Coda For the Twenty-First Century, Part 2

by: Chris Campanioni

Chris Campanioni continues his commemoration of the the year past, while looking forward to the one ahead….

Old Photographer Trick

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So we took a train from Berlin to Amsterdam, and I watched Northern Europe fly by at the speed of three hundred kilometers per hour, sitting in a stagecoach, trying to remember some of James Bond’s best lines – Connery or Lazenby, but definitely not Moore – or at least his gestures and mannerisms, which sometimes is better than anything that could ever leave the lips – that black hair falling down over the right eyebrow, and something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the cool, charming eyes – looking from one side of the room to the other, inspecting all the furniture, the particular fabrics – leather? suede? I’ve always held an attention to detail – and waving to each passenger that walked past, watching the brooks and trees, and the occasional face or game of hopscotch, everything at the speed of three hundred kilometers per hour, which means I only saw one great big blur.

“Old photographer trick.”

“What was that?” I ask. That black hair, which, of course, is blond, falling down over the right eyebrow.

The man sitting next to me, the man wearing a double-breasted polyester brown suit, a bowler hat on his lap, he says: “Old photographer trick.”

He lifts the hat and points out the window with his other hand. “Moving object meets slow shutter speed.”

“Results in total exposure,” I say, surprising myself with every syllable. Are these my lines? Are they his?

I am an actor stirred by the memories of every role I’ve ever played.

A cloud of smoke unfurls and I see the cigar dangling deftly from the corner of his thin lips. He nods his head as a shrill whistle tears through us and the image track halts.

I don’t know who he is or what he is doing in my stagecoach, or even where my contact’s gone. He left an hour earlier for the bathroom, whistling and doing a two-step while listening to something by Cyndi Lauper on his Walkman, and he still hasn’t returned. I get my instructions from street signs, billboards, newspaper headlines and magazine captions, overheard conversations at diners and shoe-shine pedestals, life-in-transit. The feeling of passing. I have none of these at my disposal; I look inward for some sense of recognition.

When I turn back to him, he’s gone. The bowler hat brimming on the seat beside me as if it were on the top shelf of a very élite department store in the midst of the holiday season.

I grab my knapsack and leave everything else on the stagecoach, playing the part of the curious backpacker with a touch of old-world England (the bowler hat fits like new), walking out the sliding doors and into the dying sun.

Who steps in when I step out?

I amble through the streets of Amsterdam until I really get lost. In evening, Amsterdam becomes a vast circle, a circle in which the moon lights the paved bricks and bicyclists revolve, continuously, as if on a track. After a spattering of Dutch curses I find myself in an underground speakeasy near the city limits, water lapping in the distance above the aged and weathered steps, exchanging passcodes I acquire from old pulp strips mixed with a few choice lyrics from a Notorious B.I.G. song.

“Long Kiss Goodnight.”

Another whistle in the distance and I’ll be on that train, too.

Remain In Light

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Remember the drive to Miami? Remember the motel we used to stay at, the one with the neon eagle, the wings blinking sporadically, the beak not quite lit? Remember the name? The Firebird, and it was either North Carolina or South Carolina, unless it was actually Virginia. Remember the traffic around D.C.? I remember sleeping through it. I remember asking a million different questions, like: what state are we in now?

And: what do they eat here? And: are they nice people, are they good people? And: what are their names? And: what do they look like? As if I could imagine them in my dreams. When I closed my eyes. In the backseat, or gazing out the window at a million different things, everything floating by, everything passing me, a life like riding in trains, landscapes rising from nowhere. But I never rode in a train, at least not back then.

Remember the all-you-can-eat breakfast at The Firebird? Remember the looks of the waiters – were they called “waiters”? – the look of someone ashamed, or maybe perturbed, or maybe shocked, or maybe all three, the moment they caught my gaze, and I was looking at them with my hands full and my mouth open; half a dozen cereal boxes, crusty waffles, pillow pancakes, everything dripping with powdered sugar and artificial syrup, margarine, strawberry jam, too much, never enough variety. Do you remember how it coated your lips and your tongue and eventually your stomach and made you drowsy – you called it “dopey”?….Do you remember Pedro? Do you remember those billboards? South of the Border….do you remember driving farther down, going further down, accelerating through Georgia and Jacksonville…..do you remember the firecrackers, or the time we couldn’t find a hotel so we slept in the car – at least I slept – do you remember that? Do you remember when we finally got to abuela’s home? Do you remember her home, the cul-de-sac driveway? It was the first one I’d ever seen – the palm trees, the mangos and papayas in the back, the screen doors, the rocking chair, the smell of abuela – a smell I’ve been searching for my whole life – the way her lips moved when she talked, when she kissed, what her kisses tasted like on my cheeks? Do you remember the twin beds we’d sleep on, all of us huddled close in the same room, and how comfortable it was to be together? Do you remember the time we stayed up late and you parked the car at abuela’s, right on that cul-de-sac driveway, but we didn’t get out, and we didn’t turn off the radio either. Do you remember how you turned the dial on the tuner, in that rental sedan – a Volvo, wasn’t it? – and how the song came in clearer, how the static melted in the night? Do you remember the song? I do. “Bye bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry….” Do you remember singing the lyrics to me? Do you remember the look on my face, wonder and delight, and still, trying to remember everything….Do you remember the funeral? Or a week earlier, when we got the phone call? “This’ll be the day that I die….” Do you remember the poem I wrote? Do you remember my oath? To never let anyone die again. And to never die myself. Do you remember how I smiled, finally, when I read you my poem? The look on my face when I said: Death is nothing. Do you? Death is nothing.

Or am I remembering things differently?1

  1. Header art is courtesy of a longtime and dear friend of Across the Margin, Christopher Prosser, who specializes in Long-Exposure Photography, amongst countless other things. []

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