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  • Category Archives Animals
  • Money Talks and Dogs Walk

    I have an old friend who virtually pioneered the business of dog walking in the early 1980s. The money was so good that she declined any media exposure for fear that others may learn about a business that was enjoyable and the money too good to be true. But the cat has long been out of the bag, and dog walking is a mature, competitive industry, alive and well in New York City. The city is not kind to pet owners, particularly when traveling. Dogs need to be fed and walked daily, and unlike the suburbs where a neighbor can adopt or look in periodically, this kind of solution is virtually nonexistent in New York City.

    Like nearly every dilemma or difficulty here in the city, throwing money at the problem will usually solve it, and the more money you have, the better a solution you will find. Dog owners are notoriously indulgent, and for those with the money, there is no end of services and products – dog grooming, doggie day care, dog walkers, dog dating, pet boutiques, dog spas, pet chauffeurs, and even a bakery for pets. Here, you can buy diamond-studded dog collars, cashmere sweaters, and gourmet pet food. There are those with hounds so large that owners have rented separate apartments just for their dogs.

    Recently in SoHo, I witnessed a pack walk – frowned upon by walkers who market themselves as walking only 2-3 dogs at one time. But there’s a lot more money to be made in pack walks, I am sure. This is NYC where Money Talks and Dogs Walk :)

    More dogs: Water 4 Dogs, White by Desire, a la Chien, Robin Kovary Run for Small Dogs, Dachshund Octoberfest, Wolfdog, Dog Run


  • Assistant Pigeon Feeder

    A friend loves quoting a comedy piece from the late 1990s from New York’s TV comedy program, Saturday Night Live. In their Weekend Update, news anchor Norm Macdonald reports:

    Well, the magazine P.O.V. came out this week, with a list of the best and worst jobs to have in the next century. The three best were, in this order: Multimedia Software Designer, Management Consultant, and Interactive Advertising Executive; while their worst, for the third year in a row: Crack Whore.

    Later in the segment, Norm was handed a piece of paper and announced, “Correction to the story earlier: The actual worst job is Assistant Crack Whore.”

    In a recent conversation with Ferris Butler, I asked for suggestions in writing a comedy piece for a story idea I had for this blog. He pointed out that a key element is often absurdity and suggested that I take an absurd twist on my idea, rather than what I was thinking. If absurdity is effective as a comedic element, what is more absurd (and worse) than “assistant crack whore” as a job position?

    On August 22, 2012, I wrote Easily Washed Off, a story about a Washington Square Park habitué known as Pigeon Paul. Apparently, many visitors new to Paul and his feeding spectacle find it novel, quaint, and endearing. Personally, I find it rather unsettling and avoid looking at Paul when he is feeding pigeons. Even using the walkway near Paul’s bench is disgusting, as it is covered in pigeon excrement.

    Recently, passing through the area, I noticed a well-known homeless man, Larry, taking over Paul’s work. Larry appeared to be reveling in the attention he was getting from both the birds and passersby. Watching the display somewhat reluctantly, Norm Macdonald’s comedy bit came to mind. Whereas I used to believe that Washington Square Park’s worst activity was Pigeon Feeder, after seeing Larry, I believe that a correction is in order. The actual worst activity is Assistant Pigeon Feeder :)


  • Nature Gone Wild

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    On Sunday, NYC had its annual Gay Pride parade, the culmination of Gay Pride week. The parade route finishes in the Village, where I live, and I have watched this parade for decades and documented a number of them in this website. It is festive and can be fun, however, one must have the stomach for the onslaught, much as the annual Halloween parade – enormous crowds, music blasting from floats with gyrating bodies, late night revelry, the roar of Dykes on Bikes, cavorting in the fountain, etc. Residents must also plan carefully any movement within the neighborhood or travel out, as many streets are closed off for much of the day. The recent Supreme Court DOMA decision only insured that this year would be quite celebratory indeed.

    So, many of us leave the area before the parade begins and return long after most of the chaos has subsided. But, where to go on another lousy, overcast, gray, humid day with chance of rain throughout? I wanted to wander through a peaceful, natural environment. Somewhere restorative but not too far from the city given the chance of thunderstorms.

