PRETTYFAKES

Polaroids by the Artist
David McCarty
of Jackson, Mississippi
The second time I went to New Orleans I was eighteen.  This was back when you could feel when you’d crossed the border into Louisiana.  The roads were just that bad.  Lore had it the federal wouldn’t give the state money until they raised the drinking age up to 21.  We would make a game of it and close our eyes and yell out when we figured we’d passed into the state.  You’d be flying down the interstate and see blue Camaros and silver Trans Ams do accidental bunny hops off waves in the concrete, graceful during a long second of hangtime, then slam down, sparks flying from cracked oil pans.  

It was September of 1993, and Mississippi State was to play Tulane.  The season had already started rough with two losses to Memphis and LSU, and nobody was really set on going to the game.  We just wanted to go to New Orleans.  

They had been clearing trees and brush by the side of I-55.  The gnarled roots and busted limbs and wilted foliage was stacked in great heaps along the road like they were for a giant’s campsite.  These broken forests were ablaze.  Their fires were as big as the house I grew up in.  And there were dozens of them, a terrifying subdivision of red and yellow flame in the Fall night.  It looked like what I imagined the End Times was supposed to look like.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // City Park, New Orleans // July 2014

The second time I went to New Orleans I was eighteen. This was back when you could feel when you’d crossed the border into Louisiana. The roads were just that bad. Lore had it the federal wouldn’t give the state money until they raised the drinking age up to 21. We would make a game of it and close our eyes and yell out when we figured we’d passed into the state. You’d be flying down the interstate and see blue Camaros and silver Trans Ams do accidental bunny hops off waves in the concrete, graceful during a long second of hangtime, then slam down, sparks flying from cracked oil pans.

It was September of 1993, and Mississippi State was to play Tulane. The season had already started rough with two losses to Memphis and LSU, and nobody was really set on going to the game. We just wanted to go to New Orleans.

They had been clearing trees and brush by the side of I-55. The gnarled roots and busted limbs and wilted foliage was stacked in great heaps along the road like they were for a giant’s campsite. These broken forests were ablaze. Their fires were as big as the house I grew up in. And there were dozens of them, a terrifying subdivision of red and yellow flame in the Fall night. It looked like what I imagined the End Times was supposed to look like.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // City Park, New Orleans // July 2014

Breakfast is my favorite meal, and breakfast in New Orleans is grand. In a city that prides itself on food, breakfast is its real superpower: two hour meals staggering into lunch, fresh juices from every known fruit, where even dough hot from the fryer, dusted with sugar, becomes an artform.

Over the mornings I eat a croissant heavy with scrambled eggs; grits thick and creamy; spinach woven into eggs covering a fresh and crunchy baguette. And there is never a bad cup of coffee.

At Coulis on Prytania “Paradise City” plays lightly in the background as I eat a pancake as big as a schoolroom’s globe. There is a smiley face drawn on it with fresh whipped cream. A little girl follows one of the servers through the restaurant, laughing and cutting up. The server has shiny bat wings tattooed down her arms.

After making a dent in the pancake, I tear into the omelet. It’s made with gruyere and crunchy red onions. A table of regulars gets up and walks across the restaurant, talking about a postponed Florida vacation. The couple is older; the woman is elegant and reminds me of Lauren Bacall. Not the face of La Bacall, but the way she moves—bold, with dignity, perhaps a little scary. I say yes to a second cup. The bat-server announces proudly that her sidekick has just earned her first tip.

“Crazy on You” begins to play. I squint trying to overhear the table next to me, where a woman with red-brown bangs is waving her arms, “Creole Debutante” inked on her right bicep. The woman working the register asks me if I’m in town working on a film. It has begun to rain too heavily to see.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // New Orleans, July 2014

Polaroid // Impossible Project Magentatype 600 // July 2014 // Storyland, City Park, New Orleans

Polaroid // Impossible Project Magentatype 600 // July 2014 // Storyland, City Park, New Orleans

I’m staying at a haunted house in New Orleans on the edge of the Garden District. I suppose there’s no evidence that it’s haunted, and no one has even suggested that it is, but it’s a century old and crumbling and there are strange thunks and clonks and a six-toed cat sitting on the stoop outside, and in my completely accurate opinion everything in this City is haunted.

The house is on Melpomene. Once muse of singing and melody, over time she became the personification of tragedy. It was once the standard that you’d call on Melpomene in order to write well. When walking the neighborhood I chant her name under my breath, an unconscious tribute: mel-pom-ah-knee, mel-pom-ah-knee, dodging puddles and staring at live oaks with their branches sprawled about like B-movie octopi, mel-pom-ah-knee.

I skirted the downtown exit on the way here, kept going like I was looping to Slidell. I wanted to make my way into the abandoned Six Flags, but there’s heavy security at the gate now. The rumor is that they are filming a new Jurassic Park amidst the metal skeletons and moldy stuffed animals. My dreams of climbing kudzu-covered rollercoasters were dashed.

Instead I loaded my camera with new film and wove my way through the Quarter. A catalog of smells in one quick stretch of Royal: pony, pee, puke, perfume. It’s a Thursday at midnight and the city feels deserted—nobody paying attention to the person sweating and staring into the night sky at a neon sign, staring like it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, chanting under their breath.

