Copyright of the Soul

In addition to buying car seats, bassinets, clothes, carriages, thermometers, infant tubs, diapers, mobiles, blankets, toys; thinking of names, going to birthing classes, finding pediatricians and gaming daycare scenarios, another issue is pressing on my harried consciousness – will I take pictures in the delivery room?

Many people, including my wife, think this is a no-brainer. Of course you will! But I’m not so sure.

It has nothing to do with propriety. I wouldn’t dream of snapping pics from the obstetrician’s vantage point. That’s a good way to get choked out by a hormone raging spouse. But do I really want to spend the first seconds of my child’s life, a time that will never come again, trying to figure out the exposure settings on a camera?

I’ve never been one to take pictures. I got a digital camera for Christmas but never used it. Now it sits in megapixel obsolescence in a desk drawer. I’ve also never liked having my picture taken – a fact that aggravates my wife to no end. If you look at snaps of me as a child, I’m withdrawn, even fearful – as if I was some pygmy in the Amazonian jungle fearful the alchemy of light and celluloid would somehow capture a piece of my soul.

As a result, much of my adult life went undocumented. I have few pictures of my time in seminary, vacations went unrecorded and I’ll be damned if I can find a single picture of my time as a waiter. The obvious exception was all the publicity photos and vids when my books came out. For the most part, I’m a figure lurking in the background of other peoples’ photo albums.

My wife, Annie, however, is a ferocious photographer. She owns a very expensive digital camera and can do wonders with Photoshop. Whereas you could stick all the pictures I’ve taken on half a single memory stick, her multi-terabyte collection requires a server farm. She gets the urge to record things, I do not. I guess opposites do attract.

Sure, I’ve taken pictures of my dog, my wife standing on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, but those are exceptions. When I see something I want to remember I just look at it. I think scrambling for a camera interferes with the memory making process. Today, with camera phones, Instagram, You Tube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Flickr people are photo archiving their lives. Do we really need to take pictures of an entree in a restaurant? Do we need a slick video production of a baby’s first steps complete with a cutesy soundtrack? We’re offloading our memories onto the Internet and, as some studies suggest, we are weakening our natural ability to recall the very memories we seek to capture.

There have been times in my life when I saw something and realized that image would be in my mind until the day I die – a meteor storm while camping in the mountains, a naked girl lying in the moonlight, The Twin Towers burning, my Dad in the recovery room after heart surgery, my dog snoozing in his favorite chair, a woman’s face when I told her I didn’t love her, my wife in her wedding dress, a person dying of AIDS, the skyline of New York shrouded in fog, watching seals play in La Jolla, gondoliers on the Grand Canal, the seductive evening sprawl of Vegas, rocketing down Laurel Canyon Boulevard, my wife running up the street because she was late for our second date, our first kiss, a woman dying in front of me, getting a toy firehouse for Christmas, monks chanting the Hours, a boy I punched, the dark eyes of a violent psychopath, my nephew only an hour old, my friend dying of cancer, eyeball to eyeball with a majestic buck in the forest, Mom making paper hats and the raucous crowd at the first ball game my dad took me to in 1974. All these images and more are seared into my brain, no camera needed.

Of course, people who eschew photography can be as annoying as those media snobs who say they don’t own a T.V. or only watch PBS. I’m well aware of photography’s ability to capture beauty and pathos, to shed light into dark corners and literally change our view of the world. It is an art form to be respected – and something my wife does extremely well. But I wish people would just stop clicking their iPhones for a moment and see reality unadulterated. Enjoy dawn in the Piazza San Marco with your camera in its bag. Give that gustatory delight its privacy. Capture images with your mind – a place where the NSA won’t find them, Facebook can’t sell them and they’re copyrighted with your soul.

Oh don’t worry, they’ll be plenty of pictures of my little girl, but not in her first moment, the font of all her moments to come, Some things are too sacred for pictures.

That moment is just for my wife and me.

This Is News?

These texts greeted me when I checked my cell-phone this morning.

