I often called my dad in the middle of the week. I knew he’d be alone, and it would be prime time to devote the entirety of the call to him without the distractions of my sisters or mom trying to get on the line. Sorry mom.
We caught up on all kinds of things; usually he wanted to hear what I had been up to and what pictures I had been making on some crazy adventure in the backcountry of Montana. I’m pretty sure he believed living in Montana was rugged and wild, and that I spent my days trapping, hunting, and chasing off the occasional marauding Indian. He asked about the mountains and cowboys living here, and then would refer to a scene in Jeremiah Johnson, or one of the other countless westerns we watched together long ago. I never had the heart to tell him I was actually dragging my knuckles through my days as a clerk, and I was slowly going insane. But these calls, these calls in the middle of the day when the houses were quiet are what kept me balanced. Some days, I could tell my dad would tire quickly, and I could hear his breathing get louder as if he were just about to fall asleep, so I would tell him I had to go to work. I would make it my fault we had to hang up. I never wanted him to feel bad about ending a call. His last words were always, “I’ll tell your mom you called,” and I would say, “no, it’s ok, I’ll call her this weekend.” I was selfish and wanted this to be our time. And, as far as I know, he kept most of these calls between us secret.
My dad has been gone just over a year now, yet I sense him everywhere; it’s in the paint strokes of an old oil painting depicting a western scene, it’s in the times I order iced-tea with Sweet ‘N Low – even though I won’t use it, and it’s in the times I see a characteristic so strong in someone reminiscent of times with my dad, I won’t soon forget it. And one of the times just happened last weekend.
I was shooting a wedding, my first of the season, when I saw something that just startled me. It was in a groomsman, and when I first saw him all dressed up for the day and looking sharp, I also saw something else I couldn’t ignore. In my head he was a near spittin’ image of Lucky Ned Pepper from True Grit. Not the original True Grit with John Wayne, which my dad and I watched countless times, but the recent remake with Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn. Side-note, the first time I watched the remake I remember thinking of my dad and being nervous for the directors and actors, hoping in hell for them it lived up to my dad’s expectations of what John Wayne did with the original. They succeeded, although my dad still had some criticisms.
If you look up Ned Pepper, or have seen the film, you will see what I mean about the resemblance, and in that resemblance, I saw one of my dad’s favorite films and our times together. Sunday afternoons were spent sitting on the couch watching westerns, sipping iced-tea, all the while my dad narrating his thoughts. In Deke, my new friend, I saw my dad and those memories. I know Deke didn’t understand why I wanted to take his picture that day, or why I was messing with his hair trying to get it just right as my memory directed, or why I kept telling him he couldn’t smile for the picture, but I told him I would explain later. He had no idea what taking his picture meant to me. But, now I hope he does. I wanted to turn Deke into the old west and Ned Pepper, well, someone reminiscent of those times, and specifically an outlaw. My dad taught me to pay attention the details. And probably because he dressed up for his own western shows, I learned the importance of it all, right down to the last stitch. So, with the image of Deke, I took the time with those details. I aged and toned, added scratches and dust for patina, and kept working until the image slowly appeared and spoke to me. I worked those eyes, making them glow like in the old wet plates of those days. The vest, memorable in many westerns and of the times, was a perfect complement to what I was trying to bring out.
Thank you, Deke, for allowing me this.
Thank you, dad, for everything. I miss you, and I hope I made you proud.
As cliché as it might sound, it’s true. There’s an energy, a pulse, a something in NYC that I’ve never felt anywhere else. No matter how tired your eyes are, how heavy your head feels, or how much your feet ache, that something will drag your worn ass into the shower, dry you off, brush your teeth, and dress you for the day, all before you’re entirely aware it even happened. It will kiss you then smack your ass as it flicks you out onto the busy city streets just past your hotel doors.
This was my 5th day in the city, and maybe it should’ve been one of those “rest days” you’re supposed to inject into the middle of a busy vacation, but I didn’t. That something had me anxious to get down to Chinatown where I was to meet up with my new friend Brian, aka, @grittystreets, whom I met the day before at theTAKEOVER_nyc Instagram meet-up. If you want to see some great street work, check him out on IG. For reals.
We met up on the edges of Chinatown, just a block or two off Canal street, and while I was waiting for him, I realized I was standing in front of the hotel I stayed at on my first real visit to NY months earlier. A rush of memories flooded my head.
Brian asked where I wanted to go, and I told him wherever and that he should lead. We wandered the edges of Chinatown, darting in and out, before walking over to Brooklyn to check out some of the sights there. Dodging bicyclists and joggers, we talked along the span of the Brooklyn Bridge and realized we had a lot in common, especially growing up. Every so often we paused, I think, because he could see the sweat on my brow and the tired in my body. I appreciated that.
Back in Chinatown, he maneuvered us through the many side streets, eventually stopping at a little park seemingly hidden away from everything else. Here, it seemed, was where the inner local community gathered. The flavor and culture of Chinatown hung in the air. We stood for a bit and scanned the park over: a couple basketball courts hustled with a young men, people sat reading on benches, and traditional music played in the different corners. To our left, in a quaint, shaded plaza, the elder generation gathered. They were smiling, happy looking, and they were gambling. They were so bunched up around the tables you could barely catch a glimpse of the game at hand. Brian warned me they weren’t too fond of having their picture taken while gaming.
We stood for a few more minutes leaning, and I let the sounds and sights of the park envelop me. I then realized this was part of that something that gets you out the door in the morning.
Brian looked at me asking if I was ready. I was. As we headed away from our spot on the fence and towards the plaza and the gamblers, he turned to me with a smile and laugh, “Remember, they can get feisty!”
I’ve known Frank for just over a year or so, and a month ago he invited me to his annual pig roast. In my continuing effort to make new friends and overcome my social anxieties, I made my way to his house where I knew no one. It wasn’t so bad, and I actually had a great time.
Well, heck, I can do this.
I met Brett via Instagram, or maybe it was through his blog, about five years ago, give or take a girlfriend or two.
He’s been an inspiritation to say the least. We’ve talked a bit over the years, and when I sometimes may hit a roadblock with something, he has a way of prying that boulder out of my path. He’s a hilarious dude, and in just about every personal post of his I end up laughing til it hurts. I especially laughed when I read this post, which also happened to be my introduction to the man known as Birdsong. And it had me rolling for days.
Brett has started making his way into Montana the last few years to shoot weddings, but each and every time he’s been here, I’m missed him as I was either on the road myself, or our schedules conflicted. That was until this past weekend. The stars aligned and we finally met up, face to face. He and his girlfriend, Anna Almasy, an excellent writer and photographer herself, cruised into Billings around nine this past Monday night, and I invited them to meet me downtown for a late drink and dinner.
When he came through the door, big ol’ bear hugs were given, and over the next two hours laughs filled our table. After a bit, their eyes got heavy from their long day on the road, and so we said our goodbyes and off they went to their hotel down the block. Brett and Anne are two awesome people, genuine and authentic, and I love that about them. It pumped me up and made a great start to my week.
A big thank you to my pal Brittany, who at my pleading, brought me down a memory card for my camera, as I seemed to have left the house without mine! Without her, I wouldn’t have made this awesome picture. Thank you, and thanks for staying and hanging out, too!