Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Healthy Respect"

Bill, he's always had a healthy respect for those who suffer in silence, which might help explain his agitated mood at the moment. His bus ride, you see, was a jostled trek, more so than what one normally expects on public transit.

"Those damned hippies," the elderly lady had uttered, clutching her assemblage of shopping bags closer to her legs like a mother hen gathering her chicks.

Always a stickler for accuracy, Bill sat and thought about her oath, the origins of the term 'hippie', and how different this generation of anti-establishment youth were from those of their grandparent's generation, which would include Bill's. Outside the window, the city passed in a jumble and blur of light.

Now, this was at about the place in Bill's commute when he started getting agitated. You see, he had been sitting just behind the hump of the rear wheel-well, minding his own business while simultaneously being aware, very aware, omnisciently aware (okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration) of the goings-on around him -- as is the nature of a documentarian -- when this group of five youths got aboard at the stop adjacent to the 4th Street Soup Kitchen, that part of town, like most every other town's, where the city founders zoned the homeless shelters into purposeful obscurity.

Two of the five youths, Bill noted, haggled with the driver regarding the fare, then were finally let aboard only after one of their compatriots -- the one dressed in the faux urban grunge style popular at the moment -- provided the proper coinage. Obviously, the progeny of a more wealthy lineage.

Most every group of Socialists, Bill thought, required the support of some Capitalist patron for their support, as if the two ostensibly opposing belief systems in fact actually required a symbiotic cross-relationship. Bill mused on this, thinking about jotting that one down for later.

The group clustered together in open aisle seats adjacent to Bill's, and proceeded to exchange childish giggles and comments under their breath while poking and swiping at their phones.

Bill sat in fascinated amusement, noting their penchant for Capitalist-produced consumer goods like cell phones, studying the group as a sociologist would a long-lost Amazonian tribe. In his youth, he wasn't what you'd call a hippie, though he kept close contact with others who obviously were. In fact, he'd lost his virginity to a tie-dyed and henna-tattooed flower girl while on a weekend getaway invite to Camp Parasite, a term coined by his more straight-laced friends for the wanna-be hippie commune frequented by the campus stoners. But that was decades ago, a different generation for sure.

How he got invited in the first place is a story best left for another time, so it will have to suffice that, ever since, Bill has had a soft spot for those of the more liberally inclined persuasion.

What broke Bill's reverie (after all, even the best social documentarians are besought with that ever-present weakness to daydream) was when one of the group of youthful vagabonds -- the tall, skinny one with dreds poking out from underneath his knit-cap -- proceeded to skateboard down the aisle while the vehicle was in motion.

It seemed to happen as if in slow motion, as if inevitable, as if he could do nothing to prevent the unpreventable. So this is how predestination works, Bill thought. Just slow everything else down sufficiently and no one, no matter how observant, can prevent the inevitable from happening.

It started, you see, with the most innocent of intentions, as these things are want to do. A young, female driver in a beat-up-then-spray-painted-various-shades-of-gray Toyota sedan crept out into traffic just far enough so as to signal her intention to merge, which caused an approaching car to hastily decelerate, etcetera, in chain-reaction, until Transit Route 6B Commuter Line bus 635 was also forced to rapidly decelerate.

Newton's Second Law being inviolable, Mr. Skateboard Dude proceeded to demonstrate to the remainder of his fellow patrons the Full Face-Plant Into The Coin Box Stunt, shortly after his ball-bearing-wheeled steed's rapid forward momentum was suddenly halted by that most common of city bus aisle-way obstructions, a misplaced foot.

Mr. Skateboard Dude's band of youthful merrymakers were so much less impressed by what they perceived as the bus driver's purposeful intent of putting a halt to the happy proceedings that they arose as one and hastily made their way down to the front of the vehicle, where their young companion was found crumpled in a heap in the stairwell by the front door.

The driver, he was a veteran of this sort of urban warfare, hence the reason why he remained calm -- a rock in a storm, or so witnesses would later state -- throughout the remainder of the incident.

Bill, you see, hadn't just sat there passively, a merely surprised bump on a rather large log. No, sir. Bill's camera, in fact, (the heavy, mid-20th century Kodak Retina rangefinder) was already out and several exposures of dubious focus had already been made when the group, having collected their errant member and were sauntering back down the aisle to their seats, were overwhelmed by the vehicle's sudden and rapid acceleration.

