Crooked glasses, balding, lonely and in his late 50s, Sal drags around 65 pounds of gut flap, spare tire and man boobs, that he just doesn’t need. Every flight of stairs he walks up causes him to lose his breath. The short breath combined with a new chest pain, sends him off to see his doctor.
The doctor concerned about cardiac disease, performs a number of tests which makes Sal feel fat, weak and vulnerable. Sal decides for the umpteenth time to swear off sweets, cheese, alcohol and fresh breads. For about a minute his resolve takes hold and he feels it within his grasp. Then, a minute later it slips away as he remembers he has a first date that night and the ugly, inadequate fat feelings return.
On a break between stress tests, Sal finds his favorite remedy to make himself feel better. Historically the cure for all bad feelings has always been the carb addict’s trip to the local patisserie. Barely able to eject himself from the tiny door hole of his low riding sports car, Sal squeezes free and waddles into the bakery for relief.
Gazing at gigantic cupcakes with mountain tops of whipped twisted frosting soothes Sal into a euphoric high. Heavy salivation quench his parched throat. Wide eyes fixate on long eclairs with custard oozing out of the tiny holes on the ends. He could smell the butter wafting from sugar shiny glazed danishes. All sound drones out as his fingers touch the glass guarding stacks of chocolate chunk cookies and every other conceivable cake covered with creamy heaven.
A sixteen year old girl pops her head up from kneeling behind the other side of the display glass. “Can I help you sir?” Her skin is tight, smooth and perfectly rich with caramel color. Her eyes like dark little coffee beans dancing atop round cherub cheeks. Sal turns around and sees he is surrounded by other chubby men and women waiting for the girl to dispense their fix.
She’s only there for the summer and will escape the public eye in the fall when she returns to school. On the rare weekends when she doesn’t serve obsession at the bake shop, she goes to the beach with her family and looks forward to wrestling with her brother at the foot of the gulf.
Most days she rides her bicycle to the bakery but these days she must walk due to an unexpected flat tire.
The caramel girl and her family live behind a very busy airport, next to a ground shaking set of railroad tracks, on the fringe of an industrial area in the poorest section of town. She knows where to walk and where not to walk. She knows to cover her ears when the planes fly so close overhead.
Despite where she lives, she feels grateful to have any home at all. All the homeless people in her neighborhood serve as a constant reminder of her abundance.
Just past the dead looking homeless, rests a shirtless bearded man in a Nike hat who always waves hello.
Around the corner from the poorest section in town is a most expensive hotel. On this day Richard turns five years old and his parents throw him the biggest party any five-year old has ever seen. Similar to an elaborate catered wedding, 50 children arrive in ties, jackets and dresses, carrying expensive wrapped gifts, and are directed to assigned seats in the big ball room of the luxury hotel.
As if the affluent affair was not enough, Richard’s parents arranged to have all the mighty superheroes attend the gala. The first to arrive was Captain America who drops off his Mercedes with the valet and quickly checks his email before entering the party. In line behind him and turning into the valet drop off, is Superman driving a Lexus, and Batman in a Hummer.
As Richard’s party gets going and the final super heroes arrive, a heinous villain arrives at a movie house down the street. Over her shoulder, she carries her swollen purse into the tall theater. The woman is broken in her mind and is unable to feel many things that seem obvious to most people. Covered in a shapeless ragged hooded poncho she drifts into the darkness with her wriggling cargo.
During the work week she performs her job with abstract precision as a corporate marketing executive who approves funding for small business promotions. She needs to listen to the ideas of small retailers who want to sell the product her company manufactures… and she either approves or rejects the promotional funding for the idea. When she hears a really good idea, she rejects the funding, steals the idea and presents it to her bosses as her own.
On this day she has a problem to solve. It seems that her cat had gotten itself pregnant and recently delivered a litter of kittens. The woman found that she could free herself of the unwanted fur babies by taking them one at a time in her big purse and when no one was looking, just removing the infant animals and discarding them where ever she sat.
She left one on the patio seating area at the Iranian Coffee Shop, one stopped on the street at a red light next to a body shop, one in the middle of a car wash as she drove through, two she let go in a parking garage on her way into Nordstrom’s to do some shopping, and this last one she took into the movies with her.
Once the lights went out and the movie began… she removed the kitten from her bag, and abandoned it on the sticky inclined floor. Void of remorse, she left the theater when no one was looking. Later that day, the handicapped girl at the movie theater who is responsible for tearing the tickets of admitted movie goers, found the kitten and decided to adopt it.
That night, the handicapped ticket taker brought the kitty home and helped her Aunt prepare for a blind date with a man she met online. Over the course of many weeks Aunt Mary flirted with Sal, via email and text. They had agreed to meet at the Italian Festival that evening and see if there was any chemistry between them.
At first, Mary was hesitant to agree to meet Sal as she was coming down with a little cold. Also, she was not in the best of shape and didn’t want to turn Sal off with how she jiggled and wheezed. She hoped that Sal would not notice her shortness of breath, the clingy phlegm that made a noisy stretch after each cough… and she prayed that he liked big women with bangs.
She waited for over an hour, on the bench they agreed to meet at. When she realized Sal wasn’t coming she felt a pain in her heart. In an effort to feel better she decided to stop at the bakery on the way home and get some of her favorite desserts. She hoped that the caramel colored girl behind the counter would be there to help her choose something sweet.
