or several weeks now Thomas Kadushin has been trying to photograph queer things. The first queer thing was an old lady in a wheelchair outside of his apartment, hooked up to oxygen, who was being lowered out of an ambulette to street level, perhaps after some extended stay in a convalescence home. Her grown children were watching worriedly. As she wheeled off the ambulette’s ramp, she pulled her son close and croaked something at him. He produced a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one for her. That same day, earlier in his apartment, Thomas had found a camera—a gift from an old flame—amid piles of clothes in his closet. He had dusted it off, determined to make some use of it.
He photographed the old lady smoking. It seemed natural.
But when he got the pictures back, it seemed unnatural. He took the pictures and went into his cubicle at work and examined what he had done. He went into the bathroom and held them up to the bright light, the better to see this damned old lady, puffing like a trout on the cigarette, focusing on its smolder getting closer to her gnarled hands. His embarrassment over this image surprised him. There was no escaping the humanity of the picture—he had been photographing humans, after all. Humans with real issues and unfortunate circumstances, which unfortunately skirted into clichéd territory—an old oxygen tank woman, smoking—indeed. Still, he had intruded upon a private moment between this woman and her children, and he regretted it immediately and destroyed the photographs.
His best friend, Roseanne (“No last names, Thomas!”), upon hearing about his camera, insists that he become a famous photographer, perhaps a famous photographer of models. Thomas does not have any desire to become a photographer, nor does he have any real desire not to (although he certainly does not wish to photograph models); no one has ever insisted that he become anything, so a famous photographer seems as good as anything else. Roseanne says that, if he keeps it up, once he finds the object that will make him famous for taking its picture, he will just know, and that will be his calling, and lend some meaning to his life.
He keeps it up. His next series of photographs is of a dreadful rodent, devouring a discarded bouquet of white flowers. Too conceptual, Thomas thinks when he gets these back.
He begins just taking pictures of objects for the sake of the object. He sees a pair of white shoes lying in the snow—obviously, months and months after Labor Day. He snaps those. He begins habitually looking inside trash cans, and finds a syringe wrapped carelessly in a church bulletin. Then, a pumice stone inside of a bagful of dead skin. Then one day, in front of his own apartment, he finds the mother lode—a green hanging file folder labeled “Escapes,” spilling over with brochures for trips to exotic locales. His imagination runs with this, and he pictures the poor, blasted life of some meter-maid, accumulating these brochures over a period of decades, constantly saving up but having the savings constantly depleted by life’s minor emergencies. Finally, perhaps, an ironic end  —a diagnosis of MS, untreated polio—and now the trips would never be taken. Discarded, just like that, these dreams deferred. It made a whimsical portrait. Above all, he avoided taking pictures of any more real people, as he feels he isn’t ready for that step. When he thinks he is on the right track, he shows his pictures to Roseanne, who frowns.
“You know what these things are, Thomas?” she asks. She holds his pictures with the very tips of her fingers. “These are…grotesqueries.”
It must be mentioned that Thomas’ parents have died recently, although Thomas isn’t sure of what he feels about this. They weren’t bad parents and they weren’t good, and thinking about their death brings with it a real sense of ambiguous loss, like waking from a nice dream. But it also brings relief. He has lived apart from them—first at college, and now completely on his own—for just a brief time, but he is already used to it. And now that they are truly lost, that fact must be mentioned, because now that he doesn’t have to think about them at all, he has a great deal of time that must be filled with non-parent things. With something. He fills it with taking snapshots. He fills it with trying to turn ugly things into art.
He also fills it with Roseanne.
“Thomas,” she says, “I’m not sure you should try to take a picture of Madonna’s picture. You can’t take a picture of a T.V.  I mean, you shouldn’t. Maybe you should be trying to take a picture of Madonna in person.” Roseanne likes to comment on Thomas’s pictures. Like as if she’s the one taking them.
“Remember that one weekend when all they played on MTV was that Madonna video? The one where you had to make your own video for it? The ‘love’ one? I remember because Tony and I…[Tony was Roseanne’s second boyfriend, in the middle of senior year high school] were trying to pop a blackhead that was in his ear, and I had a bobby pin and a book of matches. And it was all fucking day in the hot sun working and worrying that thing with the bobby pin, then going back and getting it clean with a match, and all fucking day in the hot sun, it was that video that kept coming on!
“Finally, Tony cracks me up by saying he paid good money for MTV. If he wanted to have to make his own video to watch it, he would be watching cable access. Or something. Maybe I said it wrong?”
Thomas is skeptical of this story. What kind of person would pop someone else’s blackhead?
Roseanne likes to have Thomas around, because Thomas can make things happen, even at his young age. When his parents died, they left all their money to him, and now Thomas and Roseanne can grease palms around the city, can up and go to the arcade, to the theater, to see an amateur boxing match, wherever. That is to say, they could do these things if they wanted to…but they don’t, because they are diabolically bored, and mostly just smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and watch television
