Ghostly Sightings

Halloween apparitions will most likely be stirred by Hurricane Sandy this year.  She seems to be a very angry spirit.  So yesterday, it was time to go meet a few ghosts.

With its loveliness, one wouldn’t think that Washington Square would be a vortex of Halloween energy.  But it was built on the graves of 15,000 yellow fever victims, and some say you can see the saffron yellow, linen-wrapped bodies, if you know where to look.

The Hanging Tree, last used in 1819
Click on this image to see its creepiness

But you don’t have to look hard to see the last Hanging Tree in New York, where Lafayette in his triumphal return to the U.S. was proudly taken to witness such justice.

So Justin Ferate told us on our tour of Haunted Greenwich Village.

As is typical of any tour with Justin, we went off on interesting tangents.  Do you know why walk-ups rarely go higher than 6 stories?  Because water pressure won’t go push water higher than that.  Savvy builders constructed new apartment houses to 15 stories using water pump technology.  Did you know that the best kind of water tower to have on the roof of your building is made of wood?  Justin wants to lead a tour of New York’s water towers.  I’ll be there!

And although not at all ghostly, those professional chess players in the park can get their supplies on nearby Thompson Street.

3rd and Thompson








So many places in the Washington Square vicinity are haunted, you’ll have to check out the slide show below.  Here are some tidy tidbits.  You know the phrase “getting sent up the river”?  That comes from moving the prison in Greenwich Village up the Hudson River to Sing-Sing (a popular tourist stop on a daytrip out of Manhattan in the early 1800s, per my New York Historical Society connections).

We saw NYU’s Brown Building, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire horrified all.  The 146 unfortunate women, locked in the workroom, who died on March 25, 1911, had work because of R.H. Macy who invented the pricetag.  A set price on a shirtwaist and black skirt allowed the Working Girl to afford the ‘uniform’ of her day.

In the myriad ways to detect a house of the wealthy is the type of column.  In this case a full, that is a complete, rounded column, was more expensive than a partial column or pilaster.  Makes sense.

Gertrude Drick supposedly haunts the small doorway she introduced to artist John Sloan and other ‘hoodies, when they climbed the 110 stairs inside the arch to go to the top and party.

Aaron Burr bought the carriage house at 17 Barrow Street, stabling his and George Washington’s horses there.  Now the famous restaurant One If By Land, Two If By Sea, Burr and his daughter Theodosia haunt the place.  She likes earrings, so be careful what you wear when you go there.

Anyone want to join me?


Washington Square is way too haunted to relay all the tales here, but check out this slide show:


Picture 1 of 24

Then I rode the C train up to 163rd Street to visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion.  Eliza Jumel’s spirit, which regularly haunts the place along with other ghosts, was apparently so restless that she morphed into 7 manifestations, each haunting a separate room or place on the grounds.

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To read more about Eliza, you can zoom to read the text on page 2 or click open the pdf.

Eliza was abandoned as a young girl by her parents and so turned to prostitution, before becoming an actress.  She married for money, perhaps killed that husband, and then her second husband Aaron Burr conveniently died on the day their divorce was finalized.

Eliza as an abandoned girl, in the kitchen

Eliza as a widow, with the pitchfork that killed Stephen Jumel










In her mad, doddering elderhood, she was a scary gal, and I have to admit that I jumped a bit when I exited the house to be screamed at by Eliza’s ghost from the balcony, “Get Out of My House!”  Okay, okay already.  So that’s when I went on the grounds to encounter the Eliza who may have neglected to care for her husband Stephen, after he was pierced by a pitchfork.  Hmmm.

Edith Wharton wrote in the introduction to her autobiography A Backward Glance, “To all the friends who every year on All Souls’ Night come and sit with me by the fire” (thank you, Justin for sharing this quote).  Since Sandy seems to be keeping us at home for the next few days, join me by my proverbial fireplace…well, everyone maybe except Eliza!

A Bump on the Head

Today, at the Rubin Museum, for my Himalayan art class, I learned how to instantly recognize an image of the Buddha.  That’s The Buddha, not the 16 buddhas or the bodhisattvas.

There’s the hand-touching-the-earth gesture, in which Buddha calls the earth to witness his enlightenment.  Only The Buddha makes this specific hand gesture.

