The Life of a Tourist

At the path along the river, despite the gloomy day, everything opened up. It was our first full day in Japan. It may have had something to do with the sake tasting we had just left, but already the world was different.

Picnic

It would be a few days before we would do the truly touristy things like going up in the Tokyo Skytree or seeing the pandas at the Ueno Zoo. In this spot along the river, as it had been at the Sawanoi Saké Brewery we had just visited, there were no other tourists. Just us. Everyone else grew up here, lived here, belonged here. That sudden realization was the moment when tourism ended. We were all part of the same picture.

And then again, maybe it was the saké.

Sake!


Bear in mind that I don’t want to be one of those people who, having been touched by international travel, thinks of himself as Rick Steves or Anthony Bourdain. I know nothing. It became more evident as our time in Japan wore on that I know less that nothing. In part, at least as far as Japan was concerned, this was by design. I wanted to be genuinely surprised by what I was seeing.

The first days of our stay were going to be at Yokota AFB, and the last three days were set for an Airbnb in Arakawa-ku. Hannah and Dan were driving us around in a rental van while we were on base, because Hannah’s Diahatsu is built for a maximum capacity of one and one-half humans.

The first few days weren’t ideal as far as the weather was concerned. We caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji on our way back from the airport, but the clouds and haze hid it from our sight for the next couple of days. It rained on our way to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura, it rained while we were there, and it rained on the way back, but not enough to keep us from going.

At the Buddha

On the first clear morning, Hannah was driving when she spotted Fuji out of the corner of her eye. Without telling us what she was seeing, she twisted the rental van off to a side street, tossing us to and fro in the back of the vehicle. “What…?”

“Fuji,” she explained.

Fuji

And so, Fuji it was. This would be the clearest it would be during our time there. But as nice as these moments were, the defining moment had already taken place.


Sawanoi Brewery

I may have taken close to 400 pictures that first day at the Sawanoi Sake Brewery. It was impossible not to. We sat through the presentation and the tour, which was entirely in Japanese, quiet and bright-eyed, nodding our heads as if we understood. Some things needed no words.

There was a helpful flyer in decent English to let us know a good bit of what was going on. We went to the room where the rice was processed and to the cave where they gathered the water. Everyone was Japanese, apart from the six goofy Americans. It was hard not to feel so different, so out of place.

After the tour was over, we retired to the solace of our own company. I took 200 more pictures to mask the fact that I felt so self-conscious that I wasn’t Japanese. There was a shrine across the river from the brewery, and a walking bridge to get to it, so we made our way over there. I took 400 more pictures.

Take us to the bridge


On our way

Hannah, chef that she is, had a tour of Kappabashi Street planned for us on our first official day in Tokyo. Kappabashi is a street entirely dedicated to the restaurant trade. We took the train in. Tokyo has a terrific public transportation system, and we saw pretty much every last bit of it. It had been years since I had been on a train, and I had forgotten how hard it is to keep your balance. I held on to the ring for dear life. More experienced Tokyo natives stood around, lightly holding their rings with one hand while perusing their smartphones with the other, barely swaying in the tumult. It took four days for me to master this art.

On the train

At the end of the line was Tokyo Station, a grand relic of another era. More reproduction than relic, as the original version had been destroyed in the war. It was raining. Raining again.

Tokyo StationHannah was relying on Google Maps to get us around. Normally, Google Maps are very reliable, but in Tokyo, walking directions can change at a moment’s notice. We stumbled out into the rain after Hannah, who went one way, and then another, and then yet another, and then stopped. She would look at her phone, then look up, and then back at her phone again, and then she went back the first way, and we followed her. We must have looked like we were terrible at collecting Pokemon.

All this in the rain. We ended up breaking for lunch until Google Maps gathered itself.

Following Hannah

After lunch, we followed Hannah down a small street, as directed by Google Maps. At the end, we found ourselves right in the middle of Kappabashi. The rain continued.

Kappabashi in the rainFortunately, the sidewalks were (mostly) covered, so we could somewhat dry out. The stores varied, from the superior-serious big-ticket items to uniforms to the items that were probably geared more for the tourists. There were more western faces here. Some Americans. Australians. French.

Not Creepy
Not creepy…not creepy…not creepy…

Even though we were popping into shops in relative dryness, we were discovering just how water-logged we had been. Our backpacks weighed about twice what they normally would have.

Chef

We landed in a coffee shop along the way. Most often, wherever we went, we saw signs in Japanese, followed by an English translation. In the coffee shop, everything was in English. After four days in Japan, the lack of Kanji was jarring.