    It has been so long since I have visited the National Parks of the United States, and I do miss them, particularly those out west, where nature is so GRAND. Places like Yosemite, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Redwood. Here, in NYC and environs, nature lovers must settle for scraps or be resourceful and explorative to find those special places. Perhaps shocking to most, but New York City has a piece of the National Park System only a subway ride away from Manhattan – Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I have visited before and featured it here in 2009 in a story called Duffy.

    And so it was there that I decided to spend Sunday afternoon, walking nature trails lined with huckleberries, prickly pear cactus, and rose hips, chatting with Park Rangers, enjoying vistas across marshes, and viewing Osprey. It was a day not of people but one of Nature Gone Wild :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Crazy Kid

    I was persuaded, by my readings in my youth when a vegetarian, that goat’s milk was far superior to cow’s milk. That it was more digestible and better utilized by the human body. That its mineral composition was more compatible with human needs. And goats were certainly cuter than cows, so in a short time, I became fixated on all things goat. I sought out every variant of goat’s milk products. Perhaps the pinnacle of goat dairy products is French goat cheese, which I love to this day. This was quite apropos, being of French ancestry, and a friend had said that she envisioned me in retirement in France, raising goats and making cheese. The proposition did sound rather idyllic.

    But alas, I was to learn that our hooved friends, although cute and often characterized in charming ways such as “crazy,” were not as innocent and benign as I had imagined. I once expressed my fondness for goats to an old college roommate and lifelong friend who had relocated to San Francisco. He was a nature lover – hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, etc. – and much more savvy as to the real nature of barnyard animals. He had friends who had goats, and he suggested that I might want to reassess any dreams of goat ownership. Goats, he said, were VERY troublesome creatures to keep. They are intelligent, resourceful, and difficult to confine. They are quite destructive – there are many online video where goats can be seen standing on hind legs, stripping trees of leaves. If left unchecked, goats will strip trees of bark too, killing them.

    Nonetheless, I still have a fondness for our feisty, four-legged friends, and perhaps even believing that in some ways, I am little bit goat-like myself. I always take the opportunity to pet goats when possible and seek them out in farms and zoos. So, recently, while traveling through the hinterlands of Staten Island, at 2355 Arthur Kill Road, I was very excited to see Crazy Goat Feeds. I was to learn, however, that the business is not a mecca for goat feeds, although it is a feed store. From Staten Island Live:

    Over the last six years, an old volunteer firehouse in Rossville has become a magnet for Staten Island’s animal lovers. Crazy Goat Feeds – which looks as wild from the outside as its name would imply – is the borough’s lone remaining feed store and a one-stop-shop for local pet owners. With tin ceilings and wooden floors the building maintains its antiquated charm, but inside the gutted garage and upstairs loft, every amenity for four-legged friends is on display.

    “We’ve got a little bit of everything here,” said owner Debbie Accurso, who took over the former CG Feeds in 1995 when it was based in Charleston. “But we really focus on organic and holistic foods for pets. It’s not the type of stuff that you see in the supermarket.”

    Patronization from organizations like the Staten Island Zoo and the NYPD mounted police unit has allowed Crazy Goat Feeds – which was renamed by Ms. Accurso’s young nieces – to maintain a unique inventory that covers dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish and even horses.

     

    The business arrangement with the Zoo is a long standing one. It’s been in place for years and carried over after the purchase of the shop from former owner Clark Gabel, who founded it in the 1960s. The horse-riding police have been a recent addition to the customer list.

    I was a bit disappointed that Crazy Goat Feeds was not really a business built around goats, because deep down inside me, there’s a Crazy Kid :)


  • Dogs

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Estimates of the number of dogs in New York City ranges from 500,000 to 1.5 million, depending on who is doing the counting. Not matter how you count them, that’s a lot of dogs, and for many in the city, particularly single households, dogs become more than companions – they are roommates and central to the lives of their owners. As with so many things here, the city imposes many many hardships on dog owners. Finding dog runs for socializing. Lugging dog food home. Keeping dogs on a leash. Daily walks for bathroom functions are necessary, not optional.