This past weekend I had a chance to wander down by Tampa’s Bayshore Blvd. I put myself in the usual magical state of conception and cried out to the heavens, “show me a sign”.
Just when I thought it would be another ordinary day of walking, wandering and pressing the button, I did indeed stumble upon a sign. I had been strolling among the gorgeous Tampa Bay mansions, and right there on one of the front lawns appeared my mission, like Moses finding the burning bush. The sign on the lawn read, “Stanley Please Come Home”.
I stood awestruck in front of this beautiful home and wondered who exactly was Stanley? Why did he leave? Was he a person or a pet? Who were these people in the home? Did they do something to Stanley to make him leave? Perhaps he’s an elderly person with dementia who had gotten lost?
Maybe he’s a child who resented his parents demand to brush his teeth before bed, and after being forced to write 250 times, “I must brush my teeth before bed”, he conspired to run away from home the next morning. Perhaps Stanley is a young romantic, whose girlfriend moved out-of-town, and he left town in pursuit of her?
Regardless of who Stanley is, on this day, I decided to walk and shoot and look for Stanley and maybe find him and bring him home.
I crossed the street and walked along the Bay Blvd. looking for clues as to where Stanley may have gone. I thought of asking some local folks if they knew Stanley and if they had seen him.
I tried to interrupt a jogger with my inquiry to no avail. Then I stopped a few cyclists with the same question, “Excuse me sir, have you seen Stanley? There’s a house back there who’s looking for him and wants him to come home.” They gave me a funny look and got back on their bikes and rode off.
Frustrated, I decided to start knocking on doors. The first house I came to belonged to Lenny and Bill. They were a married couple who had made their fortune up north, by buying old houses and restoring them.
I knocked on their door, Lenny answered, a tall, heavy balding man in his 60s. “May I help you?” he said. “Yes, I’m sorry to disturb you but I’m looking for Stanley, is he here?” Lenny smiled, took a stylish puff off his vapor cigarette and said, “… we have no Stanleys here, but will a Lenny or Bill do?”
The next house I went to belonged to Tim and Crystal. Long ago he was a poor salesman selling accounting services till one day he decided to leapfrog ahead of the pack. He planned a dinner, invited the wealthiest people in town, and pitched them his idea to start a new kind of accounting company.
To Tim’s amazement, they all love the idea and together committed to give him several million dollars to start his new company. When he went to pay the $1200 check, his credit card was declined, and right on the verge of wealth and impoverished embarrassment, he used his silver tongue to delay the payment till his guests left.
Tim came back the next day, paid the check, eventually received his seed capital and off he went to become one of the wealthiest men in the state. Over time, power would corrupt him absolutely, he would have several affairs with beautiful sensuous women, till he met the best of the best and decided to end it all with one. Her name was Crystal. He left his wife and his life for her, and bought a fresh start in Tampa.
I knocked on their door…Crystal answered in a soft looking tight T-shirt, bra-less, wild wavy hair, fat juicy lips, Greek piercing eyes, and tight short shorts…bare feet beautifully pedicured. “Hello, can I help you?” she seduced. “Yes, I’m looking for Stanley. Apparently he lives at a house down the street and they have a sign out in front on the lawn; practically begging for him to come home. Have you seen him?”
She shifted her weight with a cruel jiggle as she prepared her reply. Crystal squinted and squirted out the sexiest dimpled smile while using her breath to say, “…well… my husband is not here now, and there’s no one named Stanley that lives here, but if you’d like to come in, we can have a drink and discuss where he might be hiding.”
I began to sweat as the temperature by the Bay started to rise. I politely declined wanting my mission to find Stanley not to be distracted… even by a sexy Greek siren. So on to the next house I went.
The next house I came to was owned by a beautiful older Russian woman whose husband had passed away many years ago. He was a prominent attorney in Tampa and left her well off after his demise. When she was younger, she use to be a concert pianist and had baby grand pianos in almost ever large room of her home.
Furthermore, throughout her house, were extravagant collectible paintings on the walls and rare nude sculptures on pedestals sprinkled throughout the hallways. As I approached her front door, I could hear Tchaikovsky pounded on the keys, spilling out her open windows.
My knock stopped the music and she marched to the door opening it in a huff, sweaty, beautiful high cheekbones, hard mascara outlining intense eyes, cleavage in my face, and in a thick deep accent she rolled out, “Yes? May I help you?” I stared for a second and swallowed, “umm… yes, one of your neighbors apparently has lost someone named Stanley and I’m trying to help them find him. Have you seen him?”
She smiled, twinkled her Georgian baby blues and invited me in for wine and cheese. My view was fixated between her breasts, watching the sweat drip down toward her belly; I’m guessing it came from playing the piano so violently. Though she seemed like an extraordinary person, I politely declined and returned to my journey.
The last house I went to was owned by Marty and Louise, two high school sweethearts who grew old together. Marty’s parents supplied chemicals to photography labs before everything went digital. Louise’s grandfather had apparently invented one of the synthetic sweeteners found in almost every diet food.
I stood in awe of their home and marveled at the difference between their usual living quarters, and the typical cinder block or cracker shack home found commonly around Florida. I opened the beautiful cast iron gate, leaped on their porch and knocked on their door.