Cherry blossomsThe cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Ome as we climbed the steps to the shrine across from the Sawanoi Brewery. The rain was holding off that day, but there was a layer of fog at the edge of the tall hills on either side of the river. All six of us could stay in our comfort zone as long as we kept moving. I took another 300 pictures.

Shrine Selfie

After that, we walked along the river. On this trail, the river was at our left and the back of peoples’ houses were to the right. At one point, we came across a small restaurant. There was outdoor seating, and although it wasn’t the best day for dining al fresco, it was time to eat. Hannah and Dan asked us if we wanted to stay here.

We kind of avoided the question. Up until then, we had never been to a restaurant in Japan, and the prospect of pointing at a menu didn’t seem particularly appealing. But there were a few people underneath the canopy near us, and one Japanese man called out to us in English, and told us to come inside.

I wish we had. But we drifted away from the restaurant and continued down the trail.


We were depending on Google Maps to find our Airbnb. Generally, this worked, in the fact that we ended up generally in the location. We followed Hannah to one apartment building, which turned out to not be it. Then Google Maps told us to cross the street, which we did. It wasn’t there, either. So we crossed again, and this time we found it. It rained the entire time, and we found no Pokemon.

We got inside, our bags arrived shortly thereafter, and we got changed out of our wet clothes. The forecast for that night said that the rain would stop. As we left the apartment in search of food, we discovered this was a lie. The rain mostly stopped. The wind picked up.

Hannah was in the mood for yakiniku. In yakiniku restaurants, they bring meat to your table and you grill it yourself on a grill built into the table. We followed Hannah into the darkness and wind. Google Maps sent us past a McDonald’s and into a parking garage. Whereas it was drier and less windy in there, there was a complete lack of grilled meat, and therefore, less than satisfactory. Once we emerged, we passed the McDonald’s again, found the place we were looking for, and discovered they were booked solid.

Following Hannah

We shuffled off into the night. All of us spotted that McDonald’s once again. It was calling to us. You’ll do no better.

This was a lie, and we all knew it. We pressed on, through the drizzle and wind, and around the corner and up a flight of stairs, there was a restaurant. They had a place to take off our wet shoes and put them in a locker. The restaurant itself loomed in the back, and just from the look of it, it looked expensive.

They seated us in a dark, private room. As it turns out, they were all private rooms. We sat on the floor on cushions in front of a low table. Saké arrived. I opened the menu with impending dread, but the prices were quite reasonable.

Rachel and Derek

Sashimi

They brought us sashimi, yakitori, and many other things that were so, so good. In the other private rooms, people chatted in Japanese and laughed. I grabbed a piece of salmon, looked at this room full of my family and thought, I could get used to this.

Cheers!

That was the second moment. The moment where I felt like I could get along anywhere, as long as I kept pressing on.


The first moment came as we walked along the river, feeling like a bit of a coward for not speaking up and saying, “Hey, you know what? Maybe we should eat at that restaurant along the trail. After all, when are we going to get back?”

I took 600 more pictures. Cherry blossoms, mostly, and a few people having picnic lunches in the dry spots of the river.

River

There was a trail down to water’s edge, and I followed it. Laura followed me. A family was having a picnic down there, and I could see that the mother of the clan was having difficulty taking a selfie with the whole family in it. She saw me, she saw the camera, put two and two together, and called me over. I seem to be the one stranger in the crowd that people choose for this particular service, so I know the drill. I smiled and took her phone, and got a good shot of them all.

But we’re not done. She wanted a picture of me with the family. Then me and Laura with the family. Then I took one with Laura and them.

Hanami

And just like that, we belonged. We were part of this wonderful country and it was a part of us. Everyone was part of the same picture.

Then again, maybe it was the saké.

Us with the Family

The Inevitable Trip to Japan

We sat around my Mother-in-law’s apartment, the six of us: Laura’s sisters Rachel and Hannah, their husbands Derek and Dan, Laura and me. Dan is stationed at Yokota Air Base, and somewhere in the conversation, somebody said something to the effect that we should all meet up with them in Tokyo. Somebody else said it would be a great idea. I nodded, but it wasn’t anything I’d really ever considered. Laura stared blankly.

A month or two passed, and I figured, the initial groundswell of support for the plan would wane, but it did not. Passports were received. Talk of plane tickets and the like. Agendas and such. Laura stared blankly.

