Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-changes


As I sit here in our living room in East Brunswick, with the dogs snoring on the couch and the snow falling outside, I'm a little amazed to think about all the changes that have come during the past year: a new boyfriend, the loss of my job, the death of my cat, and now my impending move to New Jersey. I don't think I've been through such a period of intense change since I moved to New York almost ten years ago.

It's exciting, but it's scary at the same time! I'm already taking steps toward the move. I forwarded my mail. I disconnected my telephone and Internet service in New York, and I switched my cell phone from Verizon to AT&T, which gets much better reception here in central New Jersey. (I also got an iPhone, which I am enjoying a lot -- the ability to access the Internet from anywhere and check e-mail is pretty awesome!)

With each step, I keep asking myself -- do I really want to do this? The answer is always yes. Someone once told me that if a thing isn't scary it isn't worth doing, and while that's a little glib to be a life philosophy, I think there's a grain of truth there. Besides, nothing is irreversible, and even if I sold my apartment in the city, I could always go back if circumstances demanded it. (In fact, I could live in Brooklyn, which is where I'd rather be anyway.)

I don't really feel like I'm leaving New York. The city is so easy to get to that I plan to be wandering there at least weekly.

More importantly, though, I do want to take this step with Dave. I'm excited about our future, as nebulous as my career path looks right now. I think we have great things ahead of both of us.

Here's to 2010! (Did you ever think it would be 2010?!)

(Photo: Street art from a walkway along the river in New Brunswick. We walked there Tuesday despite bitter cold so I could do some photography. I made this image into my wallpaper for my iPod.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avatar


Yesterday Dave and I went to see "Avatar," James Cameron's latest movie extravaganza. It's pretty spectacular, though a bit too "shoot-'em-up" for my taste. The sequences at the beginning, when the main character first learns about his new home planet, are really beautiful, with brilliant phosphorescent plants and wild creatures. I would have been happy with a gentler plot that explores that world more thoroughly. But the movie, in a quest for dramatic tension (I suppose), devolves instead into a war story with humans (and especially Marines) being the stereotypical bad guys. I don't disagree that humans mess things up, and I'm certainly suspect of the military and its motives, but this all seems a little shallow and, well, easy. Still, it's worth seeing, just for the incredible digital effects.

It struck me that twenty or thirty years ago this kind of movie would have been animated. This production really does take moviemaking to a whole new level!

(Photo: Harlem, November 2009)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nutcracker


Dave and I found this bright yellow house while driving the back roads near the town of Spotswood, N.J. You gotta love the color, and check out those Christmas decorations!

Yesterday we went into the city -- despite truly deplorable weather -- to meet up with my friend Arne and his partner Norman, who are visiting from Washington D.C. They generously took us to see a production of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and then to dinner at a Provencal restaurant where Dave briefly interned after his stint at culinary school. We had a great time!

The Nutcracker production was very traditional -- lots of sparkly pink sets and elaborate costumes. Not really to my taste, and not particularly sophisticated, but a great introductory ballet for kids, I suppose. I joked afterwards that someone needs to produce a sort of Martha Graham-like version, with a minimalist stage and severe black leotards. I suppose it's already been done somewhere.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas!


Christmas was a lot of fun! Dave and I started the morning with presents -- I got a zoom lens for my camera, which will be great for shooting graffiti high up on the rooflines of buildings! I also got Barbara Kingsolver's newest novel, "Lacuna"; a boxed DVD set of all the "Absolutely Fabulous" episodes ever produced; a comfy pair of Merrell slip-on shoes; a pair of running shoes; and three gift certificates for massages at a spa in New Brunswick (plus optional pedicure). What a haul!

Dave got a mandoline (device for finely slicing vegetables), a food mill, a cast-iron skillet, several DVDs of movies he likes, Julia Child's book about her life in Paris, and a Le Creuset pot. (Plus an assortment of clothes from his parents, some successful and some not.) I also told him I'd buy him a rack for organizing his extensive DVD collection, and frankly that gift is as much for me as him, because right now the DVD closet is a mess and it makes me crazy.

