23 September 2017

Portrait, Bob, The The Kindness In His Eyes

By: Jon Katz

The Kindness In Our Eyes

As a photographer, Ive learned to spot people who watch a lot of cable news and people who don't. You can tell by their eyes, the people who don't watch much cable news (people like Bob, our friend who works at the dump) has a kindness in his eyes, the camera  catches it all the time.

He agreed to take a moment to stand still so I could experiment with the portrait settings on my new Achromat lens, a difficult lens. I see it works well at close range, and also when there is a variation of light, like the sun and shade on Bob's face.

You can't see Bob's eyes too well in this photo, the lens doesn't to be as close as my 85 mm lens, but you can still see the kindness in his face. Like Kelly Nolan, some faces are worth returning to again and again, they have a radiance that I love to try to capture.

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Bob, Gussed At The Dump

By: Jon Katz


I call it being "gussed," Gus has a genius for making friends wherever he goes, one of his closest pals is Bob at the dump, one of those tough and strong (and very kind) big men in trucks and tractors. Bob is crazy about Gus and Fate and rushes over to give them biscuits and if he has, them, donuts.

At home, Gus loves to leap up on the chairs where he is not allowed and crawl on top of my head to lick my nose. It is startling sometimes, but certainly loving.

Gus adores Bob and showers him with licks around the nose and face. Sometimes, Bob even remembers to say hello to me.

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22 September 2017

Bill At The Mansion: A Loving Community Reaches Out To A Brother In Need

By: Jon Katz

A Community Reaches Out: Bill gets a rainbow scarf from Kentucky.

When I saw Bill today, the first thing he said to me was that I had to see the rainbow scarf he had just received in the mail.

Bill was happier than I've ever seen him today. He was eager to show me a Gay Pride scarf Donna send him from Kentucky: "Bill, a lot of people are wishing you well and are willing to help, Just ask!" I read him the message and he loved the scarf, he can't wait for winter.

Bill can't ask for help right now, he is working to be able to read, write and focus. He regrets that he can't answer the messages he is  getting, I keep telling him his smile is thanks enough. This week he has gotten letters, cakes, cupcakes, some postcards that made him very happy, it was powerful to see the effect this emerging sense of community is having on him.

He is not, in fact, as alone as he thought he was, as isolated as he feared he was. Our challenging new technology, at turns a nightmare and a miracle, works magically here, the blog posts about him have been widely and quickly shared and people are rushing to help. He may have lost his community after his illness, but his community does not seem to have lost him.

I see that the gay community – I know they have their own troubles and conflicts –  is a loving and intensely supportive community, they care deeply for one another and are generous with their time and skills. I see why Bill misses them so much and why being gay means so much to him.

He is so much less depressed and despairing than he has been. The letters matter, so do the cards and gifts, and he loves postcards. This week he got cakes and cupcakes and a stack of mail.

I was very  touched by a letter from George in Los Angeles, he is an author who came through Cambridge once to research the life of an actor named William McCauley and probably came to Hubbard Hall, our refurbished Opera House, a treasure in our community, most of the old vaudeville house burned or were turn down.

"I visited Cambridge a couple of years ago, " wrote George. "A beautiful town. I got a tour of the old Opera House and tried to imagine what the world of the theater would have been like back then, back in the day when William McCauley was touring, traveling the country by train, every night a different town, a different opera house, a different theater. It must have been quite a life. I'm sure you have wonderful stories and memories of your acting days too. Best wishes to you,  Bill."

Bill is getting a lot of mail, I especially love George's letter, it was warm and interesting and yet so very and subtly supportive. The perfect tone.  I loved reading it to Bill, he was mesmerized by it. It reinforced the idea that Bill can be part of his community again, even if in a different and limited way.

I see the sensitivity to isolation in the letters, the are the perfect medicine for Bill as he struggles to get his bearing after a tough stroke last  year. He is 82 years old.

At this point, Bill can't read, see clearly, write or socialize easily. In a couple of weeks, he is getting surgery on his eyes. He has a long way to go and he knows it, but his community is giving him reason to hope and to smile.

If you wish to contact Bill or write him letters, we will make sure they are read to him.  For now, he can't respond to them.  His address is Bill, c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

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Art At The Mansion: Tracking Down A Son

By: Jon Katz

In Search Of Family

I went to see Art at the Mansion today, I got there right after his new reclining chair arrived, it was the perfect size and strength for him. It did slip a bit on the wood floor when he got up, so the Mansion staff came in to move the carpet under it. I think it will make him more comfortable, I think he will like it. His back and legs are stiff and painful.

