Thursday, July 30, 2015


The lights on Times Square were not nearly as bright when I first moved to New York City. Video screens hadn't made any headway; most of the neon was on street level blinkingly advertising private video booths and pleasure toys. The streets were littered with tossed Styrofoam cups and used condoms. Unless you were going to the theater a trip down Broadway between Forty-second and Fiftieth Streets once the sun has faded behind the buildings west of Eleventh Avenue was a dangerous risk with little reward. Sex was being broadcast from the lips of streetwalkers and hustlers; pink neon sizzled out enticements like, "Peep shows, $5" and "Girls, Girls, Girls". Vacationing families only ventured there for a quick shot of the Camel cigarette ad that blew puffs of smoke every thirty seconds or so. Beyond the view there was little to keep them in the cross roads of the world. They were soon off to the safer and friendlier streets of Madison and Fifth Avenues.
The refurbishment of Times Square has taken decades to complete. The x-rated sex shops and the drug pushers have for the most part moved on. Disney has moved its theatrical ventures to Forty-Second Street, mammoth hi-def screens now light up the Great White Way and upscale hotels and restaurants have now taken over most of the Square making the only real estate available for growth a vertical venture.
The Square now draws an international crowd where native costumes not indigenous to the west color the streets and café tables of the pedestrian plazas
and the sounds of forty different languages can be heard jabbering while waiting for the walk sign at the intersections of those cross-streets and avenues that make up the Great White Way
The tourist crowds have grown by 74% over the 1993 numbers but as with any development if not managed and maintained
there is always the possibility that those numbers could start to slide on the roller coaster of time and change. The creeping in of what once was has been a sneaky process.
Genuine street performers, the ones to first come to Times Square, can still be found working the crowd with a donation bucket but without any hard sell
while a sleazier group of hucksters dressed in dirty rented cartoon character costumes grab visitors and their children demanding money for having stepped into a family portrait.
Most egregious has been the untalented parading of mostly naked girls wearing only G-strings, the rest of their bodies poorly painted red, white and blue all capped with cheap ostrich feather headdresses. There's no attempt at creativity, the girls all look the same.
It's merely a play on titillation ripping off the originality of the first naked cowboy who at least wore a pair of underpants and pretended he had some sort of talent.
These girls now work the streets under the watchful eye of their pimps sitting at the tables scattered throughout the Square. The girls dutifully turning over their wads of money during the fifteen-minute reprieves they're allotted by the men who hold sway over them.
Although I did find one with a bit more ingenuity than the rest.
There's still plenty of risqué humor and family friendly fair throughout Times Square but the seedy side of life is trying to squeeze back in. The fine line of tastefully provocative is very close to having been crossed into raunchy uncomfortableness.
Maybe it's better to go to Central Park where the entertainment comes via unicorns with a message in heels playing accordions.

Times Square with Father Duffy Statue Still Wrapped Up, 1937
Peter Sekaer, photographer
Represented by Lumiere Fine Art Photography, Atlanta

Thursday, July 23, 2015


While the East Coast swelters in ninety degree heat and the kind of humidity that makes even an anhidrosisian sweat (you can look that one up) and the West Coast is left baked dry as a bone, we in Madison bask in blue skies with vistas that stretch all the way to our state borders and temperatures that make spending time outside a pleasure rather than a chore.
Every Saturday I get to spend in Mad City, one of the dwindling places in America where liberalism is appreciated and synonymous with compassion and inclusion I itch to get out and walk the Farmer's Market that surrounds the Capitol grounds.
Every year I feel compelled to do a blog on the market if for no other reason than to show off the beauty of its immense bounty.
We belong to a Saturday morning breakfast club. It's not an official club but the membership is pretty tight. We meet at a Greek diner a couple of blocks off the Square that serves unlimited cups of coffee with traditional American fare along side Greek specialties. Sometimes Rick and I try to get up early enough to hit the market before coffee and at other times we leave the car down in the free parking lot by the lake and head up to the market with our oh so fashionable barkcloth grocery bags slung over our shoulders in an attempt at being both sartorial and ecological at the same time..
This Saturday the skies did not disappoint, the view was crystal clear, the lakes as smooth as glass and the weather so perfect it wasn't even a point of conversation . We were walking up King Street from Plaka, our Greek hangout and entering the market from the Southeast corner. It was after coffee and a breakfast of two eggs over-easy, two slabs of ham and two buckwheat pancakes all served with rye toast, butter and tons of maple syrup. The crowds had already formed so walking was a very slow process. By mid-July the bounty of the surrounding farmlands had begun its stunning appearance. Root vegetables were piled high on long tables.
Buckets of yellow dandelion-like flowers produced honey for the sweet tooth of our eyes.
Gooch Farms of Sullivan, Wisconsin, had its freezers filled with red deer meat. Selling Bambi under the name of Gooch seemed right on point. It made me think of the Wizard of Oz and that mean Miss Gooch taking poor Toto away to the pound.
Lilies were out in full force along with that intoxicating fragrance, their intense color range of blood red, magenta, orange and sunshine contrasting against the background of the Capitol's grassy lawn.
Even the Capitol's gardeners added to the color play around the square with plots of Wisconsin red planted at each corner.
It wasn't difficult to find yourself walking behind a bouquet of summer's colorful bounty as you made your way around the packed sidewalks of the Square.
Some of the offerings had already been squeezed and fermented into bottles like the beautiful herbal vinegars from the Violet Rose Cattle Co.
Every block of the market has its resident bakery selling croissants, elephant ears and cinnamon rolls. Thankfully I had had my breakfast so the temptation of all those sweets was marginally avoidable.
But the one temptation I find impossible to pass up is Stella's hot and spicy cheese bread. They either bake it or heat it up on site. I'm not sure, but the aroma is more enticing than perfume. You have to eat it the minute you buy it. There's an overwhelmingly fragrant steam that's released when you pull apart the soft hot dough.
The unusual is never far behind when you're at any event in Madison and the Farmer's Market is no exception. This trip found a farmer selling garlic scapes, the strange looking stem of the garlic plant. I was told that they are edible in the same way as the garlic bulb and equally beautiful in flower arrangements minus the pungent smell.
Our favorite beekeeper held on to his regular booth selling his honey dressed in his beehive bonnet.
Madison is a very political town. We did our market walk right around the Fourth of July, so many of the vendors had dressed for the occasion showing their patriotism and their political advocacy.
But would an assessment of the market be without a nod to Wisconsin's best known export: cheese curds, the kind that squeak when you bit into them served room temp or deep-fried.
The market has a place for everything and everyone. I did say that Madison was a town of compassion and inclusion.

