Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pedestrian Broadway

This last weekend, two stretches of Broadway in midtown were closed to traffic. The situation will be reexamined at a later date, but at this point the goal is for this to be a permanent change. Stop by Father Tony's blog, if you haven't already, for his thoughts and video footage.

This news makes me very happy for a number of reasons. For one thing, you know what this means? Mayor Michael Bloomberg reads my blog! I suggested something along these lines a couple of years ago, and look at that, it happened! I'm just tickled. Okay, maybe the Mayor doesn't read me, but obviously someone on his staff must, and saw to it that my idea got presented to the movers and shakers. I could claim that I deserve some sort of remuneration, some sort of intellectual property fee, but you know what, I'm just so happy to have the policy in place, I don't care about money. Let this just my contribution to the city, a small way I fulfill my duties as a citizen. No, I don't need payment, but maybe a small plaque prominently displayed somewhere, and perhaps a small tax write-off? Doesn't that seem fair?

Okay, kidding aside, I really am thrilled with this new step, in part because it's actually much more ambitious than the idea I floated two years ago. I was sure that the cult of the automobile was far too strong to allow something like a promenade in midtown to be anything but a temporary, holiday arrangement, AND I assumed that if it happened at all, it would be someplace a little less central, like 9th or 10th avenues. It's not just cynicism that led me to that mindset. When I lived in Seattle, a walking street (the Westlake Mall) covering ONE CITY BLOCK was the cause of a great deal of protest, mostly from the businesses affected, who were sure they would lose customers if people could no longer park right outside the store doors. For all I know, the businesses might even have been right. Seattle, at least back then (early to mid '90s), was rather weird on the subject of transportation. All these people who spent their free time hiking, camping, skiing and biking(the place is just crawling with gorgeous calf muscles) nonetheless resisted most things that would get them out of their cars. Light rail proposals continually got voted down, even campaigns to get people to CARPOOL were resisted. For all its (somewhat deserved) stance as a green city, maintaining the right to drive around in one's car was fiercely protected. I don't remember how long Westlake stayed closed to traffic (and did I mention it was ONE BLOCK OF ONE STREET?), but eventually a big chain store made its purchase of a local space contingent on having the block re-opened, and re-opened it was. (I will say that when I visited Seattle back in 2007, for the first time in twelve years, I was pleased to find that a light rail system had been constructed, and was being expanded. Times have changed for all of us, I guess.)

The town I grew up in, Richmond, Indiana, also had a promenade, one with an interesting history I won't go into here, built in 1968. It was the 'downtown' of my childhood (as opposed to 'across town' or 'the east side' where all the strip malls were). A few years back a campaign to re-open this stretch to traffic was finally successful. The argument, as I understand it, was that the economy of the city was tanking, so a way to kick start things again was, yes, to make it possible for people to drive right up to the front doors of the stores down there. What ended up happening is kind of a worst-of-both-worlds, with the walking street not removed, but narrowed, and a two lane road opened to cars. Funnily enough this didn't have the magical effect of rejuvenating the area. The town contined to tank; stores continued to go out of business. The area is mostly a ghost town now, but at least you can drive - very, very slowly - through it.

So, this knowledge, combined with an awareness that previous attempts to tax or limit traffic in midtown had been shot down, led me to assume that something like this could never happen in New York. Obviously it's early days yet. There may be a successful resistance to the idea. But having experienced some beautiful walking streets elsewhere in the world (most notably Copenhagen, Boulder, CO and Ithaca, NY) I am now cautiously hopeful that a majority of folks here will find the change a distinct improvement. Certainly our national attitude towards fuel, transportation, and ecology is undergoing a change. I'm encouraged by the study that suggests traffic in Midtown might be quicker and more efficient as a result of closing Broadway. It makes some sense; Broadway cuts across the grid at an angle, so it's usually turning simple intersections into three-way nightmares. With cars taken off it, there is reason to believe the grid will be more efficient.

Obviously I understand people with physical challenges will need to be accomodated, but I can't imagine the previous situation had been all the convenient for them either. Driving on Broadway has always been problematic. All the cross streets remain open to cars still, so getting dropped off close to one's destination should still be available to those who need it. The pedi-cabs also seem to have multiplied in the area. No idea if that is a good thing or not, just yet. We'll see. Over all though, I'm really pleased by this change, and pleased to have my pessimism refuted for once.

