Posted on May 24, 2013
We’re so busy with what’s right in front of us that we’ve got no idea what’s going on in the background. Head buried in the latest, greatest (maybe not so latest, not so greatest), digitological, postmodern, anti-structural structure of the personalized uniqueness that is each and every one of us. “What’s going on out there and how can I adapt it to fit me?” Self absorbed? It’s not as easy as that.
Ever look around the room for something only to discover it’s right there infront of you? But for some reason, you had to look everywhere (including the refrigerator) for it. Who said we’ve lost perspective on what’s going on in the background?
I once was walking down the street so involved in a conversation, trying desperately to parse the larger idea of what I was saying, that I nearly gave myself a concussion when I smashed into a street sign pole. The background distractions. Which was it, the conversation or the pole? The distinction is blurry at best in the present and only comes into focus in that old school “20/20 hindsight” thing that those of us with the upper hand like to patronizingly level at anyone else we see having trouble with their personal didactic fog. That is until the blur descends on the upper-handers, whereby finding one’s self in that position leads to the kind of shame that we never tend to live down, but for some reason forget so easily when we see it happening again to other people.
Uh oh, I’ve gone and done it again. It looks like I’ve just spewed out another load of background noise!
Other Noteworthy Posts on the Theme:
Posted on May 23, 2013
“Iron Photographer” is one of the several ongoing series (this particular one being 174) produced by the good members of Utata, a collection of “Tribal Photography.” this particular series consists of three elements:
1 – something with text
2 – something that complements something in the text
3 – saturated color
Who doesn’t love the color orange?
Posted on May 20, 2013
Posted on May 17, 2013
2578a was his designation. He couldn’t remember his name, but he knew it began with an “S.” He knew deep down inside the first time he told himself, “I can escape” that he couldn’t. The lie was a newfound opium he took every night to soothe the pain that came in those two minutes before he’d fall asleep when truth forced itself upon him. The wrought iron ivy that tangled his cage door tried to do the same, but served only as a reminder of what could now only be vague memories of fuzzy times, places, and people. Warm, soft skin, a cool breeze, elation in finding and doing new things turned into cold, hard razor and barbs, stifling stagnation, and the persistent apathy of no choice but reiteration. The key to the door was gone.
Reenforced concrete walls built of years of false promises and blind hopes grew into Escher-like delusional mazes that always led back to the same room. In the day, he’d wander the galleries he’d built looking for new cracks in the façade or something else he might have missed, always with the same results. Mornings lost their bright-eyed breakfast smiles and nights their cocktail embraces. They were just something else that needed doing.
The clock in his head was broken. He felt the same age as far back as his memory could go. He remembered cries for help, but never was the help he wanted given, only the words “I’ll give you the help you need, not the help you want.” Now, no one answered. No one said anything because no one was there and he’d given up crying what seemed like years ago.
He’d drag himself up onto his blundering feet and shamble the halls. At the end of every day he’d go to his room, the first room he’d built. It was made with simple brick and mortar. He’d stare at the twisting arms of ivy crawling their way through the gaps in the bricks and babble through the mantra that put him there in the first place, “I can escape.”
Other noteworthy posts on the theme:
Posted on May 16, 2013
Posted on May 16, 2013
“Iron Photographer” is one of the several ongoing series (this particular one being 173) produced by the good members of Utata, a collection of “Tribal Photography.” this particular series consists of three elements:
1 – something with a handle (the knife)
2 – something with texture (my face)
3 – near and far (thankfully it was out of reach)
Dreaming Blue Murder
Posted on May 12, 2013
Floral in Gray,
Keep it Simple.
In the US, flowers are a typical Mother’s Day gift. These roses were not purchased at a florist, but culled by the mother’s own hand from a rose bush that was given as a gift many years ago. Mothers grow things. It’s an instinct that switches on when they give birth, to care for, to nurture. This is also a gift. A mother’s work should not just be acknowledged for what she has done, but also for the fact that she has the gift to do the work.
Posted on May 10, 2013
Patterns. We love them. It’s what we’re good at, looking for them, recognizing them, breaking them down, building them up. It’s what’s allowed us to come so far in such a short time relative to the other inhabitants of the oblate spheroid well all share, but it’s not as easy as our simple love of patterns. How boring would it be if all we did was notice and strive for only perfect repetition? Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of patterns have their place, but what peaks our curiosity isn’t only redundancy (that would put us to sleep). It’s when a pattern gets interrupted that we tend to sit up and take notice. “Why did that happen? Why is that there? Does this thing that doesn’t belog mean an end to the pattern, or is it just part of a larger pattern I can’t quite figure out yet?”
