Sunday, July 25, 2010

McWane Center redux

Yeah, we'd been there once before, but that was awhile ago and it was time to take Griffin and Carlie there again.

The McWane Center 205-714-8300 is a great time for kids of all ages. It makes learning about science fun even if you don't know or don't care about learning science. It's in downtown Birmingham and is quite the deal on price, which those of you who take kids places will appreciate. The tab for me, the Spawn of Rob AND $5 for the parking deck was $22.

Shot some all-right photos while we were there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Art back to life

FIRST OFF: I hate that I have no photos to show you when I talk about art. It's lame, I know. I would say to use your imagination, although I doubt that very many of you could do it enough to 'see' the art I want brought back to life.

Spent the afternoon with my son and daughter Tuesday. We went and played at the mall near where they live and made the most of the afternoon, as we always do every other Tuesday.

We got some food, played at the arcade, but mostly walked around and looked. My daughter stopped us at a part of the mall I'd never noticed before and stared at the storefront.

"I want to go look at that picture, daddy!" It was a painting, actually, but no matter. What my daughter wants when I am with her, she pretty much gets. So we went inside.

It was an art gallery. Mostly oil paintings and a few sculptures. All were by local artists and everything was for sale. It was completely original, and not all to my taste in art, but we looked at every last bit of it.

A 30-something woman walked up and asked what brought us there. I told her it was because my daughter asked to come in there. The woman was engaging and polite, and quietly told me about the place. Said she was always curious what brought folks in and that was why she asked me. I told her I liked what I'd seen and loved the way they had it displayed. She smiled and said if I saw anything else I liked, to just let her know.

It was around that time I noticed my kids were quiet and behaving, soaking the place in, the way I was. It had been years since I was in a real gallery, which was a nice memory. But something else happens when I get to look at art.

You see, my best friend in the world, Mark Howard, was an artist. He worked in oil paint and got to be quite prolific. His style was a blend of abstract and purely visual depictions of a variety of themes. But only at the very end of his life did he want his art shown and it was only then, did he ever entertain the notion of selling it.

Almost ten years ago, Mark died instantly beside me in my car when we were hit head-on. A few months before it happened, he had made a conscious effort to get his art seen. Even then, he was still self-conscious about the idea of painting for any other reason than feeling like he had to do it. More than once I heard him say that putting a price tag on his work was, "like slapping it in the face." Eventually enough of us told him his art needed to be seen, and he finally listened.

Later in our visit to the gallery Tuesday, a guy struck up a conversation with me about the place. He was its owner, and the husband of the woman who had spoken to me earlier. Like her, he asked what brought us there, and what we liked.

I told him about Mark. Told him as far as I knew, his relatives still have his huge oil paintings on canvas, stored away with nobody getting to see them. The guy said that was too bad, and said he was planning an art show festival throughout the mall in September. I took his business card and handbill, shook his hand, and told him I would be back.

After I dropped off my kids at their mother's house, I kept thinking about Mark's art and that gallery. When I got home 45 miles later, I sat down and emailed his widow about the place. I told her that for some time, I have been wanting to make high-quality photographs of his paintings so I could see them any time I want, and show them off to people I know.

It had been a while since we spoke so I wondered how long it would be until I heard back from her.

She wrote me back a couple of hours later. Said that was great timing! because she had spoken to someone about Mark's art that same day. Said she knew the gallery of which I spoke, and she loved it. Said Mark's 16-year-old son had expressed interest in showing some of his own work there.

She said yes, Mark's paintings are still around and no, no one gets to see them. Said Mark "would have hated that," and that she would be happy to arrange it so I could take the photos I want.

Unless you were kin to him, or knew him well, Mark's art is all you will ever have to get a sense of who he was. I feel like I should have made a move to get his art seen a long time ago, but then his widow said...timing can be a funny thing.

I can't bring my friend back to life, which is a shame, because the world remains a less-interesting place without him in it. But I can help bring his art back to life.

He visits me in dreams once in a while. I wonder if the next time he does, he'll be laughing and shaking his head, saying, "Well shit, Rob, it's about time!! How long were you going to let my stuff stay put-up in daddy's barn?"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pizza payback

I don't know that I've ever had to write a rant blog like this, bear with me.

Spend the early morning talking with guys I know who work for local law enforcement. I have known them for years and run into them around town a good bit but this time we spoke in their official capacity.

For the past couple of weeks at the pizza joint there has been this POS meth-head ordering food and paying with checks that he stole. He burned 5 of our drivers, including me, twice in the same day.

When somebody pays us with a stolen check we have to 'eat' the amount of the check. It comes out of our pockets. It's always been that way but it almost NEVER happens until recently with this one motherfucker.

It started when he wrote some checks that were stolen from a doctor. Got a buddy at work and then a new guy who just started. Then he got me with two checks he stole from his grandmother (with whom the waste of sperm and eggs lives) for a total of $110.

I had delivered to her house before when it was her ordering. I recognized the name and address on the check and that was why I took them both, thinking she had him order food when she was not home.

Then just yesterday, he hit another of our new guys with ANOTHER check he stole from a women who lives a few miles from his grandmother's house. Our store manager, God bless her, knows her job inside and out and knew she was going to catch big-time heat from the store owner over this fucker paying with stolen checks even though it comes out of the drivers' pockets.

After a while yesterday I said, Lisa, fuck this. I know some guys who can take care of this bastard. And called them.

I did not know the deputy who got sent out to take a report for me. But in calling the grandmother's house she told him who her grandson was and that she had no idea her checks were missing. The deputy told her what she needed to do, and when he hung up, told me he went to high school with the fucker who'd been stealing checks and burned us with them.

He had a photo of the guy on his iPhone. Yep, that's him, I said. Then I called the other burned drivers and they said the same thing. This morning we all went down to the cop shop, made the positive ID from the photo lineup, and each of us talked to the investigator in charge. It helped that I have been knowing the investigator for oh, 15 or so years.

He told me there are a total of three police agencies after the fucker, with possibly up to 15 separate charges.

He also told me he had dealt with this piece of shit thief before and the guy had always come clean when pressed. He said he was going to talk to him this afternoon and would keep me updated as the case progressed. But I could still go ahead and swear out a warrant on the fucker if I wanted to.

The word, 'to,' was not quite all the way out of his mouth before I asked where I needed to sign.

Depending on his it goes, stealing the checks will be a misdemeanor charge. (smack) So will forging then (another smack) The act of passing them to me and the other drivers is theft by deception, which will be a felony (SMACK!!!)

I know full well that I will never see my money from this fucker. If he does not confess I will have to go to court and relish telling my story for a judge. If my luck is in, one of the three judges in my county (all of whom I know personally) will be in a pissed-off judicial mood that day and see fit to make an example out of the thieving motherfucker. And even that scenario will take more of my time, which I will never get back.

But I still have been smiling all day, because it felt so very nice to set the wheels in motion for some pizza payback.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gun show weekend fun

Ever since I was a little kid I have always liked going to gun shows. They aren't what they used to be, but remain a guaranteed 'must go' for me after all these years.

Sometimes I am looking to buy. Sometimes I am looking to sell. Sometimes I am just looking. A good gun show is its own little world, full of good deals, things you won't see anywhere else, and a uniquely American oasis of...dare I say, escapism?

Plus the people-watching opportunities at a gun show are quite bountiful.

But enough waxing poetic. Saturday I was in selling mode. I collect, but I've never been one of those collectors who just buys and stashes. Sure, I have some stuff I with which I will never part, but I like for my collection to see the light of say once in a while.

Turned out to be a good day for selling. I had 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter with me so I only took one gun with me. They like going--I always buy toys for them--but it's a bitch carrying more than one military rifle over my shoulder while simultaneously having to hold my little girl's hand and keep her brother within reach of at least my voice.

I did not see hardly any examples of the rifle I brought (a $120 Yugoslav SKS I bought 6 years ago) for sale among vendors and the few I did see, were astronomically priced. Always a good sign!

Right away dealers tried to lowball me. Told them my $300 asking price, which they said was fair but offered me about 60 percent of. I'll keep looking, I said, and kept walking. Other gun show patrons were next, and the offers got better but still not close enough to my price.

A guy (kid really) who I guessed to be about 20 asked if he could check out my rifle, said he'd never seen one like it before. That's a big part of the gun show thing: talking guns, showing off your stuff and shooting the shit (figuratively haha) so I let him look at it.

As I checked him out closer I noticed the sideways ball cap, gold chains and a distinct whiff of patchouli oil?? Plus denim shorts that were half-hanging off his ass with boxer shorts sticking out at the waist. Oh and a hip-hop ringtone on his cell that went off twice while we were talking.

Said he was looking to get something cool-looking and asked how much ammo it held. Ten rounds, I told him, and it's a quick reload. I like the armor-piercing ammo best and right now it's relatively cheap so I can afford to shoot when I like.

