October 16, 2014 § 4 Comments
Two elementary-aged boys, enjoying a day off school, approached me as I took photographs this afternoon in Brooklyn. It’s an old part of my hometown, a section I never really explored until I started taking photos regularly a few years ago.
The boys were inquisitive and charmed me with their constant chatter, moving effortlessly from one topic to the next. If I’d stayed all afternoon, they would have entertained me with their imaginations as well as tales of their lives, neighborhood, and ambitions.
I’ve interspersed pieces of our conversation with some of the photos I took.
Boy 1: I got this bike for free.
Boy 2: No, you didn’t. Just the tire.
Boy 1: Uh-uh. The whole thing was free.
Boy 2: No, just the tire.
Boy 1: I saw you taking photographs over there.
Camille: Do you like taking pictures?
Boy 1: Nah. I like bikes.
Camille: Are you enjoying having a day off from school?
Boy 1: Yeah. It’s okay, but Christmas vacation is better, because you get 15 days off.
Camille: And summer. Summer you get a big break.
Boy 1: Well, yeah, summer. That’s a given. That’s like 94 days off.
Boy 1: I’ve climbed every tree in this neighborhood. My grandparents live in Alaska.
Boy 2: My brother lives in Alaska too.
Camille: Have either of you been to Alaska?
Boy 1: No. I’ve been to Wisconsin, but that doesn’t count because it’s attached to Minnesota.
Boy 2: I haven’t been to any other state.
Camille: Do you like living in this neighborhood?
Boys 1 and 2: Yes!
Boy 1: But people steal your stuff. That’s why my dad joined the army, so people wouldn’t try stealing from us.
[As I’m taking a photo of an old shed]
Boy 1: That burned.
Boy 1: Oh, about five years ago. You can go in there if you want. You don’t need to be scared.
Camille: I’ll pass.
Boy 1: Someone told me there were big snakes living in there, but I went in and stayed for two hours and didn’t see any snakes.
Boy 2: We could make it into a house! We could live in there.
June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
Strangers spin charming tales.
This restored General Motors truck from the late 1940s has been parked in the neighborhood the last several days. I took a few photos, attracting the attention of the owner, Dave, who came out and gave me its storied history.
Like me, the truck is from the Iron Range, purchased by a man who once went to my old high school. It originally belonged to the Oliver Mine Company and was used to transport dynamite. The man, a shop teacher, found it wasting away in a junk yard, no longer needed for the purpose it was once intended. He took the stray home, refinishing the interior with wood paneling and a wooden dashboard.
Ironically, the shop teacher who loved wood died while out chopping a pile of it a few years ago.
His widow called Dave, a favorite student of her late husband’s, and offered it to him. She knew he’d love it as much as her husband did, diligently continuing the restoration.
Dave showed me the new engine (circa 1970s) and boasted that the truck now has air conditioning. He pointed to the original air conditioning — a crank that opened the front windshield a crack at the bottom to let air whoosh in. Which kind of puts modern air conditioners at a “1” on the excitement scale. Yet I don’t need excitement when it’s hot. I need cool air.
But a hand-cranked front windshield would be the bee’s knees.
* * *
A few more photos from my day out in this big ol’ world:
November 15, 2013 § 3 Comments
Good writers eavesdrop.
Think about conversations you’ve overheard at a party, in the cube nearby at work, in a public restroom, or while riding the subway. Just one perfect random sentence or two and you’ve got a story, or at least a solid start on one.
New York is an ideal place to eavesdrop, for there are many conversations to choose from, and you can casually listen in without blowing your cover (crowded subway during rush hour = opportune time to hear about how the woman next to you is suffering from bunions and a husband who won’t stop bringing home peppered mackerel and kippered salmon from Russ & Daughters despite her severe smoked-fish allergy).
One of my favorite overheard conversations took place on Coney Island on a quiet, cold morning. It was a long discussion among three friends on a bench, a portion of which I posted last year.
I also vaguely remember listening to two college students talking somewhere near NYU. I’d forgotten about the conversation until I came across my notes the other day. They were talking too fast for me to get much of anything. But I did manage to capture this little gem:
“Curing cancer and feeding baby tigers with eyedroppers.”
Those eight little words are the perfect start to a short story on two volunteers who constantly try to one-up each other. Or a piece on lame college application essays. Or whatever I want it to be.
Tomorrow morning you should go out and listen in on a conversation to which you weren’t invited. But be discreet. And respectful. And then see what you discover about your capabilities as a writer. The exercise will stretch your creative muscle and help you develop well-rounded characters upon which all your readers will love to eavesdrop.
October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Two women, early fifties. Waiting in line for Tatzu Nishi: Discovering Columbus exhibit in Columbus Circle. Woman 1 pulls out something from her purse.
Woman 1: This is my aura from Lily Dale, New York.
[Woman 1 unfolds the picture lovingly and shows it to Woman 2; it looks like it was drawn by a toddler.]
Woman 2: From…what?
Woman 1: My aura. My spiritualist community in Lily Dale, New York. That’s my aura.
Woman 2: [unimpressed] Your aura? You “aura” put it away.
October 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
Saturday afternoon. Lunch in a little West Village courtyard. A man approximately my age asks to sit with me. I offer him a seat; plenty of room.
A strange, mostly one-sided conversation ensues.
Him: It’s expensive to live around here.
Him: How much does it cost?
Me: To live in this neighborhood or Manhattan?
Him: This neighborhood.
Me: It varies, but I’m guessing several thousand a month.
Him: [Shakes his head and laughs] I can’t imagine paying that.
Me: Where are you from?
Him: India. And Georgia. And now Midtown.
Me: Oh, so you live in the city?
Him: Yes. I live in a rent-controlled place. Only $950 a month.
Me: Nice. What do you do here?
Him: I’m an actor.
Me: That’s a competitive line of work.
Him: [Shrugs] Not really.
Him: Yes. I’ve had no trouble getting work. I’ve worked with Adam Sandler, Tony Orlando, Kevin Bacon.
[He pulls out a postcard with his photo and acting credentials; he hands it to me]
Him: I also wrote a script that I was talking to Adam about, but once the movie was done filming, I couldn’t get a hold of him.
Him: But he liked me. I was only supposed to have one scene, but he thought I was funny and wrote a bigger part for me. It’s too bad the critics hated it.
Me: Yeah. I remember the reviews were not kind.
Him: What’s your name?
Him: I starred in the play Camille. I played Baron Varville.
Me: Oh. I never read that book. Always meant to.
Him: Before 9/11 I worked at the United Nations and met Henry Kissinger several times.
Him: I had dreams of being an international lawyer, but after 9/11 I quit.
Me: Good for you. I’ve met a couple of people lately who quit their jobs immediately after 9/11 and decided to pursue their dreams.
Him: Acting was never my dream. I just fell into it. People like my accent. I starred in a Super Bowl commercial with Kevin Bacon.
Me: You must be good if you don’t have trouble getting acting jobs.
Him: Yes, I’ve worked with Adam Sandler, Tony Orlando, James Caan. What’s your name?
Him: That’s right. Camille.
[Long, awkward pause]
Me: How’s your sandwich?
Him: Good. Too much bread, but otherwise good.