Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mercer Street, January 2007

Washington Square Village is a housing complex operated by New York University. Despite the quaint "village" name, it's really a couple of large apartment buildings surrounded by a garden and some playgrounds. These brick walls separate parts of the garden and play areas along Mercer Street.

The walls were originally built using colorful glazed brick that apparently deteriorated over time. At some point, someone decided to remedy the problem by covering up all the shiny, colorful brick with institutional green paint. (This is called "making things worse.")

Fortunately, though, the paint isn't doing its job very well. The colorful bricks are re-emerging.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lexington Avenue, January 2007

One of the senior students at the Zen center gave a talk on Sunday about trust, and it seemed to relate directly to what I'd written that day about blogging. She talked about how difficult trust could be - even trusting yourself. I mentioned in my blogging post that I sometimes over-edit my writing, and that's exactly where that impulse comes from. Most writers can probably identify with it. It's fundamentally a lack of trust in my own voice.

Blogs are a little dangerous because there's no deadline, and no one to take the story away. You can keep writing and rewriting and massaging and tweaking all day long if you want to. If you don't learn to trust yourself you can make yourself crazy trying to get it "just right."

I'm sometimes guilty of this. I post every morning when I first get up, but I've been known to go back a couple of times during the day and tweak things here or there. It's silly. Instead, I'd like to learn to trust what I created in the moment I wrote it, because it grew out of that moment, and what I was thinking and feeling at the time. It's authentic.

In news reporting, we always say you have to know when to let go of the story. After you've written it, crafted and polished it, you have to turn it in and be done with it. Blogs are the same way. At some point, you just have to let go, and trust yourself.

My friend at the Zen center closed her talk with some lines from Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem," which summed things up perfectly:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Madison Avenue, February 2007

When people think of Madison Avenue, they think of advertising - part of the religion of the dollar, I suppose. But conventional religion is there too. The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation at 35th Street casts a dramatic shadow on a nearby office building.

I went to my friend Jan's last night to watch the Oscars. I think the only contender for Best Picture I hadn't seen was "The Departed" - and look what won. So now I'll be trekking to the theater with a zillion other people. And poor Peter O'Toole! I loved Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland," and I didn't even see "Venus," but c'mon - Peter O'Toole needs an Oscar. This Susan-Lucci-type taunting has gone on long enough.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thompson Street, Sept. 2006

If you know Arabic, or if you know anyone who does, please help me figure out what this says. I see it all over town, and even though I know a little Arabic, I can't figure it out. Maybe it's a name and not a word. In any case, leave me a comment if you can help clear up the mystery!

A week or so ago I mentioned that I'm supposed to give my cat medicine for her thyroid condition. What an ordeal! She's a feisty animal, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get a pill down her throat, so the vet gave me her medicine as a liquid compound. (Tuna flavored!) She still fights like crazy, however, if I try to squirt it in her mouth.

Remember the old Aesop's Fable about the sun and wind competing to get the man to take off his coat? The wind blows and blows but the man just wraps up tighter, while the sun merely shines on him and he takes it off. The moral: persuasion is better than force.

That's the method I'm using with the cat. I dribble her medicine onto some Fancy Feast (Grilled Ocean Whitefish and Tuna Feast with Gravy, to be exact) and she eats it right up. Victory is mine!

Thoughts on blogging

I started this blog eight months ago, and it’s been fun watching it evolve. It really does feel like a living organism. Every day, even though I’m nominally in control of it, I’m never sure what it’s going to do.

Some days I get a surprise, like when a cool blog called the Gowanus Lounge recently linked to some of my Brooklyn photos, driving up the ol’ site traffic to an all-time high. More than 40 visitors in a day! Woo hoo! (My expectations are not grandiose...)

Some days I surprise myself with what I decide to write. And that can work both ways- some days, what I write makes me cringe.

I’m learning not to try to control the blog too much. My least successful posts, I think, are those that have been so tightly edited and pruned back that they can’t just unwind naturally. They have no air.

