Category Archives: Photography

Books: The 3800 block of San Diego’s 5th Avenue in Hillcrest


Bookseller Jan Tonnesen thumbs through a first edition Dr. Suess book at 5th Avenue Books in San Diego, Calif., earlier this month. Fifth Avenue Books is one of two terrific bookstores on the 3800 block of 5th Avenue in the Hillcrest area. The other is Bluestocking books, almost directly across the street. Photo by John Doucette.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Folks here said the number of bookstores in the city has dwindled in recent years, but I had time during a recent work trip to visit two terrific shops on opposite sides of 5th Avenue in the Hillcrest area – 5th Avenue Books, which sells used, and Bluestocking Books, which sells a mix of new and used.

The former Borders location in Gaslamp notably lay empty, which is not unlike an awful lot of towns, but a big recent loss for rare and used book hunters fond independent sellers was the ultimate shuttering of Wahrenbrock’s Book House, following the 2008 death of its owner. But a few shops are still going, including in and around Hillcrest, and I keep hoping people will rediscover the joy of going to a cool bookstore and finding either something wanted or something you didn’t know you needed.

With 5th Avenue and Bluestocking so close, I urge them to mate and make some beautiful new bookstores. I’m not 100 percent certain of the science behind my proposal. Regardless, the Hillcrest Town Council should petition the City Council to fund the purchase of a huge scented candle, as well as the rental of a Commodores cover band to play an autumn evening set in the middle of the avenue. Just see where it goes, San Diego. Let’s see them try to resist the silky allure of 1978’s “Say Yeah.”

Anyway. I visited Bluestocking first, where owner Kris Nelson said the store’s name roughly means “oddball,” and also refers to an intellectual woman. There’s also a brief history of the term at the store site. The number is (619) 296-1424, and they have a Facebook fan site at this link. I browsed fiction, mostly, then compulsively bought a Tim Seibles poetry collection, which you can look forward to among the prizes for next year’s Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest. Say, did you hear about the National Book Award nominations yet? Still cool.

Nelson said the store has a fairly simple philosophy:

Come as you are. Dress how you want. Why can’t we all just be equal?

She’s had the store for 13 years, though there’s been a bookstore here since the 1960s.

I love our neighborhood. It’s still a great walking neighborhood with trees. It’s a very tolerant neighborhood.

She even met her husband here in the store, when he showed up for a poetry reading and then bought a book. The store is doing well, she noted, in part due to the shuttering of Borders — similar to what I heard at an independent store in Rhode Island last year.

We’ve seen a bump. We’ve also seen a bump because some of the used stores have been closing, which is sad.

Bluestocking bookseller Dawn Marie said:

A lot of the bookstores we used to have closed, but so has Borders. There’s one Barnes & Noble, and they’ve really cut back.

In addition to new books, Bluestocking has taken on services such as handling magazine subscriptions. Said Marie:

It boils down to where can [customers] get the services they need? And that’s what lets us grow. There’s still growth happening, but its stores that are really service-oriented.

Bluestocking Books exterior.

Kris Nelson, owner of Bluestocking Books in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego, Calif.

Bluestocking Books.

Bluestocking Books interior.

I didn’t have time to venture out to other recommended shops — Adams Avenue Book Store in Normal Heights and D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla [the latter has a Loeb Classical Library and Western Philosophy wall and, man, check out their YouTube channel] — but I loved San Diego like stupid loves low expectations. I aim to be back, and also aim to check these spots out.

That said, I found so much great stuff at Bluestocking Books and 5th Avenue Books, I ended up with a challenging carry-on situation for the flight back to Virginia. There are worse problems to have.

Across the street from Bluestocking, I spoke with Jan Tonnesen, a bookseller at 5th Avenue Books. He worked for three decades at Wahrenbrock’s before it closed.

Fifth Avenue Books holds down a big, open space at 3838 5th Ave., with some back rooms, too. The number is (619) 291-4660 and they have a Facebook fan page at this link. I ended up choosing some Modern Library volumes, including the first San Diego-bought book I started reading on the ride home — a very nice copy of The Decameron.

Tonnesen, back when he worked at Wahrenbrock’s, witnessed the late pop star Michael Jackson on a shopping spree there. His bill topped $1,700. This was by far the coolest story I heard in San Diego. Said Tonnesen:

I spent about 20 minutes alone with him in the rare books room. He wore a red silk shirt and a red surgical mask to match.

I suggested Tonnesen had a pretty good title for a memoir: I Spent 20 Minutes Alone with Michael Jackson in the Rare Books Room: A Survivor’s Story. Kind of sells itself.

I like it. Thanks.

When was that?

