Monday, April 29, 2019

Cherry Blossoms in Central Park

It was wonderful to see the sakura bloom once again in Central Park.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Thirty-One

Gallagher sat at the table in the kitchen of his Williamsburg apartment.  In front of him were three grams of cocaine he had carefully laid out in rows and was now busily chopping with a razor blade.  “This will do the trick,” he muttered to himself.  “Why waste any more on that fool than I need to?” 
He reached into his billfold, pulled out a dollar and carefully rolled the single into a tight tube.  Then he bent over the coke and snorted two long lines of white powder.  He looked at what remained and smiled.  “Still more than enough to get the job done.”
“You always talk to yourself, Gallagher?” a voice asked.  “You should be careful about that.  It might mean something’s gone really wrong with your mind.”
Gallagher jerked his head up.  “What the fuck?”  A beautiful blue-eyed blonde was sitting on the other side of the table and studying him dispassionately.  She was wearing a white peasant blouse and blue jeans.  At her side she held a khaki shoulder bag with the legend “All You Need Is Love” emblazoned upon it.  “Where the hell did you come from?” Gallagher asked in confusion.  “I know you weren’t sitting in that chair a minute ago.”  He pointed to the coke.  “This shit is good, but it’s not that good.”
“What’s the matter?” asked the woman.  “You’re always talking about what a ladies’ man you are, aren’t you?  To hear you tell it, you’re God’s gift to women.  Now you’ve finally managed to get one in your apartment and all of a sudden you’ve got a problem with my being here?  Is that what I’m hearing?”  Her voice was filled with contempt.
Seeing no obvious threat from the attractive woman, Gallagher relaxed a little and recovered something of his composure.  “Oh, no.  You’ve got it all wrong.  I’m always happy to welcome a pretty woman into my humble home.  I’m totally honored to have you here.”
“I bet you are.”
“Now what did you say your name was, sweetness?” Gallagher continued in the same honeyed tone of voice.
“I didn’t say, and it surely isn’t sweetness.”
“You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve in any way offended you,” Gallagher put on what he’d always considered his most dazzling smile.  “It was no doubt the abrupt appearance of such a vision of loveliness that momentarily caused me to forget my manners.  I completely failed to remember I was expecting company today.”
“You weren’t, but I’m here anyway.  And my name is Deirdre if that means anything at all to you.”
Gallagher pretended to search his memory.  “Deirdre, Deirdre.  Why no, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.” 
The woman paid no attention to Gallagher’s flattery but instead studied the neatly laid out lines that stretched before him.  “That’s certainly a lot of coke you’ve got there,” she remarked.
“I’ve plenty to share with a beautiful woman if that’s why you’ve come knocking.”  Gallagher reached across the tabletop to offer his guest the still rolled dollar bill.
“No thanks.  And I don’t think you should be giving it away like that.  You want to make sure you’ve got enough left to take care of Connor, don’t you?”
“Say what?”  Gallagher put the dollar back down and gave Deirdre a hard look.  “You know Connor?  What makes you think I’m going to share anything with that S.O.B.?”
“No, you’re not planning on sharing it with him.  What you want to do is plant it on him when he isn’t looking.”  Deirdre’s voice was even and almost unconcerned.  “Then you call the police with an anonymous tip and the next thing you know Connor is back in prison again.  That would make you so happy, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, bitch.”  Gallagher’ voice had lost its sugared tone.  His mouth tightened and his eyes grew hard.
“Oh, come on, playboy,” taunted Deirdre.  “You don’t want to ruin this for yourself, do you?  This is the big chance you’ve been waiting for.”
Gallagher was instantly suspicious.  “What shit are you talking now?”
“You’re always telling everyone who’ll listen what a big man you are with the women.”  Deirdre laughed in the man’s face.  “The truth, though, is that you couldn’t get laid in a five-dollar whorehouse.  Even that dummy Jocelyn has finally gotten wise.  There isn’t a woman in Brooklyn, or anywhere else in the city, that wants anything to do with a pissant like you.  All your talk about how well you do is just that – nothing but hot air.”
“I don’t need to listen to this.”  Gallagher slammed his fist down on the tabletop, not paying any attention to the loose cocaine that rose up in a cloud.  “You shut up right now and get the hell out of here.  I look again, I don’t want to see you sitting there.”
