One of the strangest things about looking at old photographs is that they’re not as
momentous or meaningful as I thought they’d be, “years from now”. It’s years
from then now, and they’re mostly a little forlorn, awkward, or just inscrutable.
“A photograph” Susan Sontag wrote in 'On Photography' “is both a pseudo
presence and a token of absence...” its “qualities and intentions swallowed up in
the generalized pathos of time past.” The photograph of Walter, because I knew
him, is missing so much more than it contains. The shot of Roberta doesn’t smell
like Roberta. And that skinny kid on the ladder... who is that? I feel no connection at all.
Paradoxically, photographs of people I don’t know and places never seen, or seen
in a new way, sometimes have an uncanny ability to evoke an emotional response
that images of my own people and places do not. They’re not as overtly drained of
the living nuance that seems better brought to life with simple memory. The
photograph of your 10th birthday party is fascinating to me, because it tells me
more than does the photograph of mine.
Maybe photography resonates most, especially in the hands of an ardent and
skilled observer, when it’s about nobody in general, and everybody in particular.
My journalistic stuff does stay fresh for me. There is endless potential in the
particulars of the glimpsed, not sapped by the accomplished facts of personal
history. It’s medium cool, as McLuhan would say: open enough to invite
participation, extrapolation, engaging memory and imagination in a way that our
personal photos, which are both oversaturated and poignantly wanting, never can.
Downtown Sarasota. I found a parking space at Island Park and we headed for O’Leary’s, a favorite spot on the bay, a waterfront bistro with picnic tables and live music. Pat ordered a grouper sandwich, I went for fried shrimp. White wine for all. There was a grouper scandal a few years ago. So popular is the delectable Gulf aquatic chameleon that fake grouper, everything from tilapia to pollock, was being passed off as the real thing in restaurants all over Florida. Eventually the State Attorney General’s office, following a St. Petersburg Times expose', began randomly testing grouper sandwich DNA. A lot of restaurants, who blamed their suppliers, got snagged in the Groupergate net. Authenticity has since dramatically risen, along with grouper sandwich prices. If you’re paying $10. or more for one, there's a good chance it's grouper. At one of our favorite seafood spots we noticed an offering, on the post-Groupergate menu: a “grouper-like sandwich.”
I offered Pat a curly fry. “What is this?” she said, “an onion ring?” “No, it’s a curly fry.” She sampled a bite. “Mm,” she said, noncommittally.
We headed for Lido beach. I found a parking space close to my haunt. I bought some Mike’s Hard Lemonade at the concession stand. The friendly young man behind the counter informed me that he couldn’t sell me an unopened bottle to take away. So I asked for it in a cup over ice, which I could take away. Which was fine. Seems the county prefers that visitors begin drinking as quickly as possible. Which was fine.
We hiked to my spot, a relatively remote section of the beach, nestled between some dunes, just south of the gay zone. But no sooner had we set up camp than a quartet of noisy and well-fed young women began posing for pictures just feet away from our little hideaway, on a section of the beach otherwise empty in both directions. What compels people? You’ll park in a remote slot of a parking lot, not another vehicle around, and return to find somebody parked inches away from your car door, no other vehicles around. Cars, apparently, are mammalian litter mates that cannot nap alone. Pat was more gracious than I. She even agreed to take a picture of the group. Then they were on their way, satisfied that we had been properly disabused of any claims to privacy.
We headed straight for the water. The temperature was exquisite - probably somewhere in the seventies, and there was some surf. “It’s been ages since I’ve been in the ocean,” Pat said with a laugh. After splashing, and floating, and paddling around for a while, we returned to the umbrella to find that the wind had dumped our lemonade. Must have been a county wind.
We lay around for the rest of the afternoon, reminiscing, updating, speculating. I was both shocked and grimly fascinated to learn about the odd paths taken by some of the tribe at the apartment, the ones who’d had establishment jobs, uptrending careers, families and connections. While Pat and I, the outliers and shiftless rebels, survived and stabilized. One never knows. Two of those neighbors, erstwhile friends of us both, who have managed to maintain a tenuous grasp on their respective apartments, one of which had been my home for ten years, have taken to ordering pizza and having it delivered to their van, parked outside the building, and enigmatically eating it there.
I wanted to show Pat Siesta Key before sunset. We packed up and drifted back, along the shore, to the truck. Siesta Key is on my short list for post-lottery win places to live. I could probably move there tomorrow if they gave a prize for the most tickets purchased without a single winning number. I’ve been up there with my bike, my scooter, with little more than a camera. There isn’t much there, really. A great beach, a village, a few inns. Parks and resorts. And endless residential back streets and cul-de-sacs tucked away in lush tropical settings. We drove around the back streets. Oohed and aahed. We fantasized and schemed. We made plans to buy winning lottery tickets. But mostly we simply enjoyed the remains of the day in each other’s company.