Saturday, April 30, 2011

Something About a Train

My colleague said I wore my engineer cap. I have a head for hats since my hair is “starting” to thin and since the Mets are just too tragic to sport their logo this year. I needed a new warm weather cap. I bought this jaunty chapeau for five bucks at some midtown store. It was only after my friend’s comment that I realized it was indeed similar to an engineer’s cap. He took this picture of me on Amtrak. We had a day of work in Washington D.C. and the high point was riding the train, which was clean and sold out and running on time.

I love Amtrak. I don’t really have a pithy insight other than that. It’s a national treasure. Okay maybe Europe or Japan have better high speed passenger rail, but Amtrak is better train systems than Bolivia or Kenya! Amtrak always gets better and it gets an unfair reputation. We should be proud of this nationwide transportation system; air travel may be faster, but it is often excruciating and always humiliating. Buses? Forget about it. Car travel isolates, it’s not a transporting form of transportation. No matter where you go there you are in your car.

I’ve been busy of late; grueling days at the day job impeding my blogging in the short term. The day of work in D.C. was quite intensive. The three hour train ride made it worthwhile. Until recently, I had a steady gal in southern Virginia and took this train about every six weeks for near a decade, my romance of train travel is multi-layered. Yet, despair dissipates when I’m on the train. Only sweet memories persist.

I read, do some work, look out the window. The rolling of the train on the tracks, the consistent rhythm that so inspired Johnny Cash’s sound. I know a few dozen train songs. When I hear that whistle blow I never run out of tunes to hum.

Several cities campaigned to become the nation’s capital, but with tensions between the north and south becoming more apparent, Washington D.C. was selected because of its mid-Atlantic location, a compromise solution. In reality though, it’s a lowland swamp, similar in topography to the South. In many ways, with its wide boulevards, circular layout and the proliferation on neoclassical architecture, D.C. is very much a southern city. Riding the train down, you can see the landscape change, hill country of the northeast fading into swampier lands, a few miles more and you start seeing the Southern bogs of the tidewater region. Truly an alien land to the union soldiers who came here to keep our country united and in the last two years, enforce enactment of the emancipation proclamation. For the first few years, they were mainly protecting the capital. How different a city from the Northern climes they came from.

Trenton and Philadelphia and Wilmington... empty and decaying factories and warehouses. They built these places near railroad lines. Grimy and often alienating work, they provide real jobs and grew the middle class. That era has long passed. The fallow structures, the long-broken windows...vestiges of a full employment past, remnants of an America that used to be... amazing how many you see... the jobs never came back.

Then you get close to the station, the only place where you get a decent picture really and you see more rail road. Other train lines, different cares, web of tracks. Always fascinated with the systematic nature, the planning to make the trains run and the effort to make them run on time. From the gauge of the tracks that fits the wheels, the design of the cars to hold the optimized number of passengers, the horse power in the iron horse locomotive designed to pull the number of cars needed. Design skills necessary beyond any single individual. Precisions seems antithetical to our humanity, but the human spirit enables us to create the vessels of precision allowing the rest of us the pursuit of happiness. All just so I can doze off with America passing outside and dwell in romantic memories and wake up in our nation’s capital that despite the problems and the power still pays tribute to Freedom and Democracy, aspirations that mark our collective and individual souls. This is the land I love best.

It’s true for NJ Transit, but it is really true for Amtrak. The workers you encounter, the conductors and engineers, they all love their jobs... apparent, remarkable and notable because it is really rare to see workers who like what they do. They bid farewell to their fellow travelers, together for a pleasant journey.

