Monday, October 31, 2011

Circus Freaks

He looks dirty, somewhat sleazy, and a bit scary and dangerous.  In short, he looks like a grade A bona-fide Carnie.  However, he's the ringleader of the greatest party I've ever attended.

This is the third party of Robert's we've attended and they have all been great, but this one was over the top in every detail and in every carefully placed Kewpie doll.   This party takes a year's worth of planning, and he started placing the circus tent panels in the house in August.  I had seen the basic structure, but I hadn't seen all the fine details that would make the party a feast for the eyes and leave me amused and amazed at the same time.

 The first thing you see upon arriving at the house is that the entrance is set up like the entrance to a circus tent and there is a handmade sign at the front door announcing that we're at the "Carnivale Abnormale".   When we enter the house I'm looking around the room and I'm sort of shocked and amazed.  I should be taking photos, but my attention is constantly diverted to other incredible details in the room.  There are hand painted signs hanging up there, a gigantic clown mouth over there, and Kewpie dolls everywhere.   The thing that blows my mind is that all the graphics are created by Robert, and everything from the coasters on the table to the hand soap in the bathroom has been customized specifically for the party.   I would be proud of myself had I created just one of these things.

I walk further into the house and there are two cotton candy machines in the living room.  In my mind cotton candy is some sort of magical creation and can't be duplicated at home, it requires tons of room and  highly specialized equipment.   I turn my head to the right and there is a freaking skee ball game and now my head is about to explode.  Suddenly I'm 7 years old again and I want to win stuffed animals and cheap plastic snakes that end up costing $25 dollars at the end of the day.   Each game, from the skee ball to the wheel of fortune, to the fortune teller (made by Robert) requires tickets to play and each give raffle tickets back depending on your score.  At the end of the night, we all entered our raffle tickets and numbers were drawn and prizes given.  It was actually like being at a carnival.  Amazing.

In addition to the carnival games there was carnival food:  Cotton candy, popcorn, corn-dogs, onion rings,  and 20 other battered, deep fried, delicacies, all home-made.  The place even smelled like a carnival.

Because Robert's parties have gained such renown with his friends, the party-goers tend to go all out in their costumes and he now buildst a studio in the garage to take shots of the guests, which makes me euphoric.  Drunk, uninhibited party-goers wearing crazy colors and outlandish costumes against a themedl backdrop is a photographer's dream.   I just show up and say "stand over there" and they begin posing, and when I'm done they don't want me to stop, they want more.    It's a dream job and I volunteer every year now.  I took shots of all the attendees, and while it's impossible to show every one, these are some of my favorites.  All can be seen here .

The crazy psycho clown is amazing by itself because that costume was put together in literally 15 minutes.  Due to a cancellation, Christina got a phone call about an hour before the party and put that together, but that's what she does.  She has more energy than any other person I've ever met.

Note from Nikki, those are not fat rolls, it is the costume!

The task of hosting a more elaborate, creative party for next year is daunting indeed.  I hope Robert hasn't reached his creative zenith with this one, but I do feel sorry for him because expectations will be quite high.  No pressure Robert, we'll be watching, waiting, anticipating.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Am I Complaining About?

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I ask myself that question a lot of times as I sit and eat my turkey sandwich while overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.  Millions of people make vacation plans and spend a lot of money to come and see the bridge, one of the most iconic architectural monuments in the U.S.  I come here to eat my fritos when I'm bored.

It's easy to find things to complain about in our jobs.  I do it every day to the point of ridiculousness.  A sales job can be a lonely existence and it certainly has some drawbacks, but my sales territory includes Marin County up to the bridge.  Hell, I was literally required to be there as we had a big erosion control project going on in the steep sloped hills for the past year.   I have taken great shots of the bridge from the driver's seat, while dialing in sports radio.  It's a fact of life,  I just see it all the time.

From the bridge I can be at the beach in 10 minutes to watch the surfers do their thing while I finish up my sandwich.  I do it often, it helps break up the day and it only takes 30 minutes.    Many times I try to tell myself how lucky I am to have the job I have in the area I have it.  It works for awhile, but I think the American suburbanite is programmed to complain.  Relatively speaking, (especially when compared to, say, a child struggling in Africa) everything is easy.   The fight for survival is so much less than it was 100 or 200 years ago.  Imagine the pioneers and the Westward migration.  That, my friends, was a struggle.

So I sit and watch the surfers and I think about how easy I have it and I begin to feel a sense of tranquility, and I vow to stop complaining about ridiculous things.  Inevitably my reverie is broken by the sound of my phone, the 3"x5" miracle that allows me to communicate instantaneously with nearly any part of the world, and I reach down to grab it and it falls between the space in the seat where I can't reach it.

SON OF A B*%*@!!!  Everything is a pain in the ass!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Do You Believe in Pataphysics?

I still don't know what it means and I looked up the word Pataphysics.  Wikipedia defines it like this:

The term was coined and the concept created by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), who defined 'pataphysics as "the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments."  (WTF?)

I doubt I ever would have known this word if I hadn't asked Eric to pose for me, and that's the beauty of photography.  Everybody always has something interesting to say or I learn about something new and interesting by interacting.   I think it's part of the human condition, we all want to give our opinion or tell our story.  In short, we want to be heard.   I approach any given subject because I find something about them interesting, and the interaction always reveals more, gives me something I didn't have before.   Now I have Pataphysics, but I'm not sure what to do with it. 

"Imaginary Solutions".  Isn't that what 5 year olds come up with when they are caught doing wrong, or when they don't understand something?Parents, now you can really throw them for a loop next time they mess up.  Instead of screaming "don't lie to me" you can simply say "(Insert Name), stop being Pataphysical. In an earlier blog about the Greer family, I'm pretty sure Dylan gave me a Pataphysical answer about the lemons and limes.  I think the Mormons have Pataphysical answers to many things (OK, that was gratuitous, but I grew up Mormon so I get to say stuff like that.  Mormon family, please don't be offended, it's not personal, just poking fun).

I have found that the surfing crowd at Cronkhite Beach is largely a professional crowd.  Many of them put their suits on after surfing and head to the law offices for a dissertation.  That really surprised me as I assumed they were much more like Eric, who definitely fits the prototypical stereotype of a surfer.  Alfred Jerry, who coined the term must have surfed and smoked weed, right?  Regardless of what he believes, or how he thinks, Eric was courteous to me and allowed me some time to do what I wanted to do.  He didn't have an obligation, but he allowed the interaction to happen and I know I'm a little bit richer for the encounter.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Koozie With Class

I was certain Koozies were for rednecks until I saw Donna Barker holding a beer that looked like it was wearing a wet suit and had an elegant zipper like a gown for the Debutante Ball.   I've never considered myself a redneck so I made it a point not to use a Koozie.  Not a good look.  However, I am all about the Koozie with class and since I live in Northern California it will be referred to as the wine country coozie (WCC) (notice I've replaced the "k" with a "c", it adds to the classiness).

Donna is the wife of Al Barker (Al B.), one of my Air Force Academy classmates.  I've only seen her in person 2 or 3 times, but I feel like we're closer.  It's sort of a friendship by osmosis through Al B., whose friendship was forged by 24/7 interaction over 5 years (hey, we were the "dumb" ones that had to go to the prep school first) at the Academy.   We were both part of the tight knit athletic fraternity at the academy and hung around a lot of the same people.   A time gap of 10 years or more is irrelevant in these type of relationships that were forged in the steaming cauldron of leadership in Colorado Springs.

Donna understands our humor, and doesn't seem to tire of the sophomoric, asinine, things we talk about and still do, if only to recapture that magical time in our lives.   I don't know if "pressed ham" is really funny to her, or if she tolerates it only to indulge us, but that's beyond the point.  The fact that she is willing to be a part of the joke is what makes her special and I'm glad Al B. has her.    She's a great gal and I would gladly invite her to any "guys only" gathering.   It's no wonder Al B. couldn't resist a girl who is willing to rock the WCC in her left hand with a badminton racket in her right hand.

Excuse me if I'm late to the Coozie party, but I wasn't aware that the WCC was an option.  The Koozie seems to be largely a midwestern (notice the "colts" logo), perhaps southern phenomenon, you just don't see it a lot in California.  I've been here 12 years, so the  singular image of a Koozie in my mind is the 1/2" thick sleeve that only extends halfway up the length of a beer CAN.   The bottle WCC is new to me, but I'm a fan.  I'll be rockin' this thing on my bottles from this point forward, even if it has a "Colts" logo on it.

Thank you, Donna, I love this thing!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Oh Guinness, Why Guinness?

With much trepidation, I went and purchased a six pack of Guinness' new addition to their product line, Guinness Black Lager.  My hesitation stemmed from the fact that Guinness is so iconic in its look and taste.  It's more than a drink, it's an experience.  I kept thinking to myself, "If I want a Guinness it's for a specific reason:  I love the taste, look and feel of a Guinness".   As I drove to the store, I couldn't shake one simple question from my mind.  Given a choice, why would I order the Black Lager?

The look and taste of a Guinness Stout is like no other taste in the beverage world.   Those who drink it know what I mean and those who don't, well, you don't love Guinness and are excused from this discussion.  It's creamy and smooth with a beautiful brown coloring that I would liken to brown velvet.  The head is distinguishable from any other type of beer.  The khaki brown, smooth, creamy belt that sits at the top is it's signature and trademark, it's DNA.  It's like seeing the face of Jack Nicholson.  You know it when you see it and there's nothing else like it.   I believe Guinness should only come from a tap, but the draught bottles and cans with the CO2 gadget inside have made drinking a Guinness at home a reasonable facsimile of drinking one at the bar.   Prior to that gadget, I wouldn't drink Guinness out of a bottle or can because it wasn't even close to the same experience.  Plus, the CO2 bottles and cans have a distinct look to them and are aesthetically pleasing.

I'm not one of those people who has a sensitive palette and can describe 30 different flavors in a drink, but without a doubt a swig of Guinness will give you hints of chocolate and coffee and many other wonderful, heavy flavors.  There's no deception in the name, its not for the faint of heart, it's a stout.  I find I like it best in the winter months, but will quaff a Guinness anytime, anywhere.

When I first picked up the six pack, I noticed a distinct difference in the look of the bottle.  The label was silver, and the bottle had the indistinguishable shape of any domestic beer.  The bottom of the label made me throw up a little in my mouth. "Cold Brewed" it said.  That's what the bland and tasteless leading domestic brands say.  I shed a quick tear, quickly wiped it away and looked around to see if anybody noticed.  They hadn't.

I got home and poured myself a glass to see if this might be a case where the first impression is a wrong one.  Maybe the packaging needed to be improved, but the product was spot on.  The first thing I noticed is that the head was frothy and ugly.  It looked like the head you get from a cola pour, not my beloved Guinness.  I know, it's a lager, not a stout, I should expect differences.   But I don't want differences.  When I see the word "Guinness", it evokes a very specific image in my mind.  It's brand recognition at its best.

The more I poured, the uglier it got.  The end result was this mop-topped layer of unruly head that looked like an ugly cousin of Guinness.  It looked like root beer had invaded the party and wasn't about to leave.

It eventually settled down into a presentable version of itself, but it still wasn't the same, and I can't get past the notion that I want it to be the same.  After all, it has the Guinness name on it.

After I got past the ugliness of it I eventually got around to tasting it, but my spirit had already been broken.  Much like its appearance, the taste of the black lager was dissapointing.  I could taste the heavy flavors, but less so, and they didn't linger as long.  It seemed to be a watered down version of the stout, a worse version of itself.

At the end of this tasting experiment I still couldn't shake the question I started with.  Given a choice, why would I order this beer?  Except now, the question had an answer.  I wouldn't.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Our Refugee Puppy

Photo by Jeff Allen

The gray has begun its slow, inevitable creep across her muzzle as she approaches nine years old, but the gray brings me comfort.  It means she has lived long past her execution date, the day I heard the awful scream that brought her into my life.  None of it was planned or expected.

  I was on a trip with my Dad, who was researching a motorcycle travel story in a Harley-Davidson side-car rig for a magazine.   We were on our way back home after spending several days driving up and down the baja peninsula, he on the motorcycle and I in a trailing van with a photographer and a writer.  Until that point, I had always been a dog lover, but a chain of events brought a little puppy we came to name Bella, into my life and left an indelible impression on me and changed the way I understand and experience all dogs.

  We first noticed her as we were sitting around the hotel Pinta hotel in San Ignacio, Mexico. The two nights we spent there were the most at any location during the week.  The hotel looked like an old mission, but with clean sheets, hot running water and a passable restaurant.  The main courtyard had a large pool, giving the place the feel of an oasis in the hot dry Baja desert. 

  As all feral dogs in Baja, she looked like a mix of several breeds.  The most obvious characteristics were that of a German Shepherd and Doberman.  Her hair was short, but had the same black and tan markings of a Shephard.  Her feet had the high toes of a Doberman with the same posture and deep chest.  Sometimes when she panted, her forehead wrinkled, making her look like a Sharpei, or a Bull Terrier.  Here ears were perhaps the most prominent feature, floppy and two sizes two big.

  She was with her mother and brother, and all lived under the front porch.  It was obvious they were still nursing, not more than 6-8 weeks old.  Bella and her brother were lively and rambunctious, the mother very reserved and a bit haggard. The tourists, including our group, took advantage of the opportunity to feed them table scraps, to steal an intimate moment to give them a little affection, and for a moment, imagine another life for these dogs. Surely this small pack belonged to someone associated with the hotel, so the fleeting moment passed and we went about our business.

  Early on our last morning there, packing to leave, we heard a horrible scream that even now rings crystal clear in my mind.  My first thought was that one of the dogs had been hit by a car.  Her mother was pacing nervously, knowing her baby was in danger.  As we approached the sound, we found that Bella had been tied in a potato sack and tossed into the back of a rusty old pickup. Her first ride was going to be her last.  My dad and I walked purposefully to the truck and the driver to try and make sense of the situation.

 It was obvious that the driver had been given instructions to toss this innocent life in the river. Quickly the conversation turned threatening, and the shouting started.

 Though I was livid at the time, I realize now it was a practical solution for controlling the overwhelming feral dog population among people with few means.  It was surprising her mother had lived long enough to have puppies. We were told the males are typically spared, though we have no way of knowing what happened to her brother.

  The result of the exchange between we and the pickup driver was that I owned a new puppy. At the time I had no idea of the implications, but I was adamant that this little girl wouldn’t die today.

  Before we packed her in the van, my dad got on his knee,  held Bella’s face to her mother’s and whispered, “Say goodbye to your baby, she’s going to America and a better life”.  Perhaps it’s foolish, or anthropomorphic, but in my mind her mother understood the exchange and, though sad, gave us her blessing.

  The first few hours of our little traveler with us in the van she sat in a in a bucket.  She smelled like fish and vomited out the effluvium of a fish carcass, a taco wrapper, chewing gum wrapper, and a mouse skull.  I cleaned her up that first night in the hotel shower and wrapped her in the comforter on the bed.  She clearly felt content, safe, and warm because she barely stirred all night.

  The next day we stopped in Maneadero and got her vaccinations taken care of, preparing for the border crossing.  Finding a veterinarian on the main street was easy, but describing what I wanted was very intimidating because I had to explain in Spanish Bella’s story and what I was doing.  Fortunately, I had learned enough Spanish to make this conversation possible, although it was slow going.

  The staff in the office was very helpful and the Veterinarian was understanding and appreciated what we were doing.  He saw us immediately and we were out within an hour vaccination papers in hand. Our stowaway was legal with her first set of papers.

 Approaching the border we tried enclosing her in the motorcycle side car luggage compartment. No way, and she let us hear her scream again.  We believed there was a real chance she could be confiscated and we might never see her again.  I was surprised I could feel such panic over a dog I had known for less than 36 hours.  The deep bond was already intact.

  After considering many complicated schemes, we decided a small hiding place under the seat and a “nothing to declare” were the best option to get her to America.

  With my dad driving, I sat in the back seat, with Bella gently pushed back behind my legs on the floor and covered with leathers and photography equipment. I was praying she wouldn’t make a sound, and not squirm out and initiate a conversation of her own with the guards.  In that moment I knew what it felt like to be a drug dealer, a smuggler, a criminal.  I was terrified and electrified at the same time.  A new life was at stake, a beating heart that needed me to be calm so she could experience life in a truly magical place called America.

  The guard approached the window and took a painfully slow look around the interior of the van.  When was Bella going to appear?  Did she just cry? I tried to give him my lazy, bored and tired Yankee look, but I knew he could read the guilt on my face and would ask me to step out of the vehicle. After several agonizing seconds he pulled his head out of the van and inquired about my dad’s travel humidor full of cigars. “Cubano,” he asked smiling.  “Nope, not from Cuba”, me Dad replied. “ Dominican Republic.”   With that, the guard waved us through.  I resisted the impulse to shout out in triumph for Bella, for us, and for getting away with it. I had a new puppy…but now what?

  Before driving back home, I had to make a stop at my dad’s house in Costa Mesa, California to pick up my truck before heading home to Sacramento.  His career and mine brought us both to California from Denver, Colorado, where I spent my childhood.  The motorcycle industry lured my Dad to Southern California, while the Air Force brought me to Sacramento.

  We stayed for a while at my Dad’s place and while there, Bella briefly met Maggie, my childhood Irish Setter who was now twelve. All of our dogs growing up were Irish Setters. I had forgotten how tall she was.  Her legs were very long, bringing her shoulders  to my waist.  Her hair was still brilliant red in most places, though her face was nearly all gray.  She moved much slower and calculated now, but I could still see the athlete’s grace and power in her body. She gently nudged me and cried when she first saw me.  Although it had been several years, she remembered me. The loyalty never wavers.

   The two dogs played a bit, but Maggie soon tired of the new puppy and quickly put her in her place.  The short meeting between the two insured “the chain” remained intact.  Maggie is gone now, but every dog since my childhood has had contact with the next, from Sara to Kelly to Maggie to Bella currently.

  While driving the eigh hours home, I tried to figure a way to introduce our new package of boundless energy to my wife, Nikki, who had no idea what was coming.  Growing up, Nikki was never able to have dogs despite the fact she desperately wanted one.  A month after we were married we picked up our Cocker Spaniel named Maty, who immediately became the focus of all our attention.

  Shortly thereafter, we got her her a companion and found our second love, Mariah, an extremely talkative Samoyed.  Life was a bit frantic at first, but we settled into our routine and Maty and Mariah quickly became strong packmates.  Although Nikki and I had talked about adding a third dog from time to time, we had never quite come to an agreement.  I hoped we could agree now.

  Desperate husbands have a way of introducing dicey surprises, and I’m no exception. I figured since it was February, Bella would become a little Valentine. And she’s the greatest Valentine’s gift I have ever given.

  After hastily parking the car in the garage, I walked into the house and handed my wife a card.  It briefly explained Bella’s situation and told her to go to the truck to see the “package” (she later told me she thought I had adopted a Mexican child).   Nikki met Bella with the same excitement and trepidation I experienced.  Here was a cute, needy new puppy that had to be integrated into our established two dog household, and my wife’s heart melted.

  With a few scheduling adjustments, the transition into the house was fairly easy at first, though it certainly had its rough spots later on as Bella attempted to become the alpha female. Her survival insinct was very strong. This never sat will with Maty who was definitely the toughest of the three.

  Over several years, they had some nasty confrontations and Bella still has the scars around her face to prove it.  But now that Maty is gone, the household has settled into a certain calm, Mariah and Bella each understanding their role and social status. Age has a way of doing that, whether human or canine.  When I look at Bella and my wife now, I can see a deeper appreciation between them, a genuine closeness that has developed over time.

