Early “photo of summer” candidate

I writ­ten many times before that I like to find fam­i­ly pho­tos that encap­su­late a feel­ing — a time and place, a moment in our col­lec­tive lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite pho­tos of this summer.

Tech­ni­cal note: this was only pos­si­ble with a water resis­tant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with pre­vi­ous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is cour­tesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Por­trait” mode. It’s not per­fect: zoom in and there’s some dis­tor­tion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid back­ground of the slide and on bot­tom where there are arti­facts in the con­trast with the far back­ground of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imag­ing works.

80s Flashback Time

Some of my younger friends are freak­ing out about Trump, won­der­ing how we’ll get through his pres­i­den­cy. For those of us of a cer­tain age though this is déjà vu, a return to the days of Ronald Rea­gan. Though many peo­ple lion­ize him in ret­ro­spect, he was a train wreck through and through.

I was young when he came into office and my only mem­o­ry of his first term is being inter­rupt­ed in gym class to an announce­ment he had been shot in an assas­si­na­tion attempt. My first inkling of him as a politi­cian came from a high school social stud­ies teacher Roy Buri who con­stant­ly made fun of Reagan’s state­ments and poli­cies. I laughed at Buri’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tions but I also began to inter­nal­ized them. He was a leg­end at the school and had report­ed­ly pro­vid­ed a safe haven in the 1970s for stu­dents orga­niz­ing against the Viet­nam War. Retro bonus: he even looked a bit like Bernie Sanders!

When I grad­u­at­ed and moved onto a most­ly con­ser­v­a­tive col­lege, I would stay late at nights in a base­ment lounge talk­ing with friends in about how we could deal with the era we were liv­ing. I remem­ber an epiphany that even though the media were telling us to believe cer­tain things because that was the main­stream nation­al dis­course, we didn’t have to. We could be inde­pen­dent in our actions and con­vic­tions. Yes, that seems obvi­ous now but it was a major real­iza­tion then.

So what did we do? We protest­ed. We spoke out. We knew gov­ern­ment wasn’t on our side. For those los­ing friends to AIDS, there was deep mourn­ing and right­eous anger. There was a melan­choly. A lot of my world felt under­ground and grit­ty. I start­ed writ­ing, edit­ing a under­ground week­ly paper on cam­pus (real­ly the start of my career). I fig­ured out that the geog­ra­phy depart­ment was full of left­ies and spent enough time there to earn a minor. Most of all, I worked to de-normalize the Rea­gan and Bush St Admin­is­tra­tions – the deep cor­rup­tion of many of its offi­cials and the heart­less­ness of its policies.

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Shitty jobs that don’t exist

I don't think we can fully understand the appeal Trump without realizing just how shitty life has become for a lot of working class white men and their families. Stable, honest union jobs just don't exist anymore. It wasn't so long ago that you could graduate high school, work hard, and have a good life with a rancher and two cars in the driveway. You weren't living large but you had enough for a Disney vacation every couple of years and a nice TV on the living room wall. For a lot of working class families, that just doesn't exist anymore. Now it's astronomical credit card debits, defaults on mortgages, divorces from the stress. Saving for the kids' college or for retirement is just a joke. It's easy to get nostalgic for what's been lost.

A few years ago I wrote about the time when I worked the night shift at the local supermarket. The older guys there had decent-enough stable jobs they had worked at for twenty years, but for the younger guys, the supermarket was just another temporary stop in a never-ending rotation of shit jobs. Sometimes it'd be pumping gas overnight hoping you wouldn't get shot. Other times it'd be working the box store hoping some random manager didn't fire you because he didn't like the way you look. A lot just didn't last at any job.

There was a small core of long-time nightshift crew members and a revolving door of new hires. Some of the new people lasted only a day before quitting and some a week or two, but few remained longer. Many of these temporary employees were poster children for the tragedies of modern twenty-something manhood (night crews were almost all male). One twenty-something white guy was just back from Iraq; he shouted to himself, shot angry looks at us, and was full of jerky, twitchy movements. We all instinctively kept our distance. Over one lunch break, he opened up enough to admit he was on probation for an unspecified offense and that loss of this job would mean a return to prison. When he disappeared after two weeks (presumably to jail), we were all visibly relieved. (Our fears weren’t entirely unfounded: a night crew member from a nearby ShopRite helped plan the 2007 Fort Dix terrorist plot.)

