Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

I didn't stay in the city today after all. Dave is off work today so I decided to spend the day with him instead. I'll go into the city Wednesday, maybe, and do some photography.

I spent yesterday afternoon at our town's Memorial Day Observance, which I wrote about for my news blog. Small town news, once again!

Our sushi dinner last night was great -- and we found a guy doing an amazing sand painting in Union Square.

(Photo: Memorial Day decorations)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First Firefly

I was taking a walk last night when I saw my first firefly of the season -- a sure sign that spring is giving way to summer. And this morning when I went bike riding, I kept catching the scent of jasmine (or honeysuckle?) sweetening the air. It's a great time to be outside!

Suburban pleasures aside, Dave and I are going into the city tonight to have dinner with my friend David. We're going to Haru, a sushi place near Union Square. (I'm not a huge sushi fan, but David likes it a lot and this dinner is for his birthday.) Then I'm going to stay over in my apartment tonight and go on a photography walk tomorrow. I feel very overdue for spending some time hoofing it in an urban environment -- and there's been a lot of street art activity lately, so I need to catch up!

I just finished re-reading Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It's often thought of as children's literature, but it's pretty entertaining even for adults -- especially those of us who love Jefferson Airplane's "Go Ask Alice" and the double entendre of all the drug allusions. (I'm not confessing anything here!) I read an old copy of my mom's from her childhood, which added to the experience.

(Photo: "For sale" on the Upper West Side, a few weeks ago.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Still here!

Wow, what a week! I don't know how I got from Monday to Friday with no posts -- I kept thinking I should write something, and then I'd get sidetracked and never quite get it done. Whew!

Not that anything very urgent or interesting has been happening. In fact, maybe that's the problem -- if something interesting occurred I'd feel compelled to write a post! Instead, it's just been life as usual, which of course is interesting to me but probably not to the rest of you.

I've been working on my freelance gig. Last night I covered an awards ceremony for teenagers at the local courthouse. Quite a comedown from the professional press corps, and yet strangely fun. I enjoy reporting for a change, however mild it may be. This Sunday I'm covering the Memorial Day ceremony in the park. Woo hoo!

In fact, my life hasn't changed a whole lot. When I was working, I was in front of a computer all day, bouncing around on the Internet. Now I'm home, in front of a computer, bouncing around on the Internet. C'est la meme chose. (Except, of course, for the lack of a substantial paycheck.)

Aside from my freelance work, I've been catching up with "Thirtysomething," one of my favorite TV series of yore. I rented the DVDs from Netflix and I'm digging them. The show isn't dated at all, though some of the clothes and styles certainly are. Oh, those crazy '80s!

I really need to get into the city and do some photography. I'm completely out of pictures to upload to Flickr. On Wednesday I tried to photograph some graffiti I'd seen the previous Friday near the New Jersey Turnpike, and it had already been buffed. I couldn't believe my bad luck!

(Photo: Ladybug in the field behind our apartment. I hope I haven't already used this photo!)

Monday, May 24, 2010


Here's the one surviving Banksy piece in New York, as far as I know -- and even it's dubious. Some people suspect it's not a Banksy at all, even though it showed up about the same time as his other pieces (which were all immediately vandalized). This one's in a somewhat unlikely part of town, and some people say it doesn't quite look Banksy-ish. I got the location from a friend and paid it a visit yesterday morning. Dave and I took turns posing beside it, doing our best cheerleader imitations. (That's an unrelated Cecs tag to the right, by the way.)

So, yes, we did finally get into the city yesterday. I visited my apartment and got the place cleaned up a bit, and brought all my art home to New Jersey. We got it all hung last night, and now our space feels even more like home to me. Now if I could only bring home my furniture! But the real estate agent wants me to leave it in the apartment for now, because it helps define the space and show potential buyers how things could be laid out.

I had a dream last night that someone made an offer. Maybe that's a good sign!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Burgers and Bernstein

Well, today was something of a fiasco. Dave and I planned to go into the city to clean my apartment (must maintain it for the real estate gods!) and pick up some of my art, so we can bring it to New Jersey and put it on the walls here.

