A Year in Photos

Photography, fiction, and personal essays form my three primary creative outlets. For this blog's first 18 months, I used it primarily for photography. As I've returned to creative writing, I'll use this blog for fiction, too. Sometimes, when reality needs to be discussed more than truth, I write personal essays.

This blog will continue to showcase as many above-average photos as I can muster. Hopefully my written work will be as good or better than the visual. Whichever drew you here -- photographs or fiction, I hope you enjoy both.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Found Photos Friday: 1930s Glass Plate Positivies

In January I bought some photo stuff at an estate sale for an exceptional photographer named Maurice Schlatter. Insofar as I can tell he was a Chevron chemist and knew a LOT about automobile fuel cells. In fact, I've found quotes from him in the mid 1960s about fuel cells. I also found this photo from Coronet Magazine in 1938 attributed to Maurice J. Schlatter. I suspect, based on this photo and this photo, that this would have been a CalTech field study from the late 1930s. I also found a large listing of his photos, mostly involving someone named Linus Pauling. And he had a patent in his name and presented trade shows about fuel cells, and such. In short, he was a pretty accomplished guy.

The glass plate positives featured today were in a box I bought specifically for these images. I had never before scanned, uploaded, or blogged about someone else's photos, and these images started my fascination with this. In fact, more photos from other estate sales are coming in future months.

I don't know what kind of camera Schlatter used for these. The negatives were 2X3, so some kind of press camera (like a Mamiya) or a Baby Graflex come to mind. At any rate, I digitized all the glass plate negatives, which include shots from the mid-1930s (I think) of the Anasazi Ruins, including the White House Ruins and one other I haven't identified yet), cacti, the Grand Canyon, a mountain road being built, and some of the people Schlatter interacted with. These are beautiful photos and some required quite a bit of restoration. At some point someone had stuck stickers (STICKERS!) on the glass. So I had to -- carefully -- use Liquid Goo Gone Stain Remover (Google Affiliate Ad) and various razor knives to remove the stickers.

One of the images -- the most contaminated by stickers -- is of an old woman. This is the photo I present last as it's my favorite and, I think, the best in the lot. Her whole face and torso were covered with stickers. I'm not a superstitious type, but if I were what happened while I removed the stickers would have solidified in my mind that Schlatter and this woman were watching the photo restoration.

I saved her photo for last because I wanted to perfect my technique before attempting an image I liked so much. It turned out not to be too bad and none of the images were damaged by the restoration. No goo gone got on the emulsion or anything like that. My big fear was cutting myself on the glass negatives or having the razor slip in the Goo Gone and cut me.

And when I was working on the old woman's photo, that's exactly what happened. The razor slid down the glass plate and plunged pretty deeply into my thumb. But when I pulled it back, it had not cut the skin at all. The razor hit my thumb at exactly the right angle so as to push the thumb in -- and my thumb was pretty well wrapped around the blade -- and then come out without any damage to the skin.

More than that -- this will sound nuts -- before I restored her picture, I was certain she had a frown on her face. Now, I'm not so certain. Here, in no particular order, all of the glass plate positives from the collection.


I admit I've wondered if that's the photographer.





Note the 1934 Ford on the right. I suppose these could have been taken during the 1940s, but there are an awful lot of young men in these photos for them to have been taken during World War II.


This looks like the Grand Canyon to me, and I think I have photos from a separate estate sale 20 years later of the same spot, but it's hard to tell without the colors.





More than any other photo in this group, I want to know where this was taken. Knowing this photo's location could really help date these images as I could rule out any year before that road was built.






Anasazi Cliff Dwelling Ruins. I don't think I identified which ruin this is yet.











Another vantage of the ruins shown above. I do not think these are the White House ruins.





My guess is that was the field expedition.











The White House Ruins

The best photo in the lot. I think she liked the photographer a great deal. Her expression seems to be equal parts admiration and thinking the guy is silly for taking an old woman's photo.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First Five Shots from a Box Camera

I piked up a Kodak Brownie Number 3 for $7 about two months ago. It had a 124 film spool in it, but no paper or film. Two weeks ago I shared some images of D.C. trolley cards that I developed. Those negatives came on a 122 spool that I bought for the spool and paper backing. After I developed the trolley car images, I spooled some 35mm film onto the 122 backing just to see if the box camera works. Here are the results.

High tension tower. I tried, with each frame, to estimate the camera's panoramic effect (due to the negatives being much less wide than 124 film) and line up the images appropriately. Sometimes it didn't work.

A tree with Mt. Diablo and Eagle Peak in the background.

I mined up this electrical tower better than the other.


I had the most hope for this shot and it turned out, I think, the best of the lot. In all, it's a decent result that does as good a job as can be done of capitalizing on the panoramic format.

Another I had high hopes for. I just set it down and did a time exposure for about three seconds, I think. The lens has good resolving power and nice contrast. For a camera made in the early 1920s, it really holds its own. If you'd like to see more about this camera and this model of camera, here's the YouTube video I made about the Kodak Brownie Number 3.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Medium in Martinez: Pentax 6X7 visits the Ocean

A week after I bought the Ricohmatic 225 I talked about yesterday, I decided to go back to Martinez and see if there were any more deals to be found. In short, no, but I did manage some fun photos during the trip.


An old boat at the marina


A detail shot at f2.4.


Palm tree silhouette

Palm tree metered for shade


I wonder where the kid swinging on it went.


Stena Concert. The Pentax 6x7 has pretty good resolving power. The ship's name is easily readable when enlarged to 100%.


The GF. This is the shot I made into my first opalotype (just tonight, in fact.) When that blog post's time comes next month, I'll explain the process.

A train engine

Wide-angle down portrait. Unless you're going for a specific effect, as here, always photograph a person from their chest level. That makes the proportions normal. You may note the Argus 75 she's holding. I'm looking forward to using that myself soon.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A new camera: The Ricohmatic 225

A few weeks ago I went antiquing in Martinez, California. Other cities in the area have reputation for being great for antiques, but I think Martinez is the best I've found. I'm always on the hunt for old cameras, and my only complaint about Martinez is that the cameras are all VERY expensive. In all the shops I visited, the cheapest box camera, for instance, was $32. Typically, that model box camera sells for $7 on eBay and about the same at other antique stores I've visited. So I didn't expect much. But, I did find one camera I liked in good condition -- a Ricohmatic 225.

I took a test roll that day, but not much turned out worth sharing. The next week, after figuring out some quirks, I took some worthwhile shots in Benicia.


An old Cadillac. In real life it's gray, too. I liked that this was the first photo I took with the Ricohmatic that turned out. A camera from 1959 seems, to me, to be well suited for photographing things also from that era.


At the fire fighter's museum. They have a small but really great collection of old fire trucks, fie hydrants, and other things related to fire fighting. If the Ricohmatic hadn't been misbehaving, I would have enjoyed the time there a lot more. I need to go back, though, with a different camera.


That's some unfortunate framing.

I admit that I'm very pleased by this camera's performance. It's a solid performer in terms of lens sharpness, contrast, and clarity. I digitized these images in multiple shots, to replicate the difference between small- and medium-format images. If you're interested, here is a video on how it's done.



After walking around in the sun for a while, I decided to get some indoor shots. Benicia once was the state capitol. The old capitol building still stands and is a state park now. For $3, you can take an unguided tour of the upstairs and downstairs, seeing the chambers as they were in the 1800s when the state's earliest senators and congressmen voted on new laws.
 
A door next to the main entrance


Stairs inside the capitol building


Sunlight on an unused bench


A shaggy tree in the garden outside


A rose from the house next door

I developed some of these photos in caffenol, and the results weren't great. The caffenol was fine but the film I used was particularly cheap. Lucky brand film lacks an anti-halation backing so light passes through it and scatters of the backing paper. This picks up any flaws in the paper as well as printing. Unfortunately, Lucky brand film uses very cheap paper, so lots of flaws are picked up. But even respooling it onto good paper yields poor results as the film is damaged by x-rays when it arrives in the U.S. If you'd like to see the video I made of these next photos being developed in caffenol, here it is:




You can see the light and dark flecks, which come largely from x-ray damage and are emphasized by the caffenol.


The numbers and dots on the image stand out because the light reflecting off the paper backing damages the film differently where there is and is not printing on the backing.


I'm not sure why that one bubble turned out well. If all the images had looked as good as that one area, there would be a lot more in this post.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Like Every Day

In college I wrote a 7,300-word short story, called Like Every Day, for my senior thesis. The reception was such that I managed to graduate. It foreshadowed many of the chapters in what would become my novel -- a work, it's worth mentioning, I had not even conceived when I wrote this story. It follows the same character -- albeit many years later -- and relives, in truncated version, parts of the novel. If you haven't read my novel, Jackalope Hunting, this story contains a LOT of spoilers for the novel's plot.

Interestingly, also, this story was written in first-person retrospective whereas Jackalope Hunting felt quite natural as first-person immediate. Though many people who have read it attest to recalling it as a retrospective work (one of my specific goals for the novel was exactly that.) 

So, if you're interested, here, shared publicly for the first time, is the short story which foreshadowed my future novel. A short story which, when I have time to write my novel's sequel, will be included, though with some continuity changes to fix some flaws inherent in this as the predecessor.



Like Every Day


Something in the break room at PC Pro Group, the computer retail and repair store I worked at, reminded me that I didn't feel like going back to the sales floor. My lunch break had ended earlier, but to me the bright red door leading to the rest of the store was a shield nestling me from the demands of the sales floor. At noon, when I took lunch every day, the only stations available on our TV (the rabbit ears had broken) were the Spanish channel and home shopping. The company's fridge and soda and chip machines in the corner hummed, buzzed, whirred, or shook at the same time every day. Nothing excited the machines. The sink dripped at random intervals.

Just over eight years before that I had been on a three week trip out west, visiting parks and taking pictures. At Zion National Park the rain started my last night there as a simple, random, intoxicating pattern beginning with a drop on my lips. A brochure said "thunderstorms are likely from mid-July through mid-September." It hadn't mentioned anything about flash floods, violent mule deer, or mountain lions (all of which I encountered In my three days there.) In eight years nothing had been as exciting as my trip out west visiting national parks, hiking, sleeping on picnic tables under the stars; it was the sort of thing meant to never end.

I opened the bottled water in the lunch my wife Meggy (which she preferred being called
instead of Meghan) had packed for me the night before. She made the best ham sandwiches, once saying everything tastes better when it's made with love, yeah, she was sappy like that. Ham and cheese with a bottle of water and chips, it was Wednesday alright.