When I started this blog, I intended it to be very minimalist, and all about the photos. I didn’t want to write much. I figured, “Who would care about my life?”

But I think I misunderstood the appeal of blogs. If someone’s reading your blog, they WANT to know about you. They want to get a sense of your life and your outlook. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go nuts on writing - judicious editing is always a good thing. But I’m going to try to hold less back, maybe be a little less formal.

Still, I was trained as a journalist, and the matter-of-fact tone in my writing stems from that training. I was taught not to embellish or use too much voice. Just the facts, ma’am.

Speaking of journalism, you may have noticed that I haven’t ventured into politics. Well, that’s because I still work as a journalist, and a cardinal rule of my trade is that we don’t publicly discuss our political outlook. You can debate the wisdom of this high and low, but the feeling is that revealing our personal perspectives may create perceptions of bias in our journalism.

That’s also why I never mention the name of my employer. (Not that it would be all that hard to figure out, for anyone who’s determined.)

My site meter, which counts visitors to the blog, is both a blessing and a curse. It’s fun to see how many people have checked in, and what kind of crazy Google searches have led people here. But it can be dispiriting to check it at 6 p.m. and find you’ve had seven visitors all day.

I’ve considered taking the meter down. I haven’t done it yet, but really, I would write this even if no one stopped by. I’ve kept a journal for years and years, and this is just an online extension of that longtime practice. That’s why I’m so diligent about posting every day - I’m used to it.

The photography has been all I hoped it would be. It’s got me noticing things, paying attention, trying new stuff all the time. And I enjoy exploring the intersection of my photos, my Zen practice and my love of New York City, which I continue to see as my three dominant themes.

So, that’s where I stand on blogging. I have no plans to stop. Stick around!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gansevoort Street, February 2007

I found this curious tableau on the sidewalk in the trendy Meatpacking District. The palm trees probably got evicted from a restaurant or nightclub, and were left to perish alongside the street art. They still give off a tropical air, despite the snow on the ground, don't they? Street artists represented behind them, left to right, include Royce Bannon (red & green), Flower Face Killah (pink), Michael deFeo (white portrait) and Stickman (small orange figure). I'm not sure who's responsible for the Godzilla creature, but you may remember I've featured one before. You can see the latter four in more detail below.

I had fun last night. First, I went for my semi-annual massage, which I would do much more frequently if I could afford it. (One problem: They always ask which kind I want, and I can never remember, so I say "Swedish," and then about halfway through the massage I remember that it's "Deep Tissue" I really like. Oh well. Swedish certainly ain't bad.)

Then I went out with friends to an Italian pastry place in the Village. I ordered one called a "French Lulu" - isn't that a great name? You'd order one too, right? Well, the pastry was a bit much: A big glop of cream surrounded by pastry shell and sprinkled with cocoa powder and...something else, which I can't remember. I'm still feeling a little green. But I readily ate the whole thing.

Did you hear our latest wildlife story? We've got a beaver living in the Bronx. Someone found the lodge, and the animal itself has been photographed swimming in the Bronx River. (Bleah.) I love these wildlife-in-New-York stories. We've had a wild turkey in Morningside Park, a coyote in Central Park, and a moose in Westchester. Now this!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Empire State Building, February 2007

New Yorkers always make fun of people who walk around the city looking up. It’s a kind of snobbery, a way to differentiate ourselves from tourists and gawkers. But looking up can be just as valuable as looking down.

With the temperatures easing the last two days, I’ve finally been able to walk to and from work. Our soot-black snow is almost entirely melted, the streets puddled with water and dark silt. We even got a little rain yesterday afternoon to help wash things clean.

My path to the office takes me basically right beneath the Empire State Building. Whether I walk up Broadway or Fifth Avenue, and regardless of which side streets I choose, I’m zigzagging around the omnipresent monolith.

Every once in a while, I like to look up, to see the spire in a cloud or standing clear above the lower rooftops. The view above is from Broadway, around 32nd Street.