Heading back there’s a group of women staggering past police headquarters, which advertises N.O.P.D. t-shirts for sale. “Y’all think we can take our drinks in?” one says to nobody in particular.

Walking to breakfast down Magazine the next morning, there’s a neatly folded shirt with three well-worn bras on it just sitting on a curb. The top-most bra is a dull chocolate color. I stare for a minute and try to figure out what would have caused that particular pile. It’s not one shirt and a bra, which could make sense, or two shirts and a bra, or any combination I can parse under even the vaguest New Orleans logic. Maybe it’s that I hadn’t had coffee yet.

There’s an antique store I always go to in search of old postcards. I love to send them, so I always look for unused ones, but every now and then I like to see what people wrote their friends. One had a bleak looking airport on the front, sent from Pittsburgh sometime in August in the sixties: Hi—We’re all home-sick for N.O., but at least are enjoying the cool weather. We froze the first few days. THE PERRY’S. Another is from the top of the Empire State Building: Dear Carl, What an incredible place this city is. After a week here my feet are sore from hiking around to see all the sights. God bless and keep you. Postmarked June 28, 1962.

Later in the afternoon, walking back to Melpomene in a fierce and sudden thunderstorm, I see the pile of clothes on the curb again. Two of the bras were gone.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // New Orleans, July 2014

The first time I ever went to New Orleans I was little.  We went to go see my dad’s brother and his family.  My sister and I rode in the back of our parents’ burgundy El Dorado, stopping once in the middle of Mississippi to use a payphone to check in with my grandparents.  (For years I equated Mississippi with a spooky, completely dark truck stop in the middle of nowhere). 

Our cousins, the twins, told us that they had just gotten out of school for a week because there were parades all the time.  We were astonished.  There were still beads hanging from the trees, glittery pink and green wreaths bending the branches low.  We played outside, and when it turned dusk each child was silhouetted by a cloud of mosquitoes.  You could clap your hands and there’d be blots of bright Alabama blood on your palms.  

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // New Orleans, 2014

The first time I ever went to New Orleans I was little. We went to go see my dad’s brother and his family. My sister and I rode in the back of our parents’ burgundy El Dorado, stopping once in the middle of Mississippi to use a payphone to check in with my grandparents. (For years I equated Mississippi with a spooky, completely dark truck stop in the middle of nowhere).

Our cousins, the twins, told us that they had just gotten out of school for a week because there were parades all the time. We were astonished. There were still beads hanging from the trees, glittery pink and green wreaths bending the branches low. We played outside, and when it turned dusk each child was silhouetted by a cloud of mosquitoes. You could clap your hands and there’d be blots of bright Alabama blood on your palms.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // New Orleans, 2014

Thoughts about Blue Is the Warmest Color

I forgot how big high school could be, that you didn’t always know everybody everywhere.  The world seemed so big back then.  Adèle has amazing hair and it is all over the place, almost seems to be sentient, or at least restless, like Medusa’s from the Inhumans.  

That flash of blue hair—this must be Emma—the way she almost violently twists around to stare at Adèle—and she then whipsawing her body around to see Emma—has anyone ever looked at me like this?  Will anyone ever look at me like that?  Is that just in the movies.  It doesn’t feel like a movie thing though, that actually feels like a real life thing, like they might never see each other again.  

Were we this cruel to each other in high school, so cavalier?  Were we worse?  I like to think we weren’t this awful, at least.  Emma has scary eyes, tired eyes, the eyes of someone who is constantly on the edge of desperation.  I wish I’d marched in a protest in high school.  I wish I’d marched in a protest ever.  What is this amazing song they are playing and chanting along to.  What would we have marched about, I wonder, in 1992.  I had zero conception of what an economy even was, let alone that I should be assured of a place in it.  

The way these people eat!  Like they are starving to death, like eating is done as much with the shoulders and neck as with the mouth.  There is so much space in this film. She smokes like a tough guy in a 1950s movie.  I need to reread Sartre.  

Will anyone ever love me like this?  Has anyone ever loved me like that?  If someone did, could I reciprocate?  I want somebody to throw me a party and invite all my friends and screen black and white movies in the background while we eat inscrutable delicacies.  I really like this Lykke Li song and it’s perfect for this scene.  Is Lille really big, in terms of cities?  I wonder what year this is supposed to be in, I guess nobody has cell phones.  

Oh, don’t do that, Adèle, you will regret it.  Oh, don’t say that, Emma, you will regret it.  I have never been to France, but I have walked down that street, feeling like that.  The snot mixed with the tears.  That’s what this movie is more real about than anything else, the snot pouring out when you are great gulping dying-crying.  

She actually seems like a really good teacher.  Suddenly teachers seems even more important than they are, as I wonder how in the world anyone has ever stood in front of a room of six year olds for an entire day to coax them into learning grammar.  That suddenly seems harder than building rockets for space ships.  

“Infinite tenderness.”  

Polaroid 600 // Somewhere Outside Bessemer, Alabama, 2006

Thoughts about Blue Is the Warmest Color

I forgot how big high school could be, that you didn’t always know everybody everywhere. The world seemed so big back then. Adèle has amazing hair and it is all over the place, almost seems to be sentient, or at least restless, like Medusa’s from the Inhumans.