A slender handsome man, 60s, with a full head of gray hair, opened the door to greet me. “May I help you?” he grinned with country club charm. “Yes, I’m helping one of your neighbors find someone named Stanley. I’m taking the initiative to knock on a few doors to see if I can help them find him.”
He smiled and asked me how many houses I had been to before his. He also suggested that maybe Stanley was a dog or cat and expressed sadness about the loss of anyone’s pet. He wished me luck and off I went to wrap up my search.
I suppose Stanley could be a dog or cat. In fact… I quickly realized I had no idea who or what Stanley was. I decided to search the nearby alleys of Hyde Park for animals. I walked up and down the alleys like a diligent pet owner, shouting, “Stanley! Stanley! Are you out here! Stanley… your parents are worried about you. Stanley come home… please come home!”
I passed beautiful porches with white columns and matching white rocking chairs. I looked up through tropical trees as the sun beat down on me. I passed beautiful sculptures hidden in the back yards of these large mansions. Even the mold growing on trashed wooden doors seemed affluent and outstanding.
The only living thing back in those alleys was a squirrel who bravely looked down at me as I walked past. “You’re name wouldn’t happen to be Stanley would it?” The fuzzy little rodent just stared at me like I was nuts… then twirled its bushy tail and ran off.
Tired from hunting through bright alleys and sweating with the rich and famous, I popped off the residential blocks and walked back across the street to the Bay. I walked and questioned a few more passers-by, then headed back to the house where my mission began.
On the way back to the house, there was a sleeping man sitting on a bench with his head resting on a suitcase. Could it be?! Could this be Stanley? I walked up behind him and shouted, “Stanley! Is that you? Your people are looking for you. You should go home… Stanley! Wake up…”
He didn’t move, he didn’t wake and he didn’t respond. Standing near this guy, I could look over and see the house where it all began, and went back across the street to stare at the sign again, to see if maybe there was a clue that I might have missed.
As I stood there and stared at the sign, I watched the flag above it wave in the wind. The picture on the flag looked somewhat familiar so I waited for the wind to flip it around in order for me to get a good look at it. Sure enough a gust blew off the bay and the flag flipped around and I could see the bright blue flag showing the moniker of lightning.
Suddenly I realized that the flag was waving the logo of the Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey Team. Then I looked again at the sign and wondered if maybe Stanley was a fan of the hockey team and maybe the image of the lightning was intended to spark a familiar memory if Stanley was to walk by.
Defeated, I returned to the Camaro and blasted the air conditioning till it got cool. I turned the radio on and prepared to head home without ever knowing what would become of Stanley.
Just then, the DJ came on the radio warning people not to drive around the Amalie Arena that afternoon as there was a big party planned to celebrate the upcoming game for the Tampa Bay Lighting Hockey Team, and traffic was going to be horrific. The DJ continued to talk about the hockey team and how they were in the championship finals and it would be a great win for the team that was playing that night.
Miraculously at the end of his break and before the DJ played his next song… he shouted out, “come on everyone, let’s meet out at the Amalie Arena and cheer on our team, so that the Tampa Bay Lightening will bring home the Stanley Cup once again.”
Long ago, in a place far, far away, I lived in an urban tenement building basement, gotten to through a little Hobbit-like doorway under the stairs. The only window was in front, allowing people to look in as they passed, and from my angle, all I could see were people’s legs as they walked by. I kept the curtain drawn at all times rationalizing privacy but deep down thinking solitude, and of my escape to a better place.
Unable to afford cable, I owned a cheap TV with an even cheaper DVD player, and would just watch movie after movie. Each night before I’d go to bed, I’d put the same movie in the DVD player and listen to it as I would drift off to sleep. Aboard my tiny twin mattress actually made of springs, in a tiny dank bedroom, tucked in the back of a dark basement apartment, beneath a crumbling tenement, I’d watch this DVD with my eyes closed, every night before bed for almost 2 years.
The movie was Cast Away with Tom Hanks. I heard a rumor that it took the writer 5 years to write it perfectly, with over 250 rewrites. Though the entire movie was filled with great life-lesson metaphors, my favorite part was the incessant crashing of the waves on the shore of his tiny island. Each night, Tom Hanks would look out on the water, wondering when he would be rescued from the solitude of his tragic paradise.
Years later, I find myself on any number of pristine beaches, often sitting there, looking out on the same scene that sent me to dreamland every night, so many years ago. The difference in my scene from the one Tom Hanks endured in that movie, is that every once in a while, unexpected odd visitors would stroll across my view.
This past weekend, no DVD was necessary to transport me to that peaceful place, as I was there, perched on a lounge chair with my camera aboard my belly. Each time someone would walk by, I’d quickly raise the camera and capture their image and wonder where they came from and where they were going.
I wondered about the matrix of coincidence and what brought them to the same spot I was in, at the same time I was in it.
A father and daughter stroll across my view. I thought of how this little girl holding her daddy’s hand was learning about security, safety and protection. I wondered how this will define their relationship, and as the two would grow old how he would spend his whole life being her protector.
Then I thought about the day in their future when the tides would turn, as a little girl grows into a mature woman, she would be walking along her now needy senior father, holding his hand, in order to give him the same feeling he had given her when she was young and defenseless.
I wondered if she would be angry and resentful that his natural aging and inability to protect her, now made her vulnerable, or would she find the compassion to protect him as he protected her all those years.
