Monday, June 30, 2014


I'm writing again with no idea of what will happen. Wish me luck.

Today I was on Melrose waiting to get a standby ticket to a theater.  A young boy, probably about 12, came up to me and asked me to buy his incense for a dollar as he was passing by with his mother.  She kept walking. He looked at me and pleaded, and said please several times, like a child asking a parent for candy at a movie.  I kept saying no for some reason. He only wanted a dollar, and I had a dollar in my pocket.  I didn't want the incense.  I could have given him a dollar.

I don't know why it sticks with me, other than being asked for money by children is always disconcerting.  His mother didn't even notice. I don't know where the live, even if they have a home. A dollar would have been nothing to me.

When I first moved to New York, I would make eye contact with everyone, and smile.  Mostly what this meant was that I was engaged by people who would ask for money. I eventually learned, like everyone else, to avoid eye contact. I learned how to say no. I'm still guilty whenever I do.  A friend got angry with me once when I gave money to someone, asking why this person and not the other ten who've asked. It's a good question.

It's my policy now to buy food. I rarely give someone money, but I'll buy a sandwich or a banana or something. I don't always have money to give, and those are the easiest times. If I'm not carrying cash, I'm not lying.

I wasn't lying today. I didn't want to buy the incense. I was put in an uncomfortable position. I don't want to say no to a child. Would that dollar mean he would have had dinner?  Is that what his mother was looking for when she walked by me to one street corner and then walked past me again on her way back?  Someone else bought incense from the boy.  Some other helpful stranger.

It's going to bother me, if only for the way he said "please." I don't have children, but I said no like I was the adult. I am an adult.  Children shouldn't have to beg for money on the street. I didn't make the situation, but it will be difficult to forget it. Of course, I want to make it some larger recrimination of myself, that I missed a chance to be giving and I was being tested, my karma will be effected.  But I know this is not true. I don't have enough dollars to solve the situation.  Sometimes I'm the helpful stranger, but sadly, not today.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Art text and Ray Kampf

My friend Ray Kampf did a gallery retrospective for this 50th birthday. It was a great one night party downtown at the KGB gallery. One of the neatest projects he did was to have 50 creative people do a version of a 3D graphic representation of himself called a Ray-doh, which looks like a playskool figure.  People did some incredible things.  His work is great, straddling art and design, and he has a great deal of it.  One of his colleagues where he teaches said to him, "I had no idea you were this talented."  He is.

He asked me to write the introduction to his show, which I was honored to do. It's always been something I've wanted to do - write text to curate an art show. I did.  The picture of it is above, and here's the text. I hope you enjoy:

Raymond Kampf is firmly lodged between Duchamp and Disney, on a log flume dark ride through the subconscious of 20th century Americana.  His tools are puns, surprising juxtapositions, comment on commentary. He knows the quickest way to make a point is through humor, and the sharpest jokes reveal a difficult truth.
His work is mid-century optimism meets early 21st century sarcasm. He is Mad Men meets Mad Mag. Though sarcastic, ironic, and even angry, his work is hopeful not pessimistic.  Hope points toward a solution, while pessimism rarely admits there may be one.  He provokes to make the viewer think.
Raymond Kampf pokes you with a stick and runs away laughing.
If Mary Blair, Saul Bass and Charles and Ray Eames starred in a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” Ray would design the poster. He might even be the missing child.  Deborah Sussman would probably understudy all four parts. It would be performed for Al Hirschfeld.
When Raymond Kampf sees incorrect kerning he becomes incensed, graphically. If we were using Roman numerals we would call this his Lth birthday. It is unclear if he would be annoyed or amused.
In Fauxtopia, Ray reveals the sham hucksterism behind the “amusement” park, making the viewer rethink the concept of “rides” through the juxtaposition of historical events with amusement park themes, e.g, “Triumph of the Will Skyway” or “Dogma and Pony Show” with its exhortation to “Taste Jesus.”  He imagines life and history as a horror ride, finding politics suspect while exposing the ridiculous and horrible underneath; witness “The Red Scare,” “Jingo Juxebox Jubilee” and “Colonial Renaissance Re-enactment Festival Faire.”
In his personal life, when his late partner Jim Daniels was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, Ray expressed his emotion through his art. Working in a form most would closely associate with advertising, Ray explores and engages in the wider world. He asks us to look deeper at graphic art,  and what we find there is surprising, challenging, sometimes touching.
His Christmas illustrations are whimsical, funny, silly, urbane. They are a yearly highlight.  The musical theater timeline is an ingenious salute to one of his favorite subjects. I’m certain you will find a piece, or several, in this retrospective that speaks directly to you.  It’s possible it will be pointing at you and laughing.
Enjoy the world of Kampf. Here’s to his Lth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting out of it

So that last post was a little dark.

