Monday, January 1, 2024

Meet the New Year, Same As. . . .

Happy New Year.  It is four in the morning, and I'm just getting home after a night with the ladies.  There is no better way to spend New Year's Eve than at a Gentlemen's Club.  Deep leather chairs, expensive liquors, waiters to light your cigar, and friendly women who are at your beck and call.  What a night!

Rather, I'm up at four after falling asleep on the couch and going to bed at nine.  I went on a little camera adventure to a distant town yesterday, and I guess it wiped me out.  That and the lack of calories, I assume, though I have heard people say they are invigorated by not eating.  I am simply depressed.  As I drove through the Southern American Landscape yesterday, it hit me hard how much of life is eating.  The highways are littered with restaurants, bars, and cafes.  Half of any downtown is as much.  Having had a little chicken and an apple for breakfast, I was o.k. but desires raged internally.  Oh for a cafe meal and a glass of beer.  

However, enough of that.  I wanted to get out early, but I couldn't make up my mind.  Leaving the house has become the hardest part.  But by ten, I had convinced myself to go.  I grabbed a bag with two Leicas, one film and one digital, and headed off to a town halfway between here and the coast.  I needed to "practice photography."  It couldn't have been a prettier day, the sky blue, the sun bright, the air just a bit cool.  

When I got to town, the streets were bare.  I found a parking spot on the street, grabbed my bags, and limped through cobbled streets.  The first thing I wanted to do was finish off the black and white film so I could develop it that night, but all I had was the people-less streets and old southern architecture.  The little downtown is truly gorgeous, more interesting than my own hometown.  But it is a cracker place, by and large, much like Grit City.  I don't know how it got that way.  It must have been something wonderful at some point in time, but now those charming downtown buildings are occupied by used record stores, bars, and restaurants.  Here and there, a few antique shops dot the streets.  I needed to walk/limp, so I did a couple laps around the town, ducking down alleyways and side streets.  I had only a couple shots left in the film camera when I got back to the car.  I spotted a young man across the street standing outside a bar..  He had long hair and was leaning against a blank wall checking his phone.  It looked like a movie poster.  I thought I should take the picture, but I hesitated.  I feel like Quasimodo and haven't the courage to approach people that I used to.  I almost started the engine, then I changed my mind.  "Fuck it," I thought, "what's the worst that can happen?"  So I grabbed my film camera and crossed the street.  

"Hey man, you look really good standing there," I said holding up my camera.  "Do you mind if I take your picture?" 

He smiled and said, "Sure."  I took it to mean sure, take my picture.  

"Don't look at me, just keep doing what you are doing."

I framed, focussed, and shot, then stepped behind the car parked at the curb and took another.  

"Thanks, man," I said, and he just smiled.  Just then some tall drag queens in sparkling mini-dresses walked out of the bar and into the street.  Ahhhh. . . no wonder that boy looked so cute.  Of course. 

When I got to the car, I rewound the film so I could pop in another roll of black and white.  And then?  Shit piss fuck goddamn!  I thought I had grabbed the camera with black and white film, but the roll that came out was color.  That photo was meant to be in black and white.  There was no color to it.  It was just a graphical thing.  And now, I wouldn't see the picture that night.  I took some color film in to have it developed last week and was told I could pick it up on the 10th.  The 10th?!?!  God knows when I will see the picture of that boy.  

There are so many errors to be made.  

I loaded in a roll of black and white and headed out of town.  Driving out on the main highway, downtown giving way to old hotels and restaurants, the highway eventually narrowing.  I kept an eye out for things "photographable."  Now here's the thing.  You have to stop the car and get out to take the picture, and too many times I'll think, "I'll stop there on the way back," but you forget or you go back a different way and the picture is never made.  That happened twice on my way out of town, and I passed up "Dixie's," too, telling myself that it was too plain, that there really wasn't a picture there.  Then, half a mile up the road, I pulled to the side of the highway and turned around.  When I got to the club, I pulled into the empty lot.  Oh, yea, baby. . . I was a real photographer now.  When I got out of the car, my legs were stiff, my heel hurting under my tremendous weight, my knee not quite able to straighten.  I waited for someone to come up to ask me what I was doing.  This happens all the time, especially in redneck places where everyone is a paranoid privacy freak.  Guys in pickup trucks will honk their horns and yell bullshit out the window or sometimes throw something at me.  I shit you not.  And people step out of the most unusual places looking like characters from "Deliverance" with that "life is painfully confusing and it pisses me off "look.  Before I was a cripple, even though anxious, I felt athletic enough to get out of really bad situations.  Now, hobbling painfully from my car, I felt an incredible vulnerability.  

"Don't be a coward, you little baby," I kept whispering.  "Nothing is going to happen."

When a pickup truck pulled around slowly from the back of the building, I could feel the hair standing up on my neck, but it made its way to the highway and was gone.  

