Saturday, March 31, 2007

E. 23rd Street, March 2007

Here's some more graffiti from our "3-e" tagger. (You may remember this earlier example.) This is on the door of an abandoned synagogue, which always seems a kind of sad structure every time I pass it. At least it hasn't been turned into a nightclub.

I watched another interesting movie last night, "Jesus Camp." It's a fascinating look at the extreme religious right and the way they instruct their children politically and spiritually. These kids praise and bless cardboard cutouts of George W. Bush and are taught to actively disbelieve global warming (as well as, obviously, evolution and the separation of church and state). They're being prepared by adults who believe them to be an army of the righteous, made to save America.

Seeing these kids at church, with tears streaming down their faces, it's easy to understand why evangelical churches have grown at such an astonishing rate. Nothing on the left, or even in traditional religion, offers that same ecstatic experience - and some people really want the ecstasy. They want to believe in something fervently, actively and deeply. I think the left used to offer something similar with its civil rights marches and anti-war demonstrations, but these days, all the action seems to be on the right.

Sometimes I think we as a society, and maybe as a planet, are leaving the Age of Reason. Humanity seems to be moving toward a time when religious belief and faith are intensifying - in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, you name it. There's a migration from moderate religious institutions to more extreme ones, and factions of extremists clash in new and more dangerous ways. The folks in this movie, for example, deride science and the scientific method, and reject scientific evidence that challenges their belief system. There's nothing reasonable about them, and they don't seem to mind that at all.

I don't begrudge anyone their religious beliefs. But what makes anyone so certain they have all the answers? That their truth is the only truth?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thompson Street, SoHo, February 2007

OK, enough of the Golden West. We're back in New York City now, back to "real life." I'm happy to report that while I was away in California, spring seems to have sprung in New York. The bulbs are coming up and the daffodils in front of our building are starting to bloom. On Wednesday, I cleared away all the pine boughs that cover our garden in the winter, revealing more naked little daffodil shoots emerging from the ground.

I thought I'd better use these photos, since they include snow and in a few weeks they'll look really weird. This long poem, for lack of a better word, is neatly written across a long wall on a basketball court. Here's what it says: “A true holy war the streets are, to claim your pain, a voice in winds, where the women and mother nature are the muse bleed mom bleed and die with honor -- Rambo"

Now, I hate to be a poetry critic, but this seems a little like stringing together unconnected phrases and expecting some meaning to emerge. It brings to mind those collections of magnetic words that you can use to compose a poem on your refrigerator door. In fact, maybe that's what Rambo did, and then he just transferred the outcome to this wall.

I like the graphic effect, though, of the words running down the long wall. Rambo is a graffiti artist whose tags appear frequently. In fact, you may remember this one.

I watched "Borat" last night - my God, what a cringe-inducing movie! Funny in places, laugh-out-loud funny, but also really horrible. I suppose there's some value in pointing out our American stereotyping and prejudices, but I've always really hated practical jokes, and I feel terrible for the people on the receiving end of these stunts. Yikes. It makes me wince even now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


For once, I was trendy.

While in West Hollywood, I got to visit Pinkberry. For those of you who are not trendy, Pinkberry is “the” place to go for frozen yogurt.

It got written up recently in The New York Times and in fact has spread to the Big Apple, as well as other locations in L.A. But it got its start on a side street off Santa Monica Boulevard, which is where my friend Jerry took me on Saturday afternoon.

Pinkberry offers two kinds of yogurt - plain and green tea - with an assortment of toppings like strawberries and kiwi and Cocoa Pebbles cereal. There's also a sweet rice topping called mochi that you have to know about to ask for (it’s not on display like the others).

Jerry and I got our yogurts, mine a $4.95 medium green tea with strawberries, blackberries and the mysterious mochi. As we sat in the tiny restaurant, I noticed the afternoon sun casting long, dramatic shadows across the floors and colorful stools. I got out the camera and took a few shots.

And then, a slim redheaded teenager who looked like Opie on "The Andy Griffith Show," and whom I shall call the Pinkberry Bouncer, came over and said, “Photos are not allowed in the restaurant.” So I put my camera away, my feeling of trendiness somewhat punctured.