But just as we reached the Lincoln Tunnel, after driving an hour and crawling through a traffic jam caused by construction on the New Jersey Turnpike, I realized I forgot my keys. I had no way to get into the apartment! I called my super and my real estate agent, hoping one of them would be able to let me in, but neither were available. So we turned around and came home. We'll try again tomorrow. (Sigh!)

One bright spot: On the way back, we stopped at the White Rose System restaurant in Linden. White Rose is a down-home diner that's famous for its sliders, miniature hamburgers that are something of a New Jersey specialty. I'd spotted it on a photography trip in mid-March and always meant to go back. I had a cheeseburger and a vanilla shake, and Dave had a plate of sliders. The food was good, but I've been a little nauseated all afternoon.

Last night we went to see Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. It was a terrific concert -- Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" and Mahler's first symphony. Dave kept exclaiming about what an astounding conductor Dudamel is, and indeed he's a young star of the musical world -- he was recently the subject of a segment on "60 Minutes." But what makes a conductor great? Dudamel is very enthusiastic and expansive in his gestures, but it's more than that -- Dave says he's visibly connected to the music and the orchestra, very Zen-like. It's hard for me to see, but I can certainly hear the evidence.

You may have heard that the famed British street artist Banksy recently visited several cities across the country, including New York. I haven't had a chance to see his pieces in Manhattan yet, and unfortunately most of them have already been destroyed by Banksy-haters. A shame!

(Photos: Dandelions in the field behind our apartment, early May.)

Friday, May 21, 2010


Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky -- as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

-- Mary Oliver

(Photo: Beach rose at South Amboy, last weekend.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mystery Flowers

Here are some more mystery flowers that I found in the field behind our apartment. Anybody know what they are?

Speaking of nature, every time I hear any news about the oil spill in the Gulf, my stomach turns. I just can't stand to think about it. Newsweek ran a photo of bottlenose dolphins swimming beneath the slick that still haunts me -- and today I read an article about the spill decimating the population of endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles. I suspect we haven't even begun to understand the devastation that's to come.

I hear tar balls are already washing up in Key West and there's some concern the spill will loop out of the Gulf and into the Atlantic Ocean. If it hits the already-stressed coral reefs off the Keys, will they ever recover?

Of course BP and Halliburton should PAY -- they must face some consequences for this catastrophe. But I hope it reminds all of us of our role in the global energy marketplace and the need to be careful consumers. We're all part of the system that has put the Gulf in jeopardy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Yesterday I was wandering the Upper East Side with my camera when I came across a couple of framed artworks discarded by some trash cans on the sidewalk. One, a sort of montage of Spanish bullfighter scenes, was hideous. The other was quite nice: a pencil portrait of an attractive woman in a suit, her eyes watching something to the side, her hair wafting in the breeze. I named her Conchita and decided to take her home.

Salvaging Conchita meant temporarily abandoning my photography walk and heading immediately to the subway, lugging a heavy frame. (Conchita is protected by a sheet of glass.) The frame is filthy -- it looks like it's been stored in a closet or basement for years. But the artwork, from what I can tell, is still in great shape.

I got Conchita home and propped her up for this very inadequate iPhone photo, so I could show Dave what I'd found. (I'm sure he thinks I'm crazy.) The art is signed Randall W. Parker, and I'd guess it's an '80s piece, judging from the overall style and Conchita's obvious shoulder pads.

Manhattan is the best place in the world for finding stuff on the sidewalk!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Urban Beachcombing

One of my favorite pastimes is to wander the beach and look for cool stuff that’s washed up on the incoming tide.

I’m not a beach person, in the sense that I don’t like to lie in the sun and broil. But I do love beachcombing. Maybe it comes from growing up in Florida, where I spent countless childhood hours collecting shells on the Gulf Coast. Some of my best memories of Morocco involve wandering the beach at Essaouira with my friend Liz, who like me knows how to comb a beach.

I just finished an interesting book on the topic, “Washed Up: The Curious Journeys of Flotsam and Jetsam,” by Skye Moody, a beachcomber-author from Washington state. Moody told some great stories about the strange marine forces that carry objects from one continent to another, and about the people who collect all the fun stuff that manages to make it to shore.