E-7 | F#-7 | E-7 | F#-7 |
Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 |
A-7 | D7 | Gmaj7 | Cmaj7 |
Gmaj7 | Cmaj7 |F#-7 b5 | B7b5 : |
Bang that out on a piano, a guitar, a banjo, pipe organ, or a gamelan and, if you follow the pattern, you’ll hear something pleasant. Still, after awhile you’ll get tired of listening to it. Throwing in some in-key melody will keep your interest, but what if you do something altogether unexpected? What if the rhythm section played the progression in a different style every time around? What if you play the melody in a different rhythm or in a different key? What if everyone playing played the all the wrong notes at first and as the piece progressed they’d slowly blend in the right ones until, at the end, everything would come together the way is should?
It doesn’t always work out, but when you try to smash a square peg into a round hole and it works, you’ve got something memorable, if not a work of genius.
Other Noteworthy “Pattern” Entries:
Posted on May 3, 2013
From below, the sky’s the limit. From above everything’s downhill. I suppose I could have scaled some structure to get the full effect of finding that majestic bird’s eye view. Someone once said, “I’m not afraid of heights, just scared to death of falling from heights.” That about sums up my feeling in terms of scaling structures. Although the view of the world might seem very restricted from a human’s eye view in their natural habitat looking down, I found more than I had expected and not once had to face my falling fear. Appearing at my feet were:
The ground looking like it might crack open and swallow me whole.
A guy whose name I think is Tom
A piece of a very large puzzle
Like I’m slowly being buried alive
Strange things from faraway places
An ‘X’ marking its spot
A different direction
And, last but not least, a friend
Posted on May 1, 2013
Posted on April 30, 2013
Posted on April 29, 2013
Imagine you’re with your extended family and you’re on your way to the beach for a picnic. You get there. Everyone starts doing their usual beach stuff, playing by the shore, chasing each other around, etc.. After a while it’s time to eat. Everyone gathers together and starts to chow down. After the main course there’s a simple dessert of plums. You’re not a huge fan of plums. You are however a huge fan of causing a stink. Being the rebellious teenaged child of a mother who’s an obsessive compulsive when it comes to cleanliness you decide to have a nasty bit of fun. You lob one of your plums into the water. It gets a reaction, but not the one you’ve hoped for and you decide to up the ante of teen angst disgust. You run over to where the plum you’ve thrown has washed up onshore and, making sure everyone’s watching you, you snatch it up and take a huge bite. The rest of the group looks at you for a moment, shake their heads with a bored disdain, and go back to enjoying themselves.
You’re about to let loose your frustration at the lack of attention when all of a sudden, “Hey? Wait a minute?! That’s yummy! Why is this plum all of a sudden yummy?” Your attention is solely focused on scarfing down the plum. After you’ve eaten it you go and get another. You take a bite, but it doesn’t taste as good as the last one did. You stop, you think, and then you throw the new plum in the water like you did before. You go and pick it up and take another bite. There it is again! It’s yummy again! As you plow through the second plum you say to yourself, “from now on I’m eating all my plums this way!” Every time you go to the beach you make sure to bring some plums and you make sure you throw them in the water. Eventually, one of the more curious family members decides to follow suit. They like it too. After a while more and more family members start tossing their plums in the water like you. You’ve just started a trend, not one that initially makes any sense, but one that only makes sense once you’ve tried it. You’ve just inadvertently figured out what culture is, but you can’t call it culture because you’re a Japanese macaque and Japanese macaques don’t use words like culture. The anthropologists studying the macaques do though.
Anthropologists generally define culture as learned behavior that is transfered from person to person. I’d add to it as behavior that doesn’t find its source from instinct, but from watching what others are doing. I’d go a bit further and say that culture is behavior that isn’t essential to survival until, after enough people start doing it, it is. Taking a seed from a plant, digging a hole in the ground, dropping the seed in, covering it up, and pouring water over it doesn’t exactly come off as instinctual. Humans survived for thousands of years without doing this, but the moment that such behavior caught on, there was no going back.
Still culture is a funny thing. Once cultural behavior reaches a certain tipping point it becomes either tradition or falls by the wayside as a curious historical footnote. Think of one of the twentieth century’s most widespread cultural activities, smoking. By the middle of that century huge swaths of many adult populations around the world were either regularly doing it or they wanted to. In the U.S. there were even television commercials touting the “health benefits” of particular brands of cigarette. Smoking originally started out as both religious ritual and as a cure-all medicine by natives in the Americas. People saw it as a necessity. Overtime the trend spread around the world and instead of smoking to ease physical pain it was smoking to soothe social anxiety which quickly became smoking to claim social status (the GI had his pack of Luckies while the wealthy industrialist pulled on the end of a Dunhill). It took a while for medical research and public relations to form the bond that would ultimately show the greater public just how horribly addictive and unhealthy smoking was.
That’s when another form of cultural behavior stepped in, the art of culture jamming. Illustrations of Daliesque melting cigarettes dangling from the lips of supposedly once viral men started showing up claiming impotency as a smoking side effect. The once famous Marlboro Man dying of lung cancer graced billboards in a campaign against smoking instead of his usual for stance. Now smoking is on the cultural decline helped by images of people with holes in their throats or tar soaked lungs stamped in full color on the front of packs.
Culture jamming is usually associated with campaigns against a mindless consumer culture supposedly pushed on the general public by corporations out to make another buck. What about cultures of consumption that don’t involve direct financial transactions? Today’s internet culture is full of fiscally devoid consumption. Facebook, Youtube, and yes, even WordPress are places where people consume their time and effort without paying a dime in order to do so. Of course it’s just a matter of time when a disgruntled percentage of users rise to the top and start skewering the providers of the very activity they’ve become so accustomed to. Some have legitimate gripes. Some do it just to look cool. Some do it just for the self deprecating fun of it. After all isn’t poking fun at the things you do a way coming to terms with your own flawed self, or is it just another example of monkey see, monkey do?
Posted on April 28, 2013
“Iron Photographer” is one of the several ongoing series (this particular one being 172) produced by the good members of Utata, a collection of “Tribal Photography.” this particular series consists of three elements:
1 – a pot or a pan (that big circular thing in the middle of the shot)
2 – something sentimental (what’s left of a wallet)
3 – Orton effect (you be the judge)
A wallet isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks you about sentimentalities (that is unless you’re an investment banker). Then again, I’m not too much of a sentimental guy when it comes to material things. No, I didn’t make it, but it is handmade and I do know the man who designed it. I got it around the tail end of our business relationship, a business relationship that at the time was golden. Everything was golden back then, or at least it seems so now, but then hindsight is always 20/20. The wallet’s been through a lot since I first got it. So have I. I got it just before my son was born. He’s now 8. I can’t recall specific memories during those years very quickly. I usually need a trigger for that to happen. I can remember that during that whole time the wallet never lost me. It still works, although it’s worn around the edges with those “everyday grind” scars. I could say the same thing about me. Eventually it’s going to fall apart. So will I. Before that happens I’m going to put it some place for safe keeping.
Posted on April 19, 2013
Who looks up? Ok, obviously there were the Montgolfier brothers, the lawn-chair-tied-to-many-a-weather-balloon crowd, and let’s not forget those one-in-a-million astrophysicists (although I’m fairly certain that most of them would argue for a more relative definition of the word “up”). I can say with some certainty that most people most of the time don’t look up.
In the early 90s I lived in a 5th floor apartment in the city. My room had a large window that faced the street. I often spent my free time for the two years I lived there hanging out of that window watching people go by. I can count on one hand the amount of times that people walking down the street looked up. And why should they?
Most people look “forward” (literally and metaphorically). After all that’s where most of the action takes place, that’s the direction you look to anticipate where you need to go and what you need to do. Sometimes we look back (“where the hell is that bus?!”). Sometimes we look down (“I wish people would pick up after their dogs!”). Sometimes we look from side to side (“can I make it across the street without being plowed into by the bread truck?”). Most of the time it’s all about “straight ahead.”
Purposely looking up is mostly a feeble attempt at amateur meteorological prognostication. There’s the occasional cat-stuck-in-a-tree or a long-slow-trudge-up-a-steep-hill. The best is laying down, either on a beach or in a park, and staring at the sky for long periods of time (Note: when you’re laying down are you really looking up or are you looking forward looking up?).
For me, looking up is all about the abstract, not in the open sky=open mind kind of way, but more in the daydream what-would-it-be-like-to-be-a-sentient-cloud kind of way. Ever since my time in the apartment all those years ago, I’ve made a conscious effort to look up more often. I’ve smashed my nose on a couple of occasions, but most of the time I’ve gotten the better of the gnome-like part of my repetitious character.
Posted on April 17, 2013
This is a girl. She’s standing at the top of ladder #10 grabbing the bottom rung of ladder #11. She’s not a morning person. She likes to play shy, but she’s not afraid to stick her neck out when it counts. She’s not sure what she wants to do, but when she does find something, she does it well. She’s got serious motor skills and loves to peel bark off trees. She doesn’t like the color pink. She likes bones. She likes music. She’s in her 5th grade advanced math group.
This is her school. The school is one of the smaller schools in the district. It’s cafeteria doubles as an auditorium which triples as a gymnasium on rainy days. Everybody knows everyone else’s names. The inside of the school is compact and maze like. It’s known in the district for churning out good students who usually read above their grade level. It’s teachers know it’s students well. It’s teachers have survived 4 1/2 years of budget cuts without raises in their salaries. It still manages to hold on to music and art classes as part of its normal curricula.
This is a cello. It has one owner, but many people have borrowed it. It stays in tune most of the time. It’s got stickers on its neck to show where to hit the right notes. It’s been bumped and dropped and played and sometimes ignored. It’s been picked up and strummed like a guitar. It goes to school twice a week and every once and awhile it goes out at night for a stage show. Its current borrower is a girl who goes to school. She loves to play it but hates to carry it.
Posted on April 15, 2013
Look at the picture above. Would it be wrong of me to say (either ethically or legally or both) that I think the truly disabled person is the one standing on the soapbox instead of the one in the wheelchair? Would it be a form of defamation? If that person found out about this post, could he sue for libel and have this post taken down? After all, I didn’t get his verbal permission to use this shot, let alone have him sign a release.
Would it be wrong of me? I don’t think so. After all, I’m just expressing my opinion as to what I think of this individual’s attempt to let the public know his opinion on evolution. If this post went viral (a highly unlikely probability) he might try and sue for libel, but then he’d have to present strong evidence that his quality of life was somehow affected by the virality of this post (loss of income, emotional distress, etc.) This is not as easy as it seems (at least not in the US anyway). Although a change in the circumstances of this shot would see the balance shift in his favor.
A bit of context. The soapbox preacher above is standing in a public place, speaking about a general topic of public interest, and, most importantly, he’s NOT directing his point of view at anyone in particular unless first engaged by someone else. As a result of his choice to express his views in such a public way, he therefore opens himself up to public scrutiny. I therefore have the right to level the charge of disability at him so long as I qualify the charge with a statement like, “he must obviously be disabled to think it a wise idea to preach his disbelief of evolution on the campus of a publicly funded state university with one of the highest ranked post-graduate biology programs in the country.”
Does he have the right to be there and speak his mind? Of course he does. Free speech is all about the marketplace of ideas, no matter how outlandish or offensive the ideas may seem. Do I have the right to photograph him in public and post my opinions regarding his public preachery? Yup. Are their any restrictions on either of our rights to express ourselves? Not in this particular instance, but should the circumstances change, so might the freedoms.
Take for instance if the preacher were preaching in a hallway of one of the universities dormitories instead of a public space like a plaza. Or, if the preacher decided to initially pick out one of the students and specifically address that student in his preachings, following the student and prosthelytizing to him or her all the way to that student’s next class. What if I decided to follow the preacher to his house and secretly photograph him through his living room window? Or, what if he wasn’t a preacher at all and I just overheard him talking about his beliefs with a friend while walking down the street and I decided to take a shot and post it?
Where free expression becomes a bit tricky is when the public singling out of a private individual who does not want any part of the public discourse takes place. Take the instance of the vitriolic Westboro Baptist Church and its picketing along the route of a memorial service for a marine who died in the Iraq War. The members of the church (sic) stood along the road chanting and carrying signs that read (among other things) “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The family of the deceased filed a defamation case against the church and initially won in court. Still, the US Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling based on Westboro’s right to free speech. As it turned out the church and crew were far enough away on public land and did not specifically target the marine or his family by name. They therefore had the right to protest.
