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Bakeries Doon Below

A woman fell through a metal grate in the sidewalk a few weeks back. It was a poorly welded Con Edison cover and she dropped about fifteen feet to the ground below. I watched it on the news – there one second and gone the next, a perfect life encapsulation in a few sketchy black and white video fields . The incident was captured by one of the thousands of covertly positioned security cameras eyeing the entire city and beyond. I read somewhere that London has the most security cameras. It’s a great tool for providing candid images of bomb-toting extremist recruits minutes before they consummate their fun-filled outings.  I suppose if we’re able to stare long enough into their intent-on-mayhem eyes, we can confirm that they were indeed irked at an unfair world and the lack of clearly printed life instructions in most delivery rooms. This whole permanently on-camera phenomenon is relatively new yet subliminally accepted by most city dwellers, as evidenced by the ease with which I snapped the shot of my z-catching R Train buddy above. Images are instant and more disposable than the most disposable of film cameras. Google Earth now has a zoom feature allowing for satellite cleavage scoping and evaluating disturbing dental flaws. It’s all going down in the record books and going down faster than ever before. Faster than a midtown misstep with nothing to catch on your way down.

When my dad was a young man he would occasionally cover local news events with his motion picture camera, filming a fire in San Francisco, processing the footage in the basement of his Russian Hill home, and driving it over to the station. This was, of course, pre-video. Pre-cell phone. Pre-cell phone video. If you were going to capture somebody’s likeness or a newsworthy event, you tried to make it worth it. But there’s no longer any “worth-it” out there. Everything’s instant, digitized, and constantly on. Immediately and permanently logged, blogged and filed away. Personally speaking, it’s a perfect metaphor for the passage of time in my own family. Being in the film business, my parents’ wedding was shot on sixteen millimeter and professionally edited by a cameraman acquaintance. Our home movies are all in sixteen Ektachrome and unusually crisp, evoking the feel of Doris Day or Rock Hudson in a blue dress or suit. Technically speaking the format is less sophisticated than what’s readily available today, but emotionally speaking it’s got it over the digital age in spades.

Speaking of the parents, I saw them for a few days this week on a stopover leg of their London trip. We ate well, had drinks at the hotel, and I walked the old man all over the city. Uptown, Downtown, Brooklyn Heights and the Promenade. Held Mom’s hand through Times Square as she queried whether the steam from the manhole covers was due to “bakeries doon below.” Each moment seemed oddly like a still frame, like a distinct print etched in my mind. And we didn’t take any pictures. (6/2/07)

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