Nothing special, except we arrived safely and on time and now the only thing shared is the memory as we embark on tasks away from the tracks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lamp De-posted

It’s one of those make up your own caption pictures, the lamp off its post right next to the government car from the Hudson County Corrections Department. What is the relationship between our systems of jail and our new municipal lighting systems? What happened here, exactly? I’m not sure this is the way to keep our lamps trimmed and burning. The new street lights, some sort of faux turn of the last century style, have a nice fake quaintness to them that suits the retro leanings of our current era. I like the JC. Representing! But they don’t really change bulbs these days or re-light gas flow, they often just change the whole lamp.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Paterson Chess Club

The Easter Sunday meeting of the Paterson Chess Club. I haven’t been to Paterson in years, but I see it from the train window on my regular journeys back to Bergen County. When the window is clean I can get a good shot. Saw these two fellows playing chess the other morning. By their looks it is apparent this is not their first game in this park. Maybe like the red breasted robins, the dogwood and forsythia blossoms and the need for antihistamine as the pollen increases, these two fellows playing chess are a sign that spring has indeed arrived, at least in Paterson.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Now Hoboken Voyager

The famous Whitman quote that resonates with the promise of discovery is not just for classic Betty Grable flicks, it promotes the fun of ferrying across the Hudson to cutting edge, exciting and full of wonder Hoboken. See, the beautiful metrosexual but apparently heterosexual couple, hipsters for sure but with good jobs and solid, upstanding consumerist values. Reinventing the Commute – have New York City at your back, a pretty gal next to you on a rail and an expensive watch on your wrist, of if you’re a woman take the ferry and you will meet the man of your dreams, wearing designer sunglasses and an expensive watch, standing right there next to you where you can lean together on the rail. The big apple is behind you, the weather is always warm and sunny, especially on the waterfront. Return home to Hoboken were not only all your dreams will come true, but the special discoveries only available in the birthplace of Sinatra will all be yours. Just look at all the exciting events in Hoboken that are to be held, there, right there, see... on the right hand side of the couple you wish to be. Holy God, it’s Blank! BLANK! Nothingness! That’s the Hoboken dream for you, that’s how the commute has been re-invented. You will no longer exist! This ferry does not travel from riverbank to the other side then back again. The river the Hoboken Ferry crosses is the voyage from existence into the void. Take the PATH, it’s safer. Abandon your yuppie dreams, Now Voyager, unless you prefer the reality of non-reality!

Free Fur Seedlings

Had a drink with a buddy the other night here at 9th & Coles, a pretty cozy joint that I blogged about once, or maybe twice. The owner said to take one of the Fur Tree Seedlings. They’re free. Grow your own Christmas Tree. Now that Easter has ended never too early to start yuletide preparations. The occasion? Earth Day was Friday and next Sunday is Arbor Day. My buddy takes one. He has a house in the heights. I have a garden now, he says. Arbor Day already, the time just flies. But are they a Douglas Fur? Might have a long wait to find out.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

witnesses of these things

And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and of an honey comb.

And he took it, and he did eat before them.

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fullfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

Then opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.

And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.

And ye are witnesses of these things.

The Gospel of Saint Luke
24: 42-48

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Random Jazz

The cat on alto here wailed. Sun came out in the park this afternoon of our reluctant spring. The quartet went into Girl from Ipanema. A woman in the background catches a football. Wonderfully NYC, wonderfully Village. Purely so. Reprieve however temporary eases the mind. A moment in the park, sun in the reluctant spring shining on your face as you sit on the bench and ponder how that same sun shone in this same reluctant spring in this park in this city centuries before and will shine in this same moment centuries from now, and that the very idea of continuum is what makes it distinct. But what makes this bright sun and blue sky in this moment only for you is this music now, the jazz. No one in the band was born here or even born in this hemisphere. English is their second language. Yet, utterly jazz fluent, chops as good as any you’ve heard. You forget about the simple joy of the sun and park and the listening to musicians play a pleasant melody and even how this jazz-centric arrangement transforms the familiar samba. You are thinking only about the sax solo. More feeling than thinking, actually. The sun is still shining, people walk by, she tosses the football back to her companion. The sky remains blue. Your mind is still eased. But that solo pierces through, then strips away everything else until you are aware of only the sound of the saxophone and the joy of anticipation then the joy of surprise when you hear what comes next. You helplessly surrender to your instinct to clap. About an hour – and a few cellphone conversations and non-terminal aggravations – later, you are on line at Starbucks and the original Girl from Ipanema comes through the speakers. The synchronicity makes you smile. You think maybe I should play the lottery. Then you remember the solo, realizing kismet transcends coincidence as everything is stripped away again for another second or two.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Muddy Edge of Town

