December 31, 2011

December 26, 2011

December 21, 2011

O Christmas Tree

The first Christmas tree that lives on vividly in my memory is the one I almost set on
fire, and had my angel not intervened, probably the house along with it. My brother had
received his first .22 rifle that year, so I deduce that he was thirteen years old, and I
was seven. We had opened our presents on Christmas eve. I have no idea how many
seven year olds can sleep all night on Christmas eve. I wasn’t one of them. Up before
dawn while the rest of the family were still snug in their beds, I snuck downstairs,
plugged in the lights, and the magic was instantly, grandly, reignited. And immediately
one of the lights shorted and blew out, sparked, and to my shock and terror flames
began licking up the side of the volatile conifer. My hand was still on the plug. I yanked
it out, ran like a deer to the kitchen and filled a glass with tap water. I threw it on the
tree and was amazed again, and of course relieved, that the fire was subdued. There
didn’t appear to be any residual damage. I went back to bed and hid under the covers.
When the tree was relit in the morning, this time by adult hands, only the errant bulb,
which kept my secret darkly, remained unlit. Only my brother suspected something was
amiss. He picked up his rifle, carefully brushed the water droplets off the wooden stock,
and quickly looked up with deadly suspicion. He caught my eye. We exchanged a
complicated glance. I quickly delved back into my new magic set.

Such is the nature of redemption that we’re sometimes rewarded with custody over the
objects of our trespasses. By the time I was twelve, I was in charge of Christmas. My
family had deferred to my flair for producing the Christmas Event at our house. The
decorations, the tree, the schedule of events: all mine. In the final year, at age 17, of
this curatorial run, I had gone conceptual: our Christmas tree, culled from the pine
forest at our country cabin in Michigan, had no decorations. It was flocked with
artificial snow and illuminated by tiny lights well hidden in its branches. It was the
farewell Christmas statement of my impresario phase. During the day it looked like a tree
standing in a wood after a snowfall. At night it was infused with stars. This delighted my
Dad, who always appreciated my genius (“Joey’s different,” he once mused), and who
had his own flair for iconoclasm. But it drew some skepticism from my Mom and
brother, who relinquished tradition with reluctance. But my brother, by then, had a
house, and a tree, and a family of his own. The mixed review it received from my mother
probably had more than a little to do with the encroaching loss it symbolized of many
things, including her family, into the world from which they came, or were becoming
absorbed. By next autumn her youngest, too, would have flown the nest. There’s a
Native American saying suggesting that a boy must put a mountain range between
himself and his mother before he can become a man. That mountain range, for me,
was the skyline of New York.

Christmas in Manhattan is a cornucopia of holiday magic of singular extravagance and
style. From the towering mother of all Christmas trees at Rockefeller Center, to its
myriad progeny all over the city, every imaginable tannenbaum springs forth to
celebrate the birth of the child upon whose sleeping face that night only the shepherds
and nobodies were permitted to gaze. The most unusual Christmas tree I’d ever
encountered was that of a designer friend of a friend which consisted of a large pine
branch suspended from the corner of the living room ceiling in his posh east seventies
apartment. It appeared to be a live branch, intruding into the apartment from outside,
was hung with upscale crystal baubles, and resonated with the austerity of my tree-in-
the-woods opus on the other side of the mountain range. I had been on the right track
after all. While keeping Christmas ever in my heart, the transience of the half-dozen
addresses under which I dwelt in my Manhattan years, and the generally modest
dimensions of the apartments, or the ownership of larger spaces, they located,
discouraged investment in significant furnishings of any kind. A wreath, a poinsettia or
two, or some ornamental contribution to the communal tree, sufficed. My rambling old
apartment on Staten Island, with its 5135 Kensington Avenue feeling, saw a return of
the Christmas impresario of my youth. Garlands, ribbons, sprigs, a grand old tree
decked out in all the timeless old magic... the place dripped with Christmas. And voices
lubricated with holiday cheer gathered each year around the baby grand while Oscar,
my loquacious zebra finch, cheek spots aglow, joined in to beat the band.

My favorite Christmas tree in literature, loosely defined, may be this very funny riff,
one of several on the subject, from Bill Watterson in Calvin and Hobbes...

That’s my dad all over, who enjoyed throwing my brother and me into consternation by
suddenly demanding, in the middle of August, and with the most wistful of longing, 
“Give me my Christmas present now...”