Friday, May 22, 2009

iPhone Artwork

Okay, so maybe I still can't stand the word 'ap', but I did have a chance last night to see a cool one in action. Marc, the artist/illustrator I met at the Draw-a-thon invited me to pose for his drawing group last night. Everyone who attended is a working illustrator or illustration student, and the level of skill and talent was impressive. It was an inspiring environment too; it looked like one of those Italian villas people are always renting in Henry James novels (okay, so it was a former schoolhouse, with fourteen foot pressed-tin ceilings in Williamsburg, but I still felt like I was in Wings of the Dove). For the final hour long pose, Marc switched from colored pencil and paper (old school) to his phone (cutting edge, baby!). If you go here you can see not only the image, but you can also see a short video of the process. Scroll down for more artwork, including another iPhone sketch and video. I'm particularly fond of the pencil sketch of his sleeping wife a bit further down.

I have to say, just in the last year the art modeling has gotten me into some of the coolest spaces in the five boroughs: rescued mansions, 19th century renovated school rooms, the occasional church; oh wait, the churches were usually for rehearsals, not art modeling. So I wasn't always naked in those settings. Not always.

ANYway, go see Marc's iPhone sketches; apparently David Hockney has taken Marc's lead.

I'm still not gonna say 'ap'.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Random Bits and Pieces

In no particular order:

I realize this ship has probably sailed, but do you think we could maybe, just maybe, reconsider the word 'ap'? Those who know me well know I have no problem with word abbreviations per se, or even with making up new words. Shakespeare made up plenty of them, and I figure if one catches on, it's because it fills a need. I'm just having a bit of a problem with this one. I know I shouldn't. I mean, if it doesn't bother any of you that you sound like a barking Pekinese when mentioning your iphones' features, it shouldn't bother me, right? I'll work on that. I will probably have to continue muting the iphone commercials, leaping with a yelp on the remote when I hear the first line ('don't say ap!') for a while though.


My building super recently planted marigolds, impatiens and a new silver linden in one of the two plots in front of our building. Back on election day of 2006 the city planted trees all along this street. I didn't know what had prompted it, but I was pleased. The linden to the north has been there ever since, unscathed and seemingly healthy. For reasons I've never ascertained, however, the spot to the south has never fared as well. The tree that went in yesterday afternoon is the third one to occupy that spot. The other two were each cut down or vandalized.

As you can see, the super is taking no chances this time. Enlarge the image below if you want a closer look at the elaborate structure that has been put in place to protect the tree and flowers. There's a wooden pen enclosing the tree; serious mesh has been added to the short metal guards, and wire has been strung liberally over the top, all in an attempt not only to keep tree cutters at bay, but also to keep dogs out of the flowers. It's hideous, of course. But I totally see the need. I thanked him for doing all this extra work. Maybe once the tree has taken, and reached a certain size, it will no longer need the protective cage. I just hope its greater security doesn't wind up turning the attention of vandals to the other tree. It's been left alone this long, I hope it stays that way.


Yesterday I had a free day, and the weather was about as close to perfect as I could get it. Sunny, breezy, cool enough to enjoy walking, warm enough to sit outside happily. I wanted to get some stuff from one of my favorite plant stores at 96th (on the Upper West Side), but stopped off first at one of my favorite bagel places. (I lived in this neighborhood for a while back in '97-'98, which is why I have so many favorites in the area.) I took my sandwich up to Riverside Park, to sit by a fountain I'm fond of. It's a pleasant space for a number of reasons. Everything is made from cool white marble, including the benches, and the large pool is equally enticing to children and dogs, though I've only seen the latter actually climb in. The trees around it, along with the mist and the marble, keep it cool even in hot weather.

But those aren't the only reasons I love it.

The fountain is part of a monument honoring fire fighters, and I'm all in favor of that. What caught my attention though was the fountain itself. Here, take a closer look.

Know who that is? That's one of the guises of Dionysus, and not just any old guise; that isn't the jolly drunk guy, it's not even the beautiful youth, that is him at his pre-Olympian, consort-of-the-great-goddess, let's-all-go-have-sex-outdoors, ecstatic best. He's got the face and teeth of a lion. He's got bull's horns. He's wearing grape leaves, just in case there were any question of who he was. He's roaring. There is nothing decorous, contained or civilized about this fellow. When I see this image, I think of the recurring description of Aslan throughout the Narnia books: "you know, he's not a tame lion." Neither is this guy; he is the life force at its randiest, and most joyful.

