Observation, and a clear night photo

TELESCOPE

This photo was taken LITERALLY in the dark of night (about 9:00 p.m.), in the Science Building parking lot at Southern Arkansas University, as members of the Engineering Department set up telescopes to observe Jupiter and its moons. We got to see the planet, and it was a sensational sight, but I was most pleased with this photo grab of mine. I used my 35mm f/1.8, wide open, with the ISO jacked up to 3600 and my exposure compensation dialed up to 1.0. A very nice result.

Rural church cemeteries

Christa and I took an impromptu photo safari into Nevada County tonight, ahead of projected heavy rains tomorrow. I’d spotted a barn in a rural area that I wanted to photograph, and we got there just before sundown. After photographing the barn from the side of the road (actually, from inside the car, after we saw somebody’s dogs coming down a nearby driveway), we stopped at a couple of nearby churches for some photos. I like the idea of photographing small churches and these looked like just the ticket. One of them, Mt. Moriah, is a former family church home of mine; my grandmother and her sisters all attended in their youth, and in fact, I have an aunt buried there in the cemetery.

We found an intriguing cemetery in back of the second church as well as what appeared to be a “pet cemetery” in the trees beyond. Christa photographed it. We hope nothing weird happens.

This old barn is about 6 miles south of Prescott, Ark. It reminded me that my grandfather, when he was alive, always talked about photographing barns around Nevada County. He never got to; I think it’s a fine idea for a project.

We found this small grave site adjacent to a larger cemetery at a church in rural Nevada County. No, we weren’t really snooping, we were just looking for something interesting to shoot. We found it. You can kind of make up your own story about this place.

Church, Nevada County, Ark.

Mr. Moriah Church, Rosston, Ark.

Cemetery plots can make for interesting photos, as, hopefully, this one shows.

I’m guessing this object is a dreamcatcher at a gravesite near Rosston, Ark., though it resembles no other I’ve seen.

On the trail

While in Arkadelphia – city of my birth, as well as the birthplace of my daughter and both grandchildren – I took a minute to visit one of my favorite places, Feaster Trail, a woodsy path winding its way from Baptist Medical Center on the city’s west side to the Ouachita River on the east. It’s a great 25-minute walk and I used to take it every day, at least once a day. Mill Creek runs peaceably alongside it, and you’re likely to encounter people you know getting some exercise. It’s one of the few places I had left to photograph since seriously getting into photography three or four years ago. This morning found the trail largely empty of joggers/walkers/cyclists, allowing me to enjoy the song of the birds and the burbling trickle of the creek. I can’t say it’s the most photogenic of locales, but I did make a few nice images that capture the essence.

FEASTER

trail

trail2

Beautiful girl

Today our granddaughter, AbbyAnn Grace Wade, was dedicated in an Easter morning service at Third Street Baptist Church in Arkadelphia. It was a beautiful little service and she (and her mom!) were as lovely as ever. I am very proud of and thankful for them. No. 1 Grandson Drake continues to be my best bud; he spent a good 10 minutes snuggling with me today prior to the service. It’s all about the grandkids!

abbyann+momma

abbyann2

FAMILY

“Try the chocolate”

Looks yummy, doesn’t it? To me, it looks like a big bowl of death. (Google Images – the real thing would kill me)

I suffer from probably one of the most vexing allergies known to man – the peanut allergy.

Recently, while eating at a local pizzeria, I learned two valuable lessons: once an allergy sufferer, always an allergy sufferer, and, my peanut allergy is as bad today as it ever was.

I first learned I have this condition when I was young, say two or three years old. This was in the early 1970s, when peanut allergies were not as commonly known, or widely feared, as they are today. Back then, the allergy basically turned you into a freak show. “No peanut butter?! What kind of extraterrestrial kid is this? Everybody eats peanut butter!”

The popular, protein-filled snack was certainly a staple in our house. My dad could eat peanut butter for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He loved everything from the “gourmet” peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich to the rare and somewhat frowned-upon sardine-and-peanut-butter sandwich. He would have spread Peter Pan on a steak if there hadn’t been at least a 3% chance of Mom divorcing him over it. So, for me to turn up with an allergy to his favorite food did not exactly contribute to warm-and-fuzzy feelings. In fact, I’m sure it only added to his general dislike of me.

I had various skin tests conducted when I was little, and this was how my reaction to the product was discovered. Peanut butter then became the enemy of the household (Dad’s addiction notwithstanding.) No one could have it anywhere near me, elsewise I would contract one, or all, of the following symptoms:

Asthma; shortness of breath; rash; vomiting (if ingested); swelling of the mucus-membrane areas such as mouth and eyes; itchy skin; throat constriction; redness, and, quite possibly, if untreated, death. Obviously I never died, but as a child I did suffer from most of these, depending on the level of exposure. For me, peanut butter equaled a dire emergency. I’ve never even tasted the stuff. People tell me it’s to die for; I take that quite literally.