Far from the condo developments and new restaurants in downtown Jersey City… wait, no this is not far at all from our New city, far less than a quarter of a mile as the crow flies. I can’t remember why I took this picture. I didn’t see a crow flying. We’ve seen muddy ground before. You veer away only a block or two from a thoroughfare and you get muddy fields surrounding fenched-in trestles holding up the Turnpike . Jersey City is weird like that, planned haphazardly as if no planning at all (only bribes) happened. Is nature’s victory over civilization inevitable or is the encroachment of civilization over nature the irrevocable constant? Jersey City provides no answers, just depictions this ever-present conflict.

Alexander Holley

Meet me in Washington Square, right by the Holley bust. How many times have you said that? What, no times, never? How many times have you passed this and not noticed the bust? What, countless times? The writing on this memorial indicates he was a great engineer, but a quick google reveals he was an engineer smart enough to buy the rights to somebody else’s invention, the “Bessemer” process, which turns pig iron into steel. Imagine having the U.S. patent on steel since the American Civil War, you too could afford a memorial no one notices. A dude in dread locks selling some kind of art, the young women drinking water and enjoying the spring sun near the statue of the head and shoulders of some man dead for a century who got wealthy for being smart enough to patent somebody’s else’s great idea. The bust, its pedestal, the people here, all of it, all of them, would not be here if not for the benefits of molten ore. I guess a Bessemer bust would be out of place in NYC.

Reaching From Roof

Isn’t this cheating, going off the ladder and onto the roof so you can push the roller down then up instead of up then down? Looks like a simple building exterior job but it may be trickier than it appears – notice the electrical wires – our fair city still has that 1919 feel of draped cables reminiscent of when we first turned on that new fangled Edison doohickey. Negotiating the wires is probably easier from the vantage point of the roof. The first step for humanity when they reached for the sky was reaching the roof, and now painters can reach the façade from a whole new direction.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

a declaration of existence

“...and as I struck the note, I spoke the line: "Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” I had written the line some years before as a declaration of existence, as a vow to take responsibility for my own actions. Christ was a man worthy to rebel against, for He was rebellion itself.”

“He had tried everything from science to voodoo, everything but prayer. That, at least, I could give him in abundance. I prayed ceaselessly for him, a desperate human prayer. Not for his life, no one could take that cup from him, but for the strength to endure the unendurable.”

From Just Kids by Patti Smith, a terrific memoir and perhaps the best book I've read in the last 12 months.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Building Façade Blooms

And thy flowers, fruits and leaves shall turn to stone. Not all, just the ones hanging off the sides of buildings! No one recognizes a prophet in his own neighborhood. Sometimes during a walk you glance at something you know you’ve glanced at before yet notice something you haven’t yet noticed. These ornate decorations to exteriors are no longer in vogue. I could go to the library and look it up in the historical room and maybe they might have an explanation, but that takes time I don’t have right now and might undermined the bemused wonderment felt when noticing something that has always been there and the only thing new is your awareness of it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flapping Plastic Tarp Reveals Bats

Strong gusts permeated the late afternoon, prelude to the storm that came at midnight. Rehabilitation construction taking place in this building, a few months ago, a gutted shell, interior renovation taking place, plastic tarps flapped in the constant breeze. Noticed somebody had defied the fence, slipped through the construction area and drew bats on the black tar paper inside.

Tigers Near Ready

When asked when the Tigers will be finished, “If not this weekend, probably next,” said Dylan Evans, whose company is Mad Mad Media and who is also called Project Curator - Jersey City Mural Arts Project.His blog is here:

Readers may remember last month’s blog about this emerging mural, a project Dylan coordinated, at 172 Newark Avenue. The owner of the building, which also houses Palace Drugs & Liquors, is one of most artist friendly in town. Spaces above the retail are being rented out as work/studio spaces for local artists and even artisans.

