Thursday, January 6, 2011

Things Change

Yes, things change. It's a simple concept, one that I suppose virtually everyone learns early in life, yet it's one that I've had a lot of trouble truly understanding over the years.

Although most people may never stop and think about it, the fact remains that things could be otherwise. Things wouldn't have to change. Reality could be one eternally long moment.

Or things could change only in minor ways. Back in my college days I came up with what I thought was the perfect existence for the perfect creature - a sugar-eating microbe lost in the middle of a warehouse full of sugar. Microbe wants sugar; microbe eats sugar; microbe is happy (or at least satisfied); repeat ad infinitum. Although we human beings might flatter ourselves by thinking that we're far more complex and therefore better than microbes, it seemed to me then (as it seems to me today) that greater complexity means more ways for things to go wrong, and thus greater frustration. Given the choice between enjoying a simple need fully satisfied over and over again and a complicated set of often conflicting needs, none of which are ever really satisfied, who would choose the latter?

Alternatively, things could change the way they change in the movie Groundhog Day. We could relive the same day over and over again until we got it right instead of having to deal with an endless string of unique days to which the lessons we learned in days gone by seem to only rarely and inexactly apply.

Instead, we have what we have: A rapidly changing world which we can't keep up with no matter how furiously we may try....

Of course some people do a better job of keeping up than others.

I seem to have been one of the laggards from the very start. It took me a long time to realize what was going on. And I've needed to constantly remind myself of what's going on ever since.

When they first took the original "Outer Limits" TV show off the air, I think it took me nearly 5 years to realize that it wasn't coming back and that I really ought to stop expecting to see it again. Nonetheless, part of me still can't believe it simply stopped appearing on my screen once a week.

And of course that's merely one small, small example from a lifetime stuffed to overflowing with thousands of them.

Or to put it another way: Each moment is a lost puppy that I feel compelled to take home with me. But by the time I get it home, it's dead.

Repeat ad infinitum?

No - only until we're dead ourselves....

By the time I was 14 I suppose I had as good an understanding of all this as I'll ever have.

It wasn't until I was 15, however, that I began to understand photography's power to document the exact details.

That breakthrough seems to have occurred when I snapped this series of photos in the spring of 1974:

I took those from the front porch of our second floor duplex apartment using a simple little Kodak instamatic camera. I'm not quite sure what motivated me to do so. No one in my family was at all interested in photography. No one that I knew seemed at all interested in closely observing let alone capturing events as they whizzed by. I didn't have much money to spend on anything, let alone film and film development. Thanks to the need to send film out for developing, whatever pay-off satisfaction capturing a moment on film might bring was itself a moment in the rather far-off future. Given the nature of photography back then, I couldn't be confident that the photos I'd eventually get back (if everything went ok) would have much resemblance to the moment as I experienced it.

Yes, life's a bitch, as they say - and so often we're expected to waltz through it in high heels.

Honestly, it's a wonder that anything ever gets done at all....

In this case I suppose the deciding factor was the fact that this particular house and I shared something of a long history.

I had been staring at it from across the street for some four years by 1974.

Before that, I had stared at it from another apartment I lived in (off to the right) for nearly nine years.

And it just happened to have been the boyhood home of the man we were renting from for most of those years.

I believe he still owned it when his wife took me with her on an errand into it. She babysat me with some regularity back in those days. Her husband seems to have been renting The Most Impressive House In The Neighborhood out to a large family at the time. It was apparently a nice spring day when she and I approached The House from behind, coming up the alley and then around to the front door. The long south (left) side of the place seemed to stretch on and on, like some sort of beached ocean liner....

I think the errand involved a sewing project of some kind. Maybe a drop-off of materials. Maybe a discussion of plans and patterns. All I cared about was finally being able to get into a house I had stared at and pondered for so long.

And once inside, all I cared about was getting up into The Tower.

The view from The Tower would be spectacular. I knew it would be. So high up. With windows positioned so as to enable one to look up and down the street like a god surveying his domain (or maybe a space alien from "The Outer Limits" about to attack). As I entered the front doors, I was so close to it - closer than I'd ever been or ever had hoped to be. Who could deny me a quick trip up the stairs for a quick look around?

I think I made it as far as the room immediately under The Tower. No amount of begging or pleading or bargaining could elevate my 50 or so pounds of flesh the final ten feet.

It was to be the closest I ever got.

Some ten years later, with the tenant family long gone and my old landlord and his wife nowhere to be seen, the random flow of events that is life allowed me to be the one to see and chronicle the irreversible demise of The Tower I had long stared at and pondered and would now never, ever set foot in....

