The Family Wedding

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 07, 2006

Last Saturday, my daughter married. Her husband is a wonderful man who has been “Papa” to her four-year-old son, fixer of household things, confidante, occasional chauffeur, and all-around good guy – her “best friend” for many years. Everyone in the family is glad for them, for it is clear they love each other and will share happiness.

He is a widower quite a bit older than she and has a grown daughter; otherwise, there are few relatives on his side of the family. The horde of her relations made the trip north from New York, Washington and Arizona – the usual jolly, hard-to-miss army.

The wedding was beautiful and personal. The best man, matron of honor and I each read poems written by other family members; her next-door neighbor sang beautifully as my next-door neighbor played the piano. The array of guests included many members of the local Bike Club (the couple met peddling) who feel a sense of surrogacy, the parents of one of my daughter’s patients, and many loyal and long-time friends and co-workers.

There was a simple but lovely reception held in the church, followed by a dinner for family and the wedding party, and on Sunday evening I hosted the final event of the weekend, a dinner for family at my house. As the bride and groom and their entourage were leaving, I hugged the groom’s grown daughter and warmly exclaimed, “Like it or not, you’re a fart of our pamily now.”

Yep. We’re now one big happy pamily, and each one of us is a special fart of it. And this fart needs some sleep!

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Friend

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 03, 2006

I pushed him once too often. He needed the push, or rather, he needed to take action, but he couldn’t take the push. His exact words as he left my life are forgotten now, although I do remember thinking profanity wasn’t ever expressed more eloquently than in the irate oration of this man. My front door – no stranger to his exits – punctuated the sign-off message with a profound slam, and then there was a very long silence.

That was the surprising part: he didn’t come back. The almost daily visits of the past twenty years completely ceased, and I got used to days and weeks uninterrupted. He was still around, but even in this North Country where no one is a stranger, our paths didn’t cross for almost two years. He had a woman companion (no doubt the reason he was able to “give me the mitten”), and I was glad for that, and a woodpile appeared in his driveway, so apparently he did make the call I was suggesting when he lost his temper with me. I hoped he was doing okay, but frankly the relief of no longer being the best friend of a person suffering mental illness was a relief I savored. I just never thought I’d be savoring it for so long.

Today while weighing the relative merits of Keebler and Nabisco in the local supermarket snack-food aisle, I became aware of a shopping cart close to mine, looked up, and there he was. I don’t know how long he’d been looking at me, but his eyes were filled with tears, and instead of “Hello,” the words, “I’m so sorry” flowed from his mouth. We embraced, a long emotional embrace, causing shoppers to make U-turns and forego crackers rather than confront this soppy pair. I told him I don’t ever care if he calls me names or gets furious with me, but he if he ever again disappears on me for two goddam years, I will hit him right side of the head with a two-by-four.

As I drove home, my mind wandered over the memories of what nearly a quarter-century of this friendship was like. How many phones had he smashed? How many dents in the front door? I thought about the morning he discharged himself from the hospital – an I.V. line, a string of obscenities and me trailing behind; remembered the call (made in my absence, from my phone) to the crisis center to come pick up his body in half an hour; thought of being in his tiny cabin as he flailed his ax, committing murder on a block of wood in the doorway; considered the night spent with him in the emergency room, his hand slashed open by the propane heater he had raged against. And who could forget the Town Court appearance where he put on a drunken oration Richard Burton would have been in awe of. With him there would always be times like those, and there would not be apologies.

And yet, he is a wonderful friend. On the good days, no one has a better sense of humor, a quicker wit; no one is smarter than my friend, no one more fun to be with. He has nursed sick animals, maintained diabetic cats, and comforted me through the death of dear pets; it was this friend who introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse, Gilbert & Sullivan and led me to Randy Newman. Have a question? Just ask him, and if he doesn’t have an informed, insightful answer immediately, expect a typed, researched response left on your dining room table within 24 hours. Baseball, science, literature, music, history – choose your topic, and my friend will bring it to life with sensitivity, intelligence and often humor.

So here I am, back on the merry-go-round again. I know there will be days when I’ll ask myself how I ever got into this relationship again, but right now I am feeling a warm sense of happiness. Thanks, Keebler and Nabisco. There’s been something missing from my life.

This is Where it All Began

Sunday, October 29th, 2006


Opening

An artists’ reception was held yesterday for exhibitors at the Frederic Remington Museum’s Amateurs Only! Juried Art Exhibition 2006. Only a few years ago I might have considered such an event with disinterest, and in fact even yesterday I went there with an attitude somewhat prejudicial toward the combination of “amateurs” and “art,” but I had to go (in fact, couldn’t wait to go) because this year I am one of those amateurs.

