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

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One Sunday in February.

Well, no "orbs" in this picture .... however, it took me about 18 attempts to get this picture to come out the way I wanted it. This picture takes about 4 or 5 hours to take - about 18 times before this attempt. Standing there for several hours taking all the images in that old building .... I generally would be the only one in the building. Doors in the hallway slammed several times - and there would be no corresponding approach or retreat noises that a human would make walking through the debris in the hallways.

This one last shot - When I started taking the images that make up this picture (there are about 300 of them) .... my right shoulder got very cold - felt a weight on it. It was like someone was resting their hand on my shoulder. It remained there the entire time I was shooting the picture. When I shot the final shot - the weight and the cold went away.

Perspective

Perspective. Is having my father handed to me in a white box, respectfully but rather unceremoniously, through my car window.  UCONN Health Center appreciates my father’s contribution. Thanks to my father, to me, and my family.  A handshake. It was heavier than I expected, though, I realized, it was the remains of a 140 pound man reduced to ashes.  Not quite sure what I was expecting – maybe a walk up to someone’s office.  Forms. Handshakes. Ceremony. Salutes. A Priest. Something. I don’t know.

I put Dad in the front seat beside me. And drove, though, It wasn’t until the next morning with him still there on the passenger seat, that I drove past our old house on Wells Road.  Once yellow, now green.  And a shed on the side lawn.  Apple tree no longer there.  Slowly by family friends just down the street and down at the other end. All the old houses still there …. The Bornhofts, the Bowens, the Messengers, the Pullmans, the Browns, the Manning's, and Rayes, Mrs. Wells old farm, the Menches, the Grinolds, Joan Duzak … all the way down the street to the Semjen's and Wells Road School.  Part of me has never left that street. That was OUR street – and always will be.

Eventually we made our way down Day Street following the last trip Dad and I had when he was alive and we were just driving around town reminiscing.  He would talk sometimes when we passed an old familiar place.  Sometimes he’d just look off into the distance.  And, there were some things he would just not remember at all – they were just familiar.  I would glance over and he would look lost, trying to remember.  The light was fading – and he knew that.  But he did his best, always.

We drove into the old Granby Tennis Club.  Gate was open … no one was there.  That old deck has not changed.  There is still a Grill at one end and the old green bar at the other.  Plenty of tables.  Plenty of old voices of the families I grew up with, our parents, our siblings. My Dad would laugh and drink with the best of them. Grills, drinks, tennis, swimming, and, yes, the old changing rooms upstairs, the wall between the men’s and woman’s rooms replete with small “ventilation holes”.  Plenty of burrowing animals back then.

And there is the old abandoned road off of Hartland Road just a few hundred yards east of the intersection of Route 216 … It is now Fox Road and I was told it was a section of the old Hartford Road that went all the way to Hartford.

The first ¾ of a mile was still in use, at least when Mom and Dad where living near there about ¼ mile east of Fox Road. There were only two houses on it – one on the left just off of Hartland Road, still there and in use …. and an old farmhouse ¾ of a mile up.  The part of the road that remained was mostly dirt, plowed flat every year.  After the farm house, a trail followed alongside where the road use to be.  You could see a deep, rutted, gulley where once was a paved road, now impassable by car or by foot.  Several years ago, Mom and I had walked the length of this abandoned section from Hartland Road all the way down to Dalene Road – then had come back by way of Pederson Road and Hartland Road – an easy hike though several miles long.

Whenever I visited Granby invariably Dad and I would hike the uphill trek toward the farmhouse and downhill all the way back to Hartland Road.  There was an older couple living in this house – the gentleman could be seen every morning walking down his road, then right on Hartland Road down to the West Granby Post Office and back home again.  Dad seemed to know him – though not well.

Coming back from a quick visit to my parent’s old Hartland Road house, I drove up Fox Road hoping to get a glimpse of that farm house for old time sake. However, a few hundred feet in, found the road was now blocked with a gate. So I got out and walked. I passed the spot where the old hunting lodge was, on the left, ½ way up the road, vacated sometime in the 1930s, somewhere back in the woods that I could not see. But it was there, once.  Years ago my uncle had crawled through the window to see what was inside … found some old chairs and bunks, old 1930s Esquire magazines, kitchen stuff and an old record player.  Dad and I would talk about that lodge every time we passed.  We would talk about the garden he had in the back of the house …. or some trees he was trying to clear along the river … or some guys he encountered in town that he use to work with …. He’d ask me about work, about my family, about my house – and we’d talk about that for a bit.

