Pleasure Grounds

Bathing beauties enjoy Lake Erie near Sturgeon Point, where The Pleasure Grounds got their start in 1869. It grew into GOTL.

Our newest book, Pleasure Grounds, arrives May 22 and will be available for purchase from this website, at Bridge Street Artworks and several vendors at Geneva-on-the-Lake, which is book’s topic.

July 4 of this year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of these Lake Erie picnic grounds, referred to as a “Pleasure Grounds,” by the founders, Edwin Pratt and Cullen Spencer. Our new book traces the history of Ohio’s first summer resort town (it beats Cedar Point by a year through more than 500 historical and recent documentary photographs, maps and brochures. The book has 578 pages, is 8.5×11 inches and weighs nearly five pounds!

Exhaustive, and exhausting for the author/designer, Pleasure Grounds is our biggest book yet. It grew out of the work I did with my former employer, The Ashtabula County County Commissioners, who loaned me the Geneva-on-the-Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau to work on interpretive signage about key events, people and attractions at “The Lake.” This work became known as the Summer Fun Heritage Trail.

The many bars along The Strip provide a Pleasure Grounds during Thunder on The Strip, one of the topics explored in the new book.

After a new board commissioners decided to eliminate my position, I decided to use my new status as a freelance writer to delve much deeper in The Resort’s story and provide readers with a narrative that looks at all aspects of this unique town and resort.

I sparingly use the word “unique” when I write, but when it comes to GOTL, it earns it.

Where else can you find an incorporated Ohio village without a single franchised business except Dairy Queen? It has no banks, no payday loan joints, no doctor’s or dentist’s offices, no traffic lights and no big-box stores, not even a pharmacy. Yet there are 17 bars, hundreds of cottages to rent, a state park, a lodge, wineries, zip lines, mom-and-pop stores and what appears to be the nation’s oldest miniature golf course. GOTL even has a magic store!

This little microcosm has developed totally independent of outside investment, until recently, when Delaware North Companies began building high-end amenities like the zip line/challenge course and cottages development. Most of GOTL’s commercial district is operated by families in the third and fourth generation of ownership. They have created the businesses vacationers associate with GOTL: Eddie’s Grill, The Cove, Firehouse Winery and many more.

This little resort soon became a vacation destination for blue-collar steel-mill towns of Western Pennsylvania and the Youngstown region. Many of them camped at Chestnut Grove. Their voices and stories run flow through the book like 3.2-beer once flowed through the village. Topics covered in the book include dance halls, alcohol, lodging, amusements, beaches, the riots, cottages and much more.

There is both pleasure and sadness in this place, a microcosm of human experience and emotions, joys and disappointments.

Pleasure Grounds will be available at select merchants at GOTL this summer. We have chosen not to distribute through Amazon at this time. It can be purchased through this website as well as our retail location, Bridge Street Art Works, 1009 Bridge Street, Ashtabula. Books will be in stock starting May 23.

Confirmed GOTL locations selling Pleasure Grounds are the Eagle Cliff Hotel and Anchor Inn. The Covered Bridge Shoppe at the Harpersfield Covered Bridge also will stock the book. .

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting supplemental videos and stories about GOTL as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of this unique town and resort.

See you on The Strip!

Pleasure grounds book cover.

Pleasure Grounds, 500-plus pages, fully indexed, hundreds of photos. 8 1/2 x 11 inches, silk laminate paper cover

‘the bible for all things Ashtabula’

“The bible for all things Ashtabula.” That’s the way veteran journalist and author Neil Zurcher describes our new book, “Ashtabula County: A field guide.”

He goes on to say “It is a compact history of a wonderful county, the people who live there and the towns, even those that no longer exist.”

That is a reference to the final chapter in the book, which highlights a few of the ghost towns that once thrived in the county. Sometimes only a building or two remains in these places that still have a place on the map and in the memories of elderly residents.

The “Field Guide” was inspired by my wife Ruth, who decided to relocate to Ashtabula County after accepting my marriage proposal. There was much for her to learn about the county, and so we set off on adventure after adventure as I introduced her newly adopted home. Along the way, a book took form.

“This is a ‘must have’ book for anyone who loves Ohio’s biggest county, or who plans to visit in the coming year.”

Neil Zurcher

At first, I was thinking 100 or so entries, but once the lists were made and research began in earnest, the book nearly tripled in content and size.

The content is categorized as natural treasures, structures, transportation, curiosities, memorials/monuments and ghost towns. Each entry includes a picture, short story and, oftentimes, trivia about the topic or site.

It is a different sort of book for me; the stories are short and to the point, but I’ve tried to tuck into each story a nugget, bit of humor or little-known fact about the topic. The first-person interviews, which are used in my other works, are absent, yet the conversations with hundreds of residents and historians underpin many of the entries.

The book is available on amazon.com as both a Kindle ($5.99) and softcover book ($21.95). The Kindle book is not indexed and, frankly, is not very reader friendly, but that is the nature of Kindle formats. The print edition is fully indexed and includes a list of attractions for each town/township/village.

“A Field Guide” is also available in our website store. We pay the shipping on books ordered from the website, and each book is signed by Carl. If it is a gift, or you want a special inscription to yourself, let us know when you order.

Carlisle’s Home in the Harbor on Bridge Street has autographed copies for sale, as will the Ashtabula Maritime Museum for its Christmas event.

