Friday, October 31, 2008


I try really hard not to write about politics. We all live beneath a Niagara of political news, and I figure we could use a break.

But I have to say I’ve been experiencing some angst about this election. I don’t mind a fight where people make up their minds based on facts and policy proposals. I do support one candidate over the other, but I think they’re both honorable people, and I can see how someone might prefer the other guy.

What ties me up in knots is the persistent campaign of lies about Barack Obama. I see many of them at work as I read what readers write on our newspaper Web sites. I also visited a blog on Tuesday, prompted by comments on another blog I frequent, that echoed many of the same lies -- that he won’t release his birth certificate, for example. (He’s done so, and Hawaii has verified it.) Or that he’s a closet muslim extremist, or a radical, or whatever.

I just don’t know what to do with people who willfully disbelieve the truth. As a journalist, it ties me up inside. Democracy is endangered when people make choices based on lies, distortions and conspiracy theories that they choose to believe and perpetuate against all available evidence, and it kills our national spirit as well.

I think this election is vitally important. But last night, I read a wonderful quote from Dean Sluyter’s book, “The Zen Commandments.” I’m going to try to keep it in mind when I feel election angst.

“We’re all temps around here. The entire drama of our life and our world, everything that seems so crucially important, is like a dream that eventually evaporates, along with the dreamer. If there’s nothing after this world, then we vanish into such utter oblivion that it’s as if it all never happened. If there is a next world or next life, then what seemed like the whole story is part of a much bigger picture. Either way, our worries were blown out of proportion.”

(Photo: Ridgewood, Queens, Oct. 2008)

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I had a funny experience at the drug store yesterday when I stopped in on my way to work. The line for the cashiers was very long, stretching down one of the shopping aisles. I asked a guy with a cart in the aisle, “Are you in line?” He kind of grunted at me and positioned his cart so it would be more obvious that he was, indeed, waiting. I got behind him.

It was then that I noticed he had a HUGE mosquito hanging off the upper part of his right ear. And I mean HUGE. Apparently the mosquito had the good fortune to land on an area with few if any neurons, because this guy obviously didn’t feel it.

I watched the mosquito for a couple of minutes. It was clearly eating -- it got fatter and fatter, its body redder and redder. I wondered what I should do. I thought about trying to surreptitiously fan it off the guy’s ear, but surely the guy would feel that and think I was up to something. I thought about simply saying, “Hey, dude, you have a HUGE mosquito on your ear,” but then he was likely to squash the mosquito -- which, after all, was only trying to get its breakfast and doing what mosquitoes do. (Plus that would be a mess, because the mosquito was quite full by this time.)

I marveled at the situation. Doesn’t it seem unlikely to witness a mosquito attack in a drug store on Park Avenue at the end of October?

Eventually, the guy moved up to the cashier. I thought she might say something, but she didn’t -- she barely looked up, so I doubt she even noticed the mosquito. Finally, full to bursting, the mosquito flew away just as the guy was getting out his cash.

And that, I thought, was the best possible scenario. The guy never knew he’d been bitten. The mosquito got its breakfast. And I didn’t have to engage a grumpy fellow drug store patron. Problem solved!

(Photo: Graffiti sunset, Montauk, Oct. 2008)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Joan, part 2

Last night Gary and I went to see Joan Baez in concert at Town Hall, and once again she was terrific. You may remember I went to see her speak several weeks ago, and she played a few songs then. But this was the full concert experience.

She kept up an easy rapport with the adoring audience, and told a few funny show business stories -- about meeting Johnny Cash, for example. She said: “The first time I met Johnny he was with his first wife, and that’s how he introduced her.”

She also led a rousing audience cheer for Obama.

Here's Joan's set list, a mixture of some old classics and several songs by Steve Earl from her newest album, "Day After Tomorrow":

Scarlet Tide
God is God
Love Song to a Stranger
Farewell Angelina
Gospel Ship
Christmas in Washington
Long Black Veil
Wonderful World
The Rose of Sharon
Swing Low Sweet Chariot (acapella)
The Day After Tomorrow
Diamonds and Rust
I am a Wanderer
Love is Just a Four Letter Word

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Amazing Grace (acapella)

(Photo: Shadow of a porch railing in Bushwick, Brooklyn)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


When David and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, we had lunch in the downstairs cafeteria. Right outside the glass door was this eye-catching artwork -- "Gingivitisaurus," by Al Baio. It was staring at me the entire time I ate. Although I don't usually photograph art in museums and galleries, I decided by the end of the meal that I'd bonded with it and needed a photo.