Then there are his very long earlobes, the result of wearing heavy earrings while he was an earthly prince. The earlobes remind us of what the Buddha renounced.

But my favorite is the ushnisha, the bump on top of his head.  The ushnisha results from so much knowledge and wisdom that his head needs to expand to accommodate it all.

You can see all 3 features
on this Buddha sculpture

Now I can feel the top of my head (this ain’t your mother’s phrenology), and alas, no bump where the Buddha has his.  How about you?

Maybe someday…


Polishing a Creaky Chestnut

I wasn’t too excited about seeing The Mystery of Edwin Drood today.  But Roundabout did what Roundabout does.  They take a classic, in this case the creaky, unfinished Dickens tale, and they wallop the audience with a great good time.

This is the music hall done right, not like the woeful, obnoxious One Man, Two Guv’nors.  Once I was willing to let go of knowing this chestnut just too well, I laughed and had so much fun with the ensemble musical.

I didn’t even realize until the intermission that Chita Rivera is in it.  During the second act, I focused on her and will say, I finally recognized her cheek bones.  She shares the stage very willingly with the always wonderful Stephanie Block and Will Chase, who was a small bright spot on Smash as the actor who nearly breaks up the Debra Messing character’s marriage.  He is wonderful here, playing against type.

While I’m the last one to tell you to run out and buy a ticket for this show, if you are a Roundabout subscriber like me, you don’t have to sigh at the thought of spending this time in the theater with them.  Even the luscious Studio 54 theater is complemented by their production, and their sets, especially the railway station (reminiscent of the famous Monet painting), are nicely done.

Claude Monet, St Lazarre Train Station, 1877

Go prepared to participate and have fun!

A fine day on Park Avenue


It was a fine day on Park Ave.  There was the tiniest evidence of leaves starting to change.  Notice the one fallen leaf on the left in this moment of color.



And what a pleasure to immerse in the International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show at the Park Ave Amory, a place of great beauty itself.

The show offered a great range, from antiquities to contemporary art.  I enjoyed talking with the dealers about the challenges of working with antiquities in an era of cultural repatriation and major museum thefts.  Of course, to be able to see and touch such lovelies, with no vitrine in the way, is one reason to go to a show like this.

While the slide show below has many more images, here are a few of my favorites (you can click on any of the images to enlarge them, then use your back button to return to this post).


She called my name from a long distance, and we had a good talk, squatting together in the booth.  We reminisced about being on the western shores of Mexico, and she told me a thing or two.  I’m sure you can imagine.




This is a woman who knows her own mind.  You’ve just got to admire her!


Her Peruvian girlfriends came to join us.  They were utterly charming, even if they didn’t reveal the mystery of their upraised hands.  A delightful time was had by all!









I guess I was in a sculpture kind of mood.  Look at this Europa and the Bull.  Marvelous!







And I must be learning something in my Renaissance and Baroque Women Artists class, because right away, I just knew this Virtue and this Fame were by a woman we want to know–Elisabetta Sirani.


Not the best photos due to glare, but you can still make out the elegance of the portrayals of the allegorical figures (figures that stand in for ideas) of Virtue to the left and Fame blowing her trumpet below.



Thank you, Elisabetta Sirani!







And some things just make me smile…

















…or sigh with pleasure…









Here’s more beauties from the day.  Enjoy!



The Glories of NYPL

Ah, New York and its architecture.

My friend and artist Carolyn is in town from DC, on a mad dash to see as much work in the Chelsea and mid-town galleries as she can in two days.  So I met up with her at New York Public Library, one of the great, Grand buildings of New York.


What an inspiration to work there, which I had the good fortune (or challenging process) of doing while researching for the Ed Ruscha Catalogue Raisonné project.  Who wouldn’t be inspired to academic grandeur in a place like this?



Carolyn introduced me to the early work of Philip Tager, a photographer she knows, giving me a behind-the-scenes look at this lawyer-turned-photographer and his (primarily) architectural images.  If you’re nearby, you’ll enjoy seeing the show–it’s up on the 3rd floor (the same floor as the Reading Room pictured above and the WPA murals in the slide show below).  The wonderful history of Lunch Hour NYC exhibit is still on the ground floor.  Don’t go hungry.


Then we walked up Fifth Ave, as Carolyn was racing the clock to fit in a couple more galleries.  But I made her slow down to look at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is getting a facelift–only appropriate for a fading Fifth Ave beauty.


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One of the wonders of New York: look up at the cathedrals of Manhattan, meant to send our spirits (of commerce) soaring.



Whale and whale of a good time

This afternoon, I saw the Whale at Playwrights New Horizons.  It continues to be the best theater in town for my taste.  I’d say don’t wait around, run go see this play.


The play is a slow build, carefully constructing a tight, small world, that begins to resonate wider and wider.  By the end, I was moved to tears.  You know I see a lot of theater.  I can’t remember the last time I cried at a show.  When it was over, the audience sat in complete, absolute, almost terrified silence.  Again rare for me, I wanted to see it all over again from the beginning.

Now, this isn’t an easy play, nor an uplifting one.  It’s got references to the whale and Jonah and the whale and Ahab.  It has characters that may make you uncomfortable.  It is defined by acts of love, well, Acts of Love, that are neither expected, nor simply understood.

If you are up for a challenge, I think you’ll be glad you saw it, and I want to talk with you about it afterwards.

The Met Museum once again comes through with a whale of a good time.  This time with its “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop” exhibit.

 Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

Now the smaller exhibit of photos manipulated by Photoshop is also interesting, but go see the warhorses by Gustave LeGray, Henry Peach Robinson, and Edward Steichen.  In person, you can really see the manipulation, which is missing from a PowerPoint slide.  I finally get why Fading Away was so challenging.

Henry Peach Robinson, Fading Away, 1858

Of course, there are the Surrealist and Postmodernist greatest hits, too.  Weegee gets his day in the Met sun (nice to see him other places besides the International Center for Photography). 

I was “turned on” by Grete Stern’s Dream #1: Electrical Appliances for the Home from 1948.  The whole dream series was new to me.





I do have a personal connection with the “Novelties and Amusements” theme of the show.  I was visited by a spirit when I had my photograph made in Gettysburg, PA.  Of course, it was no novelty, no mere amusement.  Well, she was my Muse for writing a paper, so I guess, in a way, it was a-muse-ment.

City Island and Pelham


Fall is here.  The air is crisp.  The sky is that deep blue of autumn.  Lexington Avenue is showing off its colors.





A perfect day to venture up to City Island, with some stops in Pelham Bay Park and Pelham Manor along the way.  My first time to travel with the Victorian Society.

Our first stop was Grace Church in Pelham Manor.  Very classy, as you can see.

Christ Church, Pelham Manor


It dates to 1843, featuring windows by the Bolton brothers, who were credited with creating the first figured stained glass in the U.S.  Their father was the minister, and they were self-taught, with this church as an experimental palette.



We moved quickly on to the 1842 Bartow-Pell Mansion in the northeast Bronx.

My most favorite room was the Orangerie.  Glorious on this beautiful day.







We then crossed the bridge onto City Island.

The island was originally part of Pelham and was intended to rival New York Harbor.  But the island was devastated by the British during the Revolutionary War, and those ambitious plans were never realized.  They then attempted to build the island up based on Salt Works.  But without a bridge (not built until the 1870s), the industry failed, and they turned to oystering.  City Island oysters were even served in Paris.

Pollution put an end to that business after making many fishermen rich.  So the island reinvented itself again around shipbuilding.  Those fortunes built up the island with its mansions and churches constructed by shipbuilding carpenters.  Tourists rode ferries to the island for its beaches and casinos.  With the demise of shipbuilding in the 1980s, the island has become residential.

This is the view from Barbara Dolensek’s house on the west side of the island on Easthaven Bay.

Their wonderful 1900 house was a wreck when they bought in 1979, the dark days of the Bronx, and they were the first owners to live in the house since 1906.  Barbara called it “Mildew Manor.”  They worked on the exterior first, restoring its beauty.  The filmmakers of Long Day’s Journey into Night helped, too, by rebuilding their porch for the first 15 minutes of the film.


See the slide show below for interior pictures and more views from Barbara’s house.




