Jury Duty Westchester Style

Jury Duty at the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains was about as painless as it gets. Everyone treated jurors with friendly respect and concern. That went for security officers, attorneys, commissioners, and judges too.

A Criminal Case
On Monday, I waded into a pool which would yield 12 jurors and 6 alternates for a criminal case slated to go 2-3 weeks! And what a case! Sexual molestation of children over several years.

I couldn’t believe my luck. I got through 4 calls of 18 on Monday and Tuesday without hearing my name! Then on Tuesday, I returned from lunch to learn jury selection was complete. Whooh! Report to the Commissioner, the Judge said. Freedom,  we thought. Not quite.
Jury Duty Westchester County Court
Civil Case In Supreme Court
“You belong to us for 5 days,” the Commissioner said, “and we’re short of jurors.” After saying sayonara to a 5-7 week case that would cause undue hardship, I escaped into a pool for a messy civil case in Supreme Court. It had been bouncing around the system for over 4 years and needed 6 jurors and 2 alternates. This time, I was the first juror selected. Ugh!

The jury panel looked like Middle America. Young and old. Men and women. Black, white and Hispanic. It included students and professionals. There was a tax attorney, a marine architect, a corporate VP, and a nursing supervisor. Interesting people. All cordial, courteous, connected and clued-in. I loved ’em all.

Hurry Up and Wait
For the most part, Jury Duty is hurry up and wait. When the waiting time looked short, we told stories and joked. When it looked long, we retreated into our private spaces. We read, listened to music, texted, emailed and tried to do a little work. Stylish Sara, a plump, 50-ish black exec and I usually shared a work space. We chugged away on our laptops, talking to ourselves as we worked.

Everything was clean, modern and tasteful. Not Better Homes and Gardens, but nice.  The juror’s lounge and jury room were almost luxurious and quite comfortable. Good thing. We spent most of our time in those rooms. The juror’s box in the courtroom was stylish but uncomfortable. It held sparkling, polished pine chairs that looked great. But they got us shifting and stretching after 5 minutes, aching after 10. Good thing we spent no more than 3 hours all week listening to testimony.

The Nuts and Bolts of It
The case involved a mellifluous City Island contractor who was was Grade A+ eye candy with a demeanor to match. He duped the Hernandez’, a Mount Vernon couple — stereotypical transplanted South Bronx. She’s petite, dyed blond, domineering, and emotional. He’s chubby, balding, stalwart and slick. But it was hard to like either side. The contractor had a team of full-throated, well-rehearsed, theatrical attorneys. Dewey, Cheatum and Howe. The defendants had a mustached mumbler, who stumbled, apologized and rarely completed a sentence. Mr. Farango invented the role of sacrificial lamb.

Last Minute Release
It came down to the wire. On Friday, we returned from lunch at 1:55 pm as instructed and waited in the Jury Lounge. At 3:10 pm a Court Officer, in bullet-proof vest, entered the lounge. He said the Honorable Lester Adler (real name) was conferencing with the attorneys. The Officer said he’d return at 4:00 pm with an update.

He returned at 3:45 and led us up the private stairway to the courtroom. Don’t sit down, said the Judge. There’s been a settlement. Yada, yada, yada. You did a fabulous job. We owe you a debt of gratitude. Without you, this case would still be litigating. Yada, yada, yada. Bye bye now. The Officer will conduct you to the Commissioner who will award your Certificates.

Release! No Federal Jury service required for 4 years. No other jury service for 6. We couldn’t leave fast enough!

P.S. Contrary to popular expectations, my check for 5 days of jury duty landed in my mailbox just 9 calendar days after I completed service. They really, really want jurors to feel important.

Except as noted, the names have been changed for privacy.

Ed Clark Photography at the Bruce Museum

The regional museum that could, just launched another Met-worthy exhibit with Ed Clark: American Photojournalist on display through June 1, 2014.

Ed Clark at the BtruceA street photographer from Tennessee, Ed Clark joined the elite cadre of photojournalists at Life, starting as a stringer in 1936. Although you might not recognize his byline — Life let him go when it downsized in 1963 — you know his iconic 1945 image of the tearful Navy accordionist Graham W. Jackson, Sr.  playing “Goin’ Home” as President Roosevelt’s funeral train left Warm Springs.

