Inspired Photography and Creative Writing by Barry Stein
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.
Late one night, this past week, a bizarre event occurred. I had been thinking about how busy I’d been and how I had neglected my art. Too busy to shoot. Too busy to write. Too busy to just giggle about something silly that filled me with glee.
I laid there in the bed, bingeing on Season 9 of Greys Anatomy, when I looked at my cell phone to see if anyone had tried to text me, or if anything interesting was going on with Facebook or Instagram. That’s when I saw it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I burst out laughing as my mind went crazy thinking of creative captions for the outrageous image.
I chuckled as I stared at an absurd artist who decided it would be a good idea to fill an enema bag with blue paint, then take the tip from where the liquid comes out, and insert it into his now Cyanus. He then proceeded to position himself over a large framed canvas, squat and release his creativity all over the picture, because he just had to indiGO, like a modern-day PicASSo.
I was awake to the wee hours of the night, snickering to myself as I read over two hundred posts, from creative artists around the world who attempted to name this type of art. Naturally, I was a huge contributor to the thread.
The next day I tried to show some friends the post and the comments, but it had mysteriously vanished. Apparently the Facebook Gestapo felt that showing off this guy’s bluteus maximus had crossed the line, from putting the art in shart, to some sort of fecal decal.
I share this story with you all because it seemed to wake me up and get me out on the street again. Despite my stifling self-talk including, “there’s never anything to shoot”, “it’s too hot”, you’re too tired to do this… go home, have a Corona and watch more Greys…”, I grabbed my camera, got out anyway and shot my butt off.
Enjoy my day of discovery in the alleys of downtown St. Petersburg. And for all you artists out there in need of motivation, try to find that guy out on the internet making his blue poo platter. I swear you will laugh yourself silly and the creativity will just explode out of you.
Bless me further for I have sinned. It’s been almost 3 months since my last blog posting.
Somewhere between celebrating my birthday, celebrating the birth of my second grand child and opening my new studio and gallery, the blog went to a back burner.
Certainly I can write about what its like to age within the vicinity of 60 yrs old, or how it feels to watch your baby make a baby, or how impossible serendipity rewarded me with a little shop located two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico; but all that seems almost cliché’. (not)
I won’t even go into the sheer glee of actually sitting in my new studio gallery while typing this, with a Chocolate Rugelach on my left, a bottle of Fiji water on my right, and how I’m head bopping to the tunes of Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and Bill Evans on the Bose.
Yeah… I’m getting old. Yeah… it was truly a miracle to be present for another new human to be created. Yeah… all the best things in life conspired to gift me with a little shop to play in. But all that aside, walking mile after mile on the streets of Manhattan is what I care to share.
It’s such a nothing to put one foot in front of another, see life, and freeze it. I walk, I look, I think about my old aching body, I think about my babies and my grand babies, and how I need to collect the time views of Manhattan to cover my walls in the new studio.
A moment ago, my little shots were a secret. Pictures stored on portable drives or hanging in my home that no one ever saw. A moment later I’m perched behind a huge glass storefront where one can gain access through the door that jingles with an antique tinkle every time someone enters.
I sit and tap letter keys, wishing someday I could tickle ivories and play piano like the greats. I look up and look around and remember every picture captured, every moment of time frozen, as I take one step closer to Ansel Adams or Salvatore Dali…in my mind.
While strutting around Greenwich Village, I pass The Bitter End , New York’s Oldest Rock Club, and snap away at the hopeful musicians, singers and entertainers waiting in line for their shot at fame. As I pass them all, my attention gets pulled in by a fine artist sketching something across the street.
Whether it’s performing or fine… we are all artists.
A moment later, I’m walking into the Apple Store in Soho in order to see all levels of creativity at once.
Somewhere near Parson’s, The New School, a woman with torn jeans and purple hair strolls, and convincingly behaves as if she resents the attention she gets because of her appearance.
Back around and down W. Broadway, further into Soho, a man attempts to paint an entire building with a very tiny brush.
Later that day, I turned a corner and walked into a demonstration. The folks from India were protesting the Caste System. I stood there and shot away wondering about this idea, it’s source and how a change like this would affect and release an entire culture.
Can you imagine social separation and being labeled and limited by your family occupation, or by the name of your ancestors, or a geographic region? I suppose people have lived and died over the years based on the strength of their beliefs.
Perhaps it’s time to see things a little differently.