  Reflecting on the experience of adopting Bella, I’m convinced her behavior is a lifelong thank you to humans.  She is extremely sweet, loving, and gentle.  There is a bond between her and I that I’ve not experienced with other dogs. She tells me daily with her expressive eyes that she knows how lucky she is.   When I look at Bella, I can’t help but think of the thousands of dogs that face the same fate she did so many years ago.  The number of dogs is so overwhelming, but there are a few organizations dedicated to helping dogs like her, and it gives me hope.  If you are looking for a new family dog, take some time to research and consider one of these orphans. You won’t regret your choice. Every day you will know you made a difference. 

  I often think of Bella’s Family and wonder whether they made it or not.  Usually the thoughts come when I’m letting Bella run in a nearby field.  Her euphoria brings me an inner peace, because I know exactly what her fate was nine years ago.  Sometimes when she’s running she’ll stop abruptly and look back at me, smiling.  When that happens, I let the moment burn into my mind.  I look around, take it in, and remind myself that we gave her more time, the most precious gift of all. 

  Bella won’t be with us forever and I’m okay with that. Because we both know, she and I, that far away in a dusty Mexican town, among the hundreds of stray dogs, that I took a chance and saved her life.  It reaffirms that her life meant something, and it reminds me that I did something noble when it was inconvenient.

  When she’s asleep, or when she’s at play, I can look at her and know that it mattered to that one. That’s enough.

  It mattered to that one.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I lost My Dignity at Starbuck's

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Once again I proved that everything is a pain in the ass (EIPITA), and I lost my dignity in the process.

You see that fifteen cents?  That's my dignity and that's all my dignity is worth.
You see that mermaid with a crown?  She owns me. She's sitting there lording over my dignity, laughing and scoffing at me.

Nikki and I agreed that we would try and go a week without buying anything.  However, I found a loophole because that pact does not include loose change scattered throughout the house.  You see, that's not real money, it's forgotten, it's spent already, it doesn't even exist.  I only needed $1.50, that's what a small coffee costs at Starbuck's.

(Side rant)  Hey Starbuck's, as long as I continue to buy coffee from your legal crack house, I will never, ever, ever, refer to a cup of coffee as "venti" or "grande" or "tall".  I have a Bachelor of Science degree and I still can't figure out which is which so just give me my small (as we say in America) coffee and shut up.

(Back to the story)

I knew exactly where to find $1.50, hallway cabinet, big drawer on the right.  I calmly opened it, casually flipped through the coins and quickly realized I was way short of $1.50.   Immediately I could feel my biological responses kicking in:  adrenaline, sweat, dilated pupils, clammy hands, the whole works.  Quickly I ran to the bathroom, opened another drawer and found nothing.  Same thing in the kitchen.  Now I'm frantic, rifling through drawers like a burglar.  I'm checking drawers that don't make sense.  Sock drawer? Nope?  I know there's some change with the potato chips.  Nope.  I can't think straight.  Now I'm re-checking all the drawers like you do when you've lost something.   I'm shaking.  Then it comes to me.  The truck, there has to be change in the truck.   I run outside, and there it is.   Amazingly, when I add what I recovered from inside with what I have in the truck, it totals exactly $1.50.   It's my day.

I jump in the truck, race to Starbuck's, plop down my change look the barrista dead in the eye, and ask for a small coffee.  No snide look from her this time, she must realize I'm desperate.  She pours the coffee, brings it over and says the most hateful thing I have ever heard in my life.

"That will be $1.65 please".

No way.  It's been $1.50 for at least two years.  I ask her when it changed.  "Today", she says.

I start sweating, my heart races, my head pounds.  This must be withdrawal symptoms.  Now I know what a crack addict feels like.  I could pull out the credit card, but that will break the pact with Nikki.  I almost cry, then I gather myself.  Suddenly I'm 7 years old again and in my saddest voice I let her know that's it's been $1.50 for as long as I can remember and I don't have any more money.  She's not budging but the manager is frazzled and just wants me to move along and tells her it's OK.   I quickly turn and leave the joint like a thief in the night with my small coffee.

