Friday, March 31, 2006

Milking the Cows

My sister is getting confirmed in the Catholic Church Saturday. I have been hired to photograph the event. Not coverage, but portraits of kids with the bishop and priest.

I'm glad to be able to do this for my church and family, I really am. But I can't wait to get it over. Lately I've been getting hired to shoot a lot of "hurry up and get it done" portrait sessions for youth events and teams. I set up a location that is convenient but not good, and I have the subjects file through and photograph them one after another after another in as little time as possible.

It's not about making art or capturing a moment, it's more like pushing cows down the chute.

I can't really talk with the subjects or motivate them. They just put on a hollow smile, stare at my lens and wait for it to end.

I'm going to do the job, no doubt about it. I'll probably do more like it in the future. I'll smile and work hard and make them happy. But I need something else to bring the spark back, cause this kind of work is putting out the flame.

I need to get started on this Small-Town Snapshot project. I need to get started on it fast.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No date

I messed up and won't be going out on a date Thursday night, that's the night my friend Scott will be in town and we were going to hang out. Thus, a rain check.

I encountered something that enraged me today. I was doing some work in my hometown and stumbled on a framed print of one of my pictures. Only it wasn't a print I'd sold, but a copy. One of my customers had copied it and scanned it onto cheap photo paper to put up at her desk.

So first, she infringed my copyright. But that wasn't what made me mad. I was pissed off because she used a crappy, misaligned color-copier to make it. There were red, green and blue lines running across the whole thing, and the colors were all faded. She made my hard work look like crap.

If you're going to steal my work, at least have the decency not to half-ass it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Oh, Canadian Fedex Lady"

This is worth watching if you have a fast-enough internet connection:

"Why I Got Fired From Apple."

I'm too tired to write profoundly tonight...

So I'll just give it to you simple:

I have a date. Thursday night. To a movie. With a woman. BUT I don't expect anything to come of it, I think I'm still in the "friend zone" with this lady.

I have a car. It is nice. Gets great mileage. BUT I still miss being able to suddenly go off road at any moment.

I still don't have a laptop. I hate Sony. And Best Buy. BUT I love the relatives that lent me their computer to type this and other things.

I'm still on the Collegian. I'm advocating for the creation of another editor, a "Public Editor." This person would handle complaints to the paper and seek out feedback to help the rest of the paper do their jobs better. The "PE" would also write columns answering reader questions about things that aren't newsworthy but might need answered. BUT it all depends on what the next Editor-In-Chief decides.

Also, the deadline to apply for Summer and Fall 06 Collegian Editors was today. I didn't apply. I'm not ready and I have too many personal obligations. BUT, as I said, I'd love to be the Public Editor. If it happens.

And there's a girl on staff who seems to be trying to catch my eye. I like this. I'm pursuing it. BUT I never really was worth a damn when it came to interpreting signals from women, so this could go very, very badly. Or it could go wonderfully. That's life.

I've finished the first four chapters of my novel. It's working title is "Stuck." I'm thinking of changing it to "Heaven on Earth" for the second draft. I'm not ready to tell the general public or most people I know what it is about. I've only described the plot to one friend, let another read over the first two chapters, and let my cousin read each chapter as it is written. I rewrote one, number four, once already. I plan on rewriting the entire thing at least twice.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Goodbye Jeep. Goodbye Laptop.

My Jeep sold Friday after one day one the market. Some twentysomething guy had 13 $100 bills and that was more than enough for us, so he now has my precious Jeep.

Well, now it's his precious Jeep. I hope he takes good care of her.

My laptop is also gone, it had several big problems with it so I took it to Best Buy in Topeka Friday to have it sent out for warranty service. I drove my Oldsmobile, she performed great. She's getting about 30 miles to the gallon these days, more than twice what my Jeep did when I sold her.

I stopped by Paxico on my way home to visit my grandma who lives nearby and go typewriter hunting. There are 10 antique shops in a one-block radius in Paxico, so you'd think I'd have been able to find some good ones. Wrong. All I could find was an overpriced Underwood in poor condition and an obscenely overpriced Oliver No. 3 that was literally in pieces; the carriage assembly had fallen off and I couldn't find any of the connecting fasteners. Also, the keys jammed even when you only used one at a time.

My grandma wasn't home either, so I left her a note. I'll have to go by again sometime.

But my Oldsmobile sure rode like a dream.

