Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Photographer In Me (Part II)

Part I (read me first)


Eventually, the photo, my Masterpiece, found a home inside a hard-cover edition of Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, next to the poem The Flying Festoon. I rarely thought about that picture and even more seldom took it out to examine it. Usually, when I did make the effort, it was done in the tail-wind of one of my brother's extra-special bullying escapades.

I remember heading for the book the day he yanked my bathing suit off at the public swim. And I remember it again the day he filled my baseball cap with dog crap. I learned quickly, even as young as I was, that the presence of any of Paul's many girlfriends seemed to light his torturous fire.

During that stretch of my life, as Paul and his puberty cut a raging path through our lives, I took odd jobs around the neighborhood to support my photo habit. I mowed Mr. Schmitz' lawn, walked his wife Helga's two quivering chihuahuas, raked the Palmer's leaves, and took out cans on trash day for at least a dozen families.

Over the course of nearly a year, I strung enough pay-days together to afford a clean used Nikon FM and an off-brand zoom lens, with a reasonable chunk left over for film and processing.

Unfortunately, I bought the camera (and brought it home) the same day, and at the same time, as Paul had invited his new girlfriend Pam over to the house for the first time.

Within seconds of my walking through the front door, Paul vaulted up off the couch, where he and Pam were huggily watching MTV. He spotted the already-loaded camera in my hands and broke into a broad grin. "A Nikon?" With a theatrical brow-raise, he turned to Pam. "Stevey's got himself a Nikon." Then he had her by the hand and was ushering her to her feet. "Take our picture, Nikon Boy."

It was the last request on earth I wanted to honor, but I figured my best chance at an easy escape was to humor him. So I put the camera to my eye and made a couple directive motions with my hands. I needn't have, though, since Paul and Pam were playing their own scene, with his hand around her waist, tongue in her ear.

As quickly as I could, I fired off two shots and left without a word.

"Hey. Wait. Nikonsky, where are you going?"

I pretended I didn't hear and continued my scramble down the hall. But before I reached my room, a rough hand landed on my shoulder, bringing me up short.

"We were just getting started."

Trying to be as forceful as I could without waking the monster, I said, "I've got stuff to do."

Paul froze in mid-motion, apparently also in mid-thought. When he turned to look over his shoulder, he caught site of Pam, who'd clearly witnessed my insurrection. With an angry flourish, Paul backhanded a year's worth of work from my hands. The camera cartwheeled painfully, a slow-motion, three-foot dance of death, before it struck the floor at my feet. There was cracking on contact, a sickening I'm broken crunch from the lens.

At first, Paul looked as horrified as I felt. But the feeling didn't last. Just as quick as his look had come, it morphed into a smarmy grin. "Now look what Niko has gone and done." And he choked out a laugh.

That night, as soon as my mother got home from work, I went wordlessly to my bookshelf and opened Where the Sidewalk Ends. Within a minute I had chased her back down the hall to her room and handed over my masterpiece.

The sound of her stunned voice shouting, "Paul! Get in here!", still rings in my head.




part III to come...

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