Small Thing or Big?

Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference, especially for parents.

I was reminded of that on Sunday when replacing our kitchen faucet, and then again by Canadian technology columnist and broadcast personality Carmi Levy in a Monday blog post.

Estimated at 45 minutes, including removal of the old faucet, my job ballooned to three hours. I have done this before, and it was a fairly smooth and painless process. This time, however, the hot water shut-off valve was not quite stopping the flow, so I had to turn off the supply to our house.

Read more

I Really Got Her This Time

I never expected all the shouting.

For a few reasons, it is very difficult for me to surprise Shannon at gift time. We’re not awash in cash, and she manages our banking and bills, so any purchase I make is instantly visible to her unless I use a credit card. Even then, which is rare, I don’t have much lead time before the bill arrives in the mail and foils my secret plans.

This time, however, I was determined to get her. I also thought it might be a good way start the festivities of our own upcoming 20th wedding anniversary.

A couple weeks ago, while waiting for John Carter to start, I saw a spate of ads for upcoming Fathom Events. These are one-night screenings available at participating Cinemark theaters (and maybe other venues). They include exclusive concerts, operas, and Broadway plays. The one that caught my eye was the 70th anniversary presentation of Casablanca — a film neither of us had seen.

“Mark the date: March 21, and get someone to babysit the boy.” That was all I told her. The event was obscure enough to our generation that I was hopeful none of her friends would know what was happening.

In the past, my efforts to convince Shannon to watch old black-and-white films with me had failed miserably. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for a date night and to help her see that the writing, particularly the dialogue, can be brilliant in older films. It wasn’t a gift, per se, but offered as a surprise it skirted the dangers that might have come with her preconceptions.

You know, like, “Why don’t we see something else?”

I bought the tickets online and printed out the confirmation page, then neatly tucked it into my work laptop bag. I couldn’t remember a time that Shannon had ever reached in there, so I figured it was safe.

Benjamin, our son now in third grade, asked me earlier in the week about the surprise. “Are you taking her to see Hunger Games?”

“No, but that’s a very good guess. It comes out a couple days later,” I said.

The day of the event, Shannon texted me to ask, among other things, whether she should dress up for the occasion. To have dinner out and catch the 7 o’clock start time, we needed to leave the house within 30 minutes of when I usually get home, so she wanted to be ready. “If you want to, you can,” I texted, and left work anticipating her anticipation.

Bright blue sky spread out for miles in every direction, interrupted only by high, flat-bottomed white clouds. What a perfect scene to start a date night. At a red light, I slid the passenger window down and aimed my camera that direction, but the light turned green before I could compose my shot. Unlike usual, it didn’t get me down.

When I got home, Shannon looked just as beautiful as the day I met her, no dress-up required. Comfortable in our jeans, we loaded up Benjamin and drove to his local grandparents’ place.

“No need for me to go in,” I said.

While they were inside, I got out of the car and opened the trunk, where my laptop bag waited. I unzipped it and pulled out the ticket purchase confirmation sheet, then closed the trunk and got back in my seat. The theater’s phone number was on the sheet, and I had a little time, so I dialed it.

Oddly, instead of a recording, I got a live person within just a couple rings. “Yes, hello. We have tickets to the 7 p.m. showing of Casablanca. Could you tell me if you’ve sold a lot of tickets?” I said. I prefer a center seat, so wanted an idea of how early we would need to arrive.

It was 5:20. “Well, right now, I show that we’ve sold about 30 tickets. But, a lot of people bought right before the show for the 2 p.m.”

Shannon rounded the corner and stepped onto the driveway. I folded the sheet into the console between the two front seats, thanked the theater lady for the information, folded my phone shut.

“Did I see you put something in here?” Shannon asked and pointed at our mutual armrest.

“Yes, you did, and it’s noneya,” I said.

“What’s on it? Who were you calling?” she asked playfully.

“Again, it’s noneya. Just back off, woman.”

We enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Cowboy Chicken and, full bellies topped off by peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream, headed to the theater.

Without any idea where we were going, Shannon read off the street name when I took an exit. “Legacy and Spring Creek?” she said. I pulled into the far right turn-only lane, which meant we were going to either Macaroni Grill or the Cinemark multiplex. I knew then that I had revealed at least part of my plot.

There was an abundance of empty parking spots in the first section of the lot, something I have not seen there when visiting on weekends. No signs were hanging outside; no marquee announced any special event.

“There’s hardly anybody here, so what’s happening?” Shannon said.

As we strolled across the drop-off lane, Shannon looked around at the others approaching the ticket windows. “Okay, should I be concerned that there’s hardly anybody here, and it’s all old people?” she said.

I just kept laughing as we went inside and I handed my sheet to the ticket-taker. I looked around and noted that there were no signs or other indications that Casablanca was being shown. I had expected at least a little fanfare for the 70th anniversary of a movie near the top of many critics’ and fans’ “best of” lists.

I leaned in close and whispered, “She doesn’t know why we’re here, so don’t say anything.”

He read the sheet and smiled. “Theater one, to your left.”

We ignored the concession stand as we passed it. Shannon’s face showed only confusion. “So, theater one? It says John Carter is on theater one. Did you bring me to see John Carter?”

I laughed. Everything was fitting perfectly into my desire to maintain secrecy. “No, I didn’t. Just keep walking.”

Theater one’s marquee read “Special Event.” No poster — nothing.

We chose two great seats in the center and settled in. Oddly, the screen showed a DishNetwork HD logo. Shannon left to visit the ladies’ room.

I turned to a couple sitting behind me. “My wife and I have never seen this movie.”

Both their faces brightened. “Really?” said the man, probably in his mid-40’s. “Oh, I’ve seen it so many times I have it memorized.”

“You’ll love it,” said the woman.

“She has no idea what we’re here to see, so don’t you say anything,” I jokingly commanded.

They laughed.

When Shannon returned, I said, “So, did anybody say anything that ruined it for you?”

“No.”

“You still have no idea?” I said.

“No, I don’t.” She leaned in closer. “But all these people are really old.”

I looked around and realized that it was rare to see that much white hair in a movie theater. For my own grandfather, going out to a movie was out of the question due to his profound hearing loss. Some of those arriving worked hard at making their way up the stairs and down the aisle to a seat. Several didn’t even try and sat way down front.

The man behind me said, “Boy, I can’t wait to see The Apple Dumpling Gang on the big screen again.” He was joining in with me in trying to keep Shannon off track. I burst out laughing.

A few younger people straggled in the later it got, and the theater filled. I pointed to a few girls in their late teens or early 20’s. “See? There are some youngsters. Of course, they’re probably here for class credit or something.”

This is where it got weird.

At about 7:20, the still image of the DishNetwork HD logo finally changed, and we saw something we see every day at home. There on the screen, larger than life, was the DishNetwork My Recordings menu. Someone scrolled through the recordings to one that said, “casablanca_fathmevts” or something very close to that, and chose Start.

A young man appeared onscreen and started talking about Fathom Events. The fast forward symbol appeared on the screen and the crowd chuckled. We already were 20 minutes behind schedule, and none of us wanted to see an advertisement.

Next, quiz questions about Casablanca appeared, and a few in the crowd voiced protest as the questions and their multiple-choice answers blurred past. Selfishly, I was glad they were skipping the quiz, because it contained spoilers.

Then a scene from the movie appeared, and the fast forwarding stopped. Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne appeared and said a few words before another scene appeared. A person involved in making the film spoke to an off-camera interviewer.

The fast-forwarding starting again.

“Hey, go back. Don’t skip this,” and “Stop, stop!” shouted several moviegoers, presumably at the projectionist safely hidden inside the wall behind us.

I shouted, “We paid to see this stuff!”

The opening credits appeared, and a few screens later the fast forwarding stopped. The movie’s opening narrative introduction played, and everyone got quiet to settle in and watch.