    One of the most difficult situations for the dog owner is going away without one’s pet. In the suburbs or country, a neighbor can often be easily recruited for looking after one’s dog or a short-term adoption. In the city, however, this is an unlikely scenario unless one is willing to pay for the service. Space is tight – the few backyards that exist are not used for keeping dogs.
    Doggy day care does exist – I once investigated this with a friend with dogs in the city. We visited a few personally, read online reviews, etc. Unfortunately, the owner found them to be depressing, and in the end, she never found one to her liking. Not surprising that many dog owners will never find any day care center adequately attentive and loving to their animals. Anyone going into this business has quite a wall to climb to gain approval of the dog owner. Some owners do have positive experiences with day care, with their dogs loving the social atmosphere of the many dogs at a facility.

    Recently, while visiting the Willburg Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I spotted Your Spoiled Pets directly across Grand Street. I have no direct experience with this place, nor do I know anyone who has. However, online reviews are extraordinarily and uniformly high. The proverbial doggies in the window were quite exuberant, as dogs naturally are.

    There are many sayings that express the sentiment that dog lovers have and perhaps no better one (or some paraphrasing or variant) than that attributed to Charles De Gaulle: The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs :)

    More dogs: Drooling and Slobbering, Water 4 Dogs, White by Desire, a la Chien, Dachshund Octoberfest, Wolfdog, Dog Dating

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Unfettered not Defeathered

    On my last visit to Staten Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I was stunned to see a flock of wild turkeys crossing Hylan Boulevard, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the entire borough. Such a sight would not perhaps raise an eyebrow in rural America, but the last thing one expects in New York City is a flock of turkeys crossing a busy street in a heavily populated area midday.

    Virtually every news source has covered this story and reading about the birds, apparently they are not loved by neighborhood residents who find them a menace. The birds are very aggressive with a myriad of tales and complaints. Articles with titles such as: Turkeys Terrify Staten Island Residents Trap Woman in Car; Scourge of Staten Island: Turkeys terrorize residents as they roam neighborhood; Staten Island’s wild turkeys flourish despite Sandy’s woes; Wild Turkeys Get a Taste of Domesticity; Much to a Borough’s Chagrin, Staten Island Locals Fear Wild Turkeys!; Wild Turkeys Push Staten Island Homeowners to the Breaking Point, et. al.

    Estimates of the turkeys numbers range in the hundreds. Officials say that the turkeys are not indigenous to the island. It is thought that the presence of wild turkeys in Staten Island dates back to 1999, when nine turkeys were released onto the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Center by a local resident who had held them in captivity.

    As to dealing with the menace, The New York Times says:

    The state has rejected efforts to transfer the flocks to more rural counties, where turkeys normally forage — but where the Staten Island flocks, officials fear, might not adjust well after acclimating to a human habitat. The Staten Island turkeys cannot be hunted, either, because they are protected with prescribed seasons and areas, none of which are within the city limits.

    At this time of year, many Staten Island residents think like Allan Barnhardt: “I have the perfect spot for these turkeys. Right between my mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.” However, hunting turkeys is illegal in New York City, and so, the birds, like many a New Yorker, walk through the city streets with attitude and a touch of arrogance. They’re not going to be on anyone’s plate this Thanksgiving. For now, the turkeys of Staten Island go Unfettered not Defeathered :)

    More wild and unexpected animals in NYC: That Should Cover It, Lost in that Wool, Bronx Zoo, Warm and Fuzzy, Parrots, Rain Forest, Horsing Around, Albino Burmese Python


  • Babies, Flowers and Kittens

    I have endeavored to write intelligent, provocative, entertaining stories and take photos that illuminate life in New York City. I spend mornings slaving over my text and working in Photoshop tweaking images. My stories get decent readership and, here and there, occasionally cited. Some of my photos have been featured online or in print. A few have been purchased. At one level, the appreciation from readers is rewarding and fulfilling. However, the website has certainly not “gone viral,” and often, I am disappointed that more readers do not find it and share my enthusiasms.
    But one particular day, I needed to vent my frustration regarding a website I had learned of. I turned to my graphic artist, who had been supportive of New York Daily Photo from its inception, helping with graphics and giving me suggestions to attract more readers.

