Archive for August, 2012

“I’m coming up to Prescott — I want you to make some images for me,” Shayde, my director friend said.

I have seen Shayde direct some great actors, including Josh Adamson,  Irina Björklund and Rachel Wittman.  But as is sometimes the case (and certainly in my case), the person behind the camera may not feel as normally fluid when front of it.  So it can be with Shayde.  He knows this.

Shayde Christian Directing Irina Björklund and Josh Adamson (Painting in the Rain)

I think that is why he likes to work together.  I ignore his discomfort in front of the camera and challenge myself to embrace it before we dismiss it.

During our session, we crashed a neighbor’s yard to explore the light.  There had been a recent monsoon rain in Prescott, and the air was clean, crisp and still.  I invited Shayde to sit on a retaining wall and took this shot to check the exposure:


As I looked at Shayde, I noticed that he looked as I might have appeared in front of the camera: hunched over, eyes averted, hands uncertain, etc. So I invited him to try something different.

“Hey, Shayde. Sit up from your waist! Open your heart chakra and extend it around the lens.”

“What kind of New Age Mumbo-Jumbo is that?” Shayde retorted.

Ignoring the question, I continued: “Now spread your legs. Don’t worry, I am not going to shoot your crotch, but the camera will know what you are doing … Wider … Wider!!!”

My invitation was met with laughter from the on-lookers and it spread (no pun intended) to Shayde.



It’s not the kind of invitation I could use with just anyone, but I knew it would bring Shayde out of his shell and into the lens.

(ISO: 125, f5.0, 1/125. Canon 24-105L IS lens, Quantum QFlash)

Read Full Post »

At 84, Mother is from a generation that in my mind (at least) produced if not many bigger-than-life heroes and villains, a corps of more-than-interesting individuals who’s self-effacing way of conversation is/was inadvertently comedic.

Case-in-point:  Mother and I, while I am driving:

“Billy, It’s so hot out and I’m so thirsty, I could really use some water!”

“Mother, there’s some in the back seat.”  Leaning over, I reach for it.

“Oh, no, Billy. You’re driving!  Don’t worry about me!  I’ll wait till later.  I don’t want us both to die!  I was just thinking out-loud!” No!  No!  It’s alright.  I don’t want you to go out of your way …

I’m so thirsty!”

During the above typical exchange, Mother could have drunk a six-pack of bottled water during the time she told me not to worry about her.

At times, Mother wields this behavior in public places:

buying tickets;

at the check-out in the market;

ordering at a restaurant; and/or

visiting friends, etc.

So as a preemptive measure, my sisters and I attempt to diffuse our slight embarrassments due to what we deem as Mother’s pecadillos by saying just loud enough for anyone nearby to overhear:

“Now, Mother, please don’t make a scene!”

” …. Bring a Change of Clothes”

If I am to believe Mother’s story concerning her relationship with my then future father, on a first date with him, he invited her to a Hollywood premier – an event at which in the late 1940’s would have required a black dress with all the trimmings.  According to Mother, Dad told her, “we are going to stop by Mel Henke’s on the way to help him out – so wear casual clothes and we will change at Mel’s before going out.

Upon arrival at Mel Henke’s, my Dad handed my mother a pitch fork and invited her to start cleaning out the horse stalls.  (This was presumably an attempt in my late father’s mind to weed out women who may have been attracted to him solely on account of his budding celebrity).  However, he didn’t realize that Mother, being from Ohio was no stranger to work (or horses and jack asses).  And quickly, Mel advised him that he better not do anything to scare this girl off; she looked like a keeper.

I guess Mel was right, as the image below would seem to suggest:

Lynn and Bill Leyden

My Father died unexpectedly young, causing a trauma in the family that reverberates softly to this day.  But Mother would continue to raise us while maintaining a youthful outlook and appearance well into her late 70’s:

Mother in her 70s.

Can We Maybe Give Tom Cruise a Break?