One day in January, well into Epiphany, I was on my way to a Staten Island deli to pick
up a few items for the larder, orange juice, half and half, a bag of bagels. Several
discarded trees, forlorn with remnants, bedraggled tinsel, waited on the curb for
pick-up in this quaintest of New York City burroughs. A couple of teens, whose sure-
footed strides on the icy sidewalk overtook me, walked up to one of the trees and with a
flick of a lighter, set the volatile conifer on fire. I was amazed at how quickly the
desiccated tree went up in flames, was reduced to a charred skeleton. It virtually
exploded. They laughed and ran. Farther up the street, they ignited another. Then
another. It was quite a show. The rest of my walk to the deli was scented with the
perfume of smoldering pine, rather like incense really. Suddenly it seemed a good time
to take down my own Christmas stuff, and box it away for another year. When I got
home that’s what I did.

December 16, 2011

Correspondence / 2

I love dumplings! Their moist exterior, and dry inside, is such a delectable reversal of nature. They're anapaleolithic, so I don't get to indulge them much of late. Now I'm hungry for some. I always wanted a second burger too. Birthday cake was overrated. 

Oh no... Not the dreaded skinny-fat! You're young. There's plenty of toning left in your life. And never underestimate the appeal of a touch of zaftig. You're a stylish girl. You'll always have that. I feel better when my weight is under control, though. Lighter = lighter. Body, mind, and soul. And a bit of muscle, which is power, lightens the burden of carnal existence still more. I was thinking recently how when I was a youngster, except when I was sick or injured, I was transparent to myself, my body scarcely existed. I was all perception, desire, fear, and will. Seems the arc of physical life is calibrated against the influence of gravity.  A quick ramp-up to escape velocity followed by a brief orbit, and a slow and inexorable decline.

It's cooler here now, in the 60s, and in the 40s at night. Soon I'll be sleeping with the windows open, in my underwear, and under a couple of quilts. The weight of all that stuff, pinning me into my winter cocoon, is somehow comforting. So unlike summer, and its preference for weightless repose, weightless dreams...

December 15, 2011


Watch in HD (the gear icon in the control bar) if you connection supports it.

December 14, 2011

December 10, 2011

December 7, 2011

December 3, 2011


I worked at the New York University publications bureau for a couple of years when I
was in school there. That’s where I developed a lasting fondness for the Optima typeface,
an elegant sans-serif font that was used for all of the university’s publications. The
bureau was a hotbed of gay copywriters and layout artists. There were summer lunch
breaks at Washington Square park and winter weekend parties in Brooklyn Heights. I
struck up a friendship with Justin, a talented photographer who owned a beautiful Pentax
SLR that I admired. He liked my Nikormat EL. We sometimes traded lenses.

Justin derived endless mirth from my pronunciation of kitsch, with a continental i, that I had
learned from my european boyfriend. “That’s so keech!” he’d exclaim, his fingers splayed
in front of him, spastically flapping, as if to shake off a contamination, when he saw some-
thing tacky.

We had this game where we’d walk around the Village, and cover up a portion of some
random sign with our hands, to reveal its hidden message. A STOP sign would
pronounce one of us “TOP.” There was something hilariously authoritative and deadpan
about these pronouncements, at least to two stoned sophomores. We’d approach an ad or
a set of directions and contemplate the possibilities. Manipulations could, with the help
of two hands and some well-placed fingers, get intense. The sign on the front door of my
condo for instance “If I’m not here, I’m at the beach,” could easily become “If I’m not
he, I’m the be-ach.” You catch the drift. Puns abounded.

We were meandering down 8th Street, in the general direction of Chez Madeline, an
immaculate and tiny counter with all of five stools, on Greenwich Avenue. Madeline
herself was the only help. You could get soup and a sandwich and coffee there for under
five dollars. It was a balmy summer day. Peter Allen, wearing a gorgeous yellow
flowered Hawaiian shirt, came walking up with some guy. “Hi Peter,” we said, as we
separated to let them pass. “Hi,” he said back, with a sweet smile. “I go to Rio,' rocks!”
said Justin, walking backwards, as they passed. Peter and the guy turned around. “Thank
you,” he said, walking backwards too. I took his picture, then we all turned away again.

“My next door neighbor plays that song incessantly,” I said. “It must be on a tape loop.
As soon as it ends it starts up again.”

“I like it.”

“I like it too. It hasn’t worn thin yet.”

When we got to Chez Madeline it was closed for the month of August. “Chez Madeline
will return in September,” said the sign on the door.

“Dammit!” I said. “I had a jones for her tarragon chicken salad in the worst way.”

