Monday, March 30, 2009
Sign of the Season
I walked down to Stuyvesant Square Park yesterday thinking I'd see some crocuses and daffodils -- and I did, though the crocuses there looked a bit bedraggled. Then I found this graffiti at Second Avenue and 15th Street. Who needs real crocuses, anyway?
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Cinematic City Corner
Not long ago I rented a movie called “The Boys in the Band." It’s considered a groundbreaking movie, from 1970, about gay men and gay culture. By today’s standards it’s overwrought and it reinforces some undesirable stereotypes, but it was hugely progressive at a time when gay men were still considered inherently mentally ill.
Anyway, there’s a short outdoor scene with one of the characters standing on a street corner holding a casserole, trading dirty looks with a large woman. Behind them is a small park. The Empire State Building looms in the background. I paused the movie and tried to figure out where that scene could have been shot. And then I realized -- it’s on my street!
The scene was filmed on the northwest corner of E. 29th Street and Second Avenue. I live a block further west, at E. 29th Street and Third Avenue. Above is what the corner looks like today. Below are two blurry screen caps from the movie.
As you can see in my photo, there’s been quite a bit of construction in 40 years. The view of the Empire State Building is now blocked by that red brick building on the right -- the tip of the ESB's spire is just barely visible to the left of the water tower on the brick structure's roof. That tall beige monstrosity in the background (which is right next to my building) came later, too.
The mural behind the two characters in the movie was the real giveaway. A matching companion mural remained on one of the park’s walls until last year, when it was covered over with beige paint. Here’s a shot of it from 2006:
Cinematic history in my neighborhood!
If you're really interested and you'd like to watch the clip, it's here. The corner shot appears at 4:08.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Employed by a Dinosaur?
If you’ve seen my Facebook page you know we got some more bad news yesterday at work -- a pay cut and about 100 layoffs. I’m still employed, thankfully, but a couple of coworkers whose company I’ve enjoyed were let go, and I don’t yet know who else may have been affected.
I’ll try not to get all soapbox-y about the newspaper industry. Our slow strangulation is not a new development. We’ve been losing subscribers for years and years, not just since the Internet boom or the beginning of this recession.
But I do think we’re in a very unusual time right now. I’m not sure people realize how much the welfare of our communities and our nation is jeopardized by the death of newspapers.
The newspaper is literally the only place in most cities where real journalism is practiced. All that news people hear on the radio and see on local TV, and talk about around the water cooler, began in the newspaper. As a reporter I attended many, many government meetings where I was the only press person there -- TV reporters do not make it standard practice to do beat reporting, let alone anything investigative.
Now that our print business, which sustained all of our operations with its lucrative advertising sales, is dying -- what’s the solution?
The current argument is that newspapers made a mistake giving away their content for free on the Web. There’s a move afoot in the industry to consider charging for some Web content, on a “pay-per-view” kind of basis, where you pay more the more you read.
The problem is, this shifts our costs to the readers -- and that has NEVER been our business model. Advertising paid the bulk of our costs, not readers. It’s those ad dollars we need to get back, somehow, because I’m not sure readers would ever be willing to pay the true cost of their news -- particularly younger readers, who seem to think stuff on the Internet should be free. Real news gathering -- maintaining foreign bureaus, employing people who are specialists in fields like medicine or nuclear proliferation -- is expensive.
Personally, I don’t think we ever will get those dollars back. Our old business model is dead. I really have no idea what that means for our future, or the future of our democracy. Maybe we and other journalism outlets will evolve to fill the gap. Maybe the gap will never be filled.
(Photo: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, March 2009)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
My friend Bill, who’s a theater critic, called me at work yesterday with the offer of a free ticket to see “God of Carnage,” a new play on Broadway starring Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden. Naturally, I leaped at that! The play was terrific -- hilarious yet posing serious questions about human nature. There’s even a scene where Hope Davis vomits visibly on stage. What’s not to like?
You all know how much I like spam e-mail with interesting subject lines. Here are two I got this week:
-- Get your head effectively cleaned after last night
-- Become a wild cat for tonight! Scratch him to orgasm!
I guess these were supposed to sound good -- but you know, they just don’t.
(Photo: Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, March 2009)
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Stealing from Old People
Those of you who enjoy dream interpretation, I need your help. Here’s a dream I had last night:
I’m living in a beach town in Florida and there’s been a huge hurricane. I decide to go out after the storm for a cup of coffee. But as I walk to the coffee shop I realize it’s way too far, so I turn toward home, deciding to take the beach road back.
