I recently wrote a short story in about 24 hours for a short story contest. However, the contest organizers told me they gave me the wrong prompt.
Such is the life of a writer. Like life in general, things are not as they seem. But my hard work goes to your benefit, as I’m posting all that hard work here, so you have something to digest on Thursday, besides the steady diet of social media and politics that crowds our life. The prompt I was given was “A Paparazzi’s last day on the job.” I present, In a Flash:
I can never say I didn’t have an exciting life. But I also can’t say I’ll be remembered for anything. Sure, in the moment, what I capture is everything. But it’s also nothing.
It’s tangible, and it’s still nothing.
“Hey Chuck! Last day? I bet it’s great to be on chill status.” Aiden exclaimed.
Oh great, my favorite of the millennials. And vaping no less.
“Yea Aiden, it’s a wrap from here. Take a few photographs, get them off to the press, and collect my check.” I say back, hoping it bores him into silence.
“Retirement sounds great! I hope I can retire in five years, can’t imagine doing this for thirty!” Aiden blurted.
It takes time to be great at anything. Just because you master it in a short time doesn’t mean you should move on to the next thing at that point.” I responded, as our cameras swapped flashes along the Benedict Canyon Drive.
Yea, I’m going to turn this gig into a reality TV show. You know, make some real money!” Aiden said enthusiastically.
Great, I think painfully.
“Maybe you could come on the show in a support role. You know, be the old wise man that teaches all us young guns how to problem solve our rigs.” Aiden suggested.
“Rigs?” I asked, not really wanting an answer.
“Yea, you know, our rigs, our cameras. I’m inventing all new slang to be part of the show, that way it keeps the audience on their toes.” Aiden said, on cue it seemed.
“That sounds great, but you know I don’t teach.” I said grinning, recalling Aiden’s first day on the job.
“Yea….that’s true.” Aiden said, like he was reliving the trauma.
“That’s ok Aiden, you just keep pushing. You’ll do something noteworthy with this job.” I said.
Our subject was gone at this point, so packing the bag and heading out was next. Like it always was.
“Well Chuck, I just wanted to say it was always great working with you the past few years. I really did learn a lot from you. Here’s a gift, don’t open it until the end of your day. It’s worth it.” Aiden said as he handed me a wrapped item the size of several stacked credit cards.
I looked at it in bewilderment, looked up at Aiden and put it in my jacket pocket.
“Thanks Aiden, that’s really nice. I’ll follow your guidance.” I said politely.
Developing my own photos has come a long way. I used to have to turn in film to whomever I thought was going to pay top price. Now I represent myself fully, and send photos to every buyer, electronically.
Of course, the tradeoff is that I must do “little” things like color correction, gray scale, and pixel doctoring to the photos before I send them out, because these bloated celeb mags won’t waste the time of their editing staff on such tasks.
The real reason is that because photography has been democratized, they can’t handle the amount of work that comes into their email system. There are tens of thousands of us, some are career-driven, some are weekend warriors, and some try to make a living, but only hit pay dirt once a year. So much competition, and so few buyers with any real money.
It’s a good time to get out. Celebrity photos are over-saturated, the industry is a joke. They pay us under the table to take “juicy” gossip shots of them, just as much as we catch them doing something out of bounds. And here I am, correcting the colors of the moment.
It was great work when readers had a sense of moral superiority, and celebrities were under so much stress that they couldn’t fight their primal instincts. But all that has changed. In the age of “Brand,” celebs are considered wrong until they have some political opinion that is as minor as slightly different from the mainstream. Until then, everything they do is something to inspire to. Cheat on the only good person that came into your life? Let’s do that! Do copious amounts of drugs, crash a car equivalent to a reader’s home value, and then use your status to avoid jail? Me too! Claim everyone is out to get you, and pay a stalker to solidify it? Totally my next move!
It’s tragic. The depravity which this industry has witnessed and captured through ways only vicarious virtue can. Instead of celebrities making their own decisions, they have handlers doing it for them, who are trying to put on their own plays, filled with theatrics, and drama, with a third of the voting population watching……and then influencing that aspect of our lives. Yea, great!
You wonder if it can get any worse. I am certain it can.
My first vision of that is one I’ll never forget. The day I faced felony harassment charges.
I worked for an agency in those days, I was eight years into the life. Seasoned, professional, I knew my way around. This was the first time I was approached about a staged job. The chauffeur of an actress sought me out when I was up to my elbows in carnitas, after a very long day of shooting. He told me that night that she was willing to pay me $55,000 for a two-man job capturing her and a married actor in the throes of intimacy at a residence he owned. The trick was that she must have all photos and negatives turned over to her.
