Yesterday I took four identical pictures on two different mediums and then processed them in two different ways. One medium was glass plates and the other was X-Ray film. I processed one of each in a normal negative mixture and the other two in a special formulation intended to turn them into ambrotypes. Great failures. This was the best of the lot, the X-Ray film developed normally. Endless experiments, endless failures. And yet. . . I feel I am inching closer to something every day.
Silliness, plain and simple.
It took the afternoon, and I had a party to go to in the evening, so with great guilt, I called my mother and told her I wouldn't be coming over. It was just too much activity.
"Well. . . I'll miss seeing you, but. . . ."
I cleaned up the chemical mess and set everything to dry, then I poured myself a drink. It was five and I was to be at the party at 6:30. I didn't want to go, of course. How does one prepare to go out for the evening? I couldn't remember.
I poured another drink. WTF? The place I was going was a wine bar.
"Balls to the wall, old sport." I cut the bottom off a white T-shirt that was too long and put on some Japanese britches and flip flops.
"I don't care," I said defensively. Which is true. . . but it seems less so than it used to.
Parking would be tricky. I pulled into the train station lot across the Boulevard from the little wine bar. The bar is owned by a friend. He has three stores that all sold furniture from the Near and Far East. He used to let me borrow things for photo shoots when I had the studio, but I also bought a lot of things for my house. He always gives me a discount.
I truly only know him from my days of playing music. Ours was a band a tier or two up from his, but they played the same circuit and had been an opening band for ours in several venues. He was a kid then. Now his three furniture stores have turned into furniture cafes. He is doing well.
He happened to be there when I walked in. We chatted for a bit, mostly about music. There are several "revivals" going on right now in tribute to the "scene" we invented oh so long ago. I never really thing about it until I hear others reciting tales, and then I feel a silent competitiveness. Whatever revivals there are, they should be asking us to headline.
Oh, yea. . . we can't. We are not all together any more. Still. . . tribute, motherfuckers!
My buddy offered to buy me a glass of wine, but I already had ordered one, so I thanked him and went over to sit with my friends. C.C. and his wife were there. My tenant had worked for him at the factory and so she had invited him, too. Not knowing anyone else in the room, we sat and chatted and ordered "dinner." I ordered a duck sandwich on pressed bread. They ordered that as well. There was a lot of duck on that table and duck fat on us. Duck fat. It is either good or bad for you depending on what you read or who you ask. I want to believe one thing, but as tasty as it is, I am forced to believe the other.
The tenant showed up and came over to our table. She bought a bottle of wine. Hers was one of two birthdays being celebrated. The other person had arranged the party, so most of the people were his. There were a lot of fashion forward women in their early forties there. The place was small and soon was crowded. I was getting jumpy. There seemed to be a lot of movement, people rushing from table to table snapping selfies. I tried to focus on the conversation at around me, but I was constantly rubber necking and possibly moaning in a quiet, animal way. I felt like a schlub. There was a woman straight off 1960's Carnaby Street--blonde with a black John Lennon cap, paisley midriff top, and bell bottom jeans, tall and thin and seemingly aloof.
Another woman, a Romanian painter, sat across the room at a bar I was facing. She was effervescent, kinetic, even, wearing a clinging dress that she couldn't or wouldn't keep from creeping up her thighs. It mattered not. She was unafraid. I couldn't quit watching her as she flitted about with her cell phone, taking photos, hugging and kissing, then returning to her perch. I felt the sizzle when she looked over and smiled.
I said to the table, "Check and make sure you have your wallets. I think the gypsy is a pickpocket."
"Roma over there. She is either a thief or working as a spy. She's photographed everybody in the building. She'll run us all through an A.I. data thing when she gets home."
Oh, yea, I'm a funny guy.
A French woman sat next to me. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. Her handshake was extremely firm, and I said so.
"That's some grip you got on you, lady."
She explained to me that there were three things a person remembered on first meeting. I can't remember what the other two were. She was very dressed and wore immaculate makeup. Her friend, seated next to her, wore jeans and had an attractive natural look.
