Going to chill for a week or so, everybody. Set off on a photo excursion or three; sit half asleep somewhere and let my imagination go. Won’t be long, and then it will be Spring, thank the bleeding …
* * *
He finally had to go on vacation, they made him. “Look at all these leave hours you’ve accumulated,” his editor complained, “It’s like three years’ worth.”
“It is three years”, he told him.
“No vacation in three years and you wonder why you come in and stare at the computer for hours before you come up with the art I need.”
“You’re forgetting how often I work from home.”
“No I’m not, I’m counting those hours. But you don’t do any better there, either. And the thing is, when you do come up with something, it’s just not very good.”
And that hurt his feelings.
“You’re burned out and got artists’ block. Get out of here. Go do something.”
“Something fun for chissakes! Go someplace. I don’t want to see you back here for three weeks.”
That was Friday afternoon. The three weeks wouldn’t even start until Monday. He went home and sat on his couch in his underwear eating corn chips and watching ‘60’s sitcoms until Tuesday, not even bothering with the junk he generally killed time with on the weekends. Cultivating boredom, he called it. Only, it dawned on him sometime Monday, he wasn’t cultivating boredom at all, just thought he was. He felt disconnected, an overwhelming dread of not knowing what in the holy heck-fire to do with himself. What was the meaning of it all? What was his point?
This sense, or lack thereof, had happened before. When his collegiate idealism ran smack against reality. Life, it turned out, had flaws. The world would not change according to his expectations, and that had caught him by surprise. He had dealt with it then by running away.
He decided to run away again.
He got off his couch, showered, went down the street and had a decent breakfast. While he was doing that he booked airfare and hotels. Then he went home, checked his passport (still good), threw some clothes plus a couple drawing pads into a backpack, sent a couple emails telling a select few where he was, and left. O’Hare to Miami, Miami to Bridgetown (he felt bad about not going through Kingstown but thought he might take the boat across later), Bridgetown to ‘The Island Of The Clouds’, and checked into the Frangipani. There were certainly better places now, but he preferred his old stomping grounds. He put on his trunks and a very loose, short-sleeve shirt and a straw Panama, grabbed a beer to go at the Whaleboner, took a looping route through town past the elementary school where he was a teacher for two years, cut up the hill and used the boardwalk for a bit, grabbed another beer at Jack’s which he downed while walking along Gibbons beach, swung around on Lower Bay Road to Lower Bay Beach (heck of a lot less populated than Gibbons) and plopped down in a chair in the sand in front of Dawn’s.
About 80 degrees, light wind blowing from an achingly gorgeous aqua blue Caribbean, sun into its descent back over his shoulder. Waiter at Dawn’s brought him one of their rum concoctions. He gazed out to sea, let his mind wander. When the sun went down he drifted back along the beach, sat out on the Frangipani’s big veranda, watched the boats bob at anchor in the harbor, watched the lights twinkling off the water. Kept his mind wandering.
He repeated the same walks up the beach, sat in the same chairs, gazed out at the same sea, for several days and nights. And his mind wandered. And finally, his mind separated from his body; floated free into its own creations. An entity in and of itself, separate and unconfined, free to create. And in creating, created the artist. Created himself. He hadn’t been disconnected; he had been too connected. He hadn’t run away; he had run towards. Run into.
‘There,’ he thought to himself as the weeks passed, ‘There I am’.
* * *
BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations and rarely have anything to do with each other. Duality and such …
Face Of The Moon
She was tangential enough in her thoughts that the full Moon reminded her of the opening to an old vaudeville joke. It went, “I was on the sidewalk in front of the Plaza Hotel because that’s where I lived – on the sidewalk in front of the Plaza Hotel.” She’d heard it in an old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode about a guy who wanted people to laugh at everything he said, which proved to be a curse. In modern context it made fun of and was insensitive to homelessness and would thus be deemed inappropriate, but when the episode aired in the early 1960’s it was just dated, having first originated at least as far back as the 1920’s. Hmmmm, she thought, that joke is at least 100 years old. Whadya know. Oh wait, her rattled thoughts cycled around, the Moon.
The Moon. As full tonight as a police siren, as bright as a searchlight catching her in its beam and sending her mind backpedaling and serpentine into her own twilight zone, less on a sidewalk than an alley of some sort, not in front of the Plaza Hotel but a thousand miles away behind a motel she didn’t remember the name of, hiding in what sort of crevaces existed between the garbage and a shed, evading the face of the Moon.
The Moon. The Face of the Moon. The left eye a Sea Of Tranquility, languid, almost flirtatious. But the right eye, the Oceanus Procellarum, the Ocean Of Storms, an impact crater, one of the largest in the solar system, created by a left hook. Ragged with bruising and swelling. It was her own face.
The Moon. She shifted to another side of the shed where shadows sheltered her, allowing her mind to scatter, more old TV episodes, more cities far away, more Plaza Hotels, any kind of distraction. But from there the bright windows of houses just across an empty lot were as jarring as the Moon. She could see people walking past them, hear sporadic words from disparate conversations. In one of those houses miles away, in one of those conversations fueled by alcohol and inexplicable rage the Left Hook had orbited out of the darkness and impacted.
The Moon. If she could see her reflection there so could The Left Hook. How far had she already run? How much farther to evade it? She felt so tired. How many nights ago? Two? Three? She couldn’t remember seeing the sun, so maybe this same night? She couldn’t remember not seeing the Moon staring back at her, reminding her of her own face even as her mind tried to shift into fantasy, to an illusion of escape. She looked out to the traffic on the street; was the Left Hook cruising for her there? If she had a car she would drive and drive and drive into the darkness.
The Moon. It was too bright. It would not let her get to darkness. She gawked back at it, brought her hand gently to her face and felt her sore, swollen right eye, her Ocean Of Storms. She found herself gazing up to the Sea Of Tranquility that seemed to see her with absolute clarity. It seemed to be looking down at the motel, down into a window that led to the lobby. She could see at least two people there; two women at reception. She wondered if they had their own impact craters. If they knew about the Left Hook. If they knew what to do about its orbit. She looked back at her reflection in the Moon, into the eye of the Sea Of Tranquility, into the undamaged side of herself that would not look away and would not cower, then she got up, her head throbbing, and on shaking legs moved out of the twilight zone towards the bright lobby.
Maybe A River
The day began early in preparation for its climactic scene in which she would bury her husband of 36-and-a-half years. The ‘Happy’ pills they’d given her, which her second oldest daughter had insisted on, saw to it that her mood remained flat; neither high nor low. Her other daughter made breakfast for everybody and her son sort of hovered and kept an eye on the time and vehicle logistics. Thus, they all left for funeral services beginning at 10a, then graveside services at 1130a, and finally the luncheon provided by the church ladies at 1230p.
