Stephen King once advised aspiring writers, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings — even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart — kill your darlings.” What did popular culture’s most prolific horror writer mean by that? That good storytelling often requires nixing superfluous parts, no matter how much the author loves them. Each month when we publish the Advocate magazine, photos and anecdotes we adore often are left scattered about the figurative cutting-room floor. Please allow us to indulge our egocentric little hearts as we share the more fascinating items from 2014 that almost lost their lives in the interest of brevity and limited page space.
Snapped in spring 2014 at Lake Highlands High School’s 50th anniversary celebration, members of the Latin dance group Folklorico stand poised to take the stage. The aesthetics that caught our photographer’s eye — bold colors and silky textures, billowing skirts, lacy blouses, shiny sashes, opaque eyelashes and red lips and flamboyant flowers and ribbons flanking and threading thick braids — all are essential to Folklorico. Says Suzanne McKown, the LHHS teacher who started it, “They love the costumes. There are different types of costumes based on what state of Mexico the dance comes from. What we’re trying to achieve, as we raise the money, is to purchase authentic costumes for each dance.” Socialization can be especially difficult for students who are recent immigrants to the United States; cultural clubs such as Folklorico can rescue a young person who otherwise might be lost. Annabelle Garcia, for example, moved from Cuba to Lake Highlands, where she faced loneliness and unfamiliarity. She hardly spoke English and missed her dad, who could not legally accompany her here. Folklorico, which formed at LHHS in 2011, provided a source of friendship, support and expression, Garcia told the Advocate in 2013. McKown vouches for Folklorico’s life-changing potential. “I often see a shy kid come out of his shell,” she says. “I see that with every kind of dance, in fact — ballet, jazz and [western].” She dabbles in all.
Carol Toler Contributed to the reporting.
Fred in the shadows
Fred Wiatrowski and his wife, Helen, appeared in a 2014 Advocate article about their work behind the scenes at the State Fair of Texas. We talked for about an hour before the photo shoot — about their jobs cleaning coupons during state fair season and other things, such as Helen’s recent brush with death after she fell and badly injured herself in the shower and how much she misses her old house. The Wiatrowskis were a photogenic couple — she with pristine makeup and hair, dressed beautifully in deep purples, and he in what reportedly is his signature look: plaid shirt, starched blue jeans and a the stub of an unlit cigar between his teeth. At one point, Fred’s shirtsleeve crept up, and we noticed a tattoo. We guessed, correctly, that it was related to military service. Our conversation about that went something like this: Advocate: “Did you serve in the war?” Fred: “Yes.” Advocate: “Oh yeah? What branch?” Fred: “Navy. But she doesn’t like for me to talk about it.” He tugs his sleeve, concealing the ink, looks at Helen, and they share a smile.
‘I’m Stephen. I’m an addict’
Stephen Wilson was one of three men to answer the door early last year when we visited the Lake Highlands Oxford House, an all-male sober-living residence on Whitehurst. Concerned neighbors contacted the Advocate after learning that eight recovering addicts/alcoholics were living on their street. We reached the founder of the Lake Highlands house, Chris McGuire, and he invited us over to tour the property and meet the occupants. Our visit, interviews and subsequent discoveries resulted in a multifaceted feature about addiction, addicts, recovery, family, friendship and support. It included photos of Wilson, McGuire and other members, but not this particular portrait of Wilson, who is the house’s youngest member. The photographer who took the photo says he likes that its fine details illustrate some of the ambivalences that punctuated the story. “Here you have this young guy who looks like any student — look at his beanie, the hoodie with its frayed drawstrings — who does not look like what most of us think a drug addict looks like,” he says. Further, note the backdrop. One does not expect the home of eight drug addicts to sport “your grandmother’s wallpaper,” as our shutterbug puts it. The house also was militantly clean. Wilson has remained sober since we met him, thanks in large part to the Oxford House environment. McGuire shares that Wilson, who is in his early 20s, recently was appointed chairman of the local Oxford House chapter. Texas has more than 55 houses and six chapters. The organizational structure helps to ensure that the houses are safe and effectively run, according to Oxford House literature.
