MONOTONY, WITH A VIEW
Bella led me back to a small conference room with bad fluorescent lighting where a project contract was ready for me to sign along with some guidelines regarding the requirements for the shoot. It was pretty basic stuff; we were going to some office/warehouse conglomeration in Brooklyn to photograph the offices and stock rooms for the parent company’s annual report. We also needed to do some head shots for the regional and branch VPs. Not a whole lot of creativity required and I knew this was going to be simple, but Bella seemed to be really excited about the project, and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why.
She described the project with a fervor I had yet to ever see expressed over anything as mundane as an annual report. She spoke quickly, her eyes wide and alight. Her hands flailed around like wings as she described the layout of the spread. If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that her enthusiasm was contagious and I momentarily found myself looking forward to the next day. But honest, I am not. Not always.
My eyes must have glazed over as she explained (in detail) the particulars of the project because she suddenly stopped speaking, mid-sentence, with an apologetic smile.
“I’m sorry. I’m boring you with all of this. It’s such an easy shoot, we don’t need to go over all this stuff.” She looked bashful as she spoke.
“No, no, it’s fine,” I qualified but her expression said she wasn’t convinced. “I’ve just never seen anyone so excited about annual reports.” Once the words left my mouth, I worried that she wouldn’t enjoy my particular brand of sarcasm.
She laughed, “Ugh, I know. I’m just really nervous about this project. It’s my first one. Solo, I mean.” The bashful smile was back. “I just got promoted and this is my first project as art director, and I umm… I really want to do a good job, you know? Prove my worth. I did mostly just graphics and copy writing before.”
“Ahh I see,” I replied. “Well I’m sure you’ll ace it. From the looks of things so far, you have a good handle on what to do.”
“We’ll see,” she said as she gathered up her papers and slid them into a folder. “Anyway, I’m just really happy to have you working on this with me. Once Jasper gave me your name I looked up your website and… your work is amazing.”
“No seriously, I mean, you are so overqualified for a simple corporate shoot. Your work is very artistic…and… I don’t know, just personal. I imagine this kind of shoot isn’t really your thing?”
Her voice was tonally soft, smooth, almost melodic. I enjoyed listening to her, and not just when she was stroking my ego.
It was my turn to smile, “Well thanks for the compliment, but perhaps there’s a reason I don’t do much corporate stuff? You may want to take it back after the shoot.” This time we both laughed.
We made plans to meet in the morning at the warehouse/office location, and I was on my way.
I went back to my studio to work on my images for a while. It’s peaceful work, steady and solitary. I always loved to just sit in the quiet and work on whatever the task at hand was. I could so easily lose myself in my work. In the shapes and colors of the images. In the frames and slides and shades of grey and patterns of changing light. It’s something that has always made sense to me, moments frozen in time.
There were two facets of my work that I enjoyed equally but separately. There was the shooting, the creating, the picture-making process, with camera in hand where I’d take the vision in my head and find it within the frame of my lens. That part was exhilarating, like a hunt. I was a hunter, on the loose, searching for my prey. I’d set out, target in mind, I’d get it in my sites and fire away with deft precision.
Then there was the second stage. Whether I was shooting on raw film, traditional and organic, or utilizing the most advanced digital technology available, this second course of action, the developing, the processing, was all about taking what I initially captured, and perfecting it. It was beauty in its most basic form. Real, natural, pure, esoteric. It was here, in a darkroom, either digital or wet, that I felt most alive.
After a few hours, the afternoon light beginning to fade, I cleaned up and decided to make my way home. I grabbed my messenger bag, locked up the studio and exited the old 1920s era building. I stepped out into the cooling evening air, inhaled deeply, and trudged along with the evening rush of worker-bees returning to nest.
Once home, I was greeted with the warm hugs and wet kisses of my children. We said goodnight to Jessica, colored My Little Pony pictures, worked on math homework, ate delicious, re-heated pot roast, had baths, and got tucked into bed. I read aloud from a weathered copy of Lewis Carroll, kissed foreheads, and settled on the couch with an ice-cold Corona, sans lime.
I checked my phone for messages and saw a text from Jasper. His son was born earlier in the evening, a tiny little thing at 6lbs 1oz, both baby and mother doing well. With a congratulatory smile on my face that no one would see, I rested my head back on the sofa cushion taking a long pull from the bottle. I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until the soft nudge and quiet murmur of my wife interrupted a forgettable dream.
“Come on baby, let’s go to bed.”
“What time is it?” I mumble as I regarded her standing over me. Any stage make-up she wore tonight washed off, revealing her fresh skin. She smiled softly at me, her eyes creasing ever so slightly.
“It’s 11:45. One of the producers wanted to meet with the cast tonight so we all went to Puttanesca. You know, that Italian place you hate?”
“I don’t hate it. It’s just pretentious,” my voice was raspy from sleep.
“How can a restaurant be pretentious?” she asks incredulously.
