Night Shift

Three years ago, I worked the evening shift and got off about midnight.

Thursdays and Fridays I use to head out right from work and Uber all the way up to DC and back again and get home about 4 or 5 AM. I'd get about 5 or 6 decent fares a night and earn a hundred bucks or more. At that time of night, I'd usually get people from the lower end of the social spectrum ... picking up the mechanics, and janitors, and "dancers" and prostitutes all getting off shift and heading home. Small apartments in small apartment buildings ... some of them rather run down.

And each and every one of these fares, ALWAYS tipped. Generally, it was 3 or 4 bucks, whatever they had handy, or, maybe, whatever they had, but they always gave me something. The people who could least afford it.


This picture is my Dad (sitting on the gate) and his younger brother, Roy. Roy died at the age of 14 or 15 in 1950 because of a congenital liver issue .... generally correctable today. Of all the pictures of my Dad .... I love this one the most. Dad and his brother grew up in Eastham, just outside of Liverpool - then still somewhat rural .... with plenty of open space, and dirt roads, and natural playgrounds where two kids like this could get lost for the day and return in time for dinner with dirty fingernails, scuffed knees and hungry.

This looks like summertime, before Roy went to school .... Dad maybe 2nd or 3rd grade. A time before serious studying .... and career choices .... and dating .... before girls had "cooties", before the hormones hit ... before he had to bury his brother, and his parents, and his sister, before college, before marriage, before kids and mortgages, long before he was "Dad" or the strokes that would end his life ... he was just a kid with scuffed knees and dirty fingernails coming home for dinner.

There was a war going on ... but not his war ... not where he was .... his Dad was gone .... and from what I knew of Granddad - that may have been a good thing. Here, Dad was a good kid playing with his brother. And he looks happy. And I wish I could bring this moment back for him.


Two Cats

Early in July, 1991, I was up at Mom & Dad’s house working in their back yard. I can’t remember what I was doing; but, whatever it was, I was up on that little plateau behind the small spare bedroom where Dad use to have his Golf net up and grew, I think, tomatoes. Or something.  In a small window box – I have no idea what Dad was using it for – I found a kitten; calico; she fit in the palm of my hand; a wet nose, large eyes and a pair of ears pretty much took up her whole head. I caught her and put her in a cardboard box I’d found in the garage.  There was another tiger stripped sibling who hissed and ran when I tried to catch him; I didn’t, and can only guess what happened to him.

So, I brought that calico kitten home – which, at that time was the condominium in Hartford – where the small animal learned to eat solid food earlier than she should have and pooped on the carpet for 2 or 3 days before learning exactly what that box full of granular sand in the bathroom was for. She took to Malloween almost immediately though it took Malloween, a little longer to take to her.  In time, they became inseparable.

Malloween had been given to me as a birthday gift the previous year – James had swiped her from a roommate who disappeared a week or so before without making plans to have someone take care of her cat.  The roommate appeared again a week or so later rather unconcerned as to the whereabouts of her pet, and, well, that was that.

A couple of weeks and a conversation with James in some bar on the main street that runs through Mystic, Connecticut, I come up with the name Whitney, after a dog I’d enjoyed spending time with owned by Mary Landry, a former rather motherly landlady from Waterbury, Connecticut a few years before.  The dog’s name came from the company Pratt and Whitney where Mary’s son had worked.  Both Mary, and her Whitney, have long since passed on; God bless them both.

I was 32 then and had just started working for Xerox in Hartford; Jamie was in his mid 20’s and living in Niantic with Molly; Belinda was 30 and her daughter, Maddy, had been born a week or so earlier.  Geoffrey would be 3 later that year, though his mother and I wouldn’t meet for another 5 or 6.  Derek would appear a few years later and Ethan wouldn’t become part of our lives for another decade.

But for the next 14 years those two cats would travel several thousand miles in 5 states – Hartford, Connecticut; then Rochester New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; Hammond, Louisiana and, finally, Madison, Mississippi.  Malloween would usually curl up on the back seat of my old tan Nissan Maxima and pretty much stay there the whole trip.  Whitney, would be on top of the back seat, usually sitting upright, watching the traffic out the rear window – meowing at every truck that passed; watching every car.  Until Tracey and I met, they were my family; my kids.  I wish I’d taken more pictures of them then; but, like anything that has ever meant a lot to me, taking pictures of my cats was not something I thought about until they weren’t around anymore.

Sometime in July of 2000, a Wednesday morning, I was headed down to Biloxi for one of those MASFAA conventions they have a couple times every year.  I would be heading back home that Friday.  So, before I left, I picked up Malloween and held her against me and gave her a couple of pets.  She purred, but after a moment or two, she pushed away and I set her down, and watched as she trotted away.  I turned, and headed to the garage.

Malloween disappeared before I came home, and, for weeks, I would stand outside before going to bed and whistle hoping that she would show up on the doorstep looking for dinner.  She never did of course; and it took me a long time to finally accept that.  Whitney, would wail, off and on, for days.

But, sometime in the summer of 2005, I knew, Whitney was dying.  She had lost a considerable amount of weight, the overbearing Mississippi summer heat took a lot more out of her than most and there was nothing the Vets could do for her – except, put her to sleep.  I told them I’d bring her by later, but, I never did.

