That’s a basic Bloody Mary beside a grilled muenster with fresh tomatoes and slivered red onions on rye. Simple, straight-forward. The photo is not very sharp because I’m just learning to use my cell phone camera. (I’m not really what you’d call an early adopter) I’ve not generally been one of those folks who takes a lot of photos of my food–in part because I never had a smart phone until a few weeks ago, part because I don’t usually order food for its aesthetic appeal, and mostly because, really, who wants to be that guy taking pictures of his food? I may have been a little derisive about the whole trend. But it is kind of fun, isn’t it. It took me a while to see that, and given that I’ve recently made a promise to myself to be more playful and more embracing of the positive, I’m thinking: why the hell not take pictures of my food, my dog, my friends, my booze, the flowers in the yard, the cat with a chipmonk drooping in her mouth (good cat).
More on this later, as if reflects a slightly altered direction not only in my life, but in this blog.
I have the good fortune of living in the town where iconic film star Jimmy Stewart, who played the lead role in the classic holiday movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” was born, raised, and to which he often returned. The town of Indiana, PA is the county seat of Indiana County, PA, which for decades has laid a somewhat dubious claim to the title “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.” We’re not the biggest producer of Christmas Trees in the world any more, but we were the first place to grow them as dedicated crops, and the business still means a lot to our local identity.
As Philadelphia Inquirer writer Jeff Gammage wrote, way back in 1997, “Trees cut from its mountainside farms are shipped everywhere from Mexico to England, Florida to Arizona. They are wrapped in brown paper and sent via UPS to Pittsburgh, or strapped onto the roofs of cars that drive in from all over New York State.
One couple travels here each year from Philadelphia to buy a tree, which their dog picks out. Another family pops a bottle of champagne over theirs, christening it for the season.
In Indiana, you can drive from lot to lot and spend $79.50 for a 15-foot Fraser fir or $11.93 for a five-foot white pine, then cruise through a gaggle of glowing Santas at the Festival of Lights or shake hands with Queen Evergreen, the tiara-clad promoter of Indiana County Christmas trees.”
We take this Christmas business seriously, and in the years since Gammage wrote, our seasonal celebrations have expanded to include an “It’s a Wonderful Life” Light-Up night that features a 5o+ unit parade starring the high school marching band playing Christmas songs, floats from a cross-section of community groups, organizations, athletic and dance teams, and even (my favorite) a corps of farm folks stoicly piloting a squadron of beautifully restored antique tractors.
There is a bonfire in the center of town, free cocoa and crafts, an increasingly accomplished Jimmy Stewart impersonator wandering the crowd and, of course, Santa delivered on the back of a firetruck into the hands of the teaming masses of children.
This year, we had an additional treat: groups of travelers who were on bus tours visiting Indiana to see the Jimmy Stewart Museum and to enjoy the festival were seated on floats and celebrated as the welcomed visitors they are. I imagine we’re not the only town to show our appreciation to our guests, but I’ve never heard of anyplace else that puts visitors in a parade. Very cool.
We celebrated in equally warm fashion on one of the coldest evenings we’ve had to date, gathering with friends at a local pub for dinner and cocktails before watching the parade, then going back to Dave & Laura’s for beers, snacks, conversation and camaraderie by a roaring fire.
Earlier that day, I bemoaned to my wife that it just felt too early this year, that I didn’t have any sense of anticipation, but after an evening like that I was raring to go. Holidays 2015–bring it on! I’m ready.
I figured that it was time to start posting some cool “found” winter pictures, the way I do for summer. The thing is, it is not nearly as easy to find fun, photos of winter–it’s a more serious season, in many ways. Google “winter” and you get a lot of landscapes and snowy foliage, as opposed to the surfing and bikini babes a ‘”summer” search turns up. Nevertheless, I found a few.
The image above reminds me , however obliquely, of my own The elementary school days. My school was at the top of a hill–not a precipitous slope by any means, but in winter before the age of kneejerk school cancellations, and during the heyday of large, rear-wheel drive american cars, there was no shortage of tire-spinning mechanized behemoths churning halfway up the street before surrendering to gravity and backing their way back down the hill.
My children today fixate on the possibility of delayed schedules the moment word reaches them of even a single flake, but back in the day snow meant getting ready and going to school a half hour, maybe even forty minutes early, in order to join the daily round of “smear the queer” (yes, I know how that sounds, but I guarantee that not once of us ever gave pause to consider sexual orientation and, in fact, in this game “the queer” was generally the role of the bravest, boldest, and most athletic of the lot of us) which wasn’t as bad as it sounds: in short, one kid has the ball and he runs like hell while all the other kids try to get it from him. We played in snow over asphalt. There was often blood. It was wonderful–we all wanted to be the queer.