A veteran bus rider, Bill had seen the occasional empty bus barrelling down some darkened street at a high rate of speed, the "Out of Service" sign prominently lit, signaling the end of another tired driver's shift; but he had never been personal witness to what one of these behemoths could do when sufficiently motivated. The driver's right foot, he figured, must by now be protruding completely through the front grill.

Like 1960's astronauts splashing down after their return to earth (and which Bill can clearly recall having watched on T.V. as a kid), the band of merry trouble-makers were hurled down the aisle, feet frantically forward-pedaling to keep pace with their sudden rearward momentum, directly toward Bill, whose rangefinder camera-handling skills were being taxed to the limit as he turned the lens's focus tab rapidly to the left, felt the detent at the ten foot distance, then waited, microseconds perhaps, for his prey, now virtually airborne, to intersect his pre-chosen zone of focus, as he recorded but one exposure (and what a great picture that would be, years later, when he can once again spin the yarn about the bus ride and the errant skateboarder and the determined-to-get-his-revenge veteran urban guerilla warfare bus driver), mere seconds before they came crashing down upon him and the elderly lady and her flock of shopping bags.


It's a few days later, and Bill sports only a yellowed bruise on his right shoulder, just sore enough to remind him of the incident on the bus, but also enough to embolden him in his urban explorations, like some yellowing and fallow badge of courage. Not everyone, he reminds himself, get the full Medal of Honor treatment; more often than not, it's the dead ones who are most heavily decorated. He'll take his bruise any day, thank you very much.

The day is clear and cold, enough of a breeze to send dried leaves scratching across the sidewalk, and he's down by the University to document the local version of Occupy Wall Street. There are no Capitalist Bankers in the vicinity, only minimum-wage workers in service jobs at the nearby shops, but the protestors chant and march through the park with equal zeal.

Occupy the Park, as Bill calls it, is an obvious venue from which to collect more street photos. He's nearing the end of the roll of film, ready to rewind and reload, when he notices them approaching from across the park. Four dudes, with a fifth in tow whose face is partially obscured in a large bandage, holding a skateboard.

Bill, he raises the old camera to his eye, frames the group in the rangefinder, and can feel the newly-formed dent in the top right corner of the camera body, a dent that's only a few days old.

The dude with the skateboard and bandaged face stops, spies Bill from across the way, then abruptly signals for the group to abandon their original heading and instead veer off across the street in a new course to who-knows-where.

Bill, he's on the 36th frame, but is certain that he's captured a good image. Time for coffee at Loser's Blend.


(Posted via Lamy Safari in composition book; image via Lumix G1)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Afternoon Pinhole Trek

(Half Zia Gate)

(Pinata Girl)


(Train Engine)

(General Repair)

(City Park)

(City Park)

(Typecast via Corona 4)

Technical Note:
Pinhole camera images exposed onto preflashed grade 2 RC photo paper in F240 cigar box camera; processed in paper developer; then scanned and reversed, tones inverted, spotted and curves adjusted in Photoshop.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ruminations on Allen & Boole

(Typecast via Corona 4. Images via Lumix G1 w/20mm-F/1.7 lens)

About Woody Allen's typewriter.
About George Boole.
About Kevin Kelly's Technium.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


(Typecast via Olivetti Lettera 22; images via Lumix G1)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


(Typecast via Olivetti Lettera 22. Images via Kodak Ektar 127mm lens on Speed Graphic 4x5, using Harman's Direct Positive fiber paper.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Barney the Cigarette Guy"

"It's a rangefinder, not an SLR and not a point-and-shoot" exclaimed Bill. They were sitting at an outdoor table on the sidewalk outside of Loser's Blend, him and Barney the Cigarette Guy. They had eaten breakfast, were on their fourth cup of coffee, and the ashtray -- an Illy coffee cannister half-filled with sand -- was overflowing with butts from the pack of European smokes Barney had brought over from his shop. Manufacturer's samples, he'd said.

"So let me get this straight," mumbled Barney, cigarette at lip, the metallic snick of his Zippo signaling a cloud of fresh smoke encircling his head like an aura. "I'm not looking through the lens, like on a real camera, right?"

