I got my first real camera back in the mid-1990s. I'd actually had a camera for a few years before that – a little plastic windy-upy job that captured my last year of middle school as well as two trips to the Philmont Boy Scout ranch in New Mexico – but it wasn't until right before I went to Australia as an exchange student in 1995 that I bought an actual camera: an Olympus Stylus Infinity.
It was probably the nicest thing I owned at the time. It was black, compact, had a shiny silver button and a sleek clamshell shape that just felt like it was meant to fit into my hand. The lens was behind a cover that would slide to the right with a satisfying click. The lens would then pop out slightly with a pleasant little mechanical buzz.
Even putting film in it was a treat. (Remember putting film in a camera??) Just pop open the back, slip the film canister in one side and thread the start of the film into the other. Close the door and the camera would whirr to life, doing the rest of the work.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was actually a really good camera, too. It had a f/3.5 lens which took some remarkably clear pictures. While the camera didn't zoom, it had a semi-wide angle lens which meant I could fit an awful lot into a photo for such a little camera. I realize now that it was my time with that lens and my 4 years of high school art class that really shaped how I currently frame a shot. Also, the camera's slowest shutter speed was only 1/15th of a second meaning I could turn the flash off and still do a lot in dim light without the shutter being open for too long. Here are three of the nicer pictures of the handful I have scanned onto my hard drive:
|Rainbow in the Blue Mountains|
|Ayers Rock at Dusk|
As you can see, that camera made the trip to Australia with me. It ended up documenting so much: my first plane flight, my apartment, me getting an Akubra-style hat, a surprise birthday party two Australian friends threw for me, my bathing suit and boxer shorts lying on a rock during my first nude beach experience, me standing in front of a "No Standing" sign. So many great memories and my camera was there for all for them.
A few months later, shortly after I arranged to extend my time in Australia another semester, my best friend Mike came to visit from Scotland and he helped me blow the next 6-months worth of rent on a backpacking trip around the country.
|So young! So thin!|
My Olympus Stylus went with us. And barely survived.
I can't tell you the number of times I dropped it or it fell out of my backpack. But, in a testament to the quality of its Japanese design, I only had to pick it up, slide the lens cover to the right and it would buzz me a little "Hello! Let's take some pictures!". So durable, that little camera.
We did have one particularly close call where, after taking a few hero shots among Kangaroo Island's Remarkable Rocks (below), I dropped the camera and Mike and I watched in slow-mo terror as it tumbled down a series of large boulders before sliding to a rest mere inches from a sheer cliff overlooking an Indian Ocean being violently churned by an approaching cyclone.
I probably shouldn't have risked my life retrieving it but it was my camera, dammit! Thankfully, that little guy survived the rest of the trip and did really well my last few months in Australia, right up until I accidentally killed it.
Sex on the Beach
I'd had a few more stops left on a bus pass from Mike's and my earlier backpacking trip so, before I went back to America, I used it to go up to the Gold Coast. One evening, for some dumb reason, I decided to take my camera with me to a night club. (Do they even call them "night clubs" anymore?) It was there I drank a lot, danced like an idiot and met an attractive British girl with a nose ring.
Miraculously, she found me attractive. Maybe it was my accent, or perhaps my ponytail (or she was just really, really drunk), but we ended up spending several hours making out on the moonlit sandy beaches of Surfers' Paradise. The very, very sandy beaches. Just the two of us.
With my camera in my back pocket.
I awoke at the youth hostel sometime the next afternoon and, when I went to slide the lens cover to the right, it didn't budge. Odd. I tried it again with a bit more force and the grinding noise it made still gives me shivers. The normally cheerful lens didn't so much "buzz" as "wheeze". Sand was all over the lens and in every available gap and crevice. When I tried to slide the door closed, the lens wouldn't retract. And then it just died on me, right there in my arms, forcing me to use disposable cameras for my last few weeks in Australia.
Cut to Tampa a few months later. I've returned from Australia and am now finishing college, battling post-travel depression and lamenting to a new roommate about my beloved and very broken camera.
"And then it just died on me, right there in my arms. Man, I loved that camera."He thought for a second then said:
"Do you still have it?"
"You mean 'its carcass'? Yeah."
"Do you still have the receipt and the original box?"
"Of course." (If you know me, this is not a surprise.)
"Clear as much sand out of is as you can, wipe it down, make it look brand-new and I'll take care of it."I did as he suggested and, a few days later, we found ourselves at a branch of the same store I'd bought it from the year before. As we stood a few feet from the Customer Service desk, he asked me for my clean and repackaged camera. He also asked for the receipt that he'd had me trim to remove the date.
"Be right back."It was then that my very large, very imposing and somewhat Italian-looking/somewhat Middle-Eastern-looking roommate played both parts of "Good Cop, Bad Cop" with this poor Customer Service rep.
Because of my non-confrontational nature, I couldn't bare to watch so I stood mostly out of earshot, trying not to look. I did, however, catch bits of him explaining how "it just stopped working" and how "extremely dissatisfied" he was. He didn't even miss a beat when she pointed out that this "recently bought" camera now came in a different-looking box.
