Ruminating On a Mountain

Bekka Burton takes great pictures.  But it’s not just her eye for a great shot, or the color contrast, or the rule of thirds that makes it so special.  It’s that the spot in which she stands to take the picture is the same spot that nestles her into deep thought.  It’s the same reason she goes out on these hikes in the first place; to get away, to hear the silence, to get lost in the beauty that is the world.  Some of us prefer to get lost in binge watching Netflix or in the heat of your favorite team competing.  But not Bekka and sometimes, not me either.

Bekka Burton is my friend.  She and I used to work together and my goofiness and predictability to spin a long pointless yarn always entertained her.  We used to laugh and the dumbest things; like my dad drinking Mountain Dew, sometimes for weeks at a time.  But then I stopped working there, or she did, or we both left I can’t remember; we lost touch, only once in a while running into each other at a random farmers market.  Somehow she turned back up on my radar, living in Spain and teaching.  She is a true outdoorsman trapped inside a farmer, trapped inside a teacher, trapped inside a philosopher, trapped inside a photographer, trapped inside a writer.  Most of her future plans include wearing straw hats and owning bees.  But she truly has an Ansel Adams side and I mostly thought it was just for fun.

Turns out she uses the outdoors as her meditation and to reconnect herself to nature.  To Bekka, it’s like an art form to find a good hike and take a great picture.  I thought her photography spoke to me like art and I wanted to copy a project that Lawrence Ferlinghetti accomplished in 1990. “When I Look at Pictures” takes famous paintings and combines them with original poems about each one, all written by Ferlinghetti.  I love that book and I was mesmerized at the simplicity of the concept and the complexity of each individual poem.  It forever made me look at a few famous paintings differently.  I wanted to do that with Bekka’s photos.  I wanted to tell a little story about each one.

IMG_0463
Photo by Bekka Burton

I tried and tried.  But I just kept falling short of anything that I would want to publish and I didn’t want to use these photos for something that I didn’t truly believe in.  So I wrote Bekka and asked for her help.  I wanted to at least come up with a title so that maybe I could be spurred into action.  She used the word ‘ruminate’ and said “That’s what I do when I’m in nature. I could sit and watch a babbling brook for hours and never get bored”.  And suddenly I remembered something that I had completely forgotten about.  And it has to do with Milk.

My freshman year I made a friend named Mike Sood.  He was a naïve and goofy guy with a big heart and a lovable disposition.  He was a big, body building type, with square shoulders and a tiny round waist and he spoke like the stereotypical jock from a John Hughes movie.  But once you got past the outer shell, he was incredibly deep and intelligent and really liked to talk at length about humanity, religion, and emotion.  I liked Mike a great deal, even though the first couple of time we met we didn’t really care for each other.  One time we even got into a fight.  I lost.  His nickname was Milk and that’s what everyone called him.  At times I forgot his real name.

But one time we were out drinking and were talking about the nearby Shawangunk Mountains. We decided that in the morning we were going to drive up there and hike around.  It was still winter, but there wasn’t much snow on the ground.  Of course we failed to realize there would be waist deep snow on the mountain. The next morning we went up there, froze half to death, thought about coming back, decided to stay, and continued on our hike.  There wasn’t anybody else up on the mountain that day.  It felt like ours.  It felt natural to be up there, walking along in silence, the crunch of the snow underneath our boots the only music, the wind whispering through the trees the only traffic, the noises of nature became the silence of our minds.  We sat on a ledge and had a snack, barely talking, taking it all in, and ruminating on a mountain, completely at ease.

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Photo by Bekka Burton

For this post, I thought for sure I had my poems ready, one for each of the three pictures used in this post.  But I couldn’t write them.  I didn’t know where to start or where to end with each piece.  I was growing frustrated again.  That is not how these pictures made me feel the first time I saw them.  And then I realized I was missing the point.  I wasn’t staring at the babbling brook, I was trying to imitate it.  And you can’t.  You can’t imitate nature.  That’s why these pictures are so great; they are real.  And the thoughts that come out are real and shouldn’t be imitated.   And I sat right down and scrawled this out.

If anybody out there reads this and knows how to contact Mike Sood, send him this piece.  And thanks Bek for the inspiration.

Moun tan DEWWW.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

Rochester Newspaper Sells Segregation

An article was recently released by Democrat and Chronicle that articulated the issues that Rochester is facing.   It defines exactly what’s wrong with this city in a simple and supposedly innocuous comment that probably shouldn’t have made the cut in the story.  It’s a line that does nothing for the story itself, yet was left in, as if on accident.  It was something I’m positive that most people read and passed over without a second thought, or simply accepted as a truth.  It is, in my opinion, the perfect quote to highlight why Rochester, NY has deeply rooted problems that will probably never go away.  These problems are not talked about, and are seldom brought up in public forums as far as I know.  If they are being talked about candidly and openly I would love for the residents of Rochester to write me and tell me I’m wrong.

The article was written by a group of staff writers at the Democrat and Chronicle; Victoria E. Freile, Patti Singer, and Todd Clausen.  Democrat and Chronicle’s Executive Editor and Vice President of News is Karen Magnusun.  The article is mostly concerned with the terrible tragedy of two burned bodies that were recently discovered.  The newest body was found near La Grange Park, which is nestled almost in the middle of a triangle with Ridgeway Ave, Mount Read Blvd, and Driving Park Ave.  The article was hard enough to get through due to the violent nature of the deaths, but a simple comment made by a local resident illuminates the odd segregation and tension that is simply accepted in this city.

The comment was made by Michael Bell.  It was the only comment in the article.  The entire quote read as follows:

“You don’t expect for activity like that to be around here.  It is normally pretty safe around here.  I am not saying this is like Mendon, Pittsford, or whatever, but it’s a secluded area here.  It’s quiet.  You don’t expect for activity like that to be around here.  God didn’t put us here to hurt and harm each other.  He put us here to love each other and we have to grasp that.  If there is something going on, there are people to talk to.   There is nothing that bad. “

What Mr. Bell said is direct and honest.  I especially like the part where he says we were not put here to harm each other.  I have always believed in tolerance, acceptance, peace, love, and understanding, but what bothers me about Mr. Bell’s comment was that he assumes Pittsford and Mendon are the safest areas.  That might actually be true.  The misconception that crime is only happening in certain parts of a city seems to be a common thread in news across the nation.  I don’t take umbrage with what Mr. Bell said, although the fact that he felt the need to say it at all made me cringe, but I am thoroughly disgusted that Democrat and Chronicle would print that part of the comment.  It is not part of the story.  It does not need to be part of the story, but it was left in as some sort of gauge, a bright orange cone that will remind the citizens of Mendon and Pittsford that they are somehow safer.

I wonder if the residents of Mendon and Pittsford read that line and somehow held their heads a little higher knowing that they don’t have to worry about such violence in their “part of town.”  I wonder if Karen Magnusun lives in Pittsford or Mendon, or if any of the staff writers do, and this was their strange way of making themselves feel a little safer, a little more at ease, subconsciously rationalizing their higher taxes.  I wonder if they still lock their doors at night, setting their security alarms and praying that the disgruntled riffraff that lives only a few miles away doesn’t figure out how to get in.  I wonder if they still fear the boogey man.

I moved to Rochester about a decade ago, chasing a girl and a dream of being a college graduate.  I stayed for this reason or that, getting wrapped up in jobs and life, but leaving has never left my mind.  I was only here for a month or so when I realized that this is a massively segregated city filled with elitists, extreme xenophobes, racists, and an overall unrelenting attitude that none of this is happening.  Rochester has some amazing people in it.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of them.  The food in this city is amazing.  There is an amazing blend of culture and people that live just under the radar on these streets, but there is an odd and noticeable wall that separates all things East and the rest of the God forsaken city.  It’s why the city is crumbling.  The hate is felt and is passed around so freely that it creates more hate.  The separatists are unapologetic and operate openly; so openly that a comment that was supposed to be innocuous splayed open the bubbling green bile of separation and hatred in a city that seems damned.

