I think the last time we sat as friends and shared a meal was when our time in Dallas began and after the first night in Boston, when it went so well, we chose to do it again. It had been forever since we sat and caught up properly with each other and I relished the time together. We have a deep history that goes back to when we didn't know all the things we do now, and I relished the softened versions of us and look forward to doing it again soon.
I made this photo a while ago on a day in Mexico when a stop for coffee with Anne Marie Vivienne and Chris Michel turne into a mini photo shoot with participants oblivious to the intrigue they held for me or others. Fast forward to my workshop with David Hilliard at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the exercise of sharing a photograph with a writer for them to create a story. It is an excellent experience to collaborate, share passions and talents in the pursuit of bettering one's skills. I am fortunate to have been matched with David Chambers who was taking the workshop led by the immensely talented Pam L. Houston. David Chambers has kindly agreed for me to use his words with this picture. It is such a gift to see the imagination another artist brings to your work, and I am grateful to have gone through this process again this year.
Never Charged Her Rent
Manuel should be here any moment, so I can stop pretending to listen. The chair’s for him.
I never meet with tenants, but she used to work for the company, begged to talk to me one more time. She knows she has to move.
“No,” I say when she pauses for a sip. This is her second coffee. She’s talking damnation now, my damnation, talking righteousness as if the edge of her cup, catching the light, were some halo over her head. Thank God there’s a table between us.
“No, no more time.”
Late twenties she was when I gave her a job, gave it to her because she looked like Leticia Calderón, you remember Calderón from television, short blond hair, big smile, big chi chis. I had her answer phones. I let her have an apartment in one of the old buildings, to keep her nearby. Didn’t charge rent. At the office, she lasted only a few months before I had to let her go. She was a drinker.
She cried. She blubbered. “Roberto, I have no money and my family won’t take me back.” So she and I made a new arrangement. I’d visit her a few times a month, but she could keep the apartment. I never charged her rent. Later, even after she started looking like this, I let her stay. All she had to do was clean the hallways and the lobby. Like everyone says, I’m a generous man.
Look at her. Dumpy. Lumpy. A bag of smelly laundry. And that head of hair, like one of those stringy haired dogs from Tibet or Mongolia.
I watch her take another sip from the cup we both know is empty.
“You have to be out today.”
Behind her, Manuel comes through the door. “Join us,” I call. “Sit here.” It’s taken him and Luis longer than I thought to empty her apartment. He’ll drive her stuff wherever she wants.
There are fresh flowers on the table for the weekend. We have a spectrum of chilled wine in the cooler, white, red and pink. We have arranged meals including one night where he will cook for us, so that we can stay in, properly catch up, giggle and be completely silly without attracting too much attention. The guest bed, the one Angie refers to as the cloud, has freshly laundered sheets. We replenished that particular little corner where we hide the chocolate since Mark ate all of it last time he stayed here. We are ready for you my friend. Ready for you and your friend, who I will soon count amongst mine as well. That's how it goes, this network of relationships that started years ago in that little village in Mexico. I think of you last week rolling through the New Mexico countryside with your sidekick. Or staying in the welcoming warmth of their home, those two who share their lives so openly. I want to hear all about your adventures and how you are coping with changes your life has delivered this year, to share in the growth. We have so many experiences yet to have. It's time to plot and plan new expeditions and adventures because the moments we have are priceless and I want as many as I can have.
Now, some may scoff at this being a measure of time but for you, my friend, it is. I have always loved the way you calibrate your week around Friday nights and the ritual you began long ago of martinis and sandwiches. It even has its abbreviation, TGIMN. I once ventured into this territory with disastrous results that involved the hostess of a much favored fine dining establishment that lives, to this day, in infamy and shame. But for you, it represents all that is good in the world, your family and your love for the process of making a great meal and then savoring it. When I happened upon this sign and the elbow that is cocked to support said cocktail, I immediately thought of you.
I loved our lunches each day last year, glasses of crisp chilled rose, fried oysters, and those divine brussel sprouts. You would meet me at the end of my session at the Fine Arts Work Center, and we would leisurely walk down Commercial street until we came upon the line at the Canteen where we would look at other things on the menu but proceed with the same order as the day before, and the day before that. Late on this night, I travel the length from the east end to the west when I pass the restaurant and dream again of those oysters. Three times this past week I have stopped by to bask in the memory of our lunches and partake of this decadent treat. But alas, on this night, as on the others, they are gone for the day. So, I sit on my stool by the bar, eat my lobster roll and watch the barkeep in his tiger tee shirt and dream of oysters.