The road along the beach has been heavily damaged and eventually it disappears altogether. I’m slogging through sand that becomes almost waist-deep, and then I’m walking through waist-deep water. I’m worried about what might be in that dark, murky water. I see floating debris and, at one point, I think I see bones.
Amid the debris, I find a small pink box. I tuck it in my bag and slog on.
Finally, I come to a waterfront gift shop, also heavily damaged but intact. I go inside and an elderly man and woman are working there, trying to restore their shop after the storm. I realize that all their stock comes in pink boxes like the one I found, so I pull it out and show it to them. They’re happy that I found some of their missing stock. We open the box, and inside is a set of laminated cardboard coasters with a Chinese motif -- plum blossoms and so on.
They turn away and I’m about to put the box on the shelf when I decide I want these coasters. I put them back in my bag and leave the empty box behind. I turn to leave and as I’m walking out the door I hear the old woman exclaim to the old man, “It’s empty!”
So this is what I’m reduced to -- stealing from old people after a hurricane. And stealing cheap tourist crap at that.
(I think I had this dream because I’m reading a John D. MacDonald mystery, “The Deep Blue Good-by,” which takes place partly in the Keys and is steeped in Florida imagery.)
What could possibly be going on in my mind?
(Photo: "Very Often I Cry When Alone" by Kosbe, street art in SoHo, March 2009)
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What happens after we die?
I asked my Zen teacher that question once, early in my practice, prepared to hear about reincarnation or karma. Instead, she said Zen doesn’t say much about an afterlife. After all, we just don’t know.
And indeed, in all my subsequent years of attending the Zendo, I’ve never heard anyone address any kind of life-after-death. Zen is focused on the living, the now.
I was primed to hear about reincarnation because Buddhists in general are often said to believe in it. The common perception is that it means coming back in a new body as a snail or a dog, or maybe even another human. Some believers do, in fact, think of it that literally.
I have a much more general sense of what reincarnation might mean. I think we come back as a part of everything. Whatever energies we possess, whatever matter is contained in our bones and tissues, goes back into the earth and nourishes the next round of beings. We are not reincarnated in an intact spiritual sense, but a more general biological one -- and hence spiritually too. We are literally part of it all. (Not that we aren’t already!)
I’m not concerned about “making my mark” or “leaving something behind.” I will almost certainly have no children -- nor do I want any -- and my work is mostly focused on the day-to-day minutiae of society, so it will be quickly swallowed up by the abyss of information that surrounds us. I’m fine with that.
In fact, I’d rather not leave something behind. You know that saying you see on signs in national parks, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”? That’s kind of how I feel about life.
When I die, I just want to vanish. I don’t want a rock with my name carved on it -- why waste a perfectly good rock? I don’t want a grave. Millions of people before me, going all the way back to our lives in caves alongside mastodons, have been born and died and left no trace. I want to join them.
Edward Hoagland has an essay in the March issue of Harper’s magazine where, being elderly, he reflects on life and the prospect of dying. Like me, he seems to believe we merely return to the earth when we die -- no spiritual dramatics -- and he’s fine with that. He writes:
“If heaven is on Earth, it’s hardly contradictory to love sunshine chevroned with tree shadows in the woods, plus the low-slung moss, a tiger-colored butterfly, the Tiffany glitter of a spider’s web after a gust of rain, and the yellow-spotted salamander emerging from under the nearest log -- yet feel content to die.”
(Photo: Driveways in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, December 2008)
Monday, March 23, 2009
Joan and Jeremy
I had a great day yesterday, combining all the things I said I wanted to do Saturday but couldn’t. I ran errands in the morning, stocking up on Raisin Bran at KMart, where it’s $4.49 a box rather than a totally insane $6.50 at Gristedes. Then I promptly blew those savings and more on a photography book, “Store Front” by James and Karla Murray, whom I’ve met a couple of times at street art events. Great people, with a cute dog.
I went on a photography walk through Hell’s Kitchen, and stopped at the recently reopened Market Diner on 11th Avenue and 43rd Street, where I’ve long wanted to go -- it’s a very ‘60s building with a jagged roof and lots of plate glass. One of my better diner experiences, and I am a connoisseur of diners! I got banana nut pancakes, with plenty of pecans. Two thumbs up!