“hez Mad,” said Justin with the sign.

“he will return...” I said back. Justin took a picture.

There was always Jane’s Patio, our default hangout on Bleecker. We were contemplating
our next destination when Justin looked across the street. Two punks were crossing in
our direction.

“Oh, shit!” said Justin. “It’s Rocky. Run!” And we took off down Greenwich, with
Rocky and his henchman in hot pursuit. We rounded Seventh Avenue and headed south.

“We should split up,” Justin panted, “I’ll meet you at Jane’s,” and he veered off down
Waverly Place. Not entirely persuaded of the wisdom of this tactic, I looked back and
saw whom I assumed was Rocky chase after him. Henchman was coming for me. I threw
the camera strap across my shoulder, moved the camera to the small of my back to
steady it, and took off west on Charles.

It occurred to me, of course, that whatever this was all about, was Justin’s problem. Why
couldn’t I just stop right there, turn around, and stand my ground. But then I looked
down Charles and there was nobody out on the street. I looked back at Henchman and
changed my mind.

I ducked down the stairs of a brownstone, and found myself in a long dim hallway and
what looked like a back yard, and daylight, at the end. Enclosed. No good. Henchman
was coming down the stairs. I swerved right, pushed through a big metal door and found
myself in a boiler room. I looked madly around. Across the room was a metal stairs that
led to a hatch that I assumed opened out onto the street. I leapt up the stairs and shoved
the double-doors of the hatch open just as Henchman charged into the boiler room,
slamming the big metal door against the wall. It all happened so fast. Thank heaven the
hatch wasn’t padlocked. I hauled out onto what turned out to be Hudson Street, traffic,
and pedestrians. I slowed down. I stopped. I turned around. Henchman emerged, looked
around, and assumed an almost comic nonchalance amid the staring faces. He walked up
to me, gave me a nasty shove, and walked away. “Hey asshole,” I said. When he turned
around I took his picture. “Coming to a Post Office near you,” I said, as the steam slowly
drifted out of his ears.

“Grilled cheese with tomato slices?” said Justin.

“What else?” I said.

We closed our menus and the waitress went to post our order.

“Well that was fun,” I said.

“I thought you’d enjoy it,” said Justin, with an obliging smile.

“Mind telling me what that was all about?”

“Oh Rocky just wanted his twenty dollars back.”


“Well, he wanted to beat me up too, but he settled for getting his twenty dollars back.” 

“All that for twenty dollars?”

“Well that, and the fact that I sold him a chunk of hash that turned out to be cow dung.” 

“Oh,” I said. “Well that explains everything.” I rolled my eyes.

Justin took a sip of his iced tea. “You know Mark and Valerie, right?”

“With the restaurant?”



“So they’ve been to India a couple of times. To smuggle hash.”


“Yeah. Really. So after the first time, when they made this big score, they started
thinking of themselves as these big shot jet set hash smugglers. They had it packed in
spice containers and really did pull it off.”

None of this shocked me at the time. This was in the seventies, long before there was the
kind of terrorism that unnerves us today. Air travel was pretty free-wheeling. There was
no profiling, no drug-sniffing dogs, at least not in that venue, or significant security
checks, especially for an affluent couple of waspy globe-hopping restaurateurs sampling
international cuisine first-hand. I did wonder why they had risked it at all, though. They
had a successful restaurant. I kind of admired the audacity. Hash was cooler than weed.
Upscale. It had its mystique. But it still seemed a little twisted.

“They got lucky,” said Justin. “And they got lucky the next time.”

Our sandwiches came, Jane’s beloved grilled cheese and tomato dipped like croques in
eggs and grilled in butter. Served with sides of potato salad.

“I think I see where this is going...” I said.

“Yeah, so their luck finally ran out. Seems they dropped a bundle on their biggest score
yet, and it turned out to be nice little compact bricks of cow dung.”

Yeah. I said it. “Oh how keech!” complete with splayed fingers and flapping wrists,
which evoked a similar response from Justin. “Eeewwwww....” we said together, which
dissolved into the usual coda of laughter.

“So you sold Rocky cow dung?”

Justin took a bite of his sandwich. “I didn’t realize it at the time.” He chewed for a while.
“It was common knowledge around the scene that Mark and Valerie had made this big
score in India. They passed the hash around at the restaurant. A slice here, a chunk there.
I don’t even think they were in it for the money. They did sell some of it to their friends,
but it was mostly about the cachet of having it around.”