I can't for the life of me guess why the sculptor/architect chose this image on a fountain dedicated to fire fighters lost in the line of duty. Frankly I'd think fire fighters might have appreciated someone a little less, oh, I don't know, out there on their monument, but I'm probably making too much about it. I wonder if the sculptor simply saw this image on an older fountain, liked it, and decided to borrow it. For all I know this is a very traditional fountain image, like Poseidon and dolphins. Just because I've never seen this image out of context before doesn't mean it doesn't get used all the time, with all the ferocity removed, like fat cupids on St. Valentine's Day cards. I am not claiming any kind of subversive paganism was deliberately injected into the sculpture.

I just like that that was the result. Or it has been for me anyway. Whenever I stop by for a visit (occasionally throwing a penny into the water) I give the fire fighters their due, of course. But I'll say hello to Old Bromios too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meta Blog: Disappointing Expectations

I don't know about you other bloggers, but I've had almost as much fun with the blog counter as I have with the blog itself. I'm still learning how to analyze all the information it provides, mostly I just think it's cool to look at a world map with little markers of all the places people have stopped by for a visit. I can't claim they all stay to read the posts where they land though; it's often quite clear that what I've written was not actually what the google searchers (or 'googlers' if you will) were looking for. Usually I don't think I can be held accountable; it can be wild what gets some people to my site. Someone recently was looking for what Bruce Chatwin said about Donegal. I mention Chatwin in one entry, Donegal in another, so Bob's your uncle. The photos of my aloe plants are very popular, for some reason, and it's not just one person stopping by for multiple visits, not unless she's an international traveler. Right now it's a toss up which of two searches are my favorite for randomness. It's either 'cretan wildcat' or 'good gay, bad gay effeminate'. Actually, both of those searchers may have actually appreciated what I said on their respective subjects, now that I think of it. But many of these searches, whoo boy, I cannot be blamed if they bring people to my site.

Some of the misfires, I will take some blame for. I was unaware, for example, that dragonfly stories are some kind of genre; I don't what defines them exactly (gonna stop by wikipedia later, I guess), but it's clear from many of the searches that people have something specific in mind when they come looking. As it happens, I have two entries entitled Dragonfly Story (I and II, natch), and they both continue to get a steady stream of (I assume mildly disgruntled) visitors almost a year after they were posted. In my defense, dragonflies do figure in both stories, but I doubt I'm observing the rules of the genre. So my bad, but I'm not losing any sleep over this one, since I think it's safe to assume anyone who landed there turned up a whole lot of other hits that gave them what they wanted.

Some of the false expectations, however, are not of my construction. A few weeks back, for example, my steady trickle of visitors suddenly more than tripled in number. I was at a loss to explain why, until friends Java and the Midnight Gardener enlightened me. It turns out another friend had seen a portrait of me hanging in a local art gallery, and mentioned it on his very popular blog. Besides the portrait of me, the post also mentioned visiting a renovated sex club. Having the words 'sex club' in the title probably didn't hurt. Now maybe I am misunderstanding what brought my visitors from Tony's blog, but I strongly suspect they were hoping for something a bit more sexy or racy than, well, a chipper post about Patrick taking a happy jaunt, hippity-hop, to Fort Tryon Park. But that's what was waiting for them there. There were pictures too, but they were of flowers, in particular heather, because I do loves me some heather. The spike in readership lasted for about three days, before things dropped back down to my previous average, so I don't think I won over a whole lot of new people. Next time I'm showing skin on this blog though, I'll be sure to contact Tony.

That was maybe the most amusing example of disappointed expectations, but it was pretty quickly explained. There's another one that perplexed me much longer. Almost at the beginning of this blog (way back in April of ought 6, it was), I wrote a short, very silly little entry that for some reason regularly got hits, and recently has been growing in popularity. At the moment it is the fourth most popular post on my blog, actually. And it's just not that clever or interesting, so I really hadn't a clue what was going on there. It was the first time I specifically mentioned the blogging juggernaut that is Joe.My.God, so if I thought about it at all, I figured people who found themselves there had googled him, and for reasons of their own decided to go WAY down their list of hits. Not much of an explanation, really, but it was the best I could do.

