I once went into a Starbucks and approached the counter desperate for a cup of coffee. Simple right. Starbucks. Coffee. I walked up to the counter and asked for “a cup of coffee”. The barista behind the counter proceeded to invite me to try a special kind of coffee in a special size, made with a special blend of coffee beans enhanced with a special flavor.
She continued to hijack my request for a cup of coffee with invitations to pastries and various items for sale around the store. I looked at her with an exhausted shocked expression and said, “can I please have a cup of coffee”. I think about it all the time. We either come at someone or they at us, where we are coming from collides with where they are coming from.
The membrane of our world pierces the membrane of their world and all of a sudden we’re both in it together. Will they give me the cup of coffee I want? Will I buy the everything special they are selling? Why can’t everyone I come in contact with just do as I ask? And most of all, why can’t I surrender too and just do as others ask of me?
Desperate for photos last weekend, I leapt out into the world with my camera, knowing there was nothing to shoot… knowing there is always something to shoot. I parked the Camaro near a ridiculous festival in a hot section of town on a dirty street. I defied my nonsense negative and just grabbed the camera and started to walk.
A human on a bicycle came at me on the sidewalk. I just started shooting. Was I in their way or were they in mine? Did I just enter their world or did they just enter mine? I couldn’t even tell if they were a he or a she… leaning a bit toward the she. I snapped away and it all became mine.
Now I surrender it all to you… and it becomes yours.
At the weird festival… a small amount of people milled about doing festival things… as if it was a big festival, but it was not. Fifteen pop up booths, a stage with a singer on it, a cop by a tree and people walking, sweating and being the festival goers. A single solitary truck was parked, selling Budweiser. Behind it a guy squatted on the tailgate having a smoke.
Ten steps in, ten steps over and eight steps back, and I was almost out of the festival. I man and his dog hid behind a telephone pole hoping no one would see them… hoping no one would enter their world. He quietly played the harmonica, inhaling some notes, exhaling others. No one heard, so no one could tell him if it was good or bad.
Dissatisfied with the day’s activities and shots, I found my way to the most famous haunted hotel in Florida, the Don Cesar. It was so strange to see the timeless monument active in our modern-day and age. As you know, it’s hard to know a ghost when you meet one, so I’m sure I passed a few on the stairs or by the pool and didn’t even know it.
Still hungering for beauty and something to shoot, I drove up the road all the way to Clearwater Beach where I found the Sand Pearl.
This hotel was so magnificent, I had to force myself to plan a vacation just so I could spend a couple of days drinking Pina Coladas on the beach and watching the sun set.
The next day I went down to Tampa to look for shots. I thought it had gotten cooler and I could hike the streets, but I was wrong. Hot hot hot was downtown Tampa on this day and after walking in a few directions and then back again, I decided to trudge my sweaty self back to the car and head home.
On the way back, I found myself watching water shoot out of the side-walk and thought I’d catch a few squirts with my camera. I shot the pearly ribbons of wet, as best I could and rushed home to edit my photos. I cranked through the festival that wasn’t a festival, the haunted hotel without ghosts and the beach palace where I plan to vacation in about a month.
When I came to the shots in the fountain I noticed there were shadows running through the tall crops of water that were not there when I shot the photos. I smiled to myself thinking about how we all collide with each other daily and sometimes there is conflict from the interruption and other times a visitor from another place is a surprise and a delight.
So last weekend I went hunting for shots. The conditions were a little hard to describe. Think oppressively hot, like leaving the comfort of your car’s cool air conditioning to step into a steamy heavy heat that made me nauseous and I didn’t know why. With each step I got sicker and sicker, with each step I kept denying that I was and kept moving forward, as it was such a pretty day.
I began to sweat and feel dizzy and grabbed this guy on the swing. He reminded me of a friend I used to have. He was one of those guys that completed the moment and turned it into an event. He was a creative counterpart and together we saw the world in a very funny way, a very bright and intelligent but funny way.
I guess they call it “having a falling out”, but we went our separate ways after years of friendship. So I saw this guy sitting alone on this bench. I thought about the wife he used to have, who died unexpectedly from cancer. I thought about how this could be my old friend but was too hot and nauseous to approach him and left my past behind me.
Further down the path was a woman struggling with a young child. The baby would drop something and as the woman reached down to pick it up, the woman would drop something. This went on for a while till the woman picked up the baby and walked away in distress.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I expect to be a Grandpa for the first time. It will be good to be carrying a baby around with me again. I don’t think I ever looked or felt distressed when my kids were little. No matter what was going on, I always felt invigorated by the little baby beans that constantly drooled, cried, giggled and slapped my big face with their little baby hands.
After a little while I knew it was too hot and didn’t care why. I rushed back to the car fearing something dreadful would happen to me out in this painful mugginess. Once in the car with the air conditioning blowing on me, I decided to go somewhere, indoors where I could shoot something while remaining in the cool air conditioning.
Off to Marie Selby Gardens I went, filled with great resolve. In the cool lobby, I paid my admission and could barely wait to get out there and shoot a bunch of weird-looking nature. Some how when I was thinking greenhouse… I was thinking like a giant cooler that one would find in a florist that keeps the flowers fresh. Some how I thought that was where I was heading.
