Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blue Skies

One of those weeks:

I suppose if I were truly the lucky person to be channeling Alistair Cooke, this would be the week to earn my chops. Cooke, one of my journalistic heroes (though not a photographer, I might add) wrote Letter From America for fifty years, recounting to clueless British audiences what was happening in the U.S. He did it by often recounting seemingly minor events, but tying them together in a way that made perfect sense, made a whole story. So, let’s try it.

A mere week ago, though it seems farther back than that, I was at that point which men well understand, and women can never comphrehend. Iris was in New York, and I was in Arlington. There was no food in the house. (That’s the part that guys understand. Oops, empty fridge!) We’d been away for the better part of ten days, and I’d returned home to get myself ready for a speaking trip to Athens, Georgia. So I made one of those Trader Joe’s pilgrimages which yielded what came to be known as the $52 pizza. Now it would be hard, save for a Batali NY restaurant, to find a pizza for fifty two bucks, but here is how I figure it: I bought dough, ready to roll out; salami (couldn’t find pepperoni), mushrooms, onion, and garlic. There was probably a bottle or two of wine, but all I can tell you is it cost me fifty two bucks to get out of there, and I don’t remember making anything but a pizza.

I rolled the dough out, later, flour abounding on the marble slab, and it looked pretty good. It puffed up nicely, but unless you have that 600 degree oven, they just don’t taste the same or have the right texture. So, fork in hand, I ate what was on top of, but very little crust of, said pizza.

For about four years I have been touring a small photo show, 52 images, called Measures of Time. My first show of just my own work, it was born when a college classmate, Wilber James, called out of the blue to say that since we were doing a 35th reunion, and I’d been to most of the good/bad/interesting places in that time, I should do a photo exhibit encompassing those years. He called five other classmates, and called me back in half an hour to say he had just raised $18,000 to pay for prints, catalogues, and framing. My kind of guy! That show has been to fourteen colleges in the ensuing years, and at each place I have gone and spoken to the photo classes, addressing anywhere between a hundred and four hundred students (and locals who sneak in). It has been a great run. Dave Metz of Canon cameras sponsored the traveling show, and as Dave has just decided to take a well earned retirement, it looks like the show will fold its tent unless we can find another sponsor. I speak pretty well, if I do say so myself, about the subjects in the pictures (normally Sports, Politics among others) and the place of photography in our society, but the tour has been richer for what I have gained from being in that photo-academic atmosphere, than perhaps what the students may have gleaned.

Fortified with pizza topping, I headed on Monday to Atlanta where I was met by Mark Johnson, the PhotoJ professor at UGA/Athens. We then drove to a northeastern neighborhood where 83 year old Carl Beck resides.
Carl was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, one of the Band of Brothers written about by Stephen Ambrose, and immortalized in the HBO series. He still fits into his re-issue ’44 Para outfit, and was one of the vets who jumped in Normandy in 1994, and again in 2004 (at the age of 80) to commemorate the D-Day landings. His house is a little museum of D-Day and Airborne memorabilia. And when you depart, he doesn’t say ‘bye’ or ‘have a nice day.’ He sends you off with the Airborne greeting: “Blue Skies, Dave!” Somehow whatever the immediate weather is, you feel that “Blue Skies” are about to be upon you when you get a greeting like that from someone like Carl. We carried on to Athens, and had a wonderful event that night, opening the show, and my speaking to about 200 j school and poli sci kids. They had some good questions, and sometimes the questions are better than the answers they elicit.

When I returned to DC on Tuesday, I was faced with a real issue: Wednesday morning I was due to show myself in court at the Arlington County Courthouse, and show cause why I shouldn’t be obliged to pay five hundred (yes $500) dollars for having accidently parked for an hour in a Handicap space last December. I guess we have all done it. Who hasn’t parked briefly in a handicap zone while dropping off a letter, or grabbing an ice cream cone. But that really wasn’t our case. Jordan and I had gone to the Apple store the week before Christmas to try and get a laptop repaired. No such luck with the iBook, but in parking we had found a spot which seemed too good to be true. (It was!) I was perhaps blinded by my desire to just get to the store. Jordan was blinded to pretty much anything that involved quarters and dimes. So, for whatever lame reason, neither of us saw the 7’ pole with the familiar blue Handicap label towering over head. It was, for an observant photographer, more embarrassing than anything else. We came out an hour later, hopped in the Miata and went home. It wasn’t (this is from my court testimony now… almost verbatim), Your Honor, something done with any purpose. When I noticed a green flyer on the windshield the next morning, I thought it was a pamplet from a firewood sales guy. They often blanketed the neighbor hood in flyers. But I opened it to see it was a parking ticket. Handicap zone. December 18th. Fine payable: Five Hundred bucks. Ouch! Hey.I would have been happy to pay fifty or maybe even a hundred bucks. But five hundred? That’s the better part of a mortgage payment. It seemed that it was just another case of the county raising fees to meet otherwise collapsing tax revenues. So I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the court and challenge it.