Another co-worker lasted a bit longer. He was older and calmer, an African American man in his late forties who biked in. I liked him and during breaks, we sometimes talked about God. One frosty morning, he asked if I could give him a lift home. As he gave directions down a particular road, I thoughtlessly said, “Oh so you live back past Ancora,” referring to a locally-notorious state psychiatric hospital. He paused a moment before quietly telling me that Ancora was our destination and that he lived in its halfway house for vets in recovery. Despite the institutional support, he too was gone after about a month.

The regulars were more stable, but even they were susceptible to the tectonic shifts of the modern workforce. There was a time not so long ago when someone could graduate high school, work hard, be dependable, and earn a decent working-class living. My shift manager was only a few years older than me, but he owned a house and a dependable car, and he had the nightshift luxury of being able to attend all of his son’s Little League games. But that kind of job was disappearing. Few new hires were offered full-time work anymore. The new jobs were part-time, short-term, and throw-away. Even the more stable “part-timers” drifted from one dreary, often dangerous, job to the next.

You can read the whole piece here:

To be clear: I don't think Trump himself really gives a crap about these people. As I said yesterday, he's all about himself and his fellow rich New Yorkers. The millions of people who voted for him mostly got suckered. That's just how Trump works. He suckers, he raids, he bankrupts, then he moves on (see: Atlantic City). Eight years from now our country will be teetering in bankruptcy again, but that's not the point, not really, not now at least. The American Dream really has disappeared for a lot of people. They'd like to see American made great again.

Mothers Day 2016 L-O-V-E

DIY Mother's Day present kid handprint.

Last year, the kids and I made a framed hand­print collage-like present for Julie and Moth­ers Day (right). This year I fol­lowed it up with a folksy pho­to of each of the kids hold­ing up hand-drawn let­ters spelling out “LOVE.” This was inspired by this 2009 post on a blog called The Inad­ver­tent Farmer.

The first step was get­ting pic­tures of each kid with a let­ter. It wasn’t too bad as I just had to take enough to get each one look­ing cute.

Here are the four pictures that went into this year's frame. As you can see, it is very basic, just paper and marker. Writing the letters freeform gives it a folksy, personalized charm.

A trick­i­er task was find­ing a frame to dis­play four pic­tures. It took the third store before I lucked out. Because of the tim­ing, I had actu­al­ly print­ed the pic­tures before I had the frame and so had fin­gers crossed that the size would work.

Mothers Day T-minus-one: Three of the kids helped me frame the pictures the night before.

Framed Mothers Day presents two years running!

Once made, the absolute hard­est was get­ting a group shot of the kids with Julie hold­ing it!

Proud Mama with her Mothers Day present from the kids.

Recovering the past through photos

2015 looks like it’s shap­ing up to be the year that online cloud pho­to ser­vices all take a giant leapt for­ward. Just in the last few months alone, I’ve gone and dug up my ten-plus year pho­to archive from a rarely accessed back­up dri­ve (some 72 GB of files) and uploaded it to three dif­fer­ent pho­to services.

First it was Drop­box, whose Carousel app promised to change every­thing. For $10/month, I can have all of the dig­i­tized pho­tos I’ve ever tak­en all togeth­er. It changed how I access past events. Back in the day I might have tak­en 20 pic­tures and post­ed 2 to Flickr. The oth­er 18 were for all intents inac­ces­si­ble to me — on the back­up dri­ve that sits in a dusty draw­er in my desk. Now I could look up some event on my pub­lic Flickr, remem­ber the date, then head to Dropbox/Carousel to look through every­thing I took that day — all on my phone. Some­times I’d even share the whole roll from that event to folks who were there.

But this was a two-step process. Flickr itself had boost­ed its stor­age space last year but it wasn’t until recent­ly that they revealed a new Cam­era Roll and uploader that made this all work more seam­less­ly. So all my pho­tos again went up there. Now I didn’t have to jug­gle between two apps.

