Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ghost bike

"Memorial to biker killed by a bus," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Facebook blues

"Going mobile," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"When a (wo)man is tired of Facebook, s/he is tired of life."
-- Sammi Johnson, 2009

"For a generation of older Americans, exposing their precise location around the clock to an army of little brothers for marketing and advertising purposes is a privacy invasion." NY Times

I don't "get" Facebook. I'm worried about this. Please advise.

I set up an account some time ago just to see what was happening but stopped visiting after several tries. Then, suddenly in the past few months, my inbox began to flood with Friend Requests from family & friends. Clearly, Facebook had reached some kind of media tipping point & a major migration of Late Adapters was underway. Now, I reasoned I'll be able to figure out what all the fuss is about.

Not yet.

So far I have received a number of Status Updates -- "Twinkle Merriweather can't decide between the blue or the green paint for her new toilet seat" -- "Rocco Stillwater is tranquil but confused." -- that sort of thing. I confess I'm just not getting fired-up enough to dive into these issues.

Then there are the Quiz Challenges -- "What's your IQ?"-- "Are you Irish?" Etc. These sound interesting but when I work through them & click for my score, I'm asked 1) to join another website 2) to choose 20 friends the quiz will be sent to 3) to type in my cell phone number. If I want to learn my score, these tasks are not optional. They're mandatory.

OK, I'm asking: Is it conspiratorial thinking to regard as unreasonable a web transaction that demands access to the most reliable device ever invented to track my daily location (cell phone) in return for a dubious test result? Does it seem normal to you that I should buttonhole 20 friends to tell them what they already know -- that I'm Irish?

What am I missing here? Fellow addicts out there, pitch your product. How come I'm not getting high?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


"Opera singer busking in subway," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

This woman's beautiful voice mesmerized an unlikely crowd Tuesday night in the Times Square subway station. When she was done singing, an old lady gave her a bouquet of flowers she'd run to buy from a nearby subway florist. The woman singing the aria was with the Opera Collective, there to publicize their group & make a little spare change. It wasn't till I saw this picture that I realized the (painted) crowd behind the woman was watching her just like the one in front. There was even a blonde lady ready with a (painted) bouquet of flowers!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Christine Acebo: Going meta at the Met

"Why," Christine Acebo, All rights reserved

My good friend, the talented photographer Christine Acebo (*CA* on Flickr), recently sold two pictures of people looking at pictures at the Met to -- guess who? -- the Met, which in turn will use the picture in ads touting the fun & sophistication of looking at pictures (at the Met).

"Sculpture," Christine Acebo, All rights reserved

This was the one the Met wanted originally but couldn't take because Christine failed to get a model release. BTW I was standing about 2 feet away when she made this one. I only noticed it when Christine quickly raised her Nikon, snapped once, maybe twice, before calmly continuing our conversation. It was a matter of seconds, as though she'd turned her head politely away to cough, then turned back, "Excuse me, where were we?"

"Untitled," Christine Acebo, All rights reserved

But the Met's photo researcher -- bless her -- didn't just give up. She went back & found this one -- the blazing red of a happy child in a beige, tired world of grownups -- on Christine's Flickr page (see her Museum set here). The Met's retouchers will blur the girl's face a little to ensure it can't be recognized. The other picture they bought (top of this post) has no faces to worry about.

Christine deserves wider recognition even though she claims to be serenely unconcerned about it (she's committed to her full-time, well-paid job as a scientist). She has more than enough material for a show & believe me, I don't say that because she's my friend. Her NYC pictures, for example, combine a quick, sympathetic eye with masterful post-processing -- she feels no compunction to match reality & uses lots of layers & filters to create her own intensified moments (here's her latest set from NYC ). When she moves away from people -- away from her affectionate, often funny scrumptious snapshot mode -- the pictures can be somberly romantic, sometimes lonely. But all have an absolute certainty of tone that is instantly recognizable.

This is what is known as a style.

Congratulations, Christine!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Remembering John Updike's 'Rabbit'

"John Updike," Artwork by Josh Cochran, All rights reserved

A woman friend once told me she read John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels to try to understand the way men think. “Did it work?” I asked her. “Well, yes..." she answered. "...and no."

I like to think Updike, who died last week, would have been pleased by the exchange. He was our most precise & authoritative writer, but he never seemed to get up on a soapbox & tell us exactly what to think. His prose stayed nimble & easy, essentially comic, even as it grappled directly with the dark disappointments and bewildering complications of our endlessly morphing history. There has been no other author so perfectly pitched between earnestness & irony to explain the contradictions of our age.

