The Five Dollar Shake

The other day, in an effort to wean myself off the political crack I’ve been smoking in ever-increasing amounts, I was scrolling through a gallery of photos. It was an attempt to motivate myself to maybe take a picture again someday. Anyway there I am scrolling away,  every once in a while stopping to click on a picture that grabbed my attention. I started wondering what is it about a particular photo that reaches out and triggers something in the brain? All the photos were technically accurate and well done. Many were similar scenes or subjects. Why does one out of many grab you?

It would be a curious experiment to take a hundred photos and let a bunch of independent folks pick their top 10. How many people would pick the same list? There’s something about that “it” factor that’s so hard to quantify. We know it when we see it, but none of us can explain exactly what “it” is. Probably because it is often different for everyone. This applies to art, music, food, writing…

I don’t know what the right word is to describe this phenomenon. How does one restaurant or bar capture that vibe or buzz, where a very similar one a block away sits empty? We have a local business that, after a gazillion (I’m too lazy to look up how many) years, is closing at the end of the summer. This place is basically a “beer garden”. It’s way out of the way. A limited menu of mostly fried food and simple non-craft beer. A run down, biker bar looking place, with nothing more than a giant dirt “patio” and a bunch of rickety wooden picnic benches. It does not have one element going for it that would indicate any possibility of success. It would be listed under marketing 101 as exactly what not to do.

During the summer months – packed. Score of cyclists make it an end of ride stop. It’s practically a requirement to go there after floating the river. Flotillas of people make multiple pilgrimages there every summer to drink beer and bake themselves in the dust. How is it possible that a place like that creates a vibe that works, without advertising, and the fancy new million dollar brewpub downtown goes out of business in six months?

It’s a strange thing. The marketing folks spend a significant portion of our GDP trying to artificially capture or create it. Sometimes they get it right. At the risk of the implying to the Taylor Swift army that they’ve won the battle, her new ad spot for Apple struck me. It’s simple, unexpected, and funny. Why did that ad grab me and not the 2.7 million others we see on a daily basis?

As is the on-going theme of my life, I have very little point to this. I think it’s worth spending time looking at art, or writing, or something outdoors, and trying to figure out of all the images we see each day – which ones grab your attention? Now go find more of those.

VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?
WAITOR: Nope.
VINCENT: Just checking.
_____________
VINCENT: Can I have a sip of that? I’d like to know what a five-dollar shake tastes like.
MIA: Be my guest. You can use my straw, I don’t have kooties.
VINCENT: Yeah, but maybe I do.
MIA: Kooties I can handle.
VINCENT: Goddamn! That’s a pretty fuckin’ good milk shake.
MIA: Told ya.
VINCENT: I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.

Winning Hearts And Minds

This morning I was procrastinating. This isn’t a surprise to anyone who knows me – I could win awards with my ability to procrastinate. Anyway, in my effort to avoid doing something actually useful I was catching up on Tay and Microsoft’s PR disaster. You have to marvel at the blind naivety of the folks who didn’t put any sort of filters in place. Anyone who’s been on the internet for more than about fifteen minutes could have predicted what was going to happen. The interwebs are full of trolls.

Moving on I found a post of pictures of office workers who had their food stolen out of the fridge. That’s some funny stuff right there. Then I started thinking about it. It’s happened to most of us. Your lunch goes missing from the break room fridge. Someone microwaves some nasty smelling three day old fish or fermenting eel, turning the entire third floor into a hazmat zone. What the hell is wrong with these people? What’s worse is that these are your coworkers, people you know, not some random stranger on the street.

The interesting part is that every single one of us would claim that our circle of friends and acquaintances would never do such a thing. It seems like every other posting on theFacebook is some inspirational quote about peace, love, rising above the negativity, and really good fried tofu recipes. Meanwhile it took less than 24 hours to shut down Tay with a barrage of some of the most vile stuff you can imagine – for no reason other than the amusement of trolls. Someone is out there committing this asshatery and it’s not just evil-doers.

I suspect there’s a whole lot of people out there leading a double life. They post the cute Easter meme on Pinterest, then leave their dog poop in the middle of the trail for someone else to deal with (or sidewalk if you’re a civilized New Yorker or Parisian). Someone is throwing all that garbage out the car window to collect on the side of the freeway. Enough of us are watching the Kardashians and Maury Povich that their ratings keep them going strong. Drive on any California freeway and the sheer number of asshole motorists will turn any Bernie Sanders voter into a seething road rage maniac… who will then go into the office and donate money because Sally’s niece is in the hospital and post a few adorable puppy pictures to their Instagram.

