Thursday, May 28, 2009

"And walked off to look for America..."

Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Santa Maria CA California Photography
Tomorrow I leave for over a month on a 10,000 mile driving extravaganza to the four corners of the continental U.S. (and parts of Canada). It is an adventure I have planned for almost a year now, though in truth it has been about fourteen years in the making.

This is the kind of trip that one can't be completely prepared for, and I like that. Who knows, any series of unlikely scenarios could befall me. Some of the ideas that have been floated by myself and others are:
a) getting arrested in the deep South in a drunken haze
b) finding God on some extended sleep deprived leg of the drive
c) fathering some illegitimate scion in an orgiastic free-for-all in Appalachia
d) being involved in a horrific fiery interstate pile-up or
e) simply changing my name and never returning
Only a few of those sound interesting enough for me to spend any amount of time pondering, but in truth I can't foresee even the opportunity for most of them to happen. Dang it.

It is impossible to fully describe the emotions I'm feeling about this grand undertaking. Sure, I'm excited and anxious, yet have also been far too busy with the concerns and responsibilities of the normal life I am leaving behind. Mostly though I am overcome with a feeling of total readiness. Not a readiness to leave, though there is a lot of that, but a sense that I can handle pretty much anything that might happen to me on this adventure, and I welcome it. For the next month I will be in a constant state of having to be everything I have ever been, a concept I have referenced often in these blogs and one which I thoroughly enjoy.

Examples of this include, but are not limited to:
-putting strangers at ease enough to pose for photos that must look and feel intimate while in strange, new environments
-be diplomatic with personality types in roles of authority that I would otherwise choose to steer clear from
-remain humble and gracious at my most pissy and flippant moments and
-be confident and professional while at my most weak and vulnerable state

Don't forget that I will be rushed under a traveling deadline when all I'll want to do is relax and quietly explore my new surroundings. Most importantly, however, I'll be forced to retain my focus and productivity under the most exhausting and uncomfortable circumstances. Yes, this is how I define a vacation.

When discussing the ramifications of what I may or may not learn about myself or anything else along this trip, a friend recently stated to my enjoyment, "If you come back the same person that you left, that's going to be a waste of a trip." I wholeheartedly agreed.

It is no surprise that I love a challenge, being pushed to my limits and forced to doubt myself and everything I am capable of, getting to a point where I'm wanting to quit, turn tail and slink home. I laugh at myself often. Maybe all this makes me an extreme weirdo, and I think it might, but I'm never satisfied with what I think I can handle. I constantly want to be made a believer again, have my faith reaffirmed in myself and my fellow countrymen, be shown something that I'm afraid to see and be forced not only to handle it, but to thrive.

I guess the only real way to comprehend the contradictory calm yet ready-to-pounce feelings that have overwhelmed me the last several days is through music. Do me a favor, take a second, close your eyes and nod your head knowingly to the almost seven minute version of Shiela E's "Love Bizarre", circa 1985. It has the necessary undercurrent of sexiness, excited positivity, and a consistent, unrelenting beat that makes you want to groove on to the next chapter of life. If that isn't your cup of tea, maybe a more apt track would be a more traditional one. Join me by putting on Simon and Garfunkel's classic "America".

Sit and listen to it on repeat as I plan on doing tomorrow afternoon for as long as you need to. Then, at some undetermined moment, I'll stand up, lock the door and leave my everyday world behind for destinations unknown, trying desperately not to look back.

Yeah, that's some good stuff. Will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Measure of a Man

Milky, the Club Kid.
Any man worth his salt must evaluate his place in the world from time to time, taking stock of his established titles, skills, achievements, and goals not yet attained. I can't say I'm fully satisfied by where I am at in life, but I can say that the things I have seen, accomplishments under my belt, and stories I can tell from first hand accounts are all things I am pretty proud of. Though day to day our lives seem fairly straightforward and mundane, sometimes its necessary to total up our bill, make a tally of the high points, give ourselves a personal, final grade.

Like every one, I have been described by many differing names and adjectives, from hard-worker and talented artist to lazy, contrived asshole. Some have called me the best person they have ever met, others have dubbed me a cold, unfeeling bastard. I've been labeled a dear friend, a good son, an honest leader, a healthy eater, and most recently a racist "Jive Turkey". I have easily performed shows in front of thousands, sung my heart out in front of hundreds, stumbled drunkenly in front of dozens, and been loved by several.

