BONERS, BOO-BOOS AND GOOFS
Stay in this business long enough and you will have some stories to tell about your boners, boo-boos and goofs. It happens to all of us; from the green newbie to the grizzled veteran. And, if you survive them, you can look back on them and laugh.
Let me share of few of my very own favorites.
One of my first was as a newbie. I had been working for Newsday for a year or so and was, of course, working the late shift. The City Desk called back to Photo with an assignment, this particular evening. They were doing a story for our Political Page about Joe Carlino, who was a power player in local politics and was the Speaker of the New York State Assembly. He had an office on Long Island; in Long Beach, actually and I was sent down there to get a photo of him to accompany the story.
It took me about 40 minutes to make the drive and Carlino was waiting for me when I arrived. He shook my hand as I introduced myself and I suggested that we get a shot of him looking up from his paperwork while he sat at his desk. There was another man, whom I did not know, in the office, with him. Carlino suggested that he wait in an outer office while I made my photo and the stranger complied.
I set about getting Carlino settled and looked for a good angle with a clean background. In those days, Newsday Photographers tried to make ordinary head shots something a bit more special by using multiple lights and our lighting equipment in those days were small flash guns firing off compact little M-5 flashbulbs. One flash would be fired from a distance off to the side of the subject and was the main light. The other would be held near the camera and was the fill flash. The fill flash had a synch cord that fired the bulb when the camera button was pushed. And the off camera main light was hard wired to the fill flash and both lights would go off simultaneously. It takes longer to describe this than it does to set-up and use.
Most times I traveled light and didn't bring any of the light stands that I kept in the car. I could usually find a shelf or bookcase to prop up the side light. Or I would enlist the help of any warm body in the vicinity.
There were no shelves or bookcases in the right position in Joe's office and the nearest warm body had just removed himself from the room.
I opened the door to the outer office and called out to the stranger, "Say Mack, cudja give me a hand in here?"
I heard Carlino gasp and mutter under his breath, "Mack? Mack? He called him Mack?"
The stranger gave me a funny look but he came into the office and became a light holder for me.
I found out later that "Mack" was Ed Speno, the senior State Senator from New York.
It took awhile, but eventually I learned to recognize all of the local pols by name. But, for years, every time I ran into Joe Carlino, he would cluck his tongue and mutter, "Mack!" under his breath.
Years ago, our photo studio consisted of a wobbly drafting table and several tungsten photo lamps. We had a couple of miniature spotlights, one 300 watt bulb in a pan reflector and a huge flood lamp with a bulb that looked like it came from the Montauk Point Lighthouse. All of this occupied a corner of the Photo Department, behind a couch where we sat and read the papers while we waited for our 35mm film to dry.
Shortly before Easter I was assigned to shoot some chocolate Easter Bunnies in the studio, for a food page feature on the holiday. Several chocolate rabbits, borrowed from a local candy shop, were brought to me. I set up the drafting table and pinned a seamless chunk of white paper on the back wall and taped it to the front of the table. I started with the largest bunny. The one that cost $45. I placed it in the center of the table. I decided to use the humongous flood light as my main light since it would provide me with a soft, even illumination and wouldn't block up any of the subtle details in the chocolate. With my Nikon on a tripod, I turned on the flood and threw one of the mini spots on the background to give me some rim light that bounced off the white background. Lookin' good! I took some exposure readings with my hand-held meter and then got behind the camera to compose and focus my shot. Now I was ready to make some photos. But...wait a minute. Through my viewfinder, something looked funny with Mr. Rabbit. His chocolate coat suddenly looked very, very glossy and as I watched, it turned very grainy. Realizing what was occurring, I was able to fire off one shot before Mr. Bunny collapsed into a huge, gooey, expensive puddle of melted chocolate.
Astronaut John Glenn was getting the full New York City ticker tape parade treatment after making his historic solo orbits of the earth and yours truly was privileged to cover the assignment. I had plenty of time to get there, so I came into the office before heading to Manhattan.
Our Director of Photography had recently changed some office procedures. There were often assignments that had to be shot in the office or in our erstwhile studio (see above story) and he was tired of photographers grumbling that their camera equipment was in the trunk of their car in the parking lot across the street. One of the rule changes was that all photographers had to bring their equipment with them every time they came into the building.
So, on this day, I did as instructed. I placed my camera bag on a table and then I retrieved my photo assignment from the file. Another photog came in and we went up to the cafeteria for a cuppa coffee and some chit-chat.
