Monday, November 30, 2009

Break Away

I had a terrific weekend. I spent it all in East Brunswick with Dave, hanging out at home, cooking and eating, cleaning and doing laundry, going to the gym and running errands. My mind was away from New York City and my nebulous job prospects, and I enjoyed my time with him and the dogs. I wasn't at all stressed.

This suggests that maybe what I really need is to get away from my office altogether. I've assumed that it helps to continue to come in and maintain my routine as long as possible, and job-hunt from work. But maybe, psychologically, it's better for me to move on.

I have to admit, I'll be happy when I never have to walk into that office again. Just seeing the building, when my bus from New Jersey pulled into the Port Authority this morning, gave me a grim feeling.

By the way, and speaking of grim, have you seen "Precious" yet? Dave and I saw it yesterday and loved it. It's a tough movie to take at times, but incredibly eye-opening and the performances are unbelievable. Mariah Carey is unrecognizable -- I literally didn't realize it was her until the end credits rolled -- and Mo'Nique is terrific as Precious' mother. Go see it!

(Photo: Sunrise on E. 29th Street, Nov. 2009)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Comedy of Errors

Our Thanksgiving dinner turned out to be a haphazard affair, though ultimately delicious and satisfying. I managed to buy the wrong essential ingredient, destroy a blender AND make a pie! Whew -- no one can accuse ME of being lazy!

Want details? Happy to oblige:

1. We cracked our first bottle of wine at 2 p.m. It's nearly impossible to correctly time a dinner when you're buzzed, but it sure made the rest of the day fun.

2. When we first turned on the oven, we were nearly smoked out by some residue left over from making pot pies the night before. We had the bright idea to set the oven to its self-cleaning cycle, which then prevented us from opening it for the next hour or two. Thus, we were considerably delayed in getting the turkey launched.

3. I bought something labeled "sweet potatoes" at the store, but whatever they were, they were not the sweet potatoes I'd imagined. For starters, they were white instead of orange, which we didn't realize until we'd started cutting.

4. We tried to make the sweet potatoes the way my mom does, whipping them and then baking them with marshmallows on top. But when I tried to puree the roasted potatoes in a blender with brown sugar and butter, it was like pureeing cement. The blender gave up the ghost with a rubbery smell of protest, and we threw out the sweet potatoes, which tasted something like sweetened plaster.

5. I made the pumpkin pie -- at least the filling -- by mixing canned pumpkin with various other ingredients from a recipe. I had to estimate the spices, because we didn't immediately have measuring spoons at hand, and I overspiced that pie pretty fiercely -- but we agreed we liked it nonetheless. Let's hear it for ginger and nutmeg!

For all that went wrong, though, a lot went right. Dave's brined turkey was delicious and juicy, and his mashed potatoes and my roasted Brussels sprouts worked out well. The cornbread stuffing would have been better had we not bought pre-made cornbread from the supermarket, which turned out to be unreasonably sweet. (Why do people put sugar in everything these days?)

Anyway, we finally ate around 7:30 p.m., which made it a memorable Thanksgiving!

(Photo: Shadow of a porch railing in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, Nov. 2009)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a quick note to say Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I'm in New Jersey, about to embark on another cooking adventure with Dave. We'll be having butternut squash soup, brined turkey with cornbread stuffing, both sweet and mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for dessert. Yum!

I may be going through lots of changes, but I am thankful for all I have -- my health, my family, my friends, my wonderful Dave and his wonderful dogs, Ernie and Ruby. All things considered, I've still got it really good.

(Photo: Wreath on a front door in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, Nov. 2009)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

City Lights

So how’s life as an imminently unemployed person, you may ask?

OK, I’ll tell you. Twist my arm.

So far, things have been more or less OK. I’ve been going into the office almost every day, but I’ve been working much shorter days. I’ve been handing over my job duties -- the few that will be preserved -- and applying for new jobs. It’s been good to have a place to go each day where I can focus and see colleagues, and it also helps that I can continue to get a hot lunch in the company cafeteria, since I’m not much of a cook.

I’ve been striving to preserve my routines. I go to the gym, I do photography, I visit Dave on the weekends. Keeping my life stable as much as possible seems to be a good idea. I’ve had some very fun days just being out and about.

