October 27, 2010

How to determine if you're a peasant

These are my keys.

These are my other keys.

This is my wallet,

cell phone,

pocket change,


Here's what heads of state carry on their persons:

October 24, 2010

The triumph of ambiguity

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.

October 16, 2010

The other half

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: 
“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. 
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.

October 12, 2010

Getting there is half the something

My friend Pat was in Florida on family business. She emailed from Tampa
suggesting that we meet up in Venice, where she would be visiting her uncle. I
remailed that I would pick her up there and spirit her off to Lido Key at 10:30
the next morning. Could I supply a beach umbrella? Pat wanted to know. What
color would you like? I said.

The pleasure of riding the sweep and velocity of I75 was suddenly disturbed, just
outside North Port, by the flashing tire pressure indicator on the dashboard. I
pulled off at the next exit, marveling at the fact that the truck’s hypothalamus
was tracking my tire pressure, and into a service station to have a look. The
slowly deflating driver’s side rear tire gently hissed. I looked around, and saw a
WalMart across the street, its Tire & Service Center standing serenely in the
morning sun.

I thought it best to reflate the tire as best I could for the jog over to the Big
Box. The air pump required an outrageous $.75 for a blow job - quarters only.
Which of course meant I had to break some dollars, ie: buy something, in the
convenience mart. I bought chips and a coke. My inner paleolith, an incipient
sybarite, rejoiced.

I rolled cautiously up to the megamart's Tire Center. The cocky young mechanic
informed me that I would have to park the truck “over there,” and added,
gratuitously, as if pointing out the obvious to an imbecile, “you can’t park here
and block the service entrance.” I looked around. There didn't seem to be
anybody, or any vehicle in the vicinity, waiting to drive into the service entrance.
I got in the truck and limped “over there,” so that, presumably, somebody else
could come out to the truck and drive it back to the service entrance. A much
friendlier service rep, clipboard ready, came out and together we examined the
tire. A piece of wood, formidable enough to dispatch a vampire in its coffin, had
pierced the tread. I took it as a reverse-omen, remembering the words of Kay
Rist, my retreat partner at Mount Manresa on Staten Island: "The devil is trying
to throw a stumbling block in your path." That proved I was serving my karass.
It could not, I was told, be patched. I made a mental note to save the tire and
have it patched by my local mechanic.

It would take, I was told, about forty-five minutes to deal with the flat, an
estimate which I immediately and mentally doubled. So I had an hour-and-a-
half to find what diversion I could, in a Walmart off the freeway. I phoned Pat.
“I’m at Walmart,” I said. “About a half-hour from Venice. I have a flat tire.” An
uplifting mew of sympathy came. Words of encouragement were exchanged.
Pat, never a morning person, was not noticeably upset that I would now arrive
closer to lunch than to breakfast.

I have a nephew whose grocery shopping strategy I’ve always thought
innovative: he goes down every aisle once, then proceeds to checkout. That was
my starting point, though WalMart’s considerably expanded resources, compared
to the average supermarket, promised to consume time instead of save it. But I
soon abandoned the strategy: WalMart has many more aisles, unlike a
supermarket, of things, unlike food, that I’m not remotely interested in. I
lingered for a while in front of the large-screen televisions. Went to see if they
were still importing Chinese raw silk camp shirts. Didn’t see any. Looked at the
latest in fishing lures... I’m entranced by artful replicas of real things. The
assorted bugs, invertebrates, and small fish were fascinating. Some of them
wiggled realistically and were eerily lifelike to the touch.

I noticed the eye-care facility and decided to have my eyes checked, since it had
been several years since my last. Turns out the facility is a concession, devised
by a presiding physician. This one seemed quite advance and high-tech,
futuristic, hushed, sterile, white-on-white. After the traditional eye-chart, eye-
dominance, and peripheral vision exams were completed by an agreeable and
attractive young assistant, I was given the familiar glaucoma air-puff test, all of
which fell into, or bettered, the normal range. Then it was on to Clockwork
Orange mode, and a couple of machines that anchored my chin in a tray, and
my temples between padded plates, while bright lights were flashed at my retina
and rings of neon green encircled my pupil like intergalactic worm holes. This is
what an alien abduction must be like, I thought.

At the consultation, doctor had nothing alarming to report. Sun damage was
trivial. My macula was mainstream. I wouldn’t have to worry about cataracts for
another decade. I thanked him, swiped my card, and headed for the Tire &
Service Center, the eye lab iterated in a cavernous, noisy mode, black-on-black.
As I was driving away, new tire spinning happily, I noticed that the tire pressure
indicator was still lighted. I turned around and went back to query the rep. “It
should go out after you drive for a while,” he said. And so it did, synapses re-
engaged and warning cancelled.

I arrived in Venice in time, as expected, for lunch. Pat and I exchanged hugs
and gifts. I gave her an ounce of Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. She
gave me E. L. Doctorow’s “Homer & Langley,” a novel, and a beautiful
saffron-yellow NYC Community Kayak T-shirt. We check-listed supplies and the
game plan for the day ahead, and pointed Frog toward Lido beach. We fell into
the old patter. I sang “If I give my heart... to you...” Pat fell in with the
harmony, its celebrated inverted thirds, its paradoxically beautiful ode to love-
as-revenge. “Take that,” we seemed to sing, as the world flew by, Lido Beach
drew near, and all our troubles seemed so far away.

October 8, 2010

October 6, 2010

October 3, 2010