Its time for our annual fall camping trip. Last year it was brutally cold. We went to Stokes State Forest and Jake decided that this was the best place he’d ever been camping and wanted to go back. I reserved a campsite and got our permit in the mail yesterday along with too many brochures and warnings about bears. As I reviewed the “Bear Facts” I realized I needed to tell the story I promised a while back about an encounter with New Jersey’s largest land mammal.

The card published by NJ Fish and Wildlife which Jake looked at and said “why does it have boxes, are you supposed to check them off when you encounter a bear?”

Tim was always looking for an excuse to use this smelly rubber boat that he had acquired and during one of our seasonal camping trips he got the chance. The idea, Ala Deliverance was to park the car down river and hitchhike up to where we dumped the boat. We timed it so that we would have to spend the night along the river and finish up at the car sometime the next day. It wasn’t long before we got our ride. The driver, a young guy along with his mother in the passenger seat seemed a little off as we reached the back door handles but we needed to get up to that unattended boat so you make concessions. The guy drove incredibly fast along the winding road all the while arguing with his mother about smoking each others cigarettes. Tim and I were struggling to steady ourselves in the immense 1960s American car backseat. It was like an amusement park ride that you weren’t enjoying just wishing it would end. At least it was quick and soon enough we were saying our thank you’s and good byes in the parking lot of the boat ramp at the start of our trip, Hancock, New York.

We always get a late start and I blame this on Tim who has absolutely no sense of time. I had reserved a campsite at some campground on the Delaware that we needed to reach by nightfall and it was becoming increasingly unlikely that we would make that. If you know anything about the Upper Delaware you know that the New York/New Jersey side is pretty heavily populated and camping along the river other than at a campground is almost impossible. The Pennsylvania side however has miles of woods along the river from the bank on up the hill to the Delaware-Lackwanna train tracks. As darkness fell on the river we pulled the boat out of the water on the Pennsylvania side at a fairly hidden spot to camp for the night.

I think I was making spaghetti when I heard the first sticks breaking up the hill. I focused my flashlight and moved the beam back and forth but didn’t see anything. Back to draining the spaghetti when I heard more rustling up on the hill above us. This time as I panned my flashlight beyond the campsite I caught a very brief glimpse of a large animal shape. When I told Tim what I had seen he was very dismissive. “It’s probably just a raccoon” he said. I knew it wasn’t a raccoon, this was much bigger. Many minutes had gone by without hearing any noise so we decided to eat. As we eat, the unmistakable sounds of a body moving in the woods came back. This time I made Tim look up into the darkness as I turned on my light. As soon as the light went on we were confronted with an extremely scary sight. Thirty yards or so up the hill was a large hairy ass, apparently belonging to a black bear. I immediately switched off the flashlight and we began to panic. Lets make the fire really big I think was our course of action. We began burning up all our wood. We moved any food and the used plates and pots away from the campsite and waited. As we stood next to the fire the bear continued to move closer to our site. This was increasingly evident by the sounds of its breathing and low growl. Back and forth in a crescent shape methodically inching closer towards us. With our backs to the pitch black river, staring at the fire so bright we were blind to the steady sounds of the animal moving in the darkness. It was at this point that we decided we needed to leave. Grabbing our packs we rushed to the boat but as we trained the flashlight on the boat we screamed at a startled opossum within the boat! It hissed and we ran back to the fire. Aside from the hissing opossum we thought more about taking the boat out into the darkness and realized that wasn’t a good idea.

I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life waiting for that bear to come down to my campsite. Hours had gone by and still we didn’t see the bear. We heard it, but it never did confront us. At some point I said I’m going to sleep and I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep by the fire. You know how you just get to that point when sleep pretty much wins out over any looming catastrophe? Morning came and there was no sign that the bear had even touched the uneaten spaghetti sauce. As we packed up the boat and dragged it into the water we caught sight of the campground we were supposed to have stopped at just 100 yards away on the other side of the river.

This time I’m ready. I read the “Bear Facts”. I’ll have the food in the car at all times and at the first sighting of a bear, I’m going to sleep.

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I went down to check out Occupy Wall Street. My initial observation was that there were more gawkers, photographers and news people than protesters.

As I walked amongst the old hippies, crazy homeless and young idealists which make up the occupiers I tried to understand their message and motives for camping out in this little urban concrete quasi park. I rather quickly found out that there were at least half a dozen messages.

The most common message being stop Wall Street greed. Huh? How do you do that. The whole system is set up to make as much money as possible. The market is about greed. Some of the other messages were good. Stop Fracking, Stop polluting the water, the US government is owned by the corporations, etc, etc, etc.

It’s certainly proven that protests work when there is a clear message but when you write your message on a pizza box and the only clear message is Delicious Pizza, you have a failure to communicate.

Ten years ago between working at MoMA and going to the Whitney I had a brief stint at a horrible little museum near Battery Park. On that typical normal morning of September 11th I had gotten a coffee and sat down at my desk on the 20th floor of One Battery Park Plaza when one of the secretaries appeared in my doorway. “My husband just called and said a plane crashed into the north tower of the Trade Center.” It wasn’t yet 9 am and people were still filtering into the offices. Some of us went into a break room with a large view of the World Trade Center and watched the smoldering spot on the North Tower, everyone speculating as to what kind of plane and what could have possibly happened. When the crowed began wandering back to their offices I remained in conversation with one of the curators. All of a sudden we felt a rumbling and heard the distinct sound of a jet which simultaneously appeared in the frame of our window. It tipped to one side before leveling off and directly approached the South Tower.

I watched with my mouth open as the airliner disappeared into the building with a shimmer of glass particles like confetti. The whole scene reminding me of those science films of a sperm going into an egg. I remember the person I was with saying Oh My God and I heard others shouting as a fireball blew out the perpendicular wall on the east side. Immediately we were called into a conference room and told we are obviously under attack you can stay here or you can go. I was already on my way. Whenever I see trouble I hear a voice in my head that says GO! It’s always the people who stand around watching that die.

Riding my motorcycle to work that day was a fluke. I usually took the train and got off under the World Trade Center. Before running back to my office and grabbing my helmet I tried to call my girlfriend but couldn’t get through. I rode down the elevator with a bunch of crying women and ran to my bike. The streets were chaos. Pedestrians were directing traffic and gridlock was everywhere. I rode between cars, up on the sidewalk going through holes in the congestion like an NFL running back. I even rode up Fulton Street which was normally closed to traffic, sliding around on the fish slimed cobblestones as my rear tire searched for a contact patch. In my rear view mirror I could see the smoke spewing out of the towers. My inclination was to get away. Making it up to Canal Street, a cop stationed at The Holland Tunnel entrance blocked my way yelling “Its closed, the Lincoln too, try the GWB.” When I made it up to 175th Street, The George Washington Bridge was so backed up I saw no way of approaching it. I would go north until I could cross. The Tappan Zee was also impossible to get close to. Stopping a few times to try calling my mom and my girlfriend on the cell phone proved useless. Continuing north all that passed were emergency vehicles from upstate towns headed back to where I was coming from. I finally crossed the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge. Stopping at a motorcycle dealer that I knew of in the area to use the bathroom, all the employees were huddled around a TV in the showroom. I saw video footage of a tower collapsing. “Shit” I yelled “one of the towers collapsed?” They looked at me like I was from another planet, “Both towers collapsed, where have you been?” said an old mechanic. “I just came from there” was my barely audible reply. It was at this time that I found out that the Pentagon was also hit and was starting to realize that this was far more serious than I had imagined. It was now my mission to get home. My Triumph was so hot at this time from creeping in traffic that I let it out doing 90 mph on the Seven Lakes Drive through Harriman State Park. When I reached Suffern I was able to get a coffee and my call through. I told Micki to call my mom and that I would come by her work as soon I could. When I got to her work place I collapsed into a chair in a conference room with TV coverage of the events. I felt as if I had made it out alive. It seemed as though the world was coming to an end and that night I’m pretty sure was when our son Jake was conceived.

My house was on Raritan Bay across from the city. I could smell the burnt bones and building materials smell which I refered to as “that smell” for weeks afterward. I also heard, saw and felt the F-16s which were patrolling the airspace, turning around directly over my house. All this constant reminders of that day. They made us come back to work the next week. Personal vehicles and buses weren’t allowed in the area at that time and you had to take a ferry to lower Manhattan. Still the smell and the constant spraying of the dust by water trucks, all the while Christie Todd Whitman telling everyone the air was fine to breathe. Be patriotic, get back to normalcy and go shopping were the cries of the day. Little did we know that things would never be normal again.

