Robert Howell Photographs

When I was young I learned a big word...

My Dad was a smart guy and he knew a lot of other smart people because he worked at the university teaching and researching. I like hanging around smart people, or educated people I guess. But I never became highly educated like my Dad and his friends. I know a lot. I just never made an issue out of it. Or a career. Same thing. But I thought I might like to be a meteorologist, which was (as far as I could tell) my first big word.

I liked clouds. I liked the fluffy ones that cruised across the broad blue sky of my prairie. Cumulus clouds I think. They weren’t too tall (and I think cumulus means they’re tall) so they might have been mediocris. But there were lot’s of them, like an armada, or at least a fleet, sailing in formation, as fleets do, from west to east. I liked them so much... well I liked looking at them in the blue sky... that when I first heard for the first time the first big word I can remember, I decided I would be a meteorologist, because I liked clouds.

You know, a lot of self absorbed people like to think they always knew they’d “be a dentist”, or “be a chiropractor”, ever since they were little, but that’s just because they were stupid enough to figure they would when they heard the big name around the same time they were going through their backyard phase fixating on teeth or making people’s bones make popping sounds, and they never figured out that it was just because their tooth had fallen out and Mom said ”Oh, I better call THE DENTIST” or “Mommy needs to lie down before she goes to THE CHIROPRACTOR”.

I, at least, figured out I was not interested in tropopause and temperature inversions. I liked looking at clouds.

When I was young the back alley was more than just a smelly place full of junk, weeds and litter. There were tinkers. Rags and bones men with hand carts. This was in the fifties. And knife sharpeners. Scissors, skates, whatever. There was a whole other life in the back alley. Do you know why tin garbage cans are so banged up? Because the garbage men (and they were all men then) took a disliking to them. They banged them up so the owners would buy new ones. How did they bang them up? Easy. They would swoop down in one smooth arc and pick one up by their gloved hand and bang it down on the rim of the hopper. And if that wasn’t enough, or even if it was, they’d bang it two or three more times for good measure I guess. I don’t know. Maybe it was just learned behaviour, like a dance routine. Choreography. I wondered... if any of them had run across that big word, might they have considered a dance career?

Anyway, in this manner they made a mess of the garbage cans and if the owners didn’t buy new ones they’d bang’em more until they did. OR! They would make an executive decision and throw the whole damn thing in the hopper, can and all, because by this time it was nothing but garbage anyway. There’s a fine line there, and it takes a professional to recognize it’s been crossed.

The tinkers and skate sharpeners I didn’t have much truck with. I stayed a safe distance from them. Why? I don’t know really. Maybe because they were so weird. Like, “rags and bones”? Really? What would anyone need old bones for, let alone rags? Maybe they just liked them, and knew they just liked them. No other reason. They just liked having them around. And only tinkered with the idea of becoming a Chiropractor.