An Opportunity to Write Each Day
Where each day will lead thoughts and ideas is unknown. All photographs and images and writing are copyright Gerald A. Villa, The Villa Studio.
I grew up as a child with Cocker Spaniels in our home. My sister and I had them as friends when we were very young, and our parents were the gentle caregivers for both of us and our Cocker Spaniels. Later in my life (some 40 years ago now), I rescued one, and that began an unofficial rescue effort that continues to this day.
I did not take care of the earlier dogs as well as I could have (they were, however, never abused) because I was learning how to care for them as time and circumstances allowed. An example is when I began to groom my Cocker Spaniels. Friends who groomed dogs spent time with my dogs and me, and with their help I gradually became better able to help with the dogs' beautiful coats. However, some grooming lessons were learned in a more difficult way. I did not know that there was a small fold of skin near the top front edge of their ears that looked like a clump of matted hair. I cut into that fold of skin on one of my dogs, and she yelped and bled. I was saddened and concerned and took her to a veterinarian right away. He stitched and soothe her and also helped me to understand that the dog was not seriously hurt.
The groomers where I took the dogs for occasional special, deserved profession attention were quick to learn of my interest in grooming the dogs safely and well and my questions were answered with demonstrations of how to properly use the various kinds of clippers on the dogs. They called, too, when a Cocker came into the shop with the owners looking for a new home for the dog. One such dog was with me and later with me and my wife for almost thirteen years.
As of today there are three Cockers in our home (six months old, four years old, and eight years old). Our eight-year old went blind two years ago, and he, like all of them, is treasured, and the responsibility for their care is welcome. Since my early mistake, all my grooming efforts begin by my identifying the fold of skin at the front, top edge of their ears. I remember and know that I must be careful.
I spent a couple of years photographing and talking to people in the Model T Club of Southern Nevada. It was an opportunity to highlight the many strengths of the people I talked to and to post those writings on the Southern Nevada Model T Club website which I originated. Here is my photo of and writing about Jim and Stacee Marsh.
Modern culture is awash in cameras and pictures and videos. As individuals we observe the world through our cameras, and we pick the ideas that inform our image making. My own picture making has been a matter of getting myself out of the image in a personal way and finding a way to let the subject inform the image. It is a kind of respect for what it is that is photographed: there is no theme ultimately. It is a celebration of the subject and myself having found each other equally. This is the work of a photographer working as a photographer with herself or himself outside of the image subject: observing and recording (not capturing).
It would seem that today people not only inform their images but also find their validity in those images. An image of oneself becomes oneself: a pictures confers a personal celebrity which is something more than a remembrance of oneself in a particular place perhaps with particular people. A "selfie" is an innocent kind of self-aggrandizement at one level and, more kindly, a way to share affection in a kind, nonverbal way.
Jim Marsh and his daughter Stacee are Southern Nevada icons by nature of their television commercials in which both appear for Mr. Marsh's auto dealerships. In those commercials, they rib one another, and Jim's "foibles" receive the good kidding of Stacee's lovely dignity. As I sat with them at breakfast, it was apparent that the affection seen in those commercials is real and every bit as much fun.
Both are intrigued with the antiques and artifacts of particular times and places and with the history of the Western United States and Nevada in particular. Stacee spoke forthrightly and with an ever-so-slightly wrinkled nose about the dainty cuspidors (spittoons) used by women in the early West and about the elegance of both their smaller size and their lovely designs, and Mr. Marsh talked about the riding gloves in his collection of Western memorabilia that were worn by a Pony Express rider in the mid-19th century.
Both Jim and Stacee, a respected teacher, have a down-to-earth delight in the parts of Nevada that Mr. Marsh has bought and brought back to a contemporary dignity and historical flavor as in the rebuilding of the Longstreet hotel and casino in the Amargosa Valley. His projects are myriad and are part of a remarkable, ongoing historical effort.
The car pictured was purchased by Jim when he was living in Denver, Colorado, with his parents in 1958. He paid $110 for it, and when he drove it home, his dad, a car dealer himself, was appalled about the leaky condition of the car. The car was repaired, and to this day it continues to run well and look good.