Last week I received my 2011/2012 World Trade Center Health Registry Survey. They want to keep track of my health since I breathed some of that air that was declared fine to breathe. Yesterday I deposited a large check in the bank that was going to be held for 10 days, “The Patriot Act” said the Teller. Two months before she died my mother went to Mexico for cancer treatment and the TSA strip searched her because she didn’t want to go through the naked body scan machine. She had a nephrostomy bag and they didn’t understand it. So enjoy the 9/11 ten-year anniversary programming and coverage of that stupid wet hole in the ground memorial but remember to be afraid, not of the next terrorist attack but of the next hoop you’re gonna have to jump through to protect your “safety” and the constant erosion of your freedom.

I was raised completely without religion. My father was a Lutheran and my mother Jewish. My father likes to tell the story that when I was little I would tell people I was Lutherish. I wasn’t Baptized or Bar Mitzvahed and aside from really wanting a nativity scene when I was about 5, I never felt like I missed anything. Well, imagine my surprise when one day my mother came home with a sleeping bag and told me I was going away to Christian sleep away camp.

It was a beautiful July day driving up to Camp Koinonia. We passed all the famous resorts of the “Jewish Alps”, the quaint towns along the Delaware river and scores of fancy camps for well to do kids. However my daydreams of sitting around a campfire toasting marshmallows, listening to someone play guitar came to an abrupt halt when my father pulled into the dusty patch of land with a small building and a sign that read Koinonia. It wasn’t much to look at, really! I was introduced to the camp director and assigned a group. I waved goodbye to my family and wandered around the communal area waiting for my group to show up.

The way the camp worked was every evening all the groups show up at the base camp for dinner. The base camp consisted of some showers and a ramshackle plastic tarp roofed open air pavilion where all the campers ate dinner. After dinner the group would collect supplies (breakfast, lunch and water) for the next day and hike 3 miles at dusk along a rocky trail, across a rickety pontoon bridge spanning the lake and up a steep hill to their campsite. If you were lucky you didn’t have to carry the 5 gallons of water on your back. We were pathfinders and of course stayed in a tepee.

I was one of 5 kids in my group of 12 year olds. It was like culture shock for me being one of the only kids from the suburbs. The other 4 kids, two white and two black were from Queens, The Bronx and Jersey City. Three of them smoked and they all talked about the sex they had had. Some of these tough inner city kids were there for the entire summer. I was just there for two weeks. Every few weeks one of the kids would get a care package sent from home. The care packages would always include candy and a carton of cigarettes which the recipient kindly shared with his fellow pathfinders.

There was a lot of routine involved. Wake up and go to First Words (like a morning prayer service), remember this was a religious camp. I would sit on a stump and watch the mosquitoes biting my legs while listening, half asleep to someone read a prayer. We would then come back and make breakfast. Go on a hike. Go swimming in the lake. The first time swimming I dove into the lake and touched the vegetation on the lake bottom. When I reached the surface of the water and looked back towards the dock I saw my group putting on life preservers. One kid was actually shivering he was so scared of the water. I remember feeling very powerful at that moment.

Our counselor was a twenty-something guy named Dave. He was heavily into the whole Christian thing and constantly talking about the power of God. I didn’t realize how much all the Christianity was rubbing off on me at the time but my Mom told me that I was walking around saying “Jesus loves me” for months afterward. I liked Dave and we developed a bond. I think it was easier to talk to me than some of the other kids. I still have this letter and this piece of wood Dave carved for me 36 years ago today.

At the end of the session we went on an overnight rafting trip on the Delaware. It was an amazing experience that I would repeat 15 years later with my friend Tim, that time having a run in with a bear, but that’s for another post. When my parents came to pick me up I couldn’t believe how old they looked, they were 37 at the time. They couldn’t believe how dirty and skinny I was. Koinonia was one of those childhood experiences that you carry with you forever. It was the first time away from my family. I learned to start a fire, cook my own meals and live with juvenile delinquents, all whom I liked very much. I learned about religion, sex and smoking. But mostly I learned about camaraderie.


Phyllis Steigelman 1938-2011

While being lulled into a trance by the undulations of the Lincoln Tunnel toll ramp I was jerked into consciousness by a familiar long-lost name emblazoned on the side of a van. Bosco, the long forgotten chocolate syrup of my youth except the name in a different typeface and in a plastic squeeze bottle. I can still see the glass laboratory flask shaped bottle that in came in sitting on our white Formica dining room table.

I remember reading once that they used Bosco syrup in the shower scene in Psycho because it translated more like blood in black and white. The other popular culture reference that comes to mind is that it was George Costanza’s ATM password in Seinfeld. I have a personal Bosco experience that far outweighs these bits of trivia.