It was going to be a fourteen hour trip on a plane from Newark to Narita, non-stop. The best I could boast was JFK to Atlanta. Laura had done Atlanta to Los Angeles, a sprint compared to our upcoming marathon, and she hates to fly. All that time in the air. We both stared blankly.

Nothing against Japan, of course. It was distant in our minds, something so unreachable that it was unthinkable, so we had never thought about it. Instead, we thought about other places we wanted to go, places that didn’t require passports or plane tickets or even agendas, for that matter. Japan loomed, like a trip to the proctologist.

The date was set for April, in the hopes of seeing some cherry blossoms, because if you’re going to go that far, you might as well go the whole way. We dutifully got our passports, and when they arrived, the idea of Japan didn’t seem quite so bad. As we looked at them, we thought, heck, at the very least we could go see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. If this falls through…

We thought it a lot. If this falls through.

And we also thought, but maybe we’ll make memories that will last our whole lives.

We bought the plane tickets, and when the confirmation email came through, the idea of Japan softened a bit more. Fourteen hours on a plane, sure, but there would be plenty to do once we got there, like seeing cherry blossoms. And Mount Fuji.

Great Buddha

And this guy, the Great Buddha. That was what was drawing Rachel and Laura in. They had seen it many times in Around the World in Eighty Days, and the thought of seeing it in person was sustaining Laura.

As the inevitability of this trip set in, we had come to grips with it. We bought backpacks and raincoats and new luggage, we arranged for a car to pick us up, we got somebody to watch the cat while we were gone. Hannah and Dan made their annual pilgrimage back to Pennsylvania, and we went through all the things that we were going to see and do. We were going to the zoo to see the Pandas, we were going to the Tsukiji Fish Market and eat sushi…

And during this time, Rachel noticed there was an abnormality with one of her breasts. An indentation, she said, something that didn’t belong. We all thought cancer right away, but also, is that one of the symptoms? Lumps, yes, but not indentations. She scheduled an appointment with her doctor just in case.

Breast cancer.

Caught it at an early stage. But breast cancer.

After much time of wrestling and coming to terms with this-is-what-this-is, we mentally scratched one trip to Japan off our list. We knew more about cancer than we did about Japan, and we knew this was going to be treatments, surgeries, a never-ending string of doctor visits. The trip to Tokyo suddenly became a distant memory, one of those things we meant to do, but never did.

Laura and I went up to Lewisburg to support Rachel for the appointment with the doctor where everything would be laid out. Fortunately, her doctor is a family friend. There was cause for optimism. He cited a 95% survival rate. But of course, chemo and surgery were all part of the treatment plan.

When the meeting was just about over, Rachel asked him, “We planned this trip to Japan…it’s three weeks away…do you think we can still go?”

“Oh, yes,” the doctor said. The cancer was moving slow. It hadn’t spread. Three weeks away? As long as she started the treatments as soon as she got back, he couldn’t see a reason why not.

We were kind of surprised she asked. We were even more surprised that he said yes.

“So,” I said to Laura when we had a moment to ourselves, “Japan, then.”

“Yeah,” said Laura.


Beautiful Newark

It rained a lot the day we left, so we were glad that we had hired a car to pick us up. Driving to Newark is never a picnic, and doing it in the rain is the antithesis of fun. We arrived terrifically early to stay ahead of traffic and weather delays. The four of us checked our bags and ended up in a line for security which pretty much stretched its way back to Allentown. Eventually they let us through, so we could have plenty of time to wait before they let us on the plane.

On the plane. We set it up so that three of us would be sitting in the second row and one of us would be in the first row. Laura chose to sit up front for the leg room, while I sat with Rachel and Derek. Waiting again. Painfully waiting. Something-going-on-that-we-should-know-about waiting.

“This is your captain speaking…”

Great.

“It seems that we caught a nail in the landing gear, so when we tried to taxi out…”

Fantastic.

“It should only be an hour, though…”

Right.

Our 10:55 flight left at about 12:30. I settled in with “Doctor Strange” for what promised to be the first of many movies. A couple of American businessmen seated behind me got up and decided to talk to each other in the aisle right above me, which didn’t rise to the level of annoyance of, say, a crying baby, but close. The attendants came through with the cart, forcing the businessmen to duck back into their seats for cover, and fed us some Teriyaki chicken, which tasted reasonably good although it seemed like pandering.

I had moved on to my second movie by now, and I had decided to kick it old school by watching the Paul Newman movie “Hud”. I went to the bathroom because I felt the old familiar strains of something that wanted out of my digestive system quickly, and I was surprised to discover that apparently, that was a false alarm. I sat back down in my seat, still feeling it. Then a wave came over me, that one where everything starts to swim around.

