Tag Archives: New York

The truth and parallelism

photo 20

F Train—With Two of Us on the Run

I listen to angelic voices—while

she looks at her baby’s photographs
laying on a blanket just a few
weeks old—while

another fixes her ID badge
at the collar and two others talk
quietly—while

half-built skyscrapers slide behind grey
girders, old trestles against dappled
grey clouds in the late spring sky—while

noses dive into magazines and
books and fingers dance on touch screens, eyes
straining for backlit words—while

the conductor crackles with news from
up the line that we can’t hear about
things we can’t see—while

wet napes dry against cool air as hips
rock and jerk to absorb the shocks of
sliding underground—while

one man gets up so the woman with
a cane can sit down and apply her
makeup layer by layer—while

smells of coffee and sweat push against
each other hanging from straps on rails
hanging from the ceiling—while

the dark tunnel moves, its walls broken
by shallow wells filled with words read by
those who care what they say—while

a man wears a salmon buttoned down
shirt folded over his chest like a
kimono—while

headphones and earbuds build parallel
worlds far away from everything here
in the everyday droll—while

a really tall black girl in purple
clutches her diploma as her mom
smiles and sits down—while

strollers and bicycles park against
seats and poles and a backdrop of plaids
checks, stripes, and solids—that

wash the scene and keep it vivid, live,
connected. There’s no race there’s only
a runner.

—Brooklyn, June 2015

Notes and Credits

The opening photograph was taken during a raging snow storm on the F-Train’s Culver Viaduct overlooking Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. The train comes above ground briefly there to cross the Gowanus Canal, then diving back down underground in Park Slope. “Two of Us on the Run” is a song by the group Lucius, which formed and cut its teeth in my neighborhood here, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. I saw Lucius at the Prospect Park Bandshell this summer and then I bought their CD over iTunes and had it on my phone while I took the subway to work over the last few weeks. Brilliant song, wonderful treatment, makes me wish I had a daughter to play it for, over and over again. And when I listen on the train, I think of all the stories traveling with, on the way somewhere in the city.

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Filed under life, playing, poetry, storytelling, truth, Uncategorized

10 years later, we remember

The Parkside School, Brooklyn, New York, September 11, 2011

Ten years ago, I went to work early.  I was in the office before 8:00 am.  I taught political science at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.  It was a beautiful blue-sky morning, and I hoped to get a lot of work done.  My wife was in St. Louis on a work trip, so I was on my own.  At some point in the morning, our Administrative Assistant, Jane, came running down the hall and ran into my office.

“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”

We went to the seminar room and turned on the television.  Live coverage.  There was the building, with smoke pouring out of it.  Before I saw the pictures, I thought it must a be terrorist – but then once I saw the images I couldn’t believe it was a big plane.  So I thought it was an accident.  Maybe a small plane.  And then, as Jane and I sat there, gape-mouthed and gazing at the television, another plane came into the view and hit the second tower.  That was a big plane, and I couldn’t believe it.

After a bit, I went back to my office and put on the radio.  I was listening to NPR as American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.  At this point, I thought we were under attack, at war, and I was terribly afraid of what might be next.  We didn’t know who was doing this, and it was very frightening.

I was able to talk to my wife later that day.  She was stuck at the airport in St. Louis for a day.  She was stuck but okay, and I was relieved to speak with her.  By midday, we knew what had happened, but it was still scary and hard to believe.  A couple weeks later, we found out that she was pregnant.  We were going to have a child.

Ten years on, I spent this anniversary of the attacks in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  My son, Noel, had his first flag football practice today.  He’s been waiting for this day for a long time – he loves football and so wants to play.  He was incredibly happy, happier than I have seen him in other sports, and it was a joy to watch him play.

While the kids were practicing with Coach Marc, the other dads recounted where they were on September 11, 2001.  One worked just a few blocks from the towers and managed to escape the area as the towers were falling down to the ground.  The other had witnessed attacks from his apartment in Brooklyn, where he had a clean view of the events.  He’d been taking photos of the skyline that morning, and only later, upon developing his film, did he realize that he’d caught images of the second plane flying into the second tower.