After gifts we watched several shows on TV, took the dogs for a walk, and came back and began making dinner. Dave made an apple pie, and later, after it was in the oven, we discovered the new jar of cinnamon hadn't been opened -- which made Dave wonder what he'd put in the pie! Turned out to be an extra dose of nutmeg, but it tastes great all the same.

For dinner Dave made a pork roast stuffed with fennel and apple; I made my mother's famous sweet potatoes, which this time worked out perfectly, unlike Thanksgiving; and swiss chard. In between cooking we watched "War Games," a great old '80s movie that reminds me of my high school years.

Today we're off to the city to see a performance of "The Nutcracker" with my friend Arne and his partner, who are visiting from D.C.

Nearly all the snow in yesterday's photo has now disappeared beneath a slow but steady patter of rain. That field is all grass once again!

(Photo: Garage in Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


Our cookie-making didn't go so well yesterday. Our batch of dough rested too long (we think) and crumbled when we rolled it out and tried to cut the cookies. So we switched to some dough that one of Dave's coworkers gave him -- but it swelled up to such an extent when baked that we couldn't tell what the cookies were supposed to be. (We had four unconventional cookie cutters: a lobster, a dog bone, a high-heel shoe, and a martini glass. They all became formless blobs.) So we're pretty much just eating the cookies we made earlier this week, plus the ones Dave's mom sent. Thank goodness for moms!

Right now I'm sitting on the couch with the dogs in the early dawn light, looking at the blinking lights on our little Christmas tree, which we named Travis. Travis is a live tree, so when we're done with him we're going to plant him in the woods behind the apartment complex. (Apparently we have to wait until just before spring to do this, though, so hopefully he'll survive the winter indoors!)

As soon as Dave gets up we'll have presents, and then we'll just relax, walk the dogs and cook. The perfect day!

(Photo: The field behind the apartment, on Tuesday.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve


I resolved our mysterious Internet connection problem, so now we have more reliable Web access once again. It's amazing how frustrated, how hampered, I feel when I can't get online!

We're drowning in sweets here in New Jersey. We've made several different types of cookies, and Dave's mom sent a big box of sugary treats as well. My blood sugar levels are going to be insane for the next several weeks! We're finishing up our last batch of cookies today, and then we'll be working on Christmas Eve dinner (we're thinking the traditional fish) and Christmas dinner tomorrow. Every time I protest that I can't eat all this food, Dave says, "But it's Christmas!"

My cold seems to be dissipating, fortunately. I'm still a little congested but I feel much better than I did two days ago.

(Photo: Lexington Avenue, a couple of weeks ago.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Radclyffe Hall


My body's sense of timing is pretty terrible. Just a few days before Christmas, and I'm sick! I started with a very mild cold over the weekend, but this morning it feels like it might be morphing into something more like bronchitis. I may shuffle off to the doctor.

I'm back in the city today, running some errands. That's the only reason I'm able to make this blog post, as Dave's Internet connection is still out. We're trying to figure out what's wrong -- meanwhile, if I'm more quiet than usual on the Intertubes, that's why.

I'm just finishing "The Well of Loneliness" by Radclyffe Hall. It's a groundbreaking novel from 1928 about homosexuality, considered one of the high points of gay literature. It's intriguing and well written, though old-fashioned. So much of what still aggrieves the gay community -- a lack of ability to marry, a persistent belief among many straight people that being gay is a "choice" -- is present in this novel. There's also some unfortunately bad psychology: The main character is a lesbian whose parents wanted a boy, and in fact named her "Stephen," which of course perpetuates the tired idea that parents somehow cause homosexuality in a child. (Yet there are also strong assertions that gays are born that way, so maybe Hall was just trying to cover all her bases.)

From page 470: "As for those who were ashamed to declare themselves, lying low for the sake of a peaceful existence, she utterly despised such of them as had brains; they were traitors to themselves and their fellows, she insisted. For the sooner the world came to realize that fine brains very frequently went with (homosexuality), the sooner it would have to withdraw its ban, and the sooner would cease this persecution. Persecution was always a hideous thing, breeding hideous thoughts -- and such thoughts were dangerous."

