Sunday, March 31, 2019

In Bushwick, Where Everything Is Temporary

This mural is part of The Bushwick Collective, an outdoor gallery featuring works from some of the world's best street artists.

I visited there twice in 2016. After the first visit, I wrote about a work colleague who had died too young, Robin Flowers.

We had begun our PR careers together, and in 1987 we found ourselves stationed in Bushwick after a devastating fire had destroyed telephone service.

The defining characteristic of the place, even back then, was how temporary everything seemed.

One example: With our company under pressure to restore phone service quickly, our Marketing department had arranged for T-shirts for the workers on site that read, "We're working as fast as we can!" The grizzled operations executive leading the recovery efforts opened the first box of shirts and said, "We can’t use these!" -- since the phrase could mean the exact opposite in a unionized setting... a work-to-rule excuse. As soon as he uttered those words, our PR vice president grabbed the box from Robin's hands and hurled it into a nearby dumpster.

Revisiting Bushwick in 2016, I was struck by the area's change and revitalization in barely two decades. The once-impoverished community had become home to vibrant street art and commerce.

I carved Robin's initials into one wall there as a makeshift memorial -- my life's only attempt at street art. I was delighted and encouraged to find the "RF" still there a few months later when I returned to take photos on my own.


Three years later -- last Saturday -- I returned to The Bushwick Collective a third time and saw that Robin's initials had long ago been painted over.

I was with a group of talented photographers from New Jersey's Black Glass Gallery, but I didn't have the heart to take many photos. The street art was just as compelling. Here's a site where you can see the great photos my friends took that day.

But me? Just hours earlier, I had learned that another work friend -- Joellen Brown -- had been been in an accident and was in an intensive unit in Philadelphia with a head injury.

I wandered aimlessly around Bushwick on my own, preoccupied with thoughts and prayers for Joellen, until I came to the corner of Johnson and Gardner.

There, I stopped in my tracks, and took photo after photo of the mural that accompanies this post. It's a work by Michel Velt, an urban artist from the Netherlands. The wavy-haired model, according to Michel's Instagram site, is Nathaly Smits.

It wasn't the mural's beauty that transfixed me. It was a rare sense of familiarity and recognition. When I returned home and compared my 2019 photos to my 2016 photos, I realized that this was the only mural that I had photographed in the neighborhood that had survived for three years.

That’s the thing about Bushwick. As beautiful and poignant and playful and life-affirming as the street art is, it is meant to be temporary. That's the point of it all. The murals here survive for six months, maybe a year... but then they are painted over... and the cycle begins again.

Nothing lasts forever.

In Bushwick, everything is temporary. Except maybe this mural.


The very next morning, I learned that Joellen had died.

My friend was a wonderful writer, but sometimes there are no words.

I took this photo of Joellen when she visited Verizon offices in New Jersey around Christmas 2017, right before she retired, so that it might be included in "Verizon Untethered," a history that was published last spring. She's included in the acknowledgements: "Joellen Brown, part of the Verizon executive communications team for more than 30 years, helped to provide historical context and research materials. She also reviewed the text for accuracy multiple times."

She isn't listed as one of the book's authors. If you look back at any of the half dozen speeches she wrote that were published over the years in "Vital Speeches of the Day" (a prestigious monthly collection of the best speeches in the world), you won't find her name there either.

Instead, you'll find a transcript of Bell Atlantic executive Ray Smith at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. In 1999, he talked about hate speech on the Internet. Joellen titled the speech, "Civility Without Censorship." She wrote: "Instead of fearing the Internet's reach, we need to embrace it -- to value its ability to connect our children to the wealth of positive human experience and knowledge... We need to fight destructive rhetoric with constructive dialogue -- hate speech with truth -- restrictions with greater access."

In 2010, at the Economic Club of Washington DC, Verizon executive Ivan Seidenberg used Joellen's words to sound more presidential than a real-life president: "We need accountable leaders in government, as well as in the business community, who reject the false choices between job creation or deficit reduction, growth or sustainability, serving consumers or investors, managing for the short term or the long term, being profitable or doing things right. Real leadership isn't about making false choices; it's about finding solutions to real problems."

