Monday, February 18, 2019

Downtown Graffiti 1

I shot the graffiti photos a couple of years ago while wandering around downtown.  They're the last bit of grit remaining in gentrified Manhattan.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Parisi Bakery

I took this photo a couple of yeas ago while wandering through downtown.  I don't even know if the bakery is there any longer - so many small businesses have been put out of business by gentrification and their places taken by large chain stores.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-One

Entering the dream, Connor found himself in Weill Recital Hall, the smaller venue adjacent to Carnegie Hall.  The quiet space had always seemed to him a holdover from another time.  In contrast to the chaos of present day New York, its ornate décor evoked the world of nineteenth century fashionable society and an era when horse drawn carriages lined 57th Street and coachmen patiently awaited departing concertgoers. 
Connor looked about him.  The windows, as in reality, were sealed and plastered over; there was no chance of catching any glimpse of the outer world that might ruin the illusion of timelessness.  On center stage, a massive Steinway piano stood alone as though beckoning to him and offering an invitation to perform.  All the seats in the hall were empty except one in the first row center where Deirdre already sat in anticipation of his arrival.  On this occasion, contrary to her usual custom, she had dressed in couture.  She wore a flowing green silk gown that left her pale shoulders bare.  Her long blonde hair had been done up in an elaborate coiffure and around her throat she wore a diamond necklace.
“That’s a lovely dress,” said Connor.  “You look like you just stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine.”
“It’s an antique Poiret gown from the turn of the twentieth century.  It was considered very daring in its day.  I love how sleek and elegant it is.”
Connor’s gaze once again traveled about the confines of the small hall.  “Well, this certainly is a fitting place to wear it.  A hundred years ago, society matrons must have sat exactly where you are now and wore such just gowns while their husbands stood in the lobby talking politics and smoking cigars.”
Deirdre giggled.  “I’m so glad you don’t smoke them.  That horrible smell would ruin the whole atmosphere.”
“I’ve been here before,” said Connor.  “In real time, I mean.  My ex-wife once had a friend who had graduated from Juilliard and gave her debut recital here.  I came with Jocelyn to hear the woman play Scriabin and Chopin.  I can still remember how much fun we had.  We sat with the pianist’s parents and talked of her career prospects.  Everyone agreed she was a major talent who’d soon be performing next door on Carnegie Hall’s main stage.  But it didn’t work out.  The poor woman died less than a year later of leukemia.  It was very sad.”
“That’s the way it always goes,” said Deirdre.  “It’s the people we love dearest who die young and without warning.  We can never see it coming.  When they’re gone, we think back to the time we spent together and wish we had been more caring and had better appreciated how lucky we’d been to have had them with us.”
“You sound like you’re talking from experience,” Connor observed.
“Yes, I once loved someone very much.  One day we were together making love to one another and the next he was gone.  I barely had a chance to say goodbye.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Connor.  Then he paused.  “I always feel so helpless talking in clichés that way.  It seems there should be something more meaningful I could do or say, but I never know what it is.”
“Oh, Connor, don’t worry about it.  You’ve already done so much for me without even realizing.”
“I haven’t done anything but wander around uselessly in my dreams.”
“You’ve got a good heart, and that’s what counts most.”  Deirdre turned her gaze away.  “So what are we here for anyway?  Are we going to get on with this dream, or what?”
“Of course, we are.  This is where I’m supposed to become the greatest piano virtuoso since Horowitz.”
“I like that idea.  You certainly look the part in that tux you’re wearing.”