Blackmail, how quaint. In those days, for-hire jobs came around, so that wasn’t unusual. Celebrities see that you’re good at framing a shot, and they want your work more than they want the work of some studio villain.
Like I said, I wasn’t new to the life, so I sought out my manager and a photographer that I trusted. We all sat down and mapped out the plan.
On the day of execution, our manager made me the lead guy. Both of us sat in tree stands and waited for the “couple” to come into frame. Just as I shifted my weight in the stand. I fell to the ground hard. My camera was busted, and I came into full view of the two, which frightened them, and they ran away from the window, and presumably called the police. My manager was gone, so was the other guy, and there I was having to explain why I was on private property. Of course, the actress denied knowing about my actions, and stated that she had a recent problem with me invading her personal space while trying to photograph her. My manager and the other photographer wouldn’t corroborate my story, so I was trapped in jail with a high bond amount, because Beverly Hills judges rub elbows with these people every day. They do what they must do to stay invited to the exclusive clubs.
I had to hire an attorney by deeding my house to him, and then started by showing financial transactions, that were cash, and were well above anything I received normally, but then had to find ways to prove who gave me the money……..good thing I record audio on the public street. I learned that my first-year working, watching a two-year photographer get accused of assault. They had audio recording that proved that not so much as loud voices prevailed. They didn’t stay doing the work. But I learned.
Once we proved the money came from the chauffeur, and the recordings implicated her, the cat was out of the bag. It took six months, two of which I was stuck in LA County Jail. But then the actresses “cooperated” with the Prosecutor’s Office, to avoid jail, and implicated my manager as having full knowledge, and engineering the whole thing, all in an attempt sue my agency into bankruptcy. It all stemmed from the manager being passed up for a promotion, and the actress allegedly losing a role because of a photo that was published of her appearing to snort lines at the end of a bar in a speak easy. Nice, right?
I think my old boss is selling insurance now, and the actresses’ career never amounted to anything. The photographer was the one that setup my tree stand to fail. I guess he did that out of spite, just to get ahead as they say.
The agency cut me loose at the end of it, and my attorney loved that because he got to rep me on a wrongful termination suit. That netted me a lot of money. And then I went into business for myself. Hence why I love cropping photos…..no middleman, more money for me, and the whole incident made me a sort of legend in the industry where companies don’t even bother trying to shortchange me. Some of them pay me my fees in full before the work is done, just so they avoid any problems. Funny how it all works out.
Most agencies gave up photographers as employees because of that. They didn’t want the liability that comes with the work we do. You can wind up in jail for no reason other than the vindictive nature of a narcissist.
Ah, photos complete, now to email them. My method is the shotgun method, because I don’t like wasting time. I create an email to myself, and then blind carbon copy everyone whose buying. I usually get a few responses, but after about an hour I transfer the deposits to my main account. And now this business is done. Finally.
Heading to my appointment with my financial advisor is the most fantastic feeling I’ve had in thirty years. I don’t even remember the Uber ride over. That’ll be nice, not having to take Ubers everywhere in retirement. I’m heading for better air than this nightmare of a city.
“Mr. Franklin, Peter will be with you in a moment, there’s been a lot of delays this afternoon. Can I offer you a beverage?” The receptionist said.
“No, I’m ok.” I said. They always look for an excuse to crack open beers in the afternoon.
I wait patiently, looking at my watch, and start checking my investment accounts online. Something is wrong.
“Chuck, come on in buddy.” Peter says.
“I just looked and…” I said.
“Yea, it’s bad news. We were hacked. I’ve been on the phone all day trying to gauge the issue. This involved a ton of investment firms in Los Angeles, so the FBI is involved.
“What does that mean?” I said bluntly.
“Chuck, don’t worry, we have insurance on most of your assets…” Peter said as I interrupted.
“Most?” I asked sarcastically and offended.
“Chuck, not everything was set in bonds, there’s unfortunately a loss, but it gets minimized because we have insurance that kicks in these situations.” Peter hurriedly said.
“What’s the damage Pete?” I said bluntly.
“Without going over every fund, 1.5.” Peter said, like a dopamine injection took hold.
“Just 1.5, gee Pete, that sounds like OVER HALF!” I said, now in a fiery rage.
“Chuck, this is worst case. The insurance will…” Pete said as I cut him off.
“OH, THE INSURANCE NONSENSE! THEY’RE GOING TO SETTLE AT 25 PERCENT, AND I’M OUT A MILLION BECAUSE OF WHAT, YOUR SYSTEM WAS HACKED?!” I exclaimed loud enough to vibrate his 42nd story office windows.
