against the sky
With our own new wings. Now--

Shall we return where we came from?
You be the brush that strikes.
And, burning inside, still burning, I'll
Live as the flaming kiln that shapes the pot.

-- Sandra Hochman, "Love Letters from Asia," Viking, 1968

(for poetry day)

Friday, February 1, 2008


Well, apparently I’m not taking a break after all. Sorry about that -- false alarm!

I don’t know why I was feeling so harried earlier this week. I woke up Tuesday morning and thought, “I just can’t do this blog right now!” So I posted that message, and then lo and behold, the harried feeling passed -- just as all feelings do -- and I felt the urge to keep writing.

Last night on the way home from work I passed an accident scene. It appeared that a woman had been hit by a car. People were gathered around her, helping, and the police were there. I could hear the wail of an approaching ambulance. So I just kept walking. I felt odd cruising past, but then, what could I do?

New Yorkers have a reputation for being hardened, but I think it’s more that we’re just immensely practical. We assess a situation and determine quickly whether it warrants our involvement -- and in the city, the bar is high.

A couple of years ago I walked past another accident, where a deliveryman on a bicycle had been hit by a taxi. Passersby were kneeling beside the deliveryman, and others were standing behind and in front of the taxi so the driver couldn’t leave. I was impressed by how responsive people were. I stopped for a moment, but again, I could do very little -- and in fact I advanced a terrible idea, asking if we should move the man out of the middle of Lexington Avenue. (Others wisely said no, we shouldn’t try to move him.) So, see, even when I do stop, I’m probably not helping much!

(Photo: Graffiti wall, the Bronx, Jan. 2008)