Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hmmm...can't think of a good title

Well, I'm in a quandry (whatever a quandry is) because I had lots of time today to work on my blog but had so much fun with the Friday shootout that I wanted to do next Friday's shoot out more than a weekend post. The theme, incidentally, is "Random"...which really threw me until I gave up and decided to let Sally, my cocker spaniel handle the whole thing. So next Friday, she is going to be the guest photographer on the Friday Shoot-out and I'm out of it completely.

Although teaching her to use the camera took up the whole day today.

But I figured I can't keep Friday's blog up forever and I need to reset the header photo before I drown. So what will I blog? I don't know. So I've been reading everyone else's blog. And then a line from Michelle's blog reminded me of an old poem.

Of course, after I read it again, I'm not sure that (1) it really had anything to do with Michelle's blog or (2) I even like the poem anymore.

But in order to keep things moving along, I'll copy it below.

And, at least I have Friday's Shootout already done...well, almost. Sally is still writing her commentary.

Strings Attached

I’d never tasted fresher air
than in the freefall
diving through clouds before
the chute opened
and glad of it
the chords jolted my shoulders,
snapped my neck
but brought me down
a marionette with wooden feet
clopping on a stage
arms spiraling outward jerking
that cerebral palsy puppet dance
‘til frozen in a web,
adhesion of silken threads
the female spider wove,
hung motionless
remembering the clouds
and wondering why I ever thought
I wanted a parachute
in the first place.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hometown Shootout - Water (A Dozen Uses)

Charleston, SC is in a part of the state called the Lowcountry. In some ways, a photographer's nightmare because it is endlessly flat and I do miss mountains. But there is water everywhere.
and we do almost everything with water.

And so, without further ado...

...Let's dive right in!


But Bagman says: "If it rains on blacktop, oil and water dance together very sensually.

Sounds like something he would say. So let's try to move this blog along and list the twelve most popular things we do with water in the Lowcountry.


In the Low Country, we often build our houses near the water -- there is so much of it, this is often hard to avoid. But Bagman and I have a tendency to stand on our heads while taking pictures of these houses.

Wait a minute! Who is that below, reflectively sneaking off along the bank?

BUTLER: "Be careful, I think it's Bagman in disguise, sneaking off to hide in your bathroom, planning to try and take an x-rated picture of you in the shower."

It doesn't matter. I can't worry about Bagman right now since I have too many pictures and need to move forward or this blog will be endless. Anyway, speaking of building houses near water, sometimes the water becomes a problem and sits in the grass.


Becuase we live near water, we sometimes have to move water away from our houses. This weekend, my neighbor and I have been sweating (another form of water) to dig a trench between our houses where water accumulates. The black pipe will carry water away from the grass. Ironically we had to cut and re-arrange the white pipes under the black pipes -- the white pipes are the water lines for the irrigation system which pumps water onto the grass.
Does anyone else see something really weird about this plan?

In any case, last night, he knocks on my door and says, "Oh my, I've messed up. I think I just cut your irrigation water line."

Just another little extra work...but, the next morning, looked at where the break might be since we could only identify one end of where he cut it. The other end seemed to have disappeared in a terrible tangle of huge roots and rocks that would take hours to dig through. We worked up a pretty good sweat digging up rocks and roots and trying to figure out where it connected. Until finally, we decided to turn on the sprinklers to see if that will help identify the other end. It was a miracle! Everything worked! It turned out he had cut into one end of a piece of old PVC pipe that wasn't connected to anything on the other end! Enough of dirty water. Let's look at other uses we have for water.

We in the Lowcountry use water for alot of things. For instance, we drink it, although I suppose people in other places drink it too. I've never quite understood buying bottled water although I support my wife's bottled water addiction.

The whole top part of the refrigerator is full of it.

As is the bottom part of the refrigerator.

Don't ask me. And don't tell Karen but sometimes Bagman fills her used water bottles with tap water and puts them back. I tend to drink water at work from a water fountain, or a water bubbler.

These were designed and installed by government architects (i.e. lowest bidders) and government, of course must ensure accessibility by diverse people. In this case, I usually drink from the one on the left but people who are two or three inches shorter than myself can use the one on the right. It is also a little hard to read, but I still can't figure out why each fountain has two buttons, both of which say: "PUSH." I'm surprised that one of them wasn't written in Spanish or braille.


Sometimes, in the Lowcountry, we use water heaters to heat our water
We put warning labels on them so people will know how to use hot water.

My favorite is (if you blow it up you can read it):
"Feel water before bathing or showering."

BAGMAN: "Psst. Hey, Mark. The shower's just the right temperature. So why don't you take one?"
BUTLER: "Be careful, boss. You'll be sorry. I think he is planning something Baggish.

But I ignore both of them. I've got way too many pictures to post for this one and am trying not to be too boring.


And sometimes the air conditioner leaks in interesting ways




CAUTION: Do not attempt this at home! This was filmed using a professional crazy driver. Always fasten your seat belt and DO NOT ATTEMPT driving in the rain while simultaneously singing and holding a camera.









Another sort of cheat (if cheating were possible) -- and they don't blow up well which is a shame since I would love to see Karen's face...Brian, once again, made a parent sit in the front row seat for this ride -- Disneyland, of course.


I know, I know, this wasn't really in my hometown neighborhood and it was taken several years and a war ago -- but I just had to add it. I happened to be at a conference in a hotel across the street from the Pentagon that day. The quality is poor because it is a still shot from a very shaky video I took an old small video camera, the only thing I had with me at the time.


BAGMAN SAYS: "Muaa ha ha! There's one more use of water Mark was afraid to mention! Muaa ha ha ha!"






So before we bring this lengthy dissertation on water to a close, I want you to know that Butler and I have, indeed, sentenced Bagman to a punishment appropriate to his deed and have locked him in the shower drain for a period of time not to exceed one week.

Big Boys Don' t Cry

I didn't plan to post a blog this morning but use my early morning time to read everyone else's blogs. I enjoy catching up on what you all are doing. But I'm about five blogs into it, when I find a short blog by a woman of no importance

BAGMAN: There's no such thing!

(ignoring and continuing) and the blog had pictures of Paul Newman, Ben Stiller, and Woody Harrelson sort of crying. Wanting, of course, to leave a cute little comment, I began to think of my own pretty vast experience with not crying and, as usual, digressions began to pour from my eyes.

I suppose, as a kid, I tried to be tough. I emulated the Lone Ranger and Gene Autrey and Superman and Flash Gordon. (But then again, the Lone Ranger wore a mask, so how would you know?)

My grandmother told me that they worried about me when I was six and my mother died because I didn't cry. She says I just sat for a couple of weeks with a blank stare.

Hmm. A line for a poem sometime? "Tears seared in by burning of the heart..."

I don't want to admit this, but I guess I did buy into the Big Boys Don't Cry myth to some extent in my early adult years. At least my goal in life was to be Earnest Hemingway and I'm not sure I can imagine Hemingway crying. Well, I can now. But I couldn't then.

But being basically a sensitive, intelligent man, I confronted the idea of crying more honestly...probably in my late twenties or early thirties. But by then I had confused my wiring pretty well and found it very difficult. In college I gave up on another career goal of being a movie star when heard an actor talking about his he can cry on cue. I could learn to sing, dance, and do dangerous stunts but didn't think I could learn to cry on cue.

Over the years, I have bemoaned the fact that I am lousy at crying. Good at bemoaning, however.

I've studied in depth and there are an infinite reasons or stimuli for crying.

BUTLER: Don't exaggerate! You have only thought about it for five minutes after reading the unimportant lady's blog, for crying out loud!

BAGMAN: Cheap pun.

Okay and, off the cuff, I can only think of a couple of reasons: (1) physical pain and (2) emotional pain.

Physical pain is easy. Well, not easy to endure, just easy to explain. Sudden pain like when Karen tossed me a can of chili last night when I wasn't looking and it hit me in the...(insert your favorite euphemism for male reproductive organs), brings tears immediately to the eyes and might cause crying although for me it more likely causes a loud, intense, and embarrassing series of bad words. Pain that comes on more slowly and grows in strength could cause crying although for me it usually induces moaning (as opposed to bemoaning) and unattractive whining.

