Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mystery of the Miracle Frisbee

This is a story that happened on New Year's Eve of 2011. It was originally published in January of 2012.  I'm repeating it for this New Year because it's true, possibly inspirational, and I think you'll find it amazing.

The story below is absolutely true.  My family and I were there and experienced this first-hand.  It is not the type of material you find in my typical blog entry.  However, it is too good not to share.  Please post your thoughts at the bottom of this page.  Share this with anyone you think might enjoy it or get caught up in the mystery.

What do you call it when something beyond understanding occurs -- something that defies all odds? Is it a paranormal event?  A coincidence of unimaginable proportions?  Magic?  Or is it a miracle? And what if you can prove to yourself and others that it really happened because you were there and you took photographs!  This incident concerns nothing more elaborate than a Frisbee, but it is mystifying, nevertheless.

My wife’s family is from Guatemala.  My wife, our two children, and I live in Illinois and sometimes visit her family in Central America over the holidays.  This year, we, along with most of my wife’s large family, spent the week after Christmas at my sister-in-law’s beach house on the Pacific coast of Guatemala.

My daughter practicing her gymnastics on the black sand beach.
Every day, my wife’s younger brother, Gonzalo, would run out to the volcanic black sand with his Frisbee and toss it along the beach or over the waves and let the wind return it to him.  Two days before New Year’s, as my children and some of the cousins played on the beach, I took my camera and photographed him exercising with the white disc.
My brother-in-law, Gonzalo, running on the beach with his Frisbee.  Notice the design of the Frisbee on the inset.
Later in the evening, my wife, Maria, and I, Gonzalo, his wife, Marta Yolanda,  and the children went down to the beach to catch the sunset.  The children built a castle in the sand.  Maria, Marta Yolanda, and I stood and watched the progress of the castle building activities, while Gonzalo launched his Frisbee toward the waves.  I took several photographs.  Several times, the Frisbee landed on the water and was returned in the waves.  Everyone was having a great time, until my brother-in-law made a bad toss.  He groaned as the Frisbee went into the waves and was not immediately returned on the surf.

The children made a sand castle, while my brother-in-law (far right) played with his Frisbee.


“It’s gone,” he said.

“Give it a minute, and maybe the waves will bring it back,” I suggested.

“No, Tom, I don’t think it’s coming back,” he sighed, as we all peered into the dark waves, hoping that he might be wrong.

After another half minute, I pointed into the surf as a white object came into view. 
“There it is,” I yelled.  The Frisbee washed directly to my wife’s feet and hit her on the shins.  She walked over and handed it to her brother.

He took the disc happily, but after only a moment said, “This isn’t my Frisbee.”

We all looked at him. 

“My Frisbee was red on top.   This one’s black.”

“That has to be your Frisbee,” I said.

“Maybe it had a sticker on it that came off in the water,” my wife suggested.

“No,” Gonzalo insisted.  “Mine was a pure white.  This is pearl colored.”

“That has to be your Frisbee,” I said.   “If it’s not, whose is it?  And how is it possible that it washed up at our feet just as we were looking for a Frisbee?  How many times have you ever had a Frisbee wash up at your feet, let alone when you’re looking for one?”

“Never,” he answered.

“And how many times have you ever just found a Frisbee on the beach?”

“Never.”

“Then how is it possible that this isn’t your Frisbee?

“I don’t know,” he answered.  “It just doesn’t look like my Frisbee.”  It was obvious that my logic had convinced him to give up his argument.

We watched another dramatic Pacific sunset, and then returned to the house to have dinner and rest for New Year’s Eve.

It wasn’t until the next morning when I was looking at some of my photos on the LCD screen of my camera that I realized I had shots from before the Frisbee was lost.  I quickly found the photos and zoomed in on one where the design on the Frisbee was plainly visible.

There was no doubt.  It was not the same Frisbee.  The photographs plainly show a Frisbee with a very different graphic design.  If not for the photographs, we all would have given up on the notion that one disc had been thrown into the ocean and a different disc returned.  It was just too difficult to believe.  But that’s exactly what happened:  one Frisbee was thrown into the ocean, only to be replaced by a different one a moment later.

The Frisbee that returned in the waves (center) and the Frisbee that was thrown into the ocean (inset).
I have no explanation.  Something very strange happened.  I don’t know how or why.  Maybe it was nature’s way of assuring us that miracles can and do happen.  If something with odds this impossible can take place, it can happen again.  And maybe next time, the miracle will be something that will change someone’s life for the better.  Maybe next time we’ll believe the impossible really can happen.  It’s already happened once.  It can happen again.


You can view my website at:  http://www.tombellart.com.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Confessions of a Christmas Wreath Thief

I'm admitting it.

I can imagine myself in the police station at one end of a long metal table.   A cop is at the other end. A light fixture with a single bright bulb is overhead.  The shadows are harsh.  "Okay, Copper, I admit it!" I scream. " I took the wreath, but you'll never prove it.  And I'm gonna beat this wrap.  You're wastin' your time keepin' me in this joint.  I'm gonna walk!"

The truth is your Christmas wreath isn't safe with me in your neighborhood.  The front door of my house is adorned with a beautiful wreath that I picked up off a total stranger's porch, without his or her knowledge or approval.  I'm a Christmas wreath thief.

The stolen Christmas Wreath on my front door.


No, I'm not too poor to afford my own wreath.  And, no, at least I don't think it's because of a deep-seated psychological condition.  If I ever go to therapy, maybe I'll find out.

