I grew up on a block. We called it a block. A solid city block bound on two sides by streets and two sides by avenues. A concrete island where all the single-family homes had long stoops leading up to all the homes that were connected by a single common wall between them. People living on top of each other, on square islands bordered by black asphalt rivers ebbing against a coastal sidewalk.
Elsewhere, on real beach shores, people stroll, they stand in the water up to their knee, and others do a little stretching. I believe there really is a Yoga position called the sandy stretch.
In another city at another time, a woman named Sandy Stretch is getting married. Sandy will be throwing her bouquet after her ceremony, to be caught by the next bride to be. To death, they do they part, based on only a sample of who they are and who they will become.
Sometimes I think people should walk around wearing warning signs that actually say, “Sample”, so those who might get involved with them know they are only getting a glimpse rather than a fixed view of who they will be the rest of their life regardless of what impacts them.
Each of us resonating at a different frequency and moving at a different pace. If we are fortunate enough to have the gift of sight, we might not like to see or be seen, but we all like to watch something.
While some are attracted to models running, others would much rather see the cracks on the sidewalk. I usually don’t stare at the cracks, but don’t step on them either as one needs all the good luck they can gather.
For some people, if they didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. To them, the street is their home where they are free and unburdened by the cost of safety, security, and status. The rest of us who live in square boxes on square blocks have chosen to pay the price for endless debt and the health debilitating stress of a steady paycheck.
Would you rather be a king in hell or a slave in heaven?
There are as many opinions and points of view, as there are colors found on an artist’s pallet. It takes courage for the artist to see the world as they do, often times different than everyone else. For some, an awkward family photo may be hard to look at. For others, it is a full pallet of pure perfection that creates a chuckle whenever it’s viewed, regardless if it’s morning, noon or night.
This morning, I watched a little bit of a movie called Farenheit451… loosely based on the Ray Bradbury story about a futuristic dystopian society where reading, writing, and books were banned.
I watched this movie as the number one crime of the people in the movie would be to own a book or write words. For some, the compulsion to write is no less urgent and required, than the necessity of breathing.
In our society, writing words are not outlawed yet but with all communication, there is a risk as a huge discrepancy often exists between what is being said vs what is being heard. Sometimes the thing they are trying to say is obfuscated by a moment when readers cannot pick up the true message that’s being put down. So many of us are so misunderstood due to no fault of our own.
We all have moments that we are not proud of, but it’s doubtful that we all can understand how dramatic of a turn life takes for some people. I don’t know if even at my worst moments, a little snooze on the sidewalk would be my preference, but we can’t critique another’s situation without knowing their struggle.
For some, closing their eyes and going to sleep is their cheapest and easiest escape. Others embrace their poverty, dress accordingly, and are not above making a statement when strolling down Fashion Avenue wearing all the news that fits to print.
Where did he get that outfit you ask? Well… it’s classified.
I grew up on a block just like any city block. It had curbs, fire hydrants, man-hole covers, sewers, driveways, telephone poles, stoops, on-street parking, street signs and street lights. Every house had a number on it, and every block had numbered streets on two sides and lettered avenues on the other two sides.
I learned how to ride a bike on those sidewalks, and learned how not to crash that bike into trees and garage doors. I played stoop ball on those stoops and Skully on those driveways. I played touch football in the street between those manhole covers and telephone poles. Occasionally someone would yell, “CAR!” and we knew to move to the side and let the car through before we could continue our game.
When I hear that someone has writer’s block, I wonder if it’s conceivable that they have no story to tell or that they fancy themselves to be a writer who lives on a block.
A long time ago, in a place far far away, I was an intern at an architectural signage fabrication shop. The owner of the company paired me, the young know nothing, with his father, the wise elderly teacher. The wise father said to me on my first day, “I want you to drill a hole in the top left corner of this sheet of plastic. Then drill a hole in 4 more sheets of the exact same size plastic. Then find the right size bolt and a nut, and put the bolt through the holes and fasten them all together with the nut.”
I took the first sheet of acrylic (plexiglass), measured one inch down from the top, and one inch in from the left. I drilled a hole, I think it was a bit larger than a quarter-inch in diameter, thinking that would be the ideal size hole for the bolt I’d put through all five sheets.
I then grabbed the second sheet, measured the same amount down and over, and moved on to the third sheet. This was my first assignment. I wanted it to be perfect. All I ever wanted was for everything I did to be excellent and perfect, or at least how I thought perfect should be.
Soon after that came the fourth and fifth sheets. I put masking tape on the acrylic so as to not fracture the fine edges of the hole in the plastic as I drilled. I drilled slowly so as to not fracture the sheet of plastic. I measured each sheet, in the same way, thinking that they would all fit together perfectly.
