Sunday, August 31, 2008


So here's the back story on yesterday's poem, for those of you who asked: I wrote it about my high school girlfriend. (Curve ball there, eh?) We remained friends after I came out and we took a trip to Key West with another friend, which inspired the setting -- but at the same time, our relationship was changing and we were headed in very different directions. She's now married with two kids in Florida, and I still get in touch with her once or twice a year. This is actually one of the few poems I ever had published, in a small literary magazine called Tin Wreath.

I watched another Andy Warhol movie last night -- "Heat," with Joe Dallesandro and Sylvia Miles. I'm sure these movies must have inspired John Waters. They make me want to bathe.

I've started painting my apartment. What an ordeal! I hope to finish it up by the end of tomorrow, but there are no guarantees.

(Photo: Lower East Side, Aug. 2008)

Saturday, August 30, 2008


the islands
long and grey as animals

air bright and wet
water silver as mercury

sliced by the keel

stretched on the bow
hot as a mirror
you take my hand

you open your mouth to laugh
the islands laugh
for the last time
past your even white teeth

Poem from 1988 - for BDR.
Photo: Palm in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Has anything more useless than a plaque ever been invented?

I was cleaning out a box of stuff this week, prompted by a desire to send some of my old children’s books to my niece. That plan proved impractical, because on closer examination the books were falling apart and were hideously dated. I wound up keeping two and recycling the rest.

Meanwhile, I came upon a roughly 9-by-12-inch plaque that I received in 1988 as graduating editor of my college paper. Truth be told, I sort of ordered this plaque for myself! I ordered them for all my section editors, and figured I should get one too -- so the head of student publications “presented” it to me and I handed out the others.

This plaque has lived in a box nearly the entire time I’ve owned it. Even when I had space to hang it, I didn’t -- and was I really going to put up a plaque commemorating my college newspaper career? Now, after 20 years in journalism, that just seems a little desperate.

I was reminded of an essay by E.B. White, probably my favorite writer of all time. In “Good-bye to 48th Street,” about moving from his longtime New York apartment and the purging it involved, he puzzled over the same issue:

“All sorts of special problems arise during the days of disposal. Anyone who is willing to put his mind to it can get rid of a chair, say, but what about a trophy? Trophies are like leeches. The ones made of paper, such as a diploma from a school or a college, can be burned if you have the guts to light the match, but the ones made of bronze not only are indestructible but are almost impossible to throw away, because they usually carry your name, and a man doesn’t like to throw away his good name, or even his bad one.”

My plaque did indeed bear my name, quite prominently. In White’s case, he unscrewed his name from the plaque and tossed the plaque itself. But I couldn’t do the same, so I tossed the whole thing, good name and all.

(Photo: Clown in the window of an abandoned bank, Liberty, N.Y., Aug. 2008)

Thursday, August 28, 2008


During my recent retreat, we ate all our meals oriyoki-style, which means the food was served to us ceremonially in the Zendo and we ate silently from three small bowls. It’s a beautiful, economical way to eat -- we lay out our bowls and utensils, the food is served, we eat, and then we use a spatula and hot water or tea to clean the bowls and pack them up again.

One of the rules of oriyoki is that you eat all your food. You don’t get much, so it’s not difficult. Even if you have a violent personal dislike for something, if it lands in your bowl, you eat it. (I’m not sure what would happen in the case of allergy -- the menu is usually posted, so I suppose you’d want to stay on top of what was being served and intercede before the server put it into your bowl.)

During an oriyoki ceremony one morning, the server was dishing out porridge, and she served me part of the garnish -- an orange flower. I sat looking at this beautiful little blossom in my bowl (marigold? zinnia?) and wondering what I was supposed to do with it.

I surreptitiously caught the eye of the head server, held it up and mouthed the word “edible?” He just shrugged, which wasn’t really helpful.

I watched another guy near me who also got a flower. He set his aside, on the floor. But I didn’t want to have to worry about keeping track of a flower somewhere near my cushion for the rest of the afternoon.

I know there are edible flowers, so finally I just decided that it wouldn’t have been served to me if I couldn’t eat it. So I did. And it was good -- peppery and crisp!

