This is going to be a long, corny love letter to the city of Boston. If you aren’t in the mood for that, or are not a reader or for some reason, hate the city of Boston, scroll on down for this year’s wall to wall coverage by Wrong Side of the Camera of the 127th running of the Boston Marathon.
(A month and a half late. Sorry!!!!)
OK the long corny love letter starts here. On April 15th this year, I’m walking home and getting taunted via text by my chauffeur and friend Fred. Fred has been teaching me how to drive for a few years. Ok to be more accurate, he has beaten the driving into me. As a senior lecturer at one of the most famous universities in the world, I can tell you that Fred’s teaching methods are, um, unconventional to say the least. When he was teaching me how to parallel park, he would open the door to the car and yell out — you’re too faaaaah!!! You’re too faaaaaah. So I’m ready to take my test but due to a bunch of stupidity in my life and because of this stupid rule here that you can only take the driving test in a vehicle with hand break in the middle of it, me taking the test has been delayed a few times. So Fred was taunting me via text about getting my test done. The next part is perhaps the funniest.
I’m walking home to my own house on my own street when a taxi stops in front of me and Fred sticks his head out the window and continues to taunt me about the license. Live. The text taunting turned into in person taunting. Our exchange ended with me yelling out, jokingly that he was psychotic.
I came up the stairs that day laughing about how Boston that whole exchange was. This is the absolute definition of this city. Everyone knows everyone. Your idiosyncratic chauffeur finds a way to taunt you on your street and you retell this as a hilarious story. Your idiosyncratic chauffeur taunting you on your street, coincidentally driving by your house. Welcome to Boston.
I met Fred four years ago when my Lyft driver didn’t come to pick me up to go to Sunday River, for one of my 4am ski trips. I was pissed to say the least so after this happened, I started calling all of these numbers I found on the internet. This gruff voice picked up and I said — look. I have a really weird request. I need you to pick me up and drive me to Back Bay station at 4am for about five Saturdays in winter. All I heard was — I put you in the book. Customer service, level Polish. But Fred showed up and slowly this friendship evolved.
Fred is an interesting character. The man really dislikes the letter R. I mean really. It’s a big dislike, I mean I really think it must be because he only really pronounces it when it’s at the beginning of a word but anywhere else, forget it, you are out of luck. He really has an aversion to this letter. Fred worked for the MBTA for 20-something years and has an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of every single corner of this city. He can tell you in great detail where anything occurred in this city. He special focus is on crime, the locations of famous crimes. Sometimes in my correspondence, I call him “noted local crime historian.” During our driving lessons, he would pick up the phone and take taxi appointments. The only time when his tone of voice would change would be if his granddaughter called him. One time he couldn’t take me out to drive because his granddaughter had her ceremony to get into the National Junior Honor Society. We also reviewed her report card a few times.
This man is Boston to the core. I once watched him chase a man down my street in his car, caaah, because he had hit his car mirror. He cut the guy off and started yelling at him and called the cops on him. What a scene. But what it is about people here, is that this is a person who took time out to teach me how to drive and always makes sure I have a ride home. Last summer when I was traveling, he was watching my flight and texted me to let me know that he was coming to get me. What was really funny was that we were delayed and his text said something along the lines of — you see, your flight is delayed. I actually thought he might be sitting behind me at the time.
We’re getting back to the marathon, I promise. So after Fred’s texting taunts and in person taunts, I got home and turned on Netflix and saw a documentary about the Boston marathon bombing. Now I don’t really want to watch this. I lived this. I have no interest in reliving this. But something told me to watch it.
I put it on and Billy Evans, whose quote is at the top of this entry came on the screen and said those words and I thought — he’s right. Now let me clarify. I am not saying that other cities don’t have fine people. Obviously they do. But something about the way the guy said it struck me. Evans looks like another hard boiled Bostonian, like Fred. But you could tell this guy cares a lot about the people of this city.
As I’m watching the documentary, I started crying. I lived this. I remember every detail. And I’m crying watching this.
Everyone knows the story about the bombing and probably how I lived that day. I was actually in Pennsylvania that morning, attending the christening for my college best friend’s son. It was a fun couple of days and I’d be getting back on the marathon day, my favorite day of the year. I got up at about 5am to come back in time to catch the rest of marathon.
I met up with a friend and we watched for a while from Kenmore square. Not too soon after a woman next to me said that a bomb had exploded at the finish line. I thought maybe it was a man hole cover. It couldn’t be a bomb. A bomb at the marathon? No. Not possible.
We stood there for a little longer. Helicopters were flying over our heads. Then police entered the path of the marathon and told everyone to go home. Before it ended, I saw two people get to the marathon and find their daughter. They must have told her that there had been a bomb. She broke down crying. I stood some distance away and captured the whole scene. It was in a French newspaper a couple of days later.
We were all in shock about what had happened. How had marathon day gone from this happy occasion to this immensely sad one so quickly? My friend and I ducked into a place to get food. The impact of the whole thing really hit me then. It was all over the news. Obama was on television talking about the marathon. People were posting Facebook updates in support of the people of Boston. This was real now. And incredibly sad.
I went to work the next day. Everyone was so subdued and quiet. Two students who I love dearly, a married couple, hugged me when I got to work. The husband was wearing a Boston marathon jacket. He put his arm around me. It was such a nice gesture.
The atmosphere in the city at first reminded me a bit of how Washington DC after September 11. Copley Square station, that I took the train through every day was closed, completely dark. I used to go to the Trader Joe’s in Back Bay and it was now a part of a crime scene.
What I saw in the next week in the city was remarkable. I’m a city person. The thought of living in a suburb fills me existentialist dread. I have lived in big cities for most of my life, save for a few forgettable years in an unremarkable suburb of New York City. I am a city person and a keen observer of cities. I grew up in New York and lived in Washington DC right after college. I saw what happened in Washington DC after September 11. It was really ugly the way people turned on each other. I remember asking a guy why the cab stand in front of Union Station had moved and he just barked at me about how it was about September 11. So weird.
Boston was completely different in that week after what happened. It was as though every single person in the city united to find whoever did this. There were no conspiracy theories. No one said anything in support of the bombers. People were angry at whoever did this and they were determined to find whoever it was.
Honestly I was convinced that they would never find who did it. I mean so many crimes go unsolved every year and I thought this would turn out the same way.
On Thursday, grainy pictures of who they thought were the suspects were released. Looked like a younger man and an older man, brothers perhaps.
Late on Thursday night, someone reposted on Facebook a strange status update from the MIT Facebook page. Shots had been fired on the campus, a lot of them. I went to sleep thinking about this. What could be happening???
The next morning, at 6am, my home phone rang. No one has that number except my mother. I ran to pick it up, just in time to hear that there was a suspect, armed and dangerous running around the city. The city had put a stay at home order in place. No one was to leave their house the entire day. What was happening??? This was unbelievable. I called my parents and told them what was happening. I could not believe it.
I turned the television on in the morning and was glued to it all day. Apparently, these two assholes had carjacked a guy on Brighton Avenue, five minutes from my house at the time. They had been the ones who were firing guns on MIT campus and they had shot and killed an MIT policeman in the process. After that, they had engaged in a fire fight in Watertown. Watertown is two miles from my house. Unbelievable. I mean I had been in Kenmore Square for the marathon. They carjacked a guy on a street five minutes from my house and now one or both of these guys were two miles from my house? Needless to say, I was scared.
I saw the governor on television say that we should stay away from the windows in our houses. The police commissioner would come on the news periodically to update everyone. I had lived right off of Commonwealth avenue by that point for three years and every single hour of every single day, I heard the green line go by and ring a bell. All day, I didn’t hear the train. All MBTA trains had been suspended that day. Eerie silence.
All day every single person I was connected to on Facebook messaged me. People I hadn’t spoken to in years messaged me to check that I was ok. I opened a Polish newspaper called Gazeta Wyborcza, the Voting Newspaper and the front page was a picture of Kenmore Square, completely empty. Completely. All of these places around Boston that I go to all the time on the front cover of the biggest newspaper in Poland. Surreal.