“Are you all right?” Rachel asked me.

I said no. I was sure of that. Then I remember trying to wake up. And I was hearing multiple voices. And I was seeing multiple faces, Laura in the foreground.

I was out for about thirty seconds. I truly missed all the excitement, but from what I gather this is what happened after I passed out:

  1. Rachel called for a doctor. She got Laura’s attention in the front seat.
  2. One of the businessmen behind me tried to take my pulse. Which all good businessmen are trained to do. “I don’t feel a pulse,” he declared. “He’s not breathing.”
  3. Rachel screamed for a doctor.
  4. Laura was out of her seat in an instant and checking on me. She realizes I’ve only fainted because we’ve been married for fifteen years.
  5. Rachel stood on her seat, holding a boombox over her head, and the tape playing in the boombox is an anguished plea for doctoral support.
  6. Doctors arrive from far and wide. Some of them were not on the plane when we took off.
  7. The Cubs won the World Series. That didn’t happen while I was out, it just bears repeating.

In the end, we’re not sure what caused this episode, but I ended up in the back of the plane, heaving out everything I had eaten that day and the bishop of a chess set I swallowed when I was 6.

“If he’s sick,” one of the flight attendants said, “they may not let him in to the country. He might have to go into quarantine.”

“We may have to divert the plane if he’s really sick,” said another. After all this planning, all this journey leading up, to only end up in Seattle? No, sir. At this point, I needed Japan. I was not going to be denied. And I would have told them that, but that bishop was still stuck in my throat at the time.

There was a cardiologist among the doctors who were tending to me. “He’s fine,” he said.

And although I was weak from all that heaving, I knew that’s all it was. Another of the doctors, who was an endocrinologist, was very kind to me, and let me have her seat in first class so I could lie down. For three hours, in my suddenly upgraded seat, I slept on and off and felt the nausea pass.

When I felt strong enough, I gingerly came back to my seat. There was only an hour until we would be in Japan, and say what you will about losing consciousness and puking your guts out on a long plane ride, but it does pass the time.

At Marita Airport

It was afternoon of the next day when we touched down. I was strangely steady as we went through another decently long but decidedly more organized line at customs. Hannah and Dan were waiting for us when we got out, and our quest had finally ended. Outside we could see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. We would see the pandas at the zoo. We would see the Great Buddha. We would eat beef that makes you weep for the plight of the American cow.

We made memories that will last our whole lives.

Under the trees

After the Storm

We passed by the Queen City Diner this morning. It was packed to the gills with customers. “I’ve always wanted to get a shot of this place,” I said to Laura. “But not like this. At night. After it rains. I think that would be perfect.”

“Well, you should,” she said.

Again, it was just another one of those things that I haven’t done and I don’t understand why. I just haven’t. Well, I should.

And then I looked at the weather report for the day. Thunderstorms, in the afternoon. In February. The weather in eastern Pennsylvania this year has been strange to say the least. But no matter, and opportunity was presenting itself.

At 4:30, the storm raged through, sending garbage cans and cats and dogs flying, but in twenty minutes it was mostly over. We scrambled together all my camera gear and shot out the door.

It was still raining when we got to the Queen City, but not so much to be a bother. I took my tripod because the light was low and I wanted a shot as still as I could get.

Queen City DinerI’m happy with the result, but I’m happier that we got out and did it.

The Way That We Play

There are many things that could be said about this year’s Super Bowl, but to sum it all up: everyone outside of New England and those without ties to New England wanted to see the Patriots lose. Not only to lose, but to be embarrassed. For three quarters, we, those who could not bear another Patriot win, feasted upon the thought that our dreams would come true. The Falcons? Merely a means to an end.

But we forgot, these are the Falcons.

Once the lead was squandered, and after it was all over, the faces on the screen began to talk of how this was the greatest ever, and how He Who Must Not Be Mentioned was also the greatest ever. Patriots, Patriots, Patriots. It would take a day before we got back to the Squanderers, with those sad, painful, and somehow irresistible post-game interviews. The one that got my attention the most was the one with Matt Ryan, Falcons quarterback and Chief Among Squanderers. They asked him, predictably, if he thought the Falcons had been, and more importantly, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had been, too aggressive. To which he said, “Too aggressive? No. I thought Kyle did a good job. I thought we played the way that we play.”

The words the way that we play have echoed in my ears ever since. That’s fine, I thought, but that’s not the way that you win, obviously. Maybe you might concentrate on the way you win more than “the way that you play.”

