Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rural Depravity

No, boys, I will not give you directions.

My Life as Rocker Chick

I have never been what you might call "musically gifted."

I can't sing.

I can't dance.

And, for the life of me, I cannot play a musical instrument.

But that's never stopped me from trying, on all counts. My sister, for example, plays the piano beautifully — my parents forced her to take lessons for several years, but when it came to imposing extracurriculars on yours truly, they instead turned to sports (softball, volleyball and basketball).

So I'm a wicked first base(wo-)man, but when it comes to music I struggle with a few pieces I've taught myself.

I first began tickling the ivories (one-handed) when I was eight or so. An uncle had gifted me this toy instrument — a piece of plastic about two feet long that had about 20 buttons you could push to create different keys and chords (each of them numbered). It came with a book of songs, but instead of telling you what "keys" you were playing, it told you only to push a sequence of numbers.

One day I hopped on my sister's piano and figured out which keys on the piano corresponded with each of the numbers in the booklet. And by the end of the week, I could play about 15 songs on the piano.

Nothing too difficult, mind you — every song was one-handed, and the only "touching" piece of the bunch was "Brahm's Lullaby" or maybe "Greensleeves." But, man, did I play them over and over...

Eventually my sister took pity on me and taught me a "real" song — we started easy with "Heart and Soul," and after watching her play Beethoven's 5th a few times, I was able to imitate the first portion of that.

But we were moving around a lot at this time in our lives, and the piano was often in storage. By the time it was back in our "home," my sister was away at college and I was back to playing those same silly little songs on a pathetic loop.

A couple years later, I signed up to participate in my elementary school band. Problem being I had no real training on any instrument, and when you're with a teacher trying to teach 20 kids 10 different instruments simultaneously, you don't exactly learn much.

And because I struggled rather severely to understand how notes translated to the beats I'd kick out on my drum set (yes, I was a drummer for six weeks), I quickly gave up on the endeavor.
Next up was music appreciation class in junior high: we were all required to participate for a semester, and because it was overseen by the choir instructor, most of the time was spent singing and learning how to read notes and the like.

I found the class to be entirely stressful, and was more anxious about making good marks in that course than I was advanced lit or algebra.

And the teacher used this course as a means of recruiting future choir members — secretly I very much so wanted to be recruited, and he did talk to me about it once or twice. But I always got the feeling it was more so because it was a "more the merrier" sort of mentality. Fact remains some people in my class could really sing.

I just wasn't one of them.

I even somehow managed to ace all of our exams (which included music history, being able to tap out rhythms, being able to "draw" a note when you're told its name/count, etc.) and I could sorta imitate people OK when they'd sing.

But I couldn't reconcile the two.

That is to say: when given the time to think, I could comprehend what a note entailed. And for the most part I could repeat a note/pitch when someone else sang it first. But I couldn't read music and play/sing it at the same time.

I could study; memorize; do well on exams; but when it came time for any practical application of what I learned, I was useless.

And not to mention: crestfallen.

[This also holds true for art class, where I was never able to translate my thoughts onto canvas, though I filled pages of my notebooks with silly little sketches.]
But I'd still sing whenever no one was listening. And I'd still step up to the piano whenever I was the only one home. I'd make up songs, forgotten just as quickly as I'd create them: never sure of which notes I was using, what time I was keeping, etc.

Jump ahead a few years later, after academia had run its course. I was inhaling new music by the handful, marveling by how sometimes the sweetest melody was a lone voice accompanied by a single string instrument.

So one day I asked my brother if I could snag his guitar: that was the instrument my parents had forced him to learn so many years ago, and by this point he hadn't touched it in a decade. It seemed somehow accessible to me: acquiring a piano was unrealistic, particularly given my nomadic way of life. And, besides, one of my cousins and several of my friends had taught themselves to play.

So why couldn't I?

Said cousin helped me tune the guitar; gave me a print-out of "easy tabs" that'd he'd found online. And I was off.

Only... I wasn't.