Christopher, Jerry and I debated this rule later. Maybe it has something to do with competition - maybe they don’t want people taking photos of the menu, or the presentation of the yogurt. But I was taking pictures of the chairs. As I said to Christopher, “Are they afraid someone else might open a restaurant with colorful plastic furniture?”

Well, anyway, the photos turned out nice. And the yogurt was good, though I’d be just as happy with some Haagen-Dazs sorbet. I guess deep down I’m just not very trendy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Simple gifts

On my flight out to California last week, I finished a book called “Simple Gifts: Lessons in Living from a Shaker Village,” by June Sprigg. It was about a summer Sprigg spent as a teenager living among a group of elderly Shaker women in New England in 1972.

By that time, nearly all the Shakers had died out. They believed in celibacy and relied on conversions to replenish their ranks, and while that worked well in 1820, it had doomed the order to extinction by the 1970s. Still, the women who mentored Sprigg were gently wise and focused on daily tasks of devotion, cooking and sewing and maintaining a small museum and gift shop at their once-thriving Shaker settlement. Sprigg wove into the book the quiet atmosphere of the village, from the exquisitely simple furniture to the beauty in its 100-plus-year-old sugar maples and solid, wood-framed, hand-built structures.

Then, on Saturday, I went with my friend Jerry to see “Into Great Silence,” a movie that beautifully depicts the lives of monks in a Carthusian monastery in France. Because they live in silence, the three-hour movie has virtually no dialogue. Everything is conveyed in footage of the monks living their daily existence, repairing a shoe or eating or praying at the altar in their austere living quarters. In between, there’s footage of the landscape of the French alps, changing with the seasons, from snow to grass and back to snow again.

The book and movie together made me think about commonality in religions. Many different religious paths encourage humility, advocate a non-material or even anti-material life, and thrive on the cues of the seasons and the ever-changing natural world. Zen is certainly similar, placing nearly all its value in silent practice.

I thought about this common ground, about the things we yearn for as humans, regardless of the structure of our beliefs. I suppose the underlying message is to not get caught up in ourselves and our everyday human problems. Think of others. Remember what's bigger than we are. Remember to notice life, to enjoy it.

After the movie, Jerry wondered why anyone would want to become a monk. Obviously, I'm not one, so I can't entirely explain it. But I understand the need to step back, simplify, pay careful attention and tune out the distractions - money, ambition, acquisition, sex.

I can see how a Shaker woman might find joy in sewing a handmade pincushion, or how a monk's careful penmanship is an expression of faith. I understand the need to connect with nature, whether the alpine forests of France or the sugar maples of Maine. And I think it's so interesting that such diverse traditions ultimately have the same lessons at their core.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hollywood Boulevard

I went running early on Sunday morning, before the L.A. roadways had a chance to choke up with their customary traffic, and it was great to get out and do some sightseeing while getting some exercise. I ran from West Hollywood to the old Capitol Records Building, that landmark round tower near Hollywood and Vine, in the seedy heart of Hollywood itself.

Part of my trek took me up Hollywood Boulevard, the site of the Stars Walk of Fame, or whatever it's called. As I ran I tried to keep an eye on the stars and see who was honored there. A lot of them are totally predictable, like Fay and Jack here, as well as everyone from Lana Turner to Robert Cummings. Lots of old Hollywood.

But here and there are a few surprises. Lindsay Wagner was great as "The Bionic Woman," but I didn't really expect her to have a star. And Terry Bradshaw? Mary Hart?

I'm told that getting a star is not as simple as being chosen. Apparently there's also a fee, maybe for installation costs. I'm guessing if you're famous enough you can get a star without putting down any dough, but that's pure conjecture on my part.

And in case any of you doubt the Christian fundamentalists who say Hollywood is evil, look who else has a star:

(To be fair, God had one too.)

Now I'm back in New York, having taken the red-eye. I'm picking up my cat from the vet and then it's off to a day of work, which I hope I'll be able to manage without being too spacey with fatigue! (By the way, I've added some photos to my two previous California posts...enjoy!)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Visiting Marilyn

Today we made a pilgrimage to Westwood Memorial Gardens, a tiny cemetery entirely hidden in the interior of a block of tall office towers and commercial buildings. You'd never know it was there unless you searched for it.

The goal: Marilyn Monroe.