As with many who start off into a life of crime, my intentions were good.  It all started out with Linda, a lady we know at church who asked me if I would like to help out the Boy Scouts by ordering a Christmas wreath again this year.  Well, my son is in that worthy organization and is working toward his Eagle Scout rank.  Immediately, I said "yes," as we had bought wreaths from the same lady in past years and they are always beautiful and reasonably priced, and always to support the Boy Scouts.

All was fine as my family and I waited for the wreath to arrive.  I got an email from Linda who said I could pick it up off her front porch and leave the check under a potted plant.

I emailed her back telling her that I didn't remember exactly where her house was, but that she could let me know and I would be by in a day or so to pick it up.

She replied that the house was the first left in her subdivision after the flagpole, then the big house on the right with the giant pine tree at the side of the yard.  My wreath would be in a box on her porch, just pick it up and leave the check.

The directions were easy to follow.  I turned at the flagpole.  I wasn't exactly sure which of the big houses on the right because there were several big pine trees in the area.  But one house looked familiar, and sure enough, when I got to the porch there was a box with a wreath.  I took it and left a check under the potted plant.

One of my very first digital painting from 2001. It's called The Christmas Wreath.  The young lady is wearing a Christmas wreat around her neck.  It's made from straw and is typical of crafts found in the Mayan marketpalces.
My wife was thrilled with the wreath and its big red and gold ribbon.  I wouldn't say I get thrilled over such things, but it is a very nice wreath.

A few days later, while getting ready for a meeting at work, my secretary told me that a lady had called and was bringing my Christmas wreath.  I was puzzled.  I asked her the lady's name and it was Linda.  I told my secretary to call her back and tell her that I already have my wreath.  However, it was too late and no one answered the phone when she returned the call.

Twenty minutes later, just as I was about to go into my meeting, Linda stepped into the office carrying a big boxed wreath.

"Hi, Linda," I said, "I tried calling to tell you that I've already pick up my wreath, but you had already left."

She looked at me like I was crazy.  "What do you mean?  This is your wreath"

"No, I picked mine up several days ago."

"Really?"  She was obviously confused.

"Yes," and I left the check under the pot.  "You didn't find it."

"No, I didn't look because the wreath was still there.  I guess someone returned a wreath after you picked yours up."

"Okay," I said.  "I'm sorry that you came all this way."

"That's okay," she said.

"Let me know if you don't find the check."

"Don't worry," she replied, and was gone.

I didn't think about it again.

The next time I saw Linda was at Christmas mass yesterday afternoon.  The Christmas music was beautiful and we said "hello" after the service.

"You stole my neighbor's Christmas wreath!" were the first words that came from her mouth.

"What?"

My wife and children looked at me with dropped jaws."

"My house is next to the one where you took the wreath."

"I'm sorry.  I saw the pine tree and there as a wreath on the porch."

"Yes, we finally figured it out.  It was the wreath I sold her. Don't worry about it.  She found the check made out to BOY SCOUTS and gave me a call.  It's all taken care of now."

"Wow,  I'm sorry."

"No, really it's fine."

My wife gave me the "How could you look."

I looked at my son, the future Eagle Scout.  He was amused -- just another standard adventure for Dad.

I've now been branded a Christmas wreath thief.  I'm not sure it's something you can ever live down.  Only time will tell.

You can find my website at:  www.tombellart.com

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dubs and the Mayan End of the World

I've been asked to combine all four parts of the Dubs and the Mayan End of the World saga into a single post.  Here it is as a Christmas gift to all my readers:

Dubs and the Mayan End of the World

My best friend, Dubs McClusky was at the house the other day.  Dubs is really more than a friend: he's a confidant, someone I can trust with my darkest secrets (he thinks a dark secret is one you tell at night); he's someone who will keep refilling his glass with my most expensive single malt whiskey without feeling the need to ask for permission about something so trifling.  I've known Dubs for more than twenty years, and if nothing else he's consistent (especially with my single malt).  Not being a photographer himself, he always tries to say something nice about my work, despite the fact that there's not an artistic bone in his body.

"I love your pictures, but they would look so much better in color.  You know, color pictures are just so much more colorful."

Worshiping the Maximon by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved.  The Maximon embodies Mayan mysticism.  By the way, this one's in color for Dubs.

"It's a matter of preference, Dubs.  Some people really love black and white images."

"I know, but they stopped making movies in black and white because people like 'em in color more."  He poured another glass and looked silently pass me for far too long.

"Something wrong, Dubs?"

"I'm worried, Tom," he lamented.  "They're saying the end of the world's only a month away."  He took a big gulp and stared deeply into his glass. "You know about that Mayan end-of-the-world stuff, don't you?  I mean your wife is from Guatemala and speaks Spanish and stuff."

"Right, Dubs.  I also have some friends who are archaeologists.  They say there's nothing to worry about."

I saw a glimmer of hope in Dubs' eyes.  "You know I saw a Three Stooges where the guys were archaeologists.  They found Rootin' Tootin's mummy."  He smiled deeply as his thoughts went back to the movie short of long ago.

"That was in black and white, by the way," I noted.

Magic by Tom Bell.  Copyright 2012.  All rights reserved. 

He nodded, as if I had revealed something important, then he was lost again. "The world can't end before Christmas.  What about the presents!  This Mayan stuff is serious business!  By the way, there's just a little left in the bottle; you don't want any do you?"

I picked up the bottle and poured the rest into his glass.

"You should keep this 15 year old Scotch all the time," he noted.  "Its really good."

"I bet."

"But what if it really is the end of the world?  What then!"

"Well, Dubs, I'm really looking forward to it.  If it's really the end of the world, it's the best event a photographer could hope for."

