Sunday, July 29, 2018

How Springsteen Saved My Ordinary Life

The screen door slammed; Nancy's beach dress waved.

Like a vision she ran across the back porch, as a portable speaker played another Springsteen song.

The previous evening, on the occasion of the "blood moon" in suburban New Jersey, I had been hoping for a night of magic -- filled with celestial signs and wonders. But instead of red weather, whenever the full moon peeked through the rain clouds, it was ordinary and decidedly white.

On this hot, humid Saturday in late July, I had decided to go for a swim.

I was splashing like a drunken sailor, listening to my favorite music without a care, when my wife ran to my side... and started to pull the automatic cleaner from the water. It had been mindlessly scouring the bottom of our pool.

"I heard the music," she said, "so I thought you'd be in here."

She tugged frantically at a cord to bring the device to the surface. Large orange stickers attached to the cord proclaimed these words in bold white lettering: "WARNING Do Not Enter Pool When Robotic Cleaner Is In The Water."

"Didn't you see this?" she asked.

"Oh, jeeze, I'm sorry," I said. "It's electric! I could have killed myself!"

"You're welcome," she said, a little shaken.

"Of course, thank you! You saved my life!" I said, adding, "Although... since you only came out here because you heard the music... technically, Bruce Springsteen saved my life. But thank you anyway. I mean it!"

"Don't mention it," Nancy said, now smiling. "I'll put it on your tab."

This tab is real; I'm an idiot.

I may have my virtues, but I'm useless around the house. I'm a klutz, and I can't install anything that isn't software-based. No one trusts me with a hammer. My one saving grace was that I used to be pretty good at mowing the lawn, but my family unilaterally decided to hire a gardener years ago because I kept infecting myself with poison ivy.

Also years ago -- upset, with my head clouded after the worst fight I ever had with one of my then-teenaged daughters -- I decided to clean out the gutter over our front door. I retrieved the ladder from the garage, and set it up, a bit shaky, then started climbing.

When I nearly reached the top, I felt a tug from underneath.

I looked down and saw my daughter, holding the ladder steady.

She had seen me from the window of her bedroom, where we had just been arguing, and she ran down the stairs, concerned, when she saw me place the ladder against the side of the house.

We didn't say a word to each other. She just looked up at me with an expression of exasperation while I fished leaves from the gutter.

I have never felt more loved than at that moment.

Such is my charmed life in suburban New Jersey -- where I've learned, over the years, to show a little faith. There's magic even on ordinary nights.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Corporate Life Chose Me

Thursday evening, July 26, I'll be speaking at a Museum of PR "Summer School" event in New York (details here).

The topic is my work as a spokesperson in the changing world of corporate America (unless things change by then). Registration is free, and the event will also be streamed live on Facebook.

My Twitter Moment, see below, celebrates the hashtag #CorporateLife -- and you might think from this that I sometimes don't take my job very seriously.

On the contrary, I want to let you in on a few secrets.

First, I've worked for Verizon and pre-Verizon companies for more than 30 years. That makes me an odd duck. But I have to tell you, as I've written before, it's never felt like that. I may not have changed companies, but the company has changed several times around me.

Like father, like son. My Dad worked at a Verizon predecessor company, New York Telephone, for 33 years. Dad didn't always love his job (working in Customer Service is particularly demanding) -- but he always loved his family. If he were still with us today, he'd be very proud that I followed in his giant footsteps.

Second, I have no regrets. Verizon is a tech company that helps people communicate. Its goal is to deliver the promise of the digital world to customers, and it aspires to do so in an ethical way. Check out the Verizon Credo. I think that's pretty cool.

Third, I love my particular job -- media relations -- because I get to work directly with the best journalists in the world.

Journalists are under fire these days, and I think unfairly so. Their world -- like mine, and yours too -- is radically changing. But even on their bad days, journalists do more good in the world than most. It's been an honor and a privilege to be able to help them do their jobs.

Want to hear less about me and more what life is like in corporate PR these days? Tune in on Thursday night. I hope it will be informative -- and fun.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Postscript: Another Look Back Home

Pardon this mid-week interruption.

After posting photos and a few words about New Jersey here Sunday, I found myself in a nostalgic mood -- especially since I wound up visiting Mom in the house where I grew up in Totowa.

Here's just a glimpse of the living room there: that lamp, the doilies, all the little decorating touches Mom calls “gingerbread.”

I also posted two more photos -- both distant views of the New York City skyline -- on my Instagram accounts related to last week's adventures.

Here, for one, is a scene from the Rockefeller Lookout in Palisades Interstate Park. The one tiny boat sailing down the river is even smaller than Henry Hudson’s... but, as Hudson said when he first saw the view, “This land may be profitable to those that will adventure it!”