In 2016, I asked Joellen to contribute a blog post to the fledgling website of the New Jersey Chapter of the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators). She readily agreed, and what a treat it is to have a record of Joellen's observations about speechwriting in her own words. That post has been widely re-distributed in the PR community, and you can read it here.

Here too is more of Joellen in her own words, speaking about her endowment to Ohio Wesleyan University in honor of her sister.

If you want a sense of her life, please read her obituary in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which includes loving detail provided by her good friend, our former colleague Jay Grossman.

If you want to make a meaningful difference in Joellen's memory, please consider donating to Philadelphia Young Playwrights.

Finally, if you are looking for life lessons, I urge you to visit The Bushwick Collective. You will be reminded there, amid all the beauty and the chaos, that nothing lasts forever. There is no refuge in art. And sometimes there are no words.

The only thing that may transcend time is our impact on the lives of others after we are gone.

This is how Joellen Brown will be long-remembered.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

16 Poems for World Poetry Day

Dorothy meets Christina. Used with permission: 

I once dreamed of a poem and wrote it down within minutes upon waking.

Once. It was a magical experience, and it happened when I was in college.

I immediately submitted it to The Juggler, Notre Dame's literary publication, and it was immediately rejected. Undaunted, I convinced a night editor to let me publish it as classified ad in The Observer, Notre Dame's student newspaper.

This proved even more magical, as it caught the attention of someone who has since become a lifelong friend.

"The Wizard of Oz" was her favorite movie. In addition, and having nothing to do with the poem, "Christina's World" was her favorite painting.

So when I recently saw an image of Dorothy in Andrew Wyeth's world on Lauren Bee's Instagram site, I thought of my friend... and I thought of my poem... and I thought I should share it and several others here in honor of World Poetry Day.

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) proclaimed March 21 as such in 1999. Perhaps because it's the first full day of spring, but also because "poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings."

What follows are 16 original poems: six in free verse, five sonnets and five haikus (accompanied by original photos). Some poems date back to Notre Dame when, emboldened by "For Dorothy," I enrolled in Sonia Gernes' class in poetry writing.

One even references old-fashioned news print, in homage to The New York Daily News, which  my Dad arranged to have delivered to my dorm room, so I wouldn't be homesick in Indiana.

"Ford to City: Drop Dead" read The News' most famous headline during that era. Bob Brink, son of the editor who wrote that headline, was the night editor at The Observer who allowed me to print "For Dorothy."

As it turns out, I don't need anyone's permission to print my poems anymore. Enjoy.


For Dorothy

Salem in Oz.
A witch burns slowly
in the wicked west,
melting like the frost
in the early Kansas sun.

The tin man is crying,
the lion is scared,
and they’ve auctioned
the tigers and bears.
Oh my,

there's no place like home;
there's no place like home.
I never meant to be this far from you --

Sonnet 1

There's something in the air, or so they say.
It's certainly not magic or the heat.
It's just the moon, white-full and young -- the way,
like water, people splash and spill beneath.

And you and I remind me of the tides.
We hate and love; we rise and fall. It scares
me that I don't know why or that I find
no fault in us, just something in the air.

So still above us rests the moon, content
and seemingly unmoved. It doesn't hate
or love; it doesn't care -- without relent,
without a passing judgment of our fate.

The moonlight falls like smoke between the mist.
What fools we are compared to such as this.

Haiku (Rutgers Gardens)

Captured, brown and green,
We hold hands in bright colors,
And head for the light.

(For C and M - revised 2/1/20)

I'm so very tired of you,
of your, excuse the expression, baby blue eyes;
your self-satisfied coo;
and innocence, unproved.
I don't know what to do anymore
with your needles and sins enough for two.

I hate this room,
the way the bears in the shadows
hide their claws and teeth,
and stare at me --
silent, stuffed and vaguely amused.
Like you.

Honey, they have their sights set on you.
One by one by one, they're waiting for you.
They'll creep from their lairs,
and adjust to the moon.
Then slip into your shoes,
and eat your food.

Sleep soundly, love, amid the gloom.
I’m bound to stay in this room ‘til you wake,
fulfilling our mutual fate.
Taking shards from the break of day,
I will threaten the bears
with their ruin.

So, say what you won't and cry what you will:
But what would you do without me?
And I – without you?

