Saturday, November 25, 2006


I miss photography.

At first I let it go because photography played such a big part of my job. I got so sick of carrying a camera around (I carried it to every assignment) that I didn’t want to be bothered with it in my off time, and moreover I didn’t want to think in frames during that time. One of my favorite movies is a piece starring Joe Pesci called “The Public Eye,” in which he plays a Weegee type of shutterbug who lives off the New York City police radio and contracts his work out to area newspapers. Two things make this film excellent, and the storyline and plot aren’t them. It’s his portrayal of the consummate newshound -- who isn’t afraid of anything -- or rather is terrified of everything, but ignores it for the sake of the picture. The scene in the Italian mob restaurant is priceless, because it is the type of event that every news photog dreams of; catching the daily violence as it happens. But what makes this movie a film is how it shows how he doesn’t just take pictures, but sees all the life around him in frames. You ever see those budding film school directors walking around with that finder thingy and putting it up to their eye all the time? It’s like that, only without the thingy. This film completely captures both the feeling and the effect it has on the photographer.

I was recruited right out of college by the yearbook rep to be a partner in his photography business; he liked my candids so much. Dave had a debilitating condition from a stroke and knew he’d need more and more help as time went on. But I turned him down. I had been a photographer for all of my 5 college years, and had only gotten into writing for the paper’s op/ed and features later, and only started news writing in my last two years. But I felt two things that made me not want to take that excellent opportunity. There was that energy of youth that made me want to take my talent and run with it: perhaps to become the consummate journalist, perhaps something else. The position would primarily have been taking group shots and portraits at local high schools and doing some of their homecoming dances and football games and such as well. But just starting out and jumping right into high school was a very distasteful concept to me at the time. Even considering my situation today, I’m still glad I turned that job down. I could see then how, 10, 20, 30 years later, I’d still be doing the same thing. It was an appalling vision. The other thing was that feeling of living photography. I made a conscious decision to go into news and not photography upon leaving school. I knew that, were I to become I professional photographer, I would have to eat, drink, and breathe photography. A photographer is never off duty, you see. If he doesn’t take his camera everywhere he goes, and misses a great shot, he’ll always rue it. And if he takes it everywhere he goes, it becomes an anchor, dragging the spirit of the moment right out of his soul.

So I got the newspaper job at The Apex Herald (and later at the Wake Weekly), in large part because of my photography skill, which as far as candids are concerned, is excellent. That, and as the publisher (his name was Biff) told me at the time, because I “could put a sentence together.” So, for about 5 years, I took photos with nearly every story, and many non-stories (kids on the playground, car wrecks, that kind of stuff). Like a maroon, I didn’t save most of them, as the film didn’t belong to me and I never had free time to make enlargements.

Today, I was raking leaves (oh, how many of them there are!), and noticed a giant grasshopper on the screen door. They’ve been really big this year, which is cool, because you can see their faces and antennae and everything. I grabbed my FM2 and my 70-210 zoom (a Vivitar Series One, one of the first lenses I ever bought; think 1988) which has a macro capability. Problem is, with the macro, the incoming light is reduced, and so you need either more light, or a slower shutter speed. Plus, at macro, the focal plane is cut down to centimeters, making staying in focus very difficult. It was getting late, and so I was forced to slow the shutter speed down to about 1/60th of a second. I was shooting T-max B&W, on which I splurged recently and bought a couple rolls. You know you’re poor when 4 rolls of film seems an outrageous expense. So I took a few shots, but on only one was I still enough, I think. Anyways, I was frustrated because I have clearly let my sedentary life weaken my arm and wrist muscles to the point where I can’t sit absolutely still for 10 minutes waiting for the perfect shot. So, I figure I’ll do two things. I’m going to start exercising more, and take more pictures. One of these days, I’d like to watch The Public Eye again. It’s an excellent film.

