Things between you and me

Large spoons. Photo by Kevin Carter
Large spoons.
Photo by Kevin Carter

Stuff is in the way. It’s your stuff. My stuff. We have too much stuff. Let’s get rid of all our stuff. And just be. We’ll almost be naked without our stuff. But in a really pure way. New people in a new place with no stuff in the way.

Not the car. I didn’t mean the car. We’re going to need the car. Now that we’re leaving New York City and moving to Virginia, we’re going to need the car. I walked a mile from our hotel room to the Metro station one day to go into D.C., and I felt like a weird vagrant. I saw five other people on the sidewalk, total. When I got to New York City two years ago, I thought, how liberating. I don’t need a car. I didn’t. But then not having a car makes you odd and helpless when you live in the suburbs. Growing up on the outskirts of Salisbury, North Carolina, I knew a guy who rode his bike to work. We all knew he had lost his driver’s license after several DUI convictions. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice to pedal down the shoulder of the highway like that with cars flying past. So, we’ll keep the car.

We can’t really ditch our smartphones. No, we’ll need those too. How will anyone reach us? Maybe we can eliminate a few apps. That would be something. Our computers. We’ll need those, of course. We’ll need a Kindle for reading books. Because we’re keeping the kindle we can get rid of all the books. Only, I like the books. I have a sentimental attachment to many books. Even ones I’ll never read again. So, not those.

Let’s get rid of the televisions. They take up a lot of space, and they get in the way of meaningful conversation. Well. It’s possible I might want to see how badly my fantasy football team is doing. So, we could keep one television for that purpose only. Oh. And to watch “Game of Thrones.” But if we just have one television there might come a time when you want to watch something I don’t want to watch. So, we’ll keep two televisions. But that’s it. Our teenage son Avery can look at the wall in his room. Make shadow puppets using his hands. Unless, he starts bothering us when we’re trying to watch something good. So, maybe we’ll let him keep his television.

I’d get rid of the radios, but I really like “This American Life” and “Wait Wait Don’t Tell me.” So, we’ll keep those. I need four radios because I move around from room to room doing important things, and I don’t want to miss what is being said on the radio when I leave one room and go to another. There’s really only one big radio and three smaller ones in decreasing sizes. So, it’s not like I have some sort of radio hording problem or anything, as you’ve sometimes hinted.

Avery said the other day we have far too many large spoons in the silverware drawer. And he’s right. Totally on the money. Who wants to use a large spoon when you’re eating cereal or yogurt? The spoon barely fits in your mouth. It’s awkward.

So. We’ll throw out about half of the large spoons. Eliminate some apps. Fantastic. We’re paring it all down to basically nothing. This is going great. It’s just going to be us communing without the distraction of the large spoons and Angry Birds, sharing our essential selves in a spiritual oneness that will make other couples blush to witness. Nirvana.

Things between you and me

Critiquing old home movies

Shadows cast by the artwork of Brooklyn-born artist James Grashow. Photo by Kevin Carter
Shadows cast by the artwork of Brooklyn-born artist James Grashow. Photo by Kevin Carter

Shot on a shoe-string budget, a conglomeration of old home movies newly converted to a DVD format and shown on the large-screen television in the upstairs living room of my father-in-law’s home in Wilmington, North Carolina this summer showed promise. The collection of 8 mm film languished for decades in a storage unit before restoration in its new format. We hoped for the discovery of a hidden gem.

We had just finished viewing a stunning documentary about a Chicago nanny and masterful street photographer who left boxes of undeveloped negatives behind. Vivian Maier’s never-before-seen negatives were developed and later shown in museums across the world. Maybe my father-in-law’s raw footage stitched together in a haphazard manner would reveal the mysteries of a lost world and eventually make the rounds at a little known festival of home movies where it could be awarded obscure prizes acknowledging his unheralded mastery of the medium.

I had high hopes, but the collection of movies reveal some technical deficiencies. The sound quality could have been better. That’s the gentlest way I can think to say that these home movies were all shot without sound. People talk throughout the movies. You can see their lips moving. Perhaps music is playing in the background since some scenes contain dancing. But those of us sprawled across the living room could hear nothing.

Is it too much to ask for my father-in-law to have hired a professional sound crew with a large boom mike to record events and later set the whole shebang to a rousing score to highlight the joy of the lives he recorded? A decent Foley artist could have added sound effects at appropriate moments. A sound track of early 70’s hits would have spiced things up. Maybe some Cat Stevens. I’m just saying.

My father-in-law tells great stories of his early life. But I have to say that a compelling narrative structure was lacking in his films. A baby, my wife, is seen crawling in one snippet of film. She scoots back and forth across the carpet as if about to launch herself forward. In another snippet, she is walking. In a third snippet, she is in diapers again and back to scooting. Where’s the continuity? Are we to believe she regressed?

