Minus A Mentor

October 6th, 2015

Ford Torino in front of Home Depot in Rochester, New York

My cousin tries to organize a yearly “family reunion.” This year I suggested she just call it a “family picnic” because one year is not long enough for a reunion. Well see how much sway i have when the email invite comes next year. I have about fifty cousins and of course they all have children so we have to wear name tags. My aunt used to bring a giant percolator for coffee but she has passed on so this year we had Wegman’s Expresso. At the coffee table I found myself between two teachers, cousins of mine, and those conversations always go in one direction with two enemies. Overbearing parents and state and federal curriculums. Common Core and No Child Left Behind carnage.

My painting teacher started his career teaching elementary school students and he discovered that kids have an innate sense of color and design. When he switched to teaching adults he had to start undoing the grade school damage. He was my mentor as well as a friend and I miss him. Without his actual voice I rely on his abstracted voice. Instead of hearing him tell me to trust my eyes I am learning to trust my eyes.

Big Flats

October 4th, 2015

Pumpkins in field near Big Flats, New York

Sam lives in a home with four other young adults. The five are classified as autistic but, as with everything, the boundaries are fuzzy. We drove down to Elmira to visit him on Saturday. At first it was hard to tell the aides from the clients. That distinction becomes clear fairly quickly. The clients are more interesting. Sam is lucky. The proportion of aides to clients is weighted heavily in his favor and the aides genuinely like Sam. How could they not? He is so sweet.

Sam lived with his parents, friends of ours, for more than thirty years and now this is his home. He is happy here. He is healthier, much thinner and calmer. Sam took us up to see his room, his computer, game console and tv with the connection ports in the front where he likes them. Sam has always been a computer buff and he calls us every time Apple has an update to make sure we know about it.

An aide gave Sam his medication and we took off. He had an agenda. First stop was Five Guys, a hamburger joint. They pride themselves on their fries. They keep the skin on and use only peanut oil. The three of us ordered grilled cheese and fries and we each had a pop. Next stop was Target where Sam bought some new headphones, a gallon of grape juice with no sugar added and a big box of Scooby Doo graham crackers. We spent a good part of the afternoon in the store and had a ball. In fact I bought a ball, one of those size 5 soccer balls.

Memo to self: Elmira, Horseheads, Big Flats, the southern part of New York is gorgeous this time of year. Wear your camouflage and you’ll fit right in.

Loudest Note

October 3rd, 2015

Claude Bragdon's Universalist Church in Rochester, New York

Martin Edic’s friend, Lucia Guarino, had the nicest stop on the Landmark Society’s tour this weekend. Her Capron Street condo in a former canal warehouse is fabulously decorated, has a perfect layout and a rooftop terrace with a great view of downtown. And she was there in person to welcome the throngs. The tour wasn’t as spectacular as last year’s but it did get us out to new Edge of the Wedge lofts, the Cub Room and Local Meat Market.

It was hard for me, an ex-Catholic, to appreciate the Claude Bragdon designed, Arts & Crafts, Universalist Church. Where is all the iconography, the Stations of the Cross, the heavenly aspirations? It was kind of fun to get into the old National Clothing Store where the new Holiday Garden Inn has set up shop. The National was always a step above Sibley’s and McCurdy’s. I remember my mom picking out a pretty adventurous sport coat for my Confirmation. I was nine or ten and had some input but she had great taste. This was a wide striped cream and maroon number making me the loudest note in the class photos.

Our First Friday route has to be rethought with the closing of Lumiere’s gallery. The photo gallery was one of our favorite stops. R Gallery, next door, had a solo exhibition of sculpture and installation by RIT alumni and Dedalus Foundation Fellowship recipient Cecily Culver. Her work “aims to shift viewer perspective and celebrate the mundane phenomena of the everyday” and it did that.

