Monday. Late in the afternoon I stepped outside and went to the mailbox to get the mail before going to the store. I waved to my kind North Carolina neighbor who lives behind me. “You staying?” he asked, incredulously. I noticed he had his windows taped up. He was talking to his neighbor, who had a pickup truck packed to the max with family belongings. My neighbor informed me that the big danger was tornadoes. “Have you ever been through a hurricane?” he asked me. “I didn’t know until this morning,” I told him. “Where have you been?” he said. Perhaps I am not as in touch with things as I should be sometimes. On the way to the store I noticed very heavy traffic in the westerly direction, and surprising heavy traffic going east. I stopped at a gas station to fill up both tanks of the Jag, which I felt like putting on the highway north and cruising for about ten or twenty hours. Although I ran my credit card through, it took some discussion in the office to get the pump turned on. A hostile young man using a pay phone walked rather close to me—“invading my space”—whom I dismissed as a thug. The thought occurred to me that with disaster looming for so many, the looters were already rejoicing, counting their loot already. A girl in the car on the other side of the pump said, “Mom, what kind of car is that?” while looking over at me staring. A young woman pulled up at the pump behind me. She hollered at me. “You take care of that car!” “I will,” I said, a little embarassed. “I bet your going to North Carolina,” she said. “No, I’m staying, but I wish I was going to Tennessee,” I said. “My mother wants me to come up to Jacksonville,” she said. “That’s where my grandmother is. I dunno.” “You should stay,” I said, realizing my bad advice as I said it.
I had gone to an eyeglass chain store to get new lenses made and numerous problems had ensued: two incorrect prescriptions, lenses made wrong, denials. By contacting a management person in another state I was told to go back to get new lenses for free. It had taken me months to go back to get the free lenses, partly because I had been so busy and partly because I was frustrated. Eventually I began the complex task of fitting progressive lenses with an extremely nice middle aged woman. I am probably as demanding as the most demanding customer, insisting that everything be perfect and of the highest quality. It is one’s vision, after all, and not just as a photographer but as a human it is important. When the glasses were ready to pick up I called and was told she would be there until eight o’clock the next evening. When I arrived about seven o’clock, I was told the woman was not there, then that she had stepped out to run an errand and to wait a while. I waited a while then left, leaving word that I’d been there. The next day I called and asked to speak to the lady, who was the manager. When she got on the phone she was extremely apologetic, but I told her it was no problem; after what I’d been through, that couldn’t possibly bother me. “What happened?” she asked. I explained that I had lost my soul mate. She was quite sympathetic. When I arrived, she spent a long time with me, perhaps an hour. The glasses were perfect, providing vision just as if I were not wearing glasses at all–the wonder of modern research and technology. I agreed that an antireflective coating would be a good idea, but wanted to take them to use them for a while before I got the coating. I was at the point of having numerous pairs of corrective lenses each with special characteristics, but this pair was clearly the best, and I had a special occasion in mind when I wanted to wear them. I was told to be careful not to scratch them, because they would have to be remade before they could be coated if they were scratched. … When I explained that I’d lost my soul mate to the manager, she told me she’d been through something similar, but fortunately reconciled with her mate. “So you’ve found the man of your dreams?” I said. “No,” she said. “I’m gay.”
The house painter knocked on the door. He was holding a fat, narrow book with several hundred house paint colors in his hand. We shook hands and exchanged greetings. He looked young to me, but I’m not a good judge of age. I could smell alcohol on his breath, but he was not drunk. He was stout, with a certain leering, humorous air about him. I told him that I don’t make big decisions quickly and that I could spend a week deciding what color to paint the house. He told me he had the perfect color for the house. He then flipped to a page of a certain color range, starting fairly light at the top and gradually darkening at the bottom. He pointed to the second bar from the top. “Ivory beige,” he said. “It’ll go perfect with this brick.” He held it up to the paint on the house next to brick facing. We stood there on the porch discussing the paint job. He pointed to two houses across the street, explaining how he painted them. He suggested what he called “double white” for the wood trim, then launched into a long, complicated explanation of exacly what double white was, with different colors blended (there are endless shades of white). I even asked him to repeat himself. I never registered the explanation of double white, though, because my mind had drifted for a moment into preoccupation, but I quickly brought my focus back to the discussion. We agreed to the work to be done. He was to clean the roof with chemicals, and paint the outside of the house. Before painting, he would pressure clean, caulk all cracks and repair the stucco. We also discussed the aethetics of the various paint jobs within view, and he pointed out those he had done. He mentioned the police moving into a house on the corner; then we started discussing neighborhood crime. He told a few funny storys. He said he was driving in his van at three o’clock in the morning. “I pulled out from a stop sign,” he said, “and my fan belt sqealed loudly.” “Next thing I knew, there were blue lights behind me and I was pulled over. As the policeman gets out of the car he is pulling on these fingerless gloves. He puts on his sunglasses, at night! “He looked at my tires and said, ‘I can give you a ticket for these.’ “I told him I could show him receipts for the tires from three months ago. “He then told me he was giving me a ticket for exhibition of acceleration.”
