Monthly Archives: August 2011

15 million-year-old scallop – Calvert Cliffs, MD

The Calvert Cliffs, along the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland, can be seen on John Smith’s 1612 map, a mere spit ago in the expanse of the eons.  The story here starts far deeper in the past, 15 million years back,  in the Miocene epoch.  At this time, North and South America were one, and a shallow sea covered this region………………

By chance, the eroded earth here is slowly exposing millions of the creatures that once inhabited this sea.  The eons-old ocean floor is now part of a state park and is accessed by a two-mile hike through forest and marsh.   The cliffs are encrusted with fossils.  They are familiar shapes – scallops, shark’s teeth, crab shells, coral…    They are so mundane that it’s difficult to accept that they are so old.  On my visit, I was initially disappointed by this familiarity-  these are everywhere.  we eat these.   I was hoping for bizarro prehistoric monsters.

You are allowed to take fossils from the beach.  I took an over-sized scallop shell with some barnacles on it.  It now sits in my room.    It looks like nothing.

I dropped it once while moving.  I imagined it shattering and thought:  this thing has passed 15 million years unscathed, and my careless ass just wrecked it in a single motion.    In the end it IS just a seashell.  But millions of years are hard to deny.


Balancing Quarters

There’s a story to this –

A friend of mine owned a great place called Stain Bar on Grand Street in Williamsburg.  I drank there, had amazing conversations there, saw the night come to morning there, sang and played guitar there, had many shows there, barbecued there – saw summer and winter pass there.  beneath the steeple of the nearby church.

One day in March, 2005, I met a singer/banjoplayer/accordionist with whom I collaborated and played – warehouse parties in the industrial backwaters of Brooklyn, etc.  The experience re-awakened my passion for playing cello.

I played an outdoor show in the backyard, and my sister came.  The next day I drove a good friend to an early JFK flight to PDX.  –  before the last day at a job.

I met my wife there.  At an open mic night in an oppressive July.

This sculpture was in the backyard of Stain Bar.  When they shut down I never knew what happened to it.  I was pretty much sure I’d never see this again.  But this past Saturday, I went into the backyard of a Mexican place in Greenpoint and there it was before me!

By chance, I bump into people I know about every six weeks, either on the street or the subway.  But never before have I run into a sculpture at random.

I don’t know the name of the artist responsible.  If you know, please let me know.

McKeesport, Pennsylvania






Like so many Ohio Valley boom towns of the Industrial era, downtown McKeesport, Pennsylvania, has suffered a long and sad decline, gradually sinking back into the earth which fueled its heyday- when Appalachian coal and steel fueled the nation.

The New York City Tornado as seen from Forest Hills, Queens

MacDonald Park - the day after the tornado


September 16, 2010 –

It all happened within 5 minutes….   At about quarter to 6, without warning, during the height of the evening rush, the most violent storm in NYC’s recent memory tore across Staten Island, Brooklyn and central Queens.  One tornado, with winds of 80 mph sent rooftops flying in Brooklyn, and a second tornado touched down in Queens, combined with a macroburst with winds in excess of 120mph.  There was one tragic fatality, 1,500 trees were lost, 3,000 lightning strikes were counted, and 911 fielded 24,000 calls in the three hours following the storm.

108th Street Forest Hills, moments after the storm

The sky was getting dark, but having heard nothing on the weather forecast, I went out to the supermarket.  As I walked back there was near constant thunder and I almost ran to get home, feeling the impending intensity in the air- the charge was stronger than any other I’ve felt.  I hurried up the front walk of our apartment just as the first big drops were falling and by the time I made it upstairs, water was blasting through the windows.  Even after I closed them, water was coming THROUGH the air conditioner.  You could see nothing outside but a dark-green and grey swirl and it sounded as if someone was punching the glass, trying to get in.  The wind seemed to come from everywhere.  And then it was suddenly gone.

Crushed van after the NYC tornado

Almost immediately, the sirens began, and I’m sure many were injured.  Very sadly, a woman from Pennsylvania was killed nearby in her car.  Our front walkway was barricaded by fallen trees, which was the general scene everywhere.  Every block was littered with trees, many of them huge and ancient.  A few windows in our building were smashed out.  Eerily, there were also a number of shoes and umbrellas laying around-  discarded as people ran for cover.  In the air was the smell of fire.  I must have seen more than 60 damaged cars, and about ten which were completely crushed.  Many streets were  impassable, and a traffic nightmare quickly ensued-  total gridlock, people going the wrong way down streets, pedestrians everywhere, and off-duty cops trying their best to keep the peace.   Someone told me it took him one hour to drive two blocks.

Venerable tree on Continental Avenue cut down by the NYC tornado

The general sense on the street was one of disbelief, as many homebound commuters emerged from the subway totally unaware of what happened, the unique Forest Hills blend of trees and urban-ness mangled out of recognition.  As night fell, the scene became more chaotic still, with snarled traffic and constant sirens lasting until well after midnight.  Firefighters from other neighborhoods were having trouble navigating the bizarre address system of Queens, and worse, could barely fight through the crowds.  I overheard on a police radio that, among other incidents, a woman was going into labor a few blocks away.

Up at Queens Boulevard, a few stores had lost their windows- some had overturned shelves and puddles of water.  Many signs were damaged and some teenagers were gleefully carrying a huge green “Yellowstone Blvd” sign that had fallen.

Outside PS303Q after the NYC tornado

After midnight, there was a bit of peace, but within an hour around 7am, the chaos returned full force.  All told, however, we were lucky.  It is amazing, though sad, that there was only one fatality- that almost everyone managed to stay clear of all the falling trees is miraculous.    Far worse things happen all the time around the world.  Still, the words on everyone’s lips as you walked through the neighborhood the next day were best summed up by what I heard an elderly woman say in a thick Russian accent:  “In my life, I never seen nothing like this”

In comparison to the storms that ravage other parts of the country this was nothing.  Sadly…


More pictures here: