Sunday, August 1, 2021

Three Lives That Touched Thousands


July 2021 was a month of remembrance... and discovery.

Remembrance of two people who died recently, and another who died last year.

Discovery, in thinking about them and in reading obituary details, of how great an impact their individual lives had on so many others.

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First, summoning the memory Msgr. Eugene Boland, I recall a priest who was my mother's pastor for many years and also the best friend of my beloved uncle.

At Msgr. Boland's funeral Mass at St. James in Totowa, I learned that his middle name was Mary -- which he was very proud of. It engendered his a lifelong devotion to the mother of Jesus.

His other two lifelong devotions were, first, to his extended parish family at St. James, where, according to Msgr. Boland's obituary, he baptized 1,364 infants, witnessed 470 marriages, administered First Holy Eucharist to 2,864 children, attended 37 confirmations, and grieved with 1,249 families. And, second, to his family and homeland in Ireland.

His funeral Mass was streamed so that so many back home could also take part. If you turn up the volume, you can hear and view the touching eulogy by his niece Noreen at the 22:30 mark.

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Second, summoning the memory of Gerald M. Costello, I recall an editor who recommended me for my first job in journalism, and who subsequently hired me twice.

I learned much about Jerry this month, especially that I was hardly the only one whose career he had sponsored... including my friend Monica, who sat next to me at the funeral, and the Catholic Standard reporter in the pew behind us, and the many others who posted similar expressions of thanks on social media.

Jerry Costello's obituary, written by his daughter Eileen, was wonderfully detailed. His eulogy, delivered by his son Bob, focused on the impact of Jerry's life on his six children, 21 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Bob also spoke of Jerry's love of music (which I had not known about), concluding with lyrics from Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" and applause from the congregation.

The photo here, from the funeral Mass program, includes Jerry's written reflection as he neared the end of his life and battled with Parkinson's disease.

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Finally, summoning the memory of Arthur Leon Samuels, I recall my violin teacher who died last year.

Last November, a reading of Art Samuels' obituary inspired me to post a tribute to him here, reflecting on lessons he taught me that went well beyond music.

Early this July, I received an email from Project Write Now, a New Jersey nonprofit working to transform individuals, organizations, and communities through writing. It excited me to learn that on the third Friday of every month during the pandemic this organization has been hosting a Zoom Open Mic for writers to share their original works.

I edited my tribute to Art down to 750 words and gave the reading below on July 16, with the slow movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, playing in the background.


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With that, I'm taking a break from posting on social media in this wistful month of August 2021.

See you in September!


Saturday, July 31, 2021

See the Sculpture Garden Blooming in Mid-Manhattan

In this summer of a zombie virus that doesn't die, the streets of mid-Manhattan can offer a bit of inspiration and beauty and hope.

I commute into New York City a few days a week, and here are some images of the unique sculpture garden I've found in walking to the office and at lunch.

Beginning at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where "The Commuters" by George Segal depicts three people waiting for the same bus since 1980, and it's perpetually 3 o'clock...

Outside the terminal, an 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Jackie Gleason, clad in his Honeymooners bus driver's uniform, looks out over Eighth Avenue, in a statue by Larry Nowlan, "Presented by the People of TV Land."

Heading east, past The New York Times building, I'm reminded of Dad. He spent many years working in the building behind the statue here. The aptly-for-Dad named "Guardian Superhero" is one of a pair of 13-foot statues by Antonio Pio Saracino at the entrances on either side of the plaza behind 3 Bryant Park.

Wandering north to Seventh and 53rd, there's a sign of hope, literally, courtesy of Robert Indiana. We're not in Philadelphia anymore... 


And then back down to Rockefeller Center, where Tom Friedman encourages everyone to "Look Up."


Head south to Grand Central Terminal (one of my favorite places in the city) to see the new kid in town: the towering One Vanderbilt skyscraper. Its soaring lobby, still locked and opposite the terminal, houses this twisting, reflective, untitled 2020 sculpture by Tony Cragg.


Nearby, along Park Avenue, I'm happy to see dog and rabbit still having coffee together at “The Table of Love,” a private commission at 237 Park by Gillie and Marc Schattner, perhaps the city's most prolific creators of public art. Two empty seats invite others to join them.


Further up along the avenue are two whimsical giants by Kaws, the artist Brian Donnelly. The pink one (my favorite) is called "BFF" (at 280 Park), and just a few blocks north "WHAT PARTY" stalks the entrance to the Seagram Building.


