January 31, 2008

January 28, 2008

Underground celebrities I have almost known

Tayor Mead lived in the building next door to the one Bill and I shared on Ludlow Street. We'd see him once in a while in the courtyard in back feeding a stray cat. Observing classic New York sensibilities, we mostly ignored him, but we did meet at a party once. I was with my friend Dennis. We recognized him immediately of course and I took the opportunity to introduce myself. "Hi, Taylor, " I said, "I'm Joe..." Before I could finish, and wagging that great sleepy head, he said in the exact dour tone of voice that Jerry Seinfeld used decades later when greeting Newman, "Hello... Joseph." Dennis cracked up. I went to get a drink.

January 23, 2008

Pier 51

I lensed a series of photographs of several defunct piers in Greenwich Village in the late 1970s, early 1980s. They were a kind of Death in Venice on the Hudson River, and each year Pier 51, the hangout and hookup favorite on the north edge of the Village, sank deeper into the drink. Ruins are sexy. With each new lurch it became more dangerous, more exotic, more alluring.

The interior, a vast dark cavern, was pierced with dusty light where gashes in its corrugated walls were opened by each new twist in its grotesque but romantic demise. At one point artist Gordon Matta-Clark had cut a handful of geometric-shaped perforations in the corrugated steel walls. The most compelling of these was a moon-like crescent cut high up in the far wall of the main warehouse's three-story cavern; the sky-light which it emitted gave the huge darkling "moon room" a cultic atmosphere that would have stirred the heart of a Mayan priest.

By the summer of 1980, the floor inside the huge space was warped at its far end to a near forty-five degree angle that dipped to the height of a full story. Seagulls sailed through jack-o-lantern chinks open to the western sky. The river glittered darkly underfoot between unexpected chasms in the sloping floor. Strangely enough, I don't recall having heard of anyone being injured by the structure itself, which seemed to wrench and stumble in secret, unobserved. The disorientation that its skewed interior environment worked on one's perceptions only stimulated the erotic playground which it had by then become. Day and night it was cruised and stalked. Turn a corner, exit a passageway, you were as likely to encounter a scene from your fondest wet dream as from your grimmest nightmare. The more inhibitions fell, the deeper the pier sank, and the more fantastic its inner landscape became. By the end of the decade, the debauched and dire 70s, the bizarre landmark finally lurched beyond any but the most dedicated access from the street. And there it sat, until the city finally had it disassembled and hauled away, a dragon dissolving in its own doomed fantasies.

January 21, 2008

Black Wednesday

Bill was my roommate for a large swath of my two decade romp in New York City. We shared the loft in Tribeca, the floor on Ludlow Street, the little apartment on Little Jones Street. Our boyfriends and girlfriends came and went, but Bill and I always found ourselves in one another's company after the dust had settled, after the love had gone. He was one of the brightest people I've ever known, a Loyola graduate, erudite and agreeably flawed. He pretended to never forgive me for reneging on the hair cut (he liked my hair cuts) that he won, after emptying my pockets, in one of our fiercely contested poker games. I have photographs of Bill somewhere, which I don’t feel like digging out. Suffice to say he looked a little like John Casavettes and a little like Soupy Sales. An erudite Soupy Sales with a snarl.

An actor and director, his heart was in the theater but like many others like him, he often found employment elsewhere. We met, through friends, at an art gallery in Soho that he was heading up at the time. I had done a series of studies on the old West Village waterfront piers to which he took a liking, and showed at the gallery. He eventually connected with the Public Theater, and after a spell in the literary department, was soon directing the likes of Robert De Niro and guiding young playwrights to their first outings on stages that mattered. He was close friends with Sam Shepard, and accepted Sam's Obie (I think it was for Buried Child) for him one year... having borrowed my Roland Meladandri suit for the occasion. One day, practically out of the blue, he looked at me, and in one of his dismissive-sounding, and therefore all the more convincing, observations said, "You're living in a state of grace."

Bill had a penchant, as did I at times, for the odd spooky moment. One night in Sheridan square, he picked up a ringing public telephone and was greeted by a friend from California who thought he had dialed Bill at home.