Those last several weeks, she seemed to get a little better; she ate more though she did not really gain any weight. She followed me around whenever I was in the back yard and I spent more time with her. She became a lot more tolerant of 4-year-old Ethan, rubbing up against him – I guess with his leg in a cast he just didn’t seem too much of a threat. To Ethan, Whitney was a teddy bear that moved, meowed and adored anyone who came to pet her.

Ethan and I were out in the back yard, with Whitney, on a Wednesday evening that November.  It had been a late night at work for me and it was getting dark. Ethan, held Whitney, for the first time and petted as Whitney rubbed up against him.  I scratched Whitney on her back and stomach and she purred – she seemed to be better than she had been though, so light that a good wind would have taken her away. After an hour or so I brought Ethan in and let him play in his room.

That, was the last time we saw her. 

The food I left out that night went untouched; the water in her dish, which Whitney always loved playing in remained; well, in her water dish.  I wish things had been better for her near the end, though, rather selfishly, I’m glad I had those last few weeks with her.  For a long time I will wake up in the morning and think about feeding her; look to the back door and expect her to be staring back, waiting for breakfast. 

And every now and then, before I go to sleep, I’ll stand on our back patio and give that two-tone whistle I used to call my two friends to dinner.  Whitney bounds out from wherever she was hiding, playing, sleeping; Malloween trots along nonchalantly somewhere behind her.  I have to wait there on the patio until Malloween gets to her dish, to stop Whitney from trying to get a couple of bites of her close friends’ dinner before going back to finish her own. But Malloween never finishes her meal anyway allowing the last couple of bites to Whitney who is always hungry and will eat, as long as there is food in front of her.  This remains for a moment, but the memory fades, and, I’ll find my way to bed.

Malloween:  April 1990 to July 2000

Whitney:  June 1991 to November 2005

Bottles and Cans

Thought about something that happened when I was living in Hartford, Connecticut back in the late '80s' ... not sure why, but it just came to mind ....

I was living in a 3rd floor, one bedroom condo, on the end of Willard Street off of Asylum about a 1/2 mile from the downtown area. At that time, Willard Street was a dead end and I lived in the 2nd to last building ... so ... street didn't get a lot of traffic ... pretty much just the people who lived on the far end of the street.

I had been a photographer for a small business paper with its' offices in a historic building just behind the Civic Center. Great job ... but watching every dime. Newspaper work never made anyone rich. This was back when you could still return bottles and cans for nickels and dimes at your local grocery store - and I'd just carted a bunch of said containers down to my car ... then noticed an old man digging through the garbage container in the back of the lot. Behind him was a grocery cart full of these cans and bottles., and I'd recognized him from his wonderings around Hartford pushing that cart - generally full of whatever he found that he thought valuable ... blankets, bottles, old bags full of ....

Didn't really say anything - I just took my containers over to his cart and put them in. Hadn't really been in the mood to drive down to the grocery store anyway .... and, my bills were paid. ... so. His smile was broad and wide and honest and relatively toothless and his thanks, profuse.

Never thought about that again, until about 6 or 8 months later. I was just getting back to my condo from running some early morning errands on a Saturday. My parking space was in the back of the lot and I ended up taking the back stairs up to my abode. Walking through my condos' door, my door buzzer was blaring away - it would stop for a second or two, then started blaring again. Apparently, someone was leaning on the buzzer at the front entrance to my building ..... I wasn't to happy about it and was fully prepared to let this jerk know about it.

Back out and down the front stairs and through the buildings front door .. and there was this man I'd given the cans to, grinning from ear to ear, holding up my wallet. Apparently, I had dropped it during one of my errands ... and I didn't even know it was missing. He told me he found my wallet the other side of town ... and I realized it was one of the places I had taken out my wallet to put something in it ... and somehow dropped it before I'd put it in my pocket. He had looked at my license and recognized me as the guy who had given him the containers .. and walked, pushing his cart, the 2 or 3 miles back to my residence, to return it to me.

I thanked him, profusely as he had done several months before and opened my wallet. My cash was still in there, as were my cards and license, I took the cash out and handed it to him. Wasn't much, about 25 bucks or so, but I'm sure he put it to good use.

Weeks later I would see this guy near the end of my street angry, yelling, and shacking his fist at something, not sure what or whom, or why. I know his life couldn’t have been easy ... and don’t know what became of him. Whatever it was that led him there, and was keeping him there ... I’m sure there was no easy “fix” for. But at least twice, he smiled, and seemed grateful. Once, for what I did for him .... and again, for my appreciation for what he did for me. Thank you.

B.B. King

Back in the late 1980's I was hired to photograph a concert at the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut .... performing was Bobby Blue Bland, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 83; Coco Taylor, who died in 2009 at the age of 80; and B.B. King .... 3 of the greats.

I remember approaching the drummer after all was said and done - very friendly and more than willing to converse ... I asked him if there was a song list I could take with me to add some detail to my notes ... he just looked at me as if I was nuts. "Seriously?" he said .. then proceeded to spout them off knowing that I should have known them all without asking.

RIP B.B. King
9/16/1925 to 5/14/2015