Friday, October 30, 2009

Beachcombing Tassel

I’ve been a dedicated beachcomber nearly all my life. When I go to the beach, my favorite thing to do is wake up in the morning and walk the tide-line before anyone else is out and about (and before the sun gets too hot). That’s when you find all the best shells, and the birds are out feeding, swooping and diving for fish.

Of course, for any kid growing up in Florida, beachcombing is second nature. My family used to go to Longboat Key every summer, and I walked the beaches there for hours with my brother and step-siblings, finding coquinas and conchs and sand dollars.

In 1993, when I lived in Morocco, I took an overnight trip from my village to Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish enclave on the Atlantic coast. There I found masses of old beach glass, and picked up blue, green, brown and white blobs and orbs, all softly polished by the waves.

In Essaouira, also in Morocco, I found incredible shells and wave-smoothed rocks on the beach near the collapsed Portuguese fortress that inspired Jimi Hendrix to write “Castles Made of Sand.”

As small as my one-room apartment is, I’ve saved these items and more -- shells from Madagascar, Ghana and New Zealand; a smooth piece of pink granite from Montauk Point on Long Island.

So when I recently visited the charity Web site Made4Aid, which auctions crafts by my friend Sally and other volunteers, I was intrigued by her beachcombing tassel. It seemed to match my aesthetic really well -- the natural fiber and the shells and glass.

“I learned to make tassels a couple of years ago at a workshop - they're dead easy to make actually,” Sally told me. “I made this one because my niece Amy wanted me to teach her how to make them, so she came over for a bit of a tassel-fest. And having been recently on holiday and beach-combing, that’s why it became a beachcombing tassel.

“The materials are mainly recycled and ‘found’ -- sisal and other threads from car boot sales and charity shops. Bits from the beach in England and Jersey, beads from a shop in Brighton, some beads from old broken necklaces too... and the tiny key is from a box of little keys which was my grandfather’s.”

Well, I couldn’t resist bidding, and I’m happy to say I won my tassel, for $18.20 including postage. It just arrived in the mail yesterday and I gave it a proud place on my wall. I originally planned to give it as a gift, but now I think I might keep it.

I wondered if making it a wall ornament would be depriving it of a more useful purpose. But Sally said she had no special use in mind.

She said, “I see tassels as purely gratuitous!”

Thursday, October 29, 2009


New York has been rainy and gloomy this week. I’ve been enjoying my new desk by the window, though. Rain outside makes me feel cozy inside, even when I’m at work.

Here’s a little update on things:

1. My friend from Tampa, who I was so worried about offending, answered my note of apology yesterday. Among other things, she said, “Honestly, I have no memory of you saying that. If I got mad every time somebody from New York said something obnoxious about Florida it would take an awful lot of energy. You like tall buildings, I like seeing stars at night. To each his own.” Well, amen to that! Funny how I produced a crisis in my mind that apparently didn’t exist at all. Have I learned nothing from my Zen practice?

2. I’m reading “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” and loving it. I’m about halfway through, and I literally can’t wait to come home at night and read.

3. Last night I got a free ticket, courtesy my friend Bill, to see “Superior Donuts,” Tracy Letts’ new play on Broadway. It is EXCELLENT. Letts is a brilliant playwright. Never a dull or dragging moment, and terrific performances all around, led by Michael McKean.

4. My stalker has yet to identify him or herself.

5. Jesus sums up the health-care industry.

(Photo: Bank window, E. 27th Street, Oct. 2009)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lucky Larry

Did you hear about Larry, the 70-plus-year-old lobster luxuriating in a tank at a seafood restaurant in Rockefeller Center? Apparently a columnist penned an article about Larry and won his release. He'll be returned to the ocean near Maine.

I think it's great that Larry's life has been spared. The 11-pounder's alternative, according to the articles, was to be eaten by a rich lawyer or banker for $275.

But it seems interesting to me that we'd spend so much time and ink on a single, old lobster. What about the younger, more sprightly and virile lobsters that have longer lives ahead of them, more reproductive power, more of a future?

The columnist wrote: "Surviving to such an age, having dodged lobster traps all his life, doesn’t he deserve some sort of 'get out of jail free' card?" But does being old, in and of itself, entitle Larry to life any more than any of the other poor clawed beasts in that aquarium?

As Dave already knows, I have a thing about cooking lobsters. I love the way they taste, but I'd free them all if I could. They just look so pathetic, stacked atop one another in those tanks, with their claws banded shut and their eyes and antenna swiveling aimlessly.