An odd thing happened to the two of us, one summer night. We were leaving the 8th Street Playhouse, a movie theater in Greenwich Village, having just seen Black Sunday, a thriller about an attempted act of terrorism at the Super Bowl. Just as we stepped out onto the street, we turned simultaneously to say something to one another, and soundly bumped heads. At that exact moment, I kid you not, the lights went out up and down 8th Street. In fact, the lights went out all over the city. It was as if the energy powering the city (and lurking ominously beneath that, the very idea of New York) having derived its existence from some heretofore unrealized communion between the two of us, had been jarred and disabled. In reality (a word in this instance I’m sorely tempted to enclose in quotes), lightning had struck a Hudson River substation... it was the Blackout of 1977.

We had each our disparate missions and appointments to keep that night – by the time we met up late the next day at the loft, an easy hike from the village, electric power, and a semblance of ordinary life had returned. But I was never quite sure after that whether New York City actually existed. Bill thought it diverting to play with the idea. But he maddeningly refused, the way old friends often do when pressed for a definitive answer, to confirm or deny.

I found out recently that Bill has died. He died the day after I began this piece, and the day before it was posted. Rest in peace, my friend...


January 18, 2008

By any other name

One day in the summer after I graduated from high school, several friends, Walter & Joseph among them, piled into Billy's van in Ann Arbor Michigan and set out for New York City. We had a sublet lined up and were going to stay for the summer; I wanted to check out a couple of schools. W & J wanted a break from country life. I ended up staying for two decades.


As we drew near the city, we were playing Judy Garland's legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Then, suddenly the city was rising before us... just as Judy launched into Chicago, her fourth encore after 25 songs and two and a half hours on stage in the Big Apple. So that was the soundtrack for our first ever sighting of Manhattan, those three decades ago. Chicago. But somehow, instead of producing a cognitive dissonance, it seemed to fit. Sometimes in a dream I find myself in an idealized and synthesized metropolis, colossal and romantic, in the throb of a dawning adventure.

January 15, 2008

Central Park in winter

Central Park, with its granite outcroppings, its pond, its brown grass, and wet black ginkos was, in late January, a charcoal sketch. An occasional red scarf, a yellow nylon parka, was the only color that winter afternoon. The rest was pale gray, sandpaper black, and cola-stained snow. But it was a pleasant little hike through the park's south end to the west side. It must have been past three o’clock by then. The sun was in the latticed branches, spoking the brindled lawns with quick black strokes. I didn’t want to look at my watch.

Far away, on the unseen perimeters of the landscape, a closely woven tapestry of tiny voices, kids released from school, was unraveling; bright threads of giggles, shouts, broke loose and drifted through the park. I stopped at a bench near the pond. There a boy under the fond gaze, and watchful shadow, of his young mother, stood throwing little clots of snow into the brightly cold and rippling water. With each splash, the boy’s excitement grew, his mother’s affectionate amusement billowed. With each handful his little nylon mitten grew heavier with wet snow. Then just as he seemed to be seriously lapsing into a rhythm, a concentration, into something nearing, perhaps, a first taste of that special frontier that a boy glimpses when first realizing that he can accurately project an object through a magically captured quantity of transparent real space, he aimed a little snowball into the pond, and his mitten flew off his hand with the snowball. It landed on the surface of the water, spun, and was quickly caught on the breeze and carried out into the pond. The boy turned to his mother in surprise. He turned back to the pond, to his briskly departing mitten, which he watched for some time before a huge wail, rising with a deep gasp from some innermost well, suddenly spilled over and was presented, with blatant plaintive abandon, to his mother. He bawled and wailed, betrayal and grief squeezed out like toothpaste from a rolled-up tube. She hauled him up into her arms and with little chortles and coos, kisses and secrets, she turned them both around to face the pond, and with the same affectionate laughter, she lifted his hand to wave bye-bye to the mitten. She then carried him around to the far side of the pond and waited for the mitten, floating light as a leaf and still drifting, scurrying, to come ashore. They had a funny good time fishing it out, with the help of a stem of wilted gladiolas, frozen stiff, that they found in a trash can. She wrung the mitten out and gave it to the boy who wasted no time putting it back on his hand, and that hand in hers.

January 13, 2008


I awoke to a morning padded with a feline-scented fog, mute, and drawn intimately close. I thought of Sandburg's famous near-haiku...

January 10, 2008


Anhinga are tropical and subtropical waterfowl of the darter family; you can see them near freshwater streams, lakes, and wetlands, perched on branches and rocks, endlessly drying their wings in the breeze. With very little oil in their feathers, their buoyancy is reduced, allowing them to dive fast and deep in pursuit of fish. They can swim underwater on extended hunts. They spear fish with their beaks, then bring them to the surface where they toss them in the air and catch them.