"I didn't buy it HERE. I bought it in New York."Whatever else he said must have worked because, a few minutes later, he walked away from the desk with a brand-new Olympus Stylus camera for me. While this guy would end up becoming a huge pain in my ass a few short months later, at that moment, he was a hero to me.
I took a lot better care of that replacement camera over the next few years. I may have used it a lot less, but I also dropped it less and can happily say that I never fooled around on a beach with it in my back pocket again. Sadly, that camera would end up dying an even worse death than the last.
As the 2002 holiday season drew to a close, so did my time playing the Grinch at Universal Studios.
|A very handsome Grinch|
I used my camera to document my last day playing the Mean Green One. I got a bunch of pictures on set as well as some great behind-the-scene shots: Grinches ripping their faces off, Candy Cane Who kissing Cheerleader Who, Max the dog posing like he was going to pee. All classic stuff.
Anyway, late one evening, right after my final (and very long) Grinchmas shift, I went to a local bar to meet up with some Whos and fellow Grinches to celebrate not having to wear prosthetics again for another year. We drank and shared memories and I captured it all with my trusty ol' camera.
After I'd had a beer or four, Shane, the last of the Grinches, showed up.
"Shane! You're here! You know that CD I made for us to listen to in the makeup room?"I snapped a quick picture of him, slipped my camera into my coat pocket and ran out the door and across the parking lot to go get the CD. Shane came out as well but stayed by his car parked right in front of the bar. While I was walking back towards him, CD in hand, two guys holding motorcycle helmets were leaving the bar. Just as they were about to pass me, one of them gave me a menacing look.
"Hilarious, right? Well, I made you a copy! It's in my car! Let's go get it!"
"What's up, STUPID?"They both laughed and high-fived.
Clearly this was a joke, right? Two grown men taunting me at a 3rd grade level? Really?? Maybe they knew me already and I just didn't recognize them. Maybe they knew I was one of the Grinches and they were just playing along.
But no, it turns out they were just two drunk biker assholes with limited vocabulary, low self-esteem and small penises.
Now, normally, I would have just let something like this pass. Like I said before, I'm not confrontational and, honestly, I'm really not much in the muscles department.
But this was different.
You could blame it on my being tired and a little drunk. Or blame it my being emotional about all of the changes about to happen in my life. Also, remember, I didn't really think they were insulting me. But, if I had to choose why I did what I did, I'd say it was mainly due to the fact that I'd just spent the last two months getting paid to make fun of people.
Whatever the reason, before I even had a chance to think twice, my inner Grinch took the controls.
"Hey-ey…'Stupid'! GOOD one, man! You really should consider doing stand-up. 'Stupid'. Wow."I shook my head as I continued to walk.
"I'll bet you both just can't wait for middle school."As I approached Shane's car, I continued being suicidal.
"Hey Shane, is this your car? It's hard for me to tell, you know, because I'm so 'stoooopid'."I made a little "der-dee-doo" kind of noise and started walking funny to emphasize just how stupid I was but stopped as soon as I got close enough to see Shane's clearly terrified face. That's when it dawned on me what was about to happen. I didn't even have to look over my shoulder. When I handed Shane the CD, I asked him in a low voice:
"They're coming back this way, aren't they?"I turned around with the desperate hope of trying to talk my way out of it but my inner Grinch wouldn't let that happen.
"Yep," he squeaked.
"I'm sorry, pal. Did I offend your girlfriend?"Shane visibly flinched at this, then took a few steps back. That's when I saw that the guy who I was making fun of had a crazed look on his face and was holding his motorcycle helmet like a weapon.
If he hits me with that thing, I'm dead.
I put my hands up in a "Whoa, hey, this has all been a big misunderstanding" kind of way, hoping it would protect me from his helmet. I was so preoccupied with that damn helmet that I didn't even notice his other hand until it connected with my eye.
You know how they always draw stars when someone in a cartoon gets hit in the head?
There's a reason for that.
The stinging on the side of my face sobered me right up. And pissed me off. I'd never been punched by a man before. (Yes, I had been punched by a woman before but that's another story.) I'd also never been in a real fight before - certainly not a bar brawl - so I had no idea what kind of fighter I'd be. Sure, I had taken some martial arts lessons as a kid but it was from the "Christian Karate Association".
Let that name sink in and you'll get an idea of how effective of a street fighter I am.
Thankfully, my dad once gave me some very sound advice:
"If you ever get into a fight with someone bigger than you, act crazy."Well, here I was potentially fighting two people bigger than me so, instead taking a fighting stance and breaking out into an intricate kata, I screamed like a pre-pubescent warrior and ran head first into the guy who punched me. As I flailed my arms and rammed him with my head, I kept yelling stuff like:
"You want some of THIS?? HUH?? C'MON!! I'm CRAZY, muthafukahs!! CRAZY!!! What? BOTH of you, huh? You girls are gonna NEED it! BRING it, bitches!! BRING IT!!!"
I think I may have even referred to myself as "The Matt". It was all bluster but it must have been pretty effective because, instead of the two of them leisurely taking turns kicking my ass, one of them spent all of his time just trying to pull me off of the other. I really don't think they expected me to fight back.