I thought visiting Marilyn would be an interesting Hollywood outing. Maybe an unusual choice, given that I was born several years after Marilyn died. For me, she's never been anything but dead. But she's such a legend, and I've seen lots of her films, so of all the possibilities, she's the dead star to whom I most wanted to pay my respects.

Turns out that finding the cemetery was the only difficult part of the whole expedition. Once we were there, we wandered around until we found her crypt in the mausoleum. It only took ten minutes or so - we just looked for flowers. I figured wherever Marilyn was, there would surely be flowers.

There she was, on the second row up from the bottom, surrounded by people I'd never heard of. (How strange to be an everyday Joe, interred for all eternity next to Marilyn Monroe!) Odd to think that was really her, at least in the physical sense. People had propped pennies atop the bronze nameplate, next to a suspended vase of pink roses and long purple flowers. Some had kissed the crypt, leaving red lipstick marks.

She has good company in that cemetery: Walter Matthau, Dean Martin, Mel Torme, Natalie Wood, Jim Backus. I also found both Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert, and spent a few moments laughing about "Green Acres," a really terrible show that I loved as a kid. True to the changing nature of Beverly Hills, lots of grave markers bore Iranian names and Arabic script.

Some people think cemeteries are eerie, but I find them fascinating. And apparently other tourists do too, at least in this case - there were several of us wandering around. I took some pictures, secure in the knowledge that none of the dead stars would mind. They lived their lives for the cameras, and it's actually a tribute to be remembered fondly ten or twenty or, in Marilyn's case, 45 years after your death.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hollywood or Bust

So here I am in West Hollywood, land of towering Washingtonia palms and eternal 72-degree sunshine. I have not seen any movie stars. At least, none that I've recognized.

I landed yesterday at Long Beach airport shortly after noon, walked outside the terminal and promptly witnessed a car accident. Fortunately it was minor - a fender bender that did more damage to driver egos than anything else. But then, after my friend Christopher picked me up, we saw two more minor accidents and a car fire on the freeway. Christopher assures me L.A. is always like this.

I decided I needed some location-appropriate reading material on this trip, so I brought Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," a collection of essays at least partly about California's mysterious allure. The essays are 40 years old, so needless to say things have changed a bit, but it was pretty amazing to be sitting at The Coffee Bean on Sunset Boulevard yesterday afternoon and reading about Howard Hughes' house not far away. Joan Didion is an amazing writer.

Friday, March 23, 2007

SoHo, March 2007

Another shot from our heavy snow last week. I liked the careful way those pots were spaced, and that red gives the scene a nice jolt of color, though it's a bit subdued in the shadows.

In about three hours I'll be on a plane to L.A. to visit my friends Jerry and Christopher for a long weekend. I really like visiting L.A. They live in a great old part of West Hollywood, between Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards, and I like getting out and exploring their neighborhood. (I shocked Christopher on my last visit by walking to Sunset Boulevard for coffee. He said, "No one EVER walks here!")

I took my cat to the vet to be boarded while I'm away, which I feel guilty about, because she HATES the vet. But she needs her thyroid meds, so that was my only alternative. If her thyroid levels are better now with the medicine, I think we'll be able to proceed with that crazily expensive treatment that should cure this problem once and for all. Which will reduce everybody's stress level around here...

Oh, and my shoulder is completely well, thank you for asking. I guess it was just a strain. I was back at the gym as usual this week and had no problems. Whew!

Anyway, I'm not sure what my blogging situation will be out in the Golden State, so posting may be more sporadic or I may just wait until I return on Tuesday. If that's the case, have a good weekend, everybody!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Speaking of buying things, here are some of the unusual items displayed on the sidewalk outside an imports store on West 28th Street. First, a pair of fake cats sleeping in a basket ($3)...

Next, a grimy wall plaque ($1)...

Followed by my personal favorite, a plastic tree with fake birds that plugs in and lights up ($2)...

And finally, to top everything off, a plastic clock shaped like a house with a fake aquarium in the front window ($18).

Kind of boggles the mind to think that entire factories in China are churning this stuff out...although I really do want that tree!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Times Square, February 2007

I was talking to some folks at the Zendo on Sunday about the best way to improve working conditions for laborers overseas. A couple of people said they try not to buy much, reasoning that cuts the demand for sweatshop-produced clothing.

I said I wasn’t sure that was the answer - it reduces demand and may close the factory, but merely throws people out of work and leaves the exploitative labor system in place. The answer is to change the system, perhaps through unionizing or, as one person suggested, regulating labor standards for overseas producers of goods sold in this country. (Yeah, I know - fat chance. It’s an interesting idea, but what a nightmare to enforce!)

Anyway, I have to backtrack a little, because buying less (or buying used) is also smart. It preserves the environment, conserves resources and reduces waste, and selective spending can help change the market for the better.

I come from a long line of parsimonious protestants, so buying little comes naturally to me. (My Mom always jokes that if everyone were like her, the economy would collapse.) I’m fine with spending money on experiences - such as travel or eating out or a show - but I’m not very interested in stuff.

I guess ultimately, “selective” is the key word. Buying less is a good first step, but buying carefully is the ideal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

First Street, East Village, March 2007

Here's a novel idea: a thank-you note for the trash collector, written on a bale of discarded cardboard. A love letter, even.

I like this corner of the East Village, which I visited on my first trip to New York in 1995 and pretty much every trip after. I spent a memorable afternoon at One and One, a pub at First Street and First Avenue, bonding over beers with my old friend Arthur. And right up the avenue is Lucky Cheng's, where my friend Sue and I had dinner 12 years ago, at the recommendation of our elegant blonde bartender at Harry Cipriani in the Sherry Netherland Hotel.

Back then, Lucky Cheng's seemed crazy and urban, a restaurant in a former bathhouse where Asian drag queens waited tables. Going there, we felt very "in the know." But then I found out it's a multi-city chain, and when we went back - this time in New Orleans - we had terrible food (a sin in New Orleans) and bad service. I haven't been back since, and I've only been to One and One a handful of times.

I guess both are important to my past, but not really relevant to my present. I still like the neighborhood, though.

I went to see "Zodiac" last night. It's an interesting movie, though a little too long. Jake Gyllenhaal seems to be the poster child for the film, but the cast is pretty large, and Jake disappears for long periods of time. As far as I'm concerned, Mark Ruffalo wins the "sexiest actor" award in this movie, Jake or no Jake.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elizabeth Street, NoLIta, March 2007

One day, Enkan called to his attendant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The attendant said, “The fan is broken.”
Enkan said, “If the fan is broken, then bring me back the rhinoceros!”
The attendant made no reply.
Shifuku drew a circle and wrote the word “rhino” inside it.

This is a koan, one of those perplexing Zen riddles that some practitioners work with during their meditation. This particular koan played a prominent role in a ceremony we held Sunday at the Zendo as we concluded our retreat.

I don’t have much personal experience with koans. As I understand it, they are not meant to be solved with linear thinking, like you would solve a standard puzzle. Instead, they’re meant to lead you to a place beyond the boundaries of your usual thought process - outside the box, as they say - and bring you a spark of illumination.

This is a beautiful koan - a poem, really. The broken fan, the powerful rhinoceros, the unending perfection of the circle: Terrific images.

I don’t really have any business trying to explain it - I would be out of my depth. To dramatically oversimplify the explanation I heard Sunday, our minds are the rhinoceros.

After I left the Zendo, I walked home beneath a sunny blue sky, through streets running with slushy meltwater. I shot the photo above through a fence, which surrounded a yard full of garden statuary and kept the snow inside clean, white and even.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hell's Kitchen, December 2006

In the far west 50s are several recording studios used primarily, I think, for Latin music. This is part of a mural on one of them, at 53rd Street and 10th Avenue. Such drama!

I was at an all-day retreat yesterday at the Zendo, and it turned out to be a really good day. Some retreats feel like slogging through quicksand, every breath a labor. But yesterday I felt really “on,” really in tune with the experience.

In Buddhism you often hear the term “monkey mind” used to describe the restless, ever-mischievous nature of our minds. Ideally, in meditation, you are aware of that monkey mind, and you just kind of watch its Curious George act as it grasps thoughts and ideas, turning them over in its little hands. You don’t let yourself get swept up in any of those thoughts. You just watch your mind bring them up, and then let them float away as your mind, in its monkeyness, finds something new to play with.

