The King of Isabelle Avenue

I decided to take the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. When I told some friends at work the first thing they said was – “You’re finally gonna write that book about your dad – right?”

This is my pop as a clean-cut marine – with really big ears.

My father was the only son of one of the best story-tellers who ever lived on Isabelle Avenue in downtown Las Vegas. My Grandmother could tell you the story of her trip to the supermarket and it would be enthralling. She had a sense of exactly what details would captivate her audience. She loved the attention and we loved the stories. I always imagined Pop growing up in her shadow and wanting to have the biggest story.

The oddest thing about this photo is that we never saw things like this as even slightly odd.

I was in about 4th grade when I discovered that most of the stories Pop told lacked the ring of truth. He exaggerated details and added “facts” of his own choosing to make things seem both more fantastic and more believable. What Pop never understood was that his life was really the big story. The man pulled off some crazy things. Absurd, irreverent, silly, bizarre – he was all of these things – almost all the time.

I’m sure your dad could be found fighting a goat in buckskins on any given Saturday.

In truth, my pop was a complex person. He never grew up, he never wanted to – Peter Pan in all his glory. His escapades were fueled with Budweiser and a group of strange and wonderful friends who were all to willing to follow him on his journey like a modern-day pied piper.

I’m sure your dad drank moonshine from a crockery jug while wearing a bear claw necklace on your family vacations – don’t all dads?

What I want this project to be is fun and ironic – this is not an examination of the difficulties of living with Pop’s idiosyncrasies. I want this to be an exploration of the irony, the wonder, even the tenderness of a man who marched to the beat of his own drum (or maybe his own tuba).

If you would like to follow my progress, I’ll be posting excerpts and chronicling my experiences trying to pump out those 50,000 words on my new blog The King of Isabelle Avenue – I’d love to hear your comments. As of today there is nothing there but the About page that this post is based upon. I plan to start posting in earnest tomorrow!

Come along with me – there’s a good story in it. I should know, I come from a long line of story tellers.

Meet Me at the Fair

Last week was the annual Carroll County Fair.

Before I moved to the Ozarks it had been 30 years since my last forray into fair participation. I had a $50 mustang filly when I was a kid and I rode gymkhana for a couple of years. I also entered my metal and wood shop projects. The ribbons and satisfaction of the fair were very distant memories.

A few years ago some friends mentioned entering paintings and photos in the fair. I didn’t even know that grown-ups could do such a thing. I checked the rules for participation – technically since I haven’t made diddly squat selling prints, I’m an amateur. I’m not sure how I feel about that in light of my zillion years of experience…

I checked out the categories and picked my best shots to print and enter and – voila – ribbons ensued. Did you know they pay you for the ribbons? That first year I made about 16 bucks in cold hard cash – nevermind that I have three times that in printing and mounting. I was a cash award winner! At this rate in about a hundred years I would be categorized as a professional by the Carroll County Fair Board of Trustees.

The very next year I got my first Pen system camera and tried a bunch of artsy things with old lenses from the 70s. I had a new tripod, a new camera, some old glass and a bellows – I shot this…

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Reserve Grand Champion – thank you very much…and I scored 75 bucks! Woooohoooo!

I gave my winnings to Mary Jane my neighbor, it was her flower after all.

For the first couple of years the judges apparently wanted everyone to feel good so they gave out tons of ribbons with no apparent system – the only reason that you might not get one was that you entered your photo in the wrong category. Last year they changed it up. Three places per category. 1st place in each category considered for Grand Champion. Fewer ribbons – less cash – actual judging and results. Some people took this really hard. No ribbon meant that no one liked their work. People took it all too personal. Me, I really could give a rip about the ribbons or the cash – for me it’s about whittling down a years worth of photos to 15-18 pieces that you think are your best. I shoot between 12,000-15,000 photos a year, that’s a lot of whittling.

This year I took home the blue ribbon in 4 of 9 categories, but who’s counting. I bet I make at least 8 bucks! Here’s a few of my shots from this year:

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Our county fair does not have legendary fair food, nothing on a stick. It also boasts no butter sculpture, no live bands, no wristband passes. It does have one room of exhibits that includes fine art, dioramas, cookies, jam, and vegetables – none of which are for public consumption. It’s so odd to see a plates of cookies under Saran wrap sitting on a shelf with a ribbons on them – I wonder if cookie bakers have to prove amateur status?

Anyway, I love going to the fair in spite of its deficiencies – I love going to the fair and taking photos. I’ve already posted my chickens, but I also got a chance to spend some lens time with the goats…

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Of course no fair is complete without carnival rides and for me the perfect time is right after the sun goes down. I actually brought the wrong lens with me, I thought I had my fast portrait lens, instead I had my macro. I think it worked out though. Zipper, Tilt-a-whirl, carousel – these rides never change…

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There’s something sweet and nostalgic about walking through a fair and seeing your neighbor’s best cookies, or watermelons, or chickens, or photos.