I pushed the chips across the folding table where I sat and put my feet on the chair across from me then tossed the bottle cap behind me at the trash can; it bounced off the wall and rolled next to the door. The water never tasted like a stream of melted snow, the way the ads said. The door to the sales floor opened and my work-friend George poked his head in. The sticker on the bottom of the oval mirror to the left of the door read ‟Check Your Smile!" Dirt covered the mirror like a thin cloth. I saw my short brown hair and my shoulders' shape. My face looked like a dizzy blur. The mirror showed a vague reflection of George's infant bald spot. I didn't smile.

‟Hey, man, your break ended like twenty-five minutes ago and I was kinda hopin' to go next. Everything okay, Merak?" George said.

Things should have been good, in four days I would leave to go to PC Pro Group's annual executive conference. Not because I was an executive, but because I would be awarded a paid- vacation to England. PPG, the company nickname for itself, would send me there for a full week, first- class, to stay in London, in a five-star hotel, and I would only pay for souvenirs, but I told George the truth, that I was ‟just kinda bored."

George looked at the TV. ‟No shit," he said. ‟Maybe it's ‘cause you're watchin' home
shopping."

‟It's more than that. Everything is boring."

George walked in and closed the door. He was the only salesman I knew who could look good
in an off-the-rack suit. He put a finger to his forehead and scratched. ‟Are you sure everything is okay, man? You don't sound so good."

‟It's just that nothing exciting ever happens to me."

George unbuttoned his suit-coat, used his foot to push a chair opposite of me, then sat in it.
‟You gonna eat those?" he said taking the chips. ‟Thanks. So, why do you think life is boring anyway? I'd give either one of my nuts to have your life for a day. Well, maybe a week, a day of being you isn'really worth a nut."

‟Neither is a week, but what ever happens to me? I wake up at six each morning. Meggy drops
me off at work at eight, sometimes ten after, work till six, go home, make dinner for Meggy and me; she tells me all about her day; some nights we watch Leno, then we go to bed and start it over the next day."

George took it upon himself to spend the next ten minutes reminding me of my impending
week-long trip to the executive conference, in Clearwater, Florida and also of the trip to England. I drank my water and watched the TV over George's shoulder all while thinking: yeah, it will all be exciting at the time, but when it's over the excitement of it will be gone, too.

I knew everything he told me. Currently I was the best salesman in the company, moreover in
the company's history. The previous year I had sold a million and a half dollars in hardware, repairs, and extended warranties. This year I would break two million. I had outsold thirteen percent of PPG'stores, eighty-three of six-hundred and fifty – if you want to be exact.

The door opened and Pat – our good boss – stepped in. He tried to appear gruff but could
never pull it off. Pat walked a bit like a penguin, even though he stood six feet and change. His goatee had gray in it, which came with sales management. ‟When did the company stop requiring at least one salesman to be on the floor at all times?"

‟Merak, PPG's best salesman, is having a personal crisis, Pat, about how bad a life he has.
One of us will be back on the floor in a few minutes. Are there any customers out there?"

‟Nah. I was just checking to see if everything was alright back here. I'll let ya know if anyone comes in."

Pat  pulled the door shut with his foot.

I finished the water and tossed the bottle at the trash can and missed, again. ‟Life is just tedious. Look at work. It's dead until eleven, there are tons of customers for two hours, then it's dead again until three or so. Repairs and on-site installations are the only things I enjoy but there are only so many repairs a guy can do before they all look the same."

‟You bitch an awful lot. Man, one day you'll realize just how exciting your life is and when you do you're gonna fall down under your happiness."

No, I decided, I wouldn't.

‟Life is not a twenty-four-seven adrenaline rush. If it were we'd all have heart attacks at age, seven." George sighed and rubbed his eyes a bit.

Nothing excited me then, life was on auto-pilot. ‟Thanks, man." I stood, hitting my knees on the under-side of the table. ‟ Ow. You know, I'd check my smile if I could see it." I got some Windex and paper towels and cleaned the mirror. ‟Much better." I tightened my tie, the blue-black and white power tie I tried to wear once a week. I straightened my suit. I could only wear custom-tailored suits because I had wide shoulders and a broad chest remnant of my college rugby days. I'd gotten that suit from a shop in Northbrook, twenty minutes south on I-94.

The rest of that afternoon went as expected. I sold a few computers without trying – boring. Repaired three printers, two faxes, and a tower – interesting. Two ladies from my Karlton Kennels account came in with a monitor which needed repair. They looked at me for a few seconds longer than most customers. George told me they thought I was cute. I told him they weren't used to seeing dogs outside of cages, and he ought to get back into his.

It took me half an hour to open the unit, find the shot resistor, and order a new one. In addition to sales and repairs I also installed systems for office purchases over fifty thousand. People without PPG warranties paid a hundred an hour – plus a minimum twenty dollars for parts – so I would fix or set up their computers. George wasn't under as much demand and, as such, charged only fifty an hour. PPG repairmen set their own rates. Repairs paid anything we could charge beyond $35 an hour. I had spent five years in college learning how to sell and fix computers only to find out my career was not as exciting as expected.

Even though PC Pro Group was a good job (they paid a salary of thirty thousand a year plus a three percent commission on hardware sales, the repairs fee, and fifteen percent for warranty sales) and after taxes I had brought in just over sixty-five the previous year, Meggy and I still had only one car, a purple Pontiac she had gotten six years beforehand during our sophomore year in college. Meggy would pick me up each evening after work and we would drive to our home in Gurnee, Illinois. She had a job with a small Marketing company in Libertyville, the town north of Vernon Hills, which brought our total income to just under a hundred thousand, but between our mortgage and property taxes we had enough money to eat well, cover our bills, and pay for any emergencies which would come up, nothing more.