Ed Clark’s images are of uniformly high quality — well-composed, exposed and focused. No mean trick for a guy working at a time when cameras (and tripods) were heavy, exposures long, focus manual, lighting tricky, and black and white film dominant. But it’s not Clark’s technical skills that make his images memorable, it’s his ability to connect with people.

Clark was a populist photographer. His pictures tell stories about people, from commoner to celebrity, from peasant to President. Like Norman Rockwell’s paintings, his images are powerful, direct and always worth a second look. Clark said “Our senses are so assailed by different things. I just tried to get people to stop.”

The 40+ Clark photos at the Bruce — on loan from the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation in Pleasantville, New York — show Clark as a generalist, at home in Hollywood or Paris, in the Oval Office or behind the Iron Curtain, photographing a women’s club meeting or the hands of a surgeon performing an operation. My favorite, and Clark’s personal favorite, is the moody image of a plein air painter working on a sidewalk in post-war Montmartre.

If the exhibit whets your appetite for Clark, as it did mine, you’ll find more of his images online in the Time-Life Gallery and for sale elsewhere as posters.

Eye to I at the Katonah: Breathtaking, Dramatic, Seductive

Eye to I… 3,000 Years of Portraits, the new exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art is a blockbuster worthy of the Met or the National Gallery.  It includes 60 portraits by mostly well-known artists from several continents working in a variety of media from etching to oil, from sculpture to live and computerized images, from antiquity to the present.

If you’re thinking that’s a tall order for a non-collecting regional museum with just two small galleries. It is. But it works, and the exhibition is breathtaking, dramatic and seductive.

Mondrian by Red GroomsThe exhibit has been marketed as an interactive experience. This refers to a touch-screen display of colorful icons, each showing an image of one of the works in the exhibit. Touching an icon calls up commentary by local personalities and some national authorities — some of it enlightening, some inspirational, some just institutional — and generally helpful notes from the curator. Visitors are encouraged to enter their own comments and notes.

The touch-screen driven kiosk is a delightful curiosity. It’s like looking out over Manhattan from the observation deck of the Empire State Building while using stereopticon images to validate the view. Fun, but not the real deal.

The power and drama of the exhibit is more subtle and ineluctable than what you’ll see in the touch-screen gallery. Walk through the exhibit slowly, devoting half a minute or more to each work of art. Once you stop trying to find a scheme — it’s not organized by artist, period, style, size, color, continent, media, owner, etc. — you’ll succumb to its power.

Like a portrait comprised of thousands of photographic images stitched together by color and size, without regard to origin, content, artist or period, the exhibit is a work of art! Art as art. Kudos to curator Ellen Keiter!

Eye to I is on display at the Katonah thru February 16, 2014. It includes 60 pieces by artists ranging from Diane Arbus to Andy Warhol, many from private collections and never before exhibited. You can preview the exhibit at http://eyetoi.org/, the online version of the touch-screen kiosk. Two of our favorites were Martine Franck’s photographic Portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Red Grooms’ sculpture Mondrian, a portrait of Piet Mondrian.

Go see it if you can.

Gem Lab Now Buys Gold, Jewelry, Diamonds

Theresa Beltrani is an award-winning gemologist and appraiser, and President of her own business — Gem Evaluation Lab in Uniondale, NY. Before people began doing their own gemological research online, Ms. Beltrani focused on providing accurate appraisals, evaluations, and identifications of diamonds, gems and jewelry. Today, with commodity prices soaring and Long Island’s economy slumping, Theresa’s Gem Evaluation Lab buys gold, jewelry, diamonds and gemstones for ready cash.

New Gem Evaluation Laboraory websiteGem Lab clients still benefit from Ms. Beltrani’s extensive experience in the jewelry industry, including as a buyer, retail sales manager, consultant, appraiser, and expert witness.  In its new role, buying and selling gold, diamonds, gemstones, jewelry and precious metals, Gem Evaluation Lab works with individuals who want to sell a single item as well as with down-sizers, executors and attorneys looking to sell an entire collection or estate.

