david schrott is everywhere

November Songs (1)

Posted in family by thebreakfastdictator on 11/10/2014

Ten years ago, things were so different here. The city was gritty. There were as many vacant buildings as occupied ones. On the first block of North Prince stood the old Futon Building, full of junk and old frames. We bought some birds and named one Burt Reynolds. He was our favorite; a small white dove bought at Pete’s in the Italian Market of Philadelphia for eight bucks. It seemed a common thing whenever I went to buy birds there. It must have been four or five times at least. Each time, Pete would grab the birds mercilessly and shove them in my dad’s 50 year old bird cage. He had fond memories of that cage. He had a little bird named Blue Boy that he would sing and whistle to in my great-grandparent’s house on top of Milford Street. Those are so remarkably some of his best memories. He talks about his grandparents more fondly than anyone else. Neither of them were alive by the time I was born. By all accounts they were these remarkable Catholic people and when I think of it, my heart is moved toward sadness for having never known them.

They built their house from sticks sometime in the 40’s. Johnstown was peaking then. Somewhere along the line, I took some black and white photos of the house. Someday I’ll get around to finding and scanning them. But probably not. It seems like that’s the way it goes. Good intentions are always just good intentions.

Von Steel

Von Steele

Years ago, on a cold Good Friday, we meandered out of Pittsburgh, 70 miles southeast, to the place where we came from. We got a family history lesson that I’ve long since forgotten but thankfully wrote down in my beat up, handmade journal. He built his house in fifty-nine and has lived there ever since. The old wood-stove still churns in the winter. The crucifixes and icons line the walls. I think the kitchen table was purchased in fifty-nine as well, and if not, not too damn far afterwards. The cabinets almost surely have never been replaced but why would they be? Cabinets are cabinets and if they hold things why do they need replaced?

There are these days where my dad looks and acts more and more like my grandfather and my nephew looks like a mini-my-dad and like he was cut and pasted right out of a photo of me from 1984. I guess I am my dad and Von is my dad and we all are my grandfather and his father and his father’s father and his grandfather’s father; reaching all the way back to Austria now, the details get hazy, like the descent out of the West Virginia mountains on an early autumnal day.

Have you ever been to West Virginia? The stereotypes are true. All of them. And it doesn’t take more than a half mile off the interstate to realize it. People do live in campers. There are dirt roads that lead to nowhere and not everyone is all that friendly. It is a wonderful place to be though; the Second Coming of the American Shire. The sharp green slopes eternally cascade into the horizon line, covered with peak autumn leaves. Find a road, make a right, another right, then a left and you won’t see anyone for hours, maybe days. The beauty and stillness will suck you in. Has anyone even stepped foot here before? It’s hard to believe. It must have been this way for the frontiersmen and their families too. We are the new frontiersman, longing for a simple life and natural beauty.

Nowhere, or Somewhere, West Virginia.

Nowhere, or Somewhere, West Virginia.

Now, we are home and just a few weeks later we find out that my wife is pregnant. If it is a boy, what will he father like? And what will I father like? He will be cut from me and me from my dad and him from Francis and him from Karl and Karl from his father and, are we in Austria yet? I don’t quite think so; I know it’s beautiful there but is it as beautiful as West Virginia? I bet it is and they likely don’t have sprawl. Even the prettiest places have their ugly corners. There’s bound to be a place they call Backwards, but maybe backwards is forwards and progress is a myth.

In high school, I learnt that our last name meant scrapped metal in German. How long does that name go back and what was our grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather doing? Was he a blacksmith? A junkman? A weapons-maker? A trash-man? There were no automobiles back then, he couldn’t have been the Austrian Henry Ford, but maybe he was. Maybe he was a genius in another way. Or maybe he was a working stiff like the rest of us. Blue collar to blue collar deep into the soul.

The sun is peaking up now and the what’s-left-of-it coffee is getting chilled. There’s a fifty-five mile ride ahead and another blue collar day lurking beneath that low-setting November sun. To-day’s beauty will be roiled by Thursday’s winter preview, but that Austrian husk beneath our flannel will prod us on. So we can father the fathers.

round and round fluorescent lights

Posted in family by thebreakfastdictator on 10/18/2014

Floating above the dining room table, the icon of Jesus and the broken cuckoo clock spins green light out of a fluorescent tube. It flickers from time to time. It has been a long four hours on the turnpike and exhausted children zoom up and bang on the creaky old screen door. She always opens the door the same way — peeking around the curtains through the window just to the right of the door. Warm yellow light floods onto the splintered green porch. It probably hasn’t been painted since the seventies. Those antsy kiddos pour through the door, to the playroom, and dump railroad tracks and Lincoln Logs all over the floor. This is what they’ve been waiting for for months.

tubes. fluorescent tubes.

tubes. fluorescent tubes.

Now there’s a new tube. It’s on the second floor, just like the first. It’s the dining room too and there are icons of Christ. The cuckoo clock is missing. Don’t worry. We’ll find one. Do you remember playing baseball in the crabgrass-backyard or watching Pirates game on channel 8? There were only twelve channels but they were so exotic. There were those vines up the hill in the neighbor’s yard. We swung and swung and swung on those. Those colored bottles on top of the blue-brick wall disappeared around the same time.

Years back, there were 11,000 in Cambria City; now, they’d be lucky to clear 1,000. The mini rivers powered the steel mills. Plumes of smoke and steel city iron motored this little city in the valley. Just before 1890, the flood pummeled everything alive. And look at it now: the pride of Cambria County. Will these fat days ever end?