By the way, she edited the Met Museum’s publications, commuting into Manhattan everyday from her beloved City Island. Her husband was the vet for the Bronx Zoo.  One wonderful story she told was that her husband was caring for some lion cubs, and they really needed a lot of attention.  So rather than stay with them over the weekend at the zoo, he brought them home to City Island, where the neighborhood children got to play with them.  Imagine.


Barbara escorted us to her church, Grace Church, which also has a Bolton stained glass window.  But I was enchanted by the boats at the altar–one faces east and the other west.




The church was built in 1862 by local shipwrights.






After visiting the Revolutionary War era Pelham Cemetery, where the dearly departed have the best views into perpetuity, we went on the Inn run by Michele French.









This house was built by an oysterman, Captain Pell, in 1867, and is truly Victorian inside, with weird little cubbyholes in rooms, narrow staircases, and delightful double bay windows on the first two floors.





I loved a couple of other houses nearby, which never let us forget the sea.  One had a masthead and the other a two-story widow’s walk.  Close ups are in the slide show.







And City Island has charming little finds, like this doorway — too fun.







I had wanted to go to City Island for awhile, and that itch has been scratched.  I’m not moving there anytime soon, but will enjoy looking at this slideshow to remember the enchanting day there.



Fall for dance?

Tonight was Fall for Dance, and I think I may have been a kill-joy for my friend.  Rather than falling in love, I was untouched.

Perhaps I’m just out of step (all puns intended) with modern dance these days.  Two of the 3 works we saw were so inextricably linked with pop culture that I can hardly call them dance.  One seemed more like hip-hopped gang ritual and the other like a trick pony, which sparked ooh’s, ahh’s, and applause from the audience.

I remember criticisms of Pilobolus back in the ’70s.  That’s not dance, moaned the critics.  And maybe it wasn’t.  Now, 2 generations of dancers later, I see Pilobolus watered down by gymnastics and Cirque du Soleil, making those ’70s dances look like Balanchine.

So, hungry for Dance with a capital D, I find myself liking Rite of Spring more and more, the piece my friend liked the least.  At least the work had a coherent whole, with performances that served the whole, that created an effect.  For me, that effect was visually intriguing, like game pieces moving on a chessboard.  My friend found it repetitive and dull.  We agreed it didn’t really go anywhere.  Still, these will be the images I’ll remember from tonight’s performances.

Rite of Spring
Choreography by Shen Wei

Ah, beauty

I’ve just returned from a curator led tour at the Met of the clay models of Bernini.  However anxious and stressed I was before encountering Bernini, I feel like I’ve just returned from a beach vacation.

 Bernini: Sculpting in Clay

No wonder.  Art in Bernini’s age was meant to elevate the soul, to raise our spirits, to inspire us to greatness.  Even these clay models work magic.

This early, less-than-lifesized marble by Bernini and his father opens the show.

Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children

I really appreciated being able to get very close to the work, to see the deft textural changes, the little jokes like the angel sticking his tongue out at the faun.

Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children

These works, like so much great art, tell us to slow down, look.  The curator did a fantastic job of pointing out the artist’s hand–literally.  Here a thumb stroke, there he used a tool to create the smile, look how he rolled up clay to make the fingers.

Look for the life-sized head of the old man.  Bernini really could breath life into stone.  I wish I could show you an image.  You’ll just have to go to the show.

If it’s possible, I fell even more in love with Bernini.  His work is so seductive anyway, but to get an intimate experience with how he crafted the full scale sculptures makes me feel like I was there with him.  Even rough, the sculptures are astonishing in emotion, power, and visual expression.  This show is a visceral experience.

And for me a calming one.  I hope I can hang on to it.  Fortunately, for now, Bernini is only a few blocks away.

Black Box blues, or is it black and blue?

Okay, my return to theater after more than a week away was a powerful one, thank goodness.  I was losing my faith from a string of losers (to browse the list of what I’ve seen check out the Theater Log).

Bad Jews at Roundabout’s Black Box will probably take on more resonance with the passage of time.  While watching, I was riveted and also aware that my own point of view was clear.  Even at the end, when the playwright challenges the audience with some revelations that might shake that certainty, I was still comfortable inside myself.  I know which argument I favor, even if I might change a core plot action as a result of the revelations.  So I was not changed by seeing the play.