I do get depressed, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced true depression before, but maybe this is it -- a feeling of dread, a lack of desire. I have to make myself get moving sometimes. Occasionally I have a social outing and I can tell I’m not being much fun, but I just don’t have it in me, and I can only hope my friends appreciate my circumstances.

I haven’t been sitting much, but I plan to work on that. The negative feelings seem to come when I start thinking “what if,” and I need to stay away from “what if” and stay rooted in the present -- in the “what is.”

I am looking forward to this weekend. I’m not working today, and I plan to head out to New Jersey in the afternoon, after maybe doing some photography in the morning.

On Monday I took my new camera out at night and I got some terrific shots, like the one above. This camera captures city lights really well!

(Photo: Buildings lining the east side of Madison Square Park, including the New York Life building at left and the old Metropolitan Life tower at right.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


When I was walking downtown recently I came across this vine growing on a fence. It surprised me to find such a delicate-looking flower in mid-November. But things have been pretty warm here overall -- the begonias and coleus in the flower bed outside my building haven't frozen yet, either.

I had dinner with my friend Joe last night and caught him up on the drama in my life. His dog died at about the same time as Armenia, so we could commiserate over the loss of a pet.

Did I mention I'm reading "Schulz and Peanuts," a biography of Charles Schulz? I've always loved Peanuts, even though the strip made less and less sense in its later years. I still have a few Peanuts paperbacks from childhood, and the minister in the Presbyterian church I attended as a kid always used a Peanuts strip to illustrate some point or other during his sermon. It's easy to forget how deeply Charlie Brown and his colleagues were woven into our culture in the 1960s and '70s. In fact, watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" remains one of the highlights of the holiday season for me!

And speaking of holiday season, I've created another book of my photography -- the promotional badge is to the right. I'm giving it as a gift to family members. Click on the badge to preview the book!

Monday, November 23, 2009


I had a busy weekend. I was out all day photographing street art on Friday (I didn't even bother to go to work) and on Saturday morning I had a real urban adventure.

For months on my way to and from Dave's, I'd seen interesting graffiti from the train as it passed through Secaucus, N.J. On Saturday I decided to find this graffiti, which is painted on the concrete support pillars for a huge overpass of the New Jersey Turnpike.

I took the train out to Secaucus and began walking. I'll spare you all the details except to say it took a good 45 minutes of trial and error before I finally found myself beneath the Turnpike, which towered over my head. The ground beneath it is marshy and full of tufted brown grasses taller than I am.

Walking around down there was a bit treacherous -- more than once I took a step onto what looked like solid ground, only to be up to my ankles in mud. (And this being an industrial area of New Jersey, God only knows what's in all that mud.)

I did eventually make my way over to the graffiti, though, and it was terrific. A street artist named Faro painted several of his trademark mummies on the concrete pillars, including these two.

This guy seems to be saying "Rock on!"

Getting back to the train was much easier because I knew which route to take. All my photos will be up on Flickr in about a week!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


When I woke this morning, I realized almost immediately that I had been dreaming. I tried to clutch the dream, remember it, but its misty retreat left me with nothing.

I was reminded of an article I read in The New Yorker yesterday about dreams, and specifically nightmares. (I never have nightmares -- at least, not that I remember -- and I never feel fearful or anxious when I awaken.)

This article, unfortunately not available online, contained a few interesting factoids. One is that women remember their dreams more easily than men. This may explain why my female friends can often describe dreams in great detail while I can’t remember whether I dreamed at all.

(When I was in the Peace Corps, my roommate Juliet would awaken every morning and offer up a step-by-step recitation of her dreams. It blew my mind that she could remember them so well. Every plot twist, dialogue, scenes stretching back what seemed like hours -- you name it. I always suspected her of making it all up.)

The other, and more interesting, factoid is that dreams seem to be changing. When Sigmund Freud recorded dreams at the turn of the century, they were long narratives, at least according to his notes. Many took pages and pages to record properly.

Now, researchers have found that dreams tend to be shorter and jumpier. If in the old days they were full-length feature films, today they’re YouTube clips. The article quotes British psychoanalyst Susan Budd: “Modern patients don’t often produce the kinds of dreams that Freud had. Modern dreams mostly seem to be shorter and more fragmentary, and this is because the dream is undoubtedly a cultural as well as a neurobiological product.”

