I bought a video camera on the cheap from Stan, this guy I worked with
who wanted a little less reality in his life; he stopped making things,
slowed down a little, retreated back into his own head for awhile.
Drugs help with that, he heard, so off he went.
He sold me his camera and bought himself a turntable,
scrounged the nickel bins at street sales and flea markets
for the perfect additions to his record collection,
unreleased seven-inches that went straight from warehouses
to milk crates on rickety collapsable tables in front of some
aging hippie's van,
("It's my time machine, man. Check out the bass on these speakers,
you can almost hear Ray Charles' tears hit the keyboard, the fidelity's so there,")
and used my camera money to pad the walls of his studio
in acoustically neutral foam, said things like,
"That camera, it's too real, you know? There's no craftsmanship in just recording
things that happen, you gotta make your own way, not preserve somebody else's,"
like he had never seen a documentary in his life; maybe he hadn't.
He talked fast, back then, before the haze settled in,
his hands moving through the air like he was trying to crush
enough oxygen and nitrogen and argon together to make something visible,
pausing only to flick the ash off his joint and scratch lazily at his forearms
before bumming a buck from me for a chaser.
Didn't see him around much after that summer; he moved to Florida with his old lady and his dog,
kicked back on the beach under an umbrella, waiting for the tides to recede all the way back to the old country.
- - -
I set up on my stoop, camera on the step below the one I was sitting on, recording
the shoulders of the neighborhood. Pastel linens, delivery uniforms, the tops of the heads
of little Dominican children arguing with their siblings about which of them had bought what on
the corner store's tab,
"That ain't mine, I got that for you. Fuck, you don't believe in paying what you owe?"
and watched my camera watch the summer drift away,
running in now and again for beer.
- - -
Sundays were the best. The streets thronged with recently energized church-folk,
dry-cleaned to please The Lord. They walked slow, feeling the sunshine and trying
not to sweat too much, secured behind bobby pins and brill cream.
My friends would come by now and again, particularly Bobby,
a black guy in a flattened Irish newsboy's cap and wifebeater who
bummed a smoke from me in the park once, asked what I was writing in my journal
and who somehow always knew how to find me after that.
I tried not to act surprised whenever he showed up, but he had this knack for appearing
out of nowhere with cans of beer from the sweaty guy with the cooler on the corner.
He'd sit next to me, a few steps lower, try to see what the camera was seeing,
narrowing his eyes to slits, trying to beat his peripheral vision into submission.
We'd worry about the fading light and glare and whatnot but it was bullshit, really;
neither of us knew what we were doing, but we liked talking about it,
each of us from our own totally fictional position of authority.
- - -
Once it got cold enough to make pushing buttons tricky through the gloves,
I sold the camera to Bobby, emptied my savings account and bought a motorcycle.
I needed to find Stan, to tell him he was wrong, that the camera did do things - it made me a friend,
and got me good and drunk, and taught me how to say motherfucker in Spanish.
He got strangely quiet, like he'd misplaced something important, kept patting his shirt pocket,
and asked to see one of the tapes. He wanted to share in this summer I'd had, to see what I'd made for myself.
I had to explain to him that the beauty of it was in the direction the camera never pointed
and that I'd never bothered with tapes, that they seemed more transient than memory,
and he sparked a joint and closed his eyes,
nodding along to music in his head that I'd never get to hear the way he wanted me to.