The other is an uncharacteristically vivid edit of a sunrise photo after a visit to Hamilton Park in Weehawken.

Editing photos heavily like this reminds me of my former Latin teacher in college. A priest, he offered this worldly advice when assigning translation homework: “Keep in mind that translations are like women. The more beautiful they are, the less true.”

Sunday, July 15, 2018

12 Images and Stories; 1 Week in New Jersey

These are the photos I took and the stories I shared about New Jersey this past week: a six-day adventure on behalf of Jersey Collective, a collaborative Instagram account that a different photographer takes over each week.

The week, for Jersey Collective, began on Monday, July 9, 2018, and I posted two images each day.

But, of course, the actual start of the week is Sunday, so I posted this photo of the Fair Lawn Bible Church on the 8th -- as part of the #NJChurchEverySunday collection I'm toying with at a Jersey-centric Instagram account. The rest of the week follows.

July 9 - Bendix Diner and Fairy Tale Forest

What better way to begin a week in New Jersey than breakfast at a diner?

Here’s the counter at the legendary Bendix Diner, which sits alone in an island at the fork of busy Route 17 North and South in Hasbrouck Heights. I had the place to myself at 6 a.m., and the gracious longtime owner Eva didn’t mind that I took photos. She’s grown pretty used to it in the Instagram era.


Yesterday while driving up Oak Ridge Road, I saw my past flash before my eyes. So I pulled over for this: the entrance to Jersey’s iconic Fairy Tale Forest, which, according to recent news reports, will reopen later this year after seven years of restoration.

Opened in 1957 by German immigrant Paul Woehle, the Brothers Grimm theme park set behind this roadside castle and massive “wooden” shoe is a cherished childhood memory for many (myself included). Woehle’s granddaughter, Christine, is leading the restoration efforts and plans to begin the park’s reopening by launching a cleverly-named family-friendly restaurant, Fables, by the end of this summer.

July 10 - New Bridge Landing and Garret Mountain

Here’s a morning scene within walking distance from my home: No filters, just beautiful natural colors at Historic New Bridge Landing.

This is the Westervelt-Thomas Barn, built in 1889 out of timbers from an older house and a brewery. It’s not nearly as famous as the Red Mill in Clinton, but to me it’s just as photogenic.

The barn originally stood in Washington Township and was donated to the Bergen County Historical Society in 1954 and reconstructed on its current site.

It was restored as an agricultural museum in 2014, open now on special occasions and filled with agrarian artifacts and tools.

Here’s why I ❤️ New Jersey: it’s in the center of everything. Just to the north of this four-building historic park is a nature path along the Hackensack River; just to the south is a shopping mall with restaurants and a theater, across the street to the west is a commuter railroad station, and to the east is the town of Teaneck, with New York City (like Emerald City) just miles in the distance.


A favorite place: the scenic overlook of Paterson from Garret Mountain Reservation. Just off Route 80, along the drive home from work, it was nearly 7 p.m. when I stopped by and still nearly 90 degrees. The parking lot was full, and people lingered in cars and listened to music, or ventured to the stone wall to take selfies and usies.

Down below is one of New Jersey’s great cities. It’s complicated and crowded and messy and beautiful. “The past above, the future below and the present pouring down: the roar.” (-- William Carlos Williams, “Paterson”)

July 11 - Weehawken and Jersey City

View of New York from New Jersey before sunrise at the site of Alexander Hamilton’s duel with Aaron Burr (214 years ago today). That’s the boulder where Hamilton laid his head after he was mortally wounded, covered this morning with wishing-well pennies.

This area near “death rock,” marked by the bust of Hamilton, is one of my favorite places to view the New York City skyline from New Jersey. I found it thanks to a photography meetup run by @njspots early this year. I’ve also enjoyed going to other meetups around the state, thanks to the great photographers at @blackglassgallery. (You should follow them all!) 


View of New Jersey from New York. I wanted to show the opposite of what I posted here this morning, and this was the view late this afternoon from the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building.

That’s the Jersey City waterfront skyline on the right side of the Hudson River (with the Statue of Liberty just a speck in the middle). Jersey City (larger than Fort Wayne and Buffalo) and Newark (larger than Jersey City) are the only cities in the state among the 100 largest in America. Still, 7 of the 10 most densely populated places in the country are located in New Jersey: Guttenberg, Union City, West New York, Hoboken, Cliffside Park, East Newark and Passaic.

July 12 - Paramus and Califon

I pulled over on my morning commute to explore the footbridge linking two shopping malls on either side of Route 4 in Paramus, AKA Mallville USA.

This small North Jersey borough has more square footage of mall space per capita than anywhere else in the country (and some say, the world). Because of local Bergen County “blue laws” most of the stores are closed on Sundays – and referendums to repeal these laws always fail because, at least on Sundays, the local traffic isn’t so bad.

