Sunday, January 7, 2024

First Gear

I'm trying, I swear.  Yesterday, anyway, I shifted into first gear, got the old thing going.  First gear felt pretty good.  

It was a gloomy morning full of wind and rain.  The temperature, though, was warm enough for shorts, but sandals were out of the question.  Too many puddles.  Early, I decided to go for a big, fat breakfast--3 eggs over medium, bacon, potatoes, and a big ole biscuit.  

I had beaten the crowd and ate in a nearly empty restaurant.  The food came out fast.  And it was good.  All of it.  Perhaps the rain was keeping people home.  Or maybe they were sticking to their diets.  I was having no trouble, though, filling my belly.  A man should be able to eat a good breakfast, right?  Whatever.  I felt guilty as I limped back to the car feeling that I had put on all the weight I had lost in the past ten days.  I was fairly ashamed.  

Back home, I decided to do a little "research" on things I have been wanting to photograph.  I used The Google: "pool halls near me"; pro wrestling near me; burlesque near me."  I ended up with a surprising list, mostly from the "Best Of" section of a regional hipster weekly publication.  Then I Google Mapped some things and wrote to my favorite lesbian and her friend.  

"I have sent an email to this group asking if I can photograph at one of their performances.  If you know anyone, please HELP!"

It turned out that the lesbian friend DID know some people at the burlesque troop, but she was better friends with another one.  She would text her friend a note.

Alright.  I had put a foot forward, had made my intention known.  I wrote to a couple little league pro wrestling groups that were performing in the area, too, asking if I could bring my camera.  I was committing.  

Surprisingly, there were more pool halls around me than I could have dreamed of.  I imagined they had all gone the way of the Dodo bird.  I picked out a couple to go spy, grabbed my cameras, and hit the road.  

The first place I stopped was closed.  There was no sign saying what time they opened.  I was in the hipster area surrounding the Cafe Strange, so I walked around with my cameras a bit to see what I could see which was nothing, really, so I got back in the car and headed to the second pool hall bar.  

The second place was located in what has become another hipster part of town.  I use the word "hipster" here loosely.  For blocks, there are new breweries and cocktail bars, vintage clothing shops and gay and lesbian dives.  Typically, it was a neighborhood that had seen better days, and so the rents were cheaper, but surely not for long.  The bar I was going to had a little parking lot in back once you navigated a narrow alleyway between buildings.  A few outdoor tables for smokers, I guessed, and a single pickup truck.  I grabbed a camera and took a deep breath.  "Alright," I said as I slid out o the car.  

I was greeted by a wall mural. 

I wasn't so sure this seemed so very hipster.  I looked at the rear door twice before I went in.  O.K.  O.K.  Big Balls in Cowtown, son.  In you go.  

The place was pretty big, and best of all, it was lighted by the overhead lamps above the pool tables.  It was great.  Trying to seem certain, I walked over to the bartender who was talking to the lone customer and held up my camera.  

"Do you mind if I take a couple pictures of your tables," I asked feeling foolish, waiting for him to tell me to fuck off.

"No, man. . . go ahead."  

Really?  It was that easy?  Well, the place was empty, so. . . .   I had my Monochrome with a big f 0.95 lens.  I walked around and took a few pictures, then went back to my car and got the Leica M10.  

There were colors I thought would work.  I walked around for a few minutes making snaps, and then, like a thief, slipped back out the door without saying thanks.  I just didn't have it in me, but I knew it was wrong.  

Well, I thought, there was that.  Now I would have to go back when people were actually playing pool and see if I could do it again.  I had the images in mind, but how would I go about it?  Maybe I'd tell them I'd buy their drinks while they were playing if I could shoot some photographs.  That might work.  Maybe.  It made me nervous.  Thinking about it was an easy thing.  Performance, though. . . .  

I drove to a fairly new art gallery I read about that morning.  I had seen it before but had never stopped.  The lesbian burlesque troupe I really wanted to shoot was going to be performing there in the near future, and when I looked up the gallery online, they advertised that they had a studio for photography, so I thought I'd take a look.  I pulled into another alleyway parking lot and slid out of the car.  When I got to the gallery door, though, it didn't open.  A sign said to call for an appointment.  I could see that the last exhibit paintings were on the floor leaning against the white walls.  There was a couch and a coffee table and some art books.  It was not a big space, and I wondered if this was where the burlesque troupe would be performing.  The place was much smaller than I imagined, but walking back to the car, I noted that the building extended twice as far as the gallery I could see.  Maybe more.  I wondered what might be back there.  I would try another day.  

Unbelievably, I was hungry again.  Maybe it was the rain.  I had been smelling all sorts of cooking foods as I wandered around, Saturday foods, weekend foods, and suddenly had a craving for a slice of pizza.  Where could I get a slice?  I remembered that Whole Foods had a pizza oven and served by the piece.  I needed a few things, so. . . yea.  

I grabbed some things and got a giant piece of pizza and headed to the checkout.  Only. . . I didn't have my "wallet."  I still haven't replaced my stolen wallet, so my current wallet is a rubber band.  

"I'm sorry," I told the checkout fellow, "I left my wallet in the car."

"No problem," he said.  "I'll ring it up and cancel it out.  When you come back, go to Customer Service.  They'll check you out."  

But my "wallet" wasn't in the car, either.  Shit.  Had I left it at home or did I drop it somehow in the bar?  I do keep some cash in the car, though, so I opened up a compartment and pulled it out.  $11?  Really?  Oh, yea, I remembered, the thieves had wiped me out.  

I limped back into the store and found Customer Service.  

