The Stories of Starry Night




The Stories of Starry Night





     What Goes Around ...


    In 1976 I received a phone call from a choreographer. Naj Wikoff and I were in the process of organizing The Public Art Foundation to help artists who worked in public spaces. We used my subterranean studio, in the basement at 8 Bethune Street, as its office. I was working on the Bicentennial edition of Night/Light and Naj was doing environmental pieces with cloth at that time.

    The choreographer needed to move a large stone sculpture which was a set piece for a dance he was working on. Since I had studied dance with Erik Hawkins for a week or two and then decided that I was better suited for set, costume and light collaborations, I had a 'soft spot' for dancers. During this time I was collaborating on pieces with Carol Conway and Brian Webb, both students of Hawkins, on creating light sculptures as part of their choreography.

    Naj and I met Jonathan Hollander for lunch. He was an engaging, ambitious and very practical young man. I had been working with Con Edison on Night/Light and suggested that he contact them. He did. That contact went on to evolve into a relationship that has lasted over 20 years. All present at that lunch proceeded to move along the paths of their separate lives. Jonathan is now the Artistic and Executive Director of the Battery Dance Company. Naj went on to become the Director of the Dutchess County Arts Council and is currently the Director of "Healing & The Arts" at The C.Everett Koop Institute.

    Twenty six years later, Danny Giorlando of Gotham Sound was working with Jonathan and mentioned that he was doing the sound for a light event in Battery Park with a guy by the name of Jim Pelletier. Jonathan remembered someone by that name who he had met way-back-when, who was doing this light thing with buildings on Wall Street. When he realized that that guy was probably the one-and-same light guy; Jonathan smiled. He asked Danny to pass his phone number along to me and said that I should call and say, "Hi."

    It was September 10th. Since St. John's University was not going to be available to assemble the lights, and all the materials were up at 240 Sullivan Street near NYU, I was a bit concerned as to where I was going to get the lights packaged for the buildings. I made a list of possible locations, but decided to call Jonathan first, thinking that he may know where I could find an inexpensive van rental company. I figured that if I got the van first then that base would be covered and I'd be able to respond more quickly when I found a space to assemble the lights.

    We didn't miss a beat. We were transported back to our lunch on Baxter Street. Jonathan instantly understood the situation. He didn't know where I could find a van, but he knew of a place where I might be able to assemble the lights. He called Carol Johnson at the High School of Economics and Finance. A few days of phone-tag followed. I finally connected with Irma Lederer, who arranged for the use of the high school cafeteria, which faces Ground Zero. The assembly time was set for 3:30 p.m. on Friday. I would have to take care of the expenses for over-time security, but we could work at the high school until midnight if we needed to.

    Kindness begets kindness. The heart knows not of the ticking of the clock, it keeps track of things all on its own.





The Stories of Starry Night





     Honest To God


    Thursday, July 17th was a good day for Starry Night. Catching up on my reading I noted that The Peterborough Transcript had published an article about the $850 that was raised by the Jaffrey Police Association, Kimball Farm, and The Boy Scouts of America at the auction of Ellie Gagnon's paintings. All the money was used to purchase lights for the 9-11 FDNY firefighters and Ellie was smiling. To my surprise, the 343 strobe lights with red casings for the firefighters were delivered by MPI Outdoors that afternoon. Only half of the funds needed to cover the cost of the lights had been raised so I called MPI to see if there had been an error made. They said, "We trust you."

    I called the Jaffrey Fire Department and asked Chief McConnell if I could store the lights there until I brought them down to Ground Zero. He said yes. There were tearful moments on my drive on the Mountain Road over Mt. Monadnock. I thought of all the conversations that I had had with the FDNY firefighters the year before, I thought of all the faces on the 9-11 poster at the Fire Museum on Spring Street, and I thought about the light that radiated from Fireman Joe Hunter's portrait. My body vibrated with a sense goodness, integrity and honor. It is the gift that is given to you for keeping your word.

    Chief McConnell and I unloaded my car and stored the lights in a secure room at the fire station and he told me that he would show the lights to the men at their Monday night meeting. I headed back over Monadnock into the streams of late afternoon light. The trees sleeved the winding road in the full green of summer. In summer you can drive on dirt roads without the fear of mud, so I cut across the west face of Monadnock on Shaker Road and looked for display sites for the searchlights for next year's 4th of July lightwork that will be called, "Northern/Lights." The wooded side road was lined with boulders and I eyed several prospective stones that I could potentially place in a Vietnam Era "healing garden" that I have been meditating on. I could not pass all the way through Shaker Road and had to turn back and go across Old Dublin Road in order to see the west ledges of the mountain.