By 5p they would all be gone, and she would theoretically be alone – her eldest daughter and husband and two children to their home two hours away, her son and wife and toddler on a jet to their urban condo halfway across the country, and her second oldest daughter, who would make sure the ‘Happy’ pills continued, or would think she was, with her second husband and four children to their house in the rural town half hour up the road. The preacher would have tucked away his sermon on the value of a God-centered life which both she and he knew her late husband thought was a lot of hooey. The church ladies would have sent any leftovers to the shelter and cleaned up the dishes and the silverware and wiped the tables in the church basement before returning to their own families with the sense they had helped at least a little bit to allay grief. Friends who loved him would be home with their own degrees of mourning and friends who liked him would be reflecting on their own mortality and acquaintances who felt a duty to pay respects would have gone back to their routine without a second thought. It was the calculated ritual of it all that got to her. The passing she could deal with. They had both known it was coming. They had talked about it and had established context. The enormous sadness and emptiness were anticipated, like bracing before a tight curve at high speed. The slow ritual, like lying sleepless in the dark before a long trip, like waiting for surgery to start, like a forced slow dance on a fast dance floor, a half-clogged drain taking forever to empty, that drip-drip-drip was what sent her slipping upstairs and outside when her Happy-pill fixated daughter wasn’t looking. Outside to the side portico and the fresh air and the sunshine, she could breathe.
There, on one of the adjoining benches, he was waiting for her.
She wasn’t expecting him, but neither was she surprised.
He smiled, just enough to combine love with empathy. She hesitated only a moment, sat next to him, said, “It’s good to see you.”
His face brightened; until that moment she believed he wasn’t sure whether or not he should be there. “Not too soon?” he asked.
She said, “If you had asked me ahead of time I probably would have said ‘yes’. Seeing you now, you’re exactly what I need.”
He nodded. He was shy about this, she thought. But of course he would be, the artist that he was and had always been, why wouldn’t hesitancy haunt an affection simmered for decades after emerging too late. For both of them, as it happened, but longer for him.
“How long are you in town?” she asked.
He shrugged. “There’s a gallery here beginning an exhibit next week I have work in,” he said. “So that long, anyway.”
Strategically opened-ended, she thought. Of course, he’d not settled into an orbit that rooted him the way she had; a couple long term partners over the years, but no marriages and no children, other than his art. “Where are you staying.” He mentioned a cheap hotel that charged by the week. She chuckled, “Well, maybe we can do better than that,” she suggested. The side door under the portico opened, and sure enough, it was Happy-pill daughter. “This is my friend from college,” she responded to her daughter’s questioning expression. “I’ve known him even longer than I knew your father, isn’t it sweet of him to come?”
Happy-pill daughter smiled, but clearly wasn’t comfortable with this. “Mom why don’t you come in; people are looking for you.” Then added, “Both of you, please come in.”
This would not be her friend’s scene. “You go ahead, I’ll be along shortly.”
“Mom, let me help you down the stairs.”
“I said,” more sternly, “I will be along shortly. You go ahead, now.”
Happy-pill daughter grimaced in a way that deliberately conveyed her discomfort, then did what she was told.
She smiled at her friend, who smiled sheepishly back. “Give me a call day after tomorrow,” she suggested. “I’m going to need to get out of the house by then.”
He nodded. He was content. Looked at her, said, “This isn’t too Gabriel Garcia Márquez, is it?”
“Do you have a boat?”
“A yellow flag?”
She took his hand, then kissed him lightly and quickly on the cheek. “Don’t worry about it. We’re not sure there’s a river, anyway.”
Gambling On The Edge Of The Abyss
The November storm caught the stout research vessel while still in the Bering Sea and made it pay for the weeks of fair weather it had lucked into. It sent wind driven sheets of icy rain rifling into its every surface and record-breaking waves that slammed into the side and buried the bow each time it plowed into a new one. The crew huddled inside close to the survival gear which would likely do little good. Twice the captain ordered a pair of them to don safety lines and venture out to remove the ice from vital communications and radar equipment. The scientists stayed in their cabins holding on for dear life and, for the most part, throwing up, Dramamine or no Dramamine. All naiveté of the guest photographer from the National Geographic was exposed when he tried to continue photographing the event by hanging out a door. The storm first threw him into a bulkhead, then tried to sweep him overboard and would have succeeded but for the safety line one of the crew had made him attach at the last second. That same crew member saved his ass by pulling him back in even as he sacrificed both cameras around his neck, smashed as he floundered. He was soaked to the gills and shivering under three blankets back in his bunk and trying to hold on as the storm violently rolled bodies in all directions. He leaned over best he could and finally threw up onto the deck himself.
The slackening that began when the vessel rounded Unimak Island and entered the more sheltered Gulf of Alaska came on incrementally. The vessel steered towards its ultimate conclusion in Resurrection Bay as the storm began to rage past. The photographer still held tightly onto the sides of his bunk, head buried in his pillow and eyes squeezed tight. It took time before he realized the waves were no longer trying to swallow them. Even then he continued to lay there until his shivering subsided. He could hear people moving around the corridors by then; one of the crew even knocked on his door to see if he was okay. “Just waiting for my head to stop spinning,” he’d said. The ship’s doctor entered and diagnosed him with a mild concussion from his collision with the bulkhead, made him sit up and ordered him not to fall asleep. Two crewmen cleaned up the mess he’d regurgitated.
Hours, and the storm now clearly moving away as the vessel steamed to the northeast, hugging the coast where the waters were calmer. He retrieved his two smashed cameras – they would never capture another image, but it looked like their memory cards were OK. He had one camera left, albeit his least favorite. He tried to stand up; not bad, not bad. He managed a trip to the head; began to feel steadier. He attached his big telephoto to that last camera and moved slowly towards the deck.
“You dared stare into the abyss,” the captain said to him in something of a parental tone. “And God will not be photographed.” He couldn’t say anything to that. He thought about it now and understood not only how foolish he’d been but how he’d potentially endangered others, all for the pursuit of a photograph. The sea had become amazing calm, so he found a place to sit larboard and watch the Aleutian coast slide past.
The bear was fat from its summer-long salmon feast and prowled the shore for more to consume. It was just weeks now from its hibernation, though the photographer knew grizzlies on the coast might hibernate for as few as just two or three months each winter. He framed it with his telephoto as it watched them, as terrible and magnificent as the storm that had released them hours before. It seemed to pose against the wild landscape. The sun had peaked out as it fell in the westward sky and the snowcapped mountains in the distance shimmered. He captured image after image as the bear moved and the ship shifted position as it progressed northeast. New movement caught his eye, and his telephoto began following bald eagles as they stalked the coast, sometimes gliding just a few feet above the water before their big wings took them higher and they circled back, turning towards the ship, seeming to stare into his lens. As the sun slipped further into the open it bathed the world in a golden glow, a light from heaven itself. He’d clicked off dozens of shots and realized they were the best captures of the entire voyage, and all he’d had to do was sit there with his least capable camera.
The captain emerged from the bridge, examined the crew’s work recombobulating what the storm had wroth. Seemed pleased; also relived, like he had begun taking his first deep breaths in several hours. He moved next to the photographer, looking closely as if to reconfirm that he’d not actually been swept overboard. Remembering their earlier encounter the photographer said to him, “Wanna bet?”