When Meggy picked me up I set my briefcase in the backseat and sat next to her. November air tingled my lips and cheeks. ‟We need to have the heater fixed," I said to her. She said yes, but in a way which meant ‟Hon, I'm listening to the radio we'll talk later."

Our house was in a traditionally blue-collar development which had recently become more yuppie in composition, just like most of Gurnee. We lived behind a Piggly Wiggly, away from the interstate a bit, away from the mall, and away from the Great America theme park. We were still close enough to the park, however, to see their annual July Fourth fireworks display from our bedroom. Our neighbors were mostly middle managers at Baxter or Abbott, one worked for United, two were high school administrators and across from us lived a grade school teacher and her husband, a local policeman.

The house was a brick façade home with wood shingles, a two car garage, a few trees in the front and back, and a half acre of mowable lawn. Off the kitchen, seven feet above the ground, our rear porch overlooked the football-field-sized flood retention basin. In the summer the neighborhood held the annual picnic in it, kids also used it for frisbee and baseball.

Inside our home was nicer. New carpeting, ceramic tile in the kitchen, three bedrooms, full basement, amenities that should have taken us longer to afford.

Meggy pulled into the garage and closed it with her remote.

‟Meggy, remember I need to be at work at six tomorrow morning," I said after it closed.

‟Why?"

‟George and I have an installation at eight and gotta load the U-Haul trailer Pat rented."

‟Is this that sale you gave George?"

‟Harper Sales and Research, yeah. Nearly a hundred grand in that sale. We'll be all day and part of the night with it, George said he'd drive me home."

Meggy set the remote in a console cup holder, gout out of the car and slammed the door. ‟Why'd you give it to him? That commission'd be like four grand, that's three months' mortgage, or next year's taxes, or, God forbid, Merak, enough for a half-way-decent used car."

I stood and shut the door, the seatbelt sticking out the bottom. ‟Don't I have to help George when I can? If it weren't for this sale he'd not have made his annual draw and been fired. This sale kept him employed." I helped George stay employed over the next three years, only I never again told Meggy about it – she couldn't understand the bond of friendship between men, the sense of brotherhood, that is.

‟Whatever." Meggy didn't like debating moral duty. ‟I'll just go in to work real early tomorrow." She opened the door to the house, a rush of cold air came into the garage.

‟Did you turn the heat off? No? Okay, stay here I'll be right back," I said. Meggy pulled her purse in close to her and cast a few nervous glances around the garage.

To my left a crescent of shattered glass, which had been our sliding door, lay at the base of the doorframe and under the kitchen table. Across from me the bathroom door was closed, a thin trail of broken glass lead into the foyer to the right. I handed my suit-coat and tie to Meggy. A man sneezed in the bathroom. Seemed her scented candles had a use after all.

At the time, I imagine, I was a bit more nervous about the break-in, but nothing awful happened, so I remember being calm, I guess. I walked to the foyer and then into the living room to get the fireplace poker. The fireplace was half the height of the wall, inside a beveled three-tiered brass frame, and then surrounded by brick. I grabbed the poker.

The TV, stereo, and video game console were all where they should be. The étagère with our wedding crystal hadn't been touched, I returned to the bathroom and tested the knob. Locked. The man in my bathroom had heard me test the knob, he'd heard me walking around – he knew I was there and that I knew he knew it.

From a kitchen drawer, right of the shattered door, I got an icepick. The bathroom lock had a safety hole – push the icepick in and the door unlocks.

I held the poker with my chin and slid the tip of the icepick into the hole and put my free hand on the knob, pushed until the lock clicked then tossed the icepick off to the side, twisted the knob, grabbed the poker and opened the door. I brought the poker up above my head and prepared to bring it down on the man crouched in the corner of my bathroom. What stopped me was that there was only a boy no older than a high school sophomore there.

That was Bill. He looked at me and begged that I not hit him. I lowered the poker. Something about how powerless he was, crouched in a stranger's  bathroom, made me pity him. I knew by his look that life had treated him as second class. Like an old neighbor's dog which crouched or hid when the owner would come near, a reflex of years of being kicked and hit. Bill crouched likewise with his arms shielding his head and his back towards me.

‟Who are you?"

‟My name's Bill, sir – please don't hurt me."

‟Well, Bill." I tossed the poker down the hall. ‟Why is it you're in my home today?"

‟I just needed some food, and a little money."

‟Stand up."

He stood and took his red cap off. His bloodshot eyes were circled by dark rings. The Hard Rock Café (Albuquerque) shirt he wore had holes under the collar, an armpit, and over his ribs. His left arm had a needle trail. Not long, he could have donated blood regularly, but I doubted that. He had jeans, threadbare at the knees, and held a green windbreaker in front of him.

‟What you need is some damn clothes, man. Come here, I'm not gonna hurt you. Meggy, go to the hardware store, I need twenty linear feet of six foot wide heavy plastic for the door.

‟Merak?" she said

‟Just go get the damn plastic, Meggy." Bill was small enough he could have curled up inside me, if I were hollow, but he might have had a weapon. I didn't want Meggy getting involved in violence, if any happened. None did, in fact Bill was nice, almost charming, though very lonely.

Meggy's look told me I'd be on the couch that night, then she slammed the door and left.

‟Are you gonna hurt me?" Bill said

‟No, I'm not." I got my wallet and gave Bill all the money in it – forty-eight dollars. ‟Sit at the table, I'll make you dinner."

‟Sir?"

‟If you need food and money so badly as to break into my house this is the least I can do. Do you need clothes, too? You're a bit smaller than me, but I have a few pairs of jeans and some shirts that I don't wear anymore. They're yours if you want them."

‟Thank you, sir." Bill went over to the table.


The next day I wore khakis and a blue polo shirt for the installation. Company policy said
‟professional casual wear is permissible for installations" due to us needing to crawl behind desks, lie on the floor, and a suit simply wouldn't allow the needed mobility.

Mobility wasn't really a problem for me. I was big but as a child and in college I'd caved and climbed trees and cliffs. In Arizona, at Antelope Canyon – a long and deep crevice carved in sandstone by water – I had hiked and crawled through the winding corridor of the canyon, a course which looked more like a Hollywood sci-fi movie set than a terrestrial cavern. Down, up, left down, up, along the cave walls until the end, a boarded off pit leading to an underground lake. The longest downward glance of my life.

I always walked a little faster when I wore casual pants, but that day I walked as if I shared a level with the dizziest of clouds. The parking lot in front of PPG was empty except for the cars of the early crews at Old Country Buffet to PPG's right and Silbourne's Bakery to the left. George held an empty Silbourne's box; he was an addict of their cinnamon rolls. He licked icing off the flap of the box. It reminded me of the way a mountain lion I saw in Utah licked her cub.

‟ ‘Bout time you showed up. It's nearly six-thirty, man. We're gonna be there all day settin' this shit up. And we still gotta drive down to Northbrook after we load up the trailer. There's the construction at Lake Cook Road which'll set us back a bit and the network guys are going over tomorrow, so we gotta get it done today."

‟I know, sorry," I said. ‟Hey, you gotta hear what happened last night." I told George the story about how Meggy sat through dinner with Bill and me and didn't look at me twice. ‟Bill ate two heaping plates of chicken stir-fry."

‟Why didn't you just cook some kinda microwave dinner?"

‟That woulda taken like ten minutes. It took me a good hour just to prep and cook the stir-fry. That's fifty minutes longer inside instead of outside for that kid, even if the only thing keeping the cold out of the kitchen were two layers of plastic. He'd been sleeping in freight train box cars for the last six months. He's from Santa Barbara and has seen every state except Hawaii, Alaska, and Maine. Man, that's great." I unlocked the front set of automatic doors, the gate, then the second set of automatic doors. The door chime rang twice as we passed. I closed the gate and locked the second set of doors.

I entered my ten-digit code for the alarm. ‟He's seen forty-seven states at seventeen. He told me all about how his father kicked him out at fourteen for being gay and that he'd sold his body so he could buy heroin and other drugs. He ended up trying to get away from it by riding freight trains. Take out the horrible stuff he's been through and he's got a pretty exciting life."

‟Man, that's fucked up. Listen to you, PPG's number one salesman sayin' bein' a hobo's exciting. Man, you need to check yourself into a group home or some shit. How'd you keep from freakin' out when you found your door broken? Why didn't you just call the police?"

‟Man, I saw this kid crouched in the corner of the bathroom and I couldn't bring myself to not help him and how would the police have helped Bill?"

George and I walked back to the loading dock. Past four aisles of computers, past the printers then faxes, scanners, copiers, software, the locked peripherals case and finally past the furniture. The left wall of the store shelved toner, ink, and paper. The right wall of the store was the repair counter with, front to back, the register, repair equipment and tables, break room, then the offices and bathrooms. The aisles were set up so we could look down them from the counter, where we spent most of our days. When customers entered the first thing they saw were our best computers sitting on a blue velour cloth. Forty horizontal feet of top-of-the-line systems. Signs hung from the ceiling over them and advertised the model and make of the PC. Full-page tags with every specification of the machine they were under hung in plastic sleeves from grommets in the velour.

Pat kept much of the store tidy but in the backroom his anal-retentive nature flourished. I found myself quite at home with it's organization and cleanliness. Furniture on the left and back, electronics on the right. Ceiling-height industrial shelves held the merchandise. Five shrink-wrapped skids of computers and peripherals sat by the loading docks.

‟Where's the sixth?" George said.

I looked at the received goods manifest. ‟Didn't arrive. I'll check the computer."

‟Craptacular. Man, the fucking warehouse is gonna cost me a repeat customer."

‟Not the warehouse. Look here, the vendor, it's gonna be two weeks," I said.

‟Shit, okay, we can deal with this. How are we gonna deal with this?"

‟What all is missing?"

George looked over the manifest. ‟Five blades, a monitor, and one big laser printer."

George and I substituted what we could and upgraded the rest without charge. By the time we got the product from the shelves and loaded in the bed of George's F150 and the U-haul, eight a.m. had come and gone. Pat's assistant, Ron – our bad boss – came to see about the hold up. Ron was thin, boney, tendoney, ugly. His girlfriend had two sons, five and seven – neither were his but he loved them as if they were. Once he told George the only reason he stayed with her was for the kids. Ron was, in the strictest sense of the word, a pervert. Twice he had been brought up on sexual harassment charges and would never progress further than assistant manager. It was a miracle he still had a job. I swore to him that the first time his behavior cost me a sale or customer I'd see him fired. As such we were not always on good terms.

‟You guys like draggin' ass on the company's time?"

