Saturday, January 30, 2010


This has been a busy week!

On Tuesday I went to Perth Amboy, on the New Jersey coast near Staten Island. A friend on Flickr had told me about a hot graffiti spot there, so I drove over and checked it out. Among the many pieces I found was this one, "Equinox," which is pretty great, if you ask me. Nice colors, nice lettering, nice proportion.

It was a fun drive. I always like exploring new areas, and I found several more graffiti sites along the way, so it was a productive afternoon of photography. At one point I found myself scrambling through brush on the side of a highway overpass, so it was kind of an adventure, too!

Then, yesterday, I had to go into the city for a meeting. When I registered to collect unemployment -- which as I understand it is paid by my erstwhile employer for a period of weeks on my behalf -- I was told I had to attend a mandatory meeting at an unemployment office. As you can imagine, it was bureaucracy in action.

I suppose if I knew nothing about how to search for a job, it might have been helpful. The presenters talked about the services their office could provide (mainly things like help with resume writing and basic training on computers). I filled out some forms. Then I met individually with an employment counselor who spent most of the time talking about the wonderful view of Central Park from Bergdorf-Goodman. (I was thinking, "I'm unemployed. Do I look like I'm going to Bergdorf-Goodman anytime soon?")

The counselor did tell me that she thought the print size on my resume was too small, and I should enlarge it. So I suppose that was something.

Then I went to meet my friend Dan for lunch. Dan's partner Jimmy is on the City Council in New York, and he was taking part in a press conference on behalf of our senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who is emphasizing her support for gay rights as part of her reelection campaign. Dan and I stood on the steps of City Hall and watched the press conference -- in 20-degree weather. It was interesting because I'd never been to New York City Hall, and although I've been to tons of press conferences as an ideally objective reporter, I've never been to one where I could actually applaud and express support for the subject at hand.

We had lunch in the historic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan, and then I caught a train back to New Jersey, carrying a heavy backpack containing all my dishes. (Dave decided he's sick of his own dishes, so I shlepped mine out from the city. Fortunately it's a small set!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010


You know that check I was complaining about in yesterday's post? Well, it arrived yesterday afternoon. Mailed on the 13th, delivered on the 27th. I'd love to know where it's been all this time.

The important thing, though, is that I now have it. Whew!

(Photo: Steps in Greenwich Village, last Saturday.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Check's in the Mail

There is a curious torture associated with waiting for something to arrive in the mail.

I've been waiting for almost two weeks now, and lately, as humans, we're not used to waiting at all. We usually get everything instantaneously, communicating with email and texts and cell phones. We have the information of our global cultures at our fingertips on the Internet.

What I don't have, and what I've been waiting for, is my severance payment from my erstwhile employer.

For some reason, they chose to mail me a paper check. Why, I have no idea. I've had direct deposit for a decade. When I was laid off, I asked how my severance would be paid, and was told it would be deposited just like my paychecks.

But it wasn't. It was mailed, via plain old, everyday, 44-cent mail.

Problem is, I no longer receive my mail in New York. I've been having it forwarded to Dave's, and its arrival has been sporadic at best. I get a piece here, a piece there. I still don't have my New Yorker from last week, though my Newsweek managed to arrive. I got a letter mailed from the Zendo within a few days; other pieces have taken much more time.

Of course, this is not a small check. It's tens of thousands of dollars, and it's just wandering around out there, probably shelved in some dusty corner of a New York City post office by moderately competent postal workers. I'm trying to be very Zen about it, reminding myself that eventually it will arrive and until then there's nothing I can do, but frankly it makes me crazy.

(A friend suggested that my company mailed me a check in order to hang onto the money for a few more days, thereby earning interest. If that's the case, they must be overjoyed that the postal service is keeping it in limbo.)

(Photo: Pigeons in Brighton Beach. Note the Cyrillic writing on the sign -- it's a very Russian neighborhood.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Death of Reason

Sometimes I fear that reason, as a goal of society and humanity, is dying.

I'm not a philosopher or a student of philosophy, so I'm no expert, but I think it's clear that some of our great historical thinkers -- Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others -- valued reason as a tool for navigating the questions of existence. Approaching issues from a reasonable, thinking perspective, with the ability to gather and weigh evidence and come to enlightened conclusions, helped society evolve from European feudalism to a more egalitarian model. It shaped our nation and our ideals.

