Thursday, September 29, 2011

Golf Has Lost It's Control Over Me

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There was a time when I was obsessed with golf.  These clubs were magical to me, the wand that I would use to create art.  They offered hope.  The chance for improvement.  They stood for freedom and if nothing else they symbolized a beautiful walk and hanging out with friends. Each new driver design promised to add 10 yards, or more loft, or a straighter flight, and maybe in some sense that was true.  Like anything else, the measurable strides came as a result of hard work, perseverance, and talent.  Nothing else.  The tools were the tools, but the artist had to use those tools to create magic.  Sometimes they make the job easier, but the hands holding them was the most crucial aspect.

I can remember receiving permission to go ahead and buy the clubs.  My game had progressed to the point where it made sense to have improved tools.  I was so anxious to get them I neglected to have them fitted, but I didn't care.  It may have made a slight difference, who knows? I just knew that I no longer had to carry a set of clubs from Sam's club.  I now had, in theory, the tools that the pros use.  I used them a lot and got even better (for an amateur).     But something changed, the obsession faded, and I set them down for long periods of time.

As I walked through my garage the other day to search for something, I glanced over at the clubs and it occurred to me that I hadn't used them in over a year, despite the fact that I can see the 13th fairway from my house.  I used to walk through the December Northern California downpour, by myself, so I could play.  I couldn't get it out of my mind in those days.  Now as I looked at them, all I could think about was how they would reflect light and how they might look against a blue background.  The obsession had changed.

I became obsessed with photography about 3 years ago when I got my first DSLR.  I suppose that coincides with the decline of the golf obsession.  I had never made the link before yesterday until I realized the tools of my old obsession were merely props for the tools of my new obsession.

I couldn't fight the urge, I never can, regardless of the obsession.  I quickly pulled out the background and all the required tools and began shooting the clubs.  The end result fit what I saw in my mind and I was happy.  The perseverance and the hard work has paid off in this pursuit as well.  I can typically create the end result from what I see in my head, but it's taken a lot of time and patience to get to that point, and I still have tons to learn.  When I first picked up the camera I never realized that development was the result of the same process as it is with sports.  I always thought the really good photographers just picked up a camera, were instantaneously good, and never took a bad shot.  Now I know the truth, and I hope this obsession lasts.

I hope I don't go in the garage in a year and see my camera bag propped up on my drums, next to the motorcycle that is leaking oil onto the golf bag....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Everything is a pain in the ass...

Everything is a pain in the ass (EIAPITA).  These flip-flops prove it.  They are one small thing out of millions of things that are a pain in the ass, but they are the most recent, so they have become the placeholder for now.  A material icon and representation of the concept of all that is a pain in the ass.

I'm pretty sure my dad taught me this concept, though I can't exactly pinpoint it to a day or a particular thing.   I only know that  over time what has always been a fact of his life, became a fact of mine.   At some point it became a running joke between us.  I would say "Dad, you know what this is...."  and he would reply "It's a pain in the ass!!!!!"  EIAPITA manifests itself in many forms.  It can be physical (I bang my head, I hit my elbow, I roll my ankle) and it can be mental (I just sat down, is the remote seriously 5 steps away).  It can be trivial ( I spilled all the coffee I just ground), or serious (I gave myself second degree burns using the iron to get ready for church).  Regardless of its form, EIAPITA permeates every pore of my being and makes me shout at the world and the creator for making everything so damn difficult!

Now then, back to the flip flops.  How in the world can EIAPITA have a role in a cheap pair flip-flops you ask?  It's not the flip flops themselves (their construction, design, quality,etc..), it's the way they came into my life that make them a PITA.

Nikki and I were getting ready to attend a wine club event (more on that in another post)  and I got ready in plenty of time.  It was hot, so I wore shorts, a white button down cubano type shirt, and sneakers.   I then sat down to catch a small part of the football game before we had to leave.  About 15 minutes before go time, Nikki walks in to have me attach her bracelet, glimpses at my shoes and declares, "Oh no, you can't wear those" (PITA #1).  I plead my case that we are going to a pig roast, in a barn, in 100 degree weather.  I'm quite sure these shoes will do.  Since you know about the flip-flops already, I'll skip the cursing and tantrum part about not having time to go to the store and move on.

We zip out the door, but realize we have to stop by my sister's house to drop off a birthday gift and bring back some borrowed items (PITA #2).  Sorry sis.   As we're leaving the neighborhood, Nikki uses her iphone to confirm there is a Kohl's in Napa on the way (that's actually an anti PITA).

