This is an entry in a series of posts I’m writing about objects I have that I love. I set up a light tent in the basement to use for a winter photography project and I’m going to try and post one of these a week and see where it goes.

I bought my first Scout in 1997, and it came with many things. The seller threw in all the parts he’d collected over the years, which filled up a big Rubbermaid tub, a set of roof racks we stuck in the back, a soft top, and a bikini top. After I’d done the test drive, I handed over my envelope of cash ($2,800 in Benjamins), we signed the paperwork on the hood, and he handed me the keyfob: a battered leather teardrop with a metal badge stitched at the top.

In the 70’s, these keyrings were sold everywhere cheap tourist gifts were available, and usually every make of car was represented with a decent approximation of the company logo. Ford and Chevy lovers could choose from several versions. Smaller makes like SAAB or Volvo got one choice. And niche manufacturers like International got a sort of half-assed version, where only one of the two logo colors was reproduced. I’ve seen these keyrings sold here and there over the years, but these days the available brands have consolidated, mirroring the auto industry as a whole. This ring still holds the original ignition key, as well as keys for the center console, the gas cap, Rotopax lock, and the garage key. It also held a door key which didn’t work in either of the locks, which are useless with the top off anyway. I put that aside.

Also on this keyring for a while was a gift from our friend Mike C. in Colorado, who sent it to me care of the Air Force Academy. This is a genuine weapon safing ribbon from the flight line (not the cheap knockoffs you see on fake bomber jackets these days) he sent me a few years ago, explaining it was backsheesh (a charitable contribution or a bribe, depending on who you ask in the Middle East). I added it on the ring for several years until I realized the white printed lettering was wearing off, and retired it from active duty.

Note: garage key teeth obscured for security reasons.

Date posted: November 26, 2018 | Filed under favorite things | Leave a Comment »


This is the second in a series of posts I’m writing about objects I have that I love. I set up a light tent in the basement to use for a winter photography project and I’m going to try and post one of these a week and see where it goes.

These are a pair of Doc Martens 1561 (4 eye) oxfords I got at Nordstrom’s with my ex-girlfriend over 25 years ago. The store was going through a Docs phase in the mid 90s, back when they were still making all their shoes in England. The day we were there, I tried on all of the pairs of this shoe available in my size and these fit the best. My girlfriend and the salesman pointed out some kind of flaw in the leather on one of them, but that flawed pair was the pair that I chose.

In 2002, Doc Martens killed 1,000 skilled jobs in the UK and moved production to China. I tried a modern Chinese-made pair of 1461 oxfords two years ago through Zappo’s, and noticed the difference in quality immediately. The leather on my pair is thick, firm but not stiff, dyed perfectly, and sewed by hand. The leather on the Chinese shoes was thinner and stiffer, and felt inferior in quality (if it was leather at all). The soles were hard compared to the 20+ year old soles on my shoes–which had always been firm but pliable. And the fit felt like they were sewed by a robot around a block of wood; they didn’t fit my feet at all. As I recall, they were charging $120 for these. Obviously I sent them back.

My slightly irregular shoes always fit like a glove and I’ve never regretted choosing them. I had to replace the laces about ten years ago after they wore out, but it was pretty easy to find new ones with Amazon’s help. The soles are worn and the stitching on the back of the left shoe is unraveling, but with some careful repairs I’ll have them for another 20 years.

Date posted: November 11, 2018 | Filed under favorite things | Leave a Comment »

Minolta X-700

This is the first in a series of posts I’m writing about objects I have that I love. I set up a light tent in the basement to use for a winter photography project and I’m going to try and post one of these a week and see where it goes.

This is the second camera my Dad bought me for college. Yes, you read that right, I’ll explain in a minute.

It’s a 35MM film camera first introduced by Minolta in 1981, and it was a wildly popular camera for its day.It was designed to be a prosumer entry into the compact SLR market, and with a healthy selection of accessories, the basic model was in production for 18 years. It features two main modes, Program (basically point-and-shoot) and Manual, which is what I set it on for most of the 90’s.

