Snapshot Stories: Road Trip

by moods & appetites
September 9th, 2014 be first to respond »

Have you ever wondered about the stories behind old photographs? Snapshot Stories is a series of short, fictional narratives prompted by that curiosity. This installment features an image taken by Vivian Maier. Click here to look at other stories in the series.

Vivian Maier, August 16, 1956, Chicago

I know what you’re thinking. A clear plastic gemstone set in a fake silver band doesn’t look like much. It’s probably the cheapest engagement ring you’ve ever seen.

Johnny will be back any minute. He’s probably brushing and teasing and gelling his hair until it forms a poof in the front. I wish he would just put on a hat, like Marlon Brando in that motorcycle movie.

I know you think it’ll never last. That a bunch of sixteen year olds won’t last a twelve hour road trip with nothing but ten dollars for the both of them. Well, first of all, I’ve got seventy-nine cents in my back pocket that I haven’t told Johnny about. We can get two super jumbo banana split sundaes with that once we get to New York. Second, we’ve got nothing to return to here. I don’t even have a bag with me. Lean in and check, if you want. All I’ve got is this ring and this car and a bucket of ice water melting at my feet.

I’m telling you all this because I can see you’re not from here. Prim and proper, with leather shoes in this heat. If it wasn’t for that wide brimmed hat I’d say you look like one of my schoolteachers whom I won’t be seeing come September. She’d be pleased at my proper use of “whom,” less so for this ring.

There’s Johnny now, holding a pair of boxing gloves and leather lace-up boots. I swear he thinks he’s made for a street gang. Don’t tell him but I think he’d get knocked out before he even tried.

Have you got your shot yet? I can’t imagine what you’ll get out of it. It’s hardly the cover of Life, now is it?

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Inexplicable Things

by moods & appetites
September 5th, 2014 be first to respond »

unidentified woman wearing a kimono, 1910 (via thekimonogallery)

A tree that holds on to its leaves all winter long even though they’re completely dried out and all other trees have let go of theirs.

A fresh egg that refuses to poach nicely while another from the same batch comes out just fine.

Titles that pop into your head without context or warning. What are they for? They sound promising but float without any discernable purpose.

When your toilet floods your bathroom during the night but the handyman can’t find anything wrong with it the next morning. The toilet never revolts again.

Dogs that have the same texture and color of hair as their owners. Or, is it the owner’s hair that mirrors the dog’s…

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New Crop

by moods & appetites
September 4th, 2014 be first to respond »

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

A new crop of Akane apples at the farmer’s market this morning

For the longest time I thought those words belonged to Fitzgerald in his young, optimistic days. Before the Crack Up. If I had to guess, I would say it came from This Side of Paradise, his most transparent novel. I didn’t expect to look up its place at find out it belonged to the incurably dishonest Jordan Baker, whose cool exterior hides an inability to be at a disadvantage. She can’t bear to appear weak. Her optimism about fall follows Daisy’s desperate words:

“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon? And the day after that, and the next thirty years.”

Nick doesn’t mind Jordan’s dishonesty, which he says is “a thing you never blame deeply.” So, like Nick, I think I’ll forget that Jordan only says things because they sound good. She may be vague and vapid, but for a moment Nick falls for her, and so do we.

Like Daisy, who replies with a less elegant — “it’s so hot and everything’s so confused” — I’m waiting for Jordan’s promise of crispness.


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by moods & appetites
September 3rd, 2014 1 response »

Lester Talkington, Skipping Rope, 1950 (via thursdayprojects)

As a detached observer of the playgrounds that line the upper promenade of Riverside Park, I have come across an unexpected discovery.

The classics — swings, monkey bars, slides — are all there and enjoy their fair share of use. But the most popular activities are not strictly part of the playground at all.

Three of these playgrounds each have their own unique feature. One has a wooden plank bridge that squeaks when one or more children jump on it. Another has a tree stump with a weathered texture and craggy outline that could pass for a Song landscape painting if you ignore the sandbox that surrounds it. Every playground has a gate low enough for a three year old to reach.

There’s always someone jumping on the squeaky bridge loud enough to hear within a five block radius. There’s always someone sitting by the tree stump or climbing its short peak and looking over the edge like it’s the prow of a ship. And there’s always someone opening and closing and opening and closing the gate, removing the chain and locking it in place, removing and locking.

It’s the box-is-better-than-the-toy principle.

Can you think of the last time you ignored the directions and created your own fun? If only gates held on to their multi-purpose appeal.

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Secondhand Experiences

by moods & appetites
September 2nd, 2014 be first to respond »

Hélène Roger-Viollet, Summer Holidays in Camargue, 1954 (via mimbeau)

The bottle — I had to know the brand. I had already found the model of the car — a Panhard — and was trying to zoom in enough to read the label. No luck, too blurry. I tried an image search of vintage French liquor labels (it’s not going to be water or kombucha now is it?) to see if I could find a corresponding shape that would lead me to a name. I couldn’t find any. I settled for general details about Camargue and was pleased to find a number of odd (read: useful) tidbits — wild horses, flamingoes and an annual gypsy festival. The tattered oilcloth was promising.

You see, I have this hope — addiction, really — of teasing out a story from an old photograph. Not from a family album. Nothing that I have any personal connection to. But an image taken by one of the great (or lesser known but equally brilliant) street photographers — Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Kertész, and Roger-Viollet, a new discovery. I’m a magpie for decisive moments, hoping to catch them, define them, and extend them in both directions.

I guess it’s presumptuous of me to think so but when I hear people say — there must be such an interesting story behind this or that photograph — I think I’ll be the one to pinpoint it and shape it into a narrative.

But as soon as I have all these details that seem ready to coalesce into a pattern, I realize I’m missing the glue that holds them together. I hesitate to describe it as the human element (what a vague expression) but that’s really what it is. Without it, the story becomes an amateur anthropologist’s caption.

The thrill of looking through archives is finding secondhand experiences. It’s thrift shopping without the moths, browsing antique stores without accumulating dust. I may have never been to Camargue or driven a Panhard, but impromptu holidays and roadside picnics I know firsthand.

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