It’s already dark by the time I walk home at 6:30 or so. On Wednesday evening, the ESB was backed by a small sliver of moon. The colored lights at the top change regularly, depending on the holiday or the time of year. Right now, they’re red, white and blue for Presidents’ Day. (The building’s Web site provides a guide to the lights.)

I stopped several times on Fifth Avenue, looking up, with camera in hand, before taking this photo. I don’t much care if people think I’m a tourist. After all, tourists see things with fresh eyes, and aren't weary of the spectacular.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

W. 56th Street, February 2007

Today's post is especially for my blogging friend JDZS in Seattle, not only because this mural looks vaguely Northwestern, but because JDZS had his own experience recently with an urban eagle. As I was walking along 56th Street on Saturday, I saw the eagle in this mural, appearing to land on that shadow of a branch, and it instantly brought Jeffrey's eagle to mind.

There's actually a lot of other wildlife in this mural, too, including...

...a bright cardinal...

...a timid rabbit...

...and a freaked-out deer.

I especially like the cardinal, which seems very Zen-like: Just a few simple strokes, yet so detailed! There were also ducks, a bear, and other birds, including a blue jay.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Brooklyn Heights, February 2007

Brooklyn Heights is right on the water, with Manhattan's towering financial district just across the harbor. It's a beautiful neighborhood with amazing views, full of elegant apartment buildings and brownstone townhouses with careful detailing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sackett Street, Brooklyn, February 2007

I visited some acquaintances in Brooklyn Heights the weekend before last, and as I was getting ready to leave their house, I asked them how to get to Red Hook.

“Well, you can take the B61 bus down Van Brunt Street,” they said. But I said I didn’t want to take the bus. I wanted to walk.

They looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

“You can’t walk to Red Hook! It would take, what, two hours?” They looked at each other blankly, clearly having never done it themselves.

I set out on foot anyway. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people often make walking sound far more impossible than it actually is.

Another friend walked part of the way with me, until we reached his street. But as he turned toward his house, he also suggested I try to catch the B61.

I don’t like buses in New York. They are agonizingly slow, often outpaced by pedestrians on the sidewalk. Also, you can’t take photos from a moving bus.

So I kept walking, going as far as Sackett Street, somewhere in the border territory between Cobble Hill and Red Hook. It wasn’t that far of a walk - more like 20 minutes than two hours - but I still wasn’t sure how far I was from Red Hook proper. And I hadn’t seen much to photograph.

Just as I was beginning to doubt my plan, the B61 came rumbling down the street.

Oh, what the hell, I thought. I got on.

But of course, literally seconds after I boarded the bus and sat down, we passed this terrific red wall, stenciled with art and blasted with a vascular-looking shadow. I couldn’t believe my bad luck.

I rode along slowly, wondering what to do. I didn’t want to look totally clueless and make the bus stop immediately so I could disembark. These people were all trying to get somewhere, after all. I resolved to wait until the next stop.

Fortunately, fate worked with me. There was a tremendous backup of traffic on Van Brunt Street. That bus wasn’t going anywhere. So I waited a few minutes and then climbed back off. Blame it on the traffic.

I high-tailed it back to Sackett Street - all of three blocks away by this time - and took my photos. I resolved not to board a bus again, and found Red Hook easily walkable and ripe for photography.

I don’t recognize her, do you?

Monday, February 19, 2007

DeWitt Clinton Park, February 2007

One of the areas I visited during my rambling on Saturday was DeWitt Clinton Park, near the Hudson River at 54th Street and 11th Avenue. It's named after a former senator and mayor of New York from the period soon after the Revolutionary War.

In fact, this entire neighborhood has been rebranded as Clinton in recent decades, probably by real estate brokers who feared it would be tough to sell apartments in Hell's Kitchen. (They obviously did not understand the youthful tendency to embrace unpleasant terms with irony.) Anyway, most New Yorkers still use the old name. I never hear anyone call it Clinton.