She decided to make it a reading day. She didn’t feel like doing anything, and the weather was cold and dark and blustery. She had a headache from a combination of congestion and dry air and her mood was crappy which she blamed on the lingering effects of divorce and self-loathing and her dead-end job that did little but frustrate her. A Saturday to just collapse back into a hidden corner under a blanket.
Then her mother called.
She knew if she ignored it a) her mother might really be sick and needing a doctor, which sometimes she was, and b) her mother would keep calling every fifteen minutes. She picked up and her mother said, “When you go out … “
‘When’ you go out, she thought, because her mother couldn’t conceive of not going out, of having a ‘reading day’ spent entirely with her butt glued in one two-foot square of furniture, of wallowing in hours of self-pity and melancholy. No. That was outside her busy-body mother’s conception of proper conduct.
“ … would you please pick up my prescription.” There was no lilt of a question at the end of that sentence. Of course, picking it up also meant bringing it over and staying for god knew how long, which was, after all, the point.
No use fighting it. She put the book aside and pulled on a sweater, inside out as her mother would point out later, and tied her hair back then hid her head almost entirely under a stocking hat. She had to scrape frost off her windshield after which her fingers were frozen as bad as her mood. Parking a quarter mile away from the pharmacy she pulled her coat tighter around her neck to forestall the wind if only a little as she trekked into the building, where she then stood in a slow line. The pharmacist informed her the prescription her mother needed was out of refills. She called her mother. Her mother said she’d call the doctor’s office, and to wait there while the doctor’s office called the pharmacy. That took more than an hour. She wandered around the store thinking the worst of other patrons if not actually snarling at them. Once the ‘script was in her hands she returned to her car to find a prominent scratch on the door; no idea how long it’d been there. ‘Just great’, she thought, cursing as she navigated through the traffic towards her mom’s, imagining another hour-plus wasted sitting on an uncomfortable chair in that weird smelling little apartment listening to her mother rag on about almost everything. A song she liked came on the radio. Music.
And then there was a blinding light.
She awoke the same morning with no recollection of discontent. She had a bit of a headache, but a hot shower and a cup of coffee soon took care of that. It was cold and dark and blustery, but she lit a couple candles and put on some music. Music, seeming to lighten every dark corner. She revealed with a feeling of freedom. She thought what a good day it would be to curl up and read her new novel, but just then her sweet mother phoned with her need for a prescription waiting at the pharmacy and she gladly offered to pick it up. She dressed warmly in her favorite sweater, inside out as she liked to wear it, and pulled on a colorful, fluffy stocking hat. There was a line at the pharmacy, and she was able to use the time to catch up on her Twitter feed. Turned out the ‘script needed confirmation from her mom’s doctor, but she took care of that with a quick phone call. That gave her time to investigate the shelves; she rarely got time to truly explore all the different products and the miraculous variety of ‘stuff’ available for the taking, all manner of distractions and conveniences she could play with if she’d a mind. She found some things for herself and had a number of pleasant conversations with store workers and other patrons including friends she rarely got to visit with. ‘Script finally in hand she climbed back into the scratched car she thought of as her old guardian and cruised to her mom’s, letting herself in with her keycode so her mom wouldn’t have to come to the door. She found her there in her chair, practically the only chair she found comfortable anymore.
She said to her mom, “You’re hurting today, aren’t you?”
Her mom said in her soft voice, “Yes, I’m afraid so, dear. Thank you for getting my medicine.”
She shook out the right dosage and gently rubbed her mom’s frail neck. Her mom closed her eyes and sighed as she gently kneaded the knots in the neck and shoulders. “Shall I make us some coffee?” She knew her mom hadn’t been able to this day.
“Oh, yes, that would be lovely.”
Her mom’s coffee maker barely worked anymore, but she knew some tricks to jar it to life. “I’m buying you a new coffee maker as soon as I have some coin,” she said.
“Thank you, dear, you don’t need to spend your money on me,” but she would do it anyway. She prepared a cup for each of them, then sat in a chair next to her, holding her hand. The human touch seemed to brighten her. She would be her mom’s only visitor today, alone for a decade now since daddy passed, and now the other kids living so far away.
“Why don’t I stay for a while. Tell me what you’ve been reading and watching since I saw you yesterday.”
“Oh, you don’t have to, dear,” her mom said, but she smiled weakly and her eyes were moist. “I know you have your own life. But I love you. It’s your decision.”
Art As A Lifeboat
The sea bird reminded him of his grandmother’s paintings. It seemed to float in the haze above him, drifting slowly from one horizon of his periphery to the other in a gentle arch, his sleepy vision painting it impressionistically with the most soothing pastels as soft as his grandmother herself.
She lived beside the Outer Banks in a house so weathered and creaking his dad feared the slightest sea breeze would blow it to smithereens, though he knew, if he went back there right now, it was still standing proud and unbeaten, also like his grandmother. He remembered her callused hands that he would rub between his soft little boy palms while marveling at the rough texture. She never looked at him with less than a smile and warm affection. He and his brother would visit her for a month every summer. They would run amongst the dunes and dance in and out of the surf and sit up at night and gaze at the stars with the sound of the waves in their ears. He’d wake before his brother and find that his grandmother had awoken before him and gone straight to her paintings. She’d beam at him as he rounded the corner of her screened-in porch where she’d set her easel and say, “Come and look, dear.” She revealed such delightful scenes of the beach and the sea and the boats that worked there and the houses that inhabited its paradise. But mostly he remembered the sea birds; graceful, lithe creatures that seemed in her paintings to float with divine magic above the world. He knew he would look later in the bright day at the same scenes, but that his grandmother had made them look different; ethereal might be the term he’d use if he’d known that word then. “Would you like to try?” she would ask him, and he’d hesitantly take the brush and dip it into the color she suggested and point the brush at the part of the canvas she directed him to. “Just short strokes now, more like dots”, and he would do the best he could with no idea what he was trying to achieve. “That’s beautiful,” she would always tell him for those minutes he could stand to do something so reflective, “You are such a talented dear.” She would never touch up the part of the painting he’d worked. She touched up her own stuff all the time, and even seem to scold herself under her breath. But never his, and never a discouraging word to him. She didn’t remember his grandmother ever, ever saying a harsh word to him – at least didn’t remember such now.
Now, the waves tossed his tiny craft called a ‘life-raft’ which he shared with four companions. Actually, three companions and a corpse, but he didn’t know that yet. The sun had beat down on them now for, he thought, nine days. They’d exhausted water after the third, and exhausted food even before that, though rain had come in buckets twice and they’d held their mouths open to catch what they could as the sea violently tossed their rubber boat. Their skin had burned and blistered, and their bodies felt broiled beneath. Tongues in their mouths were swollen and dry from lack of water. Their empty stomachs ached. The blaring sun had near blinded them, like staring too long into a spotlight aimed straight at them, and no matter how they shifted they couldn’t seem to turn away from it. They were bruised and cut from their fight to escape their sinking ship. The sea bird came into his peripheral again, crossing this time from the other horizon; the hazy impressionism he saw it through was a product of his own delirium. It was closer this time and he could hear it’s calls. But they were funny calls. They didn’t sound like the sea birds he remembered.
