Thursday, June 30, 2011


My last post was a big one.  Months in the making, lots of anticipation, then high excitement.  And the whole experience went smoothly.

I'm still basking in the glow of that experience.  Plus, your many kind comments amplify my joy.

Do you know how when you paint your fingernails and then later remove the polish, a little residue hides in the rim of your nail?  Well, I have that -- and I'm not going to dig it out because I enjoy seeing it there as a fond reminder of my happy day.  It's not really noticeable to anyone unless they look closely and nobody does.

There were two luxuries in my prom post that you may not have realized.  The first is that the pictures were taken outdoors.  That's a big deal to me.  Normally, I don't have the opportunity to shoot outdoors.  The second is that the photos were taken by someone other than me and my tripod.  That was a treat.

Returning to ordinary outfit posts -- indoors, taken by myself -- may seem a letdown after the prom post, but we'll give it a try.  :)

Yesterday, I was walking past an expensive clothing store (where I never shop because I can't afford their clothes) when I spotted a rack outside on the street with discounted items.  A ruffly top called my name.  Normally $69, it was on sale for $9.  Score!

I thought it'd look great with some white capris and heels, so here's what I came up with.  Your thoughts, as always, are invited.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Prom Project

All of us face obstacles in life.  Too often, we succumb to them.  That joyless result is not inevitable, however; we can strive to leap over hurdles in our path.  My obstacle -- being considered male -- is larger than many impediments, but that only means that I need to dig deeper to overcome it.

Years ago when I started riding motorcycles, I saw a sticker among the hundreds of slogans available to bikers.  (We put stickers on our helmets.)  The sticker said, "It's Never Too Late To Have A Happy Childhood."  That message encourages me: it prompts me to re-live earlier experiences, this time in my true self.

I never got to go to a prom as a girl.  In adolescence, I craved the female prom experience.  Sadly, it wasn't a possibility.  Last December when people were making New Year's Eve resolutions, I mentioned on the blog that I've always harbored the dream of wearing  a prom dress.  Saying that out loud was a big step.  Acknowledging something deep in our heart is a little scary, especially when society doesn't accept it.  Later, in April, a reader named Michelle suggested to me that I live out this dream, to the extent I now can.  I thought about that suggestion, long and hard.

I then decided to do a Prom Project.  During the past two months, I've tried to re-create as much of the female prom experience as I can.  The process ended yesterday with an elaborate photoshoot that took extensive planning and effort to set up.
The photography was done by my talented friend Jamie.  My sweet friend Debbie did the makeup.  (You've seen how Debbie's makeup advice has improved my pictures since her first tutorial.)  My girlfriend Nicole attended the photoshoot to offer moral support -- and ended up holding a light-reflector.  :)  Robin provided support, as well.

I'm happy to report that I savored the process.  The preparations of selecting dresses, shoes and jewelry were very pleasurable.  I enjoyed visiting prom stores; I instantly sensed how full of energy and enthusiasm they are for feminine plumage.  I enjoyed picking out a dress after viewing dozens of websites and visiting several local stores; I even sketched ideas on what I wanted to narrow the choices.  I considered my body-shape -- or lack of one: I'm built like a brick with no curves so that presented a challenge.

The biggest decision was the dress: what should I get?  I was torn between short and long.  A short dress would look attractive and a long dress would indulge my fantasy of looking like a princess.  After thinking about it, I suddenly realized: why not get both!  I'm only taking pictures, not going to an actual prom, so there's no reason not to experience both types of dresses.  I bought two dresses, each of which appeals to me for a different reason.  Here they are.

The pleasure of planning the Prom Project was enhanced by sharing the excitement with my girlfriends.  I kept them informed on my ideas and the success of my efforts.  They offered valuable feedback on numerous points.  (Thanks, Debbie, for steering me away from the white shoes.)

Since I wanted this occasion to be special, I decided to get new jewelry specifically for it.  I like glittery diamond-style jewelry for its classic look and bought a new necklace, earrings and bracelet.  I also found a cute white leather clutch purse, which highlights my brightly-colored fingernails.  A prom outfit is not complete without flowers and my friend Nicole was thoughtful enough to present me with a gorgeous corsage.  I wore a silvery flower decoration in my hair to match the other jewelry.

I didn't expect the prom experience to become as realistic as it did.  A few days before the photoshoot, when everything was falling nicely into place, I suddenly got a pimple!!  AAAGGGHHH!!!  That hadn't happened to me in years.  Now, all I could imagine was that it was going to ruin everything; that you guys would be so focused on its gargantuan prominence that you wouldn't see anything else in the pictures.  I worried like an insecure teenage girl.  Of course, I was overreacting: the pimple went away by itself.  Whew!