Who am I kidding? I didn't expect me to fight back.
At one point, the second guy grabbed me by the shoulders and nearly had me off of his friend when I wiggled out of my coat and dove right back on. In fact, I didn't even stop until I heard the other guy ask me something.
"And what do we have here?"I turned. In one hand, he was holding my coat. In the other, my camera.
"Yours?" He tilted it towards me.He wound up like a pitcher and then launched my beloved Olympus Stylus up and across the parking lot. It arched high, soaring through the night sky. We couldn't see it – I imagined it slowly turning once or twice mid-flight, its neck strap trailing behind like the tail of a kite - but we all followed the parabolic route we assumed it would take. I caught a brief flash of it when some light from a streetlamp reflected off of its sleek, black clamshell exterior in the instant before it hit the concrete. Then it shattered like a Lego explosion, destroying my camera as well as the roll of undeveloped pictures of my last day of Grinchmas.
"GO GET IT!"
"...my camera..."I now no longer had to act being crazy.
I went to tackle the guy who threw my camera while, at the same time, trying to kick the other guy in the face. I would have kept fighting too had some of the other Grinchmas cast members not come out of the bar to see what all the commotion was. It took 2 or 3 of them to pull me off.
As my friends held me back, I kept shouting cliched stuff like "Let me at 'em!" and "This isn't over!" as the two guys walked to their bikes and loudly drove away. I tried to run after them but nobody would let me. Eventually, my friends got me to sit down on a bench and calm down a bit.
I'm sure I didn't do any real damage to the 2 motorcycle guys but - and here's the amazing thing - aside from my throbbing, sucker-punched eye (and my poor camera), they hadn't done any real damage to me. God knows it wasn't pretty, but I had defended myself.
At some point, I went and gathered the remains of my camera and returned to the bench. As I sat there cursing to myself over what happened, a co-worker looked at my face then whistled through his teeth.
"How's it look? Bad?"The vacation still ended up going well. I visited lots of family and friends and got to see a nice chunk of the U.S. before my trip to Japan. But all of the pictures I took on that trip were done with a disposable camera and, in every photo of me, I had a giant, shiny black eye.
"Yeah. You're going to have a shiner."
"Dammit. And I'm just about to go on vacation, too. 'Hi grandma! Oh this? Just a little something I picked up in a bar fight. Who's hungry?'"
Thanks to my little bar brawl, I would also have to use disposable cameras for my first few months in Japan.
|Welcome to (dark and grainy) Japan!|
Eventually, I bought my first digital camera and I felt a lot better about the whole situation.
|My first digital camera!|
A few years later, I bought my first digital SLR camera. I love both of my cameras dearly and have captured a ton of new memories with them, but I always missed having my first real camera.
Then, about two weeks ago, I started reworking the chapter of my book about my time just before Japan. I wanted to mention the brand of my camera, a shout out to my twice-fallen friend. Seeing as I hadn't had the camera for over 7 years, I couldn't remember the brand name or model type but it's amazing what powers of the internet (and an overwhelming desire not to work on my book) can do.
After a few Google searches, I found this entry in Camerapedia.org for the Olympus µ[mju:] (the Japanese and British version of the camera) and, there in the right-hand corner of the page, was a picture of what had been my brand of camera. Now that I had this information, I did a more specific search and I actually found a few used ones on eBay. One still had the box and everything!
Current bid: $1.05 (plus shipping and handling).
Now, I don't really get eBay. I've bought stuff with the whole "Buy It Now" feature but I've never really understood the whole bidding thing. If I say I'm willing to pay $20 but no one bids above $5, do I have to pay $20 or $5? I could never figure it out because, the one or two times I've tried bidding in the past, I would be the highest bidder for most of the auction but I'd still end up getting an email saying I'd been outbid at the last second.
Besides, I don't NEED a new camera, much less a film camera. But it's only a dollar (plus shipping and handling), right? Wouldn't hurt to try. Might be kind of neat. So I bid $2.
Five days passed and I remained the highest bidder. A few people tried but nobody seemed willing to offer more than $2. I wondered if I should raise my bid, just in case. So I kicked it up to $3. On the last day of the auction, I got home from work early and saw that there were about 2 hours left of bidding time. I kept eBay open in a tab and occasionally checked to see if I was still on top. No big deal.
But, as time ticked away, I started thinking about how much I
Sure enough, with around 15 seconds remaining, someone outbid me. I panicked, put in a bid for way more than I needed to and clicked it.
And I got it. For $5.50 (plus shipping and handling).
Two days ago, it arrived.
Here's the box:
And here's the camera:
Beautiful, isn't it?
Holding its shape in my hands brought back such a stream of memories that I would eventually have to write this blog post. I popped the back of my new toy open to remind myself what the inside of a film camera looks like. When I clicked it shut, it gave a healthy whirr. Whoever sent it had been nice enough to put a fresh battery in it for me. I slid the front cover to the right and the lens extended slightly. It buzzed me a "Hello, Matt! Been a while, huh?"
Yes, old friend… it has.
Now if I could just find a place that sells film.