Being Photographed (Flash Nonfiction)

Standard

In the mid-1980s, my grandmother encouraged my brother and mother to accompany her to her church service each Sunday morning, and my older brother and I stretched our imaginations wider than ever in constructing a reason for us not to attend, especially once we both reached double-digit ages. In the fall, the church would invited families to have a portrait taken for the upcoming year’s membership book. For normal families, dressing up on a random Tuesday night and driving to church for a photograph is more than likely a relatively simple feat. My brother and I, however, were unfamiliar with that level of normalcy.

I can remember waiting in line from the middle of the building to where the photographer had set up camp in a partitioned-off segment of a rec room on the west side of the church. This room was usually reserved for adult Bible study meetings (which my mom attended, I’m now convinced, strictly to award herself sixty full minutes of being free from her sons’ constant irritations) and the annual Christmas tree decoration stations led by adult members of the church who had accumulated a seemingly endless amount of pipe cleaners and cotton balls. Any other time, the partition boards were squeezed off to the sides, leaving only long metal coat racks that lined the perimeter of the room. Anyway, while in line, my brother became restless after about seventeen seconds, so, contrary to our mother and grandmother’s wishes to “shush” or “just be still”, he filled the void by creating reasons to make me laugh. No specific joke or comment comes to mind, but I want to say the range varied from an unknown member’s loud outfit or obscene use of perfume to corny puns that a lot of nine-year-olds think are hilarious (e.g. “Steve, I don’t think that jacket suits him.”)  These jokes would build and build as we eased closer to the threshold of the makeshift studio. The photographer was always a bespectacled man who by the time we reached him had begun sweating, draped his blazer over a chair, and kept over-smiling, apparently to negate the stress of his job. Simple instructions such as “Face to the left” or “Chin up” were far more than I could handle by that point as well. Any reference to turning my cheeks forced my brother to remind me that the shaky photographer meant the ones on my face. What should have been about a hundred seconds of standing and smiling toward the camera became nine or ten minutes of me struggling to compose myself and my mother silently developing innovative methods to beat the hell out of us on the walk back to the car. Every year for about half a decade, she rightfully announced it was the last year we were doing pictures.

Last month, in the middle of a stuffy mall, my own family spent two solid hours from the moment we joined the Santa line to when the apathetic teen handed over our incredibly overpriced photograph. I’ll never not think about the church photos when we take professional pictures, and I’m sure if my mom is reading this that she’ll smile and say something about paybacks.

Advertisements

Tennisball

Standard

Tennisball

When I was in the womb, I’m told, I attended a few Dodger games a Chavez-Ravine.  A few years later, a picture of me indicates that someone encouraged me to wear a Yankees shirt.  When I was six, the St. Louis Cardinals played the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series.  Mom and I watched those games in Indiana, and I became not only hooked on the Redbirds but also an immense fan of the game.  I played in an organized league of some sort from age five through fifteen.  The tail end of my career is not worth discussing, but being on the field during a game was always the highlight of my day.

Throughout my childhood, my friends and I typically got together and played at either the nearby elementary schoolyard or the empty space between my house and my friend Mike’s house. It became a rectangular baseball field—or perhaps, baseball played on a football field.  I’ve never measured the lot’s size, but it seems to me that it was about fifty yards of fairly even terrain.  Conveniently, there were two bushes placed against each house, which served as our first- and third bases.  Home plate was usually signified by an unused glove or extra hat.  The pitcher threw north, and batters tried to hit a ball south past the alleyway and over my elderly neighbor Mr. Brines’ fence.

By about the time I was seven and my brother was on the brink of teenage-dom, we were instructed not to use a regular baseball during our games.  While we hadn’t broken any windows, we had to use a tennis ball as a substitute.  Obviously, this felt inauthentic—that is, until the first one of us connected on a softly tossed pitch and sent that green Penn Number 1 sailing high above the trees several yards beyond Mr. Brines’ fence line.  The tops of those trees must have been thirty or forty feet in the air.  The summer wind would make them dance left and right, creating a moving target for my black Louisville Slugger aluminum bat.

At ten years old, I stood at the north end over my makeshift home plate and faced one of my best friends, a freckled red-haired kid named Jason.  With no helmet on and batting gloves completely unnecessary, I urged him to send one to me that I could launch.  Our rules for home run derby allowed ten swings or five outs, whichever came first. Any ball hit that didn’t make it over the garage and beyond the alley was considered an out.

Very distinctly, I can recall squeezing that bat and awaiting the frayed tennis ball.  I focused on Jason’s freckled countenance and mimicked the batting stance repertoire of some Major Leaguer, daring Jason to toss it into my wheelhouse—a term our coach had ingrained in our heads during every practice and game that summer.  I wanted to hit one out so badly.  I shifted my eyes from his pasty grin to the ball he held.  I didn’t miss that first pitch and sent a towering ball over those dancing leaves.  That afternoon, at ten years old, I felt I conquered summer.