Recently, I photographed Tim near the Sepulveda Dam.
He was visiting North America from Muenster, Germany, spending a few months traveling around from Cuba to Toronto to Chicago. He bought a used van in the Windy City and rode out to California, criss-crossing the country through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona and finally ending up in California.
Tim was “discovered” one day outside a fashion show in downtown Los Angeles and signed to a small model agency whose owner hired me to photograph Tim.
He was in California tasting wine in the Santa Ynez Valley when a gunman burst into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed twelve parishioners. I know because we were leaving the winery when a friend of mine from Pittsburgh texted.
Tim was in California, staying at our home, on November 7, 2018 when a gunman opened fire in Thousand Oaks, CA and killed thirteen people at the Borderline Bar and Grill.
Tim was here for the Woolsey, Hill and Camp Fires and he walked and biked and lived among us under the smoky skies.
A friend of mine let Tim visit him in San Francisco and the young German arrived in the most polluted city on Earth on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 when you needed a face mask to walk outside and the hazardous air reading was 300 near the Golden Gate, and only 29 in Van Nuys.
Tim went to the Huntington Gardens, to Pasadena. He rode electric scooters with me in Santa Monica. And one morning I jokingly used Google Translate to wake him behind his closed door with a German woman saying, “Angela Merkel requests you to wake up.”
He came with us to our pot-luck Thanksgiving where we went to three neighbors’ homes for appetizers, wine, beer, the main course and an array of desserts.
He celebrated our holiday of thanks, of gratitude, of wonderment, for our American blessings. Blessings often forgotten or wasted or trampled upon by the ungrateful.
Tim worked as a landscaper in Germany so he came into our backyard, inspected our young trees and set about anchoring them in the correct way according to how he had been taught.
He is a vegetarian, so for almost a month there was no meat, chicken or fish served at home. One night he fried potatoes and onions just like his grandmother in Schapdetten.
He was neat, polite, punctual, funny, good-natured, and open to advice. He eschewed the crowd thinking of his generation, preferring to use his own mind to navigate his own tastes in music, movies and pop culture.
Unique to my experience in Los Angeles, he never didn’t show up on time, or fail to keep an appointment. He kept his word. When I brought him to Koreatown to meet a so-called filmmaker with 10,000 followers on Instagram and that person didn’t arrive, or text or email why, I told Tim that was how people normally behave in this city. If they think there is nothing in it for them they don’t bother to show up.
He had stayed in crappy AIRBNB’s in a $20 a night place with three strangers. He had slept in his van in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Kansas City. He had stayed with someone he met on the road who allowed him to crash in El Monte. And then he was photographed by a hustler who called himself a photographer and never gave Tim photos because Tim kept his honor and his heterosexuality intact.
The liars and the con-men and the grifters somehow passed over him without harming him.
This was the 20-year-old German man’s first visit to the United States. And he saw how we live, how we treat one another, how we co-exist.
Often this nation recalls wistfully its battles against fascism and how freedom prevailed in 1945. We love to replay that song over and over again, thinking of the atrocities of the Nazis and how horrible that time was.
Yet now we have a different kind of improvisational cruelty in the United States that happens suddenly with violent surprise. We think we are better, yet we tear gas women and children fleeing violence at the border and think we are defending our nation by keeping 5-year-olds separated from their parents. We go on, living our lives, after random shootings, after walking past homeless people sleeping on the street, and play Christmas songs in the car while others pick food out of the alley dumpsters.
And now a young German man visits and reminds me of what civilized behavior and expectations are. And how sorely lacking in those we are in the City of Angels. But what can I do to correct that? We are what we are as the American Nation.
So I go back to photography, and writing, and lamentations.
Sometimes our city shows off a side of its environment that is at once sublime, cinematic, and, perhaps lonely in its vast arid spaces. Sometimes something noble sprouts up in the ground and manifests its greatness before your eyes like the old Sepulveda Dam with its repeating arches and graceful artfulness.
And sometimes, a friend is made out of the most unlikely of strange and wondrous coincidences, because they showed up at your house, and you took them in, treated them with respect and kindness, and reaped some reward of brotherhood and international understanding and even love.
Last week, before he left town, before the rain came, we hiked over to the Sepulveda Dam before sunset to capture the late afternoon light.
And then the next day, at Burbank Airport, we said goodbye.