Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday: Inwood Hill Park

Saturday we had a torrential storm. Central Park got nearly an inch of rain. It was one of my favorite kinds of rainy days, with the drops big enough to make noise on the windows and roof. It was easy to justify staying in my sweats all day, exerting myself only enough to walk down to the lobby for the newspaper.

When Sunday dawned, the previous day's storm had taken all the moisture out of the air; the temperature was in the middle 60s. The light was that gorgeous, autumnal kind where the shadows are diamond-cut sharp. It was a Maxfield Parrish kind of day. I had to get out in it. It was warm enough not to need a coat, but I was covered up enough that I didn't need to coat myself with a layer of shellac before going out. This is one of the times of year when I actually seek out the sunlight.

I went back to Inwood Hill Park, the place my friend Cheryl showed me earlier this month. It is yet another side of the old growth forest I've explored with Melissa on a few occasions. As Cheryl said during our walk, it's fun to imagine that this area probably hasn't changed much since Europeans first showed up. Maybe it's not true, but it's fun to think. (I'll post a proper entry about that lovely walk soon.)

I felt for a moment like I was in Tuscany when I saw this. On a day like today, even the Bronx looks magical.
Inwood Hill Park has old growth oak-hickory forest, meadow, and as seen above, a salt marsh. It reminded me of my first visit to Greg's. The white dots under the bridge are a flock of Canada geese. They seem to be following -rather than creating- a curving gap in the low tide sludge. Maybe they're following a current of deeper flowing water.
There was a bit of a work-out to the climb, but after my lethargic Saturday, it was welcome.
I think I found my new home! Okay, it's a bit of a fixer-upper, lacking electricity, running water, plumbing and a roof, but for my price range those are probably always going to be problems, and you should see the view. I imagine the thirty-minute walk to the subway and grocery store will be a pain in the winter but at least it's down hill when you leave. I think I'm willing to pay that price for this location. I've walked farther for far less scenic residences.
Autumn colors are still preliminary here; there was just a hint from time to time. A lot of the trees are still green, but there's also lots of leaves on the ground already.

Recognize this, Melissa? Yup, it's our old look-out spot. My dad is probably looking at this and thinking 1) Patrick is about to fall to his death and 2) He's standing there just to spite me. I'd try to reassure him, but the fact is he'd still prefer that none of his children ever cross the street without him, or use any utensil sharper than a soup spoon. Breathe, Dad, I made it out alive.
Oh how I wish I could do justice to the experience of this tree! This photo almost captures the deep blue of the sky, but it does nothing to show just how many different shades of gold there were in the leaves, nor how captivating it was to watch them shimmer in the wind. And of course it does nothing to give you the song of the leaves. I stood here for a long time, took lots of photos, even used my camera's video feature to record its dance, but no luck. You'll just have to take my word for it.

I took the long way back, taking the A train to West 135th and St. Nicholas Avenue, then walking home by way of St. Nicholas Park and City College. This is the view exiting the station. .

Yesterday was almost as beautiful, and today we're back to glum and rainy. Good thing, because I've got to do laundry, and make final preparations for the weekend. Man, this has been a good month.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I've Never Zhooshed

You Are 42% Stereotypically Gay

You definitely have some stereotypically gay traits. You might set off a person's gaydar now and then. If you are not actually gay, you could be mistaken for gay from time to time. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

How Stereotypically Gay Are You?
Take More Quizzes

Just a bit of randomness: I forget where I first saw this, was it on Java's blog? To be honest I was a bit surprised by the results; I expected to score much higher gay-wise. Undoubtedly many of you agree. For the record, I have frequently used the word 'festive', but it's alway been ironic. Ditto with 'you go, girl'. Okay, I doubt anyone ever says that one seriously. I have at least once told a ranting homophobic closet-case to 'sing it, sister.'

I do not now, nor have I ever owned a feather boa. I say this free of any judgement. Just stating a fact.

How do the times when I've been mistaken for a woman figure into this data, do you suppose? No idea if anyone has ever thought I was a lesbian.

