Ghosts of Christmas Past
It’s that time of year again. Cutting down the Christmas tree, buying presents, sending out Christmas cards, going to parties and on and on. And it’s that time of the year when I return to the toy stores and look around. My kids are grown and I don’t have any grandchildren – yet – and I’m not buying a toy for a friend’s child so what the hell am I doing in Toys R Us? Wishing that I was still a kid. I have some “attitude” holdouts from my childhood – I still don’t consider “clothes” a present. For years I bought myself something “photographic” – it served 2 purposes – it was a present under the tree and a tax deduction. I’ve stopped doing that. As much as I like getting a new photo item, it doesn’t belong under the tree. I’ve given myself a variety of computer items over the years – both software and hardware – and I’ve stopped doing that. I haven’t banned all “adult” items. I do consider CDs (I still buy them), DVDs, something for my stereo or TV as “allowable” items, but I still think about those toys. Recently I was in the toy store, starring at the road race sets from AFX. I received a catalog from Hobbytown,USA and they had photos of more race sets from AFX. Boy, would I like to see that under my tree. My friend sent me a weblink of a company marketing sci-fi movie and TV model kits – stuff he and I used to put together as kids. I still have some of my models – the Flying Sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – but not much else. I loved my toy guns – my Johnny Seven OMA (for those who know), my James Bond and Man From Uncle weapons (I wanted to be Illya Kuryakin), secret agent attache cases and assorted other items. When I visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC several years ago, they had a section showing “toy items” and I was thrilled to see my 007 spy decoder toy in the glass display.
One of my best memories is my own personal “A Christmas Story” gift. It was 1964 and I didn’t desire the Red Ryder BB Gun that Ralphie wanted, my quest was a toy robot called “Big Loo”. It shot darts out of it’s chest, missiles from it’s feet, balls from it’s arm, it spoke, had a whistle, morse code clicker, could bend over and pick things up, eyes that lit up, had a water squirter that would shoot water from it’s navel and other stuff that I’m forgetting now. And just like Ralphie, that’s what I WANTED that Christmas. And on that special morning, I scrambled to the tree, opened up my gifts but didn’t see Big Loo anywhere. I was politely disappointed until my Mom pulled it out from behind the tree where it was hidden. My Ralphie moment.
And yes, that’s my Big Loo pictured above. I’ve thrown out almost all of my childhood toys, but I still have him. I want him in my coffin with me when I die.
My childhood and teenage years were spent growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood. And when I say “Italian-American” I mean the immigrants who found the courage to move thousands of miles, to leave their homes and everything they knew, to relocate and rebuild their lives in a foreign country. I know that I wouldn’t have the courage to do that.
Veterans Day 2010
Today I thank all the veterans for giving me my freedom.
Now this is a sight to behold.
Travelin’ by Train
Back in May I traveled to Lancaster, PA and took a ride on an old steam locomotive train. I recently returned from Scranton, PA where the National Park Service manages “Steamtown”, a National Historic Site. More historic trains and where I took another short trip. Great stuff.
In August a friend invited me along to a NASCAR weekend event at Watkins Glen International in New York. I’m not a racing fan but I saw it as an opportunity for some photography, a new experience and another getaway in his RV (love that RV!). Well, what I discovered is – it was Woodstock, only with beer and fast cars. A small city of RVs sprung up on this large field surrounded by the racetrack. All of the folks I ran into were friendly, and many started drinking their beers while eating their cornflakes and didn’t stop. Some dressed in what could only be described as – Halloween outfits. Besides racing, fans could get up close to their favorite drivers, and it was like a county fair with displays, food, and souvenirs on sale. At nighttime, the partying continued with – I really don’t know what to call them – small paper balloons that resembled hot-air balloons. The base was ignited with a match, the hot air from the flame filled the paper balloon and it flew upwards. And some fell back to the Earth, still burning. I couldn’t believe it. In any other place, this fire hazard would be banned. I felt lucky to be here.
Always a place to go.
Slice of Pizza
A new day. A new slice. I wonder what will happen.
Mr. Lincoln and National Security
On Monday, August 23rd, I awoke at 5 AM to travel into Washington, DC for some early morning photography. (The trip is referenced in my “Father & Daughter” blog entry.) I wanted to visit the Lincoln Memorial. My last trip was in 2008 and I had a great time photographing our 16th President. I like to go very early in the morning because there are few people present. I can “visit” with the President, read his words that are carved into the wall and reflect on his importance to our country. For me, the Lincoln Memorial is part temple.