I spent all Saturday working on my Corona to produce an assignment due Monday that I procrastinated on. Today was mostly just laziness, except for when my Palm Pilot died on me. I think the battery just got drained somehow, so everything should be ok. Let's hope so, because that thing holds a gold mine of information on sources.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Walking in the rain again

I called Maxine this morning about the Oldsmobile I want to buy from her. She said she's decided to accept my offer and sell me the car. The only problem is that she has yet to locate the title, but will have it by Wednesday she says.

This means my Jeep's days are limited. She seems to be complaining to me as I drive her around Council Grove running errands.

"Don't leave me!"

"What about going off-road?"

"How could you replace me? What does that slutty Cutlass have that I don't?"

All of a sudden, Cutlass sounds like a dirty word. Cut-lassss. It's all making me feel like a 40-something man who divorces his wife of many years to get married to some young thing that just got out of college. Oh, the guilt.

I keep pointing out that she's too high-maintenance for me, that I need something is less demanding. But she isn't having any of it.

I went for a walk in the cold, cold rain today. At one point I was walking by the city cemetary and noticed a name on a stone.

Walsh. Gordon Walsh. I'd known him from around town. He'd passed away while I was in Washington.

I crossed the chain fence and paid my respects. It was still light out, sort of, so I read each headstone as I walked out through the front of the graveyard. Many of them were from the late 19th century, and many of those had collapsed or been broken. The weather had not been kind to their inscriptions. One was really old, a woman who'd lived through the Civil War. The only word about her I could really make out was her first name: Caroline.

I want to know more about the people buried there. Many of the stones had detailed descriptions of the people they alone remembered today. It would just take a bit of gentle brushing, a few rubbings and some careful concentration to find out a great deal about the people that built this town.

In other news, my Snapshot of Council Grove project, as I've dubbed it for now, is gaining some momentum. I've been talking it over with different community members and many of them have sounded really supportive. I think I can really make it happen.

I'm thinking I should do the photography on the Sunday of Wah-Shun-Gah Days, you know, the day nothing really happens but lots of Council Grove people want something to do that doesn't require money or anything crazy. Thoughts?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Lessons of my Jeep

I test-drove a 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme today, white with a nice red interior and under 80,000 miles.

Assuming the owner accepts my offer, it will be my second car. After all, my Jeep may be more fun than a barrel of mid-size sedans but the gas is killing me. The time has come for my precious Jeep and I to part ways.

After I made the offer for the Oldsmobile, I drove back to my dad's station and started cleaning out all the garbage from my Jeep. I had to get all the old papers and dirt and other undesirable things out of it so it could sell. No one wants to buy a dirty vehicle.

But as I dug through all that mess I kept running into memory after memory. So many of these things that had happened to me and my Jeep in almost six years of driving.

I bought that Jeep in mid-May 2000, just days after the last day of class my freshman year of high school. Ed Bowen, head football coach and guidance counselor there, had this red 1990 Jeep Cherokee Laredo he'd replaced with a Chevy truck and wanted to sell. My dad arranged the offer, which was a good one, and I drove it away with 152,500 miles on the odometer.

I never test-drove it, but it wasn't my first experience with it. That Jeep was one of the first oil-changes I ever did, and it was still fresh in my memory when I bought her.

It was $3,000, as is. My dad and I took out a loan for the whole amount. I was supposed to take three years to pay it off. But by taking extra hours whenever I could at my summer job as a hardware store clerk, I did it in six months.

My dad wound up helping me out with that Jeep pretty often. We replaced a lot of parts on it, including the water pump, thermostat, coolant bottle, tires, and other things. He kept that sucker running.

I barely drove it that summer, since I didn't have my restricted for most of it, but there are plenty of memories from those halcyon days. Mr. Bowen took her hunting -- he had a license to shoot from it due to a lifelong fight with polio -- and would fire from the driver's seat after rolling his window down. Every time I hit a bump that first month, a .223 shell would fall out from inside the heater. I guess the shells ejected out of his rifle, down the defroster vents and eventually found their way down.

One time I was sent to pick up my little brother Drew from a baseball game. The lot was right at the fence line, and I parked somewhere near third base. A pop fly went up, up, up and then down, down, down, right into a pinstripe on the hood.