This morning, I looked at a friend's Facebook, where he had linked to an article written by an old roommate from New York, who is now the senior religion editor on a major news website.  And he's gay.  And married. The post was great, about things to learn from the younger version of yourself.

I looked in the comments below, and most were very favorable.  One, though, had written something that seemed vaguely homophobic, and it linked to his Facebook page. I clicked on that link, and saw some very homophobic vitriolic words.  And then I noticed this person had 9 friends.  9.  And not only that, they all were pictures of young models, so probably not real accounts.

I found this heartening.

Also, a lesson.  I could choose to concentrate on this upsetting, unhappy loner with few friends who feels the need to spew hatred.  Or I could concentrate on the hundreds who enjoyed the post, and had nice things to say.  Whatever is there if I look for it, especially on the internet.

Certainly, there are some troubling things going on in the world. I can despair, or look for a solution.  The solution is always more interesting.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I bought some cherries at the farmer's market on Sunday.  I looked around, since the ones I saw were expensive, $8 for a large pint, and it seemed to be they were less last year.  I went to the youngish guy with the tattoos who has fruit that seems actually organic - bug spots, smaller, riper.  He usually has deals, and if the scale is on your side he'll throw a couple of extra plums in to even out the bunch.  He said, "Sorry, season's over. It was a short one this year." I bought some from the one kiosk selling them, and the older farmer said it was probably the last week. They wouldn't have anymore.

I started thinking about our food supply.  Dying bees, droughts, things we take for granted can just disappear.  Industrial farming has taken a lot of the nutrients out of our food, so even when we're trying to eat healthily, a lot of what we buy is tainted or shiny in presentation but empty of nutrients. It's tempting to make a jab at are culture, that our food is an analog to it, but that's too easy.  I worry we won't have enough one day. It is happening other places.  Money can only get you so much. I couldn't find organic apples for months, and I was told it was just a bad year.  The non-organic, shiny, non-nutritive ones that you're not supposed to eat because they are sponges for pesticides were plentiful.

I was at the gym, and saw pictures of Isis in Iraq, taking over cities. I've become so cynical it would not surprise me if Dick Cheney and Haliburton we're funding them, as he seems to go to any length to try and blame things on Obama, and I read the other day that Haliburton profited something like $137 billion dollars from the war in Iraq.  A war he started, and is now trying to hang on someone else.  He is pure evil.

I worry that the rhetoric he and other conservatives spew about guns, about freedom, somehow equating the idea that guns keep America free while every day another child or another innocent bystander dies from some idiot with a gun, will cause these people to mobilize under some religious banner and turn us into a terrifying theocracy. I typed theocrazy by accident, and that may be more apt. I always want to tell religious nuts to go and live in an actual theocracy for a year, and if they survive, come back and tell us how free it felt to them.

I heard a story on the news this weekend about the slums in Brazil, how outside an expensive new stadium, people are living in a city that must be traversed by boards above still flooded waters, filled with dog excrement and refuse, which causes sickness and death - especially young children.  Millions spent for the world to watch grown men play a game for entertainment, while people die around the corner. We do like to distract ourselves.

I need to look for some more uplifting stories. Maybe we're not meant to know what 7 billion people are doing at every moment of every day. It doesn't effect our day to day lives. I draw incorrect conclusions from history, and at times it seems dark.  It doesn't always go that way, though, does it?  There's still hope we can fix our food, feed people, have enough water, solve our murdering each other in the streets and ignoring the suffering for the sake of a good time, right? Lighten up, I hear someone say. It's only a game.  And it is. Only a game.

I picked up a few different quarts of cherries to see which was the best. The woman at the kiosk assented to my choice, and as she dumped the cherries into a bag there didn't seem to be as many as when they were packed together.  I am savoring each cherry.

Monday, June 09, 2014

My grandmother, part II

I just found out about this video of my grandmother - an interview that my Aunt's son's wife did a couple years ago. I watched a bit of it, and reminded me of her spirit.  I can't watch too much, as I don't want to think about what we've lost. I love her bearing. My mother always said, "There's a reason her husbands called her Queen Esther." She was regal.