I found my bolt and my nut and selected a length that would be a perfect to bolt all the sheets together with the nut. Feeling almost triumphant, I stacked them all together and attempted to slide the bolt through all five sheets, when the wise old man came by for a look-see. Naturally, for some reason, I couldn’t align the holes and the corners, and still, fit the bolt through. Either the corners were aligned, or the holes were aligned… but not both.
The old man saw the defeated look on my face and asked, “… whatcha got goin’ on there? Looks like you’re having a little problem.” All I could think about was how I failed my first assignment at my new job, and ruined five sheets of expensive Plexiglass. I told the old man I wanted it to be perfect, but there I was with a stack of ruined plexy and enough disappointment in myself to squash any widespread indignation I normally would have in a situation like that.
The old man said, “…do it again.” To which I replied, “I can’t. I don’t want to ruin any more material. I don’t know why it didn’t work. I don’t want to mess up again.” He just looked down at the material. Examined the holes. “…this is nice work…good, clean, holes,” he said. He never looked up at me and said, “Do it again.”
I just looked back at him confused about his invitation to fail again. Me, a legend in my mind. I couldn’t even drill one stupid hole in five sheets and put a bolt through it. “I can’t do it…” I said. “You can,” he replied, “and I’ll show you how.” He grabbed five more sheets, and he then created a corner jig on the drill press. He slid each corner in the jig and drilled, and each hole was perfect, in the same location on each sheet.“This way your drill will go in the same place on every corner” he said.
The drill bit he selected for the holes was a little thicker than the one I selected. Definitely thicker than the bolt by a bit more than what I had figured on. “Bring a sheet and bolt over here. You see how tightly the bolt slides through the hole you drilled? Precise, nice and snug. No extra room for error. That’s your problem here. You were shooting for a perfect fit when life is filled with slight imperfections that often layer up like these plexiglass sheets. Each time you drilled your perfect snug holes… they were a bit off and different on each sheet. So when you stacked em’ up and tried to bolt em’ together, there wasn’t enough room to account for natural errors.”
I argued with him of course, claiming a larger hole is sloppy work and isn’t precise. He simply said, “… you need to always allow a little wiggle room. It’s called tolerance. How much tolerance you allow depends on each unique situation, but your way, each individual sheet won’t line up properly. My way, giving the hole in each sheet a little extra room, allows for any unintentional errors, so that ultimately the bolt will fit through them all easily, and the corners can be allowed to line up perfectly. Allowing for tolerance, wiggle room, and a little play enables all the separate sheets to remain individual but fit together as one perfectly.”
Even now, I still shoot for perfect. And in almost every encounter, every project, every relationship, my perfect rarely seems to work. However, when I remember to be tolerant and give people and projects a little wiggle room, things seem to work out better.
It’s a funny thing about perfect. Probably a lot like gambling I think. The first time you place a bet and feel the exhilaration of winning oodles of money, and forever more chase that initial burst of success. Similarly, the feeling of things coming together perfectly is a hard master to compromise on. Perfect might have seemed to happen from time to time, but the chase for it always in all things is a fool’s errand.
These days I see perfection in the flaws. Habitually I still complain to myself about the opportunities for improvement that glare at me. Allowing wiggle room and making the flaws work in my favor has become my new perfect.
At another time and in another place, two neighbors lived side by side. The one neighbor on the left was extremely considerate of the neighbor on the right. However, the neighbor on the right ironically had serious problems with boundaries.
One time, the neighbor on the right put up a fence dividing the two properties. Naturally, the fence was installed one foot over the plot line, crossing over onto the left neighbor’s property. Similarly, the two properties shared a driveway between the two houses, and the neighbor on the right, always parked too far to the left, preventing the neighbor on the left from parking their car in their own driveway.
Oblivious to their own faults, the neighbor on the right needed to go out-of-town for the weekend and presumptuously asked the neighbor on the left to watch their house for them while they were away. Taken off guard, the neighbor on the left agreed. However, once the neighbors on the right, departed, the neighbor on the left decided to enter the right neighbor’s house and snoop around.
Without fear of reprisal, the left neighbor commented to themselves about the squalor that the right neighbors lived in. Enormous amounts of dust, dog hair, and dead bugs were found in every corner. A putrid odor permeated the whole house. Dishes were left in the sink piled high with the past week’s food cemented onto the plates.
The left neighbor thought about how they could never live like the right neighbor. Then the left neighbor noticed that the right neighbor must have taken off in a hurry, as they abandoned an open bag of Oreos on the kitchen table.
The left neighbor saw the silver lining and helped themselves to a handful of the crunchy creme-filled chocolate reward. The left neighbor stood there and thought as they twisted open the cookie and scraped the tight white creme across the top of their protruding front four bottom teeth.
They thought about how that neighbor’s fence imposed on the left neighbor’s property. They thought about the inconvenience of the right neighbor parking too far over. The left neighbor wondered why they even agreed to do the right neighbor a favor and watch their house, given all the offenses they chose to endure.