"My wallet isn't in the car.  I'm only going to be able to afford the pizza." 

For some reason, I felt shame.  I looked homeless, a grubby, shaggy man with a limp.  "These people are always trying to scam us," I imagined the checkout thinking.  I handed him a ten.  "Wait," I said, "I think I have a quarter."

Back home, I found my "wallet" sitting on the kitchen cabinet.  That was a relief, anyway.  I opened a faux-beer and sat down at the computer with my pizza.  I wanted to see if anyone had responded.  

Indeed, my lesbian friend had texted.  Her friend said yes, I could shoot with them on Feb. 12.  She gave me the troupe leader's phone number.  I should contact her.  

I ate pizza and drank "beer."  WTF was I doing?  

I wrote to the burlesque lady telling her I was excited.  

There was a little league pro wrestling match in town that night, and I thought I would just go with my camera and see what happened.  But something was wrong with me.  I didn't feel right.  My limbs were heavy and my vision was blurry.  My head felt like a sandbag.  Maybe I'd eaten too much.  Maybe I hadn't slept enough.  I decided the best thing to do was lie down.  

Just then, I got a text back from the burlesque troupe leader.  She was nice, but she had a few codicils.  

Sure thing- we have a show 2/11 you’re welcome to shoot. 

I only ask you don’t shoot pasty pics
We get all files
You only post if performer gives permission 
No tagging individuals, just troupe
Oh, man. . .  this had been my third choice for burlesque troupes for a reason.  They were too "Chamber of Commerce" oriented on their website.  Their brand was "cute."  She wanted to control the group's image.  I understood that, but I was a bit crestfallen.  First off, I would never give anyone all my digital files.  Like her, I too want to protect my "brand."  And what the fuck was the thing about no "pasty pics"?  

I kept my fingers off the keyboard, though.  I would wait to respond.  

I decided to take a nap.  

When I woke up, it was already time to go see my mom.  I jumped up and took a quick shower, but I was feeling worse than before.  I felt thick of body and brain.  I couldn't shake it.  I was still feeling bad by the time I got to my mother's house.  

We sat.  We talked.  I wasn't much fun.

"You need to shake yourself out of it," my mother said.  "You look depressed."

Feeling funky always depresses me.  I couldn't figure out what was wrong.  Maybe I was catching something.  There was plenty going around.  

"Yea," I said.  "I will." 

I didn't feel like cooking, so when I left my mother's, I drove to my favorite sushi place.  What the hell. . . I'd already blown the diet.  

I was worried about getting seated, but there was no one else sitting at the bar.  I ordered a fair amount of food, but I stuck to Dry January and eschewed sake.  At this point, it seemed silly, though.  My resolve had already broken on the whole 1,200 calorie thing.  

Back home, I wanted my usual "worm killer" whiskey.  I really wanted it.  But I held fast and poured a sparkling water instead.  

After dinner, I felt no better, though.  What could it be?  My imagination went to the darkest places.  It was sad and frightening.  I wasn't up for little league wrestling that night.  

Ping.  Ping.  

Text were coming in.  The girl who barely asked me out had sent me pictures of her breakfast that morning--pancakes smothered in sugar and syrup.  How did she stay so thin, I wondered?  Some people, I guess.  She, too, is doing a Dry January.  She wanted to know "what's for dinner?"  She also wanted to know if I was going on the factory pub crawl next week.  She was, but she said she wouldn't be drinking.  

"I'm a definite maybe," I replied.  


Well now.  

My lesbian friend texted, and I told her of my concerns with the burlesque lady's response.  

"Yea, she can be a hard-ass.  I'll reach out to someone in the other troupe."  

"That would be good.  They seem more 'dangerous.'"

"Are you going on the pub crawl next week?"

I didn't want to.  It would be right in the middle of Dry January.  But I went last year and didn't drink, so I replied, "Probably."  

C.C. sent me a text about some freak show documentary series he and his wife were watching.  He sent me an article from Slate about it.  

"We've watched Season 1.  Now we're watching Season 2.  I hate everybody on the show.  Which means I love everyone on the show."  

I would have to watch it.  But I wasn't up for starting it that night.  I was doing an early bed.  I poured another sparkling water and turned the t.v. on.  I searched.  Holy smokes--one of the trashy "reality" series I like had two new seasons I hadn't known about.  It was on Peacock which meant I'd have to watch a few commercials, but what the hell?  I put on the first new episode.  This was just the thing for a sick night at home.  


My friend had made it to Bangkok.  She sent pictures.  Oh, wow. . . oh, wow.  

It was just after ten.  Episode one done, I cleaned the kitchen.  I was headed for bed.  

I have this series of minor league underworld stuff mapped out in my head.  I can see what I want to do.  But the reality of the thing is going to be much more difficult.  It is the negotiating with people that is hard.  They don't/won't have the same vision as I.  People are suspicious of someone with a camera now.  Everyone is a "photographer."  People have been inundated with images.  These are not going to be easy negotiations.  They are not going to simply trust or believe in what I am doing.  I was tired.  Everything was hard all the time.  Other people were happier, it seemed.  They weren't consumed with stupid things like shooting pool halls and strippers and jerky boys with wrestling dreams.  They were watching t.v. with their spouses or children.  They were eating pancakes and going on pub crawls.  I was fat and blowing my diet.  I was just another creeper with a camera.  Why?  Would I get out of first gear. . . and into second?

I took an Advil P.M. and a Tylenol.  Maybe I'd sleep.  Maybe I'd feel better in the morning.  

But. . . you know how "maybe" works.  

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