"Cachet," I intoned, raising an eyebrow and wagging my head.

"But of course."

“And everybody had the munchies, of course.”


We finished eating.

“So you sold Rocky cow dung.”

“Let’s go the pier,” said Justin. “I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”

The pier at the end of Christopher Street, being at the end of Christopher Street, was a
popular hangout, notwithstanding it being an outpost of the maritime vocational high
school. We threaded along the narrow sidewalk, brushing gingerly past the usual traffic. 
We ducked into Village Photo to pick up a couple rolls of Kodachrome. We hurried past
an alternative clothing emporium, whose ultrasonic burglar alarm, supposedly audible
only to dogs, Justin could hear, and which threatened to give him a seizure. We stopped
in front of a Baskin-Robbins. They were advertising a triple-scoop special. While Justin
contemplated the comestible possibilities, I contemplated the sign. With a judicious
placement of my splayed left hand, my right forearm, and a bit of elbow, I was able to
torture out

“POOP SPECIAL - Limited Time Only.”

I could see a head-lock gathering in Justin’s slowly inflating nostrils, suppressed grin,
and bugged-out eyes, and I took off down Christopher. He chased me all the way to the
pier, where we collapsed on a bench. Bracing myself for a noogie, I squeezed my eyes
shut, and scrunched up my shoulders. But the head-lock was the prelude to a kiss. On
the cheek. And an amiably dismissive little shove-off. I rocked sideways, and back, like
one of those big inflatable, self-righting toys. A few sunbathers, couples, and small
groups were scattered around. We watched a tug churning determinately down the
Hudson toward the harbor.

“Mark and Valerie wanted some shots of the restaurant,” Justin said. “It was early one
morning, and nobody was there except Mr. Sung, the dishwasher, in the kitchen.”

“I heard Mr. Sung was in love with you.”

Justin’s ears turned to stoplights. “Where’d you hear that?”


“It’s true,” said Justin, turning sheepish. “He stroked my forearm once. I later heard that
he thought, because it’s a bit hairy, it was a mark of beauty.” He covered his face, with
cupped hands, up to the eyes, like Stefan does on Saturday Night Live. But Justin would
never mock affection, including Mr. Sung’s, and didn’t.

“So you were at the restaurant...” I said, letting him off the hook.

“Yeah... I knew by then that Mark and Valerie had this hash thingy going, but I hadn’t
heard about the cow dung debacle. So anyway I was standing on a barstool to get a high
shot of the room when I noticed what looked a lot like some chunks of hashish down in
the pot of this huge philodendron. Hanging from the ceiling at the end the bar. By the
windows. ‘What an ingenious stash,’ I thought. Of course I realize now why they threw
it there, might as well use it for fertilizer. I grabbed a few pieces and put them in my

This drew a deep guffaw from me. A dog at the end of the pier started yelping
resonantly. Justin sat there with a go-ahead-and-laugh look.

“So you smoked it then? The cow dung?”

“I got high, actually. Or thought I did. But I remember thinking ‘This is really mellow

More laughter, and more dog yelps.

“But it didn’t seem to last very long.”

“You’re killin’ me!" Belly shaking, wiping tears from my eyes. "Killin’!”

“So when I ran into Rocky, I sold him a chunk for twenty dollars. He didn’t think it was
‘mellow’, at all, of course. He ripped me a new one on the phone. Then I started
avoiding his calls. It wasn’t long after that that I heard all about the cow dung twist, and
I started hoping to hell that Rocky never heard about it. But when I saw the look on his
face across the street... well, I knew the gig was up. But he settled for just getting his
money back.”

“Lucky you.”

“Really.” Justin lifted the Pentax to his eye, pointed it toward lower Manhattan, and took
a shot.

“How’d you get mixed up with a punk like that?”

Justin gave me a sideways glance and a rueful smile.

“Never mind,” I said.

We headed back up Christopher. What my friend Bill once called “New York light” was
slanting in from the west, and slotting down through the buildings. Our elongated
shadows preceded us on the sidewalk. We passed a stylish little restaurant, showing an
immaculately set table with a lovely little flower arrangement that inspired Justin to quip,
as if ordering from the menu “I’d like a bowl of flowers, please...” Divine, dressed in a
black turtleneck and jeans, all bald head and pencil eyebrows, came walking up with
some guy. “Hi Divine,” we said in unison, as we separated to let them pass. “Hi,” said
Divine, with a thrilling weary disdain. We let it go at that.

