SMILE

I love people who know pain. I ran a night club on 6th Street for five years. In case you don’t know, this is the heart of the Tenderloin, one of the most infamous neighborhoods in California. One time I was standing in the alley with my homey Chris.  He did the sound at the club and was the best man in my wedding. The sun was setting on 6th Street and the streets were about to come alive with pure debauchery. I was very much at home among the crackhead transvestite hookers and D-boys. I knew many of them from county jail and various drug rehab programs we had been in together.

 

Chris and I were smoking cigarettes and contemplating the long night ahead of us. From the very back of Jessie Alley, next to the club, walked a man who had covered himself in a blanket. This was not too strange because there was a whole camp of homeless people living at the end of the alley so we just went about what we were doing and so did he. Directly across the street from us sat a woman on a stoop almost as if she were on her knees. In one fluid motion, the man who emerged from the alley slowly walked up to the lady on the stoop and opened his blanket, swallowing her up beneath it in what seemed almost a crackhead Blackula monster movie scenario. Then she started blowing him under the blanket with such voracity that his eyes started to bulge out of his head and his bottom jaw pushed out to the point that we could see all the details of his face from across the street even though we were in a dark alley. As fast as it started, it was over. The ferocious bobbing from underneath the blanket slowed to a sporadic spastic motion. Then with the same speed as he consumed the lady with his blanket, so he left her but returned to that slow pace, dragging his feet as if he had not a care in the world. Chris and I looked at each other like what the fuck? Then I was like shit, I gots to get me one of those blankets. And we laughed. What else can you do when you witness such an event?

 

I could go on and on about the crazy things I saw in those days but the most amazing thing to come out of all that shit was this photo project. We had an old carnival-style photo booth in the club.  While I would wait for daytime deliveries, I started asking people from the neighborhood if I could take a picture of them.  They would come in, have a beer, chat and sit in the photo booth.  For a couple of flashes of light, the day’s grind went away and all that was left was a smile, a captured moment of childlike innocence.  I have collected hundreds of these photos and I have always cherished them because they encourage me to smile no matter how hard things feel.  This has offered me the ability to love the people around me for who they are on the inside. I believe that my photo booth project shines through the hardships and dilemmas of our human experience to see the smile. The photo booth was able to catch that one moment of their humanity.  

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