Then I met my friend Bill and we went to see “Impressionism” on Broadway, with Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons. It was a nice, basically unchallenging romantic play that wouldn't hold up to much critical dissection, but I like both Joan and Jeremy a lot. Really beautiful staging and art direction, which one would expect from a show called “Impressionism." I sat right behind Michael Musto and his very unusual looking, recently-laid-off colleague Lynn Yaeger, from the Village Voice.
Finally, I came home and caught up on some reading and on another episode of “The Jewel in the Crown.” I’m nearly finished -- one more disc to go.
(Photo: Maybe the happiest photo I’ve ever taken! A Metropolitan Hardware delivery truck in Hell's Kitchen, yesterday.)
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Of course the retreat was great. It’s the same old story -- I’m unmotivated at first, then I get into the groove and wonder why I was so unmotivated. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen that story a dozen times, and for that I apologize!
I read in Charlotte Joko Beck’s ”Everyday Zen” that anger stems from feelings of separation -- a sense that you are “other” than the person or thing that angers you, rather than part of it, or all part of the same whole. It strikes me that my feelings of resistance to practice -- and potential embarrassment about holding service positions -- also stems from that sense of otherness, that separation. And separation is a delusion. Something to keep in mind.
(Here I have to insert my usual disclaimer that I am not a Zen teacher, so please don’t take what I say about Zen to be gospel -- it’s just my personal experience. Go study with a teacher if you’re interested!)
The retreat reminds me that I really need to whip my life back into shape. I feel as though I’ve been practicing nothing but laziness lately. I’m going to work on refocusing on mindfulness and diligent, daily practice.
On a completely unrelated note, can I just say that I love Michelle Obama?! I love her refreshing candor in interviews, how she pokes fun at herself and the president, and I love her enthusiasm -- the vegetable garden, the green fountain. Despite our myriad national calamities, there seems to be a lot of good energy emanating from the White House these days.
(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, March 2009)
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Today there’s an all-day retreat at the Zendo, and I’m planning to go. I’m having the same internal struggle I often have on retreat days -- part of me wants to skip it and go walking in the sunshine, and go to the diner for breakfast, and read, and maybe run some errands. But the other part of me recognizes that I really need to go to reconnect with my practice.
It really makes a difference to go to a retreat, or sesshin, as opposed to just two hours of sitting. I always feel so good when I emerge -- more intimate with the people I practice beside, and more mindful of practice itself. Yet I always have this little struggle beforehand to get motivated.
Part of my struggle is stage fright. I usually get assigned some role in the services, and I always wonder what it will be, and whether I’ll do it right. I wish I could just go and sit, frankly, but I guess we all have to do our part to make the machine function!
At any rate, on a completely different note, I have to tell you:
1. The arrow mystery I mentioned a few days ago has been solved.
2. The rabbit has been erased.
3. Kim recently posted one of my all-time favorite comedy skits to her blog, so I thought I’d share it as well -- Monty Python’s “Salad Days.” (Not for the faint-hearted!)
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, March 2009)
Friday, March 20, 2009
I’m kind of fuzzy-headed this morning, just like this fire hydrant! I went to a fundraising reception and dinner last night for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, or NLGJA (which we fondly pronounce “negligee”). I had about six glasses of wine over the course of the evening -- hence the fuzziness!
So here’s my history with NLGJA: I first heard about the group in 1996, when I was a reporter in Florida, and I went to the annual convention in Miami. It was such an incredible experience to be there with hundreds of other gay journalists, all talking shop. (Gay men and newspapers -- two of my favorite things!) The conventions are typically a combination of journalism education, panel discussions about gay issues in the workplace and in coverage, and DRINKING. I joined immediately and went to many more conventions in the coming years: Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, New York, Atlanta.
After I moved to New York in 2000 I became a vice president of the New York chapter, a post I held for several years. During that time I also served as the informal leader of the loosely organized gay employees’ group at the company where I work.
I’m not much of an activist, so all this was quite a departure for me. I do think it was important work -- NLGJA encouraged many media companies to offer domestic partner benefits (for those lucky enough to have a domestic partner!) and still raises questions about coverage that's unfair or inept.
But eventually, activism-fatigue set in. I stepped down from my chapter post a couple of years ago, and when my company formed a formal GLBT “diversity group,” I helped transition our existing network to that new format. And then I got the heck out of the way.
All of which is a long way of saying that it was great to go last night and catch up with old friends, and make a few new ones. (At dinner I sat next to this woman, who works for PBS television and was very charming. She teased me for not knowing anything about "American Idol.")