The very first thing that Thomas bought after receiving his inheritance, for example, was a nice, color television. He got the thing to work, hooked it up and everything, and just left it there. There was nothing he wanted to watch that week. He wasn’t even sure if he had hooked the cable up right, because when he tested it, PBS was the only station that came in. One day when it was freezing outside, he turned on the television, and right there, first thing, was the Ingmar Bergman movie Wild Strawberries. He sat down to watch it, and the picture came in so clearly that he felt he was among the movie’s characters, privy to their innermost self-deceptions, getting his own little honorary degree, and he cried. It became his favorite movie, though he never watched it again, only cherished its memory.
Roseanne hates to sit through a movie or watch T.V. She says it rots the brain. She likes to go out drinking, and keeps hinting that Thomas should take pictures of her drinking, or take pictures of her when she is very drunk. “I’m liable to do anything, Thomas,” like that is some incentive…. Ha! Thomas has seen Roseanne drunk. Though of course he usually is drunk at the same time. He can recall taking a step back from one sick bar scene or another and seeing Roseanne on the verge of becoming ugly. He has no desire to see this over and over and over, at creative angles and lit just so. Besides, he isn’t ready to take pictures of people again. Just things. He makes an exception for Madonna because he’s not taking her picture; he’s taking a picture of the television taking a picture of her, which is ironic.
“I don’t know what anybody sees in that old lady anyway,” Roseanne says, bitterly, watching Madonna on the screen, fending off a bullfighter. “She must be fifty!”
Because Thomas is an artist, and because he spends a great deal of time taking pictures and thinking things through, he has gone through his and Roseanne’s friendship a million times in his head. He feels a great deal of sympathy for her, because he knows that the two of them are exactly the same. They are both scared of things, but they don’t want to admit it. They both like to laugh. They both have a dark side. For example, when they were in high school, Roseanne had poisoned her own family’s dog, because she was tired of feeding it. Her mother had been fond of threatening to get rid of the dog if Roseanne didn’t feed him, until one day, as though a lever had been depressed in her mind, Roseanne didn’t care anymore if “someone got rid of the dog.” So she began to sprinkle a little bit of rat poison in the dog’s food every night. The poor dog hung on for a few months, looking increasingly bewildered and disheveled, constantly panting, then finally died of thirst. When Roseanne told Thomas this story, he had to pretend to be scandalized, because in truth he accepted the incident in a matter-of-fact way. Most animals in the world led short, violent lives, and Roseanne’s dog was apparently not immune. Now, however, every time Thomas goes to hang-out with Roseanne, he must steel himself, just in case he is forced to observe, that evening, the wide varieties of cruelty inherent in people, in the animal kingdom.
Similarly, every time Thomas spends some of his parents’ money, he tries to keep himself from thinking of his parents.
His parents and Roseanne had met only once before their death. They dropped in unannounced to surprise him, bringing him a gift of nickels and dimes, already wrapped in bank rolls, which they hoped Thomas would deposit or invest wisely, proving himself worthy of being given still more coins. They found Roseanne there, not Thomas. After just two nights of Thomas living by himself in his new apartment, Roseanne had somehow coerced him into letting her and her then-boyfriend, Ivan, spend some time there together. Thomas, tired of the moaning, went out to look for a cup of coffee or something to do. Roseanne buzzed his parents up, thinking it was Thomas. She then had to entertain them, as though she was someone who could entertain the parents of others, and tried to keep from explaining what she was doing in his apartment with this strange guy. She kept looking at the bathroom, like Thomas was just shaving or washing his face. After about ten minutes of small talk with the Kadushins, Roseanne grew nervous and outed him. The Kadushins looked at her openmouthed, as innocently as kids in an Ingres painting. Thomas didn’t come back to the apartment until three, by which time his parents were long gone. When Roseanne told him what she had accidentally related to his parents, she laughed.
“At least you’ll always have a good coming out story, Thomas,”        she said.
His parents moved to Florida.
A week later Thomas got a letter from his father, who informed him that they had been discussing changing their will. There must be a clause they could insert, his father wrote, that would only grant Thomas what was theirs if he could prove that he liked girls, not boys. There must be a way that he could change. It must just be a phase. His father wrote him this like he was writing it to a doctor, or to someone wise in the ways of the body or the spirit, not at all like he was writing it to his own son. And such an extreme?—changing the will. It seemed like something that parents might do in a movie. Perhaps a movie starring Richard Pryor. It occurred to Thomas that, although everyone likes to think that they might like to know somebody who acts like he is in a movie, in real life, people who act like they are in movies are very, very bad to know.