“Sure.  I’ll leave if that’s what you want.”  Deirdre paused.  “But if I go away now, you’ll never know how I learned you were planning to set up Connor.  Aren’t you even a little bit curious?”
“Was it Connor who put you up to this?” Gallagher demanded.  “Did he send you over here to shake me down?  Just wait till I get my hands on that bastard.”
Deirdre shook her head.  “Connor has no idea I’m here.  Right now he’s at the university talking to the staff and collecting his back pay for the time he put in on the experiment.  No, being here is all my own idea.”  Deirdre’s tone sharpened.  “Now, once more, do you want to know how I figured out what you were up to, or not?”
Gallagher sat back in his chair.   His expression slowly morphed into an evil grin as he regarded the woman opposite him.  He licked his lips.  “Ok, bitch, I’ll bite.  How did you find out what I was planning for my good buddy?”
Deidre looked across the room to where the TV sat.  As her eyes rested on it, the screen abruptly flickered on.  A grainy black & white video appeared onscreen.  It showed two men sitting alone talking in the back room of a rundown bar.  There was a pitcher of beer and two glasses on the wooden table at which they sat.
“Hey, neat trick.  How’d you do that?”    Gallagher forgot his anger as he picked up the remote and clicked it in the direction of the television set.  The cable box on top showed the channels changing but the picture remained the same.  “What show are we watching?”
“No use doing that,” said Deirdre as Gallagher continued to click the remote.  “It’s the same whichever way you turn.”
“So what are we looking at then?  Some new reality series?”
Deirdre laughed mirthlessly.  “You don’t know how right you are.  Except it’s a reality show from forty years ago.  Don’t you recognize the Rose of Shannon where you like to hang?  It looked just the same back then.  Even had the same bartender Igor working there.”
“Bullshit.  All they had on TV in those days were reruns of Star Trek and The Odd Couple.  They didn’t have any videocams back then.”
“This wasn’t shot with any movie camera.  It’s what you might want to call a ghostly manifestation.”  Deirdre pursed her lips and gave her best imitation of a child trick or treating on Halloween.  “Wooooooooooo.”
“Very funny.”  Gallagher sat back as he focused his attention on what he was seeing on the television screen.  “Your big problem there is that I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“That doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that we believe in you.”
Onscreen, the two men could be heard talking.  “Are you sure it’s pure?” asked one of them in an easygoing manner.  He was a big bear of a man with dark curly hair.
“Pure as snow,” replied the other smoothly.  He had an army-style crewcut and was wearing a sweat stained white tanktop that stretched obscenely over the paunch of his belly.  Despite the poor quality of the video, there was no hiding how repulsive the man’s face and body were.  His features were coarse and twisted, and his blotchy skin was everywhere discolored and covered with patches of dark hair.
“Does that ape look familiar to you?” Deirdre asked Gallagher.
 “Never saw him before.  And I’d remember if I had.”  Gallagher gave an exaggerated shiver.  “Man, what an ugly mother that guy is.”
“Take a closer look at him,” Deirdre urged.  “And yes, he certainly is one disgusting looking individual.  I agree with you there.”
Gallagher looked again at the TV and this time froze in his seat as recognition set in.  His face went white and his hands started to tremble.  “Oh, no, no.  It can’t be.”
“Oh, yes it is.  You know who he is now, don’t you?” Deirdre prompted him.
“This is some sort of trick you’re trying to pull, isn’t it?”
“It’s no trick, Gallagher.  That’s you in a prior life you’re looking at.  Yes, you.”
“In a prior life?  What the hell?  You’re trying to tell me I’m the… the reincarnation of that freaking horror?”  A touch of awe had entered Gallagher’s voice.  “But how is such a thing possible?  That damn gorilla doesn’t look like me.  He doesn’t even look human.”
“What difference does that make?  Johnny’s been dead a long time, may he rot in hell, but he’s you all right.  And on the inside, where it counts, you’re every bit as ugly as he is.”
“I still don’t understand what this is all about.  What’s going on here?”
“Like I told you, his name’s Johnny Hastings.  He was a two-bit drug dealer who sold bad shit all over the city.  And beyond.   Remember that brown acid they were warning everyone about in the Woodstock movie?  That was this monster’s work.”
