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August 23, 2011

Mysteries and Enigmas

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I was around 12-years-old when my father took time off from his day job as a traveling absentee father, and arranged to finally meet the most handsome and best-smelling of his nine abandoned children.

The meeting place was my childhood home on a bright, sunny, summer afternoon. I remember feeling a roiling storm of contradictory emotions: hurt and anticipation, anger and curiosity. More than anything else, I looked forward to unloading 12 years of playing-catch-with-a-brickwall animus on its deserving progenitor.


Being the emotional genius that my poppa is(was?), he anticipated a less than welcoming reception. In an attempt to preempt and ameliorate my prepubescent indignation, he came bearing gifts.

My mother must have told him I was into learning and shit, because he arrived with a milkcrate packed neatly with 12-15 hardcover books that collectively comprised an edition of the World Book Encyclopedia that was about 20 years out of date.

Before I could launch into The Airing of Grievances he produced a vaguely familiar broad smile and said "these are for you."

He told me a "friend" gave him these books to give to me.

Over the years, I set aside the animosity I had for my father. I realized that he was absent not because I was an unworthy son but because he was a unworthy father.  Nature has installed remarkably efficient mechanisms for making babies, but it has far fewer fail safes for making parents. Once I recognized that my father was absent because nature simply did not equipped him to be a parent, I could no more be angry at him for depriving me of a father, than I could be angry at clouds for depriving me of sunshine.

Even still, one question lay dormant whispering softly yet persistently for an answer: who the f-word was papa's encyclopedia-fairy friend?

Last week while I was out exploring a historic Detroit landmark for the (ashamedly) first time, fate introduced me to the answer to this lingering mystery. Fate also introduced me to a brand new enigma.

I wandered into the foyer of John K. King Used and Rare Books and was met by... a collection of World Book Encyclopedias, milkcrates, and a sign:

"Free books. Please do not take crates"

And with that, I was introduced to my father's "friend." One mystery solved. Now,  the enigma...

As I mined the expansive, wonderfully dusty shelves of John K. King's store for vintage photography and science literature I knew I wanted to share the awesomeness of this place by sharing the story of one of its patrons in The People of Detroit.

I initially put a call out on Twitter and Facebook asking fans of this place to inbox me. I got a few replies, but this whole approach just didn't seem right. I started this project because I wanted to profile people who I just happened across in my daily life as a Detroiter. Putting out a casting call on the net just seemed antithetical to the project's spirit.

I decided to go about finding a subject the old fashioned TPOD way: by standing around in one place like a creep and waiting for an interesting person to happen across. I did that for about 45 minutes and was on my way out of the door when the young woman pictured above walked in.


When I was planning this photo - before I had even found a subject - I previsualized a person with interesting eyes looking at the camera through the selves. I was excited when I saw Tracy (Traci, Trace?). She personified what I was looking for.

I usually feel a certain level of self-consciousness when I approach complete strangers and ask them to take their picture. I suppressed that inhibition, approached Tracy, and shook her hand - firmly.  I consider all handshakes a referendum on the shakers' respective willingness to skin a bear, eat its innards and wear the inside of its head as a ceremonial hat. Tracy must have a similar philosophy because her handshake was competitively firm.

Then again, it may have something to do with the firm grip she undoubtedly developed when her dad taught her how to fly planes when she was a teen.  Or maybe it was her background as a Taekwondo black belt. Or the fact that in her spare time, she likes to watch documentaries on Navy SEALS.

I never would have guessed any of this from looking at her. An enigma indeed.

We talked for a good thirty minutes about her plans to travel across Asia, her sports medicine studies at Wayne State University, and about the scar she got when she injured her Achilles Heal doing Taekwondo and how a tendon was taken from elsewhere in her leg, stretched down to and looped through a hole drilled in her heel bone.

"And after all that, you still do Taekwondo?"
"Yep!"

I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure Tracy actually has ceremonial empty bear head at home. Such a pleasantly unusual young woman.

I gave her a card for TPOD, but neglected to get any contact information for her - hence why I'm unsure about how her name is exactly spelled. As of this writing, I haven't heard anything from her, so as it stands, I've solved one mystery and met one enigma.

I'm fine with that.

14 comments:

misterarthur said...

Awesome post and photo, Noah. Looks like your TPOD method is really the best one. The perfect subject. Beautifully captured. Great back stories (yours and hers).

Kenyon4us said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kenyon4us said...

The story matches the picture very well. I'm very glad that you experienced this. Because as random as one may think life is, one can never anticipate the special moments that will happen. A flower never knows what will grow next to it.

Thanks again for sharing

Appreciator of your work
Kenyon

Paula said...

Great photo, love the concept!

MRWilliams said...

I, thoroughly, enjoyed viewing and reading the piece. Great job, Noah Stephens! No doubt, your father would be proud. I am sure that is the case as, although I am not your parent, I am! :) Keep up the good work and sending all the best from Florida's Treasure Coast.

StevieWonderful76 said...

Yes!!! You're back! I've been waiting patiently. Great photo!

The People of Detroit. said...

Hey everybody,

I'm this one meant as much to ya'll as it does to me. Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts.

Cosh said...

only here because I listened to your episode of the Candid Frame podcast...what can I say? Great work by an engaging human being!

The People of Detroit. said...

Hey Cosh!

Thanks so much for stopping to leave a comment! Blogger says your profile was created in Nov. 2011. I'm going to go ahead and assume you created your entire profile JUST so you could comment. I'm going to assume that, because that assumption makes me feel good. :)

But for real, I really, really appreciate the feedback. I'm glad you like what I'm doing.

Worth Watching said...

Simply love your blog... LOOOVE. Thank you for this unique and enlightening perspective of the people of Detroit.

I have an award for you on my page :)

The People of Detroit. said...

Hey Worth,

Thank you so much for dropping a line! Also, thank you for writing about the project on your blog!

MMGPhotography said...

Beautiful image. Love your pictures and the stories behind them. Glad you were able to finally solve the mystery (your most recent flickr image brought me here). :)

Scottknight said...

Noah, you're on a roll with that logic of yours!  This bookstore gives free books, you're father gave you some books that he did not buy himself, therefore, the books HAD to come from this booskstore over 15 years ago.  You must have been a Rhodes Scholar and valedictorian of your class!,

ThePeopleofDetroit said...

Hi Scott, 


You must have been the kid in your class that no one wanted to be friends with. 

Thanks again for looking in on the project!

- Noah