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February 24th, 2010

45 Vick Park A

45 Vick Park A – Rochester, NY

I used to live in the basement of this boarding house, I paid rent weekly as I never knew how long I could really stay. I lived in this room from August 1994 to March 1995. I worked at UPS unloading tractor-trailers from 2AM-8AM. I remember in the winter it was so cold the packages froze to the roof of the inside of the trailer, the trick was to unload the 53 foot trailer (by yourself in under 60 minutes) before they started to thaw and dropped on you. I was a drivers assistant running packages from the delivery trucks to the doors of delivery from 10AM-4PM a couple days a week and from about 5PM-9PM, I printed C prints for the professors. The time in between all this, I made my own prints, somehow. The other trick to surviving this was the 5 roast beef sandwiches for $5 special at the Arby’s® in between campus and Vick Park A. I would eat two before bed, put the other three in the fridge, sleep from 10PM-1:15AM and then eat the last three sandwiches cold driving to UPS to start the cycle again.

I only had a pager, no land line and no cell. I made calls from the upstairs hallway and spent countless quarters staring at this chipped tiled wall by the pay phone telling countless stories to whoever would listen. I was on the phone with a woman I admired the night I made that image above. I had seen her around campus for some time and never had the nerve to talk to her other then the time at the light tables I proved to her that I knew she used a mirrored telephoto lens to make the photographs she was editing. I had gotten her number at an event long after this, asked her out, gone for a walk with her and it was while playing with the school’s Leica M4 that I heard her say to me this night over the phone she was living with someone and had to go as he had just walked in. I told her goodbye, I made this picture and went back down to my room.

I made this image a different night with my back pressed into the corner next to the only light the room had, a shadeless lamp next to the fridge. I could reach all four walls from the bed and the only window was level with the small alley. When it snowed more then a few inches, which in Rochester seems daily, the few inches of snow would block the light entirely.

I only ever met, well, not met, but had a few encounters with other tenants. The first was an elderly woman next door out this door to the right. She was always in a night gown, all hours of the day and her room was filled with canned food. I only saw through her door briefly once and was stopped dead in my tracks as it was filled with canned food and almost only all canned food. The canned food was lined up wall to wall, stacked like pipes floor to ceiling, row after row, it was almost as if it was wallpaper.

– – –

The man above me on the first floor was maybe mid-twenties, thin with smooth light brown skin and always on the phone speaking Spanish. I was in the small alley between the buildings outside my window and just beneath his while I was making photographs with an 8×10 view camera at night with a hand held flash. I could hear him on the phone and smell smoking from his room. I had the camera set to go and knew once I popped that little flash, he was going to know I was there. I squeezed the cable release and before the flash even seemed done firing, there he was at his window.

“What are you doing, did you take my picture, who the fuck are you?”

“I am Jonathan, I live right there.” I pointed towards the ground and the sliver of my little window.

“No you don’t live there!”

“Yes, I do.”

“Get the fuck out of here!”

“Okay.” I picked up the Deardorff still on the tripod pointing at the ground (nowhere near his window) and walked to the back of the building, down the stairs and back to my room. Only then did I take the film holder out of the camera.

– – –

It was late, maybe 10PM, I had just eaten one of my Arby’s® sandwiches and was listing to my CD walkman with headphones on. All the sudden there was a furious and loud banging on my door. I removed my headphones and waited a moment. Then, BOOM BOOM BOOM again against my door. Angry more then scared, I jumped up, threw down my headphones and answered the door. When I opened it, I almost laughed as there was a very short, small man holding a pizza staring back at me. I couldn’t believe that knock came out of this man. He tried to hand it to me and I tried to explain that I hadn’t ordered it. He did not speak English and kept pointing at the receipt demanding almost that he was at the correct door. I took the receipt, the pizza too and led the poor little man all the way to third floor to the number that matched the ticket. A woman answered the door in tight jeans and white wife beater who was talking on the phone while smoking and playing with a lone curler in her hair. She saw me and the little man and turned around to get her purse, as she did the door started closing and I stuck my foot in it then stepped in more to let the transaction happen. She paid the little man who then turned and left and let the door slam. I stood there a moment not realizing what had just actually happen but I was now standing in her little room with her door shut holding a pizza. She was sitting on her bed, still on the phone, still smoking, still futzing with her curler and calmly looking at the television that was on entirely too loud. I stood there a few moments trying to figure out why I wasn’t still in my room listening to my CD’s. I stared at her for a few moments, dumbfounded she would let some strange man stand there in her room and without even an acknowledgment just to see what she would do. What seemed years and was surely just a few seconds passed then she got up from the bed, walked towards me, took the pizza and sat back down on her bed and started eating a slice. She never got off the phone, she never stopped watching television and she never seemed to notice I was in there with her. I watched her eat a few bites, stared at the television for a few moments as I hadn’t watched television in months then I turned around, open the door, made sure it didn’t slam when I shut it, went down all those stairs back to my room where I had left my own door wide open, put my headphones back in, reached from the bed to turn off my lamp, got under my covers and pressed play on my Discman.

– – –
It was the day I was moving out. Walking to the left of that door in the photograph of my room, down the hall to the rear of the building, there were several doors to rooms I had never seen open. This day, the last one on the left was open. I peeked inside as I walked by. There, in the middle of this room that was awash with light from its two windows, was a man with his back to me sitting on the floor in front of a typewriter perched upon an upended milk crate. There was nothing else in the room except a mattress also upended and leaning against the wall. That’s all that was in there. As I walked back and forth from my room to my little green Escort wagon I could hear him in there banging away on those keys, never once breaking his rhythm.