"No, man. . . you're only human. Someone took your shit. It's not your fault."
Well, that made a little sense, but the cameras and lenses are still gone and I'm upside down to the tune of almost (or maybe more than) $20,000. That is a hard number to look at.
"That's a lot of money for me," I say to Tennessee.
"That's a lot of money for anyone, dude."
Yea, sure but for me, that's almost a quarter of my annual take. And this has happened twice!
I thought about how to make the money back.
"I thought about trying to do weddings," I told Tennessee. "They make a lot of money. But I have never done commercial work. I thought maybe I'd try one for sone lowball amount. Take out an ad that says I'm a photographer but have never done a wedding. Maybe charge $500 for anyone who would take a chance."
"No. What are you, nuts?"
"Yea, I know that some society photographers charge like $10,000 for a wedding."
"Dude, my family has photos taken every year. We pay $3,000 for a three hour shoot by the lake. My cousin is a wedding photographer. It's a lot of work."
"You pay what?! For real?"
"Yea. You can't charge $500 for a wedding."
"I know it's a lot of work, often three days. But I don't have a portfolio for this stuff. It's stupid work, though, and I don't want to do it. It makes me cringe. I wouldn't want anyone to see me do it. It is like being an event photographer. Jesus. I would really have to do it out of town. The cats doing this stuff for the most part don't know anything but how to make exposures and use Photoshop apps. They sell glamor glows and sunset filters and all kinds of crap. But that is what most people want. They just want photos that look like everyone else's, the kind of shit they see on Facebook, happy shiny people crap. I can't do it."
After I got up at four-thirty yesterday, sick with grief, I went to breakfast when the sun came up. The restaurant was pretty empty. I ordered three eggs over medium, fried potatoes with onions, bacon, and wheat toast. I looked at the cocktail menu.
"Do you serve cocktails now?" I asked the waitress.
"Yes. As soon as we open the doors."
I thought about it. Maybe just a mimosa. But maybe a Bloody Mary. Then I decided on milk. The breakfast came out quickly, the plate overflowing with food. Goddamn, it was good, but I couldn't eat it all. There was enough bacon to kill a fellow. Why had it sucked so badly when I went there with Sky? This was fantastic.
When I got home, I cleaned up the mess I had left in the kitchen. Then I thought to take a nap. But when I lay down, my head started working. The day before, when I found the camera gear missing, I had sent out texts to my friends. That was stupid, I would later think. They could do nothing but feel bad for me. Some people felt the need to help and began asking me questions. At the time, the questions were pissing me off. Now, lying in bed, some of them came back to me. I couldn't sleep. I got up and looked for my home insurance policy. I already knew that car insurance didn't cover it. Does anyone's? Mine sure didn't. I didn't even know if I had a copy of my home insurance. I'm really incompetent that way, but the first place I guessed it would be, I found it. I read through the pages and pages of bullshit legal language meant to wear out the common reader. What I found was that they would cover up to $1,000 for certain things. Camera gear was not one of them.
What?! you may ask. I have Lloyd's of London because they do no inspections. Nobody in my state covers a house this old. I know people with houses built in the '50s and '60s who can't find homeowners insurance. My wooden bungalow is almost 100 years old. Yea. . . I've chosen a charmed life. It is beautiful and soulful and very, very expensive to maintain.
I started looking for boxes that the cameras came in. I needed serial numbers. After a long search, I came up with none. Maybe I could go back to the sites on which I bought or paid for them. I went to my purchase histories at B&H and Adorama cameras. I went to KEH. I looked through PayPal. I came back with zilch.
I started going through the photo gear I had left. I have cameras. Lots of them. They were giving me no pleasure. I had one Leica left, but no Leica lenses. I put on a lens that was an M camera fit but wasn't a Leica. It was not a lens that brought up the right frame lines. The camera was a Monochrom. It felt good in my hand. I went back to the computer to price out lenses. I found a Leica camera that interested me. For about seven grand, I could have a used Leica M10-R and a 35mm Summicron lens. I could have the used lens alone for just under two grand. It made me itchy and nervous.
Outside, the tenant was having a garage sale. I have told her that she needs to clear out the shit in the garage, that I am going to need some space as I bring things home from the storage unit I am paying for. The day before, she had the yard filled with her things. I couldn't figure out why she was cleaning them. But now she was having a sale. There were two tables full of. . . shit. Trinkets that no one would want. Blow up floats, broken bric-a-brac. I got a text.
"Nobody is coming to my sale."
"Really? I can't believe they aren't flocking to those treasures."
Sky texted. "You need to move your body." She was right. Depression was eating me up. I put on my gym clothes and headed out the door.
