Monday, 26 February 2018

Old School Darkroom

            I hadn’t noticed it when I got up on Sunday morning but just as I was about to start song practice I realized that the continuous sound of the robot cowbell coming from the walk signal outside my window had stopped. I guess they fixed it overnight. I wonder how they found out about it. Did someone call to complain, do they drive around looking for problems like that, can they tell if something is wrong from a central location or do they just reboot the system every 24 hours?
            I was a bit dizzy sometimes during yoga but it wasn’t extreme like it had been when I went to bed. Later on, just in case it was an earwax related problem, I did a flush. Quite a bit of wax came out of my left ear. I’ve never had vertigo like I had when I went to bed earlier. I don’t know if I fixed the problem but at least I cleaned my ears out.
            The wifi went off at the beginning of the lunch hour, as things must have gotten busy downstairs in the donut shop. It stayed off for eleven hours.
            I finished reading, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Ten years after writing my essay on the topic, I still think the play is about the unfulfilled American dream.
            I finished making notes on “The Wasteland” and “Howl” for my paper comparing the sexuality of the two poems. I started for the first time thinking about formally writing the essay and fiddled with the opening paragraph.
            I watched an Austin City Limits concert by Arcade Fire from 2007. Not all of their songs are great but their performances of them are outstanding. Every member of the band is dynamic and there’s something tribal about the way everybody sings together.
            The Alfred Hitchcock Hour story was about a guy named Barney that tells his best friend and company colleague, Peter that he’s leaving his wife, Beatrice for a woman named Laurie. Peter meets Laurie and immediately arranges anonymously for his Barnie to be sent away for a two-week executive training course. Barnie goes to see Peter, who’s developing some prints in his darkroom (which is way too well lit for what he’s doing but I guess they figured not enough people in the audience would notice) and asks Peter to entertain Laurie while he’s out of town. He also notices Peter using a poison called “altropeine” in his developer for sharper prints. He asks Peter if it could kill someone and he answers that it would do so quite effectively and it would look like a heart attack. Barnie goes out and buys some and that night at dinner he tries it on the dog, which dies almost immediately. While Barnie is away, Peter moves subtly in on Laurie and tells her things that cause her to doubt her relationship with Barnie, one of which is that Beatrice has a weak heart and that losing Barnie would kill her. She does have a weak heart but she also has a lover that she’s considering running away with. When Barnie returns from his business trip he poisons Beatrice’s stomach medicine and leaves, thinking he’ll never see her again. But when he goes to Laurie she tells him that she’s decided to end their relationship. Realizing that he’s poisoned his wife for nothing he runs to his car and drives like a demon to stop her from taking the medicine before bed, but is involved in a crash on the way. He tells the cops about the poison and they arrive in time to stop Beatrice from drinking it.
            There is no such poison as altropeine. Hitchcock explained at the end that he had to let people know that it was fictional so that droves of husbands wouldn’t go out looking to buy it.
            But there is a poison that is used in old school darkrooms for manipulating black and white photographic prints as they develop. In 1988 I worked a couple of months for Madison Photo Murals, which I don’t think exists anymore. It was a father and son business and I was apprenticed to the older Madison, a darkroom technician, who was full of old school tricks. If the dark parts of a print were developing too fast he would put some cyanide on a sponge and rub the dark area to hold the development back. He would also use heated developer to do the opposite, which is to bring forward lighter areas if they needed to be darker. The company specialized in murals and so enormous sheets of photographic paper were pinned to the wall and they had an enlarger that had been invented and built by the senior Madison and it was set up on a short run of train tracks he’d installed on the floor. He told me that he’d also invented a camera for aerial photography. The younger Madison ran the business and was looking for someone to take over in the darkroom so his father could retire. I learned a lot there but I wasn’t learning fast enough for them to keep me on, so after a couple of months they let me go.

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