Connor looked down at himself and saw he was indeed in evening clothes.  “Ha,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this dressed up in my life.”
“You should do it more often.  It becomes you.”
Connor looked about for a mirror but couldn’t find one.  “I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”
“Good enough.  Now get up on stage and show what you can do.”
Now it was time for Connor’s surprise.  He held up his hand and smiled.  “Sorry, but there’s been a slight change of plan.  You’re the one who’s going to play that piano, not me.”
“No way,” laughed Deirdre.  She shook her head in bemusement.  “I couldn’t play it to save my life.  The only time I had music lessons was when I was twelve.  My parents loved polka music – they once told me they’d met at a party while dancing to the Beer Barrel Polka – so they bought me an accordion.  For months, I tortured the neighbors with my practicing until even mom and dad finally gave up and admitted I had no talent whatsoever.  That had to have been the most frustrating experience I ever had in my life.”
“Hey, it’s my dream and I get to call the shots,” Connor informed her.  He pointed to the stage.  “If I imagine you as the world’s greatest pianist, then that’s what you are.”
“And what about the project?” Deirdre protested as she tried to gather her courage.  “What will mean old Professor Elicott say if he finds out you pulled a ringer?”
“Who cares what he says?  I already have one foot out the door anyway.  If we have a little fun on my last assignment, it isn’t going to make any difference to anyone.”
“Well, ok then.  You talked me into it.”  Deirdre stood up and without any further argument mounted the steps by the side of the stage.  “What would you like to hear?” she asked.  “Please make it something easy.”
“It’s got to be something terrifically difficult, or there’s no point to it.”  Connor snapped his fingers.  “I’ve got it.  I want you to try Balakirev’s Islamey.  It’s not performed very often precisely because it’s such a formidable piece.  Virtuosi play it in recital when they want to show off their skills.  Now I can hear you give the best rendition ever.”
“Sorry.  I hate to let you down, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it myself.”
“That doesn’t make any difference at all.  Just sit down at the keyboard and let the music come out through your fingertips.  You won’t even need a score to follow.”
Deirdre pulled out the cushioned bench, adjusted it for her height, and then stared blankly at the keys.  “I don’t know about this.”
“Don’t worry.  You just have to relax and let yourself go.  You’ll do fine.”
Deirdre gave in at last.  “If you say so.”  With that, she put both hands on the keyboard, closed her eyes and started playing. 
For the next ten minutes, Connor sat spellbound as Deirdre performed the piece flawlessly in one of the finest displays of talent the hall had ever witnessed.  When at last she had finished and sat back in exhaustion, Connor rose from his seat and clapped till his palms ached.  Brava,” he shouted.  “You were magnificent.  I’ve heard several recordings of that work, but your interpretation was definitely the best.”
Deirdre blushed.  “Flatterer,” was all she said.
“I only wish there had been others here to hear it as well.”
“You’re thinking of Marguerite, aren’t you?” Deirdre teased him.  “Tell the truth.  You were probably wishing you were out on a fun date with her instead of being stuck inside a dream with me.”
“So, you know about Marguerite, do you?  Do I detect some jealousy here?”
“You know that isn’t it, Connor.  I want you to be with Marguerite as often as you can.  She’s a sweet woman, and she’s in a bad place.  You don’t realize how much danger she’s in.  But even if you were with her, I don’t know if you’d be able to protect her.”
That reminded Connor of the file in Elicott’s office.  “Protect her from what?”
“From herself.  All these things she’s afraid of are inside her head.  That’s what makes them so dangerous to begin with.”
“So what can I do to help?”  Connor felt suddenly powerless.
“Just stay with her as much as you can and be kind to her.  That’s all the help anyone can give her.  The rest she has to do for herself… if she’s able.”
Connor stood up.  This was becoming too much for him.  “Let’s get out of here.  There must be somewhere else we can go in this dream.”
