Table Mesa King Soopers Reopens

Table Mesa King Soopers, where the mass shootings happened almost exactly a year ago, reopened last week. 

I avoided the grand reopening ceremony. It was at 9:00 am, and featured the governor of the state and other local officials, as well as Kroger representatives. A marching band quickstepped in, playing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. That’s a detail the news outlets skipped over, but which appeared in a few Instagram stories.

My son went that evening. He said that a young woman burst into tears by the entrance, and her friend led her away. 

I finally visited a few days ago. It is resolutely normal. Any possible reminder of the slaughter has been erased. 

On the one hand, and on a low level, I am happy to be able to buy beef and broccoli without being assailed by waves of grief. On the other hand, I have a problem with this. It is, in fact, a brutal reminder of how temporary even the largest tragedy can be. 

I Go to Paris Photo

It’s big. Really big.

I survived Paris Photo and left with a head full of questions.

Paris Photo is perhaps the most important fair for the photography world. More than 130 exhibitors show work on the main floor. These are the biggest cats in the jungle: Gagosian, Marlboro, and Magnum are among the illustrious hawking the work of the greats, the famous, and the soon-to-celebrated.

In a second section, more than 30 publishers have booths, and, again, these are the big names. For photography, anyway.

I arrived early. It was before the great wave of aficionados and boho hoi polloi swamped the hall. A club-like atmosphere hovered in the air. Old friends exchanged embraces. For many, it was the first time they’d seen in other in months, thanks to the restrictions of Covid-19. Bonhomie all around.

It was like being in a high-end restaurant — a sense of glamour and exclusivity washes over you, along with the happiness of being someplace special.

In other words, the scent of money was in the air. I felt the business of photography in my nerves in a way I never had. It’s a fair, a market. At its core, the scene at Paris Photo is another version of the open air market a few blocks away at La Motte Picquet where hawkers sell fish, cheese, scarves, and even postcards.

Armed with my trusty notebook and iPhone, I set out to make discoveries.

Photo by Paul Cupido

Three qualities stood out:

Narrative. Several photographers are making tableaux vivants, or movie stills from films that haven’t been made. Some of these are in series, others a single image. Many books use text to tell stories parallel to the images.

Photo by Kinsco Bede, an emerging talent

Anti-representation. Or, pushing the plain old photo into painterly territory. Distorting, collaging, bending and twisting the printing process, or putting paint on the photograph itself. 

Photo by Sergio Larrain – an old favorite

Variety. Despite what I’ve pointed out, I couldn’t discern any overarching tendencies. Any example you could cite would be undercut by another set of work.

Women. Pictures by female photographers were highlighted; you could even follow a preset “female path” through the exhibits. This is a useful and valuable idea. The excellent photographs by Deborah Turbeville, Zoë Ghertner, and Mona Schulzek — among others — were so strong they deserved as large an audience as possible.

One percent. This is an event for the global elite. The organizers made several attempts to open it up to those who can’t afford to buy, say, an Irving Penn photo. Still, how many people are ready to purchase a photobook? Starting $50 per copy, even the books have the feel of a luxury item, no matter what’s inside the pages.

The day wore on. I realized that relying on serendipity was foolish. More people kept pouring in. I was toast.

Next time, I’ll have a strategy and stick to it. I’ll spread out the fun over two or even three days, and be sure to read the critiques and reports that appear after the opening. Frankly, with so many photographers and so many exhibits, I need all the help I can get.

Let me tell you a dirty secret: Hardly any one spent more than 15 seconds in front of any photo. All that hard work, all that creativity, and, in some cases, physical danger to produce an inspired image merited less time than you’d spend on a kitty video on Instagram.

Of course, you hope that — later, in private — someone will linger over a photo for at least a minute or two. I’d like to believe that.

You wonder what the purpose of all this highly skilled image making is. In a world saturated with images, why add to the deluge? At what point does it all descend into visual noise? Yeah, I was one overwhelmed pup panting under the curved roof of Le Grand Palais Ephemere.

But aren’t we all? Nearly everyone I see stares at their smartphone whenever they can. In a short session on Instagram, I see more photos than Life magazine published in a year. How do we stop the restless, hungry, and bored eye?

