Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Shootout -- Parks

Okay, okay...sucked back in on a Friday.  I was really prepared to miss my first Friday shootout in awhile.  I didn't have any shots of parks anyhow.  Blah blah blah. 

Then, drinking coffee and getting ready for work, the insistant call kept singing like a Halloween ghost in my subconscious..."Oooooo.  Friday Shootout.  Ooooo.  Friday shootout."   

"But I have to go to work!" 

"Ooooo.  Shootout.   Do the shootout.  Ooooo."  

Haunted.  Cursed to perform, I called in late and dug up a couple.

This is the entrance to Sweatt Park in Wrentham, Massachusetts, where I grew up.   My grandfather, Joseph G. Cowell designed it and did the bas relief at the top of King Philip of the Wampanoags selling the land to the settlers for beads.  I've been meaning to do a three part blog on my grandfather and his artwork sometime at the end of fact, no matter what the theme is on the last Friday, I was planning on doing "Artwork" anyhow since I have lots of his work on slides.  And Bagman was going to write about his lusty side -- he was, after all, a Bohemian artist in Paris in the 1920's. 

What do you think, ladies?

Oh yes...this is about parks.  I think.  And whether it is or not, I'm getting later and later for work.  This Friday Shootout obsession is going to cost me my job one of these days. 


I guess this qualifies as a park.  The river was here long before Greenville.  When I discovered it on a morning walk before a long business meeting which had brought me to the upstate...people were feeding ducks and stuff.  So I guess it is a park.  

I could probably get through this rushed Friday obsession faster if I wasn't also addicted to digressions...But.  The shot above was one I took, copying an angle from a Greenville photographer whose work I saw in the Hyatt Regency where there meeting was taking place.  During a break, I walked into a lobby area and was stunned by the work of Ray Mosteller.  Although he is not one of our Friday ShooterOuters, his site is worth a look.  But the images are small (because he is selling them, duh) and you can't really see his incredible technique.  In the Hyatt the prints are huge -- maybe four feet by five feet.  He prints on canvas.  At first I thought they were super-realistic paintings.  Then I got mesmerized trying to see how he had photoshopped them.  Delicate, subdued, but incredibly toned.  He adjusts the tones in various parts of each photo so they absolutely glow.  I couldn't figure out all he does...but it is kind of magical.  End of digression.  And no, he didn't pay me for the advertisement.

Boone Hall Plantation, Mount Pleasant, SC

Boone Hall Plantation is right next door to the subdivision I live in.  Does a "plantation" qualify as a "park"?  There are gardens and a mansion, but these are the slave cabins.  

And these are the good ole boys re-enacting a battle from the War of Northern Aggression -- or as history books call it, the Civil War.  Boone Hall is close enough to my house so that the cannon blasts rattle my windows.  The South wins this battler, incidentally; the Battle of Secessionville.  Although the South eventually loses the war according to the history books.  I'm not sure everyone in Charleston believes that.  I should post some of the other shots I took during the re-enactment.

I should to a lot of things. 

But I should be fair -- Boone Hall is actually a very healing place.  They also have an annual family reunion that brings hundreds of people from all over who are related to the original families that lived there.  Heirs of both the plantation owners and the slave families come together and have formed lasting relationships..  It is kind of the opposite of the battle re-enactment. 

And you know...I really should go to work. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gone Fishing...

Well, not really fishing. More like gone flat.

I read a quote by Robert Frost: "Don't write unless you have something to say. Until you have something to say, go find something to say."

So I'm gone for a little while to find something to say. Or something to photograph. Or maybe I'm just going to take a lot of naps for the next several days.

I kind of feel like I have mono. Although, in high school, they called that the "kissing disease." So I probably have something else.

Wake me up for Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Hometown Shootout -- Childhood Memories

Childhood memories – A BOY AND HIS DOG

Brian’s dog was Sally. He grew up with her. We all loved her. She had a long happy life – 120 or more in dog years. Last Friday we had to let her go. But I don’t want this to be a sad blog. Brian asked for pictures of her and I am putting together “The Complete Sally Photo Album” for him for Christmas – or before since it will not be a surprise. And this childhood memories photoshoot is the perfect time to share some of those good times…even if there is some sadness in doing so.

Bagman put this shoot together for us, noting that passion isn't always without tears.

Sally was a gift to Brian from Santa Clause – at least we believed that Brian still believed in Santa then. I spent Christmas Eve half-sleeping and half-playing with her on the floor in the basement of the house we had then to keep her from yipping and ruining the surprise.

Brian looks like he’s not sure what to think in this photo. We said, “We’ll have to think of a name for her.” I expected we’d discuss possibilities for a couple of days, but Brian didn’t hesitate. “Sally!” I’ve asked him where he came up with that name but he doesn’t know. It was just her name.

It didn’t take him long to lose his reticence around her.

When Santa fell asleep, he fook my old film camera and started taking picture of her himself

And everywhere that Brian went the dog was sure to go...

And when birthdays came, we didn't have to think very hard for a theme for a birthday cake.

Sally could be wild

Sally loved the house in the country in the hills of North Carolina

But above everything, she loved Brian

Day or night

She loved to take walks with Karen and I

But above all, she loved Brian

And Conner got to meet her when he came along.

 While her heart belonged to Brian, there was one time she always shared with me...the late night walk before bedtime.   Every night we'd walk around the backyard, wherever we lived, and, for some reason, that was kind of my prayer time, looking at the stars.  Although her nose was usually to the ground, sniffing a million nocturnal things, I always thought she kind of understood as well.  

Now, I go to the backyard at night and look up at the stars.  I'm sure that one of them is Sally smiling down at me, probably wondering why I'm missing out on the fun of sniffing out moles.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bagman and Butler discuss nothing much of importance

Butler enters the common room.  He is, as always, immaculately dressed, even at six in the morning.  Bagman is half asleep under a newspaper on the couch. 

BUTLER: "I wonder.  Have you seen Mark lately?"

BAGMAN:  "Why ask me?  You're the one that runs around keeping tabs on him.  Probably hiding from you, if you ask me.  Oh yes, you did ask me."

BUTLER:  "I'm just worried about him.  I know he is going through old pictures and scanning ones that have Sally in them so he can make a book for Brian and maybe  post some for Friday's shootout theme.  But seems disconnected from Blogspot."

BAGMAN:  "Yeah.  He he said so himself.  On blogspot!  I think you make him guilty, always nagging, 'you should do this' and 'you should do that.'"
BUTLER: "What does that have to do with blogspot?"

BAGMAN: "You're such a proper twit!  You know?  You've got him convinced that he can't post anything unless he reads everybody else's blogs!"

BUTLER: "Well it is common decency."

BAGMAN: "Screw common decency!  I've seen what you've done to him!  Yesterday he sat down at the computer, pulled up Blogger and tried to go back and look at all the Sunset pictures people posted from last Friday!  And all the blogs since then!  Barry had a whole series on how he was dealing with his cancer!  He read a couple, couldn't think of anything to say and shut down the computer and left the room.  I haven't seen him since."

BUTLER: "Well.  It was...well...his choice."

BAGMAN: "Choice, smoich!  He hasn't had a good sexual fantasy in weeks!"

BUTLER: "That's not true.  You got him back in touch with his high school reunion.  Lots of old girlfriends and all?"

BAGMAN: "Yeah, right.  And did you see the photos from the reunion.  He was glad he didn't go.  Ruined 40 years of memories for him.  Made him realize that he's grown old and overweight as well!"

BUTLER:  "Not all of them were overweight."

BAGMAN:  "Quibble quibble.  Details. You get my point.  Anyhow, I haven't seen him lately.  Go look for him yourself."

BUTLER (after a long thoughtful pause):  "No.  Maybe you should go look for him.  I hate to admit it, but he probably needs you more than me.  Maybe you can light a fire under him."

BAGMAN:  "Yeah, right.  So you can pour cold water on it."

BUTLER:  "Depends on how hot it gets."

BAGMAN:  "Yeah, that helps alot!  Go get happy but not too happy?  Is that the message?"

Bagman throws a cup of coffee at Butler.  Butler ducks and then promptly pulls a roll of paper towels out from nowhere and begins cleaning up the spill.  Bagman groans, rolls off the couch and storms out of the room.

BAGMAN:  "Okay, okay.  I'll see what I can do." 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Need a little time

I'm sorry to have missed everyone else's shots on Friday.  And my own Friday shoot-out probably would not have been posted if I hadn't already pre-scheduled it.   But when we woke up Friday, we had to take Sally to the vet.  She was 18.  She could no longer stand up and we had to say goodbye to her.  Sometime I will do a proper post about her long and happy life and how much she was loved.  But not quite yet.  I'll be back here soon but need to breathe a little for a couple of days. 

And maybe going back and looking at some of your sunrise/sunset pictures will be good the soul as well even if I don't comment on them all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Hometown Photo Shootout - Sunset/Sunrise

Mostly just shots today -- sunrises and sunsets tend to stand on their own without lots of explanation.  Most of these are actually fairly new and shot near and around Charlston. 
Having said that, I'll start with a very old one shot in Newport, RI circa early 1970's

The next group were all from Jeckyl Island...Georgia, but not far from here.  It's a special place for Karen and I. 

The below was shot in Georgetown, SC -- two towns north of me.  I have always been interested in this factory and driving back from a meeting in Myrtle Beach one late afternoon, I realized that I coming in around sunset.  If I hurried.

BAGMAN:  "You were just looking for an excuse to speed with the top down!"

Anyhow, I loved the ride, adrenalin flowed, I passed no cops, and arrived in time for only three of four shots.  A little atypical for sunsets, but...

And I'll close with one I have posted before but decided to revive was heavily photoshopped, combining three images.  This was before I finally purchased a new Photoshop program and so I had to cut out the spaces between the branches meticulously by hand...hours of work.  I don't think, now, that it was worth it but the exercise was interesting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I am not playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Well, of course, the obvious answer is that I am 63 years old, overweight, out-of-shape, and haven’t touched a football since Brian was 14 years old.

Then there is the fact that after sitting on the Junior Varsity bench for my Freshman and Sophomore years at King Philip High School, I didn’t even make the Varsity team when I entered 11th grade. I was cut after three practices.

There! I’ve finally admitted it publicly after 50 years of keeping it a secret. I have always told everyone that I chose, of my own free will, to leave the team because I wanted to concentrate on my academic studies.

BAGMAN: “Yeah! And did you really think anybody ever believed that for a minute?!”

Hanging my head in shame. But my failure at football did have something to do with my brain even if it wasn’t academics! My brain has always been addicted to thinking way too much about stuff. Somehow, later in life, I managed to turn it off while practicing martial arts, but in high school I intellectualized football and it was an abject failure.

I was a pretty decent athlete. But I was 16, a lean 195 pounds, in good shape, and touched a football daily. I played pickup neighborhood football games with a vengeance. But when I first started playing in high school, I fell in love with the playbook. It was like a board game or a maze of X’s and O’s and arrows. A Rubics Cube of mud and grunts. I studied and memorized everybody’s blocking assignments. I knew exactly what my “O” was supposed to do to which “X” on each play.

But when we lined up for the hike, my “X” didn’t always line up in the right place. And he seldom followed his assigned arrow. As soon as the ball was hiked, everyone would launch out every which way! It wasn’t fair, dammit! I’d stand up and try to figure out what I was supposed to do and I’d still be there working out my strategy when some “X” who was supposed to be on the other side of the playbook would level me. And I’d give him a dirty look. Unless I was too busy trying not to throw up.

I still remember my number – 81. I was a tight end. Now I realize that this was the kiss of death. The position of tight end in football is like right field in baseball. Coaches put their worst players there so they have less chance of screwing up too often.

I was a tight end because I was too small to be a lineman, too slow to be a running back, and too lousy at catching passes to be a wide receiver. I might have made a good coach because I could map out plays on paper really well. Once I spent an entire algebra class drawing up a quadruple reverse, double lateral hail mary play and showed it to the coach.

I should have shown it to the art teacher.

It was cold on the bench; I confess I used to secretly hope that the starting tight end would get hurt so I would get to play. When this finally happened one Saturday in November, I ran out on the field determined to show everyone what a star I could be.

The first play was “Hook pass, Harry.” Harry was the other tight end. It could have been “Hook pass, Mark” but that play ran the risk that I might get my hands on the ball. For “Hook pass, Harry” my job was to run five yards past the line of scrimmage, turn and throw my hands up, faking, as if the ball was coming to me, then turn and run to block anyone trying to tackle Harry.

Okay, I thought. I might not get the ball, but I’m going to knock anybody who gets near to Harry on their butt!!! Hut one, hut two. I race out, turn, jump up, then – like a rocket, I’m on a collision course to where Harry has just caught the ball. Blind with rage and determination to make my presence known, I miss the fact that there is absolutely no defenders anywhere near Harry.

So I leveled Harry.

On the sideline I could see the coach talking to the first string tight end that I had replaced. I could almost read his lips, “I don’t care if it is broken, you’re going back in! We can’t leave Mark in there!”

But time was running out. We were down 3 points. We were on our own 10 yard line. It was, as they say, crunch time. The last play of the game was a long sideline pass to our wide receiver. My job was to run out and block the safety. Amazingly, the safety lined up where he was supposed to on the playbook. I was set.

Hut one, hut two! I’m off like a rocket, following my allotted playbook arrow. Maybe I’m not quite like a rocket, because the wide receiver who started out five yards behind me is already ten yards ahead of me. This confuses me. I’m also confused because the safety I’m suppose to block is no longer standing where his “X” is suppose to be but is starting to chase the wide receiver.

I panic! I was suppose to block him!! My entire life flashes before my eyes and I know that even if my heart explodes, I’m going to catch this safety and block him.

The three of us are racing down the field. Or up the field. I never could figure out which was which. But our wide receiver was ten yards ahead of anyone. The safety, my target – my salvation – is behind him and I am gaining ground!

Our wide receiver catches the ball!! And I catch up to the safety!!!

In retrospect, I caught up to the safety because he had stopped running. He had stopped running because he was watching our heroic wide receiver who was just about to cross the goal line for a miracle last minute victory.

And I was ecstatic because I finally had a chance to slam my “O” on the correct “X” at full speed. Which I did with a delightful crunch and splat. Even better, I saw that I would be performing my act of perfect violence directly in front of our coach on the sidelines.

Again, in retrospect, I might have been better off performing it somewhere less obvious.

And in even more retrospect, I should have realized that, if my target was looking at our wide receiver, I would be crunching and splatting directly into his back. They used to call this a “clip” although they now call it a “block in the back” – in fact it might have been my textbook version which gave them the idea for a better definition.

It is amazing how many yellow penalty flags can cover you when the referees are really pissed off. Actually, I think the coach picked a couple of them up and threw them at me a second time himself.

But I still love the Pittsburgh Steelers. And I’ve learned a lot watching them on television. I wonder if it is really too late.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Linguistics -- fascinating but way beyond my poor brain

So, lately I've been kind of...

BAGMAN: "Don't go there!  If you are about to start whining and explaining why you aren't blogging as much, please spare us!!

BUTLER:  "For once, I agree with Bagman.  Sometimes your excuse-making even bores me."

