|THROUGH A LENS DIMLY
by Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer (retired)
THE DAY SULLY WAS FIRED
Sully was a mean spirited son of a bitch. He held a grudge longer than any man I have ever known. He's probably still pissed at me for whatever reason, and he's been dead for over twenty years.
He was the Night Photo Editor when I was hired at Newsday. And being the new man, I got to work nights and that meant working for Sully. He was a bulky, white haired man who had been a shooter for the old Nassau Daily Review Star, which was later absorbed by the Long Island Press. He was an old Speed Graphic man and had difficulty adapting to the changes wrought when 35mm cameras were introduced. He was a mediocre photographer, at best and Newsday probably "promoted" him to Night Photo Editor to get him off the street.
He treated the photographers in his dominion like vassals and we were constantly running errands for him. If his car were being fixed, he would have his lady friend drop him off at the paper on her way to work as a waitress in some hash house. And one of us would have to drive him home at 1 or 2 in the morning when we finished work. He was addicted to goobers, those chocolate covered peanuts. He would ask...ask Hell...he would tell one of us to pick up a box of goobers on the way back to the office. Sometimes when we called in after completing an assignment, one of us would be dispatched to pick up some boxes of frozen franks from Nathan's, a popular hot dog joint in pre-MacDonalds Long Island. He had a commercial account to shoot publicity photos for them at some of the events they staged, and more often than not, one of us would end up shooting the pictures under the guise of it being a news job. Sully got the money and the hot dogs. We got just another assignment added to our schedule.
This was contrary to the ethics proscribed by Newsday management but none of us ever thought to use this against him. What was even more damning was the commercial account that he had with the county Democratic leader. Sully would dust off his old 4 X 5 Speed Graphic from time to time to shoot campaign stills for Democratic candidates and try to get the newspaper to run them. Without his credit line, naturally. That kind of thing was expressly forbidden.
I guess that Sully was in his late 50's when I first entered his domain. His eyesight wasn't too good which didn't help when he was squinting through the optical loupe we used to view the 35mm negatives on the light table. He invariably picked the worst shot that you had. Once, as he was about to pick my shots by punching the edge of the film with a conductor's ticket punch, I had the temerity to point out that the frame that he was about to select wasn't as good as frame 16. He glared up at me from where he was hunched over the light table and then slid the conductor's punch across the roll of negatives until he got to frame 16. Then with a malevolent grin, he moved the cutting part of the tool to the center of the frame and removed a large circular portion of the negative that I had favored. It happened to be a shot that I particularly liked and now it was no more. I blew my cool and laced into him with a barrage of verbal invective. That put the frosting on an era of "grudge" that set the tone to our professional relationship for the rest of our association together.
Several days later, after I had forgotten about the incident, I reported to work on a rainy afternoon. It was late spring and we had endured a particularly wet season. That day, the rains were heavy and soaking. Being situated on a large island where most of our landmass is measured in inches above sea level, we were prone to local areas of flooding on days like this. I had already called in and received a couple of grip and grin assignments. But when I phoned the desk after my first one, Sully dispatched me to Great Neck, on the north shore of Nassau County, where a neighborhood had reported impassible roads due to flooding. I drove up there and photographed the local citizenry coping with the high standing water in the road. I phoned in, again and Sully sent me to Amityville, to check out more flooding. Now, that was on the south shore, diagonally across the island, in the next county. I made some shots, called in and was dispatched to yet another flood, this time in Oyster Bay, on the north shore, back in Nassau County. It took one or two more calls to realize that the bastard was zig zagging me back and forth across the island in a manner that ensured that I would be logging the most mileage for the least amount of return for my effort. I also realized that any complaint on my part would just result in more accumulation of grudge, so I just slowed down and finished out my shift in silence.
After that, whenever Sully was about to make a bad choice of negatives, I would say, "You might want to take a close look at that shot, Sully. I had camera movement on that frame. And the next one is front focused. But, the one after that looks sharp." I was preying on his blurred vision. He would peer into the loupe, but everything looked fuzzy to him and he would end up picking my choice.
Ahhh, sweet victory.
There were occasions when the oppressed were able to get in some small measure of revenge for being the oppressed. One evening, with several hours left until the end of the night shift, Sully dozed off at his desk with a half eaten box of goobers spilling onto his lap. This was a common occurrence, especially on a slow night when all the staff was back early from their assignments. If no big story broke, the remaining shooters would just pack up and go home at the end of their shifts, without disturbing the boss. Sully would wake up eventually, look at the clock, lock up and go home. On this night, however, the peasants turned the clock ahead by a couple of hours and then went upstairs to the lunch room and got some coffee out of the machine and waited. Every so often one would sneak down to Photo and peek in through the door. Eventually, the reconnaissance paid off. Sully woke, looked at the clock, turned off the lights, locked up and went home. So did the remaining shooters.
Of course, he realized what had occurred when he got home and saw how early it was. The next night, retribution was his. When the photographers weren't out shooting, they were back at the paper mixing darkroom chemicals and drying prints. This was normally the responsibility of the darkroom techs. OK. The photogs realized that some punishment for their prank was justifiable. But this went on and on and on. I told you that the man was capable of holding a grudge for an inordinate length of time and eventually it wore on the beleaguered crew. After awhile they went to the Director of Photography with their tale of woe, pleading for some respite.
When Sully arrived for work, that afternoon, he was summoned to the office of the Assistant to the Publisher where he was confronted with his sins. He was also told that management was aware of his extra-curricular freelance work and that and his harassment of the night staff was to cease immediately upon pain of instant dismissal. There would be no further warnings. AND, there were to be no reprisals against the photographers who had brought these events to bear.
Sully was not one to take lightly to such humilities. No sooner did he return to his desk in the Photo Department than he started raging against the sources of his pain.
"You bastards don't know what you've gotten yourselves into," he fumed. "When that little bald-headed F____ leaves here for the day (referring to the Director of Photography), I am in charge, here. And you will do what I want. Not what he wants!"
No assignments were given out that night. Instead, the photographers spent their shift doing every menial and demeaning task imaginable.
The next afternoon, Sully was fired.
Every year, on the anniversary, the photographers involved have gotten together and had a beer to celebrate "The Day Sully Was Fired."
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