About a minute into it, the symbol for the Skip-Back button appeared and we were taken backward repeatedly in 15-second increments. Back through the opening credits, and into an interview with one of the filmmakers.

An older couple to our right stood, grabbed their jackets, and stormed out of the theater.

“Come on, you gotta be kidding me,” I said, joined by other voices around the room.

A large man dressed in black and wearing a headset walked in and addressed the crowd. I couldn’t make out what he was saying over the din, but judging from the thinner, similarly clad minions flanking him, I gathered he was a manager trying to assuage the crowd.

“This is very unprofessional!” shouted a man sitting only a few rows up from where the manager stood.

Loud, unintelligible remarks continued from both sides, until finally someone in the crowd convinced the rest to listen.

The manager spoke. “I apologize. I want to assure you that this doesn’t usually happen. This is not normal for us. It is a glitch in the system and we’re working to fix it.”

My bullshit-ometer nearly exploded in my head. I looked over at Shannon, whose faced showed that the needle on hers had hit the red, too. “That wasn’t a glitch. That was somebody skipping stuff they didn’t think anybody wanted to see,” she said.

The DishNetwork receiver was working perfectly. The “glitch” was in the brain of the person holding the remote control.

The rumbling started up again, but died down quickly. “Please don’t leave before the movie, and when you leave make sure you get a rain check for a free admission.”

Within minutes the recording was back at the start of the quiz, and after that the remote control was left alone. I could almost feel the room relax. We laughed at the funny parts — Claude Rains was amazing in his role — and Shannon shrieked at the shooting parts, which were effective given that there were so few.

It was a very good film, but I think it suffered from too many years of becoming ingrained in the American psyche. I was pleasantly surprised that it was not just a cheesy romance flick, and got wrapped up in the War and rebellion intrigue, but little of it caught Shannon’s interest. The fast-talking dialogue was sharp and the actors delivered it convincingly, but Bogart was a disappointment to me. The whole time, I felt he was trying to act, whereas I felt the others were taking part in the story.

As we filed out into the corridor, theater staffers thrust Rain Check cards at us in a way that ensured we could not miss them. Despite the unexpectedly late dismissal time and the mild uproar, we were going to come out of the deal sitting pretty. I’m sure the late hour was more worrisome for the older attendees.

Regardless of the slight letdown after a lifetime of build-up, the whole night definitely was an adventure. Most of all, I really got her this time. Plus, now I can say, “Hey, if you think that was almost good, wait ’til you get a load of this classic.” His Girl Friday, here we come.

Dental Donuts

Sometimes, putting your foot in your mouth makes you look more human and approachable. At least, I hope that was what it did.

This time, riding bicycles was completely off the table, both because of time and because it was raining. My son and I were running late for our usual weekly trip to the doughnut shop. Unsure whether they closed at 11 or 12, I rushed us out the door at 10:54.

While he finished buckling up, I plugged the accessory cable into my iPod Touch.

“Daddy, can you play that ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ song?” He’s eight, but his mother plays music any time they’re in the car together.

“No, son, I don’t have that on my iPod.”

Instead, I left my player on shuffle, prepared to skip any inappropriate song it might decide to play. Space-like sound effects emanated from the car’s speakers.

“Hey, that’s cool,” Benjamin said. He’s very into sci-fi.

Then the crunching guitars kicked in.

“Whoa, I love this song,” he said.

That’s my boy. Keep those music tastes eclectic, and you’ll be happier throughout life.

It was “Light My Way,” by Audioslave.

“This is one of my favorite bands, and they started it from members of two of my other favorites.”

“Cool.”

We pulled into a parking spot at 10:58, and someone inside the doughnut shop was sweeping the floor. The neon “Open” sign still glowed red and blue in the big plate glass window. I urged Benjamin to hurry out of the car.

The doorbell dinged as I pulled open the door. The young lady sweeping looked up. “Good morning,” she said in her thick Korean accent through her blinding white smile. I am always amazed that she and her sisters who also work there are so thin.