Art and I have been talking about many things. He spent much of this week making sure the elevator was repaired, he was concerned that some people in wheelchairs might have trouble climbing the stairs. The elevator was repaired. "I think you know about me, good and bad," he said, "I could not bear the thought of people in wheelchairs fighting to get up the stairs. They fixed it, I can let it go now."

Art is proud and a hurt man. As we talk, I learn more about him, the abuse he suffered and the abuse he caused. He makes no claim to be a perfect man, and takes responsibility for the damage he has done to people close to him. When he talks about it, he closes his eyes and can barely speak. in his faith, he has found structure and some support and a path to redemption. There is a lot of anger in him and a lot of pain, and a lot of faith, sometimes a volatile mix.

We talk easily and openly with one another. I asked him about his nine children, none of whom are in touch with him. He said the loss of his family, "it nearly killed me." He said he found family again in Christianity, that has been his family.

When I asked him if he missed his biological family, he said yes, "terribly," but I think his pride bubbled right up, and he said they would have to come to him, he didn't think they would let him come to them. He told me some of the family history, and I had a better sense of why he is so alone. It's not something I can share.

I asked him the other day if he would like me to contact one of his children, and he said yes, he named one I will call John, that is not his real name. When I visited him today, I thought he had forgotten the conversation, but his address book was sitting right next to his bed and he quickly picked it up and opened it and gave me John's telephone number. I had not seen it before, it was out waiting for me.

Art does not know where John lives and could not remember when they last spoke.

He said if I called his son, "you will probably hear a mouthful about me." I think he was worried I would be shocked or disappointed by what I heard. I think his pride was hovering over him like a cloud.

I told him I was not a devout follower of the Bible or any religious book, I was not there to judge him – I couldn't resist. I said I left that to the righteous.

He smiled at me, he got what I was saying.

Art said John was in his 20's and did some work in Wyoming, but he did not know where. I said I would do my best and he shook hands with me as I left and thanked me. Tonight, I called John, Art's number was good and he answered right away.

I told him who I was, that I was a volunteer who was working with Art and trying to make him more comfortable at this point in his life. I said I knew he was a complicated man but I asked if he might consider calling Art over the weekend and talking to him. I thought he was very much alone.

John seemed surprised by the call, but listened carefully and courteously to me. I said if he was open to it, I could probably help him with expenses if he wanted to come East and see his father. A good first step would be to call,  talk to his father, and then think it over.

I gave him my numbers and told him to call me, I gave him the number Art gave me for his cellphone, John said he had it. I didn't want to push it any further, and I asked if it was okay if I called him Sunday or Monday, I hoped he felt free to call me at any point.

He said that was fine, he said he would call his father.  He did not sound angry or hesitant. He did sound a little surprised.

That was a good place to leave it, so I said goodbye and got off the phone. I hope he does call Art if he can and if it is healthy for him. I completely understand if he can't or doesn't. I don't know what happened between them, I imagine I will find out at some point.

I think for all of his preaching and declaring, Art is a very vulnerable human being right now. He is in a strange community, far from home, he has lost his family, I believe it would be an enormous gift to him to make contact with one or more of his children.

So as always, I look for the boundary. This is as far as I go for now, John will either call or he won't, Art will either connect with him or note. It is now up to them, not me.

If I am asked to help and can, I will. Otherwise, time to back off and move along. My friend Sandy and I will meet with Art next week, he said he would very much like that.

We may have a lot to talk about.

Art is a fundamentalist Christian, he believes some of us will to go heaven and some of us will go to Hell. He loves to hear from people of faith, he calls it his "ministry," and he has been getting letters and reads them carefully. If you wish to write Art, you can send your messages to At, The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

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Red At The Mansion: With Olive and Morgan

By: Jon Katz

Red Has Many Friends

Red has many friends and admirers at the Mansion, he went up to the second floor today to sit with Olive and her Mother Morgan, the Mansion's case manager and a good friend.

Olive asked if she could keep Red and take him home, Morgan said Red would probably miss the farm and I told her she is welcome to come to the farm anytime, take a children's book from the Little Free Library, and see Red work with the sheep.

I told Olive she might also like to cuddle with a donkey. I think she would.

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