I haven’t been to a convention in a couple of years, but I plan to go this summer -- it’s being held in Montreal, where I’ve never been. (Assuming I’m still employed, which is a big assumption, given the state of the newspaper industry!)
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, March 2009)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Weirdness All Around
St. Patrick’s Day was pretty much off my radar yesterday -- I even forgot to wear green. But when I went out just after lunch to buy some tickets for a new Broadway play (“Mary Stuart,” about Mary, Queen of Scots) the streets were already filled with stumbling, guffawing 21-year-olds. Needless to say, I stayed in last night!
Do you ever have one of those days when you keep seeing weird stuff, and it occurs to you over and over again how bizarre the world really is? Of course, bizarreness is in the eye of the beholder, but that was the day I had yesterday. To wit:
-- New York is abuzz about a woman in the Bronx who was hit by an arrow as she was getting out of a car. The police think she wasn’t a target but was hit accidentally by an arrow fired from a nearby rooftop or park. How’s that for an obscure urban danger?
-- The snowy Swiss alps are enduring an onslaught of nude hikers. Locals are not amused.
-- On Flickr, there is an entire group dedicated to “sexy women with chocolate on their teeth.” (Admittedly it has only six members and three photos, all of the same woman.)
I guess it’s fitting that I should stumble onto this strangeness, as I’m reading “Joe Gould’s Secret,” a book I recently picked up at our company book sale. Joe Gould was a Greenwich Village character who wandered around homeless and claimed to be writing the longest book in the world, titled “An Oral History of Our Time.” Joseph Mitchell profiled him in 1942 for The New Yorker and then wrote this book -- pretty much an iconic portrait of New York eccentricity.
If Gould, a Harvard graduate, really did as he claimed, he would have been a blogger of sorts. He described how he got started on his oral history:
“In a second-hand bookstore, I had recently come across and looked through a little book of stories by William Carleton, the great Irish peasant writer, that was published in London in the eighties and had an introduction by William Butler Yeats, and a sentence in Yeats’s introduction had stuck in my mind: ‘The history of a nation is not in parliaments and in battlefields, but in what the people say to each other on fair days and high days, and in how they farm, and quarrel, and go on pilgrimage.’ All at once the idea for the Oral History occurred to me: I would spend the rest of my life going about the city listening to people -- eavesdropping if necessary -- and writing down whatever I heard them say that sounded revealing to me, no matter how boring or idiotic or vulgar or obscene it might sound to others.”
Sounds like a blog to me! Gould also fancied himself a poet. Here’s my favorite example of his work, titled “My Religion”:
In winter I’m a Buddhist
And in summer I’m a nudist
See what I mean? Weirdness all around.
(Photo: Empire State Building from my apartment window on St. Patrick’s Day.)
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
iPod and I
I made a huge technological leap over the weekend. I bought a docking station for my iPod, and got rid of my 9-year-old stereo system.
I’d been thinking about doing this for a while. I have an aversion to wires, not to mention the speakers and heavy receiver and CD changer that I had to move every time I cleaned. I wanted something lighter, both visually and literally.
I’d been thinking about getting one of those tabletop Bose CD players that come all in one small unit -- a friend of mine has one and they sound great. But after I got the iPod, I thought, let’s step completely into the modern age!
So on Sunday I buzzed down to the Apple Store in SoHo and got the docking station, which sounds great and leaves me with much more open space atop my dresser.
I hauled the stereo up to the thrift store. I thought about trying to sell it on Craigslist but I couldn’t face the hassle of dealing with potential buyers. I figure I’ll just take it off my taxes.
I still have my CDs as a sort of backup, at least for the time being. But now they’re in the closet. And my room seems so much lighter! No more tangled wires living behind my dresser! No more cat hair lurking behind speakers!
(Photo: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, Feb. 2009)
Monday, March 16, 2009
Sentient beings are numberless
I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible
I vow to put an end to them
The Dharmas are boundless
I vow to master them
The Buddha way is unattainable
I vow to attain it
We close every day of sitting at the Zendo by chanting the Four Vows. I thought of them when I saw this sign -- and our distinctions between "good" animals and pests, and our ideas about which sentient beings are worth saving, and which aren’t.
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2009)
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Yesterday I wanted to explore a part of the city I hadn’t seen before. So I hopped on the F train and went way out into Brooklyn, to Avenue P. From there I walked south along Stillwell Avenue through Bensonhurst, all the way to Coney Island. (With many little side trips.)