As loathsome and repugnent as Westboro’s message was (and still is IMO), the court was right in upholding the church’s right to free speech. After all it’s the same right that Michael Moore exercised when he followed that same church around and held counter protests in favor of homosexuality. Still, I sometimes wonder whether or not the church considers their Supreme Court ruling a victory or not. One need only watch a single interview with the Wicked Witch of the Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper, to get a sense that she was secretly praying (preying?) for the hallowed status of “martyr” had the court not ruled in their favor.
Freedom of expression can sometimes be a messy business. Attempts to tidy up the mess can backfire. The example that first comes to mind is that of Germany and its agency, Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien’ which indexes forms of expression deemed harmful to minors. Although holocaust denial isn’t the main focus of the agency, it has been cited in the index and people have been punished for publicly expressing such feelings. While the German government’s intentions may be good in theory, prosecution of such law has taken extreme right wing racist groups that would normally be laughed off the streets and given them the very real cause of fighting censorship, attracting new young converts with taboo swastikas. Like stealing a swig of whisky from dad’s liquor cabinet when he’s not looking, prohibitions become, “cool.” As ugly as the ideas held by the Westboro Baptist church are, imagine how ugly things would be if they had a legitimate grievance besides their usual mindless drivel.
I, for, one am glad to see the messy, noisy rattle of people like the preacher above (or the Westboro Baptist Church for that matter). Because they have the right to opine, I have the chance to find out where they stand. I have the chance to figure out for myself if what they stand for is worth my time and effort to disagree. I have the right to take a picture and express my own opinion. I have the chance to see how the rest of the public reacts to their stance And, most important, I have the chance to dismiss their ideas when their ideas are wholeheartedly proven false.
Posted on April 12, 2013
“Change your shoes, change your clothes.”
“Change lanes, change direction, change places.”
“Change your mind.” Wow! Physically, that sounds like a very painful and expensive proposition, and I’d love to see the insurance premiums that cover that procedure. Still, we do it all the time (at least in the abstract). Have you ever asked a friend, “did you change your mind?” You’d never ask, “did your mind change?” That might be rude. You might also ask a friend, “Did your feelings change?” As if your feelings are some sort of mysterious autonomous entity. Still, I’v never heard anyone ask “Did you change your feelings?” Don’t get me started on having a “change of heart.”
Here’s one you hear from politicians all the time, ”Change you can believe in.” The phrase itself sounds like a less hazardous way of asking people to take a leap of faith, and considering who’s saying it, you might want to proceed with caution.
My father, a native German who migrated to the US in the late 1960s, constantly goes on about the almighty dollar being the safest currency. “It’s been around for well over a hundred years,” he’ll say. It takes him only a half a breath to toss out the next line, “During my mother’s lifetime she saw four different currencies!” The funny thing is that he moved back to his hometown in Germany to retire.
50¢ is still 50¢, but you can arrive at that sum in a multitude of ways. Paradoxically, 50¢ hasn’t always been 50¢ in that what you can buy for 50¢ today is not at all the same as what you could buy for 50¢ 50 years ago.
So the joke goes that the buddhist paid for his hotdog with a $20 bill. The hotdog vendor gave the buddhist his hotdog. The buddhist stood there staring at the hotdog vendor and after a while he asked, “Where’s my change?” To which the hotdog vendor replied, “Change comes from within.”
Posted on April 10, 2013
Posted on April 9, 2013
Posted on April 5, 2013
If you’re going to use color, you might as well bathe in it. It can be muted, saturated, minimal, busy, whatever you like. Just make sure it’ll make you want to dive right in.
Posted on April 5, 2013
Posted on March 22, 2013
I will not make it through this without suffering.
I will think less and do more (maybe).
I will not eat a chicken sandwich for breakfast.
I will have pancakes.
I will find a piece of lint in my belly button.
I will not put the lint in a collection jar .
I will constantly ponder why it is that my perception of time speeds up the older I get.
I will not anthropomorphize my dogs (although they anthropomorphize me and I know it!).
I will not take wild deductive stabs in the dark.
I will walk.
I will not wear a flag on my lapel and declare myself a patriot.
I will apply a healthy dose of well-reasoned logical skepticism to what is said by those who do wear flags on their lapels.
I will not think about my future or past.
I will fail in this endeavor.
I will have a cup of coffee.
I will stop “willing” now.
Posted on March 22, 2013
Posted on March 18, 2013
2013’s best comeback debut album of cover songs from the last true legend in his own mind, Myron Tone!
