The Photographer, Part 7

The Photographer, Part 7


John Henry Beck

                “We both have a bunch of stuff to do tomorrow, but this has been great.”  I stood up and stretched, trying to look tired.  Helen looked up from the couch, though I was following her lead, I could tell she was losing her nerve.  Marcia looked first at me and then at Helen.

“Can you just stay a bit longer?  There is so much you haven’t seen.  The best is yet to come isn’t that right, Jack?”  Marcia looked over at Jack who had also stood up and looked ready to say goodnight.

“If they need to get going, that’s fine.  They can come back some other time.”  Jack said.

Marcia shot a look at Jack, willing him into silence.  To her, he was speaking heresy; there was no way that Helen and I were leaving until Marcia was through with us.  Jack’s suggestion startled me as well.  If we left, then we would owe Marcia a return visit, or worse yet we may have to invite Jack and Marcia to our house and she would bring the portable projector.

“We can stay a little while longer.  Can’t we?”  Helen said and smiled at me.

I had to suppress my flight response, but I swallowed, smiled and looked at Marcia.

“No problem.  Let’s see the rest of the show.”  I sat back down and fixed my gaze on the screen.  I didn’t want to look at Helen now.

The next sculpture was called the Brushstroke by Roy Lichtenstein and it looked as though a drip of paint were pouring from the sky to the ground or as the name suggested an invisible and oversized paintbrush had colored the sky with a red, blue, yellow and white.  I must say that I rather liked this one.

“This one wasn’t too bad.  It was at least colorful.”  Jack said.  Marcia shook her head disapprovingly at her husband.

Jack had taken about ten shots of this piece and the crowd that had gathered around it.  It was after the third that I noticed that Jack had included the blonde from the Seated Cardinal statue.  She stood with another young woman but the lens had cut the friend in half but captured the blonde while making the sculpture the focal point of the shot.  Marcia didn’t seem to notice.  I looked at Helen but she also seemed unaware.

We stayed and viewed slides for another hour and in that time, I noticed the blonde woman in multiple shots.  She wasn’t in every one of them but she was in a lot of them.  I had to admire Jack because there was a subtly to his work and the young blonde women was never in the center of the shot, always on the edges, but he managed to capture something about her each time.  It was clear to me that Marcia wasn’t the only artist in the family.

Marcia focused entirely on the sculpture and ignored the crowds around them, including the blonde.  She had something to say about everything.  I started to tune her out, but Helen sat listening to Marcia.   She asked questions and commented on how beautiful everything was and how she and I need to get out to a museum.

“We should go together sometime.”  Marcia offered.

Helen and Marcia began to work out the details of a museum trip and I looked over at Jack.  He sat back in his chair and smiled.  It was a quiet satisfied smile and he seemed unaware of the people around him.  He was somewhere else and I wondered if it was with the blonde from his photos.

The evening came to an end when Marcia announced.  “My arm is really starting to hurt.  Maybe we should cut this short.”

“Are you alright?”  Helen said.  She placed her arm around Marcia, trying to comfort her.  Jack stood up and poured himself another drink.  He pointed the bottle towards me, to offer me a drink; I mimed a “No thanks.”

“Maybe you should take her to the doctor, Jack.”  Helen said.  Jack continued his slow pour and then slowly turned around and stared at the two women.  “I really shouldn’t drive.  I’ve had a couple too many.  Marcia is tough.  Always has been.

Helen scowled at Jack and was getting ready to volunteer to take Marcia to the hospital herself, after ten years of marriage you can just tell what your wife is going to do, but before Helen could make the offer, Marcia waved her off.

“I’ll be fine.  Don’t worry.  I have worked on a new sculpture and I was using my arm too much.  It is my fault.”  Marcia smiled, but it was weak.

The four of us stood and milled about in media room before slowly moving towards the front door.  Helen and I said we had a wonderful time and Marcia said we had to do it again sometime.  Helen and Marcia talked about a trip to the art museum and Jack and I stood watching the women talk.  I felt like we should be saying something to each other, but I couldn’t really think of anything to say.  I wanted to ask about the blonde woman, but there was no way to do that, so I stood and smiled.

The door shut behind us and Helen and I started our walk back to the house in silence.  I looked up at the night sky and a display of stars spread across the blackness of the sky.  I picked out the Little Dipper and the bright dot that was Venus.

After walking in silence for a while, Helen finally spoke.

