Of all the places to pass by on a road, crossing the country perhaps, from here to there, you look out the window and there’s something so distinctly pure and youthful. The rural play of teenagers, hikers taking a lark after long trails, a swim at the watering hole.
Though I feel like I did pass this waterfall once, or at least one like it, long ago. This is just the hazy memory of a scene I’d wished I’d been a part of but only saw framed through the window of my car as it chugged across the continent. I don’t remember if I was in Colorado or Utah, I was crossing the country in an old jalopy Honda, giving an unannounced visit to a girl who didn’t know I loved her. I travelled two thousand miles only to steal a single beery kiss while her boyfriend slept the room over. A hushed declaration of mutual love, the hopelessness of the situation quietly asserted itself, breaking possibility into a million skittering, glittering fragments of what could have been, and never was.
On the way back, a wispy blonde girlchild in a pastel pink prairie dress, daughter of a friend of a friend coming home through Kansas City, gave me a short pink string to tie to my sweater to make me feel better and we played with her plastic ponies, dancing them across the room, as they whinnied and sang. I still have the sweater and the pink string tied to it.
But I remember seeing the waterfall through the bug-splattered window, the sunlight refracting through the glass, just past a bridge on the way there, a couple of cars parked on the side of the road caught my attention, and I saw a waterfall and some people swimming, young and alive. My look lingering, trying to drink it in, wishing to stop, but not, turning back to the unbroken double yellow line of the highway, the black asphalt of the road, and just kept going.
Is this another picture of youthful nostalgia? It is.
Sorry about that. Jon Rafman found plenty of pictures in the archive of birds flying, butterflies fluttering by, grown men baring their naked asses with cheeks gaped wide to the unflinching eye of the camera, countless prostitutes awaiting by sides of roads in every kind of weather in every kind of terrain, and seemingly innumerable middle fingers offered to the camera both offhandedly and with real grinning intention. I was also quite fond of the street corner thugs, who don’t trust Google’s blurring technology and always block their faces from the camera. Are they afraid of the simple surveillance of the all-seeing eye or are they simply criminals further incriminating themselves in their camera shyness? Or perhaps worse yet, the thugs who didn’t care at all in numerous pictures and strut down the street with rifles in hands on their way to something potentially messy.
Did you grow up in the suburbs somewhere? Late-at-night accompanied by freckled friends, did you engage in the age-old suburban past time of toiletpapering a house? A cheap rite of passage, a sense of being bad but not too bad. Is this picture in Florida or France, Scarsdale or Huntington Beach? Are the parents away? Was it a simple prank of a slumber party or a sinister payback in a teenage war of stolen boyfriends and other forms of friendly betrayal?
I remember my parents, initially disapproving, then grudgingly helping and finally sort of getting into the spirit of it. My mother applying black Army surplus face paint to my brother’s chubby cheeks. The midnight run to the all night grocer to pick up the superpack of toilet paper. Parking the car down the street, waiting for us as we stealthily ran into the night, trying to toss the roll high and tight, trying not to get them too wet in the dew (so they could be caught and tossed again), trying to keep an unbroken line of paper as they sailed over tree limbs, and of course trying not to giggle too loudly.
This picture is like the afterparty of the last pre-alcohol, pre-pot, pre-sex, pre-ecstasy days of pre-teenagerhood. This is the last time vandalism feels friendly. The suburban innocence of American teenagers, though I don’t know where this picture was taken, I can’t help but feel the youth of the world are off doing better things than American kids and their good clean fun.
Can you picture the white line of paper as it cuts across the inky night sky, imagine the blood pumping in your ears, looking for a light anywhere to flicker on in case of needed flight? It’s like a still from a Smashing Pumpkins video.
I feel like I’ve ceded my youth to pictures taken by other people. Very few actual photographs exist of all the most potent memories of my life. I read my stories (real and imagined) into these, but I am glad that somebody else’s real story exists here, caught almost accidently in the wave of simply documenting streets, by the random snap of a camera not looking for it, available for all to see online. Maybe none of the TP perpetrators will ever even see this image, will ever think of their youth in such fleeting terms, but there it is, another picture in a vast archive, comprising, more or less, all the memories of the world.