Readers may remember this blog
when the Tiger mural was emerging, being painted by EyeSor & Pawn -- Pawn (website: and Eyesor (website: For some reason I thought they were c0-painting this mural but the fact is they are both working on separate but adjoining murals. Pawn’s mural features a green-eyed visage, whom he said he was his girlfriend, in between two tiger heads in apparent mid-roar. I liked how the oval green eyes balanced the orange feline eyes. EyeSor was a little more behind. He was working from both a photograph and tiger images from a Chinese painter. People stopped to watch, gawk. They were working entirely with spray cans.

"The best part is hearing people walk by, say how they like it,” said Dylan. “On the street here, we get a lot of community support.”

Get High

I guess this is some kind of Hamster strung out after being part of drug experiments. This seems like an anti-drug message, the creature seems out of it and oblivious so maybe it’s a warning to remind you to just say no. On the other hand, it is so cute and cuddly maybe being a little high has some benefit?

Sunday Night Film Forum: First Year

Jersey City Film Forum – actually the official name may be Sunday Night Film Forum – passed its one year milestone yesterday. I first posted about the Film Forum when it was still new here. It’s held at the Jersey City Art School on Fifth Street. I’ve been going every week and that’s probably why one sees a frequency of blogs related to this neat art school/club house.

The program is run by filmmaker and bartender Yvonne Varima. She is the curator. She selects the films, after the screening a discussion is held. It’s great fun. I went to the second screening of the program, which was this Finnish New Wave film, Asphalt Lambs. Virgin Spring, the Bergman film was originally scheduled but as it happens sometimes here that had to be rescheduled to a Netflicks snafu and this one was watched instead. No one there, including myself, knew anything about this film. We were all in the same boat. A unique and enlightening experience and the discussion that followed, as it often does, echoed a shared sense of discovery and discovery is a bedrock component of film appreciation.

An astute mind when it comes to film, as well as an MFA, Yvonne also has a true gift for leading a discussion. She encourages a semi-informal, fly by the seat of your pants conversation. The Film Forum is a fun way to see movies that otherwise you might never have encountered and the discussion that follows deepens your understanding and is actually as fun as, and sometimes more fun than, the movie screened.

Besides the weekly film and discussion, as this program progressed through 2010 into 2011, some special evenings were held. For a screening of an early Chaplin, an authentic silent film projector was used, a series of Horror films were shown in October (like
The Shining), an “artist” night featured a screening of Exit Through the Gift Shop and many of the local artists and one or two artisans came to weigh in on Banksy. The film was okay, the discussion truly remarkable.

In March, two films about prostitution were shown on consecutive Sundays. One was the Girl Friend Experience, which I hadn’t seen. Although flawed, I admired its ambition. Yvonne and most of the others present liked it more than I did. Yvonne explained what she liked about the film. I liked her analysis more than I liked the film. You don’t have to like a film to learn from it, to get something out of it, or to have it become another way of affirming cinema.

The year one anniversary film was Into Eternity (2010), about an underground nuclear waste dump in Finland called Onkalo (Finnish for 'hiding place'). Ironically, another Finish film, although the director was Danish. A nice book-end for me.

I brought a bottle of champagne for the celebration, which was drank but no toasts were made. Who has time for such side-notes or niceties? Flamboyance works on screen, not in Jersey City.

After we applauded the one year milestone, Yvonne, with her usual mix of background info on the film and director and thought provoking opinions, began the evening’s discussion. The inaugural year is over. The program is gaining momentum, new faces appear almost every week and a few like me, have become loyal attendees.

Here are 10 memorable film evenings from the 1st year of the Jersey City (or Sunday Night) Film Forum.

Waltz with Bashir
Publicity upon its release made me think this movie was a goofy stunt. I was very wrong. A compelling documentary that is much as about the working of memory as it is about Israel’s military involvement with Lebanon. Awesome Film.

Anti-Christ. Part of the October horror series. Still not sure if I actually liked it, but I can’t forget it. One of the most original films I’ve ever seen.