“Good morning,” I said. I turned to Benjamin and pointed at the refrigerated case. I wondered exactly why I still do that, as after nearly seven years of coming here he knows the drill.

He walked past the sodas, fake fruit drinks, and flavored waters, to grab his half pint of white 2% milk. While he made his way across the shop to our usual spot at the bar against the wall, I stepped up to the doughnut case. All of this has become an unspoken ritual in the routine trip.

The young lady who had been sweeping walked over behind the counter, quickly washed her hands, then grabbed two floral plastic plates. As she laid wax paper across them, she asked, “For here, right?”

“Yes, for here,” I said.

Having moved so much before we landed in Texas, and eating out only sporadically, I was not accustomed to having anyone make assumptions whether I was going to eat in or take out.

We don’t always get the same thing, but we don’t shake it up much. Benjamin jumped down from his barstool and scampered — cowboy boots clopping, to the fresh, sweet pastries under glass. He leaned down and pointed at a row of glazed sour cream cake donuts. “I’ll have that one, back there, with cinnamon on it,” he said. I ordered a plain glazed twist.

She carefully set our donuts on our plates and then added several doughnut holes from a rack of freshly-fried goods. They do that for the regulars occasionally.

Benjamin dutifully counted the holes. “Seven,” he said. He furrowed his brow, probably trying to figure out how to ask if he could have four.

“You may take four of the holes if you want,” I said.

He relaxed. “You sure I may?” We have been working on “can” vs. “may” when asking for something.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

After we finished, Benjamin stacked up our plates and our trash and put them in their usual spot.

“Hello,” said a voice from behind me.

I turned to see the younger sister of the girl who had sold us our doughnuts. She was behind the counter, smiling and waving to Benjamin. Her teeth, also blazing white, looked like they were missing something.

“Hey there. When did you get your braces off?” I said.

“Oh, about two years ago,” she said. Her accent was less pronounced than her sister’s.

“Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been coming here so long, and I didn’t even notice.”

“Yes, I was a senior in high school when I got them on, and now I’m a senior in college.”

“Really? That’s great. Where?”

She told me.

“Good for you. What’s your degree?”

“Biology.”

“Ah, yes, I took zoology, but then I changed my major. I was pre-dental until then,” I said.

“I am pre-dental, too,” she said. Her smile widened.

“That’s great. My dad’s a dentist. Well, he’s retired now.”

She pointed to her sister. “She is starting dental school soon.”

“Really? Where?”

“New York.”

“Oh, right. That’s where you went to college, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“Did you hear that, Benjamin? She’s going to be a dentist, just like Papa.”

“Cool,” he said.

I went on. “Except, she won’t have the big belly and the gray beard.” I mimed those last two parts, as if someone listening might not understand English, and regretted it instantly.

The older sister smiled and said, “Well, I might.”

We all laughed.

In those two minutes, I learned more than ever about the family who has served us doughnuts since the summer of 2005. Oddly, I still don’t know their names.

Who Disarmed My Personality?

Sometimes people just tell me things. Personal things. (Names have been changed.)

I was lost and cursing to myself in the pickup truck’s cab. In the dark on a nearly deserted road, unsure whether I could trust the GPS unit’s attempts to re-route me, I pulled into a Storage Works driveway and called my wife. She had been known to call me when she needed help finding her way, so this seemed like a natural step.

“I think it’s trying to get me back to 35W south, which is where I just left because of the standstill traffic,” I said. Approximately.

She pulled up the directions on Google Maps and passed them on to me. I found first gear and headed back out to continue my quest, hopeful that the computer desk would be worth it.

About 15 minutes later I arrived at a nice neighborhood and carefully backed the truck up the driveway, nestling it rather snugly beside the resident’s Ford Sport Trac. A car crash, even at low velocity, is rarely a good way to start a business transaction.

I walked up to the door and rang the bell. The door opened and a man with a friendly smile nearly filled the threshold. I guess he assumed I was the guy who had just called saying he was almost there.