Most of what we saw at the MFA was much more traditional -- Turners, Sargents, medieval altarpieces, Van Goghs, Monets (and Manets), you name it. It was an excellent collection, yet manageable, unlike the Metropolitan Museum, which is so vast that it's overwhelming. We didn't begin to see all of the Boston museum, but we saw a lot.

There's an excellent photography exhibit there now by Yousuf Karsh, as well as a small exhibit by Rachel Whiteread featuring an entire village of lit-up dollhouses in a dark room. Quite captivating!

There's also a show of Assyrian artifacts, but we skipped that. A little antiquity goes a long way, in my book.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Back from Boston, where I spent a great long weekend with my friend David. We walked around neighborhoods like Back Bay and Beacon Hill, explored Cambridge and Harvard University, and went to the Museum of Fine Arts. I've found another city where I could easily live!

Anyway, I'll write more tomorrow, but meanwhile, here are some photos of Boston Common.

As you can see, the fall colors were out, and the weather was beautiful and not at all cold.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I'm off to Boston this morning for a long weekend. So I'll post again on Monday. Meanwhile, I leave you with this photo of some street art in SoHo. I think it must have been sponsored by this store, because otherwise they surely would have removed it -- it's pretty great, isn't it? It's done with some kind of adhesive. I love the way it seems to float, suspended over the surface of the building.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fancy Feast

When my cat began having trouble with her thyroid last year, I began buying Fancy Feast to coerce her into taking her medicine. Until then, she only ate kibble -- but I found if I dribbled her liquid medicine into Fancy Feast, she’d eat it without hesitation, and I didn’t have to wrestle a dropper into her mouth.

After her treatment -- which eliminated the need for medicine -- I kept giving her Fancy Feast every morning, in addition to her omnipresent dry food. She likes Fancy Feast so much, and I think the moisture is good for her kidneys, which aren’t the greatest these days. (She’s 13.)

We’ve developed a very funny routine. Every morning, right around 5 a.m., she begins to get excited. Sometimes she’ll run around the house and jump on me. Or if she’s lying next to me, she’s like a coiled spring -- at the slightest movement from me, she leaps up and runs to the kitchen. She knows she’s going to get fed.

But sometimes, despite all the excitement, she’s not even hungry. I’ll put her Fancy Feast down, and she’ll walk over and look at it. She might take a few bites and walk away, returning to it periodically through the morning until it’s finished. Or, if it’s a type with gravy, she almost always eats the gravy immediately and leaves the rest for later.

Looking at this through my Buddhist lens, it seems so illustrative of desire. We think we really want something, and then when we get it, we find we don’t want it so badly after all. Sometimes we’re not even sure what to do with it. The fact that my cat experiences this shows that it’s really ingrained in all beings -- she wants her Fancy Feast because “it’s time,” it’s her habit, not because she’s hungry.

Isn’t that how we look at a lot of things in life? I want a better job because “it’s time.” I want a relationship because “I should have one by now.” But do we really want these things, or do we just think we do? Are they our Fancy Feast?

(Photo: Chelsea, Oct. 2008)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I had dinner last night with the visiting Aileen, of "Infinite Connections." We met for a drink at Temple Bar, one of my favorite New York City bars, and then had dinner nearby at Quartino on Bleecker Street, a mostly vegetarian place that always pleases. It’s always fun to compare notes with another blogger!

I admire Aileen’s blog because she writes very personally about her life, much more openly than I do about mine. She’s partly shielded by a veil of anonymity, but even so, she’s quite courageous in what she reveals. I’m still a pretty cautious blogger, by contrast.

(Of course, blogs are continually evolving animals. If you look back at my earliest posts you’ll see that they’re very limited, and I’ve since become much more open.)

I think readers want openness. They want to peer into the blogger's life and see what’s going on. That’s why they’re on the blog, after all -- to learn about another person and hence about themselves, about humanity.

I also get the sense that maybe Aileen is more certain about her goals and desires than I am. I just kind of cruise along, taking things as they come, with very few defined goals. I’m not sure this makes for compelling reading, but what can I say -- we are who we are!

(Photo: Bushwick, Brooklyn, Oct. 2008)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


On Saturday, the day before my Montauk trip, I took a long walk from Bushwick, Brooklyn, up into central Queens. It was a perfect walking day, cool but not cold, with a bright blue sky. The leaves are changing on many of the trees, as you can see from this photo, shot in Ridgewood, Queens.

