Thursday, June 30, 2022
Sunday, June 26, 2022
|St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church, Friday night in Hoboken.|
"Church buildings never pass judgment. They simply remind us of transcendence amid ordinary life."
The quote above is from my reading Friday night at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken.
Now that Google is sentient (and litigious), I should be careful with this post. According to a publishing agreement, I can't repost chapters of the new anthology, "New Jersey Fan Club."
But, in response to friends, I can say I greatly enjoyed reading from my photo essay, "Finding Religion in New Jersey." The people with me in the photo below are especially wonderful and talented, especially editor Kerri Sullivan. Not pictured is Hoboken's mayor, Ravi Bhalla, who was especially gracious to us all on Friday:
|You should follow these accounts on Instagram!|
Since the theme of my reading involved religion -- or, more accurately, faith -- it was a bit bittersweet to bring up the topic on the evening of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs. Wade. So many friends on social media were expressing heartfelt feelings of disillusionment with institutional religion.
With all this in mind, below is an excerpt from what I read -- about my hobby of taking photos of New Jersey churches. In the anthology, this passage is prefaced with the note that churches have "graveyards," while "cemeteries" are burial sites not on church grounds:
Churches connect us with past generations, and nowhere more so than at a church with an adjoining graveyard.
In New Jersey, the dead outnumber us. Over 96,000 people are buried in Totowa, where I grew up, a borough with a population of only 11,000.
Recently I took Mom to visit Dad's gravestone there. "I'm getting tired, Bob," she said to the ground, not to me, for both our names are the same. "I want to go home."
Everything dies, and our graveyards are haunted with memories.
Meanwhile, their churches testify that there’s more to life than this, and they affirm our innate belief that love lasts forever.
"New Jersey Fan Club" -- which includes contributions from dozens of writers, photographers, poets and artists -- can be purchased online at Rutgers University Press and elsewhere, or in real life at local bookstores across the state.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
I'll be joined by several of the authors and editor Kerri Sullivan at Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken, beginning 6 p.m. You can reserve a free ticket here, and find more information about the book here.
My chapter is a photo essay called "Finding Religion in New Jersey," and below are the photos I use to tell my story.
Stop by to say hi. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Friday, June 3, 2022
I have a great affinity for Allen Ginsberg. Although we are polar opposites in terms of personality and poetic ability, we at least share a complicated love of both New Jersey and New York.
Ginsberg was born in Newark and grew up in Paterson. His father was a local New Jersey poet and high school teacher, and Ginsberg went to Columbia University. He intended to study law until he met up with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassaday and William S. Burroughs in New York.
His words and legacy still have vitality in the Garden State, especially at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson. Yearly, this great organization sponsors the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and yearly I enter poems for this competition every January only to learn that nothing I've submitted merits even honorable mention in May.
The 2022 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award Winners were announced last week and, sigh, I'll try again in January 2023. Meanwhile, on what would have been Allen Ginsberg's 96th birthday in June 2022, I can easily publish some of these entries without anyone's permission.
As Ginsberg once observed, "Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture." He also urged others to follow their "inner moonlight" and "not hide the madness."
With that in mind, following are four examples of a few of my previous submissions, illustrated with my photos 🙂
This is a dangerous place to stand:
Cliffside in Paterson, in the descending dusk.
Past the highway below,
in the remote city skyline at my feet,
I see a house fly alight on your thigh.
It's 40 years ago, and you are lying at my side,
languid and nude.
The signs didn’t warn me of this.
I find it a dizzying view.
until shooed in a flash by a dismissive twitch of your flesh.
Decades disappear, just as fast,
as cars on Route 80 flee to the west.
I look to the east.
Behold this precipice, these wounds, dark and deep.
With a breast of the new world eclipsed on the horizon,
40 years later:
I still watch you while you sleep.
My Last Words to Vincent
In a cornfield in the middle of a dream,
I recognize the countryside.
This must be Arles.
I’ve never been to France in real life,
but I know what I know.
Cue the murder of crows.
In the distance, a man reimagines the scene on canvas.
It's a matter of hours before he shoots himself
and takes three days to die.
He works as if possessed.
I want to run to him, tell him his work will endure,
but the crows won't let me near.
I shout, "It's not too late!"
He turns his head; I take his photo.
It captures the long view of both of us:
Imaginary proof of all our useless dreams.
100 Words (Exactly) About Writing
On a blank page,
I can do I anything.