Coming up on the end of the road, it was apparent all life had vacated the house, shuttered and unlived in for years, the lawn overgrown, all of which, of course, I had assumed by the presence of the gate at the other end. The house was still in good shape; the barn, not so much.  I walked around taking this all in and then headed back.  It was time to move on.
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My Dads’ favorite walk from his house in the Gables was down a dirt path behind his place that led to Salmon Brook Park, then around the park, and onto the bridge over the river behind.  He would take Ethan there whenever we visited.  And, more recently, Winslow, my beagle, if I’d brought him along.   Ethan would sometimes hold on to Granpa’s hand as the two of them walked along, or he’d walk Winslow with Dad close on his heals. Both would go and stand on the bridge throwing pebbles into the water … and Dad telling Ethan where to get “the good pebbles” or maybe just some of his old jokes.  As bad as his memory got, Dad would always remember that path, the park and the bridge over the river. Branches of that same river ran behind our house on Wells Road; through the property on Hartland Road, through the Tennis Club where we all spent so much time …. and this became Dad’s favorite spot to walk to from the Gables.

I thought of this when I sat on the bank of that river for several minutes, upstream from the bridge, watching kids, and dogs, and parents, wade and play in the water.  All of them dispersed after a while … and I waded down to where the current was strong just before the bridge and sent Dad on his way. Here, he will never be alone, and in a place that made him happy. Part of him settled on the river bottom and will remain part of his favorite spot probably for as long as that river flows.  The rest floating like a white cloud, almost ghost like, made his way down stream and under that bridge.  Much of him will go with the river as it flows through the countryside and make its way to wherever this river goes.  And back to the sea where we all began.

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Back in the late 1980s, I sat in a bar in Chili’s in Falls Church, Virginia within walking distance from where I lived.  Crowded, the only seat left open was the seat next to me … promptly taken by a guy in his late 40s wearing a suit and a friendly smile.  Talkative, we chatted a bit about what we were doing, odds and ends, and eventually got around to his service in the Vietnam War …. and his missing left leg.  He had watched friends die in the same blast that took that leg.

“Do you believe in God” he came around to saying at some point … I shrugged.  Agnostic at the time and had not really given it much thought, and said so.  I asked him what he thought … what “was real”.

“I believe when it’s over, it’s over, death is the end” he said, “I’ve seen to many bodies spread across the landscape.  When the time comes, that’s it – this life we have here is ‘real’ … what you have in front of you”.

Walking back up the path that Dad loved to walk and around to the edge of a field that he always passed – I stopped at one, old, knurly tree that stands alone on the edge of that field – Dad would often remark “the stories that tree could tell” …

A man named Steven Cave talked about “The 4 Stories we tell ourselves about Death”.  Steven Cave was right, of course, about the stories.  They’ve been handed down for thousands of years – but I find with every story, there is a grain of truth.  But where those grains lie within the story, I don’t know.  If the truth was meant to be known …

There is one point that Steven Cave made that I would like to repeat –

“I find it helpful to see life as being like a book.  Just as a book is bounded by its covers by beginning and end, so our lives are bounded by birth and death, and even though a book is limited by beginning and end, it can encompass distant landscapes, exotic figures, fantastic adventures, and even though a book is limited by beginning and end, the characters within it know no horizons. They only know the moments that make up their story, even when the book is closed.  And so the characters of a book are not afraid of reaching the last page. Long John Silver is not afraid of you finishing your copy of Treasure Island. And so it should be with us. Imagine the book of your life its covers, its beginning and end, are your birth and your death.  You can only know the moments in between, the moments that make your life. It makes no sense for you to fear what is outside of those covers, weather before your birth or after your death. And you needn’t worry how long the book is, or whether it’s a comic strip or an epic.  The only thing that matters is that you make it a good story.”

I love you Dad, I’ll be re-reading those pages for a long time coming.

Lesson Learned

I learn a lot about people with disabilities through the riders on Uber. Not exactly about the disabled themselves …. but the people they deal with on a day-to-day basis.

One of my first riders one Friday evening was a woman, “Kathy”, picked up at her house. I pulled up at the end of her driveway, packed with cars, and waited. Within moments, I got a call from the rider checking in to see if I “was here yet.” 