I’d like to believe that because of our opposable thumbs and ability to appreciate Ansel Adams, we can rise above negativity and mean people. I think the reality is that we’re one zombie apocalypse, water, food, or bourbon shortage away from survival of the fittest. When Amazon goes dark and you can’t get your selfie stick v.7 shipped the next day, I suspect our societal cohesion will disappear in a hurry.in-case-of-zombies-attack-break-glass-shotgun-apocalypse-now-meme

What does all this mean? I’m not sure. I don’t think it has to be depressing. Go appreciate some art. Get outside and see some nature. Try not to be a complete jerk to your fellow man. Pay it forward. Oh, and stock up on bourbon, toilet paper, and 12 gage double-ought buckshot.

On Art. And Bacon.

Once I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to win American Idol this year, I had to find something else to do with my time.  Lately its been taking pictures.  Or, ‘capturing photographs’ if I want to sound all fancy.  There is an odd side of me that needs to be creative.  It’s a strange feeling since I have almost no artistic ability (except that diorama I made in 3rd grade – 1st place!) and very little knowledge of art.  As the saying goes, “I can’t tell you what art is but I know it when I see it”.  Or was that pornography? I get them confused.

Posting the pictures I take makes me feel somewhat awkward.  On one hand, what’s the point of taking them if nobody ever sees them?  Am I turning into a Kardashian-like creature desperate for attention and trolling for compliments?  On the other hand there are 2.3 billion (approximately) other people out there doing the exact same thing.  And a fair percentage of them are actually creating stuff that’s damn good.  Heck, take a mediocre snapshot with your cellphone, slap an instagram filter on it and you’ll get a bunch of people on Facebook all liking it and commenting “wow, great shot!”.

So why bother publishing pictures to the various social medias du jour?  I’m never going to be an “artist” (I don’t even own Birkenstocks and I’m not a fruitarian).  I’m never going to be a professional photographer.  Other than baby and wedding photos, I’m not even sure it’s an actual occupation anymore.

From a technical perspective I’m at about a 5th grade level in the photography world.  I have visions of real photographers looking at my stuff and saying (always in a heavy French accent) “how cute,  someone found a copy of Photoshop”.

So why do it?  Because I can’t paint.  I can’t draw.  I can’t sing.  I can’t carve wooden bear statues or ice swans with a chainsaw.  Sometimes I see an image in my head and taking a picture is the only hope I have of getting it out.  Most of the time they don’t match what I was thinking.  But every once in a while… it feels like you get one right.  And if just one person out there sees it and thinks to themselves “hmm, that’s sorta cool” then I suppose it was worth it to share that brief image I had floating around in my skull.

The problem I have, as a non-artist with limited brain cycles devoted to creativity, is that the majority of the images in my head are about bacon (don’t worry, I’m in a twelve-step program for my addiction).  And bacon, while a delicious super food, doesn’t photograph well.

http://troutdogphoto.wordpress.com/

Paparazzi Failure

There’s a long list of things I’m not good at – gardening, polite chit-chat at parties, picking the shortest line at the supermarket, coordinating shirts and socks (Garanimals for men, please!), to name just a few.  Let’s add paparazzi to that list.  Ok, not paparazzi exactly.  If someone uber-famous wandered by… like maybe Michael Bolton or Flo from that Progressive Insurance commercial, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to take a picture.  But taking a picture of a complete stranger frightens the bejesus out of me.

You may be asking yourself, wait I don’t think this guy is a private eye so why is he stalking strangers and taking their picture?  Yes there is a bit of a creep factor here, and as long as no one mentions it to my parole officer we’re all good.  The real reason is that I’ve long admired the raw, unexpected, sometimes gritty images, that the truly talented street photographers capture.  There’s something about real people going about their lives that’s just captivating.

I wanted to challenge myself to learn something new, something I was uncomfortable with.  Poodle grooming is out so street photography seemed like a logical next choice.  The problem is that I didn’t anticipate how hard it is to take a picture of a complete stranger – being relatively close and obvious.  It just feels… invasive and a bit weird.  Of course I could resort to one of those gazillion dollar lenses you see at sporting events and stand two blocks away, but that defeats the purpose.  You can’t really capture emotion or the feel of something that way.