These traffic cones were huddled in the middle of the baseball field, as if trying to ward off the cold. (And with the wind off the river, it WAS cold.)

The park has a nice view toward Midtown. The snow had melted just a bit and then refrozen, so it was hard as a rock. I could walk across it and barely leave a footprint. The footprints that were there must have come from an earlier time, when the snow was softer.

The stadium lights cast huge shadows that looked something like a black-and-white game of "Twister" - which, admittedly, would be hard to play.

The landscaping featured hilariously explicit signs: "Please do not allow your dog to urinate on the garden." Usually New Yorkers favor the much more discreet phrase, "Please curb your dog." I guess in this case, someone thought that would be too vague. After all, subtlety sometimes breeds confusion.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Revisitation No. 3

I took this on Friday - it's actually a photo of what's NOT there. (Click here to see what I mean.)

Yesterday was exactly as I hoped it would be. I got out in the morning and did some photography, then came back and cleaned my house, petted my cat, did some reading, ran some errands and generally caught up on things. It's a great feeling!

I had lunch yesterday at Chipotle on 34th Street, and as I sat in the window eating my chicken burrito, I noticed a penny lying outside on the sidewalk. (You know how I am about pennies.) So I watched to see if anyone would notice it, and of the 100 people who passed that penny while I sat there, no one gave it a glance. I don't think they ignored it; I think they didn't even see it.

I picked it up on my way out.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Astoria, Queens, January 2007

I am launching into this weekend with a burden lifted! Every February I have a task to complete at work that I find really tedious. (It involves making a poster recognizing the recipients of editorial awards we've handed out during the past year - trust me, you don't want to know, and it bores me even to write about it.) I've been dreading it for a while, but I couldn't start it until this week, when the last of those contests concluded.

Finally, yesterday I dug right into it and stayed late and got the bulk of it done. Funny how once I decided to do it, it didn't take very long at all. My dread had turned it into more than it really was. What a great feeling, to know there's light at the end of the tunnel, and it's mostly behind me for another year!

The other great thing about this weekend is that I have NOTHING planned. I can't remember the last time that happened. I'm going to stay home and clean my house and pet my nervous, hyperthyroid cat and maybe get out and take some pictures.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Roosters, Williamsburg Bridge, Sept. 2006

These crowing roosters are common in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. I took all these shots in the vicinity of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Usually they're on a wall...

And occasionally they're on the ground.

I especially like this one, on the sign at the entrance to the bridge. It morphs and changes color every so often, given that this is a popular graffiti spot. If you look closely you can see the dignified raised lettering of the bronze sign, beneath all the paint.

Cat update: You may remember I took my cat to the vet the other day because she's been losing weight. The good news is, she doesn't have anything rare, exotic or imminently dangerous. The bad news is, she has hyperthyroid, which must be treated. In the short term I have to medicate her (this should be fun!). In the long term she needs either surgery to remove her thyroid, or a minimally invasive but expensive-as-hell treatment called "Radio Cat," which involves implanting a pellet of radioactive material near the thyroid to destroy the overactive tissue. (This is similar to the way prostate disease is treated in men.) I'm leaning toward the latter, despite the cost, which is so embarrassing I can't even tell you about it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bowery, October 2006

I’m so stupid! I should have used this photo yesterday! Oh well...better late than never. It’s a sincere message to all my blog readers, particularly if Valentine’s Day wasn’t really on your radar, as it wasn’t on mine. (More “I love you” graffiti here.)

Speaking of which, I didn't explain why I posted that personal ad yesterday. I thought it was a great little minimalist short story - two lines with a bit of mystery. Did Faye dump Julian? Or have they been married 50 years and he asks her every year? What do you think?

The weather yesterday was what forecasters, using a term I love, call “wintry mix.” (Doesn’t it sound like a minty ingredient in a frozen drink?) It’s part snow, part sleet, part rain - a slushy concoction that accumulates in big puddles at the street corners. You have to leap like an acrobat to preserve your shoes.