This image faces west. The largest of the malls, Garden State Plaza, is just up the road to the left. Our local paper, The Record, recently posed this question: “As dying malls around the country are being replaced by ‘alls’ — multi-use centers that combine housing, office space, dining and entertainment with shopping — the question facing Paramus is this: Will it remain the last holdout of shopping malls? Or will it be a national model that figures out how to make brick-and-mortar retail work into the next half of the century?”


After work, I stopped to visit this sweet, forgiving, patient and majestic horse. He was thinner than this shadow 8 years ago, when he was rescued by my sweet, forgiving, patient and caring daughter.

Token of My Affection, or simply Token, is a 20-year-old Friesian from Holland. Once rescued, he enjoyed a great second life as a show horse before retiring from competition last year. Soon after I took this photo, he started to roll happily in the dirt.

July 13 - Basking Ridge and Wayne

This used to be a waterfall. Seriously.

It’s summer Friday, and for many this morning is just another working day in a suburban office park. There are quite a few in New Jersey. This campus used to be AT&T’s home until it was put up for sale in 2001, and the company removed its 16-ton gilt statue “Golden Boy” from outside this front entrance.

It was sold to Pharmacia, but never used — until Verizon bought it in 2005, gutted the buildings, took out the shag carpeting, and replaced an imposing black-stone waterfall feature in the front lobby with a graceful spiral staircase — right underneath that circular opening in the photo. I say “imposing” because I once tried to visit a girlfriend who was interning at AT&T, and thought to myself, “I’ll never work in corporate America.”

I was so wrong. Decades into a corporate career, I happily just purchased a coffee from the Starbucks in the lobby. Virtually all the private office space here has been converted to an open work environment with many great amenities. Still, there are days I miss having a traditional office. 


Date Night on Friday the 13th.

My wife and “permanent date” keeps threatening to start an Instagram account so she can post photos of me with my iPhone, trying to take atmospheric “Date Night” photos. She wants to call it, “The Ugly Side of Date Night” of “The Other Side of Date Night.” 

You can see some of these tagged #DateNight images on my @foundinnj and @bvarphotos accounts.

In the meantime, as I took this photo, a great solo musician, Jay Mickens, diligently played in the background to a sparse and listless audience in the fading sun. It was suggested that someone should start a band called Atmospheric Datenight.

July 14 - Alpine and Maplewood

This is Devil’s Tower, a haunted site in the middle of an upscale neighborhood in Alpine, NJ.

I returned here on a hot Saturday morning, thinking back to my only other visit last September, a few days after my birthday. Back then, I had posted a superstitious 13 photos of the place in a shared Google folder.

The legend is, if you drive or walk backward around the tower at least three times, you see the ghost of a woman who leapt to her death there — or find yourself face-to-face with the devil.

I didn’t temp fate either last September or on this morning in July; it was already hotter than Hell. 👻



Today (Bastille Day!) was the first of the free two-day music, art and food festival at Memorial Park in Maplewood.

How did I find out about this?

I came upon a child of God walking along the road, and he said friends and neighbors started the annual event in 2004 — in the spirit of Woodstock and 1,500 miles from Austin.

Just remember: We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon.


Adieu, and thanks for checking in on my travels this past week around New Jersey, the Garden State — a land of Dover dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Hello, Jersey Collective

Please allow me to introduce myself.

I'm Bob, and this coming week I will be contributing photos to Jersey Collective, a collaborative Instagram account that a different photographer takes over each week. Every day since March 2014, guests have posted at least one photo taken in New Jersey with a cell phone camera.

Asked to supply a bio for the site, I sent this:

Bob Varettoni has lived and worked in New Jersey FOREVER (yes, he's a vampire... and also, according to his favorite coffee mug, The World's Greatest Dad). He considers the Garden State the center of the universe, with easy access to cities and farms, beaches and forests, art and commerce -- and everything in between. His Tumblr ( and @foundinnj IG accounts are devoted to all things Jersey. Bob takes photos using an iPhone, which he has at his side 24/7 for work (corporate PR) and play.

So I've been around for a long, long year -- and also post many an image at @bvarphotos since Instagram is my favorite (that is, "creative" and "drama-free") social media platform.

Please join me this coming week at @jerseycollective, and get a little taste of life in New Jersey in 2018.

An example of what you might find?

Just this past week, I wandered around Paterson -- one of the most underestimated and misunderstood places in America. I have sympathy for the town, and just a few images to share:

Here's a somewhat related video -- not mine, and originally posted by Chris Pedota on -- of Paterson artist Said Elatab, who is inspired by the tragedies of his past.