I’m embarrassed for Democrat and Chronicle.  They obviously don’t see the larger picture that Rochester and much of America are suffering from; poor brotherhood.  The comment was left in the article, a subconscious slip that tells a larger story, one that the news isn’t telling, but obviously selling.

Here’s the original article.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

A Fake Horror Movie and Randy White

On a quiet mountainside far away from the noise of any major city, tucked away on four pristine acres of woodland, I should have died.  I should have been hacked to bits by an ax wielding madman, his thin white t-shirt sprayed with blood and gruesome chunks of my skin and bone.  His teeth should have ripped into the soft of my stomach, emerging with entrails gripped viciously, desperately feeding on my small intestines.  Most of my friends would have died too.  All but one.  And of course no one believes his story.  He stumbles from the woods dirty, covered in his comrades blood, confused and dehydrated.  His post traumatic stress leaving him mumbling about Randy White and snuffing Andes Mints.

Over the weekend four of my best friends and I rented a cabin in the Catskill Mountains.  We were celebrating a recent engagement and using that engagement as an excuse to get together to over drink beer and whiskey, grill meats, and make fun of each other relentlessly.  It was really the perfect spot.  The cabin faced west and the sunsets were delightful, the afternoons warm, and the beer was plentiful and cold.  We even brought our guitars and drums with us, staying up late at night to jam some Neil Young, make up hip hop songs about fire safety, and of course, yell into a microphone about anything and everything.  It was amazing, remote, and a much needed break from our regularly hectic and, at the same time, mundane lives.

I arrived first to find the small cabin waiting patiently for me, the deck chairs neatly arranged in a half circle near a small table and the grill.  I pulled up and sent a text to my wife that I had made the trip and was still alive.  I was referring to traffic and the tough weather I had encountered coming up into the mountains.  Had I known more about the next two and half hours ahead of time, and then the next 2 days, I would have asked her to send help.

The cabin owner came out and met me on the deck.  At first I thought he was really old but his hand shake was overpowering, he could have easily crushed my dainty hand into dust.  I looked him in the eyes and noticed there was a child like blue hue that ran through them, his face much younger than his body.  He excused himself for his appearance at first, a thin white t-shirt and stained jeans, and had to sit down on account of his war injury.  He was a Vietnam Veteran and quaintly joked about being in the only war that wasn’t really a war.  He made the joke again later, much later.

He began showing me around the property.  In order to keep the tour short he would just show me around the outside of the cabin and a few things inside. I wanted to crack a beer immediately, after all I was on vacation.  But I refrained, thinking it rude to slug away at my turkey leg of Pabst Blue Ribbon while he was trying to leave me the keys to his cabin. I should have anyway.

He began by taking me around the side of the cabin and meticulously discussing the fire pit, the hose area, the back door, the garbage area, the new windows he put it, what the old windows looked like that he removed, how difficult getting the old windows out was,the lattice on the side of the front deck and why there was no lattice on the side of the back deck, the trees in the back, the bird houses, the bird nests, which types of birds can and can’t fit in the bird houses, Bernie Sanders, how the back door sticks a little, how the window on the back door works, the light switch that controls the motion sensor light on the outside of the house near the garbage area because you wouldn’t want a critter getting into the garbage while you were sleeping.  And then we went inside the cabin.

An hour had passed.  I was glad to have not gotten the full tour.  Inside is where it really struck me; that I was with a old man, who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from a terrible battle in a fucked up war.  He had settled into a strange little life that he split between the mountains and Washington Heights.  He was a lonely man who was very worried that someone may not have a pleasant stay in his cabin, that someone would get hurt, that someone could die up there, maybe on account of his explanations not being thorough enough.  I started to feel real bad for him, but I wanted that beer and so I tried to hurry him along through his soliloquy.  Meanwhile I was texting my buddies to get there quick, which they did, and I was thankful for it.

