Friday, September 23, 2022

5 Things I'd Tell My College Self

My apologies for the aging, yellow Kodak print of Dad and me examining my diploma after the graduation ceremony on the Notre Dame campus decades ago. It’s really all I have left.

Dad always wanted me to go to Notre Dame, so I did… to make him proud of me.

The first thing I’d tell my college self would be: “You don’t have to go to Notre Dame to make Dad proud.”

I miss Dad terribly. He died what will be 17 years ago next month. I learned in the years since that Dad was unconditionally proud of me.

Also, Dad didn’t know everything. For example, he was a lifelong Yankees fan. I started out that way too, but the older I get the more I appreciate the words of Roger Angell, who would have turned 102 this week. He wrote that cheering for the Yankees’ perfection is “admirable but a trifle inhuman.” The Mets’ “stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming: there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us.” I agree.

Regarding everyday life in general, I’d advise myself of two things: 1. “Be kinder than necessary” and 2. “Don’t worry so much.”

Regarding business, I’d advise myself of this truth: “Everything you need to know about business success can be found in two movies: ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather: Part 2. (A simple Google search can fill in the details.) 

Finally, about the big picture, I think back again to Notre Dame.

Fr. Ted Hesburgh, the university’s president from 1962 to 1987 who passed away in 2015, traveled far and wide in pursuit of social justice. I greatly admired him.

Fr. Ted was friends with popes and presidents, and his accomplishments were many. Touring the old LaFortune Student Center in a visit back to campus nearly five years ago, I stopped to admire a large, black-and-white portrait of Fr. Ted linked arm-in-arm with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights rally at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1964.

Later that day, walking with my wife, we entered a cemetery on the edge of campus that had always intrigued me. It was filled with small cross-shaped headstones in neat rows. In college, I had simply assumed they were veterans’ graves.

No, my wife said, reading the markers in 2018, these were graves of all the brothers and priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross who had lived and worked at Notre Dame. They are buried in chronological order… one right after the other, with no marker more distinct than the next.

That made it was easy for us to find Fr. Ted’s grave, in a remote Indiana cemetery, marked with the same stone as all his brothers. Everyone buried there had done his part, lived and died, to the best of his talents, for a higher purpose than individual glory.

So this is the final thing I’d tell my college self: No person is more important than another; everyone contributes to everything.

Only the passage of time reveals the true import our efforts, and our biggest heroes are often buried in the most modest graves.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Visiting the Warhol Museum: Ambivalence and Awe in Pittsburgh

Standing next to a large photo of the artist at the Andy Warhol Museum
Me and a photo of the artist, using a "Warhol Effect" filter.
It's only fair I appropriate his style.

Nancy and I took a road trip to Pittsburgh earlier this week, ostensibly to see the baseball Pirates host the New York Mets.

On our way to an afternoon game, we crossed paths with the Andy Warhol Museum. I was excited to see the works of this New York City legend, not realizing that he was born in Pittsburgh. Also, not realizing that I was about to enter the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist.

The experience was a head-spinning, comprehensive portrait of the artist. To me, it was a portrait with flaws.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room. The photo below, in one of the main exhibit areas, is a work by Keith Haring, who painted over a papier-mâché sculpture Warhol had purchased. 

Haring's elephant, unfiltered.

I love it. It's Keith Haring being Keith Haring and nobody else.

Then I looked around at what I thought were Picassos on the walls. They were works by Warhol in Picasso's style. Warhol, it seemed, tried to be like everybody else.

I looked at all the photographs on display, taken by other people and manipulated by Warhol. Then I watched some screen tests (filmed, silent portraits of visitors to Warhol's Factory studio in New York). Some on video, and many of those surrounding Warhol in black-and-white photos, seemed to be broken people. I read about suicides in the fine-print captions of various screen-test participants, actors in his films, and subjects of his art.

On one hand, Warhol produced work that seemed to exploit other people. He mastered the art of appropriation, taking possession someone else's work or image. As Warhol himself once said, "Art is what you can get away with."

On the other hand, his art put a spin on banality to create something with more meaning and permanence.

With ambivalence, I also watched a few videos of Warhol while there. He seemed elitist. In real life, I fear he'd make sure I knew I wasn't one of the cool kids.

Andy appraising Nancy while giving me side-eye in another room.

But then I noticed more layers to his life: His collection of kitschy folk art was heart-warningly "normal" (to my worldview, at least), like a visit to my guileless mother-in-law's house in Nutley, New Jersey.

Front of Warhol's Mass card.
Also, I read the Mass card from Warhol's memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1987, where Yoko Ono delivered one of the three eulogies. On the card, the parish priest from the Church of the Heavenly Rest on 5th Avenue and 90th Street noted that Warhol poured coffee, served food and cleaned up after meals provided there to the homeless, hungry and friendless on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Warhol was only 58 when he died. I'm in awe of his accomplishments in his too-short life.