As a college freshman, we were assigned a photography class in fall and spring semester, so I needed a camera. Dad  could have given me a second-hand camera from our collection of unclaimed electronics out of the repossession business (as per New York State law, after 120 days, any valuables left in a repossessed car were forfeit) but he wanted to make sure I didn’t have a piece of junk. So he spent big money at that time to get me a new camera with two lenses–a 50mm and a zoom of some kind, as I recall. I plunged into photography, spending days prowling Baltimore looking for subjects to shoot and long nights in the dark room, listening to Zeppelin III, Disintegration, Ritual De Lo Habitual, and Master of Puppets on my Walkman as I developed and printed. I didn’t learn the technical aspects of photography like I should have, but in shooting a lot, I had a lot of happy accidents. The camera did everything I asked of it and more.

Over the winter break, my roommate Pat and I lost one roommate to attrition and another to irritation, so the housing department placed another student in our suddenly vacant four-bed apartment. He was a flighty, dreamy individual who admittedly had artistic talent but also a couple of untreated mental issues and an annoying girlfriend who smelled like feet and cheap incense. Over the next couple of months we realized we’d traded a mildly irritating roommate for an absolute dipshit who stank of patchouli and left dark rings in the bathtub.

So, the camera. One day I came home from class and noticed a strange man sitting in our living room with my flaky roommate, who told me he was a friend and he needed a place to stay for a couple of days. I thought this was a little odd but naively went along with it, and Pat had the same response I did. A couple of days later I went to the back of my closet to grab my camera for something, and found it missing. When Pat got home I told him, and he found his camera missing as well. Livid, we waited for the Flake to come home. He blithely showed up with his girlfriend and we asked him exactly where he knew this friend from. It turned out he’d met the guy on the street begging for change and invited the guy to come and stay in our house. We told him our gear was missing and asked him if he knew where it was, which he claimed he didn’t. Then we told him we were throwing his friend out, to which his girlfriend started objecting, not so vaguely hinting that we were being racist. At this point I was furious and might have asked her to get the fuck out, but I don’t think I was that collected.

We called the cops and filed a report, and the Baltimore City officer who showed up could not have been more racist and homophobic. Thank you, sir. then we had to call our folks and tell them what happened. I recall standing in the hallway on the payphone, completely ashamed at how stupid I’d been for trusting my stupid fucking roommate and terrified that I’d let my parents down as I explained what happened. They were scared at first (I think I might have started out by saying something like, “I have some bad news…” which is not the way to open a long-distance conversation with one’s parents) but understanding when I they heard the whole story, and probably relieved I hadn’t been mugged or shot. A short time later, the Flake left school after being arrested for driving with an open container in his stepdad’s car. Hopefully someone put him on the medication he so desperately needed.

Dad swung into action and sent me down a replacement camera, the one you see above. It served me well through three more years of college–I got A’s in my photography courses–and I continued to use it as my primary camera through the 90’s up until I got my first digital in 2000. I’ve put scores of black and white film rolls through this camera, dropped it on the ground, bounced it on the bottom of messenger bags, stuffed it under the seats of oven-hot cars, and it still cranks out crisp photos.

Somewhere along the way it was dropped a little too hard and the plastic wind lever/ISO wheel (on the right in the picture above) was cracked to the point where it fell off. Last year I used eBay to source a replacement and did some surgery to fix it. Batteries are still available, and I’ve continued to take pictures with it, here and there, for the last couple of years. Luckily, UMBC has a full-service darkroom available to faculty, so I can start printing photos again when I get some time and the supplies to take advantage of it.

Recently my sister came to visit while I was in the hospital (thanks, Ren!), and brought two boxes of film cameras with her. Most of these were holdovers from the repossession days that were sitting in her attic and did not downsize when she moved in with her husband. One of the cameras was another X-700, in a leatherette case, with multiple lenses. It was absolutely mint; it looked like it had never been used. I left it in the box, unsure what to do with it, and stuck it in my basement. A few months ago, I saw a post on Instagram from one of Jen’s cousins, looking for a film camera to send her son to school with. I messaged her back and told her I had what she needed. I dug out the spare X-700 with a zoom lens, put some new batteries in it, and sent it off to Ohio. Hopefully he will not fall prey to an unbalanced trustafarian or his homeless grifting friends; I don’t know where I’d find a third one of these at this point.

Date posted: November 8, 2018 | Filed under favorite things | 3 Comments »