However, this is good theater.  Strong content, doing what a good play is supposed to do–make you think, make you reflect on the characters and how they develop, challenge you.

These are flawed characters, all.  Each is deluded and endures some painful truth-telling.  The one character who tries “to stay out of it” ends up at the center, being forced to have an opinion.  I would say that the end of the play means change for the 3 principals, and maybe even the 4th character.  The moments of awareness at the very end are subtle (which the rest of the play is not) and clearly left for post-play discussion.

This is one to see with a friend and plan to discuss.  Will it transcend its heavily Jewish content?  Will it transcend its mini-lecturette formatting, albeit delivered at hyper speed?  I’m interested in your thoughts.  For sure, you will see 4 young actors working their hearts out. You’ll see a play that will push you, make you work along with the characters, and maybe make you laugh, often in a kind of cringing way.

Click on this link to learn more about the production and watch a video that, warning, gives a bit away.  As you know, I like to go in knowing nothing.  So if that’s you, viewer beware.

Roundabout Black Box production of Bad Jews

Usonian houses in Westchester

It’s been over a week since I joined the Usonian tour in Westchester County, led by Justin Ferrate, an amazingly knowledgeable, resourceful, and personable guide.

Going into the two houses, plus walking the neighborhood, lingers as a highlight of my New York touring adventures.

Roland Reisley’s home.

He is an original owner who worked directly with Frank Lloyd Wright to build his home.  Roland told me that Wright was easy to work with and even raised the ceilings 3 inches to accommodate Roland’s height.  Roland was in his 20s when he worked with Wright, who was in his 80s.  Talking with Roland today, now age 86, means connecting to over 150 years of American history.

More about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses in Westchester County, NY.

The neighborhood is a cooperative, and just like a New York City coop, prospective residents have to make an application.  Check out this application page Justin gave us:

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How would you answer these questions?

The rain doesn’t stop anyone

Despite the rain, about 30 people showed up for the Grand Concourse tour in the Bronx, part of Open House New York.  Sam Goodman, an Urban Planner for the Bronx Borough, led the tour.  About midway, as we stood before a much-storied, internationally traveling Beaux Arts Sculpture in Joyce Kilmer Park (part of the slide show below), he challenged us to examine our prejudices: “who says a working class neighborhood can’t be beautiful?”

He got us into the lobby of several doorman buildings and the courtyards of others on a stretch of Grand Concourse not too far from Yankee Stadium.  Classic Art Deco and Beaux Arts detailing.  Murals in two on the buildings.  Elevators, oh my.  Check them out.

The people living in the buildings seemed more interested in getting on with their day than admiring the beauty of their surroundings.  I get it.  We live such busy, harried lives.  But to take a moment and see, really see.  That’s sweet.  Sam talked about what makes a building inviting.  It’s why I chose my building, which has a really pretty lobby, small floors, and clean, non-smelly halls.  What about you?

Riding the D train up to my volunteer assignment at the NY Botanical Gardens, I wondered how many people would venture all the way up there on a rainy day.  I met Bob and Jenny on the train, members of the Gardens, not aware that OHNY was there today, too.  We walked the 8 blocks over to the Gardens, and through their generosity, I joined them as “members” who could go into the Monet Giverny installations.

For those of you who saw the Giverny exhibit this spring, as I did with Helen and Al, or in the summer, I’m not sure the autumn plantings are different enough to warrant the long trip, unless you have a car.  Of course, if you haven’t seen it, it is lushly gorgeous.

In this slide show, you’ll also see the Fountain of Life and the neo-Renaissance building that houses the library and the Monet paintings that are on exhibit.  I also was blown away with the sculpture installations on the grounds, definitely new since my spring visit.

Even on a rainy day, this is a place of great solace and beauty.  The quiet, too.  And there was added fall beauty, although no leaf color yet, all over the grounds.


Going home on the 4 included a surprise treat–art in the subway.  One of thousands of OHNY tours I missed this year was the subway art tour.  There’s always next year…

Abundance of riches

There are 4 conferences in New York this weekend I wanted to go to, but I am only managing two.  Such is the life in New York.  While I’ll be missing the landscape conference and the Historic House Tours, today, I managed to make it to both JASNA in Brooklyn and Open House New York (OHNY) in Manhattan.