December 1, 2011

November 26, 2011

November 23, 2011

November 20, 2011

November 17, 2011

November 15, 2011

The pound cake version

I came across the name of an author I had jotted down, an author that was mentioned in a
blog I sometimes read. I had finally gotten around to picking up one of her books at the
library. I love my library. A book can be reserved online if it exists anywhere in the county
system; a few days later, a phone call informed me that the book was ready for pick-up.
Kindle me that. The author writes short stories that are deeply admired by her following,
including the blog author who had mentioned her name, and who has adopted her style. 

Within a few pages, I developed a prejudice against her querulous self-absorption. By the
third story I was too annoyed to continue. The prevailing mood of her writing is an archly
deadpan but condescending bewilderment occasioned by a vivid scrutiny of the ordinary
and of those around her, of moderately affluent circumstances that are simultaneously
celebrated by the attention accorded them, and disdained. It’s full of name brands, crunchy
idiomatic phrasing, and appealing trivia. She’s quirky, and her nihilistic forbearance, one
understands, is adorable. But the thing that turned me against her the most is that the
blogger who admires her, and has absorbed her voice so shamelessly, is more agreeable
than she is. He can be callous, but she’s an even more relentless and cold-hearted version
of him. He's ruined her for me.

I have mixed feelings about all this. While I understand that he’s appropriated her very
original style, he’s made it more palatable. He’s pound cake to her almond extract. At the
same time, I find it impossible to read his blog now without tasting its imitation flavor with
every bite, even though I enjoy it. Granted, there are occasional, and sometimes lengthy,
excursions away from this emulation. But I prefer it when he returns. I suspect the author
would have some cranky, but endearingly resigned, observation about this. But I have
only enough tolerance for one of her in my life, and he's it.

November 13, 2011

November 10, 2011

November 7, 2011

November 4, 2011

November 1, 2011

October 30, 2011

October 28, 2011

Candle, tower, flame

I found these candlesticks at a flea market in lower Manhattan in my college days long
ago. I was always on the lookout for bargains back then, not having a lot to spend on
home accessories, but determined to acquire what I could to groovy up my pad on east
25th street, my first apartment in New York, a walk-up studio on the third floor.

They’re silver plated, now heavily tarnished; I was attracted to their extravagantly
slender stem and tulip cup, their nod to Art Neuveau, and vaguely churchy elegance.
The twelve inch tapers that they habitually wore increased their drama. They followed
me from one dwelling to another, one life to another, one of my few possessions that
never fell off the cart in all those gypsy years.

In my Staten Island apartment, my triumphal last digs in New York overlooking the
harbor, they sat together atop a heavy oak speaker tower, one of two dramatic monoliths
that were the last word in music reproduction back then. I had bought them at a close-
out many years before and they, too, had managed to stay with me, shipped, stored,
hustled, trudged, from one destination to the next.

I wish I could remember exactly what I was doing, what my exact thoughts were, when
I heard the noise. I was in another room, and the apartment was quiet and still. I’ve cast
my mind back, looking for some clue, some correlation to what happened next, but it
eludes me still. Something, somewhere, had fallen, shifted, been disturbed. When I
walked into the living room, there it was: one of the candlesticks had tumbled off the
tower, somehow, and now lay, four feet down, in two pieces, its head severed, on the
floor. Its candle was standing straight up, by itself, on the floor next to it. The slightest
breeze would have toppled it. I stared at this marvel, walked around it, stared some
more, for as long as seemed decent, then carefully plucked the candle from the floor.

Every attempt I’d made to repair the candlestick - solder, duct tape, Elmer’s glue, liquid
metal, crazy glue - had all failed. It would not hold a candle. Sooner or later, it
beheaded itself again. Eventually I gave up, accepted its brokenness, and laid it to rest,
along with its twin, wrapped and ribboned, in a drawer.

Some time after I had moved to Florida, and was nearing the end of the first cycle of
creating a life in a tropical setting, I was out riding my bike and thinking about how
things had come together, and what remained to be done. I remember thinking, and may
have even whispered to myself, “My one regret is leaving those speakers behind.” A
few days later I was browsing the local Kiwanis thrift shop, looking for bargains to
groovy up my Florida digs with, and there they were. Thirty dollars for the pair. What a
strange sensation, seeing those two old friends under cold fluorescent lights amongst
tattered hide-a-beds and stacks of lampshades, a thousand miles from New York. I paid
with no dickering and brought them home. Are they the same ones I had left behind in
New York? I’ll never know. I thought I’d give the candlesticks one last try. I got them
out, glued the broken one together again, and set them both, with new candles, on the
old tower. There, to this day, is where they stand.