(Photo: Barn, East Brunswick, NJ.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blizzard!


Well, there was mass panic about this weekend's heavy snowfall, but we managed to survive unscathed. All the blogs were joking that it was going to be "apocalyptic," but it turned out to be merely inconvenient. I think we got a little more than a foot of snow here in East Brunswick -- not nearly as much as some places to the south.

Dave and I stayed in all day Saturday, planning a Christmas baking spree and watching movies. The snow began falling about noon, I think, and it kept snowing through the night. By Sunday morning, when I took the dogs out early, it was up to their bellies. They leapt like deer through the drifts, which was pretty amusing to watch.

Late yesterday morning I began to get a little stir-crazy. I just couldn't handle any more television. So I borrowed a shovel from a neighbor and dug out the car, and drove off to the gym. Mind you, I have never shoveled snow before, nor driven in snow. So this was a first on two levels! I was pretty proud of myself for being so intrepid, and there were several other intrepid souls in the gym with me, so I wasn't the only one getting cabin fever.

After the gym I came home and we resumed our holiday baking (it's really Dave's baking). We made pfeffernussen, which is a kind of spicy cookie, and chocolate-covered nut clusters and candied citrus peel. We have some sugar cookies to make, too, which maybe we'll do today or tomorrow.


This photo gives a whole new meaning to getting snow on your TV screen!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

8. Not Engaging in Vain Talk


"Realizing detachment from arbitrary discrimination is called not engaging in vain talk; when one has fully comprehended the character of reality, one will not engage in vain talk.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you indulge in various kinds of vain talk, your mind will be disturbed. Even if you leave society you will still not attain liberation. Therefore you should immediately give up vain talk which disturbs the mind. If you want to attain bliss of tranquility and dispassion, you should extinguish the affliction of vain talk.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Chain link fence shadows on a bridge between Long Island City, Queens, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last weekend.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

7. Cultivating Wisdom


"Developing learning, thinking, and application, the realization is wisdom.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you have wisdom, you will have no greedy attachment. Always examine yourselves and do not allow any heedlessness. Then you will be able to attain liberation from ego and things. Otherwise, you are neither people of the Way nor laypeople -- there is no way to refer to you. True wisdom is a secure ship to cross the sea of aging, sickness and death. It is also a bright lamp in the darkness of ignorance, good medicine for all the ailing, a sharp axe to fell the trees of afflictions. Therefore you should use the wisdom of learning, thinking, and application, and increase it yourself. If anyone has the illumination of wisdom, this is a person with clear eyes, even though it be the mortal eye.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last weekend)

Friday, December 18, 2009

6. Cultivating Meditation Concentration


"Dwelling on the teaching without distraction is called meditation concentration.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you concentrate the mind, it will be in a state of stability and you will be able to know the characteristics of the phenomena arising and perishing in the world. Therefore you should energetically cultivate and learn the concentrations. If you attain concentration, your mind will not be distracted. Just as a household careful of water builds a dam, so does the practitioner, for the sake of the water of knowledge and wisdom, cultivate meditation concentration well, to prevent them from leaking.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Cold day, leaky faucet! East 30th Street, about a week ago)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ghost in the Machine


I've had a heck of a time getting on the Internet today. Dave has a wireless AT&T connection, and this morning I just couldn't get it to cooperate, using both my machine and his. Finally, just now, I got a reliable link. Not sure what that was about.

It's surprising how upsetting it can be to have something like a technical glitch derail my routines. I couldn't upload photos this morning or update my blog! (What was that again about not clinging?)

Last night, we went to a concert at the 92nd Street Y -- an oboe player named Maurice Bourgue and some colleagues gave a performance of several pieces by French composers. The Debussy (Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp) and Poulenc (Sonata for Oboe and Piano) were especially beautiful and moving. I found a series of much older pieces by Couperin to be a bit tedious, especially because they involved a harpsichord, which has never been my favorite instrument. (Dave wanted to go primarily to see the woodwinds.)