I didn’t live in New York then, but I do now.  Noel was born on May 28, 2002, and I am raising him here.  New York – or Brooklyn, more precisely – will be the place he always calls home.  He has no memory of 9-11, though he knows what happened.  All his life, his country has been at war.  When I think about his life and my life, this post-9-11 world seems like a weird and different place, and this America is not at all the country I grew up in.  Yet this is his country, and on this day that I remember with somber feelings and sadness, he had a great football practice.  Later, we went home and watched the games on television.  Then I called my brother and wished him happy birthday, like I do every year on 9-11.

Notes and Credits

Photographs by the author.  The first is of the flag at half-mast at PS 130, The Parkside School.  The school is just next to the entrance to the Fort Hamilton Parkway Subway Station for the F and G trains in Brooklyn.  It’s where we live, and the site of an earlier post, Without the Truth, You Are the Looser.

The photograph of the airplane in the clouds was taken in Prospect Park, near the “dog beach.”  That’s where my son’s team was practicing this morning.  Prospect Park is beneath one of the main approaches to LaGuardia Airport, and you can hear the planes fly over every couple of minutes most days.  Today, it was cloudy, low clouds, and the planes could only be seen in the haze, rocketing over us on their way into the airport.  Fifty-one years ago, a plane crashed into Park Slope along that flight path.  It was one of the worst disasters in New York history to that point; 134 people died in the crash.  From 2004 to 2006, I lived on Sterling Place, the street where the plan crashed in 1960.  My neighbor, Ms. Phipps was a witness that day and had told me about it. You can find a photo essay of it here.

Planes and clouds.  It seems we have always lived under flight paths.  In Minnesota, we lived just under main approach to the Minneapolis Airport.  Noel’s first word was “airplane.”  As we were leaving Prospect Park after practice, we saw a man selling bubble-making kits for kids.  He filled the playground with bubbles as he walked along.

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Filed under conflict, danger, death, fathers, freedom, life, New York, Park Slope, playing, politics, sons, struggle, toys, truth, war, youth

Another year and we remember, 2010

For three years, from 2007 to 2009, I was able to look out of my living room window every September 11 and see the Tribute in Light over downtown New York.  Last year, I posted photos by my neighbor and myself.  Then, on 9.27.09, I moved to this apartment.  I can’t see downtown from there, though I can see the lights shooting up over the trees of Prospect Park, like strange sentinels of an Oz far away, beyond the woods.  I know there were events—call them vigils, rallies, protests, or demonstrations—down at Ground Zero, but I wasn’t there.  I was working all day at home, cataloging AIDS service organizations in the tri-state area for a research project.

This year, the arrival of 9.11 coincided with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the end of Ramadan, the annual fast that is one of the five pillars of Islam.  On Friday, 9.10, my son had the day off from school because of the Jewish holidays, and his friend G came over to visit.  We played ball in the park and walked around the neighborhood to grab pizza at Bene’s and snacks at the grocery.

The Bangladeshis were all out on the street, families.  The men wear white pants and tunics, with their small white caps that are often embroidered and appear delicate and firm and strong all at the same time.  You see groups of men like this on the sidewalks of Coney Island Avenue on Friday evenings after mosque services.  The women wear beautiful long patterned dresses and veils of vivid colors.

During Rosh Hashanah every year, Hasidic Jews—mainly the men, I think—come out on the streets of Park Slope and all around Prospect Park and try to reach other Jews to celebrate their heritage.  Dressed in black suits with white shirts and black hats, they are polite and discreet as they ask everyone passing by a simple question, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?

Friday, as I walked my son over to his mom’s house after G left, we passed several along the park’s sidewalks.  They asked, and I think said, “No, not today” out of my habit with the usual assortment of canvassers for progressive causes who work the sidewalks of Park Slope.  But I might have said, “No, sorry” (why “sorry” I don’t really know).  My son asked why they were asking us, since we aren’t Jewish, and I explained what they were up to.   In a couple days, on 9.12, we would be going up to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Park Slope to celebrate mass with its mixed WASP and Caribbean congregation that we have come to cherish.