I'm no vegetarian purist -- I eat chickens and fish, and I recently ate crab legs at my Mom's house. There's nothing wrong with flexibility and an occasional luxury. But I do try to stick mostly to plant food, and I wish humans were better, as a species, at weighing our needs for survival against the lives of other creatures.

(Photo: Greenwich Village, October 2009)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brain before tongue

Have you ever said something you really, really wish you hadn’t?

Of course. Everyone has. My latest example came at brunch on Sunday with some friends. It may seem mild to an outsider, but I feel really bad about it.

One of my friends lives in Tampa, my hometown, and was in New York for a visit. About ten years ago, after I first moved to New York, I made a couple of offhand remarks in front of her about not wanting to live in Tampa again, or not liking Tampa relative to Manhattan. She took great offense at these remarks and said I was being snotty, basically.

Well, at brunch, my friend was saying that there are no good seafood restaurants in Tampa. Dave turned to me and joked that we should open one. And I said, immediately and without thinking, “I don’t want to go back to Tampa!”

As soon as the words left my mouth I wanted to reel them back like a fish, because I knew they would offend my friend. Sure enough, I haven’t heard from her since the brunch, though I did send her a brief note of apology yesterday.

Sounds mild, right? And honestly, I’m of two minds about the whole kerfuffle. On one hand, what I said is absolutely true – I don’t want to return to Tampa. I also don’t mean that as a judgment of my friend’s decision to remain there. On the other, I can see how she might think, “Well, now that he’s moved to New York he’s just looking down his nose at us.”

It's not even that I dislike Tampa -- I enjoy visiting, and my desire not to return isn't meant to be scornful of the city. All I’m saying is, it’s not for me. I’m not even sure I’ll stay in New York forever – I just don’t want to go back, you know?

Anyway, I’m probably making more out of it than I should, but I feel kind of stupid about the whole thing. I wish I’d just held my tongue.

(Photo: Mushrooms in the East Village, Sunday.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunny Sunday

Yesterday was the perfect opposite, weather-wise, of Saturday. Crystalline blue skies and drier, cooler air -- it was a dream of a day. Dave and I had brunch with some friends and then went walking in the East Village, following roughly the path we took on our first date more than six months ago. It was sort of our little way of commemorating the time we've spent together.

We visited two parks -- Stuyvesant Square, where we watched an energetic brown dog stalk squirrels with his eyes, and Tompkins Square Park, where there was some kind of Halloween costume contest for pets. We saw a ballerina dog and a super-hero dog, a dog dressed like a bumblebee (with an owner to match) and a dog in a biplane, a la The Red Baron. One dog had a pair of stuffed gloves stuck on his back and a sequined sash -- I couldn't figure out what that was about. A gay stegosaurus? Anyway, it was funny, but also slightly cringe-worthy. How do the dogs feel about those silly outfits?

Last night I took Dave and his friend Stephanie to dinner. Stephanie watched my cat while I was in Florida on my last two visits, so this was repayment. We went to Resto, a Belgian restaurant near my apartment, and my verdict is that the beer is spectacular and the food is hit or miss. (I went there once before and had the same reaction.)

(Photo: I found these leaves on the way to the gym in the morning.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rainy Autumn

This was the view from my apartment yesterday. It rained nearly all day, so I stayed in and cleaned, read and relaxed. I love nothing more than staying inside on a rainy day and enjoying the sounds of the rainfall.

I'm reading "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," which someone on Facebook recommended to me. It's an interesting book but it's also huge, so I may be reading for a while! Still, it's an Oprah book, so it must be good.

I got some somber news from my mom this week: A guy who grew up next door to me died of a heart attack a few weeks ago. He was eight years older than I was, and he went to private school while I went to the nearby public school, so I didn't know him well. But I remember visiting him when I was very young, and given that he was only 50, it's shocking to think of him dead. As an old friend's grandmother always used to say, "You never know!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Every once in a while I take a peek at my Site Meter, to see how many visitors my blog has attracted lately. Usually the number is ridiculously, ego-crunchingly low, and in fact, like many of my blog pals I've noticed diminished readership over the past six months or so. (I wonder what's going on out there? Blog overload?)

Anyway, my Site Meter also shows how people arrive at my site -- via a link or a search engine, for example. On Thursday I noticed something surprising: Someone was repeatedly coming to my blog by searching Google with my full name. They were then browsing my blog archives quite a bit, from the looks of things.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think it's cool that someone is checking out my online creation. But who out there is looking specifically for me? Who even knows my full name? (There probably aren't a lot of Stephen Gager Reeds in the world, so they must be looking for me specifically, and most people know me as Steve.) They also use an AOL browser, for what it's worth.