It was the Summer of Love, 1967. a lot going on in the world, but all meaningless to a little kid whose world extended to the boundaries of the garden apartment complex where he lived. I hung around with a bunch of kids and we played and got into trouble while our mothers sat in folding webbed aluminum lawn chairs smoking cigarettes oblivious to our adventures. One particular day while chasing each other around the perimeter of Tudor Court, which was flanked by two very busy city streets, one of the gang spotted a dark puddle in the gutter. As we all gathered around and stared into the glistening brown ooze that took up two parking spaces and enveloped two other parked cars the kid questions started. “What is it”?, “How did it get here”?, “What should we do”? Being the unofficial leader of the gang I proclaimed that it was Bosco. One of the kids ran to tell the mothers. Soon the mothers all got up from their lawn chairs and came out to the street. “Stay away from that stuff you don’t know what it is” “That’s backed up sewage” were some of the things being spouted by the mothers. Soon all the kids were led by their moms back to the safe confines of the court. After a little while when the moms got back into their conversation, I and a few of the braver kids were once again summoned by the allure of the street syrup.

Till this day I don’t know why I did what I’m about to tell you but I proceeded to roll up my pants and wade out into the chocolate syrup. As I swayed back and forth, foot to foot, to the cheers and chanting of the other kids it wasn’t long before the moms got up to investigate. The next thing I knew I was yanked out of the chocolate by my arm, my mother screaming at me that she told me not to go into the sewage and at this, with all the other kids watching, I defiantly said “It’s not sewage its Bosco!” This was answered with a slap. With tears in my eyes, humiliated in front of everyone, I called my mother a bitch. I can still see the open mouths of my friend’s mothers as I was dragged backwards to our apartment like a rag doll. I was then given my first and only taste of Ivory soap.

Looking back I can’t say that what was in the street in front of 6 Tudor Court was indeed Bosco. It was just my chocolate syrup of preference at the time. I can say that it definitely was chocolate syrup. It was not backed up sewage. and every time I see the word Bosco I will always think of that day and this story which I refer to as the Bosco Incident.

Fifteen years ago Tim and I went camping along the Batsto River on the Batona Trail in the Pine Barrens. We ran out of water on our second day and blindly started hiking down one of the dirt roads looking for a place with water. While carrying our packs on this hot day we soon realized that hiding them in the brush under a bridge and driving back with the car to get them later was a smarter plan. We hiked through cranberry bogs, hunting clubs and a deserted village. We followed a deep line in the sand for miles fantasizing that whoever was dragging a stick would give us some of their water. What a letdown when the line-maker turned out to be a tortoise.

Walking all day, delirious from dehydration we came upon a gas station, which happened to be closed. There was a soda machine that wasn’t working and we soon deduced that it wasn’t plugged in. You would have thought gold had been struck by the sounds we made when the lights came on and the ca-chunk sound was heard as the first can dropped inside the machine. We happened to have enough change between us to get a few warm Fruitopias which where long past their expiry date. Not caring, and past the point of sanitary concerns the cans were finished in seconds.

By the time we made it back to Batsto we had covered 29 miles. It was getting dark and we soon discovered someone had slashed the vinyl windows of my soft top Jeep to get at my radio. At this point I was too exhausted and uncomfortable to be angry and we still had to drive 20 miles back to where we had stashed our packs.

There’s nothing like driving down a tree-lined dusty road at dusk and coming upon a stopped vehicle with no way around it and then having another truck speed up behind you boxing you in to get your heart racing. Walking up to my slashed window a Piney spat on the ground and asked if I had any jumper cables. It was a scene out of Deliverance. Something didn’t feel right. The only weapon we had was a Leatherman tool which I handed to Tim. We never got out of the car and I said I didn’t have any cables. At this point an even scarier guy gets out from the truck behind us and starts toward us while the jumper cable guy begins making small talk about hunting for night crawlers. I notice that the right side of the road next to the leading vehicle is soft sand and small brush and I decide to go around him. The Jeep responded perfectly, which translates to it didn’t get stuck and we sped down the dirt road towards the marked place containing our packs. About a 1/4 mile down the road the dead vehicle mysteriously started up and we saw lights behind us. I floored the jeep and when we got to the little bridge which held our stash Tim jumped out collecting them and threw them in back. I didn’t stop again until we made it to some diner on Route 206 and were able to wash the taste of fear and stale Fruitopia out of our mouths.

I went camping last week in the Pine Barrens with my friend Tim and my son Jake. I don’t know why we go there. The terrain is boring, we’ve had too many bad experiences there and for some reason we always wind up at the Emilio Carranza memorial. There are also too many bugs. Being it was still April I figured that insects weren’t really a concern, but as Gomer Pyle used to say “surprise surprise surprise”.