Who dwells with a painting or photograph? How do we make images that matter, that stick in the mind, that make for an experience, esthetic or not?

These are questions that would take a career to respond to — assuming they can be answered at all.

Another Set of First Impressions: Paris

rainbow over les invalides paris by tim  roessler

I’ve  been lucky enough not only to visit Paris but also to return pretty often.

Each time I come here, I’m surprised by the same set of contrasts with my home town of Boulder. Even though I should know better and remember, I’m still dazzled. I’ll list them here.

Now, my Parisian friends would read this skeptically, present counter examples, and scoff, lightly but politely, but they’d scoff. Familiarity breeds knowledge as well as contempt. But first impressions bring a freshness with them that can fade over time.

So here’s what struck me this time, straight out of the gates of Charles de Gaulle airport.

Thin. Parisians are slender, slim, thin and fat free. As a group. Old men all look like The Rolling Stones, only with regular clothes. Women of a certain age weigh what they must have as blushing girls at high school. Sure, not all of them are whippet thin. But you don’t see the supersized bodies you see down at the local shopping mall. 

Warm. Couples are physically affectionate. Pairs walk arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, or one arm draped over a shoulder. They lean languorously on each other, share private jokes. Back home, sure, you’ll see teenagers all over each other, hungry. But here, it’s an all-ages pastime, and there’s an easy sensuality and warmth. This includes same sex couples now.

Smoke. Cigarettes and cigarette smoke. Far fewer people smoke than even a few years ago. But far more smoke here than in my crunchy hometown. All ages, too — college-aged girls, crusty and creaky old guys, nervous middle-aged ladies in navy blue. 

Dress. People, generally, dress deliberately. You don’t see a lot of tailoring or suits. But it does look as if most people figured out how to look good, spent a few minutes before a mirror, and made an effort. You have high end ladies of a ferocious and strict elegance with large sunglasses, discreet pearls, Hermes scarves, wool skirts and so on. You also see your dandified dudes. 

On the other extreme, you see track suits here and there. Dammit. But then to balance these out: Miniskirts. Really short miniskirts.

Warm, part two. The women at the bakery hand you fresh baguettes still warm from the oven.

Scent. Olfactory feast. In Colorado, we live in a semi-arid climate. The air’s so dry, it doesn’t carry many fragrances. Some, yes, and the good ones include pine after rain, sage, earth, stone, and, if you’re close enough, Chanel 19. One of the stenches is weed. Or car exhaust.

But apart from those, it’s a fairly sterile, odorless place. Here, in Paris, you’re overwhelmed.

Yeast and sugar from bakeries. Cigars. Perfumes, nice ones from Hermes and Guerlain, linger on the air. Linden leaves, a leathery cologne, thyme, and, whew, a cheese store.

That’s all in one long city block.

Oh, and the whole body odor cliché? It’s November, so it’s unlikely. But in general, it’s exaggerated, especially lately.

Covid. Not so much. The rules here are the same as at home. You wear a mask indoors in shops and offices and on public transportation. You show your sanitary pass, or health passport, a QR code, and you can eat a meal without a mask or sip coffee outside, no problem. Tents for rapid testing have popped up outside of some pharmacies. You roll in, get the test and receive the results in 10 minutes. 

Juice. This is a tricky one, so hang in with me here. First, all people deserve freedom and dignity, and people should be able express themselves and their gender as they wish. But I have to say, Frenchmen seem more masculine and Frenchwomen much more feminine than in Boulder and Denver. In general. They have more … juice.

As the Russians say, the men seem like cats that can still catch mice. The women, too.

That’s enough for now. If you were to get off a flight and stroll around a few avenues and boulevards, you might have a completely different set of impressions.

And you should. Fly on over. Sniff the air, walk a little, and tell me what you think. We’ll both be richer for it.

Aftermath Interview

The Boulder Weekly’s managing editor, Caitlin Rockett, was kind enough to sit down with me and ask me questions about my photobook.

You can read the article here.

Caitlin is a gifted interviewer. She has an amazing ability to put you at ease immediately. How she shaped such a good piece out of my ramblings is a real testament to her skill as a writer.

