Monday, September 26, 2011

I Was. I Am.

I just switched over to Facebook's new interface; most people are going to absolutely hate it, but I love the "Timeline" look of it.  It encapsulates your Facebook experience from, well, your very first day on Earth (if you'd like) until right now.  Its immediacy is fairly cool, but the ability to look at posts, photos and notes from the early days of the social networking site is pretty sweet. 

I peppered mine with my birth in April of 1966, the day the world became a much better place, thank you very much; I added photos of my experiences from before the FB years.  My high school prom photo of me and what's-her-name in our awesome early-John Hughes pink and white matching prom outfits rocked; I was a wonder to behold with my almost-coneheaded hair perfectly feathered and coiffed with an allegiance to some hairspray; the only time I let a girl use that napalm on me because I knew what was riding on that: no hairspray, no after-prom sex on her mom's living room floor at four ay-em, her prom dress tossed in an uncaring lump on the beautiful golden brown couch  circa 1976 or so.

The couch, not the dress.

Anyway, October 3rd is the day the whole switcheroo goes live but I've always been an early adopter for new gadgets, things and experiences.  (HD-DVD, anyone?)

It's amazing I didn't get someone pregnant in junior high.

As I was going through the layers of my FB past I came across a "note" from my early days on the social networking site.  Remember when those were all the rage?  So, I thought it was a nice little blast from my electronic past and worthy of a re-post.  In 2009 I was still fascinated by this electronic frontier and not yet jaded by all the political one-upmanship of the recent past.

The note was a simple explanation of who you were a long time ago and the person that you've become since.

I've added a few footnotes for minor clarification here and there; after all, it was written a while ago...



I WAS:

Never supposed to be born. My mom had prior, horrible, unsuccessful pregnancies and I was a "miracle" baby.

The lucky recipient of eyeglasses at the age of two. (What great fun pre-school was!)

The "victim" of Slovenian-American Catholic angst and drama growing up.

Turned on to the RMS Titanic by Erik Smith in the 6th grade when he read "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord and did a book report in front of the whole class.

An impossibly pretentious film geek in college: If it wasn't European, it was a piece of crap.

The undisputed Amaretto Sour king of the late '80s. I still have the title as I retired undefeated in the quest for the development of the perfect amaretto sour (Beth, can I get a testimonial?)

Never a big fan of card games; I still don't know how to play poker at my advanced age...

Raised Catholic, until my early teens. Then I entered the Age of Reason.

Pained to watch my father get weaker and weaker by the year...

Probably the worst Minor-B ballplayer in the Elyria rec program's history. I got one hit all season and was banished to the Devil's Island position of left field for all eternity. I'd probably still be there but they tore down the fields at Allen School and built houses about ten years ago.

Incredibly curious about the world around me.

Going to be an archeologist when I was ten. (Why didn't I stick with it?)

Elyria's equivalent of Luke Skywalker, although my lightsaber was a sawed-off broom handle painted with day-glo pink paint.

Paternally orphaned at the age of seventeen...

A paperboy for three years and delivered about 100 papers a day. My shoulders hurt continuously.

The severely-underpaid-production-assistant-who-worked-his-ass-off-and-didn't-even-get-a-screen-credit on the Hawai'i location shooting of "Jurassic Park."

An obnoxious know-it-all.

A college student who took two years off, decided what I wanted to do, and then went back and got a B.A. in Communications. I was the only sophomore in my dorm who could buy beer and give the under-age RA the finger when he gave me a hard time about it...

A classical music fan when I was ten.

One of thousands of kids who used to watch Wrestling on WTBS and thought it was REAL. I also thought that Queen was a straight band and that George Michael was singing "Faith" to women...

Terrified to take a bath after I saw "Jaws" in 1975. Or go to the YMCA pool, or in the lake, or...

Too scared to dance with Laura Calhoun at the 8th grade Northwood Spring Dance.

A survivor of the Boy Scouts: camping trips, skunks in my tent, Survival Camp, and Nazi scout leaders (I mean, honestly, why is it important to build your own igloo, sleep in it by yourself, and melt snow to make drinking water when all of your 8th grade friends are going to Pizza Hut on a Saturday night? I equate that experience with calculus; when the hell am I ever going to use either of these skills in the real world? Unless, of course, I apply for "Survivor: Antarctica")

Preternaturally skinny.

An education major at BGSU for two semesters.

Carefully tip-steering a bright green plastic (narrow) skateboard, polyurethane wheels, ball bearings, no helmet, gravel imbedded in my kneecaps. bragging rights. You know, the basics of childhood warrior-kings.

Tip-toeing to the "base" during a midnight game of hide and seek. July night. lightning bugs. backyard tent sleepover. no air-conditioning. laying in a miserable pool of your own sweat.

The coolest guy on Beverly Court (and beyond) because we got cable and HBO (boobs on my living room TV! Who woulda thunk?) in September of 1980. NO ONE else had endless showings of "Superman: The Movie" and "The Muppet Movie" for blocks!

The dishwasher at Hardee's at LCCC during the eleventh grade. I realized I hated washing dishes and my mom for making me work there. I lasted two weeks before I was unceremoniously told that they needed to find a more motivated dishwasher...

A relatively early adopter of the coolest technology in 1981 Ohio. The VHS ("Video Home Systems") VTR ("Video Tape Recorder") weighed 40 pounds, cost my parents almost $900.00, was a top-loader and had this cool thing called a "remote control." It was a 20 foot long string with a pause button. I could sit in the comfort of my dad's chair and cut the commercials out of my TV programs by pushing a button on this string. That is, if someone didn't trip over the wire and pull the VTR from its place under the TV. Oh yeah, not only could we see boobs on cable, now we could record them and show all of our friends the boobs--just in case they didn't believe us...

Doing a big brother's sworn duty: torturing my little sister with towel slaps, wet willies and other absolutely necessary daily humiliations...I guess this could fall under the "hobby" category.