At the gym, I did my knee therapy exercises and some other stretches. The gym was pretty empty. I walked over to get on an exercise bike and saw Tennessee on the stair stepper. He motioned me over. I was still hangdog blue and didn't really want to talk. There was an annual social event on the Boulevard that night, a big deal thing for the rich and the wannabes. He had tickets. All the food and drink, etc. He asked me if I wanted to go. I just shook my head.
"C'mon, man. You need to get out of your funk. We'll just stay for awhile."
"See that guy over there?"
I pointed to a guy my age on one of the machines. He looked half lame and I think he was talking to himself.
"Do you know him?"
"He's one of the richest guys in town. His family is European royalty. They own castles all over Europe. I used to go to dinners with him and his wife a long time ago when I was married and running with 'that' crowd. If I went tonight, I'd have to see a whole lot of people I used to know."
I walked over and got on the bike. I didn't want to see anybody. None of "those people" would recognize me, not in any official way. I knew their wives, their sisters and their girlfriends. I was known, but not in the way those men and women know one another. I never looked like them. I was never interested in the things that interested them. I was a little "dangerous," though, so I was "In Like Flynn," so to speak. Now, I was ending up like him, too.
When I set up the bike and started pedaling, a woman got on to the bike next to me. She is an airline stewardess on international flights. She is married and has a daughter and a son. She works out like crazy, and all the guys think she is a player. She likes talking to me, and she likes talking to Brian, and she has come out drinking with the gymroid group before. But I know she is no player. She is not looking for an affair, not with any guys. I've guessed that she likes women now, and she has halfway confirmed it. But she is very friendly with me.
"I just came over to talk to you," she said. "I'm just going to pedal for five minutes."
Tennessee was getting off the stair stepper and walked over. He thinks she wants him, of course.
"Did you know he was going to be here?" she asked me.
"Nope. I don't usually come on Saturdays."
"I don't either," he said. "I'm just bored."
And so the kibitzing began. Half an hour later, when my cycle program finished, the crowd dispersed. I wasn't happy, but it was a good distraction. It was not a workout day for me anyway. I had managed to sweat nonetheless.
When I got home, I decided to make a Bloody Mary and take a hot Epsom soak. The bath and the vodka made me lazy.
It was three o'clock. I did not feel like going to my mother's that afternoon, so I called her.
"I'm not good company," I told her. "I just took a hot bath and had a Bloody Mary and just don't feel like leaving the house."
"I understand. I'm sorry, honey. I wish there was something I could do."
I poured a short scotch. My stomach was rumbling. I wondered if the Bloody Mary mix was still good. Do they go bad? And that jar of olives. How old were they? I took a sip and sat for a minute. But this was stupid, I thought. I needed to at least go to the camera stores and give them a list of my stolen gear. So many friends had already suggested this, and at first it was pissing me off. But I knew I should. They wouldn't see it, but I needed to make some effort.
I stopped at my buddy's shop first. I had known him for years. He was a camera repair guy, but he had set up a beautiful re-sell/retail store in a gorgeous old house in what was becoming one of the hip parts of town. When I walked in, he was talking to a fellow I didn't know. He introduced us in a high voice. As it turned out, he was trying to get the fellow to come up with the money to buy the shop. He was candid with me. He was always hustling trying to make the thing a success. He was aging out, he said, and was lucky he hadn't had a heart attack or something else. It was a shock to me, of course, as I don't like for things to change. I like having a friend who knows me as a photographer who owns a shop and gives me deals when he repairs my things. Selavy, though. It's the way of the world.
He sent me to another camera shop that I don't usually go to. They buy a lot of used gear, he said, so I drove over and gave them a list, too. They looked at me, though, like gangsters who would know NOT to call me.
Then I went to the biggest camera shop in town, the place where I usually get the hero's welcome. The kids who work there think I'm good. The place was packed with customers. I could barley walk through the aisles. Everyone was busy, but I saw one of the brothers who own the place and walked over.
"Hey, man. . . where have you been?"
He comes from a prominent old family. His father owned a lot of commercial buildings back before the town blew up. They are still well known Kiwanis types, not flashy money, but people with that Sam Walton style, surely prominent members of a prominent church, etc.
I smiled a sad smile and told him my tale of woe. He shook his head and took my list of missing gear. Then we talked of other things. He said that thank god, business was good as he waved his arm around the giant store, half of which sells toy trains and remote control airplanes, model cars, and the like which is why it is called Photo and Hobby.
"Cameras are still sexy, I guess," I said. "Do they put trackers in the new cameras," I asked?
They didn't but we agreed they should. Which brought us to a discussion of AI. He said he wished they had a lot of things.