I’m very grateful she met with me, and even more thankful for the resulting piece.

You can still order Aftermath from Blurb.

Aftermath 2: A modest proposal for gun patriots

image of a cross at King Soopers Table Mesa by Timothy Tim Roessler

A lot of arguments for and again gun control hit the media after the shootings in Boulder, Colorado. Advocates on both sides repeat the same set of polemics after every big slaughter. 

One caught me off guard, though. It goes like this: The deaths are sad, but that’s the price you pay for liberty. Freedom involves risk. Some people will suffer or die, but our right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution justifies that possibility. Victims of mass shootings, therefore, died for our freedoms.

Now, the guys making this argument are obviously still alive. Up until now, they can only laud the dead. You can’t really ask them or their loved ones to make the same sacrifice themselves, now, can you? It’s simply not practical to wander around shopping malls or churches or outside of dance clubs with a sign pinned on your back saying “Shoot Me! I support your Right to Bear Arms!! Kill Me Now!!!

But still, what enthusiasm! What commitment!!

Now I’m sure these guys want to do more. And show how much they really, really care. A donation to the National Rifle Association and a vote for gun rights advocates seems too petty for these patriots. It’s too damned easy, and they know it.

So I propose a program, funded out of gun sales, to help them truly show their commitment. And, because they say the Right to Bear Arms is a life or death issue, they should be eager to join. Put it on the line, I say!

Here’s how it’d work: Second Amendment gun patriots sign up for a lottery to enter the Freedom Cleanser and Comforter Squad (FCCS). This qualifies them for a chance at the glorious duty of caring for the dead and the grieving in the wake of a mass slaughter.

After the shooting, the agency holds a drawing. Then our Gun Patriot receives his summons. He arrives on the scene of the carnage— trailer park, grocery store, business office, dance club, church, plaza, wherever.

Once the forensic professionals have finished, he has the duty to clean up the bodies. Lift the blood and feces-stained corpses into the waiting ambulances.  Scrape the bits of bone and brain from the linoleum or concrete. Wipe the blood from the floor. There will be a lot of blood; the average human holds about five liters. 

A little advertised fact of violent death is that the victim’s bowels release. So our sturdy gun patriot will have to wipe up the shit and the piss as well, and ensure that the steps or the pews or the aisles are properly disinfected.

You might think this would be enough for a dedicated Second Amendment advocate, but I know he’ll want to do even more to help defend our freedom.

So he’ll be eager for the next job: comforting the families of the victims. He’ll go with a professional to help break the news to the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers, and perhaps the grandmothers and grandfathers. He will watch as they receive news that will shatter their lives and scar them with grief for the the rest of their lives.

Because it’s a little too easy just to bat out some platitudes about freedom and sacrifice on a keyboard. And I bet they know it, somewhere inside, and instead of repeating something about death they heard, they can now be in it, in the very heart of darkness and pain and grief.

It seems like the very least those stalwarts could do.

Bloodied Boulder

My neighborhood, Table Mesa, before

A few days before the massacre of 22 March, I walked around my neighborhood, the now infamous Table Mesa. 

I turned a corner and saw a goose was standing with an arrow through its head. It acted perfectly normally, as if the arrow wasn’t through it. 

All around were weeping children and appalled adults. It was a nasty sight, and made even more pathetic because a second goose stood next to the one with the arrow. Its mate, probably.  Animal Control officers were coming up. They’d catch the goose, operate on it, and make sure it went on to fly back to Canada. (I know all this because it was reported later on Nextdoor, a social media platform.)

A goose with an arrow through its head was the worst thing that’s happened around here for a long time. 

It seemed absurd yet touching that a wounded goose would create so much emotional turmoil. And, after all, shooting a goose and then not having the grace or decency to either kill it or take it in for care was cowardly and disgusting.

Back on the scene, before the goose was rushed to a vet, a slim blonde woman in late middle age told me that she’d moved to Boulder to avoid “all that.”

All that. Shorthand for robbery, rapine, random shot gun blasts, and all the scarlet drenched madness and violence of American life. 

Life’s uncertain, but it seemed like a good bet against “all that” to buy a multi-million dollar home in a small university town.