I asked the head cook about it later, and it turns out that it was a marigold and meant to be eaten. The episode was definitely a teaching -- about letting go of ideas, trusting and going with the flow!

(Photo: Flowers (but not marigolds) in the East Village, Aug. 2008)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Last night I went to see “Hair” in Central Park. What an awesome show! I’ve been a big fan of the music for years, but I knew it solely through Milos Foreman’s 1979 movie version, having never seen the stage show. I never understood why people didn’t like the movie better.

But now I do. The stage production is an entirely different show! The movie adds layers and layers of plot that don’t exist on stage, and it switched around the songs, giving well-known numbers to different characters and taking them out of context. And it altered the ending significantly.

So, anyway, last night’s show was great. During the number “Hair,” the cast streamed into the audience and one dancer bent over my seat to let her hair cascade onto my head -- which is so obviously and completely bald. Funny! (Believe me, I was aware of the superficial irony of my enthusiastic presence at this show.)

Another cast member gave me a flower, which I wore behind my ear. And at the end, a good portion of us in the audience got up on the stage and danced to “Let the Sun Shine In” and “Hair.” Very fun.

But also very touching -- because during the production you can’t help but reflect on the fact that we’ve learned so little over the decades since the 1960s. Here we are again, basically in the same position. As Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater’s artistic director, wrote in the program:

“There’s a tragic sensibility at the root of ‘HAIR,’ a deep awareness of the gap between our vision and our achievement, that makes this piece as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. Trapped once again in a war that we were tricked into by politicians, a war the nation has totally lost faith in, with no clear exit strategy and ineffectual resistance, HAIR resonates in 2008 more than we might wish.”

(Photo: Skull-shaped sticker, Sixth Avenue, Aug. 2008)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The retreat center where I stayed last week is an old Victorian house (much modernized) that overlooks a sloping field, edged by a forest of trees. The house has a big front porch where we would sit between meditation sessions.

On sesshin, reading or talking is discouraged. So rest periods were remarkably peaceful, as several of us sat together on the porch, watching deer and wild turkeys wandering around in the field. It was such an unusual feeling to sit for an hour or two with no agenda, not meditating or talking and not absorbing media into my brain. One afternoon I watched a hawk dive-bombing a turkey, which fought back successfully -- it was pretty amazing.

My family owns similar property in West Virginia -- an old farmhouse purchased in the 1950s by my grandparents, where grandfather would go on weekends to escape the urban confines of Washington, D.C. He ostensibly went there partly to hunt, but apparently didn't shoot much of anything. He mostly sat around and read dime-store paperbacks by the likes of Erle Stanley Gardner.

That house, in a community near Martinsburg called Sleepy Creek, sits above a sloping field bordered by trees. Grandfather often sat on the porch watching over that field. He was a stolid Presbyterian, but it occurred to me on my retreat that he was really having his own Zen moments there, leaving the pressure of city and family behind, living momentarily with only the creatures in the field. He and I were having the same experience, separated by hundreds of miles and several decades. An interesting parallel!

(Photo: Street art, Lower East Side, Aug. 2007)

Monday, August 25, 2008


I'm back from my Zen retreat, and happy to be home. Those of you who have never done a sesshin should see my post from last year, which describes the basic arc of the experience. I joked with my teacher that it's a bit like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). At first I was all into the beauty of the silence and the peacefulness; within a few days I was angry at being expected to sit all day on my aching knees, watching my mind desperately trying to entertain itself; I'd say, "If I could have a cup of coffee, I could get through these next three periods of sitting"; eventually I gave in to a kind of resignation. And by then it was over, and as usual, in restrospect it seems pretty remarkable.

It was nice to be utterly disconnected from the outside world. I didn't use a phone, check my e-mail, look at a computer. It was just me in a community of fellow students and our teachers. The weather was beautifully cool, which is a change from previous years, and that helped a lot in terms of physical comfort.

It's nice to be back now, in my own bed with my cat and a good book. I'll relate more about the week over the next few days, after I've had a chance to settle back in a bit more.

