Thursday, May 22, 2014

"A Short Dip" and Other Stories

There is a very particular grainy, color-saturated-even-as-color-has-faded look and feel to GENUINE vintage photos.  It's been imitated a great deal in the past fifteen years or so, but never quite synthesized.

Aaron Rose took a series of photos at Coney Island in the 1960s; they feel both exactly of their time and quite immediate.

The incredible crowd shots - the first photo of the series is particularly exciting.  It's one of those very rare vintage shots which is NOT just a sea of white, middle-class people.  Many browns, many ages.  That is unfortunately atypical in our historical images, so a scene showing hardly ANY pasty faces is quite striking.  Take a look at the woman's hair at the bottom center, the statuesque goddess in profile.  Faces of strength, joy, and relaxation.

The amorous embraces, in particular, feel like they are *happening* - a pale knee kicked up, cradling a lover, almost unremarked behind the stunning symmetry of a body builder posing imposingly.  A mature couple lying on the sand, the woman's indistinct but perfect hand draped around his curling hair and fading into a perfectly overexposed arm.  The Black man and woman, not in an embrace, but lying close together, her eyes looking just barely away from his face, her expression inscrutable, eternal.  The green asian pattern on her cotton sleeveless shift.

Plaid and cotton.  Heat and haze.  Leopard bathing suit all the vintage girls will die for.  The tall, skinny man taken from below, so he appears almost endlessly tall, even with tiny stretches of un-matched horizontal stripes in a short jacket, in his trunks.  His cigarette.  Lawn chairs strung with that particular light, scratching plastic banding we used for so many years.  They all seem to be green and white, those chairs.

It is summer time.

Makes me want to take a short dip in the evening, at the old pool where I spent so much of my childhood.  After everyon's gone home for supper, but dad feels like cooling off, just for a minute.  Nobody around but the evening insects in the encroaching trees.  Sound of water and swamp, smell of chlorine - the scent of pool water on hot concrete cooling off, settling quietly in the evening.  The heat of the lamps under the water - how I used to cling to those when the water began to feel chilly.  Imagining the shadows my little self must have made.

Bathing suits before spandex.  I had one of cotton, little elastic legs and waistband, flowered cotton.  I had one a few years later - the MOD looking one, I got it in the hand-me-downs from that girl who was always the most beautiful in our schools - lime green.  Ring in the center, ties around the neck.  Instead of spandex, we had tiny little rubber threads.  Worn too much - or bum-scraped across one too many concrete pool decks, as we sat on the edge waiting for Adult Swim to be over, or just playing by the chairs, sitting on the ground - those little threads would fray and lose cohesion with the rest of the suit. Filament-thin grey threads of rubber or latex, they'd worm out of the suit when they broke.  And you'd get a baggy spot.

I'm old, and have come to that age where "looking back" is a leisure activity of the most stereotypical kind.  My friend Holly, who could not let her hair get wet.  I was so jealous of her Black hair - she could twist her ponytails into these long modified corkscrew braids.  White girl hair doesn't do that.  But I could swim underwater.  I stayed underwater most of the time.  And, at the end of the day, that queer soreness in the lungs - my mom called it being "waterlogged" - probably from holding my breath and breathing in strange patterns for hours and hours.  All my younger friends, the first time in my life little kids adopted me for a friend - the little tow-blonde girl with the red suit with a navy bow.  Four of them glommed on my back at once, riding in the 4-foot as I walked, letting them hang off of me.  They'd surf, holding my hair, as I dragged them.  I think one or two might have learned to swim that way.

The really really skinny girl from the sad family, and her really really fat sister.  They were a little older than me, but they let me hang out with them.

My family.  The time mom hurt herself so bad, diving.  My brother and his friends.  My dad.  Swimming with my dad.

It is summer time.  Time to breathe hot, muggy air and stand still - watching for lightning bugs.  And listening to the nighttime hum of all the other insects ...

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