Nowadays, there seems to be a worldwide backlash against this approach. We see it in the deniers of evolution, the so-called "family values" crusaders, the home schoolers, the evangelical Christians, the radical Islamists, the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Faith, and fighting to the death for faith, has replaced a reasonable worldview for much of the planet's population and many of its leaders.

This isn't entirely new. The Scopes monkey trial took place nearly a century ago, and there have always been elements of society that denied the reasonable, rational approach. But I think there was once a respect for the great thinkers, the scientists and philosophers who advanced ideas about our origins and destinations. Now they are mocked, ridiculed, criticized as anti-God or anti-Bible, or labeled blasphemers or heretics.

When I was in school the word "heretic" seemed so antiquated -- something associated with the Inquisition. Now we see it used all the time by religious fanatics.

I've said it before -- I am not anti-religion. But I am definitely anti-extremism. I think the planet is drifting toward a more extremist existence, and away from moderation and reason. Why this is, I'm not sure -- I think it's grounded in overpopulation and a primal need to fight for turf. We're the proverbial rats in a cage.

People often muse about the death of empires, and whether the United States is in its descendancy as a world power. If we are, I think this is why. We're abandoning sensible, reasonable approaches to issues and to each other, and wallowing instead in extremist faith-based arguments that can only hinder our scientific, social and political progress.

(Photo: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bathing Dogs

I spent this morning giving a bath to my four-legged pals, Ernie and Ruby. They're very clean dogs, usually, since they spend all their time inside and they're not a particularly malodorous breed (unlike, say, black labs). We can usually get away with bathing them every couple of months.

But lately they'd been smelling a little doggy. They have a nice, toasty smell -- Dave likens it to Fritos, and he's right -- but even that can gradually get too intense. There's such a thing as Too Much Frito.

They aren't particularly crazy about bath time, so the routine goes like this:

1. Lure the unsuspecting tail-wagging dog into the bathroom with soft approving noises.
2. Block its escape when it understands what's coming.
3. Hoist all 45 pounds into the tub.
4. Baste liberally.
5. Douse with shampoo.
6. Scrub, while simultaneously frontally blocking the dog's insistent push toward the edge of the tub.
7. Baste repeatedly, continuing frontal block, until all suds disappear.
8. Remove wristwatch you forgot to remove at beginning of procedure, and hope it will still work.
9. Grab towel and shroud dog before it has a chance to shake.
10. Allow dog to escape tub, and towel vigorously. Realize dog must basically air-dry.
11. Watch with dismay as dog shakes.
11. Repeat procedure (except step 8) for second dog.
12. Spend half an hour cleaning the bathroom.

I did the best I could, though it was hardly a professional job. They're far less Frito-ey now.

(Photo: Vent in a graffiti-covered shipping container in Brighton Beach. Not sure why the shipping container had a vent.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Brighton Beach

Yesterday morning I took the train into the city and went out to Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. I'd never been there, and I wanted to check out this area that Neil Simon made famous in his stage play "Brighton Beach Memoirs."

When Neil Simon lived there as a boy, it was a largely Jewish community. Now it's very Russian -- perhaps still Jewish, I don't know. Many of the signs are in the cyrillic alphabet, and the stores clearly cater to the neighborhood's Russian clientele.

I was surprised not to find much graffiti, at least down at street level. (There may have been more up on rooftops, where it could be seen by the passing elevated trains.) But there was still plenty to photograph, especially with such crystal clear light and a cloudless sky. The old Russians were out on the boardwalk, taking in the sun, even with temperatures that were far from balmy.

When I was done walking around Brighton Beach I made my way west to nearby Coney Island and had a hot dog at Nathan's. Then I hopped on the train and came back to Manhattan, where I stopped by the offices of my erstwhile employer to have coffee with my friend Kenneth. Both of us lost our jobs in the most recent round of layoffs, though Kenneth is working through February -- we just traded gossip and caught up on all the drama.

