Wednesday, August 19, 2020
The factory kicks off its new year today. It is the first time in over forty years that they are doing it without me. It is the first time in nearly twenty that I haven't been the head of my department. As one of the people who worked there said, "You ain't the big cheese now." As the song goes, the cheese stands alone. There is a weirdness to it. After a lifetime, I had grown accustomed to the cycle. It lent a rhythm to life. There was a seeming transcendental sacredness in it.
Today was the day I disliked most, however, the big Welcome Back. It was the CEO's show and the managing partner's. We would gather in a big auditorium and watch the power point presentation on a big screen and listen to the hopes and dreams and aspirations as they were rolled out for us, all horeshit, of course. Certain of the workers would be called out or named for having done this or that, and there would be laughter and applause from those who were of a type while my friends and I rolled eyes and made snarky comments under our breathes. They were a bunch of failed homecoming kings and queens still playing at high school games, ginning up enthusiasm for turning the gym into a dance floor. Etc. And after a few hours of that, of honors being awarded and community leaders receiving their acclaim, there would be a lunch served, everyone standing in line like excited monkeys, forming into the usual social groups, some deciding to cut out and have lunch together somewhere off site. In the afternoon, there would be breakout sessions where the workers made presentations demonstrating their ideas about how to make the work environment safer and/or more effective, some doing it for the attention but most to earn points toward the meager bonus they could earn by year's end. Truly, there were those who reveled in the day feeling a larger sense of community and bonhomie. I was never one of those. My cynicism was well known.
Still, in a little while, they will all begin the year again, albeit virtually, and I will continue living in the time of Random Chaos. My isolation and aloneness are palpable.
Yesterday, I managed to shoot with my new camera contraption. I took a bag of film holders and walked around the neighborhood exposing the big film. It mattered little what pictures I took for they were just tests to see if the new contraption performed properly. I just looked for good light and texture. More pictures of houses. The problem I faced, however, was one of organization. I had a bagful of holders, and at one time, I think I knew which ones held what film, but that time seemed to have come and gone. Some of them I'd loaded a long time ago. I had a stack of what I thought to be unexposed color film and a stack of what I believed to be black and white. I would shoot both, developing the black and white here and sending the color out to a lab. That's what I thought. But somehow, everything got jumbled up, either in my mind or in the bag. It was morning and not yet that hot, but I was sweating like a man suffering malaria, dripping and shaky and miserable. Some of the holders didn't fit altogether into the new camera back, and I had to keep my finger on them to make them what I hoped would be light tight. I didn't get very far. I was not quite with it. I was a mess, really. I finished up quickly and made my way home.
I managed to do my little workout, then I forced myself to take a sweaty and miserable walk. After, I made a simple lunch and had a beer, showered, and decided I needed a nap. Two and a half hours later, I was woken by thunder. The day was nearly over, it seemed, the house dim. I got up but didn't feel awake. Three-thirty. Shit. I usually go to my mother's at four. I sat down in one of the leather chairs to feel the coolness and called my mother. I didn't think I'd be coming over today, I said. I wasn't feeling well. Well honey, she said, that's alright. Take care of yourself.
I had chicken thighs to grill, but I hadn't any vegetables. I needed to make a run to the grocery store. I wobbled to the car, sill sleepy, and managed to get there and back without incident. It was too early to cook. The rain had let up. I should try to develop this morning's film, I thought, but it was all new to me, and I didn't know if my nerves were up to it. I had owned a big developing tank and a rotary device that rolled it back and forth to develop the film for a long time. Years. And I had never had the nerve to use it. The tank had a huge insert that would hold twelve 4x5 negatives. I had never loaded film onto it. I knew it would be a steep learning curve for me. I was shaky and unfocussed, but it felt like a matter of sitting and waiting to die or doing something in the meantime. I would make myself do something.
I gathered up the film holders and headed to the garage. When Ili left, I took all my chemicals and my dark tent there. Don't ask me why I hadn't before. I can't bring myself to tell that here.