We often talk about the ADD-inducing effects of our culture, from the Internet to our crazy workaholic tendencies, but I never thought about their effects on our dreams. It’s fascinating, and a bit alarming, to think our minds have been rewired to produce short-form nocturnal dramas.

My dreams, on the rare occasions when I do remember them, seem more long-form. One scene will pass into another, but there’s usually some kind of transition -- seldom just a jump or abrupt change. I don’t think I’m immune to our cultural slide toward ADD, but maybe I’m less affected, since I don’t watch much television and I tend to read a lot.

Anyway, it was a fascinating article!

(Photo: W. 40th Street, earlier this week)

Thursday, November 19, 2009


When I was a kid, my mom once told me I had an obsessive personality. That wording always bothered me, because it sounds like a psychological condition, and I don’t think I’m that obsessive. But I did go through numerous fads and stages as a young person.

Even now, you could say that my interest in graffiti and photography is somewhat obsessive, I suppose. Where’s the line between an interest and an obsession? Darned if I know.

Most of my childhood obsessions involved an impulse to collect. Here are a few:

-- Stamp collecting. This was the single most dominant, enduring interest of my childhood. I loved stamps and the exotic places they helped me imagine: the jungles of the Congo, the mountains of Eritrea, the plantations of Brazil, the snowy onion domes of Russia. I mowed the lawn each week in the summer and saved the money for stamps, which I bought a few times a year at a store in Tampa called “The Perf Gauge.” (A perf gauge is a tool used by hardcore stamp collectors to measure the perforations of some stamps, which can affect value and collectability.) I traded stamps with my brother and boys in my neighborhood; I counted them, organized them and mounted them in increasingly large and elaborate albums. I still have my stamp collection and I’d never part with it, though these days I don’t look at it much.

-- Recording music. When I got to be a teenager, I became obsessed with taping music off the radio. I bought cassettes at Radio Shack and taped songs I liked, and then eventually songs I sort of liked, and finally songs I didn't much like at all. I just wanted them all. I imagined shelves of cassettes, carefully archived, a library of every song I might ever want to hear. I taped things off the television, even. I drove my family crazy.

-- Beer cans. Around 1980, my stepbrother introduced me to the hobby of beer can collecting. I became fascinated by beer cans -- the graphics, the typography, the sprays of wheat, the various types of pull tabs and tops. Who knew cans could be so interesting? We collected hundreds of them by slogging through marshy mounds of trash in a local dump and looking for rusty empties under trees in sandy orange groves. We joined the Beer Can Collectors of America (aka the BCCA) and went to trading sessions, lugging flats of cans to and fro. We traded cans by mail with collectors from other parts of the country. We amassed a huge collection, then split it between us, and then my interest slowly waned. I sold my collection in 1983 for about $100, just before the fad of beer can collecting collapsed altogether, making similar collections essentially worthless. (My brother collected soda cans at the same time, and still has his, stored in flats in a closet at my mother's house -- much to her chagrin.)

-- Seashells. My siblings and I spent a week at the beach every year and during that time we scoured the shore for shells. I had a seashell guide that helped us identify them all, and we typed up notecards for each specimen, noting where it had been collected and under what circumstances. We bought shells at baskety craft store World Bazaar and, on one glorious trip, at the Shell Factory in Fort Myers. I still have my shells, but now they're all mixed together in a big glass jug and the notecards are long gone.

What is it about collecting that people find so fascinating? Even my street art photos are a collection of sorts -- one that happily requires no space and no dusting. It's funny how acquiring is such a strong human impulse.

(Photo: Fall, Hell's Kitchen, last week.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everything is New

I was talking with a coworker the other day who’s also been laid off. We were discussing options -- specifically, how strenuously we should be looking for a new job.

I’ve been firing off resumes almost from the moment I heard the news. But between my severance, unemployment and savings, I do have a cushion to live on for quite a while. Some people have told me, as they have my coworker, that we should use those resources and take time to be creative, find the right job or career path, and not rush into any life changes purely for the sake of security.

I’m just not sure what to think about that.

I enjoy security. I really like to know where my next meal is coming from. Backing away from the job search to mull over my future prospects, and maybe do some creative experimentation, seems like rather dangerous lassitude in the face of an urgent situation.