Bill looked away in frustration, taking another drag, then a sip of the now luke-warm coffee. "You're looking through a window," says Bill, turning back to face Barney straight away, "a window on the world, framed by those faint, gray lines. It's not the view of the lens; it's your view upon the world. Your private view. A window, like I said."

Barney carefully picks up the Soviet-era Zorki IV once again, after having placed it back upon the table earlier like some strange and foreign thing that he wasn't, at the moment, prepared to confront. He draws it up to his face, hesitates a moment, then places the rangefinder window to his eye and pans the camera up and down the street, as if viewing for the first time a new world set before him. "Okay, I think I can see what you're saying. As I focus the lens, there's this little double-image in the middle of the frame that comes and goes, right?"

"Exactly. And like I said, whatever's in focus on the film you'll see in the window as the two double images lined up exactly, one upon the other."

"Kind of like the way I already see, isn't it? What with all the brain trauma from the attack." His voice trails off in a cloud of European cigarette smoke.

Bill is secretly amused about how Barney always seems to present his statements in the form of a question, as if life were a game of Jeopardy. Which he probably watched a lot of, at rehab, after the attack.

The moments pass while they silently sit at their table contemplating the pigeons pecking at who-knows-what on the sidewalk at their feet, and students saunter by on foot or bicycle toward campus and their morning class, and the lady across the street slowly pushes the bent shopping cart up the sidewalk, half pushing and half dragging, her legs wrapped indeterminably thick in gauze-like wrappings, cigarette smoke wafting on the cold, morning breeze at their table while Barney fumbles and fiddles with the camera.

"Careful with that shutter speed knob," Bill breaks the spell of silence. "Like I said earlier, you have to cock the shutter before you can change speeds. Here, with that round knob on the right side."

"Yea, you said a lot of things earlier. I'm just trying to remember them all." Barney turns the round, knurled film advance knob until it stops, then fiddles some more with the shutter speed control, noticing how he has to pull up on it before he can change the settings. He decides on 1/250 as a good starting point, based on what he remembers Bill saying.

"Sunny side up, right?"

"That's the Sunny 16 rule, and it only applies in bright sun. Set your shutter speed to the inverse of your film speed when your aperture is F/16. Remember, we're shooting Tri-X, nominally rated at ISO400 but I like to shoot it at 320, brings out the shadow detail better, remember?"

"Yea, yea, I remember. And you're gonna develop the stuff yourself, like you said, right?" Barney was pointing the camera at Bill, practicing focusing the lens and watching the double image come and go on Bill's face, watching the two sets of eyes merge, then separate, then merge again.

"We are both going to develop the stuff ourselves. Right. And I'll teach you how, it's easy. If you can scald water and burn toast, you can develop film. Okay, question time. Ready?"

"Yea, shoot. Get it?" Barney chuckles to himself, taking another drag.

"Okay. Cloudy skies. What's your aperture setting?"


"Correct. How about indoors with daylight coming in through a window?"

"F/8 and be there." Barney smirks to himself, secretly enjoying playing the fool, knowing the advantage he'd always enjoyed being smarter than he looked.

"Very good. Now, tell me about depth of focus, Barney."

"That's that complicated stuff, right?" Barney fumbles with the cold coffee cup.

"Go on."

"I know it has to do with your aperture. Change your aperture and your depth of field changes."

"Good. And what's the little saying I taught you?"

"Oh, something like..." -- he pauses for a second, looking at nothing in particular, as if he could turn his eyes around and peer inside his head -- "...the smaller the number, the smaller the depth of focus, right?" Barney was beaming, knowing for the first time in a long while that he could do this, that he could master this one simple thing, taking pictures, in a life of having mastered little or nothing at all, just struggling to run his smoke shop and keep his head above water, but wanting more, something deep inside him struggling to get out, fighting to be heard.

Bill grinned, his yellow teeth illuminated in the early morning light that now peered from behind the night's storm clouds. "Now, I want you to go out and shoot that roll of film that I already loaded for you. Just think about the mechanics at first, like what exposure you need to use, and carefully focusing on the most important thing in the picture, and then once you're comfortable with the camera, you can start thinking about subject matter and composition and stuff. You're not going to be doing fine art at first, just learning to drive. Got it?"

"Right, chief, got it. But don't get jealous when I come back with pictures better than yours, okay? Sometimes a guy's gotta gift, you know? A gift from God. I know I do, is all. A fellow can't help it when he's got it. Just gotta stay humble's all I say."

