It was odd to be
followed by a stretch limousine, on a Sunday morning, in the middle of the
business district. While it was normal for pigeons to be decorating benches,
homeless folks to be picking through trash cans, leaves to be falling, and
discarded newspapers to be tumbling, Wall Streeters, themselves, however, ought
not to have been visible.
Granted, the new high
rises, those expensive buildings that allowed the young and moneyed to live
literally over their work places, sheltered parents with small fry and other
family configurations, but most of those persons were yet tucked in, toasty
under their sumptuous down comforters. Given that the seasons weak
sunrise had occurred only an hour earlier, I wondered why a luxury car seemed
to be tailing me.
New York might be the
stuff out of which dreams are made, but so far, the City of Promises had cost
me, an Iowa son, my entire savings and my best parka. Subletting a tiny room
had eaten up my fiduciary reserves. As for that favorite coat, it had left my
life unbidden, on the shoulders of a former roommate.
In balance, I could
have stayed in Coralville and been satisfied with living off of wedding
photography and end-of-year elementary school pictures. Given new technologies,
I could have even photo shopped exotic locales into my compositions. All things
being equal, though, I felt drawn to the Naked Cowboy, the Lights of Broadway,
and the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center.
Truth was, I
couldnt afford the hot pretzels, the steamed, sweet bean buns, or any of
the antojitos snatched up
by the citys temporary visitors. Not quite local and not quite
from overseas, I subsisted on food pantry peanut butter and on bodega ramen
noodles, their cultural irony notwithstanding.
That morning, my plan
had been to walk from The Bowery to Wall Street and then to sell the images
that I took to stock photo companies. The diffused light of cold Gotham
mornings is as wonderful for shadow play as is the kind of illumination that
follows storms. The difference is that with dawns light I stay dry, but
with post-storm light I often get soaked when the rains start again.
Anyway, this member of
the Frozen Chosen planned to snap popular stills of
Chinatowns red and gold facades and of Canal Streets vendors. I was
happy to not have to rent the fancy lighting equipment that most shoots
required. My on-camera flash and light modifier had been stolen, earlier, when
I had fallen asleep riding the subway. As per my flash bracket and monopod, I
had pawned them when I had had nothing left with which to pay the rent.
Fortunately, I could sell low light pictures.
The chauffer driven car
tooted twice at me. I turned around, but could see nothing through its tinted
windows. I shrugged and kept on walking. The car continued its
At the intersection of
Wall Street and Pearl, near Pearl Paint, a supply house and unintentional
meetup spot for artistically inclined individuals, I stopped when the
pedestrian light turned red. The car tracking me stopped, too, despite it
facing a green signal. A window slowly lowered. Just as quickly, the window
rolled back up. My signal changed to green, so I crossed the street.
Sal Haley, a manager at
Pearl, was a roommate. I knocked on the stores locked front door. Sal
opened it and ushered me in. After a cup of bad coffee from the employees
break room and a friendly exchange, I was back on the street. I had to hurry
before the sun rose too high.
The limo waited at the
curb, in front of Pearl Paint. One of its back windows was completely open. A
hand extended itself from the cars rarefied depths and beckoned to me. I
shot that limb, thinking maybe I could make a paparazzi sale to a rag that
might know to whom the car belonged. Alternatively, some scandal sheet editor
might buy my image and make up a story to go with it; back then, inventing
cutlines was a new journalistic rage.
The window shut
immediately. It was a pity that I had no telescopic lens since I had been
mentally tallying the pizza slices I could buy with a single gossip sheet sale.
Instead, the door that contained the window opened. A burly sort of fellow
jumped out. He grabbed my camera. Never shoot until Mademoiselles
instructs you. Get in the car.
Having been robbed of
my source of livelihood as well as quickly losing the early light, I obliged. I
sat in the spacious back with Burly. Someone was in the front with the driver,
but again tinted glass blocked the view.
We drove up FDR Drive
to Harlem River Drive and then we merged onto the Palisades Parkway. We got off
at Exit 2, Alpine. I began to wonder if I would ever get back to the
The car pulled up in
front of a large house. The entire neighborhood was large houses on wooded
lots, as best as I could see. I asked Burly for my camera back, but that brawny
shook his head. Then the passenger doors unexpectedly locked. The driver and
the other rider, nonetheless, exited. Long minutes passed.
I looked out my window.
The glass was one way. I saw an estate that was attractive in an over-the-top
style. Burly lit a cigarette and offered me one. I declined. The sun was rising
higher and higher, making shooting, without accessories,
The driver re-entered
the car and unlocked the doors. Burly got out, came around to my side and then
motioned for me to get out and to follow. He handed me ten one thousand dollar
bills and asked if I would prefer a check.
I nodded. He grabbed
the cash and then handed me my camera. Realize, it stays here after you
I exclaimed as I accepted the check, endorsed by a name unknown to me. I could
replace that camera for a few hundred. Ride back to the city
And this thousand dollars gift
certificate for Kalustyan's.
Burly laughed. He then
guided me into the house, but stayed very close to me while we
The shoot itself was
unremarkable. A rich womans daughter had gotten engaged. I shot portraits
as I had in Iowa, location, unexpectedness, and loss of equipment, excepted.
Afterwards, the matron downloaded my images onto her computer, told me that she
liked what she saw, and then told her cook to fill me up with anything I
fancied from their secondary refrigerator. She also gave me an extra five
hundred as a tip and made me sign a nondisclosure note.
That night, I bought a
new parka a Macys. I saved money on that purchase as the coat was reduced
as seasonal merchandise. I slept on top of my check and cash. In the morning, I
rushed to the bank.
There, when I handed
over my deposit, the teller called over the assistant bank manager, who looked
me up and down, shrugged and gave me a receipt for my deposit. He also handed
me pens, key chains, and samples of all of the other freebies that the bank was
using to entice men and women to open new accounts. Further, that man shook my
hand and gave me his card, telling me to contact him directly if I ever needed
Twelve years later,
when Martha and I were ready to buy a one bedroom, given that she was expecting
and that my portrait business was making a steady profit (my Alpine benefactor
continued to patronize me by sending her New York City friends my way), the
assistant bank manager, who had since been promoted to full manager, made good
on his word. We received the low mortgage rate ordinarily reserved for
I still eat Ramen. I
still use early light to shoot photos. Ive never seen my
benefactors face again or that of Burlys.
Two weeks ago, that
changed. I received a curious email from my benefactors employee. Burly
has a name; Sammy Plasson. His family has worked for those rich people, from
Alpine, for three generations.
Sammy emailed me
because the daughter of the girl, whom I had long ago photographed, was having
a tenth birthday party. The family wanted me to shoot the affair. Of course,
whatever equipment I brought along would have to be confiscated. If I agreed,
Sammy and a Lincoln Town Car would come by to collect me.
Given inflation, the
family would pay me fifteen thousand for my efforts, plus a large savings bond
for my future child. Additionally, Id be given a two thousand dollar
store card to Bergendorf Goodmans for my wife. There remained, as well,
the possibility of a significant tip.
I smiled, not caring
that my patrons knew a lot about my dear ones or that Martha might be able, at
most, to buy some socks and tea towels at the gift cards expensive
address. Whats more, I planned to bring along a tabletop florescent unit
and a multi-disc light reflector. I couldnt continue to rely on kismet
for successful pictures.