I didn't take my camera on retreat, either, so I'll have to improvise on how to illustrate my posts. The photo above is from our Zendo in New York City.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Blog Break

My blog will be pausing while I go upstate to my retreat. Everyone have a wonderful week, and I'll report back next Monday!

(Photo: Bethel, N.Y., Aug 2008)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I saw this wall in Liberty, N.Y., while driving around with Ched and Lettuce. We all immediately knew it would make a great photo, but only after I put it on Flickr did a friend point out that it's an excellent example of "found Dharma." Teachings are everywhere!

I haven't been watching the Olympics at all -- spectator sports is not my thing. But I was happy to read that Michael Phelps won his eight gold medals. That guy really is amazing. I can see how people get excited about the Olympics, with the beauty of the competition and the incredible performance of the athletes. I'm glad Phelps found "something better to do!"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reading List

Because my memory is so bad, I keep a list of all the books I read. This helps me remember books that I might otherwise forget, and if I’m in doubt about whether I’ve read something, I can go back and check.

Want to know what I’ve been up to on the reading front over the past few years? Here’s the list, from spring 2003 to now, with the most recent books at the bottom. (I know, I read some bizarre stuff.)

1. Gift from the Sea -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh
2. The Lovely Bones -- Alice Sebold
3. Wuthering Heights -- Emily Bronte
4. The City of the Beasts -- Isabel Allende
5. The Timeless Place, the Chosen People -- Paule Marshall
6. In the Beginning -- Alistair McGrath
7. Stuffed -- Patricia Volk
8. A Slipping-Down Life -- Anne Tyler
9. A Whistling Woman -- AS Byatt
10. The Plague Tales -- Ann Benson
11. Capote -- Gerald Clarke
12. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe -- Carson McCullers
13. The Shell Collector -- Anthony Doerr
14. Middlemarch -- George Eliot
15. Ambidextrous: The Secret Lives of Children -- Felice Picano
16. Men Who Loved Me -- Felice Picano
17. A House by the Ocean, A House by the Bay -- Felice Picano
18. The Member of the Wedding -- Carson McCullers
19. Losing Battles -- Eudora Welty
20. Young Man from the Provinces -- Alan Helms
21. Waves, an anthology of new gay fiction -- Ethan Mordden (ed)
22. War Talk -- Arundhati Roy
23. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency -- Alexander McCall Smith
24. A Home at the End of the World -- Michael Cunningham
25. Jim the Boy -- Tony Earley
26. The Half-Mammals of Dixie -- George Singleton
27. The Culture of Desire: Paradox and Perversity in Gay Lives Today -- Frank Browning
28. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street -- Helene Hanff
29. Q's Legacy -- Helene Hanff
30. A Good Man in Africa -- William Boyd
31. The Look of Architecture -- Witold Rybczynski
32. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man -- Susan Faludi
33. Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness -- Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
34. Sex With Strangers -- Geoffrey Rees
35. Nickel and Dimed -- Barbara Ehrenreich
36. Shampoo Planet -- Douglas Coupland
37. Peyton Amberg -- Tama Janowitz
38. Samuel Pepys' diary
39. What I Loved -- Siri Hustvedt
40. Nine Hills to Nambokaha -- Sarah Erdman
41. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less -- Barry Schwarz
42. Hot Water -- P.G. Wodehouse
43. Underfoot in Show Business -- Helene Hanff
44. Between the Palms -- Michael Luongo
45. At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels through Paraguay -- John Gimlette
46. Like Water for Chocolate -- Laura Esquivel
47. The Trust -- Susan Tifft and Alex S. Jones
48. Sick Puppy -- Carl Hiaasen
49. Moby-Dick -- Herman Melville
50. Cloud Atlas -- David Mitchell
51. The Amateur Marriage -- Anne Tyler
52. Running With Scissors -- Augusten Burroughs
53. Dry -- Augusten Burroughs
54. Atonement -- Ian McEwen
55. Dream State -- Diane Roberts
56. Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert -- William Langewiesche
57. An American Childhood -- Annie Dillard
58. Love Monkey -- Kyle Smith
59. Buddha -- Karen Armstrong
60. Under the Banner of Heaven -- Jon Krakauer
61. Back When We Were Grownups -- Anne Tyler
62. Mind of Clover -- Robert Aitken
63. The Three Pillars of Zen -- Philip Kapleau
64. The Line of Beauty -- Alan Hollinghurst
65. The Da Vinci Code -- Dan Brown
66. The Confessions of Max Tivoli -- Andrew Sean Greer
67. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed -- Jared Diamond
68. A Map of the World -- Jane Hamilton
69. Paris to the Moon -- Adam Gopnik
70. The Moviegoer -- Walker Percy
71. Tampa Boy -- George Ryland Bailey
72. The Snow Leopard -- Peter Mathiessen
73. Eleanor Rigby -- Douglas Coupland
74. Middlesex -- Jeffrey Eugenides
75. The Year of Magical Thinking -- Joan Didion
76. The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington -- Brian Francis
77. The Dream at the End of the World -- Michelle Green
78. Confessions of a Gay Marine Porn Star -- Rich Merritt
79. Answered Prayers -- Truman Capote
80. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn -- Betty Smith
81. West with the Night -- Beryl Markham
82. Tab Hunter Confidential -- Tab Hunter/Eddie Muller
83. Portnoy's Complaint -- Philip Roth (2nd time)
84. The Other Side of Ethel Mertz: The Life Story of Vivian Vance -- Frank Castelluccio and Alvin Walker
85. Bright Lights, Big City -- Jay McInerney (2nd time)
86. Don't Get too Comfortable -- David Rakoff
87. The Boy Harlequin and other stories -- Girard Kent
88. Time and Again -- Jack Finney
89. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time -- Mark Haddon

