“You mean they PAY YOU for that?”
I looked up from my viewfinder and into the face of seasoned wiseass. Easily in his seventies, with a toothpick jammed under the eave of a neatly-trimmed moustache, my antagonist only smirked as I searched in vain for the proper reaction. I could laugh it off, try and convince him my job was harder than it looked, or simply throttle him, drag his quickly stiffening remains out of the barbecue restaurant I was trying to profile and embark on a tri-state killing spree. Not really in the mood for a road trip, I forced a chuckle and turned back to my camera’s eyepiece. But the silver-haired instigator wasn’t through.
“Shoooooot, if I had a job that soft, I don’t believe I could take a paycheck for it…”
With that I laughed for real, for it dawned to me I was being played. Then again, Mr. Moustache was probably being sincere. After all, I was dressed like a third grader, was hunched over a TV camera, was trying to convince the woman three booths down that I wasn’t really shooting video of her as she shoved pulled-pork down her gullet. No Sir, this was not the occupation of a full grown male. For all knew, my new admirer had stormed the beaches of Normandy - though he looked more like a retired insurance salesman than a one-time Sergeant Rock. Either way, I wasn’t about to berate him for dismissing my gig, for I’ve come to believe he’s probably right. Noo, I’m not refusing my next paycheck, but I will savor the thoughts of any senior citizens who wants to taunt me with just how easy I got it - be it a man with barbecue on his breath or a quiet cowboy with church hymns in his heart. Besides, all inquirers aren’t quite so sage.
Take yesterday. Fresh from a weekend of carting offspring to and fro, I wandered out of the mist and onto the lava-hot asphalt of a gas station assignment. Seems the Hess station in Thomasville was selling petrol at $3.75 - a quarter less than the new national average of 4 dollars a gallon. This of course, caused some motorists to lose their minds. Cars, pick-ups, campers and mopeds all stormed the convenience store parking lot - each piloted by a person with nothing much to do on a Monday morning but top off the tank. This alone should have triggered concern, but I was too elated to have something to shoot so early in the day to bother with such ethereal concepts as logic and consequences. Thus, I waded into the twenty car pile up with a smile and a microphone, hoping to score some sound while the gas pumps chugged. I was well into a conversation with an evangelist couple from out of town when Stretch rolled up.
“I’LL TELL YA ’bout some dad-gummed gas prices!” he shouted.
Looking over, I took him in. Tall, greasy and a little bit deranged, the man climbed out of an antiquated minivan and hitched his pants. Something in the way he moved convinced me to ignore him and as I turned back to my proselytizing pair, I mentally changed the stranger’s status from possible sound source to certain psychopath. In the next few minutes he did not disappoint, loudly protesting my rebuff with the sort of rejoinders I’m not prone to print. It ain’t the first time I’ve been cursed. After all, fancycams are famously considered ’asshole magnets’ and years of field research have convinced me the classification is accurate. Still, I wasn’t prepared for Stretch’s next retort:
“I’ll shove that camera where the sun don’t shine, you filthy Mexican!”
Now, I look about as Hispanic as Conan O’Brien. While I wasn’t shocked that this instant nemesis misread my lineage, but how you could think my fair skin and sandy hair came from anywhere near the Rio Grande is beyond me. Luckily though, Stretch had to go. As he drove away I could hear him argue with the woman riding shotgun. No doubt they were late for the symphony. All I could do was turn back to my camera, where I inadvertently made eye contact with a gentleman who could looked like a roadie for ZZ Top. Through stiff whiskers and broken teeth, he spat his summation of the aforementioned Stretch. “Damn redneck...” I opened my mouth to agree, but was rendered mute by the motorist to my left. He was ninety years old if he was a day, hands shaking as he tried to fill an open gas can sitting in the trunk of his running car. Hearing John Bunnel’s voice hype the tragic videotape I feared I was about to shoot, I looked back at ZZ Top for another salient sentence.
He couldn’t really talk, though. He was too busy lighting a cigarette with one hand as he pumped gas with the other. It was almost enough to make one yearn for a harmless smart-ass with a toothpick and an endless supply of one-liners. Almost.