Attending public schools was not easy for me thanks to peanut butter. The cafeteria regularly made peanut butter cookies and other forbidden goodies. Of course, I was the only kid in school with a life-threatening allergy of any kind; this just happened to be the worst one imaginable. On peanut-butter cookie day, which was at least three times a month, I would be culled out of the lunch line and made to eat with the teachers. Why? So that “peanut breath or touch” would not accidentally send me to the hospital. Third graders, you see, are not as conscientious about people with allergies as (most) adults are. The only solution to the problem was to segregate me by putting me with the grownups. This, as you might imagine, made me something of an oddity among my peers. Why the hell’s Dan sitting with Mrs. Gordon? I got plenty of weird looks. Trying to explain to your fellow 9-year-olds that “it’s only a peanut allergy” is not the most effective means of deflecting unwanted attention. The teachers certainly made no effort to help me; they talked and gossiped as if nothing at the end of the table were amiss. Hell, they ate peanut butter cookies, too. I guess the only upside was that the decision to separate me from my fellow diners did prevent accidents from happening.

And, yes, my allergy was exactly that sensitive. I could blow up from the slightest contact. The school was only doing what it could in an age when allergies were paid less attention by state and federal overseers. I mean, God forbid, anyone should ask the cafeteria to stop with the cookies, already!

Fortunately, I never had a truly problematic episode with peanut butter, only a few minor incidents here and there. As I got older, I was able to take more control over my surroundings and food choices, and peanut butter became less of an issue. By the time I graduated high school, it was no bother at all.

As the decades have gone by, I began to suspect I might have have outgrown the allergy. After all, I’d been surrounded by family members who loved the stuff, and my daughter has no aversion to peanut butter whatsoever – she loves it as much as my dad ever did.

Yesterday, I got a rude awakening.

The waitress came by and offered me and my wife a slice of chocolate dessert pie. They generally do a good job at this place of making the distinction between “chocolate” and “peanut butter,” and since she made no mention of PB, I said, sure, why not. She dropped a slice on my plate and my wife and I went on about our conversation. I took a bite of pie.

The pie bit back.

My mouth suddenly felt loaded with fire ants. I knew something horrible was wrong – some mistake had been made. I took a good look at the pie and saw the light-brown/orangey tinge of … you guessed it … Jif or Reese’s or whatever they use. It was pure peanut butter with only a thin layer of chocolate.

I indicated the problem to my wife, and instant panic hit our table. I had a mouthful of killer peanut butter. It was no joke and definitely for real. The reaction was happening. I quickly expectorated the bite into a napkin, but some had inexorably gone down my throat. Now what?

“Epi-pen!” you say. Well, I have one of those … I’m looking at it as I type this … but I did not have it on me at lunch yesterday. What the hell good is it, then? Well, that’s a great question, but not one I was prepared to argue about yesterday.

This is similar to the life-saving device I have, only I found this image on Google. We heard some interesting stories about the epi-pen from our attending ER physician. You can use it, but you should still go to the hospital, afterward, if for no other reason than medical observation.

My first thought was, mouth rinse, so I hurried to the men’s room. Of course, it was occupied. So I had to wait about twenty seconds. The manager himself finally emerged. Unwilling and, really, unable to speak, I hurried in after him and held my mouth under the cold tap. Bits of nasty peanut butter ran out. The feeling of fire ants remained. Oh, shit.

We had a brief conversation with the manager at our table. He was understandably concerned, but really, it was nobody’s fault but mine. I should have exercised reasonable suspicion about the pie. Our waitress did admit that she said chocolate and not peanut butter, but at that moment, what were we going to do? I had to get some antihistamine into me, pronto.

I took a Benadryl in the car, but my mucus membranes were by then feeling the impact. I was constantly expectorating, and my throat felt scratchy, like it had an ant in it. I knew that was a sign of constriction. We would go right past the hospital on our drive home; I made the decision to stop at the ER.

They got me into a nurse’s station fairly quickly, and after the usual 1,001 questions about my medical history, moved me into an examination room. In short order, I received a second Benadryl and a steroid injection. I normally sleep like a baby after just one Benadryl, but two will knock me out, no questions asked. After about twenty minutes, I felt a lessening of the symptoms … and an unmistakable drowsiness.