I am bold.
The way you always wanted me to be.
And I can make you love me.
And you would never leave.
You would never leave,
And I would never wonder.
Because I create new worlds,
And conjure you at will.
Here we are at dusk in New York:
We are ghosts,
Playing chess in a vest-pocket park.
Phantom dogs roam at our feet.
Occasional cars form shooting stars
Along the FDR.
On a blank page,
I wait forever for your next move.
On a blank page,
I never lose.
I can drive there,
our old car warning of a baby on board.
The valets are penguins, of course.
And, once inside,
I am surrounded by pets
who have died:
the dogs, just as gullible;
all the ageless hamsters
I replaced on the sly.
The one and only Spy Cat,
hero of our made-up stories,
eyes me coldly, inscrutable to the last.
I tell them all,
“I have come to take you home.”
Ted, the talking bear, awaits our return.
In your bedroom, alone.
See you (I hope) at the 2022 Ginsberg Award Winners’ Reading, February 4, 2023. It will be at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in The Hamilton Club Building, 32 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Paterson, NJ.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
and I am my widowed mother’s caretaker.
In my boyhood home, during a rainstorm on a Saturday afternoon,
I watch a movie Dad used to love.
The plot unfolds slowly, without special effects,
like my father's life.
These days, I can’t concentrate on any one thing,
so I search online to read about the lives of the actors.
As the wise-cracking female lead lights another cigarette,
I learn she died of cancer nearly 30 years ago in Ontario at age 62.
The cerebral male lead was 84, living in a nursing home in California,
when he died more than 15 years ago of complications from Alzheimer's.
That was a year after the director died,
two years before the writer died.
A third actor is the "odd man," the dispassionate unmarried male
who can carry out orders about thermonuclear destruction.
He too died at his home in California, just weeks ago, at age 91.
He never married in real life, either.
In real life, I realize this storm will pass before the ambiguous ending,
so I gather my tools.
Soon I will kneel before my father in the sun.
I will tend his garden until the day I die.
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
It was the morning after Kim Kardashian wore Marilyn Monroe’s dress to the $35,000-a-ticket Met Gala, and Robert Anderson thought nothing in the world made sense anymore.
He didn’t belong anywhere. Even here, sitting in a car behind the same couple he shared an inbound commute with for many years.
The car was about to round the corner of the Lincoln Tunnel helix, promising a view of the New York City skyline.
The driver and his wife were Robert’s neighbors in a wealthy suburb of New Jersey. They owned a small business at the South Street Seaport and after driving through the tunnel, they’d drop Robert off in Midtown, blocks from his office, before continuing south.
This long-standing arrangement was about to end. His neighbors had informed him of their retirement plans the day after Russia invaded the Ukraine. The commute had grown longer each day, with roads filled with nastier drivers the longer the pandemic endured. His neighbors had grown tired.
In the dawn gloom, with the car at a standstill in rush-hour traffic, Mrs. Neighbor applied makeup by the light of the mirror on the lowered passenger-side visor. She was prattling about what she had gleaned from media coverage of the Met Gala.
As usual, Robert sat behind her husband. This gave Robert the best view of the skyline as it flickered between the moving traffic in the adjacent bus lane.
The mirror’s faint light and the dirty rear window allowed Robert to catch a reflection of his face superimposed over the skyline across the Hudson River. It was as if he were a subliminal message in an advertisement.
Robert was staring blankly at a kinescope version of New York. The city stared blankly in return. It seemed to Robert that everyone his own age, everyone he had relied on and who had supported him, was giving up.
“I don’t even belong here,” he thought again. The car completed its sweeping turn toward the E-ZPass toll and slowly edged its way into the tunnel.
“Hell, with tiles,” Robert said, once they were under the river. His neighbors didn’t hear since they weren’t paying attention to him.
Outside the tunnel, the car made better progress along West 40th Street.
Robert reflected on newly familiar sights. The city was barely recognizable from the one he had fallen in love with during his first rides to work three decades ago.
On Eighth Avenue, they passed the new sleek, silver version of the Gray Lady headquarters. Then, passing Seventh Avenue and into the Garment District, a familiar sight: the giant Needle Threading a Button statute on the corner of “Fashion Avenue” and 39th. Installed in the 1970s, it would soon be refurbished, Robert had read.
