Louis Seaman and his friend, Joseph Polacek, Perth Amboy, NJ.

Louis Seaman and his friend, Joseph Polacek, Perth Amboy, NJ.
I took this photo of my uncle Joe and his friend Louie with a Holga.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Near Pocono Flats, PA

The Zorki Chronicles is now on sale on my author page at Amazon.com and Create Space. It will soon be available for Kindle download for just $3.99.

The picture is from "Near Pocono Flats, PA," a series I've been publishing on The Zorki Chronicles Facebook page. I'm going to also begin publishing them here so more people can view them.

The photos are meant to suggest locations and the vibe in the fictional town, Pocono Flats, PA, the setting of The Zorki Chronicles. PF is located at the intersection of Interstate 80 and the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It is near Centralia, the infamous ghost town created by a mine fire that started in 1964 and is still burning today. In fact it's probably going to burn for at least another 500 years, so if you're planning on visiting, you have plenty of time. I plan on visiting in a few days, to shoot video and do a number of readings from locations I wrote about in the book.

I first went to Centralia about 20 years ago. The first time I went there, I got sick from fumes coming up out of the ground. It was scary -- I was standing in an open area and a strong wind was blowing, so the fumes must have been pretty toxic. In some ways the story of The Zorki Chronicles took root at that time. Just about every year since then I've visited Centralia once or twice, sometimes more. Driving around the towns in the area gave me a lot of material to work with. I took notes and pictures but also just did a lot of walking around, looking, thinking, drinking coffee and wondering about what it would be like to live in this area.

Thanks for reading and please stop back. I'm going to be adding pictures and telling the "story of the story," about writing the book. I would deeply appreciate it if you would share the links to my Amazon Author Page and Create Space on Facebook, your blog, in emails,  and especially in conversations with your friends. The Zorki Chronicles is an indy project. You are my publicity and advertising departments rolled into one. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of advertising, so please help if you can.

P.S. Zorki Chronicles t-shirts and posters are in the works!

Peace out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wordle: The Zorki Chronicles (Novel) Here's a new Wordl I created for The Zorki Chronicles. It looks good printed as a poster, which I'll use at Saturday's Eastern Monroe Public Library Book Expo.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Primary Source

Here's a page scan of my pocket notebook from five years ago. I was taking notes for the Zorki Chronicles along with a list of things to pick up for my mom at Shop Rite. Some of the Zorki notes made it into scenes in the book. Now, five years later, I'm working through the sixth rewrite of the manuscript. The book is coming out in September.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

232 Pine St. Jersey City July 10, 1935

This photo was taken on July 10, 1935, outside the Sokol Hall at the corner of Lafayette and Pine Streets in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Sokols were an organization formed by Slovak immigrants to honor their heritage and provide opportunities to socialize. Marge Polacek, my mother, is seated on the front fender of the car. She is 17 years old and had graduated from Lincoln High School a year earlier--in those days if you were smart they let you skip a grade--sometimes two. Thirty years later, she enrolled in college, in four years earned a teaching degree, and taught elementary school for fifteen years before retiring. At the time of this writing she is 93 and lives near the high school where I'm the librarian. I stop over and see her nearly every day after school and sometimes we talk about Jersey City. She remembers events of 70 years ago more clearly than ones from last week. Time's a funny thing: most people assume once something has "happened," it's gone. I don't agree. I believe everything that has ever happened is still happening--we just can't access it, save for the imperfect vehicle of memory.

The photograph must have been taken by my grandfather, Joe Polacek, who has been pictured in other entries here. Joe only had a third grade education, but he had a reputation for being the smartest boy in his school up in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. He made it a point to note the date on the back of the photo. And it appears to be a day worth noting. My favorite guy is the one wearing his white hat at a rakish angle as he stands on the right side of the frame. Besides his sporting demeanor, how about the way the line formed by the brim of his hat forms an almost-perfect extension to the roof line of the house in the background? Subconscious acknowledgement of geometric synchronicity may have played a part in the choice of moment to snap the shutter of Joe Polacek's two-dollar camera. Amplifying the festive air, the man kneeling on the right side of the frame raises a just-drawn beer, its head still intact, while another empty glass graces the roof of the car.

