Missing the Point of Living

We’ve become a visual lot with our media—social and otherwise.

Lately I’ve thought about how, before the advent of photography, we humans managed to appreciate the beauty of life. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that there are certain places too vast and human experiences too fraught with emotion to make capturing them photographically pale when compared to the feeling inspired by living the moment.

The lack of tools needed to capture one’s likeness might have left the more self-absorbed feeling impotent unless wealth afforded them the ability to hire a portraitist.

Conversely, those less fortunate or living in rural places, set apart from civilization excepting the occasional itinerant salesman or traveler, probably owned few instruments of self-indulgence such as these; forced instead to focus upon things without.

I envision a homesteader spending a lifetime tending to land, animals and family, who when rare opportunity to break arose, did not pause to consider looks for his own sake. Rather others may have insisted that he or she gather the instruments of grooming and couture for the purpose of looking the part by which they would be judged.

I take photos. Lots and lots of them. Several recent changes have become apparent to me when I am holding a camera.

Though I work hard to remain discreet it’s intensely difficult to capture candid photos. The instant people notice me, they pose. Worse, they give me that kissy-faced selfie expression that only works for Betty Boop.

Notably, it has become implausible to capture a photo of any group of people wherein at least one person is not fixated on his or her phone rather than upon the people and happenings that surround them.

If I shoot using my phone, no one cares, few people notice and no one asks on what website the pictures will appear.

I enjoy watching people even if through a lens. Lately, I’m just less sure of exactly what I am seeing.

Children possess an innocence that I most love to capture.  I lament that even those as young as one year old understand that the phone with its camera is the object for which they need to “act” and they, encouraged by well-meaning parents, respond by becoming an actor in its presence.

If there are children present in a public space, regardless of whether I say I am an amateur or professional photographer (and I have chosen to say one or the other depending upon the occasion) I get asked who I am and my purpose for taking photos. I don’t have to respond at all though I usually do. In public spaces, a person has no “expected right to privacy;” on the whole people seem to think that they do. This despite that they are likely being recorded whether I choose to press the shutter button or not.

Maybe the answer is in the words. By “taking photos” maybe people have come to believe that I am “taking” a part which inherently belongs to them. Still, I react with sadness when people become suspicious of my intentions. These are often the same ones who load their social media with photos of their children, friends, co-workers, the places they frequent, the insides of their homes, schools, places of work, worship and recreation.

I love photographing people at public events but I also make time to put down the lens and live in the moment.

Edge of Town

On the edge of town
Transient visitors drift
Naloxone in pocket
Idly awaiting a bus
On which to vanish

A dealer in relief
Peers from within a
Darkened
Dilapidated
Rooming house
Efficiency
Where worn blankets
Sub for curtains

Concerned only with
One transaction
Distanced
From puppeteers
Who hide behind
Gated walls
Tight security
Quietly surveilled exits

While they play
On stylish paddocks
Sipping expensive champagne
Surrounded by beauty
Built from hollowed
Lives

Souls counted as
Useless
Wasted
Unworthy

True
“Nothing Good Happens at the Edge of Town”

Tea Room Memories

Like Polaroid snapshots dropped one by one on a table, new memories replace the former. The static, scratchy broadcast of a cheap FM radio which sits high on a shelf behind the ice cream counter adds to the evening din; made worse by the surrounding mountain peaks that bounce the signal. The weak antenna draws intermittent snips, broken pieces of Bennie and the Jets and Love me Like a Rock, but even then, only if the weather is clear and still.

The slam of a screen door and footfalls on the wooden floor in the stagnant summer air evoke visions of a Tea Room where no one drinks tea. A single oscillating fan aided by two ineffective paddle fans force air movement. Vacationers gather to eat sundaes, play checkers or assemble puzzles together.

The adults tap bragging rights, sharing the year’s accomplishments of their children. “Bradley got straight A’s again this year. He won the spelling bee, he’s captain of the championship baseball team, still sings in the choir at church, and since he’s going into sixth grade this year, he’s a shoo-in for the lead in the winter play.  How’s Gregory doing?”

In hushed tones they share gossip. “Did you hear about how that Nick got Susan Wilson—preg.”

“Shush. His mother is coming in just now.”

Occasional titters punctuated with sudden blasts of uncontrolled laughter suggest shared off-color jokes. “Maybe you kids ought to go play shuffleboard for a while.”

The children finish their sundaes and rush outside to the shed beside the courts to turn on the lights and reach through cobwebs for poles and discs, vying for red sticking the opponent with dull black. The buzzing white lights draw swarms of gnats that dip and sway occasionally bombarding eyes of the competitors.

Later, gentle commands float on the humidity from the edges of the yard beside the Tea Room. “Fifteen more minutes. Last game! Remember to put the poles and discs back in the shed.”

Then, “Turn off the lights now. Grab your flashlights. Let’s go.”

Together they plod along the path that leads into the mountain dark back to the cabin.

 

Stick Chick was right about the Monday thing and the Brainiacs

It’s the season once again when Loverboy finds himself incensed and dismayed, the result of the neighboring property owner’s choice to rely upon a questionable landscaping company hired to maintain the adjacent greenery.

As you may recall, Stick Chick has observed that Loverboy has a thing (read: “twisted thing”) about the lawn. The day after so much as a drop of rain falls, a neurosis compels him to get out there and mow the grass before it becomes uncontrollable (read: “visible.”) But, that’s okay. Most years nature strikes a balance between days of rain and sun, so their lawn tends toward the enviable.

In seasons past, at 7:00 AM each Monday morning, the lawn maintenance team (whom we’ll hereinafter refer to as ACME Contracting) would show up with their staff of three, a zero turn mower and two weed whackers to commence blasting across the 1,600 SF of macadam parking lot/dumpster station, shaded picnic nook (read: “place where kids hide from their parents to smoke”), dog business spot and lawn. Apparently on a strict schedule, if they missed the usual Monday, well, bummer (read: “foiled again.”)

During the winter, to his credit, the neighbor erected stylized apartments to replace the former historic (read: leaning, crumbing and long-neglected) buildings that once claimed the space. These featured early 1900s era outbuildings including a commercial storage barn, sheds and a farmhouse that had, probably in the 1950s, been converted into apartments and rented garages. Until their demolition, no visible updates appeared save for a celebratory piece of oriented strand board nailed haphazardly covering a hole in the sagging roof (read: or to protect against probable Y2K fallout) —she was never sure which.

The new construction included hand placed sod lawn surrounding the buildings and parking lot, and a modest attempt at shrubbery and mulch along the street facing façade. Sadly, it appeared that lawn maintenance for the summer season would be postponed likely a result of pinching of construction pennies in the final days. But the balance of scorching sunny days and trickles of rain interspersed one another with just enough nourishment to keep the dying sod alive.

Stick Chick Lawnmower

This year when spring arrived, Loverboy and Stick Chick (lacking the talent of a drummer playing Wipeout) waited with hopeful anticipation for the neighboring lawn maintenance team to arrive. Despite evidence to the contrary, Stick Chick said, “I’m sure they’ll do a better job this year,” when Loverboy gruxed about the inconsiderate and shoddy nature of the neighbor’s attempt at upkeep.

This Monday morning, on schedule at 7:00 AM in the pouring rain, Stick Chick stifled both a laugh and gasp of amazement to see that the Brainiacs had indeed sent a replacement “crew” of one with an aging push mower that sent clumps of sod flying through blades set a full two inches higher than Loverboy’s preferred blade height setting. Stick Chick recommends that the new landscape company (read: “sod butcher”) consider a name that seems par for the course: Take It Off my Rent Thanks.

Good help is hard to find.