We make it to the downtown area in good time, I take my usual route and make the usual turns and....are you freaking kidding me!!!!! Main Street is blocked for an event (PITA #3).  I navigate, get close, park, and jog over to the the store.  It's 100 degrees out, so I start sweating, not what you want when headed to an event (PITA #4).

I get in, make my selection, head to the counter and realize there are 6 people in the line ahead of me (PITA#5).  I run to the other side of the store, and there are no people in line (Anti PITA #2).   I smile, tell the clerk that's all I have, and she begins the search for the barcode.  And you know it right away, don't you?  There's no f*@%*$g barcode on this pair (PITA #6).  Now I have two options.  1. I can have her ask for a price check, or god forbid she go do it herself or 2. I can run back to the other side of the store myself because I know it will be quicker.  I opt for option 2 (PITA #6).  I pay quickly, run out of the store, back to the truck and we're on our way.  Damn, I'm still sweating (PITA#7).

So, you see, I now have a pair of flip flops, and they're fine.  I'll get good usage out of them enjoying what remains of the summer heat.  But every time I pick them up and put them on, I'll be reminded of the circumstances in which they were obtained, and I'll be reminded, once again the everything is a pain in the ass.

Hey everybody, you know what these flip flops are?

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's Gonna Be Painful....

It's gonna be painful.....

That's the warning I was given from my sister when Nikki and I agreed to take Jason to his soccer game.   Tammy had a wedding to go to so we gladly offered to help her out while she was gone.   The life of a sports mom, especially with two kids (one 16) is extremely hectic so we often end up helping with the logistics of the lifestyle.

A full year had passed since Jason last played soccer, his focus concentrated on baseball during that time. His baseball game knowledge had become very good, he understood where to throw the ball, how to back-up plays, the situation, and all the things necessary to be successful at baseball.  In addition, he swung the bat with some ferocity despite his long, skinny frame.   While others struggled, it was clear he had a strong grasp of the game.  Soccer, however, proved to be quite a different story.

The last time we watched Jason play soccer was his first year so it was understandable that the game might be a difficult thing to grasp.  Soccer tends to be much less structured, so the fluidity of the game often doesn't register until later on in the development process.  At this age the game is typically a cluster of chaos with the ball emerging periodically for a breath of air, then being immediately inundated by the hornets nest of cleats and socks.  Surely this go round would be different as Jason had another year of growth and development under his belt plus an understanding of team sports and what it means to be aggressive.

The early signs during warmups were ominous.  The ball was splaying off his foot at all angles and he seemed to be on the verge of falling down all the time.   His signature move was what I call the "guillotine".   The move can be performed while he is at rest or while on the move.  If on the move, the result is far more spectacular because then he is off balance and contorts and spins in the air.  Imagine Charlie Brown with long legs.  Much like Charlie Brown, he typically misses the ball while performing the move and his kicking leg cuts upward with enough force that I'm convinced it could cut another player's head off.  His brother, Jacob, had warned me about it a few weeks before, and then I saw it in the backyard a few days later.  I was certain a gratuitous shot to the package was inevitable so I kept a reasonable distance.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that it would happen in real time during the game.

Due to the ferocity and uniqueness of the move, I decided I would only take shots from the legs down to ensure I captured the beauty of it.  I only had to wait a short time into the game before he gave me what I came for.   In order to understand the move completely, we need to break down the evidence frame by frame a la the Zapruder film (if you don't know what that is you shouldn't be reading this anyway).

1.  In frame one we can see excellent technique just before impact.  Having played soccer most of my life, I can appreciate the power about to be unleashed here.  Everything is in perfect position for a pinpoint strike at the ball.

2.  Seemingly defying all laws of physics, he completely misses the ball.  We can see the force of the blow reflected in the hyperextension of the knee.  I'm not sure how his shin didn't fly off his leg and back over his head in a bloody stump.  This frame shows why the move is called the guillotine.  If somebody's head were in the arc of the leg path, it would surely be removed from the body (guys, imagine if you're package were in the path).

3.  In this frame we see the follow through motion along with the ball in its original position.  The force of the knee on the follow through could also do great damage to any innocent bystander.

Thank goodness he tends to float around the outside of the pack because it would be unfortunate so see a young 'un experience death by guillotine in the modern ages.


For the second half Jason played goalie and his knowledge of the game seemed to be about the same.  He wandered all over the place and was out of position, but he had a hell of a good time picking up the ball, sprinting, and punting it as far as he is able.  And that's when it dawned on me:  Who cares if he knows what he's doing or not, he's having a great time, he's interacting, he's part of a team, he's learning, he's active and he enjoys the social aspect and dynamics of team sports.