To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, 'I don't care what's written about me so long as it isn't true.' Maybe it says something more about my personality than I'm aware, but I've never put much weight in anything people have said about me, whether positive or negative, because I have rarely agreed with any of it. To my constant surprise, countless people have congratulated me on my strong character and ability to "not care what others think" of me. To this I always strongly disagree.

More so than anyone I know, I care deeply about how I am viewed by others, it just depends on who is doing the viewing. I can stand up in front of just about anyone in the world, make a complete ass of myself, and continue on with my life without giving it a second thought. However, in many unseen moments known only to me, my opportunities and actions are undertaken with extreme forethought and caution. I'm all too aware that what I do in my private life and the ramifications of those actions will be seen at some point by those lucky few whose opinions of me I love and respect more than anything else. It is in those instances, more often than not, I decide to err on the side of temperance and restraint. This is not easy to do, especially repeatedly over most of the years of my life, and even more so in the last few years of almost constant temptation, but I silently do so.

To be fair, I haven't suffered a whole lot in this life. Grew up middle class, good education, loving family, doting parents, supportive infrastructure, responsible role models, strong work ethic, etc. I wouldn't change a thing. It seems to me though that growing up in this way almost makes one feel guilty for having it so good. I think this is why so often those are the types of kids who want to wear black, listen to Nine Inch Nails, get drunk and high, and hate their parents while searching for something to rebel against. I wasn't one of those kids.

Instead, I was artsy, sat alone in my room reading comic books, drawing, listening to R.E.M. and trying to figure out the meaning of life. Perhaps I have been looking, in a vain attempt, for a way to help those who haven't been as lucky as I. After almost thirty years of lonely nights longing for useless things and unnecessary people, all the searching led me to one final theory on how to live life, or at least a theory that works best for me:

"Work hard, do your best, enjoy what you can, as much as you can, and shut the fuck up."

Truly, it sounds simple, but oh, Lordy how it is not. Its taken a few special friends who have led by example to show me how to live happily day to day, and for this I owe them more than they can know. Yes, no one is perfect and we all have our tough times, but handling bad times with calm, grace, and a little bit of patience is pretty much all it takes to get to a level of peace and harmony in the universe.

So, what's my own self-imposed grade? I'm not sure. If this were a pass/fail course, I think I'd be squarely getting ready for the next step of prerequisites on my path to success, but frankly I don't think life is that easy. There is no black or white, only those constant, unfortunate shades of grey. I think I'll delay my grade pending further data.
Griffin the Golf God.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Will the Real Mark Velasquez please stand up..."

This is going to seem like more of a vain blog than normal.

For the most part, I am a pretty private person. I don't enjoy sharing too much about my inner thoughts or personal feelings, which might sound odd to those who are familiar with all my writings about my photography on sites like Flickr. Honestly though, for as much as I enjoy discussing my opinions on a variety of topics, you won't often get details about my personal life unless you are one of those lucky few who receive a handmade postcard from me in the mail every so often.

I was in the process of writing such a postcard tonight when I realized that I needed to do more. The topic I was writing was about my needing to be more open and forthcoming in my thoughts, to not be afraid of sharing them and owning them publicly.

One of the simplest ways to begin is by revealing my face which I'm definitely not a big fan of. Hell, it took the repeated suggestion of a good friend to force me to do so on my required MySpace account, though I still did so reluctantly. Maybe my hesitancy has to do with wanting to be somewhat mysterious and have my work be judged for what it is instead of who I am. Or it could simply be a basic feeling of self-consciousness and dissatisfaction with my appearance. Who is to say? Either way, when I do share images of myself, I feel the need to have fun with it or make my face only one part of the photo's focus. This is always intentional.

So, for those who have not seen them before, here you go, images of my countenance with a bit of commentary. First off, my love of clown noses. I've never found clowns to be funny nor particularly scary. I just like the noses. Here are a couple of pics I sent to a friend when they were having a bad day.
Next, I always try to take a shot with the models once each individual photo shoot is done.
Here is when I shot the terribly icon shattering photo about what Santa Claus does with the rest of his year.

Then of course my Raggedy Ann and Andy shot.
My now infamous Black KKK member. I remember I uncharacteristically wore black that day. Hmm.
And lastly, Nataly and I with her boyfriend Zach, from the band Portugal.The Man.
Did I mention that kids love me?

And did I further mention that I used to be adorably cute? What happened to that, eh?
This was back in 2005 covering the Michael Jackson Trial in my hometown of Santa Maria, CA. Man, I look funny with hair.

