It is a veritable reservoir of humorous life’s lessons. Scrolling through, I had several chuckles and more than a few smiles… the man just has a way about him. The excerpt below is from his journal:
This week a friend complained of the onerous task of going through all the pictures he had taken over the summer. He felt a need to find the good shots and put them in order. A task he was dreading. There were thousands of photographs. Thousands. From his cell-phone camera and digital camera and video camera. Thousands. And, meanwhile, he’s still taking more pictures.
He’s retired. Now he’s making a new career of self-frustration.
His relentless image-accumulation costs him plenty wampum, depresses him, and makes him feel guilty over not finishing the task he set for himself. “These pictures are a pain in the butt,” he says, “but someday I’ll be glad and my grandchildren will thank me.” Well, I hope so, but I don’t think so.
He’s an old friend. So I nod and mutter “I understand” as if I did, or as if I had a life crisis of a similar severity. In truth it’s hard for me to empathize. Being a mechanical misfit when it comes to cameras and cell phones and even toasters, I solve his problem by not having it in the first place.
But I do take pictures. Consciously collect memories in mental images somewhere in the raw meat between my ears. There are moments I want stored in the museum of my mind where I can find them when I want to remember who I am and why I go on with my life. While I don’t invite friends over for a power point slide show of what I did this summer, from time to time I try to describe an image as a way of asking, “Did anything like this happen to you? And the likely answer is that you could match me picture for picture. No machinery required – except imagination.
GREEN SUMMER SURPRISE: Here’s a picture of an old man with a slight grin on his face, raised eyebrows, and a twinkle in his eyes. He’s standing in the middle of the community garden I walk through most mornings. We talked in April, when the cold wet spring had delayed his planting tomatoes. Now a cool, damp summer has faded into fall and his plants hang heavy with a fine crop of bright green tomatoes that will not ripen this year.
“Too bad. Guess these are compost,” I say.”
“Oh, no. Fried green tomatoes with parmesan cheese,” he says. “And green tomato salsa, pickled green tomatoes, and even green tomato guacamole.” He finished his inventive list with this: “And you can make green tomato juice in the blender, strain it, pour it over some ice in a glass and add a couple of shots of vodka. I call it the Green Summer Surprise.”
I think that’s why he’s grinning in the picture. He’s already a couple of shots into his tomato juice. I thought the fruit-jar in his hand was just Koolaid.
SLAM DUNK GOOD DEED: This photograph is of a young woman as she turned up my driveway and saw me. She has tears in her eyes. But she’s smiling. Earlier in the day I found her wallet in the street. Her driver’s license gave a nearby address, but when I knocked on the door I got no answer. So I left a note saying, “Call this number and I will make you very happy.”
While she was in a mad panic searching the streets of Queen Anne hill I was sitting on my porch drinking coffee and savoring the thought that in a short while I would make somebody’s day. It’s not often that I am so confident that what I do will have that effect. Slam dunk.
Turns out she was chasing after her child who had gone off riding without his bike helmet. And this was not the first time she had lost her wallet. Her husband reminded her of that. So she’s feeling stupid and mad and anxious.
The photograph was taken in that delicious moment when her anguish drained away and was replaced by relieved gratitude. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said. “Believe me,” I said, “The pleasure was mine.”
FREE: This picture is in vivid color. The back-story is that people in my neighborhood seem to have forgone the hassle of garage sales. When cleaning out garages or basements or attics, or when they have something they want to get rid of that’s too big to move, they put it out on the curb in front of their house, marked with a sign: “Free” – and somebody comes along and takes it. One man’s trash is still another man’s treasure.
In front of one house was a beat up old couch – the color of green tomatoes, actually. Also a floor lamp with a pink shade. And several boxes of used clothes. And the sign -“FREE!”
When I came back by an hour later the whole pile had been plundered by two little girls – seven or eight years old. Used clothes were scattered around, and the girls were sitting up on the couch like two babes on a yacht. One was wearing a woman’s black and white polka dot dress and the pink lampshade for a hat. Another had on an old yellow bathrobe and gold high heels. She was holding the battered remains of an umbrella over her head – the fabric was gaily floral. They were singing, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and paid no attention whatever to me as I walked by across the street.
©2006 by Robert Fulghum
There’s more – much more – where that came from. Check out the journal.