Virgin Spring. Not only a superb Bergman, but I’ll never forgot this Film Forum Experience, the second screening I attended. Everyone else – and it was a good crowd that night – there had never seen a Bergman before. Witnessing their initiation into Bergman-land was heretofore undiscovered method of appreciating the master.

The Searchers. How can you discover new meanings in a familiar work? Change the context of how you see the work. One of the greatest films ever made and one of my favorite movies. I had only seen this on television sets, and except for one viewing with Nancy who could not abide John Wayne, I’ve seen it alone. In the context of the Film Forum – a bigger screen, an astute crowd, no remote on which to press pause – I watched it anew after all these years.

Mean Streets. I like more than love Scorsese and I always thought this film was more miss than hit. This was my second or maybe third viewing. My previous opinion is ignorant. This is a neo-noir masterpiece, one of the best of the genre. I’ve been playing Mickey’s Monkey on a regular basis since this was screened on Fifth Street.

Maya Deren. The evening of her films – massively influential, highly experimental, yet damn entertaining – was unforgettable. She was totally new to me. I didn’t know what to expect so of course I expected tedium. Surrealistic and psychological, this mid-20th century film maker was a dancer by trade and training. Her short films revolutionized both dance and film. I can see why. Great discussion followed each film. What a fun night!

Vivre sa vie I have seen several Goddards. I hold a contrarian view. I never liked his films much, certainly compared to Truffaut, whose work I love. I was apprehensive about seeing a Goddard film. He can be so damn pretentious. This film, which was the other half of the Prostitution Sunday series, is the best movie I’ve seen in months. The climax of this film is a discussion about the history of philosophy in a café. You do not get more French than that. I am ready to revise my thinking on his other films as well. Alert Le Monde!

Wings of Desire. How did I miss this masterpiece? This film is as close as cinema gets to poetry. It wasn’t just poetic, it was exactly like reading Elliot or Whitman. Two devotees of this film attended and offered many useful insights.

In The Mood for Love, Directed by Kar Wai Wong, a contemporary Chinese film, is a gnarly, moving love story. Also original – love between cuckolds. A man and woman whose spouses are having an affair become friends, they fall in love but they can’t consummate their love because that would make them as bad as their cheating spouses. The sadness of romance, outside of a few songs by Howlin Wolf or Bob Dylan, is rarely this uplifting.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a 1970 film from the so-called Czechoslovak New Wave. It seemed to be a film filled with Eastern European folk-lore, lots of magic and surreal happenings. It seemed to the be the story of a princess beset by problems, evil step mothers and neglectful parents and the like, in a very trippy world of sorcery. Lysergic tinged filmmaking meets Czechoslovak myth. A cool film. Then a few days it dawns on me – this film took place entirely in the head of the adolescent girl. This film was about what it is like to be an immature girl taking her first steps into maturity. I wonder if the setting, which seemed to be in the Middle Ages, was also in her mind. I wanted to have an emergency meeting of the Film Forum to discuss this new epiphany but alas, it’s only on Sundays and so far, there have been no repeat screenings.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ex-Token Booth

All that’s left is the intercom. Another victim of the token-free age, this is at 32nd street and if you are getting off the PATH and want to take the subterranean route across 6th avenue you pass this token booth. A fine token booth, two seater. When it closed I was going to take a picture, then they had this plastic fencing and wood and I should have taken a picture. That was yesterday. But I’m not in blog mode, I’m in going to or coming from day job mode. Often there’s cops with the tables searching bags or those really annoying AMNEWYORK paper hander outers and I just don’t want to take a picture. The mode over powers that sort of mood. Then today, GONE. I thought they were just renovating, I didn’t know they were dismantling and removal. I guess they do that at night. What I don’t understand, if these metro cards they forced upon us where supposed to provide all these cost savings – and part of the accrued savings was due to a reduction in the labor force necessary to make our subways run almost on time – how come fares keep going up? Without a booth, there are less MTA personnel at this juncture, making things less safe and if you are having a problem with the system you’re on your own – just use the intercom, see how that works as a solution! Notice – customer – intercom. We are no longer passengers, we no longer travel together in New York. It’s not a journey we embark upon, it’s a product that we purchase. Fares rise, jobs disappear. No more tokens. No more token booths