To make matters stranger, someone has been browsing my Flickr account for photos of me and my mother.

Stalker, reveal thyself!

(Photo: Two giant street art pieces of Madonna, who knows a thing or two about stalkers, Meatpacking District, Oct. 2009)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Move Completed!

Well, I'm in my new digs at work. My desk is now by a window, from which I can see mainly the air-handling units of our building -- but the light is good and looking upward I have a view of buildings and sky. (And we all want to look upward, right?)

The move went smoothly, and my boss even managed to do a fair amount of purging. I was impressed!

Not much else going on. I meditated this morning for the first time in a week or so, and that felt good. I really need to get back on a steady diet of meditation and gym -- those routines have been continually thrown off balance by my summer travels and all my trips to New Jersey. (Though New Jersey, or more specifically the person in New Jersey, is clearly still the priority!)

I have to share this video with you. If you haven't seen it yet -- a dog guarding a bone against encroachment by his own hind leg -- you'll die laughing.

(Photo: Leaves on the sidewalk in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2009)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Shoe Drama

My new, specially ordered shoes finally came in Tuesday – and they were the wrong size! For some unfathomable reason, the clerk at the store ordered them in size 10, and I’m a 10 ½ extra wide.

When she brought the box out of the storeroom, I knew I was in trouble. I pointed out the mistake, and she said, “Well, that's what you told me.” I most certainly did not, because I have never been a size 10, but I resisted the urge to argue and tried them on, just for the heck of it.

At first, they seemed like they might work – snug, but not painful. So I took them home for the evening and wore them around the house. When my left foot went numb, I knew I had to exchange them -- but no one can say I didn't try.

I took them back to the store yesterday morning, expecting to have to argue a little. I began making my case gently -- you catch more flies with honey, right? Lo and behold, the clerk was gracious; I guess she knew the shoes wouldn’t work either. I had her measure my foot, just to be sure we were getting the right size, and it turns out that while my right foot is a 10 ½, my left foot is an 11! (No wonder it went numb!)

So, sometime next week, I’ll be picking up my new pair of size 11, double E shoes.

Meanwhile, I’m still wearing Dave’s, which I’ve grown to like, even though they’re a size 12. (In fact, he's given them to me, because he's awesome.) I told the clerk I was walking in borrowed size 12 shoes, and she said the difference between sizes is only 1/8 of an inch, so it's not surprising that I could wear a larger pair. Who knew?!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moving Desks

We’re changing desks at work once again, moving from the north side of our building to the southeast corner. You may recall we did this about six months ago, but in the world of newspapers -- where jobs come and go like cars on a freeway -- people and space are in constant flux. So here we go again.

Last time my boss and I just shifted over to adjacent desks. This time the move is a little more complicated, because it’s farther away and we need to take our files, our printer and our fax machine. I’ve been trying to convince my boss to ditch the fax -- we have a central fax on our floor, and besides, who faxes documents these days? -- but she’s not quite on board with that idea.

My boss, while maybe technically not a “hoarder,” definitely shares characteristics with hoarders. Perhaps “nester” is a better term. She likes to fill her cubicle with stacks of paper, books she never opens, tchotchkes and mementos. It gives her a sense of comfort to be surrounded by stuff. Her desk is her nest.

Moving violates her sense of nesting. She hates being asked to go through stuff and throw things away. She is highly resistant to the act of purging.

I, meanwhile, am the king of the purge. Nowadays the vast majority of what we do occurs on a computer and never translates at all into paper form. So why hold on to antiquated files from conferences that were held in, say, 1994? (My boss would say they’re “archival.”)

Anyway, as you can tell, there’s fodder for conflict in this process. But I usually bow to her wishes. If she really wants to keep something I acquiesce, and I never try to clean out her personal files. (As much as I’d like to.) Every once in a while I just throw something away, and she never notices. Slow and steady wins the race!

(Photo: Meatpacking District, Oct. 2009)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Those Damn Shoes

While I was in D.C. and it was relentlessly raining, I had a serious wardrobe problem: my shoes.

Some people have a sort of shoe fetish, but I’ve never understood that. I have six pair: brown, casual black, dress black, gym sneakers, running shoes and sandals. (And honestly, I should throw out those gym shoes, because they’re shot.)