But on the other hand, how urgent is the situation, really? Although red flashing strobes are going off in my brain, I’m fine -- really I am. For months and months. I could live on severance alone well into the middle of next year, without even touching my savings.

There are also a host of variables complicating my future.

It won’t surprise any of you that I’m thinking about moving to New Jersey. Dave and I have talked about the possibilities, and I’m already looking for jobs there. It seems like a good solution for both of us, allowing us to save money and enrich our lives together.

But if I move to New Jersey, I’d need a car -- and what would I do with my Manhattan apartment? Should I rent it, or do I want to sell it and be rid of New York altogether?

I guess I shouldn’t tangle all these issues together, and I shouldn’t think about them all at once. As the Berbers say, “Imiks imiks ikshim aram tagdoult” -- or “Little by little, the camel goes into the pot.” I’ll just play it by ear. When I have job nibbles in New York, I’ll stay in New York, and if things happen in New Jersey I’ll stay with Dave and work on those opportunities. I’ll just see what happens. If anything, I’m fortunate because I could go in any direction, and I have time to breathe, enjoy life and make the right decisions.

(Photo: Sunrise over a parking lot, East Brunswick, N.J., Monday.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Dave and I took the dogs for a walk in the woods on Sunday. These particular woods are part of East Brunswick’s open space preservation program, and they’re a hop and skip away from Dave’s apartment. I found them by accident the week before and thought they’d be great for walking Ernie and Ruby, because they’re much closer than driving over to Cheesequake. But his dogs aren’t exactly athletic, living inside as they do, and we nearly wore them out on this excursion! Poor Ernie came back and slept all day. I was worried about him!

So the jury is still out on whether these woods are good dog-walking territory, or whether they’re just too far away.

In any case, they’ll be good walking territory for me. I enjoyed the woodsy smells and the very last of the colored leaves, the shelves of fungus growing on the trees and the odd bulbous insect nests we found on some twigs. It’s great to have nature nearby.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I shot this photo on the way to Wegman's on Saturday. It pretty much summarizes my mood at the moment!

Dave and I watched the first half of "Gone With the Wind" last night. It was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and in fact I read the book when I was in the sixth grade. It really is a good movie, even with its 1930s melodramatic transition captioning and acting styles. Of course, you have to look past the absurdity of painting the Old South as a place of grace and beauty -- that might be true, but only if you were rich and white!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Dave and I walked to the bagel shop yesterday morning for our standard Saturday breakfast. On the way back I snapped these photos of a cluster of bushes we passed on the way. I have no idea what they are, specifically, but the color variety is interesting.

We've had a relaxing weekend. On Friday we went to see "2012," the apocalytpic thriller that depicts the end of the world. I am a HUGE fan of disaster movies, having grown up on the Irwin Allen variety in the 1970s, so I had a great time, even though every minute of "2012" and every bit of dialogue is completely, utterly absurd. How can you not be thrilled by skyscrapers crashing over and California sliding into the sea? I mean, really!

Yesterday we went to Wegman's and bought some supplies for a cooking spree. Dave made beef short ribs and mashed potatoes, and creme brulee for dessert. I know, I know -- I haven't been a red meat eater for years. But one of the changes I've decided to make in my life is to be open to all kinds of food. I want Dave to be able to cook everything and not feel restricted by my diet, and after all, does it really make sense to eat chicken and fish but not pigs or cows? How do the chickens feel about that?

I will still be largely vegetarian when choosing my own meals, but when Dave is in the kitchen, I'm going to approach food with an open mind!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gray November

My blog pal Lorianne posted recently about the difficulties of photography during the darkening month of November -- and indeed, the challenge of looking for brightness on all levels. I really liked this post, because it spoke to my own need to see the positive in every day, as well as my own difficulty in practicing photography in rainy, gray weather.

I left my office yesterday during my extra-long, completely unauthorized lunch break and took some photos. I walked around Hell's Kitchen in a light, drizzly rain, convinced I'd be able to find some things to shoot even in less than desirable weather. And indeed I did, but Lorianne is right -- seeing and photographing can be a challenge under the circumstances, in my case because I usually respond so well to light and shadow. In the absence of both it's hard to be motivated.

I liked the remark in Lorianne's post from a Zen teacher: "Whatever you pay attention to grows." The gray weather of November, particularly in the wake of the tattered remnants of a hurricane, definitely challenges me to pay attention to my creativity and nurture it.