‟Ron, bitch to the warehouse, okay, they didn't tell us part of our order wasn't being delivered. We had to pull some stuff right outta thin air this morning." Ron rarely brought a positive attitude with him. I took it upon myself, on that occasion, to give Ron a heated lesson in customer service and point out his lack of knowledge in the area.

‟Merak, I'm your boss, you show me some deference." Ron turned, caught the toe of his shoe on the floor, stumbled a bit and left.

‟Ron's pissed at you, man," George said. ‟Don't you worry about being fired?"

‟He knows what deference means. I'm nearly impressed. But no, I don't worry about it. Are they gonna fire their best salesman and keep a pervert assistant manager? Not likely."

We arrived at Harper Sales and Research by ten thirty. The installation took ten hours. Mr. Harper stayed, hoping to be home by six. He checked on our progress every fifteen minutes.
At nine we finished loading the empty computer boxes into the trailer. We drove past the Lake Cook construction with no indication of any problems. A half mile later the trailer fell off the hitch. At first George thought he'd busted a tie rod end and swore because he still had two more years of payments. We pulled onto the shoulder to investigate.

‟Man, all I want to do is go to bed," George said, before shutting his door. The trailer had
stayed on by one chain hooked to the bumper, which had half torn off the right side.

‟Fuck. U-Haul's gonna pay me back for that shit." A truck passed at nearly eighty and blared its horn. We had our hazards on, later I found the trailer's electrical cable had been cut in the accident and we had no lights. Trucks couldn't see us until they got dangerously close. The clouds of a snow storm two days away blocked each star, Venus, and the International Space Station. The moon was a diffuse disc. A small flashlight on my key chain, one of the safety flares from George's bed box, and the passing trucks were the only lights we had.

‟The spring on the compression brake is gone," I said pushing the popped brake lever back to the off position. ‟If this thing falls off again there'll be no brakes. Go behind the trailer and push it when I give you the word." Another truck blared its horn. I yelled for George to push but he didn't hear me over the convoy which passed closer then I felt comfortable with. The trailer rocked in the wind off the semis. George and I got it forward five feet and onto the hitch while trucks kept passing, honking, and rocking the trailer in my hands. Grease from the tongue of the U-haul coated my fingers and stung where I'd gotten a cut while setting the hitch on the ball. I tightened the lock on the trailer by hand as far as it would go, got under the truck a bit and hooked the other two safety chains to the frame of the pickup.

‟I can't find the cord to plug in the lights with," George said.

I found the three ripped electrical cables. ‟Here, it got cut when it fell off."

I duct taped a flare to each side of the trailer. Back at the store, even in the amber light of the receiving dock, we saw that the flares had burned large circles in the orange and white paint.

‟Fuck," said George. ‟You know, this is the most excitement I've had in a long time."

‟I guess," I said. ‟It was exciting at the time, but now it's kinda like, enh."

‟What's your problem? Life's not a spy novel, you won't be in mortal peril every hour of the day. Until tonight the most excitement I'd had this year was in last week's snow storm."

‟Flurries." I unlocked the back door, went in and entered my ten digit alarm code. ‟Let's get these boxes unloaded and we'll call it a night."

‟Anyway, last week I went outside and tried to catch snowflakes on my tongue. That, my
friend, was the highlight of my year up until tonight."

‟Sure, I know, my life is exciting, everyone wants my life."

‟Remember that trip you took out west in college? Tell me that story while we unload."

I told him of the three week trip I went on to the western plateau states: Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. I remembered how, the day after I left the Grand Canyon, flash floods forced the evacuation of hikers and Indians. About Antelope Canyon, twenty-four hours after I was there, almost to the minute, a flash flood swept through and drowned about a dozen hikers. How, at Zion National Park, a mule deer attacked me. I was in front of it when it went to hit me. The day after I left seven campers drowned in the campsite from a flash flood. ‟At a rest stop in Kansas I woke up at four a.m. with a hundred or so frogs sleeping on me."

George said: ‟No one else has ever had frogs sleep on them, man, you've had all these
adventures and complain about how boring life is. It makes me ill."

I never told George, or anyone, that I pushed the trip up a day due to a camping conflict at Zion. I couldn't sleep when I heard about the floods. Not from fear, from grasping invincibility. It would be fifty years and two heart attacks later before I remembered I was, indeed, mortal.


We talked, some, about the forecast for snow, and predictions from two to twenty inches.
The next morning George and I showed up at the normal time, right before eight. He was tired so was I. We only worked half a day. I spent much of it repairing Karlton Kennel's monitor. I removed the shot resistor and was about to solder in a new one when Ron approached. Ron didn't like me doing repairs. He felt I should work the floor: Windex display pieces, face the aisles, sweep; the stuff the high school student employees did each night.

‟How much are we getting for that repair?" Ron said.

‟Two twenty."

‟How long is it gonna take you?"

‟It's been about three and a half hours, yesterday and today so far; gimme like twenty more minutes."

‟How much was that part?"

‟Nine cents."

‟. . . Keep up the good work."

I snipped the exploded resistor from the monitor while Ron watched. I used a small X-acto knife to clear solder from the anchor holes. The chimes on the second set of doors rang. One of our regular customers, Mrs. Linda Armstrong, a secretary for Ross Chiropractic, entered.

Ron nudged me. ‟I'd shave her legs," he said. ‟Does her husband get her juices going."

‟Ron, please. How are you, Linda?" I finished loudly.

‟Oh, fine, I guess. Doctor Ross needs some toner for his printer and some tax software."