I'd never been to that part of Queens before. It was pretty, with quiet streets and nice townhouses. There are some big cemeteries in that area, and they give the area a parklike feel, with all the grass and trees.

I mentioned Edie Adams the other day -- I stumbled onto a great video clip of her on YouTube. It's actually very touching, and if you're a fan of "I Love Lucy," you'll definitely want to watch.

Monday, October 20, 2008


I took a day trip out to Montauk yesterday, riding the length of Long Island on the train so I could walk the beach before the season becomes impossibly cold. I checked the weather before I went and the reports said "mostly sunny," but as it turned out, the skies were metallic and gray most of the day. Only when I was leaving, at about 3 p.m., did the sun come out. The beach was chilly and windy, with only a few surf fishermen standing around in their waders, and a single lone surfer.

I had an omelette at the Plaza Restaurant, a diner right in the middle of town, and also walked around all the little shops. Visiting Montauk is like stepping back into the 1950s, with an independent drug store, various little groceries and delis, and t-shirt and souvenir shops, now desolate in the off-season. I really like it out there.

The train trip was nice, too, giving me a chance to read and nap. The trees along the tracks were bright with fall colors, particularly in the golden light of the evening, when they seemed to positively glow.

And yet there were still a few lingering hints of summer, like this Queen Anne's Lace, blooming amid the scarlet leaves of this creeper vine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Edie Adams

Edie Adams died this week, as you may have heard. As a lovely young comic actress she was part of the ensemble in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” a movie that I loved as a kid and watched many, many times. With her death, only a couple of cast members are still living.

“Mad, Mad World,” from 1963, was supposed to be the comedy to crown all comedies, bringing together legendary greats like Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Terry-Thomas, Dick Shawn and Jonathan Winters, with small roles for Jack Benny, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis, Jim Backus, The Three Stooges and Jimmy Durante. Spencer Tracy led the cast, which included a fabulously blustery Ethel Merman. Edie Adams and Dorothy Provine were the only other significant female participants. (It could have been called “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” except that the female characters were the only ones who displayed any common sense. It was very “Flintstones” in that way.)

The funny thing about this movie, though, is that it isn’t all that funny. By today’s comic standards it’s actually a little bit tedious. Maybe our comic styles have changed, or maybe the movie just needed a better editor. When I rented it a couple of years ago, it seemed really LONG. But it has some legendary moments -- I still quote some of the lines -- and it's unrivaled for its cast of classic comedians.

So I was sorry to hear about Edie. That leaves us with only Mickey Rooney (who’s still working!), Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis and Dorothy Provine. And one somewhat overlong movie that everybody should see.

(Photo: Chelsea, Oct. 2008)

Friday, October 17, 2008


This is one of my favorite views -- the tops of the old Metropolitan Life tower (left) and the New York Life tower from outside my building. When I step onto the street and look up, this is my view. It's especially nice at night when the buildings are lit.

The Metropolitan Life tower was built in 1909, and sometimes it's lit with colored lights. But it's a noble looking building and the colors make it look tawdry; plain white light suits it better. Last I heard, it was supposed to become condos, though I'm not sure that's still the plan.

The New York Life tower is prominently featured in the company's ads. It was built in 1928 on the site of the old Madison Square Garden, which subsequently moved across town. It's still in use as an office building.

I'm reading "Slaves of New York" by Tama Janowitz. I read it when it first came out in the mid-1980s, and I loved it -- it's one of the few books I've saved all these years. No question it fed my interest in New York, which I hadn't even visited at that point. Now, living here, I thought it would be interesting to read it again. I just finished a story in which a woman looks at an apartment on Third Avenue in the 20s -- and I thought, "Hey! That's MY neighborhood!" (Her apartment sounded a lot nicer than mine, though!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I watched the presidential debate last night. It’s the first debate I’ve seen, since I don’t have a television -- I went to a friend’s house and watched it there. McCain seemed awfully tightly wound.

I’ll be glad when this election is over. I’m not sure why the selection of our national leader always has to be such a toxic, soul-killing process. But it really is painful to watch and read about candidates attacking each other, not to mention the vast amount of misinformation (and disinformation) swirling around in the heads of voters. I think Obama has done a terrific job of maintaining a dignified tone -- far better than candidates in past elections.

Truthfully, though I do strongly support one of the candidates more than the other, I think we’d be better off with either one than who we have now. So we almost can't lose. (Provided the winner serves his full term in office. Check out this site.)

