Friday, December 13, 2019

LAURIE ANDERSON walked by the sign this morning and smiled with that face and nodded at the message. Big knit cap on, bright ski jacket, shortest adult you’ll see all day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

AT NIGHT I CHECK TOMORROW MORNING’S WEATHER FOR 8:00 when I begin to hold my sign for an hour. I check it on my iPhone knowing not to trust its little clouds with blue rain needles that are often showing for the next day. Now it’s posting a snowflake at 8:00. So often it’s wrong, I’m not counting on seeing snow. I hope I do though. Nothing’s finer for me than snow. As a kid in Western New York, snow came down big out my bedroom window. I could see it piled on top of the basketball rim and in the net of my hoop across the driveway. It won’t be that kind of big snow if there’s snow at all in the morning. It’s seldom very windy here. The snow falls nicely. I’ll know when I get up.

Monday, December 2, 2019

I DON’T TAKE SUBWAY PHOTOS on my way to hold the sign; only on the way back. This morning though the downtown train wasn’t crowded and I had nothing good to read, and across from me three or four people were arranged in a way that looked like a picture. I reached into my pants pocket and brought out my iPhone. I held it horizontally like I was watching ESPN highlights and when I was about to silently press the button to take a photo, I noticed a woman just to right of the group I was aiming at put a bright yellow windbreaker in front of her face and slide down a bit in the seat. I thought maybe she was tired and wanted the coat to be like covers. As I refocused my efforts, I noticed her putting the coat over her head. I put my phone down. Then I put it away when I saw she was from Mexico or Central America and was afraid I was taking pictures for ICE or some government group that was looking for people like her. She was maybe middle-aged, strong light-brown beautifully-lined worker’s face with graying hair pulled back. Plaid shirt and jeans. I tried to subtly wave my hands in a way to let her know that I was nobody to worry about. The few minutes left on the ride, I though about how alert she and other immigrants have to be now. Good luck to her.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

THINKING ABOUT BOB DYLAN SINCE SEEING HIM SATURDAY NIGHT: I saw him in Jackson, Wyoming maybe 15 years ago. I timed my visit to see my daughter who lives there so we could see his concert which would be outdoors at the foot of an in-town mountain not the surrounding iconic Tetons. We sat on the side of the mountain. No seats. He and his band we’re down below. It was perfect. Beyond the stage was the town of Jackson framed by mountains. It looked like a movie town. The Hardy Boys could have lived there. What was different though was there were no church steeples sticking up above the leafy trees. We were in the West. Not in the old European eastern part of the country. I found that refreshing to think about then; I’ve thought about it often since. On Saturday way early for the concert as is my habit going anywhere, I walked around the corner to the side of the theater. Sure enough there was Dylan’s huge bus sitting shiny under the street lights. And sure enough when I went to the back and looked at the license plate, it was from California.

MY STILL-HURTING LEFT SHOULDER hurt even more the last two days. I mentioned it to my physical therapist today and she asked what I might have done to aggravate it. I told her a couple heavier things I had carried that might have strained it. Then it hit me what I’d done that for sure caused it to hurt. I’d cheered and clapped with arms outstretched as strong and long as I could at the Bob Dylan concert Saturday night. I stood and put my hands together as much as I could over my head like a younger me at the end. Forever Young? I guess not.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A BIG GUY WHO LOOKED LIKE HE’D once played linebacker for Nebraska walked toward the sign this morning with the light-gray hood from his sweatshirt up and a worn plaid heavy worker’s shirt on over it and said, ‘ I couldn’t agree more. Trump wouldn’t be where he is.’

Monday, November 18, 2019

After a weekend it’s good to get back on Chambers Street with the sign. You’re not supposed to look forward to Monday but I do. I like the faces I see there. Some I may have seen almost every day since I started doing this. A couple different people stopped to talk today. One woman took a picture of the sign and talked about her son and daughter. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

I JUST GOT BACK FROM MY PRINTER on the fourth floor of a building a 15-minute walk from my apt.  He gave me a proof of my newsletter which I’m finally getting around to doing. This is #62. But it’s been a long time since 61. Actually this one is an update of the last one. It’s about why I started holding the sign. For some people who see me holding it who might wonder. On the walk to the printer there were barricades everywhere. Police in big numbers on every block. Hard to get to where I was going. There’s a parade scheduled. And the president is at some event nearby. The messed-up streets and the vast security seemed hellish when I thought of him being close by.

