What are you great at? I’m told that I’m one of the most creative people that anyone has ever met, but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean that I truly am in that elite 2% of the population that see’s things with such precision that I can find opportunities for improvement in almost any design or advertising campaign? Or does it mean I really don’t pay attention that well nor do I listen that well so I just hear, see and pick up something completely different from what is being put down.
Maybe what I’m truly good at is not being afraid to share my mind, pitch a creative idea or present a solution that only I can see while all others are focused on other things. Maybe that’s what I’m really good at, taking the risk for reward when all others fear the rejection.
I was at the gate at an airport last week and the security guard checking IDs asked me a question, as she was reviewing my driver’s license and boarding pass. What I heard was, “Are you trying to look like yourself today?” To which I replied smiling with sincere jest, “You have the picture, I don’t even know what I look like sometimes!”
Instead of hearing the rim shot and my audience breaking into canned laughter, all the security guards stopped what they were doing and rallied behind the security guard in front of me, all wearing their most serious and concerned faces, as she asked the question again. Strangely I was terrified by the prospect that I might be carried off into some dark interrogation room at any moment, as she spoke very slowly this time carefully repeating the same question she asked the first time. “Are… you …traveling… by yourself… today sir?”
To which I explained what I heard incorrectly the first time and said three times… “Yes… traveling by myself!!…Yes Yes.” After that explanation, all the guards laughed and sent me on my way. Another close call gifted to the creative.
Sensing things differently is both a gift and curse for us creatives. Sometimes I think we are best suited to having a guide at our side at all times, who could interpret and help us navigate through life’s confusion or at the very least just remind us to pay attention and keep our eyes on the road… much less verify what we hear or see.
When I’m out shooting photos, I’m happy to share my view and always consider the possibility that what I see and hear might actually be quite different from what is being said or shown. Like take these two guys for instance. To me they spend their days and nights combing the beach for lost metal objects. I imagine finding metal has become their life goal for some reason.
The guy on the right looks to me like a veteran who doesn’t walk that great in the first place due to metal chards still in his leg from the war. The guy on the left must have been in a rock band his whole life and has gone from playing heavy metal to finding it. What other explanation could there be for such a past time.
As the sun set, even the least attractive bathers in my view became aesthetic stacks of shapes and form reflecting the end of day glow.
Marching mothers and trotting tots kick up crystal branches of Gulf water while their forms melt into colored roots dripping below the surface.
Elsewhere on the Gulf, tiny black zombies wander in various directions searching for their next meal of living flesh.
On another beach, during another day, also at sunset, a gang of bikers trek out to the end of the sand, strip off their colors and prepare to take a plunge.
Out of the water climbed this young lady with her float. Sometimes it’s really hard to take the picture when I’m so taken with just looking at what I see. Was she a musician? A punk rocker perhaps? A clothing designer? Maybe she worked at a store that sold odd floats and waterproof leggings and was just showing them off. Maybe she is a little girl who never grew up? I think hairdresser…yeah…that’s my best guess.
Elsewhere on the Gulf a man surfs with his dog. I’m guessing wealthy retired owner of a software company specializing in mobile applications. Or perhaps he doesn’t have to work because he is the son of the publisher of Fortune Magazine and he spends his days playing with his pup and his paddle.
From a distance the setting sun flashes a huge shiny reflection off someone’s back obviously related to the Hulk! Though he was just reaching down into the water to splash up some rinse… caught in mid-motion his back arched and arms stretched making him look even more primitive. I imagined passing him on the beach to get a look at the ripped front shot of this monstrous body builder.
I imagined him turning around just as I had my camera aimed on him only to have him run out of the water screaming, “I”m a celebrity, I’m under contract, I’m forbidden to have my picture taken!!!” Then I realized my imagination was getting the better of me because what celebrity screams, “I’m a celebrity, please don’t take my picture” ?
The sun was almost gone and it was time to head back. I passed an ice cream store where all kinds of people were overflowing out the doors and hanging on the porches, licking and slurping like lizards catching melting drips. Inside I wasn’t drawn to the obvious but captivated by the stack of cones piled upon one another. The white light from the heat lamp bleaching out the shapes from above while the shadows formed pitch black tunnels darkening the cones beneath.
I was reminded of one of life’s great analogies, how life is like the ice cream cone. I read somewhere that as the brim at the top of the cone get’s wider and invites more of life’s good to enter it’s ever opening funnel, so does the painful pointy bottom drill proportionately deeper into the dark corners below.
While some of us choose to focus on the opening in the light, others will always only see the narrow, sharp and dark point at the bottom. Ironically both have to exist to form the other.
From delusions at flight to conical insight the creative knows no bounds. And then there is no time or place to be creative especially when a dog is left in the car during tropical heat. Such an odd motivation of dependent devotion, blinding such obvious and extraordinary ignorance. This car was parked outside a grocery store in the heat of the day, and I’m sure the owners went in for something quick, thinking they’d be right back; but they weren’t.
I went into the store and grabbed the store managers and showed them the dog in the car and asked them to page the owners or call the authorities. A lifetime of bravely pitching creative ideas ironically prepared me to be unafraid of rejection and able to stand up, speak out and save a dog’s life.
Maybe this is really what I’m good at.
Wouldn’t it be something if we could all be hosed off at the end of the day and made fresh and clean from whatever dirt that might have gotten stuck to us on that day. This weekend my creative view was painfully skewed from pieces and parts of dramatic stories collected and overheard, making muddy my perception.