My wife found it pretty amusing that I would fall asleep so easily, but the nursing staff wanted me to stay awhile for observation, and I rolled right over on the examining table and went to sleep. It was a hard, dreamless sleep, the kind that leaves you wanting only more sleep. They finally discharged me around 3:00 p.m.; I showed no more symptoms. I do not remember the trip home. I staggered to the recliner, fell in, and awoke around 9:30 p.m. Christa had cleaned the house, cooked dinner and brought the kids home. I was aware of none of it.

Fortunately, I’m at work today, feeling fine, and very appreciative of the prompt medical care and expertise that saved us from having a really bad day. The takeaway here is that I am as sensitive as ever to this allergy. I’ll be enjoying mac and cheese and mashed potatoes for the next few days, just to keep it safe. Oh, and I’ll keep the epi-pen just a little handier from now on.

I still haven’t found what I’m shopping for

usedbooks copy

I’m a collector – I love collecting hard copies of movies, books, albums, even pictures … it’s my background, my childhood. I was raised to buy the things that I loved. Note that I said things – not digital downloads. I might have moved into the 21st century along with everyone else, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still require the printed page or the physically recorded album in my hands. Sadly – tragically – it appears that all of that is going away.

Here’s a funny fact: chances are excellent that I can walk into any entertainment store (Books a Million, FYE, etc.) at random and find the music I want on vinyl, but NOT on CD or in any other format. Twenty years ago, the vinyl format was dead – and had been for a long, long time, so long that even then, I could not recall the last album I bought on vinyl.

Records – the kind you played on a turntable, that got scratched and skipped, that were packaged in BEAUTIFUL, ARTISTIC slipcases and paper envelopes – you know, actual music – were my delivery system of choice as a kid. I bought Star Wars soundtracks, Loony Tunes, and finally pop-music albums on vinyl and played the shit out of them. (Not to get too far afield in the realm of pop-culture “remember when,” but I also bought those book-and-record sets, which were printed stories accompanied by recorded words and music. Those were the best, Jerry, the best!)

Then one morning I awoke and you could no longer buy vinyl at my local Walmart. They had been replaced – in one fell stroke – with …. can you guess? … the cassette tape. (I won’t even mention eight-tracks.) Yes, all my vinyl had to be replaced with cassettes, which I will admit, were handier and somehow sounded better. (I don’t know that they actually did sound better; I never performed any scientific audio testing … maybe that was only wishful thinking on my part. Scratches, however, were gone, and tapes just sounded cleaner and more modern.) I doubt that I went around missing vinyl albums; I made the transition just fine. This was in the early-to-mid-80s; by 1990, formats changed again.

JT TAPE

I’ve always said that when a new device makes it into Walmart, it’s no longer a niche, experimental, “cool” concept, but a commodity with a ready audience – and the price for it drops dramatically. Compact discs certainly fit that description. In 1987, I remember reading with envy about Sting’s latest album on CD and the crystal-clear fidelity of the format. How I wanted a CD player! But how and where to buy one? I had no idea – only rich people owned CDs. Then I bought U2’s “Achtung Baby” on CD, and everything changed – I was no longer a tape man. All my cassettes went out the window; out with the old, in with the new!

All of that is preface to this: recently, I traveled to the megalopolis of Dallas, Texas, on a shopping excursion that was basically meant for our girls but into which I was able to squeeze one quick run for myself. This was to the ultimate shoppers’ paradise, Grapevine Mills, the largest indoor mall in North Texas. What was I in search of? Any and everything – no particular target purchase. I just wanted to “go look.”

VIRGIN

Grapevine Mills was once home to the biggest music, record and book store I’ve ever seen: Virgin Megastore. My first visit was in late 1999; the sheer size and scope of the place was mind-blowing to a small-town Arkansas boy like me. I found new copies of books I’d spent years searching for (Amazon was a resource back then but not as commonly used). And music, and movies on DVD? Fugeddaboudit! Virgin had everything! It was the coolest store I’d ever been in. (And so was the branch in Mockingbird Station in downtown Dallas, to which you could ride DART.)

Well, guess what, boys and girls? Virgin Megastore no longer exists. The economy and good-old-fashioned corporate incompetence (in a shifting market) killed it. That Valhalla-like store in Grapevine has been gone for at least a decade. I knew I would not be able to browse its shelves, but the Internet told me that a BAM and an FYW could still be found among its hundreds of shops. Good enough.

The BAM I found in Grapevine Mills was a thundering disappointment – small, cramped, rather sloppy, and filled with all the usual BAM products – the same, worn-out remaindered bins, the same, fire-sale titles, the same FIVE TONS of manga and Marvel and DC graphic novels. I have a nose for these things, and I knew in ten seconds that I would find NOTHING worth purchasing in this particular BAM. For this I traveled about 1,000 miles?