I suppose it's a wonder that The House and The Tower lasted as long as they did. The neighborhood was undergoing a rapid decline. Things were being torn down left and right, and had been for about as long as I could remember. We ourselves would be gone in two years, finally setting off for better, safer environs after nearly 20 years in an area undergoing terribly prolonged - and often violent - death throes.

I can actually take some credit for the fact that The House and The Tower lasted as long as they did.

Months, maybe years before The Crane Of Demolition arrived on the scene I was at home, looking out the window at my old friend across the street around eleven at night when I noticed flames flickering in the window just to the left of the front doors. I alerted my mother. The fire department was called. What might have been a huge conflagration became instead just one more minor vandal-created annoyance meriting nothing more than half-a-line in the newspaper. That I had the opportunity to take these photos as a result (and now have the opportunity to post them) is reward enough, I suppose.

And yet, even after all this (and more - much more), my mind still can't quite get used to the idea that Things Change. It wants the opportunity to stare at The House whenever the mood to do so bubbles up. It longs still for a chance to enter The Tower, and - its greed knowing no bounds - to sit and spend an entire afternoon just watching the traffic go by from a new perspective. Perhaps most of all, it wants to believe in a world that's essentially safe and eternal and capable of being revisited as often and as many times as it takes to truly understand and appreciate it to its core.

Well, that's not the sort of world we have.

Not by a long shot.

But it *is* a world in which photography exists.

And thanks to photography - and to a photographer I shall never know - I can now look at and ponder and share one more view of The House, circa 1960:

Not quite the way it was in its prime, perhaps, but close to the way it seems to have been on that long ago day when my much younger self actually passed through its now-gone-forever front doors.

Such pictures may be a pretty piss-poor substitute for the better world I long for, but they *do* help convince me that the now-evaporated past really *did* exist and isn't merely the poorly remembered dreams and fantasies of a hopelessly solipsistic brain.

That may not be much, but it's more than the vast majority of humans who have ever lived have had to reassure them.

However did they manage to keep from going completely insane?


  1. "I noticed flames flickering in the window just to the left of the front doors. I alerted my mother. The fire department was called."

    The Boy who called Fire. Have we uncovered the prototype for your subsequent life in the bloggosphere? You notice the flames of ignorant irrationality licking away at society's foundations. Mom is gone, so you alert other people, expecting a crew to be dispatched to douse the flames and keep society safe for rationality?
    But the crew never comes? And there goes the neighborhood. Keep taking pictures. It may help someone reconstruct civil society some day from the ashes.

  2. I always loved change, a move to a new house, a fresh start in new apartment, new colors on walls, rearrange the furniture... constantly wishing to create and recreate, but age and fatigue have taken the pleasure out of those moments, as has the fact that recently, the changes involve losing forever beings I love... I hate this new face of change.. and how it isn't in any way in my hands anymore.

  3. Deve's comment was more profound than he knows. I enjoyed this entry very much. Your writing style never ceases to move and impress me. Thank you for starting this new blog.

  4. It might be impossible for someone as conceited as Deve to be more profound than he knows.

  5. Even though it's natural for most of us to feel resistant to change at various times, it is so prevalent that you'd think we'd evolve to embrace it. And as you said, maybe some folks have, as witnessed by revolving relationships, jobs, moves, and insatiable desires for new things to consume. If things always stayed the same, we'd still be single-celled organisms, or, allowing for involuntary evolution, we'd be living in caves, hunting mastodons. Change that is an improvement is not usually cause for complaint.

    It's funny... sorta... I experienced an unfamiliar jolt at seeing the once grand Cleveland home of my grandfather, now gone to seed. (Birdseed! Pigeons everywhere!) However....I've had the opposite experience in terms of my two Maryland childhood homes changing. There have been many improvements made to them. Front steps where we played no longer crumble under our feet, new lamps shine brightly on new porticos, beautiful landscaping where once was only sparsely grassed earth... And wouldn't you think this would be a good thing? But my mind is haunted by not only the old memories, but also the realization that this points to my own need to improve....

    Were you unable to make it to the top of the tower because of acrophobia, or because someone grabbed you and prevented you from continuing up the stairs? Either way, what a cruel twist to your dream.

    An odd coincidence that we've both spotted fire starting in a neighborhood house by which catastrophe was prevented.

    Anyway, here's a toast to photography! And to cable tv, Netflix, and dvds, where old tv shows live on forever...