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holidays


I was up until 12:30 this morning defrosting my freezer. What's up with that?! Why am I the last person on the planet to own a freezer that requires defrosting? I have a miniature college-sized refrigerator, and it builds up ice like crazy. You should have seen the huge, Titanic-sinking bergs I took out of there.

Defrosting involves a lot of down time, which I spent combing through my earliest digital photos, from 2005 and 2006. I found a few old street art shots that I'd never posted to Flickr, and some other interesting stuff (like the shot above of a market in Greenwich Village, from February 2006). It's all up on Flickr now.

I mostly have the holidays under control, but only because I defaulted on nearly all my holiday responsibilities. I decided not to send cards -- thus saving both paper and postage -- and I'm buying extremely minimalist presents for just a few people. (Except Dave, who's getting a standard haul.) As I think I've mentioned before, I'm also not traveling this year, so I don't need to worry about getting myself to Florida and back as usual. Instead, I'm spending Christmas in New Jersey, which will be terrific.

Fortunately, my family tends toward minimalism over the holidays, so this isn't a huge departure. And Christmas cards, well, they just seem hopelessly outdated. They were once valuable for staying in touch with people who otherwise would vanish into the mists of time, and I sent them every year. But in this era of Facebook and e-mail, do we really need them? Methinks not.

Yesterday was my final day in the office. I'll continue to check my e-mail until the 31st, which is technically my final day of employment, but I'm pretty much done with work. So I'm going to spend more and more time in New Jersey, getting on with the next phase of my life.

5. Unfailing Recollection


"This is also called keeping right mindfulness; keeping the teachings without loss is called right mindfulness, and also called unfailing recollection.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you seek a good companion and seek a good protector and helper, nothing compares to unfailing recollection. Those who have unfailing recollection cannot be invaded by the thieving afflictions. Therefore you should concentrate your thoughts and keep mindful. One who loses mindfulness loses virtues. If one's power of mindfulness is strong, even if one enters among the thieving desires one will not be harmed by them. It is like going to the front lines wearing armor -- then one has nothing to fear.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Street art by Ohm, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Monday, December 14, 2009

4. Diligence


"Diligently cultivating virtues without interruption is called diligence, pure and unalloyed, advancing without regression.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you make diligent efforts, nothing is hard. Therefore you should be diligent. It is like even a small stream being able to pierce rock if it continually flows. If the practitioner's mind flags and gives up time and gain, that is like drilling for fire but stopping before fire is produced -- though you want to get fire, fire can hardly be gotten this way.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, December 2009)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe


I had an incredibly busy day yesterday. I went to the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Whitney Museum in the morning -- it's a show of her abstractions and, predictably, it's fascinating. I've been to so many Georgia O'Keeffe shows that I've seen several of the paintings repeatedly. It's a strange feeling to stand in front of "Music: Pink and Blue II" and think, "I stood in front if this very same painting in 1985 in Washington, D.C.!" Kind of like saying hello to an old friend.

Anyway, she is my favorite artist, and as always I enjoyed the richness of her color and her supple organic forms. Seeing a reprint of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting just doesn't do it justice. The colors are so deep and vibrant that they prompt despair for modern printing techniques -- all those gift cards, calendars, books and posters look sadly pale by comparison.

After the show I took myself to my local diner for brunch, then ran some errands and went out to Queens to do some photography. I hit a couple of graffiti spots, then walked into Brooklyn to my friend Kate's house. I had coffee with her and we had a wander around her Greenpoint neighborhood at dusk, where I got to experiment a bit more with my camera in low light conditions.

Finally I headed to my friend Dan's house in Sunnyside for his 39th birthday party, then after about an hour I hopped a subway, raced home and picked up a bag, and caught a train out to New Jersey where I am now. It's amazing how much ground you can cover with mass transit in the NYC metro area!