That flash of blue hair—this must be Emma—the way she almost violently twists around to stare at Adèle—and she then whipsawing her body around to see Emma—has anyone ever looked at me like this? Will anyone ever look at me like that? Is that just in the movies. It doesn’t feel like a movie thing though, that actually feels like a real life thing, like they might never see each other again.

Were we this cruel to each other in high school, so cavalier? Were we worse? I like to think we weren’t this awful, at least. Emma has scary eyes, tired eyes, the eyes of someone who is constantly on the edge of desperation. I wish I’d marched in a protest in high school. I wish I’d marched in a protest ever. What is this amazing song they are playing and chanting along to. What would we have marched about, I wonder, in 1992. I had zero conception of what an economy even was, let alone that I should be assured of a place in it.

The way these people eat! Like they are starving to death, like eating is done as much with the shoulders and neck as with the mouth. There is so much space in this film. She smokes like a tough guy in a 1950s movie. I need to reread Sartre.

Will anyone ever love me like this? Has anyone ever loved me like that? If someone did, could I reciprocate? I want somebody to throw me a party and invite all my friends and screen black and white movies in the background while we eat inscrutable delicacies. I really like this Lykke Li song and it’s perfect for this scene. Is Lille really big, in terms of cities? I wonder what year this is supposed to be in, I guess nobody has cell phones.

Oh, don’t do that, Adèle, you will regret it. Oh, don’t say that, Emma, you will regret it. I have never been to France, but I have walked down that street, feeling like that. The snot mixed with the tears. That’s what this movie is more real about than anything else, the snot pouring out when you are great gulping dying-crying.

She actually seems like a really good teacher. Suddenly teachers seems even more important than they are, as I wonder how in the world anyone has ever stood in front of a room of six year olds for an entire day to coax them into learning grammar. That suddenly seems harder than building rockets for space ships.

“Infinite tenderness.”

Polaroid 600 // Somewhere Outside Bessemer, Alabama, 2006

Errata:  

This is a Polaroid double exposure of the mosaics on the walls of the Mayflower Cafe, in Jackson, Mississippi.  I know what you’re thinking—is it a mural or a mosaic?  Really you could pretty much use the terms interchangeably, I call them murals all the time, but technically when you use pieces of tile or glass it’s a mosaic.

A line from the Lydia Davis story “Molly, Female Cat:  History/Findings” that made me ache:  Sometimes cries after nap.

I only have one Napalm Death album on my device right now, their landmark second record, From Enslavement to Obliteration (for a while I carried Scum and Utilitarian as well as their recent split with Converge).  I have to work really hard at not constantly “flipping the station” for pop songs, or just listening to the same song over and over while I’m in the car.  (I will sometimes listen to the same song a half dozen times in a row).  So I hit shuffle and started with HAIM—the device then played something off FETO, then Sharon Van Etten, then back to FETO, then Wye Oak, then FETO, then I had to stop it because it was weirding me out.

When crafting a double exposure, take care to expose the darker image first—the second image will “print” onto the dark spaces of the first image. 

The other night I watched Adventures in Babysitting and it struck me how thrilled I was when it came out that there were so many references to Thor in it, that Thor is like almost a presence in the film.  And there’s a Jack Kirby Thor hanging up in the kid’s bedroom!  And let’s be honest, young Vincent D’Onofrio is a pretty great vision as the cranky, possibly Norse mechanic.  It’s hard to believe this is a world where I have to make decisions like should I see this Thor sequel in 3D or just normal.   Also am now fairly certain Elisabeth Shue is an under-appreciated comedic genius and that she might glow (she was only 24 in that movie!).  

A sliver from Leaves of Grass that also made me ache:
(As if any man really knew aught of my life,
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of
     my own life 

The other night I go to Kroger because a friend has told me they are making Oreos with Reese’s peanut butter and that is enough to get me to go to the Kroger.  The check-out clerk is very skinny and has elaborately coiffed hair.  Her nametag, I think at first, says “Fat.”  I stare.  It doesn’t say “Fat,” it says “Pat,” the P worn dull and smooth, reshaping her.

I started to watch a bunch of Law & Orders tonight to decompress after work but had to turn it off.  There are already so many awful things in this world, and lately I cannot bear to watch pantomimed violence, no matter how loosely sketched, no matter if it is just a hint (I have long been unable to watch really violent movies or TV).  It just all reminds me of a horror movie.  Instead I read a Psalm:  you stoop down to make me great.  You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.  Turned ankles in the woods, now there’s a genre staple.

I get the same thing at the Mayflower every time, and every time it seems to be even better than the time before:  onion rings, fettuccine Alfredo, and Diet Coke in little green bottles.

 Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

Errata:

This is a Polaroid double exposure of the mosaics on the walls of the Mayflower Cafe, in Jackson, Mississippi. I know what you’re thinking—is it a mural or a mosaic? Really you could pretty much use the terms interchangeably, I call them murals all the time, but technically when you use pieces of tile or glass it’s a mosaic.

A line from the Lydia Davis story “Molly, Female Cat: History/Findings” that made me ache: Sometimes cries after nap.

I only have one Napalm Death album on my device right now, their landmark second record, From Enslavement to Obliteration (for a while I carried Scum and Utilitarian as well as their recent split with Converge). I have to work really hard at not constantly “flipping the station” for pop songs, or just listening to the same song over and over while I’m in the car. (I will sometimes listen to the same song a half dozen times in a row). So I hit shuffle and started with HAIM—the device then played something off FETO, then Sharon Van Etten, then back to FETO, then Wye Oak, then FETO, then I had to stop it because it was weirding me out.