C-Major was the first chord on the list, and I struggled for weeks to "master" it. I couldn't for the life of me get my fingers on all three strings without snuffing out the ones between them. The chord was muffled, and hollow, whenever I'd try to play it.

So I did what any other struggling musician would do: I cursed my short fingers as the cause of all my troubles, wondering if there wasn't some way I could make them a centimeter or two longer...

But then one day my cousin and I both took our guitars to our grandparents' home. And though I'd heard my grandfather play the guitar my whole life — but always from a distance, with him on stage at church — I'd never seem him play up close. And suddenly these massive fingers — each as thick as two or three of mine — were strumming out gospel and bluegrass in the most hypnotic fashion.

Translation: I no longer had my short, fairly stubby fingers to blame.

It was just... me. I couldn't do it. I had this immense desire not just to play music, but to create it. And I was useless on both counts.
But this was all happening shortly after I moved home, after a few years of being away for school. And those friends who were self-taught started creeping out of the woodwork, and before I knew it we were regularly getting together on the weekends, playing Scattergories well into the midnight hour, and sitting around strumming our guitars (yeah, I know... we're a wild bunch).

There were sometimes more than a dozen of us, at least 6 with a musical instrument in tow. And a couple of them convinced me that my problem with C-Major was simply a matter of learning songs that didn't require it.

So they taught me a few other chords. And through the fine power of imitation, I also learned to play a handful of songs.

And knowing these few chords enabled me to go home, look up "new" songs, and learn a couple more tunes.

Until one day I showed up and played the first half of "We Are Going to Be Friends" — my favorite White Stripes song. And for once, I was actually showing other people how to play something.

[Granted, the first half of that song is easy — but it gets difficult, and I've never mastered the whole thing.]

And so it goes for about a year of my life. One of the best years, really, now that I look back on it. But I'm a restless sort, and I was frustrated with how little there was to do when friends weren't handy (which was increasingly the case as they got involved in long-term relationships, started having kids, etc.). Not to mention, job opportunities were few... and though I liked the "gig" I had, the pay was awful.

So I moved.
And I still played the guitar from time to time in my new city, but my two hour daily commute was really cutting into my free time. Besides, since moving here I've had a difficult time finding like-minded individuals who were up for hanging out without getting wasted — or the ones I did find were boys who weren't content with just being friends, though I wasn't interested in anything else. But that's another story.

Suffice it to say that when it comes to music, I need the sort of guidance I don't have here. And so: before I knew it, the instrument was held captive in its case for. Well.

Far too long.

But something happened last week. I don't know if it's because I was sick and not going to the gym (coupled with my home computer being next to useless) — so I had ample amounts of free time — or if it was watching The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Daniel Johnston doesn't have the best voice, and really isn't even all the good on the guitar... but the end result is still raw... and touching). Or maybe it was when I went to clean my apartment before a visit from a friend, and I felt a little sick to my stomach to realize how much dust was on my guitar case.

Whatever it was, I've been thinking a lot of those months where I played the guitar rather consistently — and how rewarding it felt to hear a real tune produced by my hands — and it seemed somehow wrong to continue to allow my guitar to languish in its case.

So I took it out of retirement this past Monday. Cut off my fingernails (which I'd grown to a respectable length).

And then cursed myself to realize how much I'd forgotten. None of those songs came to me. I struggled again with C-Major (the only chord I remembered "how" to do, though I still couldn't do it). And even the one song I'd (mostly) taught myself was somehow this distant creature that existed only in memory.

I couldn't play a single thing.

I suspect this has something to do with the fact that I never really learned to read music or associate sounds with the placement of my fingers of the strings. All I ever did was memorize songs — which is entirely different from truly understanding the mechanics of an instrument.

But all is not lost. I took my "Teach Yourself Guitar" book out of retirement as well; looked up some familiar tabs; and by Wednesday I was playing the White Stripes again.

And now I'm finally learning what the strings mean. I pluck them one by one and play single chords over and over again, repeating the name of each, trying to build up an association between the sound and the thing.
Will I stick with it this time? I'm thinking of signing up for lessons, just to force myself to give it a go for a few months.

But however I look at it, one thing is missing:


Funny how sometimes you catch yourself in the middle of Everything, sick for a time and place that you once didn't hesitate to term Nowhere.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Not a Good Day

Ever have one of those days when you know you're screwed before you even get out of bed?

Like, say, you wake up in the middle of the night to an aftermath of cat vomit, and then later you wake up in a jolt, coughing so hard you honest-to-god worry that your lungs are about to make their grand debut outside of your body cavity?

And what if said coughing fit was immediately preceded by a dream whereby you began choking to death?

And what if, say, you normally set two alarms at night — the "hey, you should get up soon" alarm, and then another that chimes in at the last minute telling you you have to get up, or else — and then you realize at 6:40 a.m. (starring groggy-eyed at the alarm) that you forgot to set Alarm #2 and so only have 10 minutes to get out of bed and get ready for work?

And what if, in your haste, you left your apartment without the Nalgene bottle full of water you pack daily, or even your lunch?

And then, midway to work you pass a gas station and realize gas has finally come down a few cents and — thank God! — you're almost on empty and so will need to fill up when you go out for lunch (you'll have to go out for lunch, after all, since you didn't have time to pack one).

So you make a mental note to yourself, work up a thirst by sprinting from the parking lot to your desk, and then reach for your wallet so you can buy some water only to realize...



Your wallet isn't there.

So you go through the permutations of where it might be and are gripped with the terrible fear that you may have dropped it when you briefly went out last night to run an errand — because you're about 90% certain it was in your bag then.

So you call the only person who has spare keys to your apartment. Their work whistle blows about 90 minutes later than yours, so you're hoping they're nearby and can "go check" for that elusive wallet, full of credit cards, cash and — yes — your driver's license.

But the phone just rings. And rings.

And rings.

And you're out of gas. And you have no water, no lunch, no breakfast.

You return to your car, search for your wallet (no luck), and count your spare change (intended for laundry tonight), rationing out enough (you hope) for a couple gallons of gas and (you think) a bottle of water.

And then you remember that gas is $3.14 a gallon, not $2.

But 1 gallon, coupled with the 1/2 you already have in there should be more than enough.



Yes. You tell yourself.

It will be enough.

You log in to your credit accounts online to see if there are any charges you didn't approve (in case you did lose it last night after all).

Nothing so far.

So maybe it's home on top of your desk.

Maybe it's not.

Because even though the circumstances of the day are entirely your doing you know that, most often, the consequences are not.


But, anyway. I don't know about you, but I hate days like that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Talking with Strangers

You know how when you're a kid, you have to watch these terrifying videos at school about not talking to strangers?

Or maybe you had to read a book where a perfectly handsome young man (or normal-looking woman) lures a girl into his car with a puppy?

[Lesson: not all child abductors are dirty old men]

In any event, my mother always obsessed over the possibility that I might be swiped up from our yard by the nomads who frequented the nearby "dormitory," and I was never allowed to play outside alone.

Not until I was in college, in fact.

But we'll save those emotional scars for another day. And, please, whatever you do: don't tell her what I did last Thursday.

You see, last Thursday I went into a stranger's house.

Completely uninvited...

Completely alone...

In a big city...

In a neighborhood that's anything but perfect.

And it didn't even occur to me, until later, that what I did wasn't necessarily the "smartest" thing to do.

It just sort of... happened. And then later I laughed to myself, thinking of what my mother would say.

You see, I was taking out the trash when an orange and white cat ran up to me, meowing.

I didn't want to touch him — for fear of what I could transmit to my cat, and also for fear that he would then insist on following me — but the poor thing wouldn't give in. In fact, when I walked to my car to get something out of the trunk, he insisted on following me.

He crossed the road behind me and kept meowing. And when I returned to my apartment, he followed me back across the street, still meowing and rubbing up against my legs.

"All right," I said, giving in, picking him up, and looking for his tags. "Let's see your name."

His tag happened to include his owner's phone number AND address. They lived about four blocks away — close enough that the cat probably wasn't entirely lost, but far enough away that the distance, coupled with his persistence, made me feel like I should at least try to return him.