I do eventually arrive at work. Here's "Contrappunto," an older sculpture (1963) by Beverly Pepper, outside my office building at 777 Third Ave.


But then, at lunchtime, I'm back on the streets heading further east, toward the United Nations sculpture garden. It's still locked, but you can stick your cell phone between the bars of the gates to get a clear view of "Good Defeats Evil" by Zurab Tsereteli, with a dragon depicting a nuclear warhead.


Then I wander back, past Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, where three works by Jim Rennert are on temporary display until late August: "Timing," "Inner Dialog" and "Commute."


No sculpture garden is complete without a water feature... like the waterfall tucked between buildings on East 51st Street, between Second and Third, a beautiful place called Green Acre Park.


Here are related posts about sculpture gardens in New Jersey: Grounds for Sculpture and a vest-pocket park in Teaneck.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Van Gogh, the Brand: Pictures at an Exhibition

I love technology; I love New York; I love art museums; I love taking photos; I love date night.

So I eagerly purchased tickets to attend one of the various “immersive Van Gogh” experiences now popping up everywhere following the wildly successful Atelier des Lumières installation in Paris in 2018.

People I admire whose opinion I respect have also wholeheartedly recommended a visit.

Since I find it hard to be wholehearted about anything, I wanted to post these thoughts about my visit last night. Most of the images speak for themselves.

Yes, I’d go again: It’s great for date night. I imagine, earlier in the day, lots of loud, happy children running around, but that’s OK too. I would have loved the opportunity to have taken my daughters to something like this when they were young.

Bottom line: It’s an Instagram and people-watching paradise.

Entrance, left; gift shop, right.

I’d temper expectations, though, with these half-dozen observations:
  • It’s essentially a high-tech slideshow (reminding me of the highly choreographed July 4 fireworks displays).
  • It’s not totally “immersive” (with all the pedestrian activity and curtains and pipes and scaffolding and neon Exit signs).
  • Mind all the wandering people holding up cell phones (including me!).
  • Mind all the restless people on never-ending searches for the best seat in the house (it’s all pretty much the same, but I admire their motivation).
  • There’s an app for all this (and it’s quite good, too).
  • There’s a gift shop about the size of half a football field (peppered with AR app-enabled activations), and prix-fixe $36 parking at the Pier 36 site.
That last is the point that disheartened me: all the commercialism, all the Van Gogh-branded merchandise.

Van Gogh’s work is now in the public domain — unlike all the Instagram photos taken at the exhibit that Mark Zuckerberg probably now owns.

A half dozen promoters of expensive, immersive Van Gogh exhibits are now profiting off the work of an artist who only sold one painting during his lifetime.

I went to the “original” exhibit at Pier 36 near South Street Seaport. I won’t risk copyright infringement by mentioning the exact name. Rest assured, there’s another similar immersive Van Gogh exhibit on the other side of Manhattan on Vesey Street, or coming soon to a town near you.

Juxtapose this commercialization of the artist with this sentimental, often-viewed video clip from a 2010 BBC episode of “Doctor Who”:



I get — and applaud — that immersive art exhibits are tantalizing glimpses of the quality of the entertainment and educational experiences made possible by technology.

I just don’t get the same connection to the source.

Not everything is a show, and Vincent Van Gogh wasn’t a brand. His painting of crows over a cornfield in Arles has long had deep personal meaning.

To me, it had always been a suicide note somehow translated to canvas.

Until last night, when it was just another Instagram post:
PS- Sometimes the view outside the exhibit is just as lovely.




Tuesday, June 29, 2021

About Stanley Fink, Undefeated to the Last

Leaving the building, two years ago today. (Kim Ancin photo)

Two years ago today, I left a job at Verizon where I had spent nearly two decades directing financial and corporate communications.

At that time, I wrote about people who had made a mark on my career. Tonight, I wish to add another name: my late mentor, Stanley Fink.

When friends at PRSA and IABC recently asked me to speak to their chapters about the basics of financial communications, I had to think back a bit. I now work in the nonprofit sector, at what Stanley would call an "eleemosynary institution."

I realize now that he is the reason I chose to work in financial communications.

Stanley was a member of the New York State Assembly beginning in 1969. He became Majority Leader in 1977 and 1978, and Speaker from 1979 until he left politics for the private sector in 1986.