Okay.  Okay.  So I got a cup of coffee this morning and decided to see what everyone out in Blogland has been up to.  The very first blog I read, posted only moments before was from Rachel.  She is excited about learning the Greenland language of Kalaalisut...because it is an "ergative-absolutive" language. 

BAGMAN:  "I'm not sure where you are going with this -- maybe I'd rather listen to you whine."

I tried to escape!  But sometimes I get attracted to weird things -- apologies to Rachel and all other linquists of the world -- but somehow I felt I had to find out what ergative-absolutive meant.  Or it if was a real word at all. 

Long ago I tried to learn to Japanese. 

BAGMAN:  "Yeah, yeah.  1970, Los Angeles, Judy Narita...never gave you the time of day."

What fascinated me (about the language) was that it didn't fit into my limited preconception of subject-verb-object.  It wasn't like a word substitution code (man, homme, hombre, etc).  I realized that if I not only learned to speak it, but learned to think in it, it would alter the way I thought and perceived things!

BUTLER: "Yes, you and Bagman were big on "mind-altering" back then.  Which is why you never learned to say anything in Japanese except "Hello" and "Thank you."

BAGMAN:  "Wrong!!!  We also learned to say "Beer" and "Will you go to bed with me?"

Embarassing.  But anyhow, this morning I looked up ergative-absolutive on the internet.  And a whole new world opened up for me!!  First I learned that the realization of ergativity can be understood by a discussion of morphosyntactic allignment. 

It was about then that I realized that my future in liquistics is about as remote as my future in professional football. 

BAGMAN: "So how do you say, 'will you go to bed with me' in Kalaalisut?"

BUTLER:  "You weren't listening!  It's not a 'nominative accusitive' language!"

BAGMAN: "I wasn't accusing anyone!  They don't go to bed in Greenland?"

BUTLER: "I suppose they must, but they don't talk about it the same way.  Their alignment is better morphed... this point a fuse blew and all three of us went temporarily brain dead.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Hometown Shootout -- Silhouettes

Silhouettes!  I don't have many from regular shooting.  In fact I only have one that comes to mind.

I shot this a while ago when I stepped out of my comfort zone to shoot my neice's wedding as a wedding gift...

BAGMAN:  "Because you were too cheap to actually buy anything!"

...and anyway, during the ceremony, I caught site of this guy, one of the groom's friends and I started moving around the church trying to get the right angle, tripping over people and trying unsuccessfully to be unintrusive.  I shot this just as the groom was placing the ring on the bride's finger so I completely missed that one and heard about it later:  "What were you thinking?!!  Missing the ring part??!!"  Which is why I don't like shooting weddings.


"Ten Easy Steps to a Christmas Present your friends will love"

Silhouettes!  A couple of years ago, I started playing with making silhouette portraits as Christmas gifts and today you are all in luck because I'm going to give you the recipe for Christmas presents guaranteed to make mothers cry that good kind of cry that makes you know you did good.

Step One: take pictures of their children in profile against a bright sky or any flat blackground:
  In this case, I was shooting Barclay, who I have written about before and his brother, Will, adult children of my wife's best friend.

Step two: because you eventually want two framed photos facing each other you have to flip one...(or you could tell one of them to turn around when you first shoot, of course. Duh.

Step Three: using any digital photo's not so sophisticated that you need Photoshop...most will do cut out the sky part leaving just the head-area.  And you fill the entire area with black color.  (Or maybe blacking it out is really Step Four)

Step Five (or Four): Clean up the silhouette and copy and paste it over the background you want.

With Barclay and Will I started with a sunset because I had liked that effect before but hated it now and tried clouds instead.

Blah.  Also, I forgot to mention that first (Step one-half?) you need to have your frame in mind.

This can be fun, running around antique shops and yard sales trying to find a matching set of frames...preferably with oval mattes.  So I did have something I needed to match and the dorky sky stuff wasn't cutting it.  Here is the frame.

So I was looking for something greenish or goldish for a background.  So I guess that STEP THREE AND A HALF OR FOUR AND A HALF is: Find a background.  So I went around shooting gold bases of lamps, trees, even a gold shirt of Karen's.

This wasn't working out too well.  For awhile I thought about the green trees and considered that a black silhouette wouldn't have enough contrast but...HEY!...who says a silhouette has to be black.  I could match the gold in the frame with a gold silhouette. I felt really creative and out of the box and

AAARGH!  Worse and worse!  This was definitely going in the wrong direction!   So I lay down on the leather couch which is my favorite place to do almost anything and looked up to the heavens for inspiration...and noticed my ceiling fan.


And STEP SOMETHING OR OTHER:  Paste it, print it, frame it...I guess that was more than one step but I'm sure you've got it figured out. 

And the final result is below.  Actually I never shot both final framed prints.  The only pseudo-real shot I have is of Barclay and it is actually made up of photoshop layers I was using to get an idea of what it would look like before I blew a bundle on paper and ink.  But it is close to what the final product looked like.  And, yes, Barclay and Will's mom got teary when she saw it. 

This Christmas I am working on one for my neighbors, Steve and Nancy.  They are always doing stuff for us, lending their truck, etc.  And last spring I noticed a rare moment when both their sons were home at the same time and I called them over and shot them against the sky and swore them to secrecy.  I have the frames but not the mattes.  More yard sale fun.  Or I'll have to learn to cut oval mattes which scares me. 

But there is no copyright on this and despite my inability to count steps it is pretty easy.  I thought briefly about submitting this to Good Housekeeping's Holiday Craft issue but realized I need technical assistance to figure out how many easy steps there were.  And I'd rather share it with y'all instead anyway.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On falling out of bed

Sometime last night, I fell out of bed. I can't be more specific because, being asleep at the time, I did not note the time before hand and the clock radio was defunct afterwards. ("Before hand?" Is that a real phrase?)

I was blissfully dreaming at the time. Free entertainment nightly, directed and produced by my subconscious. Last night I was, once again, hanging out with a beautiful young woman who has been enthralled by me almost nightly for a few months now. She makes me laugh. She's affectionate although it's not usually about sex. I'm pretty sure we're engaged. Her family is usually around and seem to have adopted me as one of their own. Of course, they all change in age, nationality, personality, etc. from night to night -- this is dreamworld, after all -- but the underlying theme and foundation is there. And it is great!! Thank you, subconscious!!

So last night, my fiancé and myself were out in the woods clearing out some dead limbs and brush on her folk's land. Well, actually, I was doing the hard work and she was motivating me -- dancing around in khaki cargo shorts, flirting, teasing, taking my picture...

She became still and said, softly but clearly, "There's a snake near your left foot."

I was not alarmed. I get along pretty well with snakes, alligators, and reptiles in my dreams. When I was a little boy I used to have nightmares about trying to run from animals -- dinosaurs, wolves or bears, snakes, giant spiders. But gradually over time, I made my nocturnal peace with them. First with dinosaurs, then with mammals, and finally with reptiles and fish. Insects still bother me some in dreams.

I have a very loose theory about this. (All theories about dreams should be loose.) On the hypothesis (also loose) that everything in a dream represents a part of yourself, I kind of feel that becoming comfortable with animals sort of represents my maturing and becoming comfortable with my baser instincts. First the wild Bagman-like mammals whose trust I won over in adolescence. Then the darker more primitive reptiles. I don't know about the deep click-lacking mechanical DNA-based insects that still sometimes briefly freak me out in dreams but I assume that's coming.

BAGMAN: "Thanks for comparing me to a bear, but get on with the bleeping dream!"

So the snake at my left foot did not bother me even though it was a huge, fat copperhead. I simply nodded at it and gave it space by pulling myself up onto a stone wall with the help of an overhanging branch while my fiancé took a picture and giggled.

Then the branch snapped and a boulder on the stone wall came loose and I started falling backwards, hitting my elbow on...on...on the bedside table. Waking up can happen in a micro-second when you find yourself lying prone on thin air in pitch darkness.

Even though I am now an old fart, overweight and flabby, I still have muscle-memory from years of martial arts. I am very adept at falling down and my body always reacts (not that I do it all that often) by relaxing instead of stiffening up. A good way to avoid a broken wrist. So I submitted to gravity with a resigned grunt and waited to hit the floor beside the bed.

I didn't have to wait very long. Wham! And I was down. But it wasn't over.

The bed table had been hit by my elbow hard enough to topple over on top of me, spilling out a cup of pencil, two television remotes, the telephone, the clock radio, and a large lamp which no longer has a big ornate shade. I was lying on the floor under a downpour of objects.

There was a yelp from Daisy, our terrier-opossum mix mutt who sleeps half-under the bed and had been struck by the telephone. And there was hysterical screaming from my wife.

"Are you all right?!!!"

"I'm fine."

"Are you all right??!!!!!"

"I'm fine."

"ARE YOU..." etc. etc.

Karen was naturally more frightened than I was. From her perspective, she had heard a loud grunt and sigh and then the sickening sound of a body striking the floor and, naturally assumed that I had had a heart attack or stroke. This was followed by the succession of loud crashes and she assumed that the bed table had struck me and I had suffered a concussion. This was followed by Daisy's yelp and she assumed that I had killed the dog as well. "Are you SURE you're allright???!!!!!!!"

By then I was tired of trying to convince her that I was fine and just lay on the floor hoping that I would just fall back asleep and rejoin my lovely photographing nymph in the woods.
And then I heard Daisy growling at the phone. It had some off the hook and out of the receiver was coming the alien, female, robotic voice calling out in the darkness: "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and dial again. If you'd like to make a call..."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I haven't disappeared totally - and a bizarre poem

Uusually I say that I'm going to take a break from blogging and then, of course, blog more than ever. But it seems I haven't blogged since last week so I actually did take a break this time and so I should mention that I'm still alive -- in case anyone is wondering.

And I know I'll never catch up on reading all of your blogs but I know they were wonderful and it's been my loss.

And I don't have much to say now so I've found a poem I wrote in 2005...a bit weird and not awfully inspirational...but it is what it is:


Hunched under chains of old memories
dug up, dragged back by bits
that make my teeth grind against
your effort to reattach them,
mismatched fantasies of several sizes
on this torso of rigor
until I walk lopsided, stiff
on rotted but still unbending dreams,
skull stuffed with stifled muses
seducers and saints,
the eye of an eagle, the nose of a dog.
I stumble up hill from children
who carry hopeful torches in their bellies,
to hide in windmills
blowing hard rock out
the pegs in my neck.

I think I will have an abbreviated shootout on Friday, however.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Hometown Photo Shoot -- Analysis of a Building


In June of 1998, I took over at the helm of an alcohol and drug treatment agency where 165 people were helping 4,000 people a year in various stages of addiction. I tried not to show it, but I was in shock – amazed that I had talked my way through the hiring process and wondering if I was up to the job.

BAGMAN: “At this rate you’ll be retired before you finish the freaking blog! Although it’s about a stupid building and I ain’t gonna read it anyhow!”

At the time, the building we are now in was 6 months from completion. The company (which I will not name in order to avoid libel) was building it over the shell of an older country building that had been gutted.  They gave me a hard hat to wear as I watched an army welding and banging, and tried to pretend I knew what they were doing. In the eleven years that followed, I have come to think that some of the workers were also only pretending to know what they were doing as well.

I love it but Charleston Center has no style whatsoever. It is a big, concrete, cube.  But it may be the only County Public Detox in the world with a view of a yacht club.

BUTLER:  (checking the old floor plans) “It has 7,160 square feet of floor space.”