I have two straight male friends who have played gay onstage many more times than I have. It took me a while to realize it was because they've just played more romantic lead roles than me, period. In this day and age, that has them kissing guys from time to time. I think at least one of them owns a feather boa, too. Theatre people skew these sorts of tests, when you get right down to it. I guess the test itself recognizes that fact.

Aren't you glad you stopped by? Somebody needs to go to bed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Catch Up: October Review I

This month turned out to be rather action-packed for me. Nor is it over yet, neither the month nor the non-stop thrills. Since the action has thus far taken place away from computer access, I haven't been able to post anything here, and it's been making me crazy. There's been so much I've wanted to write about. There was the fabulous mini-convention of east coast bloggers who love chocolate and fried foods (where were YOU?) held Columbus Day Weekend on Cape Cod, then I attended my 20th college reunion, and next weekend I'm off to Virginia to help celebrate the wedding of my friends Jeff and Megan. All of that, and I haven't gotten to tell you about the fabulous walk I took, way back at the beginning of the month, with my friend Cheryl, through Inwood Hill Park. So very much to show, and tell.

Of course the Cape Cod Weekend has already been well documented in word and picture by my cohorts, I'm not sure I have much to add. So mostly I'll just show you some of my photos from the weekend.

Because this trip was actually somewhat planned in advance (unlike the first one, which I decided to do about three hours before leaving), I was able to catch an earlier bus, and pack some food, so I arrived earlier, and less famished. Nonetheless it was heaven to sit down with Jess, Marc, Greg and Badum to chicken & noodles and blackberry cosmos. The three of them had already had a chance to get acquainted that afternoon, so we were well into the swing of things before too long. Jess made note of the fact that I had been introduced to him and Marc by a fictional character. The same is true for me and Greg, actually. How's that for a weird wrinkle from this interweb thingy? I take credit for introducing Greg's blog to Jess and Marc though, so we came back to earth at that point.

The Nest was mostly painted at that point, so I got to take in the progress of Greg's master plan, in particular the wonderful living room. The cave drawings are great, and there are hidden little treasures to find if one keeps looking, and is willing to move some furniture.

After Jess and Marc returned to their B&B, Greg, Badum and I caught up a bit more, then went to sleep, having decided we'd get up to go see the sunrise. I made it clear that I was on board for this plan only if we reserved the right to go back to bed once we got back, for an hour or two. This sort of thinking had never occurred to Greg, and since he was the one who had to work later that afternoon, it helped seal the deal. I'm really glad we did it. The experience was magical.
This was my first view from the parking lot, as we headed towards the beach. I think that is some sort of life-guard station. I was completely captivated by the color reflecting in the sand, and took roughly a bazillion shots like this. I chose to share only this one with you. You're welcome. Fun shadows, and that beautiful, clear, morning light. This was the shot looking back as we headed back to the car. We were not the only folks up for the sunrise. We weren't even the first ones there. And I'm not counting the fishing boats we saw heading out to work. Greg had been telling me about beach peas the night before, for some reason, so we were both pleased to find these blossoms by the parking lot. I love how the light is catching the branch in the lower left.
My gallant host, getting his own shot of the beach peas. Look at these cute boys! This is outside the diner where we ate on two occasions. Behind them is what Greg says a very nice plant nursery; Jess was afraid his husband would wander over and buy the place out, but Marc exhibited an admirable level of self-control. It's a good thing, because I doubt either Greg or I would have been much help. Well, we wouldn't have helped Jess, I mean.
As readers of the Midnight Garden know, Greg and I did sleep after the sunrise, then luxuriated in some coffee, chatting, and lolling about, before we headed off to a local cedar swamp. Funnily enough I've been here before, but Greg never had, so it was fun to share his first visit. It's really too bad Blogger doesn't come with scratch-n-sniff, or smellovision or something, because one of the wonderful things about a cedar swamp is the scent. Cedar by itself is wonderful enough, but to have it floating on sea-air must give it extra magic. Suffice it to say, the memory of the scent is why I wanted to go back, and it lived up to my memory. The visuals were great too, though, and until you make your own trip, you'll have to make due with them.