    The website was called Cute Overload. Before even visiting it, merely based on its name, I sensed that it was a clever idea and likely would be a roaring success. And it has been, now sporting 1.6 million visitors per month. And the content is provided by others. Images of cute things – puppies, kittens, children – dominate the site, and readers by the millions apparently have an insatiable appetite for such things and just cannot get enough of it.

    I discussed my discovery with my graphic artist and that no matter the quality of my site, there was no way I would attract even a fraction of the visitors that a site like Cute Overload would. And she summarized my dilemma well. Apart from sex, she said, people loved to see three things – babies, flowers, and kittens. The triumvirate of ultimate human appeal became a private joke around our office. She was right, of course. The masses want the benign, the adorable, the cuddly. They want the untainted, the innocent. And what is more innocent or untainted than babies, flowers or kittens?

    A somewhat lesser benefactor of one of the trinity is Alan Neil Moriarity, a street performer whom I met at night on 6th Avenue in the Village. Neil is very approachable and chatty. I spoke to him for quite some time and recorded some of our conversation and his playing. See the video below.

    Neil has numerous young cats which travel with him. One or two of the pride make home on his head and shoulders while he plays harmonica and chats passersby. In all honestly, those that stop appear to be more interested in fawning over his cats than listening to music.

    Having had numerous cats, I complemented Neil. Cats are not typically enamored to accompany an owner outdoors, much less sit on one’s head without trying to jump off and hide in the shadows. But these cats seemed extraordinarily attached to him, unusually calm, comfortable, and content. Neil says they really like to listen to him play music by the Doors. He told me that his cats have been life savers for him. I suggested that he needed more exposure and that in the future he might want to take his act to Washington Square Park, rather than work late night in dreary weather on a commercial strip. He seemed receptive to the idea. Perhaps he will find greater success if he works in at a better time and place, where he will learn the power and allure of Babies, Flowers and Kittens :)

    More cats: The Engine Room (Part 1 and Part 2), That Last Ball, Urban Mitts, Kitty

    More cuteness: Just Like Them, Buy Magnesium, Supercute!, The Last Taboo, Bubbles, Heart Warming

     


  • Easily Washed Off

    Pouring over old books some years ago, I happened across my 1965 Boy Scout manual. I never got particularly far in the scouts, but reading the manual, apart from learning a bit about scouting, is a window into the attitudes prevalent in America at that time. Skimming the section on Scout Law, I reviewed the 12 points – A scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.

    I found the exposition on being CLEAN, particularly fun to read. Here, we are told what this means to a scout: “He keeps clean in body and thought; stands for clean speech, clean sport, clean habits; and travels with a clean crowd.” A boy is shown in the shower. However, we are warned that there are different kinds of dirt. Most can be removed easily with soap and water. However, one type is much more difficult to rid oneself of: the dirt that gets in your mind. The two sides of this admonition are no better vocalized than by Pigeon Paul, a habitué of Washington Square Park.

    For those not accustomed to city life, Pigeon Paul will come as a quite a novelty. New Yorkers, however, intimately familiar with these urban denizens, will find his behavior either charming or revolting, depending on whether one loves pigeons or, as many have characterized them, find them to be “rats with wings.”

    Paul, a Lebanese man who grew up in the Bronx, can regularly be found in the same spot on one of Washington Square Park’s walkways. There, sitting on a park bench, Paul is literally covered with pigeons – they sit on his head, his lap, his chest, his arms. He holds them with his hands. He knows many of the birds by sight and has named some. He communes with the birds, something he has been doing for over 10 years.

    A bag of seed at his side, Paul feeds the birds. Trusting and tamed by his feeding and presence, passersby can typically be found to be joining Paul in his activity. An enormous flock surrounds him. Periodically, the birds, startled by some occurrence, will take to the air, giving the area a feeling reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds – I actually overheard one individual walking through a fluttering flock, muttering disapprovingly how the experience compared to the classic film.