“So what’s he doing here then?  It looks like he’s still dealing.”
“Yep.  He never learns; he’s pulling the same exact thing all over again.  Selling bad acid to my boyfriend Donny.  Just sit back and watch the creep at work.”
Back onscreen, the two waited until the much younger Igor had served them another pitcher of beer and returned to the bar.  Then Donny took out his wallet and counted out a few bills.  After handing them to Hastings, he received in return a small glassine envelope containing several tiny round pills.
“Those are supposed to be barrels of sunshine.  Unknown to my poor trusting Donny, though, this asshole cut them with strychnine so his customers would think they were getting off on tabs that had hardly any psychedelics in them at all.”
“That’s some screwed up shit all right,” said Gallagher, obviously impressed with Hastings’s idea.
“Yeah, that’s what he thought too.  Except he didn’t realize – or maybe he just didn’t care – that this time he’d put in so much strychnine that it made for a lethal dose.”
“You mean…?”
“Yes, indeed,” said Deirdre.  “What you’re watching here is an actual murder taking place right in front of your eyes.  That was the end of poor Donny, the love of my life.  He died the next day in agony in the emergency room.  I should know because I was sitting there at his side when he passed.”
“And this Hastings guy, did the cops ever nail him on a murder charge for the shit he pulled?”  Gallagher was still trying to make sense of what he’d seen.
“Let’s just say justice caught up with him in the end,” Deirdre said with grim finality.
The television screen suddenly went dark.
Gallagher wiped his brow.  “That’s some story,” he said.  “But what’s it got to do with me?  You don’t think you can have me put away for what that guy Hastings did to your boyfriend all those years ago, do you?  Just try it and watch the cops laugh at you.”
“The same cops who told the Pale Horsemen where to find the jerk who stole their cocaine?  Those gangbangers are awfully upset.  They’re out on the street looking for you.”
Gallagher jumped up.  “How do you know about that?”
“It doesn’t matter.  You were right the first time.  The police won’t be able to help me now any more than they could then.”  Deirdre gave a long drawn sigh and then turned serious.  “But something has got to be done before you hurt Connor.”
“Oh, you can forget about that.”  Gallagher, trying hard to get his nerve back, gave a weak laugh and sat back down.  “Connor is my buddy.  He and I, we’re thick as thieves.  This was a just a joke I was going to pull on him.”
“You put him in jail once, and now you’re set to do it again.  That’s no joke.”  Deirdre turned toward Gallagher.  “Something has got to be done,” she repeated.
Gallagher attempted to take control of the situation.  “Who the hell are you to come into my home and threaten me?  I don’t have to sit here listen to this for one more minute.  I watched your trick video stunt just to be polite, but I’m not falling for it.  I’m not that stupid.  That guy on the video wasn’t me no matter what you say.  You must have had me hypnotized to have got me believing something so ridiculous even for a minute.”
“No, there’s no mistake.  You’re Johnny come back again.  I checked the Health Department records to be certain.  You were born the same day he died in 1972.”
“So the ugly fucker is dead.  You said that before.  What happened to him?  Did he O.D. on his own bad shit?  Or did he just look in the mirror and die of fright when he saw that deformed face of his?”
Deirdre shook her head.
“Then one of his other customers must have done a number on him,” Gallagher guessed.  “A guy like that isn’t going to have many friends.”
Deirdre shook her head again.  “No, it wasn’t one of his customers who shot him.  Shot him once.  Straight through the heart.”
Gallagher tried to fight down the panic he felt building within him.  “Yeah?  For real?  Did they ever catch the guy who did it?”
“No.  I got away all right.”  Deirdre reached into her bag and pulled out a .22 revolver.  “I still have the gun.”
Gallagher began to rise from his seat, but Deirdre shot him before he was able to get to his feet.  The gun gave a sharp crack as it went off.
“Oh, shit,” said Gallagher.  He looked down in disbelief at the red stain spreading across the front of his shirt and then slumped to the floor.  Blood began to bubble from his mouth. 
Deirdre stood watching over Gallagher’s body until she was sure he was dead.  She put the gun on the table, turned, and walked out the front door without bothering to close it behind her.

