My mom died May 3rd, 2023. She lived in Dallas, Texas, and was 80 years old. We weren’t estranged, but we weren’t close. I last saw her when I flew to Dallas for Thanksgiving in 2013. I stayed two weeks and spent the whole time getting drunk at her house, sobering up long enough every couple of days to drive to the convalescent facility where she was staying to visit her.
She had been in that facility for over a year by then, following a serious fall at her house, and stayed in it for the rest of her life. Or until March, 2023, when the home closed down and she was moved to a hospice facility. She died there two months later.
I said my goodbyes a few days before her death via Zoom. I am deeply estranged from my younger sister, but she was in mom’s room and orchestrated the Zoom thing via smartphone. Though she was heavily sedated for pain and non-verbal, I spoke my final peace to mom. This is a photo I took of her last time I saw her:
I’ve spent most of my time since mom’s death beating the shit out of myself for not being a better son, for not visiting her more often, for not truly talking to her about the things she had done throughout my life to both enhance it and to fuck it up.
Mostly to fuck it up, if I may be both honest and blunt. Over the years she threw a couple of sizeable monkey wrenches into the clockworks of my life. In particular she rejected and repudiated my wife. I never could forgive her for that. But it doesn’t matter now. We all end up gravel and dust scattered above and within an indifferent Earth.
So I’ve been sitting here for past six weeks trying to get a handle on my very complicated grief, and waiting to hear something, anything, about my mother’s estate. My sister doesn’t want any contact between us and therefore she will tell me nothing. Like I said, we’re deeply estranged.
So I’ve been coping with my grief with my photographic work, of course, which is how two weeks after mom died I stumbled across a group of young women in San Francisco holding street a memorial for a deceased friend. These women were basically partying in the streets near a Baptist church in the Sunnydale neighborhood, drinking and dancing and carrying on to honor and celebrate the life of another young woman who had recently died.
It was beautiful to behold, as were the women in the participating crowd. And it was a joyous, exuberant release of grief unlike any I had ever seen. I was honored to be allowed to photograph it.
Because these images are special to me. I look at the women in these pictures and I’m able to live through them a little. I see in them a joyous release of grief that I am unlikely to have, though I keep trying to summon up some kind of redemptive happiness in knowing my mom no longer feels any pain and nor has any Earthly worries.
Worries and pain are part of the constant feast reserved for the palates of the living. We dine on them every day. But when I look at these images of these jubilant young women, I see people turning pain into joy to honor a fallen friend.
I hope you see that too in these photographs. And I hope Boba Ryan, my mother, and Monette Lathan, whose memorial you see in these photos, truly rest in peace.
You can see all the pictures I took at this street memorial here.
The dancing kind
dances with her daughter
in the street
on the sidewalk
both of them radiant
like champions of love.
This is a short, simple story. I was on my way to my favorite discount supermarket in San Francisco when I encountered these three guys on the sidewalk at a bus stop, and a couple of the gents decided to smoke some meth.
They were really nice guys, though, so don’t get the wrong impression.
The fellow who initially pulled out the glass pipe wore a wrist band that suggested he’d recently been a patient in a hospital someplace. While a few people at the bus stop looked on with obvious disdain, he pulled out his lighter and sparked up his gear…
Then he took a few drags from it. He sucked on it like an infant feeding from a milk bottle because his mother’s breasts had run dry…
Then he passed the glass to his pal, who had been patiently waiting to take a few hits himself. The big fellow on the end didn’t partake, he just kept chatting with me about the plumbing business he was saving money to open up one day. He and his companion were sitting on a huge audio speaker and I have no idea why…
And’s that’s pretty much it. Despite the fact that these gents were smoking hard drugs at a moderately-busy bus stop, It was all rather low-key and somehow calm and civilized.
Like I said, they were really nice guys.
During the first week of May I was driving from San Francisco into Brisbane, California along Bayshore Boulevard, and I encountered this interesting scene…
It turns out that the man with the beard was driving along Bayshore Boulevard too, but the upper control arm on the driver’s side of his big old car snapped and he had to immediately pull over and call an emergency mechanic.
So while the mechanic worked away, I snapped a few photos and the young man and I talked for a few minutes. He showed me the groove out on the street that his damaged car had cut into the pavement as he pulled it out of traffic.
He was a nice young fellow, very warm and open.
The mechanic was a nice guy too, but very busy.
Well it’s my birthday, literally today is my birthday, and so I wanted to give you a present. I’m 57 years old today, in case you were wondering. Frankly, because of some mental-health and past booze-related reasons I’m amazed and very happy to still be here. But that’s a story for another place and time.
Right, on to your gift.
2020 was a shitty year for many reasons, mostly the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean, my daily movements and social interactions were restricted, your daily movements and social interactions were restricted, we had more free time, more booze, more Netflix, less money, less security, and less hope. It was a big fucking mess that will hopefully come under rapid and compassionate control due to the leadership of our new president.
Anyway, what I did most of last year during my short trips outside my house to the supermarket, the pharmacy, and a few other essential places was take photographs of people in masks doing the same ordinary, essential stuff I was doing in our vastly-altered national circumstances.
And now I’ve made a book of my favorites of those photographs.
And, as with my last two books, I’m making it available to you for free. It’s full of both color and monochrome photos of folks in the same kinds of places doing the the same kinds of things you have been doing since this national disaster started in March, 2020.
Thanks for having a look, and I hope you enjoy “It’s In Their Eyes”.
(Brisbane, California, January 21, 2021. See my other work here.)