From September, 1998: I was flying out of of Orlando International, always lovely. As I headed to my gate, I observed a young lady, a classical musician carrying a viola in a soft case who had found a quiet row of seats in a long bank of them away from the TV’s and blaring speakers. It was also an ideal place to watch the people passing by. Once ensconced in my downtown hotel on Sherbrooke Street, I walked outside. The first thing I saw was a massive planter in the middle of the sidewalk. A water truck, bearing the proud emblem Ville de Montreal, sprouted a nozzle which hovered over the planter, spraying water on the big assortment of flowers growing in the planter. In the middle of the night, I awoke to a loud, but muffled, sound. I thought that the pipes in the building were making noises when someone used the water. An insistent whumpa, whumpa, whumpa filled my ears. Then faintly, I heard a woman moan. Oh, oh, ohhhhh. Oh, oh, uh, ohhh. Whumpa, whumpa, whumpa, oh, whumpa, oh, oh. So, that’s what it is, I thought. I saw a woman in the hotel elevator and a woman walking in a mall who wore sweatshirts that said in big letters, USA. Apparently, they wanted to send a message, and it was not one of blending in with the local culture. 5 September: At the International Festival de Film du Monde I went to a movie, “The Red Dwarf,” a French-Belgian production. It was in black and white. Before the movie there was a short-take film, “Telephone,” which was banal. Before “The Red Dwarf” started, the director said a few words under the spotlight. He was soft spoken, so much so that few people in the theater could hear him. People shouted “fort,” and the lady announcer showed him how to hold the microphone. Then he said some words with modesty. I was overwhelmed by the movie. Its brilliance was a work of genius; the photography first class; the acting and story very good. Walking down the street after the movie, I found myself fighting tears, not because I was sad, but because I had just experienced a work of art timeless in its craftsmanship. But it was beyond mere competence; the experience might be described as transcendental. After a short break, I went to another movie. The experience was antithetical to the first movie–for me. Taste being the subjective variable it is, some people may have loved the second movie. No doubt, also, the projection room operator had something to do with making this second experience so different. The sound was such that a door shutting sounded like a bomb going off; the music was louder than a poorly-worked rock concert; and a bomb did go off in the film twice. Even though I wore earplugs throughout the movie of a type that are especially effective, when I left the movie I felt shell shocked as if I’d just come off a battlefield. How much of it was psychological and how much physiological I don’t know. But it was only hours later that I began to get over it. No doubt I am in the minority–maybe with the several out of three or four hundred who got up and left early–because many laughs were got out of the audience, and many people were happy after the film. The young lady, toute-en-noir, who sat next to me with her feet propped up high in the chair in front of her for most of the movie, seemed delighted afterward, as people were leaving. I sensed that she wanted to talk, but my state of mind was such that all I wanted to do was get out of there and recover. The second movie had several famous French stars in it. In fact, it was about a couple of losers who eventually held the real stars hostage. There was acting talent, there was a budget, there was every ingredient, except the aesthetic sensibility of a master director coupled with a winning script. The mindless violence must appeal to a mindset I totally lack; they can go to these flick; I’ll take mine from a different cup, when I can know the difference. A keyword I think of when trying to tell the story is refinement. The first movie was infinitely refined, the second without a hint of class. In the hotel, the elevator smelled of 10,000 kinds of cologne, most of it stale. 