1636 Smells

Before Bill Cosby did his routine about Fat Albert, there was an Irish kid that lived in the building adjacent to mine that we called Fat Junior. It wasn’t one of those clever nicknames where you called a short kid Big Benny. Fat Junior (no idea what his real name was, maybe Clifford?) wasn’t so much fat as he was big and strong.

He was the neighborhood bully. (For the record, he had a sister named Fat Linda. )

My daily routine began when Fat Junior saw me going to school. As soon as he saw me his face lit up and he gleefully ran at me, and launched himself at me knocking me down on the sidewalk.

Step two: he’d sit on me, and slap me around: Give? D’ya give? I’m not sure why he enjoyed slapping me around every morning, but I don’t think it was personal. If I wasn’t around he’d find someone else to sit on.

One bright day, maybe I was eight years old, dad bought me a Gilbert chemistry set. He had a scientific bent. Albert Einstein was one of his heros. I was no Einstein. Whatever scientific kits my dad gave me were turned into weapons. If I had the ingredients poison gas would have been on the agenda. Luckily the internet was in the future.

Bu the chemistry set had an alcohol fueled burner and I remember heating each chemical in a metal spoon. Some of them burned green. Some bubbled and filled my room with noxious odors. It wasn’t my idea to heat these chemicals. According to the five page manual there was something to be learned by heating these chemicals. What, I still don’t know.

What I did learn was that heating sulphur not only gave a beautiful bluish flame but an incredibly sharp odor. And it gave me the idea of capturing that sharpness in a bottle. And soon there was a plan to get one of my mom’s perfume bottles, empty it (sorry mom I didn’t know it was that expensive one) and fill it with burnt sulphur vapor.

If you took a good whiff it felt like a knife was stuck up your nose. It really hurt.

Junior: What ya got there, homo?

That was what boys called each other in the 50s. I don’t think I even knew what a homo was. You just didn’t want to be called one.

Me: Take a whiff of this. And I sprayed him in the right nostril with eau de sulphur. He screamed as if he’d been stabbed, and a few drops of blood dripped from his nose.

He surprised me. Instead of swinging at me, he turned, was he crying? And ran back into his house. Mama! Mama! I’m bleeding.

From thereon and through the 2nd grade I never left the house without that perfume atomizer.

30 years later I ran into Junior outside Alexander’s on Fordham Road. He was in a suit and working as a paralegal. I don’t remember what I was doing. But we sat on nearby benches and laughed about the old days, especially the1636 perfume bottle.


Water for Free

One thing I can say is that being ambulatory is pretty necessary for being a photographer. Not absolutely, but like eyesight, fair requirement.

I did have a student once who arrived at my apartment and I discovered she was legally blind. I don’t know how one qualifies for that category but she had coke bottle glasses, and missed my hand when I went to shake hers.

I know there have been blind or nearly blind painters (see many of the early impressionists) and tons of blind musicians, even deaf ones (Ludwig Van) for one; but I can understand hearing music in your head and humming it or writing it down.

And if the world is getting fuzzy and your water lilies are glowing, that’s okay. But she had a manual focus camera (this was long before phones) and every shot she showed me was out-of-focus.

But we talked for a while, and it turned out that she could see sharply when her eyes were just a few inches from the print. We also worked out a way to tape a loupe to the viewfinder, and through trial and error, found a setting where she could get the shot in focus.

What reminded me of her is that my days of walking miles of city blocks are over; at least for now. And yet, where there’s a will, there may be a way. I was thinking of Ruth Orkin’s books photographed from her window.

Trouble is, I don’t have a spectacular view of Central Park, like she did.

So that was part, a big part of the impetus for starting a new blog, where I could write. My fingers and most of my brain works as well as ever (not saying all that much). But the recuperation goes on, and I can say that it goes slowly, but it goes.

Yesterday, the home health aide (4x a week 4 hours a day) and very necessary for climbing the two flights, told me that she put water in the container of liquid detergent to make it last longer.

Flashback to the first time I had real orange juice at a neighbor’s house. Hmmm. That was good. Just poured from a container of Tropicana.

I began to watch my dad when he mixed one of those A&P frozen cans of OJ. The instructions said to mix with 3 or 4 cans of water. My father, product of the depression, emptied one frozen can into a gallon pitcher and filled it to the brim.

My mother had been watering down all the soda we drank.

It was only at my Aunt Tam’s house that you could get an undiluted drink. So this whole dilution thing was still going on.

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