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14 is Ivory

weddingphoto3Fourteen is a daunting number, not just because it’s over 10, or that it’s beyond lucky number 13, or even that it’s a full twice that of 7, but because so much can happen over the course of 14 years. Fourteen years ago I was 26, no longer a kid but still not entirely secure and steady in my adult persona. If you had asked me if I was ready to take on the world I probably would have given you a blank stare and then begun contemplating just that. If you had told me at 26 that I would be here — now — I would have probably laughed in your face. You see, 26 is the new 18, and who knows anything at all when they’re 18?

But at 26 I did know one very important thing that has served me well over these past 14 years — I couldn’t let this woman slip through my fingers.

Now that I’m 40, looking back on everything that has happened since that day 14 years ago, I want to clap 26 year old me on the back, to give him a huge hug, to hold him close because somehow he was enough for her. Somehow I’m still enough for her, as inadequate as I always feel I am in and of myself. But she saw something in me then, and she sees something in me now, and here we are 14 years later, still enjoying each others’ company. Which is what marriage should be all about, right?

It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a thrill to know we are still together, to know that we still smile for no reason at all other than that we still love each other.

Oh, and 14 is ivory. One is paper, but 14 is ivory. I recognize the poignancy in that, at least on a couple of levels. It’s like the song goes, “Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony…” Because I am ebony, and she is ivory, but not just in the obvious way, not just because of our skin tones that look so beautiful together.

She is ivory because when she gives, she gives of her whole self. She is pure in her intentions and in her execution. She is that rare gift that doesn’t expect anything in return, so I want to give her the world. I hope I’ve given her some semblance of the world over the course of these 14 years.

Ivory is also treasured. So many people search for so long to get the perfect piece of ivory, and they hold on to it because it’s precious. Shine a light on it and it brightens even more than that light, drawing the light’s essence into itself and magnifying it a hundredfold. It’s brilliant, and so is she.

When I first found out that 14 was ivory I laughed to myself because this world is an interesting place, because it’s the perfect embodiment for her. I love her for who she is, not just when I’m with her, but for when I am without. I love her for her raw honesty that strives to be nothing but what it is, which is perfect for me.

So, 14 is ivory, and we are 14 together. Our marriage is a teenager, with all the caveats that come along with that designation. Because, while she is perfect for me, our life is not a perfect one. Whose is? When we stood there outside City Hall after putting on our rings, as we exhaled, basking in the glory of our newfound marriage, 14 years ago, we weren’t thinking about the next 14 years. We were thinking about what it had taken us to get to that point separately. But we haven’t had to think about that since, focused instead on our own future, 14 years of which are now in the past.

But what a 14 years it has been! A once in a lifetime honeymoon to Ireland, a steely resolve to do everything we could to make sure we expand our family, two wonderfully rambunctious children, a new house almost completed, and all the minor and major occurrences that shape any life. It’s crazy to look back and realize that, from what might have been an inconsequential email, we have created a shared life, and we continue to live that life — together.

So, for my wife, thank you for being ivory. You wear it well. To the next 14 years…

Sam

Good On Paper

9f6daf4011c972bfcbd6025ea6686c5a_ice-cream-truck-ice-cream-ice-cream-truck-clipart_450-450When I was a kid I wanted the ice cream truck to break down on my street. In my head it would have been perfect: the frazzled driver befuddled by his misfortune, the machine only having an hour left on the generator, the driver throwing his hands up as us kids swarmed the truck and ate everything we could reach. FOR FREE. It would have been heaven.

It was so good… on paper. I thought it up in my head. I drew the stick figure children eating ice cream like it was going out of style. But I didn’t take into account the horrible stomachaches we would have been likely to have, or the vomiting that would probably have ensued later that night, or the poor driver out of product and having to (eh hem) eat the loss. I was a kid, and the scenario was good on paper. But I’ve grown up, and I’ve seen a lot along the way that is also good… on paper, but that just doesn’t cut it in reality.

How come things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to? The numbers don’t lie, do they? There was this sports commentator, who, when asked to explain how a team that was supposedly unbeatable had just lost, said: “That’s why they play the game.” And it’s so true. That’s exactly why they play the game, why we live our lives, even though the cards are stacked against us at times.

There’s just something about David vs. Goliath that drags us in, isn’t there? We know the little guy is going to get crushed, because on paper it says so, resoundingly, but we root him on anyway, hoping for the improbable. It’s always a feel good story when the underdog succeeds when absolutely nothing was expected of him, in business, in sports, and in life overall.

But man, it’s got to suck for the overwhelming favorite, for the one from whom most was expected, for the one who checked all the boxes… on paper. Because, somewhere along the way, every time we hold someone up it just becomes a reason to tear them down when they don’t hit that expectation.

Sometimes people and things are just good on paper, and that’s all there is to it. Sometimes there isn’t a reason why “on paper” doesn’t translate into “in person.” It just is. Sometimes that girl who seemed so perfect on her eHarmony profile doesn’t mesh with you in real life. That’s why life isn’t live on paper. It’s why prospective employees have to interview instead of getting hired based on simply their resume. Because human beings aren’t just the words that define them. They aren’t just the numbers attached to them.

