The Antique Geek is a historical fiction blog written by one of The Phoenix's poetry editors, Kristen Slone
The Antique Geek:
It 'Lens' Itself to The Truth
Cameras often do what the human mind cannot. It takes a lens, an open aperture, and a capturing medium to freeze time. On that plate, on film, the impossible is made possible. That frame captured and held in time, never to be let go, lasts far longer than the moment perceived by the mind. A few of these select slices of life are more important than others. A shutter pressed at the precisely right time can tell a story far more than a thousand words ever could.
The camera’s crumpled extension leading up to the mount for the lens bends to the strong fingertips of a hand that only exists in the past. The dirt upon the glass, caked with captured time, is easily cleaned and removed even if the stories that glass has reflected upon are not. The brand etched into the backing leather is familiar, but the shape of the mechanical device is anything but. The small tag on the wooden shelf in the booth notes that the camera is from the 1920s. When history books reflect back on a decade of excess and debauchery, the 1980s borrows from the dress code and club-obsessed lifestyle of the 1920s. Cameras like this Kodak branded technology once were used by journalists and professionals in the early days of photojournalism. But behind the sheltered doors built of two-by-fours and used whisky barrels laid a world hidden from the prying eyes of law enforcement. In these smoke-filled dens was where the real stories laid. From the wealthiest of business moguls to the newly-minted boys from the trade floor, shoulders were rubbed, and the currency of the night were the stories you could spin.
Mr. Sooth sought to find his way into these back alleys and underground hovels of alcohol and potential news to forge ahead in his young career. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the photos of war and politicians he saw in the town’s library and in his teachers’ textbooks. His father was a recent war veteran and worked in the nearby shipyard. His mother had not been seen since his early childhood and, had therapy been a readily available thing, he would have known that his love for research, photography and journalism probably stemmed from the disappearance of his mother. Surrounded by beautiful portraits of his family, his mother’s haunting eyes and strong cheekbones cutting into the room, Mr. Sooth donned his coat and went out into the cool late summer night.
Within the dusky bar, underground, down the road and around the corner, men with thick and thinning, or completely empty wallets who grumbled together in chaotic harmony played a dangerous game of debt collecting, often borrowing from stock brokers to feed into their addictive pastime. Coming toward them like a speeding engine was a blackening crash, soon to drape a dark tapestry across the once exceedingly profitable country.
"Coming toward them like a speeding engine was a blackening crash, soon to drape a dark tapestry across the once exceedingly profitable country."
On the margins of society and the stock market is where they waged their bets, quickly accumulating the kind of mistake that costs an arm or a leg, or both. Mr. Sooth found himself mingling here, catching a bird’s eye view on the conversations these common-man ‘business tycoons’ had. He used it as leverage, knowing that all seemingly good things must come to an end, resulting potentially in the beginning of his career. As he milled around the party, posing as a party photographer, he’d ask these mustachioed men their tales from near and afar, cobbling together a picture of this secret world of finance. With women swaying and crowing to new tunes in the background, it dawned upon Mr. Sooth that this was not merely a party for the sake of partying. No, the real people in charge of this shindig had invited their friends, families, and lovers to celebrate the end of time; the end of the world as they knew it. How else would you explain all of these busy business people partying so heartily on a weekday in early September?
Over the coming days, Mr. Sooth took his photos and developed them, but sought not to put his name in the press. The young photographer leaked his stories to a local financial expert who was a speaking a language contrary to what he had heard in the gallows of that bar. Roger Babson was a financial expert and theorist who had been applying scientific theories and moderation to the wild world of stocks over the past decade or more. Since he seemed so respected, Mr. Sooth sought him out after a lecturing event. Babson took the photographer’s stories as justification for what he had been studying and went public the very next day. After his declaration, noting that a crash in the stock market was going to happen and probably soon, the stock market dipped 3%. Upon seeing the mild panic plastered across newspapers from a man he had just spoken to, Sooth felt he had done right. However, he knew that he must remain careful and tip toe around this issue at hand with caution.
He continued to go to more parties and more of these men began speaking to him as he became a familiar face. Smiling faces, inebriated souls with not a care in the world, laughed back at him through his viewfinder. While he quickly matched their smiles to make them feel comfortable, his brow furrowed under the weight of knowledge, seeing this economy’s train heading for derailing. The more he learned, the more he shared.
"The more he learned, the more he shared."
Anonymity became his friend after a run in with one of his powerful acquaintances who turned out to be a mob boss’ second in command. That little incident bent the extension on his camera’s lens, but it continued to work fine all the same. September folded into October and he did his best to keep financial experts in the know. However, outside of Mr. Babson, none of these men he spoke to on the streets or mailed letters to had done anything with the information he gave them. As each day passed, he started to realize that he must sound crazed but it’s what he saw and heard. Despite his best efforts and news of some investors overseas being jailed for fraud and forgery, the inevitable arrived; slowly, at first. Then, all at once. Crashing like a tsunami wave upon the coast line, money held within trusts and trusted banks became useless. This sea of despair left no stone unturned, effecting everyone in its path.
As the crash’s effect unfurled throughout the 1920s, Mr. Sooth ran in the footsteps of those like Dorothea Lange, capturing the dire moments of Americans in need. Poverty-filled areas became his bread and butter until eventually he could no longer support himself with his passion for photography. A trip to a local pawn shop was his last effort at surviving, selling off his beloved camera that had been so faithful for eight years. The money earned from selling his Kodak was able to buy him fare into the inner city, allowing him to get a job on an assembly line putting together Ford automobiles. As for the well-loved Kodak, its journey to a metal-walled booth into the North Caroling antique mall was a long one. It has been passed down along the east coast through relatives, yard sales, and ebay.com, until finally finding its way into the hands of Larry Shultz, the general manager of an antique mall in North Carolina.
Kristen Slone is a third year undergraduate student at Pfeiffer University working to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. She is one of The Phoenix's poetry editors this semester, Spring 2019.