From my library: The Hunting Years

3 05 2011

In June 1983, while working as a fashion illustrator for Jones & Jones, an upscale department store in McAllen, Texas, I accompanied my friend Andrea (also the store’s book buyer) to the American Booksellers Association convention in Dallas. (This was the same convention where I got up close and personal with several celebrities who had released books at that time: Dick Cavett, Erma Bombeck, Shirley MacLaine (can’t believe I actually found a recap from People magazine of her actual breakfast talk here!), Art Buchwald, Leo Buscaglia (‘King of the hug’ author—and yes, he did hug me, unsolicited), Leroy Neiman, Lana Turner and Richard Simmons (got a hug from him, too). I had them all autograph my badge; wish I knew where I squirreled away that item!) In the exhibit hall I picked up an “advance reading copy” of The Hunting Years, a novel by David Kranes. It was later published by Peregrine Smith Books in 1984.

Here’s the synopsis on the back: Hunt is an artist. To his wife Leah, he is an enigma. To his young sons, he is merely “sometimes weird.” In this melancholic/comic third novel, David Kranes gives us Hunt as an artist and family man trying to reconcile the life in his imagination with his life in The World.

Obviously I loved this book—it is still in my library after all these years. I’m not sure if it’s because I can somewhat identify with Hunt “trying to reconcile the life in his imagination….” or just because there are so many passages that are just painfully poetic. After I read it, I could envision it being translated into movie form. (I felt the same way after reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, and voila! the producers read my mind and the movie materialized a few years later. And Hollywood, if you’re still listening, how about a film adaptation of James McBride’s book, The Color of Water?)

In my favorite passage in The Hunting Years, Hunt’s wife Leah, who loves feeding the birds outside their home, is watching the weather suddenly change from sunny to a full-blown ice storm. She had put out food for the birds just before the drastic change in weather and twenty minutes later she returns to the window and sees the birds frozen in place on the lawn.

Hunt! It was Hunt! Hunt had done this! Somehow it was all connected in her mind. And all confused. All of Hunt’s sorry seekings and indecisions had made a heaven, had made a sky that acted with such swift and stupid cruelty. Leah ran outside. No birds moved. It was thirty degrees, another upswing, and sun broke everywhere, splashed carelessly through trees and all over the yard. It made no sense. Leah moved in one direction. Then another. Her throat unwound sounds. She was a murderess! She made a word: “…Bird?” But the world was motionless. No wind even. The food globes hung around like still crystal from their strings. Unable to bear any more complicity, finally, Leah bent and snatched up a glistening husk, an evening grossbeak in its shell of ice, and hurled it, high as she could, into the white pine branches. It was a dozen forms of denial, the act. But it was fury and rage, too. It was terrible anger. But a miraculous thing happened. The boughs of the pine delicately brushed and cracked open the ice. And it dropped away. Like pieces of the finest wineglass, bough to bough, the casing fell. And the bird…! Leah’s mouth swung open. It was as though, ice free, its down and feathers radiated from some center, took on a shape, substance, grew. Leah thought she was imagining. She believed that the madness she had thought possible throughout the whole winter had arrived. But the bird rose! Wings unshackled, it assumed the air. And its freedom…and its flight…were both real. Leah shrieked a new, wild, victorious scream. She ran from imprisoned bird to imprisoned bird, falling repeatedly but lifting and unfurling them high, high into the releasing pine. Now the temperature was thirty. Now above. The sun grew generous; there was a new benevolence in the air. Fractured ice crystals fell, sounding like windchimes. Another grossbeak took flight! A chickadee! A junco! Wings beat! and Leah was spinning and falling and hurling but shouting, “Fly!” to the birds. And, “Fly!”

Although this book is rather old, I did find this excellent review below by Miriam Berkley on the The New York Times website: “Like the ambitious and provocative novel he inhabits, the hero of The Hunting Years is brilliant and elusive. An artist living on a New Hampshire farm, Hunt is a well-intentioned man but not easy to deal with as he wanders through life seeking his proper relationship to the world. His paintings vary widely in both the style and subject matter, reflecting his state of mind. He fantasizes frequently, communicates erratically and equally exasperates his wife, Leah, and his paramour, Anne. (The affair with Anne is brief—the traits that make Hunt a difficult husband, especially his inability to let another person get close, also make him a frustrating lover.) One of two young sons observes, ”Sometimes dad lives on another planet.” When the novel opens Hunt is in his ”Blue Period,” a time of emotional and artistic paralysis during which his canvases remain empty and his marriage goes sour. One morning he awakens literally paralyzed and unable to open his eyes; a doctor’s punch in Hunt’s solar plexus finally unclenches them. Later, while visiting London, he tries to slit his wrists. The landlady at the rooming house tells him, ”don’t be blue,” and upon returning home Hunt follows her injunction and begins painting outsized fruits and vegetables in brilliant colors. As Hunt’s adventures continue—he travels to Las Vegas, Nev., and Tucson, Ariz.—we witness the gradual emergence of his capacity for love. And along the way, there are some wonderful set pieces and humorous scenes—a sendup of the art world, for instance, in which Hunt works as a ”ghost painter,” the visual equivalent of a ghostwriter, and produces a series of paintings that he cannot acknowledge, or the description of Hunt’s turning to minimalism as a way of life and art after being accused of excess. David Kranes’s prose is spare and lovely, his portrait of Hunt as well as that of Leah is compelling, even if at the end his hero remains mysterious. In the final scene Hunt realizes, ”this World is too large. It’s too vast. No wonder, for a while, I was painting only avocados.” Nearly killed in an accident, he’s glad simply to be alive, and thinks, ”It was all startling.” Readers following Hunt’s adventures will agree.”

Why I’d make a terrible papparazzi

17 07 2008

I just can’t do it. Even when I have all my pro equipment with me, I can’t bring myself to stalk someone famous when I spot them (and I’m apparently really good at spotting them…even when they’re wearing their “disguises.”) Now, if I’m hired to photograph an event where there are celebrities in attendance, that’s a whole ‘nother situation (see my recent assignment in May to cover a political roundtable at the National Press Club here and here.) But stealth photography? I’m as bad at that as I am at math (and that’s pretty bad, trust me on this). I worry too much about the possible rejection. If they reject or dismiss me, I’ll then have to boycott all their movies and tv shows as a show of defiance. I’ll have to go out of my way to hex their autobiographies at Borders. I just can’t go there. I’d rather just lurk, whisper, scheme, and sign up for Stealth Photography 101.

JOHN BRUCE — interior designer for TLC’s “While You Were Out”
Picture this…a hotel in Baltimore about 4-5 years ago…my photographer friend Ed and I are there to photograph a conference for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a)…in the lobby I pass a slightly-built man, long hair, dark glasses (as always!), slumped on one of the oh-so-hip contemporary sofas. I glance at him, think to myself he looks mighty familiar, then glance away and see the “While You Were Out” truck parked outside of the hotel. I glance back at him. It’s interior designer John Bruce! He doesn’t notice me noticing him. He’s too comfortable, slumped in his incognito-ness. I have a full bag of cameras, lenses, flashes, etc. Everything an annoying papparazzi would need. Do I go over and introduce myself? No. (For one, I do not remember his name—this is what flashed in my head after I saw him, then the truck, then realized why he looked familiar: Dan-Jumbo, something orange (I later remember it’s Stephen Saint Onge), and envisioning how upset I would be if I ended up with designer Hildi Santo Tomas decorating my room, gluing 7,000 silk flowers all over my bathroom walls.) I just did a search on that episode and one commenter wrote, “I remember that flower-bathroom fiasco. I personally would’ve taken that staple gun and fired a few brads into Hildi’s forehead.”

Whew…okay, back to the famous incognito slouching guy…do I pull out my camera and fire off a quick one without permission? No. I simply whisper (excitedly) to Ed, “That’s a designer from “While You Were Out! See the truck there?” Ed does not know the show, so he is singularly unimpressed. Trust me, it was him.

And speaking of DAN-JUMBO…
Michael and I went to one of those National Home Shows in Chantilly a few years ago and saw Andrew Dan-Jumbo, the hunky carpenter on While You Were Out. I didn’t want to push through crowds just to see him, so I discovered a hole in the nearby exhibitor curtains that I could safely view him through! No camera on hand, not even a point-n-shoot. Trust me, it was him.