The left neighbor had another Oreo and realized that when two people live side by side for a very long time, they each have to have tolerance for each other, as the option of feuding with one living so close would be treacherous, stressful and the removal of any sense of harmony at home.
The left neighbor took another Oreo to-go, and thought to themselves… when it comes to making things work, it’s all about tolerance.
Sunday morning around 8 am, listening to Gene Harris, looking at the patio door, condensation coats the outside, droplets race down from the top in jagged silver streaks. Left over coffee fills the air layered with cinnamon, drizzled honey traverses one toasted gold round waffle on a cool white square plate.
Meantime, Hurricane Harvey batters the shores of Texas, mumbling newscasters in the background as the devastating images play unwatched. I reach inside to find the channel from which calm and crazy pours out. Words and stories, bits and pieces jumble in my mind, to form hooks for my imagination to snag on.
A little dark-eyed blonde girl kisses her palm and sits pensive, as a giant pink bow pinned to the side of her head forces it to tilt. She stares into the distance thinking about her future, anxious with internal conflicts.
Should she be a gymnast or a doctor? Should she feel guilty about loving her parents differently? She can’t decide how she feels about her new-born brother taking all the attention that she once owned exclusively.
The seductive scent of sweet stretching webs of cotton candy fills her nose as she forgets everything she’s thought about and leaves in search of the pink confection.
Beethoven comes on next. Love is defined by having the same style cell phones, and reading texts simultaneously while standing close, like strangers not talking.
Elsewhere, an older woman who chose to not care for others watches with disdain as a family sitting next to her resolves a conflict between sisters. One sister wants to stay, one sister wants to go, the father checks sports scores on his phone and the mom hugs her crying daughter wondering how she got to this place.
The sky grew dark and the wind began to howl. A loud crack of thunder and rain poured down to patter on tin overhangs. People of every shape, size, and color race to shelter while others remain calm and keep walking. People pushing strollers run along side those pushing wheelchairs.
Crowds appear spontaneously covered with wet ponchos. Fashion demand shifts to Saran Wrap stylings in colors with hoods, from obese gangs of fathers in big bellied shirts, and sagging senoritas jiggling in culottes and cutoffs.
The streets become shimmering mirrors of dark shadows dancing with light splash reflections of overcast skies. When one squints, the humans disappear and only wispy white ghosts can be seen running in wet Converse.
Elsewhere, at another time, in another place, others also walk, but for them, it’s in the sunshine. Some ride in a different direction than the crowd. Some wear shoes while others remain in pajama pants and socks. Some walk alone while others are lucky enough to have someone else to help and watch out for.
As Ray Brown takes the A train, the Empire State Building rises in the distance to compete as the sharpest point scraping the sky against puny pointy posts and puffy parallel poles.
Down on the ground, among the masses, each individual stands out in their own unique way. And in so doing, makes them all the same as each other. One runs, one walks, one shoots, and even the signs resemble the unilateral crowd as it shouts, “one way”.
It’s 3:00 P.M. on a Saturday afternoon and a nap simply must be had. Ingenuity takes over, a couple of milk cartons and a baseball cap later, a hyperbaric chamber is formed enabling the sleep deprived, to alcoholically or narcotically drift off, magically guarded against any sensory input.
On another street, a fellow napper feels the snooze coming on and lays down his crutches to grab slumber by a stoop. Perhaps it’s the wearing of the baseball cap that makes them sleepy… or perhaps the sidewalk is a lot more comfortable than we all realize.
Elsewhere and in other places, sun bathing nymphs attracting unwanted attention are sprawled out practically naked in a public park.
One practices her feminine wiles with a round of ancient slow sensuous back arching. Another flexes her intellect with foreign literature. The third attempts the “no seduction at all” performance, by allowing the simplicity of a bouncing blonde pony tail against a black bikini back, to do all the talking.
Together, everyone is alone doing their own thing; it’s what makes them/us all alike. While some just bring a dog or a book to the park, others bring their piano and gift the bench sitters with tickled ivories and Metropolitan melodies.
As the music plays, the famous pigeon man of Washington Square Park continues caring for his flying feathered friends.
Somewhere along the way I learned that determining I had a deja vu moment, was evidence that I was in the right place at the right time, regardless of how wrong some moments might seem.
Saturday was one of those days. Sensing a strange feeling of euphoria, we headed to The Missing Room, catching all the lights just right along the way, changing lanes at just the right time, driving at the same rate of travel as everyone else on the street. Arriving perfectly on time.
Later that day, we closed the store promptly at 2pm, and cruised down Central Ave. to visit some of the funky antique and vintage stores busting with gently used possessions formerly owned by others. Got the perfect parking spot on the best block. Entered stores precisely as others were leaving at exactly the same time, perfectly choreographed to catch the door.
In need of sustenance around late afternoon, we stopped for sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy free chocolate gelato. A car pulled out of the best parking spot just as we arrived in perfect harmony with the day. We walked, stopped to inquire about real estate that we couldn’t afford, conversing with a realtor whose face was pulled very tight, apparently too much Botox we thought.