My grandfather was a part-time bartender at the Sokol Hall--the only job he was able to find throughout my mom's four years of high school. She says she remembers him getting up every day he wasn't bartending and going out to look for work, sometimes traveling as far as Brooklyn. There were two other kids in the family, boys younger than my mom. My grandmother worked as a cleaning lady, first on Wall Street in Manhattan, later in Rockefeller Center, where she swore the faucets in the upstairs offices of the big shots were made of gold.

For years mom has wanted to go back to the old neighborhood, but I was always reluctant (okay, let's be honest, afraid) to take her, because from the 1960's until very recently the Lafayette section of Jersey City was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Metropolitan New York area. About five years ago, though, things began to turn around. And a misadventure led me back there and back to writing about these photographs. I'm a big believer in the value of misadventures.

A couple of weeks ago I drove out of Manhattan late at night, taking a different route than I usually do--this time through Jersey City. In the car with me were two people trying to give me directions from the GPS app on their phone. Each was saying a different thing, so it was like listening to two radio stations at the same time. Naturally, we got lost, and after a while I began to recognize street names I had heard my mom and grandparents talk about when I was growing up. I realized I was within a couple of blocks of the location in the photo, and outside the car, it really didn't look that dangerous.

The next day I went on Google Maps, looked up 232 Pine Street, and using Street View, explored the whole neighborhood. Last Sunday, I took a ride to Jersey City to have a look around, and found it perfectly safe. I got to talking with a guy who has lived a few doors down on Pine for the past four years and he told me about 40% of the buildings had been renovated. I also noticed new construction in each block. If the economy hadn't crashed in 2008, things would probably be a lot further along, but even as it is, there's a lot of cause for hope.

In this second shot, probably taken by my mom, my grandfather, Joe Polacek, joins his buddies. The composition of the image is remarkable for its geometry and organization of people and objects within the frame. From the peak of the roof in the background to the tip of Joe's starched white bartending apron, a kind of diamond shape is suggested. The front-to-back space is rendered beautifully, from Joe and the guy on the right's forward-leaning friendliness, through the reflection in the window above my favorite guy's hat, to the texture of the leaves on the trees climbing up the wall of the house in back. Cementing everything together is the man in the middle hoisted up by his chums. I wonder if he held some special place of honor that day, or was he just the lightest?

Somewhere, in another universe, it is still a balmy afternoon on July 10, 1935. Margaret Polacek has just snapped a picture. Her dad, Joe, is about to usher everybody back into the bar for one more round of drinks.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My New Story Available Online

Punchdrunk, my new boxing story is now available for download at Smashwords.com. It's free, and has also gone into distribution on Barnes and Noble, Kindle Store, Apple I-bookstore, and a number of other sites. If you have any kind of electronic reading device, check where you usually order e-books.

I really like the way the cover by Anja Gudic turned out. Anja is a former student of mine and now enrolled at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, where she is studying to be an illustrator. As you can see, she has great talent. I hope to work with her again.

Punchdrunk is the story of once-brilliant welterweight contender, Johnny Mullane, who has just gotten out of rehab. Johnny is considering making one more run at the title and he takes a bout on short notice to see what's left of his skills. The narrative takes place inside his head throughout the course of a six round undercard match against a much-younger Mexican fighter. His young opponent is an unskilled-but-tough slugger, for whom Mullane develops a strange fondness throughout the course of the brutal fight.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Johnny also has a PdD in Literature. He can hook off the jab with either hand and recite Shakespeare while backpedaling from an opponent. He just can't stop drinking.

I wrote and published Punchdrunk in one month -- taking a break from working on the Zorki Chronicles after completing rewrite number 5 just after Christmas. This week I entered the manuscript in the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Contest. The first "cut" is at the end of February.