Deirdre’s face all at once darkened.  “Yes, there is,” she said firmly.  “There’s something you have to see.  You’re not going to like it very much, but that can’t be avoided.”
Connor was apprehensive.  “Sounds like I’m headed for a nightmare.”
“The worst nightmares aren’t the ones we see in dreams.  Those we can always wake up from and put out of our minds.  It’s what happens to us in broad daylight that’s usually the most horrible.”
“Then why go there?”
“Because you’ve been living a lie without knowing it,” Deirdre explained.  “All these months you’ve been beating yourself up over the way your wife left you.  You’ve been sad and depressed even though you know it was Jocelyn’s idea that you pull the burglary that got you arrested.  It’s time you stopped being so hard on yourself.”
The smile froze on Connor’s face.  His heart beat more rapidly until he could hear it booming inside his chest.  “I am over it.  Jocelyn treated me terribly.  I realize that well enough without having to see it in a dream.  It’s nothing more to me than ancient history.”
“You know what she did, but you don’t know why she did it.”  Deirdre paused for effect.  “Or who put her up to it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Connor angrily.
Deirdre merely beckoned with her finger.  
Suddenly Connor and Deirdre were standing inside someone’s living room.  Connor had been there before and recognized it at once as Gallagher’s apartment in Williamsburg.  The two of them had sat drinking beer on that very sofa the one time he’d been there.
The state of disorder the elegantly furnished room had been in when Connor had visited hadn’t changed.  Clothes still lay strewn over the designer furniture and empty beer cans littered the floor.  Two half eaten takeout dinners sat forgotten on the table.  The television was turned on, but the sound had been muted.  A reality show flickered across the screen. 
On the sofa where Connor had once sprawled his ex-wife Jocelyn now sat beside Gallagher.  The two were deep in conversation.  Their strained faces and lowered voices showed how tense their talk had become.
“Don’t worry,” Deirdre reassured Connor.  “They can’t see us.  We’re watching something that happened in the past.  I’m just replaying it for you.”
“I can’t go on living in my apartment any longer,” said Jocelyn to Gallagher.  “It’s getting to be too much for me being there alone.  Michael’s out of prison now and sooner or later he’s going to come knocking on the door.  I know he will.”
“What are you so worried about?”  Gallagher’s tone betrayed his impatience.  “You’re divorced.  Judgment’s been entered.  Your marriage is over.”
“A decree is just a piece of paper.  It’s not enough to keep him away.”
Gallagher was dismissive.  “If he shows up, you can get a restraining order.  That’ll do the trick.  He’s not going to risk going away again just to have a heart-to-heart with you.”
“He’ll probably try to borrow money,” Jocelyn went on without listening.  “Michael mustn’t have a dime to live on right now.  He got fired from his job when he was convicted.”
Gallagher shrugged impassively.  “He’ll find a new gig sooner or later.  It might not be what he’s been hoping for but, hey, ex-cons can’t be choosy.  If he gets a job mopping floors or working in a car wash, that’ll be good enough.”
Jocelyn laughed bitterly.  “And how is he going find a place to live if that’s all he ends up with?   Michael’s never going to earn more than minimum wage if all he can find are crap jobs no one else will take.  He’ll end up needing to put the touch on me.”
“That’s something he should’ve thought of before he embarked on a life of crime.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”  Jocelyn’s voice was filled with bitterness.
Gallagher glanced at her doubtfully.  “You want to know what I think is really going on here?  You feel guilty about what you’ve done to the guy.  Somewhere deep inside, you’ve still got feelings for him.”
Jocelyn grimaced.  “Well, that’s something no one can ever accuse you of.”
“Don’t talk like that.  Connor’s my friend.  He and I have been tight ever since college.  Even before.  He may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but he’s not a bad guy.”