When crafting a double exposure, take care to expose the darker image first—the second image will “print” onto the dark spaces of the first image.

The other night I watched Adventures in Babysitting and it struck me how thrilled I was when it came out that there were so many references to Thor in it, that Thor is like almost a presence in the film. And there’s a Jack Kirby Thor hanging up in the kid’s bedroom! And let’s be honest, young Vincent D’Onofrio is a pretty great vision as the cranky, possibly Norse mechanic. It’s hard to believe this is a world where I have to make decisions like should I see this Thor sequel in 3D or just normal. Also am now fairly certain Elisabeth Shue is an under-appreciated comedic genius and that she might glow (she was only 24 in that movie!).

A sliver from Leaves of Grass that also made me ache:

(As if any man really knew aught of my life,
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of
my own life

The other night I go to Kroger because a friend has told me they are making Oreos with Reese’s peanut butter and that is enough to get me to go to the Kroger. The check-out clerk is very skinny and has elaborately coiffed hair. Her nametag, I think at first, says “Fat.” I stare. It doesn’t say “Fat,” it says “Pat,” the P worn dull and smooth, reshaping her.

I started to watch a bunch of Law & Orders tonight to decompress after work but had to turn it off. There are already so many awful things in this world, and lately I cannot bear to watch pantomimed violence, no matter how loosely sketched, no matter if it is just a hint (I have long been unable to watch really violent movies or TV). It just all reminds me of a horror movie. Instead I read a Psalm: you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn. Turned ankles in the woods, now there’s a genre staple.

I get the same thing at the Mayflower every time, and every time it seems to be even better than the time before: onion rings, fettuccine Alfredo, and Diet Coke in little green bottles.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

Selected Recent Google Searches, June-July 2014:
it is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender
arthur adams wolverine poster
if you can believe your eyes and ears
elvis peanut butter recipe
wiki stevie nicks discography
lyrics william it was really nothing
how can you indefinitely preserve food
what image goes first in a double exposure
whats an m3u file
william bell everyday will be like a holiday
drew brees bacchus painting
tom waits russian dance
pas de deux
who is june named for
where is the goonies located
where is jim morrison buried
large marge pee wee
how many words in instagram caption
dietrich bonhoeffer
menchie’s calorie count
scorpions winds of change
wiki patience
dolly parton jolene lyrics
old hag syndrome
bart sitting on homer’s chest
bon iver blood bank lyrics
come unto me all ye that labor
latin for happy birthday
medgar evers
text of voting rights act of 1964
what are some fun books to read
birney imes june bug
the nightside eclipse
best kitty photos
how long are vines
moonrise kingdom letters
what is the longest philip glass song
candy jernigan
is the punk singer on netflix
 Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project Color // Jackson, Mississippi

Selected Recent Google Searches, June-July 2014:

  • it is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender
  • arthur adams wolverine poster
  • if you can believe your eyes and ears
  • elvis peanut butter recipe
  • wiki stevie nicks discography
  • lyrics william it was really nothing
  • how can you indefinitely preserve food
  • what image goes first in a double exposure
  • whats an m3u file
  • william bell everyday will be like a holiday
  • drew brees bacchus painting
  • tom waits russian dance
  • pas de deux
  • who is june named for
  • where is the goonies located
  • where is jim morrison buried
  • large marge pee wee
  • how many words in instagram caption
  • dietrich bonhoeffer
  • menchie’s calorie count
  • scorpions winds of change
  • wiki patience
  • dolly parton jolene lyrics
  • old hag syndrome
  • bart sitting on homer’s chest
  • bon iver blood bank lyrics
  • come unto me all ye that labor
  • latin for happy birthday
  • medgar evers
  • text of voting rights act of 1964
  • what are some fun books to read
  • birney imes june bug
  • the nightside eclipse
  • best kitty photos
  • how long are vines
  • moonrise kingdom letters
  • what is the longest philip glass song
  • candy jernigan
  • is the punk singer on netflix

 Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project Color // Jackson, Mississippi