I filled him in, anyway. “Hi, I’m Mark,” I said.

“Hey there. Nice to meet you. I’m Larry,” he said over his extended hand. His handshake was firm, but not overbearing.

His other hand was on the door jamb, not otherwise occupied with an axe. This was a Craigslist deal, after all, so details like that were important. I liked Larry, the guy who as far as I knew was not luring me in for the kill.

He escorted me immediately to a home office space off the right of the entryway. There was no door, and the opposite wall looked onto a living room with country blue walls. On a dark blue couch sat a portly woman. A lamp on the end table cast a soft glow on her and the book she was reading.

She looked up. “Hello,” she said, with a voice welcoming me to their home, not to my doom.

I waved. “Hi, I’m Mark.”

“I’m Donna. Nice to meet you.”

“Okay, so the desk is in five pieces,” Larry said. He pulled open a drawer, revealing several bolts rolling noisily around inside. “Here’s the hardware,” he said, and then shoved the drawer shut.

I leaned down and surveyed the rest of the pieces. “This looks great,” I said. “It’s in good shape.”

“Yeah, we didn’t really use it. Well, my son was here for a while, and we put it together for him. My mother-in-law bought it for $700.” he turned to Donna. “Isn’t that right?”

She looked up from her book. “What?”

I looked it over again while Larry’s attention was on her. The piece with the keyboard tray mounted on it was made of particle board and a laminate surface. I was sure nobody could have paid that much for it.

“The desk. She paid 700?” he said.

“No, it was $900, because it’s solid oak.”

I shifted my gaze from the particle board back to Larry. They were either lying or just didn’t know better. I didn’t want to argue, becuase for the price they were asking, I was getting a good deal regardless of the materials used. Plus, I still didn’t truly know these people, so insulting them seemed like a bad idea. I could make up some other reason for backing out of the deal if needed.

With that innate understanding that has permeated every furniture move I have assisted, without words Larry and I each lifted one end of the first piece and walked it out the door.

“Yeah, she knew she was dying when she bought the desk. She was so proud of it she called me to come over and look at it. You should have heard her kids complaining, like she was spending all their inheritance.”

I would have expected them to wonder who tricked their mom into believing this was solid oak.

“Wow. Really?” I said. Because, what would have been better?

“She was out in California when she died, and really wanted us to have this desk.”

Larry and I loaded up and secured the remaining pieces, idly chatting about the “Don’t Tread on Me” sticker on his truck. He was not in the military, as I for some reason assumed that sticker meant. He and his wife moved here from California about four years ago, not unlike thousands of others making their respective ways from there to Texas.

“No, I was never in the military. I’m just a conservative at heart,” he said.

“Well, you moved to the right place.”

Back in their home office, I noticed a set of horns from a longhorn steer. They hung above the opening onto the living room, bold reminders that you are in Texas now.

“I see you have your Texas longhorns up there,” I said. “You didn’t take too long to start fitting in.”

“Oh, yeah,” Larry said, and I could tell he was glad I asked. “You see, this was my western room. I had the whole thing — boots, spurs, cowboy hats. Those horns are about all that’s left.”

Donna shouted from her place on the couch, “It was all brown, and I’m more of a blue gal.”

A cat rubbed my leg. “Oh, hey, there,” I said.

“Sorry about that. You want a cat?” Larry said. “I’ll give your $150 back if you take that cat.”

We both laughed, then I declined and thanked them for the desk. I needed to get back on the road — this time without any convolutions.

When I got home, my wife and I unloaded the desk’s pieces and shoved them into a corner of our garage. She pointed out that it seemed like solid oak to her. On closer inspection, I saw that she was right. Only one section — the part holding up the keyboard tray, was made of anything less.

It turns out I probably can believe Larry and his wife. The rest of it? I don’t really need to know.

Gunfire and the Photo Kid

The distinct smell of the photo chemistry filled my head. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I had no idea that shots had been fired across town.