6 September: Had a long (2 hour) talk today with a 82-year-old woman named Joanna Hilliard. I was heading towards the hotel, when I spotted a new bench by a grassy field with new grass growing. It was just the sort of bench I was looking for. Hurriedly I sat down, glad that no group had claimed it. Bench sitting is a major activity, especially when thousand of people are constantly streaming by. The weather was perfect with a high of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the September Montreal evening, later a balmy breeze blew: shirt sleeve weather. As elderly lady walking with a cane approached the bench and asked me if she could sit there. I welcomed her. She was dressed in old, stained or dirty clothes, but it was not until I had been talking to her for two hours that I even noticed. She was intelligent, with a lot of opinion and information to share. She told me of her life, the story of Montreal, recent and past histoires about the French, daily life in Montreal, the ice storm, her previous employers, politicians, and about people she knew. She answered all my questions patiently, and I shared some stories with her, too. After six days in Montreal, I began to feel myself in the rhythm of the city. I found myself speaking more French than English. For about four dollars $US, I got an obscenely large meal, which I was surprised to have eaten all of. Before I ordered at the Fontaine Naturelle in le Fouberg on Saint Catherine Street, the woman sitting down preparing vegetables kept smiling at me, then hopped up when I got to the ordering counter. She gave me a free dish of fruit salad when I changed my mind from that to a lentil salad for one of my choices. I had Chicken au Gratin, potatoe salad (with large chunks of carrots) and the other items mentioned. Afterwards, I had my fourth cup of coffee of the day at A. L. Van Houtte, this time choosing a milder, rather than a stronger, coffee for a change. I had earlier another long talk with Ms. Hilliard, whose bigoted prejudices were annoying; she was pleasant to talk to all the same. She told me that she never had children, when I asked, and said she did not regret it. She said she knew people who had trouble with their children, then trouble with their grandchildren, then even trouble with their great grandchildren. She complained that the problems with winters in Montreal was that it was slippery. I had a plane leaving in the morning, and it had begun to rain in earnest. I decided to buy two croissants and maybe a pain au chocolat for breakfast, then go to my room, prepare to depart and turn in early. I had done little shopping except for a few books and a necklace for my lady. I thought of buying gifts for others, but most of the stores I saw were not necessarily selling unique merchandise. The cheapest I saw Maple–the Beanie Baby–selling for was 320 $CD. The necklace I bought was a unique piece, however, at a very good price. Live X-rate establishments were just about everywhere, usually with small storefronts, but occasionally a large storefront. I never visited, but wondered if I had seen any performers amongst the women walking the streets. No doubt I had. Somehow the six-and-one-half day visit seemed about right. There was a yard in Orlando that needed mowing, and no doubt the neighbors would soon be edgy. I decided to return in the winter, when the snow was piled high, to see what it was like, and how I cold adapt (if I lived there). A trip to Jamaica was also expected in the winter, and well as occasional trips to Tennessee and Virginia, so vacation time was as especially valuable commodity not to be wasted, considering how little vacation a corporate employee gets in America. There were many people where I worked who disapproved of vacations, choosing to admire those souls who worked overtime all their lives and never took a vacation. The shallowness of their narrow viewpoint corresponded with the remarkable inefficiency of their long hours. There were those who did in five hours what others might not accomplish in sixty, but with no reward for performance, a certain ennui was omnipresent, causing, among other things, unhealthy stress levels. Still, the work was interesting and the pay excellent. After having returned to Florida, having reflected on my last trip to Montreal for a few weeks, the most enduring memory of the city was not its endless charm of artistic endeavors everywhere, its crowds of people at all hours roaming Saint Catherine Street and its environs, or the cultural environment, bu the overwhelming warmth and friendliness of the people on average (there were, as always, exceptions). I felt strong desire to move to Quebec, but realize that speaking French well is a necessary requirement to be successful there. The French they speak in Quebec though, about which I’ve bought two books, ca, c’est une autre histoire.