We don’t just live on paper. So good on paper is just a sign that we might be more inclined to succeed in real life. It isn’t a guarantee.

Sam

I fancy myself a burgeoning photographer. Not the kind who transforms weddings into memories. Not even the kind who captures the zeitgeist of an ordinary moment and makes it extraordinary. I just want to be someone who takes pictures I enjoy, and that others can enjoy. I blame Instagram for this, for the idea that everyone and anyone can be an avant garde photographer, that everyone and anyone can do what so few have done exceptionally well throughout the course of history.

But it’s not just Instagram, if I’m being honest with myself. When I was a kid I remember getting out the chunky old camera, loading it up with film, and heading out to the backyard to see if I could catch worms doing what worms do. I didn’t like pictures of myself, preferring instead to be behind the lens, figuring out how to perfect the scene. I still like figuring out how to perfect the scene.

Four years ago the Utica Public Library started a photo competition, wherein 70 (or however many) photographers chose their own scenes to share with the community. The entries were judged in one or more of several categories and winners of each category announced after three weeks of hanging in library’s main gallery.

It took me FOREVER to decide what picture I wanted to enter, because we could only enter one, but I was more than certain I wanted to be included in the inaugural contest. For some reason I was enamored with bridges that year, so one day when I was driving past one I had passed many times before I stopped. It was raining out, so I wasn’t about to get out of my car. And I didn’t have my camera with me, but I had my phone. So I took one shot through the windshield, in between the wiper blades swiping away the rainwater, and it came out just as I hoped it would.

wpid-Photo-Editor-Plus-1370630975995.jpg

There was just something about it that spoke to me, and speaks to me even now, even with the rainy windshield in between me and my subject. Somehow it got entered into the “Social Commentary” category in the contest and won honorable mention. I was honored.

The next year I wanted to do something completely different so I decided not to take just one picture and let it be. Instead I decided to head to Herkimer and do an authentic photo shoot. Only, I had absolutely no clue what I would end up doing, what subject I would end up picking, or how the picture would turn out. I only knew I had two weeks until the contest entry was to be submitted and I still had nothing.

Herkimer led me on some strange paths the day I went down there with my camera and hopefully also with some imagination in tow. Nothing stood out to me, however, even though I took over 20 photos that day. As I was driving out of town, though, inspiration struck hard enough to make me turn around. There was just something about the school buses slanted in their parking spots that hit me. So I took a photo, and after fooling around with my photo editing software, this is what I settled on…

flamingosenhanced.JPG

I called it “Flamingos.”

Keeping with tradition I received another honorable mention, this time in the category of “Striking Use of Color.” But I just wasn’t satisfied with all the standard static shots of inanimate objects. I decided for the third iteration of the contest I would photograph something animated. So I studied the cats who live here and I took various pictures of them. Yet they just weren’t cutting it. That’s when I came up with my brilliant but daunting idea.

I would have a photo shoot with a human being, something I had never done before. Once I had it in my mind, though, I couldn’t get it out. However, I didn’t have much time once again, once I had finally decided I would have a human subject. Luckily for me I work with someone who fit the exact profile of what I wanted for my human subject, and who was also available for a block of time to shoot.

We met at the Utica Train Station on a cloudy Tuesday morning. I was a little worried about the rain, but it had helped me before, so I wasn’t too concerned with it that day. I told myself I would take as many pictures as I could, in as many poses as I could, and I would pore through them later until I found the exact right one to submit to the photo contest.

And 55 photos later, here’s what I decided on:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I called it “Looking Glass.” It was a totally unexpected shot from the enclosed crossover bridge connecting the tracks going Eastbound and Westbound. I just told her to stand there and look out at the tracks and she delivered, the reflection kind of ghostly in the window, and the architecture of the building evident through the glass. Producing it in black and white gave it a stark realism that I loved from the start.

I received honorable mention in the “Black & White” category.

And now it’s one year later. I’m not really sure what I’m submitting yet. What I do know is that I’ve already taken whatever picture I will eventually submit. I’m leaning toward the “Nature” category, something I decided shortly after I found out when submissions are due, because I had never tried it before. We’ll see if I end up going that way after all because I have a few “Architectural” photographs that I might decide on.

Whatever I choose, though, I think I’ve found something that will last a lifetime, even if it’s just a hobby. Even if the only thing I ever submit photographs to is this contest once a year. I’m just excited to be behind the lens.

Sam

3 Cats

3catsI live with 3 cats.

No, they’re not mine, although I am particularly fond of them. That’s just how I’ve always been. These fearless, furry, fleabag felines are just so cute and lovable, especially the way they’re fiercely independent at times while positively cloying at others.

It seems like I’ve always lived with cats. Or they’ve always lived with me. Sometimes I’m honestly not sure which is true and which is the lie. Perhaps I’ve always lived with them because they let me. They come into my life at the oddest of times and I get attached. I look into their little, expressive eyes, and my heart melts.