All about the room, women fluttered and laughed. I sat stolidly immobile, statue-like. It was all overwhelming. . . and terrifying.
Roma came over to say hello to the French women. She looked at me and offered her hand.
"Who are you?"
I took her hand and shook my head. She held on a moment, then another.
"Your hand is warm," she said.
"It's 'cause I've been holding onto my dick,"said the little dastardly voice inside my head. I really am funny. Rather, I again simply shook my head and stayed silent.
When she released me, she started doing some voodoo wave of her arms, fingers pointing at my eyes like some old movie villain hypnotist. She was giving me eyes. People at the table were commenting, but I didn't make it out. I just stared and grinned stupidly. Maybe I came off self-contained. . . I don't know, but shyness has always been my strength and my weakness.
The gypsy handed me her card.
"Call me," I said. "I'll take your picture."
My tenant's eyes popped and she nodded her head "yes."
When she left, a fellow at the table said, "Wow. . . she can pull that dress off." Then he turned to my tenant. "You could, too, but you are more reserved."
"I could pull that dress off," I said, suddenly finding my voice. He didn't seem to get my drift. The tenant smiled.
"I don't believe you could," he replied obviously misunderstanding my meaning.
"Baby, that thing would come off faster than a prom dress at midnight," I said.
"Ohhh." He finally got it. The tenant nodded affirmation.
By this time, C.C. and his wife had cashed out and left. The crowd had thinned a bit. I was worn out with it all and decided to go back to my little bachelor pad and crash. I was sick of wine. I needed a whiskey.
The fellow at the table was chatting up the natural French girl, telling her he was a musician, where he was playing, etc. He pointed to me. "He's a musician, too." The women looked at me for a reaction. I just shook my head "no."
"I keep asking him to come gig with me one night, but I don't think I'm good enough to play with him," he said.
The women pressed me.
"I used to play long ago. I got tired of the late nights and crummy hotel rooms. I liked being on stage for a bit, but the rest of it sucked."
The natural French lady put her head close to her friend and said something I couldn't hear while looking me in the eye. I was getting nervous. Maybe it was the duck fat. I don't know. But it was time to make my move. . . my typical move. I stood up and said goodnight.
"It was a pleasure to meet you," I said to the made up French woman. "You are very charming."
As I came around the table, I shook hands once more with the natural French woman. She looked me in the eyes, smiled, and held my hand for a minute.
"It is important," she reiterated, "to have a strong handshake."
"You do," I smiled. "You seem like a very strong woman to me."
"I am," she said.
As I headed to the door, I was caught by the tenant and one of her old girlfriends who never speaks to me.
"I have a picture of the three of us from thirty years ago," she said. We had gone to a KKK rally to take photographs. The tenants friend has some business that represents artists, especially photographers, but I've never really understood it. Apparently, she had the photo on her phone or in the cloud somewhere and was trying to pull it up. She had been a sexy blonde then, and I have several photographs of her taking photos of the day.
"It couldn't have been thirty years ago," I said. "The numbers don't add up."
She found the photo. It was eighteen years, not thirty. I don't look like I did eighteen years ago when I was the age of these women now. Their looks had changed, of course, but not as much as mine. The tenant's friend began showing people the photo, pointing to me and saying, "That was him."
Was him. Ha!
I was almost out when she said, "Wait, wait, lets make a picture of the three of us now." What could I do? We lined up as we were in the eighteen year old picture. She snapped. We looked.
"I lose," I said. Jesus, I look awful.
Walking back to the car in the later night's darkness, I remembered things from my past, the way it felt more than anything particular. Just that. The feeling of coming home after a night out, the adrenaline gone, the fatigue about to set in. I remembered what it used to be like when I was more confident.
The air was warm and the night unusually busy. The Country Club College kids were coming back in town with school a week away. The lights of the Boulevard shined.
I reached my car and sat for a minute, reflecting. I fingered the card in my pocket. I would go home and pour a whiskey, I thought, then I will scan those negatives. I will Google the Roma and see what her paintings are like. It would get late, me sitting on the leather couch with the night's last drink. And then, surely covered in Covid, I would go to bed.
It had been a hell of a night.