Widow’s Peak at Harry’s Gun Club
Joe Stevens called at midnight: he and Sid got Widow’s Peak back together. My wife stood at the bottom of the basement stairs with Casey in her arms. He popped his lips. That was his new thing. Last week it was his tongue stuck out and to the left. The week before it was slapping his thighs.
She asked if Joe knew I was married and that I had a son. I mouthed no. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but that was too much to explain to her in silence. She told me to hang up the phone. I could barely hear Joe. He was at The Newton House with Sid and this other guy, Texas Tim, who scratched the shit out of my bass when we were nineteen. My wife started walking up the stairs. That was my signal; follow, or sleep next to the water boiler.
I did the shoot the next day. Bands usually threw me a hundred and bought me a drink, but, in truth, that barely covers the effort and the processing. A few years back, I converted the garage to a darkroom; my wife wasn’t big on our Dodge sitting out in the driveway in all types of rain and snow, but she understood. She’d been in this world before.
The gun club had one hell of a long driveway. Rows of pickups and station wagons, big bellied firemen leaning on bumpers, pushing them low. One bottle in a hand, another in the pocket. Texas Tim was practically a charter member of the place. He hugged me when I walked into the room. Asked if I wanted some scotch. I declined and set up my tripod.
I’d shot Widow’s Peak a few years back. Sid had opened his shirt to the belly button, turned up his left hip. Joe wanted to give a thumbs up. Texas Tim had cut out a photo of River Run, a band from Birmingham. Called them acid bluegrass. The photo was a joke, real stupid shit: the four of them, backs to the camera, pants open. I guess they were supposed to be pissing in the current. Texas Tim and Sid argued about their pose. I took a photo of their bickering and we just used that.
Now Texas Tim had graduated from water to rifles. He wanted to hold a Winchester across his chest, but I convinced him to only stand in front of the rack. These were promo photos. They weren’t signed anymore. Heff Creek dropped them a few years ago.
Texas Tim wanted me to stay for a while. Said he owed me for ruining my bass. I said it was fine. I called my wife to say I was coming home. Her birth name was Olivia, but she hated people calling her Olive. She went by the name Ohio.
“That’s her name?”
“Sort-of. Her real name’s Olivia.”
“Wasn’t that the name of Aloysius’s girl way back when?”
“Yes,” I said. “The same one.”
Texas Tim stared at me. “Really?”
I’d gotten used to that response. At least I thought I had.
Dart at University of Delaware
Dart was the Reis brothers: Parker and Tate. Parker was a few years older. Tate never looked a day past 15. The only guitar-less band I’d ever shot: two sets of drums. They leaned against an ivy wall on the Delaware campus. Parker’s sticks peeked from his jean pocket. Tate held a leaf in his open palm. Ohio waited with Case;: I left them in one of the campus lounges. Casey sat on the edge of an orange leather sofa, legs stretched straight. Ohio wore wide sunglasses. Hated the fluorescent glare of college buildings.
After the shoot, Dart wanted to meet the baby. Parker Reis was good with Casey. Let him hold the sticks. Casey tapped the tips together and then dropped the sticks on the carpet. Ohio stretched down to grab them, but God she moved slowly. She’d twisted her back trying to catch a vase that Casey had dropped from above his head. He always had his hands in something while she tried to cook, put in a wash. I took her to the doctor’s and waited with Casey on my lap. Ohio told me to let Casey play on the floor with the fat kid, but I didn’t want to. Last time they were mean to him. Called him oil boy. I was on-call each night for Bellclough: service trips in the snow to fix frozen lines. Beyond the day maintenance that overtime kept us afloat, let Ohio stay home with Casey during the day. I made a trip to the fat kid’s house that January. His mother looked just like him. Both of them watched through the window while I worked, knees in the snow, cold breathing through my thin gloves. Ohio would say I was overreacting. But Casey couldn’t stand-up for himself. I’m sure his time will come.