In the meantime I'm working on another story and would like to publish three on Smashwords before going on with the Zorki in late Spring. I'll be previewing excerpts from Zorki on Create Space.com in the meantime.

Here's the link again to my author page on Smashwords. I'd really appreciate it if you would spend a buck to download my story. In fact, I'll buy you a cup of coffee the next time I see you. And if you like it, please consider posting a short review.

Also, if you're on Facebook, would you please post the link to my Smashwords author page and send it out to all of your friends? Thanks!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lynda Barry Rules

Lynda Barry, one of my favorite American authors, got a nice piece of recognition in the Times. Barry is now teaching writing and offers workshops around the country. Her students come from all walks of life and often never thought of themselves as "writers." Right on Lynda. Power to the People.




Monday, August 22, 2011

New Friend

This little cat found us on our walk this morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Photos from NYC

The first picture was taken into the window at International Center for Photography, where Elliot Erwitt has a terrific show of over 100 images. He's always been one of my favorite photographers and is one of the few truly funny photographers out there.

Also at ICP is an exhibit about Ruth Gruber. She was a terrific photographer in my opinion, whose work has not been acknowledged until now.

The second picture above was taken on West 43rd Street as I was walking toward Times Square. Both were taken with my iPhone.

In the morning I went to MOMA and one of the exhibits I saw was Boris Mikhailov's exhibit, "Case History." I'm still trying to figure out what I was looking at. I'm planning on writing more about his work here in the future but for now here's a link to a review of the show in the Times.

Dinner at Ayurveda Cafe on Amsterdam at 94th. There's no menu, they prepare a different meal every day and that's what you get. You can also ask for seconds as many times as you want.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Police Report

This morning I'm writing a police report about my neighbor's dog, who has already earned three citations for attacking residents of the neighborhood. Can't go into more detail here for obvious reasons.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Twitter Comments on Vegan Living

Here's a quick sampling of remarks directed at vegans on Twitter today:

-- Q: How can you tell a person is vegan? A: Oh, they'll let you know.

-- i'm not a vegan because i don't believe in killing animals for food and clothing. i'm a vegan because i want to live forever.

-- Shut up, Moby: How the "But I'm a vegan" problem is ruining progressives.

-- I'm not even remotely interested in eating vegan products until someone can figure out a way to make them scream out in pain.

-- i just ate a vegan cupcake and it was great but i feel bad putting chickens and cows out of work in these hard economic times.

-- I hate it when vegan women treat men like a piece of tofu.

Come to your own conclusions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pennsylvania Pickerel Frog

This pickerel frog must have been killed shortly before we found him this morning on our walk around Cherry Valley. At first I thought it was a leopard frog, however when I looked it up, the leopard frog has similar markings but the background color is greener. The resting heart rate of a frog is about 60 beats per minute. When they go into hibernation, it slows to 2.

Yesterday I researched the heart rates of different animals that somehow or another have made their way into the Zorki manuscript. I had no intention of including animals when I began the story, but in building the world of the novel it just made sense and one by one they began to appear. Miles, the narrator, is vegan so naturally he cares about animals, but their mention is just an incidental part of the larger story. Here are a couple of my findings: Cat 150, Hummingbird 250 at rest/1200 when feeding, Pit bull 90, Pigeon 600, Mouse 530, Elephant 30.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Greetings From Provincetown

Just returned from a week at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown. The workshop was on longform nonfiction articles, which according to traditional internet wisdom (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) are not of interest to today's readers. Not so, I found out, and I also found out a great source for the articles and a way to read them on your phone or Ipad: check out Longform.org and Instapaper.

Our instructor for the week, Alana Newhouse, managing editor of Tablet Magazine, ordered, er, suggested the other writers and I do some blogging, so I'm going to make an effort to post here regularly and see where it goes. Feel free to comment.

