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White Noises.

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I’ll be honest. I hate following traditional directions. I am a landmark kinda girl. Don’t tell me go North two hundred feet and turn East following Route Fifty-Sixty and then Route Fifty-Sixty turns into ShutYourHole Boulevard and then blahblahblahdeeblahblah.

Tell me turn right at the tree with the rope tied around it, slow down at what used to be the supercool theatre back in the day but is now storefront with a painted baby buggy on the window, do a U-turn at the point where you can see they had to paint over the white lane lines, look for the slightly taller than normal fire hydrant and then….

Yeah. That’s how I like it.

I remember the little things. My brain likes the things I am not supposed to remember.

I often forget a name but I almost never forget a face.

I have been watching TV and will pause the screen when I see an actor, just some schmo in the background who has worked in other shows as a schmo in other backgrounds who I cannot place immediately. And I wait. And I wait. Until it comes to me. And 99% of the time it does. I might not remember his name (although I would guess it’s Joe), but I will be able to tell you the other eighty backgrounds he’s worked in.

When I see someone at the store, or gas station, or driving down the street who I just know I know but cannot place – I obsess on that person until I get it. And 99% of the time I do.

It could be the guy who was in line behind me at the Jewel two weeks ago and sneezed so I looked at him and blessed him. Or the woman who parked next to me months ago at the gym who opened her door and got out while talking loudly on her cell phone, so I noticed her.

I am a little weird so if I see the sneezing guy again much later, let’s say at the dry cleaner’s, I would say “Hey, Sneezing Guy! I was in line in front of you at the Jewel! I blessed you! Remember me?” Because to me that is the sort of thing I remember so why wouldn’t he.

And he’s all like “Uh. No. No I do NOT remember you, Freak.”. And then he pepper sprays me.

It is the stuff I remember.

I was looking through some old photo albums the other day. Pictures I have seen many hundreds of times. Pictures dating back 5, 10, 20+ years. And as I’ve done hundreds of times before, I look at the backgrounds of them. Pictures from 35 years ago…the main subject matter is a given; me and my sister in front of our childhood home.

I long ago memorized what we were wearing, the tilts of our heads, the shadows we cast. But I have also memorized the backgrounds. The things that aren’t supposed to be important to the shot, the stuff that is simply supposed to serve as the irrelevant backdrop.

I see the small smear of white crayon on one yellow brick to the right of the front door. I remember it. My sister had drawn on that brick one day and she got in trouble for it. In the picture you would probably mistake it for a glare of light. But it’s crayon, and it stayed there until the day my parents moved out of that house forever.

Then there are the crowd shots. Me and family or friends in front of national monuments, buildings, scenery…in crowded places, with people who over the years have evolved into the main focus when their job was to hang there as faded, white-noise enhancements to – us.

I notice the people, the mundane, nameless faces in the background merely caught by my camera in a split-second of borrowed time. But there they are, and I know their faces and expressions so well that if I ran into them on the street tomorrow I would stop, tilt my head back, close my eyes and wait for it to come to me.

My eyes would flash open fiercely with awe and excitement as if I had just invented the toaster, and I skip happily up to angry-looking-woman-wearing-a-yellow-shirt-and-pale-blue-baseball-cap-looking-behind-off-to-her-left-while-standing-to-my-right-at-the-Lincoln-Memorial-in-D.C. and say with all the familiarity of lifelong friends…….

“HEY!!! Angry-looking-woman-wearing-a-yellow-shirt-and-pale-blue-baseball-cap-looking-behind-off-to-her-left-while-standing-to-my-right-at-the-Lincoln-Memorial-in-D.C….how the hell ARE you?! Man it’s been, what, 19 years?? Oh, mannnn, it is good to SEE you again!”

And then that bitch would pepper spray me too. Or maybe taze me, I don’t know. She definitely looked pissed.

It’s funny. That woman is perpetually, forever, frozen in time to me as pissed off. I have made up reasons for that in my head over the years: her kids were lagging behind. Her husband was bitching about being hungry. She had just discovered her wallet was stolen. She realized that she was in D.C. when her flight was supposed to have landed in Seattle but now she was trying to make the best of it.

I will never know that reason, but I would know her.

Background people in photos have always fascinated me. They are not photo bombs because they aren’t even accidentally the focus, and yet I focus on them anyway.

They do not know they are a part of my life as I view it through the prism of frozen memories. Thousands of those people over my lifetime, trapped in my subconscious as they were caught on film. Burned into my memory.

Then I think, how many pictures am I in across the world, just hanging out in the background? Sneezing. Shoving a hot dog in my mouth. Looking bored. Yelling at someone. Laughing.

Is there a picture on a mantle in England of the happy couple in front of the Coliseum in Rome, and not so far back and a little to the right is me looking frustratingly through my fanny pack for my passport?

In photos that are incredibly important and meaningful to people all over the world, is me. Doing something. Or nothing. Innocuously. Or maybe even conspicuously. But I am there, unknowingly emblazoned in their brain as a forever part of that one frozen moment.

And you are too.

I am telling you right now, I want you to know that if you ever come running at me like a linebacker in the mall and say “Oh my GOD! Girl-scratching-her-ass-with her left-hand-while wearing-sunglasses-and-jean-shorts-and-striped-tank-top-with-her-right-hand-on-her-right-hip-in-front-of-the-Golden-Gate-Bridge….holy SHIT…how the hell ARE you!?!”….

I will not taze you, Bro.

I will not taze you.

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Dissonance.

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It was my favorite kind of day in Chicago. Sweatshirt and shorts weather, the perfect combination. Like chocolate covered pretzels – just sort of perfect in its dissonance. I knew when I woke up that morning I would call in sick to work. I was not sick.

It was 1997.

I did not know what I wanted to do that day, only that it was a morning I simply could not allow the same routine to exist.

