WORKING OUT THE STORY
If you ever listen to writers when they warm up or are feeling less inspired, you always hear about things like writer’s block or this idea of not having anything to write about. Sometimes I think the nugget of thought to read about is located a little deeper into the story. So no one really knows what they are writing about till they get there.
It’s like a journey where you don’t know who you will meet, where you will end up or what will happen to you, till you depart. Unless you depart, you will not be on your way.
On Sundays, my parents and apparently, many other senior couples go to the malls to walk and get some exercise. My parents choose to stroll through the mall with a Nordstrom, Pottery Barn and a Saks Fifth Avenue. It’s a beautiful mall, with just a ground level. Lots of skylights, glass, wood and many places to sit and rest, with beautifully decorated little sitting areas sponsored by local furniture stores.
They hold onto each other, arm and arm, with the determined look of Olympic athletes, to make their way through the mall. Then at the end of their work out, they eat lunch at a restaurant called “TooJay’s”, which is the local hang out for healthy kibbitzing, Jews craving knishes and ruggalch, as well as a frequent parade of wheelchair rollers and tennis ball poked walkers.
Sometimes Mom and Dad invite me to join them for lunch and I get to be 14 again. I sit across from them at the booth and watch my dad flirt with the waitress in front of my mother. Dad and I listen to my mother gossip about the other couples, who have just entered the restaurant, who she may have met at a canasta, bunko or Mah-jong game, long ago.
I was eager to get a little portrait shooting time in and got lucky to grab a couple of shots, last weekend, after their lunch and mall hike. This one below was outside the mall as I walked them to their car.
Mom and Dad went to their car and I went back into the mall to snap a few more. I had to walk through the entire mall again because my car was located completely on the other end of the parking lot.
You know those kiosks located in the walking areas of malls. You know the ones. They are manned by folks hawking cell phones or lovely ladies with accents offering to make your skin smooth as a result of being buffed by a special cream. They grab your arm and rub their cream into you before you know what’s happening. They tout rejuvenating properties, derived from abrasive salts extracted from the Dead Sea.
I’m pretty good at resisting those sirens but since I was hungry for portraits, I let her rub me, in exchange for a shot at her.
As I continued through the mall, a grabbed the requisite portrait of another silly orchid. Orchids around here are as popular as Ford’s in Germany or Mercedes in Great Neck, N.Y.
I made it to the car, striding against the current of strolling seniors and Dead Sea cream vendors. I made it through the week at a new client, where I hone my writing skills by proof reading hospital menus, fund-raising invitations and instructions on giving one’s self a breast exam. Ahhh, the routine of driving to work each day, sitting, reading, writing, driving, eating, sleeping and waking to do it all again.
It’s really okay. I listen to audio books while I drive, such as a little more of Hemingway’s droning drunk details of debauchery and antisemitic side comments, in the Sun Also Rises. I even caught a little bit of Paulo Coelho’s book, Aleph. These guys can go on and on about the most mundane of nonsense and I guess people go crazy for them. Meantime I was eager to get to my weekend to walk, shoot and write about my own mundane nonsense.
All the driving I did this past week, pushed my car into the need for maintenance mode and I had to take it in for an oil change. Early Saturday morning, I grabbed the machine gun shooter and left for the day. I dropped off the car at the service area at the dealership and departed on my adventure.
I flip-flopped across the parking lot of new and used cars and heard some real work going on in the distance. This is how it works. One just has to get out there. I followed the sound and found a tropical road crew working on a beastly palm that needed a manicure. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing…or maybe just a common sense thing… but I feared for this guy’s eyes without wearing goggles.
I watched as he trimmed the tree branch with his mighty chain saw and grabbed a couple of shots.
I continued down the road in search of inspiration. When I left the dealership I was cool, comfortable and eager for the hunt. About ten minutes down the road in the hot Florida morning sun, my sun glasses started to fog from perspiration and my thighs started to chafe from my sweaty march. My survival instincts kicked in and I knew I had to find some air conditioning soon or wouldn’t be able to continue on my quest.
A giant American Flag waved in the distance and thought that surely meant my rescue. As I approached it, I found it to be waving in front of a Perkins Pancake House. Ahhh…my oasis. I wasn’t really hungry but who can resist perfectly prepared flap jacks? I was seated promptly and had a grand view of the whole restaurant filled with various people from various places, just about to do something else.
As I sat and scanned I recalled one of the greatest memories of my life. Long, long ago and in a place far far away, I found myself spooning against a black magic woman. Somewhere between drinking too much the night before, feeling happy about my body contoured against my no longer missing piece and wanting to stop time so the morning wouldn’t come… an impulse took us over.
“Hey. Are you asleep?” “No” she said. “Are you hungry?” I asked.“Hungry for what?” said coyly. “I know it’s like 3 a.m. , but how bout if we get up, get dressed, go to an all night pancake joint and then go somewhere to watch the sun rise?” “Okay…” she said. “Sounds like fun…” We got up and got out during the middle of the night.