"What do you mean?"  The confusion on his face intensified.

"Can you imagine having something like that to photograph?," I asked.  "Every photographer in the world will be looking for the best angle, that fine art shot that defines the moment!  It's going to be something great!"

"Huh?"

"Mine will be in black and white!"

"But you said those archaeologists say there's nothing to it."  Dubs was almost in tears.

"What do they know?" I said.

"Really?  But.... you said...."

"I know what I said.  But this is it, Dubs.  My wife told me not to tell you.  But this is it..."

His eyes were huge. "Noooo.  You're just playin' with me aren't you."

"Sorry, Dubs."

Silence.  Dropped jaw. Owl eyes.

"Listen, Dubs, if I were you, I'd enjoy it since there's nothing we can do. Why don't you buy a case of this single malt. Make it a couple of cases and you'll get a discount.  Since you won't have to pay it back, use your credit card and buy a  couple of cases of the 18 year old stock.  I can store it and we can drink to the end of the world anytime you want.  We'll show those archaeologists!"

His mouth was still agape.

I wasn't sure if I should slap him slightly, but I decided to speak instead.  "It's okay, Dubs.  I promise that the last photograph I take as the world ends will be of you."

"Okay," he said after a while. He hesitated, "...but would it be okay if you did it in color?"

___

After about a week, I was still waiting on the cases of 18 year-old stock I thought Dubs might deliver.
I shouldn't have played with his  mind like I did.  But,  I saw it as a way that he might partially reimburse me for some of the many bottles of 15 year-old single malt he's more than helped finish while sitting with me at the table over the years.

Dubs was at my house again.  "Hey, let's have a drink," he said.  "I want to ask you some more questions about that Mayan prophesy stuff."

"Okay," I said softly.  "Let's talk.  But I'm out of whiskey.  I just haven't had time to stop by the liquor store."

He stared at me and squinted for a while. "You know, Tom. I don't recall ever stopping by when you didn't have whiskey.  But, right now, I'd drink about anything."  His look was almost deathly.

"Something wrong, Dubs?"

"No, not really. I know your wife knows about this Mayan end-of-world stuff and all.  She has a real pretty voice when she speaks that Spanish.  But maybe she's wrong about it being the end of the world."

"She's never been wrong before, Dubs."

He looked at me seriously.

"Never," I intoned. 

He hesitated.  "Yeah, I know."

"You know, I've got a bottle of 12 year old rum," I offered. "It's one of the most most popular in Guatemala, and it's the Baktun edition."

"Back-toon," he said in an accent that made him sound southern. "Is that something like the rerun of a cartoon?"

"Well, sort of," I offered. "In this case, a Baktun is a Mayan period of time.  We're on the last one.  It ends on December 21.  That's the last day."

"A period of  time?"

"Yeah, it's about 400 years long."

I opened the bottle of rum and poured each of  us  a snifter.

"Hey, this is good," he said.  "A toast to the Back-toon!"

I lifted my glass.  "Yeah, drinking to it only ensures that it's gonna happen.  That's cosmic law."

"Huh..."

"Yeah, the end of the world.  It's okay. We've lived a long time.  It's time for creatures from some other universe to occupy our space!"

"What!"  He downed every drop in his snifter, and I quickly poured him another one.

"Sorry, Dubs," I apologized, "but it's time on this Earth for creatures that will appreciate 18 year-old Scotch, those that are more spiritually developed."

"What... I appreciate 18 year-old spirits.  I appreciate them a lot!"

"I know, Dubs, but I suggested you bring over a couple of cases, especially since it's the end of the world and you won't have to pay the credit card bill.  You  haven't done a thing!"

His eyebrows shot up.  "Why?  So we can toast to the end of the world again and again?"

"Yeah, but you can also toast against the end of the  world."

"Huh..."

"That's right.  That's what the Crystal Skull told my wife."

"The Crystal Skull?..."

I photographed this Crystal Skull in the  Popol Vuh Museum in Guatemala City.  My wife knew one of the curators who gave us special access, so this is one of the only photographs in existence of this particular crystal skull.  The red on the eyes, nose and mouth, is Cinnabar, a mercury compound used by the ancients for mystical purposes.  Since there's no backlight, I'm not sure why it glows.
"Yeah, there's a very special Crystal Skull at the museum in Guatemala City.  It might be hundreds of millions of years old, maybe billions, or even trillions.  No one is sure.  It told my wife that if enough people toast against the end of the world with very good whiskey, it might not happen.  It's eyes glowed red, and it told her. It told her in Spanish."

"Are you sure!" Dub was aghast.

"I photographed it as it was telling her how to prevent the end of the world."  I went to my files and pulled out a print of the Crystal Skull and handed it to him.

"It's real, he said, looking intently at the photo, "it's real. That means we can do something about the end  of the world!"

"That's right," I said.

"Okay!," he was almost yelling.  "I'm going out to buy a case right now. Call all our friends.  We're going to do some  toasting!"

"That's great," I smiled.  "I'll call some of  my buddies, you call some of yours. We'll meet here for a toast in an hour."

"That's great," he vocalized almost at the top of  his lungs. "Maybe the world's not goin' to end."  Then he paused with a puzzled look on this face

"What is it, Dubs?"

"You know, I don't want to sound like a kill-joy, but if the world doesn't end, I'm going to have to pay the credit card bill for all that whiskey, aren't I?"

I looked down in sympathy.  "You're right, Dubs.  The skull said it might be a problem.  Maybe it's better that the world just ends to make way for the more advanced beings."  I almost sniffled.

