Small cuts

I spent the summer of 1994 covering the goings on of Boone County, Missouri. It was my auspicious beginning as a news reporter, working at the Columbia Missourian. We were a large staff for a small college town in the summer — maybe 12 photographers along with a limitless score of news reporters from J140.

My first assignment involved the Boone County Fair, but that summer I would also find time to witness bigger things: Olympic Qualifying Games in St. Louis, the primary elections for County Commissioner. I remember writing an assignment on how fill flash and a red filter gave extra value to the readers who caught my coverage of the overturned port-a-potty on Route 65N. Yes, it was only the beginning.

But it was still summer in Mid-Missouri. That means being caught in a battle between the forces of heat and humidity, with an occasional respite for a flood or a tornado. I lived in a one bedroom apartment. It cost $265 per month with utilities. Like most, I had no air conditioner. Prayer is waiting for a breeze to cool your wet chest at 1 am in a Missouri June.

My granddad visited it once. Once he was back out in the air condish of the Cadillac, he let me know what he thought of it.

“A place for tramps!,” he said, “What if your grandmother saw that? Come on!”

Actually, it was one of my better pied-a-terres in the Show-me-State. Certainly my basement apartment ($230 per month, free cable tv) in Marshall or my first place right next to I-70 (Jake Brakes no charge, rent $250 per month) could not compare. It even had a back yard and a front porch.

I followed a strict diet to keep up my energy for all of this reporting in the heat. That usually meant yogurt, granola, blueberries, honey, strawberries and about a quart of espresso for breakfast, followed by whatever they were serving at the Boone County Fair for lunch and then a few slices at Shakespeare’s for dinner. I could eat for a week for under $50.

But I digress. The point of my story is the people I worked with. None of us actually came from Boone County, or even the Midwest. Short of two friends from Arkansas and St. Louis, we were a pretty bi-coastal crew. What we all shared was a curious passion for photography. Not just any kind of photography, but the photojournalism we saw in Aperture monographs of Roy Stryker or Robert Frank. I swooned for Eugene Richards. I had leafed through photos from the best years of Barney Cowherd.

We were young people with heroes.

Those heroes were real forces. We moved to the epicenter, and staked our young twenties not to the frivolity of a place like the tv show “Friends” but instead to at least two or three years in Columbia. That our initial sacrifice required further humiliation was hitting us all hard. Photography is a hard field to break into — its not really work like a textile mill, almost anyone can learn to operate a digital camera, and it doesn’t follow that someone with high SATs or an ordered mind will prove worthy of a job.

“Let’s rent a movie,” offered Sarah, always the leader in our group’s social calendar. Sarah had a black coffee mug from Texaco that was taller than the length of her forearms. It could hold half a gallon of coffee. I think Sarah might have used that capacity a few times.

“Yeah,” I said, “sounds great. We can meet over at my place and make a pasta before.” I was real cool, not calling spaghetti by its grocery store name, but instead by my fancy waiter terminology. “A pasta…” Good thing I had “a pot” to cook in.

I put on water. Someone got a movie. The night was young.

Soon enough, Reggie, Thorne, Toby, Michael, Janet and Melina were there. I did have a television. It made a loud popping noise when you changed the channels. There was no remote. Someone had to get up. My apartment had a front porch with a swing and a back exit with a three step stoop. Because the stoop side was closer to the darkroom, most people came in through the back. It meant that you could leave both doors open and actually get a breeze.

After eating, we set down on my fold out bed to watch the film. We were decent people. Everyone took off their shoes. Sarah had socks with Mickey Mouse. They got some attention, but people were quickly taken with the enormity of my toe nails. It is true, they were big boys.

“Adam,” said Thorne, “your feet are disgusting. ”

“Ooh,” said Sarah, turning impatient with my disgusting interruption, “I will not let you make me think about that!”

“No really, Adam,” said Thorne, “what is the story here?”

These were friends, I felt like I could reason with them.

“My honest opinion,” I said, and I know I said it but that doesn’t mean I can explain it, ” is that being in graduate school and all, with so many assignments, well, who really has the time, you know, to cut toenails?”

Sarah got up.  She grabbed my offending toes.  Thorne locked my arms.  I kicked, screamed.  It did nothing.  They lifted me up and booted my butt out of my home.  They promptly locked me out of my house. Someone threw some clippers out the back window.

Now we are older.  I have better toe nails.  Sarah works at the Washington Post.  Thorne lives in Amsterdam.

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One Response to “Small cuts”

  1. Please join in the conversation After all, Samson Doggie is about everything.

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