How Can I Freak You Out Today?


I’ve said in the past that I’ve always been an excellent judge of character and that those I keep in my small, close-knit circle of friends – online or IRL – deserve to be there. There might have been a few mistakes along the way but deep down inside I always knew something wasn’t right.

And those who get cut from the circle? I have no problem cutting them off because they proven themselves to be not worth my time and therefore, I have zero emotional investment in them. In other words, it doesn’t hurt to say goodbye. You might even say I welcome the departure – one less problem.

I’m talking about emotions and feeling here, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m a strange duck. Granted, “strange” is a subjective term but the strangeness I embrace is on an artistic level. Again, emotions and feelings.

For the past month, I’ve been doing a little research on empathy and while I don’t have all of the most common characteristics (read: introversion), I do have most. And I have a few examples of that.

Last week, I decided to walk through downtown Long Beach during lunch and take pictures as opposed to my usual bike ride near the beach. This alone was unusual and it sets up the rest of the story.

While walking past Hamburger Mary’s, one of the many LGBTQ establishments in the city, I noticed an addition to their outside wall:

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It seems every city has a pair of angel wings somewhere and these were completed in time for Pride Weekend. Not satisfied with just taking a picture of them, me and a coworker Neena went back the next day so that I could pose in front of the wings and have a new social media profile picture.

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(Why yes, I’ve lost 10 pounds!)

I was pleased with the result but decided to add some effects to it before I made it my ubiquitous profile picture. It reminded me of my friend Ray’s profile picture, the last one he would post. He passed away unexpectedly in July 2017 at the age of 43. I miss him.

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Where is this going? We’re getting there.

Later that same day, after posting my picture everywhere, I get the following Facebook notification.

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You’re reading that right. On the day I took that picture, Ray and I had become Facebook friends seven years prior. And if I had not taken a walk instead of going for a bike ride the previous day, I would have never seen this or made the connection. It seems I knew, or felt, this and had to act upon it.

Moving forward to today. During my Sunday morning bike ride yesterday, I decided to do something completely out of the ordinary. Instead of riding down the bike trail, I made use of the city’s many bike lanes. I had no itinerary; I just went wherever I wanted to go.

My adventures would take me 18 miles down streets I’ve never been down and even some alleys I never knew existed. It was while riding down one alley that I came across a bunch of dumpsters along the rear of a shopping center. Exciting stuff, I know.

But my coworker Neena sees them as art. Her Instagram account is filled with abstract images that were mostly on dumpsters we’ve discovered around downtown. At any rate, I saw one dumpster in particular that I figured would be a good fit for her account. I took this shot and sent it to her.

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She didn’t see it until this morning but when she did, she immediately said it looked like a pastel she did about three years ago.

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If you’re not entirely sure if they look the same, here’s a side-by-side.

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The big, black splotch. The diagonal lines on the right. The dominant yellow-and-red theme. The fold on the bottom left of her pastel and the black on the bottom left of the dumpster picture. Note that this is exactly how I composed the picture – I did not crop it at all.

There are definitely lots of similarities that again, if I had not had the urge to try something different, would have never been tied together. Something told me to do it. This is the result.

And yes, she slightly freaked out.

So when it comes down to it, yes, I consider myself in many ways an empath. There’s just no other way to put it. I acted on instinct and it turns out I was picking up someone else’s vibes, and the proof is all up there for you to see.

As for that vivid dream I had the other night of the plane crashing near my neighborhood? Let’s hope it remains that. (It was about a mile away from my house but I can still see it.)

That’s a wrap for this one, folks. You didn’t think I was this deep, did you?

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Back to Shooting


A few days ago I wrote about how my muse seemed to be stuck somewhere on the 110 near Staples Center, a metaphor implying that my creative side is just waiting for her to show up so that I can carry on with whatever I was meant to do on this cruel material sphere.

By the end of the post I decided that I can’t wait for her to show up; I had to be the one to make the move. And on Saturday, I did just that.

I was perusing the website of the Evil Empire for some reason or another, perhaps because I had been approved for one of their credit cards and was looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts. That’s right – last minute in October. We are DONE with our shopping before November as is always the case. We are by no means a Black Friday shoppers regardless of the bargain. Even better, we are not Thanksgiving shoppers because that shit’s just not right.