He tried to become more alert, tried to follow the bird and listen more carefully. He squinted at it; not right, he thought. It’s too fat. He looked away and squeezed his eyes shut and slowly shook his head, trying to jostle up something resembling focus. He looked as it crossed again, even closer. Not a bird’s call, he thought, it’s a constant roar. And then a realization sprang, and he knew: it wasn’t a sea bird at all but a sea plane! A rescue plane and it had found them.
The Sock God
And the next day he reorganized his sock drawer. Really. He was that bored. He had done everything he could think of for months and months and months to keep his mind engaged. Among which, he’d begun half a dozen household improvement projects, half of which he’d have to hire a professional to come in and fix once social isolation was relaxed, and the other half just looked crappy. He’d resurrected his old watercolor hobby; the results looked crappy. He’d built an expensive Lego model of a vintage Mustang. It looked crappy (there were a bunch of pieces left over he couldn’t figure out what to do with). He engaged in gourmet cooking. It tasted crappy. He’d watched all his old DVD’s and BluRay’s. Twice. A few of them thrice. He cleaned the house top to bottom but that just made him grumpy. It was cold outside, now, and trying to snow today and the air was so dry all the moisture had been sucked out of his head from his sinuses up through his brain. He fantasized that cannibals would break into his home, crack open his skull and discover his brain had been dried into a raisin, and invent some new bran-flakes breakfast cereal into which it would be crumbled and eaten with cold milk. One day while surfing the Internet he stumbled upon a picture of a sock drawer into which a wooden grid like a honeycomb of XXXX’s had neatly created a well-organized space, and he thought to himself, “I want that!” He found some plastic ones online and when they were delivered he couldn’t wait to get to the categorization process. He’d laid awake the night before and calculated how to go about things. There were four XXXX grids and they were thin enough he reasoned he could get three of them into his drawer. He could have one for the thick winter socks and another for the thin summer socks and another that would be sort of a mix and he could trade out which was on top with each season. He could have a section for each category: a corner for the little half socks he wore with tennis shoes and next to it the calf-length socks he wore when he was actually doing something athletic for which the tennis shoes were designed. A section for the Bombas hiking socks. A section for the dress socks, black separated from grey separated from blue. A section for the socks he wore with jeans. A section for the wild pattern socks he wore with sandals partly as a joke on all the women who told him socks with sandals wasn’t sexy. He lay there in the night and he thought about individual pair of socks that didn’t fit neatly into a particular category; they would have their own corner. Why did he have those ones? Where did they come from? What was their purpose? How did they make sense of their existence? Did they intend to be different? Did they enjoy being different? How would they adapt to sitting alone in their own little pocket of the XXXX? Would they have preferred the world all mixed together without the organized segregation of the XXXX? Was he, himself, a sock? He was, after all, isolated in a little pocket. He couldn’t think of any other category of sock like him. Was he the kind of sock worn with sandals? Was his purpose not sexy? Did he even have a purpose? Was he on the bottom honeycomb of XXXX’s out of season? When was he in season? He began to see himself in his drawer of socks. He began to see himself shuffling himself along with all the other socks. He was both god and minion. The instigator of his own fate, and also the victim of it.
Liang supposed it wasn’t much of a job for all the degrees he’d earned, but at least he was working. It was a start. He’d established compensations for his poor attitude. After his implant gently woke him, sensed by his alpha waves that he was awake, he’d programed it to begin flooding his conscious with subliminal messages: “I’m so glad I work for the U.N.; I’m so happy I’m helping feed people; I love working”. And so on, up to the point in which those same alpha waves suggested an improved level of contentment (not that some days he didn’t shut it off early so he could enjoy his bad mood).
He stepped into the bathroom and his 16’ by 20’ apartment began to quietly reconfigure itself; the bedroom set quietly withdrew, like an old-style Murphy bed but quite different due to the materials, and, as the glass wall leading to the small balcony went opaque, an enclosed shower, wardrobes and dressing area emerged. He stepped into the shower and the commode withdrew as the sink expanded and the toiletries cabinet opened. He stepped out of the shower and it folded away, the kitchen folded out, the coffee maker and oven began prepping breakfast. He finished dressing and the wardrobe switched out for a table and chairs, but as the glass wall became polarized and transparent again, giving him a view of Shanghai’s Pudong district, he decided to take breakfast on the balcony. His implant reminded him of his first meeting in 40 minutes. He enjoyed the late summer fresh air as he ate, then stepped back into the apartment wishing he’d set the oven for a chocolate muffin instead of the raspberry scone he’d nibbled at. The dining table had been replaced by a desk. The kitchen had withdrawn into only the coffee bar, and the commode was back. He ordered up a second latte and as his implant interfaced with his computer and connected him with his meeting. Liang slipped on his goggles so he could see them. His view divided into four screens, smallest on the lower right where the translation program ran and would monitor the conversation and decipher anything not related in English. Liang was the second participant on, along with his counterpart from Mexico City. Next came one of the American representative from Nashville where distribution to the hard-hit central regions was headquartered. Finally the director of the World Food Program from United Nations headquarters in Dubai.
The director said, “Welcome to yet another meeting of the ‘Feed America Initiative’.
Liang offered a greeting, as they all did.
“Let’s pick up where we left off,” the director began. “Mexico, I’m starting with you, since you’ve been dealing with the most urgent issues”.
The Mexico City official colored; Liang found that surprising as he’d supposed she’d be used to the criticism by now, not that it was her fault. The Mexican economy was booming (both legal and illegal). Shipments to America, which had to go through Mexico because American west coast ports had been devastated by earthquakes, were routinely hijacked. She said, “I’ve met again with security officials who assured me they are establishing new measures. If it means anything, they succeeded two days ago in rescuing the shipment received on 11 September and it is currently being convoyed north under guard.” They all knew the ‘under guard’ part meant nothing, and that the shipment would likely be hijacked again.
“How much of the shipment was received,” the Nashville representative wanted to know. There was just a tinge of frantic tone in his voice. There usually was.
“About half,” Mexico said.
“About 40 percent.”
“So,” Nashville commented, “Closer to one-third.” The American situation gave him good reason for scrutiny. The Pacific coast was in chaos. The near west, from Arizona and New Mexico north to Montana, was out of water. The warming planet has shifted the grain belt much farther north, and the entire Midwest from Kansas north and east as far as Ohio had become a desert. The south was socially and political unstable due to repeated nationalism insurrections and the Atlantic had degenerated, for all practical purposes, into a series of city-states that could not sustain themselves. And most of New York City, of course, including the old United Nations building, was under water.
“Shanghai,” the director asked, “What have you got for me.” Shanghai was the collection point for aid from China, Korea, and southeast Asia, and Liang was responsible for coordinating its distribution.
Liang said, “I have one shipment already halfway to Manzanillo, and three more are in various stages of preparation, but as long as the situation at the Mexican ports remains so hazardous I would argue against sending them to that destination.”