“I’m worried about Marcia.  I don’t think Jack is taking care of her arm.  Did you see the way she winced?  I am going to call her tomorrow.”

I thought about Marcia and her arm, the new lawn tractor and the blonde in all the pictures.  Helen hadn’t seemed to notice the blonde and it felt like I was violating an unspoken trust between Jack and me.  Some kind of primitive male code of ethics, passed down over the centuries.  So I couldn’t say anything.

“You should call, but I wouldn’t worry.  Jack will take care of her.  He takes care of stuff.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”  Helen asked.  “Did he tell you something in the garage?”

She stopped walking and stood looking at me.

“He didn’t tell me anything except about the new lawn mower.  That’s all.”  I said.

Helen shook her head and walked away from me.  Helen didn’t believe me.  I jogged a couple of steps to catch up with Helen.

“Jack didn’t say anything in garage, but there was something about the way he talked about the lawn mower.  It just made me think that something was going on.”

“What do you mean?”  Helen looked puzzled.

“Jack is the kind of guy who is never satisfied for long.  Once something loses its shine he moves on.  At least that is what he said about the lawn mower.”  I said.

“You mean LAWN TRACTOR.”  Helen said, mimicking Jack’s voice.

“You should call Marcia tomorrow.  She might need a friend.”

Helen gave me a quick kiss and we walked the rest of the way home in silence.

The End


The Photographer, Part 6

The Photographer


John Henry Beck

Jack stalked towards the back of the room and after an icy stare from Marcia; he plopped into the unoccupied loveseat.  With Jack seat, Marcia continued.  She had prepared the media room and the television displayed an image of a computer desktop.  I had hoped from some technical glitch, a bad cable, a failed computer, anything that would delay the slide show.  Marcia had been thorough and there would be no escape.

The first photo showed an open gym bag with an assorted selection of brightly colored running shoes, white bandage tape and a few limp sports bras spilling out.  I’m sure this was Marcia’s attempt to get artistic with the camera.  In every slide show that I had attended, Marcia always included a few, what she felt were artistic photograph.  These included a dead raccoon lying by the side of the road, flowers blooming in an abandoned toilet, and a child with a dirty face.  Marcia would always explain why she took the shot; it was always something about lighting or the way the shadows gathered in the right places or how one thing symbolized something.  I always had a tough time figuring out how a dead raccoon meant anything else than a dead raccoon.

“This is the hotel room the morning of the race.  I had registered for the race the night before so I didn’t have to worry about getting my number but the alarm didn’t go off and so we had to scramble to get to the starting line on time.”

Helen and I nodded and smiled.  Marcia stared at the screen.  She appeared deep in thought.

“I just wanted to catch how chaotic the morning was and my athletic gear seemed to capture that.”  Marcia said.  “Jack was perfectly calm, just like he always is.”

“I don’t get nervous because I’m smart enough to not run a marathon.  A bear was chasing me the last time I ran.”  Jack said.  The four of us laughed.

Marcia bedecked in her running attire was the next slide.  She wore a tight yellow shirt, it looked like spandex or something, with the number 1043 pinned to her belly.  In the photo, she was glaring at the photographer.

“Jack took these shots before the race, even though I asked him not to.”  Marcia said.

The next one showed Marcia lined up at the starting line.  She looked tiny and small, even amid a group of equally scrawny runners.  An especially emaciated woman, her skin unnaturally tan and her eyes sunken in the sockets stood next to Marcia.  Both women smiled at the camera,  it was a disturbing image, like two women rescued from a desert island a couple of days before they starved to death.

“That woman’s name is Rebecca.  She and I ran the entire race together.  I met her for the first time as we lined up that morning.  We just ran together and chatted the entire way.  She just lost her mother to breast cancer.  The woman was 87 years old and she fought the disease for over five years.  Rebecca was having such a tough time because people don’t have much sympathy when an older parent dies.  It isn’t like when people die in their fifties.”  Marcia paused briefly to look at Jack before she continued.

“In honor of her mother, Rebecca is planning on running 87 marathons in five years.  Isn’t that amazing?”  Marcia beamed up at the projection of herself and her friend.  “She is truly an inspiration.”

Helen agreed and I nodded my head in faux agreement.  If anything, the skeletal woman who was honoring her dead mother didn’t look so good herself.   Despite all the running, she didn’t look healthy.  I wanted to say something.  The women looked like she would collapse before she completed number 87, but Marcia looked at the picture with such adoration.  I looked at Jack who rolled his eyes and shook his head.  In that brief moment our conspiracy was born.