Oh, God. I don’t know. It was at least 15 years ago.

Before he died.

I hope so.

5th Avenue Books exterior.

5th Avenue Books interior.

A lion watches over a bookshelf at 5th Avenue Books in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, Calif.

Some nifty sketches at 5th Avenue Books included this one of Papa.

A brief epilogue:

The photos with this post are with my iPhone, so the indoor ones are a little grainy and blurry; sorry. But I want to make it up to you. I’m lighting a candle for you, bookstores.

And now it smells all like cinnamon, with just a hint of possibility.

Say, what’s that I hear from the middle of 5th Avenue?

Oh my:

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Hampton Roads APB: Be on the lookout for camera, gear, images that matter


NORFOLK, Va. — Not what I usually do on this thing, but I hope you might be able to help, since most of the people who read this blog are in Hampton Roads.

I have a friend, photographer Stephen Katz, who is a wonderful shooter, a great person, and a proud new dad.

He and his family are also co-victims of a property crime that happened to somebody else. Here’s a note Katz posted to Facebook, gently edited:

Please. If you have a heart, please …

Monday night in Norfolk someone stole my friend Amanda Lucier’s camera and computer equipment from her home. I feel awful for her loss and the sense of violation, but thankfully the gear was insured and will be replaced and this was likely done by someone who knows her and has been a guest in her home.

What can’t be replaced are the photos she took of the birth of my son. With the exception of the six Amanda e-mailed me the next day, all of the photos are on her computer and/or harddrive. Images of my cutting the cord. Of my brother holding his first nephew. Pics of a proud grandma.

Chelsea and I are crushed. Other than the nurse and midwife, Amanda was the only other person we allowed in the room because we wanted to cherish those fleeting moments forever. We were looking forward to sharing them with our friends and family and one day Sawyer himself. And now someone is going to simply erase them and move on without a care.

Please. If you or someone you know did this […] please have a heart and make this right. Put the CF cards or a DVD of the pics or the harddrive in an unmarked envelope and send it to The Pilot – 150 W. Brambleton Ave, Norfolk, VA 23510.

Please.

It’s possible that someone who had been in Lucier’s home did this thing, but I can’t say for sure. On the off chance you’re in our area and know anything about who might have done this, I hope you’ll help.

Let me just add one thing here. If you’re not in the position to influence this individual in a 100 percent safe and peaceful way, please just contact the police.

If you shoot, as I do (very humbly), you know what gear costs. Bad enough, and my heart goes out to Lucier, a truly amazing shooter.

But, man – if you have kids, if you love somebody, if you remember that moment when everything changed in the best way ever, you know those images are worth the world and more to the people to whom they belong.

Long shot, I know. But thanks for reading it, at least. I’ll be back talking to some sort of writer about something or other in the near future.

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Fortune cookie fortune writing contest prize books announced, entries due June 15


PORTSMOUTH, Va. – There are less than two weeks left until the entry period ends for the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest, so if you haven’t sent your submission(s) via email to jhdouc@verizon.net yet you’re missing out on a chance to win copies of some terrific books.

This year’s prizes include the following books. Most of them by authors featured at the blog. Each book is autographed by the author.

  • Norton Girault’s short story collection Out Among the Rooster Men
  • Dana Heller’s Hairspray, a study of the film by John Waters
  • Connie Sage’s biography Frank Batten: The Untold Story of the Founder of the Weather Channel 
  • Two copies of Tim Seibles’ new poetry volume Fast Animal
  • Wells Tower’s short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

The first place winner picks three books. Second place picks two of the remainder. Third place gets what’s left.

I’m hoping to add a few additional prizes. I hope you’ll enter as often as you like. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries so far.

Again, the official rules can be found at this link. For a taste of last year’s winners, click on this link.

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UPDATED: Announcing the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest


• • • • • • • • • • •

April 3

I’m now taking entries for the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest. Deadline is June 15.

Additionally, I’m pleased to say Fair Grounds Coffee on the upstairs of 806 Baldwin Ave., on the corner of Baldwin and Colley avenues in Norfolk, will display winners and runners up in July.

Details on the national tour to come when people start returning my calls anywhere.

• • • • • • • • • • •

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Imaginary Board of Trustees is pleased to announce that the second annual Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest submission and reading period begins next month.

I’m taking submissions from April 2 until June 15, with winners to be announced here at the blog on Monday, July 2. As with last year’s contest, I’ll pick the finalists and judges-to-be-named-later will vote “blind” for their favorites.

I hope get more visual art entries this year, but getting any entries at all brings its own special joy. The winners and runners up will be displayed at a Norfolk-area business. I’m still working out the details there, but hope to have more information soon.