It all started out on our way over to a small public market that was held at a well-known brewery somewhere in a less desirable section of Tampa. On the walk over, there was a pile of tires stacked against a wall. All I could see was a braided pony tail off a woman’s head and wondered how they stacked those trashy tires so perfectly to make something I’m so fond of. There must be a lot of retired people living in this neighborhood I thought to myself without sharing the pun.
Outside the brewery destination, a woman stood staring at ring of barrels. She was filled with fear and worry, thinking thoughts no one could know. Within the next week she will be evicted from her home and she had nowhere to live. Her health was so poor that she could barely stand upright and her children lived far away by choice so there was very little support from them. Divorced, physically ill, unemployed and unwanted by most people, she stood staring at the ring of barrels and wondered how they all held together.
She would wander into the market to enjoy being anonymous and surrounded by other people. Her illness would force her to become so ill that she would end up at a local hospital barely catching her disease before her legs would have to be amputated. Her hospital stay would end up making her thinner, healthier and able to hold it together in order to go forward.
Inside the market a bearded man with a pony tail buys some free-range chicken while his dog has something to say to the one passing by. No one would know that this dog does not belong to the man as he is just watching his son’s dog, who was just adopted from a local shelter. Together they were on their way to a barbecue at his son’s house when the dog would return home.
No one would know that this man’s son is living with a woman who has also adopted two girls and baby from parents that didn’t want them. Together the son and woman would work, committed to each other in order to make a stable and safe home for the children and pets. No one would know this son almost died of heroin addiction had he not become the defender and family provider he now is.
Nor would anyone know that the generous woman he moved in with is a successful phone sex operator, especially given her conservative, compassionate, giving and caring way with children, animals and her recovering man.
Inside the brewery a couple has a beer. He is a well-known editor of Hollywood movies, who has a secret passion for large fluffy women. The woman he’s living with is watching her daughter’s baby for the weekend. He loves to drink craft beer, get a little relaxed and stare at her enormous fleshy arms which he loves to knead like fresh pizza dough. He loves her to death and can’t wait to have her all to himself again after the baby goes back.
An aunt is out for the day with her niece. The little girl has special needs due to unexpected troubles when she was delivered at birth. Despite the child’s slow behaviors the aunt couldn’t possibly love her more. Together they eat the foods and do the things that the girl’s mommy does not normally permit, like devouring greasy cheese drenched chips and painting her face with crazy butterfly make-up on her eyes.
Meanwhile, the woman at the other end of the table looks across the room, over at man she wishes was her’s. She’s trying to not be noticed, staring and wondering what the beautiful man see’s in the trashy woman he’s with.
Filled with the voices of private battles, we left the brewery to visit downtown St. Petersburg for a change of scene.
A street person rests his bare feet just above water while shading himself under a tree. He holds a cell phone he found in the grass behind him and wonders what he’ll do with it. He thinks about his usual weekend routine of approaching tourists in the street and asking for spare change. He wonders if he is happy being free from possessions and responsibility or if he should feel guilty for preying on the generosity of others.
He thinks about it for another second and then forgets everything and anything he was thinking about because a bird flew by and it took all his attention. He puts the phone down and leaves it where he was sitting and follows the bird around the grass to his next random thought.
From another bird’s-eye view, way in the distance are heard whistles blowing, screaming crowds and applause coming from what looks like a tiny blow up slide off to the left of the infamous inverted pyramid at the St. Petersburg pier. Apparently the Mud Wars were happening on this day.
You know that it’s mud and I know that it’s mud… but strangely I saw two donuts fighting, standing in a pool of chocolate icing. I was so hungry at that moment and just wanted to jump in and eat them.
Next to the donut duel and in front of the big blow up slide, was the tug-o-war. If doggies could have faces while playing tuggie… this might be what they’d look like.
And after the war was over… laying in the cool creamy mud couldn’t feel more refreshing or shiny.
The only thing more refreshing than laying in the mud would be getting hosed off afterwards. And then I remembered how I started this story thinking how great it would be to wash off one’s dirty drama at the end of each day.
Epilogue: After posting this blog, I learned of this awesome video by the Cleveland Clinic that really sums up the experience of being sensitive to the private battles that others are fighting in their own world, that none of us are aware of.
Wouldn’t it be something if we could wash off the woes of others and make them healthy and clean again, like hosing off so much mud.
When I was a little boy, my dad sent me on a cross-country teen tour with two bus loads of Christians. We were to camp-out for six weeks as we toured the rough and tough corridors of our great nation. On the day I departed, he gave me a Swiss Army Knife and five $20 bills and said, “This needs to last you all summer.” When I asked him why he was sending me away, he explained that I was too sensitive and was spending too much time with my mother. He said this would toughen me up and make me less of a sissy.
Our first stop westward, was somewhere in Ohio or Indiana… where I had to feed my chubby Jewish body a candy bar or would have died of starvation. When I reached into my pocket for the money, I realized that I would have to break my first $20 and before long they would all be gone. At that moment I decided to not spend any of that money on food, and just eat what the Christians served me, when they served me.
Through the course of that summer, I only ate salads, cereal and broiled steak and chicken and lost a ton of weight. It was the first time I had ever been thin and attractive to others. With my face narrow and my body slender, the only part of my body that remained fat and juicy were my lips. Apparently, not only were the girls attracted to them but so were many of the boys.
My orientation was clearly in preference and adoration of women but there were a few flattering and uncomfortable moments in dark corners of back woods campgrounds that I had to assert my natural inclination. As I got older and always being a part of the creative community, I grew to accept and appreciate all beings for their own freedom to live their life in any way that made them happy.