In the days following his death, papers & magazines everywhere filled with insightful & heartfelt tributes (for a somewhat NY-centric sampling, go here & here & here). As I read these pieces, I thought of Rabbit -- Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom -- the protagonist of Updike’s four best-known novels (Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest). I thought: Updike is dead, but Rabbit will live on.

I had been simultaneously fascinated & frustrated when I started reading Rabbit's story in the 1960s. I considered myself a member of the counterculture then, coolly above what I saw as Rabbit's crude sexism & unquestioning patriotism. Why, I wondered, had Updike -- who could make those beautiful poetic sentences -- written about such a loser?

Childish, lustful, materialistic , given to swings between self-aggrandizement & self-pity, Rabbit starts out a small town high school basketball star, gets his girlfriend pregnant, is forced into early marriage, runs away & finally returns to reluctantly, sullenly take up his responsibilities. In the later books, he weathers tragedy, inherits a Toyota dealership, has affairs, struggles with his difficult family & finally -- out-of-shape & overweight in his 50s -- dies of a heart attack brought on by a one-on-one basketball game with a teenage boy. Could anything sound less appealing?

Yet the Rabbit tetralogy is a masterpiece that will be read for a long time. Rabbit & Updike’s other male characters may not have given much comfort to my friend, but I have no doubt they were worth her attention. Unheroic – but not anti-heroic – Rabbit & his ilk are the kind of men who are thoroughly familiar to millions of Americans . Neither perfect suburban husbands nor hard-bitten outsiders, such men are caught in the middle, tugged in two directions at once. “I like middles,” Updike explained once. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

“…These men vacillate between duty and self-fulfillment, a craving for roots and a hungering after freedom.,” says critic Michiko Kakutani. "As the author [Updike] himself once put it, his heroes ‘oscillate in their moods between an enjoyment of the comforts of domesticity and the familial life, and a sense that their essential identity is a solitary one — to be found in flight and loneliness and even adversity...’ “

OK, but what about Rabbit's harsh prejudices, his ridiculous self-regard, his compulsive eating, his even more compulsive philandering? I found as I aged -- perhaps a decade behind Rabbit's fictional aging -- that these things became easier to understand & thus to forgive. Even as he drifts through middle-age toward right-wing politics, Rabbit [Updike] reveals an independent mind, an urgent spiritual life, & a steadily generous, if not always dependable, urge to do the right thing. I ended up caring about Rabbit, not in spite of, but because he can’t stop himself from self-destructively pigging out on salty snack foods or being tempted by every remotely available woman. He's a sinner, in short. If you don't like the religious connotations, choose another term -- flawed, insecure, neurotic, narcissistic. Whatever you call it, this is what makes him interesting.

Illuminated by Updike's brilliant sentences, Rabbit’s restless curiosity about everything from global politics to motel d├ęcor makes him a good companion, even as I sometimes disagree. Admittedly, he's not an exemplary man, let alone a righteous one -- but then, it turns out -- neither am I. And, after all, don't I -- don't you? -- nevertheless deserve love?

It's instructive to anyone who has found a portion of salvation in art to realize how much Updike the author loved his flabby blowhard creation. Perhaps Rabbit was a kind of ur-ego for the great author, the self Updike had stepped away from -- the self that had been refined away by education, travel, the company of the sophisticated. Perhaps writing Rabbit's life was Updike's way to forgive himself. To gratefully accept, as Rabbit does, his fate. In these books Rabbit's awareness continues to grow. He is not a thoughtful man, yet he comes to understand that his life is far from ideal. He embraces it anyway. He is tormented by regrets, afraid of pain & death, overmatched by the demons that beset his loved ones, unsure of his ultimate worth. Yet Rabbit tries -- imperfectly -- to make the best of his alloted time.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Goodby to the Peeler Man

"Joe Ades demonstrating peeler," Chad Schneider, All rights reserved

Nice piece in the Times (with pic by Chad Schneider) today on Joe Ades, whose theatrical pitch & fast hands drew large crowds to watch him demonstrate vegetable peelers at the Union Square Greenmarket. I sometimes used to stop & watch on my afternoon walk from work to the subway. The guy was beyond street-selling patter; he was pure performance.

RIP, Mr. Peeler Man. (Thanks to Andrew Thielen).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The silence of trees

"Young tree, Sunset Park," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Edward Thomas, a country poet, observed that people and trees are 'imperfect friends,' citing the tragic nature of people and the silence of trees."
From "Turning Back" by Robert Adams