    One video I reviewed shows Paul in a hostile verbal encounter with the videographer, who asked how Paul could deal with pigeon excrement, which certainly must be all over his body. Paul’s response would be well understood by any Boy Scout: people like his landlord shit on him all the time, but with birds, it could be Easily Washed Off :)


  • Sounds of Summer

    It is just after sunrise at 6:00 AM as I write this with an open window facing Washington Square Park. Incredible as it may seem, in the most densely populated city in the United States, apart from the occasional auto passing, the dominant and only sound is a chorus of crickets. This is one of the many joys in store for the early riser in New York City, or perhaps for those who have yet to sleep. Yes, even in Manhattan, amidst concrete, glass, and steel, we got insects. Many a night I have been plagued by mosquitoes, both in parks and even in my apartment.

    One summer evening in Washington Square Park in 2006, I was curious as to what insect it might be that was making a particular clicking sound that I had heard many times before. Friend Bill Shatto, an avid photographer of insects, told me he was relatively sure that it was a katydid. I had heard the word, but was completely unfamiliar with its appearance or anything else about it. In the most miraculous and serendipitous moment during that very discussion, a large green insect lighted in the central plaza of the park, away from any foliage, and sat unfettered. Using online images, we confirmed that it was a katydid (lower photo) – the only one I have seen in my entire life. It appeared to be injured – one leg was missing. It was capable of flying yet seemed uninterested in such. In fact, Bill was actually able to pick it up and place it more strategically on his hand. I took a number of photos, which have laid in my archives for the last 6 years.

    Recently, conversation turned to a much louder insect which as a child we commonly referred to as heat bugs. The cicada. The lone buzzing song, increasing in volume, was never pleasant to me as it typically dominates the air waves on hot, humid summer days in July and August.* The sunnier, hotter, and more blistering the day, the louder the cicada seemed to buzz. Recently, in the very same park, a conversation ensued about a very audible background noise which I recognized and confirmed with my friends was assuredly the sound of the cicada. As miraculously and serendipitously as six years before, a large insect lighted on the central plaza. A cicada. Seemingly unbothered by our presence as we approached it, I was able to get a number of photos, even with supplementary illumination using an iPhone. Even in Manhattan, a shrine to concrete and the manmade, here and there at the right time and place, if you listen closely, you can hear the Sounds of Summer :)

    *Male cicadas have loud noisemakers called “tymbals” on the sides of the abdominal base, using to produce a mating song. Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB (SPL), among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. Their song is technically loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans, should the cicada sing just outside the listener’s ear. Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans. Species have different mating songs to ensure they attract the appropriate mate. In addition to the mating song, many species also have a distinct distress call, usually a somewhat broken and erratic sound emitted when an individual is seized. A number of species also have a courtship song, which is often a quieter call and is produced after a female has been drawn by the calling song.

    More insects: Guessing Game, Back to Boyhood


  • The Engine Room, Part 2

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    The Pratt Cats (see Part 1 here)

    The Pratt Cats

    As we entered the very first Pratt building, I was greeted by a cat slinking from a classroom into the hallway. A curious sight, I was informed by our guide Leslie that this was one of the Pratt Cats. Pratt Cats? I was intrigued.

    Later, when we toured the Engine Room, we encountered another cat. My attention was drawn to a windowed wall in the engine room where there was an entire display of championship ribbons from the numerous awards won by Pratt cats at cat shows. Nearby was a collage of photos, names, and descriptions of a number of these cats – Nicky, Willy, Higgie, Art School, Teddy, Prancy, Big Momma, and Lestat.

    Chief Engineer Conrad Milster informed that each cat tended to be somewhat territorial, occupying a particular building or area. The cats are fed and tended for privately. As I left the East Building and the Engine Room, I encountered Conrad outdoors, who pointed out the lilliputian Feline Staff Entrance at the base of the building’s exterior wall.

    The naming, championship ribbons, poster, informative article, and the small entrance made it clear that the feline population at the institute is not a loosely associated, changing population of strays. Quite the contrary. These cats are well-known amongst the student population and have names, identities, recognition, and social status. They have a bit of attitude, expected of any New Yorker, particularly when associated with one of the world’s finest design schools. They’re not just any cats, they’re The Pratt Cats :)

    More cats: The Catman, Urban Mitts, Lost and Found, Kitty

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • New York Is Raccoon Country

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Like most places, there are always things to learn about one’s locale. However, in New York City, not only are there a myriad of things to discover, but many of them are also quite unexpected and seemingly antithetical to urban life. Like hawks or raccoons.

