There’s a lot of fall in those faces, a lot of October in those shiny cheeks.
My photo advice, in this most social of seasons, is that the best group shots take place three seconds before everyone poses. In my experience, “Say cheese!” results in stiff shoulders and forced smiles.
So the wise old photographer — I’m more old than wise — takes a photo three seconds before cuing the group. Or three seconds right after. That’s when the most natural, playful photos happen. That’s the shutterbug’s sweet spot.
The accompanying photo is Exhibit A. We weren’t “posing” at the moment it was taken — we were goofing around in preparation for posing, laughing at the young boy running across the shot. That’s when the magic happens, and you can see it in the grins, the body language and the way we bump shoulders like schoolchildren. Even the dog is smiling.
About half the tailgate party participants didn’t know one another before this day, and the other half didn’t like one another much. But in this one shot, the elements of a well-played October come together — the conviviality, the exuberance, the moxie, the moment.
It was cool the morning it all started. A front was sweeping down over the country, stirring the changing trees and brushing away the mold and the melancholy. Once again, your favorite coffee mug felt good against the hand.
For all its issues, football is still our national waltz, the dance that unites us like nothing else, and there we were celebrating it again, on the soft golf course next to the venerable old stadium.
In October, our fields are full — of pumpkins and corn, of soccer players and swaggering shortstops. If you don’t like America in October, you probably won’t like America much at all.
“That guy’s no box of chocolates,” grumbles a guy about another guy, as we sit around in lawn chairs discussing other people’s shortcomings.
In truth, none of us is a box of chocolates, and if there are similar traits in the folks we invite to our tailgates, it’s that they are flawed and funny and certainly “no box of chocolates.”
I mean, you think the Ottoman army all got along?
In that vein, my lovely and patient older daughter is here, and her wiseguy little bro. Just a few days before, the little guy and I were yelling at each other over his math homework. Yet we have put aside our differences to huddle here under the kind old oaks next to my favorite party place, the Rose Bowl.
Even at 15, the little guy is charmed by free food, liberally served. In that sense, I have taught him well.
Speaking of kids, my buddy Verge is here, and if there’s any guy who can work a party, it’s him. Unlike me, he’s genuinely happy to meet new people. He almost microwaves new friends.
Me, I don’t need new friends; I need better friends. My current friends are no box of chocolates, let me tell you.
Bittner’s mad because he missed the bus to the game, and my daughter’s mad because the food’s a little late.
Jeff is mad because the keg is “nothing but foam!” and T-Bone’s mad because he’s on blood thinners and still can’t drink.
Charlie is jawing with some mouthy neighbors, and Liz is so cold she needs a parka. Brrrrrrr …
From such challenges, memorable parties are made. My buddy Enrique pulls up with mountains of wonderful Mexican food. The day cools a little more, and a chill breeze rattles our double chins.
“I love the breeze!” shouts my co-host, Miller, as the wind almost takes down the tents.
Someone throws a football, someone spills a drink. Strangers from a nearby tailgate stop over to trade beer for tonic water.
Gawd, these things aren’t easy. There are heavy kegs to lug and tents to schlep and a million things to remember, like limes … we always forget the limes. My wife, Posh, won’t even come to these anymore. She cares not enough. I care maybe too much. Such is marriage.
But it’s late in the day now and the sunlight is changing, coming in low, bronze bands across the Bermuda grass. At dusk, the mountains start their slow, bridal blush.
No, these things aren’t easy. I sneeze five times, as if to note that the first seasonal viruses of the year are closing in, then — oh crud! — the holidays. Then — double crud — the wool smiles of midwinter and what poet Gwendolyn MacEwen called the “dark pines of the mind.”
Falls are finite. Friends are not.
So, OK everyone, let’s grab a quick photo …