Speaking of culture and religion, on the other side of town, closer to Lafayette St. and 10th, there’s a really old church.
Then back down Houston Street into Noho, a cooking class is taking place. Did I ever tell you about the time I took a chocolate candy making class in Belgium, taught by a woman speaking only French? I was the only English-speaking American, surrounded by the rest of the class, a bus load of Korean women.
All of us acknowledged that there was no language barrier as we all understood the word Mmmm…
About a decade ago, when I lived in New York City, I swore every time I walked out my front door, it felt like I had jumped on a ride called Manhattan. Sometimes I felt like I could just stand still and the events would pass right next to me on the left and the right.
Every block had different stores, every street held different adventures, celebrities hiding in ebbing crowds of people, jack hammers banging, cab horns honking, and the offensive smells of the homeless on one side of the street… and on the other side of the street… the haunting fragrance of fresh bread, basil and oregano.
Most people living there do have jobs, and more than likely their jobs drive them to drink.
I think it was over by 7th Ave. near Washington Square Park… some kids were playing handball. How is it possible that games like Stick Ball, Handball, Street Hockey, Skelley, pitching pennies, mumblety peg, flipping cards, and a million other games of the street have disappeared from existence.
For some who grew up on these streets, playing handball behind a chain link fence is just a fuzzy memory.
And for some, they just refuse to forget and leave this city for it is their home. Their body betrays them, their mind abandons them, and the shops they used to buy food at for their family, get covered with graffiti tagged armor.
And just as the gangs use art to make up their territory, women continue to use make-up on their faces, to seduce any and all unsuspecting onlookers. I mean when you think about it, humans have been tagging their territory and painting their faces for one reason or another, since the beginning of time.
And also since the beginning of time, folks (Jews) have craved Knishes, Sour Pickles, Rubens, Pastrami on Rye, Hot Dogs, Mustard and Sauerkraut, Dr. Browns Black Cherry Soda and loud abusive wait staff.
At the center of the universe, the greatest city in the world will grow and get bigger and taller. As long as the demand for these Deli-cious memories exist… Katz’s will have a home at the foot of it all. Have I ever told you the story about when I was little, and how there was a deli in my neighborhood that had a contest to guess the weight of a giant Salami hanging in his store front window?
People came from miles around to guess the weight of the Salami and the prize of course was that they would win this 4 foot tube of processed pleasure. One Saturday I rode my bicycle over to the shopping center for lunch, and opted for a hot dog at the deli, over a slice of pizza.
As I sat there stuffing my face with the hot juicy dog stuffed in a soft steamy bun, I watched the people come in to the deli, and write their weight guesses on little pieces of paper with their name on it… fold it, and drop the pieces of paper in a jar.
I devoured my dog, when a heavily jeweled woman walked in fresh out of the beauty parlor. I watched and listened and she verbally guessed 18 lbs, and Ben, the guy who owned the deli said, “Oh man…that’s close… but not quite.” So I took the opportunity of being in the right place at the right time and applied a little incorrect math, and wrote my guess on the little scrap of paper and dropped it in the jar.
I figured if that lady was close, at 18 lbs, I’d guess a half pound over. And since there are 12 inches in a foot and 12 oz. to a pound (not)… I’d guess 18 lbs. 6 oz. ! A few weeks later, Ben called my house and I was the only one home and he told me I won the Salami!
Soon, my mom came home from work, and I told her, and of course she didn’t believe me, and I somehow convinced her to drive to the deli, so we could pick up my greasy trophy. Together we went in to the deli, talked a little with Ben, and somehow managed to get the beef bat into the car.
My mom was usually pissed at something, but this time she seemed extra pissed, and I asked her if she was okay. She turned to me and smacked me across the face and said, “What the fuck am I supposed to do with all this Salami?! Sometimes Barry I just don’t understand you one bit!”
Did I ever tell you about the time I was almost homeless? I lived across the street from this College that was always having fancy academic events, and I would occasionally sneak in to them and stuff my pockets with fruit and cheese cubes and run back to my little basement apartment under the stairs in this tenement.
Times were tough then, but a lot has changed. So when I walk the streets and see the homeless, I feel a special compassion for the incidents that must have led up to their situation. I often give them food and money, especially if they let me take their picture.
Some day I think I might have an exhibit in my new studio, and fill the walls with the best shots of the homeless and do a fund-raiser for them… wouldn’t that be cool.