    And, of course, owing to New York’s huge population, there are always a small number for whom these things become more than curiosities or points of interest. For some, these things become a world unto itself, such as the red-tailed hawk, Pale Male, whose family attained a cult following and mythic status. To this day, 21 years after the first siting of Pale Male, an entourage of birders have a virtual encampment on the outer perimeter of the Central Park boat pond with a clear line of sight to the nest at 927 Fifth Avenue.

    Yesterday, at the Central Park Conservatory Garden, amidst one of the most bucolic natural settings in Manhattan, I was puzzled to find a number of people fascinated with a relatively unkempt patch of shrubbery on the outskirts of the garden. Suddenly, I noticed the object of their attention and cameras: a raccoon at close quarters in broad daylight.
    One man I spoke to told me that there were, in fact, many raccoons in Central Park and that residents on the west side of the park were in the habit of leaving food for a group of raccoons who resided in the area.

    By many, raccoons is are a considered a nuisance. Like many of the hardy, aggressive residents of the city, e.g. pigeons or squirrels, the dearth of other wildlife makes these types of scavengers the object of fascination for city residents as well as visitors, who are often found feeding squirrels in the parks.

    Raccoons are highly adaptable omnivores and have populated a large range of environments – I was surprised to learn that they inhabit many urban areas worldwide. It is estimated that as many as 300 live in Central Park.  New York City is a mecca for bookstores, restaurants, museums, architecture, the arts, fashion, music, and ethnic culture. And, for now at least, New York is Raccoon Country…

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • The Catman

    At one period in my life, I was on a virtual one-man crusade to promote cats. I had books on cats, frequented cat shows, had a number of cat sculptures, and subscribed to Cats magazine. And, of course, I had cats. Many over the years. My breeds of choice were Siamese, followed by Abyssinian, which, with its agouti ticking, is arguably the most feral looking of the domestic cat breeds.

    I trained my cats, even getting a female Siamese to tightrope walk a narrow stick spanning two bookcases seven feet above the floor. I toilet trained two cats when there were no products for such. After my own success, I learned of a video on toilet training cats. Curious to compare notes, purchased it.
    Subsequently, I was interviewed at my office. The writer told me that he had contacted the vendor of the video in order to make contact with someone in New York City who may have actually trained cats. In actuality, I was duped in the 1990s by a writer for the Wall Street Journal who purported to be researching for an article. He was secretly working on an instructional BOOK on toilet training cats and had come to pick my brain. I also hoped to make and sell a kit, but soon after, such products became available. Even to this day, many are surprised to hear about the training of cats – understandable since, as any cat owner can attest, cats are difficult to train.

    For years, I had a business customer who had the stage name Dominique the Catman. It was years before I learned in conversation with him that he had an act of trained domestic cats that performed regularly in Key West. I was absolutely AMAZED to learn of what he had done and astounded to finally see on video the act he had put together. Much later, I learned of the Moscow Cat Theater, a show that has toured worldwide and made a stop in New York City in 2005.

    For some time, I have hoped to capture an alley cat in New York City. Here, however, as everywhere, cats are elusive and skittish. Invariably, by they time my camera is taken from a bag or pocket and readied, my quarry is fleeting or gone.

    Recently, I was able to photograph a black cat. This was however, a residential neighborhood in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and this cat was likely an outdoor cat, not a stray. Like any seasoned New Yorker who has established him or herself, this feline looked like he had found his comfort zone in Brooklyn.
    I used to talk to my cats, and one in particular I sometimes called Mr. PhD in Comfort. When not on the prowl for food, cats seek comfort, and I often found mine basking in the rays of the sun streaming through a window or resting in my home’s most comfortable spot, which also happened to be one of my most valuable books or articles of clothing.