Friday, November 8, 2019

‘I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life.’
                               ― Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Now that the shoulder has been healing (at least six more months of physical therapy though) I can use both arms to hold the sign. For weeks I used just my right arm, my left arm limply hanging straight down. There was a Native American kid in my grade school in the 1950s who had an arm that was limp and hung at his side. You noticed it always. I was self-conscious about mine. Now I feel normal again, at least on that piece of the sidewalk on Chambers Street. I look forward to going back there tomorrow. I never don’t look forward to it.

Monday, November 4, 2019

I don’t comment on every day I’m there on Chambers Street with my sign that’s getting a bit ragged and will soon be replaced. Today was beautifully clear and a bit cold. I needed gloves for the first time this fall. The guy who goes by on an electric skate board had his knit cap pulled down over his ears. Kids on their way to pre-school were bundled up and had brand new colorful hats on. A few were on little Razor scooters. Some were with moms or dads; some were with nannies. Some adults who go by the sign can’t read it. Older Asian grandmothers can’t. Others too though, some American-born adults can’t. You wonder why the schools they were in let them get out with such limited literacy. Laws most places make you go to school for 10 years. Till you’re 16. You wonder what the schools were doing with those adults when they were young. For 10 years. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

If public libraries are not for the rich, they probably are not otherwise for the poor. To understand the public library as a benevolent form of welfare would be to entirely miss the radical potential of the institution as a political project. It isn’t utopian, nor is about culturing the masses, nor offering the marginalized a space where they mustn’t “pay for coffee.” Rather the public library stands for everyone occupying the same space in solidarity about the mysteries of existence that humble us all without distinction or prejudice. It is about renouncing all certainties—all except for one: that to stand in common is, in itself to establish a common ground on which to stand.
—-Andrew Schwartz, ‘A Night at the Library’, in The Baffler

Monday, October 28, 2019

I can’t know for sure if the sign’s message is moving anything. I know that some of the people who pass me and look at the sign smile in a way you seldom see on a sidewalk.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Weeks without really reading with my wrecked shoulder recovering in a painful way that kept my left arm hurting when in a book-or-newspaper-holding way. The Times that got delivered to my door on weekends I gave to the young neighbors with their little dog across the hall. I left magazines for them too. Just this weekend I once again kept both days’ papers for myself. I’d been thinking of canceling home delivery and reading everything on line but I couldn’t make that break. For almost 65 years I’ve read newspapers. My arm hurts just a little now. Today for the first time in weeks I took the paper with me to the Sunday breakfast place I go to. It felt good to sit there with my oatmeal and green tea and just one scrambled egg and no butter on my toasted English muffin and read the paper. I left my iPhone back in my apartment. Which felt good too. I have an almost-1000-page book I think I can hold now. I think I’ll start it tomorrow. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

I know I’m lucky to have my sign to tote downtown every morning. Two mornings ago I found myself grinning to myself as I was walking up the stairs out of the subway with my sign under my arm to go hold it again. I believe in the sentence on the sign. I’ll stand by the period not a question mark. This morning a guy my age who taught forever in the city schools stopped to talk. Later a younger guy who works in the building for the Dept. of Education stopped to gush about the sign’s message. I didn’t get five hours sleep last night because the shoulder keeps me on my back which doesn’t work for me. It’s that way every night now. Some mornings when the phone’s alarm goes off at 6:00 I lie there and think about maybe not going downtown with the sign that morning. But I always go. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

‘I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty - to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom...The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired.’
― Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Friday, October 18, 2019

Books might be a bargain for the hours of stimulation they give you. But they’re not cheap. Except at the library.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

I have spent too much time on the computer since my shoulder injury made it hard to hold a book without pain. I’m going to get back to reading a few books I started but put down because they hurt my left bicep when I’d turn my left hand out like you do with a book in your hands. Reading a book is richer than flitting around the computer. I’ve learned that these weeks. Way too much time on the screen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

This was at the encampment of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. That’s gone of course. But this coming Saturday’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez evokes some of that spirit. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A teacherish-preacherish-looking guy in a crew-neck sweater and a reddish beard came by my sign this morning and went off on the school system. You can rant in cities more easily than in small towns. The thrum of traffic and ambient city noise lets you make your own noise without standing out like a lone streaker at a suburban high school football game. He stared at me while he went off. But he was speaking to the cosmos. He was there in front of me for maybe 90 seconds but that was time enough for him to make his points. I nodded in agreement on a couple points. But I did as I’ve learned to do with guys like him, I pointed at my sign.