Our patriotic front porch
Photographer, Lee Melahn

Thursday, July 16, 2015


It wasn't quite the perfect evening in New York City but it was damn close. The opening was scheduled for six, the time most art openings start. The Pop-Up shop was on East Ninth Street on a tree-lined block between First and Second Avenues. It's amazing how many blocks in a borough in New York can go undiscovered. You'd think, given the size of Manhattan that eventually you would have traveled over each of them, but then you remember change, the change that happens in every city, big or small, as new buildings are built and others are torn down. The way city blocks change as storefronts move in and out or redecorate their windows for the seasons. The way, I guess we all change, sometimes to the demise of nostalgia but mostly to make way for the future.
I started walking over around quarter to six. I'd dressed for the occasion, black slacks, a seersucker white shirt, a natural linen sports coat with a grosgrain detail running around the lapel. The weather that day was a appreciatively balmy having slipped in between several days of high humidity and heat. I had put on a pair of new shoes that pinched my feet with the hopes of breaking them in before our looming vacation. I hadn't realized how far east I was going to have to walk to get to the block where DL  Cerney's Pop-Up was having its opening.
DL Cerney opened its original shop almost thirty years ago making the most exquisite men's and women's fashions out of vintage tweeds, wools, gabardines, linens and cottons. Flattering fashion designed by Linda St. John and Duane Cerney with the help of Linda's daughter Suzie. Fashion that took its cues from old Hollywood, swing dresses and James Dean jackets.
Then in 2012 the trio decided to take a break and their doors were shut, the iron gate came down and the for rent sign went up on their East Village shop on Seventh Street nestled between Cooper Union and McSorley's, New York's oldest Irish Pub.
When I reached the block on Ninth Street where a new sign, although temporary, with the words DL Cerney in bold black letters on a white field now hung.  There was a sense of both deja vu and revelation. There was a sense of coming back to that old Seventh Steet block, a sweet little block of tiny shops that only got rowdy the day of the Santacon club crawl, but it was also a revelation of an equally attractive block I most likely would never have seen if it weren't for the invitation to the opening. The block on Ninth Street between First and Second Avenues is adorned with shop after shop of independent designers and vintage clothing shops. It was a perfect fit for the Cerney crew and their impeccable wears.
Once I'd walked up the stoop steps leading into the Cerney shop there was Suzie arms open, eyes as big as bakelite coat buttons and a smile that wouldn't stop. Dressed like the engineer on a train she tooted the shops whistle and drove me right into the store. All of them, Linda, Suzie and Duane, are as crazy as they are talented, sweet and prone to disaster.
So apropos to an opening event, the room that wasn't any bigger than a cable car had no air-conditioning or working bathroom The toilet had developed a leak earlier in the day.
For that reason I decided a half glass of champagne was my designated limit, but the spread they put out was very impressive.
It's hard to keep your hands off the fabrics that line their shop. Their texture and pattern appeal is like candy to someone with the kind of fashion sweet tooth I possess.
I pulled out piece after piece and would have succumbed to trying something on I couldn't justify purchasing with a big vacation less than a month away if it hadn't been from the sweat I was starting to produce as I stood too far away from the one fan blowing in hot air by the window.
If I hadn't known how particular our nineteen year-old daughter is about fit and style I would probably have dropped a couple of dresses near the register along with a credit card I've also been trying keep at a low balance for that upcoming trip.
As it turned out there were enough buyers there I didn't have to feel worried that their opening would turn into a bust.
It was at about this time that I was finally able to get close enough to Linda St. John to say hello and hear her Southern Illinois twang jump from under her shock of flaming red hair. If I could figure out how to phonetically capture that twang I'd reproduce it here in words you couldn't find in Funk and Wagnalls. Linda was in high hostess mode and we talked for several seconds before the next guest crossed the threshold and the twang started all over again.
Linda is the mama bear of this organization and has dipped her toe into more than just the fashion swinging on the hangers around the room. No, in addition she's an artist creating mini-menageries of little fashion people with dresses made from fast food wrappers and golden angles made from clothespins.
She's a painter dabbling in cray pas paintings that hang from the walls all done on black paper referencing her childhood,
and she's a writer with a book she wrote about her stranger than strange journey to adulthood, Even Dogs Go Home to Die.
So here's the scoop. If you find yourself in New York City between now and the end of August take the time to visit Linda, Suzie and Dewayne and say hello from Rick, Lee and Emmy

Civil Rights Series, A Street in Albany, 1962
Danny Lyon, Photographer
Represented by Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta