Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Morro Bay Flora and Fauna

Misreading a pamphlet at the condo led me to believe these birds were called Marbled Godwits. This of course meant any time I saw one, I said, "it's a godwit, God Wot!" Initially the birds were shy about having their photos taken. Reexamining the pamphlet revealed that many of what I thought were godwits were actually curlews. I believe it's curved beak, curlew, straight beak, godwit. Once I got the name correct, they let me approach more closely with my camera. Obviously they thought I'd been talking to some other bird.
Some of these are repeats for those of you on Facebook, but this photo makes me so happy I wanted to post it again. Meet my beloved Julia. On the flight out I'd gotten to see her brief scene as the bridge instructor in the move Julie and Julia, yet another kiss from the universe as I headed off on my adventure. Even though auditions and rehearsals prevented her from staying overnight, Dear Julia willingly made the seven hour round-trip to come up from LA for a visit. Our friendship spans twenty years, three plays, at least two theatre companies, and two cities, not to mention a handful of fun trips to Maine, Eastern Washington and now Central California.
When Homer told me we'd be renting a Mustang convertible during our stay, I figured we simply HAD to work up some Beach Boy numbers to sing in the car. Once I was actually in the car I realized how badly I needed a hat. Melissa's hair was long enough to tie up, but my barely adequate option was to tie the layers most likely to get in my eyes on top of my head. I looked like a Star-bellied Sneetch. This was not the only time I was to think of Dr. Seuss during the trip. I also discovered that singing of any kind in the car would be difficult, because from the back seat I couldn't hear squat. It was still way cool.
See what I mean? Doesn't she look positively glamorous? Like she's supposed to be in a convertible? Not at all Seussian. I did have some killer shades, it's true, but that didn't really mitigate the Sneetchness.
Layover in San Fran for what we agreed was some 'cozy food.'
This image made me think of Greg. It was also one of many plants that made me realize Dr. Seuss had spent his career drawing stuff he saw outside his window. Truffula trees abounded.
This shot makes me think of Jeaux, for some reason. I think it's the quality of light I so often like in his photos.
Homer, Melissa and friend Jeremy are all watching Jeremy's son O play in the waves on our first morning.

O is a year and a half, I believe, and was charming company, as were his parents. Before I get into that, I have to tell you a story about Homer. When he and Melissa first started dating, she mentioned once that they were getting together later that night, but first, "Homer has his ukelele lesson, then he has to go to the Austria Society, to do color commentary on the Foosball* tournament they're having."

I knew right then I was going to like this guy.

So, Homer had brought one of his ukeleles, the travel one (yes he has more than one, wouldn't you?) and as it turns out O had gotten a baby ukelele for his birthday and was quite fond of it. So Homer cracked out the uke and played a few tunes, to O's obvious delight.

O's parents, by the way, have been teaching him sign language, so he has a means of communication while verbal skills are still developing. So when Homer ended one song, O signed "more." Mom Tyra interpreted, and Homer obliged. At the end of another song, O signed "please." Homer played another tune. When Homer began putting the uke away, O signed "thank you."

This sequence was, quite possibly, the cutest thing I have ever seen. Box of puppies cute. Box of puppies playing with some kittens cute. Cute cute cute.
This guy is not cute, but I was pleased my camera was able to capture him, and get such a clear close-up. There were lots of vultures all around the area. I see them, or their close relatives, all the time in Indiana, but the sight of them soaring still give me a thrill. Seeing this ugly mug was pretty thrilling too.
This shot will probably require enlarging to make any sense of it. On our last day, before we left for the airport, I took one more walk on the beach. It was exceptionally windy that day; in the video I shot (also of these birds) you can't even hear the waves, the wind was so loud. I think these birds are sandpipers, but will bow to better informed readers. Here you see them sheltering from the wind in piles of seaweed, but they were also able to do so in human footprints. I didn't notice them at first, hidden as they were in the shadows of the footprints, but when I got to close suddenly the shadows began drifting away from me. It still doesn't really look like anything on the video though, so you'll just have to settle for my recounting.

*Apparently Foosball is huge in northern Europe. They take it very seriously. Who knew?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Visitation

I saw a fantastic show a few weeks ago at the Whitney of Georgia O'Keefe's abstract paintings. If you're in New York any time between now and the end of January, I'd recommend it. I was thinking of her Taos Mountain paintings when I took this photo. I'm so arty.
The trip to Morro Bay had some magical qualities for me right off the bat. Having friend Homer include me in the invitation was no small part of it. He had won the six day trip at a silent auction two years ago, long before he and I knew each other. Life just hadn't allowed him to make use of it yet. Once again I've been showered with the generosity of friends.
Even the trip to the airport ended up having a quality of blessing in it for me.
In order to have as much of the day on the beach as possible, Homer, Melissa and I elected to take an early flight out of Newark. So at the ungodly hour of 3:30am I climbed into the car service we'd booked. I am not at my best at that hour. In my experience taxi and car service drivers are a surly, taciturn bunch, and I would expect their moods not to be improved by that hour any more than mine is. So I knew something was different when the driver hopped out of the car to open the trunk for me. He was a tall guy, lanky, short dirty-blond hair, with blue eyes that twinkled more than I was ready for at that hour. Due to some missed turns and general confusion on the drive from their place to mine, Homer and Melissa had reason to question our driver's geographical sense - that is to say in his actual ability to GET us to the airport- so they were a bit wary, but this wasn't the only impression he had made on them. As I climbed into the backseat, Melissa said "our driver is a bit of a caretaker."

I quickly got a sense of what Melissa meant. This guy wanted to help. He liked to help. He wanted us to know he was ready to help. He checked twice to make sure the slightly open window was to our liking, clearly ready to use his power window button on our behalf if we, for any reason, were unable to use our own button. He had offered me the front passenger seat twice, but seemed to understand that Melissa and I wanted to cuddle a bit.

He was also real chatty. That's a risky choice at that hour, perhaps, but he was willing to take it. Since we were in Jersey, naturally the first topic was about roads, exits, and traffic. He learned that Melissa was from Freehold, which led to talk about Springstein and that led us to learn our driver was a former drummer with a foot in both the punk and classic rock worlds. He named us his favorite bands. He told us about all the great concerts he saw at the Garden, paying $10 to see the Stones, and $5 to see Bowie. He told us who his favorite, and second favorite drummers were. Sorry I can't remember their names at this point, maybe Homer or Melissa do? I do remember the band Deep Purple was part of that discussion. We learned he got a few tattoos in the 90s, which is when all the punk rockers got theirs. "They didn't have them in the 80's, that came later." I thought about showing him mine, but decided against it, for fear he'd want to show us his.

I was intrigued by his accent. He used expressions like 'fuggedaboudit' fluently and sincerely, but there was a sharpness to many of his consonants that kept catching my ear. I finally asked where he'd grown up, and learned he had lived in Queens since the 70s, after moving there from what is now the Republic of Georgia, but was still the USSR back then.

When we arrived at the airport, before we settled the fare, the driver showed us his acrylic drum sticks. They were beautiful. He keeps them in his trunk. He told us he'd stopped drumming when he got married, but Melissa and I pictured him banging out riffs on his steering wheel on breaks.

I wish I could remember more details of our conversation, but it would have been a bit odd for me to start taking notes. To be honest there was also a lot of filler, things about the toll booths, road construction and such that would only have interested other drivers, if anyone. We learned way more than we needed to know about the computer difficulties that would prevent us from paying with a credit card (We assured him we were paying with cash.) Even the boring stuff made me happy, though. There were so many ways this guy struck a chord with me; the open, cheerful manner, the innocent (over-) sharing about his interests, the clumsiness in reading his audience, the earnest desire to help, the job he was doing, even just his appearance, all of it felt familiar. When I called my sister that night to tell her about this guy, I had barely started the story before she recognized him too. While Homer and Melissa also liked him, I think they were understandably a bit perplexed by my enthusiastic reaction to him. So as we headed into the airport I explained.

"He reminded me of my brother. A LOT." Really the only thing missing had been the send-off kiss and hug.

Okay, there were plenty of differences in the particulars -James was not a drummer, had never lived in the Soviet Union, and never, in my hearing, said "fuggadaboudit"- but in certain essentials they were cut from the same cloth. At the very least, I bet they would have been instant friends.

The upcoming trip had triggered thoughts of James already. For one thing he had bought my plane ticket. Yeah, THAT didn't stir things up at all. I had begun to feel like my grieving for him in NYC hadn't progressed so much as stalled; I wasn't thinking, or crying about him every day any longer, but it felt more like I was simply being distracted by the demands of life here, rather than actually moved on to a new phase. Maybe that is how grief works, maybe we simply do have to get on with things, knowing that at any moment we may experience another emotional ambush. Whatever the case, I feel this chipper drumming driver was my first surprise visit from James that wasn't painful or sad. He showed me I could spend some time with James during this trip. So I did. I took several walks with him, collecting rocks he would have liked, photographing things he might have noticed, even remembering some goddawful jokes/stories he would have insisted on retelling, in order to drive us all ape-shit.

Maybe the slower pace, the ocean waves, the good food and good friends, the serene, spacious beauty of the place would have opened me up in any case. But I'm grateful to that big galoot nonetheless.
More photos and stories to come.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Camera

Here's a few images from my recent trip to Morro Bay, CA, taken with my spankin' new camera.
Both Tornwordo and the Midnight Gardener suggested that the minute I brought a new camera into the apartment, Camille would reappear. Greg pictured her jumping out from behind a door brandishing a knife. So far that hasn't proven true, and the new camera has been here for a while. I'd love to see her again, but I fear Camille is truly gone. C'est La Vie.
I haven't discovered the new camera's name, though I and everyone who has met him thus far believes him to be male. Unlike Camille, he came with a manual, two actually -- one 'hard copy' for the basics, and a CD for the more elaborate features, of which he has a plethora.
Some of you may recall Camille revealed her name by sending me excessively punctuated, overly dramatic notes, as well as through quirky behavior that seemed to indicate opinions and preferences. (Yes, yes, they probably indicated waning abilities and my lack of a user's manual: shush.)
Camille's ways were a mystery to me quite often, and our relationship involved much learning and negotiation. So far the new guy has proven to be nothing if not accommodating, fulfilling my every request efficiently, and suggesting others that would never have occurred to me ('face recognition'? Seriously? 'SMILE recognition'? 'Blinking eye recognition'?) I've done some reading through the 107pg Adobe read-only manual to learn about his many talents and abilities, but so far I've mostly been content to use his 'smart button' which means he makes all the necessary decisions about lighting, exposure, focus and such. In other words the button is obviously ironic, but some clever boots in marketing recognized that calling it the 'dumb-ass button' would not have endeared the camera to its users.

At some point I assume a name will present itself, though I suppose it's possible my relationship with this fancy-pants machine will be like the one I have with my cell phone. That has never earned name, largely due, I believe, to the fact that it's never given me any trouble. I don't ask a lot of my phones, you understand; I like it if they let me talk to other people, and it's really swell if they take messages for me when I'm unavailable, but anything beyond that is gravy. Little camera, that's nice, a clock, great, voice-dialing, way cool, though I've used it exactly once, just to see if it would work. Not really a time saver, once you set it all up, but cool nonetheless.

I can likewise see myself at least trying all the features of this guy at least once, just to say I did. I've done a certain amount of what my dad calls 'guy' exploration, which is to say I've punched a bunch of buttons at random just to see what happens, even if getting myself back out of trouble is all I can manage. The nice thing about this camera, as opposed, say, to a computer, I can always just shut it off and start fresh, with the worst thing happening being I may have lost an image or two. There will always be more images.

Hm. I actually hadn't meant to spend all this time rabbiting on about the camera. There's more to say about Morro bay (say that out loud; it has a nice lilt, and it rhymes), including a story about the trip to the airport. I guess that will be another post or two. Oh, and I can now take video with this new guy. Audio and visual. I'm very excited. I've taken two short videos so far, both in Morro Bay, both of the ocean. I feel they are strongly reminiscent of early French Cinema, which is to say they're like watching paint dry. The longer one is only two minutes and you still feel like you wasted some precious life force in watching it. So maybe I'll hold off on showing you any videos after I've read some more of the manual. You're welcome.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Football & Dominoes

So it's raining out tonight. And the World Series is over. Between those two events I and my roommate are hoping we'll actually get some sleep tonight. It's been weeks, really.

Yeah, last night was a special occasion, I get that. The Yankees winning their 27th World Series made a lot of people in this neighborhood very happy. Drunken screaming, tooting-air-horns-like-saxophones, fire-crackers-until-5am happy. It was a grand old time. At some point all the trees in the neighborhood were TPed as well, but I didn't happen to hear that, what with the fire crackers and air horns and all.

If last night had been just one event I'd still be cranky about not getting to sleep before 5am then having the garbage trucks (why is it they always seem to come in fleets) start at about 6am. Yes, yes, Java, earplugs, I know, but even the heavy-duty industrial strength ones I have are not equal to the fire crackers and air horns. They do make my ears itch like crazy though, resulting in my scratching them out of my ears the instant I actually lose consciousness. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, if last night was a one time thing, I'd still grump about it, believe me, but I'd move on. Problem is, last night was FAR from anomalous. Oh so very far. SS Enterprise, Warp 9 far.

The weather has been really warm, ya know? Quite balmy. Global warming and all that. Yup, it's been nice out. That's meant that the drunken football games have had a much later season than in past years. Part of me thinks, hey, it's great they're getting some exercise. These guys don't seem to be dealing drugs, and that's definitely a change for the better. Nope, they may be USING them, I really couldn't tell ya, though my suspicion is the high spirits and volume (oh so very high volume) is probably due to nothing harder than booze. It all appears to be legal, healthy even, in a way. It's just really really loud, well into the wee hours. Every night.

Nor have the football games been the only recurring sporting event. For whatever reason the game of dominoes has hit this neighborhood in the past four months. I was used to seeing it quite often when I lived in Alphabet City, but I never noticed it up here in Harlem until this Summer. Boy howdy though, it has hit now, and hit BIG. Thing is I never knew it could be such an athletic event. Or quite so percussive. Every tile is slapped smartly on the card table, so smartly I think the players must get extra points for sticking the dismount. It's the only explanation I can come up with. And when a game is over and it's time to mix the tiles up, holy sweet mother of god, I never knew those things could make such a racket. It's like boulders in a cement mixer, I swear.

I might see my way clear to calling in a noise complaint for the football game; they're clearly chemically enhanced, screaming at the top of their lungs, and chasing each other around a city street in the middle of the night. It's a residential area, at three in the morning. A case could be made. But a dominoes game? Am I really going to call the city up to complain about a noisy dominoes game? Sure, sometimes those players may be chemically enhanced as well, but most of the time I can't hear them, I only hear the tiles, but I hear those loud and clear, every goddamn one, and I know unequivocally when the game is over because that's when they bring out the cement mixer.

Nope, I can't do it, I can't complain about a dominoes game, even one clearly being played like it's the freakin' Olympic event. This is why my roommate and I, having ruled out fire arms (the sleep deprivation hasn't completely destroyed our powers of reason. yet), are hoping for rain. Or the onslaught of Winter. Or, hey, why not both? Freezing rain, a blizzard or two, some nighttime hail storms come Spring, I want it all. We've been getting plenty of rain in the last few weeks, but it has always cleared up by the middle of the night, allowing these hardy athletes to resume their respective contact sports. I wake up at the sound of the first touchdown or tile slap, shove my ear plugs in, seethe a bit, maybe doze off long enough to claw the damn things out of my ears, just in time for another big score.

It's quiet right now though. It's no longer raining, but the temperature might have dropped enough to keep people indoors. That, or they're all still recovering from last night's celebration. I doubt we're done for the season just yet, and tomorrow night is a Friday. I better sleep while I can.