I always thought of beachcombing as shell collecting, primarily. But Moody made me appreciate all the other things that wash up on beaches, from plastic toys to driftwood to messages in bottles. I don’t think seagoing plastic trash is good, but considering its origins and travels can be interesting.

Anyway, it’s funny that I just finished this book yesterday, because Dave and I spent part of the afternoon at the Raritan Bay Waterfront Park in South Amboy. Being on an urban beach -- and it is very urban, believe me -- gave me an opportunity to see first-hand all the items brought in by the waves in such an environment.

Of course there were rocks and oyster shells, and these tiny black snails crawling the muddy flats. But there was also lots of broken glass -- and not the cool, rounded kind known as “sea glass.” These were recently broken shards.

There was organic waste, like fish heads. There was plastic waste, like this hollow green Easter egg.

I’m not sure Dave appreciated my fascination with all the detritus on the shore. But the dogs had fun being walked near the water, and it was nice to spend the day someplace we’d never been before.

I’m going to mail Liz my copy of “Washed Up.” I think she’d love it!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Skylark Diner

Is this a groovy building, or what? It's the Skylark Diner in the nearby town of Edison, where Dave and I went to dinner with our friend Bill on Monday night. I've been driving past this place for months thinking, "I really need to go there," being a huge fan of mid-century architecture. I think this is actually a newer restaurant made to look mid-century, but never mind -- it's still cool.

(Check out these photos.)

The food was interesting -- it's not your typical diner fare. It was a little more artistic. I had a lemongrass-marinated turkey burger with grilled pineapple and mango salsa. Awesome!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Squirrel Invasion!

I was sitting in our living room yesterday morning, reading, when I heard the unmistakable sound of an animal clunking around in one of our closets. At first I thought it was one of the dogs, but then realized both were with me. This was something else. It sounded big.

I traced the sound to the back of the air conditioning closet, where there's a duct that seemed to house the trapped animal. It scrabbled around and occasionally squeaked frantically. I couldn't see it -- it was either inside the duct or in the wall. I called maintenance but by the time the workers showed up, the animal had quieted, and then remained quiet all day.

I thought it had escaped, but no such luck. When evening came, it started up again -- scratching and clawing and squeaking. That squeak, really more of a squeal, was the most pathetic thing I've ever heard. Eventually it began chewing, and then I realized that the back of the air conditioner closet -- an area tucked so far behind our air handler that I couldn't reach it even if I'd wanted to -- was also the side wall of the closet in our spare bedroom. I could hear the beastie behind that baseboard, chewing away.

I was home alone, and determined to get it out. It sounded so scared, and the idea of allowing it to die behind the wall was just too awful. I was pretty sure it was a squirrel, but I didn't care if it was the biggest, meanest brown rat on the wharf -- I was going to free it.

I had some tools, but I didn't want to just tear into the wall willy-nilly. So I called maintenance again, and this time the maintenance man heard the beast. He agreed we could open the wall, and he began the job with a carpet knife from our toolbox. When we made a small hole, we could see the trapped animal, which was indeed a young squirrel. It treated us like attackers, not rescuers, lashing out with its little claws and squealing and moaning in fear. (I'd never heard a squirrel moan. But trust me, they do.)

The maintenance man left to get some more tools and I made the hole larger. When it was about three inches across and two inches high, I was confident the squirrel could emerge. Problem is, it was so scared it didn't want to, and there was no way to safely reach in and grab it. I stapled a cloth laundry bag over the hole and baited it with peanut butter, thinking the squirrel might climb into the bag. No such luck.

Finally I removed the bag, turned out the light, opened the window and closed the bedroom door, thinking the squirrel might escape outside by itself. It came out of the wall pretty quickly, but then didn't seem to know what to do. It scampered around the bedroom, which is unfortunately our storage area -- unorganized and full of lots of squirrel hiding places.

About this time, Dave came home. We gave the squirrel the suitably androgynous name of Sam.

