Cameras are everywhere. Snapshots are cheap.
Most formal portraits of men after high school are family photos. Guys pose with their future wives for engagement photos and try to look “sweet,” because that’s what she wants. Because that’s what people expect. Dad and the boys put on their matching sweaters and get dragged down to the mall by their ears. Everyone tries to look happy and cute. Because that’s what people do.
If an anthropologist from the future looked at your framed photos after your memory cards and disintegrated and your online profiles were gone, what would he think about your life? Who would he think you were?
If you look at photos of men from a hundred years ago, you’ll still find the family photos. But you’ll also find shots of men sitting with other men, looking SOLID.
Families weren’t the only relationships that mattered. Men had their own identities in the world outside the home. They had friendships that mattered.
Here I am with my boys. This is our crew. Our social club. The gang.
There were photographs of men being who they really were, or trying to look like who they wanted to be.
Not trying to be cute. Not trying to please a woman. Not smiling for mom or the wife or the girlfriend. Not being ironic. Not wondering if they are hot or not.
Just a group of men–looking SOLID–saying this is who we are, as MEN.
Today, fewer men in the West are having families. Men who have families often end up estranged from them, through divorce.
What happens to those men? Who are they? How will they be remembered? How will anyone know what mattered to them –and who was important?
There have always been a surplus of men –men who never ended up having families for some reason or other. They’ve been explorers, pioneers, mercenaries, soldiers, fisherman, loggers, roustabouts, troublemakers, roughnecks and monks.
It wasn’t because they didn’t love women. Homosexual men have always been a relatively small portion of any population, and most of the hard men in those old photos would have socked you in the nose if you called them queers. The majority were just men who lived in a world of men, where other men were the important people in their lives. They cared about other things more than women, like the sailor in the song “Brandi, You’re a Fine Girl.”
His life, his love and his lady was the sea.
In our Bonobo Masturbation society, females herd their confused men around, separate them like schoolteachers, tell them what is important and who is important. Men let women tell them what matters, and what kind of face they should make.
Formal photos are a way to draw the line. They give you an opportunity to formalize relationships and identities that matter. You decide who is important and make your own damned face.
After thinking about this for a while, I decided to give it a try myself.
I have a few other guys I can think of who matter, but I knew these guys would get it, and it was a long-standing association that came to mind immediately.
The Old Man Cigar Club
I’ve been meeting up with Rex and Trevor once every three weeks or so, with a few breaks, since about 2005. Generally, I make some kind of dinner and we sit around drinking and talking and, after a departed friend got us started a few years ago—smoking cigars. I often meet with Trevor or Rex independently for drinks or to go see a movie or do something that’s of particular interest to one of them. Rex and Trevor have both been to all three of my book readings. We’ve done a bunch of things together, but when we talked about it yesterday, we all remembered going to a screening of One Upon a Time in the West at the Portland Art Museum as a notable event.
Each of us is his own man; no one really “follows” anyone else in this group. We like exchanging ideas, but we don’t necessarily agree on everything. We don’t have to. It’s about mutual respect, and the conversation. To give you a sense of what that conversation is like, I’ll tell you a little bit about Rex and Trevor.
In Portland, Rex requires no introduction. He’s a living legend. There’s a donut named after him at Voodoo Donuts—The Diablos Rex Unholy Donut. Superstitious Mexican cooks chatter rumors about him when he walks into a restaurant and they see the medical grade Teflon horns he has implanted in his forehead Rex doesn’t mind. There’s a seat reserved for him at The Lovecraft Bar. He’s also been my Thanksgiving guest almost every year for the past six.
Rex is a second generation Satanist. His parents were members of The Church of Satan back in the day. He hung out at The Black House with Anton LaVey, who personally made him a Magister. Rex is best known for his monstrous airbrush paintings of otherworldly demons. A few years ago he gave up painting and resigned from The Church of Satan to focus on occult technology and dead serious black magic. He’s enlisted the expertise of high-end professional fabricators and machinists to build what he calls “The Ragnarok Engine” out of submarine steel. He describes it as an “80,000 pound demon generating forge and psy-weapon.”
I call it “Plan B.”
Trevor Blake has had work published in The Freethinker (established 1881), as well as in books published by Simon & Schuster, Feral House and The SubGenius Foundation (among others). He started publishing his own zine, OVO, the old fashioned way in 1987. OVO has several volumes in print, and eventually became http://ovo127.com/. He describes his focus as “freedom of speech, pro-mutant, and self-education through publishing.” Trevor is also the lead judge in the George Walford International Essay Prize (gwiep.net), a well-respected lecturer on the life and work of R. Buckminster Fuller, and a professional sign language interpreter.
Rex once described Trevor as “Vulcan” because of the calm and careful way he works through ideas. Trevor gave me hand written notes for every chapter of the first draft of The Way of Men, and I occasionally hear his voice when I am writing and editing. My favorite piece of writing advice he ever gave me was, “Never say ‘person’ when you mean ‘man.’”
Trevor is also the best tour guide of Portland I know. He spent three years cataloging every downtown memorial, and he is an engaging storyteller and local historian.
The photo was taken on September 30, 2012 at Horsethief Butte near Lyle, WA. It’s one of my favorite spots. The landscape out there is something out of Conan, and inside the butte itself there are spaces that feel like rooms, where archeologists have found evidence of primitive artwork. We carried chairs out in front of the butte, lit some stogies while I set up a tripod and took the photos with a self-timer. After we got some usable shots, I cracked open some bottles of Apocalypse IPA with my pocket knife, and we finished smoking up while enjoying the last dry breaths of a dying Northwest summer.
Right before the formal shot you see above, I said to everyone, “OK. LOOK SERIOUS!”
Rex took a puff of his cigar and said, “When have I ever NOT looked serious? MY WHOLE LIFE IS SERIOUS!”