When I studied art in college there was a strong emphasis on learning through focused observation, and sometimes even outright copying.  We were instructed to select works by famous artists and then draw them, as artists had done for centuries.  The idea was that we’d build our muscles through close repetition of the strokes of our predecessors, absorb a sense of composition and design through painfully slow recreation.
This works to some extent.  In the best case scenario, you have a student with a fresh and informed insight into the complicated alchemy of creation.  In the worst case, you have a funhouse mirror of a thing of beauty, an unloved Bizarro suitable only for exile to an island of half-filled sketchbooks and grubby Moleskines with ripped out pages.
Every now and then I still like to use this method.  Nowadays it’s more a path of mindfulness, gently guiding me to a place of focus and contemplation of a work of art.  It slows me down where I don’t just glance, absorb, and move on in fifteen seconds.  Nestled in one of the dozen sketchbooks on my shelf is a July afternoon in Chicago and echoes of the luscious curves of Modigliani, a December morning at the Whitney and the Lilliputian costumes of LeDray.
It’s also increasingly a form of communion with the absent creator.  There’s an intimacy when you spend so much time with another artist, with one of their works.  You talk to them, talk to their art, talk to the past.
So sometimes you just need to put on Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks and drive down old Mississippi roads in the roaring heat in search of a graveyard where Eudora Welty shot in spooky black and white twenty years before your parents were born.  
A few years ago I hunted down a particularly heartbreaking gravestone she’d captured—a hand reaching down from the clouds and plucking a link from a chain.  It was in Utica, Mississippi, right off Highway 18.  Down the street from the graveyard some kids were laughing and running around next to what appeared to be a fully functioning Space Invaders pinball machine, just set out in the front yard.  I recall learning why she’d cropped one of her photos just so—the angle was a bit off because there was a telephone pole in the frame.    
I went back a few weekends ago, armed with film I thought would do the subject justice, and curious to see if it would feel differently now, if the communion had changed as I had aged.  And listen, for all this talk of speaking to the past, and enhancing craft—shouldn’t there be some fun in art, too?  Joy amongst the marble stones?  Even if you’re just a kid banging out “Sugar, Sugar” on your older sister’s guitar in a muggy garage, even if you’ll never get it right, shouldn’t it thrill you while you smash away!  Shouldn’t it. 
Shouldn’t you kneel on the grave of a person who died 154 years ago, shouldn’t you stare at the oddly impressionistic and lovely weeping willow on the marker as your knee dents the damp grass, shouldn’t you mouth a little prayer while mashing that bright red plastic button, shouldn’t you wonder if maybe just for a minute a white-haired artist is standing and looking over your shoulder as you swelter in a graveyard in Utica, Mississippi, shouldn’t you laugh a little bit and wonder if you’ll ever play a Space Invaders pinball machine in a stranger’s front yard in the summertime.  
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Utica, Mississippi

When I studied art in college there was a strong emphasis on learning through focused observation, and sometimes even outright copying.  We were instructed to select works by famous artists and then draw them, as artists had done for centuries.  The idea was that we’d build our muscles through close repetition of the strokes of our predecessors, absorb a sense of composition and design through painfully slow recreation.

This works to some extent.  In the best case scenario, you have a student with a fresh and informed insight into the complicated alchemy of creation.  In the worst case, you have a funhouse mirror of a thing of beauty, an unloved Bizarro suitable only for exile to an island of half-filled sketchbooks and grubby Moleskines with ripped out pages.

Every now and then I still like to use this method.  Nowadays it’s more a path of mindfulness, gently guiding me to a place of focus and contemplation of a work of art.  It slows me down where I don’t just glance, absorb, and move on in fifteen seconds.  Nestled in one of the dozen sketchbooks on my shelf is a July afternoon in Chicago and echoes of the luscious curves of Modigliani, a December morning at the Whitney and the Lilliputian costumes of LeDray.

It’s also increasingly a form of communion with the absent creator.  There’s an intimacy when you spend so much time with another artist, with one of their works.  You talk to them, talk to their art, talk to the past.

So sometimes you just need to put on Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks and drive down old Mississippi roads in the roaring heat in search of a graveyard where Eudora Welty shot in spooky black and white twenty years before your parents were born. 

A few years ago I hunted down a particularly heartbreaking gravestone she’d captured—a hand reaching down from the clouds and plucking a link from a chain.  It was in Utica, Mississippi, right off Highway 18.  Down the street from the graveyard some kids were laughing and running around next to what appeared to be a fully functioning Space Invaders pinball machine, just set out in the front yard.  I recall learning why she’d cropped one of her photos just so—the angle was a bit off because there was a telephone pole in the frame.   

I went back a few weekends ago, armed with film I thought would do the subject justice, and curious to see if it would feel differently now, if the communion had changed as I had aged.  And listen, for all this talk of speaking to the past, and enhancing craft—shouldn’t there be some fun in art, too?  Joy amongst the marble stones?  Even if you’re just a kid banging out “Sugar, Sugar” on your older sister’s guitar in a muggy garage, even if you’ll never get it right, shouldn’t it thrill you while you smash away!  Shouldn’t it. 

Shouldn’t you kneel on the grave of a person who died 154 years ago, shouldn’t you stare at the oddly impressionistic and lovely weeping willow on the marker as your knee dents the damp grass, shouldn’t you mouth a little prayer while mashing that bright red plastic button, shouldn’t you wonder if maybe just for a minute a white-haired artist is standing and looking over your shoulder as you swelter in a graveyard in Utica, Mississippi, shouldn’t you laugh a little bit and wonder if you’ll ever play a Space Invaders pinball machine in a stranger’s front yard in the summertime. 

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Utica, Mississippi

I moved to Jackson in 2001, to a tiny basement apartment behind the Jitney 14.  It had bars on the windows and flooded when it rained. The first morning I woke up in my new place I left a red shadow on the sheets from sweating out crimson slate dust from the quarry I’d just left in Flat Top, Alabama.  Not long afterwards I started taking Polaroids with an old Sun 600.
In October, the Ogden Museum in New Orleans will host a show called Self-Processing, featuring photographs by William Eggleston, Andy Warhol, Maude Schuyler Clay, Andres Serrano, and the artist whose work I named myself after, Sally Mann.  Plus work by lots of other amazing people I can’t wait to meet and learn about.  
Plus two Polaroids by me.
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

I moved to Jackson in 2001, to a tiny basement apartment behind the Jitney 14.  It had bars on the windows and flooded when it rained. The first morning I woke up in my new place I left a red shadow on the sheets from sweating out crimson slate dust from the quarry I’d just left in Flat Top, Alabama.  Not long afterwards I started taking Polaroids with an old Sun 600.