Dubs' again looked like a deer caught in headlights.  "Wait a minute," he said.  "Make those calls.  I'm off to the liquor store."

"Good call, Dubs," I said.  "The skull knows how to throw a party."

"Wow," he exclaimed as he went  out the door, "maybe you won't have to take that picture of me as the world ends, after all.  Maybe you can take a picture of me drinking against the end of the world!"

"Sounds good to me," I said.  "Just go out and get those cases of 18 year-old single malt before it's to late!"
___ 

My whiskey-drinking friend Dubs McClusky was back.  He sat in my home office with a glass of Scotch in his hand.

I was impressed because he brought the bottle this time. Yes, it was only 12 years old, but for Dubs, I knew I'd never get better from him.  I poured a glass for myself as he looked at me suspiciously.

Mayan Magic on the steps of the Chichicastenango Cathedral.

"Hey, Tom, I notice you've got one of those new calendars for 2013 on your desk, one with all the funny cartoons."

"Right, Dubs, it was an early Christmas gift from one of my coworkers.  Do you want to see it?"

"I prefer the type with cartoons that don't have words at the bottom," he said a bit fearfully, as if he might have to look at one of the panels and decide whether to laugh or not after reading the caption.  Then he took another sip of whiskey and asked, "So, you didn't buy it yourself?"

"No, it was a gift."

"So, you think you're still going to be needing it, I mean, with the end of the world coming up."  His eyes were big and expectant and he waited for my answer.

"Well, Dubs, we got some friends together and drank against the end of the world, even if it wasn't with the best Scotch.  "Just let me put it this way, I've already gone through the whole calendar and read all 365 cartoons, just in case."

"Noooo!," he said.

"Yeah, there are some really good ones, especialy in June and August."

"So, this is it, you think.  Just a few days left."

"Well, Dubs, I can't really say.  But it would have been a shame to miss some of those cartoons."

"Well, what does your wife say.  I mean, she's never wrong."

"She doesn't want to talk about it," I answered, "but we were in the bookstore the other day, and when I asked her if she wanted a picture calendar, she just rolled her eyes and walked away.  She also bought a book about how to manage limited time wisely.  She said something about being glad that it's a very short book."

Again, "Noooo!"  Then after a full minute, "Tom, it can't end this way.  It really can't."

"Yes it can," I insisted stoically.  "Sorry, Dubs, nothing I can do."

He frantically poured himself another glass. He didn't notice that I was almost empty.

I heard footsteps in the hallway.  They were soft and I knew it was my wife

"Oh,  hi, Dubs," she said.  She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek in the standard Spanish greeting.

"Oh, hi, Maria," he responded. Then he was silent for a whole minute as he looked at my wife as if she must be some oracle.  "Is it okay if I come over on Friday, just to say goodbye?" he asked.

"Well, of course, you're welcome any time, Dubs.  You know where Tom keeps the  whiskey if he's not in, dont you?"

"He's got to be in," Dubs insisted.  He looked hard at me.  "You have to be in, too. I  have to say goodbye."

"Yes."

"It's the end of the world, Maria.  You know that!"

"Well,  yes."

Dubs dropped his jaw and let it hang.

"But, it's going on be okay, Dubs," she insisted.  "The crystal skull told me not to worry.  Even with the end of the world, everything's going to be okay."

"Noooo!, he insisted.

"Sorry, Dubs," she said, and sounded like me.

"Tom, your wife is never wrong.  I guess it's really the end."  He drooped his head.

"Don't worry, Dubs,"  I insisted, "maybe there's a black hole or a time paradox or a universal reprieve in this somewhere."

"Maybe," he said.  He poured the last of the bottle into his glass. "Maybe Irish whiskey is as good as Scotch, but I don't think so."

My wife reached out and took Dub's hand.  "It's okay," she said.  "I don't think the pain will  last  over fifteen or twenty hours.  Too bad you didn't buy some really good Scotch.  All of this could have been averted. Some really good 18-year old would have made the  difference.  That's what the crystal skull told me."

"Noooo!" Dubs yelled.

Within fifteen minutes Dubs was back with four bottles of some fine 18-year old whiskey.

He popped open a bottle.  "Against the end of the world," he screamed.  He poured a big glass for me and for my wife.

Maria took a small sip and I inhaled the glass.

"Against  the end of the world," I said loudly.

"Against the end of  the world!" he toasted.

"That's great," I said.  "By the way, do you  want to see one of the June cartoons on my calendar.   It might be your last chance."

"Huh," he said.  Then after a while he insisted, "Why don't we have another toast, or two, or three!  And, Maria, please tell the skull that this is very good whiskey!"

____

He  was back, looking spiffier than I'd ever seen him.  He had really cleaned up.  None of his clothes had stains, and it looked as if he might have attempted to iron his shirt.  He really wanted to look good for the last day of the  world.

"Wow, Dubs," you really look good.
Smoke on the steps of the cathedral in Chichicastenango, Guatemala are part of mystical Mayan magic.
"Yeah, thanks.  Well, I just thought I should... just in case... you know.  It's the big day and we're still here, so I guess I got here in time.  And you've got your camera.  That's good."  He looked around. "Where's Maria?"

"She's out, Dubs.  She'll be back in a while."

"I hope she's not too late.  I wanted to spend my last minutes with both of you, you  know."

"She shouldn't be too long, Dubs."  The truth is that I had told her of my elaborate plan to make the end of  the world really exciting for Dubs, and she wanted to have nothing to do with it.  She told me she would be back after my cruel joke was over.