When I figure out what’s wrong with my scanner (currently suffering a communication breakdown with my PC), I’ll put some more of my better photos on the blog.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Insomniac Theatre

One thing about persistent unemployment is how easy it is to have one’s schedule get all messed up. I’m kind of a night person anyways, so staying up really late just gets all that much easier if one is intent on getting all the way through a good book, or stuck in the middle of a marathon game of Civilization.

The problem is it’s much easier to get stuck into an awake at night and asleep during the day routine than it is to get unstuck. I can’t force myself to sleep if I’m not tired and there’s few exertions I can do at night to make myself tired that won’t wake up the sleeping party of the house. Basement activities are heard right above in the bedroom, so I can’t just get drunk and play pool or darts all night while listening to music. And this being autumn, and our house being situated on an acre of deciduous trees, there is certainly no shortage of leaves to be raked up -- a very exhausting activity -- but one can’t rake in the pitch of night.

So I end up sitting, as I said, at the computer or the TV, or reading on the couch, and while I do eventually get tired, usually that occurs between the hours of 6 and 10 a.m. Often I’ll tell myself to simply get through the next day. Eight o'clock would do, but I rarely make it to eight. So I sleep from noon to midnight, or 4 to 2 a.m. and then start the whole beastly process all over again.

I’d have to say one of the only things that helps me pass the time so well is the preponderance of decent serials to watch on early morning TV. If I didn’t have those I’m sure I would be quite out of my mind by now. Have you ever seen the tripe that comes on early in the a.m.? It’s no good turning to CNN or other news channels; they seem intent on exhibiting the most trite and insipid casts of happy morning people talking about TomKat’s wedding -- they actually use that expression, TomKat -- and other such exciting world events.

But lucky enough for me, the folks at TNT have decided that there are just enough lost souls out there with naught better to do than watch TV all night and early in the morning to play contiguous episodes of Angel and Charmed. Buffy is on FX, I have recently discovered, but that show is a lot harder to watch. They all have a lot of soap opera elements to them, which is barely tolerable to me. But Angel, which is a show about a brooding vampire hell-bent on destroying all the elements of evil in Los Angeles (think Blade without the guns and swords), is far less soapy, or is soapy in a much more supernatural way. People’s loves are lost not because they got a better job and moved to Seattle, but because they were taken by a great horned daemon into the hell of upside down sinners. Much more dramatic and imaginative, I think.

I’ve pretty much gotten to see the entire rise and fall of the vampire called Angel. By the way, the final episode of that show -- in which he and his cohorts all go out fighting the forces of evil in a prelude to the apocalypse -- is pretty awesome. Nothing like ending on a high note.

Buffy and Charmed center around primarily female casts, which seems to lend itself to far more discussions about why their Saturday night dates never work out and far fewer about what to do when the end of the world gets here. I think Angel, a Buffy spin off, must have been created to give the male fans of Buffy a way to regain their sanity. Likewise, Charmed, which I must admit initially attracted me because I had a thing for Alyssa Milano, was cool because of the supernatural sets and effects and the writers and directors’ love of soft pedal comedy. The show incorporated the gamut of myths and legends ever envisioned and dropped them all down onto the three sisters’ heads in a San Francisco setting. One of the coolest things to happen on that show was when Milano’s character Phoebe fell in love with a daemon called the Source, i.e., the source of all evil. Any evangelical Christian who had rationalized his viewing up until that point was thereby dismissed. But the female leads themselves were really annoying. There was no end of whining about love lives and such and when they brought a baby into the mixture it was all she wrote.

Buffy was all that coupled with a high school setting. Think Saved by the Bell with the occasional human sacrifice. If it were more like the movie version -- with a Pee Wee Herman vamp that refuses to die -- or something like Idle Hands, I could have taken it better. But then, the cast would have all died early and the series couldn’t have run until its high school heroes were getting gray hair.