I'm older than that now, and I've never done as much hands-on for those in need.

Also, all my creative and artistic achievements could fit in a single folder in one of the filing cabinets on the entire floor of the museum devoted to Warhol's archives. All seven stories of the museum in Pittsburgh display only a portion of all Andy Warhol's creative work.

I'm a weekday commuter to New York City, fated never to be world-famous for 15 minutes or eulogized by a pop culture icon. As I write this on a Saturday morning in New Jersey, I'm watching Bugs Bunny cartoons and Nancy is reading the news.

I take small comfort in the fact that I lead the type of ordinary life Andy Warhol might have appropriated to turn into art.


Following are some scenes from the exhibition.

Ordinary people imitating art...

Warhol's extraordinary art, including "Elvis - 11 Times"... 

The obligatory gift shop in the lobby, and the world's last (and most decorated) pay phone in the basement...

Leaving the museum, we walked across the Allegheny River on the Andy Warhol Bridge. The homeless, hungry and friendless were pan-handling; the tourists pretended not to notice.

Several love locks attached to the grill of the walking path were numbered Master locks. With the right combination, these locks can be easily removed should love prove not as lasting as art... 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

10 Slices of Life in New Jersey

Two views of Wesley Lake in Asbury Park
Wesley Lake, Asbury Park

Last week (Aug. 29-Sept. 3), I had fun taking over the Jersey Collective Instagram account. And you can too! There's a story pinned to that site with more information about how to apply; another story pinned there will take you to more information about the new "New Jersey Fan Club" anthology.

I've loved raising a family in New Jersey and currently live in Bergen County. About five years ago, I started a Found in New Jersey Instagram account to document the eclectic beauty and whimsy of life in the Garden State.

Below are my recent @foundinnj guest posts at Jersey Collective. It's my own "top 10" list, of sorts, with things to like about New Jersey.

- 1 -

Above are two images of Wesley Lake, with a distant view Ocean Grove from one of my favorite places: Asbury Park.

Citgo tanks along the Turnpike; Bon Jovi rest stop along the Parkway
To get there, I drove down the Turnpike, past Linden's iconic roadside Citgo storage tanks (made world-famous by the opening credits of "Sopranos" episodes), to the Parkway, stopping along the way at the Jon Bon Jovi rest area.

At the Asbury Book Cooperative on Cookman Avenue, I attended one of Project Write Now's Tuesday evening "Write Out Loud" events, open to all.

I read this essay I wrote for one of their classes. I figured, "What better place to talk about Springsteen?" and I was touched to see the audience snap their fingers in appreciation. PWN has great writing courses/events for all ages, and the Asbury Book Coop sells copies of "New Jersey Fan Club" at the front counter. Check it out! Go during the day (after 11:30) and you can ride an Asbury Park Pedal Boat on Wesley Lake too.

- 2 -

Four scenes from Asbury Park

More from Asbury Park, from visits over the past year. I like the place most when it's haunted, before and after hours, when the boardwalk is empty and streets outside the Wonder Bar and Stone Pony are quiet. I often visit with friends from Black Glass Gallery for photo meetups at sunrise. Check out the Black Glass Gallery Instagram account, where many of the best photographers from Asbury Park and around the state contribute photos from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.

- 3 -

4 scenes from American Dream Mall

58 years ago today (Aug. 30), the Beatles toured New Jersey in the back of a fish truck (a limo would have been too conspicuous) before performing that night at Convention Hall in Atlantic City. You can look it up (thanks, Weird New Jersey).

Today, such a magical mystery tour might take them to American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, where they (and now YOU) could ride in an air-conditioned cabin on the Dream Wheel, a 300-foot Ferris wheel, or stroll through an indoor rival to an Octopus' Garden, or film ski scenes for "Help!" at an indoor slope in the middle of summer. I'm not generally a fan of malls, but this one makes me feel about 58 years younger.

Pro tip: check out IT'SUGAR, the three-story candy store there.

- 4 -

3 skyline views of Manhattan

What's your favorite place to view the New York City skyline from New Jersey?

Recently, I saw it from the top of the Ferris wheel at American Dream Mall (the top photo above, #nofilter).

Just about every day I sneak a photo while riding in a New Jersey Transit commuter bus (driver's side on the way in to work in Manhattan; passenger's side on the way home to New Jersey) on the Lincoln Tunnel Helix in Weehawken.

I've also seen the city's skyline from as far away as the beach at Sandy Hook.

When driving, the view often appears suddenly, as if approaching Emerald City. I've seen it from Route 17 heading south in Bergen County, Route 80 heading east in Hackensack, and... a favorite... Route 3 heading east in Nutley. I should pull over for that!

- 5 -

2 images of fireworks at ballparks

Fireworks and baseball are two favorite things.

I recently attended a Somerset Patriots game at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, where there were post-game fireworks DURING a distant thunderstorm (photo above, right). You can see the threatening clouds in the photo, but I'm pretty sure it was a Brett Baty HR that ignited the storm. The minor league season is short, but there's a final Patriots home stand you can attend Sept. 13-18 (with fireworks on the 17th).