Throughout the day, Ed Davis, who was the police commissioner at the time, would periodically hold a press conference, to assure us that they were looking for these guys. Commissioner Davis has this endearing Boston accent that made it clear that they were looking at all the apahtments in Watahtown. I’m not making fun of you Commissioner Davis, rest assured. There was something about the way he was talking that said — we are looking for these assholes and WE WILL FIND THEM.
At 7pm, they lifted the stay at home order. I remember the relief I had of hearing the green line outside. The suspect or suspects weren’t in custody yet though.
Suddenly around 7:30, news started to spread that there might be a suspect in Watertown. Before we all knew it, this person, the marathon bomber, was being lifted out of a boat in a guy’s backyard. Again, surreal.
I remember my entire neighborhood cheering when the announced that the suspect was in custody. Everyone on my street was cheering.
A couple of day later, Boston’s big beating heart, David “Big Papi” Ortiz gave his memorable speech at Fenway Park. He thanked all the first responders, the mayor, the governor. Then he said “This is our f*&ing city.” I think it brought relief to the entire city when he said that. I remember as well a few days later that the FCC said that although it is against the rules to curse on national television, they wouldn’t be fining NESN for broadcasting Big Papi’s speech because it was Big Papi and the man could express himself however he wanted. I remember reading that and thinking only the government would make an exception for Big Papi.
I always look at the days after the marathon bombing as what really sealed the deal for me that I belonged in Boston. I had only been in the city for two and a half years at that point, but after that, I decided this was my home now. I already really liked the city. But when I saw just how people reacted to the whole thing, how it really brought the city together and how everyone behaved, I knew I had found my home.
I also reflect on how Boston has really become the place that I love. I saw a meme recently that said “I mean Boston is expensive. And the weather?? Not good. And the food?? Also not great.”
But you just fall in love with this place. I can’t explain it. You just do.
I did not want to write an obituary, but a close, very dear friend died recently. I’ve decided to use this blog as a bit of a memoir. People have always told me I should write a memoir, so I guess this is a kind of first draft of that. And hey, maybe this will go viral. But it probably won’t. It doesn’t cover my entire life. We’ll cover what led up to me starting my career in Washington DC, where I met Herman Ayayo, the dear friend and mentor I lost recently.
This is part I, sorta the backstory of my life the first few years directly after college. Buckle up.
I guess the story really starts in 1997. As I’ve talked about before, I studied abroad in Denmark in 1997 and that basically turned my life upside down.
I returned to college and I knew one thing. I did not want to go to school anymore. I was really uninterested in studying anymore. But well, I wasn’t exactly calling the shots and the person who paid for my college education was kinda insisting I finish. I still remember going to see my advisor and saying — I don’t want to study anymore. He goes — well, you could go to Washington. We have this internship program. Well, that’s not what he actually said. He said — have you ever taken a trip across the country? Go do that, keep a journal and I’ll give you the 8 credits you need. I would have preferred that option, but well, more level headed people prevailed. Thank God.
I applied and got in and ended up doing a really outstanding internship at the Voice of America. On the first day of the internship, one of my new coworkers came up to me and said — I heard you were from Chicago. I said — no. I’m from New York. We lived in Chicago when I was a little kid. The guy looks at me and goes — you??? LITTLE KID??? I have ties that are older than you. And that dear friends is how that internship started.
Despite this seemingly inauspicious beginning, the internship was great. I learned so much at that internship at the Voice of America. My boss was this diminutive Texan who reminded me of Ross Perot in manner. The guy had a bust of Aristotle and a plaque with an armadillo on it. He swore Aristotle used to wink at him occasionally. And the plaque of the armadillo was from a beauty contest the critters had participated in. The Texan had a really deep Texas accent. One time someone called and asked for the website for the service. This is before the web had seeped deeply into our collective consciousness. I remember the Texas boss saying “our website is dubya dubya dubya dot VOA dot gov. It took about half an hour for him to say this.
Needless to say, everyone was decades older than me. The Texas boss enlisted me to work on these crime alerts, kind of an America’s most wanted for international criminals. The Texan was vehement about this stuff, kind of like an old fashioned sheriff. I actually really liked it. The crime alerts were for international broadcast and that to me was pretty cool. I got to know all about what kind of alerts Interpol puts out about criminals. A random piece of information if I ever heard of it. They also did editorials, which were a little bit more difficult. At first it was supposed to be one editorial during the whole internship but I think it turned into five or so of the editorials. I also got to work on a television show, sitting in the control room running a teleprompter. The guests were some pretty heavy hitters policy wise. I remember going to the front of the building to pick up the Dalai Lama’s personal representative to the United States, a jovial man who shook my hand with a lot of enthusiasm.
They were giving me pretty simple tasks but they couldn’t be sure about what my skills were and I understood that. I was treated like their daughter. I went back to them for years afterwards for references for jobs and educational opportunities. I learned so much from all of them and am and will be eternally grateful for everything they taught me.
I also learned things from them that went beyond the professional world. There were four of them in the office. Two of them were completely on the right, one of them a total lefty and another one who was a veteran journalist. They weren’t just civil to each other, they were friends. There were never any big disagreements between them. They got along really well. What I learned was beyond politics. I learned a level of civility towards other people that needed to be there in situations, something that served me well in the future.
After the internship ended, I went back to college to graduate, as I was still in my last semester of college.
It would make a great story if everything just worked out after that, but I’m leaving out the part about being dumped. Yup. The ritual post college dumping. It’s not you, it’s me honey. Yeah, ewwwww…. I mean I was a lot better off in the long run but it sure did not feel that way at the time. It took me forever to figure out why I got dumped and I eventually realized that it didn’t actually have anything to do with me. And I was absolutely better off without this guy.
I graduated from college and took off for another summer in Europe, another odd chapter of the wilderness years. A summer that saw me ending up in some truly odd situations. This was at the height of the wildness years, where I had no fixed place where I was all the time but I hadn’t found my home yet.
It was still the phase of things were I was running away from life, not towards it.
The people who gave me the first internship recommended me for a second internship. The second one was, um, interesting. I guess that’s a good way to explain it. The internship was based in the Northeast quadrant of Washington DC, on Capitol Hill. The office for the internship was in one of the old row houses.
I walked into the office at the internship and it was like a time capsule. I don’t even think the guy who managed the whole thing even had a computer. But what was the funniest thing was that the guy was there smoking. In an office. In 1999. I mean I knew people had smoked in offices. But that was in the times when men called women “broads,” men wore hats, red meat was good for you and women had few if any rights. Something told me they would have loved to harken back to those wonderful days.
Then there was the internship. Behind the smoke filled room was another room filled with these ancient computers. We’re not talking DOS here but they were in desperate need of an upgrade. None of them could even display most websites properly. I remember trying to check my email and it wouldn’t even display.
The building had its own let’s call them quirks. Quirks. The floor in the upstairs was slightly warped. The staircase kinda leaned. The quirky characters matched their setting. Come to think of it, I never really saw them outside of this time warped structure we all inhabited.
The women in the internship program lived together in housing provided by the organization next door to its headquarters. There were eight or nine of us living in this three story intern house. There were bunk beds. Incredibly we had no cable, no internet hook up and we shared a phone. All eight or nine of us. One phone. What was funny was that the house was directly next to the headquarters of the internship, separated by a fence. My big decision was to just cross over the fence or walk around it. The decisions you make as a 22 year old.
Our neighbor was an old man named Finnegan. Finnegan. Another old crank. Finnegan was a photographer. Who photographed the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We’ll get to the origin story of that joke in a little while. I’m kidding, but only slightly. The guy had photographed Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. Teddy may have been a little before his time. But only slightly. He had photographed Eisenhower and probably every president after that.
And boy Finnegan was cranky. Vintage cranky. He has ties older than me cranky. When I found out that Finnegan was a photographer, I thought I could pick his brain about that. Finnegan though was having absolutely none of that. Absolutely none of it. He told me curtly that back in his day, of daguerreotypes and magnesium flare flashes, you got two tries to get a picture right. I’m kidding about Finnegan making daguerrotypes but he wasn’t that far removed from that. Finnegan had a lot of grievances about modern photography. I mean what what this bullshit about having 36 exposure film???? In Finnegan’s day, with his Graflex Speed Graphic, he got his ten shots and he didn’t complain. A journalist had come to interview Finnegan about being a historical figure on Capitol Hill. That person had taken ten rolls of 36 exposure film. Finnegan was completely horrified by this.
Then there was our stipend. The condition was that we had to keep the place clean and we all got the princely sum of $263 a week. We would receive a check that could only be cashed at an ancient bank on Capitol Hill. The bank was near Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, so on payday, you’d have a bunch of 22 year olds with nearly $250 dollars in cash on them. I mean direct deposit already existed. People weren’t getting physical checks anymore. But as I said, the place wanted to hang on to ancient ways of doing things and no, they were not looking to change anything.
We were all assigned these news stories to research, things that the two who ran the internship wanted us to report about, I guess. The topics were, um, weird. Let’s say they were to the right of what I believed, what I currently believe. My topic was about press leaks and Ken Starr. Ken Starr and his office leaking things to the press. Ken Starr leaking. I don’t even remember. And Ken Starr. Who ever remembers that name? It was that long ago. The topics definitely had a certain stance to them, let’s put it that way. A certain right leaning stance. Yes. Let’s definitely put it that way.
There was this unpleasant little man who worked there as well. One day I did say that I had no interest in the topic I had been assigned. This little unpleasant man said that journalism was about writing about things you have no interest in. I said eventually I wanted to write about my opinions. This person said that opinions were like buttholes. Everyone has them. Except he used a different, more colorful term. This was the first time anyone ever said this to me and unfortunately not the last.
The internship had these weekly meetings, these forums. I can only remember two of these forums. One was a guy who came to talk to us worked for C-Span. I had read a magazine article about how C-Span had the worst green room of all of the television stations in Washington. My fellow internship mates dared me to ask this semi obnoxious question. I’m 22, have zero brains, few inhibitions and aim to be outrageous. Remember the prefrontal cortex isn’t done developing until you are 25 and we were a ways off from that. So I asked him why this magazine said that C-Span had the worst green room of all of the television stations in DC. The guy who was there though was very gracious and answered my question very well, talking about how C-Span did so much with such a tiny budget. In a weird way, it was my first lesson in maturity and being diplomatic. I remembered this lesson for a long time after that.
Another session was memorable for all the wrong reasons. We were supposed to write up the sessions in a journalistic way. Well I found this out later. So the unpleasant man I had mentioned before looked at something I had written and had all sorts of negative comments. Eye rolls. He sits there and goes — you put all the important stuff at the bottom. Proceeds to give me a dressing down. Lengthy dressing down. “Here. You did this all wrong.” “Put THIS at the top, not THIS.” Audible eye roll. I call this my introduction to journalism. Spectacular. How auspicious.
I’m making the internship out to be a miserable experience but really absolutely it was not. I mean parts of it weren’t great but a lot of it was a lot of fun. We went out constantly because there was absolutely nothing to do in that house. Remember, this was the era before smartphones. Smartphones were called “going out.” Wow. I sound really bitter and old.
Anyway, we did in fact have a lot of fun. One of my fellow interns, still an extremely dear friend of mine, was working for Robert “Prince of Darkness” Novak, a Washington DC pundit and columnist. Yes, that was his real nickname. Yes. Novak was a total Washington character. A veteran of smoke filed rooms and dinners at the Old Ebbitt Grill.
Through my friend, Novak invited the interns to a taping of his show, the Capital Gang. Novak was part of this weekly political round table with other aged pundits. There were liberals Al Hunt and Mark Shields. Novak was on the opposite side with old Pat Buchanan, veteran of the Nixon and Reagan White House’s and a guy who got into a fist fight with a Washington DC police officer.
For the show taping, the interns had to sit on the side of the studio. I remember basically sitting on the floor. Novak kept calling my friend, who was his intern, by the wrong name. Amani???? Amoni???? Novak might have had a really fierce nickname but he wasn’t so fierce in person. We all thought what Novak was doing was pretty fun.
The banter on the Capital Gang was really premium. To sound like an old codger here for a second, people like Laura Ingram and Tucker Carlson are such imposters compared to people like Novak, Hunt and Shields. I can’t imagine Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingram going toe to toe with a rank and file Democratic pundit now. It wouldn’t be a discussion of any real issues.
The proceedings at the show taping were really fun. Hunt, Shields and Novak kinda sat there and play-fought during the show taping. There was nothing hateful or malicious about any of them. At one point, Hunt turns to Novak and says — Bob, you remember the Lincoln-Douglas debates. I mean you were there, right??? I have continually repeated this line since then. Thank you Al Hunt for making this joke. Those guys were FUNNY. Meanwhile, the interns were given strict instructions not to laugh because it would interfere with the taping of the show. Did we laugh??? Of course we did.
The other thing that I remember was that Novak, Hunt and Shields were actually nice to us. Novak, for all of his bluster and his unfriendly nickname was actually a pretty nice guy. We all took a picture together as well, which is unfortunately lost to the sands of time.
I had joined up with this internship program that promised that I could an internship in a place like CNN. I got there and they said (and I will never forget this) that we can get you into the Alexandria Gazette Packet. I am in no way dragging that newspaper but it was really disappointing as they had advertised themselves as a place that could place you in all of these really impressive news organizations. I ended up at the Herndon Connection.
Once I got the assignment though, it did turn out to be fortuitous. It 1999, I guess the waning years of big journalism, before social media took everything over and media started to crater. The news room at Connection Newspaper was buzzing. I still remember. It was in this anonymous building in Northern Virginia, among a lot of those buildings that look like overturned shoe boxes. There were scores of people working there, old style newspaper editors. I got paired up with this classic journalism crank named Sanford Horn. Oh was Sanford ever cranky. If you could harness the crankiness of this man, you could power a city. He would pick up the phone and say “SANFORD HORN” right into the phone, almost as if speaking in capital letters. For some reason, they put me with Sanford. On one of my first day shadowing Sanford, Sanford handed me a folder of stories and said — these are my dogs. What Sanford meant was that these were the stories Sanford had no interest in writing.
Still, I was undeterred. I had always loved to write and thought of myself as quite good at it. It was a skill I had gotten quite good at very quickly and could do it with relative ease. Could I drive a car or keep a house organized? Can I not answer in the interest of not incriminating myself? But I could always write. That was a solid skill for me.
The whole point of the Connection experience was to get “clips.” Clips, for the younger audience, are samples with your name on them with your writing. Samples containing your byline. Backtracking here for a minute, the colorful characters at my post college internship told me that the writing I had done at my wonderful college internship didn’t officially count as clips. Because my name wasn’t on them.
Connection turned out to be a really good career move, as much as I thought I was “too good” to work in a local newspaper. HA!!! Honestly I paid no attention to Sanford’s editorializing about the stories. I interviewed a bunch of retired women about the bike ride they took around Scandinavia. I interviewed another guy about his butterfly collection. I went to a high school band concert. It was real community journalism. In my mind, there’s something so innocent and idyllic about that time in my life.
There was a big group of us over there. We would all go out to lunch with another intern over there named Jesse. He had a Volkswagen Beetle that had holes in the floor. He loved telling us that the car was an antique and didn’t need to follow any modern car standards, including the holes in the backseat floor where you could see the road. At lunch time, we would fight to see who got to sit in the back so we could observe the holes.
So I left with six or seven clips. I’m not talking that those were my six or seven best. I had six or seven clips total.
Again I cannot overstate how confusing the post college time is. It felt like to me that there was absolutely nothing. I cannot put into words how confused I was about what I was supposed to do or where I was even supposed to work. I returned to New York to live with my parents and work at truly one of the most horrible jobs I have ever worked at.
At that time the prevailing narrative was that needing your parents or even being close to them was for the stupids. I was 22, going on 23. The whole thing, at least among the group I belonged to, was that listening to your parents or going to them for advice made you childish.
No one, no ever tells you how hard the post college time is. You are done with the first part of your schooling and you are not really sure what is coming next. Its that uncertainty that causes the maximum amount of anxiety.
Little Edie, who I have talked about before, had talked me into moving back to Washington. I mean I don’t know if I needed much convincing. I had wanted to stay in DC but I had also wanted to be close to my parents. Or maybe I didn’t want to be close. I had no idea.
I moved back to DC. The place I lived in was miserable. It really was. It turns out Little Edie had sorta conned me into moving there. As soon as I moved down there, she vanished. She was gone to her boyfriend’s and I was alone. At that age though, it felt like I was alone, always alone.
The awfulness of the place cannot be overstated. I remember sitting in the living room. There was this absolutely pathetic red futon. There was a tv on the floor, an old white television. It was an old, beat up television. There was no furniture other than that. I had a bed with no bed frame and no box spring. My bed was held up by a stack of bricks. The carpet in my room was filthy. The shower was broken and consistently leaked into the living room, to the point where I put a large bucket underneath the area it leaked into so the floor wouldn’t warp more than it already had. The toilet hadn’t been installed properly, so the floor underneath it sagged a bit. From downstairs, you could see the ceiling sagging where the toilet was. Oh and I almost forgot the hole in the ceiling. Giant hole. And little Edie’s role in all of this??? Zero. She was gone.
I remember thinking — I’m going to have to earn furniture. I’m going to have to earn a couch, a coffee table, a shelf. Needless to say, again, Little Edie played no part in any of this.
Oh and I didn’t have a job when I moved there. I had some savings and the rent was insanely cheap, $400 a month.
So I was sending out job applications. I sound like an ancient person but applying for a job wasn’t like it is now, where you use some stupid system with some name like Bullfrog or Simple but the name has a Q in the middle to upload your resume and then re-type what is in your resume. Companies were just getting email. I remember applying to a job via fax. One big Washington publication called Congressional Quarterly actually required that you mail them the application. Mail. With a stamp. Those were the days.
There was a job board in the Hill newspaper and Journalism Jobs. I dutifully sat in a Kinkos on Capitol Hill, using their computer to send out applications. I sent out so many applications and had quite a few interviews, most of which I don’t remember.
But there was one that I do remember. It was some kind of a non profit near Pennsylvania Avenue. I got out of the interview and I had a voicemail from the office manager from some place called Tax Analysts or Tax Notes. I don’t remember which she even said. Yeah I had a cell phone. It made phone calls. That was its bell and whistle. Notice I used the singular.
And yet again in a moment that could only happen in Washington DC, the day I got the call to go to Tax Analysts, when I was on Pennsylvania Avenue, everyone, I mean EVERYONE on the street was staring at something. Suddenly a car slows down and the window rolls down and we see President Bill Clinton. Clinton was over there laughing and waving at everyone. Somehow after all of this turmoil, this felt good.
Back to this tax place. I remember applying for the job. I remember it was based in Northern Virginia. Everything else was based in DC. This was the only thing outside of the city. I remember thinking — watch. This is the job I’ll actually get.
I had no clue about the area. I was disappointed because it wasn’t DC. Northern Virginia. What was that exactly?
I got up early for the interview and actually got there early. The orange line to West Falls Church. I think that was the terminus for the orange line then. The place was at East Falls Church. The building was on Lee Highway. I actually got there way before the interview. These were the days when there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner. Lee Highway didn’t have anything for that matter. So I walked into a bar at 10am and asked for a cup of coffee.
I got to the interview. I looked around at this place. There was this wood paneling around the whole place. It wasn’t sleek. It resembled a den. I had an interview with Chris Bergin, who was the editor of the magazine at the time. The whole editorial staff was there at the time. A very pleasant looking blond woman. A bespectacled guy with brown hair. And a guy who looked slightly upset to be there, wearing athletic shorts and a t-shirt with a drawing of a basketball on it. This was a formal job interview?? Basketball shorts????
The interview was kinda fun. I went with my six clips from connection newspapers, the six I had. They told me I would be working as a formatter, whatever that was. In my overeagerness to find a job that I had applied for a reporting position, which I was absolutely not ready for. According to them, it would be formatting with reporting opportunities. They reassured me that when the reporting opportunities came, I could ask any question I needed about tax law and they would answer them. Whatever this formatting job was, I was ready for it. 23 and eager to please.
It seemed like they were going to hire me so we took a short walk around the office. I would be a formatter for a magazine called Highlights and Documents, H&D. I’m being shown around and the office kinda looks like a teenager’s bedroom. An edgy teenager. There was some kind of stuffed animal attached to the wall. There was a 1960s movie poster for a movie where the tag line was “Come to Susanne, both sacred and profane.” There was a bottle of a substance called “Go Away Evil.” That substance was rapidly dissolving so I guess the level of evil was rising. There was a couch that had seen much better days. There was one of those televisions in that room that was the size of a small suitcase. I’m not sure of the last time that television had even been turned on. It was one of those televisions that people turn into fish tanks now.
There was a profoundly sacrilegious sign on the wall. Right there in front of me was a sign that said — Warren A* Rojas. Underneath that, next to an asterisk, it said “The A stands for Anti-christ.” If that wasn’t funny enough, underneath that it said “crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!” For years I had no idea where that quote came from. I thought maybe it was from the Bible. No. It turned out to be from Conan the Barbarian.
But the thing that really sold me on the job was a picture of two dachshunds on the wall. It was a very formal portrait, like something you’d see of a person’s kids but it was of dogs. Those dogs belonged to Herman Ayayo, the guy in the athletic shorts. I thought — this is where I want to work. That picture was what did it for me.
And this is the end of part one. Stay tuned for part two, which is currently being drafted.
Oh and some pictures. I have thousands of pictures that have never been displayed up here, as they are from the time before I had the blog. They are from the time before blogs in general. Some of them are DC-ish. Some of them are not. I guess this goes with my tendency to photograph everything, whether its interesting or not. Here you go:
Recently I went on a book buying spree. I am by nature a reader. My idea of heaven is just sitting in a bookstore. I’m not trying to do some intellectual flex here. I just love how books let you enter in worlds that are unfamiliar and take you out of your every day life.
The pandemic stopped me from reading. Something about it just made it impossible to concentrate on whatever I was reading, so I just stopped reading for a while. I mean not that I completely gave up reading. I read the Globe, the New York Times and The Washington Post every day. Again, not a flex. I just like to read.
So I went on this book buying spree and realized sorta just coincidentally I had bought four books about people or things related to Massachusetts or Boston. I got two books about Henry Adams, grandson and great grandson of presidents and the author of sardonic little tome called “The Education of Henry Adams.” I also bought a book by William Bulger, the former president of the Massachusetts state senate and brother to James “Whitey” Bulger. The last book I bought though, is where the blog entry title comes from and where we’ll kinda go from here on out. It’s called “The Game” and it’s about the famous game between Harvard and Yale in 1968 where the teams tie with 42 seconds left. There’s also an excellent documentary about it that I will make extensive references to in the following paragraphs.
On Friday night, I went to a Boston University hockey game. A very good friend, almost like family, was in town with his family and his tiny little daughter and they wanted to go to a sports event. Tickets to games at TD Garden cost the equivalent of a car payment now so I used my university connections, if I even have any, to get us tickets to the game. Being an honored employee of the university I got us extremely good seats, right behind the goal. And wow, it was extremely action packed game. And a great time overall.
As soon as the game started, BU was already down by two goals against the Providence College Friars. Because it was so easy to get the tickets, I figured the place would be deserted but it was the opposite. The cheering was the loudest I have ever heard and it included a full on university marching band, which played every single time they scored a goal and considering that each side seemed to score a goal every five seconds, we heard that band a lot. A LOT.
I’m kinda corny and sentimental and I sat there and thought about all that it had taken for me to get to that moment. In the Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 movie, one of the football players says that playing for that team in 1968 was like having the quintessential college experience, with the pep rallies and the cheering. I mean as a kid I bought this, that this is how my college experience was going to be, and it absolutely was not. I didn’t go to the college I wanted to go to and kinda sank into a depression about that for many years afterwards. I wanted to go to BU, but well, for that I’d have to wait.
My friend Arturo, who has the self control of a puppy, was telling everyone that I worked at the university, which of course I do. And for me, I was proud for those seconds realizing this. I had not had the quintessential college experience. I had in my mind had a very mediocre college experience at a place I had no interest in attending. But here I was at this hockey game that was so much fun having that experience finally. Except this time as an employee, a teacher at the university.