Pete Monacelli’s “Midtown Plaza” works on paper at Richard Margolis’s next door gallery looked fantastic. And on top of that Pete was holding court with a small crowd gathered around him in the center of the room when we got there, talking first about Midtown, his love of the city, and the changes he has seen in his years here. The conversation quickly swerved to Ad Reinhardt’s cartoons and then Thomas Merton’s letters to Ad Reinhardt. And then the many facets of Thomas Merton who was born one hundred years ago. Someone said, “he sounds like a Unitarian.” Please, the Catholics need all the help they can get. There is a show of Merton’s “Zen” photos at Nazareth College, up until November 4th.

A Few Dings

October 1st, 2015

House on Prince Street in Rochester, New York

Geri’s son, Sam, called to see if we had upgraded to OSX El Capitan. He was doing so as we talked. I might wait a few days and see how the reviews go. We had a few hiccups with the last update. We plan to visit Sam in Elmira this weekend so we’ll hear all about it.

We helped close up the street pool this morning, piled up the chairs, took the ladder out and put the diving board in the pump house. Peggi is in charge of the chemicals this year and she found the PH was a little low so we stopped down to our neighbor’s place to ask him how we should address this. He’s is a chemist so the answer took about a half hour to get to.

I’m not sure exactly what happened at the end of the gig last night. Either someone tripped on the cord for the Zoom recorder, maybe the upright bass knocked the recorder, but it and the stand it was mounted on fell toward Bob’s brand new guitar and it has a few dings in it.

Ossia has their first program of the new year tonight. They’re free at Kilbourn Hall. This one finishes with a Steve Reich piece. We are going to have to hustle home to catch the NWSL final between Kansas City (Heather O’Reilly‘s team) and Seattle. And there is another 20th Anniversary OJ show on tonight.

Big Decisions

September 29th, 2015

Fallen chestnuts in the woods

The Creative Workshop is offering an open studio in Fred Lipp’s former classroom. Tonight would have been the first night of a new session with Fred. He died near the end of the last round and the idea of showing up here to paint without him and his incisive guidance is absurd. You can pay by the session so we decided to give it a whirl.

I brought in some paintings that I was working on during that last session. I had been looking at them all summer and I knew pretty much what I needed to do. Mostly small things, Annoyances that kept drawing my attention. But still, questioning a painting, determining that something is wrong and then making that correction feels like big decisions without Fred.

“I Have Made Big Decisions” – Lou Reed, “Heroin


September 27th, 2015

Louise Wareham Leonard at Visual Studies Workshop Pub Fair in Rochester, New York

I was on the roof, making a racket with our leaf blower. We don’t really have any leaves up there yet but plenty of sticks, acorns and moss to dislodge. I had my Home Depot earmuffs on, in my own world, trying to remember to be careful when I got near the edge when I spotted the green Google Earth car coming down our street. I was out playing horseshoes the last time a Google car visited. In fact I can be seen taking a photo of the car in the Google shots of our house. I’m hoping they got me up there in my element.

Visual Studies Workshop had their annual Pub Fair on Saturday. The auditorium was filled with book artists and self publishers. It was tempting to buy something from every table but we held off until reaching Marc Pietrzykowski’s table. Peggi bought his novel about a murder in an old age home and I sprung for a three volume set of his poetry. We ran into Anne Havens and made plans to get together and play music before she heads back to Florida. Visual Studies has such a great art book collection in their library it is upsetting to see them sell parts of it off each year but we always manage to scoop up a few things. Peggi found a book of Flannery O’Conner photos and I came home with “Ninety-Nine Drawings by Marsden Hartley.”

The writers’ readings, which should have been on the main stage, all took place upstairs. Rob Tyler read eight vignettes, each wry and crisp. They walked a funny fine line between mundane and absurd. Louise Wareham Leonard didn’t so much read as perform her Rumpus piece, “How To Date A Writer.” Her performance was hilarious and especially searing in the room full of writers. Reading entries from her new book, “52 Men,” she brought new life to the pieces and made you want to read the book all over again.