A couple of days earlier, I had talked with my buddy, Rob Coleman, the news director and well-known anchorman at one of the local television stations. We had gone to college together in the radio and tv program, and both of  us had worked together at the same station for awhile.  He agreed to help me  produce a newscast just for Dubs, which we would record immediately after the 10 p.m. news on Wednesday night and play for Dubs on the world's last day, as if were happening live.  I had written the script for Rob, and also produced some graphics for the video production.  Rob even agreed to send a news truck to my house at just the right time if it wasn't too busy of a news day.  


"Well, Dubs, it's a little early to be drinking, but this might be the end of the world, so why don't you go to the bar and get that last bottle of 18 year old Scotch,  and we can drink against the end of  the  world again."

"Okay," he said.

"And I think the local TV station is supposed to be doing coverage of  the end of the world.  I'll turn it on and see if anything is happening."

"Okay," he said, as he started to the bar.

As he was gone, I turned on the TV and inserted the DVD that I had recorded.  I turned the sound on the TV loud and clicked play just as Dub appeared at the doorway with two big tumblers of whiskey.

Rob Coleman was at the anchor desk, looking just like he does every weekday night at ten.  Now, though, his face seemed filled with worry.  "...and this really does seem to be the end of the world, just as the Mayas predicted," his voice echoed over my surround sound speakers.  "Cities across the world seem just to be disintegrating..."

"Noooo..." screamed Dubs. 

"Tokyo, Rome, London, now gone," intoned the newsman, somberly.  "Other places across the globe crumbling...."  He then paused for a second as if something even bigger had happened.  " I don't know if our viewers are feeling this," he said, "but here in the studio, we're  feeling a shaking, sort of like you might feel with an earthquake..."

At that moment, I quietly hit a foot pedal switch that controlled a small electric motor I had put under the sofa.  I had placed an off-center flywheel on the motor and attached it to a leg of the sofa, so vibrations would be carried to the seats.

"This is it," screamed Dubs.  "This is it!"

The news anchor continued, "We're told that a mysterious crystal skull in Guatemala, Central America, has been speaking in Spanish to news people there and said that the end of the world could have been avoided by a simple sincere toast against the end of the  world.  And we're told that the one man in the world who could have made that toast lives right here in our own hometown....  Okay,  this just in Paris, France, now gone along with Moscow, Berlin, and Geneva.

A museum curator holds the mysterious Crystal Skull.

I hit the foot pedal again, and the sofa moved again. 

"Those vibrations in  the studio getting stronger now," said Rob Coleman.  "As I way saying earlier, I seems that a local man named Doobes McCloosky may be responsible for the end of  the world.  We have a remote truck out now to interview Mr. McCloosky if we can find him in time, to get his side of the story."

"Noooo... nooooo...nooooo," Dubs was in tears.  "Against the end of the world," he yelled and took a gulp of whiskey.  "A most sincere toast," he screamed, "against the end of the world."

Just then there was a knock at my door.  I got up to answer it.

At the door stood newswoman Sandra Boskey, and a man with a TV camera on his shoulder.  The  light on top of the camera was bright in my face.  

Sandra Boskey with Action Witness News she yelled while holding out a microphone.

I moved aside and let her in.

"Are you Doobes McCloosky?" she asked.

"No, he is," I pointed.

Dubs was in a panic, just screaming, "Against the end of  the world."  He would then take another  drink, the repeat the process.

Rob Coleman continued speaking on  TV.  "Apparently the skull is saying that there's still time for the end of the world to be averted --- yes, this sounds wild --- but that one sincere toast against the end of the world by this Mr. McCloosky would create a time warp, and none of this would have ever happened...."

"Put down the camera, put down the the microphone," Dubs insisted.  "I promise, I'll give you an interview, but first we're all going to toast against the end of the world."  He quickly filled two more glasses and handed them to the news crew.  

Dubs was calm now.  "Gather 'round,"  he said, "everyone sips when I do,  Raise your glasses and repeat after me"....

"Probably not long left now," said the anchorman.

With all the glasses raised, Dubs said, "to the skull, and most sincerely against the end of the world."

Everyone took a sip as Dubs gulped down a big measure.

Apparently I had timed everything well.  The TV screen went blank with static for a moment.  Then Rob Coleman was back, looking cheerful and relaxed.  "It appears the Mayan apocalypse is just another doomsday story," said the anchorman.  We'll all be telling our children about waiting for the end of the world on a day that turned out to be like any other day...."

"Well, thanks for inviting us in for a whiskey," said Sandra Boskey, "but I can't really remember why we're here."

"Funny, me neither," said the news cameraman.  "And thanks for the drink, but we probably shouldn't be drinking while on the job."

"It worked," Dubs said in disbelief.  "I saved the world.  I saved the world with a sincere toast to the skull."

"What are you talking about, Dubs?" I asked.  "I mean you didn't really think the end  of the world was here did you.?"

"Huh?," he said, "you don't remember, either...  And Paris, and Rome and London are all still there?"

I switched off  the TV because it was reaching the end of the production.  "What do you mean, Dubs?  Why wouldn't they still be there?"

Just then my wife came back in the door.

"I saved the world, Maria.  I really did!  I really did!"   Dubs looked intently at her.

Maria looked at me and said, "You're mean!"  She then walked away.

" Why's she upset?" asked Dubs. He then smiled. "Take a picture of me Tom," he said.  "I'm the only one who will know why, but we have to document this moment."

I lifted my camera and photographed Dubs standing proudly with the glass of Scotch in hand, as if he were making a most sincere toast.