A time to clown, a time to not
The first time we saw Zerp, 24-year-old Nic Rainone, in real life, he had a yellow afro and was balancing a plunger on his nose. Our next interview followed a circus at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Thus he arrived wearing his tramp-clown costume — floppy shoes, oversized jumper, plastic nose and so forth. In his dressing room, he talked of his clown career, which he says started “at birth.” He was raised by clowns Poppy and Bonkers, who had a TV show. Poppy (Mom) has a successful career today as a Dallas psychic. As he systematically removed the getup, the makeup, the nose (a cherished item that was a gift from a Russian clown troupe), Rainone disclosed that he was struggling through an identity crisis of sorts. He loves clowning and will do it forever, he explains, but he is more than a clown, he wants people to understand. He’s a social activist, an opponent of factory farms, a street artist and a paranormal investigator, to name a few things. Sure, he’s a teacher and a beloved entertainer of young children, but he’s also a hard drinker and a fighter who plays in a punk band. All this considered, it was no surprise that to the subsequent meeting — the photo shoot, that is — Rainone did not bring his clown costume or cosmetics. He’d misplaced those things, he said. Whether he really lost his gear or was purposefully attempting to craft his new or alter image, the result was perfect. We were able to introduce readers, many of whom already knew Zerp, to Nic, the tattooed and misunderstood artist.
I thought I’d just be photographing a baby floating in a pool, as if in wait of rescue. Then Linda DeSanders, Lake Highlands’ Dolfin Swim School owner and director of the Texas Drowning Prevention Alliance, said, “Should we push her under?” My first thought was, that’s not a very nice thing to do, but then I heard myself say, “Sure!” Watching this infant frog-kicking underwater was a sight to behold. But shooting underwater isn’t easy. Simply finding the camera’s viewfinder is a challenge; fumbling with controls, even more so. This is to say nothing of the anxiety of submerging a $6,000 camera in little more than a glorified Ziploc bag. In the end, there were few tears — from either our semi-aquatic talent or the photographer watching her — and we came away with more unique photos than we could print, including this one.
Words and photo by Danny Fulgencio
No goats, no glory
When Lake Highlands resident Mike Congrove started brainstorming ways to help the people of war-torn Sudan — aiming to transform their lives through education, financial assistance, the power of Jesus Christ and the like — goat racing wasn’t his first idea. It was, somehow, the one at which he eventually arrived. No kidding. Photographers could not be happier — sure, they appreciate that The Goat Run, now held annually at Flag Pole Hill, raises tens of thousands of dollars per year for Seed Effect and Empower Sudan, local faith-based charities bringing clean water, redevelopment aid and religion to the region. But, let’s be honest, the images yielded — for example, grown men (in this case, David Brumbalow, Brian Bain, Kurt Riddlesperger and David Faber) victoriously hoisting a goat overhead — are what make everyone (save the goat, perhaps) happy.
Last October in Vickery Meadow (the community known in late 2014 as ground zero for Ebola in the United States) after the media frenzy subsided, the Advocate visited the neighborhood to interview and photograph some of the people who worked behind the scenes during the high-profile crisis. Stacey Roth, the woman in the photo, is the Vickery Meadow Improvement District’s public safety coordinator. She introduced us to Se Da Oo Shay, a teenage Thai refugee who lives at The Ivy Apartments and speaks multiple Asian languages. Shay (as he is known to his friends) voluntarily stuck by Roth and her co-workers, as well as county and city officials, roughly five days, translating vital health information and easing neighbors’ anxieties and confusion. Eighty percent of those living at the Ivy are refugees, mostly from Asian regions unfamiliar with Ebola and other viruses. During our time with Shay, people approached him in numbers, asking his help with anything from apartment maintenance issues to reporting a violent crime (that one ended our first interview). To the littlest Ivy residents, Shay is a veritable Pied Piper. At the photo shoot, on a particularly blustery day, we recruited members of his entourage, Nepalese tots, to hold fragile flash stands in place. Unfortunately, it was so ridiculously windy that a couple of expensive bulbs bit the dust. The helpful crew seemed to enjoy themselves nonetheless.