In October, the Ogden Museum in New Orleans will host a show called Self-Processing, featuring photographs by William Eggleston, Andy Warhol, Maude Schuyler Clay, Andres Serrano, and the artist whose work I named myself after, Sally Mann.  Plus work by lots of other amazing people I can’t wait to meet and learn about. 

Plus two Polaroids by me.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi


“I think I’m bleeding,” you mumble, and I dang near swerve the truck into a ditch.  “Again.”

“What do you mean, bleeding,” I half yell, trying really hard not to, trying my best, actually, and kind of worrying it’s less a yell than a screech.  “Do we need to stop?  I mean, do we need to pull over, that kind of bleeding?”  

I feel like I look like Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, like I just shuddered and transformed into a clay monster, my eyes all bugging out.  Dolly Parton is on the radio singing that “everything’s going to be all right.”  I realize I’m sweating even though the AC is cranked up as good as it can get.  Your window is half down.  My stomach is rumbling.  I don’t feel like everything’s going to be all right. You don’t say anything; just look out the window.  There’s nothing to see on this moonless Tennessee night.     
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

“I think I’m bleeding,” you mumble, and I dang near swerve the truck into a ditch.  “Again.”

“What do you mean, bleeding,” I half yell, trying really hard not to, trying my best, actually, and kind of worrying it’s less a yell than a screech.  “Do we need to stop?  I mean, do we need to pull over, that kind of bleeding?” 

I feel like I look like Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, like I just shuddered and transformed into a clay monster, my eyes all bugging out.  Dolly Parton is on the radio singing that “everything’s going to be all right.”  I realize I’m sweating even though the AC is cranked up as good as it can get.  Your window is half down.  My stomach is rumbling.  I don’t feel like everything’s going to be all right.

You don’t say anything; just look out the window.  There’s nothing to see on this moonless Tennessee night.     

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

I wonder if you remember that year we just listened to R.E.M. for a whole month straight, really just Document and Reckoning.  When one was over you’d mash the finicky eject button with your thumbnail and jam the other CD into the dash.  A whole June of you calling it “Don’t Go Back to Starkville” to make me mad, thirty days of yelling out “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” somehow managing to botch the timing of the Leonard Bernstein part every single time.   You told me once that back at Sewanee you had a French teacher who made y’all translate all those jumbled up lyrics about doomsday, made you chant it in class as a way to try to ramp up your colloquial language speed.  You said it didn’t work but was pretty fun to do.  One night during the Reckoning patch we were riding down to Jackson for you to get some good redfish before the ballet.  You turned the stereo down and admitted that you had always wanted to learn French, and regretted failing at it, for no other reason than you wanted the ability to navigate to Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison was buried.   It was dark and I was driving that old burgundy Buick you’d gotten from your grandmother, only 17,000 miles on it but it smelled like a damp basement in the wintertime.  You were looking out the window and biting your lip, maybe shyly, maybe because it was chapped from laying out all day.  In my mind this is when your hair was almost a matte black, and even though it was dark already we had the air conditioner on full blast because it had been so hot that day, and you faded into the dark blur of Highway 49 as you looked out the window.
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

I wonder if you remember that year we just listened to R.E.M. for a whole month straight, really just Document and Reckoning.  When one was over you’d mash the finicky eject button with your thumbnail and jam the other CD into the dash.  A whole June of you calling it “Don’t Go Back to Starkville” to make me mad, thirty days of yelling out “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” somehow managing to botch the timing of the Leonard Bernstein part every single time. 

You told me once that back at Sewanee you had a French teacher who made y’all translate all those jumbled up lyrics about doomsday, made you chant it in class as a way to try to ramp up your colloquial language speed.  You said it didn’t work but was pretty fun to do.  One night during the Reckoning patch we were riding down to Jackson for you to get some good redfish before the ballet.  You turned the stereo down and admitted that you had always wanted to learn French, and regretted failing at it, for no other reason than you wanted the ability to navigate to Père Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison was buried. 

It was dark and I was driving that old burgundy Buick you’d gotten from your grandmother, only 17,000 miles on it but it smelled like a damp basement in the wintertime.  You were looking out the window and biting your lip, maybe shyly, maybe because it was chapped from laying out all day.  In my mind this is when your hair was almost a matte black, and even though it was dark already we had the air conditioner on full blast because it had been so hot that day, and you faded into the dark blur of Highway 49 as you looked out the window.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Mississippi

