A photo shop is an okay place to work, I guess. At the one where I work, we process film and print pictures. We guarantee to do this within one hour, but in truth, this isn’t a big challenge. What makes this photo shop special is that we will develop your homemade pornography. I think this is the only shop left in town that will do it.

Film replete with nudity is, you could say, what we here at One-Hour Photo live for. Luckily, this is a college town. The most that can be expected with any regularity are the old standards: “college girl surprised by roommate in the midst of ablution,” “drunken flash of tan-lined breasts,” and so many moons you’d think they were stars.

But sometimes I am rewarded with the genuine article. In fact, I got lucky just the other day. A college girl handed me a real grassroots effort. 36 exposures and not once had the camera ventured out of her dorm room. It was awkward when she returned to the shop an hour later, pink-skirted and fresh, to pick up her packet of photographs, inside of which, I was thinking as I handed it to her, were dozens of images of herself in varying degrees of labia-exposing contortionism. Standing like an ape draped over the cash register, I mumbled “$8.32” while visualizing her virginal mouth around the cock of some victoriously faceless frat boy, her eyes gazing up into the camera for validation. She dug into her purse for money. The awkwardness is trivial when weighed against the substance it lends to my weary days.

This amusement, however, has arrived at an unforeseen contingence. It involves a character I refer to simply as Ramirez. I speak it with my diaphragm lowered, as if I am uttering something foul.

Ramirez…

Ramirez walked into our photo shop one day about a year and a half ago. He was driving a yellow cab and he double-parked it out front. He carried with him the first of dozens of disposable cameras, which, it turned out, had no other purpose than to enlarge the visual archives of his sex life. To fully appreciate this, let me describe Ramirez. He’s around 55, domed with a reflective skull on which a few greasy tendons of hair meander between liver spots the size of railroad track pennies. His belly is so cumbersome it often obscures the very penis he is trying to capture on film. He walks with a shuffling gate, and has a wind about him of degenerative tissue.

The snapshots of his ridiculous copulations are made doubly carnivalistic when you consider the women he abducts for these “shoots” are prostitutes of the lowest order. It was obvious he found them in the filthiest corners of the city while he drove his cab. Fat, imbecile-faced wretches or track-marked, black-eyed skeletons have been Ramirez’s bill of fare once a week ever since.

I have always enjoyed a good laugh over old Ramirez and his habit of historical record.

But everything changed two weeks ago. Ramirez entered our little shop as usual, except he seemed different somehow. There was a gleam in his eye. And there was a smile on his face instead of his characteristic sneer. And he was talkative. He set his film on the counter while I grabbed an order form and wrote his name automatically.

“You may’ve noticed,” he said, clearing his throat, “I have a little, uh, hobby.”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” I said.

Then he smiled and walked out the door. For Ramirez, that was talkative. It was the longest conversation we ever had.

I put his film into the processor. Machines do all the work; I just keep the fluids up. While I waited, I kept thinking about Ramirez’s odd manner. When the negative strip was ready to be fed into the viewer, I set it up and waited for the first frame to appear on the little screen.

When it jumped into sight, I nearly capsized my chair. What should I see but old whale-bellyed Ramirez, his willowy manhood worming into the mouth of a girl who appeared to all the world to be a college coed. There was no wrinkle, blemish, scar, bruise, or imperfection anywhere, and that includes the tiny, poignantly erotic face. Nothing was hidden. She was thin, except at necessary, luxurious areas, and soft all over. She was not violated by any metal balls or studs. She had no tattoos. Not a trace of hair existed anywhere aside from the thick gleaming auburn river that flowed nearly to the crack of her soul.

I dismissed the idea that she was another prostitute when, after excruciating examination, there surfaced not a shred of evidence of a condom, which is unique among all of Ramirez’s previous dalliances. He was always careful; I’ll say that for him.

Maybe she was crazy? Well, it seemed to me that all women were crazy. Besides, her comeliness rendered that irrelevant.

It made me crazy just to look at her.

It was out of this world. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. The wheels of logic and natural law spun to their snapping points. I consider myself okay-looking, a normal guy, and yet (and here we arrive at the crux of the matter) I find myself currently leading a life of despotic celibacy. I’ve been alone ever since I started working at this damn job two and a half years ago. And then here’s Ramirez, Old Stinky, despoiling this doe before my very eyeballs. Moreover, she appears to be enjoying it. She wants it. She doesn’t mind also that he is taking pictures of her everywhere and throughout every moment of it with an off-brand disposable camera. Dumb-assed Ramirez holds the camera extended in his hand at arm’s length and tries to achieve the angles. He likes to see himself, I assume. When the intensity builds to a predictable level, he tends to lose form, and sometimes there’s only an eye or half of a nipple or just the bedroom dresser.

He must have quite a collection by now, dozens of these X-rated still-lives stacked in trunks and boxes in his reeking closet. Proof.

Ramirez…

It’s as if he brings these images to me to flaunt them, to lord them. It’s as if he senses how much I hate him and envy him. It’s as if he knows something I don’t.

It gets worse: he started bringing film nearly every day, for almost two weeks now. Always the same girl in the pictures. Where did all the monsters go?  What’s happened to the world?
Ramirez…

It’s a sad thing, but funny too. Is it a miracle?

I keep telling myself he needs me because I’m the only place in town that will develop his film. But deep down, I know I need him at least as much as he needs me. Probably more.

***

For all installments from 6 to 6, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Traveling Mercies
  2. Next Time, Take Skyline
  3. Suicide Lane
  4. Morenci in My Rear-View Mirror
  5. A Spiritual Adventure
  6. Sonja’s Ring
  7. A Pair to Draw To
  8. Grocery Day
  9. A Day with Melanie
  10. The Hot Light
  11. Drano
  12. The Cab Knows the Way
  13. Dodi’s Luck
  14. Don’t Die Before Your Mother
  15. Bob’s Big Day
  16. Nothing But a Human Being
  17. John’s Dream
  18. God Didn’t Get Me No Weed