My sister Regan probably spends the most time with Mother these days.  An avid reality show afficionado, Mother and she rarely agree on TV viewing.  But according to Regan (and because of a possible penchant for embellishment on my sister’s part, I disclaim any factual accuracy of this story – including whether or not it actually pertains to the named actor, but include it for the purpose of illustrating an otherwise common occurrence) experienced Mother’s wry wit turned outward one day as she was watching a story on the busy life of Tom Cruise as the cameras followed him jetting to several continents in one day for business, sporting and culinary reasons.  Looking up from her reading material, Mother blandly offered an unsolicited question, “I wonder what he is running from?”  Regan replied over laughter, “Mother, he’s after all Tom Cruise; give him a break! — But you may be on to something there!”

“Oh, for Goodness Sake!”

During Mother’s first visit in three years this week last:

“Mother, I’ll take to you lunch, what do you feel like eating?”

“Oh, I don’t care. Just someplace near Target so I can do some shopping for you. You need a spoon holder and a summer tray!”

“Ok, Mother.  That would be the place where you threw up after having the Margarita the other night.”

“No, no! Not there!”

“Ok, then. How ’bout Olive Garden?”

“I don’t care. Whatever you want. I’ve never been to Olive Garden! I just want a salad. Do they have salads?”

“Mother, their salad is all-you-can-eat! They bring it to the table with whatever you order.”

“Oh!  That sounds good”

I have to admit that I was secretly thrilled because I was almost positive that the hostess would be the next immediate candidate for the opportunity to use old faithful:

“Now, Mother.  Please don’t make a scene!”

It worked again.  I think the waitress thought that she was going to have an easy time with these two tourists.  But she was premature.

The waitress began her obsequious, obligatory delivery:

“Hi!  I’m Bippy!  I’ll be your server today.  Can I start you out with something to drink? Or are you ready to order?”

Mother injects,  “I need your help.  Can I get a salad with something on it?  Maybe chicken or shrimp?  You know, like Philippine Adobo?”

“Excuse me? Well, we can put some shrimp on our Spinach Salad! “

Mother says without hesitation, “Great!”

I ordered a Diet Coke and the Chicken Parmesan with the  all-you-eat salad —  and when it came to the table, Mother grabbed the bowl away from the waitress exclaiming, “This looks fan-TAS-tic!!  It’s just what I wanted!”

“That’s your son’s salad!” offered our waitress.

“Oh? Why didn’t you tell me I could get an all-you-can-eat salad?”

The waitress wrestled the all-you-can-eat bowl from my Mother’s grip (otherwise impossible unless as recently weakened by IV’s during cataract surgery) as I looked-on slack-jawed across the table at what I suspected would happen all along: Mother making a scene!

“Oh, for Goodness’ sake! That’s your son’s salad!”

Were We Ever That Young?

As I’m listening to Mother’s worrying, I sometimes invite myself to visualize vignettes of the past, where she seemed bigger than life to me — a strong disciplinarian with all of the answers.  The memories are sometimes accompanied by the imagined drone of the Malibu surf and the smell of honeysuckle.  And I find myself in the same place that my grandfather must have found himself in the autumn of his life — pondering the dichotomy of remembering the past as if it had just occurred and  wondering, ‘who is that man in the mirror staring at me?’  Where Mother and I ever that young?

Mother and Son on Malibu Beach

Remember Me

It has been for me a poignant visit.  Mother has been remembering conversations from her childhood – names and faces of people long passed.  She has been emotional, loving, self-critical and curious about everything.  She wanted to meet and talk with people with whom she felt she had unfinished business — what the shaman would call re-capitulation.

At the time of this writing, I asked Mother to come to the computer to see and to hear what I had written on the off-chance that I had crossed the line.  She seemed more concerned about Tom Cruise.

Suddenly – in a moment of emotion:

” I can’t believe how inflexible and rigid that I have been all of my life!  I could have been much more help to my children when they needed me.  I could have been a much better wife to your Father.  Before he died, I believe we were just starting to understand each other.  I could see what was important to him and he was more tolerant of my spiritual quests.”