Also, my holiday cards have become quite legendary amongst my friends and family.
Christmas 2006

Christmas 2007

Easter 2008

Lastly, an image of my reality. This was taken by a fan from Britain named David Edmondson who had stopped by the Central Coast to meet me while on his way up to San Francisco and beyond. Photobucket
This is me at my most common, working at Tom's Take Out. Come by sometime and have a milkshake, I hear they're delicious.

Almost ready to go...

ca california,Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography("I-90/I-5 Interchange", Seattle, 2002)

Man oh man, almost a year of preparation has paid off! it is now less than two weeks before my whirlwind month-long cross country trip and I'm almost ready to go. I can feel the excitement and anticipation coming over me like a warm blanket. There's no denying it, I am smack-dab in the middle of "Vacation Mode"

I'm distracted at work, spending money without a care in the world for things that I both need and don't need, and have begun spoiling myself rotten with things I would never buy for myself at any other time. Its kinda great.

This is not to say that I've gotten careless, oh no. I am unavoidably intent on getting all my ducks in a row, saving up, paying my bills ahead of time, and making all the necessary preparations. All the important, mature junk that's been accomplished in the last several months allows me to be as foot loose and fancy free as I am feeling right now. I like to "earn" my reckless, carefree times with unabashed responsibility.

Just keeping you informed. Thanks!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The simple pleasures of life.

Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography
Its pretty difficult to get a Velasquez male to slow down, relax, and enjoy the simple things in life. Though I've gotten better at it than my brother and dad ever have, I still lack the instinctual response to take a second to myself, to appreciate the subtle moments and quiet times as much as I really should. Mostly, the small things I do appreciate are so unknown to even the closest of my friends and family that I've been wondering if anyone knows about them at all.

A perfect example of this is a new, fresh-out-of-the-box bar of soap. When the time is right, usually just an afterthought in my week, when the rotation time hits, its magical. In that brief few seconds it takes to have the hot water come down the shower pipe, I stand there with a new bar of soap in my hand, smelling the crisp scent, appreciating the jagged cast lines along it's circumference still left over from when it popped out of its mold. The upraised letters and logo are still sharp and defined, which will last only seconds before it is called into service and the erosion begins. Yet still, for that brief moment, it is a perfect little object in my possession.

On a tangential note, I'm not one of those "antibacterial soap" kind of guys, simply because it doesn't make sense to kill off ALL bacteria. Overuse of those products has been found to cause sensitive bacteria to evolve and become resistant to their antibacterial qualities. So many modern children's immune systems are being done a disservice by not being allowed to have exposure against bacteria so as to build up a very basic and important immunity. I have heard many health professionals be concerned about this, so I know I'm in good company, but I digress...

I guess the reason I like it so much is because it is as pure an object as you can get. It's sole purpose is to clean, to wash away the dirty, hard parts of your day and prepare you to start again from zero. It has no downside, it's only job is to help, and I adore that idea.

Sure, some environmentalists would argue that the bubbles are going down the drain, thus oozing into the oceans and killing off immeasurable Nemos and Dories. Okay, yes, our sanitation system like most human endeavors is not perfect, but again, slow down. Let's not detract from the utter power and inspiration we can gather from the common bar of soap.

Just another small insight into the way my goofy little mind works. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Not for the Faint of Heart

Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography
Woo-boy. This one's a long one.

The last month or so has been controlled by a busy, complex series of emotions in this little noggin of mine. I guess the same can be said for most people, but sadly all I can know for certain is what happens within me, which is what this whole blogging thing is supposed to be about, I guess. Though one would think my preoccupations would be easy to figure out, the least of these emotions are based on my month long trek across this great country of ours this coming June. That being said, making preparations to both put my "regular" life on hold for a month, and also planning to explore alien territory while relying on the kindness of virtual strangers, has been no easy task.

Suffice it to say, whenever I do seem to be busy getting ready for something big in my life, I will often actively seek out more projects and obligations to complicate my life further. Over the past few years I've met several people who also take on more projects the busier they are, so thankfully this doesn't make me feel like the complete mad man that it used to. So in the last few weeks, on top of the usually light work load at the Take Out and prepping for my travels, I've taken on a few unexpected photo shoots, gone on short weekend trips to Fresno and Los Angeles, started a six foot long commissioned painting that I said I would finish before I leave, and lastly, helped create the first official Tom's Take Out eating challenge.