My brown shoes get the heaviest use -- pretty much every day, in fact. Most recently I’ve had a pair of PGLites, and I’ve really liked them. But after a year and a half of almost-daily wear, they began to self-destruct.

First they developed a hole in the heel, and another in the front sole.

Then, last week, the leather upper began to tear away from the sole, leaving a huge gap that I could push my fingers through.

I ordered a new pair of shoes last week, but they’re not in yet. So while I was in D.C., my shoes were leaking like mad. All day Saturday I was walking around with wet feet, which is a thoroughly miserable experience. Every step I took sucked more water in through those holes; I sounded downright squishy.

My friends know this is not all that unusual for me. I have a history of pushing shoes farther than they’re meant to go. To illustrate, there’s a legendary story in my family about the trip my mom, brother and I took to Glacier National Park in 1990. We were walking along a boardwalk carefully designed to elevate us above the sensitive alpine meadow plants: the columbine, the Indian paintbrush. But the boardwalk was damp and I, in my battered, tractionless shoes, took a wrong step and tumbled, face first, off the boardwalk and into the ecologically protected flora. My mother, walking next to me, did not say, “Are you OK?” She said, “Those damn shoes.”

Anyway, when I got back to New Jersey last night, I showed Dave my horrifying shoes. He had me throw them away immediately and gave me a pair of his shoes to wear. (Amazingly, I can wear his shoes, even though his feet are a size bigger than mine.) I have to admit, it felt amazing to have warm, dry feet once again.

I always feel a little sad when I throw away a pair of shoes. I think of everywhere they took me -- in this case to India, where they were polished by a poor kid who had no idea how to polish shoes, and where I was perpetually afraid they’d be stolen on the overnight train.

But the reaper had definitely come for these shoes. RIP, PGLites!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rainy Washington

As numerous people told me, I could not have picked a worse weekend to visit Washington. The weather was unbelievably bad -- the kind of weather that demands you stay home, in bed, under the covers. Rain, cold, raw winds, you name it.

Still, it was a good visit, mainly because of all the people I saw. I stayed with my friend Liz, an old pal from my Peace Corps days. I wandered around Washington on Saturday, despite the rain, with my blogging pal Reya, who always helps me see new things in a city I know like the back of my hand. And my friend Barbara and her husband David hosted a terrific dinner on Saturday for me, Liz, my high school friend Kevin and "Aileen" of Infinite Connections.

My main reason for visiting was to see all these folks, and the weather gods (as Reya would say) did not deter me.

Reya and I went to a wonderful exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of photos related to the production and use of oil. The photographer, Edward Burtynsky, followed the path of petroleum from drilling through refinement and use to its final stages as a waste product. It might sound very academic or preachy, but it wasn’t at all -- the images were beautiful, with incredible lines, colors, shadows and lighting. We’ve both been talking about our desires to expand our photographic skills in new directions, and this inspired us to consider seeing the possibilities in things we might otherwise consider ugly or unworthy of a photo.

As for the dinner party, well, there’s nothing like sitting around a table with a bunch of friends and sharing a great meal. I think the evening was especially meaningful to me, because friends from several different stages of my life were there. I only wish I’d had more time to spend with Kevin on this trip, and I wish Dave had been able to come. Everyone asked about him, and of course I missed him too.

Here are some more photos from D.C.:

Where am I again -- Times Square? Oh, no, I'm in Woodley Park, near the National Zoo.

From Starbucks near the Navy Memorial: “Hi, I’d like you to meet my sister, Spleonda.”

My street art finds will soon be posted on Flickr. Here’s one -- an angelic tribute to the late, great Keith Haring.

(Top photo: Leaves in a reflecting pond in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bolt Bus

I’ve never written a blog post on a moving conveyance before. This is pretty strange!

I’m on the Bolt Bus, bound for Washington, D.C. Allegedly the bus has WiFi and I will be able to post this when I’m finished. We’ll see!

I’m enjoying the trip, though the weather is gray and dour. Right now I’m on the New Jersey Turnpike, where the leaves are beginning to change and a flock of geese are flying south in v-formation overhead.

I’m reading Jane Fonda’s autobiography, “My Life So Far.”

You may remember how I feel about Jane Fonda. I’ve always been a fan, so I’m enjoying the book. She is very frank about her evolution as a person, her distant relationship with her father, and the mistakes she made while doing worthwhile activism against the Vietnam War -- mistakes that have contributed to her image among some opponents as a traitor.