I just stood there on the sidewalk for a minute, staring at the pastel reflection of the neon sign from the jeweler across the street. Tightened the scarf around my neck; hunched my shoulders. Years ago someone had carefully painted these letters on the store window, and now the sun and time and the sodium streetlights had revealed every brushstroke. Each letter was golden, a black shadow dropped to the left of each one, with pencil-thin white for highlights.
I leaned forward and pressed my forehead up against the glass. It felt like a Coca-Cola bottle in July, the kind you could get out of a vending machine at the Forestdale Pool when I was little, the bottles slender and green, yanked out through the circular grate with a dull and violent clank. It had been a few months, maybe even a year, since I’d been back. The wind burned my ears. A stubby white Christmas tree made out of plastic sat on a dusty wooden table in the window. It was decorated with a dozen red poinsettias, synthetic as the tree. I wondered who painted the sign, wondered what they looked like.
I remembered there had been a Salvation Army around the corner, shoehorned into an old movie theatre.  I found an Otis Redding record there one time for three bucks, and even though “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was scratched, the rest of it sounded brand new.  The thrift store was long closed, and I marveled what had to happen for a Salvation Army to go out of business.  I wondered what they did with all the records when they shut it down, suddenly fretted at the thought of Volt and Tamla promotional singles shattered beneath black and white TVs down at the county landfill in Bessemer.
A car alarm throbbed in the background. It began to sync up with the pulse beating through my cheeks and face against the shop window. My phone buzzed once in my pocket, then again. Two text messages in rapid succession. I tried to remember what was even on the menu that I could eat. Did they even have an actual salad you could order, or was it just a trio of fist-sized bowls filled with creamed corn and asparagus and boiled potatoes? It didn’t really matter, I would just eat a few rolls and drink coffee either way. The alarm shut off.
The phone buzzed in my pocket again. I leaned back from the window. There were three little cartoon kids standing on the last letter, pulling another one up by a thick brown brushstroke. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked down at it. Where r u? I looked at the sign. The car alarm started up again. The phone buzzed in my hand:  incoming call from MOM. I looked at the little boy climbing on the letter in the sign. “SAVE THE YOUTH,” it said.
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Bessemer, Alabama

I just stood there on the sidewalk for a minute, staring at the pastel reflection of the neon sign from the jeweler across the street. Tightened the scarf around my neck; hunched my shoulders. Years ago someone had carefully painted these letters on the store window, and now the sun and time and the sodium streetlights had revealed every brushstroke. Each letter was golden, a black shadow dropped to the left of each one, with pencil-thin white for highlights.

I leaned forward and pressed my forehead up against the glass. It felt like a Coca-Cola bottle in July, the kind you could get out of a vending machine at the Forestdale Pool when I was little, the bottles slender and green, yanked out through the circular grate with a dull and violent clank. It had been a few months, maybe even a year, since I’d been back. The wind burned my ears. A stubby white Christmas tree made out of plastic sat on a dusty wooden table in the window. It was decorated with a dozen red poinsettias, synthetic as the tree. I wondered who painted the sign, wondered what they looked like.

I remembered there had been a Salvation Army around the corner, shoehorned into an old movie theatre.  I found an Otis Redding record there one time for three bucks, and even though “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was scratched, the rest of it sounded brand new.  The thrift store was long closed, and I marveled what had to happen for a Salvation Army to go out of business.  I wondered what they did with all the records when they shut it down, suddenly fretted at the thought of Volt and Tamla promotional singles shattered beneath black and white TVs down at the county landfill in Bessemer.

A car alarm throbbed in the background. It began to sync up with the pulse beating through my cheeks and face against the shop window. My phone buzzed once in my pocket, then again. Two text messages in rapid succession. I tried to remember what was even on the menu that I could eat. Did they even have an actual salad you could order, or was it just a trio of fist-sized bowls filled with creamed corn and asparagus and boiled potatoes? It didn’t really matter, I would just eat a few rolls and drink coffee either way. The alarm shut off.

The phone buzzed in my pocket again. I leaned back from the window. There were three little cartoon kids standing on the last letter, pulling another one up by a thick brown brushstroke. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked down at it. Where r u? I looked at the sign. The car alarm started up again. The phone buzzed in my hand:  incoming call from MOM. I looked at the little boy climbing on the letter in the sign. “SAVE THE YOUTH,” it said.

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Bessemer, Alabama

To celebrate the first day of summer here’s ELECTRIC CITY, a little zine I made featuring 5 Polaroids of nighttime scenes from Mississippi, plus a story about the Waffle House. They’re free if you want one, just email me your address at davidmccarty at gmail!

To celebrate the first day of summer here’s ELECTRIC CITY, a little zine I made featuring 5 Polaroids of nighttime scenes from Mississippi, plus a story about the Waffle House. They’re free if you want one, just email me your address at davidmccarty at gmail!