Even better, however, was when twenty or thirty of us would be busy beating the living tar out of each other and a car would start spinning tires on the slick hill, and we would run out into the street, en masse, and push it up the hill, laughing and shouting, erupting into a boisterous cheer.
Can you imagine that happening today. I’d be terrified of the liability issues if a horde of children surrounded my car on a slippery hill. Eventually, a driver called the school to complain and the principal herded a bunch of us into the school library and proceeded to shout and foam at the mouth along the way towards banning that tradition. He stopped “smear the queer,” too, just because he could.
I worked the past week as an extra in a movie to be titled “Southpaw,” directed by Antwon Fuqua and, as I mentioned the other day, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forrest Whittaker, and 50 Cent. Arriving on set last night was another star, Rachel McAdams. I have no designs on a career as an actor, but it seemed like a fun thing to do. While Pennsylvania’s fantastic Film Tax Credit brings a lot of Hollywood to western Pennsylvania, like The Fault In Our Stars, The Dark Knight Rises, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jack Reacher, Promised Land, and The Road, to just name a few, it is not common for a major motion picture to be filmed ten blocks from my home. So, I rearranged my life and signed up.
It was a lot of fun. I met some cool people, and a lot of weird people–some the kind of weird you expect when folks are mass-hired for temporary, low-wage jobs. Others just weird in the way that doesn’t necessarily show until we’re thrust together in close proximity, in a situation with lots of down time and a lot of external stimuli to react to. You’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with people, waiting to watch millionaires play pretend, and it’s pretty natural to look to one side and say, “Hey.” Or “having fun?” Or “sandwiches again for lunch?” The next thing you know, you’ve got a fleeting friendship–you’ve got, um, maybe the best word for it is “buddies.”
There was the guy who sat down beside me and said “Explain String Theory to me real quickly….” Uh yeh, right. Or the pudgy bald guy who blurted out, “the last time I bedded an 18-year old I was 36,” as a non-sequitur, as if he’d been holding that line in reserve all week, waiting for a good moment to let if fly. For his trouble he got awkward, nervous laughter and some wincing. Finally–and most famously, the haggard, 90 pound older woman with the unnaturally black dyed hair, homestyle tattoos, and witchy poo face who rasped in her cigarette-scathed voice about her career in musical theater and all the professional wrestlers she’s bedded. One of the extras told me later that she’d shown up at his yard sale last summer and loudly told similar stories until he gave her the stuff she wanted for free and begged her to leave because she was scaring off the other browsers.
But I’ll get back to the people. The process–hundreds of us worked for a week to create what can’t end up being much more than 15 minutes of film, and even that feels long. The costs are astounding. Extras salaries alone, not counting overtime and the bounty of food they provided, cost somewhere around $60/minute for 14 hours or more a day (I worked 56 hours last week). Scenes are filmed multiple times from multiple angles, with long waits for “reversals” when the cameras are flipped from one side of the shot to the other. Yesterday, for example, this was my day:
Stand In Line To Check In and Receive Pay Voucher
Stand In Line For Wardrobe Check (I looked “great”) after a cursory glance.
Stand In Line For Hair and Make-Up. If nothing else, “Southpaw” has provided me with a lifetime first: hairspray. I have worn hairspray 5 days straight.
Get a pass from Make-Up (I looked “perfect,” of course).
Have my somewhat undisciplined hair brushed and sprayed into a helmet suitable for the amphibious invasion of a hostile nation.
Browse the breakfast buffet (bagel, banana, donut holes and coffee)
Sit and wait…for the next 2.5 hours. Talked a little, tried to read, mostly slept.
File onto set (along with 300 others–it’s a large scene), take seats, and wait.
Filming begins, 3.5 hours after arriving, lasts about 4 hours
Sent on break for about 40 minutes, told not to eat “lunch” (it’s 530 pm) because it’s not lunch time yet. It’s break time.
Told to eat “lunch”–it’s been sitting there on the tables all this time.
Told to wait. Some people sent home.
Assembled in a group for my scene, stand around in that group for half an hour.
Costume change. Predictibly, I look “great.”
Stand around in the same group of people, in a different place, for a breakdown of the scene.
Break. We’re led off the set for a short break while the crew arranges things for the reversal–some people lose their places, but I just have to slouch so a camera can shoot over my head: this may be my big moment to get my face on the film in a way that I’m actually recognizable, and I’m slouching! Ugh. It’s karma for a lifetime of arrogance about my above-average height.
The scene is just fantastic–the best part of a long week–and we’re dismissed. It’s 11:45 pm.
Stand in line to have pay voucher signed and verified.
I love to tell stories with words and images, often with a darkly magical twist. While speculative fiction & dissecting pop culture are my primary passions, I also work with clients & brands by assisting with content creation, editing, marketing & design.