But the minute I left the air-conditioned lobby and stepped into the green house where the beauties were budding, I realized that I had paid to enter an environment that was actually hotter than where I was before. The hot-house where the tropical flowers were, was so hot that I knew I had to shoot as many as I could, as quickly as I could before I would surely melt.
There was a woman in the hot-house with me, who worked for the gardens, and she was wandering around occasionally asking if she could help me. Normally I would have asked her all about the flowers I was shooting but I was too rushed, too hot and too excited to get as many as could before the sweat on my brow would pour into my viewfinder eye.
Please enjoy my sweaty snaps.
Sometimes I think I’ve arrived at a place of prowess, experience and notable value… only to later realize I have not even taken the first step in the direction of that journey. I wandered the streets grabbing images of the obvious, odd and bizarre only to come out empty-handed. These past few weeks I looked at everything and saw nothing.
I wandered around St. Petersburg one weekend and the world looked dull and routine. I turned up one street, walked down another and back up yet another without reward. Finally I stumbled upon a house burning down and snapped away desperately searching for the view, the angle, the perspective that would evoke and got nothing.
Finally a fire fighter walked my way after climbing down a ladder from his final douse.
Weeks went by and the world looked like wallpaper patterns or puzzles with no pieces missing. Cars on the road were just cars on the road. Even the awe-inspiring crack and shake of thunderous lighting and explosive storming down pours had become matter of fact. Car crashes on the side of the road and abusive addict mothers yelling at tortured children barely rose my ethos.
In an effort to metaphorically slap myself around I decided to visit my local portal of twisted perception; The Dali Museum.
Ready to burst forth with a fresh eye, I got high-jacked by an odd lady who offered to give me a free architectural tour of the building and grounds. She was obviously quite bright, but watching her flickering eyes looking up as she stood there in her long sleeves and a red sweater vest in 107 degrees of tropical Florida heat, drenched the creative juices right out of me.
Sweating and drained I had lost form, like a limp clock face draped on a tree branch.
She was the most contained person giving mathematical explanations of all things outrageous… all things Dali. Much like the fire that got put out in the first image above, I was quelled by her nerdish slow explanations of 7 and 23 being the diameter and circumference of a circle. She walked, pointed and spoke. My mind wandered off to pretty things in my view.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be more stuck and strapped in, I was presented with a comparable value to put all things in perspective. Here I thought I was the stuck and contained, never to unleash again, only to meet the tour guide representing the epitome of order in her explanations of unrivaled fantasy.
In a way it was appropriate. Dali showing us how his universe was created. The tour guide showing us how she sees things. And of course, it was hard to absorb the genius of Dali when there were so many admirers around showing us how they see things. The exhibit became more about the people who came to see the art than the art itself.
I took a moment to reflect on Salvatore’s most familiar work. In his painting below called “Sleep”… he stirs us with the idea that creativity is unleashed through the unconscious while sleeping; we are held by the crutches of reality if removed we would surely fall. The crutches of reality… hmm… didn’t some zen master once say that sleep is reality and reality is the dream?
In another dream-like vision, Dali once again discredited the world of reality in his piece called “The Persistence of Memory” with his melting clock and swarming ants as commentary on the decay of time. It seemed as if his imagination just ran away with a reasonable continuation of images though ending very differently from how they began.
Imagine telling someone a story. This person has poor short-term memory. As you tell the tale they remember a piece, than forget most, only to hear and remember another piece and forget some more, and by the time you are done with your story, the story they remember hearing with poor memory is very different from what was told.
I remember thinking once that without time there could be no memory. And without memory we have no sense of time.
In “The Crucifixion” Dali floats an athletic unharmed Jesus against cubes above a chess board. A little dream work, a little math and some oil on canvas and viola! Genius in perfect perspective with ideal light and natural cast shadows, all admired by the image of Dali’s wife in the bottom left corner.
You got to love this guy wanting to challenge our realities with his dreams, and doing it with respect to timeless design principles and the science of vision. Got that? Challenging it and depending on it at the same time.
Can you imagine a brain like Salvatore Dali? Sometimes a clown twirling his mustache in his self portraits or philosophizing on the algorithms of Cauliflower growth. Sometimes a painter playing with his gift from Surrealist cartoon to Renaissance realism. Sometimes a draftsman laying out horizon lines, vanishing points and angles of perspective with the precision of a surgeon.
Back to me. I guess being momentarily grounded by reality is just fodder for a whole new kind of creativity waiting to come out. As I left the gallery all charged up and valid to be me, I felt it okay to be occasionally silly, frequently full of expression and passionately driven by the principles of good design.
Descending down the spiral staircase built and based on the equation for Pi, I noticed a woman wearing a shoe on her head as a hat. She, in real life had become a Dali cartoon questioning the location of footwear.
Almost to the bottom of the stairs… a man stares. The sunlight bounces off his table top and casts a misty halo of light. He sat frighteningly still in his chair like a dream, like a story that starts in one place and ends up at a destination inconceivable. I wondered if he had ever been a fireman or perhaps saved by a fireman at one time.
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.