So wearing socks and flip flops along with a business suit (don't ask), I headed east towards the address on his tag. The cat purred all the while, and was honestly one of the friendliest I've ever had the honor of escorting home (not that I do this often, but you get the idea).

What happened when I arrived was something out of a cheesy movie: a little girl, about 6 or 7, answered the door and actually started crying when she saw the cat in my arms.

"Jasper!" she screamed. "I've missed you so much!"

Her parents stood a few feet behind her, smiling at their daughter's delight. At this point, Jasper jumped out of my arms and began nestling up against the girl. She picked him up using both her hands, squeezing him just under his front legs.

"Where did you find him?" the father asked. "He's been missing for almost two weeks!"

I explained to them how Jasper was following me around, and they were amazed to learn he was actually so close to their house.

"I wonder if he wandered too far from home but was trying to find his way back?" the mother speculated.

"Whatever it was, thank you so much for bringing him back," continued her husband.

"Yes," added the little girl. "I've never been so happy!"

OK, so by this point you're probably thinking: there's no way that happened.

And so to you skeptics out there, I say: you're exactly right.

Yeah, a cat was following me around. Yeah, I picked him up and took him to the address on his tags.

But what followed was much more boring; certainly not worth the time to tell a story. So I fabricated a few details.

Like the gleeful kid. And the happy family. And I left out the part where I rang the wrong buzzer at first. I left out the growling dogs. And also the part where a neighbor told me to just "put the cat in the backyard if no one answers [once I rang the proper buzzer]."

And, yeah, maybe the lady that owned the cat actually lets her cat outside from time to time. But she did say "Oh, I wondered where he'd gone off to! He's usually not gone so long, I was just thinking of looking for him." So that's something... right?

Honestly? I felt like a jerk for bringing him back.

I mean, they let him out. And he'd probably have found his way back.

But, yeah, I'd still do it again — 'cause I'm a sucker like that.

But, please, don't tell Mom.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Would've Driven Miles for This



I suppose technically...

We did.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mr. Woodcock (Movie Review)

I don't care what anyone says. I don't even care that this film has an abysmal 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It made me laugh and, well, if that was it's objective (it is a comedy, after all), then it was reasonably successful.

Sure, most of the humor is dark and, yeah, some of it is crude. And, there's nothing "funny" about a grown adult gym teacher (Billy Bob Thornton) teaching a group of 13-year old boys how to wrestle by body slamming one of their pudgy classmates. Except that, eh, it actually is kind of funny.

This film is about that pudgy little kid, who grows up, loses weight, writes self help books... and then returns home to find that his mother is engaged to marry his old gym teacher -- the mean, cantaknerous Mr. Woodcock that was the bane of his junior high school existence. one part of his past that he's unable to part with.
I needed a laugh that night. And I got one. Sort of. I mean, it wasn't a guffaw.

But it sufficed.

So stop judging me.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Movie Review)

In the past seven days, I've become extraordinarily obsessed with the music and artwork of one Daniel Johnston.

Some of you may recall one of his more famous sketches from a t-shirt Kurt Cobain repeatedly wore on stage and to signings. Some of you may have even heard an artist like Beck or Wilco or Flaming Lips cover one of his more folksy tunes. Or maybe you recognize him from a VW commercial.

And some of you, like me, may be ashamed to realize just what you've missed out on these past several years.

For me, my obsession with Johnston worked like this:

  • Washington goes to Austin last weekend for work.
  • Washington happens to be there during Austin City Limits, for which I was terribly envious.
  • Washington returns with a cute little t-shirt (a gift for yours truly) sporting an alien looking frog and the words, "Hi, how are you?"
Within a day, I was researching the artist and queuing up a documentary made about his life: The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005), which I watched this past weekend.

There's not much else for me to say, except that I've already legally downloaded a couple songs, and expect to purchase an album or two in the next week (as much for the artwork as the songs themselves).

But first, a bit about the film.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston offers a disheartening glimpse into the life of a manic depressive whose state was exacerbated by drug use in the mid to late 80s.