Soon, another couple arrived from the other direction, also holding hands. In matching tropical reds, they marched in unison. They first met long ago, in a Sporting Goods Store somewhere in Ohio. Both standing near a tall rotating rack of books about rock climbing, they caught each other’s eye.
He commented on her blue eyes and striking tattoos. She, shocked that he was even speaking to her, blushed and said nothing. For decades they carried on a secret relationship in their separate worlds. They raised their separate families with their separate spouses and eventually endured their separate divorces.
Thirty years later, they decided to have a reunion and planned to meet at this beach. Now, after decades apart, together again, they can do what they always longed to do but were unable. A small thing to most, but to them the most unattainable joy, a simple stroll while holding hands.
Other less romantic bottle carrying couples also crossed before me…
Tiny struggling paddle boarders almost crash into giant white bikini walkers…
After a while, two ladies walked across from the other direction.
The tall one, a successful Real Estate investor, turned her lack of romantic opportunity into hard work and a disciplined plan toward her future financial independence. For years and years, she rented out rooms in her house, bought new houses, repaired them and rented those out, and continued to collect homes till her assets and their respective tenants could support her lifestyle without working for others.
Now wealthy and retired, she vacations by cruise all around the world, and invites friends of various ages to keep her company as she explores distant shores.
I drifted off listening to crashing waves, similar to how I used to in the basement apartment. The sun had moved and began to cook the part of my shoulder peeking out from under my umbrella’s shade. As I opened my eyes and moved out of the burning light, I woke to find two ladies standing in front of me staring out at the water.
This was the beach that they and a group of their friends would often visit, party and give in to their hippie bohemian mood. For years the gang of ladies would gather and gab about husbands, boyfriends, children, politics and sex. Then, one day, one of them was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. About four months later she died on a Tuesday.
The funeral was held near that same beach where those once tight young nymphs used to gather and gossip. After the funeral, still clad in black, two of the ladies decided to return to their spot where so much joy was had by them over the years.
These two ladies from the surviving gang of women, stood quietly, looking out, remembering the best parts about their dear departed friend.
Moments later, a woman strolled across my view, who continues to try to achieve perfection in her appearance, even though she is well into her 70s. She still habitually eats a shake for breakfast, a handful of broccoli dipped into a thimble of dressing for lunch… not more than a few almonds as an afternoon snack… and some vegetables for dinner.
On Tuesday and Thursday, she works her arms and legs at the gym, abs every day… and shoulders and back on Wednesday and Friday. She has always had many admirers, even at her age now, but all this has merely been an apparatus to become strong enough to fight off unwanted attention, hide her fear of loneliness, and demonstrate an extreme need to control her world.
To me, regardless of the reasons for her life ritual, I thought her leathery bronze skin looked marvelous within her pink bikini, against the green gulf water backdrop, beneath the aqua sky.
Next came a slender couple sashaying across the beach like they owned it. They had come from the tennis court and decided to cool down with a stroll on the beach. Everything about them pranced with happiness as they walked in lock-step and just looked cool. Thoughtful and athletic they just kept on walking forward, letting go of their past behind them.
Lastly, came the shellers. Stopping, bending, examining, comparing… each looking for the perfect shell. One that is untouched, with the perfect color, the perfect shape and is completely different from the millions of other shells on the beach.
I asked a few people what going to the beach meant to them and remarkably they eventually came around to repeat the same phrase, “… it’s just the place that makes me happy…”.
These days, I don’t think much about the time I had spent years ago in the basement of my Hobbit home. I’ve let it all go to make room to appreciate my now. What was once an image on a TV screen that put me to bed each night, is now the dream of my daily reality.
Where do you go to get your happy?
What is it about Dead People’s stuff that draws such a crowd? It’s falling apart, the paint is peeling, the wheels are worn, the knobs are rusted, and the lot of it probably brings back a ton of sad memories to those who actually owned it. To us however, they are hard to find vintage discoveries and happy reminders of our own past.
Yesterday I squeezed my thin sock covered big fat hobbit feet into too tight running shoes and forced myself out into the heat so I could walk and press the button. Once I got there and started to mingle among the hoarders displaying their worn and valuable memories…I could feel no pain. The air was filled with the pungent mold from musty basements, hot wood from ancient baked attics, classic atomizer perfumes and the waft of food vendor smoke from grilled sausages and onions.
I didn’t get too close to much of it as I was more interested in walking, watching and capturing… but it made me wonder what vintage flea markets of the future would hold. Would there be tables filled with worthless Apple Watches and IPhones? Would remote controls be served up by the crate load? Would lap tops be shoved on end in book cases by the hundreds and sold for a dollar a piece?
Or would any future event like this carry the same food vendors, the same line of folks waiting to go to the bathroom and the same senior in a wheel chair wondering when it will be time to go home? I walked, I shot, I sweat and grabbed a few glimpses.
I once heard this great quote, “One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling”. I’m sure you know the more familiar, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Sometimes I think about the perception of value and how it changes with time, style, fashion and with each individual.
How bout this one, “One man’s end, is another man’s beginning”. How far have we actually come, from the line to the outhouse, to the line to the porto-potty… or in this case “Rhonda’s Rentals”? In the future, what will going to the bathroom look like?
I envision something not to distant from the common day car wash, only instead of the car that goes through the brushless vertical blinds and high pressure hoses washing your tires, those bowel loaded folks would sit in a conveyor belt chair that’s open on the bottom, they’d have some privacy, leave their waste and then get hosed off and dried… for a fee of course.