Approaching Broadway, they passed a narrow pedestrian plaza named after Golda Meir, the former prime minister of Israel. It was filled with 14 oversized thin-bodied sculptures, in a diversity of colors, with oversized hands. They reminded Robert of aliens from the science fiction stories he read as a boy. They seemed to be waving hello.
A block further, the car approached the southwest edge of Bryant Park, a corner named after the inventor Nikola Tesla. Out of habit, Robert shifted sides in the back seat, positioning himself for an easy escape before his neighbor turned right to head south on Fifth Avenue.
Robert had an ulterior motive in sliding closer to a view of the sidewalk. Some part of him anticipated the temporary backup in traffic in the middle of the long block between Sixth and Fifth. Here, outside the former American Radiator Building, Robert tried to catch a glimpse of the receptionist in the grand lobby with 30-foot ceilings.
This woman had red hair, in curls, and she often wore floral-print dresses. Her desk faced West 40th Street. It was as if she were on display through the large ground-floor windows.
Today, this lobby is a shell of its former self. Gutted and plain. In 2022, it is an uninspired annex to a Gothic Art deco black-bricked skyscraper that had inspired a Georgia O’Keeffe painting in 1927. If Robert had looked up at the setback terraces above the lobby’s base, he would have still seen gold-accented allegorical sculptures of matter transforming into energy.
Instead, Robert looked where he used to see the red-haired receptionist. Both she and her ornate surroundings were long gone. In fact, he could barely see through the large front windows, now plastered with signs identifying the site as a community college.
“What community?” Robert wondered, this time in a whisper.
Hoping for an angel, he found only a ghost.
Then Robert was in motion again, riding past a row of blue rental bikes bearing logos of a bank, until his car pulled over on the corner of Fifth Avenue. He slipped out the back seat, outside the former Knox Hat Building (a quaint Beaux arts structure now subsumed by the headquarters of another bank) and wished his neighbors well.
“Happy birthday, Mister President,” sang Mrs. Neighbor.
“Thank you!” he replied, surprised and touched that someone had remembered.
Robert began the familiar 10-minute, half-mile trek to his soulless office, dubbed Commerce Place, at Lexington Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets.
Walking north on Fifth Avenue, he passed the marble lions of Patience and Fortitude guarding the front entrance of the main branch of the New York Public Library. The street sign called it John Bigelow Plaza, after the historian who had edited the complete works of Benjamin Franklin.
At the start of the pandemic, the library decorated the lions with oversized hospital masks. But, these days, masks were optional, and Robert noticed that most on the already-crowded sidewalk, including the statues, were maskless.
Most everyone was also younger than him too. They walked while staring at phones or talking to others through wireless earbuds. Or, like Robert, sometimes talking to themselves.
One hurrying white man, who reminded Robert of himself when he was younger, tried to walk right through him from behind, as if Robert were a ghost.
Opposite that was Robert’s favorite building in New York: Grand Central Terminal.
He neared its southwest corner entrance on 42nd Street under the watchful eye of the gold-leaf Vanderbilt Eagle, a 3,000-pound iron statue perched on the viaduct that circles the terminal. A marker outside the entrance explains it is one of 12 such eagles that formerly graced the roof of the original Grand Central Station in 1898.
“F*ck America! God bless my dick!”
This startled Robert. He hadn’t noticed the wild-eyed man wearing sandals and a dirty red t-shirt.
The man was approaching passersby in front of the entrance. Most simply averted their eyes and kept walking. He flailed his arms and shouted again.
“F*ck America! God bless my dick!”
The man defiantly shook his dreadlocks and stood right in front of Robert, almost touching him.
“F*ck America! God bless my dick!” the man shouted, louder and with more urgency.
“Jesus!” Robert exclaimed, then hurried past, hands covering his face, since the raving stranger was unmasked.
Robert escaped into the terminal and joined a crowd walking down a long brick-tiled ramp. This led first past a wide marble-arched entrance to the dining concourse, and then to a similar entrance to a grander place: Grand Central’s main concourse.
The sight of it brought to mind his 7th birthday and his first visit to Yankee Stadium. His dad had elaborately tipped a cigar-chewing fat man in a ticket booth on 161st Street in exchange for field-level seats. Emerging through an archway in the concession area, holding his dad’s hand, Robert’s first view of the impossibly green, expansive baseball field gave him goosebumps. How could something be real and, at the same time, bigger than life?
Grand Central’s concourse evoked the same feeling, and Robert took in the moment.