"Right." Bill smirks. "And don't forget, you just cocked the shutter, the camera's ready to fire, okay?"

Barney picks himself up from the table, zips up his jacket, and throws the used pack of smokes back down. "Here, the rest is for you. And thanks. I'll get the camera back to you next week, okay?"

"Okay, Barney. Just leave the film inside, we can unload and develop it ourselves. And good luck, hope you get some good shots."

"Right, see you later."

Barney ambles down the sidewalk with the gait of a gimp leg, then turns the corner and suddenly stops, bringing the camera up to his eye, and snaps a picture of Bill, seated at the table, coffee cup in hand, looking off into nowhere.

Pigeons peck and strut at Bill's feet, as smoke bellows on the cold, morning air.


(Posted via AlphaSmart Neo)

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Dia de los Muertos, 2011

Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, is celebrated in many Hispanic cultures in the Americas, and dates back prior to the Spanish era, several thousand years into the past. Here in New Mexico, we find our own interpretation of this ancient ritual, what with the state's long legacy of Hispanic culture. Among the celebrations this month was the Albuquerque Marigold Parade and Festival, which threads it way through Albuquerque's Hispanic south valley. I had the good fortune, this past Sunday afternoon, of accompanying a photographer friend down along Isleta Blvd., to document the parade and the people involved.

The Aztecs and other Meso-Americans believed that by honoring one's dead in such celebrations, they would come back to visit them during the month-long ritual. The Spanish, in their Catholic beliefs, attempted to Christianize these ancient beliefs by moving them so as to coincide with All Saint's Day, in early November, which is when it is celebrated yet to this day.

We arrived with the sun setting low in the west, parade-goers decorated in brightly-colored costumes assembling in the parking lot of the sheriff's station: costumed, skeleton-masked, in-drag, leather-clad, low-riding; families, friends, car clubs, biker gangs, scooter clubs, (un)Occupy Albuquerque protestors and social organizations of all ilks; on foot, upon choppered bicycles, modded scooters, antique cars and improvised floats; a most diverse assemblage of folks from all walks of life.

I brought my trusty "old" (by modern standards, vintage 2008) Lumix G1 and two lenses -- the 20mm-f/1.7 prime lens, along with the 14-45mm zoom -- while Kevin brought his recently-acquired fixed-lensed Fuji X100. I began shooting with the zoom lens while the light was bright, mostly at its 28mm-equivalent widest angle, and occasionally zooming in to a 50mm-equivalent angle of view for tighter compositions. When the light began to fade toward dusk, I switched to the 20mm-f/1.7 lens which, at faster ISO settings and wider apertures, permits handheld shooting in the fading light without the need for flash (control of which, on the G1, is lacking).

Meanwhile, Kevin's more advanced X100 sports a larger, more sensitive sensor and better fill-flash control, along with its unique combination optical-and-electronic viewfinder, although lacking an interchangeable lens.

Myself, I've gotten used to shooting my G1 like a fixed-lensed camera, primarily with the 20mm lens, while for Kevin (having been a long-term SLR user) it's a new learning experience having to rely on "zooming with one's feet," getting closer in to the subject matter.

I believe sticking with one lens and one camera is essential to growing as a photographer, while having to move in closer is a great opportunity to engage in a dialog with one's subject matter, an essential step toward growing beyond photography as big-game hunting, instead using it as a tool for documentary story-telling. Photographs are a gift, freely given to us, not some trophy to be hunted down and mounted upon some plaque in our trophy rooms at home. One has to engage the subject, person-to-person; one has to come into close proximity with the essence of another's humanity, close enough to become real people, even if the occasion is merely documenting the setting of another's home or property, devoid of any direct evidence of habitation, only indirectly hinted at -- cultural forensics, urban archeology.

It is interesting how people in public tend to remain, in their minds, private and secular, introverted and self-conscious. Until they put on makeup and costume, that is, at which point they seem to shed their chrysalis of shyness and become more out-going, as if on-stage in some impromptu performance. It is also interesting to observe these same people, once shy and then having shed their cloaks of shyness, yet still hiding their true expressions of emotion behind the painted facade of a skeleton-faced grin. Do they tire of the incessant click-click-click of the photographers? Do they feel like animals on display in some zoo, or do they have more realistic expectations that being part of such a public activity might involve actually being noticed? For the most part, I failed to observe any signs of emotional exhaustion on the part of the participants. They all seemed eager to be noticed, to be appreciated for the work that each put into their own small part of a much larger event. Even the low-riders got into the act, cycling their cars' hydraulic suspensions into pretzel-like contortions, that are better appreciated on video rather than in still photography.