Monday, April 22, 2019

More from Macy's Orchid Show

Here are some more floral displays I photographed at the Macy's Orchid Show.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Thirty

Returning home long past midnight after having spent the entire evening working at the Onion, Deirdre was startled to find Donny sitting hunched by himself in a corner of the darkened apartment.  He didn’t bother to look up when she entered and didn’t reply to her greeting.  “Donny, what’s the matter to you?” she asked then.  “Aren’t you feeling well?”
He only shook his head and fixed his gaze on the floor. 
Deirdre switched on the bare bulb overhead and the room was abruptly bathed in bright light.  There wasn’t all that much to be seen by it, though, only the studio’s sparse furnishings and behind them the cold stove.  Deirdre put her hands on her hips.  “Did you eat anything at all while I was out this evening?”
Donny stared back at her with so blank an expression she wasn’t sure he’d understood her question.  “I wasn’t hungry,” he finally said.
Deirdre knelt beside him and put her arms around his shoulders.  His huge body swayed uncertainly at her touch and she felt a great wave of sympathy wash over her.  “Oh, my poor darling,” she whispered in his ear as she gently kissed him on the cheek, “something’s wrong, isn’t it?”  It was then that she saw the I Ching coins lying on the floor beside him.  There was nothing unusual in that.  Donny was such a fervent believer that he consulted the oracle at least once a day, or so it seemed.  “Were you asking the book a question?”
Donny tried to end the conversation before it had even begun.  “I was just playing around, checking the meaning of whatever hexagram the coins turned up.”  Deirdre noticed he was actually stammering as he spoke.  He looked down at the book that lay closed on his lap and then at the coins still lying on the floor where he had dropped them.
“What hexagram was it that you saw?” Deirdre asked.  A premonition passed through her, and she found herself dreading the answer. 
 “What difference does it make?  It’s all a con anyway.”  Donny turned angrily to look at her.  “I’ve wasted too much time on this silly Chinese fortunetelling as it is.  I’m going down to the Strand tomorrow and sell the book and forget about it.  Let someone who’s more gullible than I am have fun playing with it.”
For a moment Deirdre couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  Donny had always followed the book religiously.  He had consulted it as a matter of course before making any decision no matter how trivial.  And now he was saying he wanted nothing more to do with it.  Whatever the oracle had shown him, she realized, it had somehow been too terrible for him to contemplate.  To Deirdre, it was all too apparent what Donny must have seen.
“It’s my fault.”  Deirdre was crestfallen.  “I should have taken the book away a long time ago and hidden it.  I believed you when you told me it really could show the future.  So why did I just leave it lying around for you to see?  Donny, I’m so sorry.”
Her boyfriend studied her closely.  “You know it too then, don’t you?  You know I’m going to die soon.” He banged his fist on the floor.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Deirdre averted her eyes.  “I never said I’d seen any such thing.  I was just upset because you were so freaked out.  It made me imagine the worst.”
“Come on, Deirdre.  We’ve known each other too long to play these games.  You saw the same thing I did, didn’t you?”
Deirdre still tried to deny it.  “I never tossed the coins myself.  That’s the truth.”
“No, I know you never have,” said Donny slowly.  “That’s what bothers me.  You can see what’s going to happen just as well as I can, but I’m not sure how you’re able to do that.”
Deirdre looked at him helplessly.  “Does it really make any difference?”
“No, I guess not.”  Donny’s black mood lifted a trifle.  He took Deirdre in his arms and kissed her.  “It would just help me to understand what’s ahead of me, that’s all.”
Deirdre tried to pull away but then gave up and sank back into her boyfriend’s arms.  “Sometimes I’m able to see things in dreams, things that are still years ahead.  You were the one who taught me all about lucid dreaming, don’t you remember?”
Donny pushed her back from him and held her at arm’s length.  He regarded her with a touch of awe.  “You’ve been able to dream the future, haven’t you?   I thought you were having fun with me when you told me you’d been experimenting with lucid dreaming yourself.  But it’s true, isn’t it?  You’ve actually seen in your dreams what’s going to happen.”
