I love Red Burns!

We had a big party last weekend to celebrate the 30th anniversary if ITP, where I went to grad school (and where I taught for a few years).

Red Burns is the chair, and I love Red Burns. We all do. This is not the greatest shot of her in the world. She’s addressing the crowd here. I owe Red Burns a lot. She supported me when few others did, and helped me when I was starting Echo (and when so many others said it would never succeed). And when I was a student she encouraged me to experiment and play, and I did, and my time at ITP were some of the best years of my life.


I will never forget my first semester. I was an older student, back in school after being ten years out, and I was so nervous and intimidated by my very smart fellow students. I was taking a class with Red and we had an assignment to write a paper based on any subject raised by one of the guest speakers.

To make a long story short, I didn’t write a paper. I wrote a play called “Corpse in Space.” It was about a start-up in the future where instead of burying people they’d jettison your body into space. It was actually my friend Chris Hegarty’s idea, which I fictionalized. The main characters were a saint, a praying mantis and a couch. The point is it was WEIRD. But I was trying to demonstrate in an entertaining way how hard it is to take an idea and make it happen. I was so terrified when I handed it in. Who knew how she would react? The world was different in 1986. Doing something like that would be nothing now, but I’m telling you it was a risky thing then. Not everyone would have accepted what I did. I think she hugged me the next time she saw me. I know she gave me an A.

I was working for the Mobil Corporation at the time, and I wasn’t happy. In fact, I had only gotten out of rehab a couple of months before I started grad school. So I was miserable. And feeling very insecure. The day she hugged me was my first happy day in a long time. Her not only accepting this weird story but giving me an A set me free. I started turning my life around. It led to Echo. It led to writing books. If Red Burns wasn’t the person she is, ITP would be a completely different place and I don’t know if any of these things would have happened. I really really owe her.

Thank you, Red Burns!!

I found these shots on Flickr, but I can’t find where I put the photographer’s names. I’m sorry! Forgive me!! They asked us to make short films about Red and send them in and Marianne Petit edited them all into a tribute movie to Red. This is me up on the screen talking about Red.


And this is me and my friend Steven Levy talking to Craig Kanarick. Actually I was talking to someone else. Allison DeFren, I think. I loved seeing everyone, it made me so happy (with a few bittersweet moments).


Remembering Toshi Otaka – Part 2

I had to post what Tom Igoe said in the comments section, because I know not everyone reads the comments section and I didn’t want anyone to miss this.

From Tom Igoe:

“In truth, his diary couldn’t be read until a few days ago. Because of the discussion Stacy mentions, I started looking for it. Found a couple pages here on Echo, and asked NYU’s IT services, and Nancy Lewis, our IT manager at ITP, if if could be found. ITS couldn’t find it in all its backups. Nancy (also a classmate of Toshi’s) managed to find the backup hard drive from the ITP server at the time, pull his old account, and put it up on our current server. So I’d say the fact that it’s up is as much testament to the power Toshi had on us all as it is to the web. Sometimes love makes you do strange things.

“My favorite Toshi story comes from right before he left NYC. He wanted to find a copy of Christopher Cross’ “(The Moon and) New York City” because it made him think of his best memories of NYC. Not a popular album at the time, it wasn’t in any of the CD stores nearby (remember CD stores?). He had a bunch of people on the alum list out searching for it, and I think it was Matt that found it. When he passed away, I got that song stuck in my head for a week. Just like him to take something I’d previously seen as hopelessly schmaltzy and turn it into something precious through its association with him.

“Thanks, Stacy, now you’ve got me crying too. Geez.”

(Now that song has become something precious to me, too.)

Remembering Toshi Otaka

I’ve spent the past few days remembering Toshio Otaka, aka Toshi, an ITP student who graduated in 1997 and who died of liver cancer on January 16, 2001. I believe he was 34 when he died.

ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) is a graduate program at NYU. (I’m from the class of 1989.)

There was a big party this weekend celebrating ITP’s 30th anniversary and Toshi’s name came up. Everyone who knew him liked him, and people who knew him well loved him. Toshi interned at Echo in 1996 and because I was his “boss” I had a more formal relationship to him, but I came to love him through his online diary, which I will get to in a second.

Tom Igoe, a classmate of Toshi’s (who now teaches at ITP) recently turned over a table and uncovered this reminder that Toshi had been there.


Toshi was so proud of having gone to ITP. He described it as “the hottest institution in the world pursuing multimedia field” on his diary, and on his resume he put: Graduated with departmental award for “Pioneering Work in Interactive Media.” The first Japanese student who got the award in the more than-20-year program’s history.

That award meant a lot to him.

I read though all of Toshi’s online diary yesterday and made myself cry. His death is hitting me harder now than it did at the time and it really upset me at the time. I was sad then, but it feels inexcusably tragic and wrong now. I think I appreciate more how short a time we have to begin with and how much people who die young are gypped.