But the genius of my father-in-law as a director is that he is not content to hew to mundane film-making traditions. Interspersed among the predictable compilation of Christmases, raucous house parties and birthday parties are seemingly random shots of my father-in-law playing golf with his old fraternity buddies in their snappy golf hats. Inserted in the middle of all these snippets is a short Keystone Cops movie.

My father-in-law obviously used these otherwise seemingly random images of old slapstick and amateur golf outings to make a statement that life is simply a series of random events. We pretend a sort of nominal control over them like golfers aiming for an elusive hole. But we are often crowded into a car with too many other people feeling ridiculous while caught in a stalled vehicle with a locomotive bearing down on us.

Whatever the artistic merits of the film, it was touching to watch people I’d seen only many decades after their starring roles in the films with decades stripped away from their lives. Some were even restored to life through the magic of film. My wife’s grandmother who I knew late in her life as a vivacious Steel Magnolia from Texas in her twilight years shone as brightly on film as she had in her later years. My wife’s aunt Su Su who was lost to us about five years ago reappeared sprightly and slender looking on film, resembling the 60’s supermodel Twiggy. I got an introduction to my mother-in-law’s father, who I never met in life, as a short happy man fishing in a river.

In the end, we are all just shadows on the wall. Our hour comes and goes. We are preserved in photos and video long past our own expiration dates. Our smiles outlast our selves. It’s nice to look back and see the bright ghosts alive again for the camera. And glimpse our younger selves unwrapping Christmas paper, blowing out birthday candles and mugging like stars in a Hollywood production as we dance to music only we can hear.

All in all, I give the film two thumbs up!



Critiquing old home movies

The haiku inside you

Flowers at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Photo by Kevin Carter
Flowers at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Photo by Kevin Carter

All your Beautiful Thoughts get lost. No. Don’t apologize or fret about it. It’s not your fault. You misplace some like a set of car keys or reading glasses. They were here a minute ago. You absently dismiss others on your way to work because you haven’t a moment to spare. You meant to mention your truly beautiful thoughts to someone sometime. Considered jotting them down. Maybe if you had a pencil when you thought of something beautiful and a tiny pad that fit in your back pocket. Then again. The notion of sharing your absolutely beautiful thoughts seems a bit much, really. Your beautiful thoughts are beautiful to you. But who actually wants to hear them? You catch yourself thinking maybe they’re not beautiful to anyone else but you. So, your beautiful thoughts pass through you. Make the air shimmer around you for a moment. And finally disappear like an extinct animal from a forgotten time.

Except when they don’t.

Out of all the magical places in the world like Stonehenge or Easter Island, the most magical place I know is a tidy lunchroom in the sub level of a particular senior center in Harlem where a certain poetry group meets on Thursday afternoons. All together, there were never a braver band of poets in the land. Their beautiful thoughts don’t get lost behind the cushions of the sofa, swept under the rug during a vigorous spring cleaning or shushed to death by librarians. They’re passed around the table. Shared aloud and celebrated as they should be.

Can you haiku? Why shouldn’t you? We do.

Summer Haiku:
Summertime Sea World
Swimming in the sea like a whale
Feel the cool water
by Lexy
Summertime is great
Humid, hot and hazy days
Frustrated townsfolk
by Shane


Suffocating heat
Cool breezy nights are the best
Longer days, short nights
by Shane
Summer Public Service Announcements by Harvey
Hot weather has come
Summer is finally here
I feel hot with sweat
by Harvey
Heat is upon us
Humidity dries us
I need more water
by Harvey
Please don’t run fast
you will need more water
Please take a rest soon
by Harvey
Hot sizzling sidewalk
fries the soles of my flip-flops
Shoes sunny side up.
by Cathy
Fire hydrant open
Giant water blossom shoots
petals on children
by Cathy
Atlantic City
Hot, more soda, comedy.
I want to go back
by Erica
Frisbee mosquitoes
Dancing on the solstice sun
oh joys of summer
by Carole
Winter chilled bones stiff
Spring fought, spluttered, whined and wailed
Yet summer is here.
by Carole
Mermaid Parade calls
Ocean welcomes summer home
Green sequins glitter
By Alicia and Ken
Winter hangover
Transformed into a shadow
By the solstice sun
By Cathy and Molly
Heard birds today.
We fly South soon
winging it as always.
By Kevin
Seagulls in flight at Southport, NC. Photo By Kevin Carter
Seagulls in flight at Southport, NC. Photo By Kevin Carter



The haiku inside you