Monday, October 14, 2019

It’s what you’d tell anyone you care about. It’s how a school system should send off its seniors. It’s what a parent should say. What a teacher should say.  Everyone should make sure their children and their students can read well.
The daily paper should monitor that. It doesn’t though. Alec Baldwin gets more ink. Deborah Harry still does. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

I saw this in the Jefferson Market Library a few years ago. I loved it. Thought it was cool that they made it, or used it even if they hadn’t put the message and the photo of Dylan together. This was before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Maybe the photo is from his days in the Village. Maybe it was taken right there in that library. It’s a wonderful library. The only neighborhood branch I know that opens on Sunday. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Some people on Chambers Street asked where I’d been. It was good to see them. I just wasn’t there last week. They didn’t know I’d ever be back. Life is that way. People I used to see on that sidewalk every day, some of them I’ve never seen again. Did they take a new job, get fired, get divorced, get sick? Did they move back to Detroit?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

I framed, with no glass, the first issue. I put out 61 issues. I plan to soon begin doing new ones. One a month I hope. I’ve been marking time waiting for the 62nd idea to come. I may re-fashion an older issue that I think is relevant now. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Back from Wyoming. Great time there as always, But necessary to be back to my routines here. I’ll hold the sign again Monday. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The best thing in Jackson is its library. It’s the best place that has books in it I’ve ever been in. The atmosphere, the light, the selections, the displays, the art they showcase, the care they take with books, the view out the window, the generous hours, the kids section. I come here every day. It’s where I am now. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Have you really read all those books in your room?”

Alaska laughing- “Oh God no. I’ve maybe read a third of ‘em. But I’m going to read them all. I call it my Life’s Library. Every summer since I was little, I’ve gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read.” 
                      ― John Green, Looking for Alaska

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

TWO PEOPLE TOOK PICTURES of the sign today. One guy from his car. People were honking behind him to get him moving.

I’m there every weekday on Chambers Street with the sign. People who pass me for the first time often don’t know what it is, or if it’s just a one-day thing. After days or weeks of seeing me on their way to work or school, they warm to it. They smile. They like the sign’s message. They like that some guy would stand there with it every day. What seemed an odd message to them at first comes to seem natural. Of course, some people say.

Monday, September 23, 2019

My shoulder still hurts. Hurts even more from doing the rigorous at-home exercises the physical therapist gives me to do. So I mostly hold the sign with one hand which is its own strain. But I can’t stay home. The sign wants to be seen.

Some guy hollered out his car window today, It’s the damn commies.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

On my way just out of my apartment yesterday as I was going to the subway station to get to the Climate Strike rally I heard some students somewhere up ahead of me chanting about global warming. As I got closer it was a block-long group of kids with signs and exuberance heading where I was headed. My eyes watered a little from the sound of their voices as they marched toward a gathering with other kids.

The train we all took was the one I had taken some hours before with my sign. We got off where I got off earlier. Not many days do I get to go to two things that matter so.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Beautiful day on Chambers Street. Later students from the public schools will go to Foley Square for a rally to insist more be done fast to halt climate change. Greta will be there or will be present at the end of the rally. I’m going down to Foley Square at noon when it starts. My photo lens wants to see it. 

While I hold the sign, people going by sometimes make comments. Today a hard-ass from a pickup truck hollered, It’s the damn Democrats. A guy my age went by and said,  Yeah reading, AND CURSIVE. That’s a major concern to some older people. I don’t get it.

A young woman who works for the department of education stops and talks sometimes. She stopped today. She is part of a team that works with homeless kids in the city’s school system. There are 100,000 homeless kids in the system. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019  
Even though I've held my sign with one hand every day, my sore operated-0n shoulder has kept me from posting much lately. It's also hurt too much to hold a book open to read much. Just last week I went to the bookstore for the first time in weeks. People tell me I should have a Kindle. Probably but I don't. I smoked for 50 years and never used a lighter. I don't have a TV but I can watch things online. I hardly do though. I bought five books the other day and I'm reading two of them. Samantha Power's new memoir, The Education of an Idealist, and Sean Wilentz's book, Bob Dylan in America, in paperback.