"I want to just tell the camera what I want a picture of," he laughed.
"AI can do that. Have you done that?"
"I'd be putting a sexy girl in all the pictures," he said. I was shocked, truly, that he said it.
"Oh. . . they have filters that hardly let you do anything like that," I said. "Trust me."
"Have you seen our models?" He motioned to the other side of the store. I was thinking photo models and was confused.
"No," I said, and he started walking. I followed him. The models were just that, not humans, but models of sexy women. Asian. Anime style. . . or hentai. I was shocked. He was looking at me with a silly grin. But the area around his store has become an Asian community, so I remarked.
"It isn't Asians buying these, though."
The he launched into some pretty weird stories in a low voice as he looked around for nearby customers. One guy who worked there had a bunch of Hooters girls who lived with him, he said. "They walk around his house naked half the time."
"He must be a good tipper."
He went on to tell me that once in awhile, one of them will put on her social media page that was wanted to go to Vegas and wished she could meet someone else who was going, and sure enough, some guy will take her."
"Well. . . it's just an exchange of values," I said. I was really standing on Mars at this point. I had always thought of these guys as pillars of the community types, conservative, staid. . . but I guess weirdness runs deep. Life REALLY IS wild on top and strange underneath.
When I left the store, I felt like I had at least done something and maybe had accomplished something, too. But I was feeling much like the planet was changing. I drove to the Fresh Market to get something to make for dinner. Everyone I saw on the street seemed to be strange with tattoos on their shaved heads and weird clothes and herky jerky movements. It was Saturday, and I guess the ghouls were out. But this was becoming the way as the Woke protests the treatment of the mostly criminally insane and the radical right tries to put them in concentration camps. I no longer care to pick a side.
Inside the store, the music was Christmas. Really? Already. But I felt myself overwhelmed and near tears. It was bound to be another shitty holiday. I had no one and no one to buy me a Leica. That was a silly thing to think, but I used to. I used to have women who bought me unreal gifts just to please me, not just at Christmas or for my birthday, but whenever. And the holidays were fun. Christ, I thought, quit it. You could be one of those weirdos outside pissed off at everything, going together in miserable groups wearing prison clothes or worse, heads full of weed and speed and larceny, blaming anyone who thought to be happy for happiness is always at someone else's expense. Or so that crowd's zeitgeist goes.
I was glad to be home, but I felt bad about not going to see my mother. I poured the usual Campari and lit a cigar and sat on my usual deck thinking. I got a simple text from Sky.
"Just thinking of you."
She feels me across the cosmos I sometimes think. Sometimes.
I put on my kabobs and asparagus and potatoes and turned on some music. The sky was cloudy and there was an occasional sprinkle. I thought about the big society benefit going on a half mile away on the Boulevard. Shitty weather for "Cows and Cabs."
I corked a bottle of red, plated my dinner, and took it inside.
I was thinking about my life, of course. What else. It had been lived mostly outside. I scuba dived, sailed, fly fished, climbed high altitude mountains and sheer rock face, and I had slept with South American natives in the jungle. I had trekked long distances through plains. I had kayaked estuaries and black water rivers. Maybe that is what I needed to do now. Maybe I just needed to get outside. I decided I would go fishing. I didn't really want to catch the fish, I just liked some of the places fishing would take you. I could try trekking on my bad knee again. Maybe. I'd rent a sailboat for a day sail. All that.
I got a text from Tennessee. He had taken a selfie with his friends from France. These were the fellows with whom he would be sailing a charter catamaran for a week around the Bahamas. They would have a full female crew. I was imagining the t.v. show, "Below Deck." Yea, yea. . . I like unforgivably trashy shows. The boys all looked like models, confident and successful. Everybody does now. Everyone has become beautiful.
I thought about the difference between me and Tennessee. He fights. He runs ultramarathons. Those are sports. If you quit, you don't die. Almost everything I did, if you quit, you would. Die, I mean. At 19,000 feet in a white out. On the eleventh pitch of a rock climb. 175 feet underwater. Even potentially in jungles with Indians or traveling in violent countries down lightless streets in the midst of revolution.
I wanted to do all that again. Fuck those boys with their rich confidence.
Then my mind came back around to my missing cameras. Funny thing was, most of my best photographs were not taken with them. Other cameras had done much more of the good work. Still. . . I wanted my Leicas back. There was a reason for them. There was a niche.
Thinking about it made me sleepy. It was a little past nine. I would clean up the kitchen, set up the coffee pot for morning, and go to bed.
Sorry for the long post. I just needed to get it down. Wrote it for me, I guess. I'll think about you again soon. I'll write something good. Right now, though, I'm just trying to get through.