I grew to manhood with my big fat lips and dramatic personality only to meet many men and women who preferred to have their romantic relationships be with people of their same gender. I eventually became an honorary Lesbian, was invited to their parties and into their community, and found them to be the most evolved among us humans. I also have had many friends throughout my life, who were gay and enjoyed discussing with me, the nuances in art and design, inside secrets to cooking and baking, and which hand creams were better than others.
This past weekend I had an opportunity to visit a huge block party, the day after the largest Gay Pride parade in the state of Florida. I got there early as temperatures were forecast to exceed 100 degrees and I didn’t want to be around when nudity would almost become a necessity. So I strolled into the event snapping away at what ever potential thousand word shots I could gather. It all started with this lady carefully sucking on a butt with a long ash. I think she was one of the event coordinators and I couldn’t tell if she was straight or gay but had my theories.
Down the road was a booth selling replacement windows. They got a very poor response from the crowd… though with the vendor’s sales pitch, you’d think the whole crowd there that day would respond positively. A man was standing out in the street, flagging down those walking by, shouting, “Excuse me are you a HOMOwner? Are you a HOMOwner?” I had to be the guy that went up to them to suggest a different tactic.
I said…“Hey fellas… why don’t you try, “Excuse me… do you own your own home” or “Are you a landowner”. It amazed me that they had no clue they were putting the Homo in Homowner. I also started to notice all kinds of strange and bizarre innuendos. Like the logo for this company looked to me like a pair of breasts. Suddenly I became painfully aware of all the booths making subtle sexual suggestions throughout the whole flamboyant festival.
Everywhere were couples of inconceivable shapes and sizes pairing up like lovers do.
Behind the gay frivolities were businesses being conducted as usual. Not everyone embraced the philosophy of acceptance, as was noted on the face of this fellow standing outside his Adult Living Facility home grabbing a fag… I mean a smoke.
In the dark corner underneath one of the many pop-ups, a man stole a kiss from his husky voiced partner. They were both wearing matching beads if that tells you anything.
And in the booth next door, the Transgender Tallahassee group offered support and contact info to those of like mind.
Two girls stopped me in mid-stride. “Hey mister, what’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?!” I immediately thought of a few peak experiences I’ve had with some treacherous sociopath ex-girlfriends. Then, I recalled one of my great fearful fantasies of my youth, that two beautiful women would offer me goodies in exchange for some life threatening illegal act. Would I be able to say no? Then they confessed they were selling Sky Diving Events… and proceeded to use their feminine wiles to get me to sign up.
Thank God I’m 55 and eating a freshly made Belgium Waffle while sitting in my La Z Boy chair and taking a nap afterwards, has more appeal to me than jumping out of a perfectly good airplane… even if it was sold to me by two delicious and persuasive nymphs.
The clever ads continued. Forget about the standard promotional offers… wear a rainbow mask and invite patrons to fall in love with their pool again and teasing readers with, “Pass the Big Toe test….” must be far more effective for this crowd. Just off the top of my head I could think of 6 or 7 ways to say “get wet with our pools…”.
And in the next booth over, a grand resort hotel was inquiring if passers-by had “entered yet?” At this point my brain was on fire from the heat of the day and the endless puns for alternative lifestyles. That’s when I found the booths with the vibrators and the leather. The headline on their big ad in front of the booth was, “Tell Your Girlfriend I Said Hi.” Yep, it works for all orientations… stirring up jealousy toward a machine that can do what no human can of either gender.
I guess stirring up was a poor choice of words…
There was also a non-stop series of fund-raising and charitable efforts within many of the booths. Who can resist bobbing for boobs or balls for the right cause? Just think, for a $20 donation you can get within an arm’s length of something… according to the poster.
I saw a couple of guys walking. I wondered if they were gay or if they were just friends. They do have the tell-tale signs of intimate lovers… matching hats, matching shirts not tucked in, only one was wearing sneakers and the other sandals… with that I concluded they couldn’t be lovers.
Then there were two girls walking. Sure they were holding hands, but they weren’t wearing matching outfits or matching shoes… therefore they couldn’t be lovers… could they?
One of the funniest things I saw were all these women passing this ripped guy standing in front of his booth… and not one woman turned to look at him.
This very tall gentleman stopped me to tell me I wasn’t wearing the symbol of diversity… and handed me some colorful beads to put around my neck. As I turned to get a picture of him… I saw another couple walking and holding hands… clearly they were gay… but wait… the shoes, the ankles, the butt… maybe they weren’t gay at all; one of the he’s was a she!… I think she was a she. Clearly the heat was getting to me.
I was soaked with sweat, the sun was high in the sky and birds of prey were out. Time for me to leave I thought.
On the way back to my car I saw a couple heading to the block party I had just left and asked them if I could take their picture. They replied that I could as long as I supported the arts. To which I replied, “of course… and if you give me your email address I’ll even sell you this picture.” As I situated them and their jewelry product display, as they stood their with their matching Joan Jett T-Shirts and matching sneakers, I felt the love between them and took the shot.
One made the jewelry and the other helped and they loved each other like two close beings on this planet who had found their ideal companion. I didn’t see gender, I didn’t see assumed social rules or biblical threats… just two people, wanting to be together, highly evolved, sharing time … and how could that ever be wrong.
A colleague had taken a day off to escort his son and friends to Legoland, my daughter proudly showed off her 27th week pregnant profile, screeching babies in the “I-Scream” aisle at the supermarket and neighborhood kids bursting forth from infants to toddlers. It’s so funny that no matter how many times it get’s pushed in my face, the obvious is denied.