Should nobody enter, we will pretend this did not happen. Just like my junior prom at Cranston High School East. Go Bolts.

Don’t want to enter? Suit yourself, cupcake. But before you go, do consider this persuasive and entirely solicited testimonial from last year’s winner, the Marylander di tutti Marylander who is called Gary Potterfield by all who are introduced to him as such. Get ready for gravitas:

A warning to anyone contemplating entry into the 2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing contest. Run. Just put down the chop sticks and run. For if you should win your life will never be the same.

Ever since I won last year’s contest, hardly a day goes by that I’m reminded of my victory. In fact, entire seasons go by and I’m not reminded of it. Immediately after the announcement, I began to receive more than 100 emails per day, none of which had anything to do with fortune cookies or cookies of any kind.

I can count at least 2,372 people who have not asked for my autograph, and that’s a low estimate. 

I think my victory has even affected the time-space continuum. The February immediately following the contest explicably had 29 days. 

Clearly, we need to bring the title back to the Virginia. May God bless the Commonwealth that is not Kentucky, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. Yes, as the kids say, the preceding sentence was a parochialist U.S. state designation burn.

Click here to see the full official rules, such as they are. (Please bookmark this link for updates.)

Click here to see last year’s winners, and the runners up, too.

Here are the basic guidelines, from the official rules:

In this test of skill and conciseness, readers contribute (hopefully) clever or artistic fortune or fortunes of their own creation to me via email to jhdouc@verizon.net – not in the comments, please.

Funny fortunes. Clever fortunes. Poetic fortunes. Artistic fortunes. Silly fortunes. Sad fortunes. Angry fortunes. Your hopes and dreams, your fears and foibles. Whatever way you want to approach it. It just has to fit on or to the form of a fortune slip, so please keep it to about 30 words or less. Cartoons, (original) comic strips, photos, and artwork all are encouraged, not just the written word – it just has to fit into a fortune cookie fortune sized space, such as this:

There will be modest prizes of my choosing, including signed books by authors previously featured on this blog. Last year’s prizes included Ted Danson and Mike D’Orso‘s Oceana and Earl Swift‘s The Big Roads. There also may be prizes from local businesses in the Hampton Roads area. Or maybe not. Details to come when the reading period nears.

Please enter early and often, and maybe tell your friends.

This message is pretend approved for immediate release by the Imaginary Board of Trustees.

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The year in silly cutlines, such as it was


PORTSMOUTH, Va. — As this blog’s first year comes to a merciful end, I will celebrate in the next couple of posts by recycling content.

I mean, looking back wistfully or some such what have you.

Point being, since the “and humble photography” part of this blog has all but been left behind in massively long interviews, I figured I could at least start out with the photos. Photo cutlines, any way.

So here’s a gallery of silly cutlines. Cutlines should be informative. These were not that.

1. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VIII: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads (June 4, 2011)

You are a saucy one, Earl Swift, Norfolk, Va., journalist and author of The Big Roads. Even when I crop out your tiny brass-studded leather novelty fez. Photo by John Doucette.

2. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VII: Vivian Paige of All Politics is Local (May 18, 2011)

Vivian J. Paige, left center, and members of the Virginia Democratic Intramural Coed Soccer Team form a wall to block a free kick by Commonwealth Republicans United. Boy, these guys get happy when it comes to blocking free kicks. Courtesy photo.

3. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham (Aug. 26, 2011)

Writer and editor Tom Robotham did not realize he would be part of a blog post that would unsuccessfully link 1870s British light opera and 1980s American light rap when he agree to be photographed at the Taphouse yesterday in Norfolk, Va. As it turns out, parents just don't understand that I am the captain of the Pinafore. Photo by John Doucette.

4. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XIII: Comedy writer and actor Sean Devereaux of The Pushers (Sept. 7, 2011)

At left is Sean Devereux, producer and co-head writer of the Hampton Roads improv and sketch comedy group The Pushers. In the foreground at right is a custom Ed Carden-shaped Chia pencil holder. Photo by John Doucette.

5. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVI: Hairspray author and scholar Dana Heller (Nov. 8, 2011)

Hi John: Look, when you take out this placeholder text and put in the real cutline in don't forget to make it extra funny. For Pete's sake, Dana Heller is chair of the English Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where you are a student. And she's the author of a book about the John Waters film Hairspray, and Waters totally is coming to ODU on Thursday. Don't phone this one in. Bring the funny. Your pal, John. PS: Courtesy photo.

6. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (June 12, 2011)

Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran, playwrights of Wanderlust. You'll just have to pretend this cutline is funny. Try harder. Yeah. There you are. Photo by John Doucette.

7. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IV: Jeff Maisey of Veer Magazine (April 16, 2011)

Despite any impression given by this image's bright lighting, Veer publisher and editor Jeff Maisey is not a being composed of pure energy and power. Yet. Photo by Kathy Keeney.

8. Ted Danson coming to Norfolk for talk with Mike D’Orso (April 9, 2011)

During a recent reading at Borjo Coffeehouse in Norfolk, Va., author Mike D'Orso points out something in a book he is holding. The microphone pretends to understand, but the microphone has a painful secret — illiteracy. Photo by John-Henry Doucette.

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Photo: New to the neighborhood


Backyard spider in Portsmouth, Va. Photo by John Doucette.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — This one just moved into our yard.

Have not yet worked up the nerve to seek rent.

She — fairly sure she’s a she, due to her size — is an orb weaver of some kind, and she has a pal who moved into our front porch around the same time.

There are still plenty of mosquitos around, but they seem a bit less mouthy.

Thanks, ladies.

 

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Photo: The Maine Coast


BELFAST, Maine — The following photos were shot in an around this community, primarily along the Passagassawakeag River and the shoreline of Penobscot Bay.

I’ve been playing around with contrast and B&W images, shooting only natural light, and these were shot generally with that in mind.

Seaweed and rocks.

Rocks and shells.

Rocks on a beach below a cliff.

Seaweed along a rocky shore.

Shells and rocks.

Cliff.

Rocks on a beach beneath a cliff.

Cliff.

Water through pine branches.

Duck in evening tide.

Seagull.

Mother duck and ducklings.

Seagull landing on utility pole.

Gull.

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Davmo’s memorial to John Kohn


This Memorial Day, I visited an art installation for a shipmate.

Not a cemetery, not something carved in polished granite or something glass with flags flying above it, one for the commonwealth and one for the country. This was in downtown Norfolk, Va., beneath the old sign for a Granby Street barbecue joint that left the premises some time back, in its old glass doorway and two flanking windows, and about a block from the very police administrative building in which some decisions were made about what to tell the taxpayers about a man’s death.

John Kohn was the police recruit in Norfolk who died after a series of training incidents in December. Kohn had served us with the military, and was trying to serve the city of Norfolk. I’ve written about him here before, and the press has written a fair bit about it, too. I won’t revisit it, but the circumstances of his death following a series of regrettable training incidents might have been prevented. What followed his death was a second tragedy. Transparency was needed, yet somehow avoided.

So the photo of the memorial is above. It’s simple, and striking because of its simplicity. It’s part of a larger effort called Art Everywhere, presented by, among others, AltDaily and the Downtown Norfolk Council. The memorial in question, “Remember John Kohn” by the artist called davmo, is at 250 Granby St. Here’s davmo’s dedication:

I visited this morning because I ran into Jesse Scaccia of AltDaily last night, and mentioned to him how much I liked that piece, among others, especially the (recently stolen!) pink bicycle near a streetlamp, which struck me as something an angel had leaned there while she ran into MacArthur Center. It got me thinking about Kohn again, and about davmo’s art – the mixture of words and the face, repeating images in different sizes, as well as the repetition in different windows.

Here’s what davmo told AltDaily’s Julie Alvarado about the work:

It is my way of saying I am so terribly sorry for John, his family, and all of his friends. I have had many of John’s friends see what I put together for this installation and all of them are glad that I did this for him. John has a lot of friends that want to remember.

And it’s in the perfect place. Downtown, the heart of the old Navy town John Kohn wanted to serve. Close enough to remind not just friends, but some of those in the government who need some reminding. As well as anyone who happens to be on Granby Street on a beautiful day such as this one.

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Pungo Weekend


Members of the 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade, from Ft. Story, marched in the parade at the Pungo Strawberry Festival in Virginia Beach, Va., on Saturday. Photo by John Doucette.

A strawberry field was quiet.

A picked-over field of strawberries.

Rick Clabbers of the Venture Scouts, Crew 502, of Virginia Beach, helps folks park in a field not too far from the fairgrounds.

Winner: best hat.

Runner up: best hat.

A rooster says hello. Or something.

One of the Beach's new traffic cams, Pungo style. Or a crow. It's hard to say.

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Photo: The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk


Victoria crowned pigeon.

We visited the Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk, Va., on Friday with our girls.

We love the zoo, and are very fortunate to have it Hampton Roads region. If you have kids, especially young ones, the family membership is better than gold.

Here are some of the animals we visited.

Male white-cheeked gibbon.

A mama goose, escorting her young, gave us the eye.

The siamang reminded us of a sculpture.

A fountain seen from the train and through the trees.

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