At any rate, I was looking at cameras because, above all else, I really miss taking great pictures with an DSLR. I had bought an Olympus EVOLT E-500 back in 2007 and I used it for the longest time until a little baby Monte decided to get all rubby against my wide angle zoom a few years ago, knocking it to the ground and pretty much destroying the insides. Digital cameras and lenses are nowhere near as durable as old film cameras. I’ve learned.

From that point on, although I still had a zoom lens, I gave up on DSLRs. It’s hard to shoot with only a zoom lens and most were out of my price range. The 8MP Olympus – the company has since trimmed down their camera line to only a few models – cost me well over $600 at Circuit City, a kit that came with the body and two lenses. Granted, you can now buy cameras of greater caliber for less than that but, as always, money was the issue.

But this time I had my Wally World credit card and was hoping to find one on the cheap. HA! How silly to think I could.

Or was it?

I came across one, the Nikon D3100, on clearance for $319: body, wide angle, and zoom lenses included. Even so, I debated about buying it because, you know, credit cards and all. I debated so long that by the time I threw it into my cart, I got this message.

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Aw man. I was crushed. I was this close to having the thing and missed out. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant for me to have another DSLR right now.

But I didn’t give up. I shopped the Walmart app which had several different models marked down for even cheaper, despite them only having one lens. I screencapped them the few I wanted and drove over to my local store to see if they had them in stock.

They did and I was happy. But when the associate was flipping boxes around in the storage cabinet, I noticed something: the Nikon D3100 set I had been looking for, the one that was supposed to be sold out online and in-store. No. Way.

I asked the associate if he could look up the price of the set and he told me that it was over $500 the last time he checked. If so, I would have to settle for the Canon Rebel T3i that he had in his other hand.

He scanned the Nikon D3100 bundle and *BOOM* it was $312, $7 less than the sold-out online price.

I’ll deal with the ramifications of credit card payments later. We normally pay them off each year once we get our tax refunds anyway. I whipped out my card and happily signed the cardholder agreement. I was officially back to shooting with a DSLR.

Of course, shooting it wasn’t immediate. I was going from one brand to another and naturally there is a learning curve with all the new bells and whistles that go along with it. Not only that, button placement varies from model to model. What was once the bracketing meter button is now an Info button and so on. I opened the box and gingerly unwrapped each piece of my new toy. I found the battery and charger and immediately plugged it in so that it could get a decent charge and I could test the camera.

About an hour later I put the battery in and went outside to see what it could do. Shooting in Auto mode, here’s one of my first decent shots.

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Why yes, it is an image of fall colors in the gutter after a small rain storm.

I continued to shoot in Auto until I could get a feel for button placement and functions. I tried a handful of lighting situations and most of the shots I took were mediocre at best because, well, Auto. But I have to admit that this takes pretty good shots in low light. This was with the candlelight and a small red bulb to the left off-camera.

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I was already feeling the creative juices coming back and I was so happy to get back to shooting with something other than a crappy smartphone camera because, let’s face it, they are all crap when compared to a device dedicated to doing only one thing: taking pictures.

Sunday came around we had some errands to run, namely buy groceries. You gotta eat. On the way back from the store, we passed Forest Lawn cemetery where Ann’s grandparents were laid to rest. I noticed that there was banner outside for a Dia de lost Muertos celebration happening at 4:30 that night. I thought it would be a great event to shoot and also experience something we’d never seen in person before. Ann, who hadn’t been there since her grandfather’s funeral, was reluctant but I made her go and see them. She needed to.

Before the event I could see her already tearing up with memories of the time she’d rather forget. I saw myself rolling her up the ramp in a wheelchair – she was on doctor-recommended bed rest while pregnant with Anthony – like 2003 was yesterday. It was getting harder for her as we got closer to the mausoleum where her grandparents rested.

But we made it and shed some tears and memories – and a few laughs knowing how mad Grandpa would be for her waiting 11 years to come see him. I can see him sternly standing there like a rock, at ease, shaking his head in disappointment. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

With our visit over, we headed outside and found seats for the event. It was, for all intents and purposes, a bilingual Catholic ceremony as I expected it to be. That meant it would be extremely long as Catholic ceremonies usually are. Plenty of time to take pictures, right?