“So what if I have?  You’ve traveled through time yourself, Donny.  You were the one who showed me it could be done.  It was through you that I found out about Naomi and Jun’chiro living in Tokyo all those years ago.  If it hadn’t been for you, I never would have known anything about them.”
“I may have gone back to the past in my dreams, but I’ve never been able to go forward to see what hasn’t happened yet.”  Donny stared at Deirdre in wonder as he tried to come to terms with what she had accomplished.  “And here I always thought I was the one who was so totally cool and hip.  I was going to be your guide and show you all the wonders of the universe.  And all the time you were light years ahead of me.”
“Even if I was able to pull it off and travel into the future, it certainly didn’t do me any good.”  Deirdre was resigned.  “At first it was nothing but a game, and I was going to keep it as a big surprise.  I couldn’t wait to show you what I’d learned to do and take you with me.  Even when I found out what was going to happen to you I thought I could fix things or at least warn you.  But it doesn’t work that way.  There’s no way to change the future.  It’s all according to our karma.  It wouldn’t do any good at all to tell you what I’ve seen because there’s nothing that can be done.  It’s all been determined since before we were born.  All we’re doing is acting out the parts written for us.  If I told you how and when you were going to die, it would only drive you crazy trying to find an escape that isn’t there.”
“I get it,” said Donny.  He held Deirdre tightly once again.  “I won’t try to force you to tell.  Like you said, it’s better for me just to put it out of my mind as best I’m able and go on enjoying the time I’ve got left with you.  I want to do whatever I can to make you happy until the very end.”
Her lover’s show of kindness only made Deirdre that much more miserable.  “I keep telling you, you’ve already made me happier than I ever thought I could be.”
“It’s just that there were so many things I wanted to do – poems I wanted to set down on paper, foreign lands I wanted to travel to – and now it looks like I won’t get to do any of those.  It doesn’t bother me so much for myself, but I wanted to share those experiences with you.  I thought we’d have a whole lifetime together to get them done.”
Deirdre ran her hand through his thick curly dark hair.  “No one ever gets to do all the things in life that they’ve imagined.  We can only live our life from one day to the next and hope for the best.”
“It’s just that I’d like you to be able to look back on when we were together,” Donny continued, “and be proud of me.”
Deirdre couldn’t stop her tears.  “If only you knew how proud of you I’ve always been.  I’ve always known I was the luckiest woman in the world to be with you.”
“While I was sitting her waiting for you to get back,” remarked Donny unexpectedly, “I started thinking about Connor, that friend you brought around.  He was definitely one righteous dude.  You were spot on when you told me how well I’d hit it off with him.”
Deirdre hadn’t expected the change of topic.  “Yes, he’s not a head like we are – I don’t think he’s ever even gotten high – but he’s totally cool in his own way.  I knew you and he would get along fine.  The two of you are alike as twins.”
Donny laughed for the first time that evening.  “Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far.  For one thing, he doesn’t look that much like me, at least not as far as I could see.”
“Maybe not, but inside you’re both the same person.”
“If you say so.  After all, you know him a lot better than I do.”  Donny paused for the briefest second in puzzlement as if trying to determine exactly what similarities to him Deirdre thought she saw in Connor; then he let the matter drop.  “But that’s not what was going through my mind.  He’s a pretty good person, I can tell, and probably a lot more stable than I am.  He’d be someone who could look after you.  I know I’d feel a lot better if I didn’t have to worry what was going to become of you once I was gone.”
Deirdre broke down altogether then.  “Oh, Donny, please stop talking as if you were already dead.  You’re sitting here in front of me right now alive as can be.  Let’s put the future out of our minds, at least for tonight.  Can’t we do that and forget the rest?”
“Of course we can,” said Donny.  There was a tenderness in him as he said this that Deirdre had never sensed before.  “I didn’t mean to get you so upset.”  He pressed Deirdre closer to him and hugged her so tightly she wasn’t able to breathe.
“Then let’s go to bed and make love like we did on our first night together.”  Deirdre kissed her boyfriend passionately on the lips.  She felt chills pass through her as his warm body pressed against hers.