Then I saw these doors and had to shoot them. No function or purpose… just beautiful peeling of paint. It looked like feathers to me and the randomness of the wear was appealing. In its time, the door might have served an important function like protecting a family from a treacherous outside world, but now it just leans with its skin molting, waiting for its next use.
One fun thing I did on my hike through other people’s past, was notice how old mirrors leaned on the ground, created the canvas for reflected flea market patrons. I did think about how mirrors we used in times long ago and wondered how they would change in the future.
I’m guessing that technology will solve the problem how we see ourselves electronically. I think however that self-image is a huge opportunity to personalize in the future. Maybe see how you look to others, see how you would have looked in the past, see how you could look in the future… and choose how you want to be seen and learn with videos at the same time… how to look that way!
Or maybe there will be coaching videos to just love the way you look without any changes.
Passed one shabby chic booth after another… I came upon a man who displayed boxes of things. My favorite was his box of casters. I did wonder for a moment where all these wheels came from, what they were attached to and what they rolled on. But mostly, I was just grateful for the pattern image and the delicious rust. I’m also thinking that as long there is gravity, there will be need for things to roll rather than be lifted.
Another event that I believe has always existed in the past and will always exist in the future, is the waiting on a woman… the line of men in baseball caps waiting for their partners doing the walking and shopping. I do expect that in the future there will be more productive uses of waiting time… though a quick snooze is always appealing regardless what year it is.
Now I’ll admit, I’ve always had an interest in door knobs… especially those beautiful ceramic ones. I do kind of feel bad that the beauty of an everyday handled thing has disintegrated into a function of purpose, cost and how it will be manufactured. What will become of how things feel and what things mean? Will those become luxuries only available to the most wealthy or will we as a society fight to raise the priority of craftsmanship in our everyday life.
Sometimes I think this is why these flea markets serving up the ancient will always survive, because we value the beauty that existed during a time before profit became such an overwhelming and competing factor. To me the design criteria is both. How do we make it timeless, beautiful and profitable.
And then there’s a whole other perception of such a glorious celebration of the past. Maybe one who has lived through it all and seen the new turn old has no appetite for those possessions anymore. To them what’s old is just older. To them perhaps the beauty is gone and life is just a waiting game.
No one would know, as I walked the Fancy Flea, how tight my shoes were… and none of us can know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. To me I hunger for the latest thing. I carry the value of the old things when they were the latest thing. And when my paint peels and my knobs rust, I want to be relevant to that future and what’s happening in it, and be willing to apply my old to someone else’s new.
Our past, though sometimes sad and painful, will find new value in someone else’s future. What they find in it, what they make of it will be a gift hard to fathom and a present full of delight and discovery.
These past two weeks, I had the opportunity to be in San Francisco, mostly for work and was able to combine this with two of my greatest pleasures; visiting with either of my daughters… and the second of course, just walking around and pressing the button.
During my work sessions I was inundated with the latest and greatest best practices around Global Marketing Technology, Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing. Most of what I heard was validating and familiar, and I enjoyed learning new perspectives as well as hearing different points of view.
The rest of the time I walked and shot. Naturally just a single picture is worth a thousand words at least, too enormous to ramble on about in any single blog. However, if any of these images grab your attention, please comment back to me and I’d be happy to tell you what I know or would be happy to make something up.
Please sit back and enjoy my glimpses of San Francisco, Palo Alto and Napa Valley.
This weekend was an odd series of days, themed around a family of ducks who decided to nest under a prickly bush outside my front door. The daddy duck stood guard on the front lawn, watching for aggressors, predators, sniffing dogs or loud oblivious children riding bikes like the drunk Irish drive on St. Patties day.
As the day ended Friday night, the daddy duck stood guard and the mommy duck was safely seated aboard her nest of half-dozen eggs. Early Saturday morning, both parents were gone and the full nest sat exposed for hours. Looking for wisdom we first turned to YouTube and then a call to the veterinarian to learn that the ducks do return. And sure enough, later that morning they did return and all was right with the world.
Exhausted from concern, Saturday night surrendered to Sunday morning and once again we checked on the ducks. On this day there was no daddy on patrol, no mother aboard her orbs nor any babies in the nest; there was just nothing. Had a rocky raccoon eaten them in the night? Had they immaculately cracked open, cleaned up after themselves and left?
Disturbed by the miracle and cruelty of natures potential, we left the house and decided to immerse ourselves in the weird wonderful world of the wild and untamed, courtesy of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. Naturally the birds came first in all their bizarre weirdness.
Next came our distant cousins, the apes, monkeys and orangutans. They made me wonder about us and our true nature. Is it more natural for us to drape ourselves in turquoise while holding ropes, or is it more natural for us to order double toasted bagels with butter at Starbucks?
Is it more natural for us to sit under the hot sun, uncombed and naked on a tree trunk, or to hunch over a lap top computer, caged within a fluorescent lit dust coated felt padded cubicles, or a fishbowl of an office?
In touring the park, we had to cross through the fast-food/bathing area, where children coughed like dogs, and old folks sheltered themselves from the hot sun underneath sweaters and jackets. The cubs of our kind played under milky showers blasting their minds free from the burdens of responsibility.