mirror1

(art by Aaron Tilford)

Below is an excerpt of author Gee Henry’ s short story,  “Here’s What Happens at the Movies.” It is a bittersweet story concerning a young man’s, much maligned, search for his place in the world. The complete story can be found in the spring issue of Mary:

For several weeks now Thomas Kadushin has been trying to photograph queer things. The first queer thing was an old lady in a wheelchair outside of his apartment, hooked up to oxygen, who was being lowered out of an ambulette to street level, perhaps after some extended stay in a convalescence home. Her grown children were watching worriedly. As she wheeled off the ambulette’s ramp, she pulled her son close and croaked something at him. He produced a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one for her. That same day, earlier in his apartment, Thomas had found a camera—a gift from an old flame—amid piles of clothes in his closet. He had dusted it off, determined to make some use of it.

He photographed the old lady smoking. It seemed natural.

But when he got the pictures back, it seemed unnatural. He took the pictures and went into his cubicle at work and examined what he had done. He went into the bathroom and held them up to the bright light, the better to see this damned old lady, puffing like a trout on the cigarette, focusing on its smolder getting closer to her gnarled hands. His embarrassment over this image surprised him. There was no escaping the humanity of the picture—he had been photographing humans, after all. Humans with real issues and unfortunate circumstances, which unfortunately skirted into clichéd territory—an old oxygen tank woman, smoking—indeed. Still, he had intruded upon a private moment between this woman and her children, and he regretted it immediately and destroyed the photographs.

His best friend, Roseanne (“No last names, Thomas!”), upon hearing about his camera, insists that he become a famous photographer, perhaps a famous photographer of models. Thomas does not have any desire to become a photographer, nor does he have any real desire not to (although he certainly does not wish to photograph models); no one has ever insisted that he become anything, so a famous photographer seems as good as anything else. Roseanne says that, if he keeps it up, once he finds the object that will make him famous for taking its picture, he will just know, and that will be his calling, and lend some meaning to his life.

He keeps it up. His next series of photographs is of a dreadful rodent, devouring a discarded bouquet of white flowers. Too conceptual, Thomas thinks when he gets these back.