As her tears began to well, I reached for the bookshelf and lifted up a small, blue,  hard-bound  book by Emett Fox.

“Mother, this is the book that was in my late Father’s night stand the day he died [in 1970].  The bookmark is where he left it.”

Mother took the book and shielded it from her falling tears.

“Oh, Billy.  Someone tried to give this to me that day, but I couldn’t take it.”

Looking up from the pages, Mother continued,

“I don’t want anyone to cry when I am gone.  I think I want to be cremated, and someone to read that poem about remembering with a smile — you know the one I mean?”

“Not Really,”  I answered.

“You know.  The one by someone Rossetti, with two ‘s’s’ … I’ve tried to show it to your sister, but she won’t listen when I talk this way.  I’ll guess that I’ll just have to wait ’til I get home to find it.”

“One more reason to have an iPad, Mother.”

Trying to remain the collected observer of these emotions in crescendo, I turned slightly away and began searching the Web slightly in front of her, and immediately found the following poem by Christina Rossetti in a list of  ‘poetry read at funerals.’  I began to read it out-loud:

” ‘Remember me when I am gone away ….‘ “

“That’s it!”

I begin to read out-loud again:


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land:
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti

Through her tears, Mother says, “Oh, Billy! I have been so inflexible.  Will you forgive me?”

“No need to ask, Mother.  Now, would you like some more coffee?  Or would you just prefer to sit here make a scene?”

Read Full Post »

“Now if 6 turned out to be 9 — I don’t mind, I don’t mind!”
Jimi Hendrix

Longing for a good scraping

My sister and I share something in common. We both enjoy going to the dental hygienist. There is something about that scraping feeling gives us a reason to return. Well, I like to go to my dentist in LA, which is a challenge living in Prescott, AZ.   But I try at least every four months to make the trek.

It’s been several months since my last visit, so I thought that I would look  for a local dentist to clean my teeth before I could return to California again.  One day, while leaving Starbucks, I saw the sign:

$59 cleaning and x-ray special

Of course, free would have been better, but at 59 bucks, what could possibly go wrong?   I went in and made an appointment for a week later.   After filling out my forms online, and upon my return I was greeted by a business-attractive receptionist who called me ‘sir.’ I guess we all get older.  She asked me to sign an electronic affirmation of my medical history, and again  for something I wasn’t quite sure about and yet again for the HIPAA (privacy) rules.

Instinctively, I brought a copy of Colleen McCullough’s The October Horse – an 1,100-page tome about Caesar just in case I had to wait longer than usual for my first appointment at an unknown dentist’s office.  But it wasn’t but a moment when the dentist came out– a spry looking man who looked like he should be at the at the local tavern playing darts with a Red Bull in his hand or perhaps conducting a sales meeting at the local General Motors dealer rather than exploring my mouth parts.

“So why are you here?” the dentist asked.

“I want to get my teeth cleaned,” I replied.  “My dentist is in Los Angeles, but I haven’t been there in several months so I would like to get my teeth cleaned today.”

“Your dentist is in Los Angeles? How does that work out for you?”

“I prefer a light touch,” I replied with feigned jocularity.

He chuckled politely.  “Do you have any questions for me?”

“No, I don’t. ”

“Well, you make my job easy; I’ll catch up with you in a little while.  Just wait and  the X-ray technician to be with you soon.”

I cracked open The October Horse and began to read.  In a little while the x-ray technician appeared and led me to a very modern looking x-ray room.  She x-rayed my full face (panorama), made individual tooth x-rays and then took beautiful colors portraits of each tooth individually.

“Oh, my goodness you have good-looking teeth! May I ask how old you are? Oh, that old? — that’s just amazing!”

“You Must Be Diseased!”

Now, over to the dental hygienist’s room for a “diagnosis.”  I should have seen what was coming when I saw the flat-screen monitor integrated into the chair with my x-rays already on the screen. Everything was so modern it was hard to believe.  Before I could say hello, the hygienist entered and began her small talk:

“When was the last time you were at the dentist?”