Back on the trail we watched two infant elephants recognize each other and eagerly run to greet the other, meet and trunk hug with affection. Is it more natural to freely run toward our familiars and wrap our trunks within theirs, or to remember the mean things they may have said or done in the past, protect ourselves from future harm, and punish them with a chilly turn the next time we meet?
With our mortality out of mind, we waste precious moments from the now, replaced by depressed thoughts of the past or anxious worry toward the future. And an instant later, the time we spend on this earth is unexpectedly stolen from us, and what ever seemingly crucial stress or twisted necessary torment we’ve chosen to endure, is now moot and insignificant.
Run toward your significant others with desperation and wrap your trunk around theirs without mind, for love in that moment is all that really matters.
Amazingly, we came home and the daddy duck was standing guard out front with the mommy duck back aboard her nest. We didn’t know what happened to the eggs. We didn’t know if maybe she was making more eggs. We even thought for a moment that maybe there were no more eggs at all and the parents just resumed their positions as if the eggs were still there.
I wander around with my camera and wish I was in Manhattan or Chicago where gritty drama is found with every step. Block after block one walks deeper and deeper into a dream of one’s own existence. Seeing people who resemble other people and places that remind them of other times.
While I wonder how I’m going to find anything of substance to shoot, I just keep tapping the shutter. Thinking about catching as much as I can in a scene but not needing to catch it all in focus. I think about getting the important things in the light but know this is often out of my control. I just point it and press the button.
Bigger hole, smaller hole, faster shutter, slower shutter, more noise less noise… I just press the button. I know that every time I’m looking at one thing, there’s a dozen things I miss. So I walk and shoot and expect nothing, think nothing and suck up life into my lens with every step I take.
A family of three walks down an affluent downtown Sarasota street and the little boy with them sees a piano on the sidewalk and runs over to it as if he can play. On that same affluent street, a begging man puts down his hat filled with cash and forgets he is working hard to solicit. He takes a moment to show the little boy how to play.
A few blocks away I sneak up behind a woman at a crafts booth trying to take a picture of her tent full of wares. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees me aiming at her from behind. She hits her tablet and reverses the camera’s view on herself. She tilts it slightly to include me behind her.
In that moment we both created art. She with me in hers and I with her in mine. Together we created a picture that goes on for infinity. A moment ago she had no knowledge of me and I had none of her and now we are combined in each other’s art for ever.
On another day, I walk through a boring park filled with beautiful people living picture perfect lives. A handsome man appreciates his young girlfriend on a bench as I pass. I raise my weapon as if to ask permission and they nod to grant it. A split second of old teenage memories during skinnier times with unsuspecting nymphs flood my now.
They shout out at me and request that I email them a copy and I say “will do”. I kept walking and they never stopped me as a moment preserved of them I had, and in 60 years they might wish they had. I turned and walked up to them and offered them my card suggesting that I might forget their email that they never gave me, but they can always email me for copy.
A couple of days later, the man, Christian was his name, emailed me and requested that I send him a copy, so that he could frame it as a gift for his girlfriend that Valentines Day. Happy to be his cupid I sent him the shot. For me seeing his hand interlaced with her’s across her chest, was all the compensation I needed.
I kept walking and found some rusty metal sparkling at me from under the water. Then an old Banyan tree echoed out at me to shoot its roots.
A group of people on a Segue tour take a break under a tree behind a tent. To me it looked like they just dropped out of the tree and were going to go for a roll leaving their hanging cords behind, dangling down from the branch.
Meantime at another end of the park a woman looks out at the infamous St. Petersburg upside down pyramid. She sees not the blight on the boardwalk but rather is taken by the beauty of the water and the extraordinary day that she is gifted with. She reflects upon the abundance in her life and her fortunate philosophy to always go forward no matter what.
On another day a young woman sits at a restaurant with her dog at her side. She can’t imagine ever going anywhere without him. She joins her friends for brunch and Mimosas and secretly wishes she could be home on her couch under a blanket watching old Sopranos episodes.
She’s a bit lost without Sons Of Anarchy and Breaking Bad… and was disappointed with the 50 Shades of Grey movie that was too distant from the buzz she got from the book. She checks her phone to see if anyone surprising texted her and ends up ordering another Mimosa.
Down the street a festival rages. Hot Italians missing the Feast of San Gennaro decide to have their own. A single mom gets dragged to the feast by her obese dad. She is a nutritionist who has devoted her life to revealing the poisons consumed by us without our knowledge.
Disgusted, she watches him order his dose of Italian Sausage with a side of Chips and Chili. All she can think about is how much quicker he will die from this meal. All he can think about is how good it’ll taste.
All around the festival people eat, drink and talk about Little Italy in NY and how this is nothing compared to that. Italian bikers nod to hot cops guarding rest rooms. Young girls stretch out on docks collecting birthday wishes by text, ready to despise the friend who forgets.
As youth is wasted on the young, old street musicians wish they could be young again, and toot their horn for money hoping no one will notice their inability to play.
On the other side of town a jiggly drunk rocket scientist leaves a liquor store as she prepares to board a vessel with the hopes of seeing a Dolphin or two. At her side is her odd-looking nerdy husband wearing crooked dark shades, also drunk and together they would set sail shortly on a sunset cruise.
Her hair is thick and straw-like and her boobs are mashed in place, and lop-sided in her too-tight blouse. They’ve left their 6 kids behind, for a weekend get-away and are completely unable to not complain about every little thing. A smiling pirate’s parrot wishes them a safe voyage.