(Photo: Wall in the East Village, Nov. 2009)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

3. Enjoying Quietude


"Leaving the clamor and staying alone in deserted places is called enjoying quietude.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you wish to seek the peace and happiness of quietude and nonstriving, you should leave the clamor and live without clutter in a solitary place. People in quiet places are honored by the gods. Therefore you should leave your own group as well as other groups, stay alone in a deserted place, and think about extirpating the root of suffering. Those who like crowds suffer the vexations of crowds, just as a big tree will suffer withering and breakage when flocks of birds gather on it. Worldly ties and clinging sink you into a multitude of pains, like an old elephant sunk in the mud, unable to get itself out.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Shopping center parking lot, North Brunswick, N.J.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lobsters


Longtime blog readers will remember that I'm a fan of David Foster Wallace. Last March, I bought a copy of his book of essays, "Consider the Lobster," at my erstwhile employer's annual used book sale.

Having as usual a considerable backlog of reading material, I've only just now finally gotten around to Considering the Lobster. The title essay was prompted by an event called the Maine Lobster Festival that evidently involves tourists chowing down on hundreds of pounds of crustaceans in a huge tent. Wallace wrote about the festival but eventually moved on to a more salient issue: Do lobsters, when being boiled, feel pain?

As a longtime voice for lobster liberation, I'm really into this topic. Wallace ultimately contends that we just can't be sure. Some people say lobsters don't have the neural development to feel pain like people or higher animals; others say they do, and anyway, how can we possibly know, without the power to project ourselves into a lobster's body in time to endure its final moments?

Wallace says a lobster's neurology lacks the ability to produce endorphins and other chemicals that mitigate pain in mammals. This could mean either that lobsters don't feel pain and thus never needed those chemicals, or that they feel even more pain than mammals would.

He also points out that lobsters do appear to struggle when they're boiled, clanking against the sides of the pot, and that marine researchers say they take up to 45 seconds to die in boiling water. The fact that they struggle seems to suggest pretty strongly that they're hurting, though some people argue their movements are involuntary and reflexive. (He also says quickly plunging a knife into their heads, a supposedly merciful method of killing them before boiling, doesn't completely disable their neural circuitry.)

He continues:

"In any event, at the (Maine Lobster Festival), standing by the bubbling tanks outside the World's Largest Lobster Cooker, watching the fresh-caught lobsters pile over one another, wave their hobbled claws impotently, huddle in the rear corners, or scrabble frantically back from the glass as you approach, it is difficult not to sense that they're unhappy, or frightened, even if it's some rudimentary version of these feelings...and again, why does rudimentariness even enter into it? Why is a primitive, inarticulate form of suffering less urgent or uncomfortable for the person who's helping to inflict it by paying for the food it results in?"

Thus, in considering the lobster, I'm even more certain I don't want to eat one anytime soon. I eat chickens, I eat fish, I've even lately eaten beef and pork. But there's something about a lowly lobster that seems especially forlorn to me. I can't pretend that contradiction makes sense, but there it is.

(Photo: Lobster street art in the East Village, September 2008)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interlude


Typing the title for this post reminds me that when I was a kid, the public television station in Tampa used to broadcast what it called a "musical interlude." My brother and I would be waiting for Sesame Street or The Electric Company to start, and there would be a black slide with multicolored instruments displayed on the screen with those words, and tinny music coming from the speaker. I guess they did it to fill time between shows. Seems pretty old-fashioned, doesn't it?

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed the excerpts from Dogen's "Eight Awarenesses of Great People" the past few days. I plan to post all eight of them. I've always found this essay inspiring and motivating.

I've returned to slightly more active practice this week, after watching the beautiful movie "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring" over the weekend. I saw it in the theater years ago, and I wanted to show it to Dave, because I thought it might help him (and me!) understand some things about Buddhism. (I say "slightly" more active practice because, while I've been reading about Buddhism a bit more and trying to be more mindful of my day-to-day reality -- walking more slowly, being more observant -- I still haven't returned to sitting.)

People often ask what Buddhism is about, and I've been taught that it can never truly be described -- only practiced. The minute someone tries to describe and define it, they've destroyed it. Dogen, however, manages to define some of its essential qualities in a way that makes me want to practice more diligently.

Practicing, however, did not stop me from having a fantastic gin & tonic when I got to Dave's last night! I took the bus from the city and then walked from the bus stop to his apartment -- it's a longer walk than would be practical every day (about 40 minutes) but it's manageable when he's tied up and can't get me with the car. I'm here to see a holiday concert tonight where he performs with handbells. Should be fun!

