Abandoned Schoolhouse Photos

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There’s a haunting charm to abandoned buildings. I’d love to photograph more of them, but my bravery for such ventures is slipping with the years. I have a digital photo archive seventeen years deep. Lots of these pictures have lain unexamined for years, images I intended to share in some meaningful way but did not get around to curating.

Today I sifted through some of these neglected photo sets and found pictures of an abandoned school building from 2006. Actually this building was partially vacated at that time. The rooms on the upper floor hadn’t hosted classes since the 70’s, but the lower floor was still in use as a gym until last year, when the entire structure was demolished.

Back then my daughter was attending a preschool adjacent to this building. She’d be there for just two hours of class that first year, so I’d fill that time with photo excursions around town, weather permitting. This December morning, I waited until the parking lot was still and slipped into the building next door. Since the gym was empty, I walked up the steps and took shots of those forlorn rooms upstairs.

There were still art class collages pasted to the walls of one of the rooms. These look 70’s vintage and have a feminist theme. This was a K-8 Catholic school. I attended a different Catholic school, and I can assure you that we never had license to create an assignment that included edgy material like this:

Maybe that wave of 70’s feminism swept deep into the Midwest. This was likely a junior high art project. By the time I was in junior high in the mid-80’s, I doubt even the public junior highs were assigning such work. In the 80’s, people lost certainty that plagues weren’t transmitted by words, pictures, or touch.

I wish I could return to take sharper pictures, but the demolition of this building makes that impossible. There were no electrical lights, so I had to rely on the light coming from the windows for these shots.

Take those pictures of oddball sights that resonate for you. It may be your only opportunity to capture that image.

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Send in the Clowns

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From 2007 . . . how oddly appropriate to 2016

I think the latest creepy clown hysteria is tumbling down its peak. I was combing through my archives of parade photos and found the above image. The man’s costume accidentally shows the desired conclusion of such clown fevers: that the clown will be real enough to be captured, that he will face justice and that he will still be a clown after he washes off the creepy clown grease paint. All of these secondhand clown sightings betray this hope: he exists, but he is not one of us.

Speaking of grease paint, I think that KISS was ill-advised in their second incarnation without the make-up. I had this epiphany whilst listening to “Shout It Out Loud” at work last week. Their musical depth was about as stunning as their natural looks. I have a fuzzy memory that they unveiled their real faces in a press conference held on a Destroyer ship. Maybe this was the same Destroyer on which Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time” was filmed. This makes sense because Cher’s rear end and Gene Simmon’s face are equally fearsome sights.

Now I’m thinking of that “Send in the Clowns” song. It’s one of those songs I avoid hearing because it is so draining. “Someone Like You” by Adele is another song of this caliber. When I hear such songs, I think that the medieval folks who bled people to balance their humours were onto something. Some songs are just so oppressive that I imagine bleeding myself to relieve the emotional pressure.

On Memes and Clickbait

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This post would not be complete without an appearance from a creepy clown.

If Richard II were alive today, he’d give his kingdom for a well-done meme instead of a horse. Memes have the potential to be the mythical perpetual motion machine of marketing, as long as the message in the meme is renewed periodically. I wish I could write a good meme, but the economy, simplicity and relatablity of memecraft escapes me.

I did some writing on the internet before the dot-com bust, and the digital landscape was so much kinder to writers in that day. The steps were simple then: learn to dress your writing with graphics and basic html, talk Yahoo into listing your site in their directory, and run some advertising on your pages. There was no need for near constant updates to content. It’s not like the internet was some sort of creative desert back then, either.

It seems that the value of the written word busted along with the dot-com bubble. Fast forward 15 years later, and we have just 1200×630 pixels dressed in 30 words or less to capture an audience.

I’ve decided that I will tilt at windmills by making some empty memes. I will infuse these memes with the rise of another regrettable internet phenomenon, clickbait. I recently read what must be the most absurd clickbait headline ever, “What Hitler’s Son Did With His Life Will Shock You!”

Clickbait usually begs a question with some sort of trickery, and that one delivered on that score. ¬†Have you noticed how often the word “trick” is used in clickbait? They try to deceive your attention¬†through the promise of teaching deception. Fool your insurance company into charging you less. Fool your body into losing weight with this little pill.