I’m a sports fanatic too, which I don’t really wave a flag about. I always say that people who come to my house would be shocked by the amount of ESPN I watch. As I’ve written about before on this blog, my FAVORITE documentary series is called 30 for 30. Some of those documentaries I can quote from memory. The Patrick Ewing-Reggie Miller rivalry with Spike Lee kinda thrown in there, the Winning Time documentary, that is imprinted somewhere on my soul. My other favorite is one about the St Louis Spirits ABA basketball team, featuring Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, where the legend looks into the camera and says — I played great, as usual.
Lately though, I’ve been into this slightly more introspective, quiet documentary called “Of Miracles and Men,” which is the story of the hockey victory of the United States against the Soviet Union told from the other side, speaking to the Soviet players who lost the game. And some of them let me say have not quite processed that loss, even some 40 plus years since it happened. At one point, the filmmaker asks the Soviet team captain if he had seen the movie “Miracle” about the victory. This very gruff looking, very serious former Soviet hockey player looks into the camera and says — why would I watch that????? I’m going to watch a good movie, not some movie about how we lost. On Friday night, I looked up at the rafters in Agganis Arena and there’s a banner up there featuring the names of the four Boston University hockey players that played in that game, including Mike Eruzione, who actually scored the winning goal in that game, the team that went on to win an Olympic gold medal. I had already been born when that game took place, but yeah, we were behind the Iron Curtain when it took place and I guess by default would have been cheering for the Soviet Union, as you know, a three year old. I mean even then I knew one day I’d be sitting under a banner featuring the names of the players from that game, watching a game take place at the university they all came from. Yes. I knew this. (of course not)
That’s kinda what I love about all of this. Sports is nothing more than stories about people and human stories. Loss, redemption. All the things that make us human.
OK, yes, finally here are some photos of the Boston University Terriers having the time of their life on Friday night. Every time they scored a goal, I would yell out — Ecstasy reigns on the Boston University side!!!! And oh did ecstasy reign many times on Friday night:
It’s taken me a bit to put together this entry. I guess the inspiration started from a friend asking me to send him some photos of our times together. I guess when I started looking around for these, I realized how many pictures I had to taken of just random people hanging around places, just doing their own things, going about their lives not bothering anyone in particular. I wondered if I could string all of these pictures into some kind of a narrative. I’ll try my best to do that here.
In 1996, I took the only photography class I have ever taken in my life. I’ve been a photographer for over 25 years but I’ve never actually taken a single photography class. I was a journalist for seven years and never studied journalism, save for a 20 minute dressing down from a rather unpleasant character who was part of a post college journalism program I went to. In September of this year, it will have been 14 years in the classroom, teaching and I have taken maybe one class in education. So this is a well established pattern for me, I guess.
So history of photography. The class was taught by a nice looking photography teacher with quite a nice head of hair. Maybe that’s why the class was memorable. No but in all seriousness, Bill Jaeger, the guy teaching the class, would go through all of these historical photos and tell us about them. We started with Nicéphore Niépce, the first person who actually captured an image on some kind of semi permanent medium. The idea of a “camera” had existed since man discovered that light could pass through a small hole and projected onto a wall or ultimately a canvas. Many of the very detailed pictures made during the Renaissance were done in such a way. Human beings had long sought a way to register these images onto a permanent medium, experimenting with different chemicals to make that image permanent.
The class was amazing as we passed from photography as innovation to photography as documentation to photography as art. We explored a lot of ideas in the class, in a way sort of forming our aesthetic, which in a way developed then. I like spare, minimalist things. Recently a dear friend came to stay with me and she left this very elaborate looking bottle of face wash. I realized how it clashed with everything in my bathroom. I have a black bar of soap in a soap dish that looks like a claw footed tub. It’s a tribute to my former residence, Chez Kelton, with the claw footed tub. It is still really spare and minimalist. Even the beauty products I use correspond to my own aesthetic. I’m embarrassed to admit this but I like to buy minimalist beauty products for the packaging. My face wash is from a company called Glossier, whose products I really like, mostly because of the packaging. This even trickles down into my style of dress. My current favorite piece of clothing is a navy blue pullover from Lacoste I got at a thrift store in my neighborhood. It’s a simple piece of clothing but I am currently in love with it. It has a great design and is status without being openly status. Uh, we went off on a tangent. Back to the photography talk.
As we went through the different photos by the different photographers, I got to see what aesthetic appealed to me. Some aesthetics, I really didn’t like but some others I really liked. One whose aesthetic I really liked was August Sander. Sander’s mission was to photograph the people of 1920s and 1930s Germany, looking specifically at how people of different professions carried themselves. The photos have this very sparse, spare look to them, very straightforward and dare I say it, German look about them. The whole thing utterly fascinated me, him having access to these people and photographing them in these beautiful ways. I became intrigued by this whole notion, a gathering of all of these people, all those little stories.
At the time as well, the university library had a section in it with all of these photography books. They had an excellent collection of books. Usually I’d be in the library trying to write some kind of a political science essay and deep into the photography books. You see anyone who wants to pursue art as a career is told that you will starve, never make it, never make money, so I never considered photography as a career for one second. You get a degree in art history, get ready to flip burgers for a living. There was a joke around that time — what do art history majors say after college??? You want fries with that? So I chose political science, which I figured was sorta sensible, but I spent a lot of time in that photography section, looking at the books. Maybe a welcome break from the essays about campaign finance reform.
In that section, I discovered a book called “All The Right People,” by a photographer named Barbara Norfleet. Its a really obscure book and it had a bigger impact on me than any other photography book. Odd considering the availability of all of the greatest photography books ever created. Helmut Newton, Avedon, Peter Lindberg and I like this little obscure book. The book is about the American upper class. We’re not talking Bill Gates money. We’re talking whaling and rum money, people who use summer as a verb and say “grandfather” without the article in front of it. Over time I’ve realized living in Boston, I have been to a lot of the places that are chronicled in the book, but it’s not that that appealed to me about the book. It was the access the photographer had to this utterly closed world. That’s what really intrigued me, that you have access to places you would never get to go if you didn’t have a camera in your hand. I’ve lived this many times as a photographer, from my days of reporting on Capitol Hill to photographing parties at Harvard.
Another idea also rattles around in my head. I am absolutely not a part of any groups. I’m Polish, born in Łódź, a town I feel a slight affinity towards, as it is where I was actually born but I don’t know the place very well. We didn’t stay in Łódź for long and I mainly grew up in New York City in the 1980s, a place I feel a huge affinity for, a time I feel a huge affinity for. I lived in so many places before settling in Boston and those have had a huge impact on me, but I am not one of any of those places. Most people look around and see people who are exactly like them, socially, culturally, ethnically. But that was never true for me. Socially, culturally, ethnically I was never a part of anything. I was never around people who were actually similar to me ethnically or culturally. I was the perpetual outsider, looking in. I think that transformed me into a keen watcher of people. I’m not of anywhere so I can be a watcher, an observer and it is a role I have always enjoyed. I think my perpetual role as an outsider suited me perfectly. When we are of a place, we don’t see it’s myriad of quirks and differences. Since I am of no place, the observer position is a natural for me. Of late though, I have become of a place and I have found a group of people who I am actually a part of.
I guess over my years of taking pictures, I became an August Sander or Barbara Norfleet of my own, but maybe in a much more candid way. My goal as a photographer was always to take candid photos of people doing what they are doing. I really hate posed photos. Capture people as they are naturally, not posing. Posed is boring. I had a coworker who was a photographer and he told me once that I was a more photojournalistic type of person while he is more of a studio guy. I took it as he preferred more posed pictures, which you know ok fine for you. Anyway, my recent stroll through my old photos made me realize I had created my own chronicle of candids, photos of the world, people going about their daily business with me there snapping away. So enjoy what I call “The World” through my observational eye:
I know. The title is colorful and I promise, if you keep reading, it shall all become clear to you. I promise. Keep reading. Or don’t. Scroll down to just skip all of this awesome prose I am pouring out here and go right to the photographs.
Great. You decided to stay. Get ready for the (meandering) ride of your life.
Recently I saw that a book called “The Orange Line” had been published about you guessed it, THE ORANGE LINE. Well, which orange line do you ask? The orange line in Boston that is, the area that I live in. I was immediately interested in this. First of course because of the photography aspect, but also because of the nature of the project.