I came to Albuquerque's South Valley on Sunday afternoon as an outsider; I live in the more affluent suburbs of the city's Northeast Heights, and herald from a non-Hispanic background. Yet I walked away, in the fading light of dusk, feeling like a fellow participant; while not necessarily fully accepted by those involved, (political correctness aside, all of us, to a man, employ our sense of visual perception as a means of assessing strangers in our midst) I sensed no overt suspicion. I am also aware that this celebration, in its most succinct essence, is a neighborhood community gathering, one that dates back to a time when neighborhoods were isolated villages whose members shared a common culture and ancestry; today's participants arrived from all corners of the city. Perhaps next year I will dispense with the superficial attire of the urban photographer, paint myself up in skeleton-face, don some zany costume and ride my motorcycle up Isleta Blvd. along with all of the others. Perhaps.

I'd like to close with some thoughts about The Day of the Dead in its contemporary incarnation. It has often been said, by social commentators, that our culture is one fixated on death; that wars (seemingly perpetual, as of late), violent crimes (seemingly unresolvable), domestic abuse (seemingly chronic) and the mainstream television serial crime dramas (and their endlessly novel crimes depicted therein) all seem to be symptomatic of some fundamental malaise, an inner rottenness, a common disease within our contemporary culture. One could argue (and some have) that these traditional celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos also involve an excessive focus on the symbology of death. However, I disagree; the gaiety and exuberance surrounding such celebrations serve as a reminder to us modernists, steeped in our presumption that we will somehow live on forever, that life is short and, at times, bitter-sweet; that all who have come before, and all yet to be born, will all someday die; that death is a part of life, part of the lives of families and villages and communities; and that before we can completely grasp what it means to be fully alive we must first deal with this matter of death that silently stalks us all.

So let us laugh at death, let us mock its folly, let us find, in our excessive exuberance, reason to live. Let us be fully alive on this Day of the Dead.

Post-script: Among those in attendance, I happened across a long-time acquaintance, a photographer from the local newspaper, whom I'd first met, several decades ago, at a local used camera shop. At that time, he was shooting a medium format Yashica 6x7 camera, processing his own film and making prints in the paper's darkroom. Now, of course, he came equipped with a late-model professional Canon DSLR. The times, they have changed.

I returned home late on Sunday evening with about 450 images on my memory card. I spent the better part of the last few days "processing" them from RAW files into JPEGs, and culling out the wheat from the chaff. The end result, what I consider the better parts, I've uploaded to Flickr, where you can view the full set of photos. Just click on the "slideshow" link.

Dia de los Muertos Slideshow.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Preface: Knowing that many of this blog's frequent visitors are now engaged in that glorious annual pilgrimage to the Muse that is called NaNoWriMo, I will attempt to provide some inspiration and solace by means of my modest attempts at fiction.


Bill sat in his usual seat on the 19B redline, across the aisle from the rear exit door, leaning against the interface between seat back and window at an approximate 45-degree angle, right knee up on the adjoining seat so as to preclude all but the most determined from sitting down next to him, providing him with a simultaneous view of his fellow patrons of mass transit while also able to study the urban landscape passing just outside the dingy, scratched window, cold to the touch of his cheek.

He carried a flimsy army-green canvas messenger bag, inside of which was a tattered composition book, miscellaneous papers and pamphlets, ancient Retina IIIc camera and pencil box containing fountain pen (loaded with Parker Quink blue/black ink), Pentel mechanical pencil (loaded with Pentel red lead) along with spare leads and erasers. Also included in the bag was a pack of American Spirits and a worn Zippo, a habit he'd resigned himself to, under the false pretense that he didn't inhale, only smoked them like cigars.

