THROUGH A LENS DIMLY
is another journal in my series, "From The Pages Of Damon
whereby I document some of the weird and wonderful characters
from my newspaper career.
He had long been a fixture in the Newsday Photo Departmernt before I arrived on the scene in 1960. He was one of the old school news photographers; dapper, well dressed and comfortable with the use of the large, cumbersome and old-fashioned Speed Graphic camera, which was rapidly being replaced by the smaller and more adaptable 35mm film camera.
When I was added to the staff, Newsday had just moved one of their top photographers to the position of Director of Photography. His name was Harvey Weber but we all called him "Web." Web was a mover and a shaker. He started hiring younger photographers and got the whole department involved in shooting with 35mm equipment. This was no small task considering that each photographer had to buy all of his camera equipment, back then. But, it was one thing to get everyone to use the new cameras. It was another thing to get them to use them properly. The old timers were comfortable with their big, boxy Graphics and didn't mind shoving 4 x 5 inch film holders into the back of their cameras, pulling the dark slide, cocking the shutter, focusing and firing off a shot. Then putting back the dark slide, taking out the film holder, turning it over and re-inserting it and going through the entire procedure for each shot. We new kids liked the idea of sticking a roll of 35mm film into the camera and with a flick of the thumb on the rapid-wind lever we would advance the film and wind the shutter in one motion. We had used the Speed Graphics but we were young enough and flexible enough to adapt to the new system.
The old timers used the new equipment pretty much in the same way that they used the old stuff and considered these tiny cameras as toys. Web was a good teacher but he soon realized that he wasn't going to change the mind set of the older men. And, he couldn't let them go. So he parceled out the assignments that had some potential to the younger staffers and gave the oldsters the easy fluff.
There was no grumbling from the older staff. They were content to do what they had always done and were more than happy to let the young pups do the running and jumping that was necessitated by the more sophisticated assignments.
Gentleman Jim felt that he had died and gone to heaven when he was permanently assigned to cover courts. Jim had been a car salesman at one time and between that, and his sharp wit and amicable mien, he was in his milieux among the lawyers and politicians that frequented the place.
Cameras weren't allowed inside of the courtrooms in NY State so Jim had to prowl the lobbies and corridors of the stately County Criminal Court Building. If he was lucky, the reporter covering a case would come out to fill Jim in on what was happening and suggest that Jim get pictures of a defendant (if he/she wasn't in custody) or maybe a witness.
But, Jim was better than that. Instead of waiting for the help of a reporter, he would socialize with the lawyers. He would shmooze with all the attorneys at every opportunity and soon they were all on a first name basis. At breaks in the trial, Jim would take the attorneys on the particular case that Jim might be covering down to the cafeteria and treat them to coffee and donuts. At lunch time, he would take them across the street to a restaurant and stand for drinks. None of this came out of his pocket, of course. He would submit his weekly expenses and most of it would be bar tabs. Management wasn't particularly happy about this arrangement, needless to say. But, since it did show results, they grumbled but paid.
Because of his "in" with the lawyers, Gentleman Jim was able to talk the attorneys into getting their clients to stand still while Jim got off a few frames before going back into the courtroom.
Gentleman Jim never passed up an opportunity to share a bit of the top shelf stuff. He drank with lawyers; he drank with judges and he drank with the court officers who fed him tips on what was coming up at the courthouse. He drank a lot and he drank a lot, frequently. Jim would often finish the day with a good buzz but he usually got back to the office and souped his film and did his captions before finishing the day at some pub with his pals from the courthouse.
Jimmy could hold his booze pretty well, but once in awhile we would get a call from someone telling us that one of our photographers was passed out in his car in the parking lot or in the hallways of the courthouse, or where ever. One of us would be dispatched to get him. But, first we would stop in the cafeteria and get a container of orange juice and a couple of candy bars.
We knew the drill. Jim wasn't passed out drunk. Jim was in insulin shock. He was a diabetic and whenever Gentleman Jim figured that he was going to do some serious drinking, he would first give himself a double shot of insulin to counter all the sugar that his body would get from the alcohol. Except that sometimes, another assignment or something else would come up that would preclude him from getting his booze or even getting any food into his system and he would go into insulin shock. You can't tell a person in insulin shock from some passed-out drunk.
The first thing we would do upon arrival was to prop Jimmy up into a sitting position and pry open his mouth. We would slowly pour some orange juice down his throat. In a few minutes he would start to rouse and we would be able to get more juice into him. He would come around rapidly as the sugar in the juice countered the overdose of insulin and by the time we got some Baby Ruth candy bar into him, he was beginning to talk coherently. Then we would drive him home, stand him on the doorstep, ring the bell and get the hell out of there. None of us wanted to confront his long suffering wife. She would have to drive him to work, the next day, to pick up his car.
Jimmy had married well; well above his station. By his own admission, Jim was shanty Irish. His wife and her kin were definitely lace curtain. His wife's family owned a horse farm on the north shore of Central Long Island. They were well known breeders of champion race and show horses. Although he had little to do with horses, he did seem to fit in with the horse crowd. I did mention that he was once a car salesman, didn't I? He often said, in his own inimitable way, that "There are more horses asses than there are horses."
His young son was involved in competing in junior divisions at horse shows. The kid had his own pony and a pony cart that royalty might be envious of. Jim was very proud of the kid and would take time off to travel around the country to be at the various horse shows. I've seen photos of Jim and his family with the pony and cart. I have to say, he looked dapper in his horse show regalia. Not at all like the Jimmy boy we had to prop up and pour orange juice down.
Jim found a profitable sideline while attending those shows. Not that he and his family needed any extra income. I guess Jim liked the idea of having his own ready cash for drinking, or whatever, when he wasn't on the company tit. At any rate, he always had a camera with him and he shot many photos of his boy and his pony and cart. He would show his photos around at horse society functions and he was soon being sought after by the wealthy participants of horsedom to make pictures of their kids and their ponies and carts.
Jimmy admitted to me that he was well aware that he was not a good photographer. But, he told me that you really didn't have to be. Just sit the kid in his cart with the pony in front; have the sun coming over your shoulder and hit the button. He was a good enough photographer to get a decent exposure. Then he would make a 5 X 7 glossy print; matte it and frame it and the proud parents would throw large sums of money at him.
What a guy.
Jim has long since passed on. I can picture him using his Irish charm and car salesman's talent to get through the Pearly Gates. I'm sure he spends most of his time drinking and swapping tall tales with lawyers (if there are any in heaven).
Jim. He's one of a kind.
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