Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our Legacy

"I like playing music, it makes me feel relevant, like I matter".  My dad spoke these words to me when I thanked him for playing on my birthday, he on his guitar and me on my new cajon.  I haven't been able to get them out of my head ever since.  My dad was a full time entertainer in my early years, so listening to him play is as comfortable a feeling as I know.   Eventually he moved on to writing and became a successful journalist, but I don't think I fully understood how much music meant to him until he said those words.  It's his legacy.  We all want to feel like we have an impact while we're living, and especially after we're gone.

This Christmas has been a time of reflection for me.  A reflection on legacy, of people that have passed, and what it means to be amongst others and have an impact.  My mother's memory has weighed heavily on my mind as this year marks a milestone for me:  She has been gone for as long as I knew her (21 years).  I've done the math in my head for several years and knew it was coming, but I was always able to banish it to the hinterlands of my mind because it hadn't arrived yet.  This year it smacked me square in the face and reminded me how relentless the march of time is.  Surprisingly, it had a positive effect on me.

My mom loved Christmas and the most tangible artifact we have are her ornaments .  Some were hand-made made and others had been in the family for years.  All of them were an integral part of our Christmas trees as kids and after she died it was difficult to see them.  My sister had them for awhile and then she gave them to Nikki and I.  We've had them on our trees since 1995.  I felt a strong desire to document them before they disintegrated or were damaged.  I made a photo book and gave copies to my dad and sister.  We looked through the book and cried a lot, but it was positive.   The amount of time that had passed healed the hurt enough. I felt like it was the first time we could openly discuss her memory and talk about the the things she loved.  Before, we simply couldn't speak about it. We talked about her love of Christmas and the things we remember about her.  We talked about her legacy.  She was incredibly strong, loving, generous, and loyal.  I don't think I realized the depth of her strength until recently.  Time gives you that perspective.
A hand-made ornament from my mom

A family favorite, it's been around for at least 40 years.

My grandma Pacheco was able to visit us again this Christmas.  I've written about her before here. When I dropped her off at the train station I couldn't resist taking the shot below.  She needs assistance now, but she remains extremely tough.  She's 87 and she hopped on a train by herself from Grand Junction, Colorado and rode 22 hours to see us.   She lived through the depression, then WWII, then forged a life after that and raised three kids.  I fear we Americans aren't as tough anymore.  I suppose the times dictate much of that, and we don't struggle for anything now.  She's tough and she has a tremendous work ethic and she has character.  That's her legacy.

Before she left she gave me one of my grandfather's pocket knives.  She estimates he got it in the 1970's and carried it with him every day until he died.  It's scratched, rusted, and weathered, and it's perfect.  I'll keep it in a safe place and look at it from time to time to think about the legacy of the man who owned it.  He fought in WWII aboard the USS Oakland.  He was a part of the "Greatest Generation".  He was strong, patriotic, funny, and he had an incredible work ethic that puts me to shame. That's his legacy.

And so we arrive at the obvious question:  What is my legacy?  The troubling fact is that I don't know what it is.  I don't have kids, so there's no obvious answer in that regard.  Perhaps that is for other people to decide.  I know for sure, though, that my parents legacy lives on through me.  The person I am and the things I love came from them.  I feel them every day in the decisions I make and the way I interact with people.  My mom's strength is always with me, and although he doesn't play music as much, my dad's song still plays in my head every day.  It's important he knows he's still relevant in this man's eyes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What She Means To Me

"Write it down in a blog so I know how you feel".  I've often heard this from Nikki.  She says it when she's frustrated and wants me to elaborate on something.  She's right, too.  The fact is, I'm not great at expressing myself verbally, I tend to be much better doing it in word form.  I'm not sure why. Perhaps its because talking about things takes so much energy.  Many times the details seem so unimportant.  If I've spent 6 hours with a friend and she asks me how he's doing, "Fine" is about all I can muster.  That's the truth.  He is doing fine.  Now, he may have told me many things about his life and kids and work, but talking about it will require at least 45 minutes of conversation and I don't see the point in re-hashing what I just got done experiencing.  I figure the details will come out in due time.

 However, some things are much more important.  On the  occasion of Nikki's  40th birthday, the details and the small things that need to be said are crucial.  They are the foundation of our marriage.  It's appropriate, then,  that I write about them in a blog so she knows how I feel.

I vividly remember the first time we crossed paths.  She walked directly in front of Jay's car in the school parking lot, looked at me, and smiled.  I still see that smile in these photos.  I was hooked.  18 years old and I'm ruined.  I immediately began the search to get her number.    I remember the excitement of preparing for the first date because she was the hot chick and I didn't know what to expect.  If she's horrible, at least I had a date with the hot chick.  If she's kind, life will be a state of nirvana:  A hot chick that you can take home to meet the parents!  As it turned out, my parents liked her too.  That was 1989.   We've been together 23 years.

Trying to encapsulate all the time, all the memories, all the meaningful experiences we've had together is virtually impossible.  Saying somebody means "everything" to you  is trite, unoriginal, and lazy.  It's the easy thing to say when you don't  want to think.  It's like saying "I love you this much" while spreading your arms as wide as you can.  I can't describe what she means to me in any measurable way because that doesn't do her justice.   I suppose the best way to describe her is to say she's irreplaceable.  I can't find another like her, and I can't function without her.  There's nobody else that will ever understand me the way she does, and love me in spite of it.  She's the most caring, generous, kind, and loving person I have ever known.

When my mother died, Nikki laid by me all night long and never left my side.  I was 21 and Nikki was 19.   The kindess of that act is monumental.   When you're 19 years old there are a lot of other things you would rather do than what she did that night.  It would have been easier to leave and come back the next day. But, she loved my mom, and she loved me as well.  Nothing was too overwhelming for her.  She laid by me and held my hand all night, I don't think we spoke much, there wasn't anything to say.  It was love in its purest and most kind form.  That is irreplaceable.

When I started the Air Force Academy, Nikki was 18.  We saw each other sporadically, a random weekend here or there was the norm.  I wouldn't have blamed her if she decided to do other things and see other people.  I know it was difficult for her because she was still in high school.  I managed to attend proms and homecomings, but I had a flat-top.  What high school girl wants to date a dude with a flat-top in 1991? There were a lot of other things she could have been doing.  Yet she waited.  She gave me her time when she could have chosen other friends and other people.  That is irreplaceable.

When I graduated from the Air Force Academy we were sent to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.    For three long years we were there.  It was freezing cold, or it was hot and humid.   There was nothing to do.  We met some great people, though in many ways it was miserable, but she made the most of it.  She supported my career, and she fit in.  I was gone a lot for training and for Air Force Soccer.  She forged ahead, alone.  She could have complained and made life difficult.  I wouldn't have blamed her.  She didn't.  That is irreplaceable.

When I got out of the Air Force I floundered around a bit trying to decide what I wanted to do.  I lost the first career when the tech bubble exploded, then had a steady one for 5 years, decided I wanted a new career, stayed in that career field for 18 months, then went back to the old one, then got laid off after another 5 years.  And she's still with me.  You see, she's the foundation of all that we do.  She's the solid, steady one that allows me to explore and is always there when I falter.  She's been completely supportive of all that I've done in my careers, although it surely hasn't been easy.  That is irreplaceable.

When our dogs got sick, I mean really sick, Nikki attended to them daily.  She hand washed their sores and made sure they were as comfortable as they could be.  I helped, but I wasn't in charge.  I watched her cry as she attended to them, knowing the inevitability of their death.  But she didn't falter.  She made sure they were taken care of and never wavered in her commitment to them. I saw the same gentle kindness she showed me years ago when I needed her.  Irreplaceable.

I tore my achilles tendon about 5 months ago and became nearly incapacitated (shortly after losing my job).  I was completely vulnerable and in a lot of pain, and there she was by my side, making sure I had what I needed and that I was comfortable.  In many ways I was like a child again, but she never complained or made me feel useless, which is how I felt.   Irreplaceable.

I'm healed now and we're plugging along.  She's still the foundation, the link to the past, and the road to the future.  I hope I've given her happiness along the way and although I'm nowhere near perfect, I hope I'm adequate and give her what she needs.  I've been fortunate to have her in my life and I know I wouldn't be the same person without her.  I'm more grounded, more mature, loving, caring, and kind because of her.  She's taught me so much about being a good person.  I hope she knows she's irreplaceable.  That's what I feel.  That's what I know.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Redneck Special

Inspiration comes from the most random of elements, and it's typically a surprise when it happens.  I have found that the harder I try to find it, the more elusive inspiration becomes.  For me, it's best to just move around and see what I see and wait for it to hit me upside the head. In this case, an abandoned La-Z-Boy and a bumper sticker, both from completely unrelated sites, provided exactly what I needed to pull an idea together.

Robert and I get together at least once a month to talk about ideas and determine what might be interesting  for a photo/design project.  We toss ideas around and many of them are simply disregarded for lack of interest.   Today's ideas were either lukewarm or had been in progress for several months.  We didn't have anything new and interesting.  We ate lunch and took a back road towards my house when we spotted the abandoned chair.

We pulled over and took a closer look.  The material was a nice light blue velour that looked like it would show nicely against the nearby wheat field.   Upon closer inspection the top of the backrest was covered in bird crap and there were numerous stains on the fabric.   I wondered if he was game for photos.

"You willing to sit in that thing?", I asked.

"I can't get crabs from it, can I?", he replied.

"No way", I said, hoping I was right.

We decided to come back at dusk because not much good comes from shooting photos in the midday sun. I knew Thompson's Corner was nearby so we decided to kill some time there.

I've driven by the place at least 100 times but never went in.  Apparently it's the oldest bar in Solano County and the architecture and decor certainly reflect this.  It's a two story building with a high pitched roof.  The main level is the bar and the upper level used to be a dance hall, although it's no longer used.  The bartender said the San Francisco symphony played there once.  The interior decor fits exactly what you would imagine a "local dive bar" to look like.  The walls and floor are all wood and the ceiling is littered with bras and boxer shorts.   Nearly every inch of space is covered with signs, graffiti, stickers, mirrors and whatever else you can imagine hanging in a bar of that age.  One could spend 3 days reading the walls and not be finished.  It's brilliantly tacky.  I'll be back.

We bellied up and ordered a few beers and considered how we might make the shots in the chair.  We had some  decent ideas, but it wasn't until we saw a bumper sticker on the wall that the theme became crystal clear.

"Robert, read that one on the upper right hand side".

"I came here to drink and fuck, and I'm almost done drinking", he read aloud.  We both giggled.

There it was:  the dude in the chair would be a loud, belligerent redneck.

The cooler behind the bar had Pabst Blue Ribbon, a redneck delight.  I indulged in a few and we knew we had the perfect prop.

When dusk rolled around we went back to the site and got the chair set up in the wheat and Nikki tagged along as our lovely lighting assistant.  As it turned out, Robert had a fresh farmer's tan that fit the theme perfectly.

We shot for about a half hour and tried as many different poses as we could muster in a single chair.
On the ride home we had a debate about crabs.  I knew a guy in high school who claims he got crabs from a girl simply sitting on his lap.  I suspect it's urban myth, but for Robert's sake I'm hoping it can't be transmitted so easily because that chair has seen some things.

Oh well, at least we got the shot.  That's all that matters, right?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adult Conversation

I spent the weekend getting caught up on 15 years of conversation with my childhood friend Justin Reid.  That's a lot of time, especially when the gap encompasses going from a college senior to a married father of two.  Things are easy when you're in college and you only have a vague sense of time creeping up on you.   As you near age 40, time looks you in the face, slaps you, and mockingly asks, "Whatcha gonna do about it, bitch"?  And problems become very real.  During this time you become a man and you gain wisdom and you gain perspective and you find a way to articulate your thoughts about the world and how you feel about it.  Justin changed and I was amazed by his transformation.

My first memory of him is standing outside his house, watching his parents move in next door.  He was 5, I was 7.  He was shy but we became friends immediately, spending a lot of time roaming the neighborhood and doing whatever it is boys do at that age.  We were both active types so it wasn't difficult to find things to do.   We played a lot of sports, most often engaged in duels on the tennis court and at the ping-pong table.

As time went on he grew from a shy kid to a gregarious youth, once taking his parents' car for a joyride at age 14 while under the guardianship of my mother.  Though a gentle soul, she was enraged at him, but only for a short time.   He had that effect on people, and still does.  It wasn't possible to stay mad at him because he was too goofy, too positive, and too much fun.   Some people suck the energy out of a room, and some bring tremendous energy.  He brings energy with his walk, his smile, and his demeanor.  Because he's so fun, you tend to chant his name when he enters (Reid!).

At some point during my high school years, he moved away and we saw each other only sporadically.  He went one way to college and I went another, and we kept in touch from time to time and were both in the other's wedding.  I moved to California and he moved to Minneapolis where he became a firefighter and has had some success as a model.  We had fun when we were together briefly during those times and I noticed small changes, but I never saw the transformation until we talked during this visit.

There's a comfort level with old friends that can't be replicated in other relationships.  We easily drifted into conversation like there was never a gap.  We talked about the shared memories and we talked about the years where we've been apart.   The stories he told indicated the kid went from gregarious to a bit crazy, but he seemed to have always remained the likeable "Reid"! that I always knew.  I heard rugby stories (a pole and a naked King Zulu dance), mushroom stories (cowboys?), and LSD stories (beef jerky!).  My stories weren't quite as good or entertaining, but the conversation flowed easily and effortlessly, even when we got to the difficult times.

Anybody that is married or has been married knows the inherent difficulties in the lifelong Bataan Death March that is marriage (I joke Nikki, I joke), so I wasn't surprised when Justin started talking about his.   We talked in depth and analyzed his situation from every conceivable angle.  When it comes to these situations, it really doesn't matter who's at fault because there's never a winner.  Each party sort of loses and there's pain.  That's it.  The thing that struck me was how he has reacted to it and how he is able to articulate his thoughts about it.

In the time we've been apart Justin has developed an intensely strong faith.  You wouldn't know it, necessarily, because it's not in your face or prevalent.  As we talked, though, I could see how extremely important it is to him and how he is sure that it has kept the marriage together and given him comfort.   The things he said were profound and sincere and deep.  He spoke so philosophically about his situation that I became inspired to be a better person.  It was never preachy, it was something else.  It was mature.   This wasn't the rugby dude or the quiet kid or the goofy teen.  This was a full on man.  His faith had completely transformed him.  It had changed him, but it didn't change him.

He went on to tell me some happier stories about camping with his friends and his kids, and I'm convinced he still has the Reid! inside of him.  I can tell by the way he speaks about his kids that he's passionate about being a father.  I think they get to see the younger Justin from time to time.  I was worried he might have lost the inner light, but it's still there.  It's a little different, but better, as most things are when they've aged and mellowed.    When I dropped him off at the airport I could tell he was excited about getting back to his family.   We promised not to let another 15 years pass before our next visit, but you know how those things go.  I'm just thankful we got to share a little of that light while he was here in our house.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Seeing the Past and Future Me

Anybody who has followed this blog for any time knows my basic theory on life is that everything is a pain in the ass (EIAPITA).  This was never more true than when I completely tore my achilles tendon two weeks ago playing tennis (in this case, the last A in the acronym becomes ankle, hey-o).  When it happened, it was very confusing and disorienting, as you can imagine it might be when you are convinced you took sniper fire to the leg.  I thought my doubles partner had hit me with his racket, although he was at least fifteen feet away.  Imagine your tendon being an electrically charged guitar string that is pulled 6 inches to the side and then released, allowing the electrical charge and vibration to course through your body while you try to figure out who the sadistic devil is that would do such a thing.  It was all three of those things.  Surprisingly, the pain only lasted about 3 hours, although the thought of the  immediate sensation I felt still makes me quiver from time to time.

The unexpected part of this experience is that it has allowed Nikki to see me both as a 5 year old and as a 75 year old in the span of two weeks, each persona intermingled with different experiences so that it becomes difficult to tell which one I am.  I suppose this  makes sense since it's been said we become child-like in our old age, sort of charming in the quaint and gregarious things we say, but ultimately dependent on others to get through our daily life.

I noticed the first chuckles from Nikki when I was hobbling around the house.  I didn't have the pre-surgery walking boot yet and the only way I could move was to lock the knee of my injured left leg so that it became rigid.  This becomes necessary when you don't have an achilles and you cant bend your foot up or down.  The net effect is that the injured stick becomes the equivalent of a pirate's wooden leg.

"Oh my god, I just saw my life at 75", Nikki said.  "You look like our neighbor Ken when you walk".  Ken is an 85 year old man with Alzheimer's and a bad back, who I've written about here before.  Because of these two conditions he hobbles panifully to the mailbox 10 times a day, including Sundays.  I'm guessing he doesn't remember how painful it was the last time he checked the mail ten minutes ago.  Even after I got the walking boot she continued to laugh at the site of me walking because I still had a pronounced limp for the next week.  Anyone who is or has been married has heard this from their wife at least once, "I can't imagine what it was like for your mom to take care of you".  For Nikki, this rhetorical question became a reality the minute I got home from surgery.

By the time I got home from the procedure, 14 hours had passed since my last meal.   I couldn't wait to eat and Nikki quickly cooked me up a grilled cheese sandwich.   I took a couple bites and these charming bits made a brief visit to my stomach, introduced themselves, then quickly hightailed it back out  of there and into the trash can.  I estimate their stay to be between 10-15 seconds.  Damn you anesthesia!  I'm pretty sure I could still taste the gas.  Now Nikki was seeing what it was like for my mom.  Surely I must have performed that very act hundreds of times for her in my childhood.

The next day Nikki came in the room said she was pretty sure she had stepped in a puddle in the bathroom.  In my narcotic induced situation, I'm not sure if I responded to her or only answered in my head "I'm not surprised".  I'd be surprised if I actually hit the toilet considering the delicate ballet required to perform this act while in a drug induced haze.  Not only was I dizzy, but my ankle felt like a 20 psi tire that had been inflated to 100 psi.  It can't bear any weight, so it has to be suspended slightly behind me, making me crane forward and have to use my left hand against the mirror for support.  I now have  only one hand available for the rest of the logistical details and my leg isn't getting any lighter.  Oh, and by the way, the urgency is only increasing.  Having never taken target practice in this fashion, the end results were quite predictable, about the same as a 5 year old with no directional control.  I don't think she had the heart to chastise me in my condition so she told me I'd do better next time.   Just as with a child in potty training, encouragement  for the effort is always the best tactic.  I was waiting to hear that I would receive candy the next time I hit the big boy potty.

After the first three days it became abundantly clear that I needed a shower.  By this time most of the latent pain had subsided, though it still hurt when I got up.  It's extremely difficult for me to accept the fact that I need physical help, so I waited until Nikki went to work to give a shower a try.  I bagged up the leg, put the chair in the shower and made the hop up the step and into our shower, whereupon my bare foot immediately slipped on the shower floor and both of my legs splayed forward into the wall.  Much like the scenario I described with the cows, the time-space continuum evaporated and everything sort of went  in to slow motion and I had an internal conversation while falling.   Here's the conversation:

Me to Myself:  Boy, Nikki is really going to be mad at you for this one, you should have waited for her help.  I know, but it didn't seem like that big of a deal.  Oh no,  I hope I don't break the shower door when my back hits it.  Ohh, that really was jarring when my buttocks just hit the tile, and that little ridge at the shower entrance doesn't feel good on my lower back.  Your splinted leg hit the wall pretty hard, do you think you tore the achilles again?  I don't think so, but my toes are numb from being jammed into the wall.  Can you get up?  Yes.  Ok, get in the seat and proceed as if nothing happened.  Ok.

Amazingly, the next morning this scenario repeated itself when I got up to go to the bathroom in the dark and I fell over again.  And I had virtually the same internal conversation on the way down.    When I fell I felt like a 75 year old man about to break his hip, but then I felt like a 5 year old when Nikki ran in and asked "What the hell is going on"? It was just like when I had slumber parties as a kid and we made too much noise.   I am happy to report, however that I was 95% accurate this time.

Nikki has been an absolute angel through this whole ordeal.  She has taken excellent care of me and I couldn't be more lucky to have somebody as patient as her in my life.  She has seen what my mom experienced, and she has seen what our future may hold and as far as I know, she plans on staying with me.  It can't be easy living with the proverbial bull in the china shop, but I hope in some way I make it fun.

Last night Nikki got me squared away in bed and shut the door to go sleep in peace in the other room.  I had to get up and grab my water bottle and I loudly banged a crutch against the dresser.  "What the hell is going on in there?", she yelled from the hallway.  I giggled like a 5 year old.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Documenting Human Stupidity

Click on This!!

This photo was taken for the sole purpose of documenting human stupidity.  There is no artistic value, but it is absolutely crucial to the story.  I was compelled to do a quick hand-held panorama shot because I was so bewildered by my fellow human being who inexplicably parked next to me.  Go ahead and click on it to make sure you understand the full picture of what I am about to describe.

Moments before this shot was taken I was parked completely alone in the back of this parking lot eating my lunch (mine is the pickup).  I chose this distant spot, as I often do, so that I could eat in peace and listen to the radio without being disturbed by others.  When I do this I might sit there for ten to twenty minutes and then I'll be on my way.  The weather was sunny and pleasant, mid 60's, with a slight breeze.  This type of weather is the best because it means I can sit in the car without having to run neither the air conditioner, nor the heat while I sit and eat.  On this occasion, my dad called so we were talking when the idiot unexpectedly pulled up and parked alongside me despite the fact that there were at least 100 spots available elsewhere in the parking lot.

Coincidentally, my dad and I engaged in a conversation a few weeks back regarding the propensity for people to park close by despite a plethora of open options, all of which would leave at least one space in between all parked cars.  His specific example involved an early morning scenario at the grocery store where there were 3 cars in the entire lot, yet somebody pulled up right next to him and parked.  He was situated at the front of the store which makes the chances of this happening more likely, but there were other equally as good parking options available at the time, none of which required parking next to his vehicle.  In spite of this fact, the person chose to park in the spot next to his.  Although I in no way condone the actions of that individual (it's reprehensible, in fact), I can at least understand the flawed logic.  After all, we're talking about being closer to the store.  My scenario, however, boggles the mind.

I've been searching for any line of logic to my situation, and I can't find any.  I can think of three potential reasons, yet none of them pass muster and I must conclude that the person was simply stupid.  There is no other possibility.

My first line of thought was that the person specifically sought out a shady spot and this was one of the few available.  I'm skeptical, though, because he/she quickly got out of the vehicle, yoga mat in hand, and presumably walked to the gym.  There were no dogs or children in the car that would require shade.  Plus, the weather was cool and a person could sit in an unshaded car for hours with no ill effects.   In addition, the interior of the vehicle would not be too hot upon his/her return.  Conclusion: Doesn't make sense.

Secondly, I thought this must be her customary spot.  I can imagine he/she might attend yoga often and chooses this spot often based on theory number 1.  Again, that might be valid in the summer, but even then only if there is a clear and open spot to be had.   As you can see, he/she could have left an open spot and still had some shade available to him/her (although, as we have established, shade was unnecessary on this day).   If the spot is taken, you move on, especially in a lot this size with this many open options.  Conclusion:  Inability to think and reason in real time.

Finally, I thought he/she must just be plain stupid.  I suppose I mean this in the "inability-to-navigate-social-rules-including-those-that-are-unwritten-but-clearly-set-in-stone" type of way.  Similar to Rain Man.  Why in the world would you park right next to me when so many other options are available?  Not only did he/she park directly next to mine for no reason, but look how it is also skewed within the parking space to the line closest to my vehicle.  Conclusion:  Yes, the person is stupid.

Folks, I'm begging you, as you go out in this world, please be aware of things around you.  Consider the environment you're in and analyze it, and do what is right.   Give me some hope that we may yet survive as a species despite these acts of wanton stupidity and egregious over-stepping of established social norms.  Some people are worried about global warming, and some are concerned with peace in the middle east, but I'm worried that if we can't solve something so simple as choosing the correct parking space we are ultimately doomed and need not waste our time with these other complex issues.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pissed Off Cows

I received a huge dose of life-affirming adrenaline yesterday courtesy of 1,500 pounds of mobile beef.  For some unknown reason Betsy the ringleader, an enormous hunk of coal black cow, didn't like Bella and I within her confines and decided to expel us from her territory with utmost urgency and sense of purpose.   I don't know what the difference was yesterday -after all, I do this a lot- but the shot of adrenaline I received re-affirmed with an exclamation point that life is all about experiences, nothing else. No object, material possession, or money could give me the sensations I experienced in that brief 90 second encounter.

As I often do, I took Bella to the large open space in the hills near our house to let her run.  Local cattle ranchers have an agreement with the homeowners association, which owns the land, to allow cattle to graze freely in the area.  The cows keep the land "mowed" and reduce fire hazards, and the rancher gets free food for his cattle.  I typically avoid any open space when I can see the cows, not out of fear, but because it means there will be fresh piles of sludgy dung all around the area we want to walk.  Any dog owner knows these piles entice the animal the same way a raw piece of meat does.  Also, the fragrant smell of the dung is absolutely irresistible and triggers the instinctual crocodile death roll in the dog.  The theory is that it masks the scent of a dog on the hunt. If you haven't seen it, it's an aggressive and urgent roll in the dung, starting from the neck on one side and moving down the back and then over to the other side, then repeated multiple times until you run screaming like an idiot and can physically reach your dog and make them move.   Typically the dog leaves the scene with a gigantic smile and sense of accomplishment while you mumble to yourself about having to give the dog another god**mn bath.    I recently took Bella to the veterinarian to have poop removed from her ear canal due to a particularly aggressive roll.   As you can see, there are multiple good reasons to avoid the cows.  Now I was about to have another one.

I couldn't see any cows when we first approached the gate, so I let Bella crawl under and I jumped the chest high post.  I took quick inventory and couldn't see any fresh piles, so we proceeded.   These first few minutes of freedom seem to be heaven for Bella.  She trots around the area with her nose to the ground like a vacuum, taking in the thousands of scents that are available to her.   She's 12 now so her movements are a bit slower, but she is never happier than in these moments.  Inevitably she creates her own fresh pile, nose twitching and smelling the air, reading the situation and scanning the environment.  From what I can tell, this moment is the highlight of her day:  Pooping in an open field with unlimited sensory stimuli tickling her nose.  We soon reach the crest of the hill and that's when I saw the herd of 20, and Betsy's ears immediately perked up.

As soon as I saw Betsy, I casually called Bella and started walking the other direction.  Bella had assumed the alert wolf stalking posture, but I knew it was an act.  I've tried to bring her close to the cows by the fence and she doesn't want any part of it.  She eventually turned towards me and we started walking in the opposite direction.   And the cows began to walk with us in the same direction.   I wasn't too alarmed, after all cows are curious by nature and I had seen them do this before.  Typically they will escort you in the other direction, making sure they can see you at all times and will stop at the top of the hill and watch until you leave.  I'm sure I could have done something differently at this crucial point, but let's discuss this snapshot in time just a little bit.

I am 100% suburbanite and large farm animals tend put a scare in me regardless of their alleged docile nature.  I was currently being approached by 20 such animals.   My research suggests that perhaps I should have acted like "the boss" and shooed them away with a large stick (maybe tapped Betsy the ringleader on the snout), or opened an umbrella to startle them.   Alas, it was 70 degrees and sunny so my umbrella was in the garage and thus, useless to me in this circumstance.  I am also not in the habit of carrying a walking stick like a shepherd when I go out with Bella, although I may change my stance on this.  Like her owner, Bella is also 100% suburbanite.  She doesn't possess the craftiness of a border collie, which will toy with cows and bulls all day long.  I've observed it myself, and it is something to behold.   Large, hoofed animals with great mass also tend to frighten Bella so we didn't have any other inkling other than to extricate ourselves from this situation.  To put it in evolutionary terms, we clearly chose the "flight" response over the "fight" response.

Because the cows are so prevalent in the area it's easy to watch them from a distance and I commonly see them running down the hills.  I always look for coyotes - which are also common - or a mountain lion - which are rumored to be in the hills-but have never seen either in pursuit.  Nonetheless, it's surprising the speed with which they come careening down the hills after each other.   I didn't study much in college, but I remember this:  F=m(a)  force=mass x acceleration.  The bulk of the animal running down a 15% decline must create amazing force and I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of it.  Yet, here I was in that exact position.

I fully expected the group to stop at the crest of the hill and watch us leave, but Betsy started trotting, which energized the herd.  "You're the boss, you're the boss" I told myself in my head.  I didn't buy it.  Here they come.  Son of a...."BELLA RUN, LET'S GO!!!!!!!!!!!  Bella can't move like she used to and Betsy was closing in.  I watched in horror as my sweet Bella was about to be crushed.  Valiantly, she turned and snapped, which surprised and distracted Betsy for a moment.  Betsy regrouped and re-engaged Bella, both running down the hill directly at me.

As I watched this scene unfold, I was actually thinking I wish I had my camera with me because the scene would have made an incredible photo.  The behemoth Betsy was directly behind Bella, head to ground, nearly touching her butt, and they were headed directly at me.  I would have used my 70-200 lens to completely fill the frame with Bella at the bottom and the big black blob with crazy eyes in pursuit.  I was actually lamenting the loss of opportunity.   It's Funny that in such a moment of abject terror the brain can calmly carry on a conversation in a parallel universe at the same time.

I fully expected Betsy to lift Bella with her nose and flip her, opening up the possibility for a mauling with her hooves.  I took a quick inventory and the gate opening was at least 300 yards away, not a possibility.  I looked to my left and the fence was right there, but it was chest high.   Mercifully Betsy didn't flip Bella and we jumped across a concrete v-ditch drainage channel certain that cows won't cross  that type of thing.  It turns out they will.

Bella and I both made it across the ditch, and Betsy crossed as well.  As I reflect on this, I'm not certain why Betsy didn't pursue us and push us up against the fence.  I know she crossed the ditch, which was was only about 10 feet from the fence, but she didn't crush me.  In a huge panic I lifted Bella over the top of the fence and dropped her on the other side.  The hair on her back was raised like a mohawk and her tail was squarely between her legs.  I quickly jumped the fence and realized we had escaped the full wrath of Betsy.

Immediately my legs felt weak as the adrenaline began to leave my body.  I began to chuckle, out of nervousness and amusement at the same time.  I began the process of assessing the situation in my mind and two things immediately became clear:  1. I'm so thankful neither Bella nor I was hurt.  2.  What a great story, I can't wait to tell people about this.  And so it is with experiences.  Unlike money or possessions, experiences never go away, they are always there for the re-telling and psychologists say experiences without a doubt are what bring us happiness.   I believe it.  This didn't cost me anything and in an odd way I feel euphoric about it.   Adrenaline is good for the soul and this shot of it has my soul soaring.  By the way, Betsy, I can't wait to see you on my grill.  I know Bella and I will have a laugh about it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Old Friends

Although it has been about twenty years since I last played a match, the racket immediately felt right in my hands when I picked it up today.  The swing motion is ingrained in my muscle memory the way any task is when learned at an early age.  I've heard it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a skill and I'm sure I played at least that much tennis from age 10-16.    In the ensuing years I've tried hockey and golf and I've enjoyed the process, but neither have ever felt natural.   My skating stride is choppy and I have virtually no stick handling skills, but I can get around the ice and mix it up a little bit.  My golf swing works and I can keep from embarrassing myself most of the time, but it's manufactured and mechanical.
The tennis swing, however, is pure joy for me because it's natural and organic and because it's inevitably interwoven in my memory with the close friendships I shared at an early age.  I bought two rackets with the hopes of rekindling the magic of those young days.