I also remember something my little brother Ryan did that summer. While I was sitting in the driver's seat with the engine dead, not really doing anything, he yelled at me. He was standing at the front passenger-side corner of the hood. He was holding a rock. He took the rock and scraped the hood in a circle on my hood. My mom stopped me before I could smack him. The doodle is still there, a few loops in the paint.

On Sept. 1, 2001, I had my first accident with my Jeep. Bill Cashman, a rather old man who is no longer with us, backed into it in the parking lot of Baker's Apple Market. He nailed the handle of my tailgate with the corner of his bumper perfectly, keeping it from opening until I got it fixed well over a year later. This was not my first car accident, that happened with my dad's pickup in early October 2000. It was a few days after the bombing of the USS Cole by Al Qaeda, and after my accident 10 days before 9-11, I became rather paranoid. I outgrew it.

Drew started high school when I was a junior, and I drove him to school every day that year. It snowed a bit that winter and one time Drew volunteered to get the snow off my Jeep so we could go. He used a snow shovel, though, and wound up breaking one of the Jeep logos off the tailgate.

I also got in trouble with my Jeep for the first time about then. I took her out to the area under the dam at the reservoir here. In a moment of mental weakness, I tried to take her mudding and got horribly, horribly stuck. It was stupid of me, even more so because it was illegal to drive off the roads in this particular area. The friendly ranger made me do 10 hours of community service working with old, dead spruce and pine trees for my crime, leaving my hands black and stinging from the sap.

The fuel injectors also went bad that year, and we had to replace them all. By bad, I mean they fell apart and sprayed gas all over the engine compartment and eventually leaking into the cab. It took years to get the smell out of there.

At some point, the ceiling fabric came unglued and hung down, rubbing against my head and scaring me often. I fixed it with 150 multi-colored sewing pins. I pulled it tight against the insulating foam and jammed the pins in there, making it look like the Jeep had a strange case of Chicken-Pox. My friend Jocelyn, I think it was her, made a smiley face once with a bunch of pins above the front passenger seat. It is still there.

During the summer of 2004, the Jeep was my trusty steed during my internship for the Manhattan Mercury, taking me to all sorts of stories. During Country Stampede that year, someone broke into it by breaking a rear window. They stole a flashlight and a cheap pair of Bushnell binoculars. I covered that window with duct tape for more than a year before getting it fixed.

I didn't drive my Jeep at all in Spring 2005. I was in DC from January to mid-April. My dad and brother were left in charge of it. When I got back, more things worked on it than had when I left. I did not complain.

I did drive it plenty that summer, having to cover County Commission in Riley County that year. It was then that the cruise control stopped working, so now my right leg always hurts after a long drive.

That Jeep is very precious to me. The odometer hit 186,000 miles this week and she's in pretty good shape for the shape she's in. She's for sale now to a good home. I'm asking $1,500 right now, or best offer.

I have to say, this whole experience brings to mind one of my favorite songs, "Ford Fairlane" by Bobby Pinson:

"The carburetor needs a kit,
The driver's-side visor's ripped.
It's getting a little hard to shift,
And the knobs are missing off the radio.
It's lost its glossy candy apple shine,
The ink has faded on the 'For Sale' sign.
The only driver that car ever owned.
First million dollars takes it home."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

News of my life

I impersonated a firefighter last night.

I was walking out to my Jeep to take a ride home to visit my dear family when I spotted out cat Vader up in the neighbor's tree. He was trying to get down, but kept chickening-out and pulling himself back up, leaving him stuck 12 feet up in the air. On the ground beneath him was a loud dog making it very clear how hungry it was.

I went over to our neighbor's front door and knocked. I let them know about Vader and that I was going to get a ladder to get his sorry butt down. It's not nice to climb your neighbor's trees without permission.

I got the ladder out of the garage and set it up. I climbed up so I was at Vader's eye level, and started petting him to try to calm him down. He didn't calm down. He freaked.

He started hissing at me and that damned dog and digging his claws into the tree, and my hands as well. After a long period of coaxing I got him to let go of the tree and come down, all the while hissing at the worthless hound that wouldn't shut up.

I did the cat a favor, and he cut my hand open, thus is the way of cat ownership. But I didn't get mad. I got even. I took him inside and handed him to my 4-year-old cousin who promptly took him to her room to maybe put a dress on him, complete with bonnet, perhaps. I don't really know what she did to him, because I left for Council Grove right after.