90. Blinded by the Right -- David Brock
91. One Writer’s Beginnings -- Eudora Welty
92. Dandelion Wine -- Ray Bradbury
93. The One that Got Away -- Howell Raines
94. Off Ramp -- Hank Stuever
95. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close -- Jonathan Safran Foer
96. Blue Highways -- William Least Heat Moon
97. London Fields -- Martin Amis
98. Manchild in the Promised Land -- Claude Brown
99. Annam -- Christophe Bataille
100. Ghosty Men -- Franz Lidz
101. The Man Who Saved Britain: A personal journey into the disturbing world of James Bond -- Simon Winder
102. The Master -- Colm Toibin
103. Love, Loss and What I Wore - Ilene Beckerman
104. Goodbye Lemon -- Adam Davies
105. The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket -- John Weir
106. What I Did Wrong -- John Weir
107. A Million Little Pieces -- James Frey
108. The Mayor of Castro Street -- Randy Shilts
109. Nature Girl -- Carl Hiaasen
110. Simple Gifts: Lessons in Living from a Shaker Village -- June Sprigg
111. Slouching Towards Bethlehem -- Joan Didion (2nd time)
112. The Berlin Stories -- Christopher Isherwood
113. Freakonomics -- Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
114. Gone to New York -- Ian Frazier
115. Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be -- Jen Trynin
116. Buddha or Bust -- Perry Garfinkel
117. Lullaby -- Chuck Palahniuk
118. The Tao of Pooh -- Benjamin Hoff
119. The Devil in the White City -- Erik Larson
120. Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh
121. The Dharma Bums -- Jack Kerouac
122. Portrait of a Lady -- Henry James
123. To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee (2nd time)
124. Magical Thinking -- Augusten Burroughs
125. The Dreadful Lemon Sky -- John D. McDonald
126. Possible Side Effects -- Augusten Burroughs
127. Caught in Fading Light: Mountain Lions, Zen Masters and Wild Nature -- Gary Thorp
128. Then We Came to the End -- Joshua Ferris
129. An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America’s Future -- Robert D. Kaplan
130. The Men from the Boys -- William J. Mann
131. The Mezzanine -- Nicholson Baker
132. Let it Come Down -- Paul Bowles
133. The Beatles -- Bob Spitz
134. Confessions of a Shopaholic -- Sophie Kinsella
135. Beautiful Boy: A father’s journey through his son’s addiction -- David Sheff
136. Jane Eyre -- Charlotte Bronte
137. The Kite Runner -- Khaled Hosseini
138. In Watermelon Sugar -- Richard Brautigan
139. Where the Heart Is -- Billie Letts
140. I’m With Stupid -- Elaine Szewczyk
141. Days in the Sun -- Drew Kent
142. A Wolf at the Table -- Augusten Burroughs
143. Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue -- Paul Bowles
144. Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr -- Michael Seth Starr

(Photos: Nails in wooden siding, Mt. Tremper, N.Y.)