In the garage, I sat the big changing tent on the table I had set up for the occasion. I tried to think through what I would do. I put the film holders and the big tank inside, zipped it up, and slipped my hands through the light-tight sleeves that led to the dark interior. O.K. I took the first holder and pulled the slide far enough to let me extract the film. I tried to orient the film holder so that I could slip it into one of the tracks. Shit, fuck. . . which track was I supposed to start with, the top or the bottom one? Not knowing, I chose at random. After a couple tries, the film seemed to slip in easily.
"Don't count on that, buddy boy," I thought.
But the second one slipped in as well. It was the third one that gave me trouble. It seemed to bump into the other film when I tried to slip it in. But that couldn't be right. I pushed it a bit. Something didn't feel right.
It wasn't. Somehow I managed to push the other two pieces of film out of the holder and onto the bottom of the tent. I tried to stay calm. I didn't like working this way, looking around the garage, fumbling with things I couldn't see inside the tent. The position, too, was killing my back. This was not comfortable at all. The garage began to feel stuffy. Shit. I tried again.
Eventually, painfully, I got the film loaded and into the tank.
I checked my chemicals. They were all there, all mixed and ready. I wasn't sure of the development time for a tank that would be in constant motion, however. I tried to look it up on my phone, but I could find nothing. I knew the development times for using a smaller tank and rotating by hand. I would use that time as my guide. Oh, fuck, though, I hadn't brought any ice to cool the developer to 68 degrees. Fuck it. I'd just go with what I had. I would reduce the development time by. . . oh, let's say two minutes. Right? Who the fuck cares, I thought. These are not pictures I'm invested in anyway. But how much developer do I use? I decided I would fill the tub half full. That should be good.
I really should have prepared more, I thought, but this is typical for me. This is a good summary of my personality, of my life. Go in half prepared and wing it. I was, as they say, always living on luck. Counting on it, anyway. I have found, however, it is hard to beat the house.
And so I began. The little rotator seemed a miracle, really. All I had to do was set the time and let it go. I didn't have to stand there and watch the clock. I wandered about the garage looking at things until the timer dinged. I repeated with the different chemicals until the cycle was complete. I did a rinse or two and took the tub back to the house where I would finish washing the film. That is where the liquor was. It was well after five now. My nerves were shot and I had done the thing I dreaded. I was ready for a drink.
I hadn't much hope about the film, so I wasn't disappointed when most of the film was blank. Some of the holders I opened in the dark tent were empty of film. I hadn't loaded them however long ago. Some of the film I developed apparently had never bee exposed. That is what I needed to know, however. As I say, I got disorganized and couldn't remember what was what. But. . . the three I had taken with my new camera contraption that morning had images. They were too dark, probably from my bad development and not from exposure, but holy smokes! The fucking thing had worked.
I hung those three pieces of film up to dry and poured a scotch and turned on the six o'clock news. It felt good to be held in the cool softness of the big leather couch in the darkened room with Wolf Blitzer and Ari Melber (I record them so I can go back and forth without commercials and so that I can skip the lamest and most repetitive stories) and, of course, the evening's medication. The bad day was coming to an end, and not on a low note. But preparing dinner lay ahead, and I had no desire to do that. The groceries sat out on the counter. Fuck it. I'm not cooking, I said, and preheated the oven to 425 degrees. I had a frozen pizza in the freezer. I had wine in the cooler. It was all I could manage. It would have to be enough.
The factory boys and girls are up and getting ready for their meeting now. It will not be the same. They will not gather into groups with their friends and colleagues and say how good it is to see everyone again. They will not be telling tales about their summers. Rather, they will prepare themselves for the Zoom presentations which they will not have to watch. Perhaps some of them will pleasure themselves with Bloody Marys. I know for certain some who will. I am tempted to text some of them, but I won't. I am not part of that thing they are starting today, even remotely. I have an odd feeling about that. I must be quiet and leave them alone. They are beginning a new adventure without me.
The lonely emptiness is palpable.