The book was launched at the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival, where my frozen fingered managed to sign a couple of dozen books to folks who braved the rain and frigid temps to acquire a book from our table at the Graham Road Covered Bridge. Many of the folks commented on missing my work in the Star Beacon, which I departed more than five years ago.

And that leads me to the dedication. After I left the newspaper industry, I had the privilege of working for the three best supervisors I had in my 40-plus years of working: Ashtabula County Commissioners Joe Moroski, Peggy Carlo and Dan Claypool. They had the vision to combine a lodging tax administration and tourism special projects coordinator into a position under the county commissioners’ office. During the nearly five years of working in that job, I was part of many interesting projects that were launched with grants and private funding and have helped introduce tourists to our county’s story. Unfortunately, a new board of commissioners saw no value in the position and abruptly eliminated it … which leads me to writing books!

“I confess I have long admired the writing of Carl Feather. I have considered him one of Ohio’s secret treasures since I first became acquainted with his work at the Ashtabula Star Beacon Newspaper. He touched many lives with his stories that were filled with humanity—sometimes sad, sometimes filled with humor—but always illuminating, written in an ‘everyman’ style that was easy to read and understand.”

Neil Zurcher

While browsing online for books about Ohio, check out the many volumes by Neil Zurcher, famous for his “One-Tank Trip” books, as well as “Ohio Oddities,” “Strange Tales from Ohio,” “Tales from the Road,” “Ohio Road Trips” and “Ohio Road Food.”

The “Field Guide” is our first joint effort as co-owners of The Feather Cottage, our “retirement business.” Carl is working on two more books for release next year, and Ruth, well, she’s working in Cleveland at a day job until book sales can bring her into the land of “retirement.”

 

Breaking the web

He always carried a pocket knife, just as his father and grandfather had done.

His was a small one, two blades, both of which were kept sharp and ready for whatever chore befell them.

They whittled sticks onto which hot dogs and marshmallows were pushed, they scraped corrosion from battery posts, cut the tags off the new plaid, flannel shirt and extricated splinters and briers from his tough skin.

They also taught lessons about life.

One evening, when his teenage grandson was visiting from out of state, he told him they would rise early and take a walk in the meadow and forest; he had something important to show him. He’d fix them a breakfast of oatmeal and Cortland apples, then put on their dew gear and take a walk.

The taste of cinnamon and brown sugar lingering in their mouths, they left for the meadow; the man’s aged black Lab led the way down the brown path.

Neither the boy nor his grandfather said much at first. They commented on the chill, the heavy dew and how it seemed as if the dog had slowed down quite a bit from the boy’s last visit, in the spring. Seeing a gall on weed, the grandfather stopped, pulled out the knife, cut open the gall and revealed its contents. It smelled like pepper, the boy observed, and they tossed it aside and continued to walk toward the forest.

Twilight gave way to dawn. The first rays of morning crawled across the meadow. He stopped next to a tall weed onto which a web hung in the motionless air, and invited his grandson to study the complex structure. The sun was at their back, and the web, shaded from the light, appeared dull and lifeless. Then he told his grandson to walk around to the other side. A ray of amber sunlight hit the web perfectly, revealing hundreds of aquatic jewels dancing on the slight breeze.

“Perspective and light,” he said. “Remember that. If your life becomes dull and seems meaningless, try looking at it from another angle. Change your perspective. And most importantly, let the light strike it. See it in the light of God’s love.”

He pulled out his pocket knife and opened it to the small blade. Handing it to his grandson, he invited him to see how many of the connections he could break before the web collapsed.

The boy began his work of slicing through filaments. The web shuddered with the slightest touch and set loose dewy tears that crashed onto filaments below. Each additional slice of the sharp blade was more devastating than the previous to the greater web, which eventually collapsed into a mass of tears.

“I want you to imagine that this web represents our society,” he said. “That every filament that runs between the connecting points represents a relationship between two humans. Indeed, imagine that each one represents marriage, like the vows that unites your mother and father.

“When the filaments are connected, the web is strong. It can hold the burdens of life, the tears that accumulate on the web because we live in a fallen world. But did you notice that when you sliced through those filaments and destroyed the web’s foundation, those tears were released upon other strands? Eventually, when you cut through enough of the strands, the whole web collapsed.

“It’s that way in our relationships, son. When we fail to stay to connected to one another, when we fail to bear each other’s tears, we weaken the entire web. The burden of life’s sorrows and trials are just too great for society to sustain without those strong bonds and committed love.  When we go to a court of law and demand the knife of divorce be applied to a marriage, the web shudders. The emotional universe that connects us to each other and, ultimately, to God, trembles at these actions. Society is built on the concept of trust, of strong bonds that result from keeping vows—even when the weight of tears pulls the strands toward breaking

“Nothing, nobody, not even God, can reconnect strands thus severed. The once beautiful web that held both tears and jewels—it all depends on your perspective—requires commitment, emotional connection and maturity in order to stay strong. Hatred and divorce are the blades in the pocket knife.”

He wiped away the tears from his eyes, took the knife from his grandson, wiped the dew from the metal, closed it and slide it back in his pocket. The Lab nudged the man’s hand; it was time to go back to the lonely house that he bought following the divorce.

 

A garden far removed

The garden is so tired, yet the summer is not done with us, and so it attempts growth.

A green pumpkin hangs tenuously onto the fence, a withered vine feigns support. I have no idea what it keeps it alive.

A tomato plant blooms, as does a pumpkin vine far from its original planting. Bees buzz, searching for autumn pollen.

They do not know that the harvest has past. Their efforts are ceremonial, I suspect.

The yellow cherry tomatoes that, during August and September, burst before they were ripe, hang whole and deliciously on scrawny vines that droop over the wire fence. Blossoms of the garden flower mixture, 60 cents at Buck’s Hardware, press against the wires, faces gaunt and hopeful, like prisoners of war awaiting liberators. Perhaps the kitchen scissors will give them their freedom, if I can find something to hold their stems.

The fence goes back to April, a wall to protect the plot from the raccoons, ground hogs and rabbits that ravaged gardens of prior years. The old gate fell apart several weeks ago and I’ve not been of a mind to fix it. The garden is like the final act of the play, when the ticket taker retires to the back room for his Four Roses, and the passersby are free to wander in and take their pick of the entertainment, to catch the closing scene.

As far as I can tell, not one critter has bothered, save the brown snake I disturbed one day and sent him on his way. All 12 inches of him turned on me, opened wide his venom-less mouth and went on his way, and I on mine. I’ve not seen him since, yet I watch for him. I have learned to always watch for the snakes.

More threatening are the acorns. The mast is heavy this year and blankets the ground like a marble-factory truck overturned on the Interstate. The nuts are massive; they smart when they fall on my noggin and sound like gunshots when they hit the metal roofs of the garage and house. They ping and rattle down the incline six feet above my office ceiling and clog the gutters. Families of wild turkey wander in from the forest  and feast on the bounty in the driveway, where my Scion’s tires accomplished released the meat. There are white-tailed deer, as well, and I suspect they claimed one of the four golden delicious apples the adolescent tree bore this year.

This morning the breeze is warm and leaves green, I could mistake it for summer, but it is October, and a third of a way through it, at that. Uneasiness is in the air, and the heavy mast and white tips of my fingers, afflicted with Raynauld’s Syndrome, tell me a cold winter is coming.

There will be logs to cut, split and stack, leaves to rake and yard items to put away. That’s the outside work; inside myriad projects beg completion—two books to write, edit, design and publish, video projects and freelance work.

I feel like that old garden. I am hanging on to the past life of the workaday world, but my hands, the carpet of acorns and fence of dying vines tell me that world is past. I was retired in a flash, but the spots of that flash still cloud my vision and perspective. A bit of summer fans the hope that someday I will return to full-time work, but I know those hopes hang by withered vines; come the first frost, the gourd will drop to  white-crusted earth with a thud that will wake nothing, not even the snakes.

Those snakes haunt me, imprison me in my lair. They bit me so viciously in the past, I cannot help but distrust them and fear their presence. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” King David lamented. Like David, I lament, too:

This isn’t the neighborhood bully
    mocking me—I could take that.
This isn’t a foreign devil spitting
    invective—I could tune that out.
It’s you! We grew up together!
    You! My best friend!
Those long hours of leisure as we walked
    arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation.

(Psalm 55:12-14, The Message Bible)

If plants have feelings, I wonder if they will sense betrayal when I rip them from the October soil, drop their bones into the yellow wheelbarrow and add them to the compost pile? Their fruit harvested, their work done, their bodies wracked with the pain of October, devalued, discarded … “We grew up together! You! My best friend!” Will that be their lament, as it was mine?

Or perhaps, like the snakes that I fear so much, the plants don’t feel regret, pain or shame. They just slither about their kingdoms, hissing and going to and fro, seeking who they will deceive next.

If so, I elect to feel their pain. I will feel the pain of October and beyond, to the grave.

unde malum

This much I have learned, pain exists that we might understand the heart of the gardener.

We handle it better as we age, and a good thing, too, for there is much sadness and pain in this garden far removed from Eden.

End of Line Junction Barn Quilt

Life at the End of the Line Junction

If you look closely at the roof and siding boards in the former machine shop, you’ll notice evidence of a prior life: charred sections, soot, nail holes indicative of a violent extraction.

And if you walk down the hill from this place, where East Ashtabula Street dead ends in Jefferson Village, Ohio, you’ll see through the foliage massive sandstone blocks in the stream valley.

Sandstone blocks, much smaller and inscribed, stand at this dead end in the Oakdale Cemetery.

A junction for dead ends, 150 North Market Street could be a depressing place. But the owners, Fred Bliss and Carol Utterback, welcome visitors to their “eternal life” at Dead End Junction. A barn quilt measuring 8-by-9-feet hangs on the building constructed from those second-hand boards. The theme of the barn quilt is redemption, salvation and life: A Christian cross with a descending dove to represent the Holy Spirit.

“Neither one of us is an artist,” Fred admits as he shows me the pattern he used for a dove that was cut from plywood and added to the barn quilt using brass screws. “We looked at a lot of doves before we found one we liked.”

The barn quilt expresses the couple’s Christian faith, as well as a new beginning. The Ashtabula County natives fell in love around the age of 9.

“It was puppy love,” Fred says. “But we didn’t miss a chance to be together. We used to meet at the Austinburg Skating Rink. She was always the girl for me.”

