Fish story. True story. I swear.
Back when I was in my early twenties, a time when it is always appropriate to be living hand-to-mouth, living on ramen noodles and mac 'n' cheese (deluxe mac 'n' cheese when it's on sale) washed down with dollar wine, I was living on ramen noodles and washing it down with dollar wine. So one day my roommate says, "Oh God, I can't stand these noodles anymore. Let's go down to the dock and catch a fish so we can at least make a casserole."
"Good idea," I protested, "But it's gotta be you because I don't know what I'm doing. I've never been fishing."
"Aw hell," he replied, "It's easy. We'll scrape some tube worms off the dock for bait, drop a line in and catch supper."
I remained highly sceptical, but agreed. We dug out some abandoned tackle from the closet of the summer-rental we were renting dirt cheap for the winter, and walked down to the dock. We found some bait, set the lines, dropped them in the water and about two minutes later, I started hollaring in a panic: "I THINK I GOT ONE!! What do I do now?!?!"
My roommate yelled "Pull it up ya dink, let's see what ya got," as he scurried along the dock to see. It was a big fat rock cod. I had no idea whathehell, but my roommate seemed quite pleased and very excited, so I figured I did okay. "Jeeeze," he said, "I was hoping maybe for a couple of flounders, but now I want to weigh this at the general store." So we walked down to the store for my roommate to hold it up for the storekeeper. Then they were both quite pleased and very excited. "Caught it off the dock," my roomate boasted.
"You kidding me?!? Never saw one that big off the dock before," the storekeeper said as he took it to the scale .... "Five pounds!!"
Then my roomate's face darkened as he leaned over conspiratorially to scowl at me menacingly and point at me accusingly, "He caught it," he told the storekeeper. "Never been fishing before." Storekeeper fell down laughing, then joined my roomate in cussing me all up and down.
"Make him clean it," the storekeeper suggested, as punishment for my luck.
"I gotta do it," my roommate replied, "That's our dinner. I don't want to waste any of it."
"Good point," said the storekeeper, "But I have the best knives here. On the house." A few seconds and a few slices later, we had a perfectly fileted fish. Walked home and had a grand fish casserole.
Next day, roommate says to me, "Jack, let's go back to the dock and catch supper again."
"ABSOLUTELY NOT," I flatly refuse. "No way. Ever."
"Are you crazy?" he asks, "Why not?"
"I may be dumb," says I, "But I ain't stupid. Right now, I'm ahead. I've been fishing for two minutes in my life and caught a five-pound cod. It's all downhill from here. I could spend the rest of the winter freezing my ass off on that dock and never catch another fish. But by then I'll be behind and then I'll spend the rest of my life trying to catch up, like all you crazy fishermen, and then someday I'll die and have wasted twenty years of my life trying to catch a fish I never ended up catching again." He spent a little while prosetylizing the joys of fishing, but in the end, I was adamant and never budged.
To this day, I've never been fishing again.
I tell this tale because I had a very similar feeling this week.
Family's in town this week, and on Monday we had an outing to Halibut State Park out on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Perfect day for it: The weather was no less than divine for a February day in an otherwise brutal Winter. I had it in my head that if we had time, we could stop in Rockport and I could take a shot at taking some shots of Motif #1, by tradition regarded as the "most painted and photographed building in America." So when the crew started howling for lunch at mid-afternoon, they agreed to stop in Rockport so they could eat and I could see what I could do with Motif #1.
On the way, I figured I probably wasn't going to get anything notable in itself--I don't know what I'm doing, plus, even if I did, it had been done before. So I decided to try a theme that at least had a chance to be amusing. I was going to walk along the string of tourist shops taking pictures of tourist kitsch that had a Motif #1 motif.
First thing I saw when I stepped into the tiny and unattended Vistor's Shack when we got to town was the Chamber of Commerce's Guide to the hundred or so businesses catering to the tourist trade, all but about two of which were closed for the season anyway. But there was the Motif I was looking for on the cover. I had been thinking "I need a shot of some dumb tee shirt," and sure enough, down the block and around the corner was exactly the tee shirt I imagined, sitting in a store window. I laughed so hard the camera jiggled, but I finally got a decent-enough shot. Across the street, was a baseball cap in the window, price tag and all. Damn nice hat, actually, as I examined it through the window.
