Saturday, July 9, 2011

5 photos from my father

My father's favorite object was his Kodak Brownie box camera and  he took some amazingly lovely and straightforward photos with it. As a child, I'd spend hours pouring over our family album, peering into the faces and trying to figure out who these people really were, remembering the reality that the photos never showed but hinted at - who had just gotten yelled at for not standing still, for being silly, or cracking a joke. Over the last several years, I've begun to create my own collection by re-photographing the family albums. The advantage is that I have high resolution digital images that I can clean up in Photoshop without the expense and the "here's-hoping-the-photo-guy-knows-his-stuff" gamble. Here are five of my favorites:

This is probably Easter, 1954, because the girls all have new purses and the matching dress thing was common on holidays. The poufy sleeves tell me that my grandmother probably made them (she was big on poufy - I can still feel that elastic chafing my skin every time I look at them). The composition is great - I love the way they form a triangle against the rectangle of the house across the street and the distant branches pull the eye back to that poor excuse for a tree, connecting with Kathy's shadow.

The pool in the alley is an obvious favorite. I must have been two or three years old at the time and am not in the pool - the person on the far right is a neighbor, Judy Cornachuck. Stephen is threatening to sock Kathy and the look of anger on his face and shear terror on hers is a classic moment, the sort of thing I hope to capture in my drive-by photos of strangers, but rarely do. My grandparents owned the apartment building and these afternoons in the pool in the alley between the apartment buildings were always done with the hope that they wouldn't stop by and see us wasting their water.

This one of my mother, posing in front of the apartment building, also has that sense of frozen chaos - Mary, trying to look serene and calm while all hell breaks loose behind her, an apt metaphor for her life. I'm the one trying to stick my foot in the picture, Kathy, my sister is putting on her first communion veil, and a couple of neighborhood kids are hanging out on the steps. There was always someone hanging out on the steps - there must have been fifty kids that lived on that small city block. Like the last photo, my father has used a background element to split the composition in half.

This photo is a little closer to my mothers' reality - she's hanging clothes in the backyard while one of us draws in the dirt. We lived about a mile from Lake Erie in an area that I now know was at one time the bottom of the lake, so the soil was actually silt and sand and nothing would grow in it. From time to time, my grandfather would try to grow grass, but it never took. We made small paper people and played in it with them and our tin cars like it was the Nevada desert, fantasizing it was us driving through the sparse desert scrub and pines. We scraped Popsicle sticks over the surface to build elaborate roads and scratched lines for the layout of the houses. It was a great place to be a kid, in part, because I was too young to understand how violent and dangerous the neighborhood was getting. When I was 9, my 7 year old cousin David (he was technically not a cousin, but the son of my mother’s comare, which in her vernacular, meant "best friend") was held up a few blocks from our apartment for his paper route money. When he refused to give it up, the other kids tied him to a pole in the playground, beat him with his bicycle chain, and stabbed him. He lives in Hawaii, now.

I've always loved this one, but it meant more to me once I became a mother. This is the face my mother wore most of the time, especially after she started working. There are precious few pictures of her laughing or smiling. Five kids in eight years, the first arriving 9 months, almost to the day, of her wedding. The triangles, again, with the shadows on the bricks almost as severe as the ones across her face, yet, somehow, my brother and I appear light and soft. The shadow on the far right appears as if it could fall on her and the shadows to the left on the window and building reinforce the sense of pressure and foreboding.

The apartment was at 1775 Eddy Road, the 3rd apartment building down from Euclid Avenue, 2 blocks west of Superior Avenue. We moved in April of 1964. My grandparents sold the building in 1965. Much of the neighborhood burned in the riots of 1966.

Friday, September 25, 2009

fun and games with email scams

The following text is an email exchange between myself and "Joan", a mysterious fan of my "creative artworks" The point of this scam is that she will send me a bogus money order for more than the price I ask, then request that I send the difference back to her. A week or two later, the bank would call and tell me the money order was a fake and I'm now out whatever amount of cash I sent to her.

I'd love to have you think that the idea of messing with the heads of those who send email scams is my own, but, alas, it is not. But my hope is that Joan will email me back and I will post any future exchanges we have about her desire to have my "creative artworks hanged in So. Africa".

Joan Morgan wrote:
Good day to you.

I am so excited that I came across of your work on internet search,I am interested in purchasing these creative artworks from you.....................

I am also so excited that i came across your your email in my box called Comcast. My creative artworks are very special and mean much to me, big gladness they do you too .................

Mary and jesus Discuss Spring,Guradian eastern standard time,Sketch for the conversation,Lost in the garden

At first, I thought you were offering me your blessing and then I know - no - this is the name of my precious artworks, and I had a big laugh.

Let me know their various prices.and how much discounts are you going to give?

The prices vary from big to very big to big big big. The discounts are small to smaller to smallest.

I will be happy to have these selected artworks hanged in our new home in South Africa.

Then you will want the big big big price ones.

As well, I want you to take out the shipping cost.

Yiu have much Kindness in you.