I stood there with camera in hand, several lenses of varying focal length, bracing myself against the marble columns because I didn’t have a tripod (need a permit) or monopod and photographed the statue from a variety of angles. And I’m shooting, shooting and shooting. Finally, after several minutes I am approached by a police officer. “Who are you with?” he asks. For the next 5 minutes he inquires why am I taking so many pictures. I want to be clear – the police officer was never rude or belligerent. I did not feel threatened even though it is uncomfortable to be questioned. I explained why I take so many pictures. He wanted to know what I was doing in the city, who I was with, etc., etc. He quickly learned the answers even though he probably still didn’t understand why I took so many photos. (I assume that he doesn’t run into any other photographers, or maybe they just don’t shoot like I do.)
I do know this however – before 9/11, he would never have questioned me. When I hear our elected leaders say that we cannot let terrorism defeat us, that we must continue to live our lives as we would normally I think that the terrorists have won, if just by a little. I do not diminish the importance of being “aware of our soundings”. I am from New Jersey, a short distance from New York City, and there was the recent “Times Square Bomber” incident. We cannot be flip about the situation. We must all be careful. And, at the same time, my ability to simply “shoot to my heart’s content” at the Lincoln Memorial might not go unquestioned.
Dilemma for Superman
Even in the world of Super-Heroes, sometimes too many choices can be a bad thing.
My American Project
I’m seeking individuals who will allow me to take their portrait for my “American Project.” I’m looking for people who call and think of themselves as “American”. Not Italian-Irish-Hispanic-African-Japanese-etc.-American, but just “American”. I realize that this all sounds kind of silly but let me explain.
Before Columbus made his fateful voyage in 1492, there was no United States. And there was no Canada or Peru or Columbia or Mexico or Cuba and on and on. The United States is referred to as the land of immigrants, but the entire Western Hemisphere is the result of immigration. Europeans, African slaves, Asians – all traveled to and settled in North and South America. The indigenous tribal nations of the Americas were conquered by the immigrants and new nations arose. And in these nations, new citizens called themselves by their nation-names – Cubans, Mexicans, Canadians, Colombians, etc. Just one name. Not two. Descendants of African slaves also live in Haiti, Cuba, Brazil and they call themselves Haitians, Cubans, Brazilians. Not African-Haitians, African-Cubans, African-Brazilians. Descendants of Italians in Argentina call themselves Argentinian. Descendants of the Spanish in Columbia call themselves Columbian and on and on. Only in American do we hyphenate our personal history. “Fill-in-the-blank”-American. Why? Surprisingly it was a Canadian who pointed this out to me. She said, “why are people in this country afraid to say that they’re from here? Why do they always say they’re from someplace else?” I’m not sure that we’re afraid to say we’re an American, but we don’t identify with it. We identify with our heritage. And it doesn’t matter if you’re 5th generation American – I still hear, “I’m Italian.” In the past the Italians were Romans but that changed. At what point aren’t you just an “American?” With our different complexions and facial features our ancestral heritage is obvious. But maybe if we only referred to ourselves as Americans, that might bring us together. So that when we hear about an injustice to another American, we won’t say, “I’m not an African, Japanese, Hispanic-American so I don’t care.” We’ll say, “It’s an American calling for help and I’m ready.”
So if you think of yourself as an American – it’s the only word out of your mouth – and are willing to let me take your portrait, contact via email – email@example.com – I’ll come to you, and however you would like to display your Americaness – with a flag or something, it’s your choice – I’ll be there. And in time I will be posting your photo to a website “Made in America” where, besides your photo, there will be other images of uniquely American icons.
(If someone wants to participate and they’re too far for me to travel, submissions are welcome. The same rules apply for American icons. I haven’t been to Mt. Rushmore, and won’t be going anytime soon, but if you have a photo to share, please do so. IMPORTANT – The Copyright of all submissions must be owned by the providers of the photographs. You cannot submit photos taken by someone else without their permission. Please download a consent form here – America Project – and mail with your submission. Full credit will be given and originals will not be returned without an S.A.S.E. Thank you.)
The Weekend of Gettysburg
This is the weekend that in 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg took place. And most of us forget that this is the battle that changed the war. That saved the Union. It’s hard to imagine, but we almost became two countries. For all those who are angry about our nation – justified or not – think what might NOT have happened if we were 2 countries. Would we have won World War 2 and defeated Hitler? Would we have landed on the Moon? Would we have become a superpower, not just with our military, but with our economy? We might have become just another two nations – not a leader, creator, inventor – just a couple of 3rd rate countries that didn’t matter.
And one of the greatest Presidents and leaders in the history of the world might have been forgotten – Abraham Lincoln. On November 19, 1863 he delivered one of the greatest speeches in the history of mankind. And he wrote it himself. Not a staff of writers in his Presidential bullpen, but himself. For those who have never read it….
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.