Marcia moved rapidly through the next few shots.  “These are mostly crowd shots that Jack took while I was running.  As you can see, there are many people who turn out for the LA marathon, even some celebrities.  I heard that Jay Leno’s wife was running but I never saw her or Jay for that matter.  And Jack never got any shots of any celebrities.  You know how Jack hates celebrities.”

“I don’t like fake people.  Can anyone blame me for that?  Helen, do you like fake people?  You know the kind who pretend to be something they’re not.  That is what I’m talking about.”  Jack said.

Helen didn’t have time to talk before Marcia cut in.  “Of course she doesn’t like fake people.  Nobody likes fake people, but you think that about almost everyone.”

“And I’m not wrong either.  I think the people in Hollywood are fake, most of them are at any rate.”

I nodded in agreement and Marcia flicked to the next slide, which showed a building installed the top of tall hill.  It was a steep grade and at the top of the hill was the ultra-modern Getty Center Art Museum.  The building was sleek, shiny, and forbidding.  Marcia sighed as if she had arrived at a pilgrim cathedral somewhere in Europe.

“These are the last photos that I took.  I tried to work the camera but with my arm in a sling, it was just too difficult.  Against my better judgment I let Jack take the pictures.”  Marcia smiled at Jack and he lifted his glass in toast to her.

“If you haven’t been to the Getty you should definitely get there sometime in your life.  They have the most amazing collection of all kinds of art.  It is truly a treasure.  On this trip, we examined the outside exhibits.  An old classmate of mine is an associate curate of the Getty and worked with the design team as they prepared for the modern sculptures.  The woman is a genius, but she is so generous with her time that she volunteers at the museum every week, a true inspiration.”  Marcia said.

Marcia clicked the remote and the first photo was of a large blob of metal that rose to a pointed top.  Marcia said the sculpture was called “Seated Cardinal” and at first, I started looking for a bird’s beak when it dawned on me that this was a man.  There was a face beneath a pointy hat that looked disapprovingly at the crowd.  A group of people gathered around the statue, tourists in shorts and flip-flops leaning forward or standing in front of the scowling Cardinal.  People were taking pictures of the sculpture and their friends.

“I can never understand why people have themselves photographed in front of a work of art.  It doesn’t add anything to the artwork.  I suppose it is something primitive, like a trophy to show off when they get home.”  Marcia lectured.

I looked over at Helen and winced.  It was a habit of ours; mine in particular, to photograph her and Hillary in front of landmarks.  The shots of the Seated Cardinal went by quickly but I noticed that there was a tall woman, with long legs, darkened by the California sun and sleek blond hair.  The blonde women stared at the sculpture, unaware of Jack and his camera.

The last shot was one of Marcia peering into the stony face of the Seated Cardinal.  She looked as though she were looking for some kind of answer.  The next shot was her looking at the camera and scowling at Jack.

“I told you to delete those.”  Marcia said.  Jack snickered and replied.  “It was part of the trip you can’t just erase history you know.  It sticks with you.”

Helen looked up at the clock hanging from the wall and announced.  “It is getting so late.  We really should be going.  I have to get up early tomorrow.”

The Photographer, Part 5

The Photographer


John Henry Beck

I followed Jack from the garage to the dining room.  The dining room contained a massive table, housed in a massive hall.  The southern wall was composed of large plate glass segments, which provided a wonderful view of the backyard.  The sky was dark now but some carefully placed floodlights illuminated the waterfall and a piece of Marcia’s sculpture.  Marcia called the piece Composition #742, but I could never understand it.  It looked like a lump of stone with metal tubes sticking out.  The thing looked like a rock monster, especially with the floodlights shining on it.

We circled the table; there were four place settings even though there was room for eight more.  After I took my place, I looked across the table at Helen.  It seemed like such a huge distance, I couldn’t have reached her even if I stood up and leaned across.   I watched her and hoped to catch her eye.  If she would just look at me I could see if she wanted to get out of here as much as me.  But like the dutiful guest, Helen trained her eyes on all the pieces of art and furniture that Marcia pointed out.  She looked like a freshman art student hanging on the every word of a professor.   Helen seemed like she was enjoying the evening.

“The table is made from reclaimed wood that was taken from a Colonial barn in Massachusetts.  Look at the amazing texture of the wood.”