Best Wall Ever

September 27th, 2015

Sailboats on river from Rochester Yacht Club yoga class

I talked before about Jeffery’s Saturday morning yoga class at the Rochester Yacht Club so I won’t recap how beautiful the setting is. I will point out how delightfully distracting the activity on the river is. The yacht club is built out on the river. It almost feels like you are on an island and boats sail past on all sides. The view is unobstructed even when you are on your back because the railing is clear plexiglass. (You can see a bit of it in the blow-up of the photo above.) Yesterday Jeffery had us put out our legs up the wall, the clear plexiglass guardrails, and we did a series of inversions.

Jeffery improvises the practice and his classes have an effortless flow from one position to the next. Consequently the hour and a half flies by. He was telling us about someone who was helped by a particular class. The person asked Jeffery if he could recap what the exercises were and Jeffery said he could not remember. He said if he planned out a class he would be bored out of his mind. When we finished the inversions he said. “This is the best wall ever.” I liked that.

You don’t have to be a member of the club to participate in the class but many of the people are. When class was over a man who is a member, a trustworthy sort, said there was so much going on this weekend. He rattled off a few things and then mentioned the Landmark Society’s tour. My father had given us his tickets to this event and we had forgotten all about it so we thanked the gentleman for reminding us. We stopped back at the house, changed clothes and headed downtown. We found a spot on Washington Square with no problem and walked over to Claude Bragdon’s Universalist Church. There was hardly anyone around and the doors were locked. The tour is next week.

High Stakes

September 25th, 2015

Jared helps pull the old horseshoe stakes in the front yard

The way Rick, my neighbor and horseshoe opponent, talks, the short stakes in our pits are a disadvantage to him alone. When one of his shoes slides off and he yells I tell him, “they are just as short for me.” Well I found some longer stakes at a garage sale and got my neighbor, Jared, to help us pull the old stakes out with his tractor. We drove the new ones in with a sledge hammer. The official rules have the stakes at fifteen inches tall with a fifteen degree slant toward the opposite stake. Once the new stakes were in place we played our earliest match. Best of three, as usual. Rick won.

First Bike

September 23rd, 2015

Leo on bike in 1937 or 1938. This bike was handed down to me in the late fifties.

This is not the best picture of my father. Even he went through an awkward stage. My cousin has custody of my aunt’s (her mother’s) scrapbooks and she let my father borrow them and then he let me borrow them. This picture caught my attention. This was my first bike. My father gave me his old bike when I became old enough to ride.

We lived in the city over by School 28 on Humboldt Street and by the time my parents gave me the bike, at an age where they felt I would ride responsibly, somewhere near the awkward age of my father, I had already learned to ride by borrowing friends’ bikes. So I had to fake it when they presented the bike. I took a lot of ribbing because of this bike. Nothing that I couldn’t handle, just good natured teasing because the kickstand was something no one had seen before. The triangular stand swung down from the back spoke and held the back tire off the ground by a few inches. It was actually a pretty cool design.

At some point I got to pick out a new bike from a store on Clinton Avenue that is long gone. Seems like it had a German name. This bike was so cool. I would love to have something like it now. Medium tire width, two gears with back pedal brakes. Not a gear shift or anything. You back pedaled slightly, not enough to put the brakes on and you found the other gear.

Up To The Minute

September 22nd, 2015

My shadow rendered in grass and pavement

My camera is still in the shop so I’ve been taking my iPad mini with me on walks. I tried to photograph some butterflies in bright sunlight, so bright I couldn’t see the the iPad display. Don’t know how I managed to get the shot above.

Our niece recommended Old Navy to Peggi as a good place to shop for jeans. We had a banking problem to deal with, a few checks for services written out to a company that we no longer manage, so we signed in on the big touch screen at Eastman Savings & Loan and met with Ken. He advised us to tell the clients, who have so gracefully paid their bills on time, to rewrite the checks. So off we went to the closest Old Navy.

We studied their “hi, denim” chart and determined they offered “Original,” “Curvy,” “Rockstar” and “Boyfriend” jeans in “Skinny,” “Straight” and “Boot-Cut.” And to complicate that they are offered in low, mid and high rise. found a place to sit down and I overheard Peggi telling the young clerk, “These look like I’ve been working in the dust. I’d rather have real dust on my jeans.”