I AM:

Legend.

The proud father of a 14 year old son.  (Who is now a six-foot-four, soon-to-be-seventeen honors student btw, just a shout out--BL)

A classical music fan.

Still nursing sore shoulders. (Those Sunday C-Ts were heavy!)

Incredibly curious about the world around me.

Convinced that the majority of the world's ills have sprung from our consumption of this purple kool-aid called "religion."

A decent nature photographer.

A survivor of Slovenian-American Catholic angst and drama. Is there a support group for that? Those of you out there (Collinwood, maybe) know what I'm talking about!

An obnoxious know-it-all.

An American History nut! I love to go to battlefields, close my eyes, and try to imagine what it must have been like in a wool uniform, July heat, 70 pounds of gear on your back, being fired upon haphazardly by the enemy while your best friend cries out for his mama as he lay dying...Is that morose? Or a good way to internalize history and make it come alive?

Cleveland's equivalent of Luke Skywalker, but now my lightsaber is a nifty gyro-thingy that makes cool swooshing noises and cost 129 bucks at Borders two Christmases ago. I miss my broomstick sword sometimes...

A huge proponent of our national park system! Grab a camera, a map, and get myself lost in the woods.

Preternaturally a buffalo wing addict. (Hence not being preternaturally skinny anymore...)

An avid RMS Titanic "fan" who, over the years, has talked to three survivors (all dead now), been to several graves and homes of survivors and victims, and befriended descendants of Titanic victims. It's been a part of me since Erik's book report...

A proud proponent of grade school dodgeball, tackle football and that wonderful rugby knockoff "Smear the Queer." I hate how our schools pacify these poor kids and don't let them play sports that brings out the joy of being a kid. How many times can they play "Red Rover" or run under a friggin' parachute in "physical education?" Extra points if skinned kneecaps or bruises are part of the mix...

...Still a movie fan (notice the distinction? I used to love "films," but now I enjoy "movies.") I like European films but also love stupid comedies... "Dumb and Dumber" is great, but so is "Smiles of a Summer Night."

Certain that Fox News is the Republican Party's version of soylent green. How can people watch that shit? A "Fair and Balanced" look at what, exactly? I think Goebbels did a better job of propaganda, and look where that led those people...

A baseball fan who loves the game but is soured by the impurity of the business. Guys like A-Rod and Bonds and their ridiculous salaries and lies spoil it for me. Back in the '40s, when you were a Brooklyn Dodger you lived in an apartment above a butcher shop in Brooklyn and painted houses or sold insurance in the off-season. Now, where's the purity of the game? Say it ain't so, Joe...

A devout heterosexual male very secure in his masculinity with an affinity for broadway musicals. Call me whatever you want, but when I have a chance to pop in an original cast CD, I sing along enthusiastically yet hide the CDs in fear of being mocked by those who have no understanding of the art form.  (I dare any guy to tell me that they haven't at least hummed along to a "Grease" tune now and then.)

Fascinated by the world when I see it through a lens. It seems more real than real when you take the time to compose something mundane and "done a million times" into something fresh and unique...

Constantly striving to see the world from different perspectives, disciplines, and philosophies.

Planning on visiting Kenya and Bejing's portion of the Great Wall in the next few years to shoot my dream pictures.

Nurturing this weird obsession that I have with cougars (the four-legged ones and, I guess, the over-forty human kind as well, but mainly the animal). I've photographed everything else American BUT pumas and grizzlies. I really want to photograph this cat in the wild. (And not end up as dinner like that crazy Treadwell guy in "Grizzly Man.")

Striving to lead a more "green" existence. I recycle everything that I can and have cut my carbon footprint drastically within the last 18 months. Although I'm not a radical tree-hugger, I find it imperative to cut when and where I can.

Fairly convinced that there is no true meaning in anything that we do. Nothing is pre-ordained or guided by the hand of a "God." There is no luck, karma, or even Spidey Sense. Things happen, and there is no "bad" or "good." We tend to attach meaning to things that we are either too horrified to confront or need to blame someone or something for our own inaction...(Like Hitler, Katrina, or New Kids on the Block).

Happy that I survived as the miracle baby. Otherwise, who would have tortured my little sister (thereby building tons of character) and giving life to the most wonderful 14 year-old on the planet?

Content that the only true god exists within yourself. If I have the will to do it, I can make it happen. That is the only divine providence I accept...

Gearing up to move out west when Alex is done with college and live out my golden years within spitting distance of our greatest parks--Death Valley, Yellowstone, Canyonlands, and the Rockies. Goodbye cell phones, hello mountain lions!  (Does this sound kind of gay?  Just asking--BL)




*

Thursday, September 22, 2011

From Far Underground

I was out with a few friends last week and, somehow, my blog came up during our conversation.  One of my female comrades had never been to my condo and questioned the veracity of my blog's title, saying that I quite simply couldn't be writing this from inside a cave.

As I sat waiting for her to add something to that mirthful little accusation, all of us around the table realized that she wasn't kidding; she truly thought I hooked up a generator to some hole in the earth's crust and tapped away from the bowels of a deep, dank cave in Cleveland, Ohio.

After quickly recovering from my internal laugh track I told her that it was a man cave, a fairly common geological feature in most of Northeast Ohio.

She still didn't grasp the concept.

I wondered what part of the pop-cult zeitgeist she missed out upon; was it too many years of Yo Gabba Gabba and Barney that made her not understand the simple complexities of a modern guy?

So I attempted an explanation that put it into more of her terms:  Do you know how, at the end of a long day, you escape into a weepy chick flick and a quart of ice cream?

Yes, she said.

That's what a man cave is; it's a place like that minus the four thousand calories, the unrealistic movie ending and the morning-after guilt of eating all of that milk fat.

Then she got it.  But I don't think she liked the unsubtle reference to the baby-got-back-inducing ice cream.

Or that the nerdy, mousy girl from the wrong side of the tracks undoubtedly ends up with the rich prick kid who secretly has loved the nerdy, mousy girl from afar in an attempt to prove to his parents that he can still push their buttons.  And, oh yeah, the young clueless couple will live happily ever after.

Or something like that.

So I told her to stop by and I'd give her a tour of the real man cave.

She asked me what it was all about; I gave her a vague reference to a cross between a James Bond villain's secret lair and Bruce Wayne's Bat Cave, adorned with some cool gadgets.

She still looked perplexed.

My friends were having a good time at this poor girl's expense.  And when I say "girl" I really mean a forty-something mother of three who, twenty years ago, was all the rage:  Smoking hot body, current with all the music trends and a fun night out.  And when I say "night out," I mean til three or four in the morning, three hours sleep and then into work by eight, blurry-eyed but no worse for the wear.

But, the day-in/day-out of almost two decades of T-ball sessions, ballet recitals, soccer tournaments and Starbucks Mocha-Mocha Frappe Latte Whiz Bang Double Espresso Thingamajigees slowly burned away at whatever tenuous grip on life outside the nest she had.

I gave her a more thorough description of the Cave. 

It's a simple affair; a nice little home theater, framed movie posters with a seemingly out-of-place poster exclaiming Daytona Beach's 1986 Spring Break thrown in there for some contrast, and a  big L-shaped desk housing my laptop and a thesaurus so I can toss a few slick adjectives into my blog entries from time to time.

She wants to come see it; I told her to leave the kids at home and that I'd have to print her out a day pass to visit.  After all, it is a man cave and much like the White House, I only give tours to the opposite sex if they've been cleared in advance.  I can't have cooties in this sacred dojo.

And I'll have to cover the red-buttoned wall plate.

You know what button I'm talking about, right?

The one that, if pressed, opens a trap door to my tank of sharks living under the cave.

The man eating ones that have laser beams attached to their heads and are on a never-ending quest to vanquish cooties from man caves.

Or something like that.



*

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Ravages of a Soul

So, I think I can sit here in the relative safety of my man cave and write tomorrow night's entry without too much fear of being off the mark.  I think that, twenty-four hours from now, my worst fears regarding our legal system will have been realized.

I hope I'm wrong.  I hope an eleventh hour Hail Mary will do what the pope, an ex-president, Al Sharpton, and hundreds of thousands of people around the world haven't been able to do.

Have you ever heard of Mary Surratt?

Probably not, I'm guessing.  She was a nobody, a Maryland widow trying desperately to keep her family together after her husband's death at the height of the Civil War.

Prior to April 14, 1865, not many people outside of Surrattsville, Maryland had heard her name.

Yet a scant three months later her name was on the lips of Americans from New York to San Francisco.

It seems she was involved, intimately, with the conspirators that killed Abraham Lincoln.  Her boarding house, said one politician, was the "nest that hatched the egg."  That egg being the plot to first kidnap and, when that failed, to assassainate the 17th president.

Was she guilty?  From everything I've read I would say yes; she had too much knowledge of the plot to not be, at least loosely, associated with Booth and her own son, conspirator John Surratt.

But an altogether different question to ask was this:  Was she given a fair and just trial?

And once again, from everything that I've read, the answer is a resounding no.

She was tried by a militray tribunal and not, as civilians are normally tried, by a jury of her peers.  From the beginning it was clear:  Her guilt, along with three of her conspirators, was already established.

The retribution was quick.  Within three months the sentence was carried out.

On a hot summer Washington day, she was hanged with three men; the first woman in our country's history to be executed by the federal government.

A hundred years later a lone gunman crawled into the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository and killed another of our beloved presidents.  He was discovered, arrested and assassinated as well; we'll probably never know the truth behind Oswald's motives.

So now a man on Death Row, a nobody from Savannah, Georgia is going to be executed tomorrow night.  Based on the evidence he most likely didn't commit the crime of which he's been accused.  In the early 1990s an off-duty policeman, responding to the beating of a homeless man in a Burger King parking lot, was shot in the face and died almost instantly. The alleged assailant, Troy Davis, was identified as the man who shot the officer.

But since that night twenty years ago seven of the nine witnesses have recanted their testimony.  Another man, whose testimony was never admitted to the formal record, said that another man, not Mr. Davis, was responsible for shooting Officer McPhail. 

It appears that Troy Davis will die tomorrow for the crime.

And here, cave dwellers, is what really, unconscionably, bothers me.

Justice is all about magnitude.

Magnitude rules everything. Think back to high school physics and astronomy; wasn't gravity, collapsars, and the brightness of a star all about magnitude?

So is justice.

Over the course of the last ten years it's become apparent that the wars started by the previous administration were all about lies.  The events of 9/11 helped to trigger those lies and led us into two wars that have cost trillions of dollars and untold lives.  How many American service people have died in the deserts of the Middle East based on lies sown by Bush and Cheney? 

And Iraqi lives?  Our losses pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in our jihad against a sovereign nation. 

I want to try and illuminate a point about justice by tying together four threads that, seemingly, have absolutely nothing to do with each other. 

Mary Surratt. 

Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Troy Davis. 

Dick Cheney.

After her execution in July of 1865 her son was still on the lamb.  Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, got his pound of flesh.  Soon after her trial the rules were changed; from then on civilians were only tried by a jury of their peers.  Her son John came back to the United States, was put on trial and subsequently found innocent of the charges against him.

The brightness, the immediacy, of his mother's trial had long faded.  Along the same lines, Dr. Samuel Mudd, sentenced to hard labor for his role in the plot, was pardoned in 1869.  John Surratt died in the early 1900s, a happy old man.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a nobody, was found to be responsible for the death of JFK who, in many eyes, was a great man.

Troy Davis, a nobody, will most likely die tomorrow for a murder he didn't commit.

Dick Cheney, known now as a manipulator of truths and a mastermind of our imperialistic wars, is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, American, Iraqi, and otherwise.

Do you see the parallels?  Can you connect the dots?

Fairness and justice are all about magnitude. 

We have a difficult time seeing the big picture.  We can put a man on trial for killing another man.  But the hundreds of thousands of deaths at the hands of the Bush regime is almost inconceivable.  Look at Nuremberg; few of the Nazis actually met their fate for their role in the genocide of the European Jews.

Why?

The question, the magnitude, was too large to comprehend.

Why must we think there was a conspiracy to kill JFK? 

Simply put, because our collective conscience has a difficult time believing a nobody like Oswald could kill as large a figure as Kennedy, the king of Camelot.

Surely, a much larger, multi-faceted machine must have been in place to kill someone as important as JFK.  A single nobody couldn't have done it all by himself in such a David-and-Goliath fashion.

So Troy Davis, I fear, will die tomorrow even though the preponderence of the evidence shows that the wrong man may be executed.  Is he innocent?  Is he guilty?  I don't know the answer to that question. 

But I do know that, like Mary Surratt, he hasn't been given the due process that the evidence, or lack thereof, requires.

Yet a man like Dick Cheney, whose magnitude I hope will dwindle like a collapsing star, will walk free of his crimes against all of humanity.  Forever free to smirk at how he crafted one of the biggest lies of our times and how his notoriety, the second-in-command of the most powerful nation on the planet, gives him immunity from the ravages of a soul.

And, I hope beyond all hope that something interferes with tomorrow night's proceedings and gives Mr. Davis the Hail Mary that he deserves.

Because, ultimately he's a nobody.  He's not a JFK or a Cheney.  He's a black man from the South which, in many respects, is less than nobody.  Even if Pope Benedict, Jimmy Carter, Al Sharpton and a host of others think this man's life is something of magnitude. 

But, unfortunately, I know history.

And, never failing, it repeats itself endlessly.

Time and again.



*

Witness for the Execution

*
Well, cave dwellers, I'm flummoxed. 

I've mulled over how to properly put a few thoughts that have been rummaging around my head into a proper perspective.

And I can't.

All I can say is that, years ago, I told my son a single truth that seems to resonate over and over again.

Life, no matter what we think, is all about money.

And, I told my then-pre-adolescent boy, always follow the money and you'll see the truth behind whatever reality you're looking to uncover.

I sounded like a bad movie. 

Being raised Catholic and a witness to all of The Chuch's splendor I ask myself what part of Jesus' teachings did the papacy not understand?

Jesus was poor; his flock were shepherds, the lame, the indigent.  He preached love and harmony and railed against the might of the wealthy.  So how does Rome celebrate him?

By building gilded, gigantic cathedrals "glorifying" his name.

I'm fairly sure if Jesus were alive today he'd be pretty confused at how most of organized religion, and especially the Vatican, misinterpreted his message.

Anyway, the thought that has my brain hurting is how a few notorious murder trials have made the news lately.

A man in Georgia, Troy Davis, is scheduled to be executed soon.  There's an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows this man may be executed for a crime he didn't commit. 

Three men in Arkansas, the "West Memphis Three" as they've become known, were just freed after almost twenty years in prison for a crime for which they've just recently been exonerated.

Before you start calling me a liberal, anti-death penalty guru, let me state that I have problems with the death penalty for one reason:  It's faulty.

A deterrent to crime?  Well, that's proven to be ineffective.  It boils down to one thing which, unfortunately, has become a hallmark of American life: good old fashioned, Wild West-style revenge.

Now I'm all for handing out an ass-whooping of biblical proportions when it's warranted.  In my opinion folks like Hitler and Stalin got off way too light.  If there truly were justice, der Fuehrer would have been slowly roasted over a fire while his fingernails, eyeballs and testicles were plucked out medieval-style with a rusty crochet needle.  His death would have taken a few days and would have put William Wallace's execution to shame.

But "beyond a reasonable doubt" is the foundation for our legal system, especially when the life of a human being is on the line.

And, in each of these two cases that I just mentioned, there was doubt.

Lots of it.

I'm amazed by the Arkansas case. 

There appears to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions from the moment those poor little boys' bodies were discovered.  Police walked all over the crime scene, a creek bed across the river from Memphis, Tennessee.  The bodies were picked up and moved from where they were found.  Witnesses were coerced to tell mistruths regarding the alleged murderers.  The sitting judge made comments about the guilt of the men on trial.  Evidence was mishandled; some of it was stored in brown grocery store bags of unknown origin.  And on and on.

Yet these three men were found guilty. 

Beyond a doubt.

The "ringleader," an eighteen-year old, was sentenced to death.  His two underaged cohorts life in prison.

A documentary filmmaker, convinced of their guilt, made a film in the mid-1990s.  He delved deeper and found they may be innocent.  He made two more films about the case.

Activists pushed for a new trial. 

After the case was re-opened and this preponderence of evidence finally came to light they were released last month.  The ringleader was scheduled to die a few weeks ago. 

But here's the kicker, and what a gut-puncher it is:

Although innocent, they've been released on a technicality called an "Alford Plea," which means a plea of "no contest" is submitted and their innocence is maintained.  They've been freed pending a few caveats.

So in a nutshell these three are free but may be re-incarcerated if they violate the terms of their parole, which may be something as ridiculous as a traffic ticket.  If so, they can go back to the pokey for twenty-one years.

So why the Alford Plea?  The cops screwed up.  They got the wrong guys.  The justice system didn't do its job.  They got the wrong guys. 

The plea was designed so these men can't sue the state for wrongful imprisonment.  They should be lucky just to be free is the mantra being told to them.

It's all about the money.

And now Troy Davis, who is scheduled to die tomorrow, is in the same boat. Much of the facts are the same: The murder weapon was never found.  There was no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder victim, an off-duty police officer shot in a Burger King parking lot.  Seven of the nine original witnesses that had linked Davis to the murder later recanted their testimony.

The reasonable doubt argument, if there ever was any, dissipated in a flurry of logic long ago.

Yet here he is. 

His appeals appear to be extinguished; even though witnesses have recanted and evidence appears that he is the wrong man, the quintessential wrong-time-wrong-place guy.

A trip to the Supreme Court did no good.  Activists on both sides of the political spectrum, conservatives and liberals alike, have come to this man's moral defense.

How, I ask, in good faith do we execute a man who may be innocent of such a crime?

If he's executed without being proven beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt then we've murdered another person.

Who was just as innocent as the man he's acccused of killing.

And our culture, defined by violence and an arrogance that refuses to reconsider a verdict based on both the evidence and rational thought, dies a little more right alongside Troy Davis.

But think of the money Georgia will save if they don't have to fork over a ton of wrongful-imprisonment settlement money if he's allowed to go free.

Jesus would be proud, wouldn't he?


*

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pluck of the Irish

So I attended an Irish-influenced music festival last night. 

A good buddy of mine got tickets and wrangled a backstage press pass for me to walk around, in front of the large mass of drunken, stage-diving twenty-somethings, and photograph the eight-or-so acts that had taken over a large outdoor pavilion in urban Columbus, Ohio.

I've been shooting a lot of different types of photos lately; just recently I snapped some stealthy pix of Joss Whedon's "Avengers" location shoot in Cleveland and made contact with an up-and-coming comedian whom I'm going to immortalize along the fair banks of the Cuyahoga River sometime next week.

I was given the press pass, an after-party ticket, and a pair of ear plugs that I, unwisely, dispensed with deep in my side pocket.  And, as a photographer, it's almost impossible to dig anything out of a pocket once that little holy grail slides under a lens, a few memory cards, an I-Pod Touch, car keys, a plastic bottle of Pepsi, and an almost-gone chapstick.

Who needs a back pack when your pocket can hold anything up to and including Jimmy Hoffa's remains?

I went over to the side stage where a few acts I'd never heard of were heartily warming me up for the headliner, when they'd take the stage at about 9:30.

The moment Chuck Ragan, a Gainesville-based folksy-Irish-rock balladeer, took the stage it reminded me how much I love listening to live music.  He played for almost an hour and, as the bass and fiddle players jammed, Chuck got sweatier and sweatier.  It seemed that the more he perspired, the more passionate his music sounded. By the end of his set he looked like he'd been pulling a twelve hour shift in some West Virginia coal mine. 

Or he just swam the English Channel in his long-sleeved shirt.




As a photographer I've learned to live in the moment; ignore the stimuli around me and concentrate on GETTING THE SHOT.

It was hard.  His singing was a soft lament, much like the Irish tradition that he seemed to be evoking.  For a minute, I thought of a young Springsteen.

The sun had set by now; I checked my watch and realized the Dropkick Murphys would be onstage at any moment.

I meandered over to the pit, flashed my press badge and stood in front of the stage.  I turned around ever so gingerly, taking a look at the gathering around me.  As the throng pressed up against the barriers it reminded me of a Romero zombie movie.  Mohawks, dyed green, peppered the audience.  Men wearing kilts surrounded me and a litany of tattoos and piercings engulfed me; it looked like an open casting call for a new Mad Max flick. I turned back around and attempted to ignore the mass of people mulling, all Dawn-of-the-Dead-like, behind me.

In total darkness the band took the stage.  A guitar lit up the night.  My ears instantly turned to tapioca as about 175 decibels of raw energy pounded into my head. 

Fuck. 

How can I concentrate on shooting any photos when the fillings in my teeth are rattling?

I persevered through the first three songs, ignoring the abject agony my inner ear drum was experiencing.  I fumbled through my pocket looking for the ear plugs that my buddy wisely gave me.  I found one, twisted it into a long, penis-looking thing and jammed it into my right ear.  For a moment my senses returned, then it seemed my left ear was doing double time; it was trying to make up for the right ear's sabbatical. 

I stood against the stage, half-dazed but clicking away as the lead singer, Al Barr, made his way past me and over top my camera.

I got my shot.

As I walked out of the pit, dizzy and a little off-kilter from the musical barrage, I realized one thing.

I'm old.

I love the music.  The experience.  The light show.

But I guess the old saying is true:  If it's too fucking loud you're too fucking old.

And as I found my friends sitting in the VIP section a hundred feet back from the stage I attempted to make conversation with them. 

I felt as if I was talking to Charlie Brown's mom; I couldn't understand a word any of them was saying.  All I could make out were hand gestures, the occasional laugh, and the wah-wah-wah of an attempt to make meaningful communication with me.

Good Christ, I thought, is this how Helen Keller felt?  At that moment, if you pulled my contact lenses out, I'd have been as helpless as a newborn kangaroo joey; blind, deaf and unable to utter anything that could be remotely construed as human.

But I got home, after a pitiless stop at the Waffle House and a two ay-em food trough of sausage gravy, biscuits, and a second feeble attempt at talking.

I stumbled out of bed today at about noon; the ringing in my ears hadn't yet abated, but a good part of my hearing had returned.  By dinnertime I could listen to music again, and damn, did Norah Jones sound good. 

Quiet.

Soothing.

And not a hair above thirty or so decibels.

But guess what?

I got my shot, cave dwellers.



And, I suppose, that's why I went there to begin with.  So, bleeding ear drums aside, I'd say it was a great night. 

Even if I am too fucking old.



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Images copyright Brian M. Lumley Photography.  May not be reproduced, poached, or used without express written permission by me.  So there!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Profiles in Cowardice

So we're approaching the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Everywhere you look: TV, magazines, Facebook and other internet sites, there are memorials and remembrances of a date that has become the contemporary of either Pearl Harbor or V-J Day, depending upon how you look at it. 

Most of us would view it as a mirror of December 7th, 1941, when our country was brutally awakened to an attack by a ruthless aggressor.  Others may see it as V-J Day in August of 1945, celebrating a hard-fought victory over that despised enemy.  Think about it for a moment, am I wrong?

Every TV network affiliate has been asking me for the better part of a week a single query: "Where were you on that balmy Tuesday morning ten years ago?"

As I carefully mull over the question an answer ultimately pops to the front of my brain.

Who cares? 

Isn't it time we tuck away the memory of what happened that day?  Haven't we mined it enough for political reasons?  Don't the dead deserve to rest in peace, finally?

But if anything both concrete and lasting is to be gained from that day, it must be this:

If a single day, a moment in time that we can point to, exists that we can pin many of our contemporary problems on then, surely, September 11th, 2001 would be that day.

In the weeks following those horrific events an unparallelled display of patriotism swept through our country.  Off-duty firefighters stood in the middle of streets around the country with a yellow boot to accept donations for the widows of their dead brethren. The world mourned for us. Thousands of pounds of dog food was collected and sent to NYC to help feed the dogs sent to sniff out people both alive and dead in the rubble. Even Fidel Castro sent his sympathies for what became an international outpouring of grief.  At that moment, we were on the world stage; people around the globe openly wept for us, the survivors of a brutal terrorist attack.

I sincerely believe that the Bush administration, after expressing an initial shock of what had just transpired in New York, Shanksville, and at the Pentagon, started formulating plans for what would become a domestic policy that still exists today.  His cabinet members all knew that at that moment the Bush posse could pass any law and not one American would hold them accountable for any of it, as long as a flag was waved and God was, somehow, evoked in its presentation.

They preyed upon our national fear and paranoia. 

The so-called "Patriot Act" was summarily passed in the wee hours of the night; quickly and without much discussion.  I've read large parts of this Old Testament-sized tome and its implications are frightening. 

Many congresspeople admitted they didn't read it; it was too thick and its ratification happened too fast.  They knew if they voted against it they would appear to be unpatriotic and, in those days after 9/11, the worst thing to be was virulently un-American.  Many also based their vote on the intelligence they were being given by the Bush Administration: Hussein was an evil man, was behind the events of 9/11, and supplying material help to Al Qaeda; he had to be taken out.

The attack on America gave us a pass, and a half-assed justification, to open the flood gates on a litany of abhorrent behaviors, "deterrents" including torture, political assassination, and an invasion of a sovereign country that, upon later inspection, was found to be without provocation.

So logic, rational thought, and a modicum of sense was tossed out the window in favor of a thoughtless, God-Bless-the-USA mentality.  We wanted revenge.  Someone had to pay for what happened to us.  And who cares if it's Iraq; it's a Muslim country, the president is a douchebag dictator, and Iraqi blood is just as red as bin Laden blood.

Within eighteen months of 9/11, we attacked a nation primarily of peasants.  Current estimates of Iraqi war dead are in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps upwards of a million non-combatant deaths. 

Civilians. 

Innocents.

Julian Assange just posted documents that, in one gruesome incident, detail how American soldiers went into an Iraqi home and executed an entire family.   In what portion of the Geneva Convention does it excuse the execution of civilian children and their mothers?  And as Bush routinely evoked God right alongside country, what Christian authority would even consider those deeds?

I've been to Arlington and seen its Section 60.  That part of the national cemetery is where the newly-killed war dead are being put to rest.  Men and women from both Afghanistan and Iraq lay in the reddish Virginia soil, their brand new headstones a polished white granite that are starting to rapidly overtake this nascent acreage. The names and dates denote a price that we've paid for Bush's miscalculations.  Many of them were still in their teens; one soldier of Hispanic descent was forty-four years old and remembered on her tombstone as both a mother and grandmother.  

And now we're drumming up the ghosts of 9/11 to commemorate an anniversary that still has implications on each and every one of us.  After that day ten years ago everything started to change.  Our economy was stable then; Clinton had left a surplus and a balanced budget.  We were prosperous, unemployment was low.  Our federal spending was, in a typical American lexicon, large, but nothing that couldn't be handled by a status quo economy. 

I don't need to paint a picture of where we are right now, do I? 

Bin Laden's dead.  His goals for the most part, fortunately, have gone unrealized. 

But even as I write that sentiment I have to think about his impact on our culture and what he means to the United States.  He's become a figure as important as Lincoln, Jefferson or King.

Quoting the nefarious villain Khan from "Star Trek II," maybe bin Laden did far worse than kill us.  He hurt us.  And he will continue to do so long after his death.  9/11 sowed the seeds of where we are at this moment: A nation lost, struggling to find its path amidst many differing and, at times, violent opinions over who we really are as a people. 

A strong conservative movement has grown from the ashes of 9/11.  Fiercely patriotic, much of it is anti-immigrant; a fundamental Christian rhetoric bathed in abject paranoia and fear of lifestyles and cultures that they don't really understand.  Rick Perry has been rumored to say that he'll outlaw homosexuality if he were elected president.  How much more preachy can you get to fan your radical base of support?

Extreme Islamic fundamentalists, homosexuals, illegal Mexicans?  All the same.

Bin Laden succeeded in what he set out to do.  The towers fell as the first domino in a chain reaction that has defined the United States in the twenty-first century.  He has, to a large degree, changed the fabric of this country; our economy is in shambles, in large part due to the federal funding of two wars that were supposedly a direct response to the events of 9/11.

That international goodwill the Jihadists gave us? It all evaporated when the first American bomb exploded over Baghdad.  We've gone from being a capitalist powerhouse to an Imperialist bully, exclaiming to an unwanting world that you're either with us or you're against us.

And those drums of war are still beating.

But Halliburton is richer, Cheney just published his memoirs, and we're getting ready to commemorate the day that America, in somewhat more than a symbolic sense, died.

So instead of flying the flag this Sunday, tuning into CNN or buying one of the dozens of "special issue" commemorative magazines, hop online and read the Patriot Act.

See how these men used your fear to take away your liberties and at the same time get even more wealthy from your misery; how our dead sons and daughters gave their lives not in defense of their country but to bolster some hedge fund manager's growing portfolio.

And, with no intended irony, proclaimed how we were bringing liberty to the Iraqi people.

Even if we had to kill about a million of them to do it.



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The Ultimate Injustice

So last night's little GOP get-together had very few surprising moments in it.  The moderator, NBC's Brian Williams, asked some fairly routine questions and received answers that were, pretty much, rank and file. 

As I listened to the responses the only thing that popped to mind was that Newt Gingrich seemed to be the only one who hadn't stepped out of an episode of "The Twilight Zone."

Where are they vetting these people?  Is this the best the GOP can come up with here?  If you placed Hitler behind one of those podiums I don't think his answers about racial purity and world conquest would be so out of line with the others.

One question really rankled me.  The now-frontrunner, Governor Rick Perry, was asked about his quality-of-sleep after executing 234 death row inmates in Texas, the most sent to their deaths by any governor in the history of our country.

Williams asked this:

“Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.  Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”

Perry responded, “No, sir, I’ve never struggled with that at all.”

He then went to add, "In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed.”

And, sadly, a cheer arose from the audience behind Brian Williams.

Twice.

So he wants to appear tough on capital punishment.  He wants to look like a bad-ass unafraid of making difficult decisions.  There's a new sheriff in town and he ain't afeared a' doin' what needs to be dunn.

Our country needs that kind of leadership; Truman had to face a tough decision in whether to drop two atomic bombs on Japan.  It was a different type of scenario; dropping those bombs ultimately brought the war to an end and stopped the wholesale slaughter of American soldiers in the Pacific theater. 

But Perry missed the intention of Williams' question.  He didn't ask if it was dangerous to commit a crime in Texas; he asked if the governor lost any sleep in signing the death warrant of, what may have been, an innocent person.  Many "crimes" of the past thirty years are being exculpated due to DNA testing, witness credibility and prosecutorial misconduct.  The three men in West Memphis, Arkansas are a great recent example.  And those poor bastards have been given a bureaucratic beat down of Machiavellian proportions.  Innocent yet guilty? What a clusterfuck of justice.

Time and again we're finding out that dozens of people on death row, prior to their executions and, tragically, after their deaths, were innocent of the crimes that they've been incarcerated for a better part of their lives.  Statistically speaking, out of 234 executions, there's bound to be one or two dead inmates that were innocent of their "crimes."

What really bothers me is Perry's acknowledgement of his lack of insomnia.

His steadfast answers unnerve me, he's a man unwavering in his mission.  A lack of compassion that maybe, just maybe, he could be wrong.

Most leaders of note will have doubts if they're doing the right thing.  Lincoln was torn over the events leading to the Civil War.  Churchill, showing a distinct resolve, toiled over the decisions leading Great Britain into World War II.  LBJ lost sleep over our involvement in Viet Nam. 

Ultimately Lincoln knew, even as the debates prior to his 1860 election foretold, that slavery was an evil that must be eradicated.  He knew what effect his election would have on Southern states beholden to the institution of human bondage.  Yet, he followed through and in early 1861 several slave states left the union solely because of his election.  You can't tell me that this didn't greatly affect the man; his physical appearance, with the future of our Republic on his shoulders, changed radically between 1861 and his assassination four years later.

Many recent leaders, however, have displayed no such demeanor.  Look back to early 2003; Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were adamant that their mission in Iraq was the correct one, diplomacy was disregarded in favor of a Fourth of July-style shock and awe campaign.  Even after WMDs were found to be a fairy tale designed to let loose the dogs of war, they still ramrodded the mission statement home. And here we are almost a decade later with a quagmire so deep that we really have no idea how to get out of a situation that's left us a broken, divided country.

Lincoln was correct then, a house divided cannot stand.

We need someone with compassion to lead this country.  Someone who cares about the poor, the disenfranchised.  Perry typifies all that's wrong with America today.  He boasts of job creation; a good majority of the jobs "created" under his tenure as Texas' governor have been government jobs created out of federal stimulus money.  Oil and gas regulation have been a large part of the Lone Star State's booming job creation.  Government employees.  Not private sector companies.  So, many of the things he's taking credit for aren't rightly his to claim. 

Except maybe one thing.

His record on executions.

And after all, isn't that the one thing we want our president to be known for?



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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Man Behind the Curtain

We all know a woman, maybe a sister or good friend, from our past that met some new guy, fell head over heels and then got unceremoniously dumped after he plucked her ripened little flower. 
Don’t we?

He may have wined and dined her, told her how beautiful she was, sent her roses, and then after he rounded third and slid into home, never felt the need to call her again.

And she was left crying, dazed, and felt foolish for not seeing the paw prints of a large predator that he left as he courted her to her lovelorn doom.

I worked, very briefly, in the movie industry. 
My entire young life was consumed by watching movies.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  Oh, I loved baseball and outdoor activities as well, but when the sun dipped over the houses on the west side of Beverly Court I would find myself tuning into HBO and checking out some new offering that took me far away from the confines of my parent’s three-bedroom colonial that was safely tucked away in the auspices of Cleveland’s outer-ring suburbs.

One night I delved into a four-hour Bertolucci opus, “1900.”  I watched the whole thing with nary a bathroom break or a quick jaunt into the kitchen to grab another Pepsi out of the fridge.
I remember sitting on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, staring up at the massive 26” screen to watch Polanski’s “Tess” on a cold winter Sunday afternoon.  Most of my friends were at the rollerskating rink on Cleveland Street; I sat through the whole affair and was broken-hearted when the end credits rolled and Polanski exclaimed that Tess of the D’Urbevilles was hanged.  Gut wrenching.  Horrible stuff.