I laid in my bed trying very hard not to allow the creeping feeling of guilt to lie on the pillow beside me. I instead allowed the just-fuck-it side of me to yawn and stretch and wake up. I said Hi! It’s about time you showed up, and I left a voice mail for my boss with some thinly veiled reference to things coming out of both ends of me…must have been something I ate…I should feel better tomorrow.

I lived alone. I sat up wishing I had a destination but was motivated to get up despite not having one.

I could tell through my curtains it was hazy outside, cloudy. And cooler than it was warm. This was good. I did not want the pressure of having to do something typical on a beautiful, exceedingly warm nearly Fall day such as ride a bike along the lakefront.

I stood up and got a head rush and waited for it to pass. I almost never wore my robe. But this morning I closed my bedroom door and took it off the hook. It was green, emerald-green. It is still green and I sometimes still wear it, but that was maybe the 5th time I’d ever put it on. It felt so nice and warm, and then I slipped on my slippers.

Taking probably seven steps I was standing in the middle of my living room. No noise except the vague sounds of traffic outside. I wished, deeply, that I drank coffee because that would have been the first destination. But I don’t drink coffee and never have. It sucks to not drink coffee, I thought to myself.

So I peed instead. No, man, not on the living room floor. I managed to get to the toilet. As I sat on the cold seat I thought, smelling coffee or bacon right now would be nice.

Done, I went to my refrigerator. Which was at the back end of my very long clothes closet. Which was of course just off the kitchen. So acceptable was this peculiarity in my 20’s.

Diet Pepsi was my poison, my caffeine. It is still so awesome. I opened a can and started to drink and took a step back.

The nice thing about having your refrigerator in your closet is that you can stand and stare at both and think…everything in here sucks, and have it apply to both your clothes and your food.

I made a slight belching sound and shivered at the coldness running down into my stomach.

I moved a box of crackers to get to a pair of my shorts. Then reached overhead and moved a box of stage makeup I’d had since high school to get at the comfy grey sweatshirt with no logos or words on it.

I took those and my poison and schlepped into the bathroom and got undressed. I started the shower while simultaneously brushing my teeth. I had to run the cold in the sink to ensure the hot in the shower would stay hot for longer than three minutes. I honestly have no idea if this was a factual cause and effect. But it happened once, and so I continued to do it for luck. My shower water needs to be just shy of scalding.

It was a big claw-foot tub that you almost needed a step stool to get into, and like every morning I showered I prayed, please don’t let me die getting into this thing because that would be a shitty and embarassing way to go.

While washing my hair I had two epiphanies: 1. I wasn’t even hung over and really wanted an Egg McMuffin. And 2. I was going to walk around my neighborhood and take pictures all day.

I was taking a photography class during this timeframe and I was suddenly excited that I had found the perfect justification for this day of hookie.

I rushed through my shower. I put my utilitarian underwear and bra on, khaki shorts and grey sweatshirt and blow-dried my long hair into a screaming knot. Instead of brushing it out in clumps I threw it up in a clip. A little makeup. Very little. Some blush and my ever-present lip gloss.

I was moving quickly now with purpose. Back into the hunger-closet to get my backpack. And then into the barely there little corner storage thingy in my bedroom to get my camera.

I opened the bag and began flipping through all the unused rolls of film. Yes, film. Film. The stuff Kodak used to make. Do they still make it?

Black and white. Sweet and salty.  Black and white.

I took two rolls. One Fuji and one Kodak, because I had just learned the difference between the two. I’m sure it was some subtly profound difference – but I couldn’t tell you now if you paid me.

I loaded the camera with the Fuji. I guess because it felt more exotic and leant itself to the possibility of something really cool happening. Fiji. Fuji. It’s how my mind works.

Shoved some crackers and keys in my bag, and walked quickly to the door. I banged my knee into the door jamb having not taken into account the backpack also needing to get through the opening.

Motherfuckkkkkkker, I whispered.

People had to go to work, after all, and I didn’t want to wake the poor bastards up. Skin was torn away from my knee but not bleeding so I slammed the door behind me to vent my anger.  Wow, so loud. I might as well have yelled MOTHERFUCKER at the top of my lungs.

I decided to walk North onto Broadway toward the not as nice part of my neighborhood and meander around in concentric circles from there. I had no idea if I would find anything which would be worthy of my Fuji. But there were some things. There were.

I stopped at Graceland Cemetery.  Cemeteries are usually beautiful to me and this famous one was no exception.  Through a chain-link fence bordering off construction I focused my paltry 35 mm lens on a tombstone.  Frankenstein.  That’s all it said.  Frankenstein.

A beautiful old church was being shredded apart with a wrecking ball, but the entire stained glass wall behind the altar stood alone.

Two ancient men smoking pipes and speaking to each other in what I assume was Polish.

A mobile HIV testing van.

And more, all worthy of my fictional gastrointestinal issues.

But I cannot find those pictures.

I have one.

The chain locked doors of a Pentacostal church which oddly held only evening services according to a sign on the lawn.  Two comically goliath doors were chained together.  Trying to keep the sinners out or keep them locked in?  From a half block away the wooden doors loomed absolutely black in color, shaded by an ornate archway, with the chains barely visible in the muted sun.

I knew the shot I wanted but it would not be easy to get on my manual camera.  It was a long exposure with no tripod.  I needed to hold very, uncharacteristically still.  I set my F-stop, adjusted whosas and whatsits, took a deep breath and held it in, then clicked the shutter three times.

Film.  There was no instant gratification.  No immediate affirmation of a job well or poorly done.  I waited over a week to get my photographs back from the developer.

It turned out exactly as I had hoped.

They were all worth it.

The Egg McMuffin was salty.

This, though, was my sweetest thing.

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