A photographer named Jack Lueders-Booth photographed the old elevated orange line just before the elevated train was taken down in 1987 and the train was taken underground. What Lueders-Booth did was take the pictures with a 8 by 10 view camera. For those of you who don’t spend your spare time spelunking through YouTube videos about historic cameras, an 8 by 10 view camera is one of those old fashioned cameras with that little hood you throw over you before you take the photo. Forget medium format, 35mm or digital. This is a serious commitment. Can’t fit your phone into your jacket??? How about lugging around a camera that is the size of large toaster oven. OK yes, I’m American and yes I will use anything except the metric system. LOL.
Anyway, from this project Lueders-Booth produced this beautiful chronicle of the neighborhood’s and the people on the old orange line. He met the people that lived in the neighborhoods, transit workers, just documented life in those areas before it was all utterly changed. It was a strange experience for me looking through that book because the places look somewhat familiar but at the same time completely unfamiliar to me. The city has changed that much in the 35 or so years since the pictures had been taken.
The portraits in the book are beautiful and this incredible chronicle of a place that was about to change, drastically. Like the photography nerd that I am, I sat there with rapt attention watching Lueders-Booth talking about his book in a lecture on YouTube, hearing the stories of how he had gotten his photos. As is usual in these situations, I was consumed with horrible jealousy. No not really but I thought what an incredible project this would be to be able to do. I always say that if I could have anything in my life, it would be to have a year off to do a photography project. That would be my biggest wish. Me, a fully funded year and my myriad of cameras. That’s all I want.
Kind of though inadvertently I realized I had done my own mini Orange Line photography project, without even knowing it.
After college, as I have mentioned up here many times, I lived on Capitol Hill. My post college life was extremely complicated and full of all kinds of complicated, difficult emotions. I loved living on the hill but I didn’t have a community up there. Once I left, I never really went back. If I had had a community up there, I’d probably still be living there now.
The hill itself at the time was a really fascinating place. Again my complex emotions come into play when I talk about it. At the time I lived in this house that cost $400 a month in rent and believe me, I got what I paid for. There were bars on the windows. Famously, as I have mentioned before, the living room had a hole in the ceiling, a rather sizable one.
My roommate at the time was in this deep denial that she actually lived there. My erstwhile friendship with this roommate of mine is inextricably linked to my complex feelings about Capitol Hill. My roommate at the time kinda styled herself as a rich person, except she lacked the one thing rich people usually possess. She didn’t have any actual money. She’d been raised with by her own telling a lot of money and acted like she still had that money. What I didn’t know at the time, what I could not have known at the time was that her family had experienced a financial reversal. Still she held on to her money loving ways. She was Edith Bouvier Beale, who had been presented to New York society at the Pierre Hotel, little Edie. Except little Edie now had to ride the D6 bus, the one that runs from Union Station to my old house on Capitol Hill. To this decrepit old house on Capitol Hill. She was on the bus and she wasn’t too happy about it.
Capitol Hill Little Edie would come home and point to things on the TV screen and ask why our house didn’t have whatever expensive thing was on the screen at the time. It took me years to realize that little Edie really thought she was still a debutante at the Pierre and not living in that house. Life at the house really did resemble Grey Gardens, the documentary where the world met the real Big and Little Edie, except our house wasn’t full of raccoons and feral cats. I’m also not sure if I was really Big Edie in that place. I think maybe I was more of a Joe Pesci straight talking kinda character trying to knock some sense into poor lost little Edie.
Little Edie though would decamp for her boyfriends most of the time, leaving me to kinda have the place to myself, which suited me just fine. As I said, Capitol Hill was an incredibly interesting place at the time, full of surprises. Being there at the time, you could almost feel that a big change was about to come to the area, that gentrification was absolutely on its way. But first, I was going to capture what the place was like before that all happened.
My usual weekend routine was to grab a camera and kinda just walk around the neighborhood. I’d walk over to Eastern Market or I’d just go over to the little supermarket towards the Capitol or the Safeway that was towards Bladensburg Road.
So I’m going to do my kinda mini-exhibit here and kinda tell everyone about this funny, weird little corner of Washington DC I was so blessed to have called home between the ages of 23 and 26. I have chosen some specific pictures for this entry. I did not curate them. We do not use that word here at the blog.
Well another entry about my journey back into film, so buckle up. As I always say, scroll down if prose is not your thing. There are some pretty pictures down there. I promise.
So why this title?? What exactly is a Holga and why am I writing about it? Let’s take a trip back in time. Picture it — Albany New York 1997. I had joined the college yearbook, kinda on a whim after talking to a guy about it in our college dorm cafeteria. I had loved photography for a long time and had done some, primarily with an all automatic camera my parents had bought me. I made a lot of mistakes and I wanted to learn but I thought taking a class would be too intense and I really wasn’t sure if I could handle it. Moreover, I had this weird idea that I was still the same person as I was in high school, not the “photography” type. I don’t know why I thought this. Maybe I was just this little academic nerd that on the surface didn’t have an artistic bend.
I loved the yearbook or Photo Service from the get go. The yearbook was mostly an opportunity for the editor in chief to create a portfolio for themselves and for once in my life, that didn’t bother me, at all, even a little bit. I was there to learn without the commitment of taking an actual photography class. I still use a lot of the things I learned in photo service now, the real principles of composition, light and shadow and photographic dynamism.
One day, one of the people I was in photo service with said — the Holgas are here. They had ordered a whole bunch of these cameras. If I had known what they were I would have ordered one. A Holga is this kind of plastic box camera, like a Kodak Brownie. Picture below, if you’ve never seen one of those. I did not take this photo. A box camera is the most basic type of camera available. It is quite literally a box with a hole it in, like an old camera obscura which is not a camera either, rather, you guessed it, a paper with a hole in it projecting the image of a scene with light on it. Ever seen one of those extremely detailed paintings of the Grand Canal in Venice by Tintoretto and wonder how did this man paint that??? Well, with a camera obscura. Kodak brownie for scale:
The Holga is that but the image is recorded on medium format film. It is SLIGHTLY more advanced that the Kodak Brownie but not by much. It has two modes and one shutter speed. The average iPhone has more features. Eh, but who wants that. The thing though is that the Holga is constructed sorta like a point and shoot camera. The other medium format cameras are twin lens reflexes where you have to look down to compose. Don’t get me wrong. My Rolleicord is a beautiful piece of machinery but sometimes you just wanna have some low-fi fun.
The low-fi fun is part of the charm of the Holga. You have to duct tape the sides to prevent light leaks but hey, if they happen, they happen. And yeah, the camera looks like a Fisher Price toy camera. Oh and these are called toy cameras. A picture of a Holga, that I did not take for you to see what one looks like:
Yup. That is a real camera that takes film. Anyway, I spent a few months with my Holga at my side, shooting whatever I saw. I got some light leaks in there. Those aren’t some Instagram “filter.” That is real life. Why do they call those things “filters,” They are effects. UH. My perturbed-ness about that is fodder for another entry. Anyway, Holga Times call for some Holga fun. Fun with the Holga, directly below:
Yeah, yeah, I have fallen behind with the blog updating. WAY behind, but I’m feeling creative again, so well, the blog writing is restarting.
Last year, we went on our annual family vacation to the Cayman Islands, after a lay off of a few years. Unfortunately the covids closed the island and even getting there last year involved a lot of steps. A LOT. I will not detail them here and I completely understand why the island took such precautions. They’re a small island with comparatively fragile infrastructure, so they were right to be careful.
We did make it back to the island and there was something different about this visit. I think it was because we hadn’t been there for a while. Now we stay in the same resort every time we visit and it’s a lot of fun. There’s this revolving cast of animals that visits us. One day a cat and a chicken came to join us for our evening meal. My mother threw a piece of chicken out for the cat and the chicken came and ate it. I started saying — come on. You could be eating a friend!!!!!
The other thing about the island was that I didn’t have any cell signal there. At first I thought I was going to absolutely go out of my mind. As soon as we left the resort, there would be no cell signal. I would still take my phone with me, for some reason. I would scroll Instagram aimlessly, just to see it never update. Comical, I know.
Something started happening though after a few days. It was almost like I was going through detox. The phone is like constantly staring at a television. I mean that’s what it is basically. Suddenly that television was off. I cannot even describe the clarity I felt. I slept better than I had in years. It was a revolution. Of course as soon as I got off the plane, I went back to my phone staring ways. I do feel like though that I do need that yearly phone detox now.