I went into the convenience store to pay for the gasoline I had just bought. There was not a person to be seen. This store was a considerable distance from the city limits and was generally frequented by an assortment of rough regulars. This latter I surmised from my observations on the occasions I had to visit. I looked around. Nobody. I hollered out, “Is anybody here?” The emptiness was disturbing, as if something had happened. Finally, a heavy set woman with a kind face but bad teeth appeared. “Sorry, I was in the cooler,” she said. “It was rather spooky in here with nobody around,” I said. “Yes. It can be that way,” she replied. “Once I went into a convenience store when there was nobody at the register and found a person with their head blowed off.” “Really?” “Yes. My husband and I were in Houston. I went into a convenience store like this, and Miss Gracie was not there. She was the nicest person you ever met. Poor Miss Gracie. There was nobody. I went back out and got my husband, and he came inside with me. “When we were looking around, I went into the cooler, and there she was on the floor. Her head was just blowed off!” The woman telling me the story raised her palm placing it right above her eyes then pulled it back, then said, “From here on back, there was nothing.” I could think of nothing profound to say, but managed to get out: “Things happen.” “They sure do,” she said. As I paid and left, I wondered what sort of brave soul would spend a risky career working as a clerk in a conveniece store, the target of low lifes in search of an easy target to rob. I noticed the large potholes in the parking lot as I left, noting that it was cheaply priced name-brand gasoline there but not the sort of place to visit in heavy rain.
The best people are those who stick it out, through thick and thin, through good times and bad times, enduring the failures, handling the successes, without ever faltering in their way. They have the stamina to continue, the courage to face reality. Their nobleness of character can be found in every field of endeavor, at every socioeconomic level, in every creed and race; together, they form a society largely responsible for the work that gets done, the art that is created and the good that is done in this world. They carry the load for those of lesser character, and while frequently challenged by and duped by evil wherever it exists, continue the fight for the best, justice tempered with mercy, and continual change for the betterment of mankind.
In the pawn shop, there was a woman standing at the jewelry counter in animated discussion. Her long blonde hair tended to hide her face from the side, but when one saw it she was very pretty. She was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, with some sort of jacket. At her feet was a baby stroller, with an infant in it. She was toying with little gold chains, trinkets, and rings. “Could you fix this chain?” she said. “I got into a fight with another chick last night and it was torn. “How much is this ring worth? Somebody gave it to me for Cristmas. “A woman gave all of us trinkets like this for Christmas. “Could you swap this chain for another one? Do you think this one is strong enough to hold all my charms?” “Did you walk here?” the man behind the counter asked, looking at the baby stroller. “No, I just put her in there because she is heavy for me to hold.” Some sort of game was going on here, but I did not have enough interest to figure it out. Perhaps she was into fencing jewelry or simply was interested in the gentleman behind the counter, but something was weird. I was in there for more than a quarter hour and the jewelry barter was nonstop. There was a good little lens I looked at, the brand with the adaptable mount that will fit any 35mm camera. I did not need it, but liked it well enough. He said the price was $65, but I’ll let you have it for $60. I was considering offering $50, but told him that if I decided I wanted it I would be back. The front lens element was heavily smeared with fingerprints. If fresh they will come off. Old prints are nonremoveable in their entirety, however, because the acid from the skin oils etch themselves in the lens coating. At another pawn shop, somwhat more dalapidated, with an absolutely gorgeous brunette behind the counter. The parking lot was sand, and there was a Jaguar parked outside, whose condition was unfortunately a little rough around the edges, but still it was okay. (When asked she said it was her mother’s.) Rather startled to see her, actually. There was not much there of interest; a rather forlorn assortment of stuff, although surely there were some gems somewhere. Maybe it only seemed that way to me, because I was looking for lenses and cameras, in a lackadaisical, investigative way. These pawn shops and hangers-on have a curious sort of intrigue, though: part of the economy, that you don’t always see. The third and last pawn shop of the day (it was time to get out before the traffic began building in Orlando). Large building with multistory fortress-type wings entending left and right. Much smaller but still large central part is the pawn shop. Big crowd inside. Hundreds of CDs for $5.00 apiece. Varied Clientele. Some guys who stick together and talk like gang members are checking out the weaponry with ominous intent. I go over to the weapon case and check myself. No Berretta 25 or 32. Figure something like that would fit better in a pocket than my Walther PPK/S. Protection, you understand, is occasionally useful. This shop is without doubt a circus. A lot of great musical equipment and good tools here. Tools seem to be common in all the shops. Plus the time-warp of stuff abandoned because of a tendency towards obsolesence, perhaps.