As I began to head back down from the roof deck and enjoy the tacos my wife had been preparing. I was greeted by a really kind couple by the bar. After a short chat, I was asked if and where they could see some, if any of the pictures I had just taken. I gave one of them my card in hopes of sharing before I headed downstairs. While there are probably countless people living here, my hopes are to run into them again and possibly lear more from natives of the city I’ve come to call my home. In the meantime, this post and these pictures are for them.
I first met Al when he was playing bass for New Jersey’s Dog Tired. A punk band heavily influenced by bands such as the Pogues and Still Little Fingers with lyrical muscle that might find itself swimming with more emotive bands such as Dischord Records Rites of Spring and Embrace.
When I moved to Manhattan in 1994, I began to see more and more of Al. I always and still do, consider him a good friend. Enjoying going to see him in a number of bands including The Fury’s (Who eventually changed their name to The Truents.) and (pictured here.) The Deviators. Though I haven’t seen Al in years, I’m sure if we ran int0 one another, we’d be able to pick up just where we left off. If interested, you can find more information about Dog Tired, The Truents and The Deviators on Discogs. I’ll leave a link just below.
If you’re lucky, life will provide you with many colorful and complex characters. One’s who, despite their flaws, weaknesses, and complexities, provide you with the warmth of their love, stories, and experiences. For me, my childhood would provide me with countless adventures, characters, and stories to share for years to come. Thanks to a less than storybook youth and a knack for remembering even the most minute details. I’ve been given a portal to many of the people and exchanges I had throughout those very impressionable years.
Of all the colorful characters I met, regarded as friends and became part of my extended family. Some of the brightest loomed just around the corner at the local watering hole. It’s where I went from ordering my steak and burgers well done to medium-rare. Where I learned that calamari was just a better way of saying breaded squid, it’s where I met one of the bar’s regulars Roger Dodger.
Roger had dirty blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and when I come to think about it, looked a lot like a younger William Devane. I’m not sure of exactly when we met, but he soon became a familiar face and someone I looked forward to seeing when my dad’s girlfriend opened the bar, or I was returning from my nearby little league game. At the time, I loved coming into the bar for a cheeseburger and fries or a plate of calamari. I’d always sit next to Roger and talk about baseball while stuffing my face with whatever was on the menu.
At the time, I was crazy about baseball and had gone from being a back alley slugger to my first year in little league. With Shea Stadium standing over the junkyards and fly by night auto repair yards just a short distance away, I quickly latched on to Flushing’s lovable losers The Mets. Though Roger and I both loved the game, Roger was a dye in the wool Dodger fan who attended his share of Brooklyn Dodgers games as a kid. He’d joyfully reference players with names like Newcombe, Pee Wee, and Duke. Players, who though retired, were considered legends of their time. The mere mention of such icons brought much glee and color to our conversations; Essential ingredients to ad to my young and still very impressionable psyche.
One day while enjoying a spirited discussion about the game. I decided to take a detour by asking about what he did for a living. “I have a truck route where I deliver beverages to local bars and restaurants.” Looking back, it made sense. While I never did see a vehicle, uniform, or hand truck. Considering the timing of many of our encounters, I didn’t see any reason to question.
Fast forward a few years, and while visiting my dad, we happened to watch the movie ‘Goodfellas.’ While it instantly became my favorite movie of all time. I saw many similarities between the characters and the people I grew up around. It opened the door to conversations we had never had before. It wasn’t long before Roger came up. I remember referring to Roger, commenting that he was one of the kindest people I had met during that period. My Father followed with a big exhale of laughter. “Yeah, he loved you, which might be the only reason he never murdered me.” Strangely enough, it turns out that Roger was also a hit-man who fulfilled contracts for both the Irish and Italian mobs. My dad, who was always a great storyteller, was kind enough to detail his methods and some of the places he’d dispose of the bodies. When all was said and done, he had made quite a name for himself before meeting his demise. And though the thought of unknowingly trusting a contract killer with your time might seem fucked up. It was all a part of what I always considered a pretty normal childhood. And though Roger might have raised some hell in his time. I’ll always look back on my days with him, our conversations, and how he always treated me as positive. I was lucky to learn early in life that things aren’t necessarily black & white. Maybe, just maybe, it goes to show that every man, woman, and child has a purpose and a place in this crazy, sometimes upside-down world.
Earlier today as I was waiting for the elevator, a man who closely resembled a healthy mix of my Dad and a mafiq hitman who is either on his way to execute a contract or preparing for a life in witness protection . Though I didn’t mention either, his striking look and mannerism seemed enough to get us past the usual “How are you today?” or any mentions of the weather.
Though memories of Just Jake’s, Depot Square, The Meatlocker didn’t immediately roll off the tongue. My long time friend, Mandy did. Having lived in New Jersey for over a decade, Montclair, with it’s little downtown always offered something to eat, drink or do. No matter the draw of the town, it was always the time I spent with my longtime friend that made everything seem so much better. Her laugh, her smile, her kindness and positive attitude always inspired me in enen the darkest times. Despite our geographical locations and the fact that we are almost polar opposites, we’ve managed to stay close friends for over thirty years. Now, with her now living in Europe and me residing on the West Coast, it hard to say when we’ll be able to sit in the same room together. However, with tools such as Skype and social media, I’m sure we’ll be able to keep in touch for years come. If you’re lucky enough to find someone, anyone who loves you unconditionally and not only accepts you for who you for who you, but reminds you how special you are to them, be sure they know how much you appreciate and cherish the fact that they’re a part of your life. Thanks to that dude by the elevator for jogging my memory.
John was good, very talented soul. A tall red-headed gentleman with a gifted voice that could carry you to the moon and quick sense of humor and that would send even the most cynical asshole into uncontrollable tears of laughter. Like many good souls. John had his demons. One’s he would keep to himself throughout his life. His way of dealing or not dealing with these unresolved issues was drinking. On the occasions where he did hit the bottle. He would often drink to excess and to the point of no return. In the end, it was his addiction and love for guns that would lead to his suicide.
While on many occasions John’s drinking and gun play would end with a few gunshots and random bullet holes in his family’s home. His wife always seemed to perfectly time her departures and calls to the local police. During what would turn out to be John’s last implosion. Instead of firing some shots into the home’s interior. He pointed the gun at his head. Threatening, “You don’t think I’ll do it.” “You don’t think I could.” Pleading for him to put the gun down while gripping their young, screaming child. She reached out to him as he pulled the trigger.
Hearing the news, even years later in a conversation about my Father’s history of drinking sent shock waves, though never intended on my Father’s part through me that would echo for years to come. Less than a year later, I would be hospitalized for panic attacks and anxiety related issues. John was more than a friend to my Father, Mother and myself. He was part of our extended family. I still have the pictures from me and my Dad’s first visit. The pictures of him and Stallone on the movie set. As well as visual memories of the Queens garden apartment he shared with his soon to be wife. Though recalling his suicide was painful. Thinking of him brought back memories, many good ones, I had either buried or forgotten. Little adventures and excursions to the local parks and fields with our dogs. His great big smile, barreling laugh and infectious sense of humor. My fondest memories of John will always go back to when I was a very young child and both he and my Dad had city jobs as bus drivers with Tri-Borough Coach. As a kid growing up in an imperfect world with it’s own problems and imperfections. He was somewhat of a super hero to me. Someone I loved and looked up to. He never revealed that dark side to me. Which, for better or worse. May have been a reason why I took the news of his suicide and underlying issues so hard. News that brought on some pretty intense panic and anxiety attacks. Looking back , I’ve learned from experience, to remember people for all the good they did and the many positive impressions they left on you. Focusing on one negative incident or action will never impact you in a positive way. Though it’s taken me years to fully realize that. I’m happy to recall so many of the good things John and many others added to my life. Acceptance and forgiveness go a long way when it comes to finding peace of mind and closure.
As I was going through years of medical records that included but were not limited to CAT Scans, M.R.I.’s, and visits to the emergency room. I began to feel overwhelmed and somewhat depressed. While I understand that medical, W-2’s and tax returns don’t tell the true story of the lives we’ve lived and led. Seeing much of your experiences and struggles on tax return or hospital discharge can be quite the mind fuck. So when I found this envelope resting within years of hundreds of files deemed “important”. It was the life preserver that kept me afloat emotionally. While I often beat my chest about my disdain for living in the past and preserving memories by constantly reliving them. I am quite an archivist.