Friday, August 15, 2008


In a couple of days, I’ll be going up to Cornwall-on-Hudson for my annual meditation retreat. It’s a sesshin, a period of intensified practice: lots of sitting, three daily services, small ceremonial meals, and no casual conversation all week. It’s a terrific opportunity for quiet introspection, to let your mind and body settle down and perhaps come closer to escaping their routine daily obsessions.

Last year, I went to sesshin for ten days, which was a bit too long. I emerged doubting the wisdom of those last few days of practice. This year, I’m going for seven days, which should be more manageable.

I guess I’m looking forward to it, though to be honest I’m also a bit anxious. I’ve really been slacking off in my practice for the last several months. I’ve gone to the Zendo here and there, and I’ve sat once or twice at home, but I haven’t been nearly as attentive as I’d been the last few years. I’m wondering if my system will be a bit shocked when I go in for a week of intense sitting!

Why have I slacked? Well, who knows. This seems to happen in practice - sometimes you’re practicing intensely, sometimes you’re not. For me it all began with a very busy spring, with lots of activities almost daily that literally kept me from sitting, and away from the Zendo. I’ve been working to make my schedule lighter by extracting myself from some extracurricular activities, but I haven’t quite resumed my regular sitting.

I leave on Monday, and I’ll be back the following Sunday evening, perhaps with a quieter outlook and the ability to see and appreciate daily life a bit more clearly. Or not!

(Photo: Blossoms floating in a bird bath, Mt. Tremper, N.Y., Aug. 2008)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Street scenes

1. A tree lying at the curb on E. 29th Street, felled and dismembered by a sidewalk project, its leaves perky, green, unaware.

2. A slim college-age guy in tight black jeans, standing in front of Muji on W. 40th Street, doing a crossword puzzle, cigarette idle between his fingers.

3. A twentyish woman, busty and tanned in a tight low-cut plaid dress, crossing E. 17th Street with an overweight, fiftyish man, and both climbing into a shiny black Lexus.

4. An older man with white hair in a blue seersucker suit, looking like a summery character from F. Scott Fitzgerald, on the subway platform at Union Square.

5. A teen-aged boy on the 4 train, wearing a t-shirt that says “Thank God for beer, women and football,” with an older woman who can only be his mother.

6. A teen-aged boy on Park Avenue, pulling down the waistband of his saggy jeans and boxers to show a teen-aged girl his tattoo, an illegible word over his pelvic bone. “That must have hurt,” the girl says.

(Photo: Grand Street, Lower East Side, July 2008)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Well, everything is fine on the dental front, according to my dentist. Another bullet dodged!

We’ve been getting incredible rainstorms lately. It seems like this has been a very rainy summer. When I first moved here from Florida I yearned for those heavy tropical downpours that wash everything clean. Well, lately, I feel like we’ve been having them! I’m not sure the city is noticeably cleaner as a result, but it’s hard to tell.

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, July 2008)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Not much to say today, which is probably a relief to all of you, considering my recent verbosity. I'm off to the dentist this morning for my routine checkup -- that's the big excitement around here.

I'm enjoying the amazingly cool summer. The weather has been spectacular. Last night, with no a/c, I needed a blanket! I hope it keeps up through my meditation retreat later this month, because we have no a/c there and cool weather would be a blessing.

If you haven't checked out the Cake Wrecks blog, click on the link and give yourself a good laugh. I haven't laughed so hard in ages.

(Photo: Street art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, July 2008)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Yesterday I went to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden with my friend Brian, who is about to move away to the snowy midwest. (He’s from Minnesota, so he won’t mind snow.) We walked the entire garden, and found lots of interesting things along the way. For starters, there were dozens of turtles sunning themselves in the pond at the Japanese Garden.