Ok, we’re all the way down here and no mention of the iguanas. Ok now we’re going to get to them.
So the blue iguana is a miniature dinosaur looking creature that resides in the Cayman Islands. No one is sure why they are blue and no one really knows why they chose the Cayman Islands. I mean I’d live there if I could, so obviously the little guys might be on to something. We first started going to the Cayman Islands in 2012. That’s when we first encountered the blue iguanas. At that time, they lived in the Queen Elizabeth II Royal Botanic Park on the island. I mean more accurately, they kinda hung around the park, while the people who worked there, threw them a lettuce leaf or two.
That’s what always got me. The blue iguanas look fierce. They look like extreme predators but in reality, they are just chill little guys and gals who look like they are wearing wet suits that are too big for them and have little Popeye arms. Even though I do make it out to be slightly comical, the little guys were in danger then. When we started coming to the island, there were 25 of those blue iguanas. Their numbers were dwindling quickly. They had a lot of predators, including cats and you know, people.
The blue iguanas though have some pretty prominent friends. One of the iguanas who lives at the park, who goes by the name Peter, got to meet a certain British prince. I read a news story that Peter got to meet (at the time) Prince Charles at the park named after his mother. I asked one of the park employees about it and she said he showed in a tweed suit not really suited to the tropical temperatures of the Cayman Islands. I was going to include a picture here of the encounter here, but you can Google it. Type in “Prince Charles Blue Iguana” and you’ll see a British prince of a certain age laughing hysterically at the sight of Peter the Iguana wearing his ill fitting scaly blue reptile suit. Seriously, do it. You usually see (King) Prince Charles looking sorta formal and dour, but the blue iguana put him in a good mood or jolly as our across the pond cousins like to say.
So we’ve established that the blue iguana tends to put people in a good mood. So when we visited the last year, the blue critters had their accommodations upgraded. Considering that I once saw a blue iguana hanging out by a trash heap in the park, this was a real upgrade. The blue iguanas became the Jeffersons and if you get that reference, you are probably due for your annual colonoscopy.
The blue guys have experienced their own resurgence. Through the great work of the Blue Iguana Conservation program, the blues are back with a vengeance, as much as they can be. There are 500 or so of them running around the island now and their numbers are growing. Cute, blue and resilient. All good qualities.
Anyway, on our visit in May, the blue reptiles had been moved to their own enclosures, where they could chill and hang out on rocks all day and chase bugs and be predators for leaves all day, as God intended. They seemed quite content there. We met Phoebe and Metzador and Joey, Chandler, Monica and Rachel. Just kidding. I just made those other names up. As I’m walking through that place with my mom, they told us that in a couple of days, it was blue iguana day and we could come back and feed the blue beasts.
So we dutifully returned a few days later to celebrate this most unusual of creatures. I have to say it was a really fun day. You couldn’t really describe what we were doing as feeding them. It was more like they’d give you a cup of fruit for the iguanas and you could toss in their direction and they might take an interest. Some did and some definitely did not. The best thing though that happened was when one of the blue iguana climbed up on a little perch and sorta slid down in this half hilarious, completely ungraceful way. Big cats like snow leopards are beautiful and elegant. The blue iguana, well, they have faces only a mother could love and graceful, they are not. But they do make up for it in pure charisma.
I was there with my standard 30 pounds of camera equipment to capture the blue creatures from all angles. This is definitely my favorite picture I took. I call this one “Blue Iguana Hiding from a Rich White Lady With a Giant Camera.”
Here’s the rest of the blue iguanas photo shoot. Definitely, Vogue is next for these guys.
Yeah, this is a lot of blog writing of late. You know my large blog reading public, let’s not question this. Your hero has not abandoned you. Rather, she has to dwell in the world in which she makes money to keep this little bloggy blog going.
So I’m going to write about New York and my rather complex relationship with that town. In a deviation from my usual gloomy musings, this will be a funny entry. I mean I hope this will be a funny entry. I’m doing my best here.
I recently met up with a friend who recently moved to New York from Spain. We had a great conversation about my hometown, in that I even have one of those. As I have written a myriad of entries about, I have a complicated relationship with the city of New York. Oh no, I am not writing “New York City.” That always smacks of being a non native. So with my friend, we discussed the major points about living in New York — the subway, the perpetually angry people and well, you know, food. Food plays a major part in any discussion of any place. My friend told me he really liked the pastrami at Katz’s Deli, so I know he’s got his priorities straight.
We also got onto the topic of where I grew up in Manhattan. I keep a lid on these sorts of things, but now, now I can openly admit this. I grew up on the Upper East Side. Yes. THAT Upper East Side. No, we weren’t rich. Believe me. I was there. I don’t mean weren’t “weren’t rich” in the way that our summer house was smaller than our neighbors in the Hamptons and our private jet was bought used. We weren’t poor per se but we got to live there because of the giant brain at the center of our story of coming to America. When I told my friend about my well hidden past, semi heading towards New Yorker-dom, goes — you are a Gossip Girl!!!!! Gossip Girl. Look I love a good headband, I try to keep my fashions on point when I’m not wearing sweatpants and I have severe Serena Vander Woodsen hair envy. There, I said it. When my friend and I got onto the topic of Gossip Girl, I told him the biggest secret — he needed to become familiar with this absolutely genius column that ran in New York Magazine for the entirety of the show that started as a simple recap but evolved into something totally, totally genius. It was called the Fantasy-Reality index where the in house NYMag experts evaluated whether or not the things in the weekly Gossip Girl episodes were realistic in New York or were they some kind of fantasy.
Now lemme digress here for a second. Fantasy New York has a good side and a bad side. The good side is when you see the beautiful side of the city, night shots, the remnants of the old New York. And yes, the subway is as bad as people make it out to be. I wouldn’t board unless you are up to date on all of your immunizations. People do randomly yell things at no one in particular in the city. In Coming to America, where African prince Hakeem chooses to live in Queens to find his queen, he opens his windows to greet the city dwellers in the morning and he is met by a native screaming some not family friendly language. Ok that is not fantasy.
Now the bad side. Ok, so out of town trains go to Pennsylvania station, not Grand Central. For some reason, every television and cinematic production feels the need to have people arriving from Ohio de-train in Grand Central Station. So did they switch trains and take Metro North from Wassaic or New Haven? Pennsylvania Station is an ugly little rabbit warren and I get why movies don’t want to film there. But could they put in a disclaimer saying that no Amtrak trains go to Grand Central? Next, people who work regular people jobs usually live in apartments that may have bathtubs or showers in the kitchen. It is not possible to live in a palatial apartment with an amazing view of the city on an intern’s salary, never mind the salary of a person who does something like work in media. I mean it’s possible to live in an apartment in New York on a very small salary if you aren’t really stuck on having an in unit bathroom. I’m not joking. That was a recent headline in The New York Times, when discussing the residential life situation in New York — how important is an in-unit bathroom to you? Next, you don’t meet-cute a guy in the grocery store. Or anywhere else for that matter. Oh and my personal favorite. You DO NOT cross the Queensborough Bridge when entering the city from wherever. For some reason, everyone needs to cross that bridge, whether they are coming from that direction or not.
Ok, enough. Let’s get back to our main point, thesis statement, whatever. So eventually around season 2, possibly three I started watching Gossip Girl exclusively to be able to trace the week’s New York inaccuracies. Then I would compare my list with what was on the NYMag fantasy-reality index. Oh and they called the program “The Greatest Show of Our Time.” Now you gotta understand something. To quote some guy in a funny hat I saw one time in a documentary, everyone in New York, whether you are geographically there or just there in spirit, everyone in that city is some kind of an animal. Nothing much unites us, but the fantasy-reality index united us in a way nothing ever did before. Is this hyperbole? Yeah, maybe.
Now sadly the show went off the air in 2012, and Dan Humphrey was Gossip Girl the whole time, even if a lot of the show’s plot lines wouldn’t have made sense if that were true. But I mean was I really watching the show for the plot lines? No, as is obvious from the paragraphs above. I was watching it so I could read the fantasy reality index the next day. Like a normal person.