Friday, April 12, 2019

At the Macy's Orchid Show

When it comes to floral arrangements, I've always been impressed by the elegance and simplicity of Japanese ikebana.  The displays at the Macy's flower show, on the other hand, indulged the American love of spectacle and took inspiration from Star Wars type films.  To each their own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Lucid: Chapter Twenty-Nine

Elicott and Reicha sat huddled so closely together in the university’s faculty lounge that their knees pressed together.  The coffee they had ordered sat untouched before them.  Passing colleagues paused casually to greet them but then retreated at the sight of the pair’s troubled expressions.   It was evident that something was terribly wrong. 
“This is totally inexplicable,” said Elicott for the third time.  He wore the forlorn expression of a scientist who has only just realized that not all phenomena are subject to rational explanation and that not all problems have straightforward solutions.
“I’m a psychiatrist, not a pathologist,” said Reicha, “so I can’t comment on what has occurred here.”
“Neither can I,” said Elicott.  “All we know for certain at this point is that one of our test subjects, a healthy young man, only twenty-two years old, went to the emergency room yesterday evening complaining of a severe headache, soon after went into a seizure and has since been declared brain dead by the hospital staff.  Not only that, but even after having run every conceivable test, the attending physicians still have not been able to come up with any likely reason why such a tragedy might have happened.   They can’t find evidence of trauma to the cranium or of any other physical impairment.  The doctor with whom I spoke was as baffled as anyone else.  He said that every test shows the subject’s brain to be perfectly normal.  ‘It’s as though his mind simply decided to switch itself off,’ he told me.  He said they’re only awaiting the family’s permission before disconnecting life support.”
Reicha picked up his coffee cup and studied the swirling liquid as though the answer might lie within it.  “It’s odd,” he remarked, “but I can’t remember this individual clearly.  I met with him on several occasions, according to my calendar, and made notes of our interviews; but he failed to make any lasting impression.”
“No, he wasn’t on my radar either.  This wasn’t someone who attracted attention the way Connor and Zilander did, though he did make rather a nuisance of himself at times.  His full name was Joseph Smithers, but I had to check my files to be sure of even that much.” Elicott made a mental note and added, “Later, I’ll have to go through my records more carefully to see if there’s any other information available that might shed light on this tragedy.”
“How successful was this individual in developing his ability to dream lucidly?”
“He had made some progress,” answered the professor absently.  “According to the daily briefing reports, he had had no astonishing breakthroughs, but he had reached a point where he was sometimes able to perform a few simple tasks while in the dream state.  Not always, of course, but often enough that it was statistically significant.”
Reicha shrugged.  “Still, there’s nothing to indicate that his collapse had anything to do with what took place in his dreams.  It’s only conjecture on our part.  Perhaps we’re jumping to conclusions rather than examining the evidence as carefully as we should.”
“I’d be most happy if there were any viable alternatives that we could investigate.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing to indicate any outside cause.  There’s no injury to which we can point, no indication of drug use and no preexisting medical condition.  He was tested as thoroughly as all the others when he first joined the project.   If he hadn’t been in excellent health he would never have been allowed in.”
“I don’t think there’s anything I can add that would be of much help.  No one is perfectly normal, of course, but from a psychiatrist’s point of view his mind was sound, or at least that’s what my notes indicated when I reviewed them.  Moreover, there was no record of neurosis or irrational behavior in his background.  The poor man had never been in therapy and had never used antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any way to avoid the bad publicity this tragedy will bring.  This is going to become an absolute nightmare once the media gets hold of the story,” moaned Elicott.  “There will be the usual tabloid outrage over a science experiment gone awry and a promising young life destroyed.  I can see the headlines now.”
“The situation with Marguerite Zilander certainly won’t help matters any,” Reicha remarked.  “If the press ever manages to connect her disappearance to her participation in the experiment, there’ll be hell to pay.”
Elicott whirled so quickly to face his colleague that he knocked over his coffee.  It spilled onto the floor at his feet.  “What has she got to do with any of this?” he demanded, oblivious to the mess he had made.  “I understand she’s no longer located at her address she originally provided, but I don’t see any mystery there.  She simply moved and failed to advise us.  Actually, there was no reason she should if she were no longer part of the project.”
“As I’m sure you’re aware, that’s not quite the situation,” Reicha corrected his colleague.  “The check that was mailed to her in payment of her final week’s wages was sent back marked ‘Return to Sender.’  You know as well as I how unlikely it is that someone who’s owed money will simply forget about it.  That doesn’t often happen in real life.”
“She’ll probably get in touch once she’s finished relocating,” Elicott argued.
“How can she relocate when she never moved out of her old apartment in the first place?  I checked with her landlord.  All her furniture and belongings are still there, including her credit cards and cellphone.  No one leaves those behind unless…”