Last night, my downstairs neighbor was making an inordinate amount of noise, playing music and guffawing uproariously with a visiting friend. I had to laugh, thinking about my post yesterday extolling the joys of ambient sound. I take it all back! (Well, maybe not ALL of it.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Upper East Side, January 2007

I liked the subtlety of this shadow, created by a reflection in the big blank doorway.

Advertisement on the front page of today's New York Times: "Faye, I love you now and always. Please be my Valentine again. Julian."

That's entertainment

I read an article Monday about a man who paid $25,000 for an entertainment system in the cab of his pickup truck, including a DVD player and surround sound system with a 10.5-inch screen, two subwoofers and nine speakers.

The screen is mounted in the dashboard.

Aside from the obvious folly here, it’s interesting how far some people will go to remain entertained. As a society, we’re scared to death of having nothing to do. Even driving the freeway isn’t enough to merit our full attention.

While we’re out and about, we scroll the Internet on our Blackberries and play games on our cell phones. We can’t sit in an airport waiting area without a television blabbering overhead. (I’ve tried to move away from them. It’s impossible. They’re everywhere.)

When I get on the subway, I often find everyone lined up on the seats with little white earphones in their ears, a veritable platoon of iPods. They’re all sealed inside their own little worlds, being entertained.

Until a few years ago, I did the same thing. I was always plugged into earphones as I walked around town or rode mass transit.

But I began to get uncomfortable with not hearing what was going on around me. It started with security - I wanted to know if someone was walking behind me or ringing a bicycle bell. Then I gradually realized I just didn’t like being disconnected from external sounds.

Granted, they weren’t all pleasant sounds: the rattle and screech of the train wheels, the mumbling of the homeless man, the aluminum can rolling back and forth across the floor of the train car. But why should I seal them out?

Some people on the subway do double-time on entertainment. While listening to their iPod, they read a book. I don’t know how they do it.

Now, I really like my music, and at home, my CD player is often on. But that doesn't keep me from hearing the meowing cat, the rain on the window, even the clunky footsteps of my upstairs neighbor.

When my grandfather was dying in a hospital outside Washington, D.C., in 1977, he told my grandmother that he missed being at home, where he could hear the apples falling from the tree in the backyard.

How many of us are too busy being entertained to hear the apples fall? What sounds will we miss when our time is running out?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ludlow Street, February 2007

Here's some freaky artwork by the Australian street artist Anthony Lister that recently went up on the Lower East Side. I love the added chaos of all those trash bags, and the fact that they're color-coordinated with the art.

Jake Dobkin at BlueJake had a recent photo of Lister actually painting this wall.

My cat doesn't know it yet, but she's going back to the vet this morning for her check-up. You may remember that we went more than a week ago, but she was such a hellion they said I'd have to bring her back when she could be sedated for an exam. I had to postpone our first appointment, so today is the day. Because of the sedative I couldn't feed her last night, and now she's complaining. I feel so guilty!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Red Hook, Brooklyn, February 2007

Done with your coffee? Don't worry about throwing the cup away - just stick it in the fence!

These are more of our traditional New York coffee cups. Starbucks has not yet invaded Red Hook, a rather remote part of Brooklyn where I went walking yesterday. Lots of great photos to be had there!


I was on retreat with my zen group on Saturday, and I found myself once again face to face with “shoulds.”

I should know more about zen liturgy and teachings by the old masters. I should sit more frequently, with stronger intention. I should, I should, I should.

You may recall this theme came up for me at our Winter Sesshin, over New Year’s. Part of what sparks these feelings is my participation in our services - I’m always a little doubtful about when to hit the bell or when to stand and bow. I SHOULD know all that stuff by now.

Despite the fact that I keep confronting this feeling, I’m getting much better at just letting things happen. I got assigned a new task for Saturday’s service - one I’d never been trained for - involving ringing the bell for the service entrance. It’s not just a matter of ringing “dingalingaling” - there are several bells in a specific pattern and sequence. A year or two ago it would have tied me in knots. But this time, I just rolled with it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what it was.