Emotional pain is the real kicker for men. Fortunately it usually occurs in the dark of movie theaters at the end of romantic movies. Personally, I think it is caused more by a reaction to the musical score since I once had the same emotional reaction at the end of a movie after sleeping through all but the last five minutes. This kind of crying starts swelling in the chest that feels like some kind of emotional gas that needs to be released through the eyes and mouth. Like trying to supress a sneeze.

Which leads, of course, to a digression question: Why do women have the same problem with sneezing that men have with crying? It drives me crazy to see a woman swell all up, take a deep breath, roll up her eyes, and then "explode" with a polite little "tsst." When I sneeze, I want the neighbors to hear it!

BAGMAN: "Okay, Gabby, wrap it up!"

Now that I am mature and secure enough with my manhood to be comfortable with crying, I'm still untrained and unskilled at it. Part of this is the fact that being able to cry is important to me and I think too much about it. Consequently, when something causes emotions to well up inside me and my heart is aching and a tear seeps out and a sob begins to work its way up my throat. On cue, immediately, my over-active thoughts leap into action and say, "Hey! You're about to cry! Don't hold it back! Is it really a cry? Is it more than one sob? Two sobs? Three?" And standing like either an observant scientist or a hopeful cheerleader, I completely lose touch with whatever emotion had started the process. And, once again, I left tearless, standing like a big dumb big boy not crying.

Hmm...maybe a title for the seared tear poem..."Big Boy Not Crying."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Would you get on a flying saucer?

So it’s around eleven p.m. on a crystal clear night and I’m walking Sally in the back yard where the pond is absolutely still and reflecting just the sliver of a new moon and a million stars. The frogs around the pond are having their usual choir practice and except for that it is quiet. Until, quite unexpectedly, I hear something walking through the thick dark underbrush across the spillway. Deer? Alligator? Serial Killer? Bear? Sally and I both spin into a defensive crouch, eyeing the edge of the trees.

Well, actually, since Sally is quite deaf in her old age, she never lifted her nose from the dirt mound under which was probably a mole. And, okay, it was probably more of a squirrel or opossum rustling sound and not really trees being uprooted by some dinosaur. And I didn’t actually spin or crouch. In fact, the only thing that really happened was I heard a vague rustle and since my overactive mind was looking at starts and searching something to think about anyway, it segued into a typically weird digression:

What if a flying saucer landed and I was invited on board – would I go?

Well, heck yes! My first response. An opportunity like that doesn’t come along very often. Once in a lifetime? Or maybe more like once in the history of a species? Sure, maybe it might a risky decision. But I’ll be 63 next month and the choice should be easy! On one hand, explore new galaxies and learn about an entirely new form of intelligent life. On the other hand, watch re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show. Go for it!

Yes, but…what if what I consider intelligent life doesn’t consider that I am intelligent life. What if this “fly me to the moon” invitation is merely food gathering for them. Or a shortage of lab animals.

And yet, even that has a sort of appeal over any of a number of diseases that might be in my future. And if I could at least convince them to give me Internet Access so I could keep my blog up…After all, I’m beginning to struggle to find new and entertaining things to write. I could retitle my blog, “Confessions of a Lab Rat.” Maybe I’d even get lucky enough to be in an alien study of human reproduction?

Yes but…the real kicker would be whether I’d be allowed time to go back inside and pack a bag, get my laptop, and say Goodbye to Karen. Hmmm. I’m not sure that conversation would go very well. It’s not like we ever discussed this as a career move. It’s note quite like, “Hey, Hon, I’m running down to the corner store for a Pepsi and a candy bar.”

Re-runs of Andy Griffith are looking better all the time.

But I’ve never seen a flying saucer yet, so it’s not really a dilemma, I’ll ever have to face. So forget flying saucers. Instead, what if a white glow came from the dark woods and Jesus walked out and said, “Follow me.”

I can just imagine St. Peter’s wife now -- “You’re going to do WHAT?!”

By then, Sally had become bored with smelling moles and was tugging at her leash to go inside and lie down in hopes of getting her stomach scratched, and idea which had begun to appeal to me as well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009



Constantly changing direction,

a living yellow leaf with a mind of its own

albeit a small one, never made up,

always about to alight

on a leaf, on a bud, on a stem,

here, then there,

on wings too big to be subtle

she’s off again, not knowing where,

as if she can’t decide.

Perhaps having been so recently

a worm, she’s afraid to place her feet

on any solid ground again,

like a brand new angel.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sand Sculpture - a day at the beach

Yesterday, in and around Charleston, the annual Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto arts festival began. You can pay big bucks and go see opera or you can pay nothing and go see the sand sculpture competition on the Isle of Palms beach about ten minutes from my house. There was also some water -- it's a beach, after all -- for next Friday's shootout, but today is for sand and some talented sand manipulators.

Butler's Favorite is below:
(Incredible detail -- if you click on it you can even see bricks showing through
the broken plaster on the side)

(He had to draw an arrow pointing to the sculpture -- he was very upset because some people walked in front of the lens just as he was taking the picture.)

It was hard to pick but my MY Favorite, I think, is below:
(Mainly because it was different from the alligator, dragon, and pirate theme
and because I was hoping when the tide finally came in and destroyed all the others, this one would just float away and turn up on some beach in Australia or Maryland.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Getting off the pity pot

Yesterday I was grumpy.

Mostly I was grumpy because I had so many things to do, I was freaking out because I didn’t have time to do them and couldn’t choose which thing to do next.

And one of my favorite people reminded me of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Which reminded me of the time at the end of my drinking career when I was avoiding A.A. like crazy. I knew, by then, I had a problem but was scared to death of giving up alcohol and drugs.


Because I didn’t think I could deal with the boredom. Without a beer in my hand, how could I ever watch a football game again? Or listen to a song? Or write a poem?

When actually…

I was doing none of those things.

So I have to laugh this morning thinking that I was getting frustrated and grumpy because for the last 32 years my life has been so full.

So this morning, we’re off to look at the Memorial Day Sand Castle building competition, plant flowers in at my sister-in-laws, take Brian’s dogs for rabies shots, cook ribs on the grill…and hopefully twenty five more things! And I’ll try not to complain about abundance…

Friday, May 22, 2009

Our Town Photo Shoot out-- Red

Too soon the red sun rises on the Friday shoot-out. Bagman, Butler and I are sleepy, grumpy and irritable...Painting the town red. Great topic. Should take a picture of my eyes. Or my attitude. Great theme. The sun rose to the occasion but BB&I aren't so sure. Is it Friday already? Gah!

Although my Town is Charleston, SC, since there are no rules and since I don't have lots of good red pictures and since I'm irritable anyway and a voice in my head is yelling in a Mexican accent, "Rules? Rules? I don't need no steeeenking rules?" ... So here is a red tree. I don't knowwhat kind of tree it was, where it was taken, or when it was taken. I don't remember taking it except it was in a box of my old slides so the odds are that I shot it.

But, Butler reminds me to stop being so irritable and show at least something red about my town. So (grumble grumble) --

We have car shows from time to time

We have the Fire Engine Museum

And once a year, when Gordon requests it, we call in the red paint truck to bring Butler, Bagman, and myself some red paind.

Butler meticulously paints the Ravenel Bridge a kind of tasteless shade of reddish pink

I get overly creative and mix and mismatch techniques and colors on a local fountain, coming up with a kind of Photoshop version of painting a mustache on a political poster.

Bagman just...well, I'm not sure what Bagman did to achieve the above...and probably don't want to know.

Thankfully, the sun finally sets on my shoot-out although it is really rather more yellow than red. So now, I'll post this, grumble some more and go look at what everyone else has done. I suspect that although I don't have a picture of me looking, that I'll be red with envy...oh, wrong metaphor...that's really supposed to be "green" with envy. Red with envy, green with envy, purple with envy -- I don't need no steeenking rules!

I hope my attitude changes before I go to work -- although work is probably at least partially responsible for my attitude.