“About four months ago,” I dutifully responded.

She said, “oh, you must go to the dentist that often because you have periodontal disease.”

I said, “no, not to my knowledge. I just like to go to the dentist.”  I continued to educate, “If it were up to me, I would be in here every week getting my teeth scraped!”

She was not amused.

She examined my teeth calling out the gum depth numbers as they appeared on the screen in front of me (presumably for the doctor to use later).

As I had expected, the dentist entered as if on cue.  Now there were three people in the room behind me.  After a bit of a pitch, he seemed to want the hygienist to brandish a laser beam on my back teeth and then replace my fillings with CAD-CAM-generated plugs that he would design on-the-spot.  (The fillings that he wanted to replace were 4 years old).

We turned as a nice looking man appeared — The dentist continued, “This is your ‘benefits manager.’  He will discuss payment and financing.  And I’ll see you later. But first, we are going to retake some x-rays!”

“Turn it up to 125(%) and Make Him Glow!”

The x-ray tech was unable to get the full molar in frame and asked for help from younger x-ray tech who came bouncing into the room with a rather low cut V-neck smock. She bent over, barely hitting my face with her decolletage. She too was unable to get the right angle.

Then, when I overheard her tell the first tech to turn the power up to 125% (instead of the usual 80%), I had had enough:

“Ladies, STOP!  We are done with the x-rays!”

My Failed Exit Strategy

I should have left the office then, but the ‘benefits manager’ was too quick for me.  He brought me back into the hygienist’s room with 4 spreadsheets.

Sensing what was coming, I immediately asked, “Would you like to give me a shot before you show me the prices?”

“Hey, that’s a good idea!” He continued, “I understand you are self-insured. Well, today I can offer you dental insurance $200 which means that the normal $1000 cleaning will only be $650!” (I’m used to paying about $125 for deep cleaning in LA). “Now as for the other doctor’s recommendations –  replacing your existing fillings, we have this figure:  $3400. Just sign right here and we’ll get started!”

“I think I’ll pass.”

“I’m sorry if the price is more than you can afford”

“It’s not the money!”

“What is it then? Have you seen too many faces today on your first visit to our office?”

Again, trying to be clever, I answered, “It feels like I’ve seen half of Prescott!  And the experience reminds me of the old joke about going to the movie theater: ‘Today it costs nothing to get in, but $20 to get out!’ I am sure that you have my best interests at heart, and that your system works fine for most of your patients, but the momentum for me is just a little more than I was expecting.”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanted my teeth cleaned!”

“Oh, you mean the $59 special for just a regular prophylaxes, the normal cleaning?”


“Oh, I guess that I could still get someone in here to do that for you; just sign right here!  How does that sound?”

“At this point I could take it or leave it.  I’ve been x-rayed twice and preemptively diagnosed by your hygienist.   — I think I’ll just pass so that you can give me the ‘bum’s rush,‘ thanks.”

“Well,” he said recovering swiftly, “I still have to check you out, just sign right here and you’ll be free to go!”

Finding My Way Back Home

I had been in the office for two hours!  I could see on the spreadsheet that had I not been under the protection of the $59 Special, that I might have been on the hook for $600 before anyone had lifted a periodontal scaler to fulfill my initial desire and request:  to clean my teeth!

After the visit, I called my sister to relate my experience.  She quickly answered with a slight sense of helplessness in her voice, “the same thing happened to me!” she said.  “I am still paying for the filling plugs they put in that fell out two years later!”

After commiserating, I got in the car, put on Jimi Hendrix and went home.

“If all the hippies cut off all their hair –

I don’t care.  I don’t care!

Dig: Cuz I’ve got my own world to live through

and I ain’t gonna copy you!”

— Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 was 9

Hendrix’ Axis Bold as Love


I still receive unsolicited emails from this “Modern” Dentistry company reminding me of bogus appointments. 😉

Read Full Post »