Anyway, enough about politics. When I was out in Bushwick over the weekend, I found this piece of goldenrod growing up from a crack in the sidewalk. I love goldenrod and its appearance every autumn. This one isn't blooming much yet, but soon it will be shaggy and yellow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I just finished a fun book called “The Great Funk: Falling Apart and Coming Together (On a Shag Rug) in the Seventies,” by Thomas Hine. A design and architecture critic, Hine writes about ‘70s culture, and provides lots of great illustrations spanning the years from Woodstock to disco to Reagan. Macrame? Spider plants? It’s all there, and it’s really entertaining.

Part of the book focused on the birth of personal computers, and made me remember my own early experiences with computers. When I was in seventh grade, in 1978-79, my middle school got a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. We named it “Calfitzmus.” It was a clunky beast of a machine that we learned to program using BASIC, an antiquated computer language that as far as I know has been long since abandoned.

We wrote lines of code to make Calfitzmus perform little tricks, like printing out a single line of text ad infinitum using a loop command. Not very sophisticated, but considering none of us had ever used a computer before, it seemed adventurous. And it was unusual enough that The Tampa Tribune sent a reporter to our classroom to do a story about us. (My first appearance in a newspaper, I believe.)

I didn’t do much with computers over the next few years, unless you count playing video games on our Atari. When I was in high school my mom bought an Apple IIe, which allowed me to further practice my BASIC programming, and my brother and I to play more games. Even though it had a two-color monitor -- green and black -- I remember writing programs to make it draw the flags of different countries. (What a nerd!)

I took a “computer math” course in high school, which had very little to do with actual math but still provided a math credit -- which I desperately needed, having reached the end of my own mathematical abilities in Algebra II. More programming in BASIC. Then, in college, I moved to ATEX word processors at the student paper, and that was it for me and computing until 1995, when I bought a computer to join the Internet era. (The Internet blossomed while I was in Morocco, so I missed its earliest years of popularity.)

It’s hard to believe we’ve come all the way from Calfitzmus and BASIC to here, with the Internet such a part of our lives. Remember when doing research meant schlepping to the library? Sheesh!

(Photo: Chelsea doorway, Oct. 2008)

Monday, October 13, 2008


If I were going to manufacture the perfect day, I’d have made days like we had this weekend. Sunny and clear, with the yellowing leaves of early fall set against the blue background of the sky -- wow! I couldn’t ask for better.

Yesterday morning I went out to Bushwick, in Brooklyn, to do some photography. When I was out there Friday night for my friends’ photo exhibit, I saw some street art that I hadn’t yet photographed. So I went back and got some great shots, and also had a good cup of coffee and a pain au chocolat at The Archive, my favorite little coffee shop out there.

Then I came back to Manhattan and met my friend Rob for lunch at Neil’s, an old-fashioned diner on the Upper East Side. We went walking in Central Park, and then went to see Anne Hathaway’s new movie, “Rachel Getting Married.” (It’s a good movie, very well-acted, and yet kind of annoying -- not unlike actually being at a wedding.)

I mentioned the other day that my Buddhist practice has lately taken a slide, as has my gym attendance. I’m feeling the need to reapply myself and get back on track, on both counts. So I plan to make this week about refocusing. Off to the Stairmaster!

(Photo: Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, yesterday.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Yesterday was a busy day! I met my friend Stuart for brunch at Pastis, a hotspot in the Meatpacking District that I've always wanted to try. We had a fluffy omelet and incredibly soft, delicious french toast. Amazing.

Then I zipped uptown and met my friend Bill for a matinee of "A Man for All Seasons," starring Frank Langella, on Broadway. It was a great play and Langella was terrific. For some reason, having seen him as a convincingly dark Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon," I doubted his ability to portray the noble Sir Thomas More, but he won me over entirely.

Then I went back downtown to Greenwich Village to catch Banksy's "Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill" installation, which just opened last week. Those big Banksy murals that went up in SoHo, which I wrote about earlier, were part of an effort to develop buzz for this show. It was really brilliant -- "fish sticks" swimming in a fish bowl, a very lifelike leopard made from a coat. Check out the videos here.

Finally, I came home and relaxed in the evening -- read for a while, went to bed early. What a great day!

(Photo: Casper the Friendly Ghost in triplicate on Bowery, Oct. 2008)

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I went to the dentist late yesterday afternoon, and he decided to replace my filling. I'm not 100 percent sure that the filling really broke, because my tooth pain virtually went away yesterday -- but I think the dentist figured, better safe than sorry. I'm getting a gold inlay (!) but it's in my very back tooth so no one will be able to see it. He said gold would be stronger than porcelain and assured me that they cost the same amount. I hope my insurance agrees.