Twice a year Utata, a photography collective, launches what is known as, “The Big Project.” A theme is chosen, a loose framework is set, and those who choose to participate usually procrastinate until the stress of crunch time pushes their motivational buttons. A “Big Project” is usually a combination of both photography and writing. This Spring the theme “Musical Notes” was chosen. In short, you had to make your own album. It could be your own music or someone else’s, but it had to be an album or your own creation.
Posted on March 15, 2013
Lunch is a strange meal. Breakfast is usually part of a lurching process of starting the day. Dinner usually has a certain satisfaction associated with either relaxation or letting your guard down. But lunch is weird. You stop everything that you’re doing, have a meal, and then start up where you left off, before taking time for lunch.
Lunch is also a social thing. It starts out when you’re a kid. You have breakfast and dinner at home, but lunch is that meal you have with all the other kids at school. You start looking over at what all the other kids have for packaging; lunch boxes, brown paper bags, and the occasional lucky bastard who gets a thermos with something warm and yummy. In turn, everyone else gets to see what taste your parents have in food packaging. Then comes the examination and critique of the lunch contents; bologna sandwiches, cold pastas, salads, the every-so-infamous mystery meat, and who’s the lucky kid whose parents sneaks their kid a cookie for dessert. You ask questions. “What’s that?” “Are you gonna eat that?” “Can we trade?” It’s a social affair.
This moves on into adulthood, but with more complex dance steps. “Let’s do lunch!” Where do you want to eat? What do you want to eat? Should it be a grab n’ go or will it require reservations and good behavior? Let’s not forget the art form of trying to delicately balance the transfer of food from plate/bowl to mouth while keeping at bay the strange magnetic attraction the food seems to have for your clothing. “Look, Bill’s wearing his lunch. He must’ve had a couple of martinis.”
Heading into the 40th year of my existence on this twirling ball, I’m slowly coming to the realization that I hate lunch. That whole thing that your grandmother tells you about how time flies the older you get, well, it’s true. For me lunch is becoming more and more of a time suck for what seems like the progressive dwindling of hours in a day. I usually try to keep it simple and quick. I usually try to keep on doing whatever it is I am doing while I’m eating lunch so as not to loose pace or concentration. What bugs me most about lunch is that afterwards I always want to sit back and relax, but I can’t. I’m always in a hurry to get it over with, unless of course if someone’s offering me a martini.
Posted on March 15, 2013
Posted on March 11, 2013
Posted on March 10, 2013
“Iron Photographer” is one of the several ongoing series (this particular one being 169) produced by the good members of Utata, a collection of “Tribal Photography.” this particular series consists of three elements:
1 – noodles (Lasagna, Fettucini, Farfallini)
2 – first aid (Medical Tape, Syringe, Cotton Ball)
3 – duotone (Pantones 5463U & 1777U)
Posted on March 5, 2013
There it is, the truth of the matter. It may not look it, but this boy is ecstatic. This is the first time in his life where an actual living, breathing snake will twist and tangle itself through the boy’s fingers. He’s had other opportunities to do so, but that was before. This is now. Specifically, it’s been almost a month since he first brought home a book on snakes to read for homework. He couldn’t quite describe it back then, but his parents were sure it was some kind of mixture of fangs, scales, patterns, colors, venomous vs constrictor madness that sent him into his latest obsession. And now, after weeks of reading, watching video, sketching, and sculpting of serpentine clay models, he was finally going to get the chance to hold his first live snake.
His parents knew this might not be the wisest idea. After all the boy was not only precocious in every interest, but he also had a tendency to let his interests consume him to the point where he would want to devour every aspect of whatever it was that might grab his attention; books, toys, pictures, models, movies, etc., etc.. There was also the boy’s particular knack for charming/strong-arming his parents into buying whatever he could get his hands on that would slake his thirsty imagination. It didn’t take long before he’d managed to amass a series of stuffed, rubber, and homemade snake toys (imagine if you will the cut off leg of an old pair of tights with eyes drawn and pasted on one end). Still, the boy’s parents had other concerns besides their son’s wily way with words.
After piecing together his serpentine menagerie and watching an many snake handler videos as he possible could, the boy proceeded to perform reenactments. At first they were simple; a quasi king cobra lashing out at a rat snake here, a stuffed anaconda swirling around and squeezing a stuffed alligator there. The longer the time passed the more “elaborate” the play became until the thrashing and biting and twisting and turning started to twitch that parental nerve that usually ends in inquiry.