    On Old Dublin Road I found a few sites for search lights for "Northern/Lights", but as dirt roads go it was not as "rock worthy" as Shaker had been. I drove around the south side of Dublin Lake up to Rte. 101 and stopped. While waiting for traffic to pass, I noticed a wallet on the ground. I got out of my car, walked over, picked it up, opened it, and began laughing. It was full of money.

    Now it is important to understand that this is how angels play practical jokes. These are the little "choice points" that they love to toss on your path just to see how you'll react. There is always a dilemma involved and always a disguised gift. So, I was standing there in the road with the wallet full of money in my hand, shaking my head, laughing and looking up at the sky and saying, "You guys... you guys."

    Decision time: (1) take the money and leave the wallet, (2) take the money and put the wallet in a Post Box, or (3) find the owner of the wallet and return it. There was $387.12 in the wallet. Credit cards. A loving photo of a mom gazing at her daughter. A loving drawing by a little girl of her mom with the names "Elisa" (with a backwards s) and "Mora" scrawled next to the depiction of the bonded pair.

    As the result of a series of bizarre and ironic events, that began when I returned from New York last September, I was spending the week at the Homeless Shelter in the basement of the United Church in Jaffrey while waiting to transition into a new apartment. I have a special connection to the United Church because my father took care of the tools of the artist that created the centerpiece that is on the altar in the church during the 1930s. The cash would certainly have solved many of my immediate problems, but when you are surfing the cosmic wave with angels it doesn't quite work that way. You know that they are playing a prank, but you also know that their Boss is watching. In the asymmetrical realm of Light and Dark, what looks like a short-term gain can lead you down a tunnel of doom in less time than it takes to hit an off-switch.

    Sherlock Holmes is one of my Super-Heroes, so I donned a double-brimmed cap, snapped my fingers (a S shaped pipe appeared), and I set out upon the task of returning the wallet to its rightful owner.

    Back indoors, I sat on the floor next to the phone and meticulously emptied the wallet in Sherlock style. The wallet belonged to one, Moira Cameron Burnham, age 38, with a classic "death camp" photo on her driver's license. Moira is 5'3" with brown eyes and lives on Park Avenue in New York City (hence the true agenda of the angels little ruse). The sooner you accept that there are no coincidences in your life the easier it is to live your life. For whatever reason this was a thread from Manhattan crossing my path and where that thread was going to go is the stuff that Faith is made of. As Forest Gump's mother might say, "Mystery is as Mystery does."

    I had had the experience of losing a wallet so I knew the drill. First, I lined up all the plastic cards. I called American Express. The young lady in customer service was ecstatic that I called. She personally promised me that she would somehow track down Moira to let her know that her wallet was safe. The first beam of light shined. Then I called Citibank. It took a few attempts to persuade the young man that it wasn't necessary to close the account since I was calling to give him a phone number that I could be reached at when Moira called to report her card "lost or stolen." He finally got it. And, even from that Tron voice of his, a few incandescent glimmers twinkled. He thanked me for calling, as only a Tron can, with a smile. The second beam of light was lit. Then I called the super market in Manhattan where Moira shopped. The Hispanic woman who took the information knew only too well what the probability was of someone returning a wallet with cash in it. Her silent pauses spoke a truth that the heart hears loud and clear. The light was growing. Next, a Pharmacy. The pharmacist understood the situation, took down the information, and soberly stated that he would pass it on. The light was growing. I noticed a note scribbled on the back of a tattered index card. She had her hair done at Bendel's. "Hmmm" I thought to myself in a tone not unlike Yoda's. I called her hairstylist, "Richard" who had just left. His assistant was touched. She said that she would tell "Richard" the first thing in the morning when he came in. The light was glowing. These folks were accustomed to the realities of a world in which a famous actor can get away with murder and of a world in which wars can be fought without reason. In New York little things like returning a lost wallet don©öt happen often enough. They understood.

    As I began to organize the contents of the wallet, an Impressionistic portrait of Moira started to come into focus. This was a person who supported the Bronx Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, had a Blockbuster Kid's Club card, road the subway, shopped at Bloomingdale's and KB Toy Works, and liked Opera. Her kids were cute and she had sentimental mom stuff folded -origami style- on scraps of paper in the nooks and crannies of her leather bound autobiography. She liked animals. A discount card to the Friendly Farm, a receipt from a horse supply shop, and the next clue; an appointment card from Tenny, Fritz and Combs Animal Hospital in Peterborough. I called the office and got an answering service. Explaining the situation to the young operator got me nowhere. "This is not a "Pet Emergency" she kept repeating until annoyance got the better of me. "So tell me," I said, "If you were on vacation and lost your wallet would you want someone to call you?" No go. So I said, "OK, how about if you call Nancy Moore (who was on call) and explain the situation to her and let her decide if this is a "Pet Emergency." She said she would.