It’s amazing what comes up when I sit. Sometimes my mind wants to rehash a conversation I had with my boss earlier in the week, or it wants to mull over that morning’s exchange with one of my Zen teachers. Sometimes it wants me to think about the next picture I’ll use on my blog. Sometimes it wants to argue with people who aren’t there. Sometimes it produces a romantic fantasy, or even a sexual one. All of this happens on the cushion, completely unbidden, and I just let it all rise up and float away.

So yesterday, I was greatly amused watching my monkey mind put on a show every bit as dramatic as the singer in this photo. I actually described the day’s sitting as “fun,” which brought chuckles from some others in the group, but it really was. You just never know what Curious George is going to do next.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

E. 30th Street, February 2007

I took this photo a month ago, but soon enough, our sidewalks will once again be rimed with this thinning layer of ice. Winter descended for perhaps its last gasp yesterday, sprinkling us with snow and freezing rain and turning the city to slush. We still haven’t seen much of a spring here, though we had a few tantalizingly balmy days this week. Yesterday was a reminder that we’re not there yet.

Making my way to the office in the morning, I wasn’t enjoying the weather at all. I had a lot on my mind, thinking about the coming day, and something about the chill and the bluster was a little hard to take.

But in the dark evening, on the way home, I had the opposite experience. The crystals of ice and snow glittered silver as they fell beneath the streetlights. The wind whipped around corners and turned my umbrella inside out. It was kind of wild and fun.

At the corner of 32nd Street and Lexington Avenue, I stood looking uptown at the lighted crown of the Chrysler Building, glowing through the white haze of the falling snow. Traffic was sparse on Lexington, and the neighborhood seemed unusually quiet and muffled. There weren’t many pedestrians out; the ice pattered softly on my umbrella.

I soaked up that moment, knowing that soon enough, spring will be here. I like spring, but there are things I’ll miss about winter.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Upper East Side, January 2007

I've been trying to experiment a bit with taking photos of people. It's kind of hard with my camera, because its wide-angle lens tends to make things seem more distant than they are. So the people wind up being pretty small, unless I get right up in their faces, which in New York is probably not wise.

I haven't had the courage to take a photo of a perfect stranger head-on and risk confrontation. I took these photos surreptitiously, standing or sitting near them and holding the camera down near my waist. Which sounds like a kind of silly, Dick Tracy way of taking a picture. But it leads to interesting, spontaneous composition!

The woman above was standing on 57th Street, having a smoke outside an office and wearing that awesome furry fluorescent green jacket.

This elderly lady was sitting outside a senior citizen home on First or Second Avenue.

I think more discerning people pictures will have to wait until I get a better camera, or develop more fortitude about approaching strangers. Meanwhile, at least you can see that there really ARE people in New York. It's not just a city of empty doorways and cool tree shadows - in case you were wondering.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Short Story, January 2007

From a wall at a construction site off Fifth Avenue in the West 30s:

"John: I've made $1. Bring me my dog!! I'll be on 34th Street. - Dawn"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Times Square, January 2007

There's a large mosaic map of New York City on the wall of the police substation in Times Square. It includes small metal symbols for some of the city's most prominent landmarks. But as you can see, it's suffered a bit of vandalism - someone has made off with City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge.

This has been a wild week. Once again, my volunteer activities have ganged up on me, demanding attention all at the same time.

I'm helping with a spring fundraiser for the Zendo, which has taken several hours of work in the past few days, and I've been helping to put the finishing touches on our regular online newsletter. I’m also signed up for a retreat this weekend that will require my assistance in some ceremonies. On top of this, I'm the president of the board that runs the building where I live, which is undergoing some improvements and changes. And the organizers of AIDS Walk New York have started contacting me because last year I captained the team for the company where I work - and it's time to build a team again.

Good grief.

It's funny how things like this come all at once. All of these events and duties are important to me, but when they come on strong this way, my head starts to spin. I find myself taking a defensive stance - as if they're the enemy that must be vanquished so I can get back to living my life.

Instead, I have to remember, all these things ARE my life. They are not the "other." They are not obstacles.

And after all, I got myself into all this, so I can’t really complain!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

W. 33rd Street, January 2007

Another view of the Empire State Building, this time looking straight up from its base. At first, I thought that tree detracted from the photo - I thought, "Of all the places on this block for that tree to be planted, why does it have to be HERE?" But then I incorporated it into the picture and decided I liked it a lot. It's a neat contrast between nature and industry.