Everything is the cabin was dutifully labeled.  Every light switch had a note on it, the mirror in the bathroom had a note that explained how to stagger your showers to maintain hot water.  The note also suggested multiple person showers.  The kitchen had many notes in it, describing where to use certain cleaning agents, some of the bottles themselves had notes taped to them.  The spiral staircase was well cared for with rubber bumpers on each of the sharp corners, and orange flags to mark the spots where past residents may have bonked their heads.  He had thought of everything and I was starting to admire this about him actually when I realized yet another hour had passed.  I wanted to fire up a cigar and listen to the familiar sound of a tab piercing the seal on a cold can of beer.

My friends showed up.  We passed him back and forth for another half an hour to tire him out, then gently explained to him that we had enough information, that we were grateful for his lengthy explanations and for his service.  He did his best to leave, which is a struggle for him, not only to leave the company of others, but just to walk.  He was a nice enough old man, who finally eased himself into an old Ford four door with no plates or registration.  He started the vehicle and slowly put it in drive.  We all watched as it trickled down the gravel driveway and finally out of sight.

randy sotry photo
Catskill Mountain View

The party had started.  Beers were opened and dumped down necks, whiskey was drunk heartily while chunks of animal were thrown on the grill, cigars glowed, guitars twinkled, and before we knew it the stars were out, the camp fire lighting our grinning faces with reds, oranges, and yellows.  We were happy, together, laughing, and well as ever.

The next day in between bouts of nausea we joked about the cabin owner.  We joked about his notes, his loquaciousness, his overall goofiness.  We made up stories about other cabin renters, the issues they must have had to have a note posted, the complaints collecting in dusty piles in the cabin owner’s brain until he made another note, another sign, all for our amusement.  We certainly had our fun.

That next night we were at it again.  Beer and whiskey were abundant as was the smoke from the grill.  We started in about the quirky cabin owner again.  I offered up the fact that the sign on the mirror suggested that people shower together and that maybe the place was bugged with cameras and microphones and that maybe he’s heard us the whole weekend poke fun at his notes and signs.  We started coming up with scenarios about how the lights would flicker and the ice cubes would sink into the bottom of your cup, how the water would stop working and the air would suddenly become real cold.  We joked about how you would hear the snapping and crackling of small branches deep in the woods, getting louder as the foot steps got closer.  Just then the fire would suddenly go out along with the power.  We would be left in total darkness on top of a mountain we were unfamiliar with with a crazed killer on the loose.  That’s when the real horror starts.

Suddenly glimpses of a shiny ax would appear, first under the light of the moon in the distance, next swinging by your shoulder.  Screams of your friends being tortured to death in the distance would haunt your brain as you tried to run through the thick brush and trees.  You would run until your lungs burned and your legs ached emerging into a clearing only to realize you ran in a circle and came back out at the cabin. The incredulous look on your face interrupted by the lights coming back on in the cabin.  You run inside to get your cell phone, to call for help.  Inside there is carnage, you realize you are the only friend remaining, all have perished.  Their limp and lifeless bodies carelessly thrown into Gorey piles around the cabin.  And there is the killer, between you and the only door.  He is brandishing an ax covered in your closest friends blood, a muddled bloody hand print on his chest, his teeth coated in entrails.  You narrowly escape, getting back to town at day break to explain what happened.  But you can’t make sense of it and the locals just think you did it, your own shirt covered in blood.

We joked about all this.  All of us being horror movie fans the jokes flowed way too easy and with the help of whiskey, they were all too funny.  All too funny until the power went out.

We didn’t go into immediate freak out mode.  Although if I were alone I would have hidden somewhere, or jumped in my car and drove to a hotel to wait out the night.  But we were all together and rationalized the coincidence of it.  But it was darker than Hell up there with nothing but the campfire.  The wolves started howling and sounded more like a cartoon than real life. It was certainly scary, but when you are with all your friends it is somehow less scary.  And the power did come back on around 10 pm or so.  We texted the owner of the cabin.  Seems that the whole side of the mountain had a brown out.  Happens up there when it gets really windy, which it had earlier in the day.  Those horror movies tend to really mess with your head.  Good thing real life isn’t much like a horror film, or else I probably would have died up there that night.

