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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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."