When Fred and Carol were 16 or 17 years old, they split up and went separate ways. Carol married Edward Lance Utterback on Sweetest Day, 1969. A mechanic, Edward owned the Texaco Service Station that once stood in the center of Jefferson. In 1974, he went into the excavating business, which grew to the point he needed a garage and land for his equipment. That led to the purchase, in 1978, of the North Market Street building and land. They built their house there in 1985.

Edward died April 20, 2016, at the of 73. Fred took note of the passing and wondered how his puppy-love friend was doing.

“I called her, just to make sure she was OK,” Fred says.

That call opened the door to rekindling the relationship severed back in the 1950s. In May 2017, Fred and Carol were married. Fred can’t help  but feel it was God bringing things full circle at the End of the Line.

He and Carol went to work on the property, clearing decades of mud and stuff from the garage. As is often the case in life, when clutter is cleared, the treasure of heritage emerges. Carol’s research into the building revealed that the previous owner constructed it from reclaimed lumber that came from the New York Central roundhouse in Ashtabula. Constructed in 1906 as part of a massive NYC expansion on the lakefront, the roundhouse stood on West Avenue and was reported to be the second largest in the world.

The advent of diesel locomotives in the early 1950s quickly antiquated the roundhouses. The NYC’s at Ashtabula was razed in 1953, and the lumber was evidently made available to whoever could use it. The soot, charring and prior nail holes on the boards attest to its prior environment.

 

Charred boards with nail holes tell a story of recycling. The boards came from a NYC roundhouse in Ashtabula, razed in 1953.

This discovery was significant for Carol; she comes from a family of railroaders. Her late father, Carl A. Martin, who lived south of Jefferson, worked at the NYC Collinwood Yards in Cleveland. And all his sons worked for the railroad.

The building’s NYC connection fit the landscape around this place, as well. When the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad decided to build a line from its mainline to Ashtabula Harbor, it also built a line from Ashtabula to Franklin, Pa., to connect to the coal fields. This line was called the Ashtabula & Franklin High Grade, or J&F (Jefferson and Franklin) Branch of the NYC. These lines went into service in 1873. (A low-grade line was built in the early 1900s to shorten the route and provide relief for passenger trains on the busy railroad. The high-grade line is used by the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson Railroad.)

The high grade trestle in Jefferson, Ashtabula & Franklin Division, LS&MS Railroad. Photo source: Jefferson Historical Society

At Jefferson the high-grade line had to cross a ravine in Oakdale Cemetery. A wooden trestle was constructed, along with a stone culvert to handle the flow of a Mill Creek tributary.

In August 1899 the trestle was the site of a train wreck that was the “end of the line” for the trestle. The wreck occurred amid a labor dispute. A scab brakeman fell asleep at his post and failed to heed the signal from the engineer, who saw the collision coming.

A south-bound train had stopped north of the trestle and unhooked its string of freight cars. The engine was thus freed to proceed to take on water at the depot, across the trestle. The engineer of the north-bound train saw the idled cars ahead of him and signaled for the brakeman to stop the locomotive. The snoozing scab didn’t respond, and the north-bound engine struck the locomotive that had arrived at the depot. It pushed the behemoth into the rail cars; the impact buckled the trestle. Freight cars and locomotives spilled into the ravine

The damaged trestle had to be removed and the ravine was filled with stone and slag to create the rail bed that exists to this day. Photo source: Jefferson Historical Society.

All personnel on the trains were able to jump from the engines and cars before the collision, so there was no loss of life. The railroad decided to fill the ravine with stone and dirt rather than build another trestle. A detour required a month to build and it took a year to fill ravine with slag from Youngstown steel mills and stone from the Windsor quarry. Irish laborers performed much of the work.

As a tribute to the spot’s and family’s railroading traditions, Carol and Fred put a metal pole at the end of the driveway and placed on it a railroad crossing sign, antique finale and flashing signal, which will be electrified and functional (no gate, however).

Fred says he’s doing these things as an acts of love for the woman he always knew “was for him.”

“It’s for Carol. She wanted to have the sign and call this place the End of the Line Junction,” Fred says.

The barn quilt also is for Carol.

“I enjoy looking at them as we drive through the countryside,” she says.

Fred designed, built and painted the barn quilt, which was raised on Labor Day, 2018. He and Carol hope it will draw visitors into the history of the region and the fascinating section of Oakdale Cemetery across their driveway.

Stephen Asa Northway’s grave, and the monument to his wife, are among the interesting stones at “The End of the Line Junction,” Oakdale Cemetery, Jefferson, Ohio. Photos by Carl E. Feather

The stones mark the graves of prominent lawmakers of the 19th century. Abolitionist Representative Joshua Giddings rests here, as does his former law partner and US senator, Benjamin Wade. Family members surround the men’s substantial monuments. The unusual large rock monument to Stephen Asa Northway—a state representative, US congressman, scholar and lawyer—and the metal sculpture of a Greek female figure, are among the unusual monuments in this section. Near the edge of the ravine is the grave of Charley Garlick, the former slave who fled from a plantation in western Virginia, served in the Civil War and lived out the remainder of his life in the Giddings Law Office. And across a small ravine that holds an underground, walk-in crypt is the stone for the child who was the cemetery’s first burial, in 1812.

They all rest here, at the End of the Line Junction. Yet the barn quilt and couple’s story of re-kindled romance suggests endings are only beginnings cloaked in suffering and grief. That a cross somehow pulls together all these stories and gives us hope amid the tears.