“You’re all on the internet!! For your Biden’s blunder about the Superbowl! Caught it on Fox News last night!”

 “Way to make the VP look stupid, bro. LOL!!!”

Groaning I go to Google News, search for “Biden and Superbowl” and am rewarded with headlines reading, Joe Biden Isn’t Sure How the Superbowl Works and Biden Doesn’t Know Location of 2014 Superbowl. Just great.

How did this all come about? I was invited to participate in an online Q&A session with the VP about immigration sponsored by Skype and Bing. Since I don’t get to talk to the Vice-President everyday I jumped at the chance. Of course, I flubbed my lines. You’d think after sailing through interviews with Oprah and Matt Lauer I’d have my media shtick down cold. But those people aren’t a heartbeat away from getting their mitts on the nuclear launch codes so I guess I was a little star-struck. But I recovered and finished asking whether a guest worker program for restaurant employees was feasible.

After the co-participant, Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, finished answering my question there was a bit of awkward silence. Being a seasoned politician, Biden stepped in to fill the gap.

“I think she just answered the question old buddy,” the VP said. “What part of New Jersey are you from?”

Most people don’t know Jersey’s geography so; when I meet strangers I tell them I live next to Giants Stadium. It’s about a mile from my house and lets people know I live in the NYC area.

“Right by Giants Stadium, Mr. Vice-President,” I said, using my go to answer. “Home of the Superbowl.”

“Home of the Superbowl?” the VP said chuckling. “All right, maybe not this year. We’ll have to talk about that.”

The Superbowl IS at Giants Stadium this February and now the news is proclaiming the VP a football ignoramus and the Twitterverse is in full Biden bashing mode. For the record, I was not trying to trip up the Vice-President of the United States. But I’ve got to ask – is this really news?

A few hours later I discussed this dust up with my friend Anton, a guy who’s so conservative that he thinks Pope Francis is a Communist. It’s safe to say he’s no fan of the Vice-President.

“Jesus,” Anton said after I showed him the video. “The guy’s just talking about how the Giants suck. He’s not talking about where the Superbowl is being played.”

“So if this was some regular guy we were talking to in a bar,” I said, “We’d know he’s saying the Giant’s chances of getting into the Superbowl are infinitesimal, not that he didn’t know where the Superbowl was being played.”


“So why do you think this blew up?”

“Because, Steve,” Anton said. “The news isn’t news anymore. It’s all about titillation and making people look stupid. And they do that on both sides (Of the political spectrum.)”

I’m not defending the Vice-President. He’s well known for his propensity to trip on his tongue and has made sports related gaffes in the past – but this is not news. If a super Republican like Anton can understand what the VP meant, why didn’t all the crowing bloggers, reporters and Twitterers do a little digging and realize the Giants are a sad 5-8?

Because they don’t care. They didn’t take the time to consider that Biden might have been referring to the Giants’ abysmal record, not where the Superbowl was being played.  They just wanted to make noise and get noticed.

News organizations are a shadow of their former selves. Reporters have been laid off en masse, investigative reporting budgets have been slashed and true news stories – the stuff of Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamil and Mike Wallace are hard to come by. Now we have shrill talking heads, paid and unpaid bloggers competing for page views and multi-billion news conglomerates that get their headlines from Twitter. The dumbest shit stands out and gets reported. The media is always on the lookout for content to fill their pages, often without vetting it.

That’s messed up. When I watch Daniel Tosh skewer people about their online antics, I understand its entertainment. Heck, when I watch TMZ I understand it’s just another version of the National Enquirer. I’ve been the recipient of the media’s largesse in the past, and I’m not certainly a hard-hitting news story – but when I see this kind of crap in mainstream news outlets, I just want to puke.

I asked Biden if the Administration could do something to protect the thousands of undocumented restaurant workers who are overworked, underpaid, fired for getting sick and subject to the maniacal wrath of exploitative restaurant owners. Whatever your views on immigration are, I’m sure you don’t want to see your fellow human beings treated like cattle. That’s news, folks.

This shit is not.