BAGMAN: “As if anyone cares!”

Charleston Center’s architecture exemplifies the glories of bureaucratic groupthink combined with the skillful craftsmanship of lowest bidder procurement.

The stairwells were left unfinished because it was assumed that everyone would use the elevators.

Although, for some reason, they painted the pipes bright red.

The two elevators are the only ones in the entire world not built by Otis. I think they were made by Tonka.  Nor were they properly sealed so that humidity – which Charleston is known for – regularly short-circuited the controls and regularly stranded people for hours at a time.

Treatment Centers should provide warm, welcoming and therapeutic open spaces that invite clients to relax. Charleston Center has accomplished this well for the five or six clients we have had who are Navy veterans who served on submarines.

A notable exception to this are the wide open receptionist counters. There are two on each floor!

 These were aggressively negotiated by my predecessor who shall be un-named who planned to have receptionists, front and back, on each floor. Unfortunately, the first time I had to put together a budget I discovered that her revenue projections had been $2 million over actual so instead of hiring six new receptionists, we had to let people go. By then I was REALLY wondering if I was up to the job.

We did keep one reception desk for an actual receptionist and security in the lobby and enhanced the warm and therapeutic atmosphere by installing shatter-proof glass around them.

These are the air handlers on the roof of Charleston Center. Or maybe they are coolers. I still don’t understand how heating and air conditioning works in big buildings. One of the 4,562 repair-persons who have come in to fix various problems told me that you have to heat the air before you cool it – or cool it before you heat it – none of which sounds logical. But I glass over quickly while waiting for the dollar figure estimates. But I do know that people hired by the original contractor who shall be unnamed -- except it’s on the front of the hard hat in my office – installed almost half of the internal air handler that moved hot (or was it cold) air through the dropped ceilings backwards. So they blew air in the wrong direction and often caused smoke and set off the fire alarms.

The fire alarms work very well. Staff who have been here for any length of time keep ear plugs in their desks to protect their hearing while exiting the building.

Now, this totally stupid picture shows a vent to the crawl space under the building. There are very few basements in the South and most houses and buildings have crawl spaces. I’m not sure what they are good for; so far nobody has ever asked me if they could crawl in them.

For awhile, they were useful to a growing population of feral cats. We could not, at first, figure out why these darling homeless pets were attracted to our underbelly until we discovered that the employees of the building next to us were putting out food and milk. Of course they meant well, trying to feed the homeless. But the result was they were attracting the homeless. And the problem for us was that we have a playground for children of our clients and the cats naturally assumed that we had provided them with a giant litter box.

The employees of our neighboring agency objected when we asked them to stop until we reminded them that they were employees of the Public Health Department and cat poop in a children’s playground didn’t seem to jive with their mission. They stopped. Cats left.

That’s when we began finding seasonal swarms of termites. In case you haven’t noticed from the pictures, Charleston Center is a concrete structure. We wondered if we had discovered a new breed of stone-eating insect. But no. Eventually we found someone who was willing to crawl in the crawl space and discovered that the un-named low-bidding contractor alluded to above had saved the expense of hauling out all the wood of the previous structure and simply stuffed it under the new one.

However, we have done okay with with this building despite it's idiosyncracies. We have a nice training room where sometimes we train...
and sometimes we party...

We have a parking lot...

not as big as the one next door...

And we have room for growth. Of course in the eleven years that I’ve been here the budget has gone in the opposite direction. But if we ever can grow we have room to do it.

Behind this door is a huge unfinished space where we dream of building an exercise room, or a lounge, or a cafeteria, a meditation room, an indoor fountain, a library…but in the meantime we need to make sure that nobody uses it for storage. Look!  My name is even on the bottom to make absolutely sure this rule is enforced.

Somehow I think my name doesn’t carry as much weight as I sometimes think it does.

BAGMAN: “That’s because you’re too damn proper to punch anybody in the nose.”

BUTLER:  "And a good thing too."