At least now I knew it was going to survive. I put down a saucer of water and a few chopped walnuts, and Dave and I went to bed, thinking it might get outside by itself during the night. But this morning, it was still there, tucked into a corner.

So we began the arduous process of removing everything from the room -- boxes, luggage, a bicycle, pictures, stacks of books. Finally we had almost everything out and there were few places left for the squirrel to hide. We chased it around with a bedsheet for a while, finally trapping it. We took it outside and it streaked away toward a bush, no doubt thinking it had gotten the best of us.

I can't tell you how relieved I am.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rainy Day Disc

I was walking yesterday afternoon when I found several CDs by the side
of the road. It looked like someone's music collection had been
pitched out their car window. (I pictured an ugly boyfriend/girlfriend
altercation, but who knows?) I left them there, thinking whoever owned
that music might come back for it. But first I took this pic, because
the rain beaded so beautifully on the surface of the disc.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ugli, or Uniq?

The "Ugli Fruit" are back in the grocery stores, and I'm psyched! These are Jamaican tangelos, and though they really are Ugli (as you can see), they're delicious. The brand I bought this week is actually called Uniq -- same fruit, different brand name. Still Ugli.

I can see already that I am going to have trouble keeping up my personal blog as well as launching the community blog for the paper. Though I'm not yet posting a lot there -- about once a day -- it's taking a lot of mental energy to think about what I need to do next and how to make the blog more pleasant for readers. Whew! Still, it's nice to have something professional to do.

Hopefully I'll be feeling less scattered soon, and I can focus here once again!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Job, Sort Of

I've started a freelance job with a newspaper chain in central New Jersey, helping produce a local news blog. It's just getting launched so it's not quite polished yet, but as you can see I'm writing for it already. It's going to be interesting to maintain two blogs!

It feels great to be working again, even though this job is very small and doesn't pay much. It's just a way for me to get my feet wet and gain experience with an entirely new company, and keep my skills honed. (And feel useful, I suppose.)

The content is what's known as "hyperlocal," meaning it's all about people and events just within East Brunswick. I won't be writing about national politics or that kind of thing. And I won't even be doing much hard news, because the newspapers already employ a reporter who covers government, cops, city hall and such -- I'm writing about more featurey stuff, which should be fun. (Eventually we'll fold the harder news into the blog somehow, though.)

My hope is that it may turn into a real job someday, but who knows. In this economy, and especially in the world of journalism, all bets are off.

Speaking of which, did you see the news about the Washington Post Company putting Newsweek up for sale? I have several friends at Newsweek and I've been a subscriber for about 18 years, so I hope the magazine is able to survive in some form. I don't think their recent changes have been for the better -- I preferred more reporting and less opining. But apparently the feeling is more people, and particularly younger people, want opinion and perspective in their news, rather than the old-style goal of objectivity -- I guess I'm just old-fashioned in clinging to that ideal.

(Photo: Shadows on our bedroom wall, yesterday morning.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I spent yesterday walking around the city shooting lots of street art and graffiti. I was on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side in the morning, and then after lunch with my friend David I schlepped out to Brooklyn and walked for a few hours there. I found TONS of stuff, and the weather was spectacular. The only drawback was the intense allergy attack I suffered after several hours outside. My body hit pollen overload!

I also took care of some business, closing my accounts at the credit union of my former employer. The staff half-heartedly told me I could keep my money there and bank by mail, but surely even they must realize how inconvenient that would be.

Last night's co-op board meeting went smoothly, and I am SO HAPPY to now be finished with my board service. I have such a sense of freedom, not having to worry about the building's budgets or repairs or management. It was a great learning experience, and I was happy to do it, but after five (or six?) years I was definitely ready to step down.

Meanwhile, we did lower the price on my apartment. So if you know anyone who's looking for a studio in Manhattan, send 'em my way!

(Photo: Underdog on a truck on Madison Avenue.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Now that I've shocked everyone with my views on population control, let's have a nice non-controversial post today. How about two cute cats that I photographed while wandering in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago?