Ms. Beltrani is prepared to buy unneeded valuables on the spot for cash or to consult for clients making private sales or selling by auction.  With many contacts in the industry, she can also offer brokering services that maximize the sale price for luxury items, estates, and collections.

Although Theresa has changed focus, she hasn’t lost sight of what clients want — accuracy, honesty and professional integrity.  Whether you engage her as an appraiser, buyer, consultant or broker, you can be sure of a getting an expert evaluation, graciously rendered and generously priced.


M.A.S.H. for Affordable Automotive Lifts, Premium Service

America’s appetite for inexpensive automotive lifts is growing by leaps and bounds.  Just as Americans embraced low-priced Asian cars in the 70’s — think Toyota and Datsun — they’re snapping up highly affordable Chinese car and truck lifts today. The problem is that most of the low-cost imported lifts are being sold online by web techies with no automotive experience, no inventory and, worst of all, no service network.

M.A.S.H. Discount Car LiftsWhat Lift Buyers Want
The imported lifts, particularly those made in China and marketed here under the Tuxedo brand, represent a good value for entry level customers.  The quality is good and the price low.  And that’s exactly what residential, small commercial and many municipal customers want. But even more than good value, these typically first-time lift-buyers need good sales advice, competent installation, and very often, immediate delivery or pickup.

Cheap LIfts, Premium Service
Mid-America Shop Headquarters (M.A.S.H.), based in Bradford, Arkansas sells affordable imported lifts but with a difference.  M.A.S.H. offers the experienced sales help, local inventory and reliable local installation usually reserved for premium lift buyers.

Introducing M.A.S.H.
Managed by second-generation automotive equipment specialist Kristen Simpson, M.A.S.H. is a bricks and mortar distributor of discount automotive lifts and equipment.  It stocks the most popular lifts for immediate pick-up and delivery in its Arkansas warehouse. And it has partnered with an experienced and respected regional installer — WECO, Inc. — to provide delivery, installation, service, inspection and training for its line of budget-priced imported products.

M.A.S.H. + WECO = Value + Safety
The WECO partnership means M.A.S.H. can deliver and install affordable Tuxedo lifts throughout Arkansas and in Tennessee,  Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky within 225 miles of Little Rock. That’s particularly good news for budget-minded buyers who are concerned about safety and reliability.  M.A.S.H. won’t sell a lift that won’t do the job.  WECO won’t install it if it won’t hold up.

The M.A.S.H. website is the newest in a series of automotive-themed sites produced by the Bryant Hills Group.  Please check it out.

Tapia Home Improvement Contractors of Westchester

As someone who makes part of his living building, servicing and repairing equipment, I appreciate others who share my enthusiasm for world class craftsmanship served up with home town customer spirit. One such craftsman is David Tapia, who owns Tapia Home Improvement Contractors of Westchester, NY.

Tapia Home Improvement Contractors of Westchester

David is a second-generation craftsman who runs a family business that includes siblings, cousins and, on occasion, Tapia père. A skilled carpenter, tile mason, painter and mechanic, David designs, supervises and personally participates in all of his company’s projects.

I came to appreciate Mr. Tapia because of the work he did for me and my neighbors.  So I was thrilled when he asked me to create a website for his business.  I’m always happy to have new business, but triply so when it’s for someone I personally believe in.

David Tapia is the rare entrepreneur who combines a passion for perfection with a talent for listening to a customer’s needs and desires and translating them into attractive, livable spaces.  This man will go far!

Mr. Tapia is a skilled mechanic who quickly handles repairs and reconstructions. His forte is projects that require meticulous attention.  Don’t hesitate to call on David for your kitchen or bathroom renovation, to remodel your living room or den, to carve a room out of your basement or attic, for custom cabinetry and built-in furniture, or for woodworking projects and repairs.

Looking for a home improvement contractor in Westchester, NY?  Check out David Tapia of Westchester!

Matisse at the Met: Interesting but Not Satisfying

We took advantage of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Sunday hours — it opens at 9:30 am — to visit Matisse: In Search of True Painting before it got crowded.  The exhibit, which will be on display until March 17, 2013, boasts 49 works spread over eight carefully orchestrated galleries.  It was organized primarily by Rebecca Rabinow, a Met curator of modern and contemporary art, and by Dorthe Aagesen of the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen.