The director said, “I tend to agree; this has gone on long enough.” Canada’s west coast was little better off than America’s, and with the Panama Canal closed the director’s decision meant there was no recourse but for a long trip west, through the Indonesian straits and around Africa to somewhere on the Atlantic coast.
Nashville said, “Forget about Baltimore.”
“Already forgotten,” the director said. “My discussions with Canada have been promising, either Saint John or Montreal. We will reconvene five days; that should give me and them time to make arrangements. Make it 9 a.m. my time, please. Shanghai cease further shipments to Manzanillo. Mexico, I’d like you to attend also to discuss the shipment that’s already halfway there. Thank you, everybody.”
Goggles went black. Liang removed them and discovered that his latte had gone cold. He set his implant to prepare calls to his warehouses; he’d determined to get a new shipment in the water towards Canada quickly, with the specific port identified after the upcoming meeting, and he directed his implant to schedule that meeting for five days hence, 5 a.m. GMT, 1 p.m. Shanghai time, Friday, September 27, 2193.
The Obsolete Hat
Trixie B. sat on her deck with the stub of her right leg, amputated below the knee four months prior due to diabetes complications, propped up on another chair as she finished her second banana daiquiri of the afternoon and watched the young men hired by the condo association mow and trim the yard. The young, mostly shirtless men worked fast, professionally, and by sheer luck Trixie and her roommate Lana R. had already been on the deck enjoying a pleasant summer afternoon, not as hot as yesterday, lovely puffy clouds dancing across the blue sky, when they arrived. The efficiency of the young men would ensure the beefcake show would not last long. Lana was just returning with a new round of daiquiri’s which Trixie was certain would be extra heavy on the rum and not quite properly mixed with the rest of the ingredients as Lana had seemed to concoct them awfully fast. A fair number of friends and relatives suspected the two women were lesbians when they moved in together after both their husbands died, but that wasn’t remotely true, a fact illustrated by Lana who, after putting the milky drinks onto the glass table, said, “Figured out how we can slam that yet?”
The propensity of the two of them to go salty when discussing men was infamous; they went out of their way to lay it on, especially when in the company of others, which confused Trixie as to why anyone would conclude they were lesbians unless it were perceived as overcompensating. Trixie told her, “Thought I’d just sit here and let my aura attract them.”
Lana said, “Let me sit down and recross my legs a couple times and see if that helps.”
“How could they pass up two fat old ladies with three legs?”
Lana looked at her. “Three feet. We got four thighs. Pull your shorts higher.”
Trixie was focusing on one particular young man, his sweaty bronze skin shimmering under pieces of freshly mowed grass. She was focusing on him because she remembered him. A little over a dozen years ago he’d been her student. “Do you remember the Basengame kid?” she asked Lana.
It was as junior high teachers that Trixie and Lana had recognized kindred spirits in each other. With both their husbands gone, it had just made sense to combine their retirement resources under the same roof. Lana asked, “The one who got caught dropping crackers down the back of the younger kid’s pants?”
Trixie said, “No, the younger one. The one who was so smart.”
“Yeah, I do.”
She studied him. He looked up and saw them just then. Trixie waved at him. He seemed to recognize her. Lana said, “Yeah, I believe I see it. What would he be now? Twenty-five?”
“More like twenty-eight.”
“Two questions, then. First, he was so smart what the hell is he doing mowing yards for living?”
“Couldn’t tell you.”
“And second, why is he wearing that hat?”
“Turns out maybe he wasn’t so smart,” Trixie suggested.
Trixie felt her toes wiggle in the summer breeze – toes on the foot that was no longer there. Phantom pain. She’d been having sensations of one kind or another since her amputation, and she found them unnerving, as though she were part ghost. She knew, of course, that the removal of her leg had not removed the synapses in her brain that expected the leg to be there. The new reality made those pieces of grey matter obsolete. But because of it, she knew exactly what had happened to young Basengame as he now strolled towards them wearing that sweat stained red hat with the asinine political slogan, the yard work having been completed. A rapidly changing world had amputated the reality his synapses expected to be there, and he had failed to establish new ones. For all practical purposes he was more functionally disabled than she was. “Hi, Mrs. B,” he said happily. “You look relaxed.”
She knew Lana was floating on too much rum to let it rest. Lana said, “Where’d you get that idiotic hat? Pull it from a shithouse?”
The smile young Basengame began the conversation with immediately evaporated; no doubt not the first time since the failed election his hat had been ridiculed. “I like this hat,” he defended himself.
“Then you’ve got your head up your ass,” Lana told him. “You also believe bigfoot and aliens are trying to bang us to make hybrid babies, dumbass?”
Young Basengame thrust his chin out to show he wouldn’t be pushed around. “He’s a great man who saved America!”
“He’s a criminal who tried to take down democracy for his own profit and he should be in prison.”
Young Basengame glanced at Trixie as if looking for help. She said, “Sorry, kid, I’ve got no sympathy for you.”
He turned his back on them and walked away. “I’m not a kid, old lady,” he shouted over his shoulder. The other young men on the yard crew watched him return as they packed up their equipment and he told them something they couldn’t make out. Then they left.
“Well,” Trixie said, “That went well.”
Lana sipped her daiquiri. “Knock that hat off and staple his mouth shut and I’d still slam him.”
Trixie smiled at her. But between them passed the same thought about the young man who had passed through their classrooms, who had absorbed their lessons, who they remembered as so smart; the dull dread that they had failed.
Pipe Organ Serenade
The boy was brought into the chapel in a wheelchair and situated beside the second row next to where his father and little brother would sit. ‘Boy’, the preacher thought. ‘How can I still call this man a boy?’ Might have been when he left two years ago, having successfully lied about his age to get into the army a little early. He was clearly a boy no longer.
He thought the boy’s – man’s – eyes seemed bright with recognition and could track the preacher as he walked items to and from the pulpit preparing for services. But the angry scar across his head, the depression in his skull as though a piece had been blasted out, the shriveled body, all suggested whatever spark remained did not extend beyond his mind. He didn’t seem unhappy, the preacher thought, then wondered how that could be. Clearly, the preacher concluded as he went about his business while watching him from the corner of his eye, the man retained his perceptions and his self-awareness. But any ability to express his thoughts were gone. Any movements of his extremities to communicate had been taken. All but those eyes, bright green and expressive as a pipe organ and radiating serenity.
The day had seemed so filled with the promise of easy contentment when the preacher climbed into his Model-T that morning, oblivious to the man’s existence. He’d constructed a simple sermon based on Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that was little more than extension of other sermons he’d given a hundred times. The drive over country roads to his little church that backed against the woods had been pleasant and gloriously bathed by a kind summer sun. His modest congregation had been through well enough over the past couple years, first with Great War casualties and then those taken by the Spanish flu, the man’s mother having been one of those just a few months back. He’d said words over a half dozen for the former and just shy of a full dozen for the latter. But those traumas had seemed to have played themselves out. He felt the congregation needed simple, gentle forgiveness then sent home feeling good about themselves, cloistered from the harsh world beyond their little valley. It was, he was sure, a time for healing. No place now for fire, brimstone, judgement, or dogma. Should be that way all the time, he thought to himself as he drove along, bouncing over the road so enjoyably.