Monday, September 9, 2019

I continually get passers-by who are teachers. They most emphatically of all give a thumbs-up to the sign and say how students' poor reading skills affect their classrooms and the kids' opportunities to learn things they need.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

'I don’t think it would have all got me quite so down if just once in a while—just once in a while—there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time! But there never is! You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word 'wisdom' mentioned!' 
― J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

'No skill is more crucial to the future of a child than literacy.'
― Los Angeles Times

Thursday, August 29, 2019

'It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale.'
― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The lean white-haired woman (think Jimmy Carter's motherpassed my sign coming from behind me this morning but she must have seen it head-on before because she raised her slender arm with a thumb up over her head as she was just past me and hollered 'You go'.
I don't know what to say back to such people. I usually just raise the sign toward them. It says it best. It reinforces what she liked enough to commend as she walked by today.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

IT'S LATE-AUGUST QUIET these days along Chambers Street where I hold my sign on weekday mornings. I think the message could change the world so I go there with it no matter. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019
If the schools in the city really went to the mat for the kids, especially about reading, they'd pressure the city to have neighborhood library hours equal to the suburban libraries which are open till 9:00 every night and are open Sundays. Here the libraries close at 6:00 or 7:00 and are not open on Sunday. If that sounds untrue to you, it isn't. I know it seems impossible that New York City would have such meager hours.

Monday, August 19, 2019

When Jonathan Kozol wrote 'Illiterate America' in 1985, he said 60 million adults or about 1/3 of the adult population were seriously illiterate. They couldn't read or couldn't read well enough to function as fully-participating citizens of our democracy. I'm aware of that from holding my sign. Many people stare at it as though it were in some other language. Some who can just make out what it says, let me know they can read it by saying Absolutely or Ain't That the Truth as though they could read easily. One bright-looking woman who I tutored in an adult literacy class a few years ago told me she had headaches when she got home from work from staring so hard at the pages of a book on the subway to make it look like she was reading it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

'More money is put into prisons than into schools. That, in itself, is the description of a nation bent on suicide. I mean, what is more precious to us than our own children? We are going to build a lot more prisons if we do not deal with the schools and their inequalities.'
                                   --Jonathan Kozol 

Thursday, August 15, 2019


‘I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’
                            —Toni Morrison

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

'This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.'
     --Bob Dylan
This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.
This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.

Monday, August 12, 2019

'There's only one day at a time here, then it's tonight and then tomorrow will be today again.'
Bob Dylan,
Chronicles: Volume One

Friday, August 9, 2019
'The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic.'
Rod Serling 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I've told myself I should just point at the sign when people ask me what I'm there for. They only stop for a minute. There's no time to say anything really that will satisfy them. People are competitive. They stop to win. They want to best me and the sign with their own take on things. Most people don't stop. The sign's message is clear. Most people smile with their eyes when they read it. Some people who pass the sign every day, smile every day. Some cars that go by beep every day. Peace sign or thumb-up thrust out the window.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

From a New York Magazine conversation with Fran Lebowitz. Here she talks about her friendship with Toni Morrison:

She’s one of my best friends, and she is the only wise person I’ve ever known. I know lots of very smart people, but I only know one wise person,” she said. She and Toni talk on the phone every day. “She’s very important to me because there are very few people’s advice I’m interested in,” Fran said. “I’ve not always taken Toni’s advice, but I’m always interested. Toni is so unlike me. When I was young, my mother used to say, ‘Can’t you be the bigger person?’ And I would say no. I am by nature the smaller person, but the bigger person is Toni.”

“Toni’s the biggest person I’ve ever known, by far. She has the greatest generosity of anyone I’ve ever known. So it’s not only her intelligence, which is extreme… I truthfully know other people as smart as Toni, but I do not know anyone who is so large in generosity. And her talent is fantastic, but I know other very talented people. She is unique. I feel like I’ve met a zillion people, so I don’t think she’s unique in my life — she is unique on the planet.”