Privilege is a slippery concept, But the privilege of living here is undeniable. I’m annoyed that my neighborhood is shifting over from a place where well-paid yet crunchy professionals live — doctors, lawyers, scientists, tenured professors — into some weird super-moneyed, semi-urban Aspen. Still, it’s a beautiful setting. People around me, especially since the pandemic, are considerate and kind, if a bit uptight.

But all that drove up in a black Mercedes Benz on a gloomy Monday afternoon anyway.

My King Soopers

I’ve shopped there a thousand times or more. It’s my local place, the supermarket where I buy last minute birthday cards, do my weekly grocery shopping, or pick up my prescriptions. 

Completely ordinary, kind of ramshackle for glossy Boulder. Girl Scouts sell cookies outside the doors, various high school clubs peddle popcorn and whatnot for fundraisers. Compared with the other shiny hipster shops in town, it is refreshingly normal and aggressively un-designed. You shop for your groceries, look for the shortest line, and boom, you’re done. The management updated it recently so now it has polished concrete floors and an exposed ceiling instead of the old acoustic tiling. Soft rock plays over the speakers.

During the day, small bunches of teenagers from the nearby high school bought Doritos or kombucha. Often, one of the seniors from the active living complex across the street would ask you to hand her a box of macaroni on a shelf too high for her to reach.  Later at night, college students will roll in high as kites and pack their carts with ice cream or chips. And, of course, you have the whole neighborhood buying dinner, breakfast, whatever to stock the cupboards.  They sold flowers for potting in the spring, and Christmas wreathes in December.

The Asian pharmacist was incredibly helpful to me once, double checking and tracking down some drugs for an eye infection. François, a burly Frenchman, worked the butcher counter and had a fan club of the local ladies.

One of the regular cashiers wore a pentangle and confessed — or bragged — that he was a white witch. Another clerk is a tiny young woman who’s so short it seems she has to reach up to hit the keys on the cash machine. She has acne, a Russian first name, and blushes when you say hi. Kim, who grew up in Vietnam, has her own fan club; her line is generally filled with middle-aged guys, hoping for a chance to catch the sunlight of her smile.

During the live stream video of the event, I was afraid for every one of them. (And, yes, I knew Teri, who’d worked at King Soopers forever, always cheery, ready to return a greeting, a careful and conscientious bagger. She loved her job, they said in the interviews, and it showed. )

I hope Teri didn’t see it coming.

Death Streaming

“It seemed like all of us had imagined we’d be in a situation like this at some point in our lives,” 57-year-old James Bentz said.

via the Denver Post

By chance, a videographer named Dean Schiller arrived almost immediately after the shooting started at King Soopers. Alerted by a friend, my son called me into his room to watch Schiller’s live stream on YouTube, around 2:40 pm.

The computer monitor showed SWAT teams, armored vehicles, a hook-and-ladder truck, ambulances, and what looked like a hundred police SUVs with their lights flashing. One squad of police in full tactical gear lined up by the east entrance. The front windows of the store had been broken out. 

A helicopter flew above my house. Then, it appeared on the computer screen.

It wasn’t surreal. Surreal is giraffes on fire or Jean Cocteau or melting clocks. 

More like: uncanny.

If you’ve ever driven a car down a one-way street and had a car aim at you, coming from the exact wrong direction, you’ll know what I mean. Wait. What’s that? A car? It doesn’t belong there! Is it there? It is! Then you blast your horn, figure your escape. 

But there’s that lag.

Or, in this case, layer on top of each other two scenes you know well. Your supermarket. And a massive, video-game like police response.

After I did take it all in, I went into overdrive. My son’s here, good, okay. Wife’s out of danger.  My daughter—visiting for the first time in months—is driving around. Goddamngoddamngoddamn. I called. She’s fine. Shocked to hear the news. 

It’s strange to hear these words come out of your mouth: “There’s an active shooter situation at King Soopers.” It’s like borrowing a policeman’s uniform, theatrical and wrong. But, that’s what’s happening. And you want the full weight of it to hit hard so that she’s careful.

Your friends? One lives five doors away from King Soopers. A quick text. A quick response, thank God. You work down a list. 