You can view my website at:  tombellart.com.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dubs and the Last Day

If you haven't been following, this is the fourth and final post about my gullible, Mayan apocalypse-fearing, whiskey-guzzling  friend, Dubs McClusky.  If you want to understand this post I strongly suggest that you read the first three parts first.  Parts one and two have been combined and can be found here. You can read part 3 here.

- - -

He  was back, looking spiffier than I'd ever seen him.  He had really cleaned up.  None of his clothes had stains, and it looked as if he might have attempted to iron his shirt.  He really wanted to look good for the last day of the  world.

"Wow, Dubs," you really look good.

Smoke on the steps of the cathedral in Chichicastenango, Guatemala are part of mystical Mayan magic.
"Yeah, thanks.  Well, I just thought I should... just in case... you know.  It's the big day and we're still here, so I guess I got here in time.  And you've got your camera.  That's good."  He looked around. "Where's Maria?"

"She's out, Dubs.  She'll be back in a while."

"I hope she's not too late.  I wanted to spend my last minutes with both of you, you  know."

"She shouldn't be too long, Dubs."  The truth is that I had told her of my elaborate plan to make the end of  the world really exciting for Dubs, and she wanted to have nothing to do with it.  She told me she would be back after my cruel joke was over.

A couple of days earlier, I had talked with my buddy, Rob Coleman, the news director and well-known anchorman at one of the local television stations. We had gone to college together in the radio and tv program, and both of  us had worked together at the same station for awhile.  He agreed to help me  produce a newscast just for Dubs, which we would record immediately after the 10 p.m. news on Wednesday night and play for Dubs on the world's last day, as if were happening live.  I had written the script for Rob, and also produced some graphics for the video production.  Rob even agreed to send a news truck to my house at just the right time if it wasn't too busy of a news day.  


"Well, Dubs, it's a little early to be drinking, but this might be the end of the world, so why don't you go to the bar and get that last bottle of 18 year old Scotch,  and we can drink against the end of  the  world again."

"Okay," he said.

"And I think the local TV station is supposed to be doing coverage of  the end of the world.  I'll turn it on and see if anything is happening."

"Okay," he said, as he started to the bar.

As he was gone, I turned on the TV and inserted the DVD that I had recorded.  I turned the sound on the TV loud and clicked play just as Dub appeared at the doorway with two big tumblers of whiskey.

Rob Coleman was at the anchor desk, looking just like he does every weekday night at ten.  Now, though, his face seemed filled with worry.  "...and this really does seem to be the end of the world, just as the Mayas predicted," his voice echoed over my surround sound speakers.  "Cities across the world seem just to be disintegrating..."

"Noooo..." screamed Dubs. 

"Tokyo, Rome, London, now gone," intoned the newsman, somberly.  "Other places across the globe crumbling...."  He then paused for a second as if something even bigger had happened.  " I don't know if our viewers are feeling this," he said, "but here in the studio, we're  feeling a shaking, sort of like you might feel with an earthquake..."

At that moment, I quietly hit a foot pedal switch that controlled a small electric motor I had put under the sofa.  I had placed an off-center flywheel on the motor and attached it to a leg of the sofa, so vibrations would be carried to the seats.

"This is it," screamed Dubs.  "This is it!"

The news anchor continued, "We're told that a mysterious crystal skull in Guatemala, Central America, has been speaking in Spanish to news people there and said that the end of the world could have been avoided by a simple sincere toast against the end of the  world.  And we're told that the one man in the world who could have made that toast lives right here in our own hometown....  Okay,  this just in Paris, France, now gone along with Moscow, Berlin, and Geneva.

A museum curator holds the mysterious Crystal Skull.
I hit the foot pedal again, and the sofa moved again. 

"Those vibrations in  the studio getting stronger now," said Rob Coleman.  "As I way saying earlier, I seems that a local man named Doobes McCloosky may be responsible for the end of  the world.  We have a remote truck out now to interview Mr. McCloosky if we can find him in time, to get his side of the story."

"Noooo... nooooo...nooooo," Dubs was in tears.  "Against the end of the world," he yelled and took a gulp of whiskey.  "A most sincere toast," he screamed, "against the end of the world."

Just then there was a knock at my door.  I got up to answer it.

At the door stood newswoman Sandra Boskey, and a man with a TV camera on his shoulder.  The  light on top of the camera was bright in my face.  

Sandra Boskey with Action Witness News she yelled while holding out a microphone.

I moved aside and let her in.

"Are you Doobes McCloosky?" she asked.

"No, he is," I pointed.

Dubs was in a panic, just screaming, "Against the end of  the world."  He would then take another  drink, the repeat the process.

Rob Coleman continued speaking on  TV.  "Apparently the skull is saying that there's still time for the end of the world to be averted --- yes, this sounds wild --- but that one sincere toast against the end of the world by this Mr. McCloosky would create a time warp, and none of this would have ever happened...."

"Put down the camera, put down the the microphone," Dubs insisted.  "I promise, I'll give you an interview, but first we're all going to toast against the end of the world."  He quickly filled two more glasses and handed them to the news crew.  

Dubs was calm now.  "Gather 'round,"  he said, "everyone sips when I do,  Raise your glasses and repeat after me"....

"Probably not long left now," said the anchorman.

With all the glasses raised, Dubs said, "to the skull, and most sincerely against the end of the world."

Everyone took a sip as Dubs gulped down a big measure.

Apparently I had timed everything well.  The TV screen went blank with static for a moment.  Then Rob Coleman was back, looking cheerful and relaxed.  "It appears the Mayan apocalypse is just another doomsday story," said the anchorman.  We'll all be telling our children about waiting for the end of the world on a day that turned out to be like any other day...."