The American Cocker Spaniel
In 1990 I was living in San Diego and attending a small, old Catholic Church at the top of a hill, Our Lady of San Diego. The people attending that church were generally poor but wonderfully devoted. The Pastor was Hispanic like the majority of the parishioners and charismatically bilingual. He would speak in English and then in Spanish, and often he would sound like a beautiful songbird when preaching in Spanish. The children were beautiful, the boys often in white shirts and ties and the girls in white dresses.
At the end of one service, he mentioned with quiet excitement that Mother Theresa who was to appear in a San Diego stadium on a weekday evening was going to come to the church school to visit with the children beforehand. He invited the congregation to come if they could. Circumstances made it possible for me to go.
I carried a camera with me almost all the time, and I had my camera with me that mid-day. I was seated with others on a worn wooden bench with our backs to a chain link fence. An RV pulled up on the other side of the fence and to the left of where I was seated, and Mother Theresa got out and was taken through a door leading to a small school courtyard where the children were seated.
She accepted a few small gifts from the children and began talking to them. All the time she was talking to the children, she fingered her Rosary beads. Unexpectedly an angry man appeared on the other side of the fence and began threatening and berating Mother Theresa. I briefly turned with the other men near the fence to face the man. There was a minor protective surge from the adults in the crowd toward the fence, and the man walked away and past the courtyard. I saw Mother Theresa look up once with some fear very briefly and then calmly turn her attention back to the children.
My photography was unimportant, and I never moved to put myself in a position for better photographs.
Jerry Villa has found himself working under and around and above his 1925 Huckster and fancying himself a mechanic. He has rebuilt the steering column and replaced the spark and gas control rods carefully. It did take some work to replace both the steering quadrant and the hand brake quadrant, but both were worthwhile upgrades. Earlier he did add a handbrake extension (a Model T era accessory), and the work he also did with the steering column and the steering quadrant made a modification of the floor board a sensible effort.
Because the car was repeatedly losing electrical power after about 25 or 30 minutes of driving, the decision was made to convert the farm truck from a 6-volt to a 12-volt system with an alternator. Model T Fords notoriously had no fuses, and he has built fuses into the electrical lines starting with a safety fuse that is "spliced in place between the starter switch and the terminal block on the main feed wire from the battery." Fuses were built into the rewiring effort where they were needed.
The real fun began when two accomplished Model T mechanics kindly answered Jerry's call for them to check on his rewiring efforts. The 1925 Huckster was not starting. It was found that one spark plug wire was connected to the wrong point on the terminal block. A more dramatic find was that Jerry had put the replacement rotor into the timer case wrong-side up. The older mechanic just suppressed a whistle of concern and said Jerry was lucky that the rotor was not damaged. Once this was corrected and the timing was adjusted, the car started impressively. Jerry protested at this point that the replacement rotor did not come with any instructions, and the two men smiled kindly.
The fun continued. On revving the engine, it was found that the ammeter was showing discharge instead of charge. Jerry had connected the two wires leading to the ammeter incorrectly. One of the men kindly noted that Jerry's mistake was logical as the longer wire more comfortably went to the wrong contact. Both men were grinning, and Jerry was now enjoying it, too.
Jerry probably could help other members with their wiring efforts because of all this, but he would suggest calling some of the more accomplished Model T mechanics who are kind and always willing to help. Thank you gentlemen.
Often we walk about in a world that is overwhelming our senses and intelligence. We grapple with our personal world and what we see and hear and variously both like and dislike in the world. We often also do not know when the people around us are aware of our difficulties and perhaps are helping us find a way to understand things better and to develop our thinking.
I think of a time in Los Angeles when I struggled with little money and a large desire to become a court reporter. The head of that school became a quiet friend and would often talk to me about my goals and my steps to making those goals a reality. That was the context for her larger concern and her helping with the normal emotional burdens of everyday difficulties. She would tell me how well I was learning the grammar of English and the mechanics of a stenotype machine! Things might be difficult in an everyday way, but those were two positives she could vouch for. I was in this way the beneficiary of her kind regard and softly voiced concern about my daily comings and goings.
I had no car, and the bus ride to and from court reporting school was often very crowded. The bus would occasionally sway and groan with the weight of the passengers, but I was able to look forward to the school opportunity on my way there and finally to going home enriched by the discipline of the place and the appreciation I felt for my effort there.
I did not have the dexterity to become a court reporter (140 words a minute was my best), but her remarkable grammar course took me to a study of grammar that became so very important to me.
