Odd-Servations*

* — An Observation that is Odd…

You know what an Odd-servation is, don’t you? It’s something you see that doesn’t quite fit in the general pattern of events. Something that is a quarter-wavelength out of sync with everything else, an inconvenient fact, a truth that you’d rather ignore but it keeps jumping out of the general blur of The Matrix and startling you, like the Woman in the Red Dress that Mouse programmed.

Herewith, some of the Odd-servations I’ve encountered in the last 15 years, with, where appropriate, commentary as to what the photo means, and how I came to take it.

The End of the Trail

“The End of the Trail” is, of course, the title of fin de 19th siecle American artist James Earle Fraser’s testament to the cultural decline of Native Americans and their ultimate defeat at the hands of the bilagaana (Navajo, white person) or washichu (Lakota, greedy one) invaders. I took this picture with my cell phone while walking the dog one afternoon. I think it expresses my feelings rather well, so I present it here without comment, except that my daughter asked why I didn’t want to put a footprint on it.

Nightmare in Pink

One afternoon late last year, while I was waiting to get my shingles vaccine, she showed up at the drug store dressed like this. I wonder if she knows what she looks like?

Let’s be clear:

• This is not about RACE. My comments would apply no matter what race the clothes horse, above, was.

• This is not about FASHION. That quality is notably lacking in the subject’s mode of dress. The clothing has apparently not been selected for its effect on others, or to make a positive statement about the wearer. It is, in fact, anti-fashion.

• Nor is it about BEAUTY, a subjective evaluation based general norms and seasonal shifts. Beauty is, apparently, the last thing this clothes horse worried about!

• Nor is it about GENDER, because the subject would be just as unappealing if she were a he!

• THIS IS ABOUT CLASS, AND NOT HAVING ANY! Not social class, like what rules the UK, but class that speaks of self-respect, that indicates pride in one’s identity and delineates one’s place is society. No, I don’t wear a necktie any more, but here in Florida, I assure you the damn things are totally optional for any meeting more formal than a casual drink, especially in the summer, when the poor location reporters on local TV have to wear a jacket, slacks and tie on camera and make it look good, in 90ºF (32ºC) heat and relative humidities above 70%, which is just killer. I mean, a T-shirt gets soaked in 5 minutes in conditions like that! Get some self-respect, Clothes Horse, and show some STYLE!

Stop Signs 1 and 2

(1 L) This is the stop sign at the corner of Easy, which is the street that my house sits on, and Key, which intersects it. It’s a quiet neighborhood, except for the fact that the Charlotte County Fire Department is only about a half-mile due west, and Easy Street is used by every ambulance heading for the nearby hospital complex a half-mile north. So we have sirens going off frequently, and ambulances speeding down the street, lights flashing, all the time. A nice, quiet, neighborhood, like I said. And that avian, perched on top, is a mockingbird, if you were wondering. A nice, quiet, songbird. Yeah, right!

(2 R) Stop signs, like all modern road signs, have a reflective coating based on the 3M Scotchlite patent, a material which reflects light back to its source no matter what angle the screen is at. That made front projection of movies, and specifically the “Dawn of Man” sequence that opens Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, possible.

It also means that stop signs light up according to what light is projected on them, an effect most visible at twilight. I took one flash shot of this sign and half-a-dozen by available light, no flash. The landscape was drab and the sunset looked washed-out. I went with the flash shot, and have never looked back. About a month ago, corner of Key and Westlund, one block east of my house.

The World’s Longest Shot

It’s shot from guns!” — Old TV ad for Quaker Puffed Wheat & Puffed Rice

Even as a little kid, it always struck me as odd and ironic that a breakfast cereal with a Quaker — a Protestant sect known for actively practicing peace — for an icon advertised itself as being “shot from guns,” a slight prevarication about the exact process used to produce the fluffy texture of their grain products. So what?

Little did I suspect, in my youthful naïveté, that I would later in life actually meet someone who fulfilled the very fate of that doomed grain, over and over again!

HE LET HIMSELF BE SHOT FROM A FUCKING CANNON! OVER A BUNCH OF CARS, INTO A NET! THE LONGEST SUCH SHOT ON RECORD AT THE TIME, AND WHAT’S MORE, HIS WIFE AIMED AND FIRED THE CANNON!

In such a roles-reversal relationship, the husband needs to feel secure that his hubby doesn’t harbor any hidden resentments against him, no?

Well, this photo shows the first big assignment I got for Harbor Style magazine, the first one that took me out of town. All the way to the Desoto Super Speedway, outside Bradenton in Manatee County! The human cannonball was David Smith Jr., a short, unassuming guy you’d never figure for such an oddball job, but it runs in his family: his father did it too.

Here, Smith Jr. is shown in a fundraising stunt put on by a local auto dealership, firing himself over 18 new cars and trucks, a record no other human cannonball had ever logged before. For every second Smith stayed in the air, the dealership would drop $1,000 on new cars that month, December 2007. Big deal! Bigger deal: the cannon was also the starting gun for the Florida 400 Sprint auto race! Zoom zoom!

I had no doubt I could light the photo, as I had several powerful strobes that could have optical slaves attached, basically a photocell with electronics that make it sensitive only to short pulses of light, like an electronic flash produces. I set up two on light stands at a 45º angle to the net, a powerful Vivitar 635 handle-mount flash (colloquially referred to as a “potato masher” for its design) and a smaller but almost as powerful Vivitar 238 shoe mounted unit. A third unit was attached to the camera’s hot flash shoe, so it would fire as the camera was tripped and trip the other two units with its flash.

But… to catch the action, I put the camera in motor drive, which didn’t give the flashes time to recharge between shots! Oh no! I knew I might get a couple of dark frames… but what I never expected were the flash pots! They lit up one frame a thousand times brighter than my pathetic strobe units, and my camera’s shutter speed of 1/125 of a second and manually-set aperture of f4 turned out to be exactly the right exposure for my Fuji S2 Pro’s CCD sensor.

After I filed the shot with Harbor Style, I figured it might have some national or international appeal, so I spent several hours trying unsuccessfully to sell it to international press and news organizations. Nobody bit, but HS did pay for my travel.

Hey, it isn’t ever day you get to shoot a guy getting shot out of a cannon, is it? Isn’t that like being an anti-missile missile?

Malcolm’s Psychedelic Breakfast

Herewith, a photo of waffles, taken when I still had my Canon 30D digital camera in 2015. The 30D was only 8 megapixels, though, and old, and the thought of shooting with only the resolution of a half-frame 35mm was not encouraging.

No, these waffles were not psychedelic, although they were gluten-free, canned peach-enhanced and doused with genuine American Vermont maple syrup, by gum! You can’t eat that wonderful stuff in Russia or China, hell no!

And the morning light on them, shining in the eastern kitchen window, was beautiful, severe and dramatic. The subject had the prerequisite backlight, so necessary for food — note the translucency of the peach halves! I didn’t have to do a thing, so I took a picture.

An Odd-servation? Yes, because it picks out the food item and celebrates it, celebrates the peaches, the butter, the maple syrup, the indecisive quality of the waffles, a food item that thinks it might be the sole of a waffle-stomper, if only it weren’t so damn digestible!

And there you go. This is my own personal Odd-servation, and every time I look at it, delicious tastes and smells come back to me. Isn’t that why we take pictures, to freeze time?

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