Dave came into the city last night and we went to see the pianist Markus Groh and the Tokyo String Quartet at the 92nd Street Y. It was an all-Beethoven program. I've never been a huge Beethoven fan (Schroeder would be appalled!) but I particularly enjoyed Groh's performance -- from where I was sitting I couldn't see the keyboard, but I swear the guy must have four hands.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Candy, Mandy and Sandy

I'm reading Adam Gopnik's book "Through the Children's Gate," about his return with his family to New York from Paris in 1999. He describes the ever-changing nature of the city, the buildings that disappear so new ones can be erected, the shops that close, the blandness that encroaches with gentrification.

I was reminded of the gentrification of my own neighborhood, which has undergone substantial changes in just the seven years I've lived there. The most vivid example of that gentrification is the story of Candy, Mandy and Sandy.

When I moved to East 29th Street in 2002, a rotating group of hookers used to hang out on a nearby corner, at 28th Street and Lexington Avenue. A friend who lived the next block up jokingly called them Candy, Mandy and Sandy. There were actually more than three, but several resembled each other very closely and we settled on that collective nickname.

I hadn't had much experience spotting prostitutes, and I always wondered if I would know one if I saw one. Well, let me tell you, with Candy, Mandy and Sandy, there was no question. They wore the most absurdly inappropriate clothing I've ever seen on the streets of New York -- stiletto patent leather thigh-high boots, miniskirts that failed to cover anything, cleavage-squeezing tube tops, sequins, feathers. They were cartoons of hookers. They were so blatant, I wondered if they were undercover cops.

Their behavior suggested not. I passed them on the sidewalk sometimes early on Sunday mornings, when they were finishing up their Saturday night shifts. They were often loudly and sloppily arguing or laughing with each other -- they seemed only capable of extremes. I wondered why they chose that particular corner, and assumed it had to do with the proximity of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, which funnels traffic from Long Island into Manhattan, and the taxi company offices on Lexington Avenue, where drivers would finish their shifts with pockets full of cash.

Within months of moving into my building, I had an alarming encounter with one of them: As I waited on the first floor for the elevator, the doors opened and inside was Candy, descending from an upper floor. She was counting money. I am not making this up.

Unfortunately for those of us who hate the tide of gentrification that has imposed a child-friendly suburban sameness on much of New York, Candy, Mandy and Sandy have all disappeared. I haven't seen a hooker on that corner for several years. It's possible they're still out there at odd hours when I'm in bed asleep, but I doubt it.

I hope they've moved on to greener pastures, however they define them.

(Photo: Street art in the Meatpacking District, with a rock tagged by Ricky -- perhaps a male counterpart of Candy, Mandy and Sandy?)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I was reading an article in Newsweek yesterday about children of privilege who go on to become terrorists, guerilla fighters or outright criminals: Leopold and Loeb, Che Guevara, Osama bin Laden, and the recently detained Detroit underwear bomber, the son of a wealthy Nigerian doctor. There were other examples, too, and as I recall the ringleader of the 9/11 terrorists grew up in relative privilege in Egypt.

This got me thinking about the link between the freedom that comes with wealth and corresponding feelings of sadness or emptiness. It's not a new idea -- Edward Arlington Robinson wrote "Richard Cory" more than a century ago. A core feeling that money has failed to produce fulfillment, which presumably led Richard Cory to kill himself, may also lead some jihadists to turn to their fanatical ideals.

If you talk to teachers or parents, they'll tell you that children want boundaries. They want direction and discipline, even while they chafe against it. The same is true of dogs, who often seem happier with the attention and direction they get from good training than when their neuroses are running wild.

I think the same is true of all of us. We need the structure and discipline of boundaries and rules, even if only the rules we set for our own conduct. People have an inherent ability to prosper and flourish in difficult circumstances -- how often have we heard older couples say the leanest years of their marriages were the happiest, or heard elderly people look back with nostalgic longing for difficult periods like World War II or the Depression? The rigors imposed by those circumstances helped guide their lives, reducing their choices and their opportunities for wallowing in destructive emotions like self-pity.

I'm not saying we need less freedom. But it's interesting that we yearn, by nature, for some level of discipline and maybe even austerity. When we don't have it, we become Paris Hilton -- particularly if wealth and excess become substitutes for any real human emotion.

