what went wrong

tabor_iowafrom this distance, it’s hard to tell exactly what went wrong. it–our relationship–seemed to the outside world and to my internal self to be straight forward and simple. we had mutual friends. we liked to go out dancing and bar-hopping. we shared an aesthetic (which, by the way, i read today is the “new” mid-life crisis, not knowing what your ‘aesthetic’ is. to laugh.) the sex was terrific–i loved his dark, hairy body and the fact that he was nearly as tall as me. he had ambition. we both loathed burt lange, the nasty old queen who owned the antique store at the corner of state st. & oak and was always swanning around in a mink coat regardless of the weather and for whom this love of mine worked. but, once he quit, and rented a space on armitage, west of halsted, and opened “Morehouse Antiques”, it, our love, seemed to peter out. (should ‘peter out’ conjure images of dribbling, then i’ve succeeded in successfully describing how it came to end.) what better way to recover than a road trip with my mother. we drove from springfield to rapid city with stops in shenandoah, iowa, where there were graveyards a-plenty packed with dead relatives that called out to us–inveterate cemetery-hounds that we were–and where this photo was taken when our car broke down one hot summer day in 1976. the look on my face a reminder that sometimes even your loving mother can’t make things right. sigh.


the photo memory: black and white vs. color

“the problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they only remember the photographs.” –Susan Sontag, from Regarding the Pain of Others
what i remember. i am dependent upon photographs for my memories of my distant past — and although that is not entirely true (there is the occasional prompt from a friend,  but there is no family) anything i remember pre-1970 is directly tied to a photograph. there’s no one to confirm or deny what i remember, for all i know, it could be fiction as much as the truth. at least it’s my truth (and my fiction).
do you remember that you used to take photographs of important occasions rather than documenting every waking moment? of course, there would be the random color image of your mother sitting on a stool talking on the phone with a dish towel thrown over her shoulder–a reminder of a domestic moment that was unplanned and normally would have gone undocumented. what prompted that photograph? did you know that you’d need it at a future point in your  life in order to remember how your mother maintained her friendships? if the color had retained its saturation instead of fading with time, would that have changed your memory of the moment? an instagram patina that shades your perception of the time (or of time). was it retributive? knowing that your mother would squawk at you for taking a photo–capturing a moment forever–when she did not look her best or had she, by then, given up on you and your random acts of capturing the here, the now?
rockpile avenuewhat happens to the memory when the photographic evidence is in black and white? do you have to dig further in the netherworld of your shared experience? i know i took the photo of my mother and grandmother, both dressed in blue (so say i today; tomorrow who knows, red?) at the front steps of my grandparents’ home in gillette, wyoming in march of 1961. i was 8, but i know that only because of the date stamp. had it not been there, i would have had to relegate it to the “early 60s” and to either fall, winter, spring, or summer–no season comes with a recommendation in this lonely town. have you been to gillette? i don’t recommend it, but it is unavoidable if you’re on your way from the west to the devil’s tower outside of sundance — which name conjures a much more pleasing and intriguing place to visit than gillette. but still, this photo. why? what reason was there for it? there were no meaningful dates in march in my family, no birthdays, anniversaries, no one died in march of 1961. i do like how they fit together though; breasts pressed into waist and shoulder, hands squarely set, holding each other as if one or both might fall over were they not so affixed to each other; not unlike their relationship as i saw it that day, even at eight.
does the faded color photograph soften the reality of your life at the moment that it was taken? black and white doesn’t seem to have that same problem; it just is. are you tempted to look back through your box of old photos and let slide the heartache, the anger, the desperation? with no one to keep you from gilding the truth or perhaps tarnishing it — what memory couldn’t use a good scrubbing? not to erase it, but to sharpen its focus, saturate its color, crop out the unnecessary detail that keeps you from admitting the truth?
how will we look back at this past decade of digital images; the thousands of photographs, the minutiae, the mundane, the trivial, the inconsequential, everything pretty and crisp and bright and happy? what can it possibly mean for our memory of a time, a place, an emotion (a true one) when we document every single moment? and of course, the focus on the self in this digital age confounds me. the weight of “me” collapses the brittle shell of “i’m having so much fun, just look at me and me and me and you and me!” (also, the wearying use of the exclamation point, but that is best saved for another time–i’ll photograph it, i promise.)

the fire escape (redux)

fire escapei sat on a fire escape once and smoked a cigarette with a man i’d met earlier that evening at the saint. we weren’t particularly attracted to each other and i’m not sure why we left the bar together and walked to his apartment as if we were boyfriends—we may have held hands in the damp darkness of a new york summer early morning—but there we were, sitting on the grating, feet on the step below, shoulders touching, listening to the city sleep, exhaling marlboros and beer, scratchy eighteen-hour beards so close my lips burned in anticipation of a kiss.