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Train Porch Light

Walk by JC Art School on 5th Street lately? Notice any new illuminating apparatus? This is a train light, from an Erie Lackawanna passenger car, circa 1930. Not a headlight, not a lantern. A ceiling lamp, removed from an abandoned train car, cleaned up and repainted a near-fire engine red, which matches the door. The original glass globe still intact. The design echoes confidence, the Industrial Revolution at its American peak. Steel. Iron alloys smelted by union workers

. The rail lines into Hoboken today may just reach into different New Jersey counties, the Erie part meant Pennsylvania also heavy industry, not to mention steel and coal. Lots of travel between there and here and the waterfront docks of Hoboken. Function is paramount, but utilitarian agendas get mitigated with the curve, tool & dye mold making expertise, shaping metal to argue against gravity’s dictates of form, giving us some of that deco in art deco in the passenger rail ceiling lamps. Makes you want to know more about this actual car. I’m guessing at the 1930, I could be off 15 years either way. The image at the bottom I copied from a website. Just a guess, give us an idea, some context. Those old passenger cars look so sturdy. It was before air-conditioning, probably not even heated. Metal fixtures, glass globes – decades before fluorescent. A little piece of history between Monmouth and Coles on 5th.
The abandoned passenger rail car this repurposed porch light was originally discovered in.

A preserved antique train car which may or may not be an example of the type of cars these lights were found in.

Obstruction Extension

But I loved those Brunswick sidewalks, I hate new concrete. Nonetheless, new concrete arrives. Street-scaping reaches closer and closer to the downtown borders, encompassing more and more with that shiny gunmetal gray, okay just gray, sidewalks. Might not be the optimum time for a Brunswick Window art exhibit, like this large geometric pattern piece, Means Without End, by Shannon Benine. That assertion might be wrong. The date on the window (and on the artist’s website) says the window will close (had to say it) on March 15th, yet the ides didn’t come this year for the Means Without End. Near mid-April the street scapers started scaping this block, obstructing the walkway, although pedestrian site lines to the window remain pretty much intact. The exhibit gets extended. Means Without End, at least for now, a while.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cat in Garden

Beautiful kitty. I sometimes think I could do a whole series of Jersey City street cats blogs but I would have to include Garden Cats. The Brunswick Garden is ready to be in full till but a while until full bloom. I’ve never been inside these gates, I know nothing about this Community Garden. The daffodils are ready, right on schedule even if warmer temps were slow to arrive. The full till is only a few weeks away. A whole garden to be a cat in, that’s one happy animal.

Four Horses of Broken Fountain

I remember posting something about this building, a former funeral parlor last year, the rehabilitation is now underway but not that far, interior gutting, some façade work. I don’t think I ever saw this fountain working, I do remember a wake there, I didn’t attend I was just walking by and folks were congregating on the sidewalk, smoking, small talk. I don’t remember many of them and this is a pretty common thoroughfare and I do remember it being closed for a long time, some summers the brush and weeds so high you couldn’t even see the horses. This time I there was an opening in the tiny fence so I was able to get a closer look at the decay. Rot is often more interesting to me than rehabilitation or is that restoration.
In spite of the thickness, the basin of the fountain is cracked. More than 10 years since water last flowed here I reckon, by the looks of things. In its day, this was probably some fountain. I wonder of its fate. The pipes and such, maybe somebody was trying to figure out functionality restoration. Maybe that is still in progress. The broken rim and other disrepair, getting this thing to spout again is probably a long shot. If not, what happens to the horses? Why horses at a funeral parlor. The only reference to four horses I can think of is the apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, and those were horsemen, not just ponies. Is this an echo of the belief that at the end of the world and time when Heaven descends our souls will be united with bodies? I suppose that might be a sentiment a funeral parlor might convey. Or maybe they’re tribute to horse drawn hearses. It’s sort of an odd choice. These silent stone steeds continue to withhold their meaning. Water flowing through them provided comfort to the mourners I imagine, at least I prefer to.

A view of inside the building from one of the screened windows