October 25, 2011

October 23, 2011

October 21, 2011

Jackets and jeans

After four days of unrelenting rain, the skies are clear at last. I’m a homebody but enough is enough. A cool front has arrived... jackets and jeans are in play. I think jackets are my favorite threads. They give designers a lot to play with, and variations are endless. And they have pockets, in the right places.

I’ve amassed a small collection over the years. My denim Pepe birthday present from Mary, that people want or threaten to steal. The black leather bomber, both badass and classy. A camel ultrasuede sports coat, a tad rumpled and good with jeans.

For the first time in weeks we’re sleeping with the air conditioning off and all the windows open. Soon the it’s too cozy to get out of bed effect will delay the mornings’ start and linger the remnants of dreams.

October 18, 2011

October 15, 2011

What's that smell?

There is no scent in cyberspace. But then isn’t its sterility its appeal? Its retreat
from the loam and volatility of real life? Scent is stubbornly non-negotiable.

There are few if any aromas that repel an animal. Everything incites curiosity.
Analysis. Evaluation. Dogs prefer their food a tad rank. Wild horses roll around
in wildflowers to pick up their fragrance. Jungle cats mark their territory with a
pungent spritz and nobody is offended. Few things are more transporting than the
aroma of some savory dish simmering delectably on a stove. I'll walk by the
local rib shack, smell the aroma of mesquite in the air, and damn near have to
suppress a howl. Yet the odor of the slightest trace of this morning’s fried eggs
in an unwashed frying pan is intolerable. What is it, exactly, that threatens and
oppresses me? My refusal to share my space with an unacceptable olfactory
presence is near absolute. One of us must go.

I suspect I’m more tolerant than most. I like fragrance. I’ve followed women
enveloped in a cloud of Shalimar down a grocery store aisle. I enjoy the
cuminesque aroma of a male in a stale T-shirt. A whiff of fresh tobacco smoke
from a sidewalk cafe. Wet cement after a rain. And the usual popular
assortment of fresh-cut lawn, gasoline, jasmine in bloom, sizzling bacon, sun-
dried linen, are all appealing. Yet the fragrance of a bank of alyssum, so
redolent to me of a fetid baby powder, is difficult for me to inhale twice.

This olfactory territorialism seems distinctively human... culminating in such
things as the fragrance-free office, a step beyond the expectations of normal
hygiene, wherein the deliberate and complete preclusion of an important
sensory faculty makes coexistence possible. We’ll tolerate, perhaps even enjoy,
an ugly face. A grating voice. And all the gossip, trivia, and boring pedantry
that is thrown at us. But a whiff of a day-old sock, or the wrong perfume, sends
us running for olfactory cover. We don’t even like to talk about how things
smell. It’s gauche. It’s beneath us.

Shamans of old could accurately diagnose what was ailing you by smelling your
stool. Dogs can be trained to sniff out cancer cells. But the ascendancy of sight,
and secondarily hearing, in the migration of human beings away from olfactory
input is striking. I suspect that this has to do with aroma’s singular intimacy,
and its subliminally perceived consequences. These are not abstract photons or
sound waves, sharing a range on an ethereal electromagnetic spectrum, but
carnal molecules, physical bodies, that lodge in the moist intimacy of our nasal
passages. Nobody gets a cold from seeing a sneeze, or hearing one. There is
both clear and present danger, and vivid delight, in this most primal of sensory
gateways to the world around us. It has the power to allure, or repel, or suspend
us in tantalizing ambivalence. What’s that smell?

October 12, 2011


I get my cappuccino at the local coffee shop, owned by a lovely old lady, the stout and motherly kind, and her partner, a more ethereal Alice B. Toklas type, who likes my cologne. "You smell nice!"  When the shop changed hands and I first started going there, I was on the cusp of my paleo regime. I said that I didn't see soup and salad on the menu... was it available? “We can make whatever you want, sweetheart,” she said. “We’re not one of those corporate places where you have to eat what they want you to eat.” She had me at "sweetheart.”

The first time I ordered a cappuccino, she asked me if I was sure I didn’t want a latte. Seems people often order a cappuccino when what they really want is a latte. I said I was sure. She quizzed me: “What do you call a cappuccino?” OK, I was game:

“It’s an espresso, of course, with a head of foamy steamed milk on top instead of mixed through the coffee. A bitter kiss wrapped in a creamy hug.”