I have a couple of books filled with everything from published articles to concert ticket stubs to notes passed to me in the eighth grade from my first big crush. My decision to keep or discard often come down to how these things made me feel originally or their importance to a specific time or experience. For christ’s sake, I still have the hollow point bullet my Dad gave me when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure there was a life lesson attached, but for the life of me. Neither myself nor my Father can remember. In no way am I a hoarder. I’m quite neat and organized. Often taking time to purge the less important things. Still, I’m often amazed by the amount of moments I’ve managed to save.
I was sitting with my friend going over the weeks sessions when I half jokingly said, “You’re going to put me in the poor house.” The remark was in response to his pointing out the next expensive item I needed to invest in. Being that the last six or so months had seen me purchasing a new camera, a lens, photo software, a sturdy tripod, new umbrellas and a studio light to name a few. It seemed a proper reaction. Then I thought about the education he’s been giving me and I suddenly found myself eating my words.
As I took a moment from my mason jar of home-made tea. I thought about how much time and effort has been invested in bringing me back and making every studio session better than the last through honest critiquing and continuing building blocks. And I continue to book shoots and regularly use the tools and knowlege given. My confidence builds, allowing me to have more creative control and in the end, satisfaction. For now I’ll keep my “thank you’s” to a minimum and use my time to listen, learn and appreciate. 感謝、私は残っています。
With plans to meet Kayuri’s childhood friend Junko and her daughter Miku in Kawasaki for lunch and a possible trip to the theater to see the new Star Wars movie “The Force Awakens”. Junk, who is originally from the Tokyo are eventually moved to South Korea when her husbands job transferred him there. However far, no trip to Japan would be complete without a day with her. I first met Junko when Kayuri and I were still dating. By far, one of my favorite people I’ve met through my wife. She’s been an important person in our life despite the limited time we’ve had together. She flew to New York to be the bridesmaid at her wedding and left a very positive foot print when she left. Unfortunately, after lunch and shopping we didn’t have enough time for the movie. Instead, we made plans to see it together before she left for home. Spending most of my day on the trains and at the mall. I really didn’t have many opportunities to take many pictures. Spending quality time with good people sometimes takes precedent.
Last week I dropped by unannounced on an old friend with nothing but a smile and a case of beer. It had been years since I last saw Gary, but the memories and appreciation for this old friend had never wained. I first met Gary when I was sixteen, maybe seventeen years old. At the time I had just met and had begun dating his daughter Casey. At the time I had already perfected the “Meet the Dad” thing and had developed quite the silver tongue. As I sat there in his living room. Gary popped the top on his can of Budweiser and the conversation began. As we spoke about our common interests such as Hockey, power tools and of course his daughter Casey. Gary leaned back in his chair and breathed in before saying “Listen James, I like you. You’ve got a good line of shit.” It was a strange moment. One that I remember vividly years later. The man was honest and forthright. A gritty, no holds barred kind of man. A union guy who got his hands dirty at work, just like my step dad. Since that day Casey and me remain trusted friends and I’ve kept in touch with Gary through family events and unannounced visits. Till this day, he’s still as honest and forthright. A hard worker who, despite retirement, keeps himself busy and his hands dirty. Years may pass without a visit, but he welcomes me every time with a smile and an offer to stay as long as I like. He reminds me that, as we get older we learn to appreciate the little things in life and cherish the people we invite into it. My appreciation for Gary, the way he welcomed me to the family in my teens and the way he still welcomes me in to his life and home goes a long way. As I get older, I’ve grown to appreciate these little moments and exchanges more and more. Whether it’s reaching out to a stranger or dropping in with a case of beer on an old friend. These little things can make a difference in someone’s day and even their life. It sure goes a long way to make my own better.
I really wish more of my little studio sessions were as laid back and effortless as my day with Ruthie. Though this was essentially two friends getting together and just chilling out on a less than busy day. It allowed me some time to play around with my lights and take my camera for a walk. As the day quickly passed, we shared stories, listened to music, drank wine and smoked cigars. There came a point where she looked so relaxed and comfortable. A blissful moment that was shortly interrupted when she raised her head and told me how much she hated having her picture taken. It was a strange moment, considering how incredibly relaxed and natural she looked. The simple truth of the matter is she trusted me. She felt comfortable enough around me to allow herself to relax and feel beautiful. I was pretty humbled, to say the very least. You know, I’ve always loved taking more personal pictures of friends I’ve made along the way. Making new friends through the pictures I’ve taken seems even more important.