But criticisms aside, at least I had them to watch during my all night Insomniac Theatre. It could be a whole lot worse. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the Sci-Fi channel will drop the all night infomercials and run the entire Dr. Who series from its inception. That, or a job and a workday schedule would be nice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bad for Bizness

I'm actually not fond of the following type of poem because it's more a stream of conciousness bit of prose broken down and made to appear a poem. Many people write poetry this way, taking long sentences and adding a lot of returns and getting published in big name journals and winning awards and such. So, I'm not fond of it, though prosaic language does occasionally fill my mind. When it does, I feel compelled to put it to paper. Which is what I did, early last Saturday, while sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Research Triangle Park (I was helping with the writers' network fall conference), while reading the Wall Street Journal.

As I say in the poem the writer makes barely an effort to hide his doubt that the new congress won't bring down Wall Street with regulatory legislation. There's a point to that, I guess. After all, if the poor and downtrodden start making or saving more money, that means someone else won't be posessing all that money any longer. Or, to paraphrase the economist on NPR's Marketplace: When someone gets a great deal, someone else gives it up.

So I present to you a little bit of proestry about how I was feeling after reading a very well written, and, truth-be-told, very informative indictment of the Big 'D' crowd taking the reins of our little 'd' republic for just a little while.

4 a.m. -- too hot to sleep.
Blendbuzz of a lobby waterfall/humming lights/Musak mixture
trickling into the top of my semi-consciousness.
Too tired to really read,
I slowly pore over the new day’s news.
An election.
A change of pace.
A nation has voiced a single word:
Democrats, Democrats, Democrats.

This is not an election story -- that’s three days past.
It’s a not-so-subtle lament; an ode to the old guard,
with its old crowd doing things the old way.
“Bad for Business,” the headline reads,
disguised in the language of the upper crust,
of moneyed men.

Mugs of newly guilted, “anti-trade” congressmen
line the news jump like police photos of murder suspects
topping the crime news.
The mention of “jobs” or “labor” seems an afterthought,
or a distasteful necessity,
first making mention halfway down the page.
“Views of a troubled economy”
(voiced by those who really work for a living,
or aren’t working, more to the point),
doesn’t poke its mole head out of the background
until well into the jump. Fifteen paragraphs in, to be precise.

But the writing -- oh the writing --
barely attempts to conceal
the contempt
that this new guard, this big ‘D’, will be
Bad for Bizness.
Specifically, their business, the business of getting richer
(initial richness a benchmark long since attained).

“Things are going to be bad,”
the editors and publishers of the bi-zness papers and pages
(who can’t find a layoff they can’t spin aright)
are afraid to say out loud.
So now, say it softly, if not so subtly,
pen a frustration-laden,
knock the new guys,
pouting piece
that claims, clear as this new day,
that steadfast belief that workers
-- perish the thought! --
ought have no say
in the decisions affecting
their American workplace.

Perhaps this week I’ll find a job.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Song of You

A house for sale is a clean house
with everything in its place.
But a lived-in house is always becoming askew,
by its inhabitants.

Less by those who clean up after themselves,
more by those who let things lie where they fall.

A dropped magazine,
letters on the floor,
water filled bowls tipped or overturned,
crumbled bits of clay scattered across the floor.

You would leave things crumpled
where you stood, sat or lay on them.
Rolled up prints, someone’s clothes,
even pizza boxes weren’t spared.

You kept yourself clean, of course,
though one can be fastidious and careless all at once.
Floors and mats were in constant need of washing.

You were diminutive: four legs and a tail,
made no sound padding down halls.
Yet even when you could not be found,
disappeared into some cabinet, crook, or closet corner,
the feeling of you was evident.

Visible even when invisible,
the song of you was everywhere.

No longer.

The halls are silent.
The soundlessness of your footfalls
continues to be silent.