I visited Avenue P once before, last summer, but had to leave after just a few minutes because of rain. (My pals Lettuce and Squirrel were getting rained out at Coney Island on that very same day.)
I’ve always been curious about Avenue P because of “Really Rosie,” a children’s TV special developed by Maurice Sendak and Carole King back in the 1970s. I don’t ever remember seeing it as a child, but I was introduced to the music in the ‘80s by my friend Suzanne, who knew I loved King’s music. Rosie, a little girl who yearns to escape her boring childhood and be an actress, lives on Avenue P.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find a whole lot of terrific graffiti out there -- just lots of uninspiring tags. But once I got to Coney Island -- which I had visited before -- I found some good street art, and lots of other pictures as well. Coney Island looks even more desolate these days, with its amusement park now shuttered for redevelopment.
The tag above was on a phone booth. It could almost be a piece of Zen calligraphy -- disciplined and yet so simply and thoroughly an expression of the moment.
Friday, March 13, 2009
When it comes to technology, I’m not a so-called early adopter. Despite all my blogging and digital photography, it takes me a while to warm up to technological advances. I’m a luddite at heart.
(I didn’t even get a cell phone until 2006 or so, after a trip to Chicago where I could not find a pay phone to save my life. I realized a cell phone was a necessity, but even now we have a prickly relationship. Sometimes I leave it at home just for the heck of it.)
Some Web stuff I’ve taken to pretty well. I really like Facebook, for example, which lets me maintain contact with hundreds of people all at once, and to give special attention as warranted. I have about 300 Facebook friends -- which one of my non-virtual friends says puts me squarely in the category of “Facebook whore” -- and some of them are people I haven’t seen in years.
Generally speaking, if you ask to be friended and I know you or have known you in the past, I’ll friend you. Who am I to reject someone’s outstretched hand? Consequently, a couple of my Facebook friends are people I barely knew in high school, or people I know only through work. Some of the work friends are people I’ve never met face-to-face, but have dealt with over the phone or otherwise. Some of them have even left the company since, but we’re still friends, which is a little weird, frankly.
On the other hand, I sometimes get friend requests from people I don’t know at all. These, I ignore. I have to know you -- even if just barely -- to be your Facebook friend. Seems fair, right?
All in all, Facebook has been a blast. I've reconnected with old friends I haven't spoken to in years, going back to people I knew in elementary school. It's great to see what everyone is up to.
On the other end of the Web technology spectrum is Twitter. I have a Twitter account, but I have never taken to Twitter and don’t understand why I would want to. Walking around with a little mobile device, sending out “tweets,” just seems way too obsessive to me.
So, you know, to each his own.
(Photo: I took these shots of the Empire State Building from Fifth Avenue while walking home from work a few nights ago. The clouds were low, reflecting the light from the tower, which was a cool effect.)
Thursday, March 12, 2009
-- I rented “Dirty Dancing” and watched it last weekend. Somehow I never saw this movie, cultural touchstone that it was in the 1980s. Now I can see why. It is 100 percent terrible. Jennifer Grey can’t act, and Patrick Swayze is too old for her.
-- While I was in India in January I thought often of a miniseries I watched on public television in the early 1980s called “The Jewel in the Crown.” (It was on Masterpiece Theater, hosted by Alistair Cooke, he of the stolen body parts.) Anyway, I discovered that Netflix has the whole series on DVD, so I’ve been rediscovering “The Jewel in the Crown,” which is about the final years of British rule in India in the 1940s. It’s been great so far.
-- I just finished Phoebe Damrosch's book "Service Included," about her year working as a waiter at New York's super-swank Per Se restaurant. It was a fun, fascinating look at what it's like to be a server in a high-end establishment, where waiters make six figures and their clients are the wealthy and famous.
-- I’m now reading John McPhee’s “Oranges,” a book from the mid-1960s about the Florida citrus industry. It’s considered a landmark in Florida journalism. I'm familiar with much of the information about citrus cultivation, having grown up around the kids of citrus farmers and pickers, with grapefruit, tangelo and orange trees in my yard. McPhee's history of citrus, though, is all new to me.
(Photo: Artificial blossom on the sidewalk, March 2009)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The bulbs in our front garden are beginning to come up, as you can see from the unremarkable photo above. We have both daffodils, which are the smaller shoots, and tulips, the bigger ones.