Then I realized that the comments on posts show up in google searches. Ah, that made things much more clear. I had written this one back before blogger made it so ridiculously easy to create links in one's posts that even a computing knuckle-dragger such as myself could create them, and the subject of the post, while actually about how and why I love Joe.My.God, spent a certain amount of time bemoaning the fact that I was reduced to writing out the entire addresses, rather than creating elegant links that don't break the flow of the text. So Brian, ever helpful, particularly on subjects computer and internet, kindly wrote a detailed explanation of how one created links writing the html code. The oh so random example he chose, THAT was the magic phrase that was drawing random strangers to that entry. Since I'm trying NOT to torment these people further, I'm not going to write what the magic phrase was, but you can go see for yourself. Hell, if you know Brian, you can probably make an educated guess.

Now, I didn't feel too badly about getting people's hopes up on this issue either, since again, I assumed their google searches too were turning up more satisfying hits. The thing is, not only is it getting hit more often of late, for some reason this baby has also gone international in a BIG way. More and more the visitors are coming from non-English speaking countries, many of which consider the search topic involved to be criminal behavior. It's even possible just doing the google search is illegal in some parts. So if people are taking that kind of risk, and hell, probably typing one-handed while they do it, I feel bad for misleading them, and boring them on top of it. One poor bastard even had the whole thing translated, just to make sure he wasn't missing anything good. And he really, really wasn't.

So, while I don't mean to suggest my blog has any great clout on the world stage, I think I will be taking that post. It just seems cruel.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Defining Terms

There were, and probably will continue to be, many undigested thoughts about homemaking after I posted the last entry. As I mentioned, both Joanna and Marta are doing the job, living the vocation, with people depending on them, whereas my thoughts are more theoretical still. (My roommate was VERY pleased with the clean kitchen yesterday though. And I can now see the surfaces of both my computer and work desks.) So these are just some disconnected, unformed thoughts I'm presently grappling with, and striving to make sense of. Normally I'd do more of this on my own, but for now I seem to need to bounce my thoughts off the larger blogosphere. You've been warned; proceed at your own discretion.


An important thing I've learned living with roommates is, home is an archetypal concept. This means everyone has very strong, deep, personal definitions for the term, and -this is key, follow me closely here- we often mistakenly assume everyone else has the SAME DEFINITION. That's where the trouble often starts.

Let me give an example. After college my first living situation was with four friends in a big house. My friend B and I were in agreement that the dinner dishes were to be done after dinner. What it took us a while to discover was, we each had a different understanding of WHEN DINNER WAS OVER. B had grown up in a household where one snatched the dishes off the table the instant the last bite was taken, preferably while still chewing. I grew up in a household where finishing up dinner was a protracted affair of general family time; second cups of tea were drunk, stories and conversations were allowed to end naturally in a sedate manner. Do you see the conflict in the making? Neither did we. Back in the group house, when it was B's turn to wash the dishes, I assumed she was snatching the plates out from under our masticating jaws because she had other things she wanted to do when the dishes were done. Initially B thought I was dawdling over the end of the meal when it was my turn to do the dishes in a passive-aggressive attempt to get someone else to do them for me. B figured out the problem before she ever said anything to me about it; I suspect I wouldn't have had a clue anything was up if she hadn't told me what her thinking had been. She came to see that I did, in fact, get the dishes done, usually only about ten minutes later than she would have (but ten minutes is an eternity, when you think someone is waiting you out), and more importantly, she realized, and revealed to me, that there were unspoken assumptions we each had about how these things were to be done. We didn't merely have different approaches, we were previously unaware that there WERE OTHER APPROACHES.

Generally when we decide to live with another person or two, we have probably asked ourselves the big questions about group living (smoking or non, drinking or non, noise-levels, and yes, cleaning issues), but there are likely to be a host of unconscious assumptions that won't become conscious (assuming they ever do) until they've generated conflicts. Cleaning is perhaps the biggest arena for these conflicts, perhaps because clean is an equally archetypal (deeply personal) concept. On the Felix-to-Oscar Scale, I probably fall somewhere in the middle, closer to Felix on the dirt front, closer to Oscar on the clutter front, with fluctuations usually related to my mood and unorthodox schedule; one can often map the progress of a play or project in my life, for example, by looking at my residence; the deeper I am in the project, the worse the clutter is. Tech week, it will look like a paper and clothing bomb went off in the place. So in my position as a clean-continuum 3 (which I think is akin to a Kinsey 3) I have been the Oscar making some clean-freak unhappy, but I've also been the Felix wondering why it's so damn hard to hang your coat up in the closet once in a while. Initially I felt that the person with the most rigid views of cleanliness got to set the standards, because, well, clean is just more virtuous, right? Cleaner is always better, and it's unfair for slobs to make other people live amidst their messes, right? It's inconsiderate, disrespectful even, a way of dominating a space unfairly.