(Photo: Aliens in Chelsea, last Friday.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Made This!

OK, it looks like a train wreck, but I'm happy when I make anything. And it tastes great, I gotta say.

This is known as a Paris-Brest Cake. We were watching an old episode of one of Jacques Pepin's cooking shows last weekend when he made this cake, which is supposedly shaped like a bicycle wheel to commemorate a historic annual bike race between Paris and Brest, France. It's made of a pastry known as Pate Choux, and filled with pastry cream and whipped cream.

It's basically a huge, round eclair, without the chocolate.

When Jacques made it, I said, "Wow, we should do that!" So we picked up the ingredients and with Dave's guidance, I made the Pate Choux and shaped the cake. (Technique: After filling a pastry tube with dough, and using the circular impression made by a pot lid as a guide, the cook squirts the dough in layered rings.) We baked it and Dave made the pastry cream and whipped cream (ok, so I didn't do all the work). We cut the top off the cake and layered the cream inside with roasted hazelnuts, and put the top back on. Voila!

The recipe was hilarious: a dozen eggs, two sticks of butter. Any doctor would blanch.*

But that hasn't stopped me from eating several pieces over the past few days. Is it any wonder I ran five miles yesterday, and went to the gym again today?!

Our only mistake was pulling the pastry out of the oven a tad too early. This caused the cake to fall a bit, making it harder to cut and layer with filling (and making it far less photogenic). But the inside was cooked enough so that the pastry is formed, and I was pleased with the results!

*The linked recipe is not the one we followed, which was from Dave's culinary school books. This one is significantly lighter, or maybe just smaller.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Kid Acne

When I went walking in Chelsea on Friday, I found seven pieces of street art by Kid Acne. They all followed this theme, a woman with a sword. I didn't know whose they were until someone on Flickr tipped me off to the artist's name. (This is why we call Flickr a "hive mind," with everyone working together to flesh out the knowledge offered there!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I can't remember the name of the capital of Zambia.

I used to know all the countries and capitals of Africa. I studied the map for hours as a child, fantasizing about the exotic places it depicted, the zebras and hippos and vast rivers, the palm trees that are used to make wine.

And then I went there. I even went to Zambia, though only across the border from Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls. I walked in, walked out again, just to see the falls from the other side.

Isn't it strange how our brains let go of things, particularly those academic factoids we don't use? I probably couldn't do algebra now. I couldn't begin to name the periodic table of the elements. (I suppose there may even be new elements, discovered since I learned the table -- just as some countries and capitals on the map of Africa have different names.)

I remember reading somewhere that living means learning to let go -- to deal with loss. Those losses speed up as you get older. The fact that I can't remember the capital of Zambia makes me feel older. But then, that's not such a serious loss, is it?

(Photo: Sticker by Canadian street artist Charlie Green. I never take street art -- I always photograph it and leave it for the next person to find -- but in this case I boosted the sticker. It's now in my photo album. I have a soft spot for Charlie Green's wise, whimsical creatures, with their third eye.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010


One of my goals while in the city yesterday was to meet with my friend Sybil, from the Zendo. Sybil used to work in photography and publishing, and has written a few books herself. I was interested in getting her advice about possibly publishing some of my photos.

As you know, I've produced two Blurb books of my favorites, but that's not really publishing -- not really. What I'd ideally like to do is find an agent and produce a real book, or maybe postcards or greeting cards or something. Sybil had some useful ideas about individuals and publishers to talk to, and I hope to follow up on some of that in coming weeks.

I'm especially interested in figuring out the commercial potential for all this material now that I'm not working myself. Several people have suggested I put together some graffiti books, but I shy away from that for legal reasons (I think I'd have to get permission from all the artists, which would be a laborious process) as well as ethical ones (should I be profiting from someone else's art, which they've given away for free on the streets?). I'm more inclined to publish "city life" photos like these.

Sybil thought reaching out to publishers specializing in books about New York and those with a Buddhist bent would be a good idea. I've long thought of my photography as an expression of the impermanence and fleeting nature of life that Buddhism emphasizes. So maybe I'll start there.