Oh, and one more thing was inside the bag, zippered up within its inner, hidden pocket: a Ruger SP101 snub-nosed .357 revolver, stainless steel finish, black rubber grips, hammerless trigger, loaded with .38 specials, the kind easily obtained at the Walmart across town (reached via a transfer to the 7A Blue line and a 45 minute wait at an uncovered bus stop sporting a broken, molded-concrete bench), in the glass-doored display cabinet at the rear of the store, in Sporting Goods. He wondered, at times, why they always placed the Sporting Goods department at the rear of the store, in whatever Walmart he'd ever been in. He figured it was some Feng-shue-ish security measure, should some ne'er-do-well break into one of the display cases and try to make off with a shotgun or rifle, in which case some minimum-wage security goon would have a better chance of stopping him before reaching the exit doors -- which were always on the left, not the right, side, as if Walmart were head-quartered in the United Kingdom instead of the good old U.S of A. One couldn't be too cautious, could one? What with all the crime of late -- at least, that's what the local T.V. news kept saying -- and him being a perpetual customer of mass-transit, the preferred transportation mode of the down-and-out and the wanna-be socialist; at least, that's what Bob the Weasel kept telling him, down at Loser's Blend, his favored coffee shop haunt as of late.

Bob the Weasel. Now there was a character. He'd met quite a few strange ones in his time, but Bob the Weasel took the cake.

Bill was headed downtown, to the University area and its harried masses of slackers, students, street people, neo-hippies and general bohemia, to Loser's Blend, to spend a few hours trying to dredge up a few more pages of the story he was struggling with, and also to soak up a bit more local culture. He figured being a wanna-be writer required having the characteristic of a sponge, able to soak up all the dregs of humanity, then squeeze them out, perhaps at a later date, through the steel nib of his fountain pen onto the smooth, lined pages of his journal.

The bus jolted, jerked and jinked, brakes hissing to a stop, doors flinging open with that hidden mechanical sound, and off would rush fellow riders, then on would shuffle more riders, who'd pay their fare, then saunter down the aisle, like drunken sailors lacking their sea legs, as the bus accelerated and merged back into the intermittent Tuesday morning traffic.

A young male figure slowly made his way down the aisle, eyeing each seated passenger with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, dreds swaying side to side, brushing the shoulders of his worn denim jacket that sported frayed patches, some indeterminate while others were more prominently obvious. A green cannabis leaf. A red silhouette of Che. A Bart Simpson logo.

The slender figure, dark brown of skin, eyes shaded with cheap, scratched sunglasses, stopped adjacent to Bill's seat, clinging to the overhead handrail like some primate, swaying back and forth with the unpredictable motion of a standing bus rider or a drunkard, eyeing Bill warily, and the empty seat that Bill was protecting. He'd look away, hunching down to grasp a view outside the windows on the opposite side of the bus, like he'd just spotted something of immense importance, then turn and peer at Bill again, and the seat next to him.

Bill, he just looked out the window at the passing storefronts, seemingly lost in thought but actually entirely aware of his surroundings, internally on guard but not revealing his caution, a protective mechanism learned through years of hard-scrabble street survival. He'd developed this uncanny ability to maintain total situational awareness while simultaneously engaging his higher creative faculties. He thought of the history of this street, which he'd studied for hours within the volumes of old city directories at the public library, a history of businesses rising then failing, like civilizations come and gone and come again on the tide of changing urban trends, their forensics partially revealed in the faded signs still visible in the alleyways and old brick facades that he preferred to photograph, an ad hoc archeology evident only to the keen-eyed observer. Bill wondered how many of his fellow riders thought about the history of the storefronts that whizzed by outside the dingy windows, or perhaps they were only thinking about their day's chores and errands yet to be completed, or failed relationships, or perhaps nothing at all.

The dark, lanky figure, Bill noted, kept his eye on Bill and the partially empty seat next to him.

Conner Avenue, the red L.E.D. sign above the driver's station announced. Bill rose from his seat, brushed by the dred-sporting figure still hanging by one arm from the rail, and steadied himself by the rear exit door. The bus, it jolted and stuttered to a stop, emitting hisses and clanks, and then Bill pushed himself through the double exit doors onto the curbside and the crowds of people milling about. The dark figure, he thought, was probably seating himself at Bill's old spot, making himself comfortable for a ride to who knows where.

Bill threaded himself through gaps in the clots of pedestrians, left arm grasping the strap of his bag, eyes panning left and right, always observant.