Meanwhile, in Montclair, I attended a fireworks night (photo above, left) following a Jersey Jackals (love that name) game in July. Their season already over, the Jackals announced recently that the team WON'T be returning next year to Yogi Berra Stadium on the Montclair State University campus.

I'll miss seeing them there, but maybe there will be baseball to see in 2023 at a refurbished Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson?!?

Teams to see on my bucket list: the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, Trenton Thunder, and Sussex County Miners.

- 6 -

Images of a red barn, a sculpture of dancers, and a boardwalk in nature

Where's your favorite New Jersey park?

Looking back to winter (feeling wistful during this summer's heat and draught), I visited two personal favorites.

New Bridge Landing, on the River Edge/Hackensack border, includes several historical buildings, particularly a red barn that's picturesque in the snow. The site is maintained by the Bergen County Historical Society, which is hosting its annual Baron Beerfest there on Sept. 24.

I also visited snow-covered Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, where ticket sales are currently open for its Nov. 2022-April 2023 nighttime lighted exhibits.

More recently, thanks to NJ Spots, I found a new (to me) park to visit: the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Vernon, with well-kept walkways through beautiful greenery. NJ Spots is a great resource for exploring New Jersey!

- 7 -

Images of 4 casual dining places in NJ

Thursday is #DateNight, and while all these places may not be date-worthy (depending on your relationship status), all are wonderful, in a New Jersey sort of way.

Here are four possibilities: Rutt's Hutt in Clifton, Pizza Town in Elmwood Park (which is not closing, as rumored; it's just under new ownership... although, sadly, Tavolino Pizzeria in Wallington closed its doors Sept. 3), White Manna Hamburgers in Hackensack, and the Summit Diner.

Press of Atlantic City file photo
Earlier this week, I posted about the Beatles' visit to Atlantic City in 1964. There's an (infamous) photo of them holding a giant sub sandwich from the White House Sub Shop... so that's on my wish list too.

All these places are perhaps guilty pleasures. What places are on your Date Night list? Asking for a friend :) 

- 8 -

Images of the Devil's Tree, Devil's Tower and Annie's Road

I posted this on a frightful Friday, facing the unofficial last weekend of summer (although the meteorological end of summer was Sept. 1). I'm wondering: What are your favorite haunted places in New Jersey?

Here are three places I've dared visit:

The Devil's Tree tree stands alone in the middle of a large field off Mountain Road in Bernards Township. It remains standing because anyone is cursed who tries to cut it down, according to local legend.

The Devil's Tower is located on Esplanade Road in Alpine, where a jealous lover leapt to death in 1922. As every schoolgirl at nearby Academy of the Holy Angels will attest, if you drive or walk backward around the tower three times, you will face the actual Devil.

Along "Annie's Road" in Totowa, you will see roadside memorials for the ghost of a teenager (sometimes called the "vanishing hitchhiker"), dressed in white, killed late night in the 1960s by a pickup truck as she tried to find her way to safety along unlit Riverview Drive. Local legend says she had fled her boyfriend's car after an argument on Prom Night.

PS- if ANYONE can tell me exactly how to find the Gates of Hell in Clifton (I've looked twice), I'd appreciate it.

- 9 -

Double rainbow at Garret Mountain overlook

Months ago, I caught a double rainbow over Paterson at the scenic overlook at Garret Mountain Reservation.

I like to visit Paterson when checking in on Mom, who lives nearby. Yesterday, I stopped by the Great Falls to see the Passaic River aglow with algae. I also strolled by adjacent Hinchliffe Stadium, now a full-scale fenced-in construction site (and future home of the Jersey Jackals?) where Dad played semi-pro baseball in his teens.

Need an occasion to visit NJ's 3rd largest city? I recommend the Paterson Poetry Festival, Oct. 1-3 (more information available at Word Seed). Allen Ginsberg grew up in Paterson, and the Poetry Center at Passaic County College sponsors an annual awards event in his honor every February.

Below is a poem I wrote inspired by the view from Garret Mountain. Forgive me, Allen.

Text of a poem
post here about the evolution of this poem 

- 10 -

The outside of St. Patrick's Church, with a plane landing in the background

Church buildings can provide quiet inspiration, and they often have wonderful stories to tell. I wrote about that as a contributor to "New Jersey Fan Club," so here's another shameless plug for that book.

About this image: Someone told me there had been crosses atop the two majestic front spires of St. Patrick's Church in Elizabeth, but that the crosses needed to be removed in 1961 due to damage from the vibration of low-flying planes at nearby Newark Airport.

Call me Doubting Thomas, but I didn't actually believe that until I visited there this past winter while a plane was landing!

This ended my week posting at Jersey Collective. At @foundinnj, I'll continue to post sights from around the state and, every Sunday, another image of another church.

See you there?