This is the one Waffle House in Mississippi that’s not just bone-shatteringly cold.  You know because you froze to death in them in high school and trips back home at Thanksgiving and Christmas and summer, trips that gradually dwindled to every-other Christmas, down to “we’re going to try to make it this year, I promise.”
The glowing yellow rectangle is jammed into the parking lot of a gas station.  You wonder why more don’t do that.  Even so, it’s quiet, like an aging suburban library with tall metal shelves stuffed with faddish books that nobody reads anymore, hardback copies of The Thorn Birds and Michener’s Hawaii and Reader’s Digest Condensed books, stuff your grandmother devoured.  You feel like you could actually relax here, it’s not filled with shouting drunk twentysomethings hogging the booths and vomiting in the bathroom sinks, no intense trucker guy sitting at the counter hissing like a ferret at anybody that walked too close, nobody with face tattoos talking about a court date.  In other words, unlike every other Waffle House in Mississippi you’ve ever been in, some of which take on a palpable aura of danger at a certain point in the night.
A young woman in a pink Waffle House cap makes her way, roundabout like, to the booth you picked—what seemed like a good booth, one where you can see the unlocked back of the U-Haul, the padlock left somewhere hundreds of miles north, far north enough that you’ve given up trying to remember what gas station or terrifying motor court you left it at, tried desperately to stop trying to remember, anyway, still grinding molars and squinting eyes even as I-55 snaked across state lines from Memphis to Southaven.  
Pink Hat has freckles and a big button with a picture of a little boy in a Cubs hat on it, and three or four dollar bills pinned to her starched apron, one of them fanned out prettily like an accordion.  “Hey, welcome to Waffle House, what can I get you to drink,” she says without actually asking a question.  “Coffee and a water, please,” you croak.  You realize you haven’t talked all day, other than mumbling a quiet “thank you” to a man at a 7-11 ten hours ago.  
“The coffee—well, the coffee ain’t no good,” Pink Hat laughs.  “Nobody know what happen, but—but listen.  You don’t want it,” she smiles, and from behind the counter there is hyena-like laughter.  “Just water, then,” you manage, and then, remembering suddenly, like a second cousin you’d forgotten:  “Is it your birthday?”
Pink Hat’s freckles stretch out as her smile squints her eyes into little slits.  “YES!” she screams, and spins around, like an actual 360 degree spin.  “Twenty four, my friend,” she says, drawing out the “four,” and spreading her arms wide like a magician, or maybe a ballet dancer.  
“Awesome, happy birthday,” you say, feeling a little embarrassed that you said “awesome.”  She grins and like runs off for the water.
You contemplate that maybe Waffle Houses are kind of mid-modern in design, look around at the molded plastic booths and wonder if this one is old or new, briefly consider looking up on Wikipedia if anyone has written about it.  The thought of doing this fills you with a sense of shame, so instead you inhale slowly and stare out the window at the back of the U-Haul, thinking that you have paid more money to rent that lumbering thing and drive it across America than for all the mostly-Ikea furniture crammed inside, some of it now probably broken after an accidental swerve last night.  
You mentally count the money in your pocket one more time, hoping you have an extra dollar for Pink Hat’s birthday, suddenly wanting more than anything in the world to see her pin that dollar to her apron.  
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Miss.

This is the one Waffle House in Mississippi that’s not just bone-shatteringly cold.  You know because you froze to death in them in high school and trips back home at Thanksgiving and Christmas and summer, trips that gradually dwindled to every-other Christmas, down to “we’re going to try to make it this year, I promise.”

The glowing yellow rectangle is jammed into the parking lot of a gas station.  You wonder why more don’t do that.  Even so, it’s quiet, like an aging suburban library with tall metal shelves stuffed with faddish books that nobody reads anymore, hardback copies of The Thorn Birds and Michener’s Hawaii and Reader’s Digest Condensed books, stuff your grandmother devoured.  You feel like you could actually relax here, it’s not filled with shouting drunk twentysomethings hogging the booths and vomiting in the bathroom sinks, no intense trucker guy sitting at the counter hissing like a ferret at anybody that walked too close, nobody with face tattoos talking about a court date.  In other words, unlike every other Waffle House in Mississippi you’ve ever been in, some of which take on a palpable aura of danger at a certain point in the night.

A young woman in a pink Waffle House cap makes her way, roundabout like, to the booth you picked—what seemed like a good booth, one where you can see the unlocked back of the U-Haul, the padlock left somewhere hundreds of miles north, far north enough that you’ve given up trying to remember what gas station or terrifying motor court you left it at, tried desperately to stop trying to remember, anyway, still grinding molars and squinting eyes even as I-55 snaked across state lines from Memphis to Southaven. 

Pink Hat has freckles and a big button with a picture of a little boy in a Cubs hat on it, and three or four dollar bills pinned to her starched apron, one of them fanned out prettily like an accordion.  “Hey, welcome to Waffle House, what can I get you to drink,” she says without actually asking a question.  “Coffee and a water, please,” you croak.  You realize you haven’t talked all day, other than mumbling a quiet “thank you” to a man at a 7-11 ten hours ago. 

“The coffee—well, the coffee ain’t no good,” Pink Hat laughs.  “Nobody know what happen, but—but listen.  You don’t want it,” she smiles, and from behind the counter there is hyena-like laughter.  “Just water, then,” you manage, and then, remembering suddenly, like a second cousin you’d forgotten:  “Is it your birthday?”

Pink Hat’s freckles stretch out as her smile squints her eyes into little slits.  “YES!” she screams, and spins around, like an actual 360 degree spin.  “Twenty four, my friend,” she says, drawing out the “four,” and spreading her arms wide like a magician, or maybe a ballet dancer. 

“Awesome, happy birthday,” you say, feeling a little embarrassed that you said “awesome.”  She grins and like runs off for the water.

You contemplate that maybe Waffle Houses are kind of mid-modern in design, look around at the molded plastic booths and wonder if this one is old or new, briefly consider looking up on Wikipedia if anyone has written about it.  The thought of doing this fills you with a sense of shame, so instead you inhale slowly and stare out the window at the back of the U-Haul, thinking that you have paid more money to rent that lumbering thing and drive it across America than for all the mostly-Ikea furniture crammed inside, some of it now probably broken after an accidental swerve last night. 

You mentally count the money in your pocket one more time, hoping you have an extra dollar for Pink Hat’s birthday, suddenly wanting more than anything in the world to see her pin that dollar to her apron. 

Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Jackson, Miss.