May 31, 2010

Unable To Stop

Hello, my name is Irrelephant, and I'm not addicted to much.

I know, the post title sort of implies that I'm an addict but this isn't going to be me spilling my guts about my drug, sex, gambling or high-speed race car addiction. Maybe next time.

No, this is more in the line of walking somewhere with my head down, not paying attention to anything in the world but my goal, not noticing the cliff that is right in front of my feet until I'm falling, guts floating with fear, and nothing to look forward to but the sudden and violent stop at the end.

I wasn't always the sort of person to hold a grudge. They take too much energy, too much valuable time. Nor am I really the sort of person to stop talking to someone over anger or an argument, or someone to have a grudge held against me but somehow as I've grown older I've had several opportunities to be thus engaged. I've been lucky enough out of the three active non-speaking relationships I've endured to have healed one. One is out of the question, and is a better fit than healing the gap. The third 'fix' came as a fall off a cliff.

I was in Hobby Lobby after a day of not quite hitting my stride. You've had those days, right? The sorts of days where it seems that you woke up a second later than the universe had intended you to, so you seem to be missing everything by just a hair. Nothing seems to work quite right--you miss traffic lights by moments, you seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and everything about you seems just slightly off, not quite in sync with the rest of the world. Like a voice track in an old movie that doesn't perfectly match up, you can follow along perfectly well but the sensation is discordant at best.

The whole day I'd been just half a beat off, but the morning of shopping was winding down, and on the whole we had made more refunds than purchases, so it seemed okay. The Missus and I went to Hobby Lobby to buy some picture frames (40% off, score!) and I needed to pick up a tube of Winsor & Newton Lamp Black oil paint in the big 10 oz tubes I favor. We began threading our way through the packed aisles and I left the Missus at the frames section while I made my rapid way to the lieu.

I headed back to my destination via the model train aisle--I love looking at the tiny N and HO scale engines, the tiny crossing gates, the tiny scale people the height of a fingernail. I circled around that aisle to cast my eye over the scale model aircraft and cars, more out of force of habit than any real buying desire--I've a closet half-full of unbuilt scale models. I circled around another aisle to look at a pretty girl who was looking at the DIY jewelry, and I headed down the paint and brushes aisle, eyes focused on the Winsor & Newton rack rather than the three or four people cluttering the aisle.

Remember in the first Matrix movie when the black cat walked by our heroes, then walked by again, and Neo said, woodenly "Uh...deja vu." Trinity explained that as someone mucking about with the Matrix itself, changing something. I didn't see a black cat, but I should have, because I'm certain the Universe was tugging some strings pretty darn hard to place me there at that exact moment.

I digress a moment:

A brief synopsis. I'd just divorced. I was single, alone, my daughter in my ex's questionable care. I was lonely, scared, unsure. So, I seized the outstretched hand of a friend who lived about 120 miles south, in Baton Rouge. He was single, intelligent, creative, and a good friend to help you forget about your woes. I spent several months of weekends driving down to Baton Rouge to stay with this friend, travel around, ride bikes all over town and country, tour the USS Kidd which he was a tour guide on, and in general try and fail miserably and repeatedly to pick up girls.

It helped me get through a very bad time. That friendship was very like Holmes and Watson, with me in the role of the Good Doctor. He the misogynist, me the lover of women. We grew together, we shared everything. And in synopsis format, when I met a girl we grew strained. There was a threat afoot that he felt would damage us. He refused to put away his hatred of women, and we finally came to a point where I blew up at him and demanded he apologise for what he'd said. He refused, I stopped talking to him.

Fast forward some eight or nine years. He traveled overseas several times with teh military and the last I knew he was in Washington, DC working in a museum. I was living here, making my way.

Until I just about walked over him in the paint aisle of Hobby Lobby. I walked up to the paint, reached down, picked up the tube I wanted and heard my full name called out from about two feet over my shoulder. He had been standing there buying paint brushes, literally directly across the aisle where I was headed, unseeing, focused on the goal only. Right off the edge of the cliff.

The reunion was...strained. We shook hands, embraced one-armed as men will do. We talked briefly, but it was shaky, uncertain, and we both could smell the nervousness on each other, like two leery adult dogs who barely remember being litter mates at one time. He asked about the ballooning, he talked about his own gaining of a pilot's license. I stuttered incoherently a bit, his jitters nearly had him climbing the aisle behind him. He told me he'd moved back home, to the little town next to ours, right across the river. I wasn't sure what to say, just smiled and we parted.

I was shaken for the rest of the day. I don't think buying myself a orchid would have helped that day. Hell, being given a two thousand dollar professional Nikon lens would not have set me right. And here, two days later I'm still reeling a little bit. The Missus says it is time to rebuild the bridge. Me, I'm still not sure it would be the right thing, not sure I want to expose myself to the emotional rigors of that relationship.

So right now, I weigh options, like a wizened old shopkeeper carefully weighing out leaves of gold, trembling hands placing first one, then another in the pan, waiting for the trembling balance needle to hit "0."

We'll see, I suppose. Perhaps after I hit bottom, because right now I still feel like I'm free-falling.

May 16, 2010

Planting Seeds

I went working in my garden today.  Actually, I planted a few things for the first time this year.  "Late" is not the word for it.  "Ridiculously late" is the word for it.  I'm about two months behind planting time, but seeing that bare patch of nothing out there where there used to be green growing produce finally drove me to distraction.  And to buying some zucchini, squash, three varieties of tomatoes and some cucumber seeds.

My daughter's mind has become quite a garden too.  Things have taken root there that I've planted, that my mother has planted, that her teachers at school and the parish priest and even the damned TV have planted there, and like any child's mind seedlings are growing there that have come from me without even knowing it.  Photography, for instance.  I don't leave the house without my camera, haven't gone anywhere without a camera in probably two decades or more.  Me?  I like my camera.  I didn't realise my daugher was watching all this time.  Makes me wonder about how often she's seen me pick my nose.

My little one has never evinced an interest in photography until two weeks ago, during a career-opportunities event at school.  My child is a sneaky one, too.  Out of the blue she wants to be a photographer, is looking into wildlife photography and underwater photography and all sorts of things of a photographic bent.  Problem being, she's leaving for Oregon to spend the summer with her mother.  In five days.

So, I did what any father would do.  I went berzerk.

When I first started getting serious about photography I went to the local chain camera store in the mall where a friend of mine worked.  I told her I wanted a good starter camera kit, an honest to gawd manual 35mm camera with interchangeable lens and everything.  I plunked down my cash and spent the next bunch of years learning the ins and outs of a manual 35mm.  I spent I don't know how much money getting roll after roll developed.  Colour.  Black and white.  Shooting landscapes and animals and even in a very few instances trains.  That camera went with me everywhere.  It rode on the back of motorcycles.  It rode in my vehicle the few times I owned an enclosed vehicle.  It hung from my neck like a small black albatross.

When the time came many years later for me to step into a digital camera I put my old manual Ricoh in its battered nylon camera bag and set it on a bookshelf where it sat, untouched, for years. 

When my little girl decided she wanted to start using a camera I knew I needed to help her.  Problem being, my last two digital point-and-shoot cameras are defunct.  One broke due to old age, the second broke in a certain motorcyle wreck a while back.  Simple math--I didn't have a camera to give her and I certainly don't have the money to rush out and buy her one.  So, I did what I had to do. 

I dragged out the old Ricoh and passed it down, the only heirloom I have to give her.  We spent a huge chunk of today going over it, watching the light meter go from negative to positive, learning how to adjust the gross focus, how to check where the sun was before shooting, how to load the film and how to hold the camera steady.  In short, a high speed, low-drag crash course in photography.

This afternoon we headed to Wal-Mart and bought a four pack of Fujicolour film, washed the bugs off her new-to-her camera bag and got her set up with lens cloths, cleaning fluid and those weird little air-blower things with the little soft bristles.  She's already started carrying the whole rig around, carefully packing and unpacking it, trying different arrangements, moving around the dividers, making it hers.

I don't know if she's going to stick with it or not.  Honestly I don't know if she's going to accidentally drop it in the Pacific Ocean this summer or if she's got something in her that is going to respond to using a camera like a seedling takes to the sun.  Either way I'll be happy.  If, however, on the off chance she grows up and becomes The Next Big Thing, well, I won't feel too bad about it.

I won't tell you about how my dirt gardening went today.