After gathering kindling for a fire on the first night at Bass River Sate Forrest, Jake complained of something crawling in his ear. I looked and saw something disappear further down his ear canal. Feeling alarmed yet trying to put on an unconcerned face, I immediately went to find the Q-tips I knew I had packed. “I hear it moving and it tickles” he said as Tim and I looked at each other horrified. It immediately came to me, put water in his ear. I saturated the Q-tip and dripped water into his ear canal until it was filled. Suddenly a big Wood Tick crawled out of his water filled ear and I quickly scooped it up with the swab.

The thought of a small bug deep within your ear is bad enough, but a tick in your ear! There’s nothing like feeling embarrassed by the bravery of an 8-year-old.

The next day we went kayaking on Lake Absegami. Paddling through cedar swamps and watching snapping turtles and nesting geese was the highlight of the morning. We decided to take a break and landed on the far side of the lake. I happened to see another tick, this time attached onto Jake’s neck. For some reason I happened to have a tweezers in my pocket as well as some antiseptic (I could have been the perfect Let’s Make a Deal contestant) and removed the tick but not before catching a glimpse of another below the neckline of his shirt. Pulling off his shirt revealed another five attached to his upper body, except these were Deer Ticks.

We saw another tick attached just below his waistband. I swiftly removed each tick being careful to remove the head. I pulled Jake’s pants down and there on his scrotum was yet another tick. As I came at it with the tweezers, Jake, with all the grace of a choreographed martial arts move, deflected the tweezers away with one hand and with the other reached down, grabbed the tick between his thumb and forefinger and pulled it out himself. He said he didn’t like the look of the tweezers approaching his private parts. At this point we were all bummed out and wanted to return back to camp and find the shower facilities. Jake and I checked each other for ticks. Tim was on his own. I found a few more on Jake and he found one on me that hadn’t yet attached.

Jake declared this the worst camping trip he ever went on. In all fairness it was his fourth. On the other hand, Tim and I have been on much worse camping trips including one in the Pine Barrens which I will write about next time. All in all I didn’t think this trip was so bad. At least we didn’t end up at the Emilio Carranza memorial.

The first piece of photographic equipment I ever purchased was a Gossen Pilot 2 exposure meter. I didn’t even own a camera. All of my pictures were taken with my father’s circa 1960s Nikon FTn Photomic 35mm camera. The meter was notoriously unreliable and at the advanced age of 13 I was serious about my photography. Whether shooting girls field hockey for the school newspaper or taking pictures of the seedy Jersey shore neighborhoods near where I grew up, this meter was always with me. It got to the point where I could walk out of my house, look at the sky and say f/8-125 second, check the meter and I was dead on right. I could actually estimate fractions of a second. Sometime during art school a fancy Minolta digital meter wooed me and the Pilot was relegated to back up meter.

I was introduced to a lot of photographers and wannabe photographers while working in Bamberger’s photo studio. One such wannabe managed to get a freelance gig shooting fashion. She asked me to assist her, which meant she really had no idea how to go about doing the shoot. The location was outside Hoboken terminal. I brought along my exposure meters and set everything up for her and let her demean me in front of the clients all morning. When she asked for my help for the next shoot, I told her I was busy and lent her the Gossen Pilot 2. Sometime in the span of a week or so I quit Bambergers and never saw the meter again. That is until this package arrived at my door 25 years later.

Let me explain something. Bambergers was a department store chain which started in 1893. They were owned by Macy’s but kept their own identity. The flagship store in Newark, NJ was 14 stories and took up an entire city block. All of the advertising and catalog work was shot in-house in a giant photo studio which employed close to 30 people.Most of the photographers were paired up with assistants except for me and another guy named Paul Schaffer whose name would evoke chuckles during introductions, but would always take it in stride. I was a young kid out of college and Paul was an older guy who was embarking on photography as a second career. We were the 2nd assistants, the guys who got the dirty jobs, who fixed things and built sets and had to fill in for an assistant when they called in sick. Paul and I hung out and I even assisted him when he got a freelance fashion job. After quitting in a bad way, the only job I ever quit, it was Paul who picked up my last check and met to give it to me. Shortly after this I started my museum career and Paul and I lost touch.

Fast forward 25 years, add the invention of Facebook and Paul Schaffer found me. “I have something of yours” he said. He got it from the woman who borrowed it and he’d stored it for all these years. The meter arrived last week in pristine condition. Although it no longer works, I don’t care because it held its value. It no longer reminds me of time in fractions of a second, it does it in years.