I grabbed the empty beer bottle off the coffee table before me and placed it in the recycling bin in the kitchen. I turned off the lights, locked the doors and joined my wife in bed, where we both dispassionately fell asleep after a simple goodnight followed by a kiss on the cheek. Hers, not mine.
The following morning was another exercise in repetition, a carbon copy of the day before, only earlier and faster since I had to be in Brooklyn by 9:30. And without the pancakes, Linda made oatmeal instead. I briefly worried about Luka going to school with no breakfast, he hated oatmeal. I quietly grabbed a cereal bar from the cabinet and placed it in his book bag, his eyes on me the whole time. I winked at him and he smiled back.
This day, I was leaving before everyone else. I issued my kisses and hugs, grabbed my bag, phone and keys, and took the elevator down to our building garage. With all of the lighting equipment, I’d have to take my car so I wouldn’t have to drag it all through the subway or stuff it into a cab.
I drove downtown to the studio where I met Jasper’s assistant, Tyler. Jasper had arranged for him to work the project with me, which saved me the torture of trying to find someone qualified at the last minute. We loaded my beat-up SUV with the lights and stands that we would need for the day and I navigated our way through the morning traffic, making it over to Brooklyn with barely three minutes to spare.
I pulled into the parking lot, next to a non-descript building and stepped out of the car, where I was greeted by Bella, just as she exited a cab.
“Right on time!” she called out, smiling, as she walked over to greet Tyler and me.
“Good morning,” I said. I made unnecessary introductions, as Bella and Tyler were already acquainted from some of Jasper’s previous work with Bella’s firm. Bella went inside to get us signed in and situated for the shoot, while Tyler and I unloaded my gear from the car.
We quickly and easily set up for the day’s shoot. To call the job simple was an understatement. We began in the warehouse area, sporadically placing lights around the poorly lit space, photographing ‘workers at work’. That was the apparent theme of the day. The company’s annual report would be distributed to investors and shareholders worldwide, so it was our job to create the farce of happy workers, working together, being productive and enjoying the treadmill of their lives.
We moved over to the office area, again setting up the lights, creating the façade of a brightly lit environment of happy people working together. We recruited some of the employees to briefly pose, simulating different working scenarios. Cooperation. Teamwork. Productivity.
By lunch time we were just about finished so we decided to break for before starting with the VPs headshots. Tyler claimed to have a few errands—although by the number of times he checked his phone for text messages, I assumed his errands were not of the ‘bank and dry cleaning’ type—so Bella and I decided to eat at the diner across the street.
There was an empty booth by the window, we chose that. I crossed in front of her to take the seat facing the door.
“I’m sorry. I can’t sit with my back to the door. Is this ok?”
“Yeah its fine,” she said with an eyebrow raising smirk. “Do you have the mob after you or something?”
I chuckled and shrugged, “No, just a weird habit I picked up.”
We settled into our seats and reviewed the menu. The waitress arrived shortly after and took our order. Bella had the soup and salad. I remember because I was soon to learn she always had the soup and salad combo for lunch, no matter where she ate. I ordered an egg-white omelet and fried potatoes.
After the waitress walked away Bella spoke, eyebrows raised, “Breakfast?”
“I love eggs,” I responded with a shrug, surprised by her question.
“But why only egg white? Do you have something against the yolk?” she asked with a glimmer of humor in her eye.
“No, yolk does not offend me in the slightest. It just…seems healthier,” I said, then started to laugh. We both did.
“Well I think the shoot is going well so far. You?”
“Definitely. It’s easy enough to shoot people standing around and working. And with the additional lights, it looks a lot brighter in there.” I picked up the fork that was meant for my place setting and wiped off a rather dubious looking smear.
“Yeah, it is pretty dull without the extra lighting.”
“A bit depressing, don’t you think?”
“Yes, they could liven the place up a bit with a potted plant or two.”
The waitress delivered our drinks and we both took sip.
Bella started up the conversation again, “So have you heard from Jasper? How is he? His wife went into labor, right?”
“Yeah, they’re all doing great. I got a text last night, they had a boy.” I couldn’t help but smile at this. Jasper was secretly hoping for a son all throughout the pregnancy.
“Oh that’s wonderful!” her face lit up with joy, “when you see him or talk to him again, tell him I said congratulations.”
“How long have you known him? Jasper?”
“Since college. We both went to NYU.”
“Is that where he met his wife?”
“No, umm, I introduced them actually. Alice works at the same auction house as my mom. My parents have a big Christmas party every year, so a few years ago, I brought Jasper, Alice was there…the rest is history.”
The conversation flowed nicely over the course of our lunch. She asked friendly and not overly personal questions about my work and how I got started. I answered in between bites, trying like hell not to talk with food in my mouth. Though I tried not to eat like a pig, I was still finished with my lunch before she hardly put a dent in hers.
“What about you, Bella,” I asked as I pushed my empty plate to the side. “Did you go to school here in New York? Are you from the city?”
“Oh! No, not even close,” my question seemed to have taken her off guard. “I’m from the West Coast, Washington. Grew up in a small town, like 3,000 people. Then I went to the University of Washington.”
