once stumbled on a sheaf of photographs(1) that my father, an amateur photographer back in the day, had taken at an undisclosed location during one of those times he took a day off from his desk job. It was a series of nude photos of a woman who was clearly at ease with her nakedness—and with my father. The series was quickly shot—you could flip the photographs and see her remove her half-worn robe and settle into a pose that she was at last comfortable with; she celebrated this position with an unguarded laugh that slightly blurred her face—the shutter was too slow, or she laughed too quickly. The model was one of those girls who was neither ugly nor pretty. But maybe I was ten or twelve at the time, and the only women I was familiar with were centerfolds and schoolteachers. But in that last shot she looked absolutely beautiful.
The photographs had been developed at my father’s suking photo center. It was owned by a wealthy friend of his who had drawn him into the hobby. It was an expensive pursuit, more expensive than golf or collecting records put together. There was no end to obtaining the cameras, lenses and accessories that were essential to taking the perfect picture, and every piece of photographic equipment(2) was made of precision-engineered components and finished in textured black plastic and chromed metal. We had very little money and I wonder now how or why my father had chosen that hobby.
Along with the sheaf of photos came a typewritten letter from his friend. It opened with a personal greeting and went on to inform him very politely that while nude photography was considered a great art, it was store policy not to accept jobs of such nature. The letter closed with a request for him to refrain from submitting such negatives for developing in the future. His friend had signed it at the end. It was all to be taken as both a gesture of friendship (after all, they did develop the negatives) and of firmness (it also meant that it the matter had been brought up to the owner himself). I can’t remember the last time I read a personal letter (3)—even in the form of an email, but I do remember writing hundreds of letters in my youth.
On a related note, I know almost no one is going to read this, but there was a time that hardly mattered. I kept a diary (4) going for a long time, across many years and using up entire stacks of those thin paper refills they used to hold together with metal clips to make up school notebooks. I never showed the notebooks to anyone or told anyone that I kept them, and I certainly can’t remember anything that I wrote. But look, and I’ve said this many times before: I’m a man of the times. I’ve got nothing against and think nothing about writing email or a tapping out a text. But sometimes I send one out and delete the copy in my sent box so that it acts exactly like an old-school letter. But really, this is not because I’m nostalgic or wistful; rather, I don’t like to be reminded about my own emotions (5) at the time of writing. That’s because I’m no slouch when it comes to feelings, whether they come in the form of rutting lust, hardcore hate, or weeping regret. Which is why despite the fact that I’m an aforementioned man of the times, I still hate the term “feels.”
If I wanted to dwell on feelings, I’d rather see them in their fullest complexity from a completely displaced position, preferably with chips or a sandwich, in the form of a book or a movie (6). After all, there’s nothing like pure emotional indulgence dressed in a book jacket care of John Le Carré (The Perfect Spy) or Milan Kundera (Laughable Loves) or held in the rooftops of Rome, in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty.
But the ultimate indulgence is not to have to feel at all, or at least not to think, by way of a drink (7). Every so often I have my favorite cocktail—nothing fancy or pretentious, and named exactly after what it contains—or a series of them, served to me by a handsome woman behind a bar, all dressed in black. I can’t tell you her name, and of course she doesn’t know mine, but we’re acquainted with each other, and within the short range of motion that begins with the early entrance and ends with the late exit, nothing happens, no attempt at conversation, no petty intrusion into each other’s private life, just a woman and her subject, one out of maybe hundreds of common men who appear before her this way. Last week, after having too many, I wanted to tell her about my father and the photographs, and also that I had written about her, but I stopped myself (8).
Photos by Joy Aquino