Thanks Paul.

We all learn when we’re young that the lines in the sky are caused by water vapor from a jets exhaust which freezes at high altitude. These contrails are always thin lines which dissipate fairly quickly usually before we lose sight of the plane that created them.

I’ve been taking pictures outdoors with a view camera for about twenty years and if you’ve read some of my previous posts you know that standing outside looking at the sky waiting for the light to change is par for the course. Why is it that the first ten of those twenty years contrails were missing when I looked in my camera and now they are hard to miss? In the last couple of years I’ve also noticed elaborate grid patterns and arrays in the sky of these trails. The trails last for hours and slowly dissipate into low-lying cirrus like clouds.

If I’m a conspiracy theorist, my friend Tim is a PCT (Paranoid Conspiracy Theorist) He elaborated on the many theories as to what’s going on in the sky. These new contrails are not frozen jet vapor but an amalgamation of chemicals most notably aluminum salts and barium purposely being released by airplanes and they are known as chemtrails.

After lots of internet research including conspiracy sites, YouTube videos and radio shows like Alex Jones’ the two most common theories are:

1) Chemtrails are a government operation put forth to delay climate change by creating a barrier in the sky to reflect sunlight back into space, creating a sunscreen in effect. This idea was initially conceived by physicist Freeman Dyson in 1979 who at the time realized that there could be a human concern to this idea.

2) Proponents of the New World Order want the world population cut by 80% and they mean to get to that point by destroying the food and water supplies and contaminating the air by blanketing it with chemicals.

Both of these theories seem far-fetched to me, although if I had to choose I would hope it’s the first one. That said, the eyes don’t lie and somethings going on. Driving into this scene the other day I pulled over and grabbed my digital camera from the passenger seat of my car. One thing is for sure. I never saw a sky like this when I was a kid.

Think of that name and what images come to mind?

Yeah me too. Until 5 months ago that is.

My Family goes to bed early. I tend to stay up until midnight. On this particular evening in November my dog was acting restless. Her head making the vertical blinds clack back and forth and air barking, you know, the sound that says “I’m expressing myself but not in an annoying enough way for you to yell at me”.
I turn off the lights and head up to bed. As soon as my feet hit the top landing Annie starts full-out barking and I rush downstairs to quiet her down before the whole house wakes up. A few minutes of consoling and I’m back up to bed. Ten minutes later drifting off to sleep I’m alerted to the sound of sticks snapping followed by Annie, this time in fully heightened siren bark mode. Rushing back downstairs I grab a flashlight. Looking out the back windows into the yard I sweep my 100 lumen Cree light across the yard, nothing. At this point I assume it’s a deer and start to have doubts the dog will ever quiet down. After spending some time with her she quiets down and lays in her bed. Back up to bed I make a bathroom stop. While standing at the toilet, my head inches from the open bathroom window I hear the unmistakable sound of a man whistling. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It’s not just whistling as if calling an animal, but an actual tune which I quickly recognize as Yankee Doodle Dandy, except slow and somber like. I flipped off the bathroom light, grabbed the flashlight and switched it on.

“What the hell!” I screamed as I see a man looking up at me from below, his hands behind his back continuing to whistle the horrifying version of the patriotic tune. “What are you doing here” I yelled. He continued unfazed until I shouted “Get off my property” sort of like Clint Eastwood, except louder, more excited and in my underwear. At this the man stopped and said “Oh, OK” and turned, I could see the seat of his dirty chinos as he retreated into the far reaches of my backyard. Excitedly dialing 911 and telling of my emergency the operator asked if the man was wearing light-colored pants. My mind flashed back to the dirty chinos., “Was he an older gentleman?” she asked. “yes” I said to both questions. “That’s probably Dino, a man with Alzheimer’s who’s been missing for hours, I’ll send a patrol car to come and get him.”

Typical of my town in New Jersey five patrol cars show up with their lights flashing and radios audible from inside my house. The five cops rush my backyard like some kind of military operation with lots of shouting and their little Maglites ablaze. Standing barefoot on my deck trying to get their attention, one of them finally came over. I pointed with my light back to where I saw the man go. A few moments later they yell “we got him” and out through the thicket, flanked by two officers comes this confused little man wearing chinos and just a tee-shirt on this cool November night. One of the policemen shouts “Dino! what are you doing here”?” Dino answered ” hey, what are the cops doing here”? The police then took my name and number and told me “you saved a life tonight.” I pointed at my dog, “she deserves the credit” I said. We watched from my sons bedroom window as a van arrived to take Dino home. It was 2:00 a.m. It turns out that Dino lived two towns away and wandered about 5 miles from home to end up in my secluded fenced in backyard which is four meandering streets away from a main road. Getting to sleep wasn’t easy that night. Never have I experienced fear, anger, happiness and sadness all within a two-hour period. From that moment on, the mentioning of The Flintstones pet or Dean Martin’s nickname will always hold a different significance for me and my family.