I'm going into the city today to take care of some business and to lead my final meeting as president of my co-op. After today's elections I will no longer be on the co-op board. Woo hoo! After five years, I am SO ready to turn over the reins.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My Overpopulation Rant

Remember “The Population Bomb”? In the 1970s, overpopulation was a major global concern -- widely discussed and generally accepted as a critical problem. Governments advocated family planning programs on everything from public health posters to postage stamps, and as I recall, the issue of population control regularly made television news.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what happened to that widespread public concern. The world’s population now (6.8 billion) is greater than it’s ever been, but we seldom hear anyone (and certainly not anyone in government) advocating population control or family planning.

I suspect they’re afraid to go there for fear of being labeled “anti-family." It’s a shame that the political right has been permitted to hijack the issue and twist the discussion.

I’m convinced that overpopulation is our most critical global problem -- greater than global warming, environmental degradation, energy consumption, pollution, disease, starvation, immigration and crime. Because overpopulation is the single root cause of all those issues.

I’m sorry that global religious leaders have so successfully demonized birth control. (And I’m not talking about abortion here, though I am decisively pro-choice. I’m talking about spreading misinformation about the pill, about vasectomies, about condom use.) I remember a few years ago the pope actually contended that Catholics ought to be having more children to stay competitive with other religious groups. What is this, a race?

At the extreme are the “quiverfull” people, who contend that we ought to shun birth control and have as many children as God “sends” us, because it’s part of his overall plan. Let me satirically suggest that if they don’t want to take advantage of modern medicine for contraceptive purposes, they should also abstain from taking any of their bazillions of kids to the doctor. The results will also model God's all-natural plan.

When I was in Tampa last week I read an article about a woman with 15 children, no job and a boyfriend in jail for drug dealing. All her income came from the government. She and her 12 youngest kids were living in a motel room, and she was angry at social service agencies for not finding her a better place to live.

Granted, again, this is an extreme situation, and as my friend Sue pointed out, the kids (as always) are the ones who suffer. But I wonder: Are our social service programs so poorly designed that this is the result?

For a long time, the theory was that as societies developed and became wealthier their birth rates would go down. But I’m not seeing that happening -- the pace of development can’t keep up with the birth rates, particularly when people are wearing the blinders of religion and cultural tradition.

I seriously think it's time for every nation to consider imposing limits on the number of children a family can have, a la China. Of course, it’s unlikely every government would do so, and it’s difficult to enforce such regulations. (I'd say mandatory tube-tying after two kids, for both men and women.) Admittedly, the pervasive sexism in some societies endangers female children when childbirth is limited -- we'd have to protect them via focused law enforcement.

But something has to be done. The world can’t continue growing this way. Some people say growth is an imperative -- that economies can’t prosper without continual, steady growth, and merely maintaining equals collapse. I don’t really get that. Fewer younger people would be available to take care of the older generation, sure, but I'm not sure why that would mean out-and-out disaster.

Wow, this entry got huge. Guess this stuff has been percolating in my head for a while.

(Photo: The graffiti artist Chickenkid, who you may remember from this post, left this work in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.)

Monday, May 3, 2010


We're already considering reducing the price of my apartment in New York. Apparently it hasn't attracted as much interest as the broker had hoped, and there's another unit on my floor also for sale, so I have some competition. I'm not crazy about discounting already, but I'll probably go ahead and do it just to move forward.

Ruby's cancer test came back negative, and her blood tests showed only mildly elevated liver enzymes. Further evidence that the vet scared us to death for nothing. We're taking a wait-and-see approach; as long as she seems to feel OK and her bloating goes down, we're assuming she's on the right track.

(Photo: Street art by Paul Richard, Greenpoint, Brooklyn.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moment of Peace

Grant yourself a moment of peace, and you will understand
how foolishly you have scurried about.
Learn to be silent, and you will notice that
you have talked too much.
Be kind, and you will realize
that your judgment of others was too severe.
Hasten slowly,
and you will soon arrive.

-- Chinese proverb
(as quoted in "Buddha Is As Buddha Does," by Lama Surya Das)

(Photo: Cows seeking shade in Land O' Lakes, Fla., last week.)