(Photo: Stairs on the outside of the Adolph S. Ochs school, Hell's Kitchen, yesterday.)

Friday, November 13, 2009


“Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.” -- Robert Green Ingersoll

People sometimes talk of experiencing a “swirl of emotions,” and though I’ve long known cerebrally what that meant, I don’t think I’ve known emotionally until now. I really do feel like I’m swirling! One moment I’m anxious, another I’m sad, another I’m perversely happy and excited, and then I’m anxious again. Around and around!

Part of me relishes the opportunity to take some time off and pursue my own interests over the next few months. Obviously I’ll be looking for a job, so my time won’t entirely be my own, but I ought to have the opportunity to get out and do more photography on nice days, for example. I’ll be able to read and write more. My career path is wide open. Sounds pretty nice, actually!

Also, I’m intrigued by the opportunity to throw off some of the burdens of journalism. Maybe now I can be more outwardly politically vocal, for example, with less need to maintain an unbiased veneer. Once again, I’ll be job hunting, so I won’t go crazy -- but the possibility is appealing.

I mentioned my layoff explicitly on Facebook yesterday, with the rationale that it’s better for my 400 friends and contacts to know so they’ll think of me if an opening arises. And I’ve told most of my coworkers. My Zen teacher said I have “a new life,” and added, “the important thing is to keep practicing, and being open to what arises.”

It’s oddly exciting, you know?

(Photo: Upper East Side, last week)

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Thanks to everyone for the words of encouragement regarding the job loss. I'm in such a strange frame of mind right now. I feel a little like a sleepwalker, or someone in a surreal movie. I come to work, sit at my desk, and yet I feel like I'm not really here -- I suppose because my mind is already thinking about next steps. Very bizarre.

I went to New Jersey last night and Dave made dinner -- a comforting butternut squash risotto. We watched "Top Chef" and talked about the future. That future is a big blur at the moment, but I have a lot of options and possibilities to think through. I need to sit down and make some lists and charts and graphs and calculate the possible outcomes.

I am still bowled over by the timing of my cat's death. My anxiety would be tenfold if the cat were alive, because that would complicate my future even further. Isn't it strange how things work out, even when they're tragic?

All of this is simply preparing me for the next step. At least I'm being pushed forward.

(Photo: Plywood wall around a construction site, Spanish Harlem, last week.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When It Rains...

Just to prove the old adage “when it rains, it pours”: I lost my job yesterday.

Can you believe it? Exactly five days after my cat drops dead in my apartment, I LOSE MY JOB.

Those talking heads on television may think the recession is over, but apparently no one has yet informed my employer -- or all the advertisers that funnel money to my employer, and have lately tightened their funnel mercilessly. I got a call about 10 a.m. yesterday telling me that my department is being phased out, and my boss and I both will be working only through the end of the year.

In some ways, this is not a bad thing. I got into journalism because I loved writing. But when I took this job in 2000, I knew I’d be sacrificing the writing in order to move to New York and work primarily as an editor. At the time, the sacrifice seemed worth it.

Now, I’ve lived in Manhattan nearly a decade, and my job has mutated to such an extent that I don’t even do much hands-on editing. I’m primarily an administrator, a planner, an architect of editorial theory. To quote the Talking Heads: "You may ask yourself, 'How did I get here?'"

Losing this job will hopefully give me a chance to move to something more hands-on, more directly fulfilling and interesting.

Also, as I said, I’ll be working through the end of the year, so the loss is not immediate. That’s a plus. And I have a severance package, which extends my income into next year and will give me a cushion while I find something new to do.

The downside? Insecurity. The loss of that regular, steady, reliable paycheck. And also a separation from a company that I love, and coworkers I’ve enjoyed and grown to know since 1988, when I graduated from college and first began working for this particular newspaper firm.

But, oh well. It’s a brave new world. Security is illusory. I now have some time to plan my next steps, consider the various alternatives, and pursue possibilities.

An old coworker of mine used to say, “You got to laugh to keep from cryin’,” and that’s exactly how I feel. I mean, what an insane week!

(Photo: My sentiments exactly.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Scene: Produce department at Wegman's, Manalapan, New Jersey.