Sonnet 2

Adam was a madman; and Paradise,
a fraud. In only this do I believe:
the rhythm of your constancy. Oh Christ,
your eyes alone can prove infinity.

It is your love that has unraveled all.
You haunt my sleep. One moment, I balance
with stars beneath my feet. The next, I fall
from you, toward earth -- my dream, a graceless dance.

Before I land, my senses gain control.
Awake, alone, I fear the rustling sound
of insubstantial leaves, like wind-swept souls.
My heart (alive or dead?) seems strangely bound.

This is the slow, uneven beat of Hell:
I have loved you always, but never well.

Haiku (Citi Field)

Rain at dusk in Queens.
Exploding sky to the west.
Gatsby in New York.

Funny Papers

I love you, Brenda Starr.
I love the here and there of your eyes
in the wrinkles of the morning light.

I love your red hair,
and the precise curve of your thighs.
How easily I can read your mind.

I love you, Brenda Starr.
I love the taste of the crumb-shaped freckles
sprinkled sloppily upon your arms.

I love the trace of your wet, warm, coffee-stained parts…
the sticky feel of your colorful Sunday clothes…
your thin and dirty weekday black and whites.

I love you, Brenda Starr.
Your bloodless heart.

I love the tell-tale smell of you on my fingertips
and how, on everything I touch,
you leave your mark.

Sonnet 3
(11 Roses for N)

Alas, alack, I have to disagree
with Shakespeare: my love is rare -- her hair red,
like an Irish setter's, and her eyes green,
the envy of the cat beneath my bed.

I see, in her reflective gaze, nine lives --
defying death (despite devout clichés),
perchance to live forever in this rhyme.
Her form belies my unpoetic ways.

If God's Own eye is something like the sun,
then true love is a flower, I propose.
And my love is a dozen, minus one.
Imperfectly inscrutable: one rose,

one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose,
one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose.

Found Haiku

Art all around me.
Fading reveals the beauty,
and rust never sleeps.

12 Weeks in a Playground

Around the world in 84 days,
over and back around.
There's nothing to do; there's nothing to do
on a hot afternoon in New Haven.

On a hot afternoon, a single balloon
is passing the day, floating away --
around the world day after day,
lost in the sounds of the crowd.

It's always the same; it's always the same.
The children are laughing,
while I go insane.

Odyssey in Newark

A siren on a stage
sings soft jazz to the slow lights,
while Odysseus bides his time
with ladies who sip daiquiris.

The syncopated piano
has a distant sound.
There are no memories here.
No one is homeward bound.

Sonnet 4

A never-ending whisper in my dreams
belies my vane attempts at normalcy --
fluttering wings or muffled, distant screams.
Intimate shades of tone, the source unseen.

And yet, this is no disembodied sound.
I recognize some element of pain.
I sense an urgency the darkness shrouds --
an outstretched arm, perhaps… It's you again.

I almost feel your breath upon my face.
I almost see your form beside my bed.
At dawn I find this ghost has been erased,
and wonder fills my silent hours instead.

What alchemy has turned our love to fear?
What god is this that only I can hear?

Haiku That Begins a Suburban Trilogy

Backyard trees peering
over the fence, judging me,
like nosy neighbors.

A Tale of New Jersey 

I summon you tonight, Evangeline.
As I behold the passage of time
In the breath of the bone-chilling cold. 

My old black dog.
Cloudy-eyed, shedding,
Struggles to her feet and
Shuffles to my side. 

I scratch her dry nose,
And open the back porch door,
Exposing the darkness.
The crack in my bones. 

Come, Evangeline,
Hear the scuttling of time.
The claws of the moments we lost.
My words in the bone-chilling cold. 

I long for the warmth of our souls.
I mourn for the warmth of our souls. 

Sonnet 5

I have encased my soul in tempered glass,
displayed it on the mantel in our home.
The frame collects the dust beside a vase
of silk flowers embed in Styrofoam.

Beneath this centerpiece, a hungry fire,
timer-controlled, heats wood that doesn't burn.
The warmth is real, and I am safe. Desire
consumed, I wait alone for love's return.