I found these at Lakes Park in Fort Myers. I've seen them on Sanibel and Captiva. The coloring of their lower beak and throat reminds me of the carnivorous pitcher plant. Like their cormorant cousins, they strike me as more decorative than beautiful, a subject perhaps for a Japanese painting.

January 7, 2008

Soup yet

I decided to make pea soup from the ham bone left from my brother's roast Christmas ham. Pea soup and toasted corn muffins slathered with unsalted butter - oh yeah.

So I was walking home from the grocery store, talking to myself as usual... shut up, it's a sign of GOOD mental health. I was reviewing the contents of my shopping bag. "Ok, I got split peas, shallots, carrots, corn muffins, butter..." when the boy passing me on the sidewalk chimed in with "...potato chips and grass."

Impudent monkey. When I got home I checked the bag, just to be sure, for potato chips and grass. There wasn't any. :o(

January 5, 2008

About face

I was interviewed by the local news yesterday. If I can track down a clip I'll try and post it. My 90 seconds of fame (the bandwidth is a little more congested these days) on the arts and entertainment segment boosts my exhibit at the municipal gallery, all portraits, the gist of which can be seen below. The show is a salad of portraits - local shapers, friends, and a few celebs. It runs for the month of January.

I enjoy doing portraits. Every face is a narrative, every body a landmark. The best are a collaboration between subject and photographer, a journey of discovery.

January 1, 2008

Riverwalk & rum runners

I took all of three photographs in Fort Lauderdale, and no notes. In fact, I was generally only marginally conscious. In other words, I had a nice time. Christmas was all about quaffing mulled wine and singing Christmas carols, Rogers & Hart, and the Beatles around a baby grand. Yes, it was that gay. The rest of my holiday outing was about the beach, and a club or three. Here's one of the few photos that I got up enough willpower to raise the camera to my eye to take. I think it caught the prevailing mood...

Miami beach is a half hour, a twenty-mile drive, south of Fort Lauderdale. I got hauled down to Haulover beach, the north end of which is a nude beach. I learned something important at Haulover beach. Nobody looks good in the nude on the beach. Sex appeal, apparently, takes art. But among the fittest, hottest, best put-together specimens the girls, in my opinion, had the edge. One lass, lying on her back on a towell, legs bent at the knees, feet flat on the ground, little pink and blond origami blossom open to the ocean breeze... well dang, it was downright pretty. Several guys found her immediate vicinity especially conducive to standing around carrying on what they tried to pass off as casual conversation. There is something about the midday sun that is not kind to the plain facts of guy gear, at least aesthetically, much as I am inclined to feel otherwise in other circumstances.

Later, back at the house, Darryl's lorikeet bit my ear. "He really reached out and went for it!" Darryl said, rather bemused. It still smarts. The incident brought out the nursing instincts of Joop (pronounced Yope, he's Dutch), who swabbed the nip, unnecessarily no doubt, but thoughtfully, with witch hazel. Then we went for an evening walk along Riverwalk park (shown in daylight above) to see all the christmas lights, made twice merry in the river's rippled mirror. The weather was something travel brochures always promise but rarely deliver - a tropical dream come true. Warm, breezy, cool. If there's anything about Fort Lauderdale that I don't like, I haven't found it yet. It's smaller than Miami. Hipper than the Keys. Gorgeous and cosmopolitan. And, as Connie Francis damn near lamented those decades ago, it's where the boys are. A fact that, as my own decades accrue, I'm inclined to somewhat wistfully lament as well...

Back home on the gulf, I spun out the rest of the holiday with my brother and his girlfriend. Santa left my annual four lb. bag of pistachios and assorted other goodies. We had lunch at Rib City, where we eagerly waited to see which of us would get the usual ridiculously over-generous portion of baby backs. This time it was Linda. The time before that it was me. The four or five times before that it was Jack, whom we had begun to suspect had a covert and standing arrangement with the kitchen. Til the bounty finally broke my way.

It's 2008, kiddies. I went to a party at my usual haunt, a local waterfront enclave nearby where I do a lot of recent photography. This is the place...

The bar turns out a great rum runner. Here's a recipe:

1 1/2 oz light rum
3/4 oz blackberry brandy
3/4 oz banana liqueur
1/4 oz grenadine syrup
1 1/2 oz orange juice
1 1/2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz dark rum

Pour all liquids except dark rum into glass. Fill with crushed ice and stir. Float dark rum on top and stir gently.

Happy new year.