Monday, August 31, 2009

On Comments and Shadow Shot Sunday

I never remember to post a shadow shot on shadow shot Sunday (or is it Shadow shot Saturday?) so I'm just sticking this one in for the heck of it.


I've finally figured out a couple of things about Blogger although I still haven't figured out the HTML to make my blog a full page wide like some of you experts.

But there is something about comments that still confuses me. I don't know what to do when someone asks me a question in a comment. Sometimes I want to answer the question. I often see some of you answering by commenting on your own blogs. Barry is very good at this. But I realize that after I make a comment on someone's blog, I seldom come back later to see if someone has commented on my comment.

It's hard enough to keep up with the steady flow of new blogs. It would be almost impossible to go back and see if anyoneone had commented on an earlier comment.

Some bloggers put emails on their profiles and if they ask a question about my blog, I will sometimes email them the answer...or sometimes just to make a smart comment back on a smart comment they made.

I remember one ingenious idea one of you had...sorry, I can't remember who...and you wrote a blog that responded to a whole batch of questions about earlier blogs. It was a cool approach.

Unfortunately usually I just think about the answer, turn off the computer and go to work. I'm usually late enough for work already.

Oh -- that reminds me. Someone asked me in a comment not too long ago whether I was really up at 2:00 a.m. posting because they had noted the time on the post. Actually, it is possible that I was up because with the onset of new dogs and a grandson I can't remember the last time I slept a straight 8-hour night. But the fact is that I have become accustomed, after writing a post to click the "post options" thing and just come up with when a good time to have the post show up. This one I wrote around 6 a.m. this morning but decided for no particular reason to schedule for posting at 1:35 p.m.

What's time anyway. I think my Aussie friends are just going to bed now. Maybe. I don't know.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Meme and Ted Kennedy

Boy it was fun watching people guess which was the lie on the meme. And I can't just reveal it, but over time, I will try and blog the true ones. And as some have noted, I already blogged about jumping in a mud puddle with Jim Morrison.

But today, I need to do a brief...

BAGMAN: "After War and Peace in Venice, I hope it's brief!!!"

...brief piece about Ted Kennedy. Because I had forgotten but I once met him, long ago. It was during the unfortunately brief time his brother was President and I was studying journalism at Northeastern and periodically working as a stringer reporter (Wrentham Correspondent) for the Woonsocket Call. Ted Kennedy, who was then known primarily as John and Robert's younger brother, came out to talk to a group of high school students. I don't even remember the occasion -- whether it was a high school function or a local Democratic Party thing.

I don't remember much about it. I must have taken some pictures of him with the kids but have no copies because I shot with an old bellows-type Polaroid Land camera and the newspaper got the prints and nothing remained behind.

In fact, I had forgotten it entirely until watching some of the coverage of his funeral.

I do remember one thing which I, now, am embarassed to admit. I remember being disappointed and frustrated that it was this upstart kid instead of the more important Bobby or Jack. I think the public opinion rap on him at the time was that he lacked their intelligence. So my coverage was just the same kind of bland blah blah but that I did for the local garden club meetings.

Gee...if I had known then that he would become the Lion of the Senate...mourned worldwide...I might have remembered more. And shot a couple of extra shots for me to keep.

You know, we never know who we are talking to or what they will do for our world. Maybe the key is to treat everyone we meet with awe and respect.

The Landlady Shrew of Venice

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR. I had not planned to pull out any more exerpts from my Italy Journal but several of you, in comments to the Friday Shoot out Blog, said you really wanted to hear the rest of the story...about the Landlady in Venice. How could I refuse.

The problem is that this, I think, is perhaps the longest blog I have ever posted. I believe blogs should be relatively short and this one exceeds the bounderies of good taste. Sorry. But you -- at least three of you -- asked.

First of all, I need to say that I absolutely loved Italy and my most favorite city (and Karen’s least favorite) was Venice. Sometimes the tourists made it seem like Disneyland but there were a million nooks and crannies and alleys that sang like sirens to be explored.

Secondly, I need to confirm what even the travel books say about Italians. They are passionate and fiery. 95% of the time they are the most good humored, gracious hosts with the tourists who flock there and 95% of the time we were treated like we were in a Hyatt Regency. But from the first day at the Rome airport, we couldn’t help but notice that – with each other – nothing is held back. If they are pleased they embrace each other. If they are irritated at all about something they rant and argue, insult and scream at each other.

By the second day I had come up with a theory that Italians never get ulcers because they never stuff their feelings. I really came to admire their ability to vent.

BUTLER: “Get to the story, Mark.”

BAGMAN (who has returned from his tryst with Dorothea and is taking vitamins) “Yeah. I like the ending of this one.”

I don’t remember her name because very quickly I began to refer to her as the Landlady Shrew, at least behind her back. But she had walked down from whatever gingerbread house she lived in to give us a key and help us settle in.

She was short and slight, dressed all in black with jet black hair (of course – she was Italian). She led us up two flights of poorly lit stairs which was a challenge for us because of tons of useless luggage we had brought with us. On the Internet, the Casa de Molena was advertised as a “cozy, modern bed and breakfast, air conditioned, with spacious bedrooms, kitchen, and inviting common room, close to all tourist attractions.

That part was true. Everything is Venice is close to Venice which is, itself, the attraction. But the Casa de Molena was stuffy maze of nooks and crannies and sealed off rooms behind which I came to imagine lie the bleaching bones of Americans. She showed us the kitchen but seemed intent on blocking us so we couldn’t enter it, then walked down a long hall paneled in dark wood, threw open the door and said in very broken English, “Welcome you new home in Venezia!”

While Karen was trying to figure out how our luggage would fit in the tiny room decorated with only a double bed and one straight back wooden chair and bed table, I glanced over at the Landlady Shrew. She was slightly hunched over and had a mannerism where she would look away from you then turn her head up, her dark eyes darting with a kind of suspicion. But if she saw you were looking at her, she would flash this grotesque theatrical grin. “You like?” she asked and then hearing footsteps approaching, turned suddenly to leave. “Susanna show you everything. See you tomorrow. Welcome to Venezia.”

She disappeared down the hall we could hear her blasting the maid in a shrill voice for something or other. We’d been in Italy for three weeks. We were used to it.

Karen said, “I’m not sure I can stay here.”

I didn’t answer. I was soaked from rain and sweat-drenched from heat and humidity and at least the air conditioning worked and at least the place was cool. We could sort it out in the morning. I was starting to take off my soggy shirt when Susannah was suddenly in the room with us.

Susannah was a young, attractive woman from the Philippines. Her smile was sincere and her eyes pleading. If she had had a tail it would have been between her legs. I was tempted to hold her, pat her gently on the head, and tell her that everything would be okay, but didn’t think that embracing the maid was quite appropriate.

She walked into the room and opened the window and said, “You have nice breeze at night.”

Karen objected, “But the air conditioning is on!”

Just then we heard the rattling of keys as the Landlady Shrew in the hall outside fiddled with something and we heard the heat pumps shut off outside. Karen ran out to protest but the Landlady Shrew had disappeared. It seemed that people just appeared and disappeared in this strange house.

Karen came back to argue with Susannah who shrunk and babbled apologetically and plead even more with her eyes. She spoke English-Italian with a Spanish accent but we learned that the air conditioning could only be used between noon and four and the Landlady Shrew had only kept it on for us because we had arrived late. “But you have a nice breeze at night,” she repeated, showing us the window again, then suddenly disappearing again. From far away down the long hall her voice called out, “Bathroom across hall, breakfast at seven!”

I took off my shirt and then my pants – looking around first to see if anyone was going to appear again out of thin air. Then we just passed out on the rickety bed wondering (a) why couldn’t we sleep until eight (b), was anyone going to appear in the bathroom across the hall, and (b) where in hell was the nice breeze we’d been told about? I dreamed of distant voices arguing in Italian.

“Seven o’clock. Breakfast time.” My eyes popped open and Susannah was standing at the foot of our bed smiling at us. I thought that her lips did smiling very well. I looked down to make sure I was covered by the sheet. I looked up. She was gone again. I wondered if maybe all these people were actually ghosts.

We got to the “inviting common room.” It was just us. Two small place settings at a large table. One cup of coffee. One small bowl of fruit. One croissant and a pad of butter and little packet of jelly.

I was actually glad to have it portioned out. A few weeks before, I had gotten in trouble in Rome where we stayed at another Bed and Breakfast that served a breakfast buffet with the best croissants in the world. The first morning, coming from the American buffet paradigm, I had just stared spreading jelly on my third buffet when the swarthy, bald, landlord suddenly erupted at our table yelling, “Uno! Uno. No Tre! Uno!” So now, I just ate slowly.

And the Landlady Shrew appeared out of thin air. She was wearing the same shapeless black dress. This time all three of us put our tails between our legs and began pleading with our eyes.

She hunched over, glanced sideways at us and grinned. “Good! Yes!” Then she commenced to berate Susannah for something that seemed related to the order of books in the bookshelf.

We were ready to explore Venice so hurriedly finished. Karen asked if she could store some fruit juice in the kitchen refrigerator. Sideways glance from Landlady Shrew. “No. No. We lock kitchen after breakfast.”

I was not surprised. It was like the air conditioning. The Internet promotion didn’t lie. It was there. You just couldn’t actually use it. We left as hurriedly as we could although, not having learned the skill of disappearing and appearing, we had to walk the long dark hallway and go down the two flights of dark stairs.

We saw Venice. It was wonderful. I could wax poetic but this blog is already too wordy.

So we came back around six in the afternoon and discovered we were no longer alone. A French family – two adults and three children -- had moved in, also apparently duped by the Internet advertising. Both Susannah and the Landlady Shrew had already left for the evening. The place was still almost cool but the air conditioning had been turned off and the father of the family was trying to figure out how to turn it back on. The box, of course, like the kitchen, was locked.

He asked us and we did our best to explain in a combination of French, Italian, English, and sign language what we had been told. We went back to our cell, put the rickety chair in front of the door, opened the window without much hope, and went to sleep listening to our new neighbors arguing loudly in French.

The next day was a repeat. I fell even more in love with Venice and had even begun to enjoy, in a dysfunctional sort of way, our quarters.

The last morning, we all sat in multilingual silence in the inviting common room, trying to slowly ration out our single croissants and watching Susannah’s long smooth fingers fidgeting while she waiting for her boss. Karen and I were packed. I was a bit confused, however, because I noticed that the French family had also packed although I thought they had said they were suppose to stay for a week.

With the usual crack of lightening and smoke, the Landlady Shrew was suddenly in the room again, her little rat eyes flashing from side to side. Susannah was curled against the wall in a semi-fetal position near the door and I tried hard not to noticed that she had nice legs. Looking appropriately away, I saw that the Landlady Shrew was counting the silverware. Karen and I decided that it was time to leave for the train to Milan.

While we hurriedly stuffed our last belongings into bulging suitcases, from the other side of the hall voices were growing in volume, intensity, and speed - a combination of Italian and French. It sounded like the French couple was mad at each other or one or both of them at the Shrew or she at them or all of the above.

Then with horror-film shock, the Shrew was back in our small room, blocking the door, her sharp nose like a knife pointing at Karen's neck and she was going a hundred miles an hour in her poor English about the air conditioning. I began to get the point that she was furious at us because we had complained about her and the air conditioning to the French family and, because of that, they were leaving early. We had made her lose money! I even gathered that she was threatening that we were responsible for the remainder of their stay.

For a moment, I tried to be reasonable and explain that they had asked why the air conditioner was not on and we had simply told the truth and we were not accountable for their decision to leave but finally I realized that she was just on a rampage at Karen and I was tired of having to put up with it.

I decided it was time for me to become Italian.

I placed my face and my 240 pound bulk between the point of her nose and Karen's neck and said, "Hold on just a freaking minute!"

She spun like a rat, trying to back me up with her eyes, and snapped, "No, you wait a meen-it!"

I hate confrontations. But forced into one, I hate losing it even more. So instead of backing up, I moved forward until I could almost feel the skin of her nose on my lip. "No! You wait!" This time I hissed it, like a cobra.

She jumped back, rubbing her face as if I had spit on her. Actually, I think I had. She counter-attacked with something about how she wasn’t talking to me but she was "talking to the lady." Losing it, I launched into high-octane, pure American Street English which actually can be spoken as fast as Italian if you no longer care if drops of saliva come out with the sibilant consonants. "This is not our concern! We paid you in full! We gave the keys to Susanna! And we are leaving! Now! Get away from the door!" I’m embarrassed to say but there were also several adjectives which I have omitted from this last quote. Well, maybe only one adjective, beginning with “F” which preceded the words “concern,” “keys,” and “door.”

Then I opened the door. After stepping back again to wipe her face in disgust, she moved forward to shut it again, locking us in. Shrews are fast but they are not strong and the door stayed open and we launched into a fast baggage roll down the hall, through the multiple doors, and down the stairs. At any moment I expected steel bars to clank down from the ceiling to entomb us forever.

But just as we got to the front door and freedom the most incredible thing happened. She appeared at the top of the stairs with her toothy grin and shouted down, suddenly incongruously cheerful, singing out, "Good bye! Have a wonderful journey! So happy to have you! Come again!"

It wasn’t sarcasm and the sudden friendliness was almost more monstrous. Jekyll and Hyde schizophrenic irony, pouring like gallons of honey down the dark, uneven stairway. I was momentarily unbalanced by it. Had I misunderstood her? Had I overreacted? I almost turned back with a weird need to apologize but Karen was pushing me onward.

And closure was satisfactorily achieved when just before we successfully negotiated the stone step to the sun drenched alleys of Venice, the upstairs door slammed with such force and fury the stone walls shook with fear.

By the time we reached the first of countless bridges on the way to the ferrovia, iron road, I had begun to laugh.

Once again I understood why Italians have no ulcers.

I only regretted that I couldn’t bring Susannah home with us. But I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to convince Karen of that idea.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

5 Things Meme and a warning

First the warning: Because of comments on my shootout requesting, as Paul Harvey used to say, "The rest of the story"...tomorrow morning I will be posting a story about the Landlady Shrew of Venice -- what happened after we finally got into the bed and breakfast. My warning is that telling the tale became way too wordy...exceeds my own standards for shortness in a blog. And no photos. So I don't expect any but the most hardy to read through it. I'll keep up for a day and then go back to shorter blogs.

But for this morning, I am accepting a challenge meme from Thunder from a Quiet Storm. The challenge was simple -- list five more or less unbelieveable things you have done in your life. One of the five must be a lie. The other 4 must be true. Readers can guess which is true. The meme also says that I am not suppose to reveal which ones are true and which is the lie. We'll see. Anyway, here are my 5 -- 4 true, 1 no true. Guess the fiction if you wish.

1. I did the splash dance in a mud puddle with Jim Morrison of the Doors.
2. I kissed Sophia Loren.
3. I streaked naked through Harvard Square in a snowstorm.
4. I was bit by a lion.
5. I was arrested and jailed for grand theft

Personally, they all look like fictions to me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Incongruity and Despair in Venice

Okay, okay – Instead of taking pictures, I’ve been whining all week about having nothing incongruous to post today. So I’ve decided to make my entire shootout incongruous by posting a bunch of “un-incongruous” pictures I took in Italy in 2006. I can’t think of a good reason for this except that I’m lazy and I just wanted to.

In the summer of 2006, Karen and I spent 3 weeks in Italy (Rome, Florence, Tuscany, and finally Venice). We had planned the trip when I first discovered that I had prostate cancer because I needed something positive to work for. My actual goal was to have surgery, overcome initial incontinence, and urinate in a controlled fashion in a public restroom in Rome.

I have to say that Venice is my favorite of any city I’ve seen, except for the hoards of tourists. Primarily because it is so different (or “incongruous” to use a word that I will never again utter after this post). But the first day we arrived, the differences almost did us in! Have patience with the story (or ignore it and just look at the pictures) – the pictures don’t really have any relevance to the first day anyhow. But y’all know me, that I can’t help but run off at the mouth.

BUTLER: “Yes we know. And if Bagman was back from his Dorothea tryst, he’d be leaving again.”

So, our train from Firenzie was late and it was already getting dark when we pulled into the Venezia station . (I drove Karen crazy on that trip by trying to be cool and referring to the cities by their Italian names). It was 6:00 p.m. and we got off the train in a panic because our reservation said we had to be at the bed and breakfast by 5:00 because the proprietress went home after that.

We walked out of the train station into the most beautiful, romantic purgatory on Earth. It was another world. It was also the hottest day or Italy’s record-breaking 2006 heat wave. It was also raining.

We were also lost with only an address on a print out from the Internet.

We were also carrying five tons of luggage despite the good advice from all our friends to travel light. Each of us had one huge rolling suitcase and a second medium sized suitcase lashed to it. I had a laptop bag and a camera bag and since we had been in Italy for two weeks by that time we had 37 plastic shopping bags of treasures, none of which I can now remember.

With determination and blind faith, we wrestled out bags across the plaza to a sign that said “Taxi” which is Italian for “Taxi.” It was a boat. Duh. I mean, I knew that Venice was a city of canals but I always thought it had roads as well. Nope. Just a huge incongruous maze of canals, bridges, and alleys.

I show the boatman my printout from the Internet showing the address. He looks, shakes his head, and rattles off a batch of Italian that I pretend to understand but only get enough to figure I'm supposed to cross the bridge and find a telephone and call the hotel.

The bridges in Venice are truly incongruous. They are more like steep vertical stair-hurdles. And rolling suitcases don’t roll on stairs.

By the time we get across the first bridge, I am drenched from the inside with sweat and from the outside with rain. I go to the public pay telephone with the hopefulness of someone climbing the gallows. I fail miserably, as I knew I would, to figure out how to use it. Finally I am stuffing Euros without counting into the thing and punching random buttons with more and more force, slamming the receiver down and uttering words I hope Italians don’t understand.

I’m also watching Karen, who is stopping everyone walking by and asking everyone directions in ever louder English which we Americans use on the theory that louder somehow means easier to understand.

Eventually we learn the biggest incongruity of all in Venice. Street addresses don’t follow any order. 2006A Casa del Molena does NOT mean a specific place on the even side of a road between 2004 and 2008. 2006A is simply a number randomly assigned in a district called Santa Croche. I look at a nearby door and see number 769. It doesn’t help at all and I get a strong desire to weep.

So we start walking aimlessly looking for a number in a haystack, soaked rats from sweat and rain. Not really walking either. Because every 100 yards we come to another bridge and have to carry our luggage like pieces of furniture. I regret that the fact that the only thing we forgot to bring was a forklift.

Oh yes, and rain gear.

I keep looking at the soggy map I bought in Firenze and discover another incongruity. Maps of Venice bear no relation to the actual layout of sidewalks and canals.

Finally after an hour of aimless, sweat-drenched, and desperate trudging through this jigsaw puzzle of unmapped alleys, canals, and random numbers, we stop at a hotel that we wish we'd booked in the first place and we throw ourselves on the mercy of a desk clerk who is willing to look it a competitor on the Internet, if only to get us out of his lobby.

He brings up a map on the screen. Incongruously (again) he can't print it for some reason I can’t translate. But I decide it doesn’t matter anyhow because the map on the screen bears no resemblance to the wadded map in my fist. And neither map bears any resemblance to any actual streets or canals anyway.

But the desk clerk does provide a clue. He draws two circles on my map - one indicating generally where I am and the other indicating generally where we think we want to be.

For the first time since I bought my wristwatch three years ago I find an actual use for the incongruous built-in compass that I thought was cute but has suddenly become a real survival tool. We also kept chasing down people who thought we were homeless vagrants and asking directions. And finally we found a door marked: 2006A Casa d'el Molena!

We ring the bell.

No-one answers, of course. We’re three hours past the registration deadline.

I consider sitting down in the rain and dying on my luggage like a Samsonite Samouri.

But finally we decide that Karen will stay behind to guard the luggage – although by now I’d pay someone a hundred euros to steal it. I slog back into the maze to find a small tobacco and magazine shop we’d seen -- to plead for help. I stumble into the store like a derelict wino or the ghost of a martyr – St. Mark of the Rolling Trunk -- and place the dripping pages of my internet confirmation in front of a portly woman and moan something like, "Nobody there! Please call." She either takes pity on me or just wants to get me out of her store, but calls the number. Soon she is talking to someone I assume to be either the bed and breakfast landlord or the policia, and I hear the word "Americano" several times. I am relieved to know that probably explains everything...

When Karen bursts in and announces, "They're here! We're in!"

"Thank God!" I exclaim. “Grazi il DioI” exclaims the saleslady backing away from us.

Walking back I ask hopefully if our luggage has been stolen. Unfortunately it is still there, guarded by our new landlady for a week, The Untameable Shrew Witch of Venice…but that is another story.

BUTLER: “This was supposed to be a photography post, you know. Not an entire novel.”

“Yes,” I reply. “Kind of incongruous, isn’t it?”

Things did eventually get better, of course

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Almost finished with incongruous babble

I knew I had found it! My followers were dropping like flies because of our endless blather! GingerV was suggested we should get our heads behind the camera and stop talking. Kerry was reminding us that all we needed was ONE shot...One. I think I had it. Of course, it wasn't from my hometown but from an Italy trip Karen and I took two or three years ago.

I ran downstairs to show it to Butler. Bagman was still all woo-wooed up (to bastardize a recent Obama saying) in Africa or Alaska with Dorothea.

Even Butler was getting tired of a week-long incongruous debate. So I just plopped the photo in front of him:

BUTLER: "Hmmm... white and black, soft and hard, natural and manmade... Yup. Very incongruous.

I was getting excited and blurted out, "Even more incongruous -- it wasn't shot in my hometown! It was in Venice. Italy, not California."

BUTLER: "I know where Venice is. A very incongruous city. So post it tomorrow and you're done."

My heart sank. I couldn't post it tomorrow because I had already posted it today. I fell sobbing across Butler's desk disrupting his pencil collection which he had spent hours placing in perfectly parallel relationships. "Oh, Butler! I blew it! I only have one and I posted it too early! And I don't have any time to shoot anything new! What can I do?"

BUTLER: "If Bagman was here, he'd tell you to just cheat. Post anything. Post a bunch of your old Venice shots. Your overactive ego has been looking for a chance to show them off. There are no rules that say it has to be in Charleston. Or recently taken. Just throw up anything. But for all our sakes, shut up.

"Well, I could claim that posting something irrelevant to the theme was, itself, incongruous,"
I suggested hopefully.

BUTLER: "Remember the part about shutting up?"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Oh NO! Not more babble about incongruity!!!

I have to confess I have been feeling guilty; because Bagman had been correct. I was seriously thinking of not posting any photographs for the Friday Hometown Shootout. I was feeling guilty because while I had genuinely confused myself by thinking way too much about incongruity, the real reason was that I was too lazy to shoot anything.

So this morning, I shot one picture and ran down to show it to Butler and Bagman. But Bagman was gone! Butler saw me and glanced from his computer to Bagman’s empty chair.

BUTLER: “He gave up on you. He said if you weren’t going to shoot anything for Friday, he was selling his camera and flying to Africa for the week to be with Dorothea. Or maybe it was Alaska.”

“But I did shoot something incongruous. Look at this!”

BUTLER: “Hmmm. Not your best work, that’s for sure. It’s a pretty mediocre picture. But I don’t see anything incongruous about it either.”

How could he not see it! I started explaining it to him: “Don’t you remember?! It was a ping pong table! But now we use it as a work table for matting and framing photographs!”

BUTLER: “That’s the best you could come up with? Nobody would even notice it?”

“Will would!” I blurted out, wondering for a moment if I should clarify that “Will would” referred to Barclay’s brother, William and was not a truncated declension of the subjective of the verb “to be”. And I fell, as usual, into a digression.

Will’s mother, Karen’s best friend, came two years ago to the College of Charleston and visited us often because he liked us…and of course he liked home-cooking and playing ping pong. He played on the table as much as he could. I think that beating me at ping pong became an obsession for him. I was his Moby Dick with a paddle and I was glad Bagman was not around to turn that into an off-color pun.

He played ping pong at school whenever he wasn’t studying, which was probably most of the time. Toward the end of last year he even won a game or two but never beat me two out of three before I took the table down.

“When I turned the table into a workbench Will was furious!” I told Butler, returning from my digression.

BUTLER: “Furious yes. Incongruous, no.”

“So what do you see?” I asked.

BUTLER: “I see rectangles and right angles, table, frames, mattes…geometrically similar. It is one of the most congruent photographs I’ve ever seen.”

“And what kind of photograph would you think was incongruous?” I asked.

BUTLER: “Something natural juxtaposed with something manmade.”

Usually Butler complicates things but this time it seemed simple and I thought of a photograph I had taken in Venice. I turned and ran back to my office to see if I could find it.

BUTLER (Calling after me): “You’re welcome!”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Incongruity Continued (a bit incongruously)

After walking the dogs (again) and the sun hadn’t come up yet, I entered the office and Bagman and Butler were already there. Bagman was sitting the easy chair covered with a pile of three cameras, two telephoto lenses, a tripod and a pile of brochures about the 10 hottest nude beaches in the world. Butler looked up from the computer where he had been googling congruity…say that five times fast. “Find out anything?” I asked.

BUTLER: “Not even any interesting Latin derivations. Lots of stuff about congruent triangles and polygons.

Bagman has begun tapping his large meaty fingers heavily on the small mahogany table next to the chair.

BUTLER: “Oh! But here’s a quotation from Alfred North Whitehead: I have suffered a great deal from writers who have quoted this or that sentence of mine either out of its context or in juxtaposition to some incongruous matter which quite distorted my meaning, or destroyed it altogether.’”

BAGMAN: “Like you’re doing right now.”

BUTLER (unfazed as usual): And Yahudi Menuhin: “Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.’”

BAGMAN: “Yahoo Yahudi…Can we just shut up and go take pictures?”

BUTLER: “Oh! That reminds me! The Menuhin quote! You had a question from GingerV in a comment on yesterday’s blog. She wanted to know more about your statement that as soon as you take a picture the composition of the photograph turns the incongruity of the subject into harmony. She writes: ‘I think I need to talk with you to know what this means - you are way ahead of me.’”