One of the beautiful things about Dia de los Muertos is that it is a colorful event even with its somber tone. It’s a day when the wall between the spirit world and the real world are torn down and the living spend time with their loved ones who have gone before them. Food, music, and the deceased’s favorite items are shared and displayed on an altar built by their relatives. I couldn’t think of a better place to take pictures, and nowhere I would have rather been regardless.

Before the ceremony began, the audience could leave the name of their loved one on a tree for them to be included in a prayer service. And although I’m no longer Catholic, the feeling I got knowing that this was part of my heritage was overwhelming so I added Dad’s name to it and shed a few more tears.

(Note: In my haste, I seem to have forgotten that Dad was born in 1933. I’ll chalk it up to emotions. Sorry, Dad.)

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Once the event began, Anthony and I left our seats to stand near the altar and take pictures of the Aztec dancers and with the sun setting, the lighting was darn-near perfect.

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The dancers were amazing in the celebrating life/death cycle. Again, I’m proud to call this part of my heritage. Once they were finished, a priest took over the microphone and pontificated, in English and Spanish, about the usual Catholic theme: “Are you ready to die?”

I’m ready to live, thankyouvermuch. We made a hasty retreat to walk around and take more pictures.

By now, I was feeling comfortable with operating my camera and decided to take it off of Auto and go full Manual. Not only that, but full Manual with an external flash. Here’s how that went.

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In my eyes, few things are more beautiful than religious imagery and symbols. Although my beliefs have changes, I still find a bit of comfort looking at these objects. These were on a table under a canopy and I aimed my flash to 90 degrees to have it bounce off of the canopy, gently lighting up everything. Any other flash setting would have been too harsh for the subject matter.

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The priest speaks from the altar. I was at the last row of seating for this shot and the external flash did a nice job illuminating things just right.

And finally, this last shot of the night seems to be my favorite.

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The seated men are Forest Lawn officials and something about their chairs’ shadows struck me as I was wrapping things up. I couldn’t leave without this shot which was taken with no flash, using only the available lighting. They are listening intently to the priest, the sun is still setting, the colorful altar paying tribute to souls lost. This one pretty much captures the spirit of the entire event.

Oh and Anthony? His old man is teaching him to shoot with his old camera so he gets used to a DSLR which I gave him. He’s only 10 now but by high school, he’ll have more experience than I did at his age. He’ll be a pro.

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Here’s one of his shots from that night.

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I give him credit: moving objects aren’t always easy to capture but he did a fine job because like me, he will learn.

So with all that said, I made the decision to forget about my muse ever showing up at my door for tea and going right for the throat by making things happen on my own. I can’t recall the last time I felt this creative or artistic, plus showing Anthony the ropes of digital photography is something I’m really looking forward to.

And for what I’m already getting out of it, this may be the best $312 I’ve ever spent.

You can see the complete set of photos at this Flickr set.

The Mind of An Artist


I draw. I take photos. I write.

For all intents and purposes, I am an artist.

I see things differently. I will be the one people stare at as I take a photo of something they can’t immediately understand, like a hideous doll at the thrift shop complete with sparkly rainbow Hammer pants. I find personal amusement and that respect, as much beauty in the awkwardly mundane as I do in the purest of nature.

My mind is not wired like a non-artist. It is always going at a rapid pace, writing scenes to an imaginary movie that nobody but me will ever see. The movie’s soundtrack is composed of incidental music that doesn’t exist outside of my cranium, and the confines of my head are my little theater with my brain as the screenwriter who doesn’t care about treatments, pitches, or character arcs. This is my movie, and I am the director, producer, and both best boys.

All that said, to me, art is about being different and eliciting a response, which is perhaps I didn’t think 1987’s Piss Christ was a big deal. On its surface the print appears to be of a crucifix submerged in a substance that could be urine yet the artist, Andres Serrano, only alludes to it in the title. The viewer is left to decide. It’s also worth noting that at the time of Piss Christ, I was slowly drifting away from my Catholic upbringing which could have led to my nonchalance about the work.

As a result, I “got” it unlike those whom it offended, those who based their offense on religious grounds even though the artist himself was unclear as to what the crucifix was submerged in. Those whom it offended, were offended by themselves.

Serrano did his job.

So, moving on. At this point I’ve established that my mind is always working overtime, that I’m the one people might think is weird, and that my mind always open to and looking for new ideas. It’s all true, even at work.