But for all the jokes about the one guy who makes it out alive, the guy who dies the coolest, and the guy who dies first, I started thinking about the seriousness of it all.  The guy who really did make it out alive was the Vietnam War Veteran.   And his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t leave him as an ax wielding killer who ate the flesh and blood of people at his cabin.  It manifested itself in a goofy overabundance of notes about the general dangers of everything.  And he knows this about himself.  That’s why he told us that he was a vet.  That’s why he reminded us of his own struggle.  It wasn’t a referendum on war, or America or the type of person he was.  It was an apology, out front, with a cane, limping in your face.  He is who he is and he actually had to rationalize that and come up with an apology.  All we had to rationalize is how much steak we ate.

I guess that’s not something we really know about, we’re all too young to remember that war.  And we didn’t get chased through the woods by an ax wielding madman.  Not this time anyway.  Then again, maybe we’re just the lucky ones, and he decided not to kill us.  I guess we’ll never know.  But, I know after that weekend I certainly feel lucky.  I’ve got some good friends.  Friends that I really consider family.  I would hate to lose any of them.  Especially if it were a gruesome story.  Plus, there’s only four other guys that know why Randy White is so funny.  And why you should snuff Andes Mints.  And why it’s not weird to shout, “Oh, I love watering plants!”

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

 

Accepting Escape: An Interview with Anh Duc Nguyen

The cultural significance of hip hop is not bound to the streets of New York or Los Angeles.  It’s not bound to the output of MTV or New York’s Hot 97.  In fact it’s never been tethered to anything at all.  It seems to seek out those most willing to accept it, to embrace it, to make it something that is their own.  But it is not easily described and that’s what draws such special appreciation for it.  “It’s about doing something together and being creative”, says Hamburg, Germany based visual artist Anh Duc Nguyen of Hip Hop Culture.  “It’s a way of being together no matter where you are from and loving music and art among each other and expressing yourself.”  Duc speaks of inclusion, togetherness, and acceptance with great passion and careful grace.  He currently resides in Hamburg, Germany although his life was very close to be being much different.  “My parents fled the Vietnam War and settled in Bavaria.  I can speak with a Bavarian accent which I’m really proud of!”

Duc’s father was a soldier in the war and fled when things got unbearable.  His family was lucky and got picked up quickly on the sea.  Duc’s father still tells stories about the turmoil that brings tears to his eyes.  Duc grew up with no other Vietnamese children around him and his parents tried very hard to maintain their culture in a land that was not their own.  “Education was very important to them”, says Duc.  “They were strict at home.  Whenever they caught me drawing they would make me go do homework.”  Art beamed from him anyway.  He couldn’t stop even if he wanted to.  He grew up to love art and went on to study graphic design.  

Duc drew inspiration from meeting new people in a bigger city, with a more diverse crowd who carried different attitudes and embodied something bigger.  His humble beginnings in hip hop were not unlike most of ours, rap cassettes from somebody’s older brother. But it wasn’t until college that Duc really appreciated what the culture meant to him.  He gathered inspiration from the graffiti he saw near the train tunnels and buildings.  “It is such a visual part of CD covers and magazines.  I grew up in an area where you wouldn’t do things like that.  Friends of mine that have done graffiti in the past are much better artists now.  They have great understanding of form and composition.  I was so blown away by it.”  Duc still takes inspiration from graffiti artists today, although he himself has never done it.  He says of graffiti artists,“I have much respect for all the graffiti artist(s) who are going out at night and make great piece in such a short time and having the fear of getting caught.  It needs a lot of passion, willingness and crazyiness [sic] to do such things.  Sometimes I wished I would have done stuff like them when I was younger. Today I still look at graffiti as an inspiration.”

Duc’s art is a wonderful conglomeration of graffiti, pop culture, and music.  In short, his art could be best described as Hip Hop and it’s hard to look away.  He has managed to make intricate art look simple, with a clear message that differs by the individual, a brand of art that looks so much like Hip Hop, but looks so much like the intricate life that has been Duc’s.  He has sense of humor about it when asked about his Hamburger Head piece.  “I live in Hamburg and so many burger places opened up.  I turned a person into a burger head.”

hamburger head

Duc recently joined a contest where teams of 3 artists have 90 minutes to paint a plain white wall with nothing but black magic markers.  The teams are awarded points by judges, audience cheers, and the highest priced bid through an auction.  The money is then donated to Viva Con Agua, a company that is “committed to establishing access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation for all humans worldwide.”  Duc’s team won, a fact he’s humble about but equally as proud.