I always have a good time listening to the music in stores like this. There are some styles that never go away and consequently most things sound like stuff that has gone before. Here it is all youthful and upbeat. Can you imagine shopping to Americana? T-Rex’s “Jeepster,” was the only song I recognized, sounded up to the minute to me.

Gauguin and Brando

September 21st, 2015

Fishing boat near Rochester on Lake Ontario

Both Paul Gauguin and sixty years later, Marlon Brando, found their Arcadia in Tahiti. Brando was drawn by the innocence he found in the pages of National Geographic, Gauguin by early 1800’s ethnographer’s accounts. In 1891, Gauguin announced he was travelling to Tahiti to paint illustrations for the most popular novel of the day, “The Marriage of Loti” saying the primitive, erotic living conditions on Tahiti would revive his muse. Of course, both men were escaping troubled domestic situations.

Listen To Me Marlon” is a must see film for anyone who cares about acting. The good, the bad and the ugly are all here in Brando’s own words. And each of these ingredients is necessasary to form an actor, an artist of Brando’s caliber. He talks about going within, alone, in order to perform, to avoid the obvious and the lie in order to convince. The filmmakers had access to 200 hours of audio, self-hypnotism tapes included, and of course all those fabulous scenes from his movies. Oh yeah, and some goofy, early 3D computer modeling of Brando’s head, a perfect vehicle for reminding you that it is all a construct.

Day Late

September 20th, 2015

Cloud over Saturday morning yoga class at Rochester Yacht Club

This is my view from my yoga mat at the Rochester Yacht Club on Saturday mornings. I leave all my pocket stuff at home so it doesn’t come tumbling out of my shorts but I always bring my camera. That and enough quiet money to get an iced latte after class. We took the lattes with us and walked out to the end of the pier. Funny, I just searched google for a photo of “Charlotte pier” and found my own photo from a few years ago.

At seventy degrees the water in our street pool was warmer than the air today. I had to get in there. While I was jumping up and down in the deep end, a feat made more difficult by my parachute-like suit, I remembered that Geri had invited us to an open house for Virgin Wood Type. So we headed over there and found Geri working away in the shop. The Open House was yesterday.

September Arcadia

September 19th, 2015

German band at October Fest in Irondequoit, NY

We needed to do some banking yesterday but it was too hot to think about riding uphill to the plaza so we rolled downhill to the lake and cruised along Lakeshore. The non-working class was out and the beach scene was happening. My camera is in the shop so I committed the Arcadia snapshots to memory. In Greek mythology “Arcadia” is the home of Pan. In poetic fantasy it represents a pastoral paradise. I spent quite few nights on the porch this summer with “Visions of Arcadia.”

At the other end the beach we turned into the road that leads to Johnson’s Pond, one of my father’s haunts. The town was celebrating October Fest in September in giant big tent and an um-pah band was playing. Grown men were walking around in lederhose and couples were sitting at picnic tables with pictures of beer. There was quite a bit of dancing going on for the afternoon. We had smoked sausage, sauerkraut and German potato salad with a Genesee Scotch Ale. We got back on our bikes and spotted my father at the pond sneaking up on a couple of wood ducks.

Chuck Prophet is doing a house concert across the street at 8 o’clock tonight. It’s after six and no sign of him over there. We heard him open for Sharon Jones a few years back. Both were kinda bombastic that night. Of Chuck UNCUT says, “Sounds for all the world like Bruce Springsteen doing ‘Diamond Dogs.'”

Hot Tub Time Machine

September 18th, 2015

Play in a hot tub at Rochester Fringe Fest 2015

Was this really the opening night of Fringe Fest? We were downtown for an opening at the gallery in the main library. My basketball players were on display. Janet Williams, who works there and was on duty, stopped down to take a look. She is one of my favorite painters so I hung on her every word. She told me, “I feel like I know these people.”