I am an artist – an artist who bags groceries for his weekly notes and coins. And it was at my job a few nights ago when I was feeling a little worthless about my work situation. A part-time cart monkey, banana bagger, spill picker-upper, trash-emptier. At age 45, That’s what I do.

To make matters worse, on this particular night I had been resigned to working with a cashier who, for the lack of a better description, has taken her job and all that it encompasses to levels I can’t begin to comprehend. Scanning bananas, and enforcing the rules that come with it, seems to be her livelihood. And with me being the newest person on the job, she’s often pointing out the most obvious things just for the sake of doing it.

She’s also one who has no sense of humor and whose thoughts can’t stay inside her head. I don’t need to know when you’re going to the restroom, why a label is not affixed to a can of beans properly, or that the ties on your apron are too tight. If you’d complain a little less and do more, then perhaps the job you’re working hard at perfecting would go a lot smoother.

Maybe this is her art.

But I digress. I needed a break from bagging for this person and told my supervisor that I was going to go outside and “clear the lot,” grocery store lingo for “be a cart monkey and gather up all the shopping carts.” I went to the office to don my reflective orange safety vest and made my out into the cool of the evening.

I had cleared about half of the lot and was picking up trash along the way because, for some, grocery store parking lots are also magical. They are places where they can indiscriminately dump trash and *POOF*, without a murmur of protest from anybody, it will be gone the next day. And that trash can be anything from cinder blocks to pizza boxes to lottery tickets. I’ve seen them all.

But you can also dump your old beverage from your coffee tumbler in a grocery store lot. I see it all the time but unlike standard trash, I don’t clean it up. The liquid will eventually dissipate after being walked through, run over, etc. which makes my job *this* much easier.

I seem to have gone off on an entirely different tangent here, haven’t I? How did I go from art to my job to spilled coffee? How are any of these related?

Because this.

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A microcosm of this post is now before you: art, the weirdo who takes pictures of odd things, an unknown liquid, my job, a spilled beverage. It’s all there, right above this paragraph.

When I saw this heart-shaped spill, I knew I had to grab my phone and get a picture of it because it meant something to me. I couldn’t start questioning things like my favorite cashier does much too often; I just had to capture the moment and take it from there. And that’s exactly what I did. The artist in me accepted it for the shape it represented and nothing else. Who spilled it, why they did it, what the liquid was…none of it mattered. The heart is what mattered.

I went back inside to my station with my favorite cashier. Fortunately, I was told to take a break soon afterward and did just that.

While on my break I looked over the photo again, still admiring the complete randomness of it all but wasn’t too happy with the quality of the image so took it into a photo editing app and started messing with contrast, colors, etc. After a whole slew of adjustments, I found one that pleased me more than any of them.

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I had transformed it from a random spill of unknown liquid and origin to something that could resemble blood, with the heart-shape only lending to the message.

What message? It looked nice but that wasn’t enough, so I kept messing with it and ended up with this.

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And so I had.

This is how the mind of an artist works. It’s not the easiest to understand but the artist doesn’t expect you to. It’s the result that must elicit a response.

By the way, that doll I mentioned was no joke.

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I told you my mind was different than yours.

The Morning Paper


In my year-end post, I mentioned that there was a chance that this image would be used in our local newspaper.

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Well, after running 8 miles, I went to the local newspaper machine and opened it up to page 2, the home of The Big Picture section and here’s what was there.

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The caption is my account of what I saw. And while I’m glad my shot made into the paper, I’m also embarrassed for incorrectly identifying the statue.

The name is “Unconditional Surrender” not “Unconditional Release” as I had stated in the email sent to the writer. I guess I was in a hurry to get the image to them and sort of slipped, thinking of the baseball term. I feel a little dumb about that considering the popularity of the photo it is based on.

I’m just glad that I was able to capture the moment at all. These are the chances you take when you love to shoot photos: you go out of your way to get them.

But you should slow down and get your facts straight…

Blogging 365, Day 36: Night Off?


Does a blog post telling everybody that I’m taking a night off from blogging actually count as a blog post?

I’ll let you decide.

In the meantime I’ve got a few other things I want to tackle tonight, namely drawing. I came across some of my old art pencils from my college days and I want to give them a shot since I obviously didn’t use them much back then.

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See you tomorrow.