As I was later reminded, the “right” way to do something, the “perfect” way, doesn’t really exist. It’s a fabrication of our minds. In reality, there are all sorts of forces and influences that affect the performance of any task, and the trick is to be open to the flow of all those forces coming together.

That doesn’t mean you don’t try. But you don’t get upset when things take an unexpected turn. You don’t get attached to the “perfect” result.

One of the teachers gave a talk about intention. The most intent zen practitioners, he said, are not necessarily the ones who know all the history and masters and are the quickest or cleverest. They’re the “donkeys,” who butt their heads against the wall day after day, too unknowing to stop but eventually caving in the bricks with stubborn persistence.

I am a chronically idealistic person. I have very clear ideas about the way things “should” be - my job, my relationships, my practice, even my blog. So it’s healthy to be reminded that all these ideas are just that - ideas. They are not reality.

Reality is that occasionally I’ll get angry at friends or family members, or I’ll get behind on a project at work, or I’ll ring the bell at the wrong time, or I’ll write something on my blog that later prompts me to say, “What was I thinking?”

Reality is what happens. The trick is to be open to it, and let it carry you. You can try to steer your canoe - but the real power is with the river.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Revisitation No. 2

When I took a photo of this wall last summer, it was all sun-warmed brick. Now it's in perpetual shadow, the only sunlight reflected from the windows of my apartment building.

I'm not sure when that tree was planted, but as you can see, it's not in the old shot. (Funny how I live right across the street from this wall, yet didn't notice that tree's apearance.)

I like the patterns of three in this shot: The three windows, the three horizontal bands of concrete, and the three clusters of three reflections each.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Revisitation No. 1

This photo is a little nondescript, but I'm posting it for a reason. I shot this same wall last summer, and I thought the contrast between the two photos was amazing. This one really shows the bleakness of winter - the thin, pale light, the lack of greenery.

This one, with its rich colors and all the plants, looks like an entirely different place. But you can see from the graffiti on the planters that it's the same spot.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Second Avenue, December 2006

Haven't we all had days like this, when we just want to scrawl "rage" (or "rager"?) in big red letters on a nice white wall?

My office was abuzz yesterday with the news about Anna Nicole Smith. I never saw her TV show or had much interest in her - she always seemed a little "too much" to be truly attractive, and she was a magnet for disaster, some of her own making. Still, you can't help but feel bad for her. She's a lesser version of Marilyn Monroe, a person whose outward beauty was no match for inner demons and bad judgement.

On a related note, my Newsweek magazine arrived on Monday with a big photo of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton on the cover. Can you believe it? Newsweek magazine! Is there nothing more important going on in the world? Ostensibly the article is about children and values, but I think it's more about Newsweek's attempt to cash in on our celebrity-crazed culture.

(And now, I'm going to take it to the gym and read EVERY WORD.)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Looking down

When I first moved to New York, I noticed a lot of loose change lying around on the sidewalks. Definitely more than I ever saw in Florida. I guess it’s because New York has so many pedestrians, all continually fumbling for cell phones and Metro cards and knocking the change out of their pockets. (In Florida, it all falls under their car seats.)

I began playing a game: Every day, I would find one penny. It was a personal challenge. If I found more, great, but I had to find at least one.

I kept it up for maybe a month, and I didn’t fail often. But it ceased to be fun because I'd turned it into a chore. On days when those stubborn pennies didn’t readily materialize, I spent all my time looking at the ground, and the element of the lucky accident was gone.

I don’t search for pennies now, but I still almost never pass one up when I see it. My friends would say this is because I’m a tightwad - and, O.K., I am a tightwad. I admit it.

But honestly, that’s not the reason. Instead, it’s a kind of superstition, a mistrust of the arrogance involved in bypassing the penny. Someday I may really need that penny. Someday, it could make a difference.