I can’t really explain the over the top glee of sharing an insane impulse with another. It almost feels like how one might feel being a lost crazy person in a world filled with appropriate sane people. Then, in one, single, solitary moment, you just meet minds with someone just like you and everything you ever needed is fulfilled, everything missing is now complete and the feeling of being lost in a strange world, dissolves, because you’re finally home.
Anyway, the memory passed and I acknowledged another happy moment of my past, be it real or imagined. Across from me was this table of men. I ordered my pancakes and eavesdropped on their conversation. They too came from another world that was not my own, but a world we all know about.
They talked about World War II. They talked about going fishing. They talked about their pools and how they proudly do the maintenance on them themselves. They talked about playing cards and how good the food was in this pancake house. Then, the subject of wives came up. “When we lived in Jersey, my wife wanted a pool, but I wouldn’t let her have it…” the man with the dark shoes and white socks said.
I wondered what that meant. “He wouldn’t let her have it.” Like he was the grantor of permission. I got so stuck on this and the culture of masculine and feminine requesting and granting of permission. Apparently, in Jersey, there were a lot of big trees hanging over this guy’s yard and he didn’t want to be cleaning leaves out of a pool every day … if he had one.
“When we moved down here, I told her she could have her pool” he said. I had to grab a shot of these guys. I just put the camera down on my table, crossed my fingers and pressed the shutter.
I left the restaurant and started my trek back to the dealership. This was a strange part of town. At one time I could see how it must have been hustling and bustling. Now, it was loaded with left over car dealerships from a time gone by, a pancake house, a few banks… some open, some closed and tons and tons of unnecessary traffic lights from when there used to be tons of traffic.
As I crossed the street, this lady on a scooter pulled up at the red light. I stole a shot of her for no good reason.
A little ways up the street, I came upon an entrance to a Trailer Park… or as we say, one of the many Mobile Home Estate Communities that they have down here. I notice that the sign said their was a house for sale. I took it as a sign… because it was a sign. Anyway, I went in to see what these places for sale looked like.
For the most part, the homes were well-kept up with humble folks enjoying them. Some ladies were outside watering their plants, I waved hello at them. Some couples were inside watching TV; I could hear the TV and see them sitting in the dark inside, on their couches, through the open flaps on their lanai doors. And of course there were a few run down places.
I walked past this one place where the screen had many holes in it. I guess, in an attempt to fix the holes, the owner did the only thing he knew how to do. That was to put duct tape over the holes. I guess it worked, till other holes formed and he put duct tape over those. Some people might think that this is a reasonable solution when thinking about one hole at a time.
Me? Well, all I saw was a hideous holy screen covered with random strips of duct tape, very unappealing (pun). I wondered what caused the holes and the sagging weft and warps. I wondered how much duct tape would have to go on that screen before the owner would realize that they couldn’t get any air through it much less see through it… let alone how it looked to others.
Sure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but where do we draw the line between the subjective and the obvious to everyone? When did the timeless design conventions of form following function disappear and become the bandwagon opinion of some branded underwear designer? And when did we give so much credibility to a brand name that it crosses over in knowledge from cologne, to clothing, to trucks?
When did qualified directors lose their authority on defining good design, based at least in part on common sense, in lieu of it becoming a matter of opinion? In the words of someone I once knew, “… I guess common sense just ain’t so common.”
As I walked past this place, I thought about the universe of people who emphasize function over form. Or more to the point, appearance can seem irrelevant as long as a person or thing does what it’s supposed to do. Is not optimum appearance a part of optimum function?
I toured the rest of the park without event. Made it back to the dealership, picked up my oil changed vehicle and decided to head down to the public market. It’s always the same there, only the visitors are always changing. There was this woman with her two dogs in a stroller designed for two children.
One was a tiny old dog who yawned a lot. The pup behind the older one, was a young dog who was a bit paranoid and embarrassed. It was as if the young pup in the back of the stroller was saying, “I hope none of my friends from the pack see me in this stroller.”
I was exhausted from my walk down the busted highway and decided to go to a movie, snooze in the air conditioning and wait for the first matinée to start. I passed another booth with a bunch of flowers and of course I had to snap one. Another dumb flower shot. What am I supposed to do with all these?
As I turned around and headed for the car, I noticed another shopper in the market. I didn’t have my portrait lens on but thought I’d take her anyway. People are so amazing with the way they see themselves on the inside and what actually happens by the time it gets to the outside.
I wondered how this woman sees herself on the inside. I thought the hair length and the necklace placed her in a time of her youth, or maybe she is/was someone artistic. I thought the sleeveless shirt, showing tell-tale signs of bicep tone, suggested she had been to a gym once or twice in her life. The green handbag and the red snake-skin wallet also suggested creative eccentricity.
Maybe this was her form of exercise. Maybe in the same way as Mom and Dad stroll the mall to work out… this woman strolls the market to work out. Who knows? People are so great. And the stories are endless.