‟George," I yelled to the rear aisle, ‟can you help Linda get some tax software?"

‟Sure thing," George yelled back.
"I'll grab the toner," I said.

‟You remember which printer he has?" she said.

‟I know all my best customer's setups. Toner'll be at the front when you're ready."

I got them a toner cartridge and returned to the monitor. I put the new resistor in place and tinned the soldering iron while Ron fluxed the board.

‟That is one hot secretary. She could take my dictations."

‟Thanks, Ron, for that image. That's too much flux, wipe some off."

‟You know we sell those really long desks here, if she were my secretary– "

‟Thanks, Ron, really. Does your girlfriend know you talk like this? No, don't answer that. Do me a favor, though, please at least wait until she's in the bathroom to talk about her."

‟Good idea, she just went in. So about that desk."

I tuned him out and soldered the resistor in place. After the solder cooled I plugged the monitor into the wall and a computer, it all worked just fine. Linda came out of the bathroom and Ron stopped talking, but he watched her very closely as she walked to the cash register. I watched her leave, but not in the same way Ron did.

‟Hey, watch this," Ron said. He went into the women's restroom and stayed there a while.

‟What's Ron doing?" said George.

‟I don't even want to know. Call up Karlton, their monitor is ready."

‟I typed your number in for that sale," George said.

‟George, come one, I don't need the sales. You should have taken it."

‟Look, Merak, we all know you're gonna break two million this year, and that last year you alone outsold thirteen percent of this company's stores. You're the best salesman PPG has ever had, you deserve the credit, besides, Linda's your customer."

‟Whatever, man. But thanks." George and I left about an hour after that. Just like the night before, he gave me a ride home. He always listened to WLS AM. Always.

‟This afternoon a high of around thirty with clouds remaining. Gusts from the south at ten miles per hour. Tonight lows around twenty, Friday snow likely. Temperatures in the low thirties, snow continuing past midnight with nighttime lows around twenty-five. Now back to Rush."

‟You like Rush?"

‟Never got much into their music, nah, a few years before me."

‟No, Limbaugh."

I looked at him and blinked twice.

George turned the radio off and we drove with the hum of tires on pavement as a background for our debate on who PPG's hottest regular customer was. I thanked him for the ride then went into my house to take a hot shower. That morning repairmen had replaced the sliding glass door. Meggy had left some forms on the kitchen table for me to sign. I took care of them then lay down on the couch to watch a movie. I fell asleep before choosing one.


Friday was the day before I flew to Clearwater to PPG's annual executive conference. All the guests had reservations at the Clearwater Hampton Inn, where the conference would be held. I couldn't wait to get away from the tedium of sales. Just me, Meggy, and a week to ourselves. I would only appear at one meeting. The rest of the week was mine to spend as I wanted. I hadn't told Meggy about the trip to England. She would be excited to find out at the announcement.

Even in the dawn light I could see it would a gray day. The new sliding glass door had condensation on it. I cheaped out with it since I planned to install nicer ones in the summer anyhow. I thought of Bill, and what he was doing. Maybe he was stowed on a freight in the Rockies going home to Santa Barbara, maybe he'd patch things up with his parents. I pictured the Rockies as green, year- round, with snow caps. Elk and Dall Rams on the fields and slopes. A mountain lion, too. Would Bill notice the hawks watching for rodents scared by the train?

Meggy drove me to work, like every day. My best suit was at the cleaners, we'd pick it up after work. I don't know why, but I wanted to wear it that day. Instead I wore my dark gray suit – to match the weather. I had on an iridescent dark blue shirt and a tie which matched the suit.

I kissed Meggy on the cheek, closed the door, and watched her drive onto Milwaukee Avenue. She'd be at work late due to traffic, but that was understandable. Two police cars were parked in front of PPG with their lights off. A silver Mercedes pulled into a handicapped spot. The man who got out wore a tan suit and jogged to Silbourne's. I shook my head, sighed at how lazy people were that they would rather take a handicapped spot three rows from the store they wanted to go to than a regular spot three back in the row closest. I entered PPG.

Pat, Ron, George and three police officers were in the store. Ron was handcuffed. I rolled my eyes and walked to the break room and stashed my lunch in the fridge, slicked my hair back in the sink, checked my smile in the mirror, then went out to the floor. Ron and the police had left.

‟Ron hurt his girlfriend last night," Pat said. ‟Told me about it before the police got here."

‟What happened?" I said.

‟Said she got mad about how he wanted to have a three way with her and her sister, so she hit him in the head with the plate from a waffle iron."

‟Ow."

‟After that Ron picked her up from behind and tossed her on the bed so he could get some gauze. She bounced and cut her head open on the night stand. Later his girlfriend lied to the police, saying he hit her with the mattress, so that he would be arrested." Pat griped a short time about having to work all day then went into his office and closed the door.

‟Any stuff need fixin' today?" I said. George handed me a list of the broken machines, there were twenty of them, most belonged to my customers. Most of anything that came into the store, though, had to do with my customers on some level.

For about fifteen minutes George and I debated the Ron situation. I felt Ron's side was right. George thought they both lied. He decided that neither Ron nor his girlfriend could admit the five-year-old did it, in the study, with a candlestick.

‟So, feed any hobo burglars last night?" George said.

‟Funny, no. I fell asleep on the couch. Meggy got me to bed, but I don't remember it."

