Monday, February 24, 2014

Disposable Cameras? The Iowa Palette Is There

       Often I wonder if anyone finds my disposable camera and takes it in to get developed on a gamble or a whim.  What might they win?  To start, pictures of streetlamps or else pictures of my thumbs.  Landscape with Thumbs and Sunlight.  Streetlamp Thumbed.  Finger Smear Portrait.
       I buy one a year.  I take some pictures then it falls out of my pocket in a parking lot.  Nearly gets run over by a truck.  It's a disposable camera, that's what it does.
       I buy one at the pharmacy and rip off the plastic and point it at things and click a lot.  The lighting is not an issue since $7.99 includes 27 exposures and a flash that hums when you click it at Confederate Cemeteries, Philadelphia railway lines, water treatment facilities, lawn cannons, fourteen lawn cannonballs, and ants invading a steak dinner.  Weeks pass in this way, maybe even an entire season.  Sleeping on a stranger's floor while wearing blue jeans, the camera is snug in my pocket and produces a bruise on my hip.
       I tell my friend, "Look, a photogenic bruise."
       "We don't live here," she says, "put your pants back on."
       Following this passage the camera is delivered to the pharmacy courtesy of the same pocket.  Occasionally slamming into doors, street poles, busses, floors, the camera rattles with cheap broken plastic and it needs to be developed before being lost or beyond damaged.  I write my name on a receipt slip and hope nothing incriminating made it onto that roll.
       Time for a coffee.  An hour drifts by in this way.  I wipe a napkin across the cream station.  It's grimy with sugar granules, sugar in the raw.  The good stuff.  Now I am thankful that I no longer work in the coffee business with its grinds and oils collecting under my fingernails and unctuous in my clothes.  Now I appreciate the clatter of other people's dishes.  I try not to smile excessively at the barista with the boyish haircut.  She probably hates all that smiling.  And the repetitive "hellos" of financially secure men.
       But what if she loves all of those smiles and "hellos"?  Suppose you can maintain a relationship and collect coupons together?  Share a shopping cart?  Coffee shops are jammed with much smothered crush.  Leave a modest tip and never return.
       Then I remember about the pictures.  Right, it's time to get them.  Magical one-hour photo development and I'm wondering if I should look at the pictures now in the summer aisle at Walgreens or save them until I'm sitting in bed looking at the ceiling.  I wait.
       Flopped in bed, I appraise the year in 27 parts with grins and cringes.
       What if all of this never happens and the camera is gone?
       If the camera is gone then it's gone.  Shit!—did I think somebody would mail it to me?  What can be done?  Very little.
       In the future I can follow my grandpa's advice.
       "Forget cameras, you'll never cover everything, you'll never remember anything.  Buy some postcards," he says, pointing to me, "at the gas station.  And throw a few words on the back.  You see," he pauses, "about where you were and who with.  Put the date on it, slide it into a shoebox under your bed called 'Places I've Been,' then you'll always know where you were."

(this piece will be famous for a day (2/24) in an Iowa college paper)