What a strange paradox, this spinning junction pieced by a cross.

A newer stone marks the grave of the first recorded burial in the cemetery, Timothy Hawley, a 3-year-old.

 

A date with Marilyn

During a recent trip back to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Ruth’s hometown, Ruth and I did a senior portrait session with her niece, Alaina. The plan was to shoot some images in downtown Wilkes-Barre in the evening, then go to a park on Sunday morning and try to re-create some of the iconic Marilyn Monroe portraits.

Alaina bears a strong resemblance to Marilyn and is very photogenic. She’s got a great personality, as well, and it comes through in her sparkling eyes and great smile.

The session would give me an opportunity to apply my Fuji X-system camera and lenses to portraits rather than the photojournalism project for my next book, “Pleasure Grounds.” I used the Fuji XH-1 with the 35mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.2 and 90mm f/2, along with a 16-56mm f/2.8 on a second XH-1. My four-month old Nikon D750 had bit the dust and required a major repair, so Fuji was the only option for this shoot. And it performed flawlessly.

I have always loved Fuji’s skin tones, and aside from taming the contrast and toning down the reds in some shots, very little processing was done to the color images in this series (I took more than 600 images over the course of the two days, tossed out 200 of them and delivered the rest). One standard W126 battery was sufficient for both sessions.

We started along the Susquehanna River about 30  minutes before sunset. The day had been overcast and the soft light continued into evening. I’d spotted a lovely chandelier hanging from the ceiling of a building with marble columns, and we started our session there. The 90mm threw some foreground foliage out of focus and helped soften the lights in the background, as well.

We moved to the front of the building, which faces the riverfront commons. The lamps on the wall provided soft lighting for a series of portraits. Fuji’s auto white balance did a superb job of maintaining the warmth of the incandescent lights without creating an unnatural skin tone.

Across the street, some teen boys tried to impress Alaina with their bicycle and skateboard tricks. When one of them fell off the bicycle, it sent Alaina into a fit of laughter.

I was using the Across film simulation setting at the time. I overexposed about a stop to create a natural skin tone.

We moved across the street to the park. When Ruth and I were scouting a location earlier in the evening, we noticed the metal sculpture and wondered if Alaina would be game for curling up in it. She took it a few poses beyond that.

The Wilkes-Barre Market Street Bridge is a stunning stone structure and would easily steal the show if included in a portrait. Using the 35 f/1.4 wide open, I was able to minimize its presence without destroying the beauty of the setting and model.

The symmetry of the street lamps that line the concrete paths on the riverfront drew my attention away from the bridge. The wind was picking up and her hair took flight.

The in-camera image stabilization of the XH-1 is incredible. I found myself comfortably shooting at 1/15th of second throughout the evening and getting sharp results.

We wrapped up at the park as the light levels had reached a level that even the IBIS couldn’t compensate for. Our destination was two blocks away, downtown Wilkes-Barre. We opted to carry the gear rather than drive and try to find a parking spot. On the way, we stopped in a vacant lot and waited for the traffic to back up at the bridge. A few frames were all I was able to get before the traffic and  its colorful lights cleared from the background. Although it repeated the previous pose, I had Alaina hold out her hair to catch the background color.

I had planned to use the Godox wireless flash system for this part of the shoot, but it failed out of the bag back at the bridge, and I went with plan B: a long softbox on a Buff Einstein 640 monolight. Ruth volunteered to carry the monstrous flash head, light stand and softbox (I think she was counting on it for a weapon just in case). Alaina’s mother carried the power pack, and I carried the cameras and lenses. We marched down the dark streets in search of golden light.

Our first stop  was the front of business that had circular neon lights in the window. Alaina sat on the iron grate under a tree (in her brand new outfit, at that) and I waited for the headlamps of a car to paint her face with light. Once again, Fuji’s white balance nailed the scene accurately without creating a nasty skin tone. The 56mm was made for this scene and light.

The marque of a theater across the street provided a warm background glow for a series of portraits lit with the softbox/monolight combination.

We moved across the street and under the marque lights for a series of moody images.


We headed back to the car, but the perspective of street lamps down a lonely street caught my eye. Ruth set up the monolight, the traffic light at the end of the street turned green and 10 cars raced toward our shoot. We scurried out of the street and waited until the same lonely scene that had caught our attention a few minutes earlier returned.

All of the monolight/soft box exposures were manually balanced with the background lighting, based upon my experience of working with the equipment at weddings. I wasn’t prepared for just how well Fuji handled the range of colors in the scene without compromising the skin tones. These are definitely people cameras.

The next morning was our Marilyn session at a park. The woods were infested with mosquitoes and one nailed Ruth on the forehead. With blood trickling down her face (OK, it was more like a little smear), we decided to move to another location, the front yard of a bank on Mountaintop, Pa., where we could use the fence and shady yard for the Marilyn Monroe reenactments. A lily from the park served as a prop.

The colorful side of a Chinese restaurant caught my eye as we were getting out of the car, and we took a detour.

Marilyn!

Next came the scene on the lawn, except Ruth protested when I suggested a strap of her dress fall off the shoulder.

Next came a few shots at the fence.

I backed off a bit with the 56mm and had Alaina wrap up the session with some playful expressions. Ruth suggested the strap off the shoulder in a few. We both wondered where she got that look from.