The "Triple Quad Challenge", as my brother titled it, began simply enough. A couple of weeks ago a 6'3", 360lb. man named Brandon Howe came in and ordered one of our new quadruple patty cheeseburgers, bragging soon after woofing it down that he could easily consume three of them. Sensing a bit of a braggadocious nature about him, a quality I've never been too fond of in people including myself, I humorously said that if he could eat three, along with three large bags of french fries in under twenty five minutes, I'd buy it for him personally. If not however, not only would he have to deal with failing to meet his goal, he'd also have to pay the almost thirty dollars that the meal would cost. This caused an immediate reaction of excitement and inspiration from my brother and dad who began cheering him on. Within minutes we all figured out the terms of the official agreement and made preparations for the call from Mr. Howe telling us of the first Saturday he would be free. Once we got the nervous call this last Monday, the wheels began a-turnin'. For most of the week there seemed a pretty good chance he'd back out, so the passion for making concrete plans was definitely lacking. By Thursday however, with his coworkers excited and egging him on, we finally were convinced that he was going to show, and that's when the excitement, and pressure to host, finally began to heat up.

As usual, it was a family affair. I was of course in charge of designing the promotional posters and making several trips to the dollar store for decorations and props. My sister-in-law was in charge of getting the word out to the media, stealing moments at work to e-mail local radio stations and newspapers. My brother pitched the idea to every customer that came in, and even my dad provided a nice galvanized bucket, that I eventually spray-painted gold, in case of any last minute regurgitation on the part of our participant. Lastly, my mom provided all the necessary worry and concern for the lot of us, as usual. All of this took place while we also got ready for my nieces' third birthday party, which was the night before the eating challenge. As I said above, we like to complicate things.

Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography
So finally the day arrived. After another last minute series of visits to the store, the decorations were in place and the nervous anticipation set in. At 1pm the contestant showed up, wife and two young kids in tow, while about twenty five spectators awaited the unknown. Just as we had positioned him outside and dad was about to start cooking, a last minute Mexican customer named Joe said he was willing to have a shot at it, too. The more the merrier!

I cleared a spot for him at the table we had set up outside, had them both sign the liability release forms I had drawn up the day before, and with megaphone in hand, I incited the crowd to cheer them on. At 1:11pm, the first official Triple Quad Challenge began. Joe, standing up in some vain attempt to have a better digestive ability, began tearing into the meal, while Brandon, who had obviously much more time over the course of the week to mentally prepare for the struggle, began slowly and methodically chomping away. The crowd's reaction was a mix of excitement, disdain, nervousness, curiosity, and disgust. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography
My whole family was there, my mom watching the spectacle with a sincere smile on her face as my nieces ran around, corralled by my sister-in-law and our friends. I was the ring master of the events while my dad, brother, and his god-daughter took care of actually keeping the place operating as the affair took place. Ten minutes in, the zeal with which the participants had started the challenge had quickly changed to a nervous, obvious concern, as they both handed each other napkins and each had a look in their eyes that can only be described as "Dear God, what have I gotten into?"

About that same time a reporter and a photographer from the Santa Maria Times showed up to cover the event. I answered all of their questions, giving a brief overview of the Take Out's history and the origin of the the day's activities, all while calling out time updates to the candidates. It should be no surprise to those who know me to say I was completely in my element. I love those kinds of situations, which definitely make me miss my old performance art days back in college, which I'm sure I'll mention here in a later installment. Soon after my little interview, I looked over to see Joe placing the golden bucket on the table, which I hoped wasn't a foreshadowing of nauseating moments to come.
Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography
Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography

With a little less than ten minutes to go, the first real signs of quitting had begun. Brandon began giving his wife little shakes of his head that he wasn't going to be able to finish. Joe was sitting with his eyes closed and his head down, silently giving a thumbs up whenever someone shouted out a call of concern. Five minutes to go, they were essentially done. Brandon had all but given up, yet Joe, God bless him, kept taking smaller and smaller bites of his second quadruple cheeseburger, placing a lonely fry in his mouth now and again.

By the time I blew the final whistle, with the crowd giving them one last round of applause, both contestants looked pretty haggard. All of the promises we had made to them if they had finished, like naming the burger after them, giving them free food for a month of Saturdays, etc., were thankfully null and void. They both were whipped and they knew it. All that was left was putting their money where their mouth was, literally.

Tom's Take Out Mark Velasquez Photography

Yes, its a pretty silly thing to do, not only to participate in such an event, but just to have the challenge in the first place. I'm reminded of all of the spectacles and odd events that were popular during the Great Depression, keeping the struggling people occupied with any kind of entertainment possible to take their minds off of the realities of life. I sincerely doubt that things are that bad right now, but I also know that people are definitely looking for a distraction from their troubles. Maybe we helped a little bit in that department for a day.