And here’s where it changes. We often get in this same trap in life where we “do the things that we do.” Laura once got a fortune cookie that said, “when you do what you always do, you get what you always get,” which for a fortune cookie, is ridiculously insightful, and true. I began to reflect on the way that we play, about the things I do in my own life that are the way that we play.

For three plus years I took almost nothing but sign pictures. We were at some family function, and I had brought my camera, but I somehow managed to take a sum total of zero pictures. It’s not what I’m doing right now was my excuse. It was hollow and I knew it.

But it was important to realize what I was doing. There’s so much more to life than just one thing, or two, or even a handful of things. I’ve made a conscious effort to start taking pictures of things that are different, possibly mundane, but things that reflect what we all see around us.

One day, just recently, I saw somebody had left a chair out on the side of I-476 outside of Philadelphia. I really thought it would make a great picture, but for some reason I didn’t stop. The picture I had in my head was lost. I wasn’t going to get it back again. The chair wouldn’t be there tomorrow.

But, much to my surprise, it was. This time I wouldn’t do myself out of it, so I pulled over. I was extremely careful getting out of the car, and got this shot.

The Chair

It’s moments like this that happen when when you step out of the way that we play. I put together a few of my favorite shots, outside the realm of signs or cars or (more recently) flowers, moments where I just pulled over and got out of the car, or just moments I brought my camera when I wasn’t really thinking that much of taking pictures. These are moments I will never forget:

LizardI took this picture almost as a test one day while I was in Florida, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s not much of anything on the surface, just a lizard on a wooden door. Still, I’m drawn to it.

MorningOne morning outside my parent’s home. I stepped outside, most likely in my slippers, and got this one. It was the only shot I took that morning.

Red CowI was just out driving around Montandon, Pennsylvania, because what else do you do around Montandon, Pennsylvania, when I spotted an odd little building, adjacent to a field of cows. I took a few shots of the building, and the cows wandered over to get a good look at me. This one came right up to me, so I took a shot of her. I love this picture.

Ruts are easy to fall into. I fall into them all the time. If we step out of our “the way that we play” attitudes and replace that with “the way that is effective” or “the way that changes things”, we can do so much more.

 

 

The Death of a Flower: The Hydrangeas

It’s an odd feeling, getting flowers for the strict purpose of watching them decay, but by now, having watched a rose and an iris bite the dust, I was really getting into this new project. I walked in to the florist, feeling vaguely like a predator on the prowl, and carefully selected the new subjects.

What I chose was a group of hydrangeas, for a number of different reasons. For starters, I had never seen a dead hydrangea. They most often live in people’s gardens and spring back up each year. Also, there are so many groupings of small flowers, I wondered what would happen to them. Would they just wilt? Drop off?

Hydrangeas Day 1

I set up in the dungeon room in the basement on day 1 and took some shots. I was still getting used to my new Elinchrom flash heads and it went well over all, but these hydrangeas were so puffy and full it was hard to get all three in the same shot.

I tried again on Day 3. One of the hydrangeas had already started going downhill a bit, and I got my first glimpse of the inner workings of the flower. All of these wonderful purple veins began to appear, now visibly holding the blue and white blossoms. I had no concept of the intricate system that was created to give these flowers their shape, and now it was opening up to show me.

Hydrangea, Day 3

I realized it was a futile effort to try and get all three flowers in the same shot, so I transferred the individual flowers to their own vases. This is when things started to get really interesting. As the flowers drooped and the hairlines of each began to recede, they took on some strange, human quality.

Hydrangea, Day 5

One of the three in particular became a terrific subject for a portrait. I shot this one with the same care as you would shoot a person.

Hydrangea, Day 5

I realized later how great these flowers were for this project, because they didn’t just wilt and die, they transformed into something different. These hydrangeas became something new.

Hydrangea, Day 7Already after a week, even in water, all three of the hydrangeas started to get decidedly crunchy. The leaves curled inward and were showing off their veins, just adding to the interest.

Hydrangea, Day 10

By now I had moved on to a set of Gerber Daisies, but I still kept the Hydrangeas around for test shots. One of my favorites of this latter group of shots I took was from a completely different angle. Somehow, and I don’t know if this just developed over time or whether it was like this to begin with, the stem of one of the flowers had magnificent curves to it, so I grabbed a few shots from up top to accentuate this effect.