But there was also, of course, and forever, the Motif #1 building itself--the Chamber of Commerce here may be dumb, but they ain't stupid: When the original Motif #1 was destroyed in the Great Blizzard of 1978, the Chamber instantly ponied up to build a replacement. I had to take my shots. So I did.
As far as I could tell, everyone else in town that afternoon were year-rounders. The wharves were deserted, the stores closed but for the restaurants frequented by locals, the parked cars all had resident stickers. So I had the run of the place as I walked around taking pictures.
The granite wharf in the long foreground in the image below would be hopelessly packed with amatuer painters and tourists in season. I guess this is the only picture I have even the slightest right to be proud of, because as I was setting this up I was trying to get the wharf and Motif #1 in some kind of compositional position. And even then I guess I shouldn't be all that proud because all I was thinking was, "Well, I might as well get the empty wharf in here somehow since it's here. Now. Empty."
While I was setting up that shot I noticed the ethereal light in the window of the shaded wall and stepped a little closer to capture it with a shorter foreground:
And, of course, I had to walk up to the end of the wharf where all the amatuer painters, photographers and tourists stand in the Summertime. I had to capture the quintessential view they all capture. I am an Amateur. Hath not an Amateur eyes? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
I took a few more pictures, at one point trying to get a lot of sky to catch an airplane off over New Hampshire, at another point, I turned a hundred and eighty degrees and took a couple of pictures of the Inner Harbor, thinking at least I'll have a picture of the view more or less from Motif #1, instead of just another view of Motif #1.
And so that was pretty much that for my amateur photography for the day. Caught up with the family, hopped in the minivan, and my sister Linda drove us all the way down the scenic route of Cape Ann, through Gloucester, onto Route 128 and on home. When we got to the highway I pulled out the camera and started looking at what I had through the viewfinder. I didn't see anything that I thought was especially special until I got to the Ripples picture at the top of this article. "Whaaa-?" I thought, and handed the camera to my brother Andy, who is trained in the fine arts, and who you may have met before in an earlier article. "What the hell did I do?" I asked him.
"Holy Shit," he swore, "What did you do? This looks like a painting."
"How should I know?" I answered, "I just clicked the little clicky thing on top you click every time you want to take a picture." So we looked at the before and after pictures and figured out that that was from the small set I took when I turned around to get the view from Motif #1 instead of the view of it. "Oh, I know," I sheepishly explained, "I was trying to zoom in on Linda as she stood shoreside and I must've missed and zoomed in on the water instead."
So he muttered a real cuss under his breath (the nephews were present) in the exact tone of my roommate and the storekeeper in the fish story above, and asked, "What else ya got?" as he scrolled through the set. He noted and praised the composition of the long foreground shot, but then he started expostulating to himself: "Sheeeeeeesh ... look at that sky. Oh man ... the light. The light is perfect. The shadow side. The clouds....."
Now you have to remember, Andy trained in fine arts. In Massachusetts. He's seen Motif #1 before. If he had a nickel for every time he'd seen it, he'd be a rich man. "For God's sake, Jack," he explained, "That might be the best light they've had in Rockport in a year." All the while he was telling me that he was paging through the images. "Oh, look, he says, you even caught a bird."
"Huh?" I asked. I wondered what bird. "I didn't see any birds,"
"Look," said, pointing to the picture below.
"There's no bird there," I protested, "I was trying to get enough sky to get the contrail in the distance. See the contrail?"
"Yes," he said. "I see the contrail," he continued with a grind to his teeth in a somewhat condescending and patronizing tone that he picked up from somewhere. Maybe from me. "Do you see the bird?" I looked closely.
"Oh yeah," I said. "Are you telling me that as I was trying to get that picture of the plane, with perfect light, against a perfect sky, at the perfect time of day, during the perfect season, a bird flew into the frame giving me the perfect picture? And I never even noticed?"
"Looks that way," he growled:
I may never pick up a camera again.