Island Life


First of all, it should be stated that as far as I’m concerned, it is just strange to be contemplating things, people, events that were both of consequence and inconsequential in my life fifty years ago. It is not the things that were weird- it is the fact that the time frame for their experiential relevance was so long ago. I take that back- some of the things were weird. But in the end, it is the passage of time that wins out in the “strangest of things” category. One should be used to this slippage phenomenon by now, what with news stories coming and going and then being reminded three, five, ten years on that it was indeed that long ago and counting that they had happened. I recall now my parents talking about how time was seemingly speeding up for them toward the end of things. At the same time, I can still remember that stark, IBM clock over the grade school classroom door that took what seemed to be forever to tick off those last five minutes of that tedious history class at the end of those interminable school days. In truth, for the most part, I just really did not like school. In looking back, I now see that most of the classes I took, or was made to take for graduation requirements, were just things that I had to get through somehow. It is, in part, why I still hear the words of Pink Floyd and shudder just a little bit-
“and then one day you found, ten years had got behind you-
no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun…”

I keep telling myself, or at least keep trying to convince myself, that whichever Pink that wrote that was not talking about me. How could they know? I did go to see and hear Pink Floyd in a football stadium in Hamilton, Ontario in the summer of 1975, and it was a truly amazing concert. I did wind up in England soon after that at the end of a photo tour I’d been given for graduation. But the song “Time” had been written years before, and even with that assurance I constantly revisited the observation that no one was really paying any attention to me as I wandered around England and Ireland taking photographs, both up until and through when it was time to go home. It is possible that the feeling of having missed the boat on the main attraction was and is a universal feeling of lost opportunity and guilt over missing out on something whilst being busy making other plans- I believe a Mr. Lennon said something along those lines whilst perhaps talking to one of the Pinks- who knows? England is just one big yellow submarine where they all live-or lived- isn’t it?

Anyway, it was a Zoom meeting- the grand fiftieth faux/virtual gathering where only a small portion of what is left standing from our class met up last Friday evening. As it is, I believe the brand naming of this mode of electronic audio and visual online meeting is a misnomer of the greatest degree, as there is nothing zoomy about it. It could be more interesting if all the backgrounds of all the participants were in motion, but that would possibly necessitate that all concerned were in vehicles of some sort (if one is to avoid the further faux-ing of the convergence, with all in “attendance” having green-screened, movie-based backgrounds behind them) but that could potentially get messy rather quickly. And so it was and is that your basic or advanced form of the Zoom meeting resembles a type of reboot of that teevee staple of old, Hollywood Squares, without of course the comic relief provided by Paul Lynde or Wally Cox. There was of course the “Grampa”/ tech-idiot sniping that went on as we bumbled into our online box and settled into the banter of the evening, but that all soon settled down into the back and forth of what we all had been doing for the last fifty years.

While this part of my educational experience involved three years at a private boarding school for the last three years of high school, the rest of my earlier education was all in public schools. Perhaps one of my strongest memories of that earlier time was in the eighth grade, I think. Although I’m uncertain of the exact time, what I do remember is that it involved the most basic of school politics. Somehow I had been elected as our homeroom class representative, and as such I had to go to after school meetings where things were discussed and decided upon. Most of the things I’ve forgotten, but I do remember the time capsule. This particular “issue” sticks in my brain because at the time I, for some reason, had decided that it was an unimportant, non-issue, and when it came time to report on it back in the homeroom, I omitted it from my report. As I am remembering it, someone in the class had somehow heard about the time capsule thing from another class representative, and at the end of my report when I had failed to mention anything about it, a hand shot up and I was grilled about the specifics of the project and pressed as to why I hadn’t mentioned it. I did then report in on the details but have always had the take-away from that experience that as a public representative, no matter how insignificant in stature, one is always responsible for a full disclosure to one’s constituents regarding all matters of general concern.
I’m not sure why I felt that the time capsule was not worth reporting on- perhaps it was my general distaste for history, or maybe I just thought it was silly to bury a bunch of stuff in a box and hope that someone remembered it was there sometime down the line so that it eventually did get dug up again. Having wandered down memory lane for more years now than I’d like to admit, it is interesting to now find that nearly anything can be a time capsule without it ever having that original intent. There were two shoe boxes in my attic for years that survived multiple moves, heat and humidity and a plague of rats, and when they were opened and inspected with light and loupe, they were found to contain a trove of memories both recalled and forgotten. It was that discovery a few years back that led me to offering my services on the reunion yearbook committee, and it was why I spent hours and days hunkered over light panels whilst huffing archival cleaning fluids in order to unearth my last two years of high school as photographer and senior year yearbook photo editor.

As with most things these days, it is hard to imagine a past without that which we have now come to accept as commonplace. Even though George Eastman had done his darndest to put a camera into the hands of the everyman, it is both fascinating and weird to think of oneself as a sole visual chronicler of a time that seems not that long ago. As I have been reminded by my classmates more than once- they just did not have a camera to record most events there or anywhere.  I do recall my bulk film loader that could hold a roll of 100 feet of black and white film and I remember the reusable canisters with the pop top ends that I sometimes had to force myself to throw away because after a number of uses they were found to be scratching the film every time I ran a roll through them. I remember the darkroom red and yellow lights and the apparent magic of the appearance of the negative image on the film, which then turned positive when exposed to the white photopaper that revealed faces and scenes as it rested at the bottom of a tray of developer. What was even more amazing as I poured through and relived all these scenes from those cardboard time boxes, was the modern transformation these images were able to pass through as I scanned them into my computer and cleaned and developed them electronically, digitally removing dust and scratches to sometimes reveal things I had not seen even back when the images were fresh and new.

As I was laying out the group of pictures I decided upon that would represent our time at that school place fifty years ago, I came upon a photo of three of my classmates sitting and standing around a computer terminal that I believe was linked to a mainframe at the University of Massachusetts a few miles down the road. One of my friends is sitting at the terminal, ready to type something in, while two other friends are standing there watching over his shoulders, somewhat uncertain as to what is going on there. As for me, it was all a bit Greek-ish. What was fascinating to me in regard to that photo is the scan of a piece of paper that I paired with it on a page in our reunion book. Other than the fact that I was and still am the consummate packrat, it was a bit bizarre to find in one of my leather wallets from that time (yes I still have them) both a required and suggested summer reading list for the school, and a lined sheet of paper with basic computer commands that I had written out and at one point used on that terminal, and had then folded and kept in that wallet for some really unknown reason. The pairing of the code scan and the terminal photo is important as a record of the time, and an anchor point in the incipience of a computing revolution. But it also, in reflecting on its significance, is a representation of a temporal inversion of sorts. It is a photo of us back then. A classmate noted about another series I had posted in the facebooks that we were just kids in adult bodies, or at least close to that. But those kids standing there still look young, while the computer terminal in its newness of that time now looks incredibly old and clunky and irrelevant. A photo of the those three of us now around a gaming laptop with massive speed and computing capability would be a startling juxtaposition to say the least. I can’t say that I saw the importance or the potential of that terminal way back then- I also didn’t see the time capsule importance of the negatives I held on to all these years. I just knew that they were a record of that time and that maybe they might be worth having at some point- I guess I was right about that.