62 things that have happened over the last 61 years and 363 days

  1. rescued from the shelter
  2. wore a pot as a hat
  3. had a mom and a dad
  4. lived in germany
  5. made the ‘crossing’ on a leash
  6. picked tulips (not ours)
  7. watched my parents flirt when my dad was picking cherries from the top rung of a ladder and my mom was on the ground looking up at him wearing a dress with an apron
  8. suddenly no dad
  9. walking to indian trail elementary school in highland park by myself
  10. wearing corrective glasses that had one frosted lens over my good eye–ran into a lot of things, got bruised
  11. moving from illinois to south dakota with a basketball in a bird cage
  12. replacing the basketball with petey bird, one in a series of parakeets all with the same name
  13. getting picked on by the neighborhood boys for being a sissy
  14. snowflakes
  15. mary moved in with us and became my ‘dad’
  16. straight ‘a’s for the first time
  17. nickname = butch, which the men in the family used, but the women all called me butchie. of course, it was what stuck.
  18. a crew cut
  19. brown as a button
  20. cleaning frozen dog waste in a blizzard with my mouth open
  21. braces
  22. cello, because when i asked the play the french horn, the orchestra teacher said not with braces you won’t and handed me the cello
  23. got beat up by a smaller boy when i was walking home carrying my cello
  24. got picked on by the 9th grade boys — duck tails and rolled up sleeves — for being, you guessed it, a sissy
  25. matriculated to high school
  26. starred in a play of “The Shoemaker and the Elves”
  27. decided i liked being on the stage
  28. straight a’s (i tried to make it a habit, but math and science got in the way. still managed to graduate summa cum laude from high school)
  29. won trophies for acting
  30. dated charlotte wendt until she broke up with me because i wouldn’t go any further than kissing her
  31. had an idyllic summer doing children’s theater in the park
  32. went out of state to college
  33. smoked weed, took drugs, drank to excess, still managed to get straight a’s
  34. sugar beet factory, ’nuff said
  35. auditioned for the goodman school of drama, got accepted
  36. saw mao zedong (albeit a painting by warhol)
  37. moved to chicago
  38. waited tables at arnie’s for 6 years
  39. partial list of celebrities i met then: ginger rogers, bette davis, princess grace, robert altman, carol burnett, christopher reeve, gloria swanson, dorothy lamour, rex reed, lauren hutton, et. al.
  40. served henny youngman a bowl of soup with a fly in it
  41. smoked weed, took drugs, drank to excess, partied all night (managed to only pass out in one bar, though, a minor miracle in-and-of-itself)
  42. woke one day hating myself (not the first time, but this was the turning point)
  43. out-of-work for a year, got by with a little help from my friends
  44. my mother died (bereft)
  45. frog-leaped into the art business
  46. suddenly had a career where all of my peripatetic education came together for the first time and actually made sense
  47. fell in love
  48. went to france (where they kiss on main street)
  49. hosted wonderful christmas eve parties
  50. friends died, too many funerals
  51. moved to hawaii (perhaps a bit of running away)
  52. little beach on maui, no need to say any more than that
  53. made more friends
  54. moved to california
  55. left one job after 12 years to work at an even better job (now for 22 + years)
  56. held an oscar (the award, not the gardener…although)
  57. drove up highway 1 to san francisco (but we left our heart in carmel-by-the-sea)
  58. bought a house — in california — close to the ocean — still live there (consider this a minor miracle)
  59. worked on a museum exhibit with the academy of motion picture arts & sciences
  60. worked on a museum exhibit with the smithsonian
  61. still in love with the same man, nearly 33 years together
  62. took this picture today:



well, you would be too

“Aneal loved the ocean, daffodils, the color blue, Frank Sinatra, the L.A. Dodgers, the USC Trojan football team, her family and God.”

Pantone blues

I read the obituaries, what can I say? This one, though, in today’s paper really resonated with me, especially the list of things the decedent loved. It made me think that I’d liked to be remembered for loving a color so much that my friends and family felt compelled to include it in my obituary–should there ever be such a thing. Not that I won’t die, but that there’ll be an obituary. I’ve written about this topic before, you can read that here. It stumped me this morning, “blue” being such a big word, encompassing so many different blues–and so many shades of meaning, but then I decided that their love of blue was qualified by their first love–the ocean, and suddenly that included all of the blues, the hundreds of blues, the blue of a sun-filled sky, and the deep marine blue of the Mariana Trench, the sea-foam blue of a frothy afternoon walk along the beach, and the blue of midnight in the garden, the blue of wisteria and delphinium, blueberry and plum, the blue moon and l’heure bleue, the blue of a vein running on the back of an elder’s hand, the blue of a Dutch tile, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and Tiffany. Even in the best of circumstances, there will always be a tinge of melancholy attached to blue especially in song; “Am I Blue”, “Blue Velvet”, and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue?” Doesn’t that qualify your love of blue then after all? A less happy life, perhaps, but more honest than another. You know, true blue.


the big picture

i thought, for a moment, and then it may have been not today, but yesterday, that i would find some inspiration in these pictures, you know, a return, perhaps not triumphant, not caesar entering rome after the conquest of gaul (vini, vidi, vici), no, not that, more a long the lines of caravaggio sneaking into naples after running from rome, dead of night, all dark corners, heart pounding (mine, surely not yours), and yet, that’s not quite it either and so this problem of not finding the right words or finding the words at all seems still to hang around like last night’s dinner with red peppers and garlic and brussels sprouts (he burped.)

are you a big picture person?

or are you all about the details?

perhaps you fall somewhere in between–a little of this and some of that and as long as i’m standing here, i’ll take that one over there because blue is my favorite color (not true).


so, in the end, this may just be an aberration and not a return. i’ll have to see how i feel about it tomorrow (the big picture, not the macro).



chelsea station magazine (published)

a chapter, “sic gloria transit [jason]”, from my memoir, “evelyn & son, ltd.” has been published in today’s chelsea station magazine. click through to read. as a bonus, the art illustrating the piece was created by yours truly in 1980 — contemporary to the story.

"allegory of fortune" by dosso dossi--image courtesy the getty center

“allegory of fortune” by dosso dossi–image courtesy the getty center



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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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