I never mentioned the outcome of my speed dating. Needless to say, since I was writing about being single the other day, neither of my "dates" really took. I went out with each of them two or three times, but I can't say I thought we had much in common, ultimately. Oh well. Back to the drawing board!

Monday, March 12, 2007


These mysterious ghosty creatures are all over SoHo and NoLIta, signed "Cheekz." Rounded blobs with protruding teeth, they look sort of like schmoos with a creepy edge.

Most of the time, they're pasted onto walls. This is a rare example of a stenciled Cheekz blob.

I like this one a lot - a bit colorful and personalized to me. I'm not sure why his eyes are bleeding. I don't want to think about it.

Most of the time they seem a little perplexed or confused. This guy looks jubilant - but again, in a disturbed-looking way.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Upper East Side, January 2007

Sunday seems like the appropriate time to recognize Holy Hip Hop.

Did you all set your clocks ahead? One of my Peace Corps friends is staying with me this weekend, and we just realized that it's an hour later than we thought it was. Fortunately, our schedule is pretty flexible today!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hell's Kitchen, December 2006

This is the back wall of the Adolph S. Ochs school, on the far west side. Blue and yellow go so well together, don't they? It was late in the evening, so the light was soft and the shadows weren't clearly defined.

This color combination reminds me of going out last night with my friend Dan and his partner Jimmy. We went to a sitar concert by Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, who made his name by bringing sitar music to George Harrison and the Beatles. Anoushka, who's 25, is a musician in her own right, and the performance was great to hear. It was also great to see: She sat on a raised platform on the stage with some other musicians, backed only by two curtains and a blank wall. The wall and curtains continually changed colors, with lots of interesting and even improbable combinations: blue and lime green, red and purple, etc. Her lighting designer gets kudos from me.

I think I've injured my shoulder. Ugh! I had a deep-tissue massage when I was down in Florida last week, which involved the therapist "adjusting" some of my muscles and joints. I was fine until I then went to the gym four days later. I was lifting dumbells overhead when I felt my shoulder tear. Ack! My guess is, the massage stretched the connective tissue, and then the exercise pushed it too far. So I'm waiting to see how it heals on its own. It feels much better today than it did on Tuesday, when the injury first happened, and my range of movement is only slightly limited. I can reach everywhere, but at some extremes I get a little pain and just have to be careful.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Ludlow Street, February 2007

For some reason, this photo brings to mind my life as a single guy. Maybe it’s because there’s just one chair.

With that inspiration, I started to write something conveying my ambivalence about being single. But then I realized I’d done it already - in 1993, when I was 26 and living in a Moroccan village as a Peace Corps volunteer. Back then, I was torn. I liked the happy, independent simplicity of my life. But I was also aware that time was ticking, and if I didn’t want to be single forever, I’d better do something about it.

Almost 15 years later, I still feel torn. The "if" remains iffy.



For now, this is it.
My kitchen fits
On three short shelves,
Stacked up: three pots,
Three cups. I keep
Spices in old empties,
With faded labels
Ball-point blue.
Cumin, ginger, pepper:
Cued up, a choir
Waiting to sing.

I have a life.
I am midwife
To my candles, watching
Each one born and reborn.
They cry every time.
They know they’ll become nubs.
My tired jacket sags
From its wood hook
Like a punctured lung:
I am its oxygen.

I sleep narrow,
Imperiled on
A cliff of foam, from which
My blanket half cascades.
My feet peer out
Like two veiled brides,
Scrupulously white.

I am aware
Of my clock, its
Cycloptic stare, its
Apocalyptic tick.
I still have time
To settle in early,
To thumb my old books.
Yet, some nights,
I stir my hot tea
And watch its sweet steam
Thin and dissipate,
Wraith-like, before
My lineless face.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

SoHo, February 2007

Peace on Earth.
Love is all you need.
War is over.
Love thy neighbor.

(This is a magnet, so please spread the message.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

West End Avenue, February 2007

Our bitter cold spell persisted yesterday. I left work just after lunch to go to the post office, and even then - at the height of what should have been the warmest part of the day - I felt like the wind was flaying my skin. Face-numbing, brain-piercing cold.

Ironic, then, that I huffed and puffed my way to the Friars Club last night for an alumni reception for my subtropical alma mater, the University of South Florida in Tampa. (The reception was held in the Milton Berle room, where the chairs all bore the names of dead celebs. The one nearest me memorialized Dinah Shore.)