A view of Notre Dame cathedrral in Paris by Henri Matisse from the artist's rooms

One of Three Views of Notre Dame Cathedral by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse lived a long, prolific life (1869-1954) using a vivid palette and a variety of styles, so it’s hard to know what to expect in a major exhibition.  What we didn’t expect was a lecture or a dissertation.  What we got was a powerful and scholarly exegesis of an unremarkable thesis.

The curators tells us that Matisse, like many artists, was a serial revisionist who relentlessly explored the same themes and settings wearing different glasses.  And, like many others, he achieved the ultimate expression of his vision by painting successively closer approximations to the signed canvas.  Quelle surprise…

To spell out the obvious, we think art appreciation isn’t about understanding the artist, the venue, the technique or the method, but about experiencing the personal effect. Although we are not above academic conceits, we would prefer to see them confined to the classroom.

Quibbles aside, we must tell you that there are several totally delightful paintings that you probably haven’t seen before.  Check out the curator’s selections (most of the exhibit) before you go.

The Matisse exhibit has been widely discussed.  We recommend Mary Tompkins Lewis’s review in the Wall Street Journal for an academic viewpoint   (It’s quite different from ours.)

Two suggestions.  Go early in the day to avoid the crowds (tourists love the Met).  And, if you’re a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch cardholder, take advantage of Museums on Us®,  which provides free admission to major museums nationwide on the first full weekend of the month.

Daddy’s Girl by Scottoline a Dud

Daddy's Girl by Lisa ScottoineDaddy’s Girl, Lisa Scottoline’s latest book and my sixteenth Scottoline, just doesn’t cut it. Like most Scottoline books, the main character is a gutsy female attorney — this one a law professor, a role Ms. Scottoline has recently assumed in real life — and the pace is hectic.  But unlike most of the author’s other outings, particularly those in the Rosato and Associates series, this book suffers from poorly developed, unsympathetic characters, including the protagonist.  The more jarring defect, however, is the totally improbable plot, which drops our heroine into highly unlikely situations and imbues her with near super-human powers. Does high-speed stunt driving, blowing up propane tanks, and single-handedly foiling a prison break sound like something your law professor could pull off?  Maybe in the comics.

Happiness is the Horse not the Cart

I’m enjoying the writing suggestions of Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, whose latest newsletter — sign up; they’re short, informative, and free — recommended a 12-minute TED talk by Shawn Achor called “The happy secret to better work.”  Shawn’s thesis in a nutshell is that working well doesn’t make you happy, but being happy makes you work better. His talk is fast-paced, amusing and convincing.  Try it.

Grounds for Sculpture

George Segal's "Depression Bread Line" Photo © Louis J. Bruno

George Segal’s Depression Bread Line at Grounds for Sculpture.
Photo © Louis J. Bruno

Accessible sculpture in a lavishly landscaped setting. Some major pieces, like George Segal’s Depression Bread Line, lots of stuff reminiscent of first rank sculptors like Rodin and Moore, and plenty of contemporary art that’s just plain fun.

The grounds — 44 acres worth — at Grounds for Sculpture are not just background noise. The walks, groves, arbors, plazas, ponds and gardens vibrate with artfully disposed plantings worthy of a world-class botanical garden.

The sculpture, some in a permanent collection, some on tour, is mostly contemporary, some edgy, some cheeky, some pushy, all grabby. Not for lovers of classical sculpture, but perfect for everyone else. We saw families with kids, seniors, young couples, and art students, all smiling, some laughing, some dancing to the sound of sculpture.

Grounds for Sculpture is not DeCordova, not Pepsico, and not the Stanford Art Museum. It is lush, entertaining landscapes populated with 250+ sculptures ranging from the kitschy to the sublime.

Looking for the Met outdoors? Get over it. Looking for fun, get with it.

The negatives? We think Grounds for Sculpture could benefit from an integrated plan for landscape architecture, and we’d like to see more curatorial material on the identifying plaques, (Not everybody likes/uses audio tours.)