Today was also an interesting experience. I went out to where my Boy Scout Troop was camping this morning and helped them learn to use a compass and their own "pace" to travel distances on foot and find things.

What I did was: pick a direction, such as 320 degrees (northwest), and told the kids to measure it with their compasses. I then gave them a distance, like 600 feet, and had them pace it off. They'd measured their paces before so they just took the distance, divided it by 100 feet, multiplied that times their pace (like 30 paces for 100 feet) and then started walking.

It sounds less difficult when you do it, trust me. The hard part is making sure your compass is giving you an accurate reading.

When they started, each kid would pick a different direction and they'd all wind up in a wide swath in the middle of a pasture, none of them on-target. However, as the day went on, they learned to do it right and got pretty darned accurate. The triumph of the day was when they all wound up within 15 feet of their target destination several times after walking upwards of 500 feet.

This particular campsite is in the middle of a pasture that used to be someone's back and front yard. I first went there a decade ago. There's an old house, a couple machine sheds and an abandoned chicken coop. When I first went there, everything seemed to be in pretty good shape.

We weren't allowed in the house because it was old and they feared it might collapse or something, but they let us chill out on the porch. Today, the house was still standing, but the porch had collapsed. Also, several machine sheds had been ripped to shreds, as if they'd fallen prey to a tornado.

But the Chickenhouse still stood, although it hasn't held chickens in quite some time. I hadn't been there in four years at least, so I had to duck to avoid the low rafters that had never bothered me before. It was where we slept and cooked our meals, and it was still in good shape.

It was a serious trip down memory lane for me, a Boy Scout-turned-Assistant Scoutmaster, to pass on to them all those lessons I'd learned at their age. But there was another thing I passed on to them as well, an inheritance from my youth, if you will.

While out hiking, I took the kids by the old campfire ring me and another scout made a good eight-nine years ago with stones for the actual fireplace and large logs all around to create a walking path, enclose the "arena" and provide seating off the ground.

Most of the original logs we laid were still there, albeit suffering from a nasty case of rot. Eight years of rain and weather ain't easy on dead wood. The log we'd carved our names into was still there, but our initials were unreadable. I could only tell where we'd carved them by the soft marks left on its surface.

The boys were all amazed at the fire-ring, built before they'd known what scouting was. I told them how me and the other Scout would always repair any damage made in our absence every time we came back. It gave us a sense of ownership, to maintain this arena of ghost stories and over-used campfire skits.

I told them that if they wanted to, they could help fix it up and keep the tradition going. They wanted to, all right.

They snapped into action, even after more than a mile of arduous hiking, and grabbed logs and rocks from all around and in 15 minutes the place was as good as new. I told them that since they helped with its upkeap, the firering now belonged to them, too, and they all carved their initials into the large logs brought in to replace the seats.

And it's true, that firering now belongs to those young scouts. After the hiking, the learning and the hard work, they earned it. Now I can't wait till things aren't so dry out so I can teach them some pyrotechnically-enhanced ghost stories on some cold Saturday night.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lots of news

So, I've got some big news.

First, as of 1:30 pm yesterday, I am back at the K-State Collegian.

Second, I got notice yesterday that I took first place in two categories in the annual communications contest put on by Kansas Professional Communicators. They're sending them on to the national competition put on by the National Federation of Press Women, (it's an organization for both genders now).

Here are the story links:

First place for Newswriting.

First place for In-Depth Reporting

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


It's been four weeks now since I left the Collegian.

Four weeks since I wrote a lede.

Two fortnights since my last nut graf.

I miss it.

I don't regret leaving, though, it was necessary or very bad things would have happened. I mean, I had something in between a panic attack and a nervous breakdown the night before Bush's Landon Lecture because it was all getting to me so bad, and then I kept working after that.

As you can imagine, by the time SGA Elections were starting, I was a walking packet of instant nutcase. Just add water, and stir.

So now I have to go over the awkward part, getting them to take me back. I've been trying to get some time to talk with the Editor-in-chief to ask about it, but things keep preventing us from actually talking to each other. Like Fire Alarms. And her leaving for a conference in Los Angeles. And being kicked out of a room because she needed to talk with someone else in there. (It was nothing personal).

But it'll happen sometime soon.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A sign of the times...

I am no longer a friend to a certain female. Now, she didn't tell me this, oh no.

She "un-friended" me on Facebook. I am impressed.