Before him, in the great hall, he saw a flock of commuters dressed in various disguises. Some could barely hide their claws and teeth amid the anarchy of the poor and the homeless. Masked, elderly wanderers looked lost and walked tentatively, heads down, like geese on thin ice. Itinerant travelers wore distracted faces.
Enshrined in front of the ticket window, a man slumped upon a cart full of his possessions. Robert recognized him, a familiar beggar. His forehead rested squarely on the marble countertop, and he was fast asleep. With nowhere else to rest unobtrusively at this hour, this was his temporary home.
Instinctively, Robert averted his gaze.
The West Balcony to his left, he had read, was a replica of the Grand Staircase at the Paris Opera House. Robert had never been to Paris, but years ago, in a moment of romance on this balcony, he had kissed another red-haired woman who still haunted his dreams. On the vaulted ceiling above them, dimly lit motionless stars with images of the zodiac outlined in faint gold paint had conveniently suspended time.
The concourse ceiling was an odd, self-contained universe. Its mural jumbled east and west, so the constellations were in reverse of their proper order. When Robert had visited the observation deck at One Vanderbilt next door, he looked down on this very spot to imagine the heavens from God's point of view.
A line had formed at the foot of this stairway, with people waiting for the store to open. Robert observed three tourists from the Far East and a man in a weathered VFW baseball cap. The veteran wore shorts, displaying a prosthetic leg, and he nursed coffee from an Anthora — a blue, white and gold Greek-themed paper cup that read “We are happy to serve you.”
Last in line was the man Robert perceived as the younger version of himself, the one who had nearly knocked him over in front of Patience on Fifth Avenue. The man was engrossed in his cell phone, watching a news video of Marilyn’s ghost, dyed blonde, posing on a red carpet.
He slowed his steps. The acoustics here made it an attractive venue for street musicians. This morning it echoed with the words of a young woman.
She was sitting on the marble floor, her back against the wall, next to upscale bodega signs for coffee and cold beer. She had surrounded herself with plastic tote bags filled with books.
Despite wearing a short black skirt, the woman splayed her legs, with the toes of her white sneakers pointed toward the ceiling. Her black tights were embossed with white skeleton bones, corresponding to the legs of her hidden flesh. Her lips were vibrant red.
She was reading aloud from one of her books: “More people with white privilege are learning about racial dynamics and social justice terminologies…”
She looked up as Robert approached. Their eyes met. He kept walking, and she kept reading. After a few indecipherable words, she increased her volume and Robert heard, “This work is not about those white people out there.” One pause. “It is about you.” Another pause. “Just you.”
Robert did a double take. He glanced back to see the young woman, head down, her face buried close to the open pages of her book. She seemed oblivious to her surroundings, and they seemed somehow to be alone. He stood dumbly for a second beside a storefront window advertising the next generation of wireless service, then headed again for the exit.
A heartbeat later, he was bumped from behind.
Robert felt something warm against the back of his neck. He let out an inarticulate cry. He thought he was being mugged and flinched to withstand another attack.
When none occurred, he reached behind him in the mugger’s direction, but grabbed only air. He turned to see a pair of skeleton legs retreating toward the main concourse. The woman’s hurried footfalls made no sound, and she was reaching behind her head to gather her ponytail, which had come half undone.
Frantically, Robert fingered his neck and felt a sticky substance.
He looked down at his hands and saw proof of life and evidence of where he belonged.
When he examined the red on his fingertips, he found lipstick where he had expected to find blood.
Saturday, May 7, 2022
After last year's flurry of activity during National Poetry Month in April, I haven't posted on this blog lately. What a difference a year makes, in so many ways.
In April 2022, I wrote all of one poem, but I can't print it here because "this is a family publication" (as a recent viewing of "All the President's Men" reminded me).
I plan to post soon about my hometown, its 100th anniversary celebration, and the odd history of our local Burger King. In the meantime...
Even though I haven't written, I did at least call my mother every day in April.
And now that it's Mother's Day Eve, I can post my favorite photo of her and me... the one where I'm grabbing a handful of her hair with a maniacal smile on my innocent face.
I've posted here before about Mom's extraordinary beauty, and she still looks and acts much younger than her years. She turned 90 a few months ago.
Mom doesn't like the impermanent beauty of cut flowers. Over the years, I've given her just about every other kind of Mother's Day gift and probably every "Peanuts"-themed Mother's Day card that Charles Schulz ever produced.