Once at the ice cream place, we were served immediately, two people got up from a table just as we were ready to sit. Slurped it down and started to walk. We walked this way not that. We were heading for there not here. We walked at this pace not that.
And at the same moment that we arrived on this street a couple of blocks away, right by the bay, a parade of bicycles suddenly rolled upon us.
And as spontaneously as it occurred, it ended. We walked along the shore, similar to how a sailboat could drift where the wind blows it.
And near the marina, by the dock, I saw a huge pearl necklace floating in the water. I imagined that some very large fish was hiding it here till they would gift it to their mate on Valentines day. How a-fish-ient I thought.
Further down the street people were standing and walking. A woman in socks and sandals was shouting, “who wants to get Lays? Lay’s Potato Chips… come and get’m”. As everyone looked on and wondered if she was able to do that.
A few steps further down the road I caught Santa Claus off-duty catching some rays and having a cocktail. I always wondered where he vacationed in the off-season, and there he was getting what looked like a pretty nasty sunburn.
As we headed back to the car, we saw three women in amazingly colorful dresses, led by a man with a wrinkled shirt. Clearly he was the husband and they were his wives following dutifully. He had a tall skinny one, a short skinny one, and one not so skinny in between.
Later that day, we went out for dinner. I wanted to end the day as magically and with as much serendipity as it began. We arrived at the outdoor deck, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, ready to eat. Believe it or not, no one got up and left their table in exact coordination with our arrival!
I looked over and saw the best table for two, where two other people had just finished their soup and looked like they were ready to leave. In an effort to assist the positive ethers along a bit, I went up to the couple and asked how the food was and if they were done.
They said the were finished and that everything was delicious. I then offered to pay their check if we could have their table right then, right there. They asked me if I was sure, thinking to myself, how much could two bowls of soup cost.
They promptly left, and in a goofy, cocky way, we took over the table while the rest of the waiting crowd watched in disbelief. As soon as we sat down, the waitress brought over their check. Expecting to see a small check for two bowls of soup, to my chagrin I saw a huge check for the whole afternoon that they had been sitting there drinking. Apparently the glasses and dishes had been removed from the table before I got there, when I first hatched my scheme.
As I reluctantly pulled out my credit card from my wallet, to pay for someone else’s beach party, I kept looking around for that feeling of deja vu, like wondering how this was the place I was supposed be at. But nothing was coming to me.
Then I realized that, that nice young couple who walked away with a free dinner… was probably telling their friends the story about how amazing their luck was, and how they must have had to be in exactly the right place at the right time for that to happen.
I didn’t really want to go, I’m not really that into politics. I figured I might get a few good pictures out of it, and that’s all it really takes to motivate me these days. “Hey Barry, wanna shoot this college graduation?”, me: “nah…it’s not my thing, I’m a Street Photographer.” them: “oh yeah? well you might get a few good pictures out of it…” me:awww… okay I guess…”
So going to my local women’s march this past Saturday was nothing political to me, it was just a chance to get a few good pictures. But something happened while I was there. The anguish of the people affected me. Their need to express themselves was overwhelming. Their fears about tomorrow, mixed with the resurrection of hippie objections, exploded into a global love fest where lost souls could comfort themselves.
I just walked around and caught as much as I could. I admit I broke down crying a couple of times from being among so many people worried about the future. The power of the masses mobilized in protest was an inspiring sight and an empowering event.
This message of “… don’t fuck with our freedoms won, because there are more of us than you…” was so powerful that all I could do is document what these people needed to have happen now. Document a little piece of what was going on all around the world on that day.
For some it was a party. A reason to meet for breakfast and a destination to go to afterwards on a beautiful sunny Saturday. For others it was a venue to remind the pollyanna public that some bad shit went down this past year…
I know this sounds a little weird, but my camera sort of had a mind of its own, capturing images in weird ways, with weird settings and odd displays. Part barbecue, part outdoor shopping mall, part stroll at the marina, and part protest, the masses gathered.
I saw this beautiful family entering the park where the protesters gathered before they marched. A serious family with a serious sign about how Black Lives Matter… entered just as I was there… then I heard them say, :…it’s still early yet… why don’t we go out for breakfast…” and they promptly tucked their sign under their arm, turned around and went in search of coffee…
Even the most rebellious of braless women needed to take pause with her protest in order to check her texts…
Older ladies from times gone by remembered the joy of flower power, and relished the opportunity to come out and play again. But at the same time reeked of the absurdity as they wondered why they need to do this again. Wasn’t this settled? Didn’t we make progress and move on since then?
Sure, there are lots of retired old hippies down in Florida. Though the statistics wiggle a little here and there, the general gist is that 10,000 baby boomers enter retirement everyday… and will continue to do so for the next 20 years.