When my case was finally called at 10am (B for Burnett, I was first in line), I approached the bench wishing I had a little more Fred Thompson in my soul and a little less Pee Wee Herman. I was asked if my plea were Not Guilty or Guilty, and opted for Guilty with Explanation. I’d seen this judge be quite reasonable for the previous half dozen defendants, and thought “if I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the court, I guess this guy is as good for mercy as anyone..” So I gave him my spiel. “I am a good citizen, I have had but one speeding ticket in the 22 years I have lived in Arlington county, and while I am aware of the adage that “ignorance is no excuse” in the law, I would hope my case may be worthy of your consideration.” He fined me the five hundred (stomach tightens and I wonder what the hell I have been doing planning for this for weeks), and then suspended Three Hundred fifty of it (stomach reaction: decontraction…), so I was left with $150 plus $55 court costs. I basically made my point about the confiscatory nature of parking fines – that it seems to me that the county uses such fines as a way to raise revenue, and gives little consideration to other implications. I was happy to have dodged the bullet, as they say, in court, and somehow paying the two hundred bucks was almost a relief.

Happily Paying my reduced fine

Yesterday Iris and I drove back up to Jersey, including a stop at our favorite flea market, Cowtown, NJ, near the lower end of the New Jersey Turnpike. It remains an amazing little confluence of modernity in America. There aren’t many native born folks here, save for some city folk from Camden and Philly, but if you speak Housa/Spanish/Korean/Hindi, you’ll feel right at home. It’s a perfect example of what a writer friend once wanted to call the story of immigrants in this country – The Third World At Home. And truly it is.
The fryiing station at Danny's Steaks:Feel the Love!

You can buy about anything you need at Cowtown, and buy it about as cheap as you’ll find it anywhere. Sweet potato pie, envelopes, samurai swords, Amish inspired roasted chicken, and of course Danny’s Steaks: a little bit of Philly Heaven. The bread melts in your mouth, as do the other goodies which comprise the sandwich. Worth the detour.
The final bite

And then we were in Boonton. Rose, my mother in law, has moved this week into Victoria Mews. I’m not really sure what a Mews is, but I think it’s a kind of closed in courtyard. Her place is adorable, and she seems to be getting used to, most of all, not having to deal with the REST of the house. She mostly lived in three rooms – bedroom, living room and kitchen, and a boiled down version has been provided for her, along with help when she needs it. But the big call today was at 230 from Seth: “He’s out…”

He would be Zachary Alexander Jacobson. He would be the First Grand Child. He would be a future singer/writer/modelairplane lover.. well maybe you can’t have everything, but the point is, after a modestly uncomfy labor, Mom and Son doing fine, and Dad sounds OK, too. We’re off to Boston on Wednesday to see the family and have to recite that just about perfect welcome to the newest member of the family: “Blue Skies, Zachary!”


Walt said...

I think you should be fined $500 for making that Pizza.

As I remember, neither of your grandparents were Italian!


Congratulations Iris, Allan & David for joining the august club of Grandparent-hood.

Walter Briggs said...

Ouch! The pricing of the ingredients must have been gastronomical..err..'astronomical'.

Honsty and humility once reduced a $250.00 speeding ticket to driving w/o a seatbelt. The Asst. DA kept trying to state there were no 55mph signs along the road..I told him there were, and I was wrong..

I later learned he lived not far from me..on that same road he travels each day!

Ya never know, do ya??

Anonymous said...

Great read.

... glad to hear you got a reduced fine. A nice little speach to boot.

The only other thing that might have helped would have been rented crutches and twitching a little when you spoke, you never know.
But $200 is pretty good.

A "MEWS" is what a drunk cat says.

Anonymous said...

Hello! Congratulations on becoming grandparents! I've been following this occasionally after your email some time ago--and as someone who was briefly involved in the Measures of Time show at Indiana University, I do hope someone will step in to fill the sponsorship. It is such a wonderful show--I still remember receiving the boxes, opening up the first set, and seeing Pope John Paul, arms outstretched as if welcoming me into the show. I'd do it myself, but am just graduating law school and have a few debts to pay first. All the very best! Laura

Captain Explorer said...

I agree, you are a very good lecturer, and it was unfortunate you did not become a Canon "Explorer of Light" when I created the program in 1994. To a large degree, no pun intended, it did not happen due to the same person you now lament as having "...just decided to take a well earned retirement." I left Canon in 2003, ten (10) years almost to the day I started, so I never got to see your events Canon sponsored. However, in my opinion, he probably decided to sponor you out of guilt for the "Explorer of Light" snub. Sort of like that TV show "My Name Is Earl" where the guy tries to make up for all his poor choices, mistakes, and has an epiphany and vows to change his ways.

In this case, I hope there are enough days left in him to right at least half the wrongs he has done including to me. However, I will not hold my breath waiting.

Your web site is terrific as are the images.

All the BEST
"Captain Explorer"

Walter Briggs said...

Just got my issue of Am Photo in say those images of Arlington are 'powerful' is an understatement..