The day started with Cornel West, who is a Jane Austen fanatic, along with the 750 conference goers.  His style of delivery and even his point of view made for a fascinating point-counterpoint with Anna Quindlen.  While she focused on Austen as a miniaturist, who with that in-depth study models for writers a kind of greatness in the detail, he placed Austen as “the daughter of Shakespeare” in a Humanist tradition going back to the Greeks.  What does it mean to be human?  What is it affected by acknowledging our inevitable death?  We accomplish wisdom only through self-knowledge.  West argues that Jane Austen writes compellingly about each.

While Quindlen spoke from the heart, with tears in her voice, West leaned over his podium, spoke without notes, reference philosophy and literature through the ages, and impassioned his audience with preacher-like reverence.  He compared Austen with Checkov who said “I am a sad soul with a cheerful disposition,” then compared both authors in their quest to reveal, understand, and grow from suffering.  In a similar spirit to Quindlen, West said, “Jane Austen’s accomplishments go beyond our ability to keep up with them.”

Cornel West dancing all around the podium

Having first met West’s work while in graduate school, in writing filled with anger at patriarchal power structures and the oppression of African Americans, I was a bit amazed to see him leap to the stage, personally acknowledge many coordinators and scholars in the audience, and hug everyone within a few feet.  Perhaps, like all of us, age has brought a softening, a gentleness, a Jane Austen-ness that inevitably comes from the suffering of daily life.

After a rousing session on Georgian jewelry, I made my way back to Manhattan to the West Village.  With an hour to spare, I visited a Tibetan shop and stopped in to look at some fun antique clocks next door.

American clock, c1910s

Then I followed this guy for awhile, with his orange wheel.  I have no idea what he was doing or where he was ultimately going.

I sat in a pretty park with a nice fountain, until it was time to make my way to the OHNY tour.

Manhole Covers.  Yes, really.  Quite wonderful.

The tour was led to the artist Michele Brody who has a passion for manhole covers, designed one that was temporarily situated on Wall Street, and recently has sold manhole cover inspired lighting.  You’ll see her picture in this slide show, along with some of the highlights.  I love how important the feet and shoes became in this venture of looking down at the minutiae of life.  I bet Jane Austen would have loved this tour.


Today, 10/5/12, was the first full day at the JASNA AGM in Brooklyn.  That’s Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting.

In this video, you’ll see Jane Austen encounter New York and the Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz.  He kicked things off today and was so rousing and funny that he made me want to move to Brooklyn immediately.  He worked the title of all six Jane Austen novels into his remarks, too.  As he walked up the aisle to leave, I shook his hand, and he patted me on the back.  It almost seemed like it was election season.

Marty Markowitz in his office at Borough Hall, Brooklyn

Anna Quindlen was the plenary speaker, and she spoke movingly about Jane Austen as an inspiration for today’s writers, of course, weaving in her own story.  I was so impressed by Quindlen’s warmth, accessibility, intelligence, and passion.

I also got to try my hand at quilling – rolled paper put together to form images and scenes favored by those at leisure in the Regency era – and making a reticule, a handy little Regency style bag.  No surprise I’m not very good at either, but great fun to try them out.

My first attempt at quilling
The little flower has been placed in a tea caddy

My favorite session of the day was with Russell Clark who spoke about why First Impressions bombed on Broadway in 1959.  As a theater hog, I eat up everything about the Golden Age of Musicals and learning that this rendition of Pride and Prejudice just lacked that certain something of the My Fair Lady flair brought together two of my favorite pastimes — Jane Austen trivia and Broadway musicals.  If he sends it, I’ll post Clark’s PowerPoint from the session, which was inspired.

And who knew that sex was coded into Jane Austen’s novels?  Well, Miriam Rheingold Fuller did apparently, as she explained in her talk “Slits, Spikes, Steeds, and Scandals!  Coded Sexual Indiscretion in Jane Austen’s Fiction.”  Yes, it was as juicy as it sounds.  Maybe even moreso…much too racy for this PG-13 blog.