In the winter, we cover our garden with pine cuttings, as you can see in the photo. We used to pay a gardening company about $600 to install a variety of greenery, but this year we just had our building super buy a deformed Christmas tree and cut off all its branches. It cost about $30! The pine lasts for months and gives us some greenery over the dreariest part of the winter. We’ll probably take it up within a week or two.
When we got our big snowfall last week, I was worried the snow would harm the bulbs. I always think those little shoots are far more fragile than they really are. Of course, they're made to endure snow, and it didn’t seem to faze them at all. They just kept on coming.
I should get out to Central Park this weekend and look for crocuses. I’ll feel robbed if I miss them!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
A Book Sale!
After a two-year hiatus, we’re once again holding our charity used book sale at work. If you have a really incredible memory, you may remember how this works from the last time I wrote about it: We collect used books from employees and books that are lying around our offices, and we sell them to other employees, with the proceeds going to a charitable foundation.
A couple of years ago we made more than $40,000. But that was in our previous office building, where we had a well-oiled system for collecting, sorting, shelving and selling the books over a whole week. This year we’ll make much less because we’re starting from scratch in our new headquarters -- we collected fewer books and we have only three days to sell them.
Still, so far, we’re doing well. I spent lots of time over the last several weeks helping to collect and sort thousands of books, including this past Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday was the first sale day, and it continues today and tomorrow.
The big fringe benefit of working at the book sale is that I get first dibs on browsing the books! Here’s what I’ve bought so far:
-- “The Deep Blue Good-by,” by John D. MacDonald. A master of Florida fiction!
-- “I Know This Much is True,” by Wally Lamb.
-- “The Underminer: Or, the best friend who casually destroys your life,” by Mike Albo with Virginia Heffernan. (It’s a humor book, though it may not sound like it, and Albo is hilarious.)
-- “Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea,” by Robert D. Kaplan.
-- “Joe Gould’s Secret,” by Joseph Mitchell. (A profile of an eccentric New Yorker.)
-- “Through the Children’s Gate,” by Adam Gopnik. (A New Yorker writer and his family move back to New York City from Paris, just before Sept. 11, 2001.)
-- “Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life,” by Adam Gopnik.
-- “Consider the Lobster,” essays by David Foster Wallace.
-- The collected stories of John Cheever.
-- “New York State of Mind,” photographs of New York in the 1970s by Martha Cooper.
-- “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” by Richard Bach. (OK, it’s cheesy, but I have a sentimental affection for this quintessentially ‘70s book -- and it was just 50 cents!)
That should keep me reading for a while! I’ll probably keep very few of these books -- they’ll go back to charity after I finish them. (Martha Cooper and Jonathan L. Seagull are keepers.)
Anyway, I’ll let you know how well the sale fares!
(Photo: The graffiti artist known as Booker or Reader admonishes people to "Read More!" and often paints images of books. Lower East Side, July 2008)
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Yesterday I went running outside for the first time this season, and I had an amazing experience. The critical factors were relatively warm weather, sunshine, blue skies, my iPod, and endorphins.
(Endorphins, in case you don’t know, are substances released by the body during exercise. They’re thought to be the source of the “runner’s high.”)
I got out at 6:30 a.m. or so, and ran down by the East River, on my standard route to the Brooklyn Bridge and back. I think it’s about five miles. The temperature when I began was in the mid-40s but getting warmer.
I had never run outside with my iPod before. After I bought it just a few months ago, I loaded it up with all my music -- literally everything.
Well, the first mile or two of a run are always the hardest, and I discovered while laboring along that my iPod is inadequately organized. It’s full of folk music and light rock, and I had it on shuffle. I’m here to tell you, you just can’t run to Joan Baez, as wonderful as she is. I need to create a special “running” playlist pronto!
Anyway, I made it down to the bridge, feeling better and better as I warmed up, and skipping past songs that didn’t suit the moment. There’s a sign at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge that explains its history, and I touched it and turned for home, as I always do.
This is about when the endorphins really began to surge. I ran past all the old guys from Chinatown doing tai-chi facing the river; I ran in the shadows beneath the FDR Drive, under the Williamsburg Bridge, past the empty soccer fields in East River Park. The sun was rising and brightening, reflecting off the river’s surface, darting in and out from behind passing trees.
My iPod landed on a great running song -- for one who came of age in the ‘80s, anyway -- “Alive and Kicking,” by Simple Minds. And just then I rounded the bend near the Con-Edison plant at 14th Street, and all of midtown was laid out in front of me: the United Nations, the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, all that amazing architecture and POWER. And I felt FANTASTIC. I thought, “Holy cow! This isn’t a movie! This is really me, living here in the greatest city on the planet, healthy on a beautiful day! This is my LIFE!”