But whereas before the knowledge of your presence,
somewhere within these four walls,
filled every empty space with life
and love, resonating in my heart,
the now toneless silence is deafening.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dogs with Dignity

My sister Nicki’s dog, Sugar, may be dying, news which is rough to hear so soon after the loss of our last surviving cat, Fifi, and the death of one of her other long living dogs, Woola. Sugar’s mother, Clea, is also getting up there, and has been experiencing the numerous old-age problems that occur in convalesced mammals. Fifi had a flea problem over the last couple of seasons; Beth and I were wondering if the body’s aging doesn’t also affect the inner body, slowing down the immune response and whatnot, and if so, if the fleas and other bugs (including the microscopic variety) somehow know it.

With Clea being old and kind of pitiful, it’s still easy to think of Sugar as the “young dog,” even though she was probably less than a year old herself when she gave birth to him. So it’s tough for me to see him as a dog that’s had his day.

Anyways, what’s wrong with Sugar is an enlarged kidney (or is it liver?) and he has developed a growth inside his body which may or may not be cancerous. If it’s not, they might try to remove it, so he can live on a while longer. If it is, they’ll probably just skip the procedure, and take care of him, surrounding him with love, until he dies.

I know this because my sister has taken him to the emergency animal hospital for a biopsy. He’ll need a more invasive biopsy performed with anesthesia to determine the true extent of his illness. This is not an exact science -- and Sugar could die during the biopsy operation itself. She may prefer to not go that route, and bring him home to die at his own pace, where he can get the best quality of life care an old dog can get: the love and care of his human and other animal friends and family.

Beth and I did so with Morris and Fifi (Socks died unexpectedly). Morris had a stroke and was clearly out of his head, so we put him in a basket with blankets and laid him by our bed. We gave him water until he could take it no longer, then, after a while, he died. As I wrote in an earlier blog, we did the same with Fifi. We didn’t want the sometimes frightening feeling of the veterinarian’s office to be the backdrop for their last moments.

Even in this day and age, with veterinarians treating pets for cancer and other ailments, with all night emergency rooms for dogs and cats (we took Fifi to one once -- she was in diabetic shock, the vet cured her with some sugar water), advanced food formulas, medications specialized for their body types and breeds, designer toys, etc. etc., even now, nobody bats an eye at the idea of allowing the animal to die with dignity when his time is up.

So why is it we can treat our pets this way, and not ourselves? Why do we insist on getting the last breath out of people who will never awake again to experience it? Why do we send our elderly family members away to die, instead of keeping them home with us? Why do we pass legislation to prevent the pulling of plugs? Why do loved ones go to court to refuse the rights of people to seek out their own treatments, to eschew expensive and poisonous medications, and to choose the approximate time and place of their own expiration?

Is it because we love our animals less? Because they can’t engage legal representation? Twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now, will humans treat our own deaths more sensibly? Or will we be putting our pets on life support?

I don’t have a definitive answer to any of these questions. But it’s something to think about.

Nicki, kiss Sugar on the schnozz for me.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

After the Fall

Many years have I still to burn, detained,
like a candle-flame on this body; but I enclose
blue shadow within me, a presence which lives contained
in my flame of living, the invisible heart of the rose.

So through these days, while I burn on the fuel of life,
what matter the stuff I lick up in my daily flame;
Seeing the core is a shadow inviolate,
a darkness that dreams my dream for me, ever the same…

Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.
The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves…

And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one’s own self, find an exit
from the fallen self…

But dipped, once dipped in dark oblivion
the soul has peace, inward and lovely peace.

--from D.H. Lawrence

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The most important call, ever

I just got a call from Rush Limbaugh, asking, no, imploring me to vote conservative Tuesday, to prevent liberals from taking over the government, and assumedly, ruining it. Rush called me -- David Leone! What an honor. What importance this election must be for a syndicated millionaire addict talk show host to take his valuable time to call a guy like me. I’m so honored. It’s incredible. If only I could vote for Rush for congress. What a better world it would be then!