That is to say, he was already prone to unhealthy highs and lows — in regards to his emotional and psychological state — but met a veritable point of not return after a bad trip made it nearly impossible for friends and family alike to "deal" with him.

The end result: the man who took South by Southwest by storm on more than one occasion — the man who inspired the likes of Kurt Cobain and counted people like "Sonic Youth" among his closest friends — spent several long stints of his life in asylums, never wholly able to pursue a career as a musician or an artist.

An ex-girlfriend interviewed in the film espoused her fear that Daniel was a bit too much like that proverbial flower in the desert — the rare one that blooms rather beautifully, and then disappears wholly unknown to man.

I think she's on to something there, as Johnston has a bit of a cult following by musical crowds (particularly in Austin), but otherwise isn't a name that's ever made it into the mainstream, even though he first entered the public sphere more than 20 years ago.

In any event, his story is a sad one and even when he sings out of key, his lyrics — which have a sort of Indie Folk quality — are beautiful.

I was sorry to watch his unfortunate descent, though I think this film likewise demonstrates why so many past artists, a la Van Gogh, weren't fully appreciated until after their death: they're oftentimes so much so a danger to themselves that they can't forge a career out of their talent: rather, their talent is a creature of the very thing that marks their undoing.

But Johnston is still very much so alive, and only in his mid-40s. His life's aspiration was to be famous, and — for whatever it's worth — he's found at least one new fan in the Midwest.


Beowulf & Grendel (Movie Review)

What a disappointment.

I mean, sure, perhaps I was a little too excited to see that an 8th century Old English epic poem about 6th century Scandavia had been turned into a film — and perhaps that excitement foolishly elevated my expectations.

Whatever it was, I found this film at times laughable. Granted, when I think of pieces of classical literature that would be difficult to adapt for the big screen, Beowulf easily makes the top ten. But I never expected to want to laugh about it.

From the grunts and gestures of Grendel — the troll the brave warrior Beowulf seeks to destroy — to crude dialog clearly spoken in-between bits of sorta Old English I struggled to hear (between being sick, having a 20-year-old television, and this DVD not having subtitles, I probably actually only heard 1/2 of the dialog), I was definitely hoping for at least a little something more than this 2005 production was able to provide.

The film also takes some poetic liberties in regards to its portrayal of Grendel — in the film, he is no more a beast than are the men who hunt him. And while I suppose you could take that message from the original epic poem (and, honestly, given my cynicism towards my fellow man, it's a message I empathize with), the filmmakers make him one of the most sympathetic characters — an egregious breach from the original, if I remember correctly (please note, I haven't read Beowulf in years — fellow English majors, please let me know if I'm not remembering correctly).

So in this regard, I'm torn: I recall feeling sorry for Grendel before, but in this film he and Beowulf are co-protagonists with a clear respect for one another, rather than absolute foils. So do I appreciate this editorial "tweak" — since I think it says more about human nature — or condemn it for breaking so egregiously from the original?

I dunno. All I do know is, I hope the next film based on this poem (apparently, another one is due out later this year) is better than this.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

For Those Who Have Asked to See Pictures of My New Car and/or My New Nephew

Now you get to see BOTH!

Yes, kids, that's my trunk. And, yes, that's my nephew.* We ran out of seats in the front, and he tucked rather nicely into the back — not to mention, he actually seemed to like it there.

Relax. It wasn't a long drive.

OK, so maybe he wasn't so thrilled once the car started to move...

Just kidding. That's him kicking his feet around, a favorite hobby of his (for the record, he also enjoys laughing, cooing, soiling perfectly good diapers, dancing, "talking" to his parents, and spitting up on Washington).

[Who, for the record, was the one to put him in the trunk in the first place — the "spit up" occurred a couple hours later — I suspect a conscious act of revenge. This is one smart kid, I tell you.]

Anyway. A fair few of you are probably mortified by now, so you can rest assured the car remained in park the entire 30 seconds my nephew was momentarily stowed away.