Parker said my wife still looked good. He remembered her; they all remembered her. Olivia Levante: Aloysius’s girl. I can’t tell you how many fucking times I’ve heard that phrase. Aloysius was bass for Common Ground, a real asshole on stage, bouncing that bass off his crotch and spitting off-stage. He paid well for photos, though, so I followed them around a bit, got to know Olivia. His girl, yes, but the lead singer. Real nice voice: a bit of blues mixed with rock. I think most people came to see her, so we started doing single shots, her out in the open, bare legs in high boots and higher grass, sun cresting over her shoulders, bleaching her hair.
I can’t lie; I was into her from the start, and when she asked about doing some nudes—real nice stuff, skin against lace, on the sand—I didn’t hesitate. I remember when she showed them to Aloysius: at first he turned his lip, but then he hung them in their house. He probably thought those were the only times I’d ever seen her naked.
Probably. But she brought those framed photos along when she moved in with me. We hung them in the hallway until Casey was born; now they’re piled in the attic beneath a bedsheet.
Fresh Fruit at Ford Hills Fairgrounds
I have no idea why there were 25 people in that fucking band. I counted each and every one. So did Ohio, up in the bleachers. Casey was all excited to go to the fairgrounds. We’d been to the August carnival and he had a hell of a time until the cotton candy turned his stomach and nearly blued his face. He was pining for it. You could see his mouth popping. Ohio was laughing her ass off. Loudest I’d heard her in years.
Fresh Fruit really took themselves seriously. But they’d only played two paying shows, both at the nursery home annex. All their instruments were top notch, but you don’t need that many hands to create some good noise. They stacked into a bus, sides brush-painted with big apples, tangerines, blackberries. Parked that bus in the center of the racetrack, spread out in the grass, and tried to form the shape of a banana. I said that wouldn’t look right in a photo, but they were stubborn.
That entire November never dipped below 60. Ohio and I sat there in shorts. Casey was bundled. You could never be too careful with kids. Casey couldn’t get his mind off that treat so we had to drive for an hour stopping at every store we could find. Not even candy shops sold cotton candy. Somehow, every last cloud had disappeared from the earth. Casey didn’t cry. I told Ohio he was growing up. She said that wasn’t it. She said he’d swallowed his tears. He’d kept them down in his stomach. They’d be out sooner or later. Stronger and louder.
Break Shake at The Newton House
Blues band from Omaha. Bass and drums had moved south from Irvington. Tall guys, thin at the wrists. Real quick. Lead guitar asked me to not show the left side of his face in the shot. Not a problem. Ohio didn’t come along this time. Casey had a fever and wanted to be held while he watched Westerns.
I stayed for their set. I normally don’t do that, but these guys were good conversation. I sat at a corner table and had double beer-battered chicken with three blackberry wheat beers. Ohio had told me to stay. I wonder why. She knew I wasn’t big on The Newton House. Got in one of my only fights there. My cousin came up from Fort Lauderdale and must have blown smoke in the wrong face because I blinked and Carl was on the ground, spread. His face looked calm. He could have been sleeping.
Break Shake was worth a look. Front guy came over, sat with me afterwards. His blue collar drenched black. Northern lights, he said. Motherfuckers must have never been up on that stage themselves. We talked for a good hour, two packs of Marlboros tucked under his hat and another in his breast pocket, a rectangle of white paled into the cotton. Talked about Olivia. Just called her O. Said she could sing and that she looked twice as good as most girls back then. He was happy I took her from Aloysius. Said he’d seen a thousand women like her down and out from an asshole like that guy. He thought it was too bad that she couldn’t come out like she used to. I agreed.
I went home, settled into bed with Ohio. Casey stirred in his bed. Ohio asked if I knew what time it was. She lifted the clock from laying face down: 4:10. Then she rolled over, pulled the sheet and blanket over her ear. I went to the bathroom, pissed for half a minute. I can’t say how often I swell this way: get into a moment and an emotion, usually something from when I was younger, and how quickly Ohio can turn it raw and sour. I don’t blame her for it. But it doesn’t stop it from bothering me. I guess that’s why I forget about the thing I was so invested in a moment before.
