Ansel Adams Has Acne
I catch him at the start of his career. He’s young, wearing a Wal-Mart aisle 12 black turtleneck under his apron. He doesn’t look up when I approach. Someone else’s film is on the processing reel and there is an Andy Warhol Factory group clustered around him as he outlines the images. I imagine naked beach shots or beer bottles or blurry sex shots or maybe a cute dog.
I think about my film. Is there a beach wardrobe malfunction or a picture of my dirty bathroom? He winks at me. I want him to Where’s Waldo? my film, look for striped shirt selfies, or see me posing over bubbles in the bathtub. I want him to giggle over naughtiness or dirtiness or dirty naughtiness or dirty hair taken in an image by mistake. I do and I don’t want him and his teenage art buddies to view my images like a clothesline of underwear but I have included some shots of my underwear drawer.
I stand expectantly in front of this child-man that holds my life in his hands, two plastic rolls like dice.
Come back in three weeks.
I have more film, disposable cameras of weddings and friends and mountain views that I found in a forgotten suitcase. I want to whisper that there’s more but it’s too late. Another person stands at the counter gripping their film with sweaty palms.
I exit through toilet paper with the claim strip scrawled in his Sharpie artist’s signature.
What would Ansel want me to do?
Where is the best light?
How should I pose my arms?
At home, I hear his edge-of-cracking voice instructing me, at the beach, in the grocery store as the motion lights come on and music plays. I am more relaxed with each wind click wind click wind click. I search for the best angle, a come-hither look that will transfer through film. A selfie of myself in the sand, in front of buildings squishing impossible peaks and roofs with my fingers. I pay attention to my wardrobe choices and styling. No souvenir t‑shirts. I don’t want to look like a tourist. I stand in front of my garage in my swim team swimsuit, the red one like the ones the Baywatch girls wear. When I stuff the top section with Kleenex, I can almost pull off the illusion that I guard swimmers with my life and my boobs and my easy running style.
In three weeks, I come back to him with twelve more rolls of film. Wedding outtakes. Mountain vistas worthy of a slideshow carousel. Dog photos. Campbell’s soup cans from a distance and up close. An even more up-close look at my car’s headlights and my eyelashes — a guessing game for Ansel and his buddies.
It isn’t the kismet moment I imagine. He’s gone. And the sign Film Processing is gone with him. I gasp when I see the new sign.
I imagine my teenage Svengali has an exhibit somewhere, perhaps in his basement, with stolen images of strangers clothespinned against wood paneling. On the way out, I see him hawking cell phones and their powerful cameras.
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