I delight in little pleasures and this process presented many.  For example, I needed to take my measurements to determine my dress-size.  Previously, I've used a cold metal measuring-tape from my hardware toolkit.  I decided to splurge on a real cloth measuring-tape.  I went to the drugstore and found one in bright pink!  The color made me squeal with delight!  It was the happiest $2.79 I ever spent.

I also learned new things.  Debbie warned me to be careful not to pick a lipstick-color that would clash with my dress.  It never occurred to me to coordinate makeup and clothing like that.

The process was also a catalyst for visiting new stores and areas of stores I've never seen: e.g., the handbag department; the beauty section.  I bought my earrings from company named Cinderella's Pumpkin -- how perfect is that!

I'm told that prom is often a rite of passage for women; it's their first dip in all-out glamour.  I longed for a full immersion in beauty and fashion and, to the extent I could create it, I did.

After acquiring dresses and accessories, I staged a dress rehearsal.  Alone at home, I put on clothes, played nice music, danced around like a schoolgirl and imagined myself at a fancy ball.  I looked out the window waiting for a horse-drawn carriage to whisk me away.  :)

The Prom Project was joyous and fun.  I enjoyed it; I learned from it; and I want to share it with you.  I hope you like the pictures as much as I enjoyed creating them.

After the photoshoot, I realized my dresses had only been worn once, with no alterations, so it'd be a shame to put them in a closet.  I've decided to donate them to a local organization which provides free prom-dresses to girls from poor families.  I hope these dresses find new life and bring joy to someone else.

I'm eager to hear what you think of my idea and its execution.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fun With Pictures

You can play with your pictures and create fun effects at this free website.

"Columbo" (Peter Falk)

An icon from my childhood (the Seventies) died this week.  I have a funny story to tell you about him.

Peter Falk was an actor who hit it big with a terrific TV cop-show called "Columbo."  He played a detective who was disarming and willy.  His character, named Columbo (no first name), investigated crimes and always found ways to implicate sleazy culprits by tricking them into revealing damning evidence.  Columbo appeared disheveled and clueless, but that was a calculated act: he closely observed everything and got people to let their guard down when they mistakenly thought he was a fool.  The show was a bit hit on TV from 1971 to 1977.

When Falk was a child, he lost an eye due to cancer.  Later, he was told by Hollywood agents and producers that he'd never work on television or film because of that.  He proved them wrong and was beloved by many viewers.  His handicap never stopped him from pursuing and achieving his dream.

Falk spent a year at the college I attended (Hamilton College).  While there, he played baseball.  During one game, he slid into second base and was called out by the umpire.  Furious, Falk popped out his glass eye, handed it to the umpire and said, "Here... you  need this more than I do."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Queen Of Mean

Leona Helmsley was a New York billionaire famous during the 1980's.  Leona went to prison at the end of that decade and she died in 2007.  In her Will, Leona left her beloved Maltese dog named Trouble a bequest of $12 Million.  Trouble died a few months ago at 12 years of age, after a life of pampering and luxury.  I thought I'd tell you a little about their story.

Leona and her husband Harry were wealthy real estate developers.  In the 1980's, their empire of New York City buildings was worth $5 Billion.  That's 5,000 Million dollars.  One of my earliest clients used to be a business partner with Harry; both he and the Helmsleys were slippery characters.

Leona was active in her husband's real estate business and she had a horrible reputation.  People described her as tyrannically cruel and selfish.  She fired people cavalierly for no reason and enjoyed making people beg for their jobs.  In the 1980's, she was widely known in New York as "The Queen of Mean."

Leona became infamous for a remark she made to her housekeeper.  Impressed at Leona's wealth, the housekeeper observed that Leona must pay a lot in taxes.  Leona's response was: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."  That comment captures Leona's attitude of condescension and entitlement.

Leona and Harry used contractors to work on their personal homes while billing the expense to their company.  It was a way to cheat the government out of taxes.  In 1988, Leona and Harry were charged with tax evasion by then-prosecutor (and later-Mayor) Rudy Guiliani.  Harry was too ill to stand trial, so Leona went on trial by herself.  The trial was a big event in New York at the time.  I followed it closely.