I also like finding value in something that most people just find annoying. It’s kind of mind-boggling to me that a lot of people think of pennies as, essentially, trash. They wouldn’t pick one up any more than they’d pick up a gum wrapper. Do I have to point out that pennies add up to dollars?

Now, photography has given me another reason to pay attention to sidewalks. I tend to focus more on walls, but every once in a while, I see a great shadow splashed across the pavement in front of my wandering feet.

And that’s worth even more than a penny.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Lower East Side, October 2006

The stenciled bee, as well as the “323,” are common graffiti. You may remember the “323” tag from this photo.

I remember being hot when I took this photo last fall. It’s hard to imagine now, with the frigid wind burning my face every time I step outside.

Here, as in much of the country, the cold has been especially dramatic the last few days. I can wear three or four layers beneath my coat and I’m still chilled by the time I get to my office in the morning.

And even there, in a heated room, the cold is with me. Outside my office window are two or three wooden water tanks, standing on the roofs of nearby buildings. These perpetually leaky tanks have formed huge stalactites of ice, and periodically through the day, a dagger will break off and fall five or six stories to a lower rooftop. I’ll be working at my computer and hearing those thunderous, shattering sounds. Kind of surreal.

As miserable as it is, I like the cold in some ways. The sky is crystal clear, the air thin. Everything seems purified. And its sheer, bitter intensity demands attention -- when you’re outside, your mind can’t wander. You’re with the cold every step of the way, breathing it in, warming it, exhaling clouds like a dragon.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

East Village, February 2007

Sometimes when I'm out walking around, I'll see something that I think might make a good photo. I'll take a couple of shots, trying different angles - but if I have to try too hard, I often go away unsatisfied and I wind up throwing it out.

On the other hand, when I see something like this - a simple composition, but one I don't doubt - all I need to do is take one frame and I know I've got it. So much of photography is pure instinct, trusting your responses.

I had an interesting outing with my friend David on Sunday night - we went to see Kiki and Herb, a legendary drag act, and one that transcends the catty nature of most drag acts. I don't love drag performances in general, with their mean-spiritedness and strenuous attempts to be clever. But Kiki and Herb are different.

Kiki is the drag persona of Justin Bond. She's a boozy, aging cabaret singer who specializes in bizarre covers of songs you've probably never heard covered. (On Sunday, for example, she did Melanie's "Momma Momma," which I've never heard any other singer attempt.) Accompanied by her brilliant pianist Herb (Kenny Mellman), she manages to create a sort of weary, dark elegance with her wild hair and laborious vocals. It's a drag show with depth. I was amazed at how much I liked it.

See them performing Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" here.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Bowery, February 2007

Here's something new - my very own video! This building is going up at 235 Bowery, at Prince Street, and it's sheathed in drifting white tarpaulins. On windy days these tarps billow like ships' rigging (not that I've ever been on a ship with rigging), making the entire structure seem as ghostly as The Flying Dutchman, endlessly sailing the seas. This building probably will not endlessly sail the Bowery - I'm sure it will be finished soon enough. No one ever lets real estate languish in this town!

I initially took some still photos of the building, but that just didn't cut it. They didn't capture the beauty of the motion of those tarps. So I switched to the seldom-used video function on my camera and, after some experimenting, came up with this. The compressed file for YouTube isn't great quality, and for some reason I lost the sound, but hey, it's a start.

What this can't convey is how COLD it was when I filmed this on Sunday. I'm guessing it was about 30 degrees (or -1 degree for those of you who use celsius).*

*Actually, it was 20F, or -6.7C

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Upper East Side, August 2006

What prompted someone to chalk this face onto the windowsill of a brownstone? Were they waiting for a friend, a bit bored, outside their apartment building? Was it a child playing? At least the face is smiling, so they must have been in a good mood.

My cat, however, is not in a good mood. She seems to be losing a little weight, so I took her to the vet yesterday. She never likes the vet, but wow - I've never seen a performance like this one. She basically turned into the Tasmanian Devil, whirling around the room and screaming, her hair all on end. Even the vet techs, armed with thick towels, couldn't control her. So I have to take her back on Tuesday when they can anesthetize her for an examination. She'll love that.