“Unless what?”
“Unless they’ve either determined to kill themselves or have been abducted.”
“Abducted?”  In his excitement, Elicott almost shouted the word.  Faculty members sitting nearby turned their heads in his direction.  “Don’t tell me you put any credence in the tales she told of unseen creatures who stalked her in her dreams?” the professor continued in a lower tone.  “That’s too fantastic to be worth discussing seriously.”
“No, of course I don’t believe such things are possible either,” replied Reicha calmly, “but that’s not going to stop sensationalist news reporters from claiming that it happened.  I showed you the article about the Moldovan experiment.  And that was in a fairly reputable news magazine.  It will only take one or two posts on the internet by some credulous blogger who still believes in ghosts and vampires to cause the story go viral.  People like to go about claiming they’re too well educated and too sophisticated to believe in the occult, but in reality modern man is as superstitious as any witch-burning peasant in the Middle Ages.”
Elicott put his hands to his head.  “You’re right, of course.  Irresponsible journalists will take everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve and see nothing in it but a gothic horror story that could have been written by Edgar Allan Poe.”  He looked helplessly at his companion.  “What are we going to do?  There must be something.”
“Stop it, please.  Next you’ll be weeping and wringing your hands.”  Reicha picked up his coffee, which by now was quite cold, and drank it down in a single gulp.  “What we’re going to do should be obvious.  We have to request a meeting with the chancellor immediately and advise him of what has occurred.   There’s no alternative.  It’s no longer only about the project.  The reputation of the entire university is at stake.”
“But the chancellor will surely order everything shut down at once.”  Elicott pointed out to his colleague. 
“Yes, I’m aware of that.  And it might not be a bad idea if that were done.”  The psychiatrist shrugged his shoulders.  “Until these problems have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, there’s no way we can proceed safely.”
“I can’t believe this is happening.”  Elicott was disconsolate as the implications sank in.  “I’ve put years of my life into developing the parameters of this experiment.  I had intended to write a paper on it once we had had time to review our results.  If the study had garnered enough attention, I might even have been granted tenure.”
“If the New York dailies get hold of the story and use it to embarrass the university, we’ll both be out of jobs,” Reicha reminded him coldly.  “The administration will disown us and our work without a second thought.  They’ll no doubt refer to us as ‘rogue academics’ and aver they never had any knowledge of what we were about.  The whole blame will be put on us, and our careers will be ruined.”
“I suppose you’re right,” agreed Elicott reluctantly.
“Of course I’m right,” exclaimed Reicha.  “The final decision will rest with the chancellor, but my own opinion is that project has to be put on hold before there’s even a chance of adverse publicity.  Once this affair dies down, it will always be possible to reactivate the experiment and continue on with our research.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true enough,” Elicott admitted.  “In the meantime, we can go over every aspect of the experiment with a fine tooth comb to see if there’s anything we might have missed.”  Having said this much, he gave the psychiatrist a quizzical glance.  “Hans, could I ask you something?”
The psychiatrist lifted his eyebrows in surprise.  “Why, Casper, in all the years we’ve known each other I can’t remember you ever before having addressed me by my first name.  What is it you want to know?”
Elicott hesitated, then blurted out his question.  “You don’t think yourself there could be any paranormal elements involved in all this, do you?”
The psychiatrist silently regarded the professor, whom he’d always considered a bastion of scientific empiricism, for a full moment before responding.  “You’re the last person on earth I ever expected to put that question to me.”
“That may be, but I admit I’m at my wit’s end.”
“I suppose I could quote to you Hamlet’s speech about there being more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“Yes, but that would be taking the easy way out.  A quote from Shakespeare, no matter how fine sounding, isn’t really an answer.  And you know that too.”
“No, I suppose it wouldn’t be fair to you to let it go at that.  If I’m tempted to do so it’s only because I’ve built up such strong defenses in my own psyche to guard against any consideration of phenomena that cannot be rationally explained.”  Reicha stood up slowly and looked down at Elicott who had picked up a napkin and begun mopping the spilled coffee off the floor.  “My best advice is to forget what you’ve asked.  Stick to what can be defined and quantified and you’ll live a happier life.  If there really are beings lurking beyond what our senses can apprehend, it may not be wise to disturb them.  It’s possible that our hidden fears could give them form and make us vulnerable to their attacks.”
The professor tossed the sodden napkin in a nearby wastebasket.  “Do you believe that’s what happened to Marguerite Zilander then?”
Reicha could only shake his head.  “Who knows what happened to her?  She may be alive and well and eating lunch in some nearby hamburger shop at this very minute.”
Elicott searched his colleague’s eyes for affirmation.  “No, that’s not what you’re really thinking.”
Reicha turned and started to walk away.  Over his shoulder he said, “Maybe not, but it’s the police’s problem now, not ours.  Let them handle it as they see fit.  There’s nothing more we can do ourselves.”