Marcia swept her hand gently along the shiny wood.  The table top had intricate swirls and loops of dark brown mixed with tan highlights.  It was quite beautiful.

“We can’t confirm anything, but George Washington’s horse slept in this barn.”  Jack said from his end of the table.  He broke into a light chuckle and looked to me for support.  I forced a laugh as well.

“That joke has never been funny.”  Marcia looked sternly at her husband, who by now was taking a sip of Scotch.

“The table is beautiful.  I could look at it all night.”  Helen said.  Marcia looked back at Helen and smiled.

“Thank you for saying that.  I think it is lovely as well.”  Marcia said.

We all sat down and Marcia served dinner.  It wasn’t too bad.  Marcia served a shallot soup to start with and then for the entrée, there was a roasted pork dish that included persimmons and mustard greens.  Helen enjoyed the meal; she was a bigger gourmet than I was.  Our menu at home was pretty standard because Madison was very fussy about food.  She would have never eaten anything with persimmons and mustard greens.  I can’t say that I blame her.

“This is delicious.”  Helen said.

“Thank you.”  Marcia said and then looked at me.

So what did you think of Jack’s new lawn mower?” Marcia said.

I had a mouthful of mustard greens, which were both slimy and rubbery, and I couldn’t answer right away.  Jack stirred from his end of the table and quickly spoke up.

“It’s not a lawn mower, it’s a lawn tractor.”  He smiled as he clarified the point.  Marcia returned the smile and sipped her wine.

“It’s a great machine.  I would rather drive that than my car.”  I said after my I swallowed my food.

“I’m not surprised; he could have bought a car with what he paid for it.”  Marcia said, smiled and reached for the carafe of wine.  “But I know he wanted it, so there it is.”

We spoke in the shallowest of small talk for the rest of the meal.  Marcia discussed plans to run a marathon in Tampa over the winter and Jack said nothing about his trip out West.  Helen discussed Madison’s school year and I asked questions about the house, the gardens and the tractor.  I usually asked many questions when I didn’t feel like talking.  It doesn’t take much to get most people to talk about themselves, for Marcia and Jack it was even easier.

After dinner, Marcia directed us into the media room, which was the place where the slide presentations happened.  The media room has a top of the line television and is furnished with comfortable chairs.  Marcia uses hooks up her computer and displays the photographs from the latest trip.  It was a wonderful room and I would have loved to watch a movie or a football game in there sometime, but so far, it had only been slides.  I took a spot towards as far back from the screen as possible, Helen sat close to Marcia and Jack walked around while Marcia talked.

“While we were in LA, Jack and I visited the Getty Museum.  One of my old professors is in residence and she invited us on a private tour.  As you know, I had a couple of pieces displayed in the Davis gallery downtown and I was hoping that perhaps the Getty would inspire me to work larger.  I feel so constrained by size and material.  I want to do something new, but I wasn’t sure what.”  Marcia said.

She spoke with deadly seriousness as if it was something that we could understand and appreciate.

“We took some shots of our trip and there are even a few from the marathon before I got injured.”  Marcia gingerly lifted her arm from the sling with a slight wince of pain.  Helen said that she would love to see the photos and Jack shook his head and grimaced as he poured himself another scotch.  He didn’t offer me one.


The Photographer, Part 4

The Photographer


John Henry Beck

               Helen and Marcia both looked at me, eyebrows raised, expecting a response to Jack’s question.

                “Sure.  I’d love to see the new tractor.”  I said and got up.  I left my Scotch on the thick wooden coffee table and started to walk towards Jack, who noticed my glass.

“You can bring your drink.  We’re only going to the garage.”  Jack said rolling his eyes.

I smile, shrug my shoulders and grab the glass.  I take a quick sip and walk towards Jack who is holding the door to the garage open for me.  I could hear Helen and Marcia talking, their voices fading as I descended the stairs to the garage.  I always thought that women talked about me when I leave a room.  Helen has assured me on multiple occasions that I’m really not that interesting and that women don’t waste their time talking about men, they are just glad they are gone.  She always laughs at that point, which makes me think that she and Marcia are talking about how I left my glass behind.

There was a short hallway and then a few steps that lead down into the garage.   Framed photographs and awards from Jack’s career line the walls.  There are signed photographs from President Bush and Clinton, a plaque from the Chamber of Commerce and a Man of the Year award from some charity that teaches inner city kids to play golf.  Jack walks by without saying a word, as if they were of no importance.