Then, people text you. 

And you watch the live stream. 

Despite their overwhelming superiority in numbers, equipment, and weapons, the police operation had a tentative feel to it. They’d probe, gingerly. The live stream included the police scanner chatter. It seemed as if one problem was logistics — how to handle all the force that arrived.

As we watched, we wondered: How many shooters? How many dead? Are there bombs, ready to go off? Did the shooter have hostages? Would it be turn out like Dog Day Afternoon?

A cherry picker delivered a team of SWAT officers to the roof of the store. Why the roof?

Schiller, who was still live streaming, kept imploring the police to fly a drone in through the broken windows and survey the interior of the store. It seemed like a good idea. Instead, what looked like a chain saw arrived on top of the roof. 

I’m no expert in managing sieges against active shooters. From what I saw — a know-nothing guy watching the internet — the police seemed slow, musclebound and not well trained. In one way, you can’t blame them. It was a first-time crisis for most of them, probably.

But I would also note that after the shooting started, the shoppers helped each other. One witness said that young people helped old people descend the loading docks. Instead of fleeing, they risked their lives for the sake of a stranger. 

A fast-acting barista, Logan Smith, hid his 69-year-old co-worker, leaving himself exposed.

What’s even more remarkable is that, once out of the killing zone, some of the King Soopers shoppers went back into the store to help more people out. Those shoppers did not have shields, body armor, or tactical weapons.

After what seemed like forever, the police led a man out in black boxer shorts with blood streaming down his leg. Was he a victim? No, he was cuffed. The shooter?

The police leading him out were businesslike and absolutely calm. Solemn as priests performing a ritual. 

The man was in black boxer shorts was docile. Something about him reminded me of steers being led through corrals. He had a long streak of red down his leg, but didn’t seem to be limping or seriously hurt.

His naked torso looked terribly exposed and tender, like skinless, boiled chicken.

At one point we heard the voice on the police scanner say, “Six deceased.”

It was, partly, cinematic — a scene played out very often in fiction and in reality. The weapons, the tension, the sheer spectacle of all that hardware. Except that this massacre wasn’t: it was random. No build up. No motive. No climax — the police simply led the man away. And thus, no meaning. Just a growing sense of horror and grief.

What was inside?

Officers in tactical gear and with automatic weapons escorted groups of people, hands linked behind their heads out of the store. They seem to be holding their breath until they got far enough away. 

I saw “my” Asian pharmacist in one of the first groups. Her jacket was still an immaculate white. What had she seen? What nightmares will she have to endure? Later, reports would show that one of the victims was standing in line to get her prescription. Had the pharmacist seen her blown away by the bullets that travel 2,500 feet per second?

That night

I walked to the store. It takes 10 minutes or so. The police taped off a wide perimeter, and it was impossible to see very much.

In the laundromat behind the police lines, a load of clothes spun in a dryer, seemingly on an endless cycle.

A clanking sound came from inside the store, metal on metal, right out of a David Lynch soundtrack. I realized that the bodies must still be inside in their newly butchered condition.

I was the only one walking around. Silence has different qualities. Sometimes it’s merely quiet, other times it seems pregnant. It seemed full that night.

As I walked home, I triggered one of those motion sensitive lights. It was above a garage and flooded the front yard with a bright glare. I had to laugh. 

There you are, with your burglar alarms, your motion detectors, your insurance, your seat belts, your police departments, your martial arts training, your weapons course and you know what? 

Just go shopping for beef stroganoff on Monday afternoon and see what happens.

The victims

Rikki Olds, 25, on the right. via the Colorado Sun

Tralonna Bartkowiak

Suzanne Fountain

Teri Leiker

Kevin Mahoney

Lynn Murray

Rikki Olds

Neven Stanisic

Denny Stong

Eric Talley

Jody Waters

Teri, as I wrote, I knew from her packing my groceries. Jody ran a store aimed at women; she also sold the first Beanie Babies in town. My wife knew her and said she was vibrant and funny, the sort of a person you’d stop in to say hi too. I saw Rikki a few times, joking around as everyone recalls.