    The character of the cat shares much with the New Yorker who has succeeded making a life here. Alert, clever, cautious, resourceful, adaptable – she’s the Catwoman and he’s The Catman :)

    More animals: Drooling and Slobbering, That Should Cover It, Blessing of the Animals, Water 4 Dogs, Lost in that Wool, Pet Pride Parade, Bronx Zoo, Warm and Fuzzy, Ambassadors, Kitty, Parrots, Rain Forest, Feeding at the Zoo, Baby and Merlin, a la Chien, Gull, Dachshund Octoberfest, Snake Charmer


  • Catch the Worm

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    It was an invaluable lesson, but at that hour of the morning, I did not want a lesson. I wanted desperately to sleep. Oh Lord, I would do anything for sleep. The last thing I wanted to hear at that ungodly hour were diatribes about early birds and worms.

    It was the late 1960s, and I needed a summer job. Unemployment was at record highs, and there were no jobs. So my father was able to arrange a summer job with his construction company. There was, however, a small hitch. It was located nearly 20 miles from home, he worked nights, and I had no vehicle. We were able to find someone in town who was traveling to work in the mornings to one of the companies’ other facilities. So, this meant 3 rides – the first to the man’s home, then a ride with him to one company location, and finally, a ride with a truck driver going to my final destination. This series of rides required getting up early. Real early.

    My ride with the older man was torturous. I tried to nap, which he found comical and amusing. His need to lecture prevented me from sleeping. I was a captive audience with no options but to listen, struggling to keep my eyes open. The only thing I remember is his admonition that EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM. But I was not an early bird, saw no value in being one, and had no interest in worms. Let others have the worms. Please, TAKE ALL THE WORMS AND LET ME SLEEP.

    Much later in life, I came to learn the value of being an early riser and the joy in that quiet time before the morning rush. Although in a city like New York, there are certainly different styles, I also began to see rising early as one of the traits of the aggressor and as one key to many’s success.

    Growing up in New England, I was certainly blessed with an array of bird species. However, the aggressors made themselves most well-known – crows, starlings, sparrows, and bluejays. But in New York City, in the harsh, competitive environment, the aggressors and survivors dominate.

    Here, many of the birds which I see most commonly are the aggressors that I saw growing up in the countryside: starlings, sparrows, pigeons, and the occasional crow. However, today is the first time I recall ever seeing a bluejay in New York City. Bluejays are noisy and notorious trouble makers. They are aggressive to humans and other birds, which they have been known to attack or kill. They also have a reputation as thieves, stealing the eggs, chicks, and nests of other birds. Sounds like the character traits of many New Yorkers.

    Diligent birders keep logbooks of their sightings. My logbook is one of aggressors and survivors and includes salesmen making cold calls, lawyers, real estate brokers, investment bankers, street hustlers, businessmen, rats, pigeons, squirrels, cockroaches, and those who look well -uited and/or have adapted for city life. Today, I round out my collection of sightings with the bluejay.

    Be it birds, plants, animals, or people, the meek do not inherit New York’s earth, only the aggressors and survivors. On April 9, 2006, I wrote New York Survivor about the London Planetree, a good example of a survivor in New York City’s Sieve of Darwin.  It was, appropriately, on a London Planetree, that this morning I sighted my first bluejay and that he, like New York’s other aggressors, was up early, ready to Catch the Worm :)

    It’s hard, but worth it. Read more of my take on city life in Unforgiving, Ye Who Enter Here, Steaming Masses of New York, I Know, Jungle Lovers, and Dwanna.

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Three-Toed Smoth

    The elephant looms large in the lives and minds of children. After all, children do naturally gravitate to the big, and what suits that better the world’s largest living land animal? Here, at Union Square, we have Gran Elefandret by renowned artist Miquel Barceló.* I’m sure many a child and parent have been enjoying Barcelo’s 26-foot sculpture.

    Marlborough Gallery is pleased to announce that the monumental sculpture Gran Elefandret, 2008, by renowned artist Miquel Barceló will be on view at the Union Square Triangle beginning September 13, 2011 through the end of May 2012. It is with great pleasure
    that the Gallery brings this monumental bronze sculpture to Union Square, a place that epitomizes New York’s unrivaled energy and serves as both a transportation and cultural bridge between uptown and downtown Manhattan. Barcelo’s immense Gran Elefandret, balances upright on its trunk, its four massive legs outspread searching for equilibrium. At twenty-six feet tall the sculpture brilliantly portrays an extraordinary, if not impossible physical and cultural feat; this contemporary monument believably captures with humor, scale and Spanish courage the essence of what a public monument can be today.