BUTLER: "Mark. You should call your A.A. sponsor and let him remind you that you, and you alone, are responsible for your attitude. And you have the power to change it. Write a list of things you are grateful for.

Oh shut up!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Going through an ocean of old negatives is disheartening in terms of how lazy I've discovered I was back in the darkroom days. There is no span of grays in most of my negatives -- just blacks and whites. And I may have stored them in sleeves but I must have rubbed them in cat hair before I did. But then my art was primarily Bagman and Butler wasn't around to try and clean up the technical aspects.

Anyhow, I did run across these and sucky quality aside, I had to paste them. This sculpture of the Greek satyr God Pan was done when he was a student in Paris. He told me that he had cast it in both plaster (kind of a rough draft) and then bronze as his finished project. I kind of doubt the bronze one still exists because he never saw it again after 1944.

But Bagman absolutely adored this horny old goatman and this plaster sculpture followed me for years, always sitting on my bedroom bureau throughout many apartments in many states. Of course, I should add that while Bagman identified with it -- my grandfather also chose it as his project in Paris in the 40's which tells me where my Bagman genes came from. Joseph Cowell had a pretty rampant Bagman in his life as well and I'm sure in the future there will be some blogs about him.

But all my moves also meant that Pan got tossed around alot in rental trucks and abused and over time the arms were broken, the nose chipped, and as girlfriends became more mature and then turned into wives, having a sculpture of a horny goat became less acceptible as bedroom decor.

Eventually it ended up, pretty much destroyed, in various storage sheds until eight or nine years ago when I finally accepted the fact that I would never be able to repair it and set it out on the curb to go to the landfill.

I hope my grandfather has forgiven me from his heavenly perch. But it did have a good life. And I thought I'd honor it today.

I just remembered the cat's name -- Fearless Big Jack. I had him in college shortly after getting rid of Alice, my insanely wild stump-tailed macaque...(a blog there as well - but no pictures).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Poster for Dr. Keane

I was scanning old photographs this morning and came across this weird poster I made in 2005 in an attack of grotesque humor.

BAGMAN: "NO! NO! Please don't bring up our prostate thing again!!"

BUTLER: "Why not? Does it make you feel like less of a man?"

BAGMAN: "Of course not! Um. Well. I guess a little. I mean, by definition..."

BUTLER: "And you have a very narrow definition."

BAGMAN: "But it's a really fun definition."

Anyhow, leaving the boys to argue it out, I made the poster below for the grand occasion of the removal of my prostate at the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital by Dr. Tom Keane (whose head is on the football player). It was a kind of primitive thing (the resolution is so poor you may have trouble seeing) that I did before my prostate surgury and slipped it under my gown so Dr. Keane would discover it in the operating room.

Primitive as it was, I think Tom liked it because he scolded me later for holding up the surgery for ten minutes while they all laughed and had to get their hands steady again. A couple of explanations, I guess. Emory was where Dr. Keane got the Dr. before his name. That red thing that looks like a turkey flying through the air is what a prostate actually looks like, although I did not photograph it. The blue things are lymph nodes and we all know that we don't want the lymph nodes intercepting any cancer cells.

And the wierd contraption that my face is pasted onto is...well, you probably don't really want to know (I'm sure I didn't want to know!)...the way Dr. Keane has invented gain access to the way he does his "procedure." On the plus side, it leaves a smaller cut. On the minus side the cut is located in a less pleasant place.

Anyhow, I have the cheerleaders cheering Tom on. At one point, I considered pasting the faces of old girlfriends on the cheerleaders bodies and having the cheer read: "Tom, Tom! Fight fight fight! Cut it out, it serves it right!" But after I had married Karen, I threw away all the pictures I had of old girlfriends...and besides, that cheer would have sounded too guilt-ridden.

BAGMAN: "Guilt, schmilt! I'd do it all again!"

BUTLER: "And fortunately for me, Mark, and 50% of the world's population, you can't! So take that...nyah nyah nyah."

Take it easy on him, Butler, old man, Bagman's heart was always in the right place...more or less...and he's paid his dues (obviously), so cut him a little slack.