Then the preacher learned that the man had returned home from an army hospital just days before. He wasn’t sure how much the man’s family had known of his condition before he got there or if they even knew he was coming. No one had reached out to him for guidance – the mother would have, but the father was not so outgoing. There they sat now in the second row, the man in his wheelchair on the side, the father looking bleary-eyed, the little brother looking as always that he’d rather be fishing, the empty space where their mother had sat, and the empty space next to that where the man had sat before the war violently repositioned him. The congregation filed hesitantly in, the man and his family a clear illustration that they were not cloistered safe from the world and could not be any longer. They did not live in an isolated valley. There was no escape. The preacher took position at the pulpit as they settled themselves and looked to him for insight. The man in the wheelchair only looked at him with that deep, peaceful serenity as if heaven itself were flowing through him.
And the preacher thought, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, what the holy hell do I tell these people now?!’ And he wondered what might remotely bring context to the pain of these past couple years. What words could he offer that might provide even the slightest shield against the world? The choir behind him began their opening hymn and he looked to his notes, knowing that every song he had selected, every prayer he had scripted, every word of his sermon was wrong. Like the man in the wheelchair, he felt he had lost all ability to express his thoughts, or even to coalesce thoughts at all.
Then he looked to the wheelchair bound man himself, hoping to find an answer in his expressive eyes. And in fact, deep and abiding, the love he needed to find was there waiting for him.
Six Days In Oblivion
Monday. He woke 7ish with a headache and dehydration, classic hangover. He gulped coffee and chewed a croissant and made art while listening to old music. He did that all day; didn’t see or talk to anyone. In the evening he left his cluttered loft and walked a block to the neighborhood tavern, where he sat on a bar stool and drank beer. He had supper there and watched and listened to the happy, animated, laughing patrons, most of whom he recognized and who recognized him. He hardly talked to anybody except the bartender, but he never did. A guitarist strummed music in the corner. After several hours he returned home and drank whiskey until he fell asleep.
Tuesday. He woke 7ish with a headache and dehydration. He gulped coffee and chewed a croissant. He made art and listened to old music, today jazz rather than yesterday’s classical. He thought to himself what a cultured and eclectic person he was, listening to varied forms of music. At 2p his agent arrived to collect several of his art pieces. The agent had hoped for a specific work the artist was doing on commission. He told his agent to return on Friday and he’d have it. His agent asked how he was doing, what with everything going on. He just shrugged. He wondered what the hell his agent was talking about. In the evening he walked to the neighborhood tavern and sat on a bar stool and drank beer and had supper and watched and listened to the patrons, who he thought seemed less happy and animated and laughing than yesterday, and the guitarist seemed to be playing moodier stuff. The bartender was keeping to himself. After several hours he returned home and drank whiskey until he fell asleep.
Wednesday. He woke 7ish with a headache and dehydration and gulped coffee and chewed a croissant and made art and listened to old blues music. He did that alone all day, then walked to the tavern and sat on his stool with beers and supper, but there was no guitarist. No music playing at all and there were fewer people and they just sort of sat around quietly. He felt annoyed with them. A stern man in a black coat and hood came in and sat alone in a corner and watched everyone even less discreetly than he did. He decided he didn’t like the man. The bartender seemed nervous. After several hours he returned home and drank whiskey until he fell asleep.
Thursday. He woke 7ish with a headache and dehydration and gulped coffee and chewed a croissant and made art and listened to old rock music. After making art all day and finishing the work his agent wanted he walked to the tavern and sat on his stool. The bartender gave him a beer and told him there was no supper except pretzels because the cook had not come to work and again there was no music. And again there were fewer, quieter patrons. The stern man in the black coat and hood returned and this time had two other stern associates with him. They sat for a few minutes, then rose and approached one of the patrons, the stern man standing in front of his table and the two others on either side. “No,” the patron said. “No, I haven’t done anything.” But the two on either side each grabbed an arm each and lifted him, and they left. He returned home and drank whiskey until he fell asleep.
Friday. He awoke as usual and made art all day. He placed the work his agent wanted against the wall, but the agent never arrived to collect it. He kept waiting and delayed leaving for the tavern. He was annoyed, but more confused; his agent was never late. The bartender silently set a beer and a bowl of pretzels in front of him and there was still no music. The stern man and his two stern associates entered, and this time walked straight to the bar, moving behind it to the bartender who backed frightened against the counter and rattled bottles. Each associate took and arm and left with the bartender in tow, but the stern man in the black coat and hood took a seat in the corner and watched. The waitress moved behind the bar, but there were hardly any patrons to attend to and those who were there sat quietly. He looked quizzically to the waitress, who said nothing, then he returned home and drank whiskey until he fell asleep.
Saturday. He slept a little later but still awoke with a headache and dehydration, and did not make art. He spent the day reading novels and relaxing but was distracted by the disruptions he’d witnessed and felt annoyed by that. He still expected his agent to pop up, but he never did. In the evening he walked to the tavern and sat on his stool and the waitress placed a beer in front of him and told him there were no more pretzels, and there was still no music, and hardly any patrons. He hunched over his beer, and then two more, and then the one after those he felt a tap on his shoulder, and he turned expecting his agent had finally showed up. Instead he stared into the face of the stern man and his associates, each of whom placed a hand under his arms, and it dawned on him that, for whatever reason, they were there for him.
Our fair city was graced on January 2nd with a perfect snow – just enough to be pretty, not enough to get in the way. It melted as soon as it hit pavement but stuck to the trees and the foliage. Snow also threatened the following day but succeeded only in filling the air with moisture particles that reflected the available light. The world seemed to glow. Zero wind and temperatures just above freezing. A perfect photographer’s day.
Today I’m beginning a series of about a dozen works captured on that day, each with very little applied from the photo artist’s toolkit, each work in black and white (I still like to call it ‘noir’). It’s as near to straight photography as I get, hell and gone from the abstract work I’ve been doing. All were captured with my Nikon1 V3 using a superb 1Nikkor 18.5 lens.
I’ve always found January and February to be creative deserts. Once in a while, the universe grooves an easy fast ball your way. It would be rude not to say ‘thank you’ and smack it into the bleachers.
* * *
The child sat low, behind the pilot in the cockpit of the starfighter, half asleep and oblivious. Dropping smoothly out of light speed the craft skirted the edge of an asteroid belt, then just as expected the first raiders appeared, and the pilot plunged the starfighter into it.
Raiders were faster but with the move into the belt had to quickly reverse thrust. Advantage went to the pilot who knew where he was going. He fired off lasers to the left, then to the right, then back to the left again as he danced around tumbling space rocks. He positioned the starfighter behind a large one where the raiders could only wait for him to leave its shadow. When he did it was a quick shoot down a narrow corridor the pilot knew would circumvent a choke point where more raiders would be waiting; so quick a turn made in the shadow of the big asteroid that what few raiders saw it, missed it. The starfighter cruised free of them for the moment.