However, I would have liked to have seen the guillotine maneuver on one of those punts...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hornet's Nest Update

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Here's an update on the Hornets in our overhang:  THEY ARE MULTIPLYING RAPIDLY!!!

In a previous post (below) I explained why I decided to let this nest prosper.

Surprisingly their presence hasn't been a big deal.  I thought it would be overwhelming, but they don't seem to move around much at any time of the day and I haven't had to scream like a girl once.  Until today, that is...

Any time you peep in on a nest, any slight movement from the bees seems to be the launch of an all out assault on the perpetrator.  As I got in place to take the shot a piece of foliage brushed my leg (scream).  I got in place again and a dragonfly buzzed nearby (scream).  The flash seemed to irritate the group (scream).   However, no attack ever came.  Once again only my ego was assaulted.

Here's what I can figure out:  Why are there so many more now?  I would assume the larvae would hatch and be on their way immediately, but it looks like they stay because now there are double or triple the amount of hornets hanging around the nest.

I also thought the small nest off to the side was a template for the bigger one.  I thought the architect in the group laid down the blueprints for the rest to follow, but there is a larvae in there and they check on it from time to time.  Must be the queen bitch.

A side note for those that attended the margarita party:  That nest was directly above your head as you mixed your drinks (screeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmm............).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

She Prays For Me

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Upon returning from church, Nikki's mother often tells me that she prayed for me during the service.   I know it's lighthearted so I smile and say thanks, but I always wonder what she really must think of this heathen who rarely sets foot inside of a church unless it's mandatory: Christmas and Easter.  Weddings don't count because those are essentially a party and you're thinking about what you'll be eating and drinking following the service.  Come to think of it, that's the same thing I think about at Easter and Christmas.  Scratch that, weddings count as a tongue lashing,  err...I  mean service attended.

Leann's beliefs are strong and in the 20 years I've known her they have remained constant and unwavering.  I, on the other hand, went kicking and screaming every single Sunday until I was old enough to resign my commission in that indentured servitude at age 16.  Cut me some slack, I attended Mormon service and those were three hours long (still are).  A 6 year old is right on the verge of death after three hours without food, so my memories of church are of being uncomfortably hungry most of the time.   That, and total strangers bearing their soul (and stories of seeing apparitions) once a month in front of a room full of people (actually that part was fairly amusing).  The regimented mind control was too much for me to bear.  I haven't given up hope, I've just dropped the yolk of organized religion and I keep seeking.

St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Benicia was built in 1859 and remains an integral part of Main Street Benicia. Taking Leann there photograph her was the perfect match of subject and place.  She was somewhat nervous about being a "model", but I knew it would be easy to direct her by simply saying, "Do what you do in church".   I had seen the church before and loved the light that comes in through the stained glass and I had been waiting for the perfect subject.  She is a devout catholic and I'm not sure if she knows that this shot took place on enemy territory (don't tell her, she looks happy and peaceful in the photos).

Leann is a woman of great integrity and she has treated me like family for as long as I can remember.   Of all the times I've tried to photograph her, these seem to be the most natural shots.  She looks comfortable, she's in her element.  When she came back from church this past Sunday she again told me she had prayed for me during mass.  As I contemplate those words right now, I can see two possible meanings:

1. I prayed for your soul today because you really need it.
2. I did your praying for you so you're covered for a year and you don't have to set foot in a church.

I hope it's number two.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dementia: Fascinating and Terrifying

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This is my neighbor, Ken.  We've lived next door to each other for a little bit over a year now and we have small talk conversations from time to time.  Yet, each time Ken sees me walk into the house he is extremely confused because he can't figure out why this young guy is going into the old people's house next door.  I watch him through the window after I've walked in and he'll stare for a bit with a perplexed look, and then go about his business.  You see, Ken has dementia and it fascinates me and terrifies me at the same time.

I first noticed something wasn't quite right the first time I had a conversation with him shortly after moving in.   After about 90 seconds the conversation started over from the beginning and continued this way for at least 4 cycles before I moved on.   Subsequently I noticed he checks the mail an inordinate amount of times during the day, including Sundays.  These were harmless little daily routine quirks, but the scary part of his condition came to full light the night he banged on our door in a panic.