I took a few photos with my digital camera, then with film, and feeling victorious, I headed back to the car.  When I put the camera bag on the passenger's seat, I spied my phone.  Sure.  Do that, too.  I hobbled back across the lot, took the photo above, and went back to the car where I cooked it up quickly and sent it to my friends.  

"Charming," replied Sky.  I don't think she meant it.  

"Great NYE activity," wrote my friend in the midwest.  

"Where's that?" asked Travis and Tennessee.  

C.C. gave it a thumbs up.  

Q gave it a heart.

Onward.  I was in the groove now.  I stopped at an old hotel, parked on the side of the road, and got out with my cameras.  Sometimes the people living in these places are "on the run," so to speak, and don't want you photographing their cars in the parking lots or anything else for that matter, so I wanted to make this quick.  But the sun was bright and flaring my lens, so I walked around until I found some shade.  No tatted, drug-crazed prison folk were doing the zombie walk toward me yet.  "C'mon, c'mon. . . get the fucking picture."  

My sphincter never relaxes until I am about a mile down the road.  I used to feel agile and athletic enough to be able to either knock a fellow out or escape him.  No longer.  I couldn't take a punch, and anyone could catch me now.  This shit is getting harder.  

I drove on, turning down crossroads further into the country.  I came to a State Park with a natural spring, but I had been there before and didn't want to pay the money, so I took a county road I'd never been on before.  It went on mile after mile after mile with nothing but fields and trees to either side.  It was the state I remembered from childhood before development ruined it all, just a two lane road with a car passing in the opposite direction every mile or so.  

The county road dead ended into another highway.  Left or right?  I turned right and saw a sign for "Barberville, a Pioneer Settlement."  I turned in.  For acres, there were old buildings--houses and tool sheds, a general store and a school .  I parked  in the gravel lot and went into the office.  "Ten dollars," said he fellow behind the desk.  What the hell, I thought.  He gave me a guide.  The town began in the late 1800's.  There was a map and a descriptions of what I would see.  

The day was warming up, so I left my jacket in the car.  I wandered from livery to general store to school house to woodworking and blacksmith shops.  If you have ever stopped at one of these places, you know what it looks like.  They had collected old tools and machinery, desks and stoves and beds, etc.  "Discover Yesterday Today," the guidebook said.  Much of it looked like my house which is nearly 100 years old.  I took the obligatory photos feeling myself the fool but having nothing else to do.  

"Whatever," I said as I limped more and more painfully along.  

After about an hour, I had walked the town, such as it was, and I made my way back to the car.  Well, I thought, it is a wonder what you will find just driving around.  As I nosed my car back to the highway, I was faced with the same question--left of right.  I chose right.  And holy smokes, there really was a town called Barberville.  And it looked like this.

Yup.  A hillbilly yard ornament place that went on for acres.  

The rest of the town was two gas station/minimart places.  What wonders one comes to when getting lost.  

By now it was just past mid-afternoon, so I decided that I needed to head back to my own hometown.  I was famished.  I almost broke down and stopped to get some chicken, but a Puritan instinct kept me pure, sound, and calorie free.  

When I got home, it was time to go to my mother's.  But I couldn't.  I just couldn't.  I was beat and wanted a drink, and since I wasn't drinking, I made a beet salad with goat cheese and wolfed it down.  Then I poured a cranberry juice and lit a cheroot.  I called my mom.  

I told her about my day, then. . . "Do you mind if I don't come over.  I'm beat."

Of course she said no, it was o.k.  I felt bad nonetheless.  It was New Year's Eve.  I should go to see my mother.  Instead, though, I took a soak in a warm Epsom salts bath.  And from that, I never recovered.  I was beat.  Still, I had to make some dinner.  Steamed brown jasmine rice, broccoli, and cod which I decided to batter and fry.  It was a struggle, but it was good.  And when it was eaten, I leaned back on the couch and closed my eyes.  I was out immediately.  When I woke up, I knew I had to clean the kitchen.  Then I fell back to sleep.  At eight, I got the kitchen clean and called my mother.  

"I'm going to bed soon, so I just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year."  

I struggled to stay awake until nine.  I wrote a couple brief text messages, as much as I could do.  I was dopey.  I was done.

And that is how I spent my New Year's Eve.  No booze.  Little food.  No girl.  Just the sound of fireworks as I passed out in my bed.  

Woke up at three-thirty.  Stayed in bed 'til four.  It is six now.  I am going to try to sleep.  Maybe, like Hemingway, I need a light for the night.  Maybe some gentle music.  Something that will give my brain a chance not to do what it does in the silent dark.  

Or maybe just the warmth of curling up with. . . . one of the girls from Dixie's!  'Cause I am giving up on True Love.  Love seems to last only for other people.  Not True Love, I know, but lower case "love."  Romantic love is doomed from the start.  It has all the makings of tragedy.  Or pathos.  I should have paid more attention.  

I will go about again today to "practice photography."  It is crazy good fun.  

Again. . . Happy New Year. . . whatever fresh horrors it might bring.  I can only hope we haven't the horrors of '23.  

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