Thursday, August 29, 2019

August and Everything After

Earlier this month, Adam Duritz flew to London and shaved his head.

With his trademark dreadlocks shorn, the frontman for the rock band Counting Crows has become my spirit animal.

First, I admire that earlier this year, after so many years, Duritz formally recorded the song “August and Everything After” – which, like his best music, is both haunting and disturbing.

But even more inspiring to me is his radical new look, after so many years.

Just like Adam, it’s time for a change for me too.


Looking back at my recent posts here, I realize I do a lot of “looking back.”

All well and good, considering the tributes and memorials I’ve posted to loved ones.

But there’s another way to honor those who have loved and supported us: using our time and efforts to give back or at least try to create something of lasting value.

This past week, during a short trip to Amish country in Pennsylvania, I took photos to share on social. Posted here are a few images from Paradise, and I hope they have some value.

I love photography. It gets me out in the world, away from my screens. A camera seems to give me the license… and the courage… to simply wander and explore.

It’s such a beautiful world. And sometimes ugly, and often absurd.

In a store window a few miles from Paradise, in Lancaster, I saw religious wall art that I thought was an image of the Virgin Mary. When I changed my perspective by walking to the side, the image changed to one of Jesus. Another image for sale depicted the Harrowing of Hell, Christ’s journey after his crucifixion to save all the righteous who had died since the beginning of time.

To me, photography is akin to the Harrowing of Heaven. Each photo is an ascent into the timeless and infinite, brought to earth by light and magic, captured and preserved, forever current.

Sometimes these images can be profound.

I save a photo of a girl who broke my heart when I was young.

The Polaroid was taken at a Halloween party I wasn’t invited to. I save it because, in a trick of accidental art, it forever suspends both the moment and the girl in perfect balance:

Dressed like a pumpkin, she almost looks vulnerable.


I used that line in a story I once wrote, but now I think it’s time to write a few more stories… and take a few more photos… and keep creating something different.

I recently left my job at Verizon, where I had happily worked for more than 34 years, writing press releases, talking to reporters and getting to know some extraordinary colleagues.

It gave me great experience that I hope to put to use as a PR consultant. My goal is to help out a non-profit, foundation, educational institution or any company seeking to provide a greater good to society.

For me, it’s time for a change. I even formed a company, and Nancy took a new professional photo of me, standing in Weehawken NJ, with New York like Emerald City in the background, beckoning to the future.

So that’s me, today. No dreads. No fear.

In August and everything after, I’m after everything.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

New Jersey's So Picturesque...


How picturesque is it?

It's so picturesque that photos of the iconic Red Mill in Clinton don't do it justice.

Photos by me, anyway.

But, lucky for me, there's enough beauty in Clinton's small town center to post a few Instagram photos of other sights. There's also a few nice restaurants and places to see, like the Hunterdon Art Museum (seen above) and the Red Mill Museum Village.

On Thursday after sunset, Nancy and I were happily listening to Anders Hyatt perform on an open-air stage along the south branch of the Raritan River before we were all chased away by a rainstorm.

You should visit Anders' website; his music was great!... and the museum village's site has details about another free open-air concert next Thursday night (👋 Gregg Cagno).

Seriously, the Red Mill is one of the most photographed locations in the state. Here's one example from Thursday night of a real photo by a real photographer. Dave Norton used a 30-second exposure while the winds were whipping around us to take this shot during a meetup for New Jersey Spots:


Also that night, more than 70 miles to the south and east, another talented group of photographers, members of the Black Glass Gallery, took images of the sunset along the Jersey Shore.

Here's founder/owner Suzanne Spitaletta's shot of Thursday's sunset at the Belmar Marina:


Although sometimes flawed and broken, New Jersey is beautiful and sometimes poetic too.

It's filled with amazingly talented artists, photographers and musicians, and many sights to see. Even its haunted woods are lovely, dark and deep.

I want to see it all. I have miles to go before I sleep.

Clinton, NJ

Monday, August 19, 2019

Saluting Annapolis on World Photography Day

Sailing the Chesapeake Bay
Planning a recent three-day getaway, I considered it my patriotic duty to head in the direction of Baltimore.

When the U.S. President calls a city a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," well... gauntlet thrown. I'm all in to show support.

Yes, parts of Baltimore -- just like parts of my beloved New Jersey and New York -- are grappling with poverty and crime.

But I saw no mess. With tickets to see the Orioles host the Astros, I saw beauty all around me... from the sculpture garden, to the children playing in Kids' Corner, to the shops and vendors along Eutaw Street. Here, for example, is a photo of the Camden Yards field, no filter, taken with my iPhone:

After opening more than 27 years ago, this baseball park still rivals anything in the major leagues. The fans are friendly, and quirky... enthusiastically emphasizing the "O" in "O, say can you see" during the national anthem (penned by Francis Scott Key in Baltimore during the War of 1812) and happily signing along to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" during the 7th inning stretch.

Chickens in the street
Leaving Baltimore, my wife and I headed for Annapolis, which was also a little quirky. I counted nine, large decorative chickens on the streets near where we stayed -- remnants of a public art project hatched in 2012, when legislation was passed allowing local residents to have up to six chickens in their backyard for fresh eggs.