I think I'm still more of that mind than not, but over the years I've come to the conclusion that in every group living situation, an understanding of what 'clean' means has to be made explicit. It needs to be discussed, and yes, compromises have to be reached. Maybe the slobby shmoes need to do more of the adjusting, especially in shared spaces, but if a viable, working system is going to be created, the clean-freaks may have to shift some too.

There are nuances to this situation in a heterosexual arrangement that I have witnessed, but obviously haven't experienced (or again, I have played every role, with both male and female roommates). Women are more likely to fear being judged by others if the place is less than pristine, while men will fear ridicule if their places seems too clean or 'interior decorated'. Be honest, which one did you consider more manly, Oscar or Felix? Who got portrayed as ridiculous more often? Who was more likely to be the butt of the joke? Which one seemed fussy and effeminate, which are, of course, the worst things you can call a guy? A man is also likely to play the Ignorance Card, thus making it a struggle for the woman between teaching her caveman how to mope the floor correctly --perhaps having to stand over him the whole time-- or just doing it herself.

So experience has taught me that terms need to be defined, sometimes in detail that can seem ridiculous, in each new living arrangement if a truly equitable arrangement is going to be achieved. My recent living arrangements have often come with significantly lower expectations. More than one person has commented over the years that this apartment 'is surprisingly clean for two guys living together." Societal double standards still give us an A for effort; if we avoid living in a junk heap, with bacteria the size of beagles frisking about the place, we get the good housekeeping seal of approval (and yes, it's almost always been women making this observation). We benefit from lower expectations, but I can't help but wonder if that's not the way to go in most situations. Both Joanna and Marta point out that throughout history showcase homes -even middle class ones- often have involved paid servants to do much of the work. It's interesting to note that I am presently typing in what was almost certainly the maid's quarters in this apartment. I live in Harlem, in a building built in 1909. This apartment has five rooms, including this tiny space. In both Dickens and Austen one will find examples of families who are considered destitute, but still have a live-in servant. Our standards of what is possible may need some serious adjusting.

In this vein, just as it's better to commit to a three-times-a-week exercise regimen (that one actually keeps) as opposed to an every day arrangement (that will never, ever, ever happen), so it's better to have a standard of clean that everyone involved understands and will maintain. Discussions like this may also help unearth what just isn't negotiable. If you find you can't agree on a minimum, it's better to find out before the conflicts start, right? With roommates this sort of thing can be a make-or-break situation, while with lovers and partners, my limited experience tells me a much more complex arrangement gets created, with a delicate balance spanning across many levels of homemaking. Maybe he seems to be INCAPABLE OF PUTTING HIS DIRTY SOCKS IN THE HAMPER LIKE A GROWN-UP, but he always has dinner waiting for me when I get home, and listens when I talk about my day, so let's call it even. I guess this touches again on the distinction I draw between homemaking and housekeeping.

It's funny to realize that in all my babbling on, I'm still not getting at the question of homemaking as vocation, which is the issue at the center of all this for me, and I think my fellow bloggers. Over the years I've certainly written more than one entry about how quotidian tasks have taken on a deeper significance -and pleasure- for me, becoming paths to meditation. Cleaning, or preparing a meal can often be a way for me to immerse myself in real life, when my brain has gone into the stratosphere. All that seems very self-directed though, or at least highly internal. It's vocation as connection with self, or the divine. I guess what I'm starting to explore, ever so ineptly, is how my home can be an arena for relating to others. I've been better at that in the past, but I'm out of practice. I'll get back to you on that.


My sister recounted a childhood experience to me not long ago; she was maybe six or seven years old, and was seeing a male playmate out the door one day, taking him past Mom reading in the living room. Before he left, the kid looked around the house and observed, "your mom doesn't clean much, does she?" After he left, Mom called Mary over to remind her that cleaning wasn't just the mom's job, that it was the responsibility of everyone who lived there. Even at that age, Mary felt Mom was preaching to the choir; she also remembers thinking her obnoxious friend should have noticed the smell of something delicious cooking for dinner. I haven't even begun to excavate all the reasons I love this story.