Me, pointing at cabbage: "Wow, look at that."
Dave: "That would make a good photo."
Me: "Yeah, it would!"
Dave: "So why don't you take it?"
Me: "I dunno. I might get in trouble."
Dave: "You've done it before."
Me: "Yeah, but then I had a smaller camera."
Dave: "Oh, go ahead."

So I did.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Yesterday I finally got to hang out with Dave after surrendering him to the Marching Band Gods on Friday night and nearly all day Saturday. We woke up late on Sunday, took the dogs for a walk, went grocery shopping and ran some errands, and then cooked up a fabulous dinner of scallops, polenta and dandelion greens. (LOVE those dandelion greens -- which, Dave tells me, are not quite the same ones you'd pull out of your yard. Apparently they've been bred and farmed for the human palate.)

Now, back in the city, I must admit it was sobering to come home to an empty apartment. It feels so silent and still without my cat (although, as I told a friend, getting rid of the litter box was no small joy).

Being petless is definitely going to take some getting used to. Do you realize I've NEVER lived for long without an animal? We always had dogs, and occasionally cats, growing up. When I moved to the dorms in college I still had my dogs at home, about 20 miles away, and I saw them every week or two. And then, when I moved to an apartment after my freshman year, I got my cat Angeles, who overlapped with Howard, who overlapped with Armenia.

No wonder it feels so strange! Sure, I have Dave's dogs in my life now too, but they're not here with me in Manhattan. The apartment doesn't feel empty in the wonderful, formless, Buddhist sense. It just feels cold, pristine and museum-like.

Still, it isn't time to think about another pet. Too much is in flux. I have to just see where life leads from here.

(Photo: Reflections and shadows on E. 34th Street, last week.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I participated in an American fall ritual on Friday night -- a high school football game. I wanted to see Dave's band in action, so I zipped out to New Jersey on the train, caught a cab to the school, got a couple of cheese pizza slices at the concession stand and settled into a spot on the aluminum bleachers overlooking the field. The night was chilly, and in fact grew steadily colder. I was wearing a shirt, sweater and jacket and a stocking cap -- and pants of course -- but pretty soon I was chilled to the bone. I thought, I'm going to be like William Henry Harrison. I'll be dead by Monday.

I joined the game in the middle of the first quarter. The referees kept stopping the clock during the second quarter, which was making me crazy because I was so uncomfortable, but finally we got to the half-time action. The band did a good job with field movements, though as I told Dave, I couldn't hear them very well. I don't think they're loud enough.

I didn't stick around for the rest of the game. Instead, I came back to Dave's and got warm. I have never been so happy to come inside.

The next morning, when I took the dogs out for their walk, the field next door was covered with frost. Surprisingly the dogs didn't seem to mind it, though I'm sure it must have numbed their little footpads.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

From Fleaball to Cranky Cat

I always find that when a pet dies, it helps to write an obituary of sorts. So let me tell you a little about Armenia.

When I got Armenia in October 1995, she was tiny enough to fit inside my shoe (above), and she was riddled with fleas. She and her three litter-mates were found in a cardboard box by a former colleague of mine at the St. Petersburg Times. The colleague gladly let me take Armenia home.

I was living in Venice, Fla., at the time. I took Armenia to the vet, who sold me a can of flea spray. I treated Armenia several times; she was so tiny the spray made her woozy, but it did kill all the fleas.

Armenia was always the "second cat" to Howard, who was already seven at the time. I named Armenia to go with Howard, because Howard and Armenia are the two main streets through the Tampa neighborhood where I'd lived just a few years before.

Armenia was part Manx, which is why she didn't have a tail. Sometimes people looked at me accusingly as if I'd amputated it, but I swear, she came that way.

Armenia was always feisty and independent. But she loved Howard, and Howard -- who had a much more generous disposition -- loved her right back. Armenia seemed bereft after Howard died in 2004.

I eventually tried to get another kitten for Armenia to play with, but she would have none of it. She rebelled powerfully against the intruder -- she stopped using the litter box and essentially had a nervous breakdown. I had to give the kitten back to its previous owner, who fortunately had asked me to return it anyway. I didn't try again to find a companion for Armenia.

She was playful, in her feisty way. She loved paper and boxes and readily chased paper balls I threw across the floor.

And as I mentioned yesterday, she loved the heater -- her favorite place in my apartment.

