Sunday, November 26, 2006

He talks in pictures, not in words

near Washington Square
West Village, Manhattan

Gone but still here

Public baths,
11th Street, East Village, Manhattan
built 1904
now a single-family home

I sip
rum and cokes
and blur
the here and now
at an East Village bar
steps from the tenement
where a midwife delivered my father
99 years ago

I rise
on stuttering feet
and walk
around the corner
past the old public baths
on 11th Street
between Avenues A and B
an abode now for well-heeled tenants
but through a rip in time
I see the place where my father
watched his father
get clean
after days of manual labor

I pass
the public school
where my father's mind was nurtured
its classrooms now luxury apartments
with big closets

I hear
idle chatter

about
stock portfolios
and
reality TV
and
real estate prices
but it can't drown out
echoes

of ancient immigrant sounds
whose meanings can be inferred
but not quite understood

I walk
these streets
arm-in-arm
with ghosts

My dad's childhood home
born there in 1907
Sixth Street
between First Avenue and Avenue A
East Village
Manhattan

Iron horse


Hells Angels MC clubhouse, East Village, Manhattan

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Where have the years gone?


I met H. when she was a 12-year-old elementary school girl in a small Japanese seaside town and I was the English teacher at her school.
She's now going on 23, and I feel very old.
She lives in New York City and studies English at a language school there.
Here she is with her boyfriend, in SoHo on a recent weekend.
Watching her blossom as a person and witnessing the wonderful expansion of her horizons has been a rare privilege.
It has softened the impact of the passing years.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The sumi-e lesson



The spirit of old Japan blossoms on MacDougal Street just below Houston in Manhattan's SoHo (even as it wilts in its native land).
In a cramped, ages-old storefront, students of the art of sumi-e, or ink-and-brush painting, polish their technique by reproducing the works of masters of the form.
Guiding their progress is Koho Yamamoto, whose passion for life and openness to beauty make her look far younger than her 84 years.
Chatting with her and her students, I caught a glimpse of the essence of sumi-e and realized that there is far more to it than merely applying brush to paper.

Fishing in the stream of consciousness

After 215 posts and nearly 11,500 visitors, my blog marked its first anniversary yesterday.
Thanks for sharing the ride, and sometimes the driving, with me.

Birth of a notion

Formed in the black depths
of a sticky primordial matrix
a precious bubble
rises up a narrow chasm
keeping clear of jagged walls
that would burst it into eternity
Finally, floating from the abyss
an
idea
is
born

Two tails of unconditional love


East Village, Manhattan

East Village faces


Guardian of the gates

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sneaker memories


I bought my first pair of Converse All Stars in more than 30 years Friday at a small shoestore in the East Village.
Black canvas with white trim.
Too white.
But time will fix that.

The last time I owned a pair of Chuck Taylors, I was firmly in the grip of puberty, Gerald Ford was president and one's reputation could be made or broken largely by his choice of footwear. I say "his" because girls seemed above all that.
Sneakers provided one of the few ways you could rise from social outcast to one of the gang in one easy step.

When I was a kid, there was an unwritten list of "approved" sneakers from which the cool kids chose. You could buy Converse All Stars. Or PRO-Keds. Or Pumas. If you could afford them, Nikes and Adidas earned you bragging rights. Nobody had ever heard of Reeboks. New Balance, Mizuno, Brooks and Saucony were for another generation of kids to fret over.

Sneakers not on the cool list were derisively called "skips" or "bobos." Those were the kind your parents bought you if they thought spending more than 10 or 15 bucks on a pair of sneakers was madness. Those parents economized, and their kids suffered for it.

In the suburban New York town where I grew up, there were two things at which we excelled: Verbally stepping all over each other's sneakers and each other's mother. These were art forms. The best trash-talkers were respected members of the teen community worthy of emulation. And we all tried to emulate them, unless our heckler was bigger. In that case, discretion became the better part of valor and you took your tongue-lashing.

Flash-forward to middle age. I've largely abandoned the art of insulting a person's mother. People get shot for that these days. Come to think of it, they get shot over a pair of sneakers, too.

I'm too old to give a crap about the kind of sneakers people wear, and I'm too old for anyone to care much what I wear.

But I miss that time when the choices were fewer, the stakes lower. The time when your entire image could be made over just by wearing the right sneakers.

Dream house



Stones shaped by sturdy Dutch hands
before a free America was even an idea
Its only neighbor a willow sapling
grown staid and massive
Its walls a witness to pioneers and scoundrels
Redcoats and patriots
dreams and realities
Exuding an inner warmth
that makes it a home

Monday, November 06, 2006

Health update

My serum calcium level has spiked, a blood test last month revealed. A follow-up test Friday offered the minor consolation that it hasn't increased further. On the other hand, it hasn't decreased.
This rise in calcium levels is a primary symptom of my parathyroid cancer, something I've been battling the past five years. Suffice it to say that abnormally high calcium levels can wreak havoc on the body. The psychological effect of dealing with a chronic situation like this ain't no day at the beach, either.

I haven't posted a health update in a long while mainly because things seem to be trending inexorably in one direction. It's awfully redundant. I would rather post photographs and other odds and ends for the entertainment (and possible enjoyment) of those who read this blog.

My doctors are advising me to start taking an intravenous drug to lower my serum calcium. I'm resistant to that idea right now because this measure has a last-ditch connotation in my mind for a couple of reasons. Besides, I hate needles. And I've been poked and prodded these past several years for just about all I can stand.

The doctors are also suggesting I undergo a special type of scan that detects abnormal endocrine activity. I've had these scans about every six months since 2001, and the results are always the same. Either they reveal nothing or, in some more recent cases, they reveal a tiny tumor that the doctors and surgeons know they can't totally remove. I've already been told by one of the nation's leading experts in the surgical treatment of this illness that surgery would be futile, a temporary fix at best. At least he was straightforward.

Most doctors and surgeons hate to be left powerless in the face of a tricky situation. So even if the measures they pursue are completely ineffective or provide only a stopgap, they feel that at least they're doing something. That's not egotistical, in the case of my doctors. That's compassion and empathy at work.
That's my take on things.

I've had people tell me my doctors are incompetent, uncaring assholes driven by the need to succeed.
I disagree.
To me, they're ordinary people given the task of achieving extraordinary results. And when you try to achieve extraordinary results in the face of Nature, whose power and fury and precision and tenacity we don't truly comprehend, what you wind up with isn't always pretty.

My doctors aren't at fault.
After all, who in their right mind would want the awesome responsibility of telling a fellow human being that their future prospects aren't bright, and that they may be dying?

Manhattan peregrinations

Near Federal Courthouse, lower Manhattan


Grand Street, SoHo


First Avenue, East Village

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Set the twilight reeling

"A 73-year resident of the Lower East Side"
First Avenue and First Street, Manhattan


"May I suggest a caption?" asked the man after agreeing to be photographed. "The caption should read, 'A 73-year resident of the Lower East Side.' "
He's a poet, a painter, a photographer, a bon vivant. He watches time melt into eternity from his seat at an outdoor cafe.
"I've been an alcoholic and a tobacco smoker for 60 years. And you know, I haven't been to a doctor since I got back from Korea in '56.
"I'm thinking of turning some of my photos into paintings, paintings of people taken from the same vantage point every day."