Despite unnerving flashbacks to the epic chicken fights in old episodes of "Family Guy," I greatly enjoyed Annapolis. There's plenty of food and drink and music in town, and sailing on Chesapeake Bay, beautiful historical architecture... and, best of all, the U.S. Naval Academy, where future officers are educated and trained.

I took the 90-minute walking tour, which is highly recommended. It's inspirational -- and it again brought back memories of my Dad, a former Naval reserve captain. More than that, visiting "The Yard," as the grounds of the academy are called, is a true patriotic duty.

As described on the tour's informational website, "professional, certified guides provide commentary on major attractions, including Bancroft Hall (midshipmen dormitory), Memorial Hall, Statue of Tecumseh, Herndon Monument (famous for Herndon Climb), Main Chapel and Crypt of John Paul Jones, Revolutionary War naval hero." You also learn about the admissions process and the education and training of midshipmen.

The commitment to honor and tradition, to self-sacrifice and to excellence, is palpable while touring campus. And, at several points along the way, the tour guide or someone else in passing invoked the name of John McCain with fondness and reverence.

Sometimes, there are no words. So let me show you a few more photos instead. It is, after all, #WorldPhotographyDay.

Here, for starters, is the inside of the campus chapel. The flowers mark a pew where no one ever sits. It's reserved in memory of all reported as MIA or being held as prisoners of war:

Here's the rotunda leading to Memorial Hall, where the walls are engraved with the names of 2,660 Naval Academy alumni who have died in military operations. The banner at the top of the stairway,  "Don't Give Up the Ship," recalls the dying command of James Lawrence aboard U.S.S Chesapeake, also during the War of 1812.

The rotunda is also the centerpiece of Bancroft Hall, a contiguous set of dormitories named after a former U.S. Secretary of the Navy. The dorms are home to the brigade of more than 4,000 midshipmen on campus. The entire brigade marches into Bancroft Hall (but never through the center doors!) during Noon Meal Formation, an elaborate daily ceremony.

Finally, here's Dahlgren Hall, a wonderful Beaux Arts building designed by architect Ernest Flagg and completed in 1903. It has served as an armory, indoor drill area, a Weapons Department laboratory and the site of graduation ceremonies at the academy through 1957.

John McCain, who is buried in Annapolis, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. The former senator died of brain cancer at age 81 nearly a year ago today, Aug. 25, 2018.

As the Washington Post described his burial, "Hundreds of midshipmen packed the academy chapel and lined an avenue for a long procession. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis walked ahead of McCain's flag-draped casket on a caisson pulled by a team of horses from the Army's Old Guard. Four fighter jets from the Blue Angels squadron roared overhead after the ceremony in a tight wedge. One F-18 broke away and climbed skyward in the 'missing man' formation to honor the memory of McCain, a former Naval aviator."

The U.S. President did not attend that burial. Which is just as well.

I'll close this "photography post" -- and once more invoke patriotism -- with a few lines from McCain's address to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in late October 2017. He thanked recruits for accepting the sacrifices of military service, and said this:

How did we end up here? Why do many Americans ignore our moral and historical knowledge and seek escape from the world we've led so successfully? 
There are many wise answers to those questions. My own is: we are asleep to the necessity of our leadership, and to the opportunities and real dangers of this world. We are asleep in our echo chambers, where our views are always affirmed and information that contradicts them is always fake... 
It's time to wake up. 
I believe in Americans. We're capable of better. I've seen it. We're hopeful, compassionate people. And we still have leaders who will uphold the values that made America great, and a beacon to the oppressed. 
But I don't take that for granted. We have to fight. We have to fight against propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories. We have to fight isolationism, protectionism, and nativism. We have to defeat those who would worsen our divisions. We have to remind our sons and daughters that we became the most powerful nation on earth by tearing down walls, not building them."

Saturday, August 10, 2019

About the Varettoni in the Hall of Fame

Today is National Baseball Card Day.

So, of course, I’ve posted a baseball card photo of myself from one of the exhibits at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, on Facebook and Twitter.

This only reminds me that, in real life, there’s a real Varettoni in a baseball Hall of Fame.

Bob “Chick” Varettoni was inducted into the Passaic Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame on Friday, May 3, 1996, at the Knights of Columbus Regina Mundi Hall in Clifton, NJ.

That’s my Dad.

He was pitching semi-pro ball at the age of 13, featuring a nasty sinker he once tried to teach his son, with disastrous results. When Dad was 20, he twice pitched against New York Yankee great Whitey Ford when Passaic’s DeMuro Comets faced the Fort Monmouth Army team, during Ford’s military service.

Dad’s the second from the left in this photo from that night in Clifton. The kneeling man is Ted Lublanecki, a legend in NJ semi-pro baseball and a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies back in the day:

Here’s the text of the resolution entered into the Congressional record by Rep. William J. Martini of New Jersey on May 1, 1996. It details Dad’s accomplishments (click on the photo for a clearer image):

And here are the box scores of the games Dad pitched against Whitey Ford in 1952:

Here’s my ticket stub from that great night in 1996, along with Ted’s business card, in case you know of any good prospects:

Finally, here’s a team photo of the 1952 Passaic City Recreation Baseball League champions, the immortal DeMuro Comets: