Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

The phone buzzed bright and early one morning last week.

"Don't go outside!" the message said. It was from my back alley neighbor Debbie.

"Why not?" I typed back.

" Cops chasing suspects down Fillmore Street.  We are on lockdown here at the school.  They are believed to be armed.  Don't go outside!"

One of the many reasons I like living where I live is because of the strong sense of community.  We tend to know our neighbors here in the People's Republic of Hillcrest.  We tend to know what's going on.  Folks tend to stop and visit as they push strollers or walk their dogs.

Debbie has been my neighbor since I bought this little house.  She keeps an eye on me and me on her.  Like the other day.  We walk together sometimes.  She offers to bring me food or to go to the pharmacy when she hears I am sick.  During the snowstorm it was a comfort to see the lights on beyond the fence.

"You OK?" I texted every night.

"Yeah, we're OK.  You need anything?"

"No.  I'm fine.  Let me know if you need something."

"Same here."

It's nice to know that somebody is looking out for you.

I have never been to Boston.  But it is my understanding that it is a close knit kind of place as well.  And surely the events of the last week have done nothing to change my general impression.  So the almost universal expressions of shock and surprise from the community at the news that brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsaraev, were suspected of committing the atrocities both at the Boston Marathon and afterwards.

As events unfolded, we learned that Tamerlan, the older of the two, was a pretty nasty piece of work.  He had been cited for domestic violence.  He had become more religious, more interested in the teaching of radical Islam.  An aspiring boxer, he had started to behave disrespectfully toward other members of the fight club he belonged to.  Indeed, he was about to be kicked out by the coach.  But still, just because you're a "d*ck" (as he was described in the Boston Globe by the coach) doesn't mean your capable of placing an improvised weapon of mass destruction next to an 8 year old.

Dzhokar, on the other hand was described as kind and gentle.  Sure, he smoked a little dope now and again but that is hardly unheard of in 19 year old males.  Friends and classmates of the younger brother expressed their shock and disbelief that Dzhokar was capable of such a thing on the news program 60 Minutes last week.

So, the question on the minds of many people is " How did we not see this coming?"  Even Tamerlan's widow swears she knew nothing of her husband's dark plans and is said to be cooperating with authorities.  So how does this happen?

I guess one of the answers is that the public face we display to the world in our daily sojourns might vary with the one we display behind closed doors.  It might not vary much.  But it can vary.  We don't really know who among us is desperately sad, angry or lonely.  We wave and we talk but that doesn't mean we know each other.

For example, there's a young fellow who lives a couple of doors down.  Big sportsman.  Hunts and fishes all year round.  He owns lots of guns.  Nice kid.  I have no reason to believe that he is anything but the sensible and honorable gun owner that he has always appeared to be to me.  But then again I don't know that with any degree of absolute certainty.  Does that mean I am vigilant about the possibility of the unthinkable?  Of course not.  We, in a civilized society, repose trust in smiling and waving.  I don't give him a second thought.

Another story.  I pretty much know everybody in my neighborhood.  At least by sight.  Or so I thought. Last week I had a luncheon meeting with a woman who the Residents Association hired to sell ads for the upcoming newsletter.  As we were making small talk it turns out that we have lived a block or so apart for 7 years and had never laid eyes on each other until that day.  We have numerous mutual friends and everything.  For some reason for all of this time, we just never fell into each other's orbit despite the fact that she lives a 6 iron from my front yard.  This was amazing to both of us.

You just can't know everything.  All we can do is to try be good neighbors.  To be observant but not give in to suspicion or paranoia.  To be grateful for good neighbors like my Debbie.  Worth her weight in gold she is.

And to be ever willing to help divert a neighbor from a self-destructive path if we can discern this from behind the smiling and waving.

That's about it.  Really.  That's about it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Saturday Feeling

Taking a pass for Sunday as I have too much stuff going on.  Will return Sunday night or Monday.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

" It's good of you to do this," I told D.  " I really appreciate it."

" This is not a problem," she replied.  "I'm glad to give back."

We were meeting a client at the women's shelter along with her daughter at a local park.  The kid's a Senior in high school.  The mom couldn't afford to purchase graduation pictures.  The shelter called me and asked me if I would take the kid's picture.  I told them that I would be happy to do it.  But I'm the living embodiment of the line from a mob movie.

I'm a guy who knows guys.

And so I told GG at the shelter that I bet D would do it.  So I sent D an e-mail.  I was right.  She agreed.

And that's how I came to be present at a fashion shoot on a Saturday afternoon with one of the best photographers in Arkansas.

The kid is a beautiful black girl.  Diana Ross thin.  White dress, clunky bracelet, 8" inch heels.  D gets her to climb up on a stone walk.  Which the kid somehow does without breaking an ankle.  D is setting exposures.

"Do I look OK?" the kid says.

"Oh you're great," says the voice behind the camera. "You have such a nice figure.  Doesn't she Paul?"

" She is a lovely girl," I say.

"I guess you probably need to leave it at that don't you? Sorry."

She sets the flash.

"Did you dance at lot in the prom last night?"

"I sure did."

"In those shoes?" I ask.

"No," all 3 women say.

I had to ask.  Right?  Besides, she is young and limber.  She probably could have done it if she wanted to.

D quits fiddling with her Nikon and soon we are off.  Hands on hip.  Smiling.  Not smiling.  Turn this way.  Turn that way.Let's see a smile.

"She's good," I whisper to D.

"All these little girls love the camera," she said.  " I used to have to kind of show them what to do.  Now they all look like pros.  It's funny."

She turns to the mom.

"I saw a lot of clothes in the trunk.  You got something else for her to change into?"

"Yes ma'am," the mom says.  "If that wouldn't be a problem?"