Met some nice people, including a woman who had some of the same classes and professors as I did, though in later years. I also met the university’s current president, and only belatedly realized I spent our few minutes together talking almost entirely about myself. (In my defense, she kept asking!)

I guess most people have a nostalgic affection for their colleges. Mine goes really deep, since my parents both taught at USF and I pretty much grew up on the campus. I did my junior high book reports in the college library and spent sick days off from school in my Mom’s office. I ate my first yogurt - Dannon boysenberry - in the USF cafeteria.

Anyway, after comparing notes with my fellow alumni about our experiences at USF and in Tampa, I came away thinking about hometowns.

You can really share a hometown with another person in name only. Their experiences of that town are so different - different streets, employers, neighborhoods. For example, the woman I talked to worked in a part of St. Petersburg that I always found incredibly confusing, and it made me realize that her perception of the Tampa area is entirely different from mine. Deep down, your hometown is yours alone.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

El Jobean, Florida, March 2007

I was driving along in my rental car on Sunday when I saw this shadow on the wall of the Frosted Mug restaurant in El Jobean, a wide place in the road between Englewood and Port Charlotte. I pulled right over to take a picture, much to the amusement of a woman yakking on her cell phone in the parking lot.

I almost never ride in a car - not even taxis, because they're expensive - and until this weekend I hadn't driven in months. I'm amazed at the ease with which car rental agencies willingly give me a car! But once I get behind the wheel, all the driving skills come right back. It's pretty amazing how the brain works - all those reflexive motions are stored up in my neurons somewhere, and everything fires just right so I remember to signal and watch my blind spots. (Well, as much as any of us can ever see our blind spots!)

I don't miss owning a car, but they do feel wildly luxurious to me now. The fact that you can get in and go ANYWHERE, door to door, just blows this subway traveler's mind. So I had a lot of fun with my little rental, stopping whenever I wanted for whatever photos struck my fancy.

And now, back in New York, we actually had a snowstorm yesterday! It was the weirdest snowstorm I'd ever seen - heavy flurries whitened the sky, and then suddenly it was clear and sunny, and then we had MORE flurries. Now it's incredibly windy and 14 degrees. Which makes the photo all the more appealing.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Boca Grande, Florida, March 2007

I was in Boca Grande over the weekend, visiting a friend who is hugely pregnant and about to have a baby daughter. She had a baby shower, and several mutual friends attended, so for me the event was a combination baby-welcoming, reunion and vacation in the sunshine!

My friend's family has a beautiful house near the southern tip of Boca Grande, a barrier island that separates Charlotte Harbor from the Gulf of Mexico. My room overlooked the wide beach and a state park that includes an old, historic lighthouse at the very end of the island. I could lie in bed at night with the sliding door open, listening to the sound of the waves, and looking out every once in a while at the distant light's gentle strobe. Pretty amazing!

These photos show one of my favorite streets on Boca Grande, Banyan Street. It's lined with huge old trees that form a dark canopy, a merciful relief from the insistent Florida sun.

Until recently, Boca Grande was overrun by feral iguanas. You used to see them everywhere, flashing in and out of the undergrowth and sunning themselves on the footpath that runs up the center of the island. They were exotics, introduced, I suppose, by a pet owner who released them into the wild, and they were a nuisance. The town has recently been trapping them, and during this visit I only saw three. Most of the time, I saw native lizards like this little anole, sunning itself on a banyan's trunk.

It was a terrific trip. I'm happy for my friend Tricia and her soon-to-be-born daughter, whose name is still kind of up in the air. And it was great to see my friends Cherie (who's just turning 40...I mean, um, 35) and Jay as well.

I always love Florida so much when I visit, particularly under ideal circumstances such as these. The palm trees, the seashells on the beach, the smell of the salty, marshy air, the heavy morning dew. I can see why people flock there in droves. Fortunately, as remote as it is, Boca Grande has retained a lot of its charm.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Chelsea, February 2007

This is actually a self-portrait, but you have to look kind of hard to see me. (Blogs are SO narcissistic!) I took this outside the Empire Diner on 10th Avenue in Chelsea. I liked the round pattern of the tables and the round window, and inside that window on the far wall there's a round mirror, which is where you see my reflection. (I have my scarf over my head because it was COLD that day.)

