Sunday, September 29, 2019

Post-Woodstock World: the rise of the backpack

Netflix is currently running a documentary about Woodstock for this 50th anniversary year. Looking at all the footage from those three days of peace and love you notice that everybody is very young, everybody is thin by today's standards and almost everybody is white. There might have been a higher percentage of non-white people among the performers than there was in the audience.

But most of all, there were no backpacks.

I mean, if you were planning to spend three days of peace and love out in the country, you would take your backpack, wouldn't you? But if you look at photos and especially at film footage of the famous traffic jams before the show, you'll notice it. At most you'll see people toting sleeping rolls or a duffle bag, but there are no backpacks in sight.

Look at this photo. No backpacks.

No backpacks.

Backpacks? Nada.

Flash forward fifty years. Below is a photo from August in the NYC subway system, where most of the people are not planning to spend three days of peace and love outdoors, but rather, eight hours in a climate controlled office. And look at all the backpacks. It's not the clearest photo but I count at least seven. 

How did people carry their bottles of water back in the day?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Autumn 2019

East Asian artists do the best portrayals of Autumn. 

This image is Persimmon Tree by Sakai Hōitsu from 1816. It's in the collection the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only a 15 minute walk from where I live.

Autumn is my favorite season, as I have been saying on this blog for many years.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Earl Rich, gone but not forgotten

Earl Rich, Valley Forge PA, January 1995
More photos here
I found myself thinking of my friend Earl Rich a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a tweet from Newt Gingrich.

Earl has been dead for twenty-two years, as of today. Tempus fugit.

Gingrich first came to public prominence when Earl and I worked together in King of Prussia, PA and Earl liked to joke about supporting him, so there's always a chance I'll think of Earl when Gingrich is mentioned. Or tweets.

Which is annoying because Earl Rich is a beautiful angel in heaven now, while Gingrich is still here, being a complete asshole.

I even mentioned Gingrich the last time I observed Earl Rich's death on this blog, two years ago.

I included a scan of Earl's obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer in that post two years ago, and while re-reading it preparing to write this blog post, I wondered if I could find out whatever happened to John S. Pluta, the guy driving the truck that Earl smashed into. And thanks to this Age of Internet, I believe I found him. Right name, right location and exactly the right age. He died in 2013.

Twenty-two years later and thinking back on Earl and my strange workplace relationship with him, he seems even more special than ever. I don't know why I was able to come to know this co-worker so much better than any other coworker I've ever had, except maybe Rosemary, who now lives in Australia, and who coincidentally I just received a postcard from yesterday. Rosemary and I are friends because Earl thought we had a lot in common and encouraged us to talk.

Oddly Rosemary is the only woman I knew at work who was immune to Earl's beauty. And she's not gay, she's been married to her husband for twenty years now. And plenty of men were attracted to Earl as well, although of course back then, especially, they weren't likely to admit it. But for some reason, she alone was not completely enthralled by Earl.

I don't know how I ended up exchanging so many emails and confidences with Earl. Was it our ages? Was it that office email was still new? Congruent personalities? A happenstance of time and place? I can't imagine being so open with someone at work, not now.

I wonder what he would look like now. He had such beautiful hair. He would have been 53, it would surely be thinner or greyer now. But of course his charm wasn't only dependent on his physical beauty, as impressive as it was. He had a certain sweetness you rarely see in men although he could also be funny and silly and a wise-ass. And he was far more nervous about social situations, which he mentioned to me, than I would ever guess of someone so perfectly suited to society. He would complain about how popular he was, saying he was exhausted by all the socializing on weekends. I wonder if that would have lessened, once he got into his 50s, the way casual socializing fades off for so many people at that age. But with Earl, who knows. He was sui generis.

It seems odd that other people who knew him don't mention him online. I know this because I looked -  it's just me and his widow Michele who, I assume, paid for the domain name and who set up the web site. Such a phenomenon as Earl should have a great number of tributes. But really who was Earl, to the world at large? For all his beauty and charm he was a nobody, a tax-paying citizen with a 9-5 office job, and a wife and a house. A technical writer. A guy who enjoyed riding his motorcycle, his damned accursed motorcycle, on weekends.

If only it was raining that day, or he decided to drive his car, or he had stopped at a convenience store to get gum. An infinite number of things could have prevented Earl Rich from dying at 31 and who knows what he would have made of himself. I'm sorry for all the things he didn't get to see, save of course for 9/11 and 11/9. I think he would love today's laptops, and high tech gadgets. And I bet he would have enjoyed the TV show Archer. And he might still be teasing me about Newt Gingrich.

While Googling around for any traces of Earl online I came across his father-in-law's fairly recent obituary. I had no idea he was a bigwig in the Philadelphia journalism scene. I feel like Earl should have had the same kind of full-page tribute, so important, oddly, inexplicably important he was in my life. But he didn't really have a chance to do much. "He was robbed" is what my coworker Rachel, who also knew Earl, said of his death at the time.

A year after Earl's death I was invited by Michele to meet at The Ugly Mug in Cape May New Jersey. Cynthia, Earl's sister was there too. I don't remember the conversation now, which of course centered around Earl. But I was flattered to be invited to meet these two strangers with whom my only connection was knowing Earl Rich for a mere three years, compared to their ties of blood and marriage. I heard from Michele a few times after that by email, but nothing in the last twenty years.

Earl once confided to me that his dream was to be a writer living in Greenwich Village. He was a great reader of fiction and got me to read Crime and Punishment, Lolita and A Confederacy of Dunces. I like to think he would approve of me living in Manhattan, albeit not in Greenwich Village but maybe the next-best thing, the Upper West Side, as a technical writer, playwright and blogger. And since he is not around to contradict me, I say he would, definitely, approve.

And Michele, when you're in New York City you should look me up, I'll buy you a drink and we'll reminisce.