When asked why he is an artists he replied,  

Drawing and painting is a place for me to escape to my own world. In this world everything is allowed; making mistakes, exploration, being imperfect, playing like a kid.  To learn about what is really important to me and not what is said to be important by other people and put by them into my head.  It is like a therapy for me from the strict upbringing by my parents and society. It is a honest place.  Most Asian parents never tell you that they are proud or make compliments.  They always try to make you feel bad and keep you down. They are very scared that if they do you would not work hard enough.  They always compare you with other kids and always make them better than you. So in my head there was always a voice telling me that I wasn’t good enough.  My art is a place where I’m able to shut this voice down.

Duc’s parents may not have always been supportive of his choice to be an artist. But they are coming around to realize that it is not going away.  And that Duc is really good and gaining popularity.  His parents see his work and understand, maybe proudly gazing at their son as they try to comprehend what it is he is trying to accomplish.  “I think that the process of develop [sic] something out of nothing is my daily goal or the reason I’m doing it.  But I couldn’t stop doing art even if I couldn’t survive by it.”  

We are all certainly glad for that.  

 

Check out Duc’s work on Facebook and on Instagram.

Or go directly to Duc’s website: www.ismilealot.com

Or shop for some of his amazing work here: http://de.dawanda.com/shop/ismilealot

The photo for this article was taken by Phil Dy Na Mite.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

 

 

From Memory to Hallmark to Earmark

Today is Father’s Day.  You hopefully already know that.  It’s a day filled with barbecues, small back yard tents, and of course beer.  A day to remember the strange animal that lived in your house growing up, over worked and tired, confused, dressing for a different decade, and listening to “real music”.  The same hairy bimbo that can’t stop cursing at the lawnmower.  Papa.  Dad.  Pops. Whatever you call him.  Today is a day to remember him.  Who he is.  Or who he was.

There’s a bunch of us that have the fortunate opportunity to see their father today.  There’s some of us that have the amazing luck to talk to their father today.  There’s got to be a handful that will at least be blessed with a hallmark card to be remembered by, even if you can’t speak with your dad over the phone that particular day. But there are others still who won’t be able to  do that.  Won’t be able to get a card from them, or send a card to them.  And this hallmark holiday will serve  a different purpose.  As a reminder more than anything, just another earmark.

I’m lucky today.  I’l be able to get on Skype with my dad. We’ll talk about The NBA finals game 7 tonight, we’ll mince words about my new lawnmower, and we’ll share our pleasant exchanges, which we’ll both blow off like it’s no big deal.  But it is.  And we’ll both know that too.  And so for father’s day my dad and I every year give each other a giddy, tongue in cheek “happy dad’s day”.  It’s a pretty good gift.  And it’s one of a kind.

But I know there’s some of you out there today that don’t have dad to get a card from, or Skype, or call.  And today means something different.  And I respect that.  And I’m at least empathetic to that.  As much in reality that I can be, anyway.  So today I wan’t you to know that I’m thinking about you. And that I’ll at the very least casually bring you up in conversation today, but mostly to tell a good story.

Today is my third Father’s Day.  I’m not one for holidays.  But this one is OK with me.  A little recognition for changing poopy diapers, getting puked on, getting occasionally punched in the nuts, and ham-fistedly trying to repair various household items unsuccessfully is nice.  You get the nod from strangers, other moms, and other dad’s.  The dad’s holding up their kid like a badge of courage, as if they’ve been through war, tethered sheepishly to a trundling stroller and plodding along as the moss back mule, carrying the heavy load.

No matter what you call dad, today is the day to at the very least call upon him, for reverence, guidance, or to tell a good story that brings about a nice memory.  Happy Dad’s Day, Big T.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.