Thankfully, the fantasy-reality index lives on in digital form and no word of a lie here, I am surprised that the thing didn’t win a Pulitzer or at the least the Nobel Prize for Literature, which can be awarded for an overall body of work. The fantasy-reality index was an absolute work of genius. NYMag is a total scream but I gotta tell you NYMag if you happen upon this blog one day, about 90% of the reason I even have a subscription to your magazine is so I can re-read the fantasy-realities indexes. After the last episode of the Greatest Show of Our Time, the writers of the index got some quotes from the actors and background people on the show. These quotes describe the index better than I ever could.
Blair had a Polish maid named Dorota and I have a bone to pick with the producers of the show about their depiction of Polish people on the show but Dorota got some choice lines, got to scheme, yelled at Blair in Polish occasionally and was played by an actual Polish person. The actress Zuzanna Sadowski had this to say about the greatest index of the Greatest Show of Our Time — I have actually been known to get to the NYMag site too early on a Tuesday and to have to refresh, refresh, refresh until the recap comes up. I know perfection can’t be rushed. In one episode of the aforementioned greatest show, Serena wore this odd dress that featured a rhombus framing her décolletage. The fantasy-reality index called it a “cleavage rhombus” and yes, I have stolen this and repurposed it for humorous possibilities.
A personal favorite of mine was an episode of Gossip Girl, where Bart Bass, who was you know, dead for a while, suddenly returns and goes to a brothel in Briarcliff. Now those of you in my reading public, Briarcliff is a tidy hamlet in an area called Westchester, where cruel fate deposited me for a rather unremarkable stint as a surly teenager. I played field hockey in Briarcliff and I will tell you this much. I saw no brothels there when I was there swinging a field hockey stick. This was a personal small laugh for me, as my time in Westchester is long over, consigned to the same trash heap as my Trapper Keeper and those Guess jeans I thought were so cool as an eighth grader. I have met in the past 20 or so years, fewer than five people from Westchester so jokes about Briarcliff, field hockey and brothels, well, I had to keep them to myself. Alas though, the fantasy-reality index was good enough to mention the Briarcliff reference and I for a second felt less alone. See, again, truly great literature has the power to unite all of us.
Well anyway, you’ve read down to here and seriously, I commend you because I have gone on for a while. As a reward, here are some fantasy looking pictures I took on a recent trip to the more realistic than fantasy town so nice they named it twice:
It’s almost funny to write this on March 927, 2020, I mean January 4, 2023, that my return to film has now lasted a few years. At first, the return to film was just kinda a way to pass the time during the pandemic where there was absolutely nothing to do.
Now for me, it’s turned into this new way to be creative. Digital is all about the post production. I call my digital camera “the mother ship.” It’s the central part of my camera ecosystem. It’s the one where the good image is guaranteed. No questions about what is coming out of it. I know what will happen when I press the button. And the digital camera is excellent for a lot of things. The night image is perfect, the moving image is beyond. There is no greater way to deliver a moving image than using a digital SLR. It is superior.
But the film cameras also fit into this ecosystem too. As is true with a lot of things in my life, I like the high and the low. You have your super powerful digital camera. Then, you have a camera that costs all of $35. That’s where the film cameras come in. A lot of them specifically have certain effects. Some just make fisheye images. Other ones split the images. Others produce cool looking squares. There are more expensive versions of these cameras, but this is really not the point. The challenge is to take the pure world around you and to distort it in one way or another. It’s not about dragging this camera to the ends of the earth. It’s all about interpreting your regular world in a new or interesting way.
A couple of months ago, I got my hands on this little camera called an Ektar 35mm half frame. Half frame cameras are interesting, as they split a 35mm frame in half, hence half frame. Yeah, that’s a dumb sentence I just wrote. But splitting a 35mm frame in half does a couple of things. First, it gives you 72 pictures on a 36 picture roll. I put a 36 roll into the half frame at the beginning of last summer and finally finished at the end of the summer. It was a really fun record of my entire summer, start to finish. It was a really cool record of my summer. Film photography is also really intentional. You have to decide to take the photo because it will cost you to develop it and it will cost you to buy your next roll. You forget you took certain images and then you get to see them later.
The most interesting, most remarkable thing though about the half frame is that it creates this old fashioned fuzzy kind of an image. It creates these stretched out, old fashioned looking image. It gives you this faded look that is really interesting. I like to read a lot about memory, how we actually memorize things and how we remember things. The thing is that those pictures do fade in our mind right after we experience things. Faded pictures of things gone by. The half frame really makes this come through clearly.
Sorry to have abandoned you, my blog reading public. I didn’t mean to. Getting photos back is a bit longer of a process these days, as I have partially returned to film. And my life has become four square miles. My work commute is short. I’m not wandering around as much as I used to, I guess. I go to work. I come home. Then on the weekends, I hang out in my neighborhood. Pathetic. LOLOLOLOLOL
Me becoming a townie is connected with this entry. I’ve become close friends with this wonderful pair named Amy and Steven Castello. They lead the church in the neighborhood I belong to. Amy grew up in Alaska and Steven in Alabama and let’s say we cannot be more different if we tried. Both of them are stellar people and they’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. I’m a part of a social class that believes that travel is key to development as a human being and people who haven’t traveled, they remain ignorant to the world. But here’s the thing about traveling, I guess the dark side of it. It can also turn into a massive pissing contest about who has been where and for how long. I’ve been to 15 different countries. I have friends who have been to 50 different countries. Are they better than me? I don’t know but I don’t think so but I’ve had it lorded over me at times that I’ve “only” been to 15 countries. “Only.” Steven and Amy though have not had the same kinds of opportunities to travel as I have but they are definitely, definitely, not ignorant of the world.
Once a week we meet for this thing called community group. It’s ostensibly a meeting to discuss the Bible, but really we just sit and talk about food. Church is one endless conversation about food. That’s all it is. I’m only half joking. This whole bible thing is relatively new for me and I’m still learning a lot of things. Recently we were reading about John the Baptist and how he preached in the wilderness. I said to Amy that it reminded me of me wandering in the wilderness. I asked Amy if there were other people wandering around in the wilderness in the Bible looking for answers and Amy goes — OF COURSE THERE ARE. I don’t know why but somehow that was comforting.
Maybe this entry is a bit about this church thing that has gradually taken over my life, which is a good thing. The more I read the Bible, the more I read about people who were lost, who experienced pain and trauma and in a way, I feel less alone in the things I went through. At our community group, I started talking about my wilderness years, my years spend wandering Europe in search of something. Was it answers to what I should do with my life? Partially yes. Was it trying to figure out where I was supposed to live? Also partially yes.
At the same community group night, I was talking about those trips I took during the wilderness years, where I’d basically disappear to Europe, Denmark, Estonia, Russia but Poland mostly for months on end and my parents really didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. At the time, I did not appreciate how unique this was. To me at the time, it just felt like something I had to do and nothing was really going to stand in my way doing it. Now I am grateful that they let me do this. To me it was absolutely not at all glamourous. I would stay with my uncle, sleeping in the bedrooms of his kids who had long moved out. It was him, my aunt and his cat, Bulwa, whose favorite spot was on his keyboard when he was trying to type. I’d go on these trips around Poland with my cousin and her then boyfriend, where we slept in the upstairs of a woman’s house, whose shower was basically a garden hose. Also unforgettable was the time we slept in a utility closet. I don’t remember it being glamorous at all.
Amy though at the community group that night, where I per usual took over with my insane stories, said that sounded really glamourous. She was raising her children while I was getting lost on the streets of Moscow or wandering the docks in Gdansk, Poland. I was also struck by the fact that my stories weren’t met with disdain and oneupmanship. There’s an appreciation amongst those people of other people’s experiences and no need to outdo them or dismiss them, which I really appreciate. And I guess we’re all wandering around looking for answers in a way and people have done this for ages, since biblical times it seems.
There would be no great meandering post like this without pictures. There are always pictures, of course. These are a lot of pictures of Poland that I took in bright color. These are my scans of my pictures from 20 plus years ago. I hate how that end of Europe, CENTRAL Europe is somehow always portrayed in gray tones. Enjoy the splash of color or the prose, or both. Your choice as you also wander the earth in search of answers.