She also loved to be with me, wherever I was. She'd lie on my chest or next to me as I worked on the computer.

I'm doing OK with this loss, surprisingly. When Howard died, I was a basket case, but with Armenia I just don't feel the same devastation. Not to diminish her, but she was always the "second cat," even when she was the only one. It was partly her personality, and partly just her place in the pride. (Any owner of multiple pets who's honest will admit they love their animals in different ways, and maybe even to different degrees.)

My only concern remains that she died by herself -- and died at a time when my own life is changing so dramatically, and I'm staying away from home more. I hope she didn't think I was leaving her behind or deserting her. I hope she didn't die sad.*

*When I told a friend of this fear, she said, "Cats don't die of depression, Steve. They're way too self-involved for that."

Friday, November 6, 2009

RIP Armenia, 1995-2009

Well, you really never know what's coming around the corner, do you?

I have a little cold brewing so I left work early yesterday, having spent the previous night in New Jersey. I got to my apartment about 4:30 p.m. When I unlocked the door, Armenia wasn't there to meet me.

I came inside and saw her lying on her side at the foot of the bed. From a distance she looked like she might be asleep, except that she didn't move as I approached. I bent down to touch her, and she was cold and stiff.

It's very strange to touch an animal you know to be warm and soft and cuddly, and instead feel that.

I called Dave and left a long, bewildered message, and then called the vet. I knew I had to get Armenia's body to his office before it closed, or I'd be sleeping with a dead cat all night. I carried her over right away and left her to be cremated.

Now, I'm just in a state of shock. Armenia wasn't young, and she had her share of health problems -- weak kidneys, for example. But she seemed fine on Wednesday morning, when she ate her Fancy Feast as usual and lay purring on my chest as I read. I never, ever expected her to literally drop dead.

My feelings are kind of complicated. I'm not quite sad, though maybe that will come. Armenia and I always had a complex relationship. She was not a warm-hearted cat, and in fact was quite feisty -- she bit me more than once when I did something she didn't like, such as comb her fur. She was almost universally disliked by my friends, who were the targets of her hissing, spitting and cold glares.

But the truth is, she was just insecure. She loved me, she really did. She wasted no opportunity to lie on my chest, and in fact could be quite insistent and annoying about it, regardless of what else I was trying to do at the time. She was a kitten masquerading as a tiger.

I'm happy that she died here at home, and didn't have to endure her last moments in a cold vet's office. She died near the heater where she loved to lie all winter, soaking up warmth.

I'm sorry, though, that she died alone. It seems to have happened quite suddenly and I don't think I could have stopped it. And I'm not sure she'd have wanted me here -- animals instinctively go off by themselves to die, and often seem to prefer it that way. Still, I wish I'd been around.

My apartment now seems very empty.

(Photo: The last picture I took of Armenia, from Monday night. She's annoyed at the flash.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

About Gay Marriage

I’ve been thinking about the Maine vote repealing a law allowing gay marriage.

As some of you know, I've always been pretty moderate on this issue. I’d like to be able to get married, but the fact that I can’t doesn’t change the degree of love I share with my partner. The most important thing is still there, no matter what.

That said, I do think the government must treat gay and straight couples the same legally. The resulting arrangement doesn’t have to be called marriage. Civil unions, partnerships, whatever – that’s all fine with me. For example, I’d be happy if we worked on the federal level to eliminate the tax burden on gay couples who share health insurance, or if we mandated hospital visitation rights for gay partners. I can do without "marriage," per se.

I can respect the fact that some people believe marriage to be a religious sacrament, and they’re not ready to extend it to gay relationships. I want to be sensitive to religious differences and make room for that hesitation.

(It then becomes legitimate to ask whether government should be sanctioning an act with fundamentally religious underpinnings. Perhaps government shouldn’t “marry” people at all – perhaps that’s the role of the church, and government should recognize only partnerships, gay and straight.)

However, I think the hesitation of opponents is rooted mostly in fear. Churches and the political right have waged a battle of disinformation with the American public. They’ve told voters that if gay marriage passes, their children will be indoctrinated and society will fall apart. As absurd as it sounds, it’s been a very effective message. No matter how progressive they may feel themselves to be, few parents want their children to be gay, and they’ll take steps to prevent it if they believe they can. I think that’s what we’ve been seeing at the ballot box.