To my profound delight, the two of my photos selected for inclusion among the thirty-six now hanging in The Richard E. Winter Gallery are in great company. The Remington defined “amateur” as someone not making his/her living selling art, and apparently that includes some remarkable artists. I am proud to be a part of this great exhibition and (in the style of a theatre program) thank Bob, Kelly, John, Terry (of Fisher Design in Potsdam), and all of the others who have encouraged and helped me reach this milestone.

Photographs: American Wreckage (above); Web Designer (below).

The museum’s website may be viewed at: www.fredericremington.org

Enough of Mickey, Already!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2006

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Sometimes you might be lucky enough to “get the picture” in the field; sometimes you might have to bring the subject to the studio and work at setting up a shot.

This fall there was a stretch of time when the milkweed pods began to open and the weather favored the transport of their seeds on dry, silky bits of plant-fluff. Rain would end Wind’s opportunity, and so time to photograph these ephemeral fliers was also passing. I carefully gathered up a vase-full of stalks and seed pods – several already open and beginning to spew their contents – and brought it into the house. My plan was to keep them dry and then take them back outside for photographs when I had the time.

Yesterday I glanced at my “bouquet” on the window sill near my desk. The pods are empty! No, the seeds aren’t littering my floor… they were all eaten by the mice.

What Would Elvis Do?

Monday, October 09, 2006

I saw Elvis today. He was changing a tire in the WalMart parking lot. I tried not to stare because that is such a dumb thing to do when you see a celebrity, but it was hard to turn away, so I didn’t, and when he returned my gaze, I spoke. It’s not every day you get to talk with The King, and besides, he’s a southern boy, and I’ve been wishing for someone to explain what people from down in those Red States are thinking.

I started with some chit-chat, hoping to break the ice in a friendly sort of way. “How’ve you been?” I asked. Elvis sneered a little, but it was a kindly sort of sneer, then he told me how hard it’s been to find a decent job. He’s worked the fast-food places and now WalMart (where his part-time shift had just ended). The problem was health insurance and retirement, but he said he prays it’ll all work out and he buys lottery tickets, and it is nice to work with other retirees who are also trying to make ends meet. Anyway, he thought we all should have to sacrifice when the country’s at war.

Emboldened, I asked what he thought about that war. “I’m all shook up,” he replied, “but we gotta take the war to the tarists or they’ll take it to us.” I handed him a lug nut. “Are you worried about North Korea testing a nuke?” I questioned. “Are they near Iraq?” he responded.

There was a bit of dust on his blue suede shoes, and his hip seemed to swivel half a turn as he stood up, sun glinting off his flag belt buckle. My focus shaken, I fumbled for words but finally blurted out, “Why’d you stop singing?” He stared me in the eye, this time the sneer a bit more menacing. “I’ve got family values now,” he snarled. “What do you think would happen if I got up in front of people today and did the moves I used to do? Gays’d be all over me. My mama didn’t raise up no fool. A-wella-wella-wella what would Jesus do? I’ll tell you: he’d get a job at WalMart and he’d be sayin’ God bless America.”

And with that, Elvis turned and got into his Chevy. He’d have roared away, but he forgot to lower the jack.

My Father

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 05, 2006

    

I write this on the eve of the 16th anniversary of my father’s death. Sometimes I remember him so clearly that I can hear his voice; other times his presence seems so very long ago that when I try to picture the details of his face, what forms in my mind’s eye is really the recollection of some photograph or other, the image of one particular instant fixed in time by light striking film – not the real man at all.

The youngest of ten children born to Austro-Hungarian immigrants, raised in a tenement on New York City’s upper east side and orphaned at the age of 20, he took to the Adirondack woods. His days were often spent climbing the high peaks; his nights reading Keats, Shelley, Shakespeare, William Joseph Long or Thoreau by oil lamp light.

And so, on this anniversary of the last night we spent together, I offer you a photograph of my father at the summit of Mt. Marcy, January 30, 1931. The temperature was 5 degrees below zero.

I stop writing and walk to the mudroom door, peer in, and see the same snowshoes, now sporting new leather bindings and – God forgive me – a bit of duct-tape here and there – and I am thankful for that piece of me that is him.

I miss you, Packy.

Criminal Intent

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 03, 2006

This morning I awoke and looked out the window at a pretty amazing pink and orange sunrise sky, said “Wow!” and then “Damn” because you have to be an earlier bird than I to get the photographic worm. It then occurred to me that being a photographer is a bit like being a criminal: you need motive (the love of taking a good picture), weapon (decent camera), and opportunity (created by Wizards who get their asses out of bed early).