Yesterday I walked around Chelsea with my little point-and-shoot camera and took these shots, before meeting Sybil. I took the top photo first, then zoomed out for a wider angle with and without pedestrians. I actually took about ten shots of this wall; these are my favorite three.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I spent the night in my apartment in the city last night, the first time in a couple of weeks I've slept here. I had to come into town for a co-op board meeting, and tonight I'd planned to have dinner with some friends -- Dave was even going to join us -- but the host cancelled at the last minute, citing illness. So I'll just kill some time doing photography today before heading back to New Jersey.

It's interesting how lifeless my apartment seems now. It doesn't even seem like mine, I've so thoroughly relocated in my head. At the same time, I still have some fear about selling it. I guess that just seems like such a final step.

It's a necessary one, though. Supporting this place when no one lives here is a ridiculously expensive proposition, and I don't want the headaches and drama of being a landlord. My upstairs neighbor just sold her place for what would be a healthy profit, should I get the same price. So that's encouraging.

But make no mistake -- it's scary! It's not that I have any doubts about Dave or our stability -- it's just the continuing realization that indeed, this stage of my life seems to be over.

(Photo: Some seed pods that I keep on my coffee table, and formerly kept on my desk at work. They're from an Ear Tree; I picked them up near my friend Lynn's house in Tampa in the mid-'90s.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Massage Attack

For Christmas, Dave bought me three gift certificates to a local spa for sports massages. He knows I love a good massage!

When I went to redeem the first of these certificates last weekend, though, I discovered that this was not your typical Swedish-style or deep-tissue massage. In fact, I'm guessing the woman who performed it isn't a licensed massage therapist at all. I think she was flying pretty much by the seat of her pants.

The "spa" is something of a glorified nail salon. (In fact, one of our percs for buying three massages was that we got a free pedicure -- about which more in a moment.) When I got there, I was shown into a small changing room and given a white robe. I was then taken to a room with a massage table, where a middle-aged Asian woman asked me to disrobe and lie face-down.

Most massages seem to involve long strokes, using some kind of oil. In this case, though, the woman began by pressing down on my back and limbs -- at one point she even climbed on my back, with her knees on my butt and her hands on my shoulders. (She didn't speak much English, but she seemed aware that this might be perceived as somewhat strange, because she asked, "OK?" I said sure. I was trying to roll with it.) She did all this pressing through a towel.

Eventually she did get around to removing the towel and applying oil or lotion to my back. But the strokes were not what I've felt with typical Swedish or deep-tissue massages -- shorter, maybe, and more focused. She then bent or stretched my limbs into some surprising poses. (At one point, while I was lying on my back, she pulled my knee up to my chin and then diagonally across my body, and hit my hip joint with her fist. I was like, "Lawsuit!") She put hot towels on my body to remove the excess lotion, and I gotta say, when I left I did not feel oily like I sometimes do after conventional massages.

It wasn't a bad massage -- I did feel good afterwards. I'll certainly redeem my other two certificates, and I appreciate Dave's thoughtfulness in giving them to me. It was just different.

The pedicure was actually pretty great. I'd never had a pedicure before, and I was surprised to find myself one of three men in a room of four customers. The pedicurist soaked my feet, trimmed my cuticles, used a pumice stone on my heels and rubbed lotion on my feet. She asked if I wanted "color," and I politely declined -- but afterwards I thought it would have been pretty funny for me to emerge with pink toenails.

(Photo: Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Alchemist

I just finished reading "The Alchemist," a novel by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho that's become a sort of spiritual Bible for some people. It's about a poor Spanish shepherd who crosses the deserts of northern Africa in search of treasure. Along the way he meets numerous characters who teach him to listen to his heart and to the universe, and show him how to achieve his destiny.

If that sounds corny, well, it is. The book weaves together elements of many religions and traditions and ultimately it winds up being basically new-agey and trite. Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I didn't get a whole lot out of it. There are some kernels of truth but they're buried under a lot of fuzzy feel-good claptrap -- like the very idea of "listening to your heart." I don't know about your heart, but mine just makes a thumping sound.

Fortunately, it was also a very fast read. It took me a couple of hours to read the whole book. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

(Photos: Graffiti in Newark, last week. Strange antlered aliens? I have no idea.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Now, On With Life...