“Ok, boy that’s a bit much, isn’t it?”
“I’m just playing. It’s not for real.”
“Yeah, but why do you have to be so violent about it?”
The boy’s usual response to this being crestfallen and a toning down of the festivities for roughly 5-10 minutes.
There’s an advantage to having a pet shop devoted mostly to reptiles and insects within 10 minutes drive from home. It’s a perfect distraction from the weekend bordem most kids run up against. Flatscreens and CGI infested cinema will only take you so far. The local playground gets tedious after about an hour. But, a shop that has a 6 foot asian water monitor amongst it’s many attractions is hard to get tired of. When the boy begged his parents for a trip to the vivarium one lazy Sunday afternoon, the parents conceded with the caveat that the boy understood that nothing was to be bought. The boy agreed and they went on their way. When they got there, the boy put on the hat of a tour guide.
“And over here are a couple of Burmese pythons. The yellow one’s an albino. There not venomous.”
“Look at this one. He’s got a skull and crossbones on his tank. I guess he’s poisonous.”
“Venomous dad, not poisonous.”
It was a 30 minute slithering merry-go-round of rat snakes, boas, bearded dragons, and geckos (although the boy had no interest in the latter two or any other creature with legs). It was the lurking around the snake hatchling case when the shop keeper saw an opportunity and decided to strike.
“Wanna take one out and hold’em?”
The question went straight to the boy, not the parents. With a hook like that dangling in front of the boy’s face, both shop keeper and the parents knew a bite was not far behind. The doe eyes appeared out of nowhere with their beams perfectly sited in mom and dads’ direction.
“Can I please?!?”
It was at this particular moment that the shop keeper first acknowledged the parents’ presence with a subtle grin.
“Five bucks for five minutes.”
The boy was jumping. The hook sank in deep and the line was being pulled. Mom and dad had a spur-of-the-moment choice to make. Images of the boy’s more than rough play danced through the father’s mind, not to mention the alarm bells of shelling out extra cash and visions of frozen mice feedings and weekend tank cleanings. Still, the father reasoned, maybe five bucks now might avoid several hundred in the long run. The boy’s curiosity might just fade once he gets the real thing in his hands. The father decided it was a chance worth taking, fished out a fiver, and reminded the boy about their previous agreement not to buy anything.
After taking the money, the parents were as good as gone to the shop keeper. Out came the small tank with the hatchling. The keeper’s attention was now fully focused on the boy.
“Now, you’ve got to promise me that you’ll listen to everything I say, ok?”
“Or else I won’t let you hold him anymore.”
“I promise, I promise.”
The keeper went over all the instructions. The boy’s attention wavered not the slightest. For a moment the father’s red flag warning alarm that sounded eerily like a cash register went quiet. He not only wanted to make sure the boy understood all he was being told, but he also found himself swept up in the details of the serpentine do’s and don’t's.
“Here dad, you want to try holding him first to show him how it’s done? Then you can hand him off to your boy.”
The shop keeper proved adept at reeling the line in. He carefully handed the hatchling king snake over to the father, and following the keepers protocols, the father soon found himself too busy watching the creature twist and twirl through his fingers to hear any alarm at all. It was about a minute later that the father finally realized there was a anxious boy next to him. The boy wasn’t begging or pleading like he would for his usual wants and urges. He was just standing there, watching. There was no thrashing or growling. There was no elongated diphthongs of “but pop,” trailing off in grating registers. The boy just waited his turn. It was short before the hand-off that the mother fished through the father’s pockets to find the phone with the camera. A record must be taken. She knew the boy wanted this in the worst way.
When the boy took hold of the snake, he was as careful as careful could be, more so than most boys his age. he followed the keeper’s directions to the “T.” The snake writhed through the boy’s finger. Nothing else existed for him. That was until the keeper came over with a 4 foot long python.
“You wanna try him on for size?”
The boy handed the king snake hatchling back to the father who put the hatchling back in its tank. The keeper laid the python on the back of the boy’s neck. The boy carefully placed both hands under the body of the snake where it hung away from the boy’s body. The keeper angled the snakes head closer for the boy to see.
“Ya see his eyes? Ya notice how their kinda bluish?”
“Ya know what that means?”
“It means that the snake is going to shed his skin soon.”