Jack opens the door to the garage with a flourish, as if to reveal a treasure cave filled with gold and magic lamps.  With the flick of a switch, long fluorescent lights bathe the room in a blue-white glow.  This is a three-car garage and it holds Jack’s sleek Porsche and Marcia’s bulky SUV.  The third and most distant bay holds a gleaming Harley Davidson that is nestled next to a powerful snowmobile and a large shiny green John Deere lawn tractor.

“Here she is.”  Jack says and runs his fingers gently across the hood of the vehicle, as if stroking the arched back of a cat.

The tractor is a massive thing with fat black tires on the back and cutting deck that is at least three feet across.  I notice a towing harness on the back of the tractor, tail lights and headlights.  This looks like the top of the line.  Jack swoops into the command chair with such excitement that he spills some of his drink on the pristine cutting deck.

“What do you think?  She’s a beauty eh?”  Jack is smiling and his supremely white teeth gleam in a perfect row.

“She is fantastic.  I thought the last one was great, but this is even better.”

I salute Jack and the tractor with my glass, he returns the gesture and we both take a quick sip.  He drinks in my admiration as well as the alcohol.

“I went into the showroom and I saw this new one and I just knew I had to have it.  Come here sit down and try it out.”  Jack climbs out and makes room for me in the driver’s seat.  His movements are quick and smooth like a lifelong athlete.  He watches me intently as I take my place; my hands carefully grasped the equipment switches and pantomime turning the steering wheel.

“This is fantastic.  You don’t suppose I could borrow it to cut my lawn from time to time?”  I asked smiling.  The smile sinks from his face as the idea of me driving his tractor flits through his mind.  He shakes his head and silently mouths the word, “No”.

“Just kidding.”  I said.

Jack told me about the engine and the amount of torque it was capable of and the massive canister on the back that vacuumed the grass clippings.  The tractor could cut an entire two-acre yard without stopping to empty the clippings.  That sounded impressive.  There was also an optional snowplow attachment, but Jack was going to think about that.

“It doesn’t snow as much as it used to when I was a kid.  The snow would be up to our asses when I was a kid.  Now it is almost nothing.  I’m thinking about going out west for some skiing this winter anyway.”

I took a sip of my Scotch, it burns my throat and I cough.  Jack looks at me with both concern and pity.

I swivel my neck until I see the old unit in the corner.  It is only a couple of years old and the paint still shines.

“What did you do with the old one?  Are you going to sell it?”

“That is a good question but it is already too late.  Rick, the guy who does my gardening, wants to buy the old tractor.  But he didn’t have the money.   Rick isn’t the brightest guy in the world, though he is good at his job, and so he tries to talk me into selling it to him.  He makes this pathetic offer as if I’m some kind of charity.  It took everything not to laugh in his face, but I didn’t.”

Jack is smiling now just thinking about the event.  He can hardly restrain himself now.  I can only imagine what it was like then.

“I did make Rick a counter offer though, he can lease the tractor from me, use it in his business and the pay me over time.  This way everybody wins.  Rick gets new equipment and I make $2000 over the price of a trade in.  Not bad, eh?”

I agree that it is a great idea and I am a bit envious of Jack and his ability to make money.  I never had that killer instinct when it came to making money.  I would have kept the old tractor for a long time.  Jack leaves the tractors behind and tells me about the other vehicles in the garage.  He tells me about cars he used to own and he speaks reverently about a Ford Mustang he had as a kid.

“I loved that car.”  Jack stares in the distance, his eyes narrow as if he can still see it.

“What happened to the Mustang?  Did you wreck it?”  I ask.

Jack turns his head towards me as if I had only just arrived.  He stares at me for a few seconds and then says.

“I had to get rid of it.”

We are discussing his motorcycle; when the intercom system crackles to life.

“Dinner is ready.  Wash your hands after playing with all those dirty machines.”  Marcia says and we can hear both she and Helen laughing.

“In a minute,” Jack barks back.

Mid Week Update

Summer hit hard where I live.  The temperatures just seemed to jump up over night and I am sweating as I write this.  I am finishing up Part 4 of The Photographer and will publish it this Saturday.  But it made me think about how hard it is for me to write in the summer.

It must be a throw back to school where you get the summer off.  I have always had trouble doing school work in the heat.  That includes writing, but this summer I am going to soldier on.

Does anyone else have trouble writing in the heat?  Or is it just me?

Thanks for reading.