Me - “Yes, I’m waiting at the end of your driveway … are you coming out?”
Her - “I’m standing at the end of the driveway.”
Me - “I’m waiting just the other side of the white SUV parked in your driveway”.
Her - “I can’t hear you …. I’m blind, by the way.”

At this point I told her I had a hybrid – my car engine generally shuts off when parked – and turned to see her standing in the driveway. I pulled my car back so that the back door was directly in front of her and let her know. She reached out, pulled the door open and got in. 

She was going to the local Wal-Mart … she appeared to be dressed in a comfortable pair of flannel pajamas with a long overcoat and tennis shoes. She wore no glasses – her eyes were permanently closed – or makeup. Chatty as anyone I had ever met, I learned that she was a 31-year-old Computer Engineer working for a major company in town (just outside of DC); worked part time creating public relations materials free-lance; was supporting her Mother and a sibling in the house she owned (the one I picked her up at – a four bedroom colonial in a nice neighborhood) and met her current boyfriend – also an Engineer - on an outing with the local singles with disabilities group she was part of and was very grateful for her ability to work for a living.

On the way over there, she asked if I would mind walking her around to get her to customer service to pick up some money wired to her – and then get some cleaning supplies. No, I didn’t mind.

One thing that opened my eyes is how the people she dealt with treated her. Both at the customer service counter and the check-out line – she would ask a question … and the person on the other side of the counter would respond ….. to me. She handed the customer service person the information for the wire, and the cash was handed to me – I also got the change from the sales clerk in the check-out line. Didn’t understand that.

I also learned that she was brought up for the first 6 years of her life by an Aunt who, like her mother, was Portuguese/Mexican. Her Aunt did not allow her to speak anything but Spanish in the house (English was for the "outside") and, as a result, spoke the language fluently. As we stood in line at the Wal-Mart McDonald's ... the people behind the counter were communicating in spanish and laughing. After she got her order .... "Kathy" turned to them and started rapid firing comments in Spanish back at them as the three of them stood and looked at her in stunned silence ...

It turns out that they were talking about an "old fat man" in line ... the two of us were the only ones there ....

She also gave me a couple of lessons on guiding a blind person through a department store … one, you never guide a blind person in front of you but behind you … so you can see everything on the floor that you may miss if they’re walking in front of you …. Useful tip if you help out someone who is blind sometime.

Three Men in a Cab

I was "UBERing" one morning around DC .... and about my 2nd or 3rd fare was a couple of Pool riders - Uber Pool is where people select to be part of a pool to get a cheaper rate - they share the ride with another rider going in the same general direction. 

I had two riders in this pool - both picked up at the Reagan International Airport. The first Rider flew in from Canada via Air Canada at Terminal "A" - the smallest terminal kind of out of the way with both arrivals and departures coming and going on the same level. The second rider, however, was at Terminal "B" arriving from Maine on Delta - and came out on the lower level. At this airport, there is no direct route from Terminal "A" to the lower level at Terminal "B" - you have to drive all the way around the airport to get from one to the other.

So ... the first gentleman was a Catholic Priest from Jacksonville, Florida who had been in Canada for a seminar of some sort and was flying through DC for a one day meeting and would be spending a couple of days with his nephew in Maryland. During the lap around the airport I also learned he became a widower in his late 50s or early 60s and decided to go into the Seminary. He graduated and became a priest at the age of 64 - and has been a priest for about 9 years (you can do the math).

The second gentleman ended up being a man in his mid 30s or so flying in from Portland Maine where he worked for the FAA and was down in DC for a training seminar required for all administrators. He also mentioned that he had been there for 3 years after working for several years at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. He had been living in Ellington, Connecticut where he had been born and raised. Of course, I had mentioned that I grew up in Granby, Connecticut - he not only knew Granby, but had an Aunt/Uncle and cousins that lived there!!

At this point, the priest chimed in stating that he was born and raised in Farmington Connecticut - and he still had relatives in both Ellington and Granby.

So three strangers, a 74 year old priest from Jacksonville Florida, a 35 (about) year old FAA administrator from Portland, Maine and a 57 year old UBER driver from Virginia all climb in a cab together and find out they happened to have grown up within a few miles of each other all with ties to Granby, Connecticut ..... what are the odds of that happening?

The Hillside Cafe

My first job out of College was with a small, local paper based in Newtown, Connecticut with an equally small, four person office in Woodbury … the office I started in.  Ended up in the “main office” after a few months… a ramshackle old red building on the main street going through ...the center of Newtown with a history going back a couple hundred years.

