When he’s bored with his own phone, my 14-year-old son likes to pick up my phone and go through the photos. My phone is 5 years old, so over a third of his life is stored in it. “You take a lot of random pictures,” he said to me the other day.
He’s right, I do. I know enough professional photographers to know that I’m not good at it, but I like to take photos of weird, or funny, things I see. Sometimes, it’s for social media. But sometimes it’s just for me to look at and think about later. When I think about book ideas, a lot of them are coffee table photo essays. I used to take my phone when I walked the dog. But, like a lot of people, we got a Covid puppy. Unlike our beagle, Sammy, who as my neighbor says isn’t really a dog, just an old man who likes to go out and yell at people, the new girl, Nova, is all dog. She is 41 pounds and 11 months of pure chaos.
You cannot bring a phone when you walk Nova. A moment of distraction could result in a tan and white blur of movement barreling down the street. Nova takes her first walk of the day around 6:30. As a morning person, with zero qualms about leaving the house in my pajamas, it doesn’t really bother me.
One of my favorite times and places is early morning in the French Quarter in New Orleans. The noise of the night before makes the quiet of the morning reverberate so much stronger. I like to see the remains of the previous evening, and the hardworking people beginning their clean up.
My suburb of Oak Park, Illinois is no French Quarter. The quiet is more common and so less remarkable. There are no remnants of a bacchanalia, no Mardi Gras beads or broken glass lying in the gutter. There is no one out cleaning the streets. But still, there are things to see. The other morning, there was a red mop lying in the middle of my closest cross street. I know it probably fell out of a car with cleaning supplies, or a moving truck, but I like to think it was a political statement.
A few blocks away a young boy was in his yard with his younger, and smaller puppy. The boy doesn’t know it, but I know his aunt and uncle in California and have met his parents. When they first moved in they were getting rid of a huge and bizarre piano. Although it looked like it belonged in a saloon, it had probably been in their house since the house was built. When the boy’s aunt asked on social media if anyone in the Chicago area wanted a piano, I said yes. One day the boy’s father brought it over on a fork lift. For years afterwards, whenever we would pass the house on our way to school or the park, I would tell the kids “That’s where our piano used to live.”
I don’t know why I felt the need to remind them of our piano’s origins. But, I like connections. I like that a woman I used to work with in my twenties, is the sister-in-law of a woman in my neighborhood, and that even though my friend lives in California, I wound up with a piano she knew about. I guess I reminded the kids about our piano’s first home because I want them to feel those connections. I think they are the best part of growing up in a small town. The puppies sniffed each other through the fence, and that was a little too exciting for Nova, so then we spent some time calming down.
A few blocks away the street was partially closed off for an experiment in “slow streets.” The idea is that with more people home during Covid, the streets should be safer for bikers and walkers. In the middle of the street was someone’s painting easel and chair. There was nothing on the easel, but in the early morning stillness it felt like an artist had simply been plucked from her work and sent into the ether.
There is a man who lives a block away from us who can often be seen and heard in the evenings practicing his violin in the living room. He is particular about his lawn care. Once, I saw him walk past our house, turn around and pluck a dandelion from our yard and leave it on our sidewalk. On this morning, I saw the man running, shirtless in a plaid skort. I do not know if the skort is important to him and this empty, early morning time is the only time that he feels he can express his true running self. For some reason though, it seems more likely to me that he bought it accidentally, maybe on sale, and simply wears it out of frugal stubbornness.
Occasionally, when my husband and I walk both dogs together and I have Sammy, I bring my phone and take pictures. But, there is something nice about just seeing things as well.