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)


Grand Central Terminal

Stars on the ceiling.

Passing souls on marble floors.

Virus fills the air.


42nd Street at 6th Avenue

Cotton candy skies.

42nd Street in March.

Clouds, before the storm.



Queensboro Bridge viewed from the East Side

Buildings filled with light.

The Queensboro Bridge in pearls.

Cars hasting nowhere.



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.



Greetings from Ghost Town.

Shadows among the living.

Invisible. Times Square.



Fifth Avenue saints.

The enemies of darkness

gathering at dusk.



Fountains, flags, and lights.

"Anarchist Jurisdiction,"

a riot of hope.



East 43rd Street.

Relentless, billowing steam

stirs man's shuffling pace.



Fish out of water.

Whimsy turns the dim world pink.

Park Avenue art.



Buildings watch me walk.

I look up and catch their stare.

Nosy, jealous glass.



Unlit Christmas tree,

an emperor without clothes,

awaits the spotlight.



Forgotten men find

a marble sanctuary

on beds of cardboard.