At the same time new families are being made with new moms and dads worrying about the same things their parents fought for so many years ago.
And the part party, part protest continued as groups of old gals gathered on a bench to talk about things new and things old.
Classic Rock and Helen Reddy lyrics find new relevance at the protest picnic.
Occasionally I’d see a sign or a protester that would gut me. Grandmas marching for their grand-babies. White gals preaching the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King. All while wearing funny hats and shielding their faces from sun burn.
Mothers teaching their daughters to stand up for their rights made me cry. On one hand why should they have to do that. On the other hand the privileges of our freedom should never be something that one feels they are entitled to. If not nurtured, if not kept vital, it will atrophy and wither away.
The day reminded me to thank our villains and nemesis, for with out their provocation we will lose our edge, forget our drive, and roll over and enslave ourselves in exchange for someone rubbing our belly or scratching us behind the ear.
It was a good day. An intense day, but a good one. And yeah, I got a few good shots. But the exposure to the mob reminded me that even though power corrupts absolutely, a mighty crowd will mobilize in an instant in opposition, unless their voices are heard.
Last night I took my dog for a walk. She usually goes out twice at night. Once before dinner, a quick walk. Then a second time after dinner when she patrols the edges of our community, a much longer walk. It gets dark earlier now and it is a bit more treacherous out as vision is significantly reduced.
I’ve gotten into the habit when walking my dog, to always look down. She likes to do her business where other dogs have done theirs. Last night, while on the second long walk, routinely looking down to avoid the slippery stink of dogs gone by, I walked right into a huge wooden door, precariously hanging out the back of a pickup truck, backed up to grassy trail where everyone walks their dog.
Yep, you heard right, it was dark, I was looking down instead of looking where I was going and WHAM! I walked behind a truck that was parked… it had a huge wooden door sticking out the truck bed by about 2 feet and I walked right into it.
It made me wonder how often we journey with head down, in avoidance of old shit, only to get smacked right in the face, from not seeing where we’re going. Would you rather step in it… or would you rather get whacked in the face from whats coming at you?
And as quickly as this flash of philosophical genius appeared, it disappeared, and was replaced with my obvious idiocy; I was just happy no one saw me walking my dog in the dark as I bumped into that huge thing.
A couple of months back, lots of people were happy to be seen by as many as possible, as they dressed up their dogs for Halloween. Everyone was looking down at their pooch, with no notice of potential doors about to whack them.
Occasionally, some hot dogs were busy looking up at their human, not paying any attention to where they were going.
Some people are just so busy, and so consumed with themselves, that they are oblivious to a super dog offering to save the world on command.
Elsewhere, slobbering, merled, bulldogs dress up in fabric saddles so tiny cowboy dolls can ride them. Naturally, a beagle pulls in demanding to sniff that saddled sassy hound. Leashes everywhere. Such an odd strap of control.
A faithful labrador sits, pants, and takes no offense to its person grooming herself behind dark shades.
See Spot read. She sits and stays because the command says so. I wonder how long she will obey.
All around are others of our species dressed up in colorful outfits in order to see and be seen.
Others have Pokemon fever and see nothing, go nowhere and repeatedly tap their finger tip against personal handheld glass monitors.
Tropical bikers ride past on sparkling tricycles wearing bandanas and bikinis. All around our tiny planet, incalculable activities are going on all at the same time.
Just on a hunch I wondered how many people walked into things at night while walking their dogs in the dark , and Googled “people who walk into things” and discovered that it is way more common than I thought. I guess I feel a lot less philosophical and better knowing I’m just like everyone else… actually better than most.
Have a safe holiday out there… and by all means… watch where you’re going!
A long time ago in a place far, far away, my most excellent friend Katy said to me, “Barry, so many words, so many pictures, you should start incorporating your pictures and words into videos or slide shows so we can get in and out of your blog faster.”
During a visit to Chicago I had a chance to walk the streets and snap some folks. Please enjoy my first slide show from a selection of street scenes taken walking around on a Monday. I shot lots of great buildings and did the 360° tourist thing on the top of the Hancock Building.
The most significant repeated image was of the homeless; at least where I was walking they were there. And of course I was very interested in the typography on all their signs. How do they know when to use all caps for a title? Or even the use of decorative fonts… or even humor when soliciting funds seem to be a frequently occurring theme.
Anyway…take a peek and please tell me what you think.
Press play and make it full screen. Thanks Katy!
And my most excellent friend Laurie requested the individual photos so she can dine on them at her own delicious leisure. Here ya go Laurie.
A long time ago during one of many hunts for the elusive Manhattan Sky Lion, I found myself on Wall Street, and in the distance I saw a single stylized lion-head sculpture, mounted high on the side of building.
From blocks away I steadied my zoom and captured her. In front of that distant wall, grew a construction site where an even taller building would soon be erected, covering up that rare lion forever. Now it was mine, an image that I saw, a view others will never see again unless I chose to show it to them.