Now that the turmoil of the holidays is past, I'm facing anew all those questions about what to do with my life. It made sense to postpone job searching until after New Year's, because no one would be hiring during the holidays anyway. But now things in the working world are ramping up again, as we all return to life as usual.

So the question is, do I continue to just take it easy for a while, or do I begin searching in earnest? There isn't any compelling financial reason why I can't just take time and relax. My expenses are pretty low (especially if I sell my apartment) and I'm lucky enough to have no pressing financial obligations or responsibilities (like debts, or children or elderly parents who need my support). It's more a question of spending vs. saving the money that I have -- and I'm not talking about doing anything drastic like dipping into my 401K or selling plasma!

I'm thinking I should just pay attention to my own happiness. There will probably come a time when just "hanging out" will no longer be a pleasant option, and I'll feel compelled to find work. But until then, why not just hang out? I'm having fun spending time with the dogs and taking care of our apartment.

I had considered doing some creative writing during this period, and I even tried a little bit. But frankly, I'm not sure I'm much of a storyteller at heart. I can't even tell a joke very well, much less an entire short story or novel! I may play around with that a bit more, and see what happens, but I'm thinking writing a novel is not really my thing.

Some of you have suggested doing more with my photos, and that's an avenue I do plan to pursue. I at least want to find out a bit more about the process of getting an agent, finding a publisher, that sort of thing. They may not be book material, but maybe they'd work on greeting cards or calendars or something -- who knows?

(Photo: The field behind our apartment, this morning. I was walking the dogs when I took this shot. It was about 20 degrees out.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Last night Dave and I went into the city to have dinner at L'Ecole, a restaurant attached to the French Culinary Institute, where Dave went to school. I'd never been there even though it's right in the heart of SoHo, on Broadway and Grand. I've walked past it about a million times. It's kind of scary how oblivious we can be to our surroundings!

Anyway, we had a nice dinner (swordfish for me) and then walked around the FCI building, with its large stainless-steel kitchens and portraits of Jacques Pepin, Bobby Flay and other well known chefs associated with the institute. It was nice to get a first-hand look at a place that was so formative for Dave. We even saw some of his former teachers, who stopped and chatted with us.

Our dinner was in celebratory recognition of the completion of his band's first concert, last Thursday. I attended with our friends Adam and Bill. Overall it was a good show and several people said it was much better than the school had seen in previous seasons, but of course Dave still sees room for improvement, as any good band director would.

(Photo: Subway entrance in Times Square, last week.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

With or Without

Not much to write about today, so I thought I'd just leave you with these two photos I shot in Chinatown on Monday. It's another of my "with or without" experiments, in which I'm trying to get more people into my photos. At first I was intrigued by the shadows on the wall, and that black plastic bag blew in from the left of the frame, which seemed like a nice touch.

Then a lot of people started walking by.

I snapped several shots with passers-by, but I liked this one best because it's the least complicated. I wish I'd been able to get the man's full shadow into the frame, but then he would have been in front of the garbage cans, which would have disrupted their pattern. So maybe this is the best of all possibilities.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I haven't given much thought to New Year's Resolutions this year. I don't usually make a big deal about resolutions -- if I want to change something in my life, I change it, and I don't wait for New Year's! But sometimes it's fun to assess things and see if change is warranted.

This year it's hard to do that assessment because so much is changing anyway. In the past I might have resolved to get a new job, something more professionally challenging, but the universe has made that resolution for me! And everything else seems to be changing, so what could I possibly resolve?

I guess I could resolve to keep going to the gym and stay in shape despite all these changes. I'd also like to find a way to reincorporate my Buddhist practice into my life. I've drifted away from practicing, and I'd like to work on maintaining mindfulness and being open to the universe around me.

At the same time, I don't really miss the Zendo, I must confess. Maybe it's selfish but I'm not missing the obligation of all-day retreats and several hours of sitting at a time. I'm not sure what the future of my involvement with the Zendo will be. Maybe I want a more casual approach to practice. Maybe I can find a sitting group here in New Brunswick. At any rate it would be nice to sit more at home.

I think these are my resolutions every year -- stay fit and practice more!