Each morning this past week, the news stations ran story after story about how parents forgot that their kids were asleep in the back seat of their car, went into work for 8 hours leaving their babies in the scorching summer heat and came out to find that the life they had recently created was no more. Just the idea of parents forgetting that their kids were with them, is in a way inconceivable but in another way sometimes we all just don’t see what’s right in front of us.
This past weekend was meant to be about children, not the metaphysical journey to the Zen Awakening Festival as originally planned. And not just any children… beautiful little girls were the delicious feature for my camera’s eye. A little girl was turning 3 and her mommy worked all day for weeks in the evenings prior to the party she planned, painted and prepared for. This was to be a special birthday honoring the characters from the movie “Frozen”.
This special mother planned every detail down to the last bit of blue glass marbles to resemble drops of ice sprinkled all around the candy and cake tables. A matching blue flower was crafted for the birthday girl’s hair. Sometimes I wonder if parents really grasp the magic they are a part of when they build a precious little girl; the awesome gift of this helpless gentle feminine that would someday mature and bewitch the masculine.
I wonder if parents think about the real job, which is to never take their eyes off that child… not even for one second. A casual conversation and distraction could mean the difference between a little girl having her water wings on, or having her accidentally sink to the bottom of the pool. Sometimes I wonder if parents think about how perishable a child is in every way vs. how easy it is to enable a child to be safe, happy and like herself.
I wonder sometimes if when parents look into their children’s eyes, are they looking to see that happiness is growing inside?
The extraordinary birthday girl’s mother made cupcakes with frosting whipped like air designed to match the Frozen blue theme. Why bother with the cake when one can just have the icing; the logic of a child inside us all.
While the mothers were hard at work watching their babies, the little boys came out in the grown fathers who attended the party. I watched these fathers closely, who wanted to be there not because they had to, but because they loved their little girls and loved to play with their little girl’s toys.
Is there any sound sweeter than a giggling little girl? Conversely, in every great story there must be a villain who is determined to take that laughter away. While the children were gifted with a glorious day and the parents gifted with the glorious children, there were nasty women behind the scenes at that same pool, sprawled out on lounge chairs, checking their watches, waiting for the party to end so the pool would once again return to the possession of those sour adults.
Sometimes I wonder how an adult can see their life without any memory of their own first few years; as if any of us could say we instantly were born full-grown. I felt bad for them losing their love for precious moments like this.
As I enjoyed watching the little girls play, I caught Ariel the topless mermaid sunning herself by the side of the pool.
I strolled around the party and caught a young lady practicing a world-class pout. And a moment later, that same little girl was gushing with joy as the birthday cake got blown out. The cake was covered with coconut snow in honor of the party theme. And that’s how little girls start out… one minute managing a bad mood… the next moment squealing with glee at the site of a candle and a cake.
The mystery of women now solved… what they once were they shall always be.
One more giddy dip in the pool and then the parents announced that the party was over. The dramatic girls embraced as if there was nothing more to live for.
The toys were gathered, the left over pizza tossed and cake put back in the box. The juice boxes and presents got rounded up and the villains in the background prepared to take back their world. What could feel worse to a little girl than the thought that the fun was over… even if it was over just for now.
As we all left the pool, the birthday girl grabbed her bunny and squirting pencil and smiled to herself that she indeed was happy at this moment.
Sometimes I think I’m more dog than human. I see a dog and know how to behave… almost with greater insight than with my fellow humans. I’ve shared time with many dogs over the years. I suppose we’re all good at something and this weekend I was reminded that I too have unique knowledge.
There was the oversized Yorkie with the underbite that always ran away. There was the Beagle I snuck into my dorm room who wouldn’t stop barking…ever. There was the white shaggy genius with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts who attended the Maryland Institute of Art, who had a fatal chase with a squirrel across the street. There was the white German Shepherd with very bad destructive separation anxiety who eventually developed mange.
There was the half-husky half-golden retriever who was immaculate and kind of crazy. There was the dwarf German Shepherd who could climb ladders; we told the neighbor kids (in order to impress them with her potential size)… that she was only six months old; we did this for eight long years. There was the next white shaggy dog who slept like a rug in the center of rooms filled with people.
Then there was the salivating and genital drippy zaftig red Doberman who loved to chase running little children around the neighborhood and bite their butts, followed by the Peek-a-poo who was mentally handicapped. He would fall asleep from being scratched and rubbed, while resting on people’s’ laps and in his little Peek-a-poo dreams would release warm pee on those unsuspecting people’s laps. And of course there was his brave strutting brother by adoption, the puffy Pomeranian, who broke out into seizures on occasion.
I’ve shared time with a brilliant and commanding Jack Russell Terrier who liked to sun himself in the pool on blow up floats… and a goofy pigeon-toed Border Collie whose sense of smell was so acute, he could find his ball hidden on the tops of tall fences in pitch blackness. And most recently am sharing time with yet another shaggy white dog who demands California Protein Toast spread with organic peanut butter each morning, and waffles with honey and cinnamon on the weekend.
This past weekend there was a little AKC dog show in Tampa, and hiding behind it was something called Repticon which presented a completely different kind of pet for a completely different kind of person, to share time with. I often wondered why bible writers placed a talking fruit favoring snake in the Garden of Eden when they could have just as easily written in something about a dog.