And then, a few minutes later, as I began to slow down at 23rd Street, “Alive and Kicking” ended and the iPod magically landed on a song I'd long thought would be perfect to have played at the conclusion of my funeral: “Good Night,” by the Beatles.
Now, it might seem morose, but it was a truly beautiful moment. I love that song, as intentionally sappy as it is, and coming right after “Alive and Kicking,” just as I stopped running, it seemed to say: Life is short. In the grand scheme of things, it passes as quickly as the interval between two songs on an iPod.
It choked me up a bit, which sounds silly, but even thinking about it now makes me marvel. So I guess I can’t entirely blame the endorphins.
(Photo: As I walked back to my apartment after my run, I found these two perfect gerbera daisies lying on the sidewalk! Another piece of everyday magic? Or just a floral delivery gone awry?)
Friday, March 6, 2009
After waiting about 25 years to read it, I finally finished “Catch-22” the other day. I did not love it.
My mom had a copy and urged me to read it back when I was in high school. I remember starting it, but I didn’t get very far. (It was probably a yellowed mass-market paperback from the 1960s with about nine million tiny, tiny words on each page.)
Recently, while I was at Barnes and Noble, I saw a new trade paperback version with nice clean, wide pages. I bought it and gave it my best shot.
It’s pretty much a guy’s novel -- one long military joke, about stupid officers and inept decision-making. The reader has little emotional investment in the characters. With a few exceptions, we learn virtually nothing about the men and their backgrounds, and their inner lives -- if they have them -- remain obscure. Even the few exceptions seem more like cartoons than full-fledged characters. The rare compelling moments, like when the main character is nursing a dying man in the back of a bomber, get overwhelmed by the slapstick.
I can see how it would have been more sharply relevant when it was being read by veterans of World War II and Korea, during the years of our growing involvement in Vietnam. But it’s interesting that now, even with our military deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the book doesn’t make that same connection. We as a society are so separated from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The structure of the military is so different these days.
Anyway, in terms of relevance, I did find one segment that really spoke to me:
“Won’t you fight for your country?” Colonel Korn demanded, emulating Colonel Cathcart’s harsh, self-righteous tone. “Won’t you give up your life for Colonel Cathcart and me?”
Yossarian tensed with alert astonishment when he heard Colonel Korn’s concluding words. “What’s that?” he exclaimed. “What have you and Colonel Cathcart got to do with my country? You’re not the same.”
“How can you separate us?” Colonel Korn inquired with ironical tranquility.
“That’s right,” Colonel Cathcart cried emphatically. “You’re either for us or against us. There’s no two ways about it.”
“I’m afraid he’s got you,” added Colonel Korn. “You’re either for us or against your country. It’s as simple as that.”
“Oh, no, Colonel. I don’t buy that.”
Colonel Korn was unruffled. “Neither do I, frankly, but everyone else will. So there you are.”
Now, who does that remind you of? Did Colonels Korn and Cathcart go on to occupy the White House, decades later?
(Photo: Snow on E. 30th Street, March 2009)
Thursday, March 5, 2009
I was psyched when I went to my local grocery store last week and found kumquats for sale. Kumquats are not a common feature in produce departments -- the only other place I’ve ever found them in New York City is Chinatown. I never expected them in my local Gristede’s.
These kumquats weren’t the freshest I’d ever seen, but they looked more or less OK, so I bought them. Having polished them off over the course of a few days, I went back last night for another pint. The typically gruff cashier looked quizzically at them as she rang me up. She said she’d never had one, and seemed dubious when I told her the whole fruit is eaten -- everything but the seeds. The woman behind me in line volunteered that her grandmother used to eat them, but she personally didn’t like them.
They’re definitely an acquired taste. I remember eating a kumquat when I was a kid and thinking it was the most disgusting thing ever. They’re a sweet and sour, citrusy burst of flavor -- kind of like pulpy orange zest with a sweet kick. (My mom says they’re better bird food than people food.)
What’s especially funny about these kumquats is they’re grown in Dade City, Fla., which is about 20 miles from where I grew up. It’s pretty weird to be in New York and eating this little fruit that came from the soil of good old Pasco County. But apparently Dade City has become known as the Kumquat Capital of the World -- the town even has a Kumquat Festival, which I’m sure arrived after my own departure, as I never heard about it as a kid.
