The Man in the High Room With Stuff

Island Life


A bit before everything stopped and the physical journey could no longer be the destination, I already had the feeling the walls were closing in. In many ways, the situation was somewhat akin to the mythical tale of the frog in the slowly warming pot of water- in other ways it bore a striking resemblance to a processional glacier, but without the vast and bright reflective surface and the piercing and oppressive cold. This particular glacier was not in any danger of melting however, since it is comprised of boxes, papers, an assortment of electronica and things I had otherwise forgotten were still around. Some would suggest that the attic might be a better place for the bulk of it, but it was the situation in the attic, the one with rats a few years back, that forced an expedition to the upward regions to check on, secure and return things that might be deemed important in some quarters and that otherwise, if it remained as it was, would be left for the intruders- the roving, chewing, peeing and sometimes nesting pestilence, to reduce it to garbage can filler. And then there were other things of similar importance, although not of immediate or regular use, that gathered here as well, because they too would suffer at the hands of rodentia in the lofty regions, and we had no other alternative zone of piles, like a dry basement (or one of any kind for that matter) or a garage of any shape or form that would gladly be accepting transient but valued debris of any sort.

Finally it did get to be too much, the rodent incursion that is, and I went spelunking for active incursion points, braving spiders’ webbing and fecal landmines left by cats and did what I thought was a bang-up job in securing the borders. There was no longer a hint of any random rodent rumpus in the walls or ceiling at any moment, but at the same time, the debris field of depth and breadth did continue its creep behind my back as I sat in the “guest” room at my editing work station and did a pretty good job of ignoring any movement there, except for those crashes and slides of stacked papers or small boxes that happened to move as I required access to whatever was there of recent, relative importance and need. There was the option of breaking out the step ladder and opening the attic trap door and returning some or all of the piles to the higher realm, if not necessarily a higher purpose, but that just seemed like a lot of work.

I can’t recall what inspired a certain deep dive into one of these glacial boxes six or so months ago, but that wound up revealing a trove of color slides I had taken of a protest march against the Vietnam war from nearly fifty years ago. As it turned out, the archivist at my high school found them extremely interesting and unique, and an assortment of scanned images from that collection ended up gracing the pages of the school’s quarterly, glossy alumni magazine, which was kind of cool. It got me to thinking about selective memory as it related to my photography over the years, because as it turned out, I had no real memory of the event until I found the photos. One of the things I have noticed over time is that, in many cases, I have fairly vivid image memories of many of the photographs I have taken, which is one of the things that sends me clambering through my piles of pics in search of a specific shot. In this case, it was like opening up a multitude of Christmas presents, with each one being at least a pleasant surprise, if not a downright exciting discovery.

On both of my cross country adventures of the last two years I have stopped at the home of a fellow alumnus who now resides outside of Denver. He is one of the reunion class representatives, and both times we have discussed our upcoming fiftieth (really?) reunion next year. One of the things that has been bantered about is the proposed reunion yearbook that is one of the traditional endeavors of that “grand” class. In thinking ahead about that, I dug out one of the boxes of negatives I had produced as photo editor of our senior yearbook back in 1971 and started to pick and peek through them. Some time right after returning from this past winter’s documentary festival in Missoula- my latest, and for the moment last journey away- I began to search for the second box of negatives I knew was around here somewhere in the rambling room glacier. Upon locating that, I began to randomly scan and digitally clean photos I knew had not been used in the yearbook, not because they weren’t good, but rather because there simply was not room for them all.

Speaking of glaciers, at times this scanning thing can be a process that is maddeningly slow. Even though the negatives have been stored in glassine envelopes or folded paper towels (not the height of archival rigor here) and closed in shoe boxes all these years, for some reason there is stuff that has crept in and speckled the surfaces of most of the film. This requires the attention of cotton swabs and film cleaner, a blowing off with canned air and still a bit of photoshop to make things just right. I know there is disagreement out there as to whether or not old images should be cleaned or not. I would rather that they be restored to as close to the original as possible than to suffer the historical dust as found. Just as then, back in darkroom and enlarger and developing tray times, bad prints were chucked, or spot retouched till they were clean to the eye. Photoshop just makes the fixing so much easier.

In these times of social media, I have found it fascinating to make a photograph and dump it into the internets and see where it goes. As it is, I do not spend much time in the dungeons and tubes of the internets, I just dump and run and answer questions when I can. If I spend more time there than that I generally find more arguments than I care to acknowledge, and so I take pictures and toss them in the collective viewing box and see what floats. What has been of interest of late for me is a few of the parallels I am feeling with this historical high school walk down memory lane, and our latest binge venture here at home with the teevee show known as ‘the Man in the High Castle’. As it deals with time warps and alternate realities, I have found as of late that my mind has been wandering over old ground seen through different eyes as I dig through these ancient images. Since the mystery man of this teevee show exists through the episodes in a world of cans of old newsreels from a couple of different realities, I can on some levels relate to his obsession and passion whilst sitting here with my boxes of ancient imagery. As the show deals with two different parallel worlds that have taken vastly different paths (in most ways), it is tempting to engage in the hypotheticals and what-ifs of where a slightly different turn might have taken me. But for the most part I avoid too many trips down or even toward the path not taken or the road less traveled- it’s interesting to speculate but mostly pointless and more frustrating than should be allowed.

One thing that has happened that I have come to accept as both a resident of the planet, as well as of this Island, is the synchronous surprises that happen when one tosses things out into the electronic or worldly stream and then sees what comes boomeranging back. As it was, I was agonizing over whether or not I should post pictures of the headmaster of my high school that I had a chance to snap while staying with friends on Cape Cod at the end of a summer swim league season. As it  turned out, the headmaster and his family had a house next to my friends’ house out there, and while he was bringing in his boat to button down the place before the fall term started back at school I snapped some pictures of the process. It was a view that none of us at the school had experienced. As it was, and is I guess, the school had a jacket and tie policy for students and faculty, and here was the headmaster in sweatshirt, swim trunks and knockabout shoes. And so I clicked away, and one of the photos made it into the yearbook, and that was where the headmaster signed my book to me. And all was good, and so I figured the rest of the visual story might be of interest to some of my classmates on the facebooks some nearly fifty years on. It turns out they were interested. It also turned out that one of his daughters was passed the pictures as well, and I found out just yesterday that she appreciated the post and would like high resolution copies for herself and the family. This is a request I will be more than happy to oblige, and I may even be able to deliver them in person at some point in the not too distant future. That is because I also just found out that she and her husband and their family live on the Burton Loop-  yes, that Burton Loop. I suppose I should say- funny how that works- but this is Vashon after all.