I met up with my old friend Brett for dinner last night at my favorite restaurant, Hell's Kitchen, on Ninth Avenue. Brett lived here in New York when I first moved here in 2000, but two years later left for L.A. and then Houston, and now is back for a conference. You know how you can not see someone for years and then, when you get together, it seems like it's been a week or two? That's kind of how it felt seeing Brett - an easy click after a long absence. Brett also brought along a fellow conference-goer named Keith - a nice guy who is, of course, a blogger!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hoyt Street, Brooklyn, June 2006

Another summery photo: Leaves on the trees, and strong dappled sun. It's sort of odd to post a summer photo in February, but it's been hanging around a while and I want to use it!

Last night I went to the Zen center to learn about two ancestral teachers: Yaoshan and Yunyan, who lived and taught around 800 A.D. I’m not well versed on the Buddhist lineage, but I like the chance to get some sense of those who went before us.

Western philosophy has never done much for me. I’ve never been into Kierkegaard or Hegel or Kant or Nietzsche. Several years ago I tried to read “Sophie’s World,” the popular novel that introduced Western philosophers and their ideas amid a rather contrived plot. I thought it was the most boring book ever. I never quit books, but I quit that one.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I’m not a “big question” kind of person. I don’t wonder about the Meaning of Life, or Why Are We Here, or What’s It All About, Alfie. I have a much more practical approach, best summarized as: “OK. We’re here.”

I realize I'm over-simplifying Western philosophy, and also setting up a false duality by saying the Buddhist masters are more appealing. I'm sure there are shared elements of Eastern and Western thought. But I like the Buddhists' cryptic teachings - often just a few words, or a gesture - and their concise encounters with students that inevitably lead to some hapless monk’s illumination. Most of all, I like their emphasis on, essentially, my philosophy: “We’re here.”

Last night, I enjoyed one story featuring Yunyan. When a student asked how he could best convey Yunyan’s "reality" after the old teacher had died, Yunyan paused. After some silence, he replied, “Just this is it.”

So simple, yet so complex: “Just this is it."

Friday, February 2, 2007

Spring Street, SoHo, Sept. 2006

I liked the ornamentation on this old building. Kind of looks like a face, huh? A mustachioed gent, perhaps, like William Howard Taft.

I spent yesterday wrestling with Blogger to add a photo to my profile. What an ordeal! Partly because Blogger was on the fritz, and partly because it took a while to find a photo and get it down to a small enough size. My friend Kevin took this one as we walked around downtown D.C. at Thanksgiving. (I'm wearing my 51-cent t-shirt!) I realize it's absurdly small, but I wanted more than just a face shot. Anyway, there I am.

My blogging pal Reya and her friends have a tradition of blogging poetry every Feb. 2. So, in solidarity, I'll leave you with one of my favorite poems, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I've always liked its haiku-like imagery and simplicity. I once won a discount at a book store for reciting it from memory!


No matter what I say,
All that I really love
Is the rain that flattens on the bay,
And the eel-grass in the cove;
The jingle shells that lie and bleach
At the tide-line, and the trace
Of higher tides along the beach:
Nothing in this place.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Verizon tool carts

In New York, if not elsewhere, Verizon uses three-wheeled carts to haul and store tools and other equipment for telephone installation and repair. Often you'll see them parked on the street near a construction site. Two have been parked on my street for several months, in front of a building being renovated.

Sitting outside overnight, these carts become easy targets for sticker-graffiti and spray paint. The one above is a particularly good example, with its wide array of colorful, artistic stickers.

The carts themselves are kind of nondescript looking, until you get close up and start checking them out in more detail.

I'm not sure who Korn is (besides a band), but Neckface has been a particularly well-known local graffiti artist for years. You can see that Verizon cleans the stickers off the carts from time to time, but obviously they just can't keep up.

Which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.