“You know your cappuccino,” she said, satisfied. “Sometimes I’ll make a cappuccino, and when it’s lighter than a fortune cookie, people get upset. Think they’ve been cheated.”

“Like your heart on judgment day,” I said, “it’s supposed to weigh less than a feather.”

Now when she sees me she asks if I want my “regular.” I’d be reluctant to order a latte even if I wanted one. Your regular, once earned, is not lightly waived.

October 10, 2011

October 7, 2011

October 4, 2011

October 2, 2011

September 28, 2011

Change of course

A banyan tree has grown to fairy-tale size at The Golf Club, an abandoned golf course not far from around here. Fifty years old this year the golf course, and its popular club house, were the social hub in the scotch and samba sixties. The city now has golf courses galore - an Irish word that means, literally, enough. Surely. The Golf Club was purchased by a consortium four years ago, and was promptly closed, apparently in the hope that the property could be developed in a more lucrative direction. Those plans were bollixed by the city. It is now in litigation. But nature never waits for a settlement.

It's more overgrown now than when these photographs were taken. I’m OK with this state of "decline". If the lawn is one of the most profligate stressors of the environment on the planet, the golf course is its paragon. There were few if any lawns in the U.S., or so the story goes, until the Rockefellers saw Buckingham palace. They soon proceeded to plant acres of the stuff at their Pocantico estate, and before long homeowners across the country were imitating the Rockefellers imitating the Windsors. The invasion of the lawn is now complete. Grass is a crop. The only way it can be successfully maintained, without proper rotation, is with perpetual applications of chemical fertilizers, pest control, and water. Lots and lots of water.

A heron cops a drink, or a snack, at a pond.

Lost golf balls still lurk in the undergrowth.

The cup on the fifth green has filled up with sand.

A serpent-headed walk winds through an old fairway. Fittingly enough, more snakes roam and hunt here now do their hunters.

Although it's still private property and going there is discouraged, it's a popular spot for dog running, bird watching, skateboarding, and sunset strolls for those who aren't scared off by the isolation.

September 27, 2011

Picking sides

When I’m out riding my scooter and wearing certain shirts, the wind will invariably catch the collar and flap it, flicking the collar point against my jaw. It’s annoying, and after a while it hurts. I can defeat this by opening my shirt a couple of buttons and letting the collar slip back behind my neck. Oddly, only my left collar hooks up with the wind to party at my expense.

Seems the human body is subtly, and not so subtly, asymmetrical. I’m right-handed, but left-eyed. You can check your eye dominance by crossing your open hands, palms out, about ten inches in front of your face and creating a small window just above your crossed thumbs. With both eyes open, frame a small object across the room in the window. Keeping the object framed, alternately close one eye, then the other. The eye that has framed the object is your dominant eye.

It has been said that one side of your face, I forget which one, is the one you’re born with, the other is the one you make. My left side is less troubled than the right. It’s the one, apparently, that has received the fewest flicks, or has handled them better.

September 24, 2011

September 21, 2011

September 19, 2011

September 17, 2011

September 10, 2011

Terror and dust

I heard about 911 (“a wake-up call from hell” as Benjamin Netanyahu 
put it) like a billion other souls, when the news bulletin hit on television 
that morning, and appropriated the television screen, and global 
attention, for many days and weeks to come. I got on the phone with 
Stu, a fellow ex-New Yorker, and we both watched the disaster 
unfolding, phones to our ears, saying little, until Stu realized he had 
other phone calls to make. Within the next couple of hours a real-life 
replica of the destruction scene from Independence Day, whose 
monstrous majesty I’ve always suspected inspired Bin Laden, was 
played out in the dreadful cinematic slow motion that no one can forget, 
and the towers lay collapsed, along with three thousand lives, 
in a tower of dust.

My friend, and Staten Island ex-neighbor Pat, told me that a lot of 
Staten Islanders who worked in the World Trade Center perished in the 
attack. I could see the towers from nearly every room in my Staten 
Island apartment. I’d always loved them, and admired the balance 
they had achieved between brute scale and an austere delicacy. Looking
up at them (“giving the double finger to God and the taxpayer,” as a 
friend of mine once quipped) from the ground, you could scarcely believe 
what you were seeing. Audacious, ghostly, sensitive to light and 
therefore always changing, you could watch the shadows of clouds 
passing over them, and at sunset their tracery was limned with gold.