A small brown Dodge pickup winds east. Five days later, it heads west. And on and on; and on and on. Soon, the repetition stops. One hundred eighty two miles separate the two dots. Relocation is permanent. We’ll visit lots, though. The glowing tube, seen through old windows, will be our first greeter.

Light leaks, dust, and Je’m.

Posted in family, Lancaster by thebreakfastdictator on 04/03/2014

 

Je'm + Lucky

Je’m + Lucky

In my advanced photo class we learned how to let go a little bit; to be okay with light-leaks, film scratches, soft focus, bleached prints. I had a really hard time with some of that. I enjoyed messing up the print since the prints were easily reproducible. But I detested the idea of ruining the negative and sometimes I’d shoot an entire roll (12 images) of pretty much the exact same thing. Just in case. I barely do that anymore, but I still dust things obsessively and fear shooting all of my expired film because “what if I get a really good shot and ________?!”

I guess the world would end if that happened, wouldn’t it?

The film came back from the lab today and this photo was my favorite. It has a giant light leak across it (no idea how that happened). And when you shoot film, you can’t undo the light-leak like Afterlight or Snapseed tells you that you can.

And that’s okay.

Lighten up, David.

who will deliver me from this body of death (from 1.1.08)

Posted in family, Lancaster by thebreakfastdictator on 03/13/2013

“hi dave. john esh. meadowbrook builders…”

11.53am | 1.1.08 | strasburg, pennsylvania

“is dad here yet? no. call him. i don’t know what to do at an amish funeral. we should wait til he gets here and all go in to-gether.”

“he’s just over the hill. he’ll be here in a minute or two.”

“…i’ve got a house that needs drywalled…”

we were greeted at the back door by levi — dressed to the nines. he looked good, especially for an amish-man. they sure can do it up when they wanna. he shook dad’s hand first, then me, then seth. i’ve never seen him so serious.

they exchanged a few words about john. dad said something about john and about this being the third friend he’s had die since the twenty-third. the conversation felt hollow. what can you say to those currently walking in a shadow that that sweeps out the sun?

death sure can render words damn near useless.

“…do you think you can start that job next week…?”

the amish do everything differently. we already knew that, but this was so out of the ordinary (though what do i know of ordinary? the last funeral i’d been to was in nineteen-ninety). the door was shut and we were taken in by a fellow contractor. he did flooring. he said we looked familiar.

the room was cold and the sky blue walls offered color better suited for a baby boy’s new bedroom rather than a viewing parlor. the casket was beautifully hand-crafted pine, stained a dark brown and a white cloth covered up the far end. the cloth was pulled back and tears began to well as we all bowed our heads. death does strange things to a body. the builder i ran into from time to time growing up and who put more money in my bank account than i can count lie there looking like an exhibit from a wax museum. there was no color in his face, only a waxy yellow complexion remained. his hair looked like wire and i wondered how this used to be alive.

the rest of the room was mostly empty. there was some dried up mud on the floor and a small end table in the corner with a hair comb and a box of matches sitting on it. the blinds weren’t pulled and sunlight streamed in, lighting up the lamp-less room. some birds chirped in the warmish january air just outside while an older amish fellow walked by the window.

“…it’s down route thirty, towards downingtown…”

john’s eldest son benuel took us into the kitchen and jonas (his younger brother) was there sitting next to susie, now john’s widow. i can’t remember meeting her before, though i’m sure i had. every fall we attended john’s big end of the summer party where we had fried chicken and played volleyball and quaits. the rest of the kitchen and living area was full of friends and family, by this time entirely amish. i’d never seen such a happy people so solemn in all my life. they are typically such a jovial and easy-going people and to see them in a state of mourning felt like a living, breathing oxy-moron.

“…it’s a basement with nine-foot ceilings.”

susie, benuel and jonas bid us farewell and thanked us for stopping by. only sixteen minutes had passed since we first got out of the car. there is something oddly peculiar about life that i can’t quite make sense of; there is something equally peculiar about the finality of death….

my mind wanders and i think back to the middle of the summer. in consecutive weeks i read books both dealing with death (from entirely different perspectives) and now, as i/we inch/race towards it ourselves, i realize that there are five of us — and two parents. someday not so far in the future, only one will remain, having buried the other six.

i pray hard for the one who will have to bear such a burden alone.

Tagged with: , , ,

still wondering who has time to blog every damn day (pt 2 — kind of)

Posted in family, Lancaster, philadelphia by thebreakfastdictator on 09/18/2011

I love Lancaster in the autumn. The air is cold and in the mornings, I roll my windows down and turn the heat way up. It’s wonderfully blessed. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t make more time to picture take & write about the things that mean the most to me. I’m trying to do that when I have five free minutes but it’s hard. Yesterday I took some family pictures — I want to remember these days so badly and it seems our culture is intent on destroying memories by the methods we use to preserve them (or make instant new ones via Facebook or Twitter).

I love this photo of my Dad. I got lucky with the light & smoke pouring through:

Later today, I’ll pick up Meg at the intersection of Fruitville & Route 30. We’ll watch Steeler football & drive back to Philly. This weekend has been nice. I’ve put drywall & painting out of my mind for  a few days and it’s been nice to recharge a bit out of the city. The city can be really suffocating sometimes…

I love being away from the city during the fall/winter season. It’s more inviting to live in the country. The chilly autumn air and the warm winter (indoor) heat via a coal stove are so inviting during these six months of the year. And honestly, can you enjoy autumn in the city as much as you can in the country? Let me tell you bluntly — No.

Can I fall/winter in Lancaster and spring/summer in Philly?

Oh,… perchance to dream…!