And, of course, flowers of every size and shape:

Many of the flowering plants seemed past their prime, but that’s OK, because the gardens were still very green -- even the water!

At the rock garden, boulders that had been rolled along and deposited by prehistoric glaciers were displayed, with plaques indicating their origin as determined by geologists. One was found to have been rolled all the way from the Adirondacks, while another came from Paterson, N.J. (How they could tell that, I’m not sure.)

Our best find: A tree called the “Caucasian Wingnut,” which made me think immediately of Dick Cheney.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mid-Century Architecture

When I went to Jacksonville, Fla., to visit my brother in early 2006, I took these photos of the old downtown library building. The library, in all its concrete and glass-tiled glory, is quite clearly a product of the 1960s and had fallen out of favor. It was the subject of a pitched battle in the city's preservation community, between those who wanted to keep it and those who wanted to see it torn down.

The vacant building is still standing, apparently in a limbo brought about by the real estate downturn, despite redevelopment plans. But I don't doubt there are plenty of people who would still like to see it go.

Unfortunately, many of our towns, cities and citizens have decided they can do without mid-century architecture. Modernist houses from the 1950s are routinely torn down -- especially if they're on a desirable lot, on the water, for example -- to make way for ostentatious McMansions. The low-slung modernist style, with its planes of glass and concrete, stone and terrazzo, emphasized blending in with the environment, unlike today's houses which tend to dominate the land on which they stand.

These are the kinds of buildings I grew up in. I went to a library not unlike this one, with colorful cushions piled on the carpeted floor in the children's reading nook -- very '70s. The Jacksonville library is more whimsical than the one I used as a child, in Lutz, Fla., but it's similar in its modernist blockiness.

When I lived in Sarasota, Fla., in the 1990s, I heard a lot about the Sarasota School of Architecture, a group of modernist architects who created beautiful, spare buildings uniquely suited to Florida's then un-air-conditioned climate. Those buildings, by famous architects like Paul Rudolph, have lately been coming down at a disappointing rate.

On Friday, I sent my brother an article about a Sarasota School building facing possible demolition. A city planner, he wrote a piece on his own blog that lays out the reasons why tearing these structures down is a travesty. If you're at all interested in preservation, take a look at what he's written.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Yesterday I mentioned the decline of manners in our modern age. I tossed it out sort of casually, but I’ve been thinking more about it -- what’s made us become so rude to each other, so abrupt and even derisive of the notion of being polite?

I think a lot of it comes from sheer numbers. In an age when there were fewer people, as there were a hundred or more years ago, or when we were more settled, manners mattered. We had to create stable societies and the individuals involved stood out more. Manners helped us form lasting relationships with people we’d spend large amounts of our lives with -- neighbors, colleagues, family members.

Nowadays, we’re all so mobile, and there are so darn many of us. Individual relationships matter less, or seem to. We often pick up and move every few years, and we change jobs with more frequency. Why inconvenience ourselves to put other people first, when those people will vanish from our lives in a few short years -- or even a few minutes?

Decades ago, New Yorkers had a national reputation for being rude, and I think that’s because they were at the vanguard of overpopulation. They displayed the abruptness that would later affect our whole society. (I personally don’t think New Yorkers are more rude than anyone else, these days, though some people still think of us that way.)

How can we encourage each other to really see the person in the next car, on the escalator or approaching on the sidewalk? To see them as an individual, and not some nameless jerk amid a horde of jerks?

(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, July 2008)

Friday, August 8, 2008


I saw “Brideshead Revisited” last night with my friend David, and came away mildly disappointed. For some reason, it seems a bit flat, a little too streamlined. The story is so rich and so complex, and I was riveted by the book and by the miniseries when I watched it on video several years ago, but something is lost when it’s condensed into a two-hour movie. On the plus side, it is visually lush, and you do come away with the sense that we’ve lost something in the coarseness of modern life.

(And why is modern life so coarse, anyway? What’s happened to our manners?)

(Photo: W. 26th Street, July 2008)

Thursday, August 7, 2008


For once, I'm on the bandwagon for Theme Thursday, thanks to a well-timed reminder from Kim. Today's theme is steps, and since I often photograph steps while wandering around the city, I happened to have a few such pictures lying around.