"Well, thanks for inviting us in for a whiskey," said Sandra Boskey, "but I can't really remember why we're here."

"Funny, me neither," said the news cameraman.  "And thanks for the drink, but we probably shouldn't be drinking while on the job."

"It worked," Dubs said in disbelief.  "I saved the world.  I saved the world with a sincere toast to the skull."

"What are you talking about, Dubs?" I asked.  "I mean you didn't really think the end  of the world was here did you.?"

"Huh?," he said, "you don't remember, either...  And Paris, and Rome and London are all still there?"

I switched off  the TV because it was reaching the end of the production.  "What do you mean, Dubs?  Why wouldn't they still be there?"

Just then my wife came back in the door.

"I saved the world, Maria.  I really did!  I really did!"   Dubs looked intently at her.

Maria looked at me and said, "You're mean!"  She then walked away.

" Why's she upset?" asked Dubs. He then smiled. "Take a picture of me Tom," he said.  "I'm the only one who will know why, but we have to document this moment."

I lifted my camera and photographed Dubs standing proudly with the glass of Scotch in hand, as if he were making a most sincere toast.

You can view my website at:  tombellart.com.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dubs and the Mayan Calendar

Before reading this, you may want to read the the first two parts to this story.  They are combined on one post which you can view here.  This is actually part three of the story.

- - -


My Mayan-apocalypse-fearing, whiskey-drinking friend Dubs McClusky was back.  He sat in my home office with a glass of Scotch in his hand.

I was impressed because he brought the bottle this time. Yes, it was only 12 years old, but for Dubs, I knew I'd never get better from him.  I poured a glass for myself as he looked at me suspiciously.


Mayan Magic on the steps of ther Chichicastenango Cathedral.
"Hey, Tom, I notice you've got one of those new calendars for 2013 on your desk, one with all the funny cartoons."

"Right, Dubs, it was an early Christmas gift from one of my coworkers.  Do you want to see it?"

"I prefer the type with cartoons that don't have words at the bottom," he said a bit fearfully, as if he might have to look at one of the panels and decide whether to laugh or not after reading the caption.  Then he took another sip of whiskey and asked, "So, you didn't buy it yourself?"

"No, it was a gift."

"So, you think you're still going to be needing it, I mean, with the end of the world coming up."  His eyes were big and expectant and he waited for my answer.

"Well, Dubs, we got some friends together and drank against the end of the world, even if it wasn't with the best Scotch.  "Just let me put it this way, I've already gone through the whole calendar and read all 365 cartoons, just in case."

"Noooo!," he said.

"Yeah, there are some really good ones, especialy in June and August."

"So, this is it, you think.  Just a few days left."

"Well, Dubs, I can't really say.  But it would have been a shame to miss some of those cartoons."

"Well, what does your wife say.  I mean, she's never wrong."

"She doesn't want to talk about it," I answered, "but we were in the bookstore the other day, and when I asked her if she wanted a picture calendar, she just rolled her eyes and walked away.  She also bought a book about how to manage limited time wisely.  She said something about being glad that it's a very short book."

Again, "Noooo!"  Then after a full minute, "Tom, it can't end this way.  It really can't."

"Yes it can," I insisted stoically.  "Sorry, Dubs, nothing I can do."

He frantically poured himself another glass. He didn't notice that I was almost empty.

I heard footsteps in the hallway.  They were soft and I knew it was my wife

"Oh,  hi, Dubs," she said.  She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek in the standard Spanish greeting.

"Oh, hi, Maria," he responded. Then he was silent for a whole minute as he looked at my wife as if she must be some oracle.  "Is it okay if I come over on Friday, just to say goodbye?" he asked.

"Well, of course, you're welcome any time, Dubs.  You know where Tom keeps the  whiskey if he's not in, dont you?"

"He's got to be in," Dubs insisted.  He looked hard at me."You have to be in, too. I  have to say goodbye."

"Yes."

"It's the end of the world, Mrs. Bell.  You know that!"

"Well,  yes."

Dubs dropped his jaw and let it hang.

"But, it's going on be okay, Dubs," she insisted.  "The crystal skull told me not to worry.  Even with the end of the world, everything's going to be okay."

"Noooo!, he insisted.

"Sorry, Dubs," she said, and sounded like me.

"Tom, your wife is never wrong.  I guess it's really the end."  He drooped his head.

"Don't worry, Dubs,"  I insisted, "maybe there's a black hole or a time pardox or a universal reprieve in this somewhere."

"Maybe," he said.  He poured the last of the bottle into his glass. "Maybe Irish whiskey is as good as Scotch, but I don't think so.

My wife reached out and took Dub's hand.  "It's okay," she said.  "I don't think the pain will  last  over fifteen or twenty hours.  Too bad you didn't buy some really good Scotch.  All of this could have been averted. Some really good 18-year old would have made the  difference.  That's what the crystal skull told me."

"Noooo!" Dubs yelled.

Within fifteen minutes Dubs was back with four bottles of some fine 18-year old whiskey.

He popped open a bottle.  "Against the end of the world," he screamed.  He poured a big glass for me and for my wife.

Maria took a small sip and I inhaled the glass.

"Against  the end of the world," I said loudly.

"Against the end of  the world!" he toasted.

"That's great," I said.  "By the way, do you  want to see one of the June cartoons on my calendar.   It might be your last chance."

"Huh," he said.  Then after a while he insisted, "Why don't we have another toast, or two, or three!  And, Maria, please tell the skull that this is very good whiskey!"