BAGMAN: “Ahead of her!! She thinks you’re ahead of her!! Maybe in the bullshit category!”

I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable and insulted but hold my tongue while Butler comes to my rescue.

BUTLER: “You should have more respect for our employer, Baggie.”

BAGMAN: “Employer? You really are a butt, Butt! Without us, he’d spend the whole day watching reruns of MASH.

BUTLER: “But he and Yahudi do have a point about the human mind, the subconscious ability to see or hear order in chaos. Jackson Pollack, for instance.”

BAGMAN: “Timothy Leary, for instance! A good dose of LSD and I could see the Universe in a dustball!”

BUTLER (finally losing it): “You dumb lusty sot! You’d see MISS Universe in a dustball with or without LSD!”

The sun hasn’t even come up yet and I’ve already given up on the day. Head down, I shuffle toward the exit to see if there are any reruns of MASH on cable.

Bagman starts to rise in anger but then suddenly has an intuition and slumps back in his chair totally defeated.

BAGMAN: “Oh, damn. I get it. We’re just gonna talk this thing to death and we’re not going to take any pictures at all, are we?”

Butler is ignoring him now and is back on the computer googling Yahudi. Another word pairing that is fun to say five times fast.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Bagman bounds into the room with renewed energy, carrying his cameras and showing off his biggest telephoto lens. Butler is accustomed to him and barely looks up from the spread of open dictionaries on desk, although Bagman almost surprises me. This spurt of energy seems unusual for him of late and I glance over at Butler and whisper, “Do you think that is a rather incongruous entrance for Bagman?”

Butler consults a dictionary and replies, “Probably not, considering that it is just the way Bagman used to come in every morning. Perhaps his recent bleak quietude has been the incongruity and this entrance is more nostalgic.”

Bagman is leaping up and down, his shirt unbuttoned, his zipper only half pulled up. He is roaring with delight. “Incongruity! Incongruity! I’ve got just the idea for next week’s Friday Hometown Shoot’em up!”

“That’s Friday Hometown Photo Shoot-out,” corrected Butler.

“Shooter pooter!” screams Bagman. “But I know what we’re going to do! We’ll shoot naked women in incongruous places – courtrooms, churches, public intersections!”

“It’s been done already,” I note, explaining that last year somebody broke the World Record for shooting a gazillion naked people in some huge business district street.

“So now it’s no longer incongruity,” says Butler. “Now it would just be art. But you might shoot women dressed in parkas and snowsuits on a naked beach in Cannes.”

Bagman tosses his shaggy head and glares at Butler. “You’re make fun of me! Watch out, Geek boy! Remember who you are messing with!”

“How could I forget?”

I try to defuse the growing tension and say, “It does present a dilemma. Incongruity seems to shift depending on circumstances. And as soon as you take a picture the composition of the photograph turns the incongruity of the subject into harmony…at least if it is a good picture.”

“Then let’s take bad pictures!” yelled Bagman but his roar was beginning to sound a little more like a whine.

”We need more research,” said
Butler. “The Friday Shootouts are getting really complex.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Photo Shootout - Signs

Okay, okay -- I know I've already posted the photograph above but I couldn't resist adding it again to this week's theme.

And what a diabolical theme Si has given us! I've become crazed at the insane signs we write! I can't read a sign anymore without seeing a pun or wanting to shoot it. I stop and hold up traffic. People honk at me! There is enough here to last for years!

But before I make fun of other people's signs, let me give you a tour of how we confuse the public at Charleston Center where I work. Unfortunately, I have to accept responsibility for much of these cryptic messages.

Our tour begins in the parking garage. The shot below is of the buttons in the parking garage elevator.

I have taken a close shot so you can see that, being cognizant of people with disabilities (I guess the political correct word now is "challenged") we have all the floors also marked with a number but also in braille. We want to make sure that blind (visually challenged) people are able to get quickly to their cars. What they do then...hmmm.

I guess they park their cars here.
(I looked but could not find where they put the braille...must be an old sign)

As we come to the entrance of our building, we see that we have extended the "No Smoking" zone as far away as we could. Of course, since most alcoholics still smoke and have no intention if giving it up (yet) and many of our clients are adolescents, I wonder how well this is enforced. Actually, I don't wonder at all...the sidewalk is lined with cigarette butts every morning. In fact, I think the person in the background was smoking at the time.

Being too smart for my own good, I decided to use the opportunity as a learning experience and hung the sign, below, on the front door.