Loss is always strange. Loss in our times is even stranger. When you don't see someone every day, you don't feel the lack, and you can still forget or even imagine that they are still around.  I don't know that this has sunk in yet.

This video is not searchable, so I wanted a record of it.  I loved my grandmother's spirit.  I'm also aware that it's late, and I'm avoiding going to bed so I can avoid waking up tomorrow. I don't feel bad about posting it since I don't have a huge following.  And if someone sees it, the worst they can do is celebrate her with us.

We had dinner tonight, the few of the immediate family.  It's bittersweet; great to gather in a way we rarely do, but for a bitter reason. You can see the loss touch people at different times, moving around the room like a malignant spirit. It weighs. But there is also laughter, buoyancy, remembrance, celebration of a life well lived.  This is what we have, and what we all must do if we want to care for people.  I do, and I must.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

For My Grandmother, December 2, 1918 - June 5, 2014

Esther Estelle Katz, my grandmother, died last night peacefully in her sleep.  I didn't want to let the day go without writing about her, things I now or have heard, memories of her. I hope I am not divulging any family secrets, but I've loved these stories that tell how strong and optimistic my grandmother was. The picture above was taken when I was about 3 or 4.

I did not realize how hard it is to put an end date after a birth date.

She was born Esther Muller on December 2, 1918. It was pronounced "Miller" because of anti-German sentiment.  She told me she added the Estelle later because she liked it and it means "star."  It  was a fitting addition.

She was one of four children: Frida, Leo, Marvin & Esther. She told me that she was not a great beauty like her sister, so she had to work. Her sister Frida was 16 months older than she was.  Once, when my grandmother was 7, Frida could not say a Hebrew word for something correctly and was rapped across the knuckles with a ruler by the teacher in Hebrew school. My grandmother took her hand and said, "Come on Frida, we're getting out of here." She took her out of the classroom and back home.  Her mother was terrified she'd done something like that, but when they were called into the headmaster's office he said, indicating my grandmother,  "This one should be a rabbi."  My grandmother refused to go back. It was 1925.

Her father was challenging, and would disappear for days, coming home after a bender remorseful that he'd spent all the money and left the family without food. One day, when she was around thirteen, her father came home remorseful, stood on the landing on the way up to their apartment and said that he should just kill himself. My grandmother opened the window and said, "Jump." He didn't, but I imagine he was wary of saying anything like that again. 1931.

My grandmother didn't love to cook all that much, and would say, "I have kitchens open 24 hours all around town."  If a restaurant wasn't that great she'd say "I can do better than this."  She interviewed the waitstaff and knew everyone's name.  Every restaurant I ever went to with my grandmother, I was told by someone on the staff how special she was. She loved hearing people's stories.

My grandmother wrote wonderful birthday cards saying things like "I am glad you're being you in my Universe." She often said she was filled with "nachas", which is a Yiddish word for joy and pride in one's children or grandchildren.

She was married to my grandfather from the age of 18 to 51 when he passed away.  She was widowed, and had to get by on her own. She went to work, started a business. She struggled. She remarried. And she was always a wonderful force of love in all our lives.

She told me she had been a worrier earlier in her life, so to cure herself she wore a rubber band around her wrist and snapped it to change her habitual thoughts. She loved Jack Kornfield, particularly "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry" and Carolyn Myss "Why People Don't Heal." She took EST and self-esteem workshops.  She went to elder hostel universities with Fred, the brilliant man she married after my grandfather. When she could have stopped and given up at 51, a new widow, she went further into life, continually learning and growing.

I visited my grandmother in April. As always, we spoke about life and how best to live and enjoy  it. She was reading a Buddhist book about transitions.  She had a spiritual counselor she spoke with, a Catholic nun. She loved Ekhart Tolle and the Power of Now. She had been watching him chat with Oprah.

I know I can't begin to touch the loss of a spirit like that. I will miss our conversations. I will miss how alive and engaged she was. I will miss that spirit of investigation and interest. At 95 she moved to a independent living facility, as she felt her social world was shrinking, and she needed to have interaction with people.  We spoke when she had started to settle in, and she told me she was loving it - that what she thought she'd miss she didn't, and that she was enjoying being somewhere new, having a new experience. I will miss her unqualified love, and I will miss being seen by her.

I will miss her terribly. I am grateful to have had her in my life. I wish and hope that everyone has someone like my grandmother in their life, or if not, that they can be that person to someone else. I will think of her every December 2nd, and I'm sure much more often than that. May you all have extraordinary lives, and may your life be a blessing.