Norman Mailer called Provincetown the "Wild West of the East." In some ways I see his point, as in the nightly anything-goes parade on Commercial Street. Most scary thing I saw: a gaggle of old men dressed in babydoll drag. If I'd seen them as a kid I'd still be in therapy today. On the other hand, for as much as the open-minded-artsy image Provincetown tries to portray, the art on display all over town is hideously bourgeois, romantic, sappy, and, above all, safe. Paintings and photographs of sunsets, leaves, lighthouses, seascapes, ships, an occasional well-muscled man can be seen in every gallery and shop window. While a lot of them fly rainbow flags and tolerance slogans, there doesn't seem to be much of a reception for progressive art.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Cracked Mirror of Miles Ladin's Photographs

Miles Ladin's photographs of the rich and the beautiful are fascinating because they simultaneously show why celebrities attract some people and repulse others. I fall into the second category and for me Miles's images confirm the reaction I've had since I was a teenager. These days when I'm subjected to celeb images it is almost always against my will. I've stopped watching television altogether; likewise Hollywood movies. I avoid places like malls and big retail stores (for other reasons besides this). But I still have to deal with them in supermarket checkout lines, when driving in my car (highway billboards), visiting NY City (everywhere, especially subway stations) and at my Mom's house (television, though she usually turns it off).

I admire the edginess of Miles's photographs. It's interesting that he regularly publishes in magazines and newspapers with little or no backlash. Recently, his work was also featured in the book, Celebrity & Performance: The World's Top Photographers. The images presented here are more ambiguous, but I'm hoping you will take a closer look at Miles's work to see what I'm talking about. I'm going to contact him about running additional images here, because I'd like to write something about them. In the meantime, this is an introduction and you can go to his website,
Miles Ladin Photography.

Miles and I became friends about twenty years ago when we both studied photography with Larry Fink. While he is not a hardcore traditionalist and occasionally shoots digitally, Miles continues to produce most of his work using Nikon 35mm cameras, making both traditional gelatin silver prints and large scale ink jet prints from scanned negatives.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Double Rainbow

7:00 p.m. this evening, from our back patio. Viva le snapshot.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Martha Posner

Martha Posner is showing at Dalet Gallery, 141 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA, from April 30 – June 6, 2010. Opening Reception: Friday, May 7, 5 – 9 p.m. Gallery Talk: Saturday, May 15, 3:00 p.m.

Martha Posner’s work disturbs me – in the best possible way. Much of the time, I don’t know what the hell to make of it. I’m not sure what it’s about. It bothers me. And that’s a good thing. I think that’s what art—at least some art—should do. Robert Rauschenberg’s work has that effect on me. So does Francis Bacon’s. So do the stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka. That’s not bad company Martha.

When I drive down the long dirt road to her farm to visit Martha or her husband, photographer Larry Fink, I’m always tempted to sneak away and peer into her studio upstairs in the 1812 barn to see what’s cooking. And cook she does, melting, stirring, then brushing beeswax from bubbling crockpots onto the dresses, shoes, and other, more amorphous forms she has mounted on wire armatures.

On my recent visit to talk about her work, she's not cooking -- she is in the studio preparing everything for transport to the gallery. Strewn among the quiet figures that feel like they are slowly turning and lifting, are screwdrivers, pliers, paint, nails, brushes, tattered clothing, tree roots, and older sculptures and paintings. On a small table in the corner, laid carefully next to a pile of two dozen not-so-neatly-piled paintbrushes, are a dead bluebird and a dead cedar waxwing. Delivered by Martha’s cats as presents, for now, they are to behold. Eventually, they may become part of an assemblage.

When discussing Martha’s sculptures recently with another artist, the person said to me, “I can’t understand why she would make her work out of materials that are impermanent.” Looking around her studio today, I remember what I said, and why I said it: “That’s exactly what attracts me to her work.”

Martha tells me the figures in her new series have come together quickly after she thought about them for months while working around the farm and tromping up and down the surrounding hills with her Yellow Lab, Max.