The photograph of President Bush, tucked down on a classroom chair, 
looking up from My Pet Goat, deer in the headlights, while the nation 
was under attack, will forever emblematize the man and his 
misbegotten administration for me. Sometimes things are precisely what 
they seem. He responded to 911 like a humiliated brat, stupidly, 
viscerally, opportunistically. And with ruinous cost to the nation.

What a transformative moment it might have been - drowned at birth by 
the Bush administration’s reptilian-brain response and venal ambitions. 
We should have done exactly nothing except quietly find Bin Laden... an 
accomplishment that was denied to Bush and given to his successor. It is 
impossible, in my opinion, to overestimate the leap in global 
consciousness that was rising on the horizon in the aftermath of 911, 
or the magnitude of the loss with which it was trashed. There were 
candlelight vigils for the U.S. in the streets of Tehran, fer Chrissakes. 
Al Qaida was finished. The world was our family. In perhaps the most 
tragic failure of vision in history, we traded gold for ashes. Which now 
we must eat.

September 7, 2011

September 4, 2011

August 31, 2011

August 26, 2011

August 23, 2011


I read somewhere that the electronic signal of the original
I Love Lucy broadcast is just now reaching some distant star
in our galaxy. Perhaps the conversation I had this morning
with Rick is somewhere in the vicinity of the moon.

In Matthew, Jesus said that we will have to give an account
for every idle word we speak. Are the things we say out there?
They don’t just disappear once they resonate on the tympanic
membrane of the nearest organic life form? They keep going?
There are a handful of things in scripture that came home to me
like a slap across the face - the kind of slap a Zen master gives
a student to get his attention. That was one of them.

Since then I’ve tried to honor the check in my spirit that I
sometimes feel when I’m about to say something unwise.
Something venal or ill-willed. Clever and foul. It isn’t easy.
The urge to plow through can be intense. There’s usually some
emotional momentum behind it. Yet out of that painful void,
of a gratification denied, can emerge the sweetest tangible peace.
Paul called it the fruit of the spirit.

And no eschatological ‘splainin’ to do.

Granted, there are things that sometimes need to be said, and I
believe God honors authenticity. But the question, I think, is
where is it coming from? The throne of my ego? The swamp of
my id? A prompt of the spirit? Discernment matters.

The motto over the entrance of a college in a novel I read recently

"Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Does it improve on the silence?"

Like that.

August 18, 2011

August 12, 2011

August 6, 2011

Correspondence / 1

Long time, W. You're such a crazy mix of affection and thorns...

While I disagree that eating, drinking, reading, are not "life", the deeper
governing aesthetic of the way I deal with people is that the photographs are
essentially portraits and therefore often, though not always, solos. Beyond that,
I often see people as elements of composition. I talk about this in my post "Along the
dotted line." The beach, of course, is generally a place of repose. I'll do a boogie
boarding or volleyball or some other action shot once in a while, but it's very
easy to get into Chamber Of Commerce world that way, and that's not where I live.
Why am I explaining myself to you? Is it my job to minister to your
aimless discontent?

My fondness for bicycles, and a few other objects share this meaning for me as
well; they're appealing to me as compositional fodder apart from their use in
transportation, which I take as a given reference. Perhaps you've noticed that
several iconic objects, bicycles, umbrellas, beach gear, make regular
appearances in my stuff. There is no symbolism. I simply enjoy their object-
ness and find in them a rich vein of compositional possibility. To a great extent
all my photographs are abstract, which is to say compositions first - whatever
psychological implications arise do so on their own, and with a life of their
own. That, for me, is the aesthetic thrill, the alchemy, implicit in Classicism.
I suspect that my work in photojournalism, with its instinct to suggest narrative,
while recoiling from hype, has informed this outlook as well.

I understand your fondness for drama, the grander the better, the romantic
thing. But I'm a child not of Wagner, but of Ravel. Can a Romantic
understand a Classicist, and vice-versa? I think so, depending on your capacity
to find resonance outside your home turf. There is, certainly, a lot of crossover
beyond these signature habits of perception and expression. Of course
Romantics tend to find Classicism cold, while Classicists regard Romanticism
as overwrought. Chacun a son gout. Interesting that the classical aesthetic
arose in, and perhaps as a response to, a world immersed in passions.
Romanticism came about only after civilization had acquired sufficient order
and predictability to make it meaningful. Perhaps there is a corollary within
each of us - we seek out the expression that is precisely not the prevailing mode
of our souls... a longing.

Thanks for stopping by and getting me thinking. I may post some of this.


August 4, 2011

July 31, 2011

July 26, 2011

July 23, 2011