Monday, April 8, 2019

Photo Book Review: Tina Modotti: Radical Photographer

Tina Modotti: Radical Photographer by Margaret Hooks is an excellent biography of a major photographer who for too long languished in the shadow of her much more famous mentor Edward Weston.  Not only were Modotti's creative accomplishments overshadowed by the attention given Weston's, they were also the victim of Modotti's own sensational lifestyle which saw her abandon photography altogether for a life of political activism in the cause of international Communism after the murder of her revolutionary lover Julio Antonio Mella in Mexico City in 1929.  As a result, Modotti's oeuvre is much smaller than that of most other major photographers and therefore more difficult to evaluate objectively.  Matters have not been helped by a lack of reliable biographies and critical studies.  Pino Cacucci's Tina Modotti: A Life, for example, is a lurid account that focuses primarily on the photographer's involvement with Soviet agent Vittorio Vidali.  It goes so far as to suggest that Modotti was not only involved in Mella's assassination but in that of Trotsky as well and even hints that Modotti was eventually poisoned by Vidali as her usefulness to the party came to an end.

Biographer Hooks goes a long way to redressing these problems by providing a balanced and compassionate overview of Modotti's entire life.  The inclusion in Hooks' book of reproductions of Modotti's photographs (as well as photos taken by Weston for which she modeled), though not of the highest quality, allows the reader to form his/her own opinion of Modotti's skills.  What emerges is a portrait of an extremely talented and caring, if somewhat naive, woman who allowed her passion for the oppressed to overcome her better judgment as she was inexorably drawn into a political movement whose aims she was not fully able to grasp until it was no longer possible to end her participation in them.

Modotti was born in Italy and emigrated to the U.S. at an early age.  It was her early life as an immigrant in San Francisco that provided her earliest insight into the plight of the downtrodden and displaced.  She herself did not suffer greatly, though, and soon began an acting career that took her to Hollywood where she starred in the silent film The Tiger's Coat and where she eventually married Roubaix "Robo" de l'Abrie Richey.  Although Richey is usually portrayed as a minor figure in Modotti's life, it was his decision to travel to Mexico, where he soon after died, that was the catalyst for Modotti's own relocation to that country.  The influence that Mexico had upon her cannot be overestimated.  Not only did she there come into her own as a photographer, but she also made important connections among that country's most significant artists.  These included such major figures as Diego Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo as well as muralist José Clemento Orozco, all of whom held radical left wing beliefs.  It was through these associations that Modotti began the political involvement that would prove her downfall.

As a photographer, Modotti is often seen as a mere acolyte of Weston rather than an important artist in her own right.  This is unfair.  While the importance of Weston's tutelage cannot be overlooked, Modotti successfully used the skills he had taught her to express her own unique vision.  Though she had a highly advanced aesthetic sensibility - as can be seen in her famous Calla Lillies (c. 1925) - and was extremely gifted as a portrait artist, Modotti emphasized in her work a radical social conscience entirely missing from Weston's output.  It is in such works as Worker's Parade (1926), Hands Holding Tool (c. 1927) and Mella's Typewriter (1928) that she truly came into her own.

If one seeks reasons for the lack of critical attention paid to Modotti until recently, I think there are two principal causes.  The first is political and fairly straightforward.  At the time of her death in 1942, the U.S. was on the verge of entering the Cold War.  Modotti's status as an avowed Stalinist agent during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards clearly prevented her acceptance and recognition in this country for decades.  The second and more complex cause is that of gender bias.  Modotti was not only a female photographer in a profession dominated by males, she was also an emancipated woman who had a great many lovers over the course of her lifetime.  It can easily be argued that her perceived promiscuity caused her to be held in lower esteem than would otherwise have been the case.  If this is indeed true, then there is clearly a double standard at work inasmuch her lover Weston was never penalized in his professional standing for the many notorious affairs he himself conducted over the years.  At any rate, it is now time to view Modotti independently of her political and personal life and to acknowledge her achievement as one of the twentieth century's greatest photographers.