(Photo: PetSmart, North Brunswick, New Jersey.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2. Being Content


"To take what one has got within bounds is called being content.

"Buddha said, 'O monks, if you want to shed afflictions, you should observe contentment. The state of contentment is the abode of prosperity and happiness, peace and tranquility. Those who are content may sleep on the ground and still consider it comfortable; those who are not content would be dissatisfied even in heaven. Those who are not content are always caught up in sensual desires; they are pitied by those who are content.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Abandoned gas station, East Brunswick, New Jersey.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

1. Having Few Desires


"Not extensively seeking objects of desire not yet attained is called having few desires.

"Buddha said, 'You monks should know that people with many desires seek to gain a lot, and therefore their afflictions are also many. Those with few desires have no seeking and no craving, so they don't have this problem. You should cultivate having few desires even for this reason alone, to say nothing of the fact that having few desires can produce virtues. People with few desires are free from flattery and deviousness whereby they might seek to curry people's favor, and they also are not under the compulsion of their senses. Those who act with few desires are calm, without worry or fear. Whatever the situation, there is more than enough -- there is never insufficiency. Those who have few desires have nirvana.' "

(From "The Eight Awarenesses of Great People," translated by Thomas Cleary in "Shobogenzo: Zen essays by Dogen.")

(Photo: Edison, New Jersey.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Silent Night


I was thinking on the bus this morning, as I rode back from New Jersey, about the bizarre tradition of Christmas caroling.

Doesn't it seem kind of strange that people once gathered in groups and walked around their neighborhoods singing Christmas songs on one another's front lawns? It's sweet and unbelievable, like Laura Ingalls being happy with a penny in her Christmas stocking, or someone baking a welcoming pie for a new next-door neighbor.

I guess it used to happen somewhere, and thus passed into popular folklore. But I don't think I ever caroled when I was a kid, except at church. I don't remember walking around my own neighborhood and singing. I dread to think how it would have been received -- I suspect some neighbors would have shot at me.

Does caroling still happen anywhere? Are any of my blog readers on the receiving or giving end of neighborhood door-to-door Christmas carols?

My guess is, the predominance of caroling has been grossly exaggerated. It probably was never very popular in most cities and towns, except tiny burgs where everyone knew each other. Otherwise, how would carolers know which houses to skip -- the Jews, the Muslims, the Jehovah's Witnesses and any others who didn't celebrate Christmas? (Or would they have simply sung there anyway, in an admirably secular good-will-towards-man spirit -- in which case one would hope the receiving family didn't mind?)

I read an article a few months ago about the world population, written by a woman in her 70s (as I recall). I've been unable to remember where I read it or who wrote it, but I remember her saying that the world, with all its teeming people, feels different today than it did even when she was a girl. She believes herself lucky to have felt a sense of spaciousness that came with a less-populated planet.

Door-to-door caroling, when it occurred at all, must have taken place in that more spacious time, among small groups of very settled people who lived around each other for years and years. Are there any neighborhoods like that left now?

And if not, do we mind that caroling has waned? (At the risk of sounding Scroogey, I'm not too concerned.)

(Photo: Homeless man with Gusto graffiti, East Village.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Snow


We did indeed get a slushy first snow yesterday afternoon. Fortunately I had nowhere to go so I could watch it from the safety and security of the warm apartment. Poor Dave spent the afternoon in a football stadium, at the last of his marching band performances -- not a good day to be sitting on cold aluminum bleachers! He was miserable by the time he got home.

We had a friend over last night and ordered some Chinese, which was a nice conclusion to my day of reading, the gym and some errands.

I'm still waiting for the details of my severance package to be worked out at the office. I really want to break away from there completely, but I can't yet because my boss and I have to hammer this out with the corporate lawyers. (They made an initial offer, but it all needs to be negotiated.) Thus, I'm in a weird limbo period, which is weighing on my mind a bit. I plan to be back in the office tomorrow. Ugh.