We had our fill of scales, creepy crawly spiders, demonic temptress dressed in tight snake-skin pants, cultish taxidermist selling authentic expensive wallets, tattooed and pierced heavy metal rockers and eccentric foreign students who compulsively rescue homeless lizards. All around us were slithering things trying to push the tops of their cages open and rather than waiting around for one of them to escape and cause mass hysteria… we went around the corner for something more warm-blooded and cuddly.
We walked past this Golden Retriever and he actually smiled and posed. I didn’t take the shot right away as I couldn’t believe how big he smiled and how his cheeks puffed out as he pulled back his huge grin.
Memories of my devoted Doberman got sparked when I saw this concentrated stare between two beings sharing time together.
And memories of my old Yorkie got stirred as I looked at this pretty little Yorkshire Terrier with the red bow.
Do you know, when I was little and forming my level of confidence for life, I used to walk my Yorkie all the time and inevitably step in that dog’s poop… or maybe he just liked to poop around other dogs poop and no matter how hard I tried I’d always step in it. For the next three decades I considered myself one of the most unlucky people on the planet because I thought if there was poop around I’d be the one to step in it.
Back then when I’d step in it… I’d try to clean it out or off with a stick but could never clean it well enough nor get the smell out and because of my unsuccessful attempt at cleaning off the poop, I’d eventually end up throwing them away. Dozens of pairs of shoes with shit on them needlessly tossed along with whatever self-confidence I had back then.
It wasn’t till I was 45 years old when I learned that poop was water-soluble and could easily be washed away with water. All those years haunted by treacherous poop stepping potential when there was always an easy solution at mine and my dogs disposal, able to set things right and make things clean again. When you share time with dogs you become an expert on poop.
What a strange weekend of odd photo captures. I was so busy traveling between places and seeing people, that I got more of a collection of glimpses, than any actual theme or album of photos. We visited my sister who was staying at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg and I captured moisture. I captured it on the side of the cool glass of wine and falling from the poolside fountain.
I captured more moisture inside the wonderful village of Dunedin by a lonely fountain outside a French gift shop.
I captured a cool breeze from the ceiling fan overhead, a baby napping in a curled up leaf… and a tree listening. I whispered to the listening tree, “If a person falls alone in a village does it make a sound?” There was no response from the tree… at least none that I could hear.
We stopped at a Freedom Festival and found nothing outstanding besides one lone weed blowing in the wind.
And just as the weekend ended, with the thought that nothing super magical was going to happen, we came across a child being punished. We called child protective services. We called the police to do a drive by to check the welfare of the child. We discussed the horrible punishment and how this child might be the one to crack and get his parents back by doing something terrible and harmful.
Then I realized this poor boy was actually shamed like those dogs on the internet.
Last week I was driving home and saw something down the road in front of me. I pulled the car over and grabbed the camera and started to shoot. In my mind as I shot, I wished I had a longer telephoto lens to get a better picture. Meantime I just shot what I could, not really knowing what it was in detail, as it was still too far to see.
I put the camera away, drove home and took the dog for a walk. As Page the dog and I, came up on the scene from a different direction, I could see closely that what this bird was preying on was a dead turtle in the road. I didn’t know if it had been there crushed before the bird got to it… or was it slow easy prey for the fast sharp-eyed hawk?
I looked up at where I had parked the car and where I shot from earlier… when I wished I had a longer lens. And out of nowhere I realized, I did actually have the telephoto lens in my bag, I had just forgot I had it! I spent the rest of the week wondering about many past events when I wished I had more of something when in fact I had everything I needed, I just forgot I did. How many times in my past had I felt inadequate about a person, place or thing, when all along I had all that I needed right in front of me?
I charged into the weekend with a full on metaphysical wave of wonder that had grown into a temporal tsunami. Remembering that I have the power to create virtually anything, I set out just to create a little outstanding photo opportunity. It had been a while since I created big magic and craved that giant juice.
Scanning the internet for clues to little known events frequented by strangers in-the-know, I decoded two addresses to use as destinations for a Saturday morning. The first stop was at something called a Sunflower Maze. I had never been, but thought it would offer something gorgeous to share and with my refreshed powers to manifest my will… I called the forces together to make these Sunflowers more magnificent than anyone had ever seen before.
Lucky or by design, I arrived at the field before it opened and had the freedom to roam the perimeter just as the early sun shined on those big yellow heads.
Some of the magnificent flowers were shy and hid behind all the tall stalks in front. Some were not quite born yet and just crowned the first bend of their yellow petals. Others still wrapped in the jaws of their wavy green cage were just about to bloom, but not exactly ready yet.
Some offered breakfast for the bees. Some stood tall and stared back at me like a mighty cyclops. And then others just stood out with such pride as if they knew how perfect they looked against the cool blue sky.
As it got closer to the time when the maze was about to open to the public… mini vans started to appear from all directions filled with little children and already exhausted parents. My cue to move on as I couldn’t imagine getting better shots than the ones I had, and drove to my next destination. I just had an address as the shock of the Sunflower Farm made me forget why I scribbled that second address.
I blindly headed east on my way to Myers Rd without a clue as to why. I cruised down one winding back road after another as I listened to the best classic rock and music from the late 60s and early 70s. In my potent mind I went back in time as I drove thinking about those nature lover sunflowers while listening to the Grateful Dead, the Doors, the Allman Brothers and Zeppelin.
Images of bandanas and tie dye flashed in my mind. Painter’s Pants and braless hippie girls with big smiles and braided hair frolicking in the woods with dogs and having great conversations with strangers; part flirting part innocent. Forgetting about my power to conceive I arrived at my destination which seemed like it was a mistake from the road.