The pro photogs had just dropped off several rolls of film for me to process and then rushed off to their next assignments. I went about the usual process of feeling my way in the dark, cracking open refillable film canisters and winding the film, roll-by-roll, onto the stainless steel reels. I stacked them onto a reel rod and dropped them into the developing bath and clamped shut the lid. With everything safely locked away, I turned on the lights and the developing machine.

In the next eight minutes the chemicals dissolved just enough to leave behind the area’s Miss Kansas preliminary pageant, varsity basketball game, the Mayor’s latest speech — anything the photographers captured, I had just given it life. By that point they had become comfortable enough with my skills to leave all their rolls with me. No need to hold back a few in case the “kid” botched something and wiped the entire event from existence.

Oddly, some of my best darkroom learning experiences were watching the pros coax an image out of the under- or over-developed rolls of film I cranked out in my early days.

Sure, I got to actually take pictures, too. Most of my frames were exposed at local used car lots or residential streets, for that section in the back of the paper filled with tiny thumbnail photos of vehicles and houses for sale. Occasionally the pros sent me to a play rehearsal or a bodybuilding competition, and sometimes I took a company-owned Plymouth Horizon to “cruise for features.” The latter involved burning gas in hopes of catching a local doing something eye-catching, and considering the importance of events entrusted to me and my trusty Pentax K-1000, brought with it my best hope of getting on the front page.

I worked the film through its next step, the fixer, and then into the rinse tank.

We had no police scanner radio like we had in other rooms. With no chatter to occupy my mind, I hummed a tune, most likely something from the Steve Vai album I had been blaring from my car’s speakers, or from a more recent discovery, Patrick O’Hearn. It was a peaceful moment, just sitting there listening to the woosh of the developer bath’s timed agitation. I picked up a copy of Shutterbug to start picking out my next camera.

Scrapes of plastic against metal made me look at the revolving door. It was a black tube set vertically, one side cut out large enough to let a person walk in or out. It spun to three stopping points — the photojournalist’s room, the film developing room, and the printing room. This time the open side faced me, and out stepped Larry, one of the paper’s most seasoned reporters.

“Did you hear about the shooting?” he said.

“What shooting?” my heart sped up a few beats.

“Somebody’s been shot over in South Hutch. Where are the photogs?”

I closed my catalog. “Out on assignments.”

“You ready to go?” Larry said. His body language showed he wasn’t going to wait much longer.

“But I… I’m just an intern,” I said. And, frankly, I’ve never been around strangers with loaded weapons, and today seems like a bad time to start..

“No better time to learn.”

Just like that, I watched Larry turn and go back through the door. The film was rinsing, so it would be fine. I spun the door and climbed in, and came out the other side a photojournalist.

I grabbed my bag and my camera and followed Larry to the shiny hatchback fleet. He whipped the car out of the parking lot and onto Second Street. Bouncing as anyone in a mighty Horizon can expect to do, I fought to rewind the roll in my camera and pop in a fresh one.

Larry looked over at me. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the shooting has stopped.”

I was worried. “Um, thanks.”

He guided the tiny car through Hutchinson’s sleepy streets, then slowed as we approached a large corner lot on our right. A uniformed policeman stood on the front porch of the small ranch style home, and another stood next to the curb in the front yard. A very large man dressed business casual paced slowly back and forth across the lawn.

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll go start questioning the police, and you take pictures. Try to get the victim if you can. Be careful.” Top-bound spiral steno notebook in hand, Larry leaped from the driver’s seat and slammed the door.

That was it? That was the extent of advice he gave to a 19-year-old with 30 days of experience taking forgotten pictures printed one step above the Classified ads? Sure, I had got the gig by flashing some good shots of my high school’s track stars running hurdles and high-jumping, but this was in a considerably different league.

I got out and immediately saw a policeman holding a rifle out in front of him, barrel up. Judging it as more dangerous than anything I had ever seen in person, I thought taking a picture of him would be worth my time. I aimed, focused, and snapped. While I cranked my film lever to get ready for the next shot, the cop walked quickly to a parked police cruiser and sat in the driver’s seat, out of my view.