Last night I watched Andy Warhol's film "Flesh." I'd never seen any of Warhol's movies. I can't say the plot was exactly riveting, but Joe Dallesandro certainly held my interest. To quote Lou Reed:

Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay

I'm sure they did, too! Unsurprisingly, many of the actors seemed extremely stoned. Ah, the '60s.

(Photos: Murray Hill, May 2008)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Yesterday I was interviewed on video by, an organization devoted to increasing the number of Peace Corps volunteers worldwide. They put out a call for former volunteers who wanted to participate, and I spoke up. So a woman came to my office yesterday, put me on camera and asked about my Peace Corps experiences.

You may remember that I was in Morocco from 1992-94. So among other things, I told the interviewer that in this world, where religion is a subtext to so much hostility, it’s great to be able to draw on my direct experiences with Islam and Muslims. I know firsthand that they’re terrific, generous people, and I know something about their culture, and through me, they learned something about mine. Those are the kinds of benefits that Peace Corps brings -- the value of that personal interaction.

Anyway, we’ll see where this goes. It was a fun diversion from my workday!

(Photo: Avenue P, Brooklyn, July 2008)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Psychedelic, man

I’m back now from a weekend in the Catskills with Ched and Lettuce, involving lots of photography and wandering, as well as a couple of trippy, kaleidoscopic encounters with ‘60s-style psychedelia. (Drug free!)

We stayed near the town of Liberty, in Sullivan County, so on Saturday we explored its quaint-if-slightly-depressed downtown and poked into all the corners of the resident antique stores. Since I live in about 400 square feet, I didn’t buy anything. But Ched did, so all the merchants of Liberty should be pleased with us.

On Saturday night we got our ‘60s theme started with a screening of “The Rutles,” Eric Idle’s mockumentary based on the Beatles. Then we ventured into early-’70s territory with “The Ice Storm,” which is a visually beautiful movie, and good for a trio of photographers to watch.

On Sunday we took some twisty back roads to get to the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope, where we lay in a dark room while a funky sound and light show played in a huge overhead kaleidoscope. We were more or less inside the kaleidoscope. That’s where these photos were taken.

We then made a quick side trip to the town of Woodstock, where, like any good middle-aged person, I bought honey and marmalade.

In the evening, we went to the site of the 1969 Woodstock concert, which despite its name is nowhere near the town of Woodstock, but rather in Bethel, in the next county. We were there for “Hippiefest,” an outdoor concert. We lay on the grass and heard from Badfinger, Melanie, The Turtles, Jack Bruce of Cream, and Eric Burdon & The Animals. I was most interested in Melanie, initially, but I enjoyed Jack Bruce and, after some initial skepticism, I warmed up to the Animals too. In fact, everyone sounded really good.

Each band only got to play about four songs, so they pretty much stuck to the hits. Melanie’s set list: “Beautiful People,” “Brand New Key,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Look What They Done To My Song, Ma.” Check out Ched's excellent photos of concert-goers here.

Adding to our adventure, we promptly got lost after leaving the concert, and drove around on some of the darkest, hilliest, windiest roads I’ve ever taken -- featuring hills so steep that you couldn’t see down the other side as you topped the rise. We eventually found our way, as you can surmise from the fact that I’m typing this post. Whew!

Anyway, it was a great weekend. Thanks especially to Ched for all her hospitality! Here’s a one-minute video from the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope, so you can have a mini-psychedelic experience of your own:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Brush with Fame

It's Restaurant Week in New York, which means some of the city's fanciest restaurants are offering prix-fixe lunch and dinner specials to bring in customers during the slow season. Yesterday, my boss, a coworker and I went to Bar Boulud, chef Daniel Boulud's newest restaurant, near Lincoln Center.

I ordered a cold carrot soup, chicken with caramelized onions and a chocolate mocha tart. The food was excellent. But what was even better was a little brush with celebrity: Barbara Walters came in with another woman and sat in the next booth, so she and I were back-to-back. Pretty cool, huh?

(Photo: Spilled paint in Harlem, July 2008)