“That didn’t stop you from calling the police and telling them what he was up to that night and where they could find him.  You even gave them the address.”
“You were standing right there beside me and you knew exactly what I was going to do before I ever picked up the phone.  Don’t blame me for what happened.  I only came up with the idea of having him pull that job in the first place because of your nagging.  You were the one who kept complaining we were never able to be alone together.”
Jocelyn snickered.  “I think you could have solved that problem without going to such extremes.  You didn’t have to put my husband in jail.”
“I figured there was no way he’d ever get wise to us if he was locked away.  You and I should have been able to meet and stay cozy without anyone being the wiser for a few years at least.  It was nothing but dumb luck that the jerk got off with only six months.”
“Maybe so.  But now he’s out and free and ready to make my life a total misery.”
“So what do you want me to do about it?”  Gallagher sank back on the sofa.    “You women are such pains.  Always so damn helpless.  You do nothing but whine and beg morning, noon and night.  Listening to you makes me want to puke.”
Jocelyn broached the subject that had been on her mind all along.  “I’ve decided I’m moving out of my apartment before he shows up.  I’ve got to find someplace new to live.”
“So move.  Who’s stopping you?”  Gallagher reached for another beer.  “When you get settled, give me a call and let me know your new address.”
Jocelyn gave her companion an appraising look.  “Actually, I was thinking of moving in here with you.”
Gallagher shook his head vigorously.  “You can think about something else then.  No way you’re staying here.  I like having my freedom too much to have a roommate underfoot.  Besides, Connor isn’t that dumb.  The minute he finds out where you’re headed he’ll start to figure things out.  Then we’re both screwed.  He’ll never give up until he gets us back.”
“Who cares what he thinks?” Jocelyn argued.  “Even if he does get wise that we set him up, he can’t very well go to the cops.  He’s the one that committed the crime, not us.  All we did was to notify the authorities just like good citizens are supposed to do.”
Gallagher wasn’t having it.  “I don’t care what you say.  You’re on your own in this.”
Jocelyn’s tone grew more insistent.  “I’ve got to move, I tell you.”
“That part I don’t care about.”  Gallagher pushed her away.  “You’re an adult and can do whatever you want.  Find yourself some new digs and make yourself comfortable.”
“And that’s it?  You’re not going to give me any help at all in this mess?”
“Like I said, sweetheart, you’re on your own.”
“Then I’ll tell him what part you played in all this,” she threatened.  Do you think Connor will ever forgive you once he finds out you’re the one who ratted him out to the cops?  He’s going be coming after you for payback as sure as the sun rises in the morning.”
Gallagher sat up straight.  “No, you won’t tell him anything.  It’s not as though you were some innocent bystander.  You had as much to do with him going down as I did.  What the hell do you think he’s going to do when you tell him you were involved?  Say ‘thanks so much for letting me know’?  Please.  You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t go berserk and break every bone in your body.”
Jocelyn was close to tears by this point.  “Then this is it, you asshole.  I won’t be seeing you again if you’re not going to do anything for me.  We’re through.”
Gallagher only yawned.  “Bye, babe,” he said.  He emptied the can of beer into his mouth and watched unconcernedly as Jocelyn stood up ramrod straight and looked about the apartment as though searching for something she could throw at him.  Seeing nothing, she strode furiously to the apartment’s front door and then slammed it loudly behind her as she left.
“Good riddance,” said Gallagher in disgust.  He rose from the sofa, popped open another beer and switched off the television.
Connor, who had been watching in amazement as all this unfolded, turned dumbly to Deirdre.  She shook her head and then plucked at his sleeve to pull him away.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Valentine's Day Coming This Week