He's still just as happy and healthy as ever. Here's proof:

See? One week later, and perfectly fine. Sorry to say I can't take credit for this photo — it's his mother's handiwork. Apparently he was looking outside rather intently, watching his father scrape paint away from (what was once) an opaque window.

*Professional stunt baby. Don't try this at home or in parking lots. No babies were harmed and/or ever in immediate danger in the creation of this post. Babies belong in properly secured car seats, not trunks. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Know How You Heel

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Corpse Bride (Movie Review)

With films such as Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands to Tim Burton's credit, I'm beginning to recognize recurring themes in his films: death, dinner parties (unusually interrupted) and a penchant for finding beauty where others never think to look.

And it's not so much the things Burton portrays, as it is the way he does it -- particularly when he employs stop motion animation, as is the case for The Corpse Bride (2005) -- a story about a Victorian man (Victor) engaged to marry a girl (Victoria) he's never met.

The night before his wedding, he's kidnapped from a forest and dragged down into the underworld, the unwitting husband of a corpse bride he "accidentally" proposed to.

As Victor tries to return to his bethroed in the Land of the Living, he likewise grows fond of his rotting bride (who initally repulsed him). Either way, this film personifies male-pattern cold feet in the most eerily charming fashion possibly.

Only real complaint I have is that this is a "musical" of sorts -- and I don't care for musicals. The characters do periodicially burst into song, which annoys me more than I care to admit... even if they're not your traditionl "Beauty and the Beast" standards.

But with insightful lines like "Die, die we all pass away // But don't wear a frown cuz it's really okay // And you might try 'n' hide // And you might try 'n' pray // But we all end up the remains of the day" it's hard to complain to much.


Dude, Where's My Mucinex?

I'm sick. Here's a picture.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Brick (Movie Review)

I spent the first 20 minutes of Brick (2006) obsessing over how unbelievable the characters were, and how hackneyed the plot — even if it was a noveau twist.

But then something hit me. And as soon as I was thinking the lone merit to be found pertained to the way in which the film was shot, I recollected two lone words from the DVD's sleeve:

Film noir.

Ah, yes! So that's why the plot, however 21st century suburban, seemed vaguely familiar. And, yes, THAT's why the characters — teenagers caught up in a suburban drug world — sound like uncannily intelligent adults with a penchant for McGuyver-esque crime-solving.

It's a modern take on an old genre (a la The Maltese Falcon). And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you'll appreciate the film.

Brick is essentially about a girl caught up in a drug world; her murder; and the ex-boyfriend who talks like Bogart intent on solving the mysteries surrounding her death.

All in all, an interesting film that can be difficult to get into — especially if you forget to read the DVD sleeve.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

9 to 5

All together now, in unison: "I am a beautiful and unique individual..."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dearest Jeff Tweedy

I took this photo for you. Now, please, help me find tickets to your sold-out show.

I don't even care that it's unseasonably cold.

Love always,

The Third Worst Poet in the Galaxy

Tempus Fugit, Part II

Taking photographs, for me, is a bit of a sickness.

That's not to say I'm so busy capturing moments that I fail to live them. Rather, you might say I'm so busy trying to live them that I experience a nauseating compulsion to draw certain moments out to infinity.

And since *I* won't live forever (though science is working on it), the fact remains that a significant portion of my photophilia is the desire to share moments — or my perspective of the everyday (the same thing, really) —with others: whether that's a particularly breathtaking sunset, or an old grain silo that has most certainly seen better days.

And yet: there are some things I cannot show you. Like four weeks ago, driving just minutes after a tornado and severe thunderstorms downed trees and flooded roads — stifling my daily commute for the rest of the week. At the midsection of a particularly gruesome downpour, I drove past a 9 or 10 year-old boy holding a mangled STOP sign over his head for protection from the rain.

Once I realized he was heading down a driveway which I assumed to be his home, I was free to address my own, personal agony with the situation:

I had left my camera at home that morning, and would never be able to show someone what I saw. That boy and his STOP sign — and the jungle of fallen trees behind him — are now at the forefront in my brain, but only as I type them now — with the actual experience just recent enough.