Hydrangea, Day 16

The point of this project was never clearly defined to me until these particular flowers. Decay can be beautiful and that in part is what I set out to document, but that’s not where it begins or ends. A picture of a person on day 1 and a picture on day 17,000 can both be beautiful, and in completely different ways. We all recognize the beauty of a flower in its fullness, but once it goes past it’s prime, it gets tossed in the trash. But there’s something in every stage of life that is interesting, vital, and fascinating.

Here are the first few in the Death of a Flower series, the rose and the iris. Over the next few months I’ll be adding more to this series, including the Gerber Daisies, a couple of Proteas, Sunflowers, Ragusa Mums and Lilies.

 

60 Thoughts on It’s a Wonderful Life, Having Not Seen It for About a Year

As most of you do about this time of year, I over-indulge in Christmas movies. Lately we’ve been visiting the cheesy made-for-TV variety, the hastily-put-together genre that we can’t seem to get enough of. After a while of wallowing in that trough, you have to revisit the classics to detox, so, while we wrapped presents, we made our way back to Bedford Falls.

Here are my thoughts, in chronological order:

  1. (wCaprahen we paused at the ‘Directed by Frank Capra’ portion of the credits, to get some clear tape from the dining room table) What is that Santa doing down there, to the left of Capra’s credit? Is he in a kick-line? Shouldn’t there be four other Santas kicking right next to him?
  2. The Angel Joseph is apparently the Constellation Orion. I’m betting that’s in the Apocrypha.
  3. Word to the wise, kids. Don’t go sledding down a hill into a frozen pond when there’s a GAPING HOLE IN THE ICE at the end of it.
  4. But then again, you can’t become a war hero later on in the movie if you don’t take risks.
  5. So how did Harry luck out and not lose hearing in one of his ears, even though he was foundering in the icy water for at least 20 seconds until all the rest of the kids came over to save him?
  6. Story of George’s life, I guess.
  7. Poor George.
  8. Violet Bick: trampiest 11-year-old ever.
  9. Creepiest moment: when Clarence declares from Heaven, “I like George Bailey.”
  10. What exactly are George and Harry doing upstairs that’s shaking the chandelier downstairs? Rough-housing? And can you actually picture Jimmy Stewart rough-housing?
  11. Beulah Bondi plays Ma Bailey. She played a lot of Moms. She played Jimmy Stewart’s Mom in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. When Jimmy Stewart had a sitcom in the early 70’s, she played his Mom in that, too.
  12. In case you’ve never noticed, that’s a moderately grown-up Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer who gets thrown over for George Bailey at the dance and eventually flips the switch to open the floor up to reveal the pool.
  13. How did that pool/gym floor idea never catch on?
  14. One of my favorite moments in the whole movie is George and Mary in the water, and he’s still dancing. Donna Reed is laughing so hard that I almost have to believe that wasn’t planned.
  15. Favorite line in the movie: “Why don’t you kiss here instead of talking her to death?”
  16. Things I’d like to know: while Mary is in advanced state of undress and in the hydrangea bushes, and just before George gets whisked away to see his ailing father, he says the line, “I’ll make a deal with you Mary…”
  17. I think 1946 audiences may not have been ready for the second part of that sentence.
  18. Harry was second team All-American. At his size. It was the thirties, all right.
  19. Wait, wait, wait. Harry got married and no one knew about it?
  20. Not even his mother, who (we assume) would have told George and Uncle Billy?
  21. This seems impulsive.
  22. Even if you have a good job in Buffalo waiting for you.
  23. Bedford Falls looks an awful lot like Mill Valley.
  24. In fact, isn’t that the clock tower in the background?
  25. It’s generally accepts that Sam Wainwright goes “Hee-haw.”
  26. But why?
  27. I mean, obviously it didn’t affect his business interests.
  28. But why?
  29. “Making violent love” obviously meant something different in 1946.
  30. So after George clutches Mary while she’s on the phone and tells her that he wants to do what he wants to do, and then gives in and starts making violent 1946 love to Mary, is Sam still on the phone? That would suck.
  31. Hee-haw.
  32. It also sucks to get married on the day the market crashes.
  33. There’s not a person my age or younger who doesn’t snicker a bit at the thought of George’s two friends being Bert and Ernie.
  34. Character Actor Alert: Charles Lane shows up in the scene as the guy explaining to Potter what’s going on in Bailey Park. That man played wiry, crotchety guys in Hollywood for 50 years. Even as a younger man he appears to be 55 years old.
  35. By the way, just for fun, focus in on the dude standing behind Potter’s chair. The longer you look at that stone face, the funnier it gets.
  36. Potter has a skull on his desk.
  37. Potter also has a bust of Napoleon.
  38. These are what are known as “warning signs.”
  39. Christmas is finally mentioned in minute 76 of the movie.
  40. Uncle Billy has a raven.
  41. Uncle Billy has a squirrel.
  42. These are also known as “warning signs.”
  43. George looks like he hasn’t shaved for about three days when he’s in Martini’s bar, being punched out by Mr. Welsh, but he had to have shaved that morning, because he was obviously at work. All part of his bad day, I assume.
  44. Wish I had never been born, the point of our whole story, comes at minute 103.
  45. George’s alt-universe sucks for pretty much everybody but Nick. Looks like he’s doing a good business in Pottersville.
  46. Pretty keen neon in Pottersville, too.
  47. But maybe I’m missing the point.
  48. George’s hair takes a beating through his trip to Pottersville.
  49. But then, George’s car takes a beating in Bedford Falls. And his reputation.
  50. And although everyone in Pottersville thinks he’s a loony, he can always go somewhere else.
  51. Again, I seem to be missing the point.
  52. Big finish: everyone shows up with money. That’s always a good ending.
  53. Character Actor Alert: Al Bridge shows up as the sheriff with the warrant for George’s arrest (which he later tears up). Al Bridge was in every one of Preston Sturges’ movies and was consistently hilarious. Watch him in Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and you won’t be sorry.
  54. They’re missing 8000 dollars. Think there’s 8000 dollars in that basket?
  55. Sam Wainwright can wire up to 25,000 dollars. He’d just like everyone to know that.
  56. Well, that’s fine, Sam, but we only need 8000.
  57. Hee haw.
  58. At any rate, what happens to the extra cash? Just asking.
  59. And I’d like to think that once Old Man Potter drops the amount of 8000 dollars in the bank the next day, the townspeople will come around and give us the satisfying butt-kicking Saturday Night Live sketch ending we’ve always wanted.
  60. The end.