I turned into some unassuming Boy’s Camp and drove down a dirt road that led deep into the woods that could not be seen from the road. I soon came to a group of people and what looked like a booth to check-in. I rolled the window down and turned the volume down on Casey Kasem via satellite as this blonde hippie looking chick in faded and worn torn overalls approached the car. “Are you here for the festival mister?”
Completely forgetting what led me to this place I said, ” What festival? What’s going on here?” As she replied I could see other hippie looking people coming and going from all directions. Everyone was in bare feet, tie dye and in couples or groups. “This is the Orange Blossom Jamboree mister and it’s the coolest place you’ve ever been to!”
I gave her some money and she give me a wrist band and I parked the car. I grabbed the camera from the back, shut the trunk and walked deep into the woods. I knew I was about to lose myself in this place and I was completely open to embrace what was to come next.
As I entered the festival, I passed hippies everywhere. I call them hippies but they were me 40 years ago. They were as young as I remember I used to be when it was cool to have dirty feet, a mutt at your side and a frisky firm girlfriend that smelled of lemons who knew how to throw a frisbee. It seemed like hundreds of people from all around had converged on this festival for the weekend and set up camps all over the grounds.
As my mind desperately tried to deny the joy of where I had arrived, the quantity of VW Vans everywhere made my little magical manifestation complete beyond doubt, that I had indeed gone back in time.
Deeper and deeper into the forest of the forgotten I forged. Passed dreadlock couples and young girls singing folk songs for money.
I passed hundreds of campsites with cool names filled with cool people dressed in cool clothes listening to cool music. It was another world deep in the woods, back in time, to a place where people were free to look and be however they wished.
There were bands playing at various venus between the camp grounds that attracted campers, kids, old folks looking back , young folks looking ahead and everyone in between.
There were tons of food trucks and craft vendors and artists and everyone wandered and said hello to each other and looked at each other in the eye as they passed and smiled.
Throughout the grounds were installations of fantasy characters and magnificent art all fueling the journey to a place at the edge of our memory. A time when everything was new and full of potential. A time when we let our untethered selves out to play, while our responsible worrisome mind was dizzy, unconscious, paralyzed and in shock with the revolution and the revelation.
Everywhere wandered children looking like adults questioning the purpose of their place in the universe , and adults wandered around like children questioning nothing just wanting to play.
I felt myself not want to leave, yet my camera was full and I was compelled to look at the photos and share the story of my adventure. As I got to the car and opened the driver’s side door and sat down… I could see something shining up at me from the grass. I was tempted to pick it up and take it with me as a souvenir but decided to leave there for the next person that pulled into that spot.
I was thinking that the next person parking there might open the car door thinking that they needed a lighter and just as they realized they didn’t have one… they could just miraculously look down to see that they were missing nothing, and had all they needed.
Last weekend I was in Atlanta visiting my youngest daughter. It’s so odd to be so authentic and absolutely present with someone, yet at the same time step out-of-the-way to permit all of them to shine through. It’s sort of always been that way with my daughters; a privilege to share time and space with them… and gently encourage them to be who they want to be. A wonderful time for me to listen more than speak; walk, talk and be grateful for this woman who has designed herself into an extraordinary human.
Fueled up on perfectly made pancakes from scratch, sizzled on coconut butter, we wandered and I showed her one of my secret places along the Chattahoochee. Not too much was going on there other than our stroll under an obscene canopy of trees and the occasional flicker of sunlight off a rusty creek.
In the middle of our walk, she got tired and took a seat on a bench under perfect light. I raised my camera to take the shot when a mysterious couple appeared out of nowhere shouting at her on the bench, “Come on. Smile! You can do better than that!
We got up from the bench and continued our walk next to the two ethereal beings who just seemed to join us. He presented like an older less healthy version of a father, balding, huffing and puffing, over-dressed for the occasion, red-faced and flushed from the least amount of exertion. She resembled an older, long gray-haired, willowy smiling vegetarian of a daughter who decided to take her father for a stroll.
They asked me about my camera and that’s all she wrote… I couldn’t stop talking. We walked, I talked, and they listened and nodded as he became exhausted from the next ten steps.
A strange little dog crossed our path and forced us all to stop walking. I looked at them closely and sensed something other worldly about them. Like she was some kind of angelic guide who brought him down for one more walk in the woods even though he had passed away due to his poor health. My daughter and I just happened to be there at that bench at that exact moment when they landed.
We said our goodbyes and continued through the woods a few steps and when I turned to look back at them and perhaps get their names… but they were gone. Note to self: take care of your health and be grateful for every moment on this earth.
Later that night we went out to find some dinner in the village of old downtown Roswell. On the way to the restaurant we passed a couple heading to a picnic… still dressed from a Kentucky Derby party they were coming from. I could smell his Polo cologne as I marveled at her march and hat. I could almost see them getting dressed for the evening in their separate closets, complaining about how neither one of them had anything to wear.
Ultimately they looked perfect, like they stepped out of a Southern Homes magazine ad.
Just outside the restaurant we dined at was a bed of flowers that begged to get in on all this father daughter action.
The next day my daughter returned the favor and took me to one of her own secret parks. As we got out of the car, a strange object laid in the parking lot. Fortunately I was able to shoot it exactly as I saw it. Sometimes things look like they are coming at you… and other times things look like they are going away from you; sometimes its just the same thing but depending on how you look at it suggests what you will see.
On our walk we saw beautiful things as I listened some more. I thought about all the fathers out there who never truly enjoyed the effortless being of just sharing time and space with their daughters. How much work does it really take to put one foot in front of the other and do nothing but just enjoy the person that came from you?