    Then I hit gold. A vaccination certificate! It had the address of Miora's kittie, Puss-Puss. Puss-Puss was staying at the Grand Monadnock Farm in Dublin. It is not listed in the phonebook, so I called Mutual Aid. They referred me to Cheshire County Dispatch. Explaining the situation to the dispatcher, I asked to be connected to the Dublin Police and said that I wanted to return the wallet. A testosterone-torqued voice said to me, "Mmm, I'm sorry sir, but I can't allow you to do that." Right. As if this guy was going to reach through the phone-line and cuff me for being a Good Samaritan. He took my name and location and told me that an officer from the Keene Police Department would be over to get the wallet. At this point I was hungry and decided to walk over to Hannaford's and buy something to eat. Over my microwaved dinner I asked Holmes how I could find the Grand Monadnock Farm and he said, "Elementary ol' man, go ask the Reference Librarian at the Keene Public Library." So I did.

    It was 8:45 PM when I arrived at the Library. They close at 9. The skilled sleuth at the Reference Desk handily picked up the History of Dublin and "-Schazam!-" there was the Grand Monadnock Farm and with her other hand she nailed a Slam-Dunk from the Cross Reference Directory and out popped Daniel Burham (a relative perhaps?). After a shorthand copy of a roadmap was made I was off to Rte. 101 to find Moira and Puss-Puss.

    Rte. 101 is dark at night, especially near Howe Reservoir. I stopped at Audrey's Cafe where "A Family Resturant"(actual spelling) means just that. Audrey's is kick-back-down-home-country. Good folks, good food. There wasn't anyone in the seating area so I strolled back into the kitchen where Anita and Doug Shackett were busy doing their kitchen thing. I told them that I was trying to find the Grand Monadnock Farm. Doug got on the phone and asked a neighbor, who he had obviously known since the time of dirt, where the farm was. Anita & Doug cordially navigated me through the sequence of landmarks along 101. It was dark. I stopped a second time when I saw a car being loaded onto a flat bed in a driveway. The owner said, "It's over there by the sign that says GMF, or something like that." I didn't ask twice.

    Up the dirt road I stopped at the first house that was lit and honked my horn. In the country, if you don't know the dogs on the property, horn blowing is allowed.

    The porch light came on and cast long shadows out into the star-lit summer darkness. "Is this the Grand Monadnock Farm?" I asked. "Do you have my wallet?" a cold voice shot back. Now under normal conditions, when someone talks to me in that tone of voice, I generally say, "Be gone, you have no powers here," but I knew that Moira was from Manhattan. The City makes some people both numb to the suffering of others and callous to gestures of kindness, so you cut those poor souls some slack. "Yes," I said, adjusting to the fact that I was dealing with an Ice Princess. "Well, thank you for returning my wallet," she said as I handed her property to her in a manilla envelope. Since I lived in Manhattan for many years and had spent most of last year there I am comfortable telling self-centered New Yorkers when something nice is being done for them. It's like talking to a tone-deaf person, you just have a accept that you have to talk a bit louder than usual. "Do you understand that I have just saved you a lot of money and about a month's worth of aggrevation?" I asked her. Clutching the envelope she reached in and said, "So you want money?" I replied, "Well, I did spend about $10 on phone calls and gas finding you." Handing me a $20 bill she said, "Here." At that point I started to get very annoyed. "I just saved you a great deal of energy and I want something in return for it," I stated in a slightly louder, but matter-of-fact tone. Continuing, I said, "I spent most of last year volunteering at Ground Zero and since you live in New York I'd like for you to do something very practical to honor the people who died, a lot of people died you know." I could feel my blood pressure inching up as I completed the sentence. Her chilly and detached reply indicated that she had walled off her feelings about September 11. "I created a fund to help people..." "And you want a contribution..." she interrupted. "No, I don't want any money, I would like for you the use the same amount of energy that I just saved you to do something to honor the people who died." She said, "I'm not comfortable letting you in and I have children... I will be glad to talk to you about it on the phone." I stepped back from the heat-of-the-moment and said, "I understand your situation, that will be fine." She repeated, "I will be glad to talk with you about it on the phone and will help you with what I can." I said to her, "I hope that you are sincere." She said that she was.

    Back at the phone in Keene there were messages on my voice-mail from Moira, left before I met her, thanking me for finding her wallet.

    Moira did not call. The little Ice Princess from Park Avenue may not appreciate the kindness gifted to her, but the people in Manhattan who provide her with services did. They are the same folks that make New York run and the same folks that make skyscrapers come alive. That is why there will be a Starry Night.


After Word

I bought a sheet of "Heroes" stamps and $11 worth of gasoline with the $20.




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