Sometimes it just all comes together. The light, the model, the equipment. Perhaps I enjoyed photographing Alaina so much because the backdrop options were so amazing and fresh. Or perhaps it was because Alaina’s beautiful eyes remind me of Ruth’s. Like Ruth, Alaina is super smart and wants to go in the medical field. She’d also make a great model, but we all know those careers are short-lived. I’m grateful for being the one who got to capture it if she sticks with medicine.

I don’t want to be a rock star

The following line is from a job description:

This is a fantastic opportunity for a rock star creative who wants to help …

We don’t need another rock star. And I sure don’t want to be one.

Frankly, I’m sick of rock stars and divas, stand-up comedians and YouTube daredevils.

I’d like to just go to work, get the job done and come home and read. And listen to music. But not rock.

This rock-star mentality has gone too far. I recall some 15 years ago, when I was attempting to make it as a professional photographer, being told by a very successful one (he got $1,000 and up just for the sitting fee on a family portrait), that you had to think and act like a rock star if you wanted to succeed with that clientele ($250,000 and up annual income).

I don’t know what happened to him and his business during the Great Recession, but I know what happened to me and my freelance portrait and wedding business. It hit the rocks. I don’t think being a rock star would have changed any of that, however. A lot of rock stars were on Wall Street back then, and we saw what happened. The rock star politicians bailed them out, and they are back at it.

Ten years later we have a president who thinks he’s a rock star. Or a TV game show host. If he had an electric guitar, he’d be all set. He doesn’t need it. He plays the voters.

We have a lot of politicians who think that because the majority of voters narrowly chose them over the other candidate, they were suddenly elevated to queen, rock star and diva. Divine appointment. A mandate from the people.

What’s missing?

Rock stars don’t serve. They entertain. They are all talk and noise. They glitter and glam while they are on stage, but back in the dressing room, the miserable person behind the mask craves that next round of applause, that next mention on Facebook, that cover, review or Tweet.

All of this may be fun and games for those who live in the world of social  media and post 30 selfies per hour. But when that person has his fingers on the nation’s self-destruct buttons, it’s not a game. And that holds true for every political office below the Oval one. Perhaps it is because my father is veteran, a distant grandfather crossed the Delaware with Washington and an uncle went through the hell of Korea, but I find it disgusting when elected officials take a rock-star approach to the office. It’s not about them. It’s not about making appearances, handing out kudos and keeping up pretenses.

Blood was spilt, misery endured and limbs lost so that we can have these elections, offices and, hopefully, committed, sincere and transparent individuals to fill them. When an elected official treats the office with the contempt that comes with a diva or rock-star mentality, he or she spits on the flag and the veterans who defended it.

It’s the same way with jobs. Are employers really looking for rock stars these days? Do they really want the grief of dealing with a narcissist on the job, day in and day out? Being a rock star or diva is a competition in deception. What business wants to hire a liar? Evidently, quite a few. I’m seeing that “rock star” mentality requirement in many of the job openings that come through Indeed.

But I don’t want to be a rock star.

 

 

This is how things end …

They say the stuff of which you are afraid rarely happens. Like being tossed into a pit full of snakes, developing an inoperable tumor that will bring a painful death, or being an empath locked in a room full of narcissists.

I always worried that I’d get to be this age and lose my job and health insurance.

And it happened. Out of the blue. One minute, I am working on a project for the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners. The next minute, the boss and HR administrator are in your office with a stack of papers for you to sign and boxes for all your personal items.

Fifteen minutes later, you are heading down the road wondering how you are going to tell your spouse that your employer can’t afford to pay you and has no work for you to do. She married a reject, a loser.

The biggest fear, of course, is health insurance. It is insanely expensive, especially at this age. It’s become one more way that big business takes advantage of the downtrodden. The flurry of phone calls at all hours of the day and night regarding my online inquiry is like the harrassment a man receives after winning the lottery. Except I didn’t win this lottery. I held the pink, losing ticket.

The first matter of business was finding a way to protect our assets by having some manner of health insurance in place. Being a Christian, I was able to buy into the cost-sharing ministry of Christian Health Care Ministries. That and faith will be my “insurance” for $150 a month. It’s not insurance, but at least I won’t have to pay a penalty for not being in the system.

Searching for a job is a depressing job at any age, but when all the decision makers are in their 20s and 30s, and you are 63, it is a futile exercise. They are conditioned to believe that the only persons capable of doing and thinking are those of their own camp, who hold master’s degrees and have no value or knowledge that was not gained at great financial cost to their parents and themselves.

Yes, my  hair is gray. No, I don’t have the bachelor’s or master’s that the $9-an-hour, part-time job demands. But what of the 40 years of experience? The projects completed? The race almost run?

Some application processes immediately reject your online application if you don’t have the requisite degree. A person I once knew and who encouraged me to apply for jobs in a university told me to just go ahead an lie about the degree and then explain in the interview. That’s wrong and it tells the employer that you are a liar.

Then again, in our culture of looking out for Number One, of getting ahead at all costs, of doing what is right based upon the situation, lying is commonplace, even expected. Indeed, it might tell the employer, most likely a 30-some with a master’s and $150,000 in school loans, that you are resourceful.

Authentically phony. That seems to be gold standard for success.

