It’s A Clean Machine

A thousand slides can make you feel like you're a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Dad’s images of a Cape Canaveral launch from 1975, including a surprising number of boats, which were in space, but not the same way.

Starting sometime in 1963, Dad started photographing everything: his wife, his children, the neighbors, street lights, college classmates, train tracks, rockets, places he went, birds, plants, boats, statues, co-workers, bonfires, bodies of water. When he died, a mountain of his work moved to my apartment. Since July, I’ve scanned and uploaded about 2,000 images to a private Flickr museum of these images. It’s an ambitious project, facing a number of obstacles.

First: some slides were originally developed with dates and numbers, some with just dates or numbers, some with no dates or numbers. Second: Dad kept over 800 mixed slides in carousels, rather than dark plastic containers, and in these less than ideal conditions, some slides have faded or developed mildew damage. Third: at some point, my stepmom Summer labeled a bunch of plastic slide containers, which may save my sanity; unfortunately, about a decade’s worth of slides were stored together, which may send me round the twist. Fourth: a few years ago, the digitizing company I paid to scan slides essentially poured separate groups of slides into a machine and I have yet to undertake separating them because I panic every time I think about it.

Despite all this, I’ve made progress. I’ve started to recognize pictures that must have been taken at the same time, significant places and faces I haven’t seen since childhood. My father was 21 and my mother 22 when I was born, and these images start before I was a year old. It is strange now to see my parents as young twenty-somethings, to witness my father’s learning to see the world and his life through the camera’s lens. In these pictures, I see that we, his children, were photographed constantly and were completely accustomed to it. I don’t remember being photographed constantly, so in some ways, it’s like looking at someone else’s life with my face.

There’s another obstacle: not all of the slides are here. Enough dated and numbered slides are present to render obvious the gaps. Where are these missing slides? I don’t know. Summer doesn’t remember Dad mentioning them. I don’t know what that means, or what it would ultimately mean if thousands of images were just missing.

At this stage in a blog post, I usually make a joke about how some ginormous thing in my life is totally small, except in this case, that’s too literal. This ginormous thing in my life is meaningless to all but a handful of people on the planet, and even they don’t really seem to care much. So I am doing this because I can and I should, to the best of my ability. When I’m done, I’ll store the slides as permanently as I can, but I doubt anyone will ever look at them again. Dad would have been as surprised as anyone else that there could be a private museum of his photographs, and for that reason alone, I will keep building it.

 

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You Can’t Take the Things

A few months ago, Chicken, one of our chickens, died. You’re thinking she suffered a stuffing-and-fruit-relish-related fate, but no. Our big hen went limp and, a day later, joined The Choir Invisible. I hope she can sing. Other Chicken, with the coop and the run to herself, became depressed. She also became Chicken by default, so we’ve taken to calling her Cat. She stayed inside the coop and barely ate. Andie and I hatched a plan.

Peep! Peep!

This is our baby. You can’t tell here because she’s the only visible chicken, but she is tiny and makes baby chick peep-peep sounds. She’s totally cute!

Joining us two weeks ago were two juveniles and a young mature hen. Pete asked me, “What are their names?” I said, “Patty, Maxene and LaVerne.” The woman who gave them to us advised us to introduce the new chickens to Cat the Chicken by letting them all wake up in the same coop together. I let everyone fall asleep, then put three squawking new chickens into a dark coop in which Cat the Chicken bock-bock-bocked menacingly, like it was a fowl horror film, and I may still have some guilt. Within days, the little chickens adapted and Cat the Chicken rebounded. She’s demanding treats, chasing the other chickens and spending all her time supervising the run. Yesterday, Andie opened the run door and Cat the Chicken jumped out, which was her way of declaring she was ready to scratch in the tiny yard again. We were overjoyed.

Things are looking up, by which I mean: don’t look up. We have tiny chickens in high places.

 

The Killer Awoke Before Dawn

What are you looking at?

After a cold spring and a wet summer, we worried this might be the Year Without Tomatoes. Fortunately, the farmers are finally bringing them in. These roasted heirloom tomatoes will taste like sunny summer in darkest winter.

Seriously, grow some food yourself, buddy.

Sunday’s backyard harvest: potatoes, a cucumber, a hot pepper, green beans. I’d planted early, the squirrels ate everything, then I planted again, so in August, I’m gathering in July goodies.

Out For Black And White

This morning, I skipped down the backyard stairs at 6:50 a.m. and saw an unfamiliar bird chickening outside the lines. My feet felt flat. I didn’t believe my eyes. I turned toward our chicken run and didn’t see anything unusual. The gate was closed. The roof was tacked down. I looked around the fence corner and there was still a chicken I didn’t recognize running next to the maple tree at the back of the yard. I walked around the tree and there was a second unfamiliar chicken running away from me. Now I am either having two separate chicken-based hallucinations or –

Suspicious chicken is suspicious.

We’re very close, by which I mean near, especially when I’m holding food.

I spun around toward the chicken coop in the neighbors’ yard. The door was open. We’ve had trash cans turned over, so Pete and I know there’s a raccoon in the neighborhood. I did not want to see any of the chickens tartared across the lawn, so I turned back to our coop and called for the chicken we now call Cat, or the Artist Formerly Known As Other Chicken, either way. After a few seconds, she climbed down out of the coop and I poured cantaloupe guts where she likes to nosh. She complained briefly about the inferior service in this joint, but that was somewhat reassuring. I shooed the unfamiliar chickens through a rose bush back to their own yard. Inside the house, I fretted.

Yes, I chased them around a tree.

These hens are not my friends.

Tata: Hey, the door to the coop of the People of the Chickens is open and the chickens are running loose. Are you in contact with any of those people?

Pete: Nooooo. I hate them!

Tata: Do you think I should tell them about their loose chickens?

Pete: Absolutely!

At 7 a.m., I found myself standing at the one breach of our fence between the two yards. Unfortunately, there was no breach in their chicken wire and overgrown pokeweed beyond the edge of their garden, and in the corner, only a composter would provide me any support. For a minute, I stood there, wishing like mad there was some other way to alert the sleepy people, but there wasn’t. My Heroic! plan was to knock on the back door until someone answered and rescued the clamoring chickens, who were at that moment gleefully tearing up the lawn. At least they were happy! I briefly considered my dignity, remembered I didn’t have any and climbed over the fence, leaning on the composter.

My feet landed in someone else’s garden bed. I hopped in circles between rows and toward the edge of the garden bed. Suddenly, I saw the very old, very deaf dog asleep on the back porch. I like that dog. She barks all day at falling leaves. But she was a dog and I was invading her turf. So I marched a quiet, careful path down the driveway and up the front steps. I knocked and nothing happened. I knocked. Knocked. Knocked. I could see lights. These people have a baby that cries all the time so they weren’t asleep, but they didn’t answer. I rang the doorbell, knocked some more and admitted defeat. I abandoned my Heroic! plan, walked around the block, up my back steps and went to work, where my co-workers expressed surprise that I might still be able to hop a fence. It’s a gift, I told them, like knowing when to leave a party or which Senator is lying, as in all of them.

This afternoon, all the chickens of the People of the Chickens are safely behind bars, and I am glad because I am not climbing that fence again without dog treats in my pocket and a better plan.