There was a long parade of people happy to slam Leona for her history of insults and bad behavior.  The most fascinating part of the trial was her lawyer's closing argument.  Addressing the jury, he said -- and I'm not making this up -- that his client Leona "is a bitch."  It was impossible for him to credibly argue otherwise.  He tried to explain that while Leona was a lousy person, she was not a criminal.  He tried to separate the overwhelming attacks on her character from the legality of her behavior.  The effort failed.  The jury found her guilty.

Leona was sentenced to 16 years in prison but was released after only two.  The end of her life was spent alone.  Harry died and Leona had no friends.  She devoted her attention on Trouble and left him a fortune.  After Leona died in 2007, Trouble had full-time bodyguards because -- and, again, I'm not making this up -- he received death-threats.  People threatened to kill Trouble simply because they hated Leona so much.

What do you think of this story?  Oh, and I always thought Leona looked like The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson in "Batman" -- released that same year as Leona's trial (1989).

Monday, June 20, 2011

More Coney Island Pictures

My post on Saturday documented the Mermaid Parade.  I took other photos that day which are more artistic.  These pictures include areas of Coney Island beyond the Parade and are aimed more at aesthetic beauty than the event.  I hope you like them.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dear Ally

Dear Ally,

Today is the first Monday, of many Mondays to come, being off of work due to a medical leave. My illness is psychological in nature, an eating disorder, which has resulted in some physical illnesses. As of today I would like to start to rediscover myself as a part of healing.

Previously I've dealt with my issues by managing my body image, taking on a lot of projects and setting the standards as being perfection. Now I've cut out many of my responsibilities to focus on myself and the treatment I need to do in order to get better. However, for the first time ever, I'm at a loss on how to start this personal project of self discovery. Waking up with nothing to do but whatever I want is causing major anxieties.

I have goals like being more in touch with myself, developing assertiveness, loving my inner beauty, appreciating my exterior appearance and being able to better control my destructive thoughts. I have no clue on the how to reach these goals. Any advice on how to start would be greatly appreciated.  xo

Signed, Ashelle

Dear Ashelle,

Your question and situation are very serious, so I'm going to treat them with the utmost respect and care.  Your life and happiness are at stake here.

I'm glad you're receiving therapy.  I used to think it was a cop-out when Ann Landers reflexively told questioners to "get therapy" but, in your case, you have a real need for it.  I hope therapy helps you sort out what's wrong and provides you with tools to improve.  The perspective of a trained professional is often very useful to us in seeing things we're blind about.

Trying to be perfect is a common way people who are struggling wrestle with their demons.  I know -- I used to be one of them.  The idea, which is actually an illusion, is that if you're perfect, all your problems will disappear.  But, they won't.  You'll still have the same problems.  And it takes Herculean effort to achieve perfection in anything.  Some of that effort can usually be directed better elsewhere.

In 1764, the philosopher Voltaire wrote that "The perfect is the enemy of the good."  He meant that trying to be perfect is not be worth the effort if it costs you in other ways.  Good enough is better than failed, depressing attempts at perfection.

The goals you state are valuable ones, but they're indistinct.  It's easy to say we want to become raise our self-esteem but harder to figure out how to do that.  What I think you need to do is make your goals more concrete -- visualize them in a form that can be turned into action.  For example, instead of saying you want to be more in touch with yourself, identify activities that do that for you (e.g., writing a journal) and commit to doing those activities.

Then, after you've done that, break down your goals into smaller sub-goals.  It's easier to met a sub-goal on the path to a larger objective; plus, doing that is rewarding.  You'll sense accomplishment in meeting sub-goals which will spur you to continue on the right path.  Often, facing a big project like writing a 50-page term-paper is paralyzing whereas facing smaller steps toward the goal (e.g., doing research; sketching notes; writing an outline; drafting an opening chapter) can be attacked with more confidence.

I hope this advice helps.  And please keep me posted with your progress.  I care!

** If any of you readers have suggestions or advice for Ashelle, please chime in.  She and I have agreed to open the discussion up to include your thoughts and contributions. **

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Today, I went into Brooklyn for the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade.  It was fabulous!  It far exceeded my expectations.  It was like Halloween, in summer, in Brooklyn, with mermaids.  Thousands of people wore costumes, many very elaborate, and the jovial mood was infectious.  Everyone had a good time.

I went with my girlfriends Jamie and Nicole and we had a blast.  All day long, we joked and laughed and watched amazing sights go by.  Of course, being in Coney Island, we had to eat at Nathan's which started selling hot dogs there a century ago in 1916.  In addition to hot dogs, they also sell -- and I'm not making this up -- frog's legs.  To eat.  I passed on that delicacy and had a lobster roll.

Here are some photos.