I know better now. I didn’t know any better then, but I do now, and what’s more, I know now that I was lied to in the past about it. There’s not a single photo of me in my possession that exists prior to 1997 or 1998, maybe. All of the rest of them, all of the rest of my life is scattered between my mother and father, my two sisters, and likely, a lot of them are lost to time. At some point in the past photos meant something, like having electricity in your home, or running water, but now not only can anyone take photos instantly there are more than a few who can manipulate those photos to make it look like anyone or any shape, or even an alien.
Back in 1980 I went to a Halloween party and put on some really good make-up that made me look like Alice Cooper. I won second place in the contest which meant the bar picked up my tab for a week, which hurt them worse than giving me the one hundred dollar grand prize. I remember talking to a woman and convincing her I really was Alice Cooper, and did contest like this to see if I looked more like me than anyone else. She had to come home with me to take the paint off, discovered I wasn’t really Alice Cooper, but by that point it didn’t matter. She gave me points for the most original pick up of all time.
Back to the 60’s when Cooper was really beginning to change how people looked at rock and roll and showmanship, I was stuck in a seemingly endless series of elementary classes whose results were chokingly the same. I didn’t do well at all in these classes. There were all sorts of punishments and lectures and restrictions and paddling, and scorn and derision, all of this, every single bit of it, I was told, for my own good. Yet despite the fact my life was lived inside a brick walled hell nine months of the year, once a year, when they took school photos, I dressed up nice, wore a great big smile on my face, and ten seconds later was tossed back into hell.
I lived for years thinking I was the only one of those kids who would have rather had my fingernails pulled out than have to smile like I was happy for those photos. Much later, I found out there were a lot of horror stories behind those smiles and that a lot of us had been lied to.
So one year I didn’t get my picture taken. Well, I did get my picture taken, but when the time came to pay for them I simply didn’t tell anyone they were there. I sat there on the wooden box they used for a seat, in front of silver background screen, said the name of a dairy product because they thought it was cute, and then simply didn’t mention it again to anyone. It took a few weeks for the photos to come back, we were supposed to pay for them then, and I simply didn’t mention it. I didn’t want the photos. I really didn’t want any more photos of me than already existed. When asked where they were I would say, “I don’t know.” And another week would go by, other parents would be showing off the photos of their creatures, and I would say, “I don’t know” which when kids tell their parents this it’s the one thing the kids are certain the parents will believe. There is a lot of assumed ignorance when it comes to dealing with kids and the kids play up to it. Before long it was too late. There would be no photos that year. I had succeeded in totally disappearing from view for nine months of my life. I managed to pull it off every year in High School.
But if you flip through those photos, all of them, the yearbook of that school, you’ll see a lot of photos that do not matter to anyone anymore, if they ever did. They’re personal records on public display, just like millions of other kids, some dead now, some still alive, and unless there is some reason for sunlight to hit those photos, it doesn’t for years and years. I know people who keep photos, a lot of photos, of their families, but I never have. I certainly don’t have any of me that are old.
They lied to me. They said that one day I would look back at those photos and realize what a happy time that was, and I was forced to smile even though I never felt it. Every yearbook is filled with endless rows of smiling children and I wonder now, looking back at it, how many of them felt as if they were grinning as part of a lie that childhood is supposed to be fun and happy?
The public school system was a prison. My yearbooks were where my mugshots where kept. Every photo taken of me while I was incarcerated in the public school system was nothing less than a scratch in a prison wall, another tick mark, another way of marking the time before I was released or destroyed, or destroyed, and then released. I learned how to hide a drinking problem as a freshman in high school. I bought a pound of marihuana in the parking lot of high school and sold it during lunch. I learned which pills to take to stay up and which pills to take to put myself in a near coma, where my handwriting wasn’t the one feature that defined my failure.
At some point in time in everyone’s life there are fewer photos. You aren’t a part of this class anymore or you’re not a part of this family anymore, and there just isn’t some need for someone to remember you anymore. There’s a children and grandchildren and graduations and parties and events that are attended, but there’s fewer and fewer photos as a person ages. When I die I’m pretty sure that all photographic evidence of me will begin to degrade rapidly.
We live in an age now where nearly every moment is recorded; photo, video, both at the same time, and there are cameras everywhere. Gone are those moments of opening the film envelope and discovering what photos took and which did not. There’s a lot more honesty now. There are videos of people enraged, wrecking their bikes, scaring one another with pranks, and there are a lot of moments of happiness accidently captured forever. I know a young woman who makes videos with her kids, all of them lip synching some song on the radio, and I wonder if they’ll one day look at those videos and realize how lucky they were to live the truth, and be happy.
Without having to say cheese.