Last week, Google final­ly (final­ly!) broke its pho­tos from Google+ and the rem­nants of Picasa to give them their own home. It’s even more fab­u­lous than Flickr and Drop­box, in that its search is so good as to feel like mag­ic. Peo­ple, places, and image sub­jects all can be accessed with the search speed that Google is known for. And this ser­vice is free and uploads old videos.

Theo (identified by his baby nickname, "Skoochie") in a backpack as we scout for Christmas trees, December 2003.
Screen­shot of Theo (iden­ti­fied by his baby nick­name, “Skoochie”) and Julie, Decem­ber 2003.

I’m con­stant­ly sur­prised how just how emo­tion­al­ly pow­er­ful an old pho­to or video can be (I waxed lyri­cal­ly about this in Nos­tal­gia Comes Ear­ly, writ­ten just before our last fam­i­ly vaca­tion). This week­end I found a short clip from 2003 of my wife car­ry­ing our new­born in a back­pack and cit­ing how many times he had wok­en us up the night before. At the end she joked that she could guilt trip him in years to come by show­ing this video to him. Now the clip is some­thing I can find, load, and play in a few sec­onds right from my ever-present phone.

So what I’ve noticed is this quick access to unshared pho­tos is chang­ing the nature of my cell­phone photo-taking. I’m tak­ing pic­tures that I nev­er intend to share but that give me an estab­lish­ing shot for a par­tic­u­lar event: signs, dri­ve­way entrances, maps. Now that I have unlim­it­ed stor­age and a cam­era always with­in reach, I can use it as a quick log of even the most quo­tid­i­an life events (MG Siegler recent­ly wrote about The Pow­er of the Screen­shot, which is anoth­er way that quick and ubiq­ui­tous pho­to access is chang­ing how and what we save.) With GPS coor­di­nates and pre­cise times, it’s espe­cial­ly use­ful. But the most pro­found effect is not the activ­i­ty log­ging, but still the emo­tions release unlock­ing all-but-lost mem­o­ries: remem­ber­ing long-ago day trips and vis­its with old friends.

Nostalgia comes early

One of the most famous scenes in the AMC show Mad Men comes near the end of sea­son one. Kodak has asked the adver­tis­ing firm to cre­ate a cam­paign around a new slide pro­jec­tor that has a cir­cu­lar tray. Don Drap­er presents the Carousel and gives a nostalgia-steeped pre­sen­ta­tion that use his per­son­al pho­tographs to move both the Kodak execs and the view­ers at home, who know that these semi-focused pic­tures will soon be all that left of his dis­in­te­grat­ing family.

No falling apart fam­i­ly for me, but I find myself already feel­ing nos­tal­gic for a fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Dis­ney World that doesn’t start for anoth­er six days. I’ve recent­ly been look­ing through our Flickr archive of past trips (four for me) and real­ize that they are our Carousel. The start with my fiancée tak­ing a cyn­i­cal me on my first trip. Lat­er vis­its bring kids to the pho­to­graph­ic line­up: newly-found legs to run, the joys of messy ice cream, the scare of not-very-scary rides and the big eyes of parades all run through the sets.

In less than a week we’ll start a new set. There will be two new chil­dren in this one. “The babies” are both walk­ing and tod­dling and are at their peak of baby pho­to­genic cute­ness. The old­er two are real kids now and the eldest is start­ing to show ear­ly glimpses of teenage-hood: eye-rolling, exha­la­tion of air (“uh!”) to show dis­ap­proval of incon­ve­nient parental instructions.

Icon­ic fam­i­ly pic­tures will hap­pen. Since our last vis­it five years ago, my wife’s lost her father to can­cer and my mother’s been slip­ping into the for­get­ful­ness of Alzheimer’s. As the wheel of life turns it some­how becomes more pos­si­ble to see our­selves as part of the turn­ing Carousel. Some decades from now I can imag­ine myself going through these pic­tures sur­round­ed by indulging chil­dren and antsy grand­chil­dren, exclaim­ing “look how young every­one looks!”

Theo and Francis, Dec 2008
Theo (then 5) and Fran­cis (3) zonked out after a long day in 2008. Hard to believe they were ever this cuddly.

 

Update post-trip:

There are 104 pic­tures from this trip in our pub­lic Flickr set, with one of our four kids hold­ing hands as they walk to the pool a stand­out icon­ic shot of their child­hood together:
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