‟Look, man, it's snowing. If it keeps up like that they'll be ten inches come quittin' time. Your plane leaves tomorrow, right? Man, you better hope it doesn't get canceled, be a shame to miss being honored for your sales."

‟Yeah, you know what, sales is easy. Give a lab monkey product knowledge and customer skills and he could sell a million in computers each year."

‟That's such a crock, do you believe that? Come on. You get customers to buy better systems, printers, faxes, you sell them more than they come in for. That's God-given skill, no one learns that. You can do anything on this floor, you own this floor, you're king when you're here. This company's deified you. Twenty years in sales and I've never seen anyone who sells like you."

‟Sales is easy. Let the customer know you're an expert. Then tell them what they need. This computer is faster and could last a year longer and is only a hundred dollars more than that one. Want an extended service plan? Three more years of repairs after the warranty runs out; and I do the work so if I don't do it right you tell me, not some big company – and I make it right... That, George, is the skin of a sales pitch. Are they using old printers, if so then there's another sale to tack on. While they're here did they want to look at fax machines, or scanners, or even surge suppressors so that their brand new computers won't fry next time the power goes. Man, you can sell one computer then easily add four hundred dollars in extras, multiply that by twenty for an office order and that can run into thirty grand for one sale. It's that simple."

What I didn't know then, what no one knew then, was that PPG planned to ask me to film five training videos explaining and demonstrating that concept with actual customers.

‟Why do you want my life, anyway?" I said.

‟Look, you have all this exciting stuff happen. Mule deer attack you, a trailer falling off a truck, bosses getting arrested when you walk into work. Crazy customers running towards the store in hysterics, what's that?"

It was the guy with the Mercedes – he ran towards the store looking hysterical.

‟Wonder what he's yelling," George said.

The man ran into the store and the second door chimed as he passed. ‟Call the fire department, my car's on fire."

‟George, you got it? Thanks, I'll go have a look." Outside the Mercedes burned. Flames and black smoke rose from the engine and front seat. ‟Fire department'll be here soon, I'm sure."

George joined us. ‟Wow. Don't see that everyday."

‟My briefcase is in there, and it has my presentation, oh crap, what am I gonna do."

I thought he might cry. A man walked out of the Old Country Buffet next door. ‟Yo, someone call the fire department about that?"

‟Yup," said George.

‟Well, I am the fire department. They just paged me."

The moment when a car's gas tank explodes is never expected. The silver Mercedes with its smoldering roof and burned briefcase exploded from underneath sending the car ten feet into the air and then upside down. I remember the man crying out in horror when that happened.

The fire department arrived and put out the fire, which had mostly petered on its own. A few hundred people had gathered to watch the car. I overheard one lady say she needed a new one and the Mercedes was right next to her's. I imagined she hoped to see another explosion. After the whole thing ended George asked me if, in light of the last four days, I was still bored with life.

‟Mostly. Yeah, some exciting stuff's happened, but life's not exciting like it should be."

‟Has life ever been exciting like it should be?"

‟Sure."

‟When?" George said.

I stammered a bit but couldn't give him an answer.

‟Life is not a James Bond movie, man. You have to be able to be excited by everything that happens. The challenge of selling should excite you. Going to Florida should excite you. You should even be excited at the prospect of catching a puffy snow flake on your tongue just to see how the coldness feels. You want excitement, learn to like every day you're here, as in living."

‟Yeah, I know."

‟But that's just it, man, you don't know. You say you do, but if it were the case you wouldn't be so depressed and looking for excitement to add a momentary and artificial joy to your life in hopes of giving it long-term validation or meaning," George said.

‟Look, I'm gonna go finish some repairs. I just need some time to think, alright?"

‟No prob, man."

Snow kept falling and by quitting time ten inches had accumulated. The weather said we were being hit with a super storm and the snow wouldn't stop until Saturday. It had overwhelmed the county and there were no clear roads. Snow rubbed the Pontiac as we drove through the ruts.

‟What time is the limo getting here tomorrow to take us to the airport, Meggy?" I said.

‟Noon."

‟Flight's at three?"

She nodded in her way which meant: ‟Babe, radio."

The snow did not let up that night. I couldn't get my suit from the cleaners and would wear my navy-blue pinstriped one instead. I packed for the trip and set the luggage by the front door, Meggy planned to pack in the morning after calling to make sure our flight wasn't canceled.


At nine the next morning it still snowed. Over twenty inches had fallen and the news said eighty-five percent of the flights from O'Hare were canceled. I called United to see if ours' was one of them. It was delayed two hours but would still take off. I leaned up against the new sliding glass door and watched the snow fall. Normally I could see the retention ditch. That day I saw only white. I went to the garage and snow blowed the driveway and sidewalks. I used a shovel on the porch and finished shortly after eleven. The limo driver called to say he would be on time. I ate a bowl of soup and a sandwich.

‟Meggy," I hollered upstairs.

‟Yeah?"

‟Nevermind." I zipped my parka and stepped onto the porch. Snow had already accumulated again and I left footprints. I walked down the stairs to the ground and out into the retention ditch. I looked up at the sky, stuck my tongue out, and tried to catch a snowflake in my mouth. I spun, chased them, fell into the snow. Meggy called me from the back porch; the limo had arrived. I looked up, stuck out my tongue, and a flake landed on it. It tasted clean, without flavor, how companies want you to believe their bottled water tastes. It was a lonely spot of cold  and then was gone, melted. I waved to Meggy then dropped backward into the snow, looking only at the vertical columns of white stretching beyond where my eyes could reach.

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