We corresponded and spoke on the phone now and then, and after she retired, I acknowledged her and others' help in a grammar for young people that I wrote.
Finally, she wrote a note to me that said:
In the meantime I am appreciating your grammar. How long it has been since I've seen construction like that!
Always helping. Thank you, Nancy.
It seems very difficult to find oneself in a world where people define themselves through public exposure. I think of a clip from an early piece of sound film where a young man seemingly defines himself through the realization that what he was doing is being recorded by saying, "I say!" Whatever was being said was no where near as important as the fact that he was saying it and it was being recorded and therefore established in the world. What becomes of people, then, is so much less than what they really are. References to who they are are external, and their bearing is a matter of attachments to the outside world. A certain amount of his is normal and even fun, but when so much emphasis is placed on the images and others in the world around one, there seems to be a loss of intellect, groundedness, and personal worth.
1925 Model T Huckster Fun
Recently a friend wrote about her experience in a rather long grocery store checkout line. The world of groceries is often more special than we have time to realize, and this evening I found I had the time to read on a specialty cookie tin that this particular cookie "is the perfect way to transport you to your destination and [i]ndulge in the swirl of life." Indeed this friend found those waiting in line with her to be polite and helpful at the same time that she found the disconnected and strident magazine headlines somewhat jarring. That she found herself in "the swirl of life" is not surprising as she is intelligent and sensitive to the cares involved in everyday dealings with people and circumstances.
I realized, too, that my checkout line experiences are much different although perhaps equally innocent, and her writing brought me to a thought that I had not entertained before: the narrow chute that rodeo bulls are placed in is not unlike the narrow spaces one finds oneself in among the rows of cash-register lines. I know that the discomfort I feel does not come from the anger that we attribute to the constrained bulls but from a panicked sense of being close together in a line with strangers. Perhaps someone is trying to read my credit card number (recently one of my cards was accessed and had to be closed for fraudulent activity) or someone is viewing my purchases critically? Is the cashier not keeping me calm as he or she prepares to extract money from my bank account? I think of the men who calmly attend to the bull and the rider in the chute before the release.
After the contest with the rider, the rodeo bull bucks and looks for a gate out of the arena and into the holding pens, and when I am out of the checkout line, I too have but one goal: to get out of the store as quickly as possible hoping that no one notices my nervous gait. I too am being "transported to my destination," and I am not so much "indulging" in the "swirl of life" as I am caught in that swirl.
There is a natural boundary of privacy that a friend of many years ago strongly spoke for in the course of our day-to-day rides to college in his convertible Corvette. Decades later with Steve's friendship and his car an appreciated memory, chance brought me to know online a University investigator who saw that natural boundary of privacy as an idea that deserved attention as a freedom which carried consequences for anyone whether or not he or she knew of it as a concern. Privacy was strongly individual for Steve and strongly intellectual and consequential for the Professor.
An older woman I knew saw intimate films and images as instances of those involved "getting their licks," an astute play on the physical reality of what takes place and a violence that floats over those who are more sensitive about what intimacy means in their lives and in their understandings about themselves. Another woman suggested that one shrug off such intimate and perhaps unwanted demonstrations as not something to consume one's attention or concern.
The boundary of privacy is largely down now, and some probably see the ubiquitous explicitness as an affirmation of the primal turned discomfiting if not upsetting. Are children and young people absorbing the readily available raw lexicon of the physical among men and women as normal? What does that do to both femininity and masculinity?
The consequences of seeing the physical interactions among men and women in the context of almost indescribably disrespectful language and the context of the shamelessness of the actors render sensitive thinking difficult if not somehow forbidden. The viewer's shame if he or she entertains those emotions has nowhere to go. I've seen a young woman's face washed with momentary perplexity when reminded of her experience with pornography. Her beauty seemed null and lost, and she had to go deep to find her dignity and come up again to shake off the assault on her person as a diver might come up and shake off the water and take a deep breath.
Steve was right quite simply. Privacy is a natural fact that illuminates physical love and protects men and women not from the appreciation and enjoyment of the acts themselves or knowledge of those facts but from an unknowable degradation that makes no sense.
Steve drove and both of us appreciated the women we saw on our journey to school, and perhaps our smiles and occasional waves from that beautiful Corvette convertible offered a worldly respect and appreciation from us. Only Steve could drive like that and bring comfort so many years later.
The Villa Studio