The class in Macon was both long and ill conceived. It’s hard to teach construction from a classroom. If you want someone to learn how to make something you ought to have them in the field when it’s being done, not in a classroom where not even coffee helps. I have a thermos I call the “Silver Bullet” that I carry on road trips. I poured thick black Kate coffee into it at four in the morning, spiked it with Fargo honey, and cut it with a little milk. But by lunch I needed a fix, and I needed to get the hell out of that cold building.
Macon isn’t a large town, but it is less than a hundred miles from Atlanta so it gets some of the backwash from it. Traffic, leftover conventions, and that sort of thing create more of an influx than Macon would get for a town that size. There is a terrible lack of greenspace, but my idea of greenspace is a little bigger than most. The sidewalk around the building where the class is being held allows for nothing larger than a few stray weeds and a little grass. I walk around the block and discover a tiny park across the street. The tiny little park is a postage stamp thing. It’s not a real park, and it’s a depressing reminder that concrete and glass are both in more abundance than raw sunlight and plant life.
There is a homeless man sitting with his back against the back of the bench. He looks like if the wind picked up it might push him over. I take a photo of him and then walk around him a bit, so I don’t have to get too close. I have the same aversion to strange humans as some humans have to snakes. People scare me. Individuals aren’t nearly as bad as crowds but I never get within knife range of a person I don’t know if I can help it. There isn’t anything wrong with the way humans smell, if the odor is one of honest hard working sweat, or just the natural odor of the human body but this man smells like alcohol has become a part of his body’s chemistry. He isn’t wholly human anymore. His brain’s ability to perform higher functions has become impaired by the constant drowning in cheap alcohol. His life is ruled by the next fix routine rather than...
“Don’t take my picture.” He says to me. He doesn’t look at me and doesn’t turn his head towards me at all. He doesn’t move. “You wouldn’t take nobody’s picture without asking and you didn’t ask me. I don’t want my picture taken.” His voice doesn’t rise and he doesn’t sound angry. He makes no attempt to get up or to make sure I’m not taking his photo again. I feel weird now. I’ve taken three or four shots of him, and one of them promises to be a pretty good shot of him with the bench and all of a sudden I realize that I’ve made a lot of assumptions about this man without any information other than what I’ve seen. My mind turned him into a photograph before I stopped to consider him as human. Instead of a man, I was looking past that and looking at part of Macon, like the bench or the sidewalk.
As I walked back to the classroom I kept looking back to see if he was following me. Without looking at the shots you took of him, Mike, what did he look like? Was he tall, short, fat, or what? What color were his eyes? What can you say about the way he was dressed, other than the fact that he was wearing the odor of alcohol? I sat waiting for the class to begin and clutched my camera. I knew nothing at all about the man but I had already begun to form a story around him before he spoke. He was going to be my centerpiece of all that was wrong with big towns. Why just look at him, I would tell you, here is this discarded person that no one even knows is human. Not even me. I plead the detachment of an artist, of someone looking at the human world more from the outside than the inside, but it seems as if everyone has some sort of detachment excuse. The world keeps going in the direction its going and everyone seems to want someone else to do something, that is, as long as nothing changes to upset normalcy.
Macon is a vast wasteland of concrete, glass, and thrown away lives, but all I could see to do is show it to you. Sitting in the cold classroom with the drone of a drone filling the spaces in between thoughts, I deleted the pictures of the man. He’s a skinny, tall man with dirty white tennis shoes and black pants. He’s wearing a green tee shirt that’s sun faded and ripped on one sleeve. He’s got on a winter cap even though it’s still plenty warm. I can’t see his eyes in the photos because he never once looked up at me. All four photos are gone, deleted from the camera before the first few minutes of the class. After class I walked back to the little park and he was already gone, deleted from my life, forever.