Later that day at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, my daughter and I put the final touches on ourselves before heading downstairs to attend a relative’s wedding. As she prepared, she lifted up her hair and on the back of her neck flashed a tattoo of a sensuous stylized heart.
At a completely different and unrelated time, inside Kennedy Airport, my other daughter, arrived home from Israel, and after greeting her affectionately, she lifts up the back of her shirt to show me her brand new brand, a simultaneous allegiance and challenge to our tribal traditions, touting a Star of David proudly emblazoned on the flat canvas at the base of her spine.
Throughout my life, countless friends and companions dazzled me with epidural delights, from celtic symbols on feet, long feathered peacocks on hips balanced by fluttering hummingbirds above breasts, roaring boned barn fires burning up from the butt, and endless ink in private places, designed to seduce, remember, affiliate, tell a story, express artistic freedom, and control the visual packaging of one’s body.
As for me, I still have not found my skin graphic that permanently shouts how I will always feel, what I will always want to say, a memory of the past that won’t depress me, or any mark without a reason that I will identify with forever more.
Flash forward to this past weekend, there was a tattoo convention in town. I resisted going because the light is so much better outside for shooting. However, it was so hot on this Sunday, that I retreated to the air-conditioned venue for cooler inspiration.
I marched the aisles with my 85mm looking for unusual dark perspectives and non-staged spot lit poses. What I found was an odd mix of folks who love to put tattoos on those who love to get tattoos. Beyond the buzzing sound of dozens of vibrating needles, was the din of calm and quiet, as the dance of intimacy between art and flesh went all Rock N’ Roll.
Across the floor, bodies were contorted to expose just the right angle to get lit and stamped. Serious artists donning surgical gloves signed skin and colored characters on legs, thighs, shoulders, rears and everything in between.
For some it is an addiction of guilt and pleasure. For others its just a transaction in exchange for plain ole pain, as sharp needles carrying indelible ink piercing the skin. I walked and watched with amazement as common individuals transformed themselves to extraordinary masterpieces.
Also, the procedure of coloring on a person is usually carried out in private, or in the smokey shop near a bar, dock or gritty avenue. On this day, everyone was out in the public view which really is the essence of a tattoo. For why would one get a tattoo if it would not eventually be seen by others, unless just admired privately by the bearer.
I was consumed with the concentration on the faces of the artists, aimed at the complete submission by the bodies of work. It was hard to tell who was being honored more; the crafts-person leaving their mark, or the signed human who would carry the art for the rest of their days.
Forlorn faces worn by those who have passed, movie stars striking a pose, and wild animals ready to pounce, appeared on anatomy like a montage of aspirations, inspirations and fond memories. Sure there was the usual barbed wire arm cuffs, and Polynesian plume on puffy shoulders, but mostly there was the essence of people being changed, by the ones making the change happen.
Occasionally as I stole a photo here and there, an artist would leer at me, unable to give chase for the ink would dry.
Other times, the painted on patrons would stare, as I made permanent in my camera, the expression of their surrender.
Throughout the convention hall there were faces and bodies of every shape and size. I imagined for some the exterior package of their vessel was not consistent with how they would like to see themselves, or saw themselves from the inside.
Me and my camera put the eye in ink. I wondered about the artists getting their nose up close to someones ass in order to dot out a fragrant flower. There was a woman with her chest revealed to the world like the Grand Teton, in order to get tagged from just the right angle; nobody noticed, nobody cared… it was just flesh meet ink.
When my friends heard that I had shot the convention, of course they wondered if I had found an image suitable to be my mark for ever and ever. Disappointed they were to hear that I walked out just as unmarked and lily-white as when I walked in.
I thought about many things though. I thought about contacting some major sponsors and soliciting some form of payment from them if I was to wear their logo for the rest of my life. Shouldn’t Apple Computers pay me if I had their trademark on my forearm? Or shouldn’t Intel pay me for showing the world that Intel was inside me?
I wondered if in the future, instead of delivering ink just under the skin, if it would be possible to insert inert wireless pixels that could be organized in an array and activated from a website offering a collection of images to choose from. This way people could go out wearing permanent tattoos of their choosing, just for the night.
And as their beliefs and commitments change, so could their body billboard. Hell, people could sell sponsorship space on their bodies, like Nascar profits from a logo on a fender, or a tennis player with hat.
I suppose if I had to get one, I would choose the one that chose me. A glimpse of that lion head on the side of that building on Wall Street; something that I own that no one will ever see again unless I choose to show it to them.
Sometimes watching the news can be a bit much. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t read. We choose what we want to think about. Sometimes I turn the volume way down and step away from the distant dreary drone of death and disaster in lieu of sinking deep into the cushy love affectionately offered by the couch waiting to embrace me.