I did PR for him when he was Government Affairs VP at NYNEX until his untimely death from cancer in 1997. A human dynamo, quick-witted and full of bluster, Stanley was one of the smartest (and most appreciative) people I’ve known.

Stanley loved to kibbitz with NYNEX’s Investor Relations pros. Since regulatory issues played a big role in the Verizon predecessor company’s outlook, he met often with investors. He was passionate about financial matters and closely followed the market. I recall conversations about this or that pharmaceutical stock, which (I realized only after learning of his diagnosis) also had personal meaning for him.

A Democrat from Brooklyn, Stanley had a long political track record of using his influence and financial acumen to ensure that government provided services to people who couldn't provide services for themselves.

Mr. Speaker, circa 1980.

He was the driving force behind transportation infrastructure investments that fueled New York City's growth, and he pushed for more money for schools, notably increasing state support for the City University of New York.

Stanley taught me that financial literacy was important because... it's not about money; it's about people.

In that way, communicating about money is a sacred trust.

I like to think Stanley would have been proud of me for landing the financial communications role at Verizon in 2002, and prouder still that I did my job for so many years without having to cut any ethical corners. I had great leadership support in that regard, and I don't think I let Stanley down.

Where I fell short, upon further review, was in not emulating his indomitable confidence.

I recall Stanley, fingers locked, pumping his hands in the air from side to side as if he had just won a World Wrestling Federation match.

"That's the way I always walked off the Assembly floor after a vote," he said with a big smile and a twinkle in his eye. "You always claim victory, no matter what the outcome."

"You fight as hard as you can to get what you want, make the best out of what you get, and return to fight another day."

I only wish I were as bold.

Here's to Stanley Fink, never to be forgotten and undefeated to the last.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Reflections on a Visit to 'Springsteen: His Hometown'


Act 1: Greetings From Freehold

You should grab a $15 ticket to "Springsteen: His Hometown" at the Monmouth County Historical Association, located in Freehold, NJ.

Highly recommended. With a limited run through July 31.

As described at the link above on the MCHA website, the exhibit gives a comprehensive look at how the Freehold area has been thematically woven into Bruce Springsteen's music and art throughout his career. Over 150 unique items are on display.

Here are some photos I took during a recent visit, beginning with this Facebook post:


Below are two favorites on display. The scrapbook compiled by Bruce's mother Adele, and a ring of hotel keys from the E Street Band's early tours (although I couldn't find one from South Bend, IN, and the 1976 Lawsuit Tour, see Act 2):


Act 2: Bruce and Me


Driving to the exhibit from Bergen County, my wife and I followed Waze's directions off the Parkway and down Route 9.

I didn't realize Freehold was as far inland. I thought it was closer to Asbury Park, which I've visited often in recent years. I remarked to my wife, "I don't think I've ever been on this road before."

Then it occurred to me, this was the very "Highway 9" made famous in the lyrics to "Born to Run." (Also featured in that song is a reference to Asbury's Palace Amusements, demolished 17 years ago this weekend. Here's a great nj.com video about the Palace and the iconic Tillie.)

I've been a Bruce fan all my life... or, I should say, from the time I first played "The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle" on my record player while at the University of Notre Dame, garnering the approval of the music-aficionado roommates from Canada who lived down the corridor at Pangborn Hall.

A group of us snapped up tickets for his performance on campus in October 1976. It was the first rock concert I had ever attended, and it was so good, no other concert has since measured up. It's an irrevocable memory that inspires me to this day.

That's why I call him simply "Bruce." And why, when I finally visited Freehold, I also took photos of his old house at 39 1/2 Institute Street, his old high school, and St. Rose of Lima, his family's parish church:



Act 3: Howling at the Moon


Just this week, there's more of Bruce in the news, with the announcement that "Springsteen On Broadway" will return with a limited run through Sept. 4.

Now that I've written this homage to Bruce, and posted my masked and smiling face at the Monmouth County Historical Association, I'm going to take a moment, put aside the photos, and howl at the moon in a block of text few might ever read.

I want to consider this: is Springsteen a poet for the rich?

We've all grown up now, and it seems we can afford the starting price of $600 a ticket* for a few hours of entertainment.

Does that make it worth it? Does that make it right?

As homelessness continues to sprawl on the streets off Broadway, the harsher realities of our world become harder to ignore.