At the same time another couple in a fancy sports car pulls up along the drunk complainers. They unfold themselves out of the fast low vehicle and prepare for the two-hour tour. The woman unaware of her destination. The man surprising her, makes up for his inadequate Valentines Day effort the week before and has surprised her with her dream of floating on the gulf while the sun sets.
So I read this quote by Albert Einstein. It reminded me of an earlier favorite of his, “Creative spirits are always viciously attacked by mediocre minds.” This old one has always been my favorite quote till this new one read last week. “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
It makes me wonder about how many of us are judged as the genius we are meant to be for demonstrating that which we do best, and how many of us are the misunderstood fish trying to climb the tree.
This past weekend I walked and shot. I suspect that these days the stroll, shoot and write could be seen as my genius. Though my greatest pleasure is observing genius in others. When I’m with little children, I don’t even want to be noticed or seen observing them. I just want to watch and listen to their unaware brilliance.
Authentic without layers of denial, rejection or inability, they might just be bent over by an easel as they paint. Our children are the purest form of genius, for as we know, to them, all fish can of course climb trees if that is what they want them to.
At a public market, in front of a lone musician, a child dances with complete freedom in the street. Mom and Dad are watching with pride and protection as the child spins and smiles. I sit on a curb to watch her genius at her level. I raise my camera and she stops to look at me.
I wonder how much genius can come out once we know we are being observed. Perhaps, like the famous quantum theory, observation affects the reality. Maybe the fish that attempts to climb the tree is indeed genius till it notices it is being watched.
A few blocks away, a security guard patrols the roof on top of an art museum. Completely unaware that he is being observed, he becomes a work of art.
In the park beneath the strolling guard, a baby sleeps in her carriage. Unaware that she is being admired, she dreams of flying like birds, swimming like fish and playing with toys.
On the other end of the street are the most affluent of children playing with the most expensive of toys. They have profited from their genius and their reward is their ability to outwardly behave like children and be the fish that climb trees when ever they damn well please.
A long time ago while attending art school, a professor saw me struggling with a watercolor painting. He was the genius and I was the fish clearly climbing the tree very poorly. The teacher came over and took the brush out of my hand and began mixing paint boldly while he attacked my canvas as he spoke.
“… your scene has no drama, it’s flat and boring and shows no emotion. Put some storm in those clouds, bring the sun down to draw those long shadows, disturb the water and reveal the beauty that’s dying to come out.” Back then I did a few more water colors but was always the fish that couldn’t get off that tree if I tried.
At that time, I could only appear stupid, unaware of what I could not do. But yesterday as I walked among the wealth of genius owned by others, I turned and saw my past return as familiar. There was that actual dramatic storm brewing in the clouds, the sun really did hang low in the sky as it lit up the buildings against the dark sky. The water became disturbed and rippled with memory before me.
Because I was that stupid fish back then, I was able to recognize the genius in this moment and raised my weapon and fired. People will ask what camera I was using to capture such a scene giving credit to the genius of the tool used to freeze time.
But only you will know, had I not been that seemingly misplaced fish back then, I would not have been the well-timed fish now, able to finally climb that tree.
To all those out there who which to be recognized by others for your genius; exceed others’ expectations and do what they know you to be great at.
For those geniuses out there that are compelled to climb trees with your fins… care not how you are seen by others and remember your dreams; your stupidity born one day in your past, might return on another as genius while everyone is watching.
I once read somewhere that we are only capable of seeing ourselves in other people and other things. What we see in another person or how we perceive the world is limited by our own capacity and experience. In other words, if it’s not in us… we can’t recognize it in another or elsewhere.
In simple terms, a person who is pure and honest, is more likely to be deceived because they do not have enough larceny in themselves to recognize it in another. Likewise, a person who is deceptive, will have trouble appreciating truth and honesty, as they will always think that others are performing a masquerade.
This is one of the reasons why I love shooting on the street. It’s my own little narcissistic drama played out right in front of me, reminding me of the places I’ve been and all the characters I’ve met along the way. For instance, I often forget that I’m among the world’s advertising elite and often sell myself short.
As a humble inventor and product designer turned local media salesperson decades ago, I ultimately arrived at various global marketing communications director assignments with some of the worlds largest corporations. And from there, I’ve ascended to maximum humility, permitted the privilege of teaching others, at one of the most prestigious universities on the planet.
But when I take to the streets, I can see myself in various stages of my past. Like take this gentleman on the bench who has lost his pride. He see’s not, cane smudges on his sweat shirt, his overall sloth nor his gluttony resting on his lap. His sin might just be that he’s forgotten who he is meant to be.
Oblivious to how he is perceived, he just wants to impress oncoming pedestrians with his creativity as he converts his cane and baseball cap into a unique invention from which to beg money. Like the mere presentation of something clever is all that’s needed to solicit payment in exchange.
And I watched this guy from across the street. I saw some people pass him by, some disgusted by his crude pitch… while others were impressed and dazzled, rewarding him with their hard-earned cash, dropped into his hat.
Further down the road, a bucket of ice was tossed on the sidewalk, left to change phase from hard frozen rocks to a puddle of dirty drench and eventually evaporate into mist, far from what it was originally meant to be.
I wanted to capture its shiny cool, as it sparkled in the sun, once of value to improve taste and moments later perishable and soon forgotten.