(Photo: Lower East Side, on Monday.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bruni's Book

I just finished reading "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater," by Frank Bruni, an acquaintance of mine from work. If you've ever wrestled with food issues, or been curious about people who develop fraught relationships with food and weight, you should definitely read this book. It's a memoir with the author's struggle to control his own weight as its central theme, but it's also a touching reminiscence about his family, the various stages of his career and his love life. ("Watch out for the PG-13 parts," Frank jokingly wrote when he signed the book for me.)

I've never been overweight, at least not significantly, but I did go through a period in the very early 1990s when I was obsessed with food and exercise, on a level that put me at the threshold of an eating disorder. When I look at pictures from that period I'm alarmed at how skinny I was. Newly vegetarian, I took great pains to avoid any fat in my diet and bicycled about 60 miles a week. I was struggling with several issues back then, including professional boredom and an unrequited but fierce love for a close friend -- and all that angst wound up being subverted and expressed in my diet and exercise. Controlling my diet became a way that I could control my otherwise unsatisfying life.

So I can appreciate the complex relationship some people have to food. Frank's relationship was different, in that he struggled with being too heavy rather than too light -- and yet, I think he would see similarities in the underlying need to get emotional and personal satisfaction through eating (or not eating, in my case).

What cured me of my food drama was transforming my life. I quit my job, joined the Peace Corps and moved to the other side of the planet, far away from my angst-producing friend. I didn't join for those reasons, but the move undoubtedly did me good. (Unfortunately, the angst-producing relationship continued for another eight or nine years, but that's another story.)

In Frank's case, he buckled down, began exercising diligently, and even became a restaurant critic -- a job that you'd think would be a minefield for someone with a tendency to overeat. But Frank used the job to impose order on his otherwise chaotic food intake, and he managed to keep his weight under control despite eating out daily -- sometimes more than once. Pretty amazing!

At any rate, I enjoyed the book. If you're looking for a good read, check it out.

(Photo: Lower East Side, on Monday.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Auto Adventure

For months now, as I've ridden the train between New Brunswick and New York City, I've been taunted by amazing graffiti in various spots along the tracks. A couple of times I've gone out to photograph this graffiti, but it's been hard because I didn't have a car and was restricted to areas near train stations. And forget shooting from the train -- there's no time for composition, and all I can ever get is a big blur.

Yesterday, I finally had a chance to take Dave's car on a graffiti adventure. I set out about 9 a.m., and drove State Road 27, which roughly parallels the train tracks through Edison, Metuchen, Rahway, Elizabeth and into Newark. I then pushed a little farther into Harrison, across the river from Newark, and got some good shots there before turning for home.

I'd already scoped out several hot spots using the GPS feature on my iPhone. (I hate to sound like an advertisement for Apple, but this phone has definitely changed my life!) While riding the train home on Monday, I watched and remembered where the good stuff was. So all I had to do was go back to that spot with the car and hope I could get access to the graffiti, either by sneaking through holes in fences or with the use of my Christmas-gift zoom lens. I was successful in every case.

There's still more to be shot, though -- so here's to future car adventures!

(Photo: Graffiti in Elizabeth, N.J.)

Monday, January 4, 2010


I'm sitting in Starbucks in SoHo, experimenting with blogging on my iPhone. I'm mainly doing it because a creepy guy is sitting next to me, trying to engage me in conversation. It pays to look busy, even if it's not very Zen!

Typing on an iPhone is not the smoothest process in the world, especially for those of us with big fingertips!

I'm in New York today to finish up some final paperwork with my erstwhile employer. I came in on the bus early this morning, went straight to my apartment and packed up a few things I want with me in East Brunswick. (I've found, not surprisingly, that I really don't miss the vast majority of my stuff, though!) Then I went to my office for what I hope will be the last time, and bought myself a mug at Starbucks to celebrate! (Using a handy gift card!)

Now, despite the cold temperatures, I'm going to go do some photography before heading back to New Jersey this afternoon!

(Photo: My new mug, taken with my iPhone just now!)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I Can't Move My Knee

As long as we're talking about potentially embarrassing personal revelations, like my enthusiasm for middlebrow '60s movies and television (thanks Dave!), did I ever tell you about the time I faked a knee injury?