Three less people to say hi to. Ten gaping holes in the lives of the families and friends of the people who knew them well. 

The memorial

By Tuesday, the authorities fenced off the King Soopers parking lot. People had already begun leaving bouquets and weaving the stems of red roses into the chain links. Prayer candles lined the sidewalk. Messages and poems were also tied to the fence. Snow fell. 

A tall man covered his eyes and wept. A woman lit a sage stick. Groups of young women in twos and threes walked arm in arm, tears streaming down their faces. Mostly couples of all ages would walk to the fence, leave some flowers, step back, and pause. Perhaps they prayed.

photo of king soopers table mesa boulder colorado

Mixed in with the crowd of mourners, photographers festooned with several cameras, many with long telephoto lenses prowled around with hungry eyes. 

On the other side of the fence, a man in a windbreaker with FBI on it was taking measurements with some device on a tripod. Three black, boxy tents about the size of a car marked the spots of three of the murder victims in the parking lot.

Today, the numbers of mourners—of people paying their respects and leaving offerings of flowers and poems—keeps growing. 

What can you say?

I like to think I’m an imaginative person and not without a certain sensibility. Other mass shootings affected me, some more deeply than others. To my shame, I’ve forgotten about several. That in itself carries a weight of horror: so many mass shootings that you can’t keep track of them.

But when the slaughter takes place less than a mile away from your home, in a place you know as well as your kitchen, it marks you.  By now, I’ve learned that I work through grief with nihilism, carbs, and cognac. It’s not a method I’d recommend, but they kind of work. I’ve been sad, enraged, and raw, all my feelings closer to the surface than I’d like. (This is just so you know what it might be like to be around a massacre, but not part of it.)

I don’t know about lessons or insights. Maybe there are none. If you live long enough, people you love die. I’ve been thinking hard the last few weeks about the pandemic, and for the last few days, about this carnage. They’ll be familiar to most people.

We can die at any moment. Or someone we love could die, or endure a crisis that in a moment will forever change.

There’s a quote from Ivan Bunin that I can’t find, so I’ll paraphrase it clumsily. It goes something like this: Each goodbye could be the last. But how can anyone live at that emotional pitch? Wouldn’t it be strange if each time I said goodbye to you it was as if for the last time?

And yet, it’s true. Each goodbye might be the last one. Had my daughter decided to pick up a snack after she left the house at 2:00 pm, she could easily have ended up in a pool of her own blood. I’d visited King Soopers the day before. My son, the day before that.

I often remember the last act of Our Town, by Thornton Wilder. This scene happens in the cemetery and imagines that the souls of the recently dead review and look in on their lives before they move on — kind of a New England bardo.

EMILY: Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners….Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking….and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?

STAGE MANAGER: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

I’ll shop at King Sooper’s again, and I hope they put up a decent memorial to the people who were killed there. But it has utterly changed for me. It will be now a place to buy bread and the location of a massacre. The banal and the horrific all under one roof, as it often is in places where humans have lived for any time at all. 

Coming Through Slaughter

image by tim roessler timothy roessler

This is a masterpiece. It’s a story, if you want to reduce it, of a musician who pushed the boundaries of his art into madness

Some novels take you to place where dreams and memories lie, some almost pre-verbal unconscious condition, hypnotic, intimate as the smell of your own breath. This is one.

Michael Ondaatje, with the density and specificity of a poet, tells a version of the life of Buddy Bolden, one of the creators of jazz. Bolden’s a historic and nearly legendary figure who lived and blew his cornet in New Orleans. Ondaatje brings him to life with grace and ferocity.

Along the way, we meet another artist chasing an original vision: E.J Bellocq, the photographer of prostitutes in Storyville. We know Bolden’s women, his friends, his children. And his steadily bending mind.

Bolden eventually broke blood vessels in his throat, and shattered his sanity. He ended up in the state asylum, a pace as grim as you’d imagine, by passing through the Louisiana town of Slaughter.

It took me a long time to read. Partly, because the prose is as dense as poetry. Partly, too, because of the sheer intensity. 

Read it, even if you’ll end up scorched and blistered. Because it’s beautiful on every damn page, and beautiful in a way that’ll be new to you and change you.