Further down the street a man leans against a pole. As I was just trying to get him in focus, he lifted his hand and unexpectedly had to clear his nostril with a farmers blow or what we affectionately refer to as the snot rocket.
It made me think of all the times that I too may have had to perform a discrete bodily function and just hoped that no one was close enough to tell.
Further down the road, a thin woman reclined with purpose. I watched her for a while and saw that she wasn’t moving, just staring. I couldn’t tell if her haircut and leather jacket made her fashionably paused or was she a street person just taking a load off.
She could have been out all night partying like a rock star, and just now waking up. Or, she could just be a resident of that bench. It made me think about how Steven Jobs got his first job at HP despite him interviewing for the job in his dirty bare feet.
At what point does madness get perceived as genius? And at what point does genius get discarded as unacceptably weird? I guess it all boils down to surrounding oneself with those of like mind who can see and appreciate one’s gifts and who looking to see their value.
Later that day I craved some undeniable beauty. I wanted to go to a place where everyone thought the same as I did. And at that place while I ordered Sushi and the person behind me ordered burgers, we both agreed that the silent breezy and beautiful sun setting view against the deep blue bay was extraordinary.
Just then, without notice, a biker gang on jet skis drove across our view. I stood and shot them as they cruised by at low-speed like I was a bystander on a side-walk watching them roll in formation at Sturgis. It reminded me of my days as a biker.
Back then I visited my advertising clients via motorcycle. My tent and sleeping bag was strapped to the seat behind me and my creative presentations were carried in a messenger bag slung over my shoulder. I would work by day and find someplace beautiful and peaceful to sleep at during the night, out in the open under the stars.
I woke from my SAMCRO memory and returned to the waterside restaurant to find the sun glistening off the spice shakers. Was it just me that thought it to be the ideal black and white photo? Or was it just too obvious an a-salt on unsuspecting viewers? Whatever… I like it… I shot it.
As the sun started to set, I went to do a little holiday shopping at a quaint little village area called Hyde Park. There I found gateways into the great beyond, salt and pepper doggies, smiling kids playing by a fountain and a mysteriously strange and lovely lady walking around.
No matter where I walked, she seemed to be coming at me from the other direction. The first time I saw her, she smiled and said hello to me, then again it happened outside another shop and then again walking down another side street.
Friendly, warm and unguarded she said hello to me each time as if we were familiar. I wondered who she was and if she knew how nice it made me feel to be recognized by her. Was she a student? A wealthy daughter of a Trinidad Doctor, who was home for the holidays? Was she a model or simply a nanny on her day off?
I wondered how she perceived herself and I wondered if anyone else saw what I saw in her.
And as the day finally came to a close, I bought some new dishes at West Elm and sat on a bench in the park, waiting to catch the best drops as they poured off the edge of the silver, purple and green fountain .
In my mind, a lifetime of advertising adventures rolled like an endless movie. To anyone else in the park if they saw me, they wouldn’t know what movie I was watching in my head. They might easily see just another ordinary bum in the park with his possessions in a shopping bag.
Then it occurred to me… if I only had a cane and a baseball cap… I could earn some extra money.
One person will go out of their way to only eat federally certified organic butter, made from the most revered cows, whose big black lips and fleshy pink cud, have only chewed the greenest, pesticide free, fresh grasses.
And that same person will profess their love for deeply dragging on hot cancerous vapor, drawn from slender tubes, that offer themselves unconditionally, in a seductive pack that shouts, “Smoking kills”.
Ironically, that same mouth that carefully guarded and thoughtfully selected nature’s life-sustaining bovine churn… also inhales the removal of life.
Elsewhere in the world, a woman gets dressed up in her warmest arctic wear, to kneel at the foot of a tropical beach, leaving exposed only her face to feel the sun’s warmth.
As that same sun sets, youth splashes in the gulf catching the last drops of the day’s sparkle. On the shore the mature versions of those wet, are now mere dry spectators passively looking back to where they once played.
A smiling bride brushes the grit off her feet, as her attendant presents her pumps. She shows the world her unbeatable smile as the wedding photographers snap a few candids. Yet the moment the photographer walks away, she returns her face to its most natural expression while she satisfies an itch that couldn’t be scratched.
The bar is known for celebrating great events and drowning the sorrows of great despair. One place famous for hosting both the comedy and tragedy of life.
Two men meet during the cocktail reception. Both there to celebrate the new union of their close friend and relative while they bond on common ground swapping war stories fought during each of their respective divorces.
And sometimes there is one without the other. Just the shine without the shadow. The scene that will always only say peaceful rest, relaxation and retreat. A lonely empty hammock begs for someone to smell coconut sun tan lotion, rock back and forth and listen to the gulls scream while the tide crashes.
A woman waits on the beach. Every noise causes her to turn to see if the person she is waiting for has finally arrived.
A bird that normally flies under the sun as a part of a pair, drifts alone in the wind against a dark sky.
Every bright light casts a sharp dark shadow. We live in a world where all things carry the seed of their opposite, where the lack of one thing creates abundance in another… and where life presents all its delightful and cruel duality in controlled chaos.
Somewhere far from where birds fly alone, distant from where women wait anxiously, and in an unspoken language meant just for two… a man and his dog have beers in brown paper bags, knowing the simple joy of just having each other to share time with.