Thus it was that on, 9.11.2010, as my son and I walked home from the grocery on MacDonald Avenue through this jigsaw puzzle of religions, races, languages, ethnicities, foods and their smells, I thought about my old apartment and the sight I would not be able to see from my living room window.  I do not miss my old living room window.  I prefer the street the way it was today.  If there is anything that America has meant to me, it is this jigsaw that is not puzzling at all.

In a few weeks, the park will turn colors, and my walks over to pick up and deliver my son at his mom’s house will look like this.  Olmsted and Vaux, known more designing Central Park than Prospect Park, considered the latter to be their masterpiece, a place of recreation designed as a “democratic space” that breathed the essence of Whitman’s poetry in the war-torn republic.  And so it is.

Notes and Credits

I have my own opinions on the controversies brewing here in New York and around the country, along with my own doubts and fears about the future of the world, but that’s not what this posting is about.  Taking a break from all that, it’s just an observation about my neighborhood and the relatively tranquil days we’ve had here this week, in spite of it all.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Photographs of my apartment and the fall in Prospect Park taken by the author.  For a tour of the park and our neighborhood across the seasons, see The truth and every purpose and The truth and spring-time.

Photograph of the Bangladeshi women, all clients of the Grameen Bank, by a UN staffer and posted on this site.

I regret that I have no photo of the Tribute in Light over Prospect Park.  It’s moving in an entirely different way that the traditional photos of the lights over downtown are.  The park just looks like a forest, especially at night.   You really can’t see the city at all, especially if you can limit your view to the park itself.  At night, it’s like this but moreso.  The lights shoot up over the dark silhouette of treetops.  They seem to come from nowhere to announce a mystery looming in the distance.  Beacons, sentinels, signs of something distant and different.

This year, the lights had to be turned off a few times, because they attracted migrating birds, as Gizmodo reported:

According to John Rowden, citizen science director at the Audubon Society’s New York chapter, “it has only happened once before. It’s a confluence of circumstances that come together to cause this. Some of it has to do with meteorological conditions, and some with the phase of the moon.”

The images of the lights with the birds are some of the most beautiful photos I ever seen, reminding me of a stunning night in 1994 when I was walking along a road in Pretoria, South Africa, next to a ball park at dusk.  There was no game in the park, but the lights were on and hundreds of bats were flitting about them, feasting I suppose on the bugs in the lights.  Such was one theory of the birds in the Tribute in Light.  According to commenter deciBels, “If you’ve ever worked night construction, you’ve seen this all the time. Those big bright lights bring out big dumb bugs. What are 2 creatures that LOVE eating bugs? Birds and bats.”  See the incredible photos on the post, including this one from commenter, Baroness.

Our apartment building and this end of Prospect Park sit at the juncture of several neighborhoods.  Sweeping around the clock, starting at 11 o’clock in Windsor Terrace, the neighborhood is something like this, based on less-than-scientific observations I have made around the area since moving here:

11 o’clock—Italians, Irish, and Latinos/Puerto Ricans in Windsor Terrace, along with some (mainly white) yuppies (my tribe) who want to be close to Park Slope—9 o’clock—Jews of all sorts, trending more traditional (Orthodox) as you move to 6 o’clock and Borough Park and Midwood, along with Russians, Poles, Albanians and Bulgarians (European Muslims), and as you get over to MacDonald Avenue, Bangladeshis—6 o’clock—Banglatown all the way down MacDonald Avenue and Coney Island Avenue, Arabic and Bengali (I think) on all the signs until you get to Borough Park and the Orthodox Jews—5 o’clock—giant Victorian houses in the late-19th century suburban experiment called Prospect Park South, a bit mixed but very much the province of nice white liberals and yuppies on the move from Park Slope to bigger houses and easier parking—4 o’clock—as you head down Flatbush Avenue it’s a mix of Black Caribbeans and African Americans—3 o’clock—Jamaicans and other West Indians—and finally, all around the clock, Mexicans—Sunset Park (just west of Kensington) has a large and growing Mexican population, but the presence of Mexican taco stands, restaurants, cantinas, and bodegas all around my neighborhood is marked, though you don’t see the Mexicans on the street walking around the same way you do the Bangladeshis and others.