After a few minutes of sleep she punched my arm. I was snoring like wild: the beer tends to muck my throat. I was in the middle of a dream. I’d set the camera on the tripod, flicked the timer, and rushed on stage at The Newton House. But I couldn’t stay under the lights for long enough. When the photo developed it was all a blur. And the photo stayed hot in my hands.
Stone Wind Stripe at Huntsville VFW
Ohio got hours as a substitute in the Fernbury district on the days I was off from work. I could cycle my hours; a few nights of heavy overtime led to three-day weeks. Ohio got 30 a week, no benefits, but they called her regular. The kids liked her. She told them stories about Aloysius. Besides playing bass for Common Ground, he drove trucks for Yellow and collected preserves: peach, apple-butter, brambleberry. Cased in thick glass, lined in their basement. They owned a ranch with some property in the back. Aloysius decided he didn’t want to have kids. Told her over dinner and then asked her to pass the green beans. She always cooked hers with a pot full of butter, so that it dripped and dipped toward the edges of the plate. They had never much talked about kids, but it was assumed. You get married, you stay in love, and kids should come. After that he made it a point about not wanting kids (she’d originally thought his comment was only the result of a bad day). They’d visit cousins, nephews. He’d be fine with them, take them out on the tractor. Walk the older ones down to the creek, toe crayfish. Then as soon as the kids went he thanked God Ohio and him were free.
All of that happened before she met me.
Stone Wind Stripe practiced in the basement of the VFW. Concrete walls muted their sessions down to a hum. Place smelled like honey and clams. The drummer’s father was a Korean War vet so they only paid a nominal fee for the space. The lighting was horrible, but we made do. I started with a few shots in the corner, the drum set silver in the background, and then we moved outside. Snow seemed to come earlier each year. Some people said it was getting warmer. Ohio promised it was getting warmer. She pointed to the Perry County almanac, copied average yearly temperatures, presented them to me at breakfast. Casey nodded in approval at her words. Didn’t matter as to their import: if she’d been talking about horse shit he’d smile with the same energy.
I told her she didn’t live in Perry County anymore. This was Delaware. The first fucking state. Home to the Blue Hens. Home to blues bands better than any in St. Louis. She needed to remember that. And with those words I lay my fork across my knife and leaned back. It sounded stupid coming out of my mouth, but it looked even worse when it settled into her face. She told me St. Louis was the home to blues and left the table. But she turned around at the doorframe and asked why I couldn’t choose a hobby that made more money. I told her it was that hobby that brought us together. That was how we’d met. OK, she said. But what about now? You got me, she said, so what the else are you looking for?
Salty Rim at Wayne Hills Regional
After winter the late night calls stopped; I worked my day shift and was home, joking around with Casey in the kitchen, mowing the lawn, trying to convince Ohio that we didn’t need a new car. One day she was waiting for me in the driveway. Her girlfriend was on the PTA and said they needed somebody to photograph that year’s prom. The usual guy had kidney problems and said keeping his arms raised for three hours would lead to his death. Ohio volunteered me for the job.
“No.” She grabbed my hands. “And that’s the best part. They’re paying you $350.”
Ohio said this could be my new thing. She even bought me a suit from Taylor’s; they were having a sidewalk sale over the weekend. Navy blue with a white crest. She polished my shoes, and I tried not to complain. Casey looked at me like I was a freak. Even he knew I wasn’t having this.
Salty Rim usually played margarita bars in Newark. They looked out of their element here. The lead stumbled over a few lyrics, a tell-tale sign that he had to slow things down. I took one shot of them walking on stage, heads turned down, guitars tight to waists, but the vice principal pulled me over. He said to not waste my film on those dirtbags. He brought me to a classroom: desks were piled against the chalkboard. Sheets and lights were set-up in the center of the room by what looked to be two of the Photography Club’s finest. I guess those were my assistants for the night.