I left for the city early enough to ensure that I would find a safe parking spot close to where the action would be. I walked around to get my camera out of the trunk and was horrified to see an empty space where my camera bag normally sat. It took me a couple of seconds before the realization sunk in that I had left the goddam bag sitting on the table back at the office. CRAP!!
I phoned the Photo Editor and his response as soon as he heard my voice was, "Forgot our camera's in the office, did we?"
Jeez, I guess everyone in the building must know by now. "Well," I said. "All is not lost. I still have my old 4 X 5 Speed Graphic (which I hadn't used in about 7 years) so I can shoot something."
When the Photo Editor stopped calling me all kinds of jackass, he told me to go up to the nearby offices of E. Leitz, the manufacturers of that marvelous Leica camera. We had a friendly relationship with their Tech Rep, Walter Heune, who had been alerted to my plight and who would lend me a Leica and some lenses for the day.
I was able to get some photos for the paper and my buns were saved for yet another day.
The war in Vietnam was raging and America was torn apart by dissenting factions concerning our participation. Almost every day there were one or more assignments to cover demonstrations. Some by anti-war groups and some by the pro-war people.
I came into the office on this particular morning to find out that my first assignment would be at noon, covering an anti-war group who were planning to feed their draft cards to the seals at the zoo. Hmmm. That sounded like a fun job. I had a couple of hours before making the hour's drive up to the zoo in The Bronx so I got some coffe and read the paper. This time when it was time to leave I made sure that I brought my camera bag. I guessed that there would be a large media presense, which was usually the case with these stories, so I left in plenty of time to get a parking place and scout out the location.
When I got to the zoo, I walked over to the seal pond to check it out. I was the only newspuke there and there was almost an hour before the demonstration was to begin. I walked over to the nearby monkey house to while away the time. At about a quarter to twelve I returned to the seal pond and was surprised by the absence of any media people. Normally by that time there would be tv trucks and some print journalists setting up. Nada. No one. Hmm.
I pulled the assignment sheet out of my jacket pocket to check to be sure that it was for today. Many times I had arrived at a news location only to find that someone had filed the assignment under the wrong date or the assigning editor had put down the wrong day.
I scanned the document in my hand. Hmm. No, the date was right. And it read, "Antiwar demonstrators to feed their draft cards to the seals at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan."
Wait a minute! Central Park Zoo!! I was at the Bronx Zoo, some 20 miles away. DAMN!! I had just read the "zoo" part and just assumed it would be the Bronx Zoo, which is the major zoo in the area.
With less than fifteen minutes left, I had to drive through heavy metropolitan area traffic; cross a major toll bridge into Manhattan from the Bronx; go cross town (the absolute worse case scenario); find a place to park (a virtual impossibility in midtown Manhattan) and get to the seal pond. No way was I going to get there in time.
But, I had to try. I ran to my car and threw it into gear. I tore through the Bronx streets, squeezing through orange (well, ok..red) lights. At the Triborough Bridge, I threw my toll at the startled collector and raced into Manhattan. All the while I was running excuses through my lame brain hoping to convince my Editor that I was a victim of circumstance and not stupidity. Let's see. "I ran out of gas." No, that's also stupidity. "I got a flat." Maybe. How about, "I became nauseous and had to pull over to the side of the road until it passed." Jeez.
I forced my way across town and got to the 5th Ave. side of Central Park. As I drove down 5th Ave. and approached the area of the zoo, I saw the curb lined with tv trucks and cars with NYP (New York Press) license plates. It was now a half hour after the demonstration began. If I could only find a place to park, maybe...just maybe, I could get there in time to salvage something. But, there were no legal parking places to be found. I ran my car into a zone reserved for Taxi Cabs (a definite parking ticket in NY City, even with special press plates) and grabbed my camera bag. As I raced along the sidewalk, I expected to run into the media mob coming back to their cars after covering the demonstration.
I hurdled the low stone wall that marked the edge of the park and raced to the zoo and the seal pond. As I entered the zoo gates I heard a noise in the distance, away from the zoo. It was the sound of many voices shouting familiar anti war chants. I headed in the direction of the sound, and there, heading across a large meadow toward me was a huge, noisy crowd of protesters, surrounded by still and video cameras.
"Hell no! We won't go!!" "Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?" Their chants drifted across the meadow and there, in the front of the mob was Tom Collins, our reporter. He spotted me and ran over.
"Dick, I'm terribly sorry we're so late. They decided to march around Columbus Circle for awhile, before coming here," he said. "I had no way of getting in touch with you. I'm so sorry that you had to wait."
Tom was always such a sweet guy. I tried to be gracious.
"Well, ok, Tom. Just don't make it a habit."
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