"Nope.  Not a problem to me. We will be over there by that tree."

We walk across a grassy space to an old sweet gum tree.  D changes out a lens.

"Lot of clothes in that trunk," she says.

"Not unusual," I reply. "Lots of times they just throw what they can in a bag or a trunk and get the hell out of dodge."

" As you know, I started out as a medical photographer.  I used to take pictures of battered women in the ER.  I remember one in particular.  This asshole had beat her senseless.  She said she was going back to him.  She went back to him.  The next time I took her picture was in the morgue.  He finished the job."

She looks through the viewfinder.

"Some things you just don't forget."

By this time Mom and Tyra Banks have returned.  The kid is wearing slacks and a jacket.

D leans her up against the tree.  They go through the drill again.  She then has the kid take her shoes off.  She has her lie on her side.  Ceder Hill Road rolls up behind.

"Look," I tell the mom. "See how her length with the winding road in the background makes such a good image?"

"Oh," she says. " That is so pretty."

"Ok," D says. " You get 5 more.  We've done serious and we've done fashiony shots.  Let's do something fun. You said you're a dancer.  Can you jump and kick your heels to your booty?"

Well of course she can.

D is seated on the ground beside me firing away.  The kid is jumping around and being happy.

"I know this is dumb," she said. "But I just love jumpy shots."

We are done after the jumpy shots.  D and I head for the parking lot.  Mom says they are going to hang around in the park for awhile.  After all, it is such a beautiful day.

I put my arm around D's shoulder.

"You're going to Heaven, Buddy." I said.

" Well, like I said I like to give back.  I've had a great career.  I made a living taking pictures. I sure had a lot of help along the way.  I'm fortunate.  I only do what interests me now.  So I'm honored to help these folks."

As was I.

I've had a great career.  I had a lot of help along the way.  And like D, I like to give back.

It's not like D and I cured MS or anything Saturday afternoon.

But if I can help a kid in the battered women's shelter find a fleck of normal, of course I am going to do it.

Not that I did much of anything.

 I'm just a guy who knows guys.

Good guys like D.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

My Sunday Feeling

A new NCAA Champion on the men's side will be crowned tomorrow night in Atlanta.  I think Louisville win it all but Syracuse and Michigan look awfully good right now as well.  Even though I can't say for certain who will win, I can say for certain that Rutgers will not.  But a sub .500 program rocked the basketball world when a video was leaked depicting Mike Rice, the former Rutgers head coach, engaged in what appeared to be abuse of the worst sort of his players.

The video depicts Rice kicking players, grabbing them, throwing basketballs at them and belittling them by referring to them as "fags" and "faggots."  After the video went viral around last Tuesday, the AD fired Rice and then resigned himself.  And it's not over.  The Rutgers faculty has now called for the resignation of the President.  If you want to see what all the fuss is about, look here: .  Only make sure that you don't play it in the presence of either children or longshoremen.

I'm not naive.  I know stuff happens in the gym and on the practice field.  One of my football coaches used to hit us in the helmet with the heel of his hand when somebody screwed up.  It didn't hurt and it was mainly just loud.  I didn't think much of it then, and oddly enough I don't think much of it now.  And coaches yell.  I certainly got yelled at a lot when I played.  I likewise didn't think much about it then and I don't think about it now.  I actually ran into my high school basketball coach at the cardiology clinic.  He looked like a sick old man.  Nothing like the shirt-grabbing, whistle-throwing, line drill inducing martinet that I knew back in the day.

And I'm not opposed to a coach touching a player.  There's only one way I know to teach somebody how to box out under the glass.  The coach gets the player on his or her back and roots her out.  Back when I coached Little League and Babe Ruth I was a shirt grabber of the first water.  But I never grabbed a shirt in anger and never a fistful.  Just a couple of fingers to get a kid's attention.  I never yelled.  Well, I never yelled much.  If you slung a bat after striking out, you got your ass climbed.  But that was about it.

But the actions depicted on the video show a man that seems to have an anger management problem to the max.  Certainly you shouldn't kick a player.  Certainly, you shouldn't shove them in the back.  And you sure as hell shouldn't call them derogatory names.  Especially in an era where everybody is a potential videographer.

Which brings me to the following thought.  I have heard many people wonder why the players put up with this.  One friend wondered if they tolerated it because they needed their scholarships.  Another wondered if they were engaged in some sort of weird Stockholm Syndrome in which they bonded with their captors.

I have another thought.  Maybe they didn't think it was any big deal.  Indeed, one of the reason that Rutgers didn't fire Wise right of the bat when they it was first made available was because none of the players complained about their treatment.  And some of his former players have come to his defense.  Further, I'm sure that Rutgers videotaped most of their practices.  Most teams do.  And so if the video that got leaked is an example of how Mike Rice typically ran a practice as is alleged, surely there are other similar incidents preserved for posterity.  Rice wouldn't have taped himself in action if he thought he was doing something wrong.  Nobody's that stupid.

Still, when you belittle people, you are in essence reducing them to an object.  This is what abusers do.  An institution of higher learning would not tolerate this behavior in the dorm.  It sure as hell isn't going to tolerate it from one of its employees just because he makes a lot of money.

But I wonder.  Would Rutgers have canned Mike Rice if we had won 20 games?  Bobby Petrino supposedly lit players and coaches up routinely when he coached at Arkansas.  If he hadn't hired his girlfriend he might still be up there.  He may have been an exceedingly unpleasant person to be around but he won football games.  That's all that matters.

New Hog head coach Bret Bielema certainly won big at Wisconsin brandishing a tough, hard nose approach to football.  And yet he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that his approach to handling players is "Praise loudly and criticize softly."

Sounds like a good plan.  Because somewhere a camera is always rolling.