I have been in touch with a shipping firm that will be shipping other house decoratives.

That is a handy thing to have. I, too, have shipping firm, but my house decoratives don't need to go anywhere.

We are traveling from our Dallas home to our new apartment as soon as possible.

Then you may want the big big big big price art work.

On Paying for the artworks,I will be glad to pay you with a Money Order or Cashier`s check in US funds that can be easily cashed at your local bank,

That is so good because that is a way of giving me your money that feels good to me. My computer people say always trust Money Order or Cashier's check in US funds that can be easily cased at my local bank

please let me know on how to proceed for the payment of the creative artworks.

You can contact me at my home in the US. I was suspicious of you desire for my creative artworks, especially because you want Guardian eastern standard time,but when i see Dallas I know you must OK.

I will await your advise on how to proceed.

I am confused.I think it depends on where you want to go.

Have a wonderful day.

how not can I when I know I get to sell my creative artworks for a big big big price? should I come to your home? I want to see So Africa (Dallas, not so much).

Take care,
Joan Morgan

Monday, April 27, 2009


#1. The building I work in houses the Somerville Council on Aging. They have accessible vans that shuttle senior citizens to and from the facility for meals, exercise classes, lunch, and a weekly bingo extravaganza. Because we all use the same elevator (I'm on the third floor and they are on the second floor) I've been watching this parade of the elderly as I take my smoke breaks for over 8 years and now and recognize the regulars. I know when one has been out for awhile, which ones are always cranky and sniping, and who always has a smile, no matter what daily pains they are enduring. Of all of the centers events, nothing pulls them in like Friday bingo. They start shuffling in at 10:00 for the 1:00 start to "get a good seat". Many use canes and walkers and a few have those scooters that are advertised on t.v. as being "free to most Medicare patients" (I heartily doubt that).

Part of me is glad to see them each week, but I must admit that my heart sinks if I am distracted enough to forget that a smoke break between 2:45 and 3:15 on a Friday will intersect with their mass exodus. And woe be to the person who comes between one of these ladies and their elevator ride. Even though they all seem to recognize me and often share light conversation in the elevator, they become aggressive and hostile if I've directed the elevator to go up to the third floor when they get on at the second floor and want to go down. Although the elevator is small, they pack into it and can take a full five minutes to disembark, occasionally pausing directly over the door frame as they try to decide where they're going to park while they wait for their ride or to catch their breath from the all the hubub of the days activities.

#2. How can you dislike a ritual that includes bouncing balls, flashing lights, free crap prizes, waves of blue hair, and the surreal sound of the caller, chanting "O-se-ven-tee-fiiive .... Ooooo se-ven-tee-fiiive"?

#3. In Massachusetts, it's often called beano, which is the original name, based on the fact that beans were used to mark the numbers when it first appeared in the States in the 1920's. Edwin Lowe spotted the game being played in Florida and took the idea to New York, where he produced his own variation of it. In the 1930's, he hired Carl Leffler, a Columbia University math professor, to create cards with enough number variations to keep the percentage of simultaneous winners low. One of the web sources says that Leffler subsequently went mad, a bizarre addition to Bingo lore and, with apologies to Mr. Leffler, I hope it's true.

#4. My mother was obsessed with church bingo and played it religiously (pun intended) for about 3 years. On occasion, my sister and I would go with her, Kathy with her flask of Southern Comfort (her addiction ode to Janis Joplin) and me with a joint or two. The rituals surrounding the game were ironically pagan-like for a catholic church sponsored function. My mother and the other ladies would flirt with the priests and preen for them, sniping over who had received more direct conversation with Father than the others. They would fight over a favorite seat, divine which were considered "lucky spots", and bring objects for luck, lining their totems up just so around their cards. In between the games, the priests would walk the aisles, selling lotto punch cards, a 60's predecessor to scratch tickets. I loved it, but for all the wrong reasons. Kathy and I, drunk and or high as we were, could never keep up with the fast pace of the games, so I would often just sit back and watch my mother , who could play 10 cards at once. She was angry when she lost, elated when she won, spending her winnings immediately on more cards for the next game or lotto punch tickets, where you punched out the hole and unfurled it like a tiny scroll to reveal the number on it, hoping it matched the card. She was a joy to watch. Her devotion to her rituals, the precise nature of her technique, and the orderliness of her process was my first inkling that my mother had a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, something that I've seen become magnified as the years pass.

#5. I've been trying to weasel me and my camera into the Somerville Council on Aging weekly bingo game for several years. I asked the director once if she thought it would be possible and she frowned, saying I'd need to get the OK from all of the participants and she was doubtful that they'd allow it. The closest I've come was about a year ago, when someone donated a new bingo machine to the center and they agreed to let me take pictures of it during setup. Once in, I recognized the woman behind the machine as one of the old-timey regulars and asked if she'd mind appearing in a few of my photos. When I was finished with her and the machine, I wandered for a minute and took a few pics of the cards. I've since used those photos in several collages, such as "still life #14" and "mystic river dreaming of mother".