Further down the “street,” I found FYE, AKA, For Your Entertainment, with which I had passing familiarity. (There’s an outlet in nearby Hot Springs, Ark.) Wow! Talk about another letdown! This store was jam-packed with all kinds of CRAP ranging from more Batman/Superman/Giant Bleeding Asshole comic books, to action figures no one wants, to posters and plastic vomit and 25M marked-down DVDs I can find at Target for even LESS. There were few customers and the clerk looked bored. The lighting was terrible and the merchandise was jammed helter-skelter into the center of the floor. The walls were reserved for – get this – BOBBLE HEADS, yes, those annoying little “toys” that never seem to sell very well, representing all your “favorite characters” from your “favorite shows and movies.” Bobble heads have taken over America’s entertainment stores. Thing is, NO ONE IS BUYING THEM. I think that about 10 years ago, about a billion of them were manufactured, and they have been DUMPED into stores like FYE because, well, what are we gonna do with them?

RECORD

My intention had been to shop for some CDs, since you can hardly find CDs anymore, unless you use the nemesis of stores like Virgin and FYE, and that is Amazon. However, the CD selections at both BAM and FYE SUCKED. They each consisted of one pathetic bin in which handfuls of overpriced ($14.99-20.00) CDs jostled for attention against all kinds of other, unrelated crap. I browsed quickly but came away empty-handed. The simple truth is, I don’t have to pay those kinds of prices for music, which is exactly why the CD and DVD business is in its present condition – digital products have overwhelmed the hard copies from a price perspective. I can cherry-pick the songs I want, for $1.99 each, from iTunes.

I don’t mean to launch a diatribe against the digital music business. I’m still pissed, for example, that Garth Brooks has yet to release his music to iTunes, so that I can cherry-pick his songs (which is precisely the reason he hasn’t released to iTunes – he values the albums over the individual songs, though another reason is that he’s so rich he doesn’t need iTunes). But it makes me sad that a cool shopping experience has been raped by the bargain-bin industry, left to incompetently-managed stores that are depressing to walk into because there is such an overabundance of sheer junk.

galleria5

Walk through any high-end mall in America (or, OK, Dallas), and you’ll find any number of stores catering to clothes shoppers; those stores will be as beautiful and thoughtfully-arranged as any art museum in New York. Yet stores for book purchasers, music lovers, etc., have been pushed off to the shadows, down next to Great American Cookie Co. and across the way from Condom Sense. All because, well, that kind of product doesn’t move anymore. It’s no longer the American crack-cocaine it once was. People can buy that shit over their phone. But there are still consumers out there who want that browsing experience. Has the market for entertainment fallen so far, so fast, that you feel almost like you have to wear a raincoat and a ski mask to shop for it?

(By the way, those high-end clothiers aren’t doing any better financially – Macy’s and about a dozen other big-name companies are closing stores left and right. Why? Because people can buy the same clothes cheaper over the Internet, from mom-and-pop sellers! Talk about karma.)

Such a walk will reveal another fact: American corporate culture has completely devalued and de-emphasized the written word. You can’t find books anymore and no one reads anything that isn’t on a screen the size of an index card. We’re sold everything else – shoes, jewelry, baseball caps, exotic soaps, framed memes, ersatz artwork, and sugary junk – but not the written word. In the age of Trump, when anti-intellectualism and a distrust of reading has reached an all-time high, the distribution of books should be valued more highly than ever. (There’s a reason 1984 is once again a best-seller – where you can find it.)

So … as far as books and music, Grapevine Mills is out for me. Yes, it sells lots of clothes and shoes and tchotchkes, but I find those anywhere – especially online. Why go back? Why mix and mingle with the hordes when I can buy from home, in the comfort of my underwear? Why travel to a store, park, wrestle with the elements, and get exercise when I can find anything I’ve ever wanted on Amazon or iTunes? This the exact mindset that killed Virgin Megastore and will eventually kill Grapevine Mills; ironically, the mindset of bringing Virgin, etc., back from the dead, will be the only thing that stops malls from going the way of the pterodactyls.

I come back to the vinyl record. Extraordinarily, both BAM and FYE boasted more albums on vinyl than on CD. People, as it turns out, do like the hard copy – they like covers and liner notes. They will buy records as long as they think they’re cool. Think about that. The zombie that was “wax” is now back in a big way. What can that mean for the rest of analog entertainment? There’s an old saying that may prove true in retail: what once was old, is new again.

RECORDS

 

 

The Vacated Campus

It’s Spring Break!

There’s no one on the mall! …

No one in class. …

No one on the stairs. …

No one in the tower. …

No one at the pond. … except for these two guys sitting in a tree …

… who didn’t like me taking their picture …

There’s no traffic. …

… some cows …

… and no one on the field! Happy Spring Break!