It's not how much people earn. Few people seem concerned with Bruce's wealth. Not in a world where Jeff Bezos earns more than $2 million every 15 minutes, every day. It's not just Bruce, after all. Many people will benefit from New York City's revival, in many ways.

What concerns me is, how much we will pay? And for what?

A song? A story? Free shipping?

We are desperate for something of value.

Mine is a stolen moment that evokes a $6.50 ticket to a concert on an October night in Indiana, when everyone was young, and I was surrounded by friends, and everyone sang along.

The more time passes, the more money I might pay to try to recapture the past.

Bruce, the poet of the rich, knows this about me.

What he may not know is that the better me, the me I'm still trying to become, walks the streets off Broadway with more desperation each day, longing for words of hope from the poet of the poor.

I believe there's something of more value to be found in a town full of losers when we're not inspired to pull out of there to win.

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*- Prices started at $600-$850, with just a few at $75. The lowest priced ticket on seatgeek.com today for the June 26 performance is $649, with prices up to $2,500. The $600 coincidentally matches what eligible individuals received in the federal government's recent Economic Impact Payment.

Monday, May 31, 2021

'NowYork' in May


Since April, have you noticed the #NowYork hashtag on Instagram or other social media posts?

This is the brainchild of a group of advertising executives.

At their website, they describe the effort as "a collective made up of passionate New Yorkers and lovers of New York. Sure, COVID-19 was a setback, but now New York is back. And we've come together to inspire the world to go and enjoy all that the five boroughs have to offer."

In May 2021, I've only been to Manhattan -- as office life is beginning to (excuse the phrase) return back to normal. So although I can't speak to the other four boroughs, I've seen the #NowYork spirit in real life... and I have the photos to prove it.

Above, clockwise from top left, are images I've captured over the past month:
  • Looking south on 9th Avenue from the Port Authority, on my first commuter bus ride in over a year
  • The Chrysler Building, reflected in office windows across the street from my own, imitating a hoot owl
  • The return of costumed Mini Mouse characters in Times Square
  • Lexington Avenue imitating Abbey Road
  • A Thota-Vaikuntam-tinged view of Turtle Bay Gardens
  • Friends lunching on a park bench in Tudor City Greens
  • A rally for Guyuna in Ralph Bunche Park, in the shadow of the U.N.
  • Commerce on 42nd Street, exactly 14 months after lockdown
  • (Center) Setting up for a live performance outside the "Good Morning America" studio
(A larger view of each photo can been seen in this Google Photos album.)

Visiting Manhattan last summer, my wife observed that the city, for the first time in our lives, looked vulnerable. This weekend driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and turning a bend past Newark Airport, we suddenly saw the expansive, ever-changing Manhattan skyline spread out before us at dusk. It looked both majestic and surreal. I turned to my wife and simply said, "Wow."

After the past 14 months, New York City reminds me that while people's lives are vulnerable, what people create can be deathless.

New hashtag: #WowYork

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A Tree Grows in New Milford

Aerial view of Turtle Bay Gardens
Turtle Bay Gardens, the green courtyard between East 48th/49th streets, 6 pm, 5/26/21.

A tree grows in New Milford, NJ...

    by way of Brooklyn...

    by way of a courtyard garden in Turtle Bay, New York City.

The writer E.B. White used to live in an apartment overlooking that garden. From his window, the author of "Charlotte's Web" often admired a particular old willow tree that grew next to a replica Roman fountain.

In the closing paragraph of his famous essay, "Here Is New York," White referred to the tree as a metaphor for New York City itself:

"...In Turtle Bay there is an old willow tree that presides over an interior garden. It is a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed, held together by strands of wire but beloved by those who know it. In a way it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against the odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun.

"Whenever I look at it nowadays...I think: 'This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree.' If it were to go, all would go -- this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death."

White's willow, a 1949 illustration.
E.B. White died in 1985. The willow tree died in 2009. And some people will tell you that New York City died at the start of a pandemic in March 2020.

I'm here to tell you that none of these things are true.

Just as Wilbur never forgot Charlotte, White is practically immortal and his words still capture readers' hearts today. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

Also, before the dying tree was chopped down, composer Stephen Sondheim and other residents of Turtle Bay Gardens arranged for Bill Logan, a writer and conservationist, to preserve clippings from the willow.