But how long until I forget about him? How long until that memory is covered in another, and then another, and with no pictures to remind me... the memory becomes lost?
There was last weekend, too. Hiking over and around sand dunes that seemed never to end, with winds so severe that — when combined with sand — they meant certain death for any camera.

So you leave the camera behind.

Lock your car doors (click twice until it beeps).

And almost immediately experience this dip in your stomach as you realize just how much you will never be able to show people. Just how much you may one day forget.

Kids running sideways, yelling and laughing after tumbleweeds.

Adults jumping and yelping as the sand beats against bare skin.

A three-year-old girl with ringlets and a sundress, running as fast as her little legs will take her

Her father, panting and shouting behind her

This was taken from my car, after the "end" of the walk -- here you see the first of several climbs on a 4 mile (if you walk the whole thing there and back) trip.

Both of these were taken at another dune prior to stowing my camera away for good

But these instances, as I describe them, really only cover one of the five senses: and as much as I prefer to go on kidding myself, the fact remains that life isn't all about what you see. In which case, even with my camera in tow, I can never wholly recreate anything.

Not the feel of my bare feet sinking into sand — so quick, and so assuredly — as we make the steep descent down.

Not the sound of the waves coming in (and then out again). Not even the taste of a raspberry "Squishie" after a long walk in the sun, or the smell of wet leaves just beginning to give in to autumn.

But sometimes photography, purely on the basis of sight, triggers something in our brain that recalls all of these senses. And then, in a flash, you're there — again, or for the first time.

Science tells us our olfactory senses work in much the same way — it is for this reason that being re-introduced to an old, vaguely familiar scent can propel us back through time to a memory we'd all but forgotten.

And then, before you know it, you're in your grandmother's garden. Or crawling onto your father's lap. Or sitting in the truck bed of an old Ford, driving 50 mph on a highway with the wind at your back.

But there is no button I can push to record these scents. No technological interface that would allow me to instantaneously share these aspects of living with the rest of the world.

But I can hit that shutter in hopes that one day looking at that photo will bring to mind the touch; the taste; the smell; and the feel.

For me, or anyone who cares to remember.

Because, well. As much as I hate to admit it, this life won't last forever. As soon as we're that kid chasing after tumbleweeds near Lake Michigan, we're sitting alone at a restaurant just to help the time pass.

Though secretly, and enviably, you can't help but think — old or young — that there was never enough time... before.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reflection in Privvy

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Gravesite for a Fourth Grade Hero

Friday, September 07, 2007

Random Acts of Michigan

Per the norm, I took about a gazillion photos on this trip. I'll post more one by one (so consider yourself warned!) — the following are actually just the leftovers, which I've opted to lump into one entry.

The whole point of this photo was the "Dead End" signed tucked to the side of the road just before the stunning overlook. Sadly, the photo turned out too dark for the irony to really come across.

It's not quite fall yet, but a few random trees in Michigan are starting to show it.

Why is a large, soaring bird loses its majesty aspect the moment you realize it's not a hawk — as originally suspected — but rather a vulture?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Turn, Turn, Turn

Ha, Ha! Look at Me, I'm Funny!

In the quest for organic, sorta free-trade food, if I'm given a choice between Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, I'll take the former. No question about it.

And it's not just because Trader Joe's is quaint and charming, whereas Whole Foods seems unable to shake its undeniable air of pretension...

But because I'd be considerably more at peace with the world if I never again had to hear someone refer to "Whole Foods" as "Whole Paycheck."

And it's not so much the pun that irritates me (true, I found it amusing the first time I heard it), but rather the self-satisfied chuckle that invariably follows on every punster's face, and that knowing look as if to say:

Man, I am sooooo clever.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rust Proof

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Thoughts Concerning Luck

You can try to rationalize with me all you want: nothing will change the fact that I have historically bad luck. And if you think luck of any kind is simply a matter of perception, clearly you haven't been paying attention.

And it's true I'm not superstitious. Not really. But I will admit that sometimes I wonder, rhetorically and facetiously, if maybe one spring afternoon several years ago that perhaps I inadvertently jinxed myself.