“Chuck, I’m not going to let that happen, and we have a good chance to recover the loss, even if we recover 80 percent, the insurance company will treat it as a full loss.” He pleaded in his response.
“Bullshit. I worked this long for this nonsense, to get ROOOBBED, at my investment firm? Ridiculous Pete!” I said, trying to breathe normal.
“Chuck, I know how you feel.” Pete patronized.
“OH, YOU DO? DID YOU JUST LOSE 1.5 MILLION TODAY?!” I shouted.
Pete was quiet, looking down at the floor.
“Wait Pete, did YOU lose any money today?” I asked, my eyes searing his.
Pete glanced at me and looked at the ground.
“I can’t belie…” Pete cut me off.
“My investments were sitting in bonds today, I had made some trades and defaulted them to bonds hone..” I cut him off in turn.
“I can’t believe this shit! Fuck you Pete!” I said as I stormed out.
And just like that, I’m broke. Well, close to broke. That’s the thing about this town, it will take and take and take. And just when you get used to the rhythm, and you etch out your win, it finds a new way to take that away. Only misery and broken dreams get produced in LA, that’s no lie.
“Hello.” I say flatly.
“Dude, you sound as wrinkled as you are pops. What are you doing?” Aiden said smugly.
“Don’t call me pops Aiden. What do you want?” I said, equally smug.
“Have you opened the gift yet?” He said enthusiastically.
“Isn’t it a curse to ask someone that?” I said, trying to end the call.
“I really think you should open the gift Chuck.” Aiden suspiciously urged.
“And why’s that?” I asked.
“Because you could use a pick me up.” He said, returning to his millennial smugness.
“You have GOT to be kidding me!” I said, knowing who was behind the robbery.
“Look Chuck, you’ll thank me if you’ll just open the gift.” He said assuredly.
I pulled the gift out and opened it. It was a stack of gift cards, but in the middle was a lottery scratch off and Power Ball ticket.
“Are you looking at the tickets?” Aiden asked.
“Yes.” I stood in bewilderment.
“So, I have a guy who knows how to find the real winners. And he had a debt and solved all his issues with me. I needed cash, not something involving a tax attorney. And I figured your investment account was good enough. Don’t worry, the FBI is never going to track it back to me, they’ll be following the tracks through the mountains of Pakistan for years before they find a trace that gets them back to this hemisphere. But as you can see, the scratch off landed you half a million. The Powerball is the big winner everyone wanted, $640 million. The way I figured it, that’s like a 2,340 percent ROI for you on your investment. Try seeing if Pete can land you that return.” Aiden dictated.
“Why?” I gasped.
“I already told you, I needed money now, and that’s way too much. THAT would draw attention to me that I don’t need. My name’s not even Aiden dude!” He exclaimed.
“But why me?” I asked, confused.
“You weren’t a dick to me like everyone else. You didn’t make things easy, but you let me learn, rather than hand me things. I was grateful. Now I have my thing going, and I can breeze out of this weirdo world with hyped up reality TV show that will bank me out, and you can give the State of California half of that whale, and I can stay out of it. And don’t worry, Pete’s insurance company still must settle with you, but that scratch off will fund the attorney’s you’ll need to reduce your taxes, while also making them give you more than lame ass 25 percent. Seriously, I laughed so hard when I heard him say that to you.” Aiden said laughing.
“Ok, so how do I do this?” I asked.
“Chuck, you go down to the lottery office and show them the tickets. Don’t worry, they’re legit. The scratch off came from a store, they don’t care who bought it, they care who turns it in. The Power Ball came from a different store. Sure, you’ll be in the newspaper and it’s weird, but I did the math, this abnormality is possible right now. Oh yea, I probably didn’t tell you before, I’m a genius at math.” Aiden said, with an ego as big as it sounds.
“Ok, well I’ll just do that.” I said.
“Yea, so look, I checked out attorneys for your situation, you need to hire Englund & Harris. Tell them you have two winning lottery tickets, the amounts, and that you need an attorney to meet you at the LA office. They’ll be there. They’ll minimize the story so you can get on with retirement dude!” Aiden said excitedly.
He hung up. As neat as this all this, I really hope I never hear from that guy again. But here I am, standing at the corner of 6th and Flower, with far more trouble than anyone person would ever want. I guess Aiden knew I was retiring to the Caymans and was not going to be on an itinerary after Belize. No secret is safe in LA.
And everything changes, in a flash.