“You’re a long way from home then. Do you go back often?”
“Um, we try to, at least once a year. My husband is from Forks too, we grew up together. Went to college together. But… he wanted a change of scenery, so he applied to all East Coast schools for law school, ended up going to Columbia, and we’ve been here ever since.” She shrugged and looked down at her plate
“So do you like it? Living in the city? Obviously work is going well for you.”
“Yeah,” she said, although the hint of doubt in her voice did not go unnoticed. She paused and played with her soup before continuing, “I mean, New York is a great city and there’s so much to do. And I really love my job…”
She stopped herself then, but I found myself genuinely curious about what she wasn’t saying.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Well… I don’t know…” she paused again. Clearly, we were entering personal territory.
“Just tell me,” I encouraged.
“Okay,” she let out a deep breath. “It’s just that for such a huge city, with so many people, I can’t help but feel lonely sometimes. I mean, I have a job that I love, I have a great husband with a fantastic career, and we have this spectacular apartment close to Central Park. I don’t know. I just think in the process of getting where we are right now, we missed out on something else. Making friends hasn’t been that easy. At least not for me. Everyone I know is either through my husband’s firm, or my office. Sometimes I just feel like I’m losing myself.”
She was fidgety and appeared to be uncomfortable revealing all of this to a virtual stranger, but I felt like at that moment, as she finished her monologue and looked up, that moment when her eyes met mine, we connected.
She continued, “I don’t even know if I’m making sense.”
“I’ve lived here my entire life, and I know exactly how you feel.” Eyes still locked, we both smiled. She couldn’t have known how much I understood her feelings.
Our moment was interrupted when the waitress brought over the bill. We both reached for it, but I was faster.
“I’ve got this,” I said as I reached into my back pocket to grab my wallet.
She didn’t have time to respond though because her phone rang. “Hello, this is Bella… Yes, we’re just across the street… Umm well we were hoping to get the headshots in today… Ok… Yes… Ok I understand… I’ll get back to you on the time… Sure no problem, thanks for calling… Bye”
She let out a big sigh before speaking, “Well, the VP guys are out at a meeting and won’t be back until around four o’clock. I need to get back to the office at some point today, and I know you don’t want to sit around and wait for them, so they suggested we come back tomorrow. They’re both going to be here then.”
Tomorrow? I hesitated before answering; I hadn’t planned on coming back tomorrow, but…
Bella cut me off, “I appreciate the fact that you were available for this shoot today. I can just get someone else to do the headshots… or maybe it can wait for another time.”
“No, no, it’s okay. I just had to think for a minute, but nothing I need to do tomorrow is urgent. I can come back.”
“Really? That would be great, Edward, I appreciate it.”
“Um, I can tell them we’ll be here at ten or eleven? It’s up to you, really. I’m flexible and the guys will be in the office all day.”
“Alright, let’s make it eleven then.”
I left a tip on the table as we both got up to exit the diner. I grabbed my phone to send Tyler a quick text, letting him know we were getting ready to go back to Manhattan, then we walked across the street to the office. Tyler showed up moments later, his eyes slightly glazed over and a bit red around the rims; we loaded up the car with my equipment.
I started to get into the car when I saw that Bella was walking back towards the entrance to the building.
I called out to her, “Hey, Bella!”
She turned to me and replied, “Yeah?”
“How are you getting back?”
“Um, I was just going to call a cab,” she replied sheepishly.
“Don’t do that. C’mon, you can ride with us. I’ll drop you at your office.”
“Absolutely, get in.”
Tyler graciously gave up shotgun and climbed into the back seat, I held her door open as she got in.
The ride back to the city was as pleasant as lunch, with easy flowing small talk, Bella singing off-key to the songs on the radio, and Tyler dozing off in the back seat. I dropped Bella off in front of her office and offered to ride together again to Brooklyn in the morning. After we said our goodbyes, I drove down to my studio. Tyler helped me unload my gear and carried most of it up to the studio. I paid him for the day and let him know I wouldn’t need him for tomorrow. Two headshots were simple enough; I could do it with my eyes closed.
After he left, I checked my emails (nothing interesting), checked Facebook (even less interesting), and began putting together the frames for my upcoming show.
I worked steadily for a few hours, until the rumbling of my stomach interrupted my concentration, so I locked up and went home. The evening was just like every other… play with kids, help with homework, dinner, baths, reading, tuck in kids, talk to Linda, drink beer, go to bed.
Earlier that day I thought how pathetic the lives of those office workers must be. How sad was it to go into the same ugly space, day after day; do the same thing, over and over. Then I was struck with the thought that my life isn’t much different. It’s a little less boring, and I have a little more freedom to do what I want throughout the day. But it’s the same thing, the same routine, day after day. The monotony, only with a better view.
At least, I thought, I had an enjoyable lunch with a new friend, and that helped to suspend the tedium, for just a little while.
Then I fell asleep.
before ~ after