Sunday, October 17, 2021

Thank You to a Friend (In Praise of Mel Stottlemyre)

I visited my friend Paul Macchia yesterday, and he remembered that Mel Stottlemyre was one of my favorite baseball players. So he gave me a Stottlemyre 1989 Bowman card (when he was a Mets coach) and an autograph Mel had signed for him years ago.

Thank you, Paul!

I admired Mel because my Dad admired him. As a 13-year-old, Dad (who passed away 16 years ago this month) was already pitching semi-pro baseball, thanks to a wicked sinkerball he had mastered.

Years later, when I was pitching in Little League, Dad would hold up Mel as a model of how to throw a sinker. I, of course, wanted to throw something more exotic. "How do I throw a gopher ball?" I naively asked Dad. He laughed and replied, "Just keep doing what you're doing, son."

Mel's autograph now holds an honored spot beneath Rusty Staub's on top of my grandfather's old dresser. Also in the photo here is a recent, thoughtful handwritten note from Mets GM Sandy Alderson to my wife Nancy, who had written him about this year's "thumbs down" controversy.

I posted information about Dad's baseball career here two years ago.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Wake Me Up When September Ends


Summer has come and passed, and this past month has gone so fast.

It began with the rain in New York...

Which flooded parts of my hometown in New Jersey...

I was moved by the quick action of many neighbors to help those in need.

Days later, the banks of the Hackensack River, whose high tides had been unforgiving, looked idyllically lush...

The juxtaposition between New York and New Jersey seemed heightened in September...

... The stark differences between looking up past the eagle guarding Grand Central Terminal and the gathering crowd at the Mets/Yankee game on the evening of September 11, and looking down Van Houten Avenue in Clifton after Sunday brunch or a lonely visit to the new sculpture garden at the New Milford Library.

I love these contrasts in my daily life.

Later in September, on a return visit to Citi Field, my wife and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with family and friends. I didn't ask for the OK to post photos, so here's simply the back of my daughter's jersey (I'm wearing the "Varettoni 35" jersey, a great gift from my great friend Joe). My daughter had the jersey made in honor of my late Dad, who was nicknamed "Chick" when he played semi-pro ball...

I celebrated my birthday on Sept. 27 by watching the sun rise on the beach at Asbury Park...

And, finally, on Sept. 29, our family attended a wake in Tenafly at dusk to celebrate the life of a remarkable woman, Carmen Unanue. May her memory be eternal.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Thirteen Ways of Looking at New York (Happy Birthday, Wallace Stevens)


If social media has taught me one thing about life, it's to reaffirm how ordinary I am.

Which is why one of my favorite writers is Wallace Stevens, an ordinary life insurance executive who wrote some of the world's most extraordinary poems.

It's his 142nd birthday today.

I love the fact that Stevens spent the bulk of his career as an executive for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company. He used to scribble notes for poems on his walk to work every day in Connecticut. I often do the same while sitting in the back seat of a New Jersey Transit bus.

Often, I also take cell phone photos. So during the pandemic I paired some of my images of New York with haikus.

I thought this was unique. But then, as I've learned, I'm never unique.

Some quick Internet research shows that The New York Times asked readers to write haikus about the city and received thousands of submissions for National Poetry Month in April 2014. This was subsequently turned into a book.

Even more recently, in April 2021, Peter C. Goldmark Jr. (retired president of the Rockefeller Foundation and executive director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) published "Haikus for New York City," featuring illustrations by his daughter.

Still, in the spirit of the birthday poet -- who lived in New York from 1900 to 1916 and who, like me, always loved the city... I offer this tribute to him today.

---------

Thirteen Ways of Looking at New York During Pandemic 

(With apologies

to poet Wallace Stevens.

Photos/haiku, mine)


I


Grand Central Terminal

Stars on the ceiling.

Passing souls on marble floors.

Virus fills the air.



II

42nd Street at 6th Avenue

Cotton candy skies.

42nd Street in March.

Clouds, before the storm.


 

III

Queensboro Bridge viewed from the East Side

Buildings filled with light.

The Queensboro Bridge in pearls.

Cars hasting nowhere.

 


IV

The Panorama of the City of New York, Queens Museum


Found hidden in Queens.

New York in miniature,

still larger than life.


 

V (after E.B. White)

Aerial view of the East Side, Manhattan

New York compresses

all life into a small space,

adds music. A poem.

 


VI


Greetings from Ghost Town.

Shadows among the living.

Invisible. Times Square.

 


VII

Fifth Avenue saints.

The enemies of darkness

gathering at dusk.

 


VIII


Fountains, flags, and lights.

"Anarchist Jurisdiction,"

a riot of hope.


 

IX


East 43rd Street.

Relentless, billowing steam

stirs man's shuffling pace.

 


X


Fish out of water.

Whimsy turns the dim world pink.

Park Avenue art.


 

XI


Buildings watch me walk.

I look up and catch their stare.

Nosy, jealous glass.

 


XII


Unlit Christmas tree,

an emperor without clothes,

awaits the spotlight.


 

XIII


Forgotten men find

a marble sanctuary

on beds of cardboard.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Why I Love New York (in 21 seconds)

This is why I love New York.

I went for a lunchtime walk last week and was able to touch the ‘86 World Series trophy, say hello to Mr. Met, watch artist Joe Petruccio at work, buy a 35th anniversary t-shirt for Nancy, see the KAWS sculpture on temporary display at Rockefeller Center, and stroll down Broadway as David Byrne’s “American Utopia” prepared for its reopening this weekend and where Carmine’s restaurant proudly rolled out a red carpet to welcome back customers for the first time since the pandemic.

 


Friday, September 10, 2021

20 Years Later, 9/11 Remembered

Empty Sky Memorial in Jersey City
Empty Sky Memorial, Liberty State Park, NJ, 2020

I'm reposting this from last year, having again updated a Pinterest site of photos and stories recalling my former Verizon colleagues and their heroic response to 9/11. You can reach it at https://www.pinterest.com/bvar/verizons-response-to-911/.

Included is a booklet from 2005 about the history and recovery of 140 West Street, the old headquarters building that was severely damaged at Ground Zero... and from which workers snaked temporary cables from open windows to get the New York Stock Exchange up and running just days later, beginning our national recovery.

Here are links to a half dozen related personal posts on this site (from most recent to oldest):

My friend, Fay Shapiro, also kindly published this and other posts from PR people on the CommPro.biz site earlier today.

I hope you can make sense of it all.

Even 20 years later, I can't.

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.

---------


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.

---------


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.

---------

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.


---------

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.