But he was just so sweet and special. That gets said about a lot of people, and maybe a lot of people deserve to be described that way, but I’m telling you. This guy was something else. Sweetness and specialness at a whole other level. I’m going to prove it shortly.

It kills me that he didn’t get to have a family (he wanted one) and to grow old with them. It kills me that he didn’t get to do all the things he wanted to do, and he had a lot of dreams. It kills me that he didn’t get to come back to New York. He really loved it here.

He had hoped that he’d get to stay in New York for a little while after he graduated, but his company wanted him back right away and he felt he had to respect their wishes. (He was the Webmaster and a Staff Editor at “Nikkei Entertainment!” magazine, which was published by Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)

This is his very last post from his online diary:

May 31, 1997

Order Coke

I was on the plane on May 31st, 1997. The seat I was sitting on was on a business class, Club ANA. I upgraded my economy class ticket. It must be really comfortable to sit on a wider seat than those in ecomony class but I didn’t have enough room in my mind to feel that comfortability. That is not to say that I was very sad at that time because I had to leave this country, I thought. I could not name my feeling which I had then. I had a very weird feeling.

I ordered a glass of champaigne to a stewerdess. With a graceful smile, she brought it which was mild pink. With sipping it, I was reading the New York Post in which Irabu, a Japanese New York Yankees’ pitcher, was introduced to be a member of the team. His smiling picture was on the cover.

“I am leaving. Irabu is comming…two Japanese, different lives,” I thought.

The article reminded me of the article which I had read on the plane just coming to JFK from Narita. In the paper, Nikkei Newspaper, I remember Mr. Yasuhiro Taze, one of the greatest journalists, wrote about Hideo Nomo. Mr. Taze had specialized in politics but he tried to picture the difference between Japanese culture and US’s by depicting what Nomo, Japanese only then Major Leager, was doing in the US. He had been chosen as a member of the all star games at that time. US is better when it comes to develop their own ability as a person or whatever. I forgot the detail of it, but what I had thought then was the day I was comming to the US, July 3rd, 1995, one Japanese pitcher was finally considered to be a real major league player, which had encouraged me a lot.

Irabu followed Nomo. Both of them are really great. On the other hand, do I have to say I am just an ordinary man compared to them? I don’t know. But nobody can not deny the fact that I am always playing the main role in my own life.

Probably what I was being on the plane heading for Narita was sentimentalist. I don’t know.

It took seemingly 20 minutes after the plane’s taking off. I felt like drinking coke. When I ordered it, tears suddenly droped from my both eyes. The waitress probably recognized it but pretend not recognizing it. I didn’t understand why tears were comming out. I didn’t feel I was crying. I just felt my tears on the cheeks were hot. Then, I finally realized the name of my weird feeling that I had had that day after waking up was sadness.

She brought a coke with a smile.
Cheers to an American symbol, Coca-Cola!

The post before was heartbreaking, just because of his obvious pride about all the fellow students who came to say goodbye to him the night before. Those of us who knew about his diary followed it avidly. The charm and heart of it is just incredible. It was written up in the Wall Street Journal, among other places, and he was interviewed on NPR.

It used to be when you first went to his diary you’d see the headline:

“It’s PRIVATE! Nevertheless, You’ll Keep Reading, Won’t You?”

You can explore his entire diary here, but a sample follows.

I went through it with the intention of pulling a few entries to give people an idea of what it was like and ended up pulling a ton. I’ve kept them as is, typos and all, but I inserted paragraph breaks just to make it easier to read.

Thank you Tom Igoe for the photograph and for helping me track down when Toshi died (thank you as well Marianne Petit and Midori Yasuda).

A very, very special thank you to Matt Davis for sharing Toshi’s last emails with me and for the pictures (which are from Matt and Dana’s wedding), and to Nancy Lewis for fixing the broken links in Toshi’s diary so we can still read it and remember the very wonderful and amazing Toshi Otaka.

Rest in peace Toshi. We miss you.


The Highline

I finally went up on the Highline. It was just for a minute or two both before and after the ITP 30th Anniversary Party, which I’m going to post about another time.

The Highline is a stretch of elevated railroad tracks that was shut down and allowed to become overgrown with weeds and wildflowers. It has since been renovated and is now a public park, keeping a lot of what made it special. Not enough to my mind, but I can’t complain.

Here is before the party. I’m looking uptown.


And here is after the party, at night. The picture is actually a mistake, but I prefer this mistake to the shot that follows, which is what I was originally shooting for.


Not as pretty and magical, right? This is looking east, I forget which cross street.


Matt Damon on 11th Street

When I was out this morning I passed by Matt Damon shooting a movie on the corner of 11th and West 4th. I pull out my camera and take a few shots, but I was rushed, and didn’t even bother to check the setting on my camera. I wish I had because the setting was WRONG. What was I saying before about going through life as an idiot??

Anyway, here are my Jason Bourne, I mean Matt Damon shots (he was shooting something called The Adjustment Bureau). Which didn’t come out well. Damnit. Oh wait, is that Emily Blunt?