But this part was tricky. The pilot could be quick but due to the narrowness of the corridor also had to be extremely cautious. A spinning boulder or even another raider might pull in front of him at any moment. The child seemed to become more alert now, sensitive to the perils. The pilot steered left into a new, even narrower passageway, then right, then left again, then finally emerging into the clear with just the slightest yield to assure himself he wouldn’t move straight into something. He opened the throttle now. The raiders had been slowed by their own bottleneck. The pilot could see them closing but knew they would be too late, and sure enough he hung the starfighter right, under the umbrella of the planetary defenses and coasted into its atmosphere.
Then everything changed. The pilot’s grip on the controls eased. He could feel the starfighter’s connection to the ground as movement slowed and became measured; the starfighter itself morphed into a more sedate configuration, the cockpit surrounded by glass, the controls simplified. The child rustled behind him, gathering her possessions in anticipation of leaving the craft. And finally the pilot moved carefully into the drop off lane and neatly stopped, just up from the yellow school busses and the throng of teenagers mulling their way towards the building.
“Here you go, kid,” he said to his daughter.
“Thanks, dad,” she said, unbuckling in the backseat.
“Got your horn?” he asked because more than once she’d left her coronet in the car, her ambivalence for playing it overriding her memory to take it.
“Yes, dad,” she held it up, annoyed with his question, “And my backpack, and my lunch, and look,” she announced sarcastically, “I even got completely dressed and put my head on straight!”
“Ok, ok,” he said. “Mom will pick you up after band practice. I’ll see you tonight. Have a good day, I love you.”
The ‘love’ part always softened her a little. He hoped it wasn’t because he didn’t say it enough.
“Thanks, Dad.” She climbed from the sedan and closed the door. Of course, at fourteen, the ‘love’ part was less likely to come in the other direction.
He watched her join the stream of classmates into the building, used his laser – now his turn signal – before pulling away from the drop zone, slipping past the busses and the other parents. As he moved out of and away from the school zone everything changed back; his focus sharpened, the sedan re-morphed into a starfighter, he punched the rockets and roared back into his imagination.
Tea On The Porch
Every cycle around went faster. Every cycle, he burned off more fuel. Less fuel propelled him forward with greater urgency towards the inevitable. If he didn’t break. If he didn’t completely wear down.
Every cycle clicked off like a clock moving faster. Like calendar pages flipping. Twelve turns, each proceeded by ritual shifts effected at exactly the right moment. Unless … unless … NOW! He flicked the paddle shifter that split second later sending him deeper into the corner, breaking that little bit later, and got his nose there before his competitor who had no choice but to let him through. The competitor would attempt an undercut and take the inside on the next turn, but he knew that and blocked accordingly, and once past that turn the competitor could not keep up. But pushing had cost him. He felt himself slip just that little bit closer to too much. The wear, if not his competitors, was catching up.
“2.6 seconds back,” came The Voice in his earpiece. “Nine laps remaining. Plenty of time”
He said, “Left front is nearly gone.”
“Leader is worse off. You’re faster,” and then the motivational psychology, “Take it too him.”
‘I have been,’ he thought, ‘every time around’. Twelve turns, open throttle down twelve straights. Faster, faster, that little bit faster than everyone else. ‘Plenty of time’, he replayed The Voice’s statement in his mind. ‘To do what? One more pass? One more race?’ Flying down the back straight. Hard around the last hairpin, barely staying within track limits; a slip would have put him in the gravel. Blasting along the front straight and across the start/finish to turn one, perfect downshift, perfect breaking, perfect turn-in, perfect acceleration out. Rhythmic. Hypnotic. His perceptions wide, absorbing the peripherals as they rapidly came and went like seasons, each section its own environment, colors, sensations as relevant to the nature of each turn on the circuit. The roars of the engine, the wind, the tires against the track, the crowd and the helicopters whirling above with their cameras tracking his every move, all of it muffled to a whisper by his thick helmet. Gliding past as smoothly as taking tea on the front porch.
“2.2 seconds,” The Voice broke his concentration. ‘The Voice’ was not in rhythm. It came according to someone else’s priorities, as confining for his mind as the track limits. His entire existence confined to a narrow and predetermined path.
Turn five, another left hander, followed quickly by turn six back to the right; slip … slip … the wear was increasing. ‘Focus’, he thought. The Leader had taken tires six laps earlier than he had; that meant he should be six laps fresher. Six laps less wear. But there were now seven laps to go. “1.7 seconds,” came The Voice. But he knew he was going to have to ease off through the turns or wear down too soon. The Voice could not make that decision form him.
After the start/finish, “1.5 seconds; you’re slowing.” The Voice would be worried now, its context not perfectly synced to his own. Another start/finish took him to 5 laps remaining. “1.2 seconds. Now’s the time to go after him.” He knew if he could get to under 1 second the Leader’s tow would create an aerodynamic vacuum that would suck him closer. By turn ten and entering the back straight he felt that tow grab him. He could see the Leader slipping around even worse than he was, taking the turns even more cautiously.
“3 laps to go,” at the start/finish line, “and .4 seconds behind. You’re on him. Make it happen.”
Now the stalking began. Catching was easy. Passing, like comedy, was harder. He began matching the Leader’s movements around the circuit, shift for shift, break for break, looking for moments the pace was a tick slower than his own, like a pick pocket seeking an opening, a weakness. Twelve turns. Then another twelve turns. Over and over and over. Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Last lap,” The Voice came once more as he sailed across the start/finish, the roar of the engines echoing between the crowded, cheering grandstands made surreal and hushed in the reality of his dense helmet. He tried not to think of it as the ‘last’. What was the point of ending? Twelve more turns around one more circuit. The inevitable would take care of itself. Shift and accelerate. Shift and accelerate. Seasons streaking peripherally by. Rhythm. One more pass … NOW!
Remember, this started with the photo art. I began adding prose this past October at first as a lark, then kept it up because I like doing it, then committed to it because writing arguably drives me more than photography. Or at least as much. It didn’t take long for it to get more attention than the photo art. But this – this the blogging and the social media - started as a means of marketing the photo art.
I created 118 works of photo art this past year. A little less than the year before, and a lot less than the year before that, and deliberately so. My work has become much more complex in the last couple years and takes much more time to create. I wanted to emphasize quality over quantity; just a couple posts a week. Of those, I’ve added 69 of them to my permanent portfolio; a much greater percentage than normally winds up there, so the quality over quantity thing is working. Of those, certain works become my favorites.
To be the best of something during a year like this may be depreciating, and by any measurement it was a weird year. I started the year focusing on crowds and people, and then the pandemic hit and everybody went home. I promised myself I wouldn’t do florals this year and ended up doing some of the best florals of my life. I captured images more with the iPhone more than the Nikon because I found myself in situations in which I needed to be discrete. Weird. So without further ado, here are my five personal favorites from the year as the door hits its ass on the way out.