Next I saw two EMT’s jogging around to the side of the house that faced the adjacent street. I made my way around on the sidewalk to get a look, and they walked up a few steps, then flanked a door and looked into the house as if expecting something.

This might be a good time to aim my camera again, I figured.

Within seconds of my aiming at the door, the large man on the lawn stopped pacing to make a b-line for me. I looked away from my viewfinder.

“Stop taking pictures,” the man demanded and continued toward me. He was overweight, but tall and stocky, not blubbery, as if maybe he had been an intimidating football player earlier in life.

He certainly was an intimidating lawn crosser.

The EMT’s in the doorway reached in and helped pull a gurney across the threshhold. On it lay a teenaged boy with blond hair, prostrate, his face grimacing in pain. There we have a perfectly presented victim, and here I am waiting for a stranger to pound me into the lush grass. Good thing a trauma team already was on site.

“Hey, Mark,” called a familiar voice.

I turned, but I had to peer around a large cottonwood tree. There was Monty, one of our pros, his camera aimed at the same spot. I smiled and then turned to face my problem.

“Put the camera down,” the approaching man said.

Maybe if I identified myself. “I’m just here from the Hutch–“

“Stop taking pictures, now!” he said, looming over me.

What was I going to do? I couldn’t just tell Larry and my editor that I had stopped taking pictures. But Monty was there, and I was sure he would get something.

I lowered my camera and let it hang by the strap, but I didn’t say anything. The man turned stoic, which almost made it worse. I took a few steps back and watched helplessly as the emergency workers wheeled the boy to the street and their waiting ambulance. They carefully collapsed the gurney’s legs and hoisted the patient into the back.

All the while, my camera rested against my belly and Monty fired away, the motor drive on his tank-tough Nikon whining and clicking. I guess the man wasn’t up to facing more than one of us at a time.

Back at the newspaper, we developed our film and then printed our best shots. I only had the one, of the cop holding a rifle, but it caught Monty’s eye.

“Hey, I didn’t see that. Is that the gun used in the shooting?” he said.

“I don’t know. It was before you got there. I just saw the cop carrying it, and this is the only picture I got.”

“Take this over to the station and ask them if it was the gun,” Monty said.

“Me?”

“Sure. Your picture, your cutline.” Wait. Cutline? That was news speak for caption, which meant he was considering submitting my picture for the story.

I hurried to the station, just a few blocks away, and barely stopped myself from running to the front desk. A few policemen stood behind the desk, talking to the dispatcher.

“Excuse me. I’m Mark Williams. Hutchinson News.” I set the print on the counter. “Could you tell me who this officer is?”

They did.

“Thanks. Could you also tell me if this is the gun used in today’s shooting?” In that town, that was enough detail for them to know exactly which shooting I meant.

“Hang on. Hey, Lieutenant!” one of them called to the back of the office. “Can you come here a minute?”

The man from my photo walked into the room. “Hi. Mark Williams. Hutch News.” I was abbreviating it now. Who did I think I was?

“Could you tell me if you’re holding the gun used in the shooting? In this picture?” I held it up.

“Yes, that’s it,” he said.

They filled me in on the details while I scribbled barely legible notes.

In the end, Monty’s photo of the victim being rolled out on the gurney was the lead photo on the front page. Right below his, however, was my picture, the only one I took after Larry rushed in and interrupted my quiet time. I considered it my graduation from the ads pages, an unplanned initiation of sorts. Sure, it turned out the kid had accidentally shot himself in the butt, but I didn’t know that while I was at the scene.

Monty asked me why I stopped taking pictures. “You know, you really shouldn’t just stop like that. He doesn’t have the right to stop you.”

“Well, that guy was big, and he was coming right for me. What do you do in a situation like that?”

“I guess I just figure my FM-2 wouldn’t feel real good upside his head.”