I was just a kid at the time, sitting in the grass surrounding a baseball diamond, looking up whenever my brother was at bat; looking down whenever he wasn't.

During one such break, I discovered a lone four-leafed clover. I'd heard of such things but had never seen one, and was enthralled by my good fortune.

And, naturally, I plucked it from its base and tucked my good luck charm into whatever book I had with me that day (most likely an installment of Babysitter's Club or Nancy Drew).

But I wasn't content with that lone clover anomaly, so I scanned the grass for more: and more I found. Well over a dozen, in fact.

And I ripped every one of them from the ground, hoarding these charms like canned goods in a fallout shelter.

Years passed and I never discovered another four-leafed clover — not that I can recall, anyway. And in the meantime, my luck was something out of the story books. Only, instead of fairy godmothers and Prince Charmings, I broke bone after bone. Had chance encounters with exhibitionists on public transportation. And even drove a "chariot" that, though new, was acquainted with my mechanic on a first name basis.

And then, one day while camping last summer, I found another clover.

I stooped down to pluck it; remembered how little those "charms" helped me the first time around, and further speculated that perhaps my greed was to blame for my odd luck.

So I took a picture of the clover instead of picking it.

Minutes later I lit a match, only to have the match-head burst into flames, break off mid-air, and land firmly on my arm.

I still have the scar to prove it.
But I still insist on sharing the wealth, and refuse to uproot any more clovers. Hence this not-so-great photo, which I took a couple weeks ago.

I stumbled onto this one at the grave site of Johnny Appleseed (whose "seed" apparently produced more than apples around the country - let's just say if Maury Povich existed 130 years ago, Mr. Appleseed would've been a repeat guest).

And after I found this one, I chanced upon one more.

As per my agreement with karma, I left them both in place.
Last night after a couple hours at the neighborhood laundromat (where good things never happen), I was driving to Target to pick up a few things when I turned south onto a narrow street, only to see another car heading north — in my southbound lane — as he quickly swerved to get around someone who was parallel parking.

I slammed on my brakes. He slammed on his, stopping just inches from my front bumper. Without even checking his rear view mirror, he then pushed his car into reverse and rammed into the front bumper of the girl who'd been trying to parallel park.

As a "witness," I stopped to wait for the cops to arrive (they didn't), and talked to the girl who'd been hit.

And, I swear, if doppelgangers exist, she was mine.

She purchased her (brand new) car about the same time I purchased mine. It was even one of the models I'd looked at.

"Why are people around here so impatient?" she said. "Why couldn't he just wait for me to park?"

She continued by regurgitating to me various observations I've frequently made about life, particularly since moving to this neighborhood.

"I'm tired of living here," she said. "I don't understand why bad things keep happening."

Her brother, who lives nearby and happened upon the accident, shared with me that in the past two months, his sister had all of the windows busted out of her old car; and then after paying to replace those, her car was set on fire (and subsequently destroyed). A street "crime cam" caught the act on tape — and eye witnesses called the police with descriptions of the people — but 8 weeks had passed and the precinct detective still hadn't called with an update.

And the car involved in yesterday's accident — all shiny and new — was a replacement for the one that had been destroyed in the fire.

And, I swear, from what I saw of she and her brother, they seemed like decent, ordinary people. There was no reason I could see — aside from pure, bad luck — that these things keep happening to her.

"You really have rotten luck," her brother said to her.

"I know," she said. "It's like I'm cursed."
A bit later the man who caused the accident came up to her, yelling, claiming that she had hit him, too.

She hadn't, and the idea that he would even make such a claim was preposterous.

And I could tell she didn't want to. Could tell that she was trying her hardest to keep it all together as he yelled at her.

And yet right there, in the middle of the street, she started crying.

And I know, better than I care to admit, that her anxiety had very little to do with yesterday's minor accident.
It occurred to me at one point to ask — as a means of lightening up the mood — if perhaps ever in her childhood she may have taken more than her fair share of a good luck charm.

But I know full well that life is never so simple.

Promethean Bound