Saturday, July 16, 2011

Some Advice to a Friend

When I was about nine or ten I played Little League Baseball.  I really enjoyed the sport and looked forward to getting into the batter's box, digging my right foot into the dirt and waiting for that first pitch hurled at me.  In that moment it was all about me; the game could be won or lost depending upon how I swung.

About three weeks into the season I was on deck.  One out and a guy on second; I was the winning run.  The guy at bat struck out and I made my way towards the plate.  I took my stance, choked up on the bat and waited for that pitch.  The moment it left the pitcher's maw I knew it was gonna be a wild pitch.  I moved out of its way but not fast enough.  It caught me right on the lower jaw.

God damn.

That hurt.  Bad.

My momentum carried me backwards and the weight of the helmet threw me off balance.  I went down.  I was dazed a little; the ump asked me if I was alright.  I stood back up, shook it off and tried to regain my senses.

I didn't.

I struck out and we didn't win that day.

Worse yet, it gave me a subconscious fear of getting hit in the head by a round bullet ever again.  I still played the game for the rest of the summer but the memory of how goddamned much that hurt affected my batting average for the remainder of that season. I think I got one hit the rest of the summer.  One lousy hit.

I played again the next season and my fear of that lower-jaw pain had subsided over the winter.  I guess I forgot how much that hurt after I messed up my elbow in a more painful injury the following Spring.

So, good friend who will remain nameless, does this sound a little like your present situation?

Not the lower jaw pain thing.  Or getting hit by a baseball.

I guess women and baseball are a pretty good pair of metaphors.

Just because you got hit once in the batter's box doesn't mean every at-bat is gonna be like that experience.

I've gotten back in there many times after incidents that made me think I'd be satisfied as a bench warmer for eternity.

I spent the night at a girlfriend's house years ago and went to shower the next morning.  As I reached for her shampoo she said I couldn't use it because it cost seventy-five bucks a bottle.  Then she told me a few days later that she bathed her dog with it.  Wow.  That kind of lets you know where you stand in a relationship, doesn't it?

I dated another woman for almost a year. The relationship's shelf-life had expired; we both knew it and she was going to come to my house to end it.  I had a feeling that's what her unplanned visit was for.  So, after she walked in the door I beat her to the punch and told her we should stop seeing each other.  Guess what? She got mad that I broke it off with her first, before she had the chance to do it to me.  I guess no one had ever dumped her before and she was pissed that I muffed her perfect game.

But I got back into the batter's box.

I've struck out a few times.

I don't swing for the fences anymore.  A nice double is good enough for me.

But each and every time I step into that box, so to speak, I remember how much that beaner hurt and focus on not getting hit.  If the pitch looks even a little wild, I duck out of that box as fast as I can.

So dude, she's a bush league player at best.

Don't let this set you back.  You, among everyone that I know, are a far better player than that.



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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Idiocracy

I've always been amazed by shows like "Jerry Springer" and wonder, as they're played in syndication around the world, what everyone in the global TV audience must think of our culture.  I really hope that Springer, Maury and Montel are some type of post-modern-Truman-Show gag that's scripted and all the baby daddies, trailer trash, and tat-spackled lowlifes are Julliard-trained actors pulling off some daily gonzo performance art while inhabiting deep undercover Method roles that would make the ghost of Brando envious.

If not, we're screwed.

We're on a downward spiral, culturally-speaking, and I see it only getting worse.  Lately, intelligence has become a thing of ridicule; a moniker like a big fat scarlet letter emblazoned upon your post-high school, matriculated forehead.  For some reason an education makes you an "elitist," and over the past twenty years we've embraced the worst pop culture as our unique American offering to the rest of the world. TV has taught other countries that America's GDP is stupidity and somehow it's wholly chic to be unintelligent.

Heck, it's even worse than that.  It's chic to be downright stupid.  People wear their ignorance as a badge of honor.  We don't watch the news because it's too depressing.  We don't know anything about geography because they didn't teach it to us in the sixth grade.  Most of us can't name two of the three branches of our federal government.

And we laugh at those who can because they're weird.

Right?

Springer's legacy has become ratings juggernauts like "The Jersey Shore" and those stupid teen mom shows. Those little girls having babies are becoming role models to impressionable girls yearning to find someone, ya know, just like them.

Tea Party people like to talk about how Sarah Palin is one of "us," whatever the hell that means.  I don't know about you, but I surely don't want one of us running things.  I want someone with an education that knows a thing or two about how things need to work.

In a frightfully revealing moment, Palin recently said that Paul Revere's famous midnight ride was actually a bell-ringing session in the Old North Church to warn the British.

Huh?

Yep.  She's one of us.

Or rather them, the guys I saw last night.

I was at a fairly nice beach last night shooting one of my favorite models when an incident broke out that made me laugh out loud at its sheer stupidity.  And instantly question the intelligence of many of the youths breathing the same air as the rest of us.

Or rather stealing that precious air from us.

So, from what I gathered after the police left, a few guys were jumping and diving off the hundred-foot long break wall that juts out into Lake Erie.  The rocks there are craggy and extremely sharp; the waves can pound an unsuspecting swimmer right into them.

As we got to our beach location at the edge of the shoreline an alert lifeguard, bullhorn and whistle in hand, left his perch and warned these gangsta-wannabees that they weren't allowed to swim from the end of the break wall.

Their reply?

Fuck you faggot.

So the lifeguard warned them again.  After all, his job is to make sure people on his watch don't drown.

So the fuck you faggots flew once more.  This time much louder and in quicker succession.

Exasperated, the guard went to get the local park rangers.

Meanwhile, my bag full of gear is sitting on the rocks along with my expensive Manfrotto tripod.  I was shooting Michelle in ankle-deep water as the sun started its final plunge and the golden light of evening slowly dissipated.

The rangers came over and asked the young guy his side of the story.  Every other word leaking from this dude's mouth ended in an f-bomb, peppered by a few "faggots."  If I were a psychiatrist I'd say this dude was deeply closeted and probably gay himself, as his need for proclaiming that everyone else within earshot  imbibed upon the carnal taboo that dare not speak its name.

After about five minutes of this, the rangers told him he'd better settle down or he would be taken away in a set of bracelets.  I was about fifteen feet from this show and trying to shoot Michelle, who was getting more and more fearful by the minute.  I looked at our session's photos this morning; I deleted the last hundred shots from my computer because of the palpable fear on her face.

So, what did this idiot do?  Dropped another f-bomb to the ranger.  At that point, they told him to lay down and attempted to cuff him.  He, of course, started resisting and railing on about the cops' mothers who, apparently, weren't lesbians but liked to do things with many, many men who weren't the rangers' fathers.



His idiot friends were standing by and ready to jump in all tag-team style to defend their fallen comrade's honor.

It escalated from there as a twenty-something preppy-looking dude pulled out his cell phone to film the melee; the now-prostrate guy yelled from his sand-filled mouth that he was gonna kill the amateur Spielberg for recording the event.  At that point, his gorilla buddy picked up a rock and threw it at Spielberg.  I was standing six feet away as the second ranger ran over and clotheslined the guy.  Mace came out and was sprayed in the first guy's face.  It didn't work and only pissed him off even more.  The wind was blowing our way so I tried to shelter Michelle from any mace that might blow our way.

The Bay Village cops showed up after the mace was discharged and promptly handled the situation. Michelle was still a little shook up; I was afraid for my gear, it was directly in the line of sandy fire.  I gingerly walked around the now-cuffed, screaming twenty-something and grabbed my bag and tripod.

Now, my thoughts are this:  If you're going to get arrested for something shouldn't it be for an incident that's totally bad ass?  Going to jail because you were jumping off a break wall into Lake Erie in your droopy shorts doesn't have the same street cred in the pokey as a guy who shanked his grandma for burning his toast.

And the irony?  The whole incident started because the lifeguard was trying to stop these guys from doing something to hurt themselves.

I'm incredulous how Sarah Palin can have such a following.  How neanderthals like Glenn Beck can pull a giant Jedi Mind Trick on unsuspecting folks, making everyday people somehow vote against their best interests.

Well, now I know.

Dumb fucks like this kid give most dumb fucks a bad name.  It was entertaining and a little sad. If the average person has a relatively moderate IQ, where do these mouth breathers fall on the curve?  I'm not trying to sound elitist; I just have trouble with people who have absolutely no intelligence to know when to shut the fuck up in the face of a bigger fight.

What was this kid's problem?

He felt he was being disrespected by the lifeguard and then the rangers, duly-appointed law enforcement officers.  Maybe years of getting his daily RDA of Springer punctuated by his love for all things street gave him an enlarged sense of self.  No one's gonna tell this guy how to live his life, right?

Maybe so.

But his continued resistance to the officers' pleas and attempts to escape once they had him down on the ground will most likely get him some time behind bars.

Where maybe he can test my theory about who the faggot really is.

Because if he wasn't before last night, he's sure to come out with a whole new respect for that word when it will have undoubtedly become a uniquely personal pronoun.




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Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Capitol Fourth

I spent a wonderful three days in Washington D.C. this past week with my son and two of his best friends.  I felt like a tour guide, mentor and history teacher as I dragged these kids all over Northern Virginia in search of new and interesting sites to see.

Alex and I have been to Washington about six times in the past three years and it's becoming harder to find new things to see.  We scoped out the National Gallery of Art for the first time and I was amazed at the innards of that place.

We've already planned another trip in about two weeks to be present for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the First Battle at Manassas.

Or, the "First Battle of Bull Run" for most Yankees.

We went to Port Royal, Virginia, a backwater town about an hour south of D.C. to see the spot where Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, cornered by Federal troops, was shot and killed in a barn on the Garrett farm.  

The barn, if you know anything about Civil War lore, was burned to the ground in an attempt to flush out Booth.  An overzealous recruit named Boston Corbett defied orders and shot Booth through a small hole in the barn’s fa├žade.  Booth died shortly thereafter.

The farm is long gone; the site now a median on a state highway that abuts up to Fort A.P. Hill.  The actual barn location sits amid the south bound lanes of the highway.  The boys thought it was cool to see such an historical placemarker in American history, even if it was just a copse of trees littered with the refuse from passing cars.


We saw a wide variety of things in those three days:  the space shuttle Enterprise moored at the Air and Space Museum Annex near Dulles, an antique carousel at an old amusement park, the only Da Vinci painting that exists in the western hemisphere, a litany of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, and Renoirs at the National Gallery of Art, and a host of other sites both cultural and historical.




I dragged them to Fredericksburg National Battlefield to see the remnants of the old Sunken Road.  We peered down towards the Rappahannock River and the spot where about 12,000 Union soldiers were killed as they stormed Marye’s Heights in a futile attempt to win the day.  Today, there are several houses and apartments on this site.  Can you imagine living in a home directly over the spot where thousands of men lay dying?  How hallowed that ground still is…

Before departing for home we stopped at the Wilderness National Battlefield and Chancellorsville.  They stood at the spot where “Stonewall” Jackson was mistakenly shot by his own men.  I pointed out the spot that Wal-Mart had wanted to build an atrocity of a superstore upon that sacred Civil War battlefield.  In a resounding display of anger the people said no.  Wal-Mart, showcasing the usual tact of a mega-corporation, finally backed down due to all the negative publicity.  After all, how sacred is ground that thousands and thousands of men died upon when a buck or two is at stake?

I guess not as sacred as their stock price; better to back down and build the store a little further down the road and keep themselves out of the papers.

Our seventy-two hour jaunt was refreshing for the mind and wholly good for my weary spirit.  It ended back at the Man Cave about three-thirty Wednesday morning, punctuated by a nineteen hour day of driving and living out over three hundred years of the Old Dominion's history.

Which leads me to my rather somber point.

I’m a history nut.  

The romantic in me loves to visit a new place, soak in the sites, and place myself at that time. What would I have done in their shoes?  Could I have fought and killed another man?  I saw Mary McCleod-Bethune’s home in D.C.  She was the Black lady who started the National Council of Negro Women.  In many ways, she was a precursor to Martin Luther King, Jr. Within her house, a national park service site, her struggle is portrayed.  What a brave woman; would I have had the tenacity and temerity to do what she did, against such odds?

We stopped at Fort Necessity rather by accident.  It was a small outpost on the National Road and the site of a young George Washington’s only surrender.  It was an opening conflict in the French and Indian War and my son was shocked at how damn small the fort was.  We decided that an average McDonald’s play area was bigger than the garrison that held about 150 English soldiers on the Pennsylvania frontier.

Assumptions that I had about certain things were removed.  The size of that fort really hung with me for a few days.  I thought I knew a lot; I guess I’m still learning new things each and every day.

This is our second time sojourning to D.C. for the fireworks bash.  I feel, as an American, you need to experience three parties in your lifetime.  One, New Orleans and Mardi Gras.  Two, Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  And three, a fireworks celebration crowning our country’s birthdate.  So far I’m two for three.

We sat on the steps of the Capitol Building, listening to Josh Groban, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Jordin Sparks, and the dude from “Glee” who plays the teacher, all sing and celebrate Americana.

Then my realization set in.  As the speaker thanked members of Congress for putting this celebration together and allowing all of this to happen, the good time I was having was replaced by a rather unpleasant thought:

This is all bullshit.

The laundry list of people being thanked was ten times longer than an Academy Award-acceptance speech.  If it were the Oscars, Bill Conti’s orchestra would have drowned out that guy about thirty seconds into his speech.

As John Boehner’s name came up it occurred to me that this was the same guy who was perilously close to shutting down the National Park Service, a large supporter of this celebration.  National Park rangers and policemen were placed all over the Mall, keeping an eye on those of us who may be looking to cause trouble.  Or plant a bomb.

As the roll call proceeded amongst mini American flags being held high in the air I shook my head.  We’re getting close to a new election cycle.  Boehner’s name stands for all that the American way is supposed to be against.  We are freedom-loving people who like to extend a hand to those in need, both foreign and domestic.  This country was created by common men who fought against the oppression of the many by a few.

I stopped momentarily and looked around.  There were guards everywhere.

The night before we had walked through Lafayette Park to the White House gates.  As we peered through the six foot tall iron fence we saw snipers on the roof and walking the grounds with laser-sighted M-16 rifles.  There was a police presence everywhere.

Words like "freedom" are tossed around our nation's capitol a lot. But the more I looked around, the less of that I saw.  Each visit to D.C. I see more cops. More regulations.  More paranoia.

It's becoming downright Orwellian.

A few hours prior to the fireworks we had to walk through security.  Police were posted about every hundred feet.  They were checking bags, purses, and coolers. 

I sat down for a moment.  As Jordin Sparks sang the National Anthem a sick feeling went through my stomach.

Who are we? 

Are we the people that we’re celebrating tonight?  The culture that we’re supposed to be?

It sure didn’t feel that way.

Maybe Bin Laden did win.  Not on 9/11, mind you.  But now.

We’ve become a paranoid people, misanthropic in general and afraid of those who we don’t understand or can’t rightfully identify with.

Our economy is in shambles and Wall Street has been successfully looting it for several years now.  Not even my hero, President Obama, is doing a damn thing about it.

I wonder what many of our Founding Fathers would think if they were to do it all over again?  If they were here today would they tell themselves that the Great Experiment was even worth it? 

I wonder if the men, both Union and Confederate, who died on the battlefields of the Civil War would ask themselves what they gave their lives for?

In theory, we’re a Republic where the smallest voice is meant to be heard.  Where the voice of the people make law.  Where the Supreme Court upholds that Law.

And are beholden to no one but the People.