You can view my website at:  www.tombellart.com.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Secrets of An Award Winning Fine Art Photographer

When I look at the statistic for visits to my blog, I'm sometimes puzzled at the Google searches that lead viewers to my site.  A few days ago, one viewer found me with the search: "fine art photography winners secrets."  It got me to thinking:  I haven't written a blog entry on winning awards, yet I've won my fair share.  Many beginning and mid-career photographers want to win a local, regional, national, or even international award.  Not only is it good for business, it set you apart from the ordinary and shows that other supposed experts recognize your superior abilities or the excellence of your photographic product.  It can also make you feel good for a couple of days.

Mayan Beauty by Tom Bell
You'll notice that a photographer who wins awards keeps winning them.  It's not luck.  It's because they have what it takes to be an award winning photographer. There are several reasons.  While I may not be able to make you an award-winning photographer with this one blog entry, I can offer a few bits of advice that will get you on the way.  Don't skip to the end, but the #1 secret to being a fine art photography winner is there.

Mother and Child by Tom Bell
1.  If you want to win a fine art photography contest, be a fine art photographer.  When I enter a contest, I know I'm putting my work up against the best in the world.  I won't enter if I don't have an image that is blow-away, one that makes an impression on anyone who sees it, including gallery owners and fine art curators.  It's not good enough to have an image of a kid with the most beautiful smile in the world, or one that truly shows the strife of a laborer in a third world country.  It's also not enough to convert it to black and white and add a little vignetting around the edges.  Almost everyone can learn to be competent photographer.  Not everyone has the aesthetic to naturally be one of the world's best fine art photographers.  If everyone had it, you wouldn't be appalled at how much bad and mediocre photography is out there.  This being said, most of us have to work for it; we work very hard to make images that break a threshold of excellence that not everyone else will rise to, simply because they haven't worked hard enough to get there.  Be a fine art photographer.  Don't fall for the neighbor's "Oh, what a great picture of your daughter!  You need to enter that in a contest."  Look at the photo:  is it a beautiful picture of your kid, or is it fine art.  There's a big difference.  If it's a beautiful picture of your kid, it might still be a winner at local contest or one that is looking for a theme, such as Summer Happiness or the Big Smile Photo contest.  Otherwise, print it, frame it, and put it on the mantel for friends and family to enjoy.  They will think you're a fine art photographer even if the judges don't.

Arch of Santa Catalina by Tom Bell

2.  As I said, there is a lot of bad and mediocre photography out there.  There's also plenty of good photography and lots of excellent photography.  Study photography.  Go to web sites with the type of photography you want to do:  abstract, portrait, wildlife, landscape, etc.  Then make sure you have the equipment to do the job you want to take on.  Your $800 kit camera and lens probably won't make you competitive in a wildlife contest where the competitors not only love living in the wild for weeks at a time and risk being eaten by their subjects to get the shot, but also have $30,000 in lenses and camera equipment.  On the other hand, the $800 camera, or a $100 point-and-shoot, might be just fine for street photography or flowers or architecture.  You be the judge.  Look at what the best photographers in the world are doing.  Can you compete with the equipment you have?

Woman of Chichicastenango by Tom Bell


3.  Okay, now you have the camera, lens, tripod, etc.  You also have Photoshop or another program to edit your photos.  Do you have the skill and knowledge you need?  Maybe you have the vision for the most astounding image in the world.  Do you have the skill and means to make it happen?  Do you understand the mechanics of your camera?  Do you really understand composition?  Do you know how to correct levels and how to convert an image to black and white?  Do you know how to make the image come to life?   If not, get books, take classes, download tutorials, join groups, get advice from other photographers, practice, practice, practice...  If you want to win an international photo contest, you may have to become a learning fanatic.

Antigua Garden by Tom Bell

4.  Shoot what you want to shoot.  I've been told that I have an unfair advantage in winning photography awards because I shoot exotic locations and exotic people in remote villages that most people will never be able to visit.  True that I sometimes shoot in exotic locales, and it's certainly not a disadvantage, however, it's not true that that gives me an unfair advantage.  I won a major international award for a photo of my dog that I shot in the hallway of my house as I was coming home from work.  Pick a subject that appeals to you.  If you have the resources, travel to a remote Indian village in Guatemala, or to Antarctica to shoot icebergs.  If you can only get to your backyard, shoot in your backyard.  Learn to see whatever you're shooting as art.

Mr. Watson by Tom Bell

5.  Here it is:  the #1 secret to winning fine art photography competitions - Know that you're one of the best. Know that you will at least make it to a finalist spot against thousands of others.  Know that when you submit to a contest that you will be a winner.  You are now a fine art photographer.  This is not about having a positive attitude, by the way.  It's about knowing yourself and your product.  If your product is good, really good, but not good enough, know it.  Don't waste your time and money on submitting.  Wait until you've refined your skills to break through the threshold of the very best.  Only a few will do it.  When you reach that point, you won't have to tell anyone you're a fine art photographer; they will know it from looking at your work.  When you've truly reached that point, you'll win recognition in any photography competition you enter, maybe first place, maybe third, maybe honorable mention.  But you'll win time and again because you did what it takes to reach that level.  Okay, you say you've reached that level and entered three or four competitions and didn't win anything:  it's now time to reassess.  If you really have the degree of excellence you think you do, a panel of judges from galleries and museums and fine art programs won't miss it, and you will be recognized.  You say they must have missed something.  I'd say it's more likely that you're missing something.  It's not that you're not good.  It's not that your work isn't good.  It's just that you have to reassess, go back and do whatever it takes to be the best.  Recognize it and work even harder.

6.  Here's the #2 secret:  Work even harder!

You can view my website at: www.tombellart.com.