And still on the subject of home shows—
SUSIE COEHLO, designer/entertainer/tv personality

Michael and I met her at one of those same home shows and she autographed a copy of her recent decorating book I had brought with me. I think her appeal to me at the time was not so much that she was a decorating/entertaining expert, but more that she was once married to Sonny Bono many, many years ago. Why do I know this? I just do. Was I a Sonny Bono fan? Not so much. But it was still cool to meet her. Do I have proof? Yes, in the form of her signature in some book somewhere in my library. A photo? Nope, no point-n-shoot and no cell phone at the time. Trust me, it was her.

RICHARD CHAVIRA—”Carlos Solis” on Desperate Housewives
I have already prepared a rather long blog posting on this celebrity stalking incident. I spotted him (hidden behind dark glasses, of course) at the San Antonio Airport at the end of Easter weekend this year. It’s reasonable to assume it could be him because, a) he’s from San Antonio, and b) his father lives there. This upcoming post will detail how I called three different people (repeatedly), had one of them use to discover his real name just in case I got bold enough to ask for an autograph, attempted to appear nonchalant, pretended to learn how to use my cell phone, coughed each time the shutter clicked, and almost missed the gate change for my flight! As soon as I can figure out how to get the photos off my new cell phone, I will report back to you. Trust me, it was him.

JIMMY FALLON—Saturday Night Live
When Michael and I were at Reagan National Airport last Monday waiting for our plane to board, a dark haired, 30ish, (wearing sunglasses, of course) man walked past me with a camera on one arm and a bag on the other…sauntered right by and the minute he passed me, I immediately thought, “Saturday Night Live!” I turned to Michael and asked, “who is that guy who does the SNL news with Tina Fey? He just walked by me!” Michael said, “Kevin Nealon.” No, not old SNL. New SNL. I jumped up and watched him walk down the corridor. I racked my brain trying to think of the name. He came back by and I reconfirmed it was him (there was never a doubt in my mind, though). He walked over to the food court and bought a drink. Two teenage boys stopped him, handed him something, and he started writing. They were smiling. Clearly it was him. Who stops a total stranger to ask for an autograph? What is his name what is his name SNL name Tina Fey name name. He headed back our way and I pointed him out to to Michael when he passed within four feet of us. Michael confirmed his identity. I whispered, “I wish I had my camera.” Michael replied, “You do. An expensive Nikon with lenses and flashes and CF cards. And a point-n-shoot in your purse. And your cell phone, too.” As we were walking down the ramp to the plane, I went through the names again. Kevin, Tina Fey, James, Jimmy. JIMMY FALLON! Trust me, it was him.

So, all I have to show for the above celebrity sightings are three “trust me, you had to have been theres,” an autographed decorating book, and a few photos of Carlos trapped in my cell phone.

I’ll dig up a so-so cell phone photo of me with Paul James, HGTV’s The Gardener Guy, one of my favorite fellas! And yes, he is exactly as you would imagine him. Personable, extremely funny, and very cute (and he put his arm around me in the photo, tee hee).

Years ago, I photographed political consultant James Carville when he was the featured speaker for a National Pest Control Association convention (don’t know the correlation there). These photos were taken when he was a) running Clinton’s campaign, b) had more hair, and c) before he was married to Mary Matalin. And yes, he is just as hyper in person as he appears on tv. I used a fast shutter speed. Want to see the photos? Please say no. I would have to dig really deep to find them.

Somewhere in my archives are a few slightly out-of-focus prints (shot in pre-digital times with a crappy disposable camera through a chain link fence), of John Denver waving at me from his Winnebago next to the Lincoln Monument at a Fourth of July concert in 1985 or 86. Trust me, it was him.

Oh, and do remind me to tell you about meeting Shirley McClaine, Dick Cavett, Leo Buscaglia (got a hug from him!), Erma Bombeck, Art Buchwald, Lana Turner (and her large Swedish bodyguard), Leroy Neiman, and Richard Simmons (a hug from him, too!)—and getting (almost all of) their autographs at a book buyer’s convention in Dallas a few decades ago. Do I have photos? No. You’ll have to trust me. It was them.