No simple "No Smoking " sign for us! We provide an entire lecture. I am really embarrassed to admit that I'm the one who wrote this sign. But what gave me laugh is that it wasn't until I was posting this picture that I noticed in the last paragraph that somebody on staff with an eye for correctness has tried to erase the word "grassy". The island in back used to be grassy but it has been so tramped down by smokers and covered with cigarette butts that the grass has now all died.

Also on the front door, we inform people that concealable weapons are not allowed. But I guess that shotguns, automatic rifles, rocket launchers and things that are easily seen must be perfectly all right.

Once inside, we head for the restrooms.

Now this is a little subtle, but has caused us more than embarassment. Our restrooms are clearly and appropriately marked with handicap accessible signage. But for some reason the staff wanted separate restrooms from the clients so we put up little punch-codes (see arrow) so we don't have to share them with the riff raff that pay our salaries. However, the keypads were brilliantly installed at such a height that someone in a wheelchair could not reach them without standing up. So the staff bathrooms are indeed handicap accessible only if you can figure out how to get into them. This was not so funny a few years ago when we had our CARF survey (Commission for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) which spends three days judging everything we do against 500 or so standards. We need to pass it in order to keep our doors open. And wouldn't you know it -- one of the surveyors showed up in a wheelchair! Fortunately there are 499 or so other standards. So we are still open. Unless you are in a wheelchair and need to go to the bathroom.

Speaking of mixed messages about accessibility. We have a service that provides translations for people who don't speak English. To make it easy for them we have signs like the one below:

Written in 20 different languages is the sentence: "Point to your language. An interpreter will be called." The only problem may arise if we get someone who speaks Tagalog. (Tagalog? I didn't even know there was a language called Tagalog? I thought Tagalog was a game played by Lumberjacks.) But --

Apparently the Tagalogians don't have a word for interpreter. So the poor guy who reads this sign understands that if he points to his language "something" will called. An immigration agent, perhaps? A government interrogator? I don't know if we have ever had a Tagalogian in our building but I know that no-one has ever pakituroed to this part of the sign.

We can then take the elevator down to leave the building...but not if it is on fire. Although, looking at the picture on this warning sign, it appears to me that the stairs are on fire. If the stairs are on fire, can't we at least then use the elevator?

Leaving our tour out the back of the building we find some staff parking lots. Since we couldn't secure them with little un-handicap accessible punch key pads, we wrote a sign:

This is an accurate sign but does not say what we wanted it to say. You have to follow the grammatical logic closely on this one. It doesn't say that owners of cars will pay for "towing expenses." It says they will pay for towing "enforcement" expenses. I suppose that would be salary of the security guards who enforce it. And it also doesn't say the owners of the cars. It just says "owners." Owners of what? It appears that it refers to the owners of Charleston Center, which would be Charleston County Government. And, by golly, that's absolutely correct. Charleston County does pay for towing enforcement! It's in the budget. But why we needed to post that information on the wall, I don't know when it would have been simpler to just write: "Staff Parking Only"

But enough of making fun of myself -- below is a sampling of other peoples' exercise of language:


Hey! Don't Complain!
You made it this far, what's another three blocks!
It's a good workout for your arms.

Okay, I give up -- is it manual? Or is it automatic?

Speaking of parking control signs --
People are just dying to park here!

But this is one parking area to avoid
unless you want the Godfather to send you
sleeping with the fishes.

A concept which gives an ominous connotation
to the sign below:

What bait should I use?

This one seems ominous too.
Are they forming a labor union for higher allowances?
Or coming after us with pitchforks?

Jesus Saves but doesn't pay the mortgage

But thankfully grace is still free.

And apparently, so is the sign below:

The "Zen" sign - or maybe the tree is for sale

Speaking of trees - this is one sign where nobody will ever
clear out the foliage that makes it hard to read
for reasons that should be obvious.

I just like the one above...made me feel good
I wonder what the store actually sells.


Do we really need a sign to tell us this is the end of the road?
This one is on Bull's Island where there are no cars
so I don't think there was a beginning of the road
in the first place.
The sign should actually read:
"This looks like a road but isn't one."

Any bush will do. Bring your own toilet paper.

Candid Camera. Do they have a movie of me taking a still?

This is from years back on a San Francisco trip.
Did Alcatraz really need a sign that said
"No one allowed ashore?"
Another blast from the past -- Atlantic City Boardwalk
No spears or spearguns? Darn.
How about concealable weapons.

Yes, this post has driven me nuts...fortunately
in Oaxaca, Mexico mental illness is a comodity