The Cowards Call the Cops on Me

Ashton Viaduct, Cumberland, RI. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Lois Kelly

Hurricanes are the storms that rage here in Rhode Island, the Ocean State. I, however, am a twister. Especially when people call the police and have them chase me down. Which happened this morning.

Those who wanted me arrested should seek shelter because I am about to expose their petty little paranoia and where they live. Ooh, there’s my twisted anger taking off, so not like me.

The conditions that set off my twister rage are unexpected and rare. So rare that I wouldn’t consider these angry storms as full-blown tornadoes. They are twisters when my warm, creative spirit clashes with cold, cowardly types. Like the many people who called the police this morning, who feared me, a 66-year-old, 108-lb woman with a Nikon camera out in frigid winter weather.

This semester I’m taking an architectural composition photography class at RISD.

This morning was sunny, so I knew I had to take advantage of the light and do a shoot. Instead of driving into the architecturally rich city of Providence, I decided to stay local and go to the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park which runs through my town. On the river, there is an architecturally significant mill built in 1887, which housed one of the area’s largest textile mills until 1941. Towering over the mill is the Ashton Viaduct with its open spandrel design. It is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

My assignment this week is to select a single building and frame a series of views that focus on its form and details.

As all experienced photographers know, you take hundreds of shots to get ten gems.

We studied photographers Eugene Atget and Berenice Abbot in class this week, so the bar is high. Finding the right angles, light, texture, framing, and composition requires looking in new ways. The looking is what excites me, and the mill this morning looks fascinating.

After loading up one camera around my neck and putting another in my big pocket, I walk across the footbridge to get to the other side of the river and get shots of the mill’s old smokestack, a wide-angle view of the length of the mill perched on the rushing Blackstone River, and close-ups of the granite moldings around the windows.

As the sun shifts, I see new possibilities and new angles of the old mill. I re-cross the river and shoot its North-facing side. The shadows and weak winter sun capture the lines of the brick and its weathered patina. What a gem this building is.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a police car driving through the parking lot and think how odd that there would be a crime in this mill building which has been converted to apartments in our sleepy small town.

I look up and see a bell tower, which looks like something you’d see in an Italianate Romanesque brick church. Snap, snap, snap. I would have missed this bell tower if I had stayed over on the national park side of the river.

As I’m kneeling to shoot up and frame the bell tower in a new way against the vivid blue sky, the police officer pulls up to me.

“Ma’am, I need your name please.”

I tell him my name and that I live in town.

He starts typing on his in-car computer and asks for more personal information.

“Wait, why do you need this information?”

“Several people have called in and reported you for trespassing. Birthdate, please.”

“I’m taking an architectural photography class at RISD, and this building is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Would you like to see my credentials, Officer?”

“I have to report you and put you in the system. I’m not going to charge you. I’m just trying to do my job. People call, we have to do a report.”

I reluctantly give him my information and he puts it all into the police database.

My twister is starting to form. I know the warning signs. My jaw clenches, a mean spirit kicks out the positive, polite one that usually inhabits my body, I grit my teeth, and I think in expletives.

“These cowards living in the apartments,” I think. “If they were worried about me, why couldn’t someone just put on a coat, come outside, and talk to me?”

No, the fraidy-cats have to call the police. Suck away the precious few town resources because you’re scared of a middle-aged lady with a camera? What do you think, I’m zooming in and can see into your windows and might photograph the password or porn on your computer?

Fear, fear, fear. Get a grip, people. You’re acting crazy. From what I can see you should be much more upset about a very pervasive and visible problem on your doorstep: all the dog poop your neighbors aren’t picking up. Now, that’s a problem.

“So, I guess I have to leave,” I say to the officer. “Because people are afraid of me.”

The poor guy. With all the problems in the world, he gets stuck investigating inane trespassing charges fifty yards from a national park, where, you know, people go to walk and take pictures.

“Just stay on the park paths and avoid the Mill parking lot, which is private property,” he kindly and reassuringly says.

The twister wants to hurl its fast-moving rage on the local Facebook page today, sharing magnificent photographs of the mill, compliments for the professionalism of our local police, and a gust of disgust for the mill dwellers’ misuse of our town’s overworked professionals and their cowardly lives.

Perhaps the twister needs to dissipate before causing more fear or community angst. These times we live in.

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Lois Kelly

Lois Kelly

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Writer/artist, co-founder of “Rebels at Work.” Most happy in the wilder-ness of people, ideas and nature.