Sunday, September 17, 2023

Looking Back

I spent the day in the house.  I had plans to be a man about town, but that never transpired.  I have been bringing back boxes of prints from the storage unit and in the morning I opened one that had my ex-wife's name on it.  I haven't looked at those pictures for decades.  Once I started, I had to see them all.  It was o.k.  I am not bitter about my life.  I looked back and remembered things I'd not thought of for a very long time.  There were a lot of pictures, and after going through them all once, I decided I needed to scan them.  All I have are the 4x6 inch prints from wherever I took my film.  Most of the photos were taken with a little Olympus XA camera or some automatic thing, and since this was the age before scanners, I guess I didn't keep the negatives.  Weird, right, since I had been a Cracker Jack photographer in college and after?  Well, as happens sometimes, my wife, attracted to the crazy, creative guy, didn't want him to be quite as wild or creative, so I quit playing music, writing, and photographing for most of a decade.  It was the '90s, a time of bad films, "Seinfeld" and "Friends" and "ER".  People were "nesting."  Catalogs were of great interest and everyone was into cookware and home decorations.  Clinton was president and the middle class was urbane.  There were wine rooms and fancy dining, and there was travel.  We travelled a lot.  There were ski trips and hiking trips and much time in NYC where my wife's father had an upper east side apartment he was rarely in.  I had traded a filthy rich girl for a country club girl, marriage, and furthering my academic career.  

I took the box of photos into the office and began to scan.  That doesn't go quickly, of course, and once I had scanned ten or so photos, I would take them into Photoshop and cook them up as best I could.  Of course, some if not many of the prints are not ideal.  These were prints auto-adjusted by a machine and not a human trying for the best exposures.  Some took more time to fix than they are worth, but the music was playing and that always carries me through the hours.  And then it was mid-afternoon.  I hadn't even showered, and I still had to go to my mother's and get ready to go over to see Travis with my box of Cohibas.  

I was at my mother's by four and at Travis's just on time at five.  We sat outside with the Cohibas and some wine and told tales for a couple hours.  Most of them were travel tales.  Travis has been to 97 countries and is looking this year to round it up to 100.  I said I wasn't sure I had interest in going anywhere any more.  

I've been harangued for that a lot recently.  Q has a place for me to stay in Brooklyn next month and keeps telling me I need to come to California.  Sky, too, is adamant I need to go.  Maybe.  There are many factors, though, that go into the equation.  

When I got back from Travis's house, I thought about the box of pictures.  Where am I going to find the time to do all the things I think I need to do?  I am certain that no one is going to write a biography of me, and I thought that maybe I should do it myself.  I have hand written journals and letters and notes and cards that I have kept over the decades, and then there are all the digital files I've kept since the turn of the century.  There are not millions of words.  I'm sure there are billions.  And that takes into account the "Silent Decade" of the nineties.  

As I go through the photos, it strikes me that I am hardly there.  There have not been so many taken of me in my life.  My father, the great romantic traveller, took horrible pictures of the lands we travelled through but hardly any of my mother and I.  I was the photographer in college and have many pictures, but again, I am hardly there.  Then I travelled, and all the photos are of the places I went and the people I met.  Once in awhile, my girlfriend, the one from college and then the one that followed, each relationship of great length, would make a picture of me with a small automatic camera.  The film would go to some automat place and the prints would come back on that pebble textured paper they used to use for god knows what reason, and there I'd be, a tiny dot in the middle of a picture of land and sky.  On the other hand, however, their lives were well-documented.  

I can't write the biography after I die, of course, but, I wonder, should I write it in the third person?  Maybe I'll switch back and forth in a dialog with former iterations of myself as separate narrators.  That could be fun.  But the situation as it occurs right now is that I don't have anything in chronological order.  It won't be a typical biography, not the kind you might read about a famous writer or an old film star.  It would by necessity have to jump back and forth in time.  Hell, maybe even in hours of a single day.  I don't know.  This is just a bug I got up my ass yesterday looking at the box of prints.  

This, for instance, is a photograph of my wife on our trip to London in 1999 where we stayed in an apartment on the top floor of the Penguin Books building.  Her father was president of the company at the time.  The trip should have been ideal, but things were beginning to go off, and by summer we were in the process of divorcing.  I'd have much to say about this if I do begin writing.  I think the photo was taken in the coffee shop at the Tate, but I am not positive.  On the trip, I caught up with one of my good friends from grad school who was working for Sky TV at the time.  She had married an author of history books and was living on the banks of the Thames.  She took us to see Cate Blanchett in "Plenty" at the Albery Theater, built in 1903, then out to the country to look for bluebells.  But there is much scanning to do before we get to that.  It was a most magical time, though, for in the ten days we were there in March, there was never a cloud in the sky.  London, for me, is a bright and cheerful place where people never work but sit out in cafes laughing and drinking until the bars closed at eleven.  Yes. They closed at eleven and last call came at 10:45.  If for no other reason than that, I am an Anglophile.  Or was.  The ten o'clock closing hour is now of a bygone era.  To me, one who is early to bed, it was lovely.  

And here I am, 47 and soon to be divorced, drinking wine on one of those glorious sunny days.  This was the only photo of me in London in the entire box.  I think I was more handsome than this, of course, but I only had one shot, apparently, to prove it. . . 1/60th of a second.  No matter.  I always look like shit in photographs, anyway.  Maybe she was doing me a favor.  Looking back, though, I know that was not the reason.  

I was talking about the photos yesterday with my mother.  She does not watch all the 8mm films that I have scanned and put on a disk for her.  

"Looking back at all that is too disturbing, isn't it?"

I told her I didn't feel that way.  I know that other people do.  I've seen people throw away photos of their "former" lives.  I could never understand it, but maybe I am just too in love with myself.  Isn't there a name for that?  I'm pretty sure I've been called it before.  What was it?  Something to do with the boy who drowned looking at the reflection of himself in the water by moonlight.  

But Jesus Christ. . . how else would you ever know you were here? 

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