Pictures of Cat

It used to bother me when I used to see someone’s Instagram feed entirely populated by pictures of that person’s cat. Or an Instagram feed that is supposedly “the cat’s account.” Well, it still bothers me, and that will never change.

But now that I am a cat owner, or at least a cat lessee, I can understand the temptation.

Cat
Cat

Cats, of course, are awake only about 7-10 minutes a day, so when they are awake, it is an event. So we document the event. The problem is, cats almost always have the same expressions which are:

  1. scared
  2. mildly awake
  3. half asleep
  4. asleep
  5. scared again
  6. blue steel

This does not run the gamut of emotions. Not like a dog, who can smile, flop a tongue out, look sad, etc. “Scared” is too difficult to capture, because lenses fast enough to gather in such information have not been made. “Asleep” is too easy. So when you see an Instagram feed full of Cat, you tend to see “Mildly Awake” and “Half Asleep” in a grand variety of locations.

Cat Again
Cat Again

This isn’t especially fair to Cat. The personality of Cat is not easily reproduced in still images. Cat runs around for no reason. Whenever Laura takes out a nail file, he goes nuts and bats at it. He hisses at his tail. He drinks out of the tub. Video works for these moments, but a picture doesn’t tell the full story.

So we resist. Not only because of that, but very often, he stops doing whatever he’s doing when a camera and/or iPhone is whisked out.

Cat, Once More
Cat, Once More

But Cat does allow us one small indulgence: very often in the middle of his 23-hour, 53-minute nap, he will stretch. He’s developed this stretch so that it looks interesting, and well-worth documenting.

Supercat
Cat’s Secret Identity Revealed

In fact, as it turns out, he is SuperCat. The World’s Laziest and Most Indifferent Superhero.

SuperCat, Again
SuperCat, Please Save Us Following Your Nap

So, Cat Lovers and those who have close to half a million pictures of your own cat lodged in your phone, you’re welcome. For all others, move along. Nothing to see here. Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming.

The Death of a Flower: The Iris

After the first few shots with the roses, I moved on to a flower that was growing in our garden. One of the irises in the side yard had been knocked down by a storm, so we cut it away and put it in a vase. My original thought was to get shots with a very dark background, so I was waiting to take shots at night. I also had very little lighting, as I was still using the dorky little floor lamp I bought at Target rather than anything official and proper.

Iris Day 1Iris Day 2The results varied, but I found if I used my remote shutter and kept the camera on a tripod, I could manipulate the light to suit my purpose.

Iris Day 5The above shot was on Day 5. This was probably my favorite of all the Iris shots I made using this method.