Went out last night with some friends in Chelsea to watch "The Best of Everything" on the big screen. What a hoot. I don't know how I missed this movie in years past, but if you like late-'50s technicolor melodramas, it's, well, the best of everything! And I went with the same guys from my Poconos trip in January, so they know how to watch a corny old movie, with the proper combination of reverence and scorn.

I'm going to be away from my blog for a few days, until Monday morning. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

E. 30th Street, February 2007

As I was walking to work yesterday, I kept noticing the quality of the light. It was brighter, warmer and deeper than it's been in weeks past. I noticed it several times during the day, sitting at my window in my office. Spring is definitely on its way.

So here's a parting shot of winter, taken just two or three weeks ago. I always like the way handrails throw their shadows on nearby steps, and in this case, a tree had also dropped a long, dried seed pod into the shot. (I think it's from a locust tree, but I'm no expert.)

Anita Bryant

I’ve been reading “The Mayor of Castro Street,” by Randy Shilts, about Harvey Milk and his political career in San Francisco in the 1970s. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘70s, and what it meant to be gay at that time.

I was 13 at the dawn of the ‘80s, so I was too young to know much about earlier gay consciousness. I remember Milk’s assassination, and I remember news accounts about the growing gay scene in San Francisco, from mustachioed guys with their arms around each other to the zany Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

But most of all, I remember Anita Bryant.

I guess that’s not surprising, since I grew up in Florida. As the pitchwoman for Florida orange juice, Anita was one of the most famous people in the state. A former beauty queen with a few hit records, she was repeatedly named the most admired woman in America by Good Housekeeping magazine. She was on TV all the time, singing about the Florida Sunshine Tree, with her big brown eyes and bouffant-ish hair.

I thought she was beautiful.

And then, to my young mind, she seemingly went nuts. In 1977, the newscasts were suddenly full of images of Anita being forceful, even angry, about “homosexuals.” She said “homosexuals” were out to convert children and subvert society and do all sorts of terrible things to our country. Her tirades were sparked by a new Miami law protecting gays from discrimination.

Did I even know I was gay in 1977 or ‘78? I was certainly attracted to boys in my class, and I certainly felt defensive when I saw mocking gay characters on TV shows like “Barney Miller.” I hadn’t embraced “gay” as an identity, but yeah, I knew.

When Anita railed against “homosexuals,” I knew she was talking about me. I felt a huge sense of betrayal by this paragon of Florida wholesomeness who always smiled and sang about orange juice. She was like a friendly aunt who suddenly and inexplicably turned vicious.

As soon became apparent, I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. Carried away on the tide of her own extremism, Anita lost everything. Her marriage fell apart. Her orange juice contract dried up. Her singing career went up in smoke. She got a pie in the face, and then vanished from television.

She won a reversal of the law in Miami, but her victory has been eclipsed by time and tolerance; Dade County once again protects gay residents from discrimination.

Anita has been both credited and reviled for helping to launch the religious right as a political force. Activists blame her for the standing Florida law that prevents gay parents from adopting children.

But she also galvanized the gay rights movement even more. And though the fight goes on, the movement is winning. With every generation that grows up in a more diverse world, and with every person who comes out of the closet, tolerance grows.

Even now, I have a soft spot for Anita.

I know, I know. In the gay community, and even in much of middle America, that’s only slightly less extreme than saying you have a soft spot for Adolf Hitler.

But really, Anita is merely a woman whose delusions took her down a path of destruction. She believed she was doing the right thing, and her religious fervor and close-mindedness blinded her. She destroyed others, and in the process destroyed herself. Which is how destruction works: You throw the snowball and get buried in the avalanche.

I’m not naive enough to believe she’s seen the error of her ways. And I don’t mean to downplay any of the hurt she inflicted, or the homophobic climate she helped foster.

But I also feel bad for her. Her efforts to find an audience since her downfall have left her performing for auditoriums that are 3/4 empty, and forced her into bankruptcy twice. As of 2002, she lived in Tennessee, where she apparently owed a lot of people money.

Probably the last thing she wants are conciliatory words from me. But I hope she remembers the days of the Florida Sunshine Tree as fondly as I do, and odd as it may seem, I hope she’s happy.