When I first heard it, I thought it was the mormons again, so I  discreetly poked my head around the corner to see.  As I was doing this, Ken began turning the knob and eventually cracked the door open and he was clearly in an agitated state, as was I.  When I approached him he asked me where the "old people" were (his former neighbors were in their 80's and that's what he could remember).  I didn't try to explain, but asked him what the problem was and how could I help.  He told me his house had been robbed and they had taken everything.  I was fairly certain this wasn't the case, but thought I should check the house so he would calm down.  I quickly called his family, who had given me their contact information, then went over to his house.

I could tell right away that nothing had been taken.  He was adamant about his TV being stolen, but it was clearly in its place.  He remarked that they must have taken it and replaced it with another, which really struck a chord with me about the confusion he must feel.  We were able to calm him down and I called his family to let them know everything seemed fine.

There hasn't been another incident.   I still see Ken every night out in front of the house sitting in his chair.  We still say hello and it's like he's meeting a new person every time.  His caretaker tells me his condition is worsening.   She estimates that he forgot who I was in the 60 seconds that passed  between me asking to take his photo and retrieving my gear.   I think about him a lot and what his life must be like at this point.  I'm fascinated by how the world appears to him and the brain function (or lack thereof).  Everything is new all the time.  His caretaker tells me he eats ice cream often, and then asks to eat ice cream 5 minutes after they're done.   Imagine if every sensation, every experience you ever had was like the first time.  That seems magical to me on the one hand, and yet it seems terrifying to have no anchor, no point of reference for what is going on around you, to feel like you haven't seen anybody in years, when they actually left only minutes ago.   And every time I go into a room and forget what I went there for, I have to decide if Ken's condition is terrifying or not.  I'm leaning towards yes.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Show Stealer

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We attended  a friend's wedding over the weekend and the star, for me, was completely unexpected.  Monique and Chris put on a very classy, elegant wedding and we had a great time.  The one person I couldn't stop staring at during the ceremony, however, was the flower girl.

I always bring my camera along with me just in case something interesting demands my attention.  When you're not the photographer charged with documenting the event, you get to observe things you might not otherwise consider because you're running not around doing your best to ensure the bride won't be chastising you at a later date for missing the "moment", whatever that might be.   In this case, I was seated in a position where I wouldn't be able to capture the big picture stuff, but I was near the aisle, which turned out to be my gold mine.

The older flower girl passed down the aisle briskly, dutifully dropping flowers as she strolled along.  She was precocious with her smile and curls, the perfect character for this type of work.  Behind her, the younger girl was much more deliberate and seemed to be thinking deeply about the placement of each flower.   She was placing each flower delicately near each previously dropped petal from the other girl rather than simply dropping them.   She stopped within arms reach of me for at least a minute without moving, considering the pattern of flowers on the floor before making another artistic brush stroke with her next flower.   She was in her own time and space dimension despite the 200 eyes fixated on her every move and the fact that the bridal procession music started and Monique appeared at the rear doors.  Ignorance is bliss was never a more appropriate phrase.   The older girl rocketed down that aisle, bent down, and whispered loudly "hurry up", which drew a nice response from those assembled.  The smile on her face let me know this little actress had pulled the right strings for the audience. The two girls quickly went to their spots and sat down to watch Monique make her entrance.

I turned my attention back to Monique and she looked spectacular.  Brides seem to glow on their wedding day, it's not just a cliche.  She made her procession up the aisle from my left to right and the natural movement of my head took my eyes right to the girl who was about to put on the show.

Sprawled out as if she were in her own bedroom, the older girl was clearly contemplating something.  Of course we were in a church so it might have been god, or it may have been some child's whimsy, or a shiny object.  If only her internal narrative could have been output into an audio channel for me to witness.  But then again, it couldn't possibly be as funny as not knowing her thoughts and speculating on the content, right?  As the ceremony continued, she had tea with her sister, satisfied a biological impulse (no deep thought necessary on that one), got tired and then....wait, no she didn't!  Not sure, but she seems a bit surprised.

Following the ceremony we went to the reception and had a great meal and caught up with a few of Nikki's work friends.  Once the music started, Robert treated us to our second show of the day. He's not shy when it comes to dancing.  Among the many gyrations you will see in a given dance session,  the jacknife is always the crowd pleaser.  While I wasn't able to capture that particular feat of athleticism, I did capture some of his best of the night.  Hey Robert, "It's getting hot in here".  No joke, that song was playing while he did the open vest movement.  You go with your gut instincts I guess.

 I'm glad Monique and Chris invited us and we got to see them start their lives together.  All in all, it was great theater and I enjoyed both performers immensely. I've seen Robert's moves several times, so perhaps that's why the little girl left more of an impression on me.  Considering the circumstances and the timing, I have to give performance of the day to the little show stopper.