1. Alone In A Crowd
I love the color, the abstraction, the detail of the individual and the color bleed. It became one of my favorite works the moment it was finished. And I can never exhibit it or sell it. The work emerged from photographs captured at the St. Louis Art Museum, and as it features another artist’s work it can never stand as my own. It will live in a prominent location on a computer, and otherwise hardly see the light of day. Life’s like that.
2. Color Of The Day
Probably got the most attention this year, as far as social media hits. This rack of T-shirts was a marketing gimmick for the opening of a local ice cream shop, and shows why I consider it necessary to have a camera in my pocket (iPhone, in this case) at all times. Taken about six weeks after I completed ‘Alone In A Crowd’, it’s fairly clear how the earlier work informed the photographic capture for this one.
3. From The Labors Of Starving Artists
Particular corporations pay good money for staffs that design just exactly how to put products on shelves, in this case, vegetables picked by migrant workers for pennies an hour. It’s art. It’s just sitting there. But unlike ‘Alone In A Crowd’, it’s part of a constantly changing landscape, and doesn’t become art until somebody captures it and does something with it. Happy to be that someone. It’s interesting to me that my favorite three works are all wider than the standard 2:3 scale. Don’t know that it means anything, but it’s interesting.
4. Pickin’ Veggies
No, the initial photographic capture here did not come at the same time as the previous work, but it did come from the same place, the same aisle, even, just further down. I like the colors, the use of extrusions, and the contrasting human figures. Mostly, I suppose I like that I was able to produce a work involving people when Covid was making that difficult. Which I suppose is not a good reason. Critically, the work doesn’t really have a focal point (an ongoing weakness of mine) and it can seem sort of a blob. But, hey, art is personal.
5. High And Madison
Call this one the Top 5’s token noir work; there weren’t a lot but there were other noir works this year, as the following slide show demonstrates, and some of them actually sold (not this one). And, I suppose, the same lack of focal point mentioned with the previous work could be reflected here as well, though I personally am very happy with the composition. I love the infrared effect of this one and the eeriness the filtering achieved. There are techniques here I’d love to use more often, but the lighting has to be very specific for it to work.
* * *
Finally, in no particular order, the rest of my top 25 works are here in this slide show.
What sail appears on the larboard tack with greater promise, thought I, as the Captain opens his glass and peers into the distance. Light breezes, a gentle Caribbean Sea, the bluest of skies and we sit square in the path any Spanish treasure ship must take for the distant safety of Cadiz. “Mr. Lambdin,” the Captain calls to me, his first lieutenant, “Please take the ship fifteen degrees larboard and send a midshipman aloft with a glass to survey our new friend.”
“Aye, sir!” says I, and give the appropriate commands to the proper crew, the ship heeling to its new course in good order and Midshipman Dewey scampering as high as the main mast crosstrees to scan the horizon. As the minutes pass in high anticipation what was a bare smudge on the horizon becomes more defined as sail advancing towards us. “What say you, Mr. Dewey?” I called.
“She’s Spanish, sir,” the spry midshipman hollers back. “But something’s amiss.” He climbs down, rushes back to the poop deck to report more clearly. “Most definitely Spanish, sir, I can make out the ensign, and a big ‘un! But she’s maneuvered not at all, even though clearly she must see us. And her tack is off for the wind and sails spill their winds lubberly.”
The Captain ponders this.
“Be a good hour or more before we’re up to her in this wind,” I tell the Captain.
He nods. “Send the crew to their breakfast, Mr. Lambdin.”
The crew rush to their biscuit, knowing full well quarters would be called thereafter and they would man their guns for battle. Already I can hear the murmurs of “treasure ship” amongst them. I move closer to the Captain and say quietly, “If indeed it is a ship of the line…”
“Which seems likely,” the Captain told me.
“…our frigate would be greatly outgunned.”
“Are you suggesting we decline battle?”
“Not at all,” I say, “As we approach bow on bow we could heel and present a raking broadside.” Well aimed, such an onslaught would send shot through the length of the Spaniard, wreaking havoc, destruction and death at a fantastic rate.
“It would even the odds considerably,” the Captain agreed, “Unless of course its captain gave orders to heel at the same moment placing us broadside to broadside, doubling and then some our number of guns.”
“Placing us at an extreme disadvantage,” I nodded.
The Captain leaned closer to me. “But if indeed she is at hazard …” He let that trail off. A ship handled so in this part of the sea carried a particular possibility. “Please take the glass forward,” he handed his over to me, “Keep sightings to yourself.”
“Aye, sir,” I said and moved quietly to the forecastle, making light small talk with the crew as I went. I watched off and on until the big ship had closed to less than half, no more than 40 minutes off now, and moved back to the Captain who cocked his ear close to receive my report. “I don’t see it,” I told him. “But the ship is barely making headway, perhaps moving only with the current.” He nodded. Then I told him, “It does, sir, sit exceptionally low in the water. Whatever it carries, it’s loaded to the gills.”
The Captain nodded. Moved away. He checked that the crew had finished with breakfast, which it had dispensed with quickly, and shouted, “Beat to quarters if you please, Mr. Lambdin!”
I had only just opened my mouth to shout the order before the young drummer struck up ‘Hearts of Oak’ and the crew rushed madly in every direction to take their posts, royal marines climbing the shrouds and rat lines with muskets with standing orders to pick off the officers as opportunity provided. The Captain watched the big Spaniard carefully, then gave orders to adjust course to pass to windward – clearly, he wanted to be upwind of the ship if possible. But as we crossed that invisible line by which the guns were in range it was clear the Spaniard was in no condition to fight, its sails hanging loosely, and its gun ports closed. “Haul in all sail,” the Captain ordered, and the topmen scurried aloft and made it happen. We would coast to within two cables. No reaction by the Spaniard. No activity seen.
By now, every officer and the more experienced crew had a sense of things. The Captain called for the second lieutenant. “Take a small party over to her. Do not board her, sir. Take a look over the rail if you can do so without having your head blown off, then report what you see back to me.”
“Aye, sir,” the second lieutenant touched his tricorne hat and called for the boatswain. Everyone watched as the small barge made its way between the ships with still no notice from the Spaniard. The second lieutenant made his way up the hull by the boarding battens, ducked his head over the top a couple times, then raised himself higher and made good observations for several minutes before returning.
“I seen it, sir,” he said to the captain once back onboard and hurrying to the poop deck. “The Yellow Jack,” he named the flag to be hoisted by ships in quarantine. “It’s sprawled on deck where it’s fallen, likely poorly winched, sir. Men are lying sick or dead all about.”
The Captain nodded, looked at me from tops of his eye sockets. “Plague,”
Those men what heard him whispered to those next to them, and on to those next to them, and word went like a hot wind.
“Seems clear, sir,” I agreed.
The Captain clasped his hands behind him. “Well, gentlemen,” he said, “What we have before us is all human enterprise; enough gold and silver waiting to make us all rich beyond our dreams. But if we proceed to take possession business as usual we die before we can spend a farthing of it.” He gave me ‘the eye.’
I stepped towards the rail and shouted to the waiting crew below, “What bastards among you think themselves immune!?”
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.