When I choose to think about summertime, I think about beautiful women revealing their all, on beaches made for healing one’s soul. I think about feeling the sun toasting my skin as the cool breeze puffs me like a thick soft towel made from Poseidon’s breath.
That applause of clapping palm trees muffled by crashing tide, and the occasional soft gust whispers right in my ear. I close my eyes to better imagine the waves crashing in and out, in and out, and feel the hair on my arm dance with the damp wind.
Deep in through my nose the whiff of salt fishy coconut settles my mind and I drift off like a gliding seagull lifting and falling against the breeze…
A surfer dude sports a man bun atop his head as he walks the beach along his son the protegé. The dad turns away for a second to pick up some trash on the beach left by those less conscious of the beauty we’re all responsible for. The surfer stands back up to deliver a do-not-litter lesson to his son, and the small child is gone.
The frantic father looks all over the immediate area of the disappearance but the boy is nowhere in sight. Hysterically he retraces his steps trying to think where he went wrong or what could have happened. He steps out on the street and yells to a biker passing by, “… have you seen my son? he’s gone…”
The biker takes his hands off the handlebars and looks around, then yells back. “No man, I haven’t seen him but did you hear about the coup in Turkey?”
The frantic father runs through the streets calling for his son but no one turns, no one helps, no one hears his cries. He jumps into a museum for help, “… excuse me, but I have lost my son. He’s a small boy with a wet suit on just like the one I’m wearing. Have you seen him?…
The ladies at the reception area look at each other and then turn back to him, “… no we haven’t seen him but did you hear about the truck driver who was shooting as he plowed into a huge crowd in France and killed over 80 people!?”
Realizing the ladies were of no help, the desperate dad ran through the museum in case his son had wandered in. On the second floor he found some ladies looking out from a balcony. “… excuse me ladies… have you seen my son… I’ve lost him and I’m terribly worried…”
The ladies turned toward the fallen father and replied, “… no we haven’t seen your son, but did you hear that Donald Trump just chose a running mate, and he’s supposedly worse than Trump. Together, the two of them are going to repeal abortion and take away women’s choice over their own body!”
Then the three ladies just turned back toward the sky and continued their discussion about the Bravo show Million Dollar Listing of New York, and debated what the next step would be for Luis Ortiz, the cute latin realtor who decided to quit real estate for good.
The panic-stricken papa ran out of the museum distracted and delirious. Out in the street he saw a woman carrying a boy and the frenzied father yelled out to her as he ran past. “… excuse me ma’am have you seen my boy… I lost him at the beach… he looks just like me… he’s wearing a little wet suit…”
The woman replied ,“…I haven’t seen your son but you can have my little monster… I’m tired of taking him to the emergency room, I was just going to leave him behind a dumpster…I got to get rid of him… he makes my boyfriend drink too much, and beat him, and I need to keep my man happy so he keeps paying the rent…”
The frantic father ran away furious, determined to find his son…
Down the road a piece, the distraught dad came upon three men on bicycles. “Excuse me gents, I’ve lost my son and I’m going berserk trying to find him. Have you seen a little boy in a wet suit?”
The three men looked at the panic-stricken big man standing in the wetsuit, then turned back to the bicyclist in the middle who spoke, “… no man, we haven’t seen him, but did you hear about the cops that were shot by a sniper in Dallas? Five were killed and like 10 or 11 shot or injured…”
The surfer dude shook his head and looked down in despair, but continued his search…
Desperate, the father ran back to the beach thinking his son couldn’t have gone far without being noticed. The dad remembered talking to the boy about situations he may find himself in… and what to do if the boy was in those situations.
Beside himself and in a fit of fury the surfer dude cruised up the beach searching tirelessly. He passed by a couple of people in a tent with their dogs and yelled out to them. “Excuse me… but have you seen my son? He’s a little surfer dude… looks just like me… and he wandered off… have you seen him?”
The dogs started barking as the surfer shouted his raving request. The woman in the tent yelled back over the barking dogs, “no man… we haven’t seen your kid… but did you hear about the massacre at the gay dance club in Orlando, Florida? Like over 50 people were killed! They’re saying it’s like the biggest mass murder in American History… right after the Wounded Knee Massacre, the shooting in Bath, Michigan, the massacre on the Virginia Tech Campus, Sandy Hook, and all those other atrocities where people went postal!”
In shock, the man thanked the woman and continued his search…
The surfer dude shuffled on the beach trying to remember what he told his son in the story. He thought he said something like, if you ever get lost on the beach, look for the man or woman sitting in the giant chair. Tell them you’re lost… and they’ll help you find your way back to me…
In the distance the surfer dude saw the giant chair where a life guard was standing waving both his arms over his head. The surfer dude started to run to the chair. On the way he passed other surfer dudes who were all alone, except for their boards.
Running to the big chair, the surfer dude passed a strange man standing on the beach. For a second he thought that he was a bad man, waiting for unsuspecting parents to take their eyes off their kid for just a half-second… and he would swoop in and steal those kids.