We parked stategicly so we could check out the festival after the art. There was a play or something going on in the Xerox auditorium. It was too nice a nice for that. We walked over to Manhattan Square Park and watched some young kids climb the dangerously steep concrete steps. They were setting up lights on the giant erector set. Across the street the group that dances down the side of the twenty story bank building was rehearsing for tomorrow night’s performance. A band was playing inside a small red bus on Gibbs Street. A crowd was gathered around a clear plastic tent in the parking lot. People inside were in a hot tub and more people were gathered around the tub and a band was playing in there as well. I know I read about this one but I can’t remember if the performers were in the tub or outside of the tub. We talked to Marc Hamilton, Jeff Spingut and Peter Monacelli and were home in time to watch “Gimme Shelter” before bed.

Fill In The Blanks

September 16th, 2015

MP3 files from "Margaret Explosion 200," a dvd with two hundred Margaret Explosion songs. 2015

Aren’t the titles themselves enough lyrics for a song? And these titles are afterthoughts at that. We are an instrumental band. We leave as much to the imagination as we can get away with. Next Wednesday during the Fringe Fest we will be giving away DVDs with 200 Margaret Explosion songs on them. They are all available for free on our website but that would involve too much clicking. All but two of the songs (“Fever” and “God Rest,” which were written by someone else) were created live, mostly at the Little Theater but also at the George Eastman House, Bug Jar, outdoors at the Village Gate and at a private party on Canandaigua Lake. Only a handful of these songs have we ever performed again. It is alway better the first time. Here are 200 “first times.”

Here is song number 200, recorded last week at the Little Theater Café.
Margaret Explosion - Stop Time
Margaret Explosion – Stop Time

Just The Ears

September 15th, 2015

Sycamore tree at the Eastman House in Rochester, New York

Before the Sycamore tree drops its leaves it sheds its bark. Seneca Street is lined with these trees and a homeowner was raking up the bark as we rode by.

Getting exercise while doing errands feels especially satisfactory. My cymbals have cut a hole through the bottom of my cymbal bag so it was time for a new case. We rode over to the House of Guitars and on the way we stopped at the new library and found a few dvds to take home. Turns out we had already seen Neil Young’s “Journeys,” the Jonathan Demme movie of his 2010 solo show in Toronto, but it was even better the second time. Young puts it all on the line, insuring great performances of old song while risking it all by performing brand new ones. I love the incredible close-ups, the mundane backstage footage and the banter with his brother in their home town. Tonight we watch “Gimme Shelter.”

Bruce cut me a deal on an Ultimate Support bag. It comes with straps so you can wear it on your back and I did that on the way home. Of course we had stop and pick up some sweet corn at Vercruysse’s, just down the road on Titus. They have the best corn we have ever had. No salt, no butter, just the ears!


September 14th, 2015

Jim Callan and homeless guy (Marathon Mark) from Station Number 7 of Passion Play 1998 by Paul Dodd

The Spiritus Christi community rose from temporal Corpus Christi (body of Christ) church, the place I was baptized in. My parents had a second floor apartment around the corner on Alexander Street, a place so small, I have heard, that my crib was out in the hall. In Jim Callan’s 2001 book, “Studentbakker Corporation” Jim tells the now familiar story of his early priesthood.

He was assigned to Saint Ambrose’ parish. They had just spent a fortune on new facilities and Jim had taken a vow of poverty. He refused the opulence and for his obstinance he was reassigned to Corpus Christi, a parish long past its glory days with a dying congregation. With ideals borrowed from Jesus he turned the place around with little regard to t the church orthodoxy. He shared communion with non Catholics, he welcomed gays and he allowed women to take their rightful place at the alter. He filled the pews and after twenty two years the church hierarchy, god’s rottweiler himself, Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI gave him the boot. They renamed their community, Spiritus Christi, and under the direction of Mary Braverman have made it the largest breakaway Catholic group in the country.

Matthew Spaull, an RIT graduate, made a short film of the story and screened it for a sold old crowd tonight at the Little Theater. The director spoke after the film and said “I made this film, not for the people in this theater, I made it for Pope Francis.” He tried to speak to the Catholic Church for six months but they would not talk to him on the record.