We elect presidents and congressmen and other elected officials upon information that has very little truthfulness. We purchase products based upon reviews that are slanted by the reviewer having received free goods in exchange for the favorable review, and we sign up for services marketed with flashing lights, swooshes, motion graphics, starbursts and explosions. Life and selling the goods of living have become a video game.

Those who market the stuff of which this life is made specialize in superlatives, frosted air bubbles, perfect arrogance and pick-pocket, carnival barker tactics. I am as fearful of delving into that culture as I am of being unemployed at 63. Even as I write this, I feel a twinge of embarrassment and hypocrisy; why should I, as a writer, ask of you the most precious things you possess at this moment, your time and at least partial attention?

You may be on the clock and reading this, in which case I am stealing not only your time but your employer’s money. Or you may be reading this rather than spending time with your spouse or children. Stop reading if these are the cases. Focus on what is important.

I think that is the message that Ruth and I speak here, finding and focusing on what really matters. As INFJs, we struggle with defining that. It is always just on the tip of our tongues, but we can’t speak it. It will be an epiphany of purpose when that day comes.

We’re frustrated by the fact that there is so much clatter and noise out there, so many social media channels filled with time-wasters and attention grabbers that being quietly authentic is as scary as losing a job at the age 63.

My lovingly, beautifully ironed shirts and handsome ties have hung in the closet unworn now for six weeks; I am a T-shirt and jeans writer these days whose greatest ambition is to find a check in the mailbox or email offering a job interview. I live in the aftermath of a fear realized and navigate my way around the snakes in this pit and narcissists in the room, praying that the inoperable tumor will not be the last act in this drama.

All our working years we dream about that day we will retire, the party and the “gold watch” that will tick off the carefree hours of our retirement. An economy of instant gratification and short-term profits, buoyed by mass marketing and lies, has pretty much wiped out that dream for most middle- and lower-income Americans. We were always expendable, disposable commodities, and as we age, we are all the more so. One can always find a reason to discard that old thing and replace it with the new one that just arrived in an email pitch.

Not much else to say on this matter, it hangs like the scent of dung in the humid air of a summer day in dairy country. You eventually get used to the stench, the idea of being “prematurely retired” rather than unemployed, of realizing that not all journeys end with a party and that most of our fears are realized eventually, otherwise we have wasted our lives fearing and not really living.

What? Beans in your ears?

My Mommy told me “Don’t put beans in your ears, beans in your ears.”

Remember that song?

It comes to mind every time I slip my hearing-aid domes into an ear canal. It feels unnatural. You’re not supposed to put cotton swabs, pencils or beans in your ears. You might break your ear drum. It might get stuck in your ear and they’ll have to take you to the hospital and use a giant vacuum to suck it out. And your brains could be sucked out in the process.

And if you put a bean in your ear, it will get stuck in there, take root and you’ll have green beans growing from your ears by late summer.

Don’t put beans in your ears …

So here I am, sitting with two electronic beans in my ears. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

I don’t like the tinny sound. I don’t like the feeling of fullness.

I don’t like the sounds I’ve been missing,
the dog licking,
shower dripping
keyboard clicking.

It’s all too loud.

For years I’ve tried to ignore my failing hearing. I first became aware of it when my spouse would tell me a smoke alarm was going off in the basement or the reel on my 16mm projector was making a squeaking sound. I didn’t hear it, so it didn’t exist.

Next came errors in reporting, especially at meetings ,where I would have to quote speakers in rooms with horrible acoustics. Sheepishly, I’d have to ask them to repeat themselves after the meeting, if I could track them down in time.

I noticed that the sound from the telephone receiver was much louder in my right ear than the left. In fact, when people spoke into my left ear, I just didn’t hear it. I even had a psychic tell me I had a bad left ear, and that was 20 some years ago.

It all goes back to 1976 or so, when I was bill collector for Sun Finance. Remember finance companies? Yes, I worked for one. And one evening as I was doing collections, I acquired a new disability. I was knocking on the door of a delinquent debtor, who happened to live in a block house down on the lakefront in Conneaut. The house had an enclosed block porch, and I was standing in that area when two misfits tossed a pack of firecrackers into the enclosed area.

The blast floored me. When I came too, I had incredible ringing in my ears, and no hearing.

I went home and figured it would go away in a couple of days. Slowly, the hearing did return, but never the ringing. Tinnitus, they call it. And the hearing, although recovered, was never the same.

Ruth, God bless that sweet lady’s heart, played along with my hearing loss when we were dating. She patiently repeated things and showed great empathy, even though she has great hearing. But I could not deny that something was seriously wrong, and that I was going to get myself in trouble by playing along like I knew what people were saying to me. Only in one-on-one conversations, with no background noise, could I understand the words. I just nodded and smiled, and I often wondered how many times I did that when the other person was trying to tell me that something gross was hanging on my face or that their mother had just passed away after a lingering illness of 42 years.

Years ago I saw an ENT doctor about the problem, and he suggested some super-expensive hearing aids to try to block the constant ringing and regain some of the high-frequency loss. The cost was around $12K. In case you are unfamiliar with how all this works, hearing aids are not covered by health insurance. They are smarter than that. So it was always out of the question.

Last month I decided to have my hearing checked again. The audiologist charted on a graph the frequencies that I could hear. It looked like the graph of the coming stock market crash when Donald Trump is replaced by a Democrat or Libertarian. The audiologist just shook her head and said “You ain’t hearing much, buddy.”