I have a vivid memory of a visit to aunt Rose and uncle Dave’s house in Hillside. Outside by myself back when little kids were allowed outside by themselves, I spot a tiny gray ball on a patio drain, the kind with the perforated grate over it. Upon nudging it with my foot I’m surprised to find it struggle and squeak. I excitedly ran inside to get my dad. He discovered that it was a mouse which had gotten its head caught in one of the drain cover perforations and proceeded to extract the mouse’s head and let it go. Years later while working outside with my father he picked up a pair of work gloves from the floor of the shed and some squirmy little pink things fell out of a glove. He put them back into the glove and put it back where it came from. These experiences shaped my views about the value of life.

When I lived in Montclair with my dog Emma there was a mouse that lived in the insulation within the wall of the oven. Whenever the oven was turned on and it reached a certain temperature the mouse would dart out and race around the walls of the studio apartment before finding some impossibly small space to hide in. Emma would make that nail scratching on floor attempt to chase it but she was always too slow. The whole experience was like a hilarious pinball game that happened nightly and went on for months until one day it mysteriously stopped. Soon after, while moving the stove to clean I discovered our mouse, dead. Emma walked up and sniffed it and we just looked at each other silently mourning our nightly comic relief ritual.

A few years back in my current house while watching television I heard a rustling coming from the cabinet above the microwave in the kitchen. What could possibly be up that high? Upon investigating I found empty bags of rice, half eaten boxes of pasta and so many mouse droppings at first glance I thought they were one of the ancient grains my wife stocks the pantry with. The entryway was a small hole where the power comes in to supply the microwave. Something had to be done, we had a toddler and they were messing with our food supply. I looked at all the traps and poison at Home Depot and decided snap traps were the most humane. Setting them up in the basement proved to be the spot because in short order seven were killed. We remained mouse free for 4 years.

Last week I discovered a partially eaten sweet potato on the kitchen counter. This time I had surmised the culprit had climbed the ice maker water supply hose behind the refrigerator, jumped onto the coffee maker cord and Wallenda’d the cord to the kitchen counter top. Back to the Home Depot a whole new line of mouse traps were awaiting me. No longer do you need to see or deal with the mouse after it’s killed. In a totally sealed unit, you pull a tiny door and bait the trap, pull a lever and place on the floor. A mouse walks up a ramp to the small feeding cup and when it gets there, the ramp snaps up like a Murphy bed crushing the mouse against the back wall of the trap. The only way you even know you caught a mouse is an arrow pointing to “mouse caught” on the side of the trap. You are then supposed to throw the whole thing in the trash.

Five days and five mice later the killing stopped. On the seventh day Jake yelled to me from the basement, “Daddy you better come down here”. On the floor near an unsprung trap lay this tiny 2 inch mouse.

We started to wonder how the little mouse had died and all my past mouse experiences suddenly came to mind. I want my kid to be sensitive to life the way I was taught to be. Today I bought a Havaheart trap on Amazon and threw away those Kill-N-Seal traps. There’s something very wrong about not seeing what you kill. It’s not like I’ll never kill mice again during the next infestation. I just feel that its important to see them and clean up the mess afterward.

“Things could be worse. Suppose your errors were counted and published every day, like those of a baseball player.”
– Author Unknown

Since I’ve been making an unusual amount of mistakes lately I thought it would be a refreshing exercise to publish my own.

This is what happens when you develop film that you thought you exposed but didn’t. How do you do that? You load film in the film holders with the dark-slide showing exposed film (black) facing out Then you mix it in with all the other holders you shot that day.

This is the opposite problem. Make an exposure then put the dark-slide back in the holder the same way you pulled it out it (white) so it appears unexposed and then you use it again, double exposing that sheet of film.

Pushing down on the plunger of a cable release and it won’t go down means one of two things. Either you forgot to cock the shutter which is the better of the two, or you forgot to close the lens after focusing which in this case meant self-portrait.

I don’t mind making mistakes or admitting them because like the saying goes, if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make anything.