"Cool, G!" (yeah he really called me that) "You wanna sell it?"

Nah man, I just bought it.

My kids and I kept walking. I caught a call on my cell phone later, and it was a buddy I've known since college who lives 4.5 hours away. He's an even bigger gun nut than I am: his collection is in the hundreds and dwarfs the couple dozen guns in my closet. Said he was not going to be able to make the show that day, but wanted to bring his 8-year-old son and come visit me and my kids. Said he was going to bring some Russian movies on DVD we could watch while our kids ran amok elsewhere in my house.

I was pumped! I'd not gotten to see him in like 6 months and he was on his way up from an even more rural corner of Alabama than mine, to hang out with me. He doesn't like missing gun shows either but over the years they have served as a great excuse for us to hang out.

By that point my kids were still hanging in there. Bought my son a fancy slingshot with an wrist stabilizer (must a person have a penis to fully appreciate how cool those things are? haha) My daughter got some extremely intricate colored marbles from the table of a old cat who's a gunsmith. Since he retired from his job making military machine guns, he's taken up making decorative glass items. His wife sells that stuff at the table next to him.

My daughter has always loved those fancy marbles. The guy's wife never got around to telling me how much they cost, because all she wanted to talk about was about how beautiful my children were. I ended up just giving her a $5 bill and she let my daughter take all the marbles she could stuff into her pants pockets. And then instructed me to fill up one of the pockets of my jeans with them, too.

We thanked her profusely. The old cat and I talked briefly about the state of the nation's firearms laws and politics as it pertained to our hobby. The kids were getting a bit restless at that point so it was time to start back walking.

I re-shouldered my rifle, backed up and bumped into somebody. Actually, it was somebody who bumped into me: a 6-foot-tall blond woman about my age with legs as long as mine.

Wasn't the first time I'd seen her that day. Earlier she had been walking around with a guy who looked a tad younger than her, and was a good bit shorter than her. He was wearing a camo T-shirt, work boots and looked to have had a wad of tobacco in his mouth.

She'd had that dazed, bored look that you only see on the face of a woman who is being a good sport, going to a gun show she cares nothing about, only because her man was going. We'd made eye contact, smiled as we passed each other, and she'd looked down at my kids.

She apologized for bumping into me, and I said aw no problem, I could be bumped into by a lot worse around here, and it's not every day I get bumped into by a woman who could wear my jeans!

She laughed and said, well, not every day do I see a guy who wears jeans that have a bigger number for the inseam than the waist! Then she looked over her shoulder, looked back at my kids and said, I know those gorgeous children are yours, aren't they?

I was more than pumped. First, I'd made the ballsy jeans remark and she topped me! I probably blushed. Right about that time, the guy she was with came walking back from a table full of deer hunting gear and said he wanted to go look at something else. His girl and I swapped looks one more time, and the kids and I kept walking.

It was about that time I started to not really give a shit anymore about selling the SKS. The kids' queries of, "Is it time to go yet?" became more frequent so I started working our way toward the exit.

Before we made it out, a guy about my age at a dealer's table said hey, man, you want to sell that SKS? I stopped and said, I'll take $250 for it. As he checked it out he said he'd not seen any like it in quite awhile.

I let him take it apart and check the internals. While he did that I talked with an older gent who I figured to be his dad, and noticed a girl who looked to be about 22 behind the table, too. She had the youthful good looks of a country-girl cheerleader type who could either charm any guy she wanted, or kick his ass! haha

The dealer wanted my gun, I could already tell. He started talking about hating selling the one he'd had, because now he wanted to give his daughter one (looking over at the girl described above) He handed it to her and she shouldered it, aimed it at an imaginary target in the rafters, and rubbed her fingers on the metal and wood of the gun as she checked it out.

Guy asked me would I take $200 for it? Nah, I said, I have a good price on it and I don't want to just give it away. Right away a show visitor behind me piped up, well if he won't pay your price, I sure will! THEN the guy I took for the dealer's dad said, well I'll get in line at that price too!

He said, Come on, you can tell she wants it! (looking toward the young girl who must have been his granddaughter) The dealer hung his head and laughingly said, yeah, y'all got me, I see how this is. And gave me $250.

I put the cash in my wallet and thanked him. Started telling the girl about the gun's features (she was already holding it and checking out her new gun) and got about 10 seconds into it before she looked up and said with gleaming eyes, Oh thanks, but I know how these things work! And with one last smile, the kids and I were out of there.

Can't wait until the next gun show weekend.