At some point, I landed a small, 1st floor, four room apartment in a World War II era, four-apartment building in Waterbury, Connecticut. The landlord lived in the apartment upstairs catty-corner from mine … a wonderful old motherly woman named Mary with a small young dog named “Whitney” - named after her youngest sons’ employer …. Pratt & Whitney.

Whitney spent much of his day in the ¼ acre fenced-in back yard as Mary tended to her garden. During the summer months, I would leave my windows and back door open to let the breeze ramble through my apartment .... allowing Whitney to ramble in and make himself at home whenever he pleased.  It wouldn’t matter what I was doing, or reading, or what company I was keeping at that particular point in time … he’d plop himself in the middle of it and demand attention … and a dog biscuit … and he'd always get both.

And, every Sunday Mary would come down and grab my laundry. A couple hours later it would be back in my living room washed and folded. In the kitchen, I’d find a jar of spaghetti sauce … a Tupperware container with noodles … and a note reminding me to return the containers when I was done.  It wouldn’t matter if I was there or not … she let herself in.  And despite any reservations about having anyone, save my Mom, rummaging through my dirty underwear – I didn’t put up much of a fuss about it -  wouldn’t have done me any good anyway. Mary adamantly refused to let me take my basket around the corner to the local coin laundry …. “you never know WHAT you’ll find in there!!”  Not quite sure what I was supposed to find there - except, maybe, someone else’s dirty clothes.

Looking out of my apartments' back window, across the back yard, I looked into the rear window of another old, ramshackle building known as The Hillside Café on Willow Street.  Waterbury’s own Jazz Club.  At least once a week … generally twice … I would make the 2 minute commute, by foot, through the front of the building. Some of the best Jazz musicians in the Northeast took their place on that stage - sometimes the Club owner would grab his Alto Sax and play with the best of them.  It was a good club, and, except on the worst winter nights, was usually packed. The small bar was in the room next door … you either had to walk outside and use the front door … or walk through the waitress’ door near the stage.  The restroom was behind the stage …. And you had to walk up, onto the stage, and around the band, to get to it. Most people would wait for the band to take a break …. or, if desperate, between songs.

Val, worked for Prudential during the day, selling mutual funds and annuities to whoever walked into her Waterbury office …. and served up beer and chicken wings to the regulars, like myself, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.  She would also “man the door” collecting the $3 cover charge. I was always charged the cover charge, but after a while ... every other beer and the chicken wings never made it to the bill at the end of the night.  She always seemed to know when I was bordering on broke .. because, every now and then, there was never a bill, just a smile and a “see-you-tomorrow”.  On slow nights, she’d sit and we’d chat about the bar, about “things” and life outside of our lives listening to Jazz at the Hillside Café.

It was a good life, but like everything else, there comes a time to move on.  I got a new job, then a condo in Hartford.  A good friend of mine came down for the weekend to help me move - and we spent one last night at the Hillside Café before making the final run to Hartford.  We ended up having a rather intense conversation about our lives and where we were at – and where we wanted to go.  Val sat with us for a bit and the conversation lightened up … chatting and laughing until late ….

And, I remember it was past midnight as we got up to leave.  There were still a few customers soaking up the final hour of music …. Val told me to hold on a minute before I walked out as she tended to a table by the door.  She sat down her tray and wrapped her arms around me as I her.  We stood there for what seemed to be a couple of minutes - I felt a peck on my cheek before she let go.  “Lead a good life, Marc” … smiled, and went back to work.  And we left.

 ….……..

A few years ago, I was living in Maryland,  not sure what I was in the middle of …. but it brought me to a stop.  I thought again of that final moment – very vividly.  I felt the weight of her arms around my shoulders …..  there was the peck on my cheek … and I remember thinking “She remembered” … and then, in the hollow of my chest …. felt loss.

Thanks Val.  I remember too .... 

Life Goes On

I sat with Mom at a table at the Good Life Grill having sandwiches for lunch a couple days after Dad died. Belinda had left to go home to be with her family and James was nowhere to be found. It was just Mom and I eating ... she put down her sandwich and quietly looked around ... the other people having their meals; cars passing in the street behind us; waitress refilling our drinks, the clamoring of utensils, the idleness of small talk ....

"I guess the hardest thing to accept" she said, "is that life goes on ... someone passes and the rest of the world takes no notice."

RIP Dad (T.E. Fitzsimmons) - Aug 13, 1931 to Dec 11, 2013