Several years ago, Martha completed a series of sculptures entitled Physical Memory, a phrase that seems to apply to all of her work. Like memories—my memories at least—her constructions feel incomplete, unfinished, unresolved. The materials and colors she uses suggest familiar, fundamental things: dirt, blood, hair, feathers, and bone. While familiar, in combination they both repel and attract. I’m drawn to touch them, yet a little frightened. “The last thing I would want,” Martha tells me, “would be for someone to think I’m trying to make angels.” She grits her teeth, as if dreading the thought.

What she does want to explore, she explains, is the “deeply physical and sometimes painful process of crossing between two worlds.” While her figures have both human and animal features, to Martha, the “categories are porous.” Although she doesn’t come across as a mystic, Martha’s work asks the viewer to wonder why wouldn’t spiritual and physical transformation be possible? The figures leave me without an answer, but their physicality has a resonance that causes the question to linger in my mind. Martha Posner’s work is of this world, but it’s also of another world—one I’m still trying to define. I hope I never succeed.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Uncle John Polachek, Roselle Park, NJ, Circa 1960

Photocommentary is back. Upcoming posts to include more scans of family pictures, a write up on artist Martha Posner, photos by Zev Jonas, Jonno Rattman, Erica Luisi, Larry Fink, Annalisa Gonella, and more.

For now, I hope you enjoy the postwar security of my Uncle John in his parents' back yard in Roselle Park, NJ. He only kept that '57 Chevy (which was orange) another year or two because his two sons, Joe and John Jr., were getting big. I love the way the crease on his pants and the zipper on his bomber jacket line up with the trees in the neighbor's yard-- not unlike the way the trees line up with the suspender and leg of the little boy in Diane Arbus's famous 1960 photograph Boy with Toy Hand Grenade, Central Park. Of course my grandfather, who took this photograph, was not the sophisticated photographer that Arbus was, but his instincts were pretty good, eh?

My Uncle John had been in the infantry in World War II, notably the invasion of Italy. His eyes are just shaded by the brim of the fedora, allowing him the relaxed expression and self-assured stance of someone who has been on the winning side. In his right hand and echoed so nicely in the shadow on the car door, he cups his cigarette. GI's were taught to do this in order that the glow from their smokes would not give away their position at night.

Overhead, the neighbor's laundry waves like Tibetan prayer flags, thanking the oil yards in Bayonne, the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery in Newark, and the Kelly Type Foundry in Elizabeth, where my Uncle John and my Grandfather worked, for jobs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Uncle Joe and his friend Louie, Perth Amboy, NJ

That's my Uncle Joe on the right, at his friend Louie's house in Perth Amboy New Jersey. The picture was taken sometime in the late 1990's with a Holga. I had to do quite a bit of repair work to the file after scanning the negative, which was in pretty bad shape. So I'm not sure whether using the Holga in that instance was a good idea -- they create a distinctive look to the images but if you're not willing to work a lot with what you get on the negative, the results are usually very muddy and, for some strange reason, full of spots. I probably spent a good half hour in PhotoShop just getting rid of the spots. If you're not familiar with Holga images, notice the way the focus falls off around the edges, and the vignetting in the corners.

Of course all of this technical stuff is skirting the main thing to be discussed about the picture, namely my Uncle Joe. He's the reason I became an artist. I'll be editing this post with more of that story when I get some time. I recently set up my new digital studio, with a film scanner, printer, etc., and I'm looking forward to posting more Holga images scanned from film, along with wide-lux shots and pictures taken with several other cameras.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Erol Morris NY Times Blog about Photographs

Documentary filmmaker Erol Morris has begun an interesting blog for the New York Times about the hidden truths of photographs. He discusses the now-famous image of the hooded man from Abu Graib prison in Iraq as well as family snapshots, photographs of the Lusitania, etc. Hundreds of Times reader comments follow Morris's essays.

Morris's documentaries include The Fog of War, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Mr. Death, Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and A Brief History of Time.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Josef Polacek, Roselle Park, NJ, 1969

I could write at great length about the genius of applied geometry that went into the composition of this picture, which I believe was taken by my Uncle Joe. But it is even more interesting to know that on this fine September afternoon my grandfather, painting calmly at the top of the forty foot extension ladder, was 78 years old.