Seems there was always something waking me up at the shop. The rusty sprinkler system that always seemed to drip onto my bed. The mysterious alarm that would go off in the middle of the night. I could never figure out why and no one ever showed up but I did figure out how to silence it for a few minutes the third time it happened. Then there was the crack whore who kept bothering me to buy a carton of odd sized sandpaper which didn’t work very well and I still have in my garage to this day. My big mistake was giving her $10 for it which was an invitation for her to come by once a week and kick my window to try to shake me down for more.

I always kept my day job working at MoMA during these years. I would leave every morning and catch the train at Highland Avenue station, then I’d arrive back at 6:00 PM, eat and when the other guys got there we would work on kiosks and other jobs which we were starting to get in until about 11:00 PM. We did this every day with one night off for about 2 years. Sometime right after Y2K my friend Tim left his wife and moved into the shop. He slept in a sleeping bag in a television enclosure we built. It was fun having him there but after 6 months I felt the urge to move out of the shop and buy a house. The urge was actually brought on by scratching sounds emanating from the bathroom. Upon investigating and discovering a sick looking rat licking the condensation from the toilet bowl which hissed at me when I turned on the light my plans were set into motion.

I left, Tim moved into “the room” and stayed there a few years and we dissolved our business in 2004. It was around this time that Ernie was kicked out by his wife and moved into his shop. Using me as a model he sectioned off a small area of his space but without a shower, kitchen or proper building methods. He even moved some woman named Juanita in with him. Poor Ernie, last I heard he was in a nursing home, all his machinery sold off for back rent.

Tim moved out years ago but still keeps the shop as a workshop for his business. Going back the first thing that hits you is the smell. Part mold, part dust with a hint of something burnt. Everything stored for more than a few weeks takes on this smell and retains it forever. We joke now that we can’t believe we ever lived there. From a hat factory to a home for wayward men. Standing there I can still hear Ernie say “it aint easy baby” but now I add “but you get used to it”.

I wasn’t legally allowed to live in the basement of 575 Nassau Street but from 1998 until half of 2000 that’s where I called home. Two friends and I received a contract to build sales kiosks for a telecommunications company. We needed to start our own company and quickly find a workshop. We looked at a few places before I saw an ad for 2500 square feet for $450 per month in Orange, NJ. It must be a mistake I thought but when I went to see it and met the landlord, an ancient man who drove a two-tone Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, I realized it was perfect. Charlie owned the building since his own company manufacturing bags that inhibited rust on rifles was headquartered there. In the mid-nineteenth century the building was one of the original Stetson hat factories. We had most of the basement.

After cashing a rather large check we began to outfit our shop with wood and metalworking machinery. At this time I was going through a separation and needed to find a place to live. I carved out a corner of the shop, put down a floor, slapped up some drywall, put in a kitchen and added a shower to the bathroom. I moved in with my quiet pit bull Emma.

It took awhile before people started to speculate about my living there. We did keep late hours constructing the kiosks so it was hard to tell our comings and goings. Whenever I was asked if I was living there I always denied it. I learned that from President Clinton whose Lewinskygate was happening at the time. Only Ernie knew I was living there. Ernie was the New Orleans born machinist whose swarf covered machine shop sat next to ours separated only by a thin unlocked door. Ernie would always bring me coffee and want to hang out and bullshit until I said “I gotta do some work” whether I had to or not, remember I was home. Ernie would always sigh and say “it aint easy baby” upon leaving.

Sleep didn’t come easy my first few weeks at the shop. The building was divided into about 6 work spaces and some of the tenants kept crazier hours than we did. Billy the nut guy was directly above us. He would roast cashews once a week and seemed to drop full 55 gallon drums hourly, usually right above my head no matter where I happened to be standing. One of those drums must have had water in it because once a month he would spill it flooding my bathroom in the process. Frances the furniture re-finisher was another neighbor and the smells wafting down from his place were bad, but nothing compared to the weekly cashew roasting which I can only describe as a cross between urine and burning sneakers. The most annoying tenants for a while were the rap music guys whose hip hop recording studio on the top floor blasted out sampled riffs that I swear I can still hear in my head to this day.I quickly found out that there were worse occupants at 575 Nassau, the centipedes. I had never known centipedes this big and this fast. Some were 4 inches long and would move as fast as mice, which I also had. I would turn off the lights and see them moving across the floor and walls by the glow of my TV screen. The first few nights I slept with the lights on. After that I would just pull the covers up over my head. Then like everything else, you get used to it.

END OF PART 1