Rush didn’t let me get a word in edgewise, which my wife suggested means it was actually a recording, but I know better -- that’s the way he always talks! Rush. What an honor! Better stay by the phone tomorrow; maybe I’ll get a call from a major TV figure who’ll convince me that liberals can’t be trusted because they make up statistics during debates or in books, and even use them again when corrected, or because liberals pad their resumes with awards they never received. So, maybe I’ll get a call from Bill O’Reilly! Or Ann Coulter! I’m giddy at the possibilities!

Hey, maybe I will vote conservative. Because if there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s to ruin a government that any totalitarian dictator, kleptomaniac, or crack-addled idiot would be proud to call his own.

Let me just run down my list of modern conservative values. I thought I knew what values were important: honesty, integrity, taking care of the elderly, hurt and destitute, respecting the liberties of others, wishing for a robust economy that raises all boats, that kind of stuff. But oh my God if Rush Limbaugh thinks those are actually evil values, I must be wrong! That’s what I get for looking to scum like George Washington and Jesus Christ for my values.

But wait, what are conservative values? If I’m going to re-elect these important candidates whose morality is above reproach, I have to know just what values to look for in a politician. Maybe I can look through the news for some examples.

Ah! Here’s one: Marriage is between a woman and a man. And his mistress. And his crank-supplying gay lover. Gotta remember those family values.

Oh, that’s right; I also have to make sure to vote for people who are pro-life. Unless they’re against executing the possibly guilty. Or saving the lives of mothers seeking abortions. Or saving the lives of muslims caught up in an indiscriminate dragnet. Or those caught in a crossfire. Or those who live within a country or two away from where the 9/11 terrorists are hiding. Or those who need a doctor but can’t afford it. Got it.

Aha! I remember -- I have to vote for people who have an undying respect and honor for the 2nd amendment to the Constitution: the right to bear arms. That one’s easy because I already believe in that. Only I have to make sure to pick the people with the properly nuanced beliefs. I absolutely cannot vote for someone who also respects the 1st amendment: the right to free speech and religion. Or really, the 5th and 6th amendments, because terrorists might be able to exploit those freedoms. I mean, c’mon, civil liberties need to be restricted to only those people that non-corrupt politicians, cops, judges, and district attorneys are certain are really innocent. It’s a good thing I’ll be voting conservative -- that will guarantee that I won’t be electing corrupt politicians, who will undoubtedly guarantee that law enforcement personnel and soldiers won’t make any mistakes or act maliciously against anyone who might not be guilty of a crime. Whew! That’s a load off my back. I don’t know why I haven’t been voting conservative all along!

Are there any more values I need to think about? Oh yes. I need to elect people who provide good American jobs by ensuring that giant filthy rich corporations make more money then ever before. Because we all know how wasteful rich people are with their money. Just think of all the lavish things they’ll buy that will need to be made by minimum wage workers. That’ll keep us all employed, no doubt. But really, I’m hoping that my conservative congressmen vote to do away with the minimum wage altogether. Just think of it, if there was no minimum wage, you could pay 5 people the same amount as one person now. For $10 ten people could be producing goods. Unemployment would be zero! Imagine all of the products that will be made, shipped and sold, all putting enormous amounts of wealth back into the pockets of the companies. And then, you know it’ll happen, a few pennies on every thousand dollars will come trickling back down into our own pockets. It’ll be a utopia. Damn liberals.

That’s all the values I can think of right now, but there must be more, so I implore readers of my blog to help me out with some others, so I can be fully prepared when I head to the polls on Tuesday. Just think of the glory that this country would be if we all regained our senses and voted conservative. The possibilities are staggering.

UPDATE: No one bothered to respond, so to punish them, I voted Democratic. So there!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fifi Ten Blankets

My cat died today (Nov. 2).