September 13th, 2015

Kueka Lake view from the Switzerland Inn

Kueka Lake is one of the coolest Finger Lakes because it breaks with the motif and looks more like a “y.” The prime lakeside real estate, naturally, is on the peninsula that runs down the middle. We never made it out there. Instead we drove around the entire mass taking East Lake Road from Hammondsport up to Penn Yan. Whenever possible we hugged the shore on the old lake road. We stopped about halfway up at the Switzerland Inn (above). We sat out on the deck and the waitress gave a menu. We couldn’t find anything we wanted to eat on the menu and we weren’t really hungry so after the third time she asked if she could get us something we ordered a beer.

We continued on, writing down phone numbers for rental properties when the cottage looked particularly funky. Up in Penn Yan we rented a plastic kayak, something made by Hobie and called the “Mirage Oasis,” a whole new category of watercraft. It took us a bit to get the hang of it but pretty soon were picking targets on the shore and aiming the boat directly at them. We swam near the water treatment plant.

Back on the road we pointed the car toward Clifton Springs, another well preserved town that time didn’t so much forget but managed to keep the mucky-muck out. We walked the covered sidewalks and visited the “Wildroot Show” at Main Street Arts. We were the first customers at the Warfield restaurant, across the street, and we sat on the patio in the garden. We hardly left home and it was all like dream.

Belgium Waffles

September 12th, 2015

Old house in Hamondsport New York

Cynthia Howke from the Landmark Society contacted Peggi about a possible Don Hershey home in Medina, a really large house “designed for entertaining,” one she described as the first “first mid-century, McMansion in the Monroe County.” The house was being considered for landmark status and all indications pointed to it being designed by Hershey but confirmation was needed. Peggi found an entry in Hershey’s notes about a house in this location and we decided to drive out and take a look.

We really had no idea where Medina was but we planned to get away for a few days, maybe one of the Finger Lakes, and we decided to combine the trips. We made sandwiches with our leftover salmon and packed an overnight bag and got in the car. I was hoping Medina was to the east, thinking maybe we could stop there on the way down to Keuka Lake. We were on the Expressway when Peggi found Medina on the map. It was in the opposite direction of Keuka Lake so we nixed that stop and drove through the country and down along the east shore until we reached Hammondsport at the bottom of the lake. We found a room at the Lakeside Inn, the last room in fact, one that was only available because of a cancellation.

We walked around the entire town, stopped at a cemetery with grave stones a couple of hundred years old and got to where the town ends and the vegetation takes over. We worked up an appetite for dinner at Timber Stone Grill, locally sourced restaurant. We sat outside while maybe thirty local women gathered for their annual dinner inside.

Back at the motel we sat by the outdoor gas fire pit and watched the sun go down. We were joined by a couple from Queens who come up here every year and heard their delicious take on the stuff in our own backyard. Hammondsport really is like something out of an old movie, a town much older that movies themselves. Two other couples came out of their rooms later with drinks in their hands and they formed a semi-circle around the fire, across from us. They were from Baltimore but somehow it felt like we knew these people. It was like we were at either Peggi’s or my high school reunion. We were the first ones to head back to our room.

Instead of the artisianal breakfast spot that the motel manager recommended we went to a diner that was advertising “Belgium Waffles.” We sat outside at a sidewalk table and asked the waitress what Belgium Waffles were. She said. “Big.” We ordered scrambled eggs and toast.

Dog Days

September 9th, 2015

Yellow sail boat in the Port of Rochester

Pulling out of a plan to go to NYC this weekend opens all sorts of doors. Cleaning out the garage, fixing the hose with the part I bought at Home Depot, a marathon painting session are all possibilities. I’d be lost without the change of seasons. They are so radically different around here, they almost dictate your schedule. Take a beer down to the pool now, walk in the woods now, paint in the basement now, X-country ski with the fresh snowfall and read by the fire. Summer has still got a grip on us but there is an itchy anxiousness in the air.

Margaret Explosion will be a foursome again tonight. Here’s a song we recorded last week.
Margaret Explosion - Ghost Dance
Margaret Explosion – Ghost Dance