Monday, March 30, 2009


This forsythia put out a mere two yellow blossoms the spring after I transplanted it to Rockaway. It started out in a feta-cheese barrel in Astoria, spent a season in Little Italy, and here it is now. There are gardeners who, in such a tiny yard (two square yards, actually), would not give so much space to a plant that blooms so briefly, but that first yellow is worth it to me after the winter. It ignites the spectrum.

I hope the forsythia will set an example for the wisteria, which bloomed for the first time last Labor Day, out of season: a single fragrant chain of an indescribable color for which there is no precise word that doesn't rely on some other flower (violet, lavender, lilac, heather, hyacinth, hydrangea ...). It's a well-established plant: the vine climbs over the roof and leaps to the house next door, and its roots snake under the house and shoot up on the other side. That freak late-summer blossom came after I had cut the vine back, so this spring I pruned severely, hoping to scare it into wisterical bloom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I went out to Rockaway last weekend for the first time in months. The bungalow had not burned down, and in fact I had left it fairly neat. I said hello to the dog across the way, Sam, and to the cat down the walk, Buster, and visited with a few neighbors, and raked and bagged leaves. I got there just in time for the first forsythia blossom. The forsythia is going to be amazing this year.

I was also delighted to see that my favorite gossip columnist, Dorothy Dunne, is back in the Wave, and that she is in good form. On St. Patrick's Day, she went to see Cherish the Ladies, "an astonishing array of virtuosity, instrumental, vocals and stunning step dancing," she writes. "It was an interesting and enjoyable program, a little long."

I have been cleaning my links, and added a new one: Cook the Wolf, a food blog by the highly entertaining Emily Nunn, who lives and eats turnips in Chicago.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


This excellent structure is nothing other than a garage on the campus of Fordham University in the Bronx. I had gone to the Bronx to see the Orchid Show at the botanical garden, but despite my intention of getting there early, I arrived at prime time on Sunday afternoon, and was discouraged by the line of cars waiting to get past the booth and into the parking lot. Fordham is right across the street from the Bronx Botanical Garden, so I circled around, found a parking spot on the street, swanned past the security guard, and crossed the campus on foot.

Fordham is a Jesuit institution, which explains why everything was closed on Sunday. The campus is huge, with medieval-looking stone buildings and cut-glass windows, libraries, train tracks, an entire football stadium (Houlihan Park), baseball diamond (Murphy Field), and soccer field. It even had its own seismic reading station. The only people I saw were two middle-aged gray-haired men, who perfectly fit the stereotype of the Irish priest, and who approached me to ask if I was wearing gloves. I looked down at my hands—was it illegal to be on campus bare-handed?—and confessed that I was not. They said that it was all right—they'd asked only because they'd found gloves on the sidewalk. I wonder if they would have fit me.

After discovering the Jesuit parking garage, I crossed the street and paid twenty dollars to get into the Orchid Show. I would have been perfectly happy to stay outside and wander the grounds for only six dollars, but now my hands were cold, and here were the orchids, with a lavish Brazilian theme and lines of people, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, crowding around to admire them.

I learned one interesting fact at the Orchid Show: the vanilla bean comes from an orchid. I wonder if I could have learned that at Fordham.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Don't let this happen to you!

I gave notice at the garage last week. I will have to go back out on the street in April. I regret it already. I'll miss Julian and Julian. But it hasn't always been perfect at the garage. They tell you to call the night before you want your car, and then you call and it's busy or no one answers. Or someone answers but when you get there they don't have your car, and you have to stand there while other people are picking up or dropping off cars, and there's nothing to do to console yourself except take pictures.

I took the car on a short excursion to Bayonne last week. I'd only ever been to Bayonne once, accidentally, many years ago, when I was driving from New Jersey to Manhattan and I thought that, just for a change, instead of taking the Lincoln Tunnel I would take the Holland Tunnel. I thought it would be more picturesque, that it would have tulips planted outside it or something. I wound up in a traffic jam on the truck route through Bayonne at night.

Somewhere recently I saw a map of Bayonne that showed a small park or bird sanctuary on the water. This is what I was determined to find. I met a friend at a diner on Broadway, the main street in Bayonne, which is a good-sized peninsula with the Hudson (or, rather, New York Harbor) to the east, the Kill Van Kull (and Staten Island) to the south, and Newark Bay to the west. The town kept reminding us of other places: it was a lot like Staten Island; certain corners were reminiscent of West Twenty-fifth Street in Cleveland; and I flashed at one point on Genoa, not because Bayonne looks the least bit like Genoa but because I was shopping for a cheap watch, which is something I did once in Genoa. There are a lot of jewelry stores in Bayonne, and a lot of dollar stores, and a lot of vacant storefronts. Also one bookstore, lots of churches (some with domes), and plenty of pizzerias. And hot-dog stands.

In a hobby store, a nice woman directed us to the bird sanctuary, Rutkowski Park, on Newark Bay between Bayonne and Jersey City. We had to go around a gazebo and enter on foot. It was exactly what I was hoping for: a boardwalk over a swamp (which, of course, they now call a wetland), with two little duck blinds to view the wildlife from (only there wasn't much wildlife to view), and a tiny industrial beach looking across the bay to the cranes in Elizabethport. There was a huge yellow boat launch, and some shrubs with pink branches, and scads of Canada geese, honking away. The tide was out. Besides geese and gulls, we saw three birds pecking around in the marsh that looked like extra-large long-legged plovers, with black and white bands at their necks. We identified them on a placard of illustrations posted on the boardwalk: killdeer.

Part of the reason that I found Bayonne so satisfying, I think, was that a few nights before I had had a dream that I was on a hike with some friends. The trail reminded me of Cinque Terre: it was cut into the rock of a sheer cliff down to the water. Trees were blowing in the wind, and birds were surfing off the leaves. "You have to see these birds!" I told the others, but when I went to point them out, the tree crashed down off the cliff, and so did another one farther along the trail: it was an avalanche. We were safe, though, because the trail was covered. While my friends were making Boy Scout-like rescue efforts, I saw people below in the water, in great swells, swimming, and remembered that I hadn't packed my bathing suit. Then I noticed that, to the right, the avalanche had taken the roof off what looked like the New York Public Library: I could see the reading room. To the left were train tracks, as at Grand Central. I hoped I had two shots left in my camera, because libraries and trains are two of my favorite things. Then I saw a flock of big colorful birds in a small tree, and said "Look!" and they all flew away.

Bayonne was not quite my dream come true, but I did find an elegant ten-dollar watch and add a bird to my life list. And there were those pink trees. At one point we drove over a funky bridge and I realized we were crossing railroad tracks. And on my way out of town I passed the Bayonne Public Library, a veritable temple of literacy, with a portico and classical names carved high on its facade. And, because I hadn't done laundry in so long and had had no clean underwear that morning, I happened to be wearing my bathing suit.