Logan, founder and longtime president of the tree-care company Urban Arborists, planted one outside his office in Brooklyn. The shoot from E.B. White's willow is now more than 40 feet tall, and Logan has donated shoots from the offspring to schools, libraries and parks across the New York City area.

He donated one to me this spring. He just wanted a photo in return. Here it is, Bill:

Willow shoot planted in front of a library

I picked it up in late March 2021 and took care of it for a few weeks. Last Friday a DPW crew proudly, and properly, planted it on the front lawn of the New Milford Library.

New Milford is a Jersey-side suburb of New York in Bergen County. As the bird flies, it's a little under 12 miles between the library and Turtle Bay Gardens.

It's less than a 30-minute drive without traffic, in the middle of a pandemic. But today, the drive took me more than an hour.

My office building overlooks Turtle Bay Gardens, and atop this page is a photo of the view on this warm, beautiful day.

New York is teeming with life (and traffic and noise and energy) today. A storm is approaching. Meanwhile, a small willow tree is growing in New Milford.

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Here's a related essay I posted last summer.

Monday, May 17, 2021

100 Words (Exactly) About 4 Unrelated Images

Here's something fun to try:

Pick an image, any image, from your photo folder... and spend 5 to 10 minutes writing about it.

You might surprise yourself with the result.

Lately, at the Wednesday night virtual meeting of the New Milford Library's Photo Journaling Club, I've come up with about 100 words whenever we try this exercise.

Following are four I've edited to 100 words, exactly, uncovering some careless, accidental poetry along the way.

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(Photo by Dad)

Nonna's Lullabye
    (100 words, exactly, about my grandmother)

Nonna was always calm, always smiling, and deeply religious. In this photo of us, I'm dangling the pouch that held her rosary beads.

At night, at her house, she knelt with me at my bedside to thank God and pray for others. A while later, I would hear her in the bedroom next door:

She whispered the letter S in a rhythmic cadence, as if she were calling a cat. Trochaic hexameter. A dramatic pause before the last foot.

If I concentrated, I could distinguish the words of her “Hail Marys” – grace… is… blessed… amongst…blessed… Jesus… – before I fell asleep.

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Nature Speaks
    (100 words, exactly, about a visit to Sandy Hook Beach)

The trees seemed to invite me down this path. I was wary. The beach before me was empty; I didn’t trust its remote solitude.

A few stray leaves rustled against my shoulder, encouraging me. When an ocean breeze took hold of a branch, it pointed toward the shore.

I took a closer look and saw hundreds of footprints.

The sand told me that I was not alone, that there was nothing to fear. Many had traveled this route before. So I walked to the water’s edge and joined the others, leaving my own transitory mark before the tide came in.

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Bridal Redress
    (100 words, exactly, about the power of perspective)

When a couple plans to marry at the City Clerk’s office, romance is a magical leap of faith.

Then plans become reality, reality changes perception, and everyone has a different point of view:
-The father doesn’t know what do to with the empty corsage box.
-The man in a baseball cap doesn’t care.
-A friend in brown shoes has lost sight of the groom.
-An older relative struggles down the stairs.
-The girl in a mini-dress is mildly amused.

Only this photo saves the illusion of romance because, for a split second, forever:
-The bride is the center of attention.

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Blank Page
    (100 words, exactly, about writing)

On a blank page,
I can do anything.
I am bold.
The way you always wanted me to be.
I can dance.
Level mountains.
Erase the past.

On a blank page,
time has no power over me.
I conjure you at will.

You are not safe in New York.
That chill in the air is me.
In the shadows of a park,
our ghosts play chess.
Phantom dogs impatiently stare
at our empty chairs.
The meanest one snarls
at the passing cars.

On a blank page,
I wait forever for your next move.

On a blank page,
I never lose.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

9 Images of Spring 2021


Photos mine; captions in 6 words.

New Milford, NJ
Before sunset on Steuben Avenue, 5/11.

My living room
I will never understand my cat.

Cheesecake Factory, Menlo Park Mall
Mom, waiting for me to return.

Times Square
Minnie Mice return to Times Square.

Saddle River County Park
First sign of summer, in April.

First Avenue, New York City
New York shines when it rains.

Yacht Club, Edgewater
Me, suspended between NYC and NJ.

Historic New Bridge Landing
Hackensack sunset; New Jersey's surprising beauty.

Saddle River County Park
Slowly, my world returns to "normal."