I’ve enjoyed her perspectives on patriotism, that patriots are duty-bound to speak out when their countries proceed down a wrongful or destructive path. She also says what my mother always used to say -- and probably lots of women have said -- that the typically male approach to problem solving leads to aggression and fighting, and if women had a greater leadership role, there would be far less war.

Her stories about making movies are terrific, and I’ve been inspired to add several to my Netflix queue. (I’ve seen most of her films, but somehow I’ve missed a few big ones -- “Fun With Dick and Jane” and “Coming Home” among them.)

She also tells great stories about working with Katharine Hepburn during the filming of “On Golden Pond.” Hepburn at one point told Fonda:

“If I’d had a child, and the child got sick and was crying just as I had to leave for the theater, where hundreds of people were waiting for me to perform, and I had to make a choice -- the play or the child -- well, I’d smother the child to death and go on with the show. You can’t have both, a career and children.”

I don’t think her overall point is correct -- and neither did Fonda -- but what a character!

(I just told Dave via text that I’m blogging from the bus. He pronounced me “techno-awesome”! Ha!)

(Photo: My view from the bus. Fare is roughly $40 roundtrip between New York and D.C. Much better than the train!)

Thursday, October 15, 2009


A quiet night in New Jersey last night with Dave -- the best kind of night, really. We went to dinner at Carraba's and then went home and watched two episodes of "Top Chef." Both of us are terminally exhausted this week and we struggled to stay awake. Dave failed, but I made it through! Consequently I'm in the unheard-of position of being one episode ahead of him!

This morning we both overslept a bit and Dave ran out of time to get me to the train station -- because when you've got to be in class, you can't just wander in late to work. He dropped me off at a Dunkin' Donuts and I got a cab to the train. I've never had to do that before, but it was easy -- and it made me realize that I need to check out the bus schedules to New York from East Brunswick, because when we're crunched for time like that, the bus may be the better option.

Off to D.C. this weekend for my annual fall visit!

(Photo: Silly graffiti in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Do you know Kylie Minogue? She’s a petite Australian pop singer with a fan base that’s roughly 99.7 percent gay. (Why this is, I’m not sure, except that her music is dancey, glitzy and turns up in a lot of nightclubs.) She ended her North American tour in New York City last night, and I went to the show.

Here’s the uninteresting story of how that happened: My friend Dan called me Monday and asked if I wanted to go. I had nothing planned, and I know two Kylie Minogue songs that I like, so I said, “Sure!” (This and this are the two songs I like, by the way. That second video is the gayest thing ever.)

Kylie opened her show standing on a huge, sparkling, Damien Hirst-style skull, which descended from the ceiling and slowly lowered her to the floor. That set the tone for a fun, glittery and basically vapid night, featuring dramatic lights and big video screens. Kylie herself did a great job, but frankly I found the music mostly uninteresting. She's nothing like my other relatively recent concert, Lily Allen, for example -- Lily is strong and surprising, like a shot of bourbon; Kylie is sweet and unchallenging, like maybe an appletini.

She had brass players. She had confetti machines. She had multiple costumes, hunky backup dancers and, as I mentioned, lots of dramatic lighting. She sang one song reclining on a couch in a sparkly gown, flanked by lion statues, a la Jean Harlow. Quite a show!

I did come home and buy another of her songs from iTunes. But Joni Mitchell is still more my style.

(Photo: Brooklyn graffiti that somehow seems to fit with Kylie Minogue.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


When I was walking in Greenwich Village on Sunday, I found this beautiful spot of reflected sunlight on the sidewalk. I stood in the street and tried to shoot a photo, but it was a busy sidewalk and people kept walking into the frame. Eventually, I decided to include people in the shots.

I've made it a long-term goal to work more with people in my photos, so this was a nice step in that direction. I liked the photo above, especially, because the couple embracing conveys a happy warmth.

This is the shot I was originally trying for. Now that I've shot it with people, it seems strangely empty without them.

This was the runner-up shot. I like it, but because my camera has a slight shutter delay, the women got a little too far to the left for it to be a really good shot. They shouldn't be so close to the margin of the photo. Still, I like the blurry action!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ted Allen and Cheese

Another busy day yesterday! I went to the Zendo in the morning, and it was refreshing to spend three hours actively practicing once again. I juggled lots of questions I've had lately about how deeply I really want to practice and how much (or how little) I should be sitting. And then I ultimately realized it didn't matter because all those thoughts are just that, empty thoughts. I set them aside and I was just there, in the room, breathing. Bingo!