The day is burdened by a list of too many unchecked boxes. It is a day with hardly a moment to breathe, to feel the satisfaction of holding air in lungs full to capacity, followed by the slow and purposeful exhale that synchronizes my heart with the meter of this seaside life. The beauty of catch and release lost in the hyperventilation of a race against the clock on this errand laden day. Today, I am the picture of efficiency, transactional, a doer. This cadence of stressed beats an unwelcome rhythm as I tick off each box on ‘The List.’ Today is all about concentric circles of routine, mindless steps and glassy stares at places familiar to me. On another day, one not stretched beyond its limits, I would look upon the faces of these people with whom I have through the advent of my routine here built relationships and smile, ask after their loved ones, their interests, their lives. We share a history that began transactionally and has softened into something more. But not today. This is a day of pace, of unconscious consciousness, rife with preoccupation, of hearing not listening.
I am no longer accustomed to days like this, where the sheer weight of each filled hour is in deference to some objective. There was a time, not too long ago, when there were no unaccounted for hours and living life reverberated in triple time, schedules and meetings, commutes, the exhaustive demands of excess, and most importantly, the decision to live apart. It was a life of ‘buts’ and ‘ands’ strung together in the finite progression of time: this AND that, here AND there, BUT if not for that, I love you BUT. These are the conjunctions of the time-starved human doing more with the unrelenting less of fixed and metered increments of seconds, minutes, hours. Hours that too quickly become days, and days that string rapidly to years. Moments forever lost along the path from instant to infinite.
How many years constitute a lifetime? This lifetime? My lifetime? I asked myself this at the beginning of my second year of photographic living, a year that coincided with a milestone birthday, a birthday saddled with the recognition that there are fewer years in front of me than behind. I am unapologetically sentimental about crossing this rubicon confident I possess a renewed vulnerability that springs from the wisdom of facing fears and outliving them, and the certainty that if we, as humans, are to make ourselves available to the goodness the universe has to offer us, we must make conscious choices about our time and how we invest it.
You and I know how it was to get through the challenges of that transformational year, the one where you became something different and so did I. We both still carry a few bruises from what transpired, and when poked they still hurt, the doubt, the fear of failing at this new thing of which we had dreamed. As we sat at dinner and shared, I couldn't help recognizing the growth we have experienced. Look at where we are, and what we have become, and as you walked us through the gallery on that Wednesday afternoon, I was proud of my friend who earned that moment, this moment and all the ones between and to come.
Slowly I made my way east through the town. I hadn't been this far but once this week. This journey a fitting tribute to the beautiful summer's evening, my last of the trip. This year I most frequently biked everywhere with sights rolling by faster and a focus placed more on staying upright than on taking in the beauty of the Cape. The evening's walkabout up and down little side streets and alleys inspired a commitment to find a more pleasing mix of walking and riding on any future visit. The sun had finished it's decent and was about to dip below the horizon, and the deep blue of dusk skies made easy work for this curious voyeur. That was when I found the little orange door of the cottage. Nestled in the deep greens of the manicured plot set back from the busy road sat this tiny house, another tiny house in a town full of them. Adjacent to the entrance the deep plum of the Japanese Maple welcomed any visiting guest. The lush surroundings made me want to take off my shoes, walk the green grass path to the door, raise the doorknocker and be invited in to talk about art, and books, and the goings of the town. Slowly as the light slipped further away, a small group gathered as if reading my thoughts as they too pulled their cameras from deep pockets to record this charming spot.
As I return from my morning walkabout, he explains that pulling a clump or two each day makes a garden thrive. I think to myself this is how he approaches his work, culling an artists portfolio to allow the best to flourish.
The Gallery sits on the corner of Commercial and Center. It is a remarkable location - just across the street from the commanding landmark of the Provincetown Public Library. It’s bell tower the navigational tool I will use all week to find my way. It is the perfect spot. On point. On Center. The On Center Gallery.