Where God Bless America doesn’t mean God damn everyone else.

Where corporations and lobbyists don’t have a say in how policy is created.

But, as Wal-Mart lost their recent Wilderness battle, they may have already won the war.

So, after Little Richard finished off “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and the National Symphony Orchestra blazed through a rousing version of the oh-so-American Tchaikovsky’s 1812, the fireworks lit up the Summer sky. 

The celebration had begun.



And I, still so hopeful for our country’s future, watched in awe as the light show silhouetted the Washington Monument in brilliant bursts of red and yellow.






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All images copyright Brian M. Lumley Photography.  May not be reproduced without express written consent from me!



Friday, July 1, 2011

A Marriage Proposal

I was in Charleston, South Carolina last October and I saw a white girl and a black man holding hands, walking near the waterfront, oblivious to anyone around them.  They were smiling, laughing and enjoying a cool Autumn evening.

And nobody cared.

Mind you, this was the first state to secede from the Union over a little embarrassment in our country’s history called human slavery.  So, not too far from the docks where Africans were sold as property two hundred years ago was this couple.  I smiled when I saw that and made a mental note how far we’ve come since the nineteenth century.

So gay people want to get married.

Last week, New York joined the fray as the newest state to allow gay people the right to marry.  The right to legally share a life together. Benefits, both monetary and legal, are now available to them.  They now have the right to be listed as “next of kin” on medical paperwork and the right to get pensions and settlements in the event of the other’s death.

And many legislators want to stop them.  Apparently, it’s an abomination and an assault on the nuclear, good old-fashioned American family.  The Religious Right, backed by the Republican Party, want to stop this idea of same-sex equality before it spreads to other states. 

They want to force their brand of morality on all of us.  These are the same people, mind you, that want very little government interference in business.  They expect laissez-faire in the public spectrum; don’t regulate anything that stands in the way of making a buck.  

But the bedroom? 

That’s an entirely different matter altogether.   After all, marriage is a sacred institution that’s mocked by the utter ridiculousness of two men becoming a mister and mister.  Or two lesbians sharing an open, committed relationship; partners for life.

Okay.  I can understand that narrow, myopic mentality.  I don’t agree with it, but I can understand how someone may think that way.

So here’s my proposal:

If marriage is such a sacred institution I think that we need to make it so. 

If you get married and your husband is a wife-beater who routinely turns your face into ground beef, tough shit.

If your wife is a whore and constantly cheating on you with your best friend, his bowling buddies and even a pack mule, tough shit.

If your spouse comes down with an incurable disease and has to drain the bank account to stay alive, tough shit.

If the two of you constantly fight and "hate" is the dominant emotion in the relationship, tough shit.

If something younger, tighter, or prettier comes along and wants you more than anything, tough shit.

You’re stuck.  Because, after all, marriage is a sacred institution and when you took that vow four, twelve, or twenty years ago the preacher said til death do you part.

And you agreed to it.

So I’ll side with the Religious Right on this one.  I’ll even buy into their rhetoric.  But if, and only if, each hate monger who thinks that a few gay people, a tiny percentage of our overall population, getting married is going to bring fire and brimstone from on high stay married forever.

But, of course, that will never happen, will it?

Because we all know that religious nuts and politicians want to spread their version of Heaven to everyone else but themselves.

Somehow they’ve got a pass and can dismiss their actions from those of their constituents or congregants.

What, you don’t believe me?  Just check out Ohio’s newest scandal, state representative Mecklenborg.  He was recently arrested in Indiana with an alleged stripper half his age in his vehicle at about three ay-em.  Mrs. Mecklenborg wasn’t in the backseat. 

And I say “alleged” stripper because we don’t quite know yet; I’ll give the legislator the benefit of the doubt on that one.  But we do know one thing:  She sure as heck wasn’t his daughter.

He’s asked the media to leave him alone and stay out of his private life.

I’ll tell you what, sir: 

We will.

Just as soon as you and your cronies do the same to others.


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