If one is young and in a relationship, it's an opportunity to display one's passion.  If one is old and single, it's the loneliest day of the year.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Sounds of Silence

For some reason this scene reminded me of the line in the old Simon & Garfunkel song that went "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls."  It's only fitting that the words themselves should be indecipherable.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty

“You’re probably not concentrating sufficiently on the proposed dream content before falling asleep,” opined Elicott.  “Either that or you’re trying too hard.  One way or the other, you’ve hit a wall.”
Once again Connor and the researcher were sitting across from one another in Elicott’s office.  Neither paid any attention to the sunlight streaming through the window nor to the sounds of students’ laughter echoing in the corridor outside.  A palpable atmosphere of distrust lay between them.
Connor didn’t bother to answer the researcher but instead stared impassively at him.  After what he had witnessed the night before in his dream of Moldova, he had dozens of questions racing through his mind.  He just wasn’t sure how to best put them.  “When you first interviewed me,” he said at last, “you mentioned a previous experiment that had taken place in Eastern Europe.  Could you tell me more about what went on there?”
Elicott jerked his head up sharply.  “The Moldovan experiment?  Whatever brought that to your mind?”  He began to stroke his goatee as he always did when nervous.
“How did it turn out?” asked Connor.  “Did they come up with any valuable findings there?  How did it all end anyway?”
“I’m not really sure of all the details.  I’d have to check my notes,” said Elicott.  He reached for the bottle of mineral water on the table beside him in an effort to hide his discomfort.  “That’s all over and done with anyway.  Whatever results they came up with were inconclusive.  That’s why we’re involved in our present research.  We have much more advanced facilities at our disposal here.  The East Europeans may have happened on an interesting subject for research, but they lacked the sophisticated personnel and equipment needed to follow through with it.  A shame really…”
“What the hell do you take me for?” Connor interrupted him.  “I want the truth.  So stop with the doubletalk and give it to me straight.  You know just as well as I do that something went very wrong in Moldova.  What happened to Catemir and the others?  How were they able to disappear the way they did?”
Elicott’s face went white as a sheet.  “How do you know about Catemir?  It wasn’t in any of the written records.  I only learned about it myself when I visited the hospital there and spoke to Nurse Chernyakov.”
“And just what did the nurse tell you?” demanded Connor.
“Not much,” Elicott admitted.  “She unfortunately possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of English.  Then too, though she appeared a very strong woman, she’d obviously been too deeply traumatized by all she’d seen to be completely coherent.”  The researcher recollected himself.  “But how do you know about Catemir?” he asked again.
Connor gave Elicott a twisted smile.  “I saw it in a dream.”
The professor fell back in his chair as understanding swept over him.  “So that’s what you’ve been doing in your dreams, is it?  You visited Moldova to investigate the experiment on your own.  No wonder you haven’t made any progress on your assignment.”
“Let’s just say I’ve been doing a little unauthorized traveling on your time.  Sorry if it’s against the rules, but how else could I find out what’s really going on here?”
“Oh, no.”  Elicott was vehement in his denial.  “Nothing at all out of the ordinary is happening here.  Perhaps nothing untoward occurred in Moldova either.   I’m certainly not about to put any credence in the garbled comments of an impressionable nurse.  Who knows what the poor woman may have imagined?”
“She didn’t look that impressionable to me,” Connor argued.  “And neither did that pasty faced little doctor she was discussing Catemir with.”
“What doctor?  I never met any doctor.”  It must have struck Elicott then that Connor might actually know more about what had taken place in Europe than he himself did.   His composure crumbled at the realization.
Connor stood up.  He looked past the framed Braque print on the wall to a corner of the room where a set of file drawers stood.  They were new and their chrome finish gleamed beneath the fluorescent light, but they nonetheless reminded Connor of the crumpled green cabinets he had seen back at the Moldovan hospital.  He had time to notice a key inserted in the lock of the top drawer before once again returning his gaze to Elicott who still sat badly shaken in his chair.
Connor knew the researcher hadn’t told him everything he knew.  For a mad moment he felt like lifting Elicott by his collar and slapping his face until the man finally gave up the information he wanted.  Instead, Connor forced himself to calm down.  Losing his temper would only bring the authorities.  It wouldn’t accomplish anything more than that.
Elicott looked up at Connor as though guessing what was going through his mind.  “I can’t tell you what I don’t know, can I?”   He fairly shouted the words.  “I was only in Moldova long enough to pick up the records we needed.  Two days I was there, that’s all.”
Connor stepped back.  A wave of revulsion swept through him.  “You stayed long enough to talk with the nurse.  You discovered something there had gone horribly wrong.  If you didn’t hang around to find out what, it was because you didn’t want to know.”
“I assumed all the data would be in the files,” Elicott said weakly.  He wiped his brow with a paper napkin.  “If the experimenters had adhered to protocol, and I have no reason to think they didn’t, they would have written everything down as it happened.”
Connor was unconvinced.  “Did you actually take the time to read through the entire record yourself?”
“I wasn’t able to read the original files because they’d been written in Russian,” Elicott explained.  “But that’s nothing unusual.  We sent it over to the Modern Languages department where a graduate student prepared a synopsis in English for our use.”
“A synopsis?” asked Connor incredulously.  “That’s all you had to work with?”
“It was more than sufficient for our purposes, I assure you.”  Elicott had regained something of his pomposity.  “And now, if that’s all, I suggest you let me get back to work.”
Connor could think of nothing else to say.  He turned on his heel and strode out the door without another word.