He begins just taking pictures of objects for the sake of the object. He sees a pair of white shoes lying in the snow—obviously, months and months after Labor Day. He snaps those. He begins habitually looking inside trash cans, and finds a syringe wrapped carelessly in a church bulletin. Then, a pumice stone inside of a bagful of dead skin. Then one day, in front of his own apartment, he finds the mother lode—a green hanging file folder labeled “Escapes,” spilling over with brochures for trips to exotic locales. His imagination runs with this, and he pictures the poor, blasted life of some meter-maid, accumulating these brochures over a period of decades, constantly saving up but having the savings constantly depleted by life’s minor emergencies. Finally, perhaps, an ironic end  —a diagnosis of MS, untreated polio—and now the trips would never be taken. Discarded, just like that, these dreams deferred. It made a whimsical portrait. Above all, he avoided taking pictures of any more real people, as he feels he isn’t ready for that step. When he thinks he is on the right track, he shows his pictures to Roseanne, who frowns.

“You know what these things are, Thomas?” she asks. She holds his pictures with the very tips of her fingers. “These are…grotesqueries.”

It must be mentioned that Thomas’ parents have died recently, although Thomas isn’t sure of what he feels about this. They weren’t bad parents and they weren’t good, and thinking about their death brings with it a real sense of ambiguous loss, like waking from a nice dream. But it also brings relief. He has lived apart from them—first at college, and now completely on his own—for just a brief time, but he is already used to it. And now that they are truly lost, that fact must be mentioned, because now that he doesn’t have to think about them at all, he has a great deal of time that must be filled with non-parent things. With something. He fills it with taking snapshots. He fills it with trying to turn ugly things into art.

He also fills it with Roseanne.

“Thomas,” she says, “I’m not sure you should try to take a picture of Madonna’s picture. You can’t take a picture of a T.V.  I mean, you shouldn’t. Maybe you should be trying to take a picture of Madonna in person.” Roseanne likes to comment on Thomas’s pictures. Like as if she’s the one taking them.

“Remember that one weekend when all they played on MTV was that Madonna video? The one where you had to make your own video for it? The ‘love’ one? I remember because Tony and I…[Tony was Roseanne’s second boyfriend, in the middle of senior year high school] were trying to pop a blackhead that was in his ear, and I had a bobby pin and a book of matches. And it was all fucking day in the hot sun working and worrying that thing with the bobby pin, then going back and getting it clean with a match, and all fucking day in the hot sun, it was that video that kept coming on!

“Finally, Tony cracks me up by saying he paid good money for MTV. If he wanted to have to make his own video to watch it, he would be watching cable access. Or something. Maybe I said it wrong?”

Thomas is skeptical of this story. What kind of person would pop someone else’s blackhead?

Roseanne likes to have Thomas around, because Thomas can make things happen, even at his young age. When his parents died, they left all their money to him, and now Thomas and Roseanne can grease palms around the city, can up and go to the arcade, to the theater, to see an amateur boxing match, wherever. That is to say, they could do these things if they wanted to…but they don’t, because they are diabolically bored, and mostly just smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and watch television

The very first thing that Thomas bought after receiving his inheritance, for example, was a nice, color television. He got the thing to work, hooked it up and everything, and just left it there. There was nothing he wanted to watch that week. He wasn’t even sure if he had hooked the cable up right, because when he tested it, PBS was the only station that came in. One day when it was freezing outside, he turned on the television, and right there, first thing, was the Ingmar Bergman movie Wild Strawberries. He sat down to watch it, and the picture came in so clearly that he felt he was among the movie’s characters, privy to their innermost self-deceptions, getting his own little honorary degree, and he cried. It became his favorite movie, though he never watched it again, only cherished its memory.

Roseanne hates to sit through a movie or watch T.V. She says it rots the brain. She likes to go out drinking, and keeps hinting that Thomas should take pictures of her drinking, or take pictures of her when she is very drunk. “I’m liable to do anything, Thomas,” like that is some incentive…. Ha! Thomas has seen Roseanne drunk. Though of course he usually is drunk at the same time. He can recall taking a step back from one sick bar scene or another and seeing Roseanne on the verge of becoming ugly. He has no desire to see this over and over and over, at creative angles and lit just so. Besides, he isn’t ready to take pictures of people again. Just things. He makes an exception for Madonna because he’s not taking her picture; he’s taking a picture of the television taking a picture of her, which is ironic.