My mom’s next door neighbor has a kumquat tree, and when I’m home for Christmas I often dip into her yard for a handful of kumquats. (With permission, of course!) They’re terrific right off the tree -- and a lot cheaper than $3.99 a pint at Gristede’s!
(Photos: Reflections from the colored glass of the Westin hotel on the facade of the old New York Times building, W. 43rd Street)
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Someone drew this nicotine-addicted rabbit, who looks suspiciously like an editor, on the whiteboard in a conference room at work. Doesn’t it look like a James Thurber cartoon? (But he’s long dead, so we can’t credit him.)
The whiteboards are supposed to be cleaned every Friday, but that rabbit has been there for weeks. I think the cleaning crew is just being lazy, but I'm glad they’ve left him alone. I’ve even taking to maintaining him personally. Every once in a while someone writes notes or a comment on the board around the rabbit, and after a while I go in and erase them, leaving him in skeptical silence once again.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
When I wrote yesterday's post I hadn't yet been outside, so I didn't realize how much snow we got during the night. (I never know what the weather is doing until it happens -- I seldom bother with weather reports.) When I stepped outside to go to work, I was shocked to see so much accumulation.
You'd never know it was March! I guess this is what they mean by "in like a lion."
(Photos, from top: E. 30th Street; the back yard of my building; garbage from the high-rise next door; bicycles on Third Avenue)
Monday, March 2, 2009
Back to Winter
Well, yesterday turned into another action-packed day.
I zipped over to New Jersey in the morning to help my friend David assemble a new desk he got at Ikea. It was an adventure, with a million little screws and anchors of all different sizes, but fortunately the directions were very clear (and entirely pictorial) and we figured it out in a couple of hours. No drawers, thank God.
Then I went straight across Manhattan and out to Brooklyn to meet up with my friend Kate, who wanted to do some walking. We wandered through Williamsburg and Greenpoint -- an entirely different direction from where Katherine and I walked Saturday. We found some neat street art while walking along the East River, and though we were only out for an hour or two, I was chilled to the bone by the time we got to her apartment. The weather was changing, turning blustery and gray.
Kate, her partner Moom and I had dinner, and Katherine (from Saturday) joined us later. Greenpoint is a very Polish neighborhood, so we’d planned to have a Polish feast with mushroom and cheese pierogis and different Polish beers. At the last minute we had a menu change, though, and went with gnocchi and Polish beer. If I were a chef I’d call it “Italian-Polish fusion cuisine” -- and Moom, who did most of the cooking, is Vietnamese-American, so there was a bit of that sensibility thrown in as well. (Coconut ice cream for dessert, for example.)
While we ate it began to snow, and by the time I walked to the bus stop the streets and cars all had a light dusting. A few days ago it was warm and bright enough to seem like spring, but for the time being at least, we’re back to winter.
(Photo: E. 29th St., last night)
Sunday, March 1, 2009
On the Hoof in Brooklyn
I went walking yesterday with my friend Katherine through Brooklyn, looking for interesting graffiti to photograph. It was a marathon! We started in Williamsburg, which always has tons of street art, and then headed east along the edge of Bushwick and down into Bedford-Stuyvesant, and back around into Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. It took us about five hours to make that loop.
These neighborhoods are all very distinct, and they have their own distinct street art. Williamsburg and Bushwick tend to attract artsy young people, so they have a lot more paste-ups, stencils, stickers and such. Bedford-Stuyvesant, on the other hand, has more old-school graffiti than anything else. So I got a good range of pics.
Katherine took the photo above in the outer part of Williamsburg. That speck on the left is me, and I’m 6’2, so you can see how big Norm’s wall-sized roller piece is!
All of these neighborhoods felt very safe, but I guess we looked out of place in Bed-Stuy, because we actually got stopped by the cops. About four of them pulled up in a van and asked us what we were taking pictures of and where we were from. I didn’t respond at all -- I was furious actually, thinking, “None of your business!” But Katherine’s cooler head prevailed and she said just enough that they seemed satisfied and drove on. (Law enforcement generally frowns on graffiti photography, because they believe notoriety encourages the writers, but there’s nothing illegal about it and we were on a public sidewalk.)
In between all the walking, we stopped at Rocco’s pizza in Bed-Stuy for a slice (chicken and broccoli!), and had coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. All in all, a great day!
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Feb. 2009)
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