I’m not sure yet how I’m going to get over this irrational fear.  And it is irrational.  It’s not like someone is going to yell at me or chase after me.  Even if they do, I can be pretty fast when I need to.  I’m sure all that zombie apocalypse fitness training will pay off when that irate old lady gets all up in my face and wants to throw down.

So why can’t I bring myself to point the camera at a stranger and press the shutter?  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to print out a fake press pass?  Dress like a tourist?  Enroll in an expensive on-line course?  One way or another, I resolve to overcome this fear.  Sigh… maybe I’ll just go practice with more pictures of cows.  They’re not too scary.

 

Taking Pictures

I find myself with some free time these days, so I may as well be productive.  Photography is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never had the time for.  I’ve started a new site specifically for my photo experimentation:

troutdog Photography   http://troutdogPhoto.wordpress.com

Taking a good picture is like my golf game – I’m always surprised when a good shot happens and I usually have no idea how I did it.  I’m looking forward to figuring out what I’m doing and moving past the feeling of being such an amateur.  I don’t know where the photo thing is going… but what the heck, it keeps me off the streets!

Everyone Needs A Tattoo

A friend is currently designing a new tattoo for herself. I like what she’s come up with. What I like best is that it’s something that has meaning to her. It also really pisses me off. I’ve been ready for another tattoo for a while now. Something bigger. Art. Maybe something that can’t be done in one sitting. But here’s the rub – I have no idea what I want. It really bothers me that I can’t come up with something that is important enough. Something that has a personal meaning significant enough to commit to ink. Am I really that shallow that I can’t come up with an idea?

My first one was a spur of the moment sort of thing. A right of passage. Something to get out of my system. Poked around on the web for some flash, picked something I liked and went and found a shop. I still like it, but has no meaning whatsoever. I guess the significance was just to say I have one. When asked I just tell people I’m an expert in ancient, tribal, gekkota studies.

First One

Let’s get the tattoo rules out-of-the-way. Wait until you’re at least late twenties, if not thirty. Period. Any younger than that and you’re still trying to figure out how to tie your shoes, how to make a living in the world, and if you really like red wine or just trying to impress your friends. Neck, face, hand/finger ink, just say no. Sleeve or similar visible tattoos are cool, but just accept that you will immediately exclude yourself from certain jobs. Don’t even consider something highly visible it until you have an established career, and then it still better be a career that’s tolerant. Deal with it. It’s just the way of the world.

I’ve spent hours looking at various tattoo styles. Significant research. Ok, I watched a bunch of Miami and LA Ink episodes. There’s a new show now called Ink Masters that’s helping. I will now ask all potential tattoo artists to demonstrate their skilled shading technique. But what to get?

From an artistic standpoint I really like the Japanese styles. Koi fish and fu dogs. That really doesn’t fit my personality though. Besides, I hate sushi.

Koi

As far as more traditional tattoos I’m fascinated with skulls. I find the Day of the Dead sugar skulls pretty neat, but anyone who knows me would probably laugh if I had a skull tatoo. Besides I’m not catholic, so there’s no religious significance.

Sugar Skull

I do like the new-school bio-mech art. The problem I see there is that I think there’s only a few artists in the country who are doing it really well. I don’t have the attention span to do any actual research.

Biomech

Another option would be to just let an artist have free reign to design something. Errr, no that’s too scary. God knows what I’d end up with.

New School

Which brings me back to disappointment in myself. The logical thing to do would be create something that had real meaning for me. A favorite artist’s work. A quote or saying that helped me through a hard time. My all time favorite superhero. A stylized piece of cheese symbolizing my ancestors migration west from Wisconsin. I’ve got nothing. Zero. I can’t come up with anything. I feel so… so… superficial. My personal lack of anything meaningful has turned this into a quest.

If anyone has any ideas, please share them! If you have a deeply moving story about a personal loss I might consider adopting it as my own at this point. Nobody needs to know that the portrait on my shoulder of grandpa Joe, who we lost in WW II, isn’t actually my grandfather. People will appreciate the story. And secretly they’ll be jealous because everyone needs a tattoo. When you exit this world you’re not going to get extra credit for having kept your skin blemish-free. Scars and tattoos show that you lived life. You experienced the world. You weren’t afraid of what other people might think. Enjoy life. Go get that small, hidden tattoo that nobody would expect you to have. And no, it doesn’t have to have deep meaning.

At least not the first one.