She had been getting worse lately; she was somewhat deaf and meowed really loudly, she had some vision loss -- cataracts, I guess, and some arthritis or weakness in her legs, but otherwise she was pretty spry. She could still hop up onto things -- and when we let her out nearly every day she’d wander over our whole lot, into the neighbor’s lot and disappear. Usually she’d end up lying on the cool creek bed -- a spring that only has water when it rains. But she’d eventually make her way back to the house, by feeding time at the latest, picking her way through the tall grass and leaves. She was especially unsteady on the 31st. I figured the cool weather was making her legs stiff. Probably she was already on her way -- she’d had a fang fall out a few weeks ago from an infection in her mouth and we’d been giving her antibiotics, but I gather now that the tooth problem was likely a symptom of her overall condition and not a sole condition.

Anyway, the point is that she was a very old cat, and we knew her time would be coming soon -- this year or perhaps within a year or two more -- but we still were caught off guard a bit by the suddenness of it because we didn’t see her visibly ailing. Last night though, it was clear she was hurting, or especially stiff, or something. We sat in front of the TV and she slept on Beth’s lap for hours, got up for a little dinner, and then got on my lap (my belly, actually -- my too-large-for-my-frame stomach has been a nice resting place for her body for some time now) and went to sleep for hours. I tried to sleep with her but it became obvious to us that she was failing, maybe not for the last time (she’d scared us before, only to recover and live on again). But she was definitely sick. Then, in the middle of the night, she started losing motor control and began meowing loudly. Not sure if she was in pain or just frustrated. It took a few hours from then: we put her in a clothes basket and brought her to the bedroom and comforted her in her pangs. Then, around 7 a.m., she died.

Fifi (short for Ophelia) was about 17 years old. Which is pretty darn old for a pet. Beth rescued her and her brother Socks (Socrates) from the wild and when we got married, the two siblings and another cat she’d also rescued, Morris, became my cats too. They were my family, and while I am very aware that they got to live much longer lives than they would have if they’d stayed in the wild, it still is very sad to have lost them. Morris must have been around 18 when he died in winter of 2000 after suffering a stroke. Socks, who was pretty fat, died 4 years ago on Nov. 1, due to complications from his diabetes. Fifi also was mildly diabetic, though it never seemed to affect her until recently. She was also born feline leukemia positive, meaning she was definitely a carrier and could have developed terrible complications and died early, but she never did. The vet doctors all recommended that feline leukemia cats be put down when it’s discovered -- apparently they are all convinced that no cat would ever survive it. But Fifi never had any troubles from it.

I guess I don’t have anything especially creative to say. I just felt I needed to talk a bit about her. I loved that cat -- I loved all of them; they were as much family to me as other people’s kids. Of course, you don’t feel the same about kits as you do kids, because kits are adults that pretty much take care of themselves. But Fifi, Socks and Morris were all as much a part of my family as humans would have been. They are all three buried in the yard now. Morris is in the back, under some trees (we call it Morris’ Woods), Socks is amongst the trees to the north of the house and Fifi went under the rich soil in front of the bushes in the middle of the yard where she used lie, taking stock of things.

We gave them a nice home here, and my continual unemployment provided me some very top quality snuggling time with the Pooks (one of many nicknames for Fifi). She would lie on my belly on the couch, trapping me in front of the TV, forcing me to watch endless movies for hours at a time, much of which was spent on American Movie Classics. Clint Eastwood, I know ye well. Those sessions would often leave me too hot to sleep. I’ve got this temperature thing, if I get too hot I can’t shed the heat -- Beth has posited that this is because I’m actually some sort of reptile. Very recently, I made the comment that I didn’t need a blanket if I had Fifi on me because she was the equivalent of 10 blankets. So, in addition to Ophelia, Fifi, Pooks, Pooky, Pook de Ville, Fiferlie, Pretty Girl, Her Fifiness, and other nicknames, we can remember that cat by her American Indian-style name: Fifi Ten Blankets.

Life would be a lot cooler if we all went by Indian names, don’t you think?