The boardwalk winds through the swamp just a few feet about the water.
After our hike, Greg and I met Jess and Marc for brunch (meaning breakfast for us, lunch for them). We showed up looking exactly like guys who had just been in a swamp. Or maybe painting something. Or painting something in a swamp. Fortunately our companions were gracious about being seen in public with us. After eating we dropped Greg back at the Nest so he could get cleaned up for work, and the three of us headed up-Cape to Provincetown.
I had actually been here once before too, with my family, but I didn't have much memory of it. Marc had visited a few times, but Jess had only gotten to drive through it once, in the rain. As almost the last weekend of the Summer, the place was packed with hordes of people, giving the place a sort of "every day is Pride day!" feel.
This was near our parking lot. I thought I'd include it, just so you knew we really were on the Cape. I think all tourists are required to have at least one shot like this, when visiting New England.

Someone on Commercial Street had a very nice garden. This doesn't do it justice.
Yes, so very, very gay.
Lots of places sell temporary tattoos, for some reason. I toyed with the idea of getting one on my forehead, a dragonfly, say, but decided my three companions would probably have refused to be seen in public with me, especially since I still looked like I'd spent the morning painting something in a swamp.

I actually took this on Sunday, when Jess, Marc, and I took a tour of local candy stores. (Read both Jess' and Marc's accounts for more details.) At one point Marc was in a candy store, Jess (poor soul) was seeking parking, and I got caught by the bright, shiny things in the window display of the business next door. When Marc eventually found me, I was slack-jawed and staring at all the pretty colors. Back in Provincetown, on Saturday, this was the view as we headed back to the car. It was fun to say I got photos of both the sunrise and the sunset that day. No, I know it's not that hard, but I've never done it before. I'm not usually a big sunrise kinda guy.
I wish I had gotten at least one shot of Badum, since he was also great company that weekend. Like most cats, he gets revved up at night, regularly giving into fits of what Greg calls 'the zooms'. Saturday night I began to wonder if perhaps this term was misleading in its suggestion of random impulse; I got the distinct impression the cat was actually in training from some sort of athletic event. Greg thinks it might be the De-Cat-alon.* Whatever it is, Badum devoted some serious energy to it that night. There was a lot of mouse-hockey (involving a small, catnip-scented toy mouse), and let me tell you, this boy has some mad dribbling skills. He's smart about training though; while Saturday was long and rigorous, both Friday and Sunday nights were lighter. Unlike my last visit, he never came to sleep on my chest though. Frankly I was a bit disappointed.
So that is just some glancing shots at a wonderful weekend. If you haven't already, go read Marc's, Jess', and Greg's accounts for their unique takes on things.
I'll try to write about my reunion in the next few days, before another joyous celebration wipes all memory of it from my mind. I rather like the pattern that has been forming this month for me of celebrating old bonds, and forging new ones.

* I take no responsibility for this. Please forward all complaints to Greg.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bearded Brownstone, School for Trees, Virginia Creeper, Donuts.

This is the front of my sister and brother-in-law's place, Hazelthorne, or, alternately, "Eddie's Place." Contrary to what a neighbor told Mary at one point, that stuff growing there is not poison oak, but Virginia creeper. I took this photo in August; right about now the leaves are probably turning a briliant red. I'll get to see it in a few weeks' time, when I head back for my 20th college reunion.
This is a view from inside the living room, looking out the front. In the summer it feels a bit like one is underwater.
I saw this on a walk I took back in May, on the Upper West Side. It don't know what this plant is, but I loved it.

This school is a few blocks from my house. I wish I could get access, to see what it looks like inside. Would almost be worth breaking in, if it weren't on a busy thoroughfare where I would be caught before I even got over the gate, no matter what time of day. Oh well.


My dad is one of the luckiest people I know. I can't tell you how many times he would run a mundane errand, a trip to the bank say, only to come home with a look of wonder in his eyes and a box of donuts in his arms to say "I was the millionth customer through the doors at the bank (or grocery store, or gas station, or dentist's office) so they gave me a free box of donuts!" It's remarkable how often this happened to him. Funny too that it's always donuts, never balloons, or swizzle sticks or shot glasses or promotional bumper stickers or something. Nope. Only donuts. Jelly donuts, specifically, which is even more lucky, because by a funny coincidence those happen to be Dad's favorite. Mom never buys the "millionth customer" story; she just rolls her eyes, takes the box, and saves it for the next meal's dessert.

My roommate left a box of donuts sitting on the kitchen table; in our developing roommate language, this means, "help yourself." I wonder if he won them as a door prize? I hope he's not as lucky as my dad. Mom isn't here to intervene.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Few Faces of Harlem

My neighborhood has been showing me some interesting sides recently. First up, you Law and Order: SVU fans might want to take special note when watching the show on October 28th. No, you won't get to see me in the episode, but there's a good chance you might get to see my building. Last week the show shot a scene on my street, and the props/set crew tarted up the front of our building for some of the angle shots. I came home from a short day of modeling to find the street emptied out with just a few cameras, crew, production assistants and background actors roaming about. I was tempted to wave my SAG card at one of the PA's, and see if I could pick up a little extra cash working background, but realized that would be more trouble than it was worth. The shot I saw being filmed was all a car interior; I couldn't see who was in the scene, but learned later from my Super's son (and de facto second-super-in-command) that it was the stars of the show, or as he called them, "Chris and Mariska." He said they were very nice. I think he may have been made a PA for the day, since he let me in the building when I got home, and probably had been asked to control when people entered or exited when other angles were being shot. I'm kicking myself that I missed out on a chance to convince Chris Meloni to have sex with me, and hell, I wouldn't kick Mariska Hargitay out of bed either (she could bring her hunky husband too), but they were working. Some other time, perhaps.

I haven't been on a film set in about four years, so hearing the the periodic calls and responses ("picture up!" "Picture up!" "Rolling!" "Rolling..." "... and ACTION") was strangely amusing. It was hard not to note how much quieter my street is when there's a TV shoot on it. As soon as the crew was done for the day, a group of kids started a touch football game that seemed to require an inordinate amount of high-pitched shrieking. Then that night there was yet another cocktail party that went to all hours. There's a bodega across the street that seems to be hosting lively street parties on a regular basis, while the weather stays warm. At first I assumed it was some sort of front for a drug ring, but given how much attention the place draws to itself with the crowds and noise, I have to assume that isn't true. Or maybe it is true, and they're just not very SMART drug dealers.

So that was two, maybe three faces of my neighborhood.

I've been living in this building for ten years now, and have built up a friendly chit-chatty relationship with several of the other tenants. In some cases we don't even know one another's names still (and I feel silly asking, after ten years), but are still willing to greet one another warmly. I tend more towards a 'give'em space' policy when it comes to neighbors in big cities, assuming that we all like to have a bit more anonymity to make up for the lack of physical space. There are some people I will see every few days, then there are others I will see only once or twice a month, or even once or twice a year. Sunday I ran into one of the twice-a-year folks, a nice guy who mostly lives with his partner about ten blocks from here. As we painted in the last year six months of our lives in broad strokes (mine were broader/vaguer than his), he ended up inviting me to a party he and his partner were hosting the following evening. His partner is a professional violist, playing for various Broadway orchestras, recording sessions and such all around the city. This party was an excuse to get several friends/colleagues together to play some chamber music. I blurted out that I had played viola all through school too, which I think is what got me the invitation.

I've been going through a weird shy phase lately, where a room full of strangers sounds more daunting than intriguing (apparently we never grow out of having phases), but this party sounded like too much fun, especially once I figured out that I could show up right before the performance, thus getting to enjoy the music without having to mingle with strangers for too long. That said, I still was tempted to chicken out, but I'm really glad I didn't. The idea of going to a private home in Harlem to hear professional musicians play chamber music was just too tantalizing. The fact that I could walk to the party was also really appealing. It's rare for me to be able to go to anything in the city without getting on a subway first.

The house itself was intriguing, as from the outside it was a non-descript metal box, flanked on one side by an apartment building, and on the other by an empty lot that appeared to be on its way to getting built up. Across the street were some eccentric looking row houses, unlike any I've seen anywhere else in the neighborhood or even the city. Just walking by this place, I would have assumed it was the last evidence of an industrial era, soon to be torn down for more condos or apartments.