It was well past midnight when Connor returned to Elicott’s office.  Getting inside had presented no problem.  He had simply waited until everyone in the sleep center downstairs had dozed off and had then made his way to the stairwell at the opposite end of the basement from where the guard and nurse were stationed.  There were no security cameras on the stairs; he had already checked and made certain of that at lunchtime.
  It had taken Connor only a minute to insert an expired credit card in the doorjamb behind the lock.  There was no bolt, and the door had opened easily when he had applied pressure to it.  It hadn’t even creaked as it turned on its hinges. 
Connor had, of course, thought of visiting the office in one of his dreams.  In spite of his recent journey to the Moldovan hospital, though, he hadn’t been completely sure he possessed the necessary skill to pull it off.  In the end it had seemed simpler to resort to the tried and true method of staging a break in.  After all, he had thought grimly to himself, he already had some experience with that kind of work.  It was what had put him behind bars.
The key Connor had noticed earlier in the top file drawer’s lock was still in place.  He wasn’t surprised.  Like most academics Connor had met, Elicott hadn’t seemed the type to give much thought to security.  The possibility of being burgled had probably never once occurred to him.
It took Connor almost an hour to go through the contents of the drawers.  There were dozens of folders filed alphabetically, each of them bearing the name of one of the project’s participants.  Connor resisted the temptation to look at his own and instead opened Marguerite’s.  Here he found several sheets of lined paper on which someone – had it been Elicott or Reicha? – had hurriedly scrawled notes.  They were hardly scholarly in their content.  On one, Connor read, “All monsters spring from the unconscious.  It’s the imagination that gives them their form.”  And on another page, “Who can protect her from herself?”
Connor put the file back and then scanned the other folders.
Most of the other files contained nothing but test results and copies of application forms and photo ID for each participant.  It was only when he got to the letter “S” and pulled the file for Joseph Smithers that Connor found anything of note.  This was a typed report by Reicha detailing Smithers’s many neuroses and psychological problems.  Under “Conclusions” Reicha had noted “Intelligence tested slightly lower than normal.  Very open to suggestion, perhaps too open.  Bears watching.”  As he read this, Connor remembered the impatient slightly built figure who was always pestering Jacqueline with questions when she was too busy to answer.
Connor put all the files back as he had found them before carefully closing the drawer.  He wiped the metal where he had touched it clean of any fingerprints.  “Can’t be too careful,” he reminded himself.  He took a last look around the room to make sure he had left behind no traces of his visit.  Then he turned off the light and stepped silently into the deserted hallway.  He closed the door gently behind him and listened as the lock clicked shut.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Panasonic Announces Lumix S1 and S1R$PDP-Hero-Image-Desktop$
Last week Panasonic announced its two new full-frame mirrorless cameras, the 24mp S1 (shown here with the 24-105 kit lens) and the 47mp S1R. Both cameras boast some impressive specs that make it clear Panasonic intends to take on both Sony and Nikon in luring professional photographers to its new line.  The key features (taken from Panasonic's press release) are as follows:
  • Newly-developed 35 mm full-frame image sensor (approx. 47M for the S1R and 24M for the S1)
  • World's first support for 4K 60p/50p video recording in a full-frame Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera
  • World's first full-frame camera equipped with Dual I.S. (Image Stabilization)
  • Double slot for XQD memory cards and SD memory cards
  • Rugged triaxial tilt LCD
  • L-Mount compatibility with lenses from Leica Camera and Sigma
One feature that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves is that both models are advertised as fully weather sealed.  The lack of such sealing has been a major problem for Lumix owners in the past and one that had to be overcome if Panasonic wanted to be considered seriously as a professional alternative.

One question with any new camera is the number of lenses that will be available for it.  The L-mount capability should mean that a large number of Leica and Sigma lenses that are already in production will be compatible with these cameras in addition to any Panasonic itself will manufacture specifically for them.

Suggested prices are $2,499.99 (body only) for the S1 and $3,399.99 (body only) for the S1R.  A fuller description of the cameras and their features can be found in an article on Dpreview.

I currently use a GH4 and am a big fan of the Lumix cameras.  I don't think I'll be getting the S1 or S1R, though, since I already have a Nikon Df (along with a good selection of Nikon lenses) that's full frame and satisfies, at least at present, all my needs.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Late Night Food Carts

One can't help wondering who visits these carts so late in the evening.  Are they night shift workers on their lunch break?  Or perhaps they are simply hungry after a night on the town.