Early on in my tennis journey I was known as Jimmy Reid,  brother of Justin Reid, son of Jim and Janine Reid.   Justin moved in next door when I was six and his parents were members at the local country club.  Jimmy was Justin's step-brother but he lived in another state so I assumed his role and became Justin's brother at the club.  We quickly became close friends and tagged along while his parents played tennis.  Naturally we picked up the extra rackets and hit balls to kill time and became proficient without supervision or soul sucking coaching.  When I was good enough to have my own racket, my mom bought me a Wilson Pro-Staff graphite stick with the perimeter weighted system and 95CC head.  It was magical to me and I've had a Wilson racket from that day forward.  I've tried other manufacturers but nothing has ever felt the same to me as a Wilson Pro-Staff or its derivative.

After I bought the rackets today I called my good friend Jay to talk to him about it.  Jay and I spent a fair amount of time playing tennis after Justin had moved away.  We were in high school so soccer took up much of my time during the school year, but tennis was still something I enjoyed quite a bit, though not at competitive level.  We had a good laugh about the time he chucked his badminton racket across the gym, high up into the bleachers.  He recalls that I was taunting him mercilessly during our gym class match and that's the reason he launched it.  I don't remember taunting him, but I don't doubt it either.  I'm sure I was a knucklehead about it.  My head was swollen because that semester I was the first student to ever beat Mr. Amato in a match.

The racket skills acquired in tennis transferred well to the ping-pong table as well.  Justin had a table in his basement and when we weren't playing tennis, we were banging ping-pong balls around.  When Justin moved, the table was transferred to my basement and it resided there for several years before making its way to Jay's college house where it lived a glorious outdoor life of hosting beer pong before eventually succumbing to age.  Whenever we get together there is always a ping-pong match and there is always an underlying tension to the proceedings.  We try to act casual, but each one of us badly wants to be the house champion and have bragging rights until the next official match.  A few years back there was some controversy when we all took a cruise vacation and the ship hosted a ping-pong tournament.  Jay appeared to score the final point in our championship match, but the tournament referee (not me) ruled Jay had served out of turn and the score was restored to deuce.  My subsequent victory and first place medal is still under protest.  However, no rackets were thrown overboard.  I handled this one a little bit better.

Justin tells me his daughter is a helluva ping-pong player now.  She only recently discovered it, but apparently has the hand-eye coordination to be very good.  Parents, I can tell you this:  Teach your kids Ping-Pong at an early age, it is an extremely valuable social skill.  At any gathering, Jay, Justin, and I can beat 98% of all players, and it is a good thing to be "the guy" at the party.   In my 40 years I've been beaten one time at a social gathering.  I have compared data with Jay and Justin and they confer with this data as well.

Now that I've got the rackets I'm going to start playing again.  I've been looking for something to keep me in shape, but more importantly, I've been looking for a way to make some social connections since some of my greatest memories revolve around tennis and the people I was with.   I know the friendships will never compare to those early times, but if they are only half as good I will have made a great investment of my time and energy.  I just hope I don't tear my achilles while being run around the court mercilessly by a 70 year old who slices everything.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Looking For Backgrounds

Robert and I headed to San Francisco over the weekend to look for and shoot backgrounds for a composite project we're working on.  More to come on that, but I'm pretty sure we got some usable stuff.

Due to the amount of photos I take of Robert you might think we're a couple.  We tend to do a lot of projects together, and I'm compelled to shoot the light as it presents itself, which is often in San Francisco it seems.  Plus, the guy wears interesting stuff that works well in an urban environment.   The shot by the car looks like a movie still, it's one of my favorite things I've shot recently.

As you would expect, we saw a variety of interesting things including a homeless guy, a dude on his break, and a dude with his shirt off doing bicycle ballet.  In addition, a crowd of folks were gathered around singing songs in solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution.   That's all I know about that.

I stopped and asked the homeless guy if I could take his shot in exchange for $1.  He agreed, let me take his photo, then immediately asked for another dollar because he had pneumonia and cough syrup is $1.79.    Being the sleuth that I am, I noticed he had a large cup of Starbuck's (full) on his baby stroller  which I know costs about $2.  Priorities, dude.  I told him no and moved on.

The guy taking his break was fairly skeptical of why I wanted to take his shot, exclaiming, "I'm just on my break, man" in such a manner as if he were being harassed by the cops.  Surprisingly he let me go ahead and take it, but not before making sure he understood my intentions for its usage.

Although I didn't take any photos, you know we stopped off at Fiddler's green to end the day.  I've still never had a bad day in San Francisco.