Afterwards I ran some errands and then went walking in Greenwich Village, where I got some terrific photos. (The one above is my favorite.) The light was spectacular, golden and autumnal, and the sky a deep, crisp blue. I found some interesting graffiti and lots of random street shots as well, which I'll post soon.

Last night, I went with Dave and my friend Jan to a wine, cheese and olive oil tasting event sponsored by the Food Network at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District. It was fun -- we had a great variety of cheeses, from sheep and goat to blue cheese and cheddar. The olive oil, however, was a bit skimpy -- three varieties -- and the wine was even skimpier. We started with a Chilean sauvignon blanc, which was nice, but the next thing I knew we were drinking Yellowtail. Now, I hate to be a wine snob, but I do not go to wine tastings to taste something I can buy at a supermarket, you know?

Ted Allen, from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and now a host on the Food Network, was there. He was billed as one of the attractions, but he pretty much just mingled -- he didn't seem to have much of a formal role. Still, we chatted with him and he was friendly and personable, and not afraid to dish a little about his fellow food network hosts. Here we are with Ted.

At the end of the evening I zipped out to New Jersey on the train with Dave, and then back into the city this morning. Tonight, back to New Jersey. I feel like I need to seize every opportunity to spend time with Dave when his band schedule allows!

(Photo: Greenwich Village, yesterday.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brooklyn & Vogue

I went walking in Brooklyn yesterday with my friends Katherine and Peter. We found some interesting graffiti -- though nothing spectacular, at least from my perspective -- and I had a great time exploring two new neighborhoods, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. It felt good to spend time outside, under the yellowing autumn leaves, though I wish I’d worn another layer of clothing. I was just in a t-shirt, and the wind coming off the harbor was COLD!

Last night, I went to see “The September Issue,” the documentary about Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine. It was a fun, interesting movie -- I think it did a great job conveying the beauty and energy of the fashion industry. I am not a fashion person at all, but it left me thinking I should be more careful about the way I dress! (That feeling lasted about an hour.)

I’m going to the Zendo this morning, for the first time in about two months. I’m long overdue! And then I’m seeing Dave -- yay! -- for a wine and cheese tasting at a restaurant in Greenwich Village. More about that tomorrow!

(Photo: Industrial buildings in Sunset Park, yesterday.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peace Prize

There's a lot of buzz this morning about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Some folks are saying it's premature, that he hasn't done anything much as president. I suspect many of those people are Obama detractors who don't want to see the international community contribute any energy to his agenda.

Obama is early into his first term, it's true. But the award should be seen as an endorsement of his vision, and his ability to motivate people with that vision. It's also a recognition of his desire to engage the world and put an end to the go-it-alone approach of the previous administration. It's a rebuke of neoconservatism, basically.

This has been "bad cinema week" at my house. On Wednesday I watched a Doris Day movie from 1966 called "The Glass Bottom Boat," in which she actually sings a few bars of "Que Sera Sera." The sixties look was pretty awesome, but the plot was rather thin. Then, last night, I watched "Meteor," a tepid 1979 thriller that was one of Natalie Wood's last films. Watching Brian Keith play a Russian diplomat -- speaking Russian throughout -- had high camp value, as did watching Karl Malden and Sean Connery wade through spouting cascades of muddy sludge. That could not have been a fun movie to film.

(Photo: Street art by Celso, Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2009)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I have lots of little things going on right now, so rather than try to write a single, cohesive blog post, I’ll update you with some bulleted items:

-- My friend Christopher is visiting from L.A. He called me the day after I got back from Florida and said he was coming to New York the next day, and by the way, could he stay with me? I don’t mind, because Christopher is a good friend and a good guest, but I do miss the opportunity to just relax in my house by myself. Well, that’s what next week will be for!

-- Dave is in band hell this month, rehearsing nearly every night and attending football games on Friday nights and band competition on Saturdays. I’ll only get to see him one or two nights a week from now into November. I miss him constantly!

-- My toilet stopped flushing yesterday morning, sending me into a mild panic. (After all, when you’ve got a guest, that’s a pretty severe problem!) I had to call the building super, who fortunately came over last night and fixed it. The chain from the handle to the rubber flap thing in the toilet tank broke -- that much I knew, and I temporarily rigged it myself. But then a piece of plastic also came off the rubber flap thing, and because it was the same color as the toilet tank, I couldn’t see that it was blocking the water from flowing into the bowl. Panic!!