I can’t hear frequencies above 1 kHz. The left ear is especially bad. It might as well be dead. The audiologist told me that I’ve compensated all these years by using the right ear, but it’s on life support. But at least it can be helped with a hearing aid.

Armed with the results of my hearing test, I went shopping online for the dreaded hearing aids. I selected a pair from Audicus. Cost more than a full-frame Nikon DSLR.

I’ve had them for about three weeks now. The company is good to work with, but did I mention I don’t like the hearing aids?

Granted, I can now hear what the preacher says during the sermon, and I’m starting to realize that a lot of the stuff that I thought he said was OK, isn’t. Well, I may exaggerating on that.

And I’ve discovered that my little car is extremely noisy (suggestion: if you suffer from hearing loss, you can save money by purchasing a noisy, subcompact car). I recently wore my hearing aids while driving and was amazed at all the rattles and rumbles in that car. And I noticed for the first time since I purchased the car I could hear the turning signal clicking. I just figured it was some modern thing, that the turning signals no longer clicked. Then I realized why Ruth was always poking me to turn off the signal.

When her told her that I discovered my car was noisy, she said “I knew that.”

“You mean when we went on our first date? Was it noisy then?

“Yes.”

“And you continued to date me?”

“Yes.”

Now that’s love!

And that is why I will eventually get used to wearing these darn things, these beans in my ears. I want to hear to her voice, and I want to hear all of life, cacophony and music alike. I don’t want to end up like my mother, although I probably will, who had to be screamed at because she refused to wear her hearing aids, and who had to constantly turn to my father and ask for an interpretation of what I just said.

Hearing aids are expensive, they don’t sound anything like “natural hearing” and they are a pain to wear. They eat batteries like Christmas morning. You always worry about that silly retaining strand sticking out of your ear like an old man’s hair that hasn’t seen a razor since adolescence.

And it feels like there are beans in my ears.

 

 

Never had so many calls

Are you lonely?

Does your cell phone never ring?

Do you have an afternoon to waste?

Go to a website where you inquire about health insurance plans for individuals.

Such was my Monday afternoon as I launched my search in the land of Obamacare.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone. It’s Sandra.

Sorry about that.

On Friday I got my letter advising me that funds are no longer available to pay for my position with Ashtabula County. Health insurance ends at the end of April.

Being 63 and without insurance is about as scary as having Donald Trump for President or being an empath at a covert narcissists’ convention.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone. It’s Devin.

Sorry about that.

So I plugged in the personal information, including my cellphone number, in two websites. And I am telling you that within five seconds of hitting send, the first call came in.

A nice young lady by the name of Nicole took all my information and offered a policy with no deductible at only $275.89 a month. What is this, Chinese health insurance?

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

It sounded too good to be true. I mean the COBRA premium was something like five times that, and it has deductibles.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. It was another one of those calls.

Nope. No deductibles. Funny thing, when I asked for something in writing, via email, they aren’t able to do that. Humm.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. You guessed it.

Based upon the person’s unwillingness to put it writing, I wrote it off.

Besides, at that point, I had five more calls waiting.

The next one wants one to know, right off the bat, how much I can afford every month for health insurance.

“Well, let’s see. I just got laid off. I’ll probably not be able to get unemployment because I have a business. Um. How about nothing?”

The next guy asks me the same question. But he wants to know how much I could wire him today to get the ball rolling. Brother, I think it’s dice, not a ball, that’s rolling.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that. It was Samantha. Wow what is smoking? Nobody should be so upbeat on a Monday afternoon in gray, dreary, windy, rainy northeast Ohio. Then I check the area code. She’s in California. Figures.

The phone stopped ringing. I continued my search online, preferring to put my money into a medical sharing account with a Christian organization. I found a portal for these plans and received great service from an agent whose quote was much more in line with what I anticipated. And so I asked her, why a sharing plan with $10,000 deductible is still twice as high as the premium for a plan that has no deductible.

I won’t share the answer, although it is rather obvious. I smell a rat whenever there are so many sales people jumping onto an inquiry from

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

one old man trying to

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

get some health insurance

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

just in case.

A the Linesville Spillway in Pennsylvania, hundreds of fat carp compete with each other for one slice of bread tossed into the water. I think it’s that way when some sap like myself fills out one of those online forms seeking a health insurance quote. The enthusiastic, persistent calls suggest to me there is both a lot of money to be made in this business and the consumer is being taken for a sucker (like the lips on that light fish). Who regulates these guys? And what ever happened to the affordable in the Affordable Care Act? When your income equals zero, nothing is affordable.

I’m exhausted from swiping the phone and listening to these hot shots promise me the world.

But you  know what’s really scary?

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

If I am unemployed for very long, or folks don’t buy our books, I may have to work in a call center, selling my soul for

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

health insurance.

What a sorry state of affairs. But at least I’m not lonely. I have along list of numbers I can call back.

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

I have learned that I can identify the nature of the call by the five-second silence before they come on the line. And the background is filled with the chatter of other

Excuse me, I need to answer the phone.

Sorry about that.

“agents” “assisting” “customers.”

I am going to turn off the cell phone. I am going make some soup for my lovely wife. We are going to have a quiet evening in the cottage.

I will deal with health insurance, tomorrow.