Last night I went to a fun art opening for a photography show, "Quality of Life," that some friends of mine are involved in. It was a little strange being there with a numb lower jaw. I was scared to try to drink anything, at least at first. But the photography was great, and eventually enough feeling returned that I was able to have a can of good old Genessee beer.

(Photo: Arch in the East Village, Sept. 2008)

Friday, October 10, 2008


I've had the wonderful experience of breaking a filling in one of my teeth. At least, I think that's what's happened. I was eating lunch Wednesday (rice, of all things) when suddenly I bit down on something hard and rock-like. Now, one of my back teeth is very sensitive to cold and sugar, and it feels a bit jagged. I called my dentist yesterday, but of course his office was closed for Yom Kippur, so I'll have to try to get ahold of him this morning. This will be my first broken filling, if indeed that's what it is.

Last night as I was walking home from work I saw an interesting sight, and decided to capture it in a haiku. Not sure if I succeeded, but here goes.

Streaming smoke
Airplane at sunset:
Pink dragon

(Photo: Street art on Henry Street, Lower East Side, Oct. 2008)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I watched “The Silence” last night, the last film in my Bergman trilogy. It was far more surreal than the first two. There were long stretches with no dialogue, during which a boy plays in the vast hallways of an old hotel in a fictional country at war. I’m having a little trouble relating it to “Through a Glass Darkly” and “Winter Light” as an element of a trilogy. The faith issues in the first two were very literal, whereas this one, not so much.

Speaking of faith, my Buddhist practice has really taken a slide lately. I need to get back on the cushion! I haven’t been going to the gym as much, either. It doesn’t feel bad, though -- it’s kind of nice to not feel as driven, to be more gentle with myself. Maybe this is what happens as we get further into our 40s? Or am I just being lazy?

(Photo: "Say it with flowers," Greenwich Village, Sept. 2008)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Part of my job recently has been to monitor the reader forums at our newspapers -- the message boards where readers can go to discuss current news stories. This is a really unpleasant task.

These boards are something like talk radio in written form. If you’ve ever listened to talk radio, you know how exhausting it can be. It’s really depleting to listen to chronically angry people.

On the message boards I see the same ill-informed allegations about candidates (“Barack Obama is a closet muslim” is a fairly pedestrian example, though they get much more creative than that) and weird conspiracy theories. Posters rail against the “liberal media” that won’t tell the real story as they’re describing it. They regurgitate information they get from partisan news sources that blame the opposing party, realistically or not -- I mean, let’s face it, on most issues there’s plenty of blame to go around.

I’m monitoring all this not to change the conversation, but to see how well the message boards are serving readers and how civil (or uncivil) the discourse is there. I must admit I have serious doubts about whether all this arguing and disinformation really does anyone any good.

What this has shown me is that people are going to believe what they want to believe. If the mainstream media (“MSM,” in board lingo) report only the facts, some readers will say we’re covering up or have a political agenda. “Facts” have become so fluid, so prone to interpretation and spin, that the word has virtually lost meaning. And that's the most troubling thing of all.

(Photo: Chairs in Dumbo, Brooklyn, Sept. 2008)

Monday, October 6, 2008


Over the weekend, I did away with one of my two Flickr accounts. It just got too crazy, maintaining two separate identities, and it seemed silly. The original idea was to have one account for my street art pics and one for everyday life. But I think it’s better to integrate the two -- it gives the pics variety and makes me seem more like a whole person!

I’m mentioning this for two reasons:

1. It took me a while to shift over the most important photos from the personal account. Whew!

2. If you watched my personal Flickr, or even saw the badge on this page, now you'll know where it went.

Had a nice day yesterday. I slept in in the morning, and then went walking through Chelsea in the afternoon, followed by a massage. Watched “Winter Light,” the second Bergman flick, and read a bit. It was a nice, slow-paced weekend.

(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Sept. 2008)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

More Banksy

Here’s the second big Banksy mural that’s gone up in SoHo -- he’s on a roll! I went out yesterday morning and shot this, and then walked through Chinatown, which was fun. I really like that area, as long as I’m not in the frenzy of Canal Street.

I also stopped by the farmer’s market at Union Square, and noticed several people selling all kinds of Obama buttons. Funny, though -- there were no McCain buttons anywhere. I have yet to see a single piece of McCain campaign paraphernalia in New York.