I got what I wanted, but lost part of my soul in the process.  I burglarized my own house, I nearly broke a pact, and I begged and pleaded with an 18 year old coffee pourer, I mean barrista.

Oh yeah, I proved once again that everything is a pain in the ass.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hey, Fongul!

Maurizio actually said that to me, but only because I asked him to.  I wanted to capture his expression so I asked him to say the most offensive thing he could think of.   Being a sicilian, that's what came out.  Maurizio doesn't simply resemble the Italian stereotype, he is the Italian stereotype incarnate, and it's beautiful.

One of the things I love most about San Francisco is it's authenticity.  When you go to an Italian restaurant in North Beach,  you get served by Italians.  With accents.  Who speak with their hands.  The real deal.  And you never have to plan, you just go and you find little gems like Maurizio's Caffè Macaroni on Columbus Avenue.

None of us had ever been there before and when our group of 8 walked through the door, Maurizio asked "How Many" (heavy accent).  We look at each other.  "How Many?" (heavy accent).  More stares.  "How Many"?  (Louder).  We finally get it and working like a tornado he starts moving chairs,  tables, setting napkins, silverware, and all the accoutrements necessary for lunch.

I'm guessing Maurizio is 5' 6" and every move he makes is with a purpose, but somehow lacks efficiency.   He's over here for the menu board, he's back over there for water, wait now he's back over here for a menu, oops forgot the wine glasses, now he's over yonder.   While he's walking over yonder, arms and legs pumping, hands gesturing in the air, I hear him saying, "Mama, Mia" (not kidding here), grabs the wine glasses, flashes back to table, and he's off again.  At this point, I don't even care what's for lunch, I'm so amused by this whirling dervish that the food is really secondary to me now.

At some point during the rundown of the menu board he let's us know that the "Insalate Caprese" isn't available today, but I don't catch that part.  Communication from Maurizio to the kitchen is via intercom because the kitchen is located up a set of stairs.  The conversation goes like this:

Kitchen: (loud garbled message, in Italian)

Maurizio:  pushes button, says something in sing-songy beautiful Italian, gestures with his hands, says "Mama Mia" (no Insalate Caprese), then quickly turns and heads back to the table.

 The menu board (a portable white board) may as well be an NFL play script because I can't understand any of it.  It's lots of colors, slighly smeared, written in part Italian, part English and it's a mess, but It's beautiful.  Besides, I always look for the Penne with Sausage regardless of the Italian restaurant I'm at.  It seems to be my measuring stick for grading Italian Restaurants, and I'm comfortable with it.

He goes around the table taking orders and eventually makes his way to me and I order the Penne and the "Insalate Caprese".  I wasn't being a smart-ass, I never quite caught the part about it being unavailable.  Maurizio begins chastising me with a heavy accent and hand gestures.  I can't understand the words, but I know exactly what he means.  As I'm watching him all I can think about is that now I know where the East Coast attitude originates from, and it's beautiful.

When we get our food, it's not secondary to me anymore, it's incredible.  The bread, the wine, the pasta, the dessert, everything.   I tend to remember things as "good" or "bad" in a lump sum package, and this was definitely "good", and we'll be back and recommend it to friends.  Before we left Maurizio agreed to allow me to take some photos, despite his protestations that his looks "Woulda breaka da camera".

The 30 second exchange we had with me behind the camera is the distilled essence of why I take photos.  It's a brief contract between two people to create a moment, to capture something of the individual that is lasting and enduring.  It's also a distillation of all that I've learned about photography and what it means to capture light and gesture.  I don't think about the tool (camera), I'm only seeing the subject and how I can bring out a moment in time and capture something meaningful for both of us.  That 30 seconds is a distillation of about 1,000 hours of learning and when it all comes together there's not much that can top it as a photographer.

Oh, and the other part of capturing photos is this (and I don't know who said it first):

"If you want to take interesting photos, put interesting people in front of your camera"

Maurizio, you are a beautiful and interesting person.