Sunday, December 18, 2011

How I Met Your Mother

This is my favorite photograph ever. Compositionally, the photo follows the rule of thirds both in depth and width, foreground to background and right to left. All three thirds are occupied by compelling subject matter; the faceless and intimidating authority of the policeman in riot gear (one), the tender but hyper-passionate embrace of the main subjects (two), and the riot police in the background charging into the madness of the gaggle in the distance (many). Obviously, the incongruity of the image is what made it famous. Like a red flower in a monochromatic sea of concrete, the last thing one expects to see in the midst of a full blown riot is a still, peaceful space occupied by a focused expression of human sexuality.

I love this image for all of those reasons, but even more so because it touches on an ideal I believe is indispensable to a relationship and one I have yet to find. If someone asked me, "What are you looking for in a partner?" I would show them this photo. The world is literally burning down around this couple. Faced with the choice between brutal, joyless order and bacchanal, destructive chaos, they chose neither and instead found a still space in which the only thing that mattered to them was one another.

I realize that sounds like the idealization of an event, but I mean it as a critique of a composition. I don't know what they were doing previously. They very well could have been throwing bottles of Labatt through Vancouver shop windows or dropping MDMA and imploring anyone of the opposite sex to bang them, in which case my critique of the composition would be tainted by the back story. But what if I told you they're still together? True story. He was an Australian stand up comedian and she was a young Canadian college girl. They live in Melbourne, Australia now and are apparently still happy and very much in love (granted, it's only been six months). I'm guessing the move to Melbourne was precipitated by potential Canadian legal ramifications resulting from being party to the riots (read: deportation). Maple Leaf Law doesn't mess around when it comes to foreign nationals. Trust me.

Where they wound up geographically doesn't really matter. That they're there together enhances my appreciation and enjoyment of the photograph that much more and makes for an epic, "How I Met Your Mother" story. Seriously, can you imagine being asked by another couple, "How'd you two meet?" and answering with, "Well, remember the Vancouver riots?" Win.

My parents knew a husband and wife named Stanley and Theresa. They were raised in the same small town in west Texas as my mother and father, but were never much more than acquaintances until they crossed paths with my parents as adults when they were all living in Aberdeen, Scotland. One evening over dinner, my father asked how they met...

Stanley was sort of the James Dean bad boy of Snyder, Texas; cool, cultured (at least compared to the rest of Snyder), good looking and aloof. Theresa was the quintessential small town All-American high school girl; cute, smart, well-behaved, and dying inside for some kind of adventure.

This was back in the late 60s and Snyder was still a segregated town, in practice if not in law. There was a specific neighborhood called The Flats or colloquially, [insert something much worse], where the majority of the town's black citizens lived. The inhabitants of The Flats were largely left to their own devices and, provided no serious trouble got stirred up and/or the right amount of money found itself into the right person's pocket, even illegal enterprises were mostly overlooked. Until very recently, Snyder was the county seat of a dry county. In order to purchase any alcohol, Snyderites had to drive to either Lubbock or Abilene to buy their booze...or, they could risk scandalizing their good neighbors and potential legal entanglements to venture down to The Flats to have a drink at Freddy Ray's.

Freddy Ray and his wife Mozelle ran a speak-easy that was attached to the back of their house. I don't think they actually brewed/distilled anything, but instead drove to Lubbock or Abilene (like the 'good' white folks), bought booze, drove it back to Snyder, and then sold it at a mark up to the inhabitants of The Flats and any of the white citizens brave enough to shirk convention and belly up to the bar.

Stanley was home from college in the Big City - every city is "big" compared to Snyder, so it could have just been Lubbock, but I like to imagine it as New York or Chicago - so, Stanley's home from college in New York and, unconcerned with the provincial hang-ups of Scurry County, spends the better part of more than a few evenings having beers at Freddy Ray's and counting the days until he can get back to the city.

On one such evening, Theresa and a couple of her friends decided to finally indulge their sense of adventure and have a crack at good old fashioned rebellion. I imagine this idea coming to fruition in much the same way the three nerds decide to go to the party at the moon tower in Dazed and Confused. Freddy Ray's was their moon tower.

Innocent, white, Cute-as-a-button Theresa and her similarly attributed friends must have caused quite the stir when they walked into Freddy Ray's speak easy. I imagine all heads turning to stare and all noise, save for the blues music playing in the background, stopping as Theresa and her friends paused briefly just inside the door and tried to pretend that they weren't deeply, painfully out of their element.

Like any good businessman, Freddy Ray eventually offered the three awkward paying customers a drink and things settled into some sense of routine. Conversations resumed, beers were poured. If there was a pool table, and I like to think there was, the game started back up. However, and in stories like this there's always a "however," the Scurry County sheriff had decided that that night was a good night to raid Freddy Ray's speak easy. I don't know if this was because the sheriff had to keep up appearances and did so by periodically raiding Freddy Ray's, making some arrests, and doling out some fines, or if the sheriff was on the take and Freddy Ray hadn't paid his dues.
When I'm in a good mood, I like to imagine the sheriff raiding Freddy Ray's as Buford T. Justice

When I'm in a bad mood, it's Boss Godfrey from Cool Hand Luke

At any rate, the law was coming through the door and there were four white kids sitting at the bar who were about to be in a world of hurt and embarrassment...mostly embarrassment...and mostly for their families. Mozelle, realizing the stakes for Stanley and Theresa and her friends, herded them quickly into her and Freddy Ray's house and hid them, two by two, in coat closets.

Stanley and Theresa spent the evening getting to know one another in the coat closet of a bootlegger's house while it was being raided.

As if that wasn't epic enough, my parents tell me Stanley and Theresa were later divorced but then got remarried. At their second wedding, the pastor didn't show, they called around and found a backup pastor to preform the ceremony on short notice, and then spent the evening at a bar together regaling a drag queen with their story. Well played, Stanley and Theresa. Well played.

I think of their story as sort of the Saturday Night Live version of the Vancouver Riot Couple. Instead of riot cops, it's Buford T. Justice. Instead of a city street in the midst of chaos, it's a bootlegger's closet in the midst of a raid. Regardless, the story is essentially the same. Two unlikely people find one another in the eye of an equally unlikely storm and decide that being together is better than being alone and back in the Stanley and Theresa's case, twice.

I love that story.                       

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