For this year's gift, I've signed Mom up for a Storyworth account. This is a service that, once a week, will email her (aka "me") a question about her life, which we'll answer by email (after I ask Mom about it and record her thoughts). At the end of a year, these 52 stories will be bound into a keepsake book.
My daughters gave me this gift last Father's Day, so I'm almost finished answering a year's worth of questions about myself. In line with the Mother's Day theme, this week's question about my own life is, "What is a favorite memory of your mother?"
My answer will be about the parish festivals years ago at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Lanza Avenue in Garfield, NJ. It was my mother's family parish when she grew up, and all the Masses there were in Polish.
A favorite memory of my childhood was watching Mom and sisters in traditional peasant dress, joyously dancing polkas at the annual parish festivals.
With a big smile on her face, she would beckon me to join her. Even then, I was the world's worst dancer. I hopped around with Mom on the temporary stage in the church parking lot. Her skirt billowed, accordion music blared, and the crowd sang and cheered.
For me, was a fleeting moment of pure delight.
Thanks, Mom. You'll always be a handful, but you've always encouraged me to join in the dance.
Sunday, April 3, 2022
|Top, from left, former mayors Ann Subrizi,|
Frank DeBari and Roger Lane join current
Mayor Mike Putrino in unfurling and raising
a 100th anniversary flag today.
I posted on Facebook today about the opening event in New Milford, NJ's 100th birthday celebration:
Of special interest to me was the unearthing of time capsules buried behind the flagpole in front of Borough Hall for the town's 75th anniversary in 1997.
|1920s favorites served at today's reception: Baby Ruth bars and|
pineapple upside down cake.
Saturday, March 12, 2022
|Author Fred Rossi reads from "Jersey Stories" last weekend|
at Halo Roasters in Springfield.
Last weekend I stumbled into a book signing.
I had stopped for a cup of coffee before heading home after taking church photos in the Springfield area (more about that later).
It was fate.
Fred T. Rossi, a writer and journalist since the 1980s (in other words, the better version of my PR self), was standing in the corner, telling stories about New Jersey.
Fred is the author of "Jersey Stories," published last year and subtitled: "Stories you may not have heard about people and events in New Jersey history."
Here are just a few of the questions answered in his book:
- What did Mundy Peterson from Perth Amboy do that made history 150 years ago?
- What was it like the night that Martians invaded New Jersey?
- What was it like having Albert Einstein as a neighbor?
Monday, February 28, 2022
|First, some perspective: entering the gates of St. Peter's|
Greek Catholic Cemetery, off Passaic Street in Garfield,
and then looking back at the chapel, yesterday at dusk.
|Two historic locations after a snowstorm, Feb. 13:|
Dey Mansion in Wayne and the iconic red barn
at Historic New Bridge Landing in Hackensack.
|Two views of the NYC skyline at sunrise from|
an NJ Transit commuter bus: left, stuck in NJ Turnpike
traffic; right, from the Lincoln Tunnel helix.
|Two more from New Bridge Landing during a "birthday|
party" for George Washington on Feb. 27: left, the actual new
bridge; right, historic re-enactors play music and dance.
|Two artistic reinterpretations of images via iPhone apps:|
left, the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop in Ridgefield Park;
right, an AI mashup of an image of the Jersey shore.
|One former church, left, now the Art Center|
of Northern New Jersey in New Milford, and the current
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic...
on the evening of the Russian invasion.
Monday, February 14, 2022
I captured the image above while sitting in the back seat of a New Jersey Transit bus, stuck in traffic on the NJ Turnpike, during the morning commute to work last week.
And here are three more images from just one day: February 2, 2022.
This is a footbridge over the FDR I hurried across at daybreak. It was Ground Hog's Day, of course, and the image here is over-exposed. I didn't see my shadow:
This is Grand Central Terminal a little later that morning. It's one of my favorite places in the city, and February 2nd also happened to be its 109th birthday:
This is St. Patrick's Cathedral even later that same morning. Police had begun gathering on Fifth Avenue (I had crossed Park Avenue accompanied by officers from San Francisco) for the funeral of NYC police officer Wilbert Mora. He was only 27 and had been shot and killed along with officer Jason Rivera while responding to a domestic disturbance on January 21.
New York is complicated.
|My view from the same location, returning on Feb. 12, 2022.|