Then in you walk... Alarms trip. Cats take flight
and lose several lives. A fake church bell sounds.
You flip the light. Night is day; day is night.
Hamlet, without doubt; Ophelia, undrowned.

My kingdom would be bound in a nutshell,
if not for you: our lives, suburban hell.

Three Haikus Walk Into a Bar...*

The first orders beer.
The second, a sparkling water.
The third poem stays dry.

* Special thanks to my friend, the great and powerful Jason Moriber. He led a group of us on a pub crawl of literary Manhattan bars, including the White Horse Tavern, on the eve of The Ides of March. May we not go gentle into that good night.

Also, shameless plug, here's a short story I once posted here.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Finding Religion in Jersey City (Part 2)

St. Lucy's on Grove Street in Jersey City.

Related post: "Finding Religion in Jersey City."

After visiting Art Fair 14C (so named as a nod to the “what exit?” NJ joke about the Turnpike and Parkway) in Jersey City yesterday, I wanted to take the obligatory photo of Eduardo Kobra’s David Bowie mural on Jersey Avenue.

Nearby, I noticed a beautiful church tower. So I turned the corner to add to my #NJchurcheverySunday Instagram collection. It was St. Lucy’s, now abandoned, with plywood covering its lower windows. Built in 1884, the church closed in the 1980s, and its former school next door is now a homeless shelter.

Listed as one of Preservation New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Structures in the state, St. Lucy’s might normally be in danger of demolition, especially since the US Supreme Court recently refused to hear a dispute over whether local NJ government can award publicly-funded historic preservation grants to churches.

But there’s a plan, also recently approved, to revitalize the area, construct a new homeless shelter and preserve the church.

That would be a welcome miracle, and maybe we have St. Jude to thank. A shrine to the patron saint of hopeless causes also still stands outside St. Lucy's.


PS - Nearly five years ago, when I started my Instagram account, I posted this photo of a statue of St. Lucy at Our Lady of Pompeii Church on Bleecker Street in Manhattan. There was no explanation of the image, in which the saint holds a platter bearing two eyeballs.

So, finally, to explain: According to church legend, St. Lucy's eyes were gauged out but God gave her new eyes. So she's the patron saint of the blind. In some versions of this story, St. Lucy plucked out her own eyes and gave them to a suitor who praised their beauty; in other versions, her eyes were removed by persecutors.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Nighttime at the Hoboken Terminal

A part of New Jersey's history quietly turned 112 in late February: stately Hoboken Terminal, in all its Beaux Arts beauty.

When I visited late last week on a cold late-winter's night, the place and its surroundings were practically deserted -- which only enhanced its charm.

Trains and train stations inspire art and romance. Here are a just a few links to some examples:

And here's a more expansive written tour of Hoboken Terminal -- and a detailed NJ Transit publication about the terminal on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

Finally, here are some images from my visit the other night. As poet Archibald Lampman wrote: "The darkness brings no quiet here; the light no waking."

View of New York City from the adjacent ferry terminal.


This is a reflection of me on the PATH from NYC to Hoboken... and a photo from the late train home. I post New Jersey-specific images (almost) daily on Instagram at and on Tumblr at Follow me there. I'll follow you back... if you're a real-life, generally fully-clothed person. I also post at (where I try my best to use what I learn from my photography friends at Black Glass Gallery), and you can find me on Twitter for posts about work, tech, baseball, books, writing and the occasional penguin at

Monday, March 4, 2019

A Month in New Jersey (February 2019)

I 💓 Tumblr.

It's quirky, and sometimes beautiful and provocative, and often -- at least until the end of last year -- NSFW.

The most SFW site on the platform is "Found in New Jersey," which I've been curating for some time. Mostly, I post my own local photography, or repost other local photographers... and sprinkle in some interesting NJ-focused lifestyle stories from or posts from other Tumblrs I 💓, such as The History Girl or New Jersey Gothic.

Looking back at past months, I often think about creating an interactive, multimedia site called "A Year in New Jersey." But then the days pass quickly, and I never do.

So here's a start: five of the most-liked "Found in New Jersey" posts from the shortest month of the year. The first two are related to Valentine's Day, my favorite holiday of the month. The others are just... quirky.

If you like what you see, I invite you to stop by my Tumblr page some day and say hi. Until then...