The keeper gave a simultaneous grin that to the boy inferred “Yeah, you’re cool,” to the father inferred “I’ve just sold you a snake,” and to the keeper spoke of his “first time” memories.
“Ya know, the snake is only $75.”
“What about the rest of it?”
“Everything you’ll need will run you about $150 more.”
The father’s cash register alarms suddenly reached a deafening pitch. He looked over at the mother and their 12 years of being together let him know without a word that she could here the alarm too. The five minutes were up and the keeper was lifting the python from the boy. The father could see the transfixed wonder in the boy warp into those pleading doe eyes that only spelled trouble. This wasn’t going to end well.
The ball python gets its name from the fact that when stressed, it tends to curl up into a ball hiding their head and remaining motionless for a long periods of time. This is exactly what the boy did, squatting on the floor in the shape of a ball once told that it was time to go. He knew from his parents’ tone of voice that all he was leaving with was memories and a couple of pictures. Still, he wasn’t going to give up that easily. The parents coaxed the boy politely at first, then with a little more force. The shop keeper had disappeared knowing better when to bow out gracefully. After realizing the futility, the boy started slowly waddling towards the door.
The car ride home was long. There was plenty of pleading and debating. The boy wanted a snake more than ever. The parents were extremely wary of spending more time and money on another responsibility that would more than likely become theirs after months of the boy’s interest had dissipated. A few days went by. The boy was still obsessed, but instead of the savage play with toys, instead of the usual pleas, the boy buried himself in the knowledge of how one goes about taking care of a pet snake.
Posted on March 1, 2013
I found this little piece of graffiti snugly tattooed on a brick at the base of a small set of stairs. It wasn’t easily noticeable. There were a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, because it was scrawled on one single brick among several that make up the surface of the set of stairs. Secondly, there was, and still is, the larger context of the obscure staircase that at one time must have led to a door, but now, if followed, leads you smack-faced into a very solid wall. It would be a fairly safe assumption to say that this quasi-political graffiti gets lost in the greater details when running across this architectural question mark. That said, there is a practical purpose to the stairs. It’s a great place to sit, take five, and maybe make an observation on the devil-in-the-detail artistic musings of the aforementioned brick (that is if you bother to notice it at all).
The town where I, the door to nowhere, and the graffiti-laden brick live in, touts itself as a bastion of liberalism. It’s known mainly for its university, and most folks born in the last couple of decades will have no doubt heard of the free speech movement that was hatched in the university’s hallowed halls in the mid 1960s. Over time, these and other progressive ideals bled from the heart of the school out into the town itself. You can find yoga studios and acupuncture clinics galore (many of which predated the recent yoga trend). There are more than your average amount of Tibetan paraphernalia shops (I can think of at least two such shops within less than one mile of each other), and it doesn’t stop at the commercial façade.
The city police long ago made the policy decision to make marijuana offenses their lowest enforcement priority. The school district long ago implemented a lottery for children entering the public school system that insures not only ethnic diversity in all of its schools, but also socioeconomic diversity. There’s also a running consensus that the locavore movement also got it’s start here. For as long as I’ve lived here (12 years so far) I’ve never seen a Republican run for and win any local office. The kind of graffiti I found on that brick can be found just about everywhere you look, with more elaborate derivations receiving the distinction of “mural” rather than graffiti.
The peace symbol morphing into the that of anarchy (or vice versa should you choose) is telling though. It’s easy to get lost in the details of the city’s reputation. If you stop and look a little closer, you can also see certain contradictions that give credence to the phrase “so liberal their conservative.” It was several years back that protesters made camp (and a long, drawn out stink) in a small grove of live oak trees straddling the university’s sports center in an attempt to save the trees from being cut down for a renovation to the sports center. Never mind that the center was sitting directly on top of the second largest fault line in the state, it was the trees that seemed to matter most. There is still an ongoing controversy about the current mayor’s approval of the building of new housing units across the city in order to stimulate population growth and thereby stimulate new revenue into the city’s coffers. One tactic used by the opposition is to try and have as many sites declared landmarks as possible.
There are some folks here who seem to think the town is a liberal utopia. Still, there are also some who view it as a liberal dystopia (masochism anyone?). Both are usually the type who would probably suffer a bloody nose from using the stairway to nowhere for its originally intended purpose. Yet most of the folks around here see the stairs for what they are, a place to sit down and get lost in the details of how best to navigate the practicalities and impracticalities of living in a town full of contradictions.