Off the beaten path, we found ourselves strolling through stables, barns and surrounded by magnificent beasts.
Some stared at us as we walked by, others tried to duck their head and hide, while others walked away in the distance.
Some looked down on us from behind walls, while others stared off into the distance, dreaming of long natural manes flying free while galloping through endless long grassy fields.
As the weekend drew to a close we headed to the airport with a quick stop in downtown Atlanta for a bite to eat. We put our name on several restaurant waiting lists that we were too hungry to wait for. We walked the streets and found a cute pub on the corner. Just outside our open window at the pub, was a couple celebrating something with what they call a “beer tower”. I had to get a shot of it as it brought back many memories of beer worship from a time long ago.
We chowed down on gooey spinach dip, gourmet grilled cheese, french fries and loaded burgers till it was time to put my camera away. I grabbed one last shot of my little girl who is pregnant with a little girl of her own. She no doubt was thinking about how she will enjoy her new daughter at least as much as I enjoy mine.
One evening I was dying for Mexican food and found my way to the nearest enchilada and margarita. Mysteriously compelled to leave after dining, I went for a drive to digest it all. For lack of a better direction, I went in search of a little known but highly acclaimed Chinese Restaurant which was rumored to be up the street from that humble Mexican joint. Based on fragments in my mind of memories collected, from what others had told me, I headed in a direction I had never been in, only to find myself unexpectedly at place I had never been before.
A road seemingly leading to nowhere opened onto a high school football field where crowds of people not known to me, gathered to show support to those connected to a terrible disease. On a clear night after dinner and just before the sun set, I visited with those participating in the “Relay for Life” who cancer had touched.
Over the years I’ve lost many friends, family members and beloved pets to this terrible tragic disease that seems to arrive without warning. There was once a dear woman I worked with, who used to visit with me each morning and over coffee tell me the tales of her online dating encounters that occurred the night before. Shortly after a routine annual exam and a few follow-up visits, she was told she had brain cancer and would need to get her affairs in order.
In another episode, I took my dog in for a routine dental visit where they noticed a tiny bump on his cheek. Some tests were performed and this rug of a dog who had become more like a brother to me, apparently had an aggressive tumor under his eye. After 10 years of sharing space with this humane society rescue, and three months after his diagnosis, one evening I came home after work and found him hemorrhaging on my kitchen floor. That night he was put to sleep and was gone from me forever.
I once had an uncle that no one understood, who regardless, was adored and idolized by every member of the family. I was the only one who got him and he knew it. When we were little he would take us on odd walks to the convenience store for milk but would call the hike “a snake and donut hunt” just to make it more interesting. Or he would bully us all as little children, into sitting still at the kitchen table, so he could serve us breakfast, or in the evening after a Scotch, he would open up like a virtuoso and shock us with astounding piano performances or just pick up the phone at random and call, when one of us was feeling impossibly low and magically cheer us up with ridiculous humor.
He went through wives like you or I would go through a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to feel better from some dose of life’s evil… and after his fourth wife he finally found true love with his fifth. A year later he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he soon started to wither away, till he refused to see any of his devoted family. I of course showed up unannounced at his door step, on a Sunday morning in complete defiance of his wishes. Despite his typically threatening boundary assertions, I appeared before him and was the last of us to see him alive.
If I dug deep enough, I could write at least another dozen stories of people I’ve known, that I never wanted to lose, who I too lost to cancer. On this night I randomly discovered these poor victims of loss completely by accident and grabbed a few shots as I walked the track with them. Some had the disease, some knew someone who had the disease and others had lost someone to the disease.
On the outside of the track surrounding the football field were small white lunch bags decorated with messages to the deceased, in loving memory to those who had moved on from this life as a result of cancer. On on bag that I captured was inscribed, “Goodbyes are not forever, are not the end; it simply means we will miss you till we meet again.”
Underneath a pop-up tent somewhere else on the field, was a little girl who showed me the back of her t-shirt in memory of the father she had lost.
Meanwhile on the other side of the field, some voluptuous women were creatively soliciting donations to fight breast cancer. Before long the sun set and there was just too much darkness at the event to capture any more pictures. I drove away trying to remember to appreciate every single second of healthy life; painfully aware of how fragile we are and how common it is for any of us to one day get the surprise of very bad news.
Naturally affected by this event, over the days that followed, I decided to fill my eyes with beauty and life. The joy of a perky flower stretching out in the sunrise or the breathtaking beauty of a waterfront home being painted with a sunset.
Life is so short and filled with regrets. I try to ride this life for all I can get out of her. Forever I’ve compromised my impulse for the more logical and reasonable choices. I put aside the pure artistic desire of want, in lieu of responsibility and being proper. But this year I finally surrendered my acts of maturity for the pure joy and fun gained from a car I can barely get in and out of, just to say I had the experience of owning it once.
To quote a woman I once knew who was referring to her shoes, “it doesn’t matter how they fit, what matters is how they look on me.”
Onward into my weekend of celebrating life, I found myself in a tropical paradise for yet another art festival in the Sarasota streets. Art festivals really bring out the eccentric and creative types of all ages. I caught a glimpse of this woman reading a magazine with her dazzling earring and matching nail polish. On the outside she may have been in her 70s or 80s but on the inside she was clearly still a teenager.
As I stood aiming my camera in the vicinity of a mirror next to a trash can, a woman came up behind me and asked why I was taking pictures of that trash can. That was all she saw as my camera was pointed in that direction. What she could not see from her angle, that only I could from mine, were the throngs of people walking past this mirror that was hanging on the side of a craft booth.