My neighbor greeted me at the door, and ushered me into one of those magical urban oases that long-time owners so often make of their homes. It was elegantly designed and decorated with lots of original artwork and what I assume were some traditional African sculptures and crafts. A small living room opened up into a large space that showed again evidence of industrial roots, but had been transformed into a large multi-use room, with a lot of big art pieces, work tables, screens, furniture and plants. There were maybe thirty people in the room already, a mix of ages (which is also unusual for my New York socializing), and foreign accents. Plates of cheeses, crabcakes, olives and pickles were scattered throughout the room.

My neighbor W handed me a glass of wine, told me to mingle, then disappeared to attend to hosting duties. I figured out who my other host was, introduced myself to him, then he too rushed off to take care of business. I stood around awkwardly for a bit, ate some crabcakes and cheese chunks, then sat down to introduce myself to a couple sitting on a couch. They seemed initially uncertain of me, but warmed up eventually. A few more crabcakes, another glass of wine, and it was time for the music.

The musical selection was Mozart's Quintet in G minor (two violins, two violas, and cello), a piece I was not familiar with; I love classical music, but don't pretend to know it exhaustively. As I mentioned, I played viola in school. It's been twenty years since I've played regularly, and I was never that good, but I got to do a lot more than maybe I deserved to, string quartets and small ensembles and such, simply because I was often the best violist available. This really is a theme of sorts in my life, getting to do some cool stuff only because no one more talented was available or interested, but as I get older, I'm less bothered by it. My lack of talent aside, just a little experience or training at anything can give one a deeper sense of the skill and artistry required. Hearing these five musicians play this piece, after a single rehearsal that afternoon, was inspiring. Only great talent and years of training will allow someone to make Mozart sound that light and effortless. Maybe a true expert would have noticed more flaws than I did, or have found the interpretation ininspired, but I was transported. It was also humbling to see these professionals, people who work steadily and constantly as musicians, choose to spend some of their free time rehearsing and performing at a party, for free, simply for the love of it.

I felt like I had stumbled across treasure in my own backyard, like I was living a certain kind of New York fantasy; here I was in a private home in Harlem, sipping good wine, eating elegant snacks, chatting with interesting, beautiful people, then listening to professionals play chamber music. I looked around the room at one point, wondering if I was seeing the next Zora Neale Thurston or Langston Hughes. I think the world moves too fast nowadays for anyone to have the influence those artists did, but it was still a fun fantasy.

With the performance done, the musicians, including our host, R, were free to drink and enjoy the party. I was much more relaxed now too, and mingled with something closer to my usual level of ease. It was a school night though, so I left around 9:30pm, still feeling like I had experienced something magical. A ten minute walk had me back in my apartment, and my sweats. It probably makes little sense to most people, but the geography involved in the event played no small part in my enjoyment of it.

Harlem wasn't done showing me her faces though. It was a relatively warm evening, so that night a group of high school kids stayed out all night, listening music, talking, laughing, possibly drinking and occasionally shouting. They weren't even that obnoxious, I think they simply didn't know that their voices carried. They may have had the day off from school Tuesday, because of Rosh Hashanah, which is why they were still out there making noise at 5am. I got up to make a noise complaint, but looked out the window first to see that a cop car was already on the scene. I don't really know what was going on, but one guy was looking awkward and apologetic as he talked to the driver of the car. When the cop in the passenger seat got out, holding some little computer thingy with a blue light, my story-telling brain decided the kid was being accused of a parole violation. Don't ask me where that came from. In any case I went back to bed without making my call, thinking the situation was handled. I woke up later to realize the sound had resumed, and only disappated after one young woman said "damn it's 5:30, I have to go to bed!" Around 6am the garbage trucks (why do they seem to come in fleets?) starting rumbling by, then the utilities company began making a lot of racket drilling a big hole. I would like to say that the magic of the chamber music got me through my mostly sleepless night in a sweet mood, but I'm not quite that much of a Pollyanna. I likes my sleep, and sadly, this kind of racket is far more a part of my daily experience here (at least during warm weather) than is the magical musical evening.

I will say though that now, days later, it is the party that still lingers in memory. My irritations with this place and my life in it are by no means solved, but I'm pretty sure it won't be the sleepless nights I remember on my deathbed.