Salty Rim crooned through Bread’s entire album while I took photographs of couple after couple. Chaperones lined them down the hall, a procession of clones: the girls permed and buried beneath layers of white and beige, the guys in powder blue suits with white frill. I could almost see the aftermath of vodka on their thin blond moustaches.
The first dozen photos were stodgy, guys leaned in, girls trying to stand straight. The chaperones switched and there was this young teacher at the door who looked to have shared the vodka with these kids. I moved the kids around, told them to stick out their tongues, hold American history textbooks and sit on each other’s shoulders. I had the assistants flank couples like bodyguards and took photos of guys climbing out of the windows.
After the last dance one of the assistants rolled the sheet around his forearm and smiled beneath wide glasses. “You’re pretty good at this,” he said. I broke down my tripod and said, Yes, yes I was. Though I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant.
Our Father at Johnson Lanes
Last night Casey went down in a minute. We’d spent the afternoon rolling in the backyard. Only the two of us, starting at one side, backs against the wooden fence, and then turning, gaining speed. He had good control over his body. I’m sure it had to do with being so small and compact. He doesn’t have to worry about loose arms and legs. We stopped in the middle of the lawn, in a heap, grass-stained and mud-marked. Then spread our limbs out. I told him to stretch as far as he could. Feel his bones creak a bit longer. His muscles flesh a bit fuller. Said he could even stretch his hair an inch more if he really thought about it. He just had to think real hard.
His breathing was the only sound in the room. I pulled Ohio close. We’d been together for 6 years. Our first real date—besides those nude photography sessions—was at Johnson Lanes, one of the only taverns to have a full-scale bowling alley co-owned and attached. She was screeching Argent on one of the purple vinyl seats. I heard the seats were leftovers from a strip club that lost its liquor license. We talked about it now and I said the next day I was going to shoot there, asked if she wanted to come. She wanted to know how much I was getting paid.
Our Father sounded like a fundamentalist folk group. I imagined John Denver warbling up-tempo hymns. Actually, the group consisted of 11 brothers and sisters. One other sister, supposedly, had no musical talent or interest and sold insurance in Portland. They were Presbyterians, but weren’t interested in church music. They bleated hard shit, Chico Magnetic Band feel, cult cuts. I haven’t taken live shots in years, but these were worth it.
Our Father walked on stage prepped-out, decked in khakis and yellow sweaters, ties tucked in pants. Thin red light, almost pink, streamed across their chests. The shortest one pushed play on a tape recorder and let that pre-recorded loop stream for a good minute. The crowd had no idea how to react. This is Delaware, for Christ’s sake. Algerian-influenced psychedelic could never be at home here. I don’t think my flashes helped. I sat at one corner, half up the stage steps, popping one after another, some of Snow, the front man, who busted a full stomach scream to start the set, and then a few shots of the crowd. Not their faces—their faces were gone, blue-pilled and whiskey-wet faces. I took shot after shot of their feet. A few sneakers, a few half-laced combat boots, a few bare, toes spread wide. They switched tapes on the player, did that the entire show: a continuous second set, sound placed beneath and over sound, the live and the recorded spun together. They finished the set being silent and by smashing the tape dead. Each offered a stomp.
The crowd went silent. Sure, most people had left I even had to stop taking pictures. I mean, this type of peace only comes rarely. Sometimes, only once a life. But during that moment I realized something: I’ve never taken a photograph of Casey. Not one. It’s always been Ohio behind the camera.
I tried to be quiet when I got back home. I was too tired to change into sweatpants, so I slept in my underwear, rolled close to Ohio. I asked if she was awake. I knew she wasn’t.
Casey rolled over in his bed. I carried him next to Ohio. She put her arm around him and he settled against her chest. I pulled my camera out of the bag, took a step back, and got ready. There’d be a flash, but that would only last a moment. The photo would remain a bit longer.