“I don’t know what anybody sees in that old lady anyway,” Roseanne says, bitterly, watching Madonna on the screen, fending off a bullfighter. “She must be fifty!”

Because Thomas is an artist, and because he spends a great deal of time taking pictures and thinking things through, he has gone through his and Roseanne’s friendship a million times in his head. He feels a great deal of sympathy for her, because he knows that the two of them are exactly the same. They are both scared of things, but they don’t want to admit it. They both like to laugh. They both have a dark side. For example, when they were in high school, Roseanne had poisoned her own family’s dog, because she was tired of feeding it. Her mother had been fond of threatening to get rid of the dog if Roseanne didn’t feed him, until one day, as though a lever had been depressed in her mind, Roseanne didn’t care anymore if “someone got rid of the dog.” So she began to sprinkle a little bit of rat poison in the dog’s food every night. The poor dog hung on for a few months, looking increasingly bewildered and disheveled, constantly panting, then finally died of thirst. When Roseanne told Thomas this story, he had to pretend to be scandalized, because in truth he accepted the incident in a matter-of-fact way. Most animals in the world led short, violent lives, and Roseanne’s dog was apparently not immune. Now, however, every time Thomas goes to hang-out with Roseanne, he must steel himself, just in case he is forced to observe, that evening, the wide varieties of cruelty inherent in people, in the animal kingdom.

Similarly, every time Thomas spends some of his parents’ money, he tries to keep himself from thinking of his parents.

His parents and Roseanne had met only once before their death. They dropped in unannounced to surprise him, bringing him a gift of nickels and dimes, already wrapped in bank rolls, which they hoped Thomas would deposit or invest wisely, proving himself worthy of being given still more coins. They found Roseanne there, not Thomas. After just two nights of Thomas living by himself in his new apartment, Roseanne had somehow coerced him into letting her and her then-boyfriend, Ivan, spend some time there together. Thomas, tired of the moaning, went out to look for a cup of coffee or something to do. Roseanne buzzed his parents up, thinking it was Thomas. She then had to entertain them, as though she was someone who could entertain the parents of others, and tried to keep from explaining what she was doing in his apartment with this strange guy. She kept looking at the bathroom, like Thomas was just shaving or washing his face. After about ten minutes of small talk with the Kadushins, Roseanne grew nervous and outed him. The Kadushins looked at her openmouthed, as innocently as kids in an Ingres painting. Thomas didn’t come back to the apartment until three, by which time his parents were long gone. When Roseanne told him what she had accidentally related to his parents, she laughed.

“At least you’ll always have a good coming out story, Thomas,”        she said.

His parents moved to Florida.

A week later, Thomas got a letter from his father, who informed him that they had been discussing changing their will. There must be a clause they could insert, his father wrote, that would only grant Thomas what was theirs if he could prove that he liked girls, not boys. There must be a way that he could change. It must just be a phase. His father wrote him this like he was writing it to a doctor, or to someone wise in the ways of the body or the spirit, not at all like he was writing it to his own son. And such an extreme?—changing the will. It seemed like something that parents might do in a movie. Perhaps a movie starring Richard Pryor. It occurred to Thomas that, although everyone likes to think that they might like to know somebody who acts like he is in a movie, in real life, people who act like they are in movies are very, very bad to know.

Gee Henry is the pen name of a New York-based writer and singer. Originally from Antigua, Henry now lives in Manhattan, where he works in publishing and blogs about his outfits (and his feelings) at  geehenry.blogspot.com.


Aaron Tilford was once labeled an “art fag” in college and it stuck. He works as a graphic designer in New York City, where he has been editing, designing, and producing Spunk [arts] Magazine since 2003.


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