    To further communicate the gravity-defying feat beyond the surprisingly slim trunk and large body, Barceló imparts the mass and weight of the creature through the downward sag of the heavily wrinkled skin, the off-kilter positioning of the huge legs, and the complete overturning of the floppy ears. The highly textured surface of the elephant recalls the artist’s tactile paintings, in which he creates rich topographic, sculpted surfaces on canvas.

    I never had children, but I do love them. Not having them, many things are a novelty to me, like the spongelike absorption often found when children are exposed to new things. One of my most memorable examples of this behavior was subsequent to a class trip made to my business – see Little Burnt Out.

    I once made an acquaintance of a very learned and educated couple whose children had a frightening knowledge of things that I, as a child, barely had a cursory knowledge of. I recall going through a book of dinosaurs with one of their children, who was able to identify every one by name. At the time, I had read an article on the three-toed sloth and was fascinated by many of the facts surrounding this remarkable animal, such as its odorless nature and the extraordinary length of time it actually requires to make a journey down a tree, truly befitting its name being used as a metaphor for the slow.

    As the child attempted to elaborate on her knowledge of dinosaurs, I endeavored to communicate my newfound enthusiasm for the sloth. She appeared uninterested; I was not making an impression. Or so I thought.

    Some weeks later, a friend was on the phone with the mother of the child. At one point, she told me that someone had something to tell me. When I took the phone, the young girl whom I had met was on the other end. I don’t recall the conversation exactly, except that she was quite intent on telling me of her new found interest in the Three-Toed Smoth :)

    *Miquel Barceló was born in Mallorca in 1957. After studying briefly at the Arts and Crafts School of Palma and the Fine Arts School of Barcelona, he became involved with the conceptualist group Taller Llunátic, which opposed the stagnation of both the socio-political climate of Spain during the late 1970’s and the “official” art scene. Originally focusing on painting, Barceló worked at first in a non- representational style, influenced by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Cy Twombly. As his career progressed, he began to integrate figurative elements in his paintings, and started creating sculptures in both ceramics and bronze. The artist collaborates with the Fundación Vicente Ferrer and the Eyes of the World Foundation and participates in projects for Sahrawi refugee camps. He divides his time between Paris, Mallorca, and Mali.

    Related Posts: Kids, Childhood’s End, Bronx Zoo


  • Keep Flying

    I spent my childhood with a best friend exploring. This was our mission statement, and our summer quests knew no bounds. Only my mother’s distant call for dinner would bring our daily expeditions to an end.

    As young boys, we were never content to just observe. There was a desire to possess. We captured (and typically released) all manner of snakes, tadpoles, salamanders, frogs, wild birds, and butterflies. Butterflies are beautiful and fragile, but we did not understand the fragility. The brutish manner of young boys would seem to preclude such an understanding, only learning of such things after damage has been done.

    This is masterfully illustrated in one of the most beloved episodes of the Andy Griffith show, “Opie the Birdman” (aired in 1963). In this episode, a young boy, Opie, accidentally kills a mother bird with his slingshot and leaves her three babies orphaned. Ever the wise father, rather than punish the boy, Andy open’s Opie’s bedroom window so he will hear the chicks calling after the mother, who will never come home. Opie takes care of them until they are to be released into the wild. Without conventional punishment, Opie learns the meaning of responsibility, accountability, loss, and the consequences of one’s actions.

    The story also illustrates the fragility of life. And what is more fragile and beautiful than a butterfly with a lifespan of only a few weeks? New York City is not the place for the delicate or fragile. Such things, if they exist at all, must typically be protected and sheltered from the masses. Seeing a butterfly in a natural environment takes on a very special meaning here – it feels like nothing short of a remarkable event.

    This Tiger Swallowtail looks like it had suffered some damage. A little faded, a little bruised – reminders that we are in New York City and that to live here, you must be a survivor, get hurt and keep flying :)

    Related Post: Explorin’ Part 1, Horrible and Miserable



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