I was in the ninth grade. I was one of those quiet, nerdy kids who never did anything physical enough to put himself in actual danger. Consequently, I never had any injuries. But I was surrounded by boys who came to school in casts, braces and bandages, wearing proudly the evidence of their perilous lives. (Even my own brother subsequently managed to jam a pair of pruning shears into his neck, requiring surgery and bandages and all sorts of attention.)

One day, and I'm not even sure where the idea came from, I decided to say I'd had a pin put in my knee. I walked from class to class with my leg completely stiff. When someone asked what happened, I told them I'd broken my knee and it was pinned, immobilizing the joint.

The teachers furrowed their brows and said they were sorry, but looked more confused than anything. They were probably thinking what a few of my classmates dared to say: If my knee was pinned, why did it look absolutely normal?

Dennis, one of my classmates, demanded to see the pin. I told him it was inside the knee and couldn't be seen. (I had no idea how joint surgery worked. I hadn't thought to read up on the finer points of orthopedic technique.) Dennis called me on my hoax, saying pins protruded from the skin and were easily visible.

I began to think faking a knee injury might not be such a good idea after all.

I think I limped through the entire day, for appearance's sake -- I couldn't very well pretend the pin just disappeared. But the next day I went back to school and walked normally. I was prepared to say it had been removed and I was back to my old self -- but I never had to, because no one ever asked. They were probably so appalled by my idiocy that they decided to leave well enough alone!

(Photo: Dandelion, East Brunswick, N.J., Nov. 2009)

Emergency Post!!!!!!

Dear loyal Shadows & Light Readers,

I write to you this evening with sad, and disturbing news. My partner, Steve, is ADDICTED to the movie Valley of the Dolls! He claims to be fully aware of his condition, and we are seeking professional help.

After viewing the film tonight with Steve, I'm convinced of his condition: he's obsessed with "the dolls!" He knows every scene, he has memorized every line, and he is fully aware of "inside information" regarding main actor/actress personal information and even "bit player" trivia. As you gasp, please rest assured that I am applying the needed remedy: gin and tonic!

I know you must be in shock as much as I...but remember, we are, afterall, GAY! And this is "normal behavior." However, the severity at which Steve "understands" this film is disturbing to say the least! I will continue with "therapy"...I'll keep you posted.

Concerned partner,
(gay scifi fan who does not understand this obsession!)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

iPhone Crisis

Yesterday my new iPhone decided to crash. Yay!

I was updating iTunes on my computer, so that I could download some of the much-touted "apps" that allow me to do cool things with the iPhone. The update seemed to work OK, until I was also prompted to update the iPhone software itself. That precipitated a crash that froze the phone.

The computer said I could "restore" the phone, but that would erase all my contacts and other information. I had just manually entered all the contacts, so I wasn't thrilled about losing them. I took the phone and my computer back to the AT&T store, hoping for a better resolution, but they couldn't do much for me. So I took the plunge and hit "restore."

Miraculously, the iPhone restored itself and saved my contacts. Hamdu'llah! So all's well that ends well.

What was most interesting about this episode was my reaction -- I completely lost my cool. I was stomping around muttering about technology and the advantages of keeping things simple. I felt sort of foolish once I ironed out the problem, but I get so frustrated when devices don't do what they should. Who's the boss here, anyway?!

(Photo: Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Dec. 2009)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

So do you all have a headache today? :)

I must admit I'm a little bleary-eyed. I went with Dave and our friend Adam into the city last night -- we did not go to Times Square, however. (In all the years I've lived in New York, I've never done Times Square on New Year's Eve...from what I hear it's an absolute nightmare.) Instead, we went to our friend Stephanie's apartment, had dinner, and drank champagne until the ball dropped.

Unfortunately, we belatedly realized we missed the last train back to New Jersey, so we had to stay at Stephanie's for several more hours, until we could catch the 4:15 a.m. train back to New Brunswick. D'oh!

Still, we had fun. Now I'm just glad the holidays are past. I can finally settle down and get back to some kind of routine. Whew!

(Photo: Old Bridge, N.J., a few weeks ago.)