But they come with a severely skewed caveat, or two, or three. Because cats aren’t like dogs. They don’t go outside to get their business done, which is a major deal. Cats need litter boxes, and people assigned to clean them on a regular basis, and litter too. Litter that needs to be purchased again and again. And again.

Cats also need food. Some of them are addicted to the soft food in the little cans full of “juicy bits,” while others crunch for days on the dry food from out of the bag. And still some others eat both, whining when the bowl is empty, even if it’s the middle of the night.

Because cats are nocturnal, or if they aren’t then they’ve fooled me for 40 years. They laze around all day long, coming out at night like vampires to chase each other up and down the halls, and up and down the stairs, hissing and snarling like beasts in a cage ready to rip each other to shreds. They wake me from my precious dreams, thinking we are in the midst of the apocalypse when it is just a typical 2 AM romp.

I live with 3 cats, and each one is completely different from the others. 2 of them come and go as they please (so long as someone lets them out the door and in the door when it’s convenient for them). The other 1 stays in, even though he tries to get out when he thinks no one is paying him any mind. We are always paying him some kind of mind because we know he is shifty.

There are more cats out in the back room, but I don’t go there. I am content to pretend I live with only 3 cats, to watch these 3 sleep all day long in the patches of sunlight that are all too infrequent on this side of the house. I am just fine with cohabiting this space, in giving them their space unless they want to be near. Because I’m a cat myself, my personality meshing perfectly with theirs, living a kind of zen-like existence without the benefit of claws.

And that’s okay, because there are enough cats here who do have claws. 3, to be exact.

Sam

Storm Clouds

These clouds gather
Sandpaper rough
Tinged with regret
Heralding the storm.

Sam

Some Mornings

Some mornings are simply better than others. The birds chirp mellow, smooth, instead of high pitched and whiny. The coffee smells sweeter, infusing the air with the perfect hint of hazelnut, no more, no less. The bed feels warm, like a cocoon, enveloping me in its warm embrace. The children sleep in, so there are no interruptions, no screams, no yells, nothing at all. Just the sound of silence, and the steady breathing of my wife beside me as I hold her closely.

Some mornings I am in my thoughts, concentrating on what’s to come instead of on what has been, focused on the next thing. I am attuned not to the coming rain but to the storm clouds that are gathering, studying them for signs of early spring, or fading glory, or everything else and nothing else all at once. I stretch out my hand to feel the rain I know is coming, to embrace the coming downpour in ways I never have before. I flinch at its cold presence mingling with my own, and I close the window.

Some mornings there’s Ed Sheeran singing in my ear, reminding me that everything should be all about the rhythm. I sing along to the beat, knowing how close the lyrics are to my own life, to the words that would be in my head even if I wasn’t listening to it. I’m reminded that life, while solitary, is a shared experience, that others are listening to this same song right now, or ruminating on it in their minds, or lost in their dreams of it. Or songs like it. Or thoughts like it. And I smile.

Some mornings I am just so grateful for this life, for this ability to awaken again, to welcome the sun, the sound of the chirping crickets, the cold floor under my feet as I stand. The bed looks forlorn without me in it, with my wife still there steadily breathing, still fast asleep. I tuck the abandoned sheets and covers in around her, a poor facsimile for the warmth of myself, but it’s what I have to give when I have to be up and moving. When the night turns into day and I’m left staring at the thin line.

But some mornings… some mornings I can stay there with her. I can hold her closer than my own skin and our breathing naturally synchronizes. Some mornings I can imagine forever.

Sam

“Dance, or fade out.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, this waiting at a green light. And for what? I craned my neck to see around the SUV ahead of me, but I had nothing on which to focus my anger. I was just about to lay on my horn with gusto when I saw a man. It must have been like when the Jews saw Jesus walking on the water, except this man was in the middle of an intersection, and he certainly wasn’t Jesus. Oh, and he was dancing.

Earbuds in, swaying to the beat that only he could hear, he wore a leather jacket in 60 degree heat, oblivious to the elements. Oblivious also to the hard stares from the motorists who waited with hands raised above horns, with epithets painting the corners of our lips. We had places to go and things to do, and this man… well, he was standing there dancing.

I love to dance, to sway my hips to a particular beat, usually in the comfort of my own home, but this wasn’t the comfort of his own home. This was the streets of Utica, NY. This was rush hour traffic. Honestly, I’m surprised no one ran him over. If my kids weren’t in the car with me maybe I would have given him a nudge. Okay, I wouldn’t have. And he was an interpretive dancer too, the kind I usually like, but there’s a time and place for everything.

It wasn’t like this was some one man flash mob or something. It wasn’t like this was 2005 or something. A dancing man in the middle of the street against a green light for traffic… it’s just not done. At least not socially anyway. So we sat there waiting for him to shimmy along to what I could only surmise was a Gwen Stefani song, to reach the island in the middle of the street so we could safely pass and flip him off in the process. 

Except no one flipped him off, this dancing man. Maybe because we saw in him a little of our own self-restricted selves, begging to slip free.

And dance. 

Sam

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