(Photo: First snow in the field behind Dave's apartment. Click the photo to see the "action.")

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Coins


In case you were wondering, yesterday’s entry was the result of learning how to use Dave’s scanner. It won’t become standard fare for my blog! I clipped the cartoon a few weeks ago because I loved its absurdity and it’s been hanging on Dave’s fridge ever since.

I’m staying in East Brunswick this weekend, being super domestic. I got out yesterday while Dave was at school and shot some interesting graffiti, but for the most part I’m hanging around the house -- walking with the dogs, cleaning, watching TV, reading. I guess this will be my life for the next few months at least. I’m a little worried about how well I’ll adapt to having all this down time, but I think I’m pretty good at entertaining myself and coming up with projects.

(Yesterday, for example, I went to the bank and got coin rollers, and rolled Dave’s bowl of spare change. I really am insane!)

I am going to develop some writing projects to help pass the time and keep my skills honed. I’m not sure yet what form they’ll take, but I may even try my hand at some fiction, which I haven’t written since college.

On the slate this weekend is buying a Christmas tree, although we’re supposed to get a wet and slushy load of snow this afternoon -- the first of the season.

(Photo: Hot dog truck, Old Bridge, N.J.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanks, Phyllis!


I've been gradually adapting to the idea of being jobless. My initial panic has subsided and I'm now in a "this might not be so bad after all" mode. As I've said before, I have enough cushion to live for a while -- so why not take a bit of a break?

My coworkers have responded in a variety of ways. The best response so far came from a woman named Phyllis who works on our floor. I've known her the whole time I've worked here and she knows my boss even better, but I wouldn't say she's a close friend -- more of a colleague. So it surprised me when she asked to take us to lunch on Tuesday, and proceeded to treat us to a truly memorable meal!

We went to Marseille, a French place on Ninth Avenue. Phyllis suggested cocktails right away, and we all got martinis. Then she generously suggested everything from appetizers to desserts, as well as a second round of drinks. We finished lunch THREE HOURS later!

To make the day even more memorable, Glenn Close was sitting across the restaurant from us. We didn't speak to her, of course, but celebrity sightings always liven things up. (Wonder if the restaurant serves rabbit?)

I am so impressed with Phyllis' generosity and kindness. When I first started work in New York about ten years ago, we had luxurious meals with our senior editors every once in a while. But as the company began trimming expenses, those little luxuries vanished. It was great to revisit the old days -- too bad it wasn't once again at company expense!

(Photo: Gramercy Park at night, looking toward Irving Place and the Con-Edison building.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Viewless


For a couple of months I've heard all sorts of banging and grinding coming from East 30th Street, the next block up from my apartment. From my window I could see that two buildings were being renovated, and a big scaffold was erected in front of a third building in preparation for some kind of project.

I didn't think much of it. Renovation in New York City is pretty much a constant process, after all.

But last night I learned that the latter building is actually being demolished entirely -- and a new, 11-story structure will take its place. (With 11 apartments -- must be nice to have a whole floor to yourself!)

Unfortunately, this new structure will rise directly in front of my celebrated view of the Empire State Building (which I've depicted here, here and here). Sometime early next year, my view will be no more. Well, I'll still have my courtyard and my horse chestnut tree -- at least for now -- but the view that actually prompted me to buy my apartment in the first place will be gone.

I'm sorry to see it go, but there's nothing I can do about it. That's just the way things go in the city. Besides, I've been lucky enough to enjoy that view for more than seven years, so I can't really complain.

My friends see this as yet another sign that it may be time for me to leave New York behind. I don't disagree. I swear, between my cat, my job and this, I've never received such loud and clear signals from the Universe before!

(Photo: This is not the view from my apartment -- just another random shot of the Empire State Building. I didn't have another photo taken from my window. But you can see the ESB from that angle by clicking the links above.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bloke


I found this during my recent romp through the swamps of Secaucus. The street artist Bloke often depicts paper airplanes, and this is a particularly colorful example. Too bad it's on the underside of a railway trestle where none of the passengers can see it! (Observant motorists can see it from the New Jersey Turnpike, though.)