-- Remember my gold filling? Well, it’s giving me fits. My tooth has been very sensitive to temperature, even making drinking a glass of water unpleasant. I’m hoping this is a temporary state induced by eating frozen yogurt the other night. Stay tuned!

-- Bought a new pair of shoes last night. My previous pair were worn through and the sole was starting to come off. I went to Lord John’s Bootery, around the corner on Third Avenue, and got the same shoes I had before (in a slightly updated style). I had to order them, though, because of course the ones I wanted weren’t in stock.

And there you have it -- life’s minutiae, recorded for posterity!

(Photo: Magnolia seed pods, Land O' Lakes, Fla., Sept. 2009)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski’s recent arrest in Switzerland for drugging and having sex with an underage model more than 30 years ago has generated a lot of buzz in the news.

Many people are outraged that Polanski, now 76, was arrested on the charges, which he fled to Europe in the 1970s to escape. After living abroad for decades he was picked up by Swiss authorities while attending a film festival where he was to receive an award.

Others contend it’s time to bring Polanski to justice for an act that, no matter how you look at it, is clearly reprehensible.

I fall more into the former group than the latter. I think arresting Polanski now, long after the crime and against the wishes of even the victim, serves little purpose. He’s an old man, not likely to repeat the offense, and there are certainly plenty of mitigating circumstances – he’s a genius filmmaker whose life at the time had already been marred by unbelievable tragedy. (He's a Holocaust survivor whose wife and unborn baby were murdered six years prior by the Manson family.)

Of course, those are also arguments that can be made to a judge. I can see how some would argue that’s the proper way to handle the case.

But really – don’t we have more important injustices to pursue?

(Photo: Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2009)

Monday, October 5, 2009


I’m back home in New York, with Armenia happily curled up on my bed and my apartment newly cleaned and ready for the week ahead. I haven’t seen Dave yet -- I’ll go visit him after work today.

As I was sitting on the plane yesterday, having just taken off, the pilot came on the PA system and read the day’s football scores. It got me marveling once again at the way football dominates our culture.

I’ve never understood the appeal of football, and in fact I have a pathological, unreasonable hatred of it. For one thing, I wasn’t athletic as a kid and I never identified much with team sports. I hated being responsible for other people’s enjoyment of a game -- like, if I didn’t catch a ball, their day would be ruined, and they’d yell at me. It seemed crazy. Be responsible for your own happiness, and catch your own damn ball.

I also was forced to attend football games from time to time, which meant sitting in a miserably hot stadium under a blistering sun, surrounded by men screaming at the top of their lungs -- including my father, periodically yelling “DEFENSE!” It was kind of embarrassing, frankly.

These days, even the sound of football on television makes me break out into a cold sweat. The whistles, the referees, the crowds, the music, the announcers. Ugh! I usually prefer to leave the room. There are few things I dislike more.

During my more reasonable moments, I can understand how some people might find it fun to watch. I went to a college game a couple of years ago and, I admit, I had some fun. (I also had some beer.)

But what I don’t get is why it is SO significant. These teams have so much power, so many fans and viewers, and so much money. Particularly in the South, football is probably the defining cultural force.

New York, on the other hand, is not a football city. Yeah, we have the Giants and the Jets, but I seldom hear people talking about them here in Manhattan. Which is part of the reason it feels like home.

(Photo: Dragonfly on wild potato vines, Land O' Lakes, Fla.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I’m at my apartment -- and yet it isn’t really my apartment. It’s more like a generic city apartment, in an old red brick building, with a couple of rooms and a couple of windows, sunlight and houseplants. I’m having lemonade. I think I’m watching TV. Armenia is with me, and there’s also an unconscious rat lying on the table in front of me. The rat begins to wake up. It seems sick or injured.

I use my lemonade straw to dip into my drink and siphon up some lemonade, which I allow the rat to suck from the straw. I am aware that I can no longer drink my lemonade, having now contaminated it with rat. I give Armenia some lemonade using the same straw method, not wanting her to be jealous.

I realize I have to get this rat out of the house. I carefully pick it up -- it seems to be asleep again. I carry it outside into a maze of courtyards and alleys. I’m not really walking -- I’m kind of flying or hovering above the ground. I put the rat down in an alley and fly back to my apartment, entering through the window.