If I could tell the voters of this country one thing, it would be this: “Your children will not choose to be gay because there’s gay marriage. But if you do have a gay child, he or she may lead a happier, more secure life because marriage will be possible. Your straight kids won’t care one way or another.”

As for God, well, I think he or she would approve wholeheartedly of gay marriage. But as I said, if people aren’t willing to go there yet, I can work with that. Just don’t sock me in my pocketbook or prevent me from visiting my partner in the hospital. Recognize that my partnership is the legal equivalent of a marriage, if not identical according to your social and religious definition.

There are people who think, justifiably, that "separate but equal" is fundamentally unequal. They're right. But it's also better to move ahead incrementally than backslide because we're demanding more than people are ready to give. Eventually, we'll get there -- I have no doubt.

(Photo: Tables and chairs on Broadway in front of Macy's, Herald Square, Nov. 2009)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Here's another effort with my new camera. I'm excited to be able to shoot at night, now. Even though I don't have a tripod, I found that I could hold the camera still enough to make this photo.

I voted yesterday, which is always an experience in New York. We use these incredibly clunky, prehistoric voting booths with levers and curtains. I'm never one hundred percent sure when I walk away that my vote was really recorded, but I guess I have to have faith in the system! (And isn't it interesting that places with electoral controversies in recent years all had newer forms of voting technology?)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Camera

As I wandered the field next to Dave's apartment complex on Sunday, I experimented with various settings on my fab new camera. I was struck by how different a shot could look by hitting just a button or two. For example, above is without the flash, and below is with.

Granted, in this case, my old camera could have taken similar shots. But the image quality is definitely better now (these are low-res versions). I also love the fact that this camera doesn't telescope my images so severely that the moon appears like a little pinprick -- that's how it always looked in pictures with my old camera. This one preserves the proper perspective.

I am going to have SO MUCH FUN with this camera! I wish I had more hours of daylight -- it's a drag that we've just switched off Daylight Saving Time. I'll have to go out and shoot on my lunch hour!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Thanks to Dave, this has been an AMAZING birthday weekend!

My actual 43rd birthday, for those of you who don't know, is today. But we celebrated yesterday with a meal that lasted pretty much all afternoon and evening -- a marathon of cooking and eating from about 2 p.m. until 9 p.m. Dave carefully planned the menu -- he's been talking about it for weeks -- and we went to Wegman's around noon to buy ingredients. We alternately prepared and ate each dish, interspersed with some TV and music.

First we had the salad above: shaved fennel and grapefruit with dill and walnuts, in a citrus dressing. It was crisp, cool and pleasantly acidic. (By the way, you can click on any of these photos for a much bigger, more detailed version.)

Then came the second course, a savory creme brulee with Roquefort cheese and leeks. The leeks stood out really well against the taste of the blue cheese.

Third came garlic-stuffed squid hoods in a white wine and vegetable reduction. We stuffed peeled garlic cloves in the squid and sewed them shut with butcher's twine, and simmered them in the sauce. The sweet cooked garlic and the briny squid set each other off well.

The main course was lavender-rubbed duck breast, and quinoa with asparagus and tomato. (We were going to use a grain called faro but couldn't find any at the store.) The duck was rich and tender, and the lavender gave it a pleasantly interesting aroma.

Finally, for dessert, we had Grand Marnier souffle. Look how tall and fluffy that thing is!

This was definitely a landmark meal for me. Dave said he liked the salad and the souffle best, but I loved it all. And to top it all off, Dave got me a NEW CAMERA for my birthday -- a Canon Digital Rebel SLR. I was absolutely floored. This is a camera I desperately wanted but couldn't bring myself to buy! How did he know?

(I have the best boyfriend in the world. In fact, "boyfriend" is a totally inadequate word for what Dave means to me. We call each other partners, and that's what it really feels like. So, yeah, I have the best partner in the world!)

This all followed a fun but busy weekend. On Friday we watched "Top Chef" and "Project Runway," both of which I love. Dave had rehearsal on Saturday so I just stayed in and did some stuff around the house and on my computer. Then, on Halloween night, we met up with our friend Adam in New Hope, Pa., to see "The Rocky Horror Show" at a playhouse there. It was a great production -- especially for those of us who know how to Time Warp!