But I knew that I loved movies.  And I wanted to be in that business. 
So eleven years after that cold Sunday afternoon I was living the dream.  A little older and wiser, I was killing myself on a movie location about six thousand miles away from my parents’ house.  I guess I was no longer tucked safely away in the ‘burbs, but off trying to make my mark on the world, cinematically speaking, of course.

After about two weeks on the set of “Jurassic Park” I realized I didn’t want to be there anymore.  It was exciting all right; I got to see Spielberg in action and each morning he said good morning to me I got a little wood. 
But I was raised in the Midwest, and the sensibilities that were ingrained into my upbringing made me see things a little differently than I did when I was younger.

It was a brutal business.  Not the eighteen to twenty hour days.  Not the grueling shooting schedule.  Not the wolves that would do anything to get recognized.  It was the whole thing; the separation from a reality that I was used to for the better part of my life.
It seemed those that were in the business for fifteen or twenty years were desperately trying to get out.  And the young ones, my age, were trying anything to get recognized and kiss an ass, any ass, to move up that ladder.

I came back to Ohio after our hurricane tremendously sad that all those years of want had been met with such little reward.  I eventually had a son, buckled down and got a job in sales.  Not glamorous, not sexy, but more Midwestern and certainly more palatable.
I took up photography several years ago and that’s become my creative outlet. 

About a month ago I made a telephone call to the publicist for “The Avengers.”  It was a New Mexico number and I called with the hope that, as a local photographer, I would be allowed access to the set when Joss Whedon and company came to Cleveland to shoot the biggest film that had ever come to Ohio.

I left a message.
I called back again.

I never even got the courtesy of a return call.

I called the Greater Cleveland Film Commission in the hopes that they could put me in touch with the right person or department.  Two weeks and two more phone calls later I got a response.  Call the film’s publicist in New Mexico was their reply.

You may not know this but Ohio’s hurting right now.  Our new governor is doing his best to destroy our public unions because firefighters, policemen and teachers are a lazy lot that make too much money.  Yeah, they don’t work enough either.  So, Governor Kasich wants to bust up the unions by removing, by law, their collective bargaining rights.  Oh yeah, he gave his entire staff hefty raises too.
Anyway, when public sector employees are getting pink-slipped because there just isn’t any money to keep them on the payroll, the state of Ohio decided it’s a good idea to give Disney, the film company making “The Avengers,” about $8 million in tax incentives to shoot here.

Cool.  You might say.  The rationale being that the crew will bring their money here and spend it in our restaurants, hotels and other businesses. 

Being a big event here in Cleveland, all the local media outlets covered it intensely; you’d think a press junket would be given access to the crew, director, and principal actors for a few interviews and pictures for the local press.  A sort of “Thank You Cleveland!” kind of thing…
I understand that they have a schedule and a budget to keep, but they didn’t offer one official interview to anyone.  Every local TV network affiliate was turned away.  So was the Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper. 

Not even Michael SanGiacomo, the comic book reporter for the Plain Dealer, was allowed access to the set.  Yet, he did three page one stories, all positive, about the Cleveland shoot. A few PD reporters were almost kicked off the set for daring to ask for an interview.  A phone call was later made to the brass at the PD inquiring as to why the reporters were on the set, harassing crew members.
How do I know?  I was there, right behind them.  And I saw it with my own eyes.
The set was locked down fairly tight and, on occasion, I was told that I wasn’t even allowed to look a certain way.

I sat at Panini’s to grab some lunch at 11:30 on a Friday morning.  There wasn’t a home Tribe game that night so the only real money the restaurant could count on that day was a fairly-brisk lunch hour.  I asked my waiter how they were doing; how much was their business up because of the movie shooting a block away?
Up?  We’re down 70%, he responded.
Hmmm.

Just as I was putting my order in a guy from the crew came over and started screaming above the 300 or so people gathered on the two patios that we would all have to leave because they were in the process of moving a crane and if a cable snapped it could be dangerous.

Immediately, a waitress came out and got into a very heated discussion with this guy.  It was 11:30.  Lunch hour.  He didn’t give a damn.  He didn’t care about how the local businesses were affected by their need to move a crane right then and there.
How come they couldn’t break for lunch?  Let the local establishments get through their lucrative part of the day and continue shooting after the lunch hour?

Because they’re Hollywood. 
They live in a different realm than the rest of us. Their needs superseded the rest of Cleveland’s. Time is money and, after all, when you’re making a movie the world is your oyster. That crew member, a local guy who kept repeating that to me after I told him to fuck off, thinks that he’ll get his big shot too.  As long as he has his nose in the right place and does the bidding of some guy who doesn’t have the balls to tell three hundred hungry, hot and tired Clevelanders to get the hell out of their way, he just might get that shot.

But probably not. 
Remember that girl that I mentioned?  The one who was in love with the guy who just used her?

That’s us.  We bent over, gave this production company a lot of money to treat us like shit.  They got what they came for. And then they left.  No thank yous.  No fuck yous.  But I'm certain the accountants at the Mouse House love the incentives that we gave them to come here in the first place. 
How many firefighters or policemen could eight million dollars employ? 
How many textbooks or computers could that money purchase for Ohio's students?
But our priorities are elsewhere. 
I’m curious to see what the final tally of how much green was truly dropped here.   They said the production would ultimately bring anywhere from $20 million to $80 million to the Northeast Ohio area. That’s a big swing.  Which is it, $20 or $80?
After fifteen to eighteen hour six-day work weeks, how much energy do you think the crew had to go to the bars and restaurants that litter the near-west side?

They booked some hotels, hired a few locals with their eyes set squarely on Tinseltown, and promised to clean up the streets after they were finished. I know that Sam Jackson dropped about eight bucks at the Tower City movie theater.  Stellan Skaarsgard bought some veggies at a whole foods market on the east side.  And Scarlett Johansson belted out a tune at Edison’s in Tremont on open-mike night.
Cleveland may be in trouble.  We may need the money.  But you know what?

We don’t need it that bad.





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