But then I decided that dangling a floor lamp with a bare 60-watt bulb wasn’t exactly the way to go about this. I also discovered that shooting in the dark could produce interesting results, but I couldn’t stop there.So I bought a couple of Elinchrom flash heads with softboxes to control the light better.

I also got the idea of escaping the living room to shoot in the strange recesses of our basement. We have a room at the front, underneath the porch, which looks like a good set for a horror movie. The iris was quite dead at this point, so it seemed like appropriate surroundings for a dead flower in a vase.

Iris, Day 12I kept the iris around far longer than I should have, until it got all wispy and fragile. I used it for test shots for a while before I got to my next subject, the hydrangeas. I continued to shoot in that odd basement room—and still do—with several other subjects, which I’ll share in the coming weeks. But here’s a test shot, taken about a month after I grabbed this one out of the garden, which may be the best shot I took that day.

Iris, Day 29

Cleaning the Ocean

Every year, we trek down to Daytona Beach, usually in October or November. It’s the time we use to get rid of all the stuff we’ve been carrying with us throughout the year. We were set to go down the last week of October, when all of a sudden The Weather Channel erupted with talk of Hurricane Matthew. It’s always difficult to tell with The Weather Channel, since they throw around words like “massive”, “deadly”, and “run for your lives” with alarming frequency.

Daytona Beach Pier

The storm passed by a few weeks before our vacation, producing more damage than has been done in years. TWC was probably disappointed that the whole state didn’t fall into the ocean, but we can’t have everything.

The place we normally stay in had a little water damage, so we stayed in another condo in the same building. One of our favorite restaurants, Our Deck Down Under, lost about half of its pier and a ton of roof shingles, but it was open. Tia Cori’s, a must-visit while in Daytona, looked like nothing had ever happened. First world problems, we said. Oh dear, our view of the ocean will be sullied by a bit of construction.

Our Deck Down Under

The first night, we slept in fits and starts, struggling with stressful dreams, while outside, the ocean drifted softly into shore, depositing remnants of the long-past storm in the sand.

Our usual pattern is to take the proverbial long walk on the beach in the morning. Every year we talk over our current state of life and every year we come up with new, creative ideas to overcome our current state of life. For some reason, I would never take my camera. Each time we would take a walk, we would see something and say, “Well, we should have brought the camera.” And yet I never did. Maybe I was worried I’d drop it in the ocean, or sand would get in it, or an osprey would swoop down and steal it from around my neck, whatever excuse was in vogue.

Forget all that this year, I thought. I’m taking it along.

The ocean didn’t disappoint. The first few days, the sea’s offerings came in two separate packages; in the form of tumbleweed-like collections of reeds, and in strange, red roots.

Sea HairballRed RootThe next few days, man-made objects made their way on to the beach, as if the ocean were tossing out its junk. One morning, we found close to fifteen beached flip-flops.

Flip FlopAnd then, when it seemed like the ocean had no more garbage to toss, we found this:

Drown Your TelevisionMost likely this television was on a ship, because it was encased in a metal box. How it got in the ocean is anybody’s guess, but needless to say, the ocean didn’t need it.

It is a great reminder of how little we really need. We’re fooled by the speed of life into thinking we’re accomplishing things, or we’re fooled by our own successes into thinking that we’ve achieved something, when in reality you miss so much if you don’t take the time. We walked and we talked and we got rid of our own junk on the shore, and wondered to ourselves how we could make these sorts of moments happen every day.

 

The Death of a Flower

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook or who have been following me on Instagram have seen my latest group of pictures, under the banner of “The Death of a Flower.” This started almost out of necessity, because a) I’ve photographed pretty much every old sign within a 50-mile radius and b) I travel so much for work I don’t really have time to go outside the 50-mile radius to find others.

It started back in May. The roses I bought Laura for our anniversary sat on the highest shelf of our kitchen, out of the reach of Cat, who has a tendency to eat plants, particularly the ones that are most harmful to him. The roses were out of sight and out of mind, and before we knew it, they were very, very dead. Laura went to put them in the garbage, and I looked at the one on top and said, “No. Look at that. Isn’t that interesting? I should take a picture of that.”

So we did some primitive lighting work, which consisted of one cheapo floor lamp from Target. Laura held that and I held the flower with one hand and took the shots with the other.

Rose

The results were good, but I would have liked to have seen pictures of what we looked like trying to take these.

Back of the rose

Over the summer, I invested in some actual lighting, in the form of a couple of Elinchrom flash heads, and the results have been fantastic. I’ll be posting quite a few more in the weeks to come.