I watched “Through a Glass Darkly” yesterday evening, the first film in Ingmar Bergman’s “Silence of God” trilogy. The other two parts are coming up next -- “Winter Light” and “The Silence.” Should be an uplifting week! (Actually, I really like Bergman -- his films are so stripped down, yet so beautiful and haunting.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Corn Dog

One of the things I like most about graffiti is the psychology behind it. Sometimes you see things on walls that make you go, "Hmmmmm..."

For example, why is someone running around Brooklyn drawing pictures of corn dogs?

This particular corn dog even has a French accent.

We all know graffiti is about marking territory -- hence the popularity of tagging, which is just a way of saying, "I was here." Tags can also claim ownership, and going over someone's tag with your own is a sign of disrespect.

But somehow I think the corn-dogger is just having fun, which you have to admire.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hawaii, 1972

I don't have anything much to write about today, so I thought I'd post this photo of my Aunt Laurita and Uncle Rudolph's tour group in Hawaii in August, 1972. (I've had this photo on Flickr for a while, so apologies if you've already seen it.) This picture just cracks me up...the sunglasses, the hairstyles, that one anonymous teenager in the back row. (Click on the pic to see it in great detail!)

Aunt Laurita and Uncle Rudolph are on the far right in the second row -- Uncle Rudolph (who was really my great uncle) has white hair.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


When I was a little kid, I was very protective of my stuff. I was meticulous about taking care of my room, and I used to worry about what would happen to my stuff after I died. I remember lying in bed one night wondering what would happen to my stuffed animals.

Later, when I was in college, I used to go to flea markets with friends, buying up all kinds of fun stuff from the 1950s and ‘60s (which in the late ‘80s could still be found in abundance). I’d take it home and clean it up, and then be left with the dilemma of storage and, ultimately, disposal. How could I ever locate a worthy recipient for my stuff -- someone who would appreciate it, know how old it was, who made it, how carefully I had restored it?

In the 1990s, I had a series of two-bedroom apartments, largely so I could have enough space for my stuff.

And yet, paradoxically, all this stuff used to nag at me. I had a constant urge to thin it out, to give things away or sell them. I felt trapped by it all. I used to think about moving or traveling for an extended period, and then I’d think, “But I can’t, because what would I do with all my stuff?”

As I’ve written before, the turning point was when I came back from Morocco, in 1994, and began unpacking boxes and boxes of stuff that I’d stored -- and wondered, “What IS all this?”

That’s when I finally began a decade-long purge of my mid-century flea market finds, selling them through local consignment shops or on eBay. I also eventually sold most of the stuff I brought back from Africa -- and I didn’t bring back much. When I moved to New York, I whittled things down to an extreme level, since I now live in one room.

So you see, I have a strangely fraught relationship with stuff. I think I feel an unusually heavy burden of responsibility about possessions -- an unhealthy burden, even. I have found that the best way for me to deal with stuff is just to not own it. Then I don’t have to think about it at all.

The downside, of course, is that I also don’t get to enjoy it. I still have that Urge to Purge, and I own very little. Where does it end? Is this a kind of anorexia of possessions? Isn’t a constant desire to purge just as problematic as a constant desire to purchase? Aren’t they just different forms of attachment?

(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Sept. 2008)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Junk Mail

I was reading an article the other day about junk mail, and how it keeps the Post Office afloat. I got to thinking about my own mail -- when was the last time I got a real letter? I got a postcard from my Peace Corps friend Liz two or three weeks ago, and occasionally I get cards, but it’s probably been years since I got a letter. (Or wrote a letter, for that matter.)

In fact, most days I throw away all my mail. All the credit card solicitations, theater company promos, bulk mail fliers, coupons, all that stuff. I tear it up and toss it out. I don’t open any of it. I recycle the catalogs, unread.

I began paying all my bills online when stamps went above 40 cents. I still get Netflix -- that’s probably my principal use of regular mail at this point -- but it won’t be long before we’re all streaming movies over the Internet.

This article mentioned that the government has considered creating a “Do Not Mail” list, similar to the “Do Not Call” list, but those initiatives never get off the ground because they would essentially kill the postal service, not to mention depriving marketers of an allegedly valuable channel.

I’d hate to see the Post Office die completely, but at the same time, I hate the wastefulness of junk mail. There are firms that promise to bring it under control, contacting mailers to remove you from their lists, for a small fee. I’ve thought about doing that. I’ve also heard you can just mark it “return to sender,” but I’m not sure the Post Office really returns bulk mail -- I think they just throw it out.

Anyone have any ideas?

(Photo: Octopus graffiti in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Sept. 2008)