But the surfer dude quickly dismissed the villain, knowing in his gut that his boy was at the foot of the big chair waiting for him.
Sure enough he was there. “Dad, I did what you taught me… I lost you, I didn’t panic, I looked for the giant chair and waited for you there. Where have you been… I was waiting so long…?”
The surfer dude picked up his little man and told him of his adventures while looking for him. He told the boy that no matter what horrible thing was going on in the world, nothing was more important to him than finding his son and he swore he’d never lose him again.
Just then a crack of thunder woke me up. I squeezed the sleep out of my eyes and realized I had fallen asleep on the couch with the news running on TV in the background.
Sometimes watching the news can be a bit much. If it doesn’t bleed it doesn’t read. We choose what we want to think about. Sometimes I turn the volume way down and step away from the distant dreary drone of death and disaster in lieu of sinking deep into the cushy love affectionately offered by the couch waiting to embrace me.
It’s time for a new car. My lease is up and I’m looking at the continuous showroom that patrols every road. Obviously the Cadillac Escalade Pickup has everything anyone could want for $72k. The prestige of a Cadillac, the size and utility of the SUV, including the convenience of a pickup truck.
Unwilling to pay that much for a depreciating investment, I resort to the envy of shiny new BMWs, economical shiny new Hondas, aspirational shiny new Infinities, juicy muscular shiny new Subarus, ridiculously cheap shiny new VWs, and the shiny new non-conforming Mazda 9.
While driving and dreaming of my next container, I wondered how much of a new car decision is based on the way we want to be seen while driving the car. Do we invite the stereotype that comes with driving a truck, or do we choose to welcome the usual mid-life crisis/genital size comments that come with driving a fast low sports car?
Then I realized that a vehicle is just the vessel folks wrestle with, until someone makes it their own. Prior to that it’s orphaned and inanimate. When one takes ownership, gives it a name, presets the stations on the radio, fills the glove box with personal what-ifs, registers it, and fills it with gas for the first time… we become the soul that possesses it.
Watching for new potential cars to possess, I wandered and weaved and found myself at the corner of “Pull Your Own Part” and “Cash for Your Crash”. Colorful fenders hung on rusty wrecked racks like bright automotive dentures waiting to be selected by mechanics seeing themselves as plastic surgeons, installing fresh faces on mouthless mounts.
Desperate to immerse myself in towers of trash, and collide with every make and model, I called the fender place to ask permission to come and shoot my Canon in their yard. First rejected and denied, then the owner told me about this other place that would let me walk and shoot as much as I’d like.
It seems that down the street from Fenders R Us, was a place sort of like Disneyland for Dents. You walk in the dirty greasy entrance, pay your $3 and exit into a universe of Car-casses like no one has ever seen before. Aisles and rows of cars and trucks from every manufacturer whoever had an assembly line.
I couldn’t figure out if I was privileged to see what happens to cars after they pass away, or if I should turn around and run from what was obviously Detroit’s secret death camp. I proceeded in like an accidental tourist, past a motor pulling mortician pushing a wheel barrel down a narrow avenue of autos.
Shoppers for stoppers, tires, dipsticks and doors, examined the perverse piles still trying to impress, with their mighty hoods raised high, twinkling an occasional glint from the last remaining chrome on a dangling side mirror.
Elders from our car-guy sub-culture toured trucks with apprentice mechanics hunting for horns, leaning on Lincolns, and fumbling with Fords. The stench of motor oil hung in the air like the bad breath of tow truck exhaust. I could almost hear the screeching brakes heard before the crashes that brought them all here.
The chassis circus almost seemed like it was performing gravity defying feats as the mangled metal mysteriously floated above the ground resting on rims and mired on Michelin.
Wheel wells winked at me with bright rusty disc brake beauty. Headlights stared straight ahead anxious for the night. Bucket after bucket of unbolted beast, shed wires, vinyl, rubber and steel.
The whole scene looked like the endless trashy piled spread of dirty unfolded clothing that might cover the floor of some junkies bedroom.
The sun started to cook the yard and the thrill of my fantasy walk through Ouch-schvitz started to wear off. I was too hot to shoot another sedate sedan, to tired to portray another pick-up, too pooped to pose another coupe.
It was time to return to my world of shiny and new and forget about this hell of shells, this termination garage where honking honeys go after they lose their souls. The last thing I saw before I departed, was a lonely bucket seat who had lost its drive.
This chairman looked like a homeless recliner, who recalled all the asses it carried for so many years, as it bitterly watched me leave. I walked out through the tiny greasy room where I paid my 3 dollars hours ago, and put this place in my rear-view.
I now look at new cars a little differently and appreciate their peak. I see how their pride shines as they roll forward to own the road. I now notice how they command the envy of humans who want them for a new shell.
I now see that I am the soul who enters my next protector, my mighty vessel to journey in, which gets me from here to there.