On some uncharted slope of the Andes, Dr. Oz is writing the Gospel According to the Three Foods You Must Never Eat, and the superfruit he discovered there will leave you speechless!

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The Benson and Hedges Bias

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My Honda CR-V in opal sage metallic

I am inclined to reflect on the past, and I have uncovered a benefit to looking backward: detecting bias. My recent post about Columbia House helped me identify another irrational preference. I considered how 70’s and 80’s magazine advertisements led me to imagine being grown up and smoking a particular luxury cigarette brand. When I looked at my car today, I realized that I had chosen a vehicle in the same color as that brand, Benson and Hedges Menthol. Thirty odd years after first seeing those cigarette ads and being awed by the luxury and minor hedonism shown in them, I still gravitate toward the color of that product.

When I picked out my car a couple years ago, I looked at its metallic sage green paint and thought it showed a bit of grace and indulgence against the chaos of this life. That’s the same thing I thought about Benson and Hedges Menthol back in the 70’s! I’d imagine smoking them on a penthouse balcony, safe from all the bustle on the city streets below.

That bias is fairly benign, setting aside that I did become a smoker. My taste for pale green did not lead me to exclude people or opportunities. When I painted rooms that color, I wasn’t letting that bias guide me at the ballot box, for instance.

Some biases can be self defeating, such as my presumption that I would be forever rotund. In the penthouse daydream of my youth, I’d picture myself as a semi-plump woman trying her best to look like Sheena Easton in pumps and a slimming black pant suit. I wore the self defeat of that I-will-always-be-fat bias every I went on many yo-yo diets. People have asked me how I memorized the calorie content of so many foods, and I tell them this information comes naturally to a person who has been on as many diets as Oprah has.

After I had surrendered completely to this problem, I had the lucky accident of delerium that showed me what I’d look like if I were a supermodel. This image of me without the extra weight busted that bias, and my weight was reasonable for the first time at age 40 (actually for the first time since I imagined that I’d grow up to be a heavy woman).

What you truly believe will come to pass. Once I reached the sometimes cold, hard reality of adulthood, I assumed that facing some adversity meant that I would always struggle. I would never prosper. Circumstance dared me to do better. I didn’t think I’d ever own a car that runs, let alone drive a CR-V the color of Benson and Hedges Menthol.

I’m also glad my youth gave me opportunities for biases that sweeten my perspective. When I was in grade school, I had a dear friend whose parents had a wall display full of political buttons of the past. The one I held most dear was the button that proclaimed, “Remember Harvey Milk.” I feel blessed that I learned about him when I was so young.

As the election approaches, I will take the time to learn more about the candidates, sniffing out what they really stand for as opposed to the biases they might be wearing to promote an empty brand image.

Eight or Twelve for a Penny: Columbia House Memories

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Some of my Columbia House bounty . . . I wish I could claim the cheesier titles were unsolicited selections of the month, but, alas, I cannot.

When I was a kid, I’d look over magazines and the Sunday paper, noting the trappings of what I’d imagine would make a perfect adult life. The lighter side of me would dream of building a country estate based on model homes depicted in the real estate ads. I’d imagine driving home up a winding lane in a MG convertible, wearing some smart outfit from Penney’s in a mail-order only color, eager to set up the filet mignon for dinner. The part of me that secretly rooted for Darth Vader plotted what kind of vices I’d choose in later days, so I also dreamed of owning a penthouse where I’d smoke Benson and Hedges and sip Riunite while listening to a hoarde of albums from the Columbia Record and Tape Club.

I was able to forego the indulgence of nicotine and alcohol for several more years, but I fell prey to Columbia House as soon as I felt I could write my address as well as an adult would. When I was 12, I taped a penny to the order form, checked off the box that declared I was at least 18 years old and waited for my box of tunes. By the time I actually smoked a Benson and Hedges (which tasted like minty dust instead of something worthy of Remington Steele, by the way), I had signed up for the deal four times, at least once under an assumed name. I was able to pay for these tapes and CD’s first with allowance money and later with minimum wage pay until the recoil of this scheme would hit me: the forgotten selection of the month billed at full retail. A collection agency pursued my alias by the time I was 14.

This scheme did not portend a life of crime. I did an online search on this topic and discovered that this scam was so widespread that the company factored such losses into its business model.

I will close this post with a few links to some articles on Columbia House:

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