Life is so like that. With one thousand percent conviction this woman saw me shooting the trash because that is all that she could see, while the whole time, only I could see what was reflected for just a fleeting moment. As others criticize us for what they cannot see, we must remember to be compassionate to their limitations and must always be grateful for our own private journey.
The beach behind the craft fair called out to me and I responded with awe. I only hoped that I could capture the pastel colored beauty that I saw, so I could share it with you.
So much hot shiny splendor made me crave dripping ice old Margaritas! So I left the beach and found my way to the nearest Mexican Restaurant. As I sat at the sidewalk Cantina looking out on the festival, sipping my liquid bliss, I noticed a dog across the street who was bursting with life. It reminded me of my dog who I had lost to cancer and how this past weekend began, with the whole enchilada.
In Upstate New York, we had numerous Apple Festivals and of course all the Grape Festivals around the finger lakes. Down in Florida, they celebrate something almost every weekend. If not one of hundreds of craft fairs, it’s some kind of seafood, ethnic or fruit festival. This past weekend in Historic Brooksville, Florida was the third annual Blueberry Festival; third or fourth anyway…
Oddly at these festivals, it’s hard to find fruit anywhere. What with all the fried dough vendors, corn dog vendors, doughnut vendors, boiled nut vendors, there never seems to be room for booths selling the fruit that’s being celebrated. I was happy to see many booths throughout the event offering those little blue balls in half pints all labeled with the emblem of the show.
Though I had gotten there early to beat the mid-day heat, folks had already started drinking and misbehaving. Shown below, one of the early morning naughty girls captured and strapped to the back of one the many ominous golf carts on patrol.
And of course no Florida event would be complete without the requisite car show. In this case, it was an array of Monster Trucks which forced a flashback to a time when I had been kidnapped, brainwashed and found myself living among a village of rednecks for about a year. Though there were many memories that didn’t fit so comfortably with my Long Island Jewish upbringing, there were also many endearing moments.
One day in the village, two of its offspring were to be married. We prepared the requisite rolling cooler to troll behind us up the dirt road to where the huge tented event would be held. I snuck a few cans of refreshing club soda in the cooler, but they were quickly rejected for taking up room that could have been occupied by three more cans of beer. We grabbed the smokes and with our now properly packed cooler in tow, began the march up the dirt road, when a huge monster truck pulled up next to us and stopped to our left.
As the long pipe off the well hung muffler rumbled, the passenger side door swung open and a long skinny Duck Dynasty looking dude hopped down from the giant wheeled rig. “Hey, you’re that Jew city slicker aren’tcha? You’d know how to knot a neck tie wouldn’tcha? My man here (thumbing back at the guy in the driver’s seat) is getting married today and we need your help.”
For all the moments I wondered what I was doing in that village, I at least knew at that moment, had I not been there, the village son would have appeared for his vows looking all improper like. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about rednecks. I may not understand why their trucks are so big or why they like beef jerky so much, but as a group they are some of the warmest, funniest people I’ve ever met. Hell there’s even an anthem for them, their memories, their dirt roads and trucks.
I was so focused on getting the guy on the stilts, I completely missed the sign about the Saratoga Chips. It’s so strange to constantly have my present moments reminded by my past; especially realizing that I don’t see it most of the time.
Another wonderful redneck tradition is to wake up in the morning and crack open a beer. At the Blueberry Festival there was a Beer Garden with refrigerated trucks circling the picnic tables in the center. I went to get a red solo cup filled with some icy cold domestic when the lady behind the table showed me her tattoo. Rednecks love their red solo cups… and their ink.
This one she said was a John Lennon quote and she let me shoot it.
Across from the Beer Garden was a food truck selling the best of traditional German fare. While I stood there admiring the vendor’s Schnitzel, a blonde haired blue-eyed woman came up next to me and without boundary began a conversation. “Can you believe the festival is going to be moved to a park next year?” She said. “Business has been great here and my daughters really like chatting with the customers.”
Apparently she owned the truck and her beautiful daughters served up the Knockwurst and Bratwurst. We talked about the pros and cons of charming downtown festivals vs. routine park events. We found common ground in our allergy to fire ants. I asked her to hold my ice-cold beer in the red solo cup, while I took a quick candid of her daughter and she obliged threatening to drink some of my beer in exchange. I took the shot and took back the beer and she had to go swap out a propane tank.
We both smiled at the moment when two complete strangers were completely familiar.
And no party of joyful rednecks would be complete without the strut of requisite women in white tank tops. As a matter of fact the uniform white tank top is so familiar there’s even an anthem for it.
And then it was time to leave. On my way out-of-town there leaned a sax player against a pole. Probably more in tune with an event in New Orleans than in Brooksville… but music is music. I waved good-by to my friends by the Monster Trucks and noted for future reference the Do Not Enter sign.
Almost to the car there was a man precariously leaning, dressed in blues and guarding a parking lot from unwanted guests. I admired how he was covered with character from head to toe. Crystals for the spirits, cross for the church, credentials from the festival and what I thought were some nickel tats from his time inside, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Thanks to a series of divine interventions and coincidences, I learned that the fives were a scripture reference. Fifth book, 5th chapter, 5th verse – where Moses stands between the Lord and his people. Apparently that’s also about what time he’s up and praying in the morning too, so it’s his round-a-bout way of saying that he will pray for you at 5:55 am. This little discovery blue my mind.
Dedicated to the guy in blue with his magical tattoo, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs that honors the fruit of blues.