Neylan McBaine is a Mormon woman who lives in Park Slope and wrote a wonderful article about the Hasidic Jews on the sidewalks of the neighborhood this time of year.  See it here.  Finally, while writing this posting, on 9.11, I remembered to send my brother an email, Happy Birthday, bro.  Talk to you tomorrow.

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Filed under freedom, ideas, New York, Park Slope, sons, truth

The truth and the still

Parintins, Brasil 1993

The still photograph is not so still.  The photograph asks questions.  It suggests a story.  It presents an idea in a language without words.  It is even as it signifies. Video killed nothing, and the still photograph survives (even as the radio star carries on).  Unlike video, you can take the still photograph in.  You have a role in your experience of the photograph.  It speaks to you at a speed that you can handle, that doesn’t overwhelm, that invites your participation and imagination.  You can look into its nooks and crannies and seek out all it has to offer.  All this at your own pace, and for your own reasons.

Snow on Sterling Place, Brooklyn 2005

The still photograph is a water that runs deep.  If it seems to sit there, that’s its charm.  The still makes you active, because it’s impossible to just look.  Indeed, that’s the point, and all the while the still is not nearly inert.  It just moves differently, at a different pace, like a tree.

Detail of a rock on the beach, Long Island Sound, 2009

You fill the stillness with motion, the silence with voices.  You hear these people, feel the breeze come across the flowers, sympathize with a long face or smile with happy eyes.  Or you imagine the immediate suspension of all motion and noise and concentrate on only the image and the miracle of capturing time itself.

Intensity . . .Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 2009

Video?  Its harsh, grating noise, the motion too fast to keep up with – video steals your ability to think about what you’re seeing and replaces your mind with its own images.  The difference between the still photograph and video is the difference between democracy and dictatorship.

Fixing the sidewalk, Prospect Park Parade Grounds, Brooklyn 2009

Notes and Credits

On December 15, 2009, I had the opportunity to hear two award-winning photographers, Lynsey Addario and Damon Winter, discuss their work at the Museum of the City of New York.  After the panel discussion, one member of audience asked them if they were experimenting with video, given the prominence of video on the Web and current developments in social media and journalism.  Of course they were interested, but they were still committed to the still photograph.  That’s what got them aroused in the first place, and the still continues to drive them today.  Moderater Kathy Ryan, photo editor for the NYT Magazine, chimed in that photos are still much more popular than videos on the Magazine’s website, perhaps because the photos allow the viewer to control what they are seeing.  So that got me thinking . . .

Sidewalk fixed, December 2009

All the photos featured in this post were taken by the author.  Go back and double-click them to see a larger view.  Enjoy.  If you want to see some interesting and incredible photos by others more talented and adept with shutters than I, check out the work of some friends at T’INGS, Chloe, and the No Words Daily Pix on Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.

Astor Place, New York 2009

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Filed under art, beauty, Brazil, freedom, ideas, journalism, life, media, Park Slope, philosophy, politics, truth

The Park Slope 100

truth and rocket science has been included on this year’s “Park Slope 100,” a list compiled by Louise Crawford on her blog, “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”  Anyone from the neighborhood is familiar with Louise and her work, whether in her Smart Mom column in the weekly Brooklyn Paper, or the Brooklyn Reading Works, or the blog, or many other events.  Obviously, she can’t place herself on the list, but all of us in the nabe know that she makes it that much better for the rest of to do things of value around here.  A heartfelt thanks to Louise!  What an honor to be on a list with favorite blogs like Fucked in Park Slope and Brit in Brooklyn, and writers like Frank McCourt.

Oh, and speaking of the Brooklyn Reading Works . . . truth and rocket science will be curating the April 15, 2010, edition of Brooklyn Reading Works, on “The Truth and Money” . . . of which more later.  Keep tuned.

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