Footsteps behind him, whose pace stayed in phase with his own. Boots, he figured. Doc Martins, perhaps, or some cheap Chinese-made knock-offs. Bill aimed for the truncated corner of a late-19th century building, quickly negotiating the gap between glass doors and support beam, then abruptly stopping just beyond, leaning against the brick facade, out of sight of the sidewalk, listening intently for footsteps. The figure on the bus strode by, as if searching for something of importance, obviously looking for Bill but confused as to why he'd lost the scent. Deftly, Bill reached into his bag, under the flap, and extracted the camera. Wrist strap dangling, he flicked the release button on the front and opened the clamshell, set the leaf shutter to f/8 and 1/125 of a second, rotated the focus lever to the 10 foot detent, brought the camera to his face, composed the figure within the rangefinder's framelines and released the shutter with a Swiss-watch snick that even he could barely hear. He slipped the camera back into the safety of the bag as the figure stopped and turned around. Bill paused, in tension.

"What the fuck do you want?" The dreds were still oscillating from his sudden movement, pendulum-like.

Bill stood silent, left leg bent, foot against wall, wearily eyeing the figure, a pose carefully orchestrated to exude an air of casual non-concern.

The figure teetered on one foot, then steadied himself, partially on the sidewalk and partially in the curb. A woman quickly strode by between them, having crossed the street in obvious disdain of the Don't Walk sign, the signature of a veteran downtown office worker, head down to the sidewalk immediately in front of her, cell phone at her ear, oblivious to the tension she'd just penetrated.

The figure leered at her rear end rapidly vanishing in the distance, an uncomfortably long pause, long enough that Bill wondered what thoughts had transpired in his mind. Perhaps some flashback, distant memories, or maybe some darker fantasy clouding his thoughts, an uncertain interlude.

"Yea," the figure muttered, then turned and wandered across the street, oblivious to the traffic yet somehow never in immediate danger to oncoming traffic, the grace of the dispossessed who somehow always seem to stay out of harm's way, an intrinsic street intuition on display.

Bill watched the figure recede in the distance, wondering what his story was, wondering if he should have engaged the character in conversation but knowing deep down that his instincts had been right. You had to listen to that inner voice, a voice he'd learned, through years of trials, to obey vehemently. He reached for a cigarette, performing the ritual of the experienced smoker, the flick of the lighter's lid and scrape of the flint drowned out in the din of traffic, then blew smoke into the autumn breeze.

Loser's Blend was three blocks away.

Bill pushed his way through the entrance, the sudden change from brisk autumn air to the warm body-odor and kitchen aromas like an awakening from some long-forgotten dream. He stood in the short line, then ordered his coffee and proceeded to the side counter where he dumped 8 seconds worth of white sugar into the chipped cup and settled himself into a corner table, his usual seat, the table's wobbliness threatening to spill the contents of a less experienced patron. He carefully set the cup down upon a brown paper napkin, precisely aligned with the table's edge, then extracted composition book and pen case and hung the bag on the chair-back. Now seated, he stirred the coffee with a flat wooden stick, his preference over the flimsy little plastic kinds found elsewhere, one of the many coffee shop attributes he used in gauging his patronage, wondering if that made him some kind of coffee shop snob but also not really caring.

He flipped open the journal, thumbing past page after page of blue fountain pen scratchings highlighted by red pencil corrections, until he found the place where he'd left off. Like a ritual, he opened the case and extracted the fountain pen, setting it upon the crisp, white paper like a surgeon readying himself for a difficult operation, and sat back in his seat, breathing calmly, steadily, coffee cup at lip, sipping slowly, savoring the rich flavor and aroma, studying the figures seated at the tables round about him. Bob the Weasel was nowhere to be seen.

Bill emptied his mind of the day's activity and his journey across town and the strange figure on the bus who had attempted to follow him -- for what purpose he could only suppose -- and set himself to writing, one word after another pouring out from within the hidden depths like some intermittent fountain, always amazed at its forthcoming yet entirely faithful when it did come, a faithfulness he relied upon like some superstition, an inner knowing, the foundation of his self-confidence but which he never, ever, for even one moment, took for granted.

Words poured forth, pen upon paper, miraculous, of which those round about him remained oblivious in their idle chat and intent Internet surfing, until the minutes passes into hours and Bill finally extricated himself from his inner world and pushed himself through the door, out into the cooling evening air.


(Posted via AlphaSmart Neo)