I have to give my brother some keys. I’m pulling them off the key ring trying to remember what they’re for. I keep one that goes with a metal strongbox that I still own. I keep one that goes with a lacquer box, too -- it goes inside the metal box. I’ve just been looking at the lacquer box, which seems to contain coins. Some of the lacquer came off and damaged my dining room table. I hope I can wipe it up. I find a stray Spanish coin on the floor. It’s not very old.

Suddenly, I’m at the Metropolitan Opera, watching “Tosca.” And yet, I am lying in bed. I’m in the first row, and in that row are bench seats that can be folded down and turned into beds. Behind me are rows and rows of elegantly dressed patrons, and I am in pajamas. I’m the only person with a bed. I’m vaguely troubled, even though I paid to have this special bed -- I feel like it might be considered tacky or inappropriate.

I watch an opening number in which the performer has to walk through a sort of bead curtain to the front of the stage. Her costume gets briefly snagged on the bead curtain, but she loosens it with no problem. I notice that she is following a blocking line clearly marked on the stage.

The performance proceeds, but it’s more like a Broadway musical than the actual “Tosca.” An intermission comes, and suddenly there’s a bar to my right. “Do you take ice?” the bartender asks me. I’m so puzzled, lying there in bed, that I don’t really respond. He brings me a glass of whiskey neat, with ice in a separate glass. He tells me to drink it because I’m going to need to participate in the next act!

I wake up.

(Photo: Good Life Lane, where chickens are "4 sale," Land O' Lakes, Fla.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

National Parks

My mom and I have been watching Ken Burns’ newest documentary series, about the National Parks, on PBS this week. When I saw the first episode I was underwhelmed -- but as the week wore on I got more interested. It’s been fascinating to learn the origins of some of our National Parks.

Crater Lake National Park, for example, apparently began largely because of the vision of one man, William Gladstone Steel, who was obsessed with preserving the magnificent lake he’d visited in the Oregon wilderness. Other parks began the same way, with a single individual surfacing as their primary champion, enlisting lawmakers and environmental activists in their cause. Some of these individuals are quite famous, like John Muir, while others are less prominent.

It’s also been interesting to see how the same forces that frustrate me so much in modern politics -- the folks who are against conservation, who believe our human mandate is to use the land and its resources as we see fit -- have been present throughout our history. When Teddy Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon a National Monument in the early 1900s, Arizona politicians were outraged. Can you imagine?

I’ve been to several of the National Parks. In 1983, my dad flew my brother and me to California to visit his family, and we drove back across the country. On that trip we stopped at the Grand Canyon, Zion and the Smoky Mountains. In 1990, I visited Glacier National Park with my mom and brother. And I’ve been to the Everglades a couple of times, though surprisingly I’ve never visited the southern part of the park -- I’ve only biked on the northern loop road off U.S. 41, which is not as scenic or diverse in terms of wilderness.

I love to travel internationally. I’ve visited many countries in Africa and Europe, and I’ve been to New Zealand. But as I get older I’m thinking more and more about traveling closer to home -- there are huge swaths of this country I’ve never seen. (Plus, Dave and I could take the dogs!)

I wouldn’t say this has been a riveting documentary. I don’t think it’s as good as the Civil War series that Burns produced long ago (and boy, I bet he gets sick of hearing that). But it’s been interesting, and it does have me thinking more about discovering the rest of America.

(Photo: A gopher tortoise -- not in a National Park, but in the yard of a neighbor in Florida.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Monsters in Bushwick

We interrupt my Florida vacation to bring you some photos of street art in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I was walking there a couple of weeks ago when I came across this fierce-looking monster, roaring from a variety of walls and doorways.


Thursday, October 1, 2009


I'm reaching that point in my vacation when I start to want to go back home. It's been great to hang out with the family and relax, but I'm feeling a bit antsy and at loose ends. I miss Dave and my cat and my apartment and my city life.

I made one serious mistake when I planned this trip: I did not bring my running shoes. I thought it would lighten my baggage load to leave them at home. It did, but at the cost of my sanity. I really, really need some aerobic exercise, and the release that comes with it. I'm going to get out and do some walking when I finish writing this post.*

My friend Sue liked her vase, which I gave her last night. We went to dinner at an Italian place near an old apartment building where both of us used to live, nearly 20 years ago. It was great to be with her, back in the old neighborhood. The night before last I saw my high school girlfriend, Barbara, who's doing well as an English teacher in the same county where we grew up. Tonight I'm seeing some other old college friends as well.

As William Faulkner famously said, "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."

*Addendum, a few hours later: I feel MUCH better after a 4-mile brisk walk!

(Photos: The back porch of my mom's house.)