I walk and I shoot. It’s nothing glamorous nor anything a more aspiring person would enjoy… but it’s what I do. I shoot for scenes but always feel frustrated that most scenes portray everything in general and nothing in particular.
What’s worse, is that after I shoot, sometimes for weeks, months or years I don’t see what’s really in those photos till I look at them again. Like take this photo for instance… I only saw a balloon sculptor with a bunch of kids in awe of some silly twists on a rubber tube filled with exhale. But after a long period away from the photo, I returned to see the mom looking one way… and her little dog looking the other; neither one of them looking at the balloon guy.
And then I noticed that, one of the yellow lines in the street, got caught in an unfortunate location coming off the thigh of the sculptor. At least that’s what I think it is.
And this photo that nearly caused me to have an auto accident as I performed a radical u-turn and pulled into the lot to shoot. I shot it just because. I do lots of things just because. Isn’t it valid to not have a reason at the time? But months later I look at it and realize it’s a mural on the side of furniture store and the mural is all about furniture. Either due to the lack of it, this girl is laying on the floor leaning on the dog… or she prefers the dog to lean on as furniture.
And what about the curtained window between her legs… never saw that before! Either way it feels like I was void of vision when I shot it, but time and distance has given me wisdom to see. What if everything we see when we first see it is void of almost 100% of what it really has to offer?
In leaving a restaurant in San Francisco I snapped fast at nothing. And now I look at this dreamy pic and see two doors opening to the light. I see twenty white dots like seen on the top of a black domino. And I wonder why exit signs promote the departure of one place but never the arrival at another. Why don’t exit signs say instead, “Enter”?
And this picture I looked at forever and love it every time for no good reason. The guy in the front is making kettle corn in a kettle. The guy in the back is barbecuing ribs on a barbecue. Smoke is everywhere and popcorn guy protects his face from flying debris. Today, all I can see is that one kernel that got away. As if all that corn was bound for consumption but one special kernel blasted itself free.
Another car accident avoided as I pulled a u-ee to grab this shot out my driver’s side window. I’ve looked at this photo so many times and always saw the same obvious psychedelic wheel behind two lovers shooting a selfie. I honestly can’t see anything more here, but do like the shot better than the first day it was taken. And sometimes I see a father and daughter standing in front of a braided rug… but who knows…maybe next year I’ll some thing else.
Maybe the two of them are shooting something in the distance far in front of them, and they both are oblivious to the wall behind them?
Underneath the last building Frank Lloyd Wright built before he passed away… a woman sat waiting. I find my attention wants to be drawn to the two lights above her trying to form a smiley face with her shadow and the silhouette. Also, I never noticed how her ankles and fingers were so nicely interlocked and inline.
Now this shot I always thought, was just an odd collection of images. When taken out of context, what’s that guy painting, with his gloved hand at rest, and his easel box on a tripod?
When I took this shot, all I saw was the poor old guy in blue sweats smoking a butt like a boss. I really never even noticed that the guy next to him walking away had his red butt out, much less how it matched the red ices the kids are eating. More evidence that most of us may look at things but never really see all that’s there.
Another shot I just grabbed and continue to glare into for deep meaning. As of today, I cannot find anything hidden, juxtaposed or ironic. Perhaps in a year or two I will find something deep like the fact that this is a photo of a jewelry repair shop that offers photography services. Or is it a photography studio offering jewelry repair?
So the strangest thing happened the other day. Because I walk and shoot, I naturally find many homeless people along the way. I never feel that I’m exploiting their situation and actually wonder all about them. I wonder about why some have really nice sneakers. Or how the signs they hold are uniform in size and so nicely written. So anyway, I get this email the other day from one of my readers. He said he wanted to use one of my photos as a featured image in a blog on homelessness, that he was writing for his church.
It made me feel good that these images I capture can be used to raise awareness to a human condition that is not usually seen by many much less discussed. And all of this is connected to how little I saw in it, when I first shot it… and who knows how long after I shot it that the reader found their perceived value in the shot.
Today when I look at the image below, after having consumed too many Christmas cookies myself, it occurs to me that maybe the poor guy just ate too many Peanut Butter Crunch Bars, slipped into a sugar coma and just needed to lay down.
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.
Perhaps it will be up-cycled as someone’s headboard, desktop or drop ceiling?
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.