Shrunken Pictures

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Here's another short story I wrote about a month ago. I wanted to keep this one in a compilation of stories about the west coast of America, most of these stories having to do with Hollywood's portrayal of life. Anyway, enjoy!

Submitted: September 18, 2010

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Submitted: September 18, 2010

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"I am big, its the pictures that got small!" -Norma Desmond, "Sunset Blvd," (1950)


The man in the photograph looked sorta like Paul Messner, his tall, thin build, his bald head, his pale skin-its almost as though someone photoshopped Paul onto some random staircase, covering his face in his hands, and posted the slogan beneath “So you lost some money in Vegas.”  It was eerie, almost suggesting the events of the weekend were meant to happen.
In truth, Paul Messner lost about $300,000 dollars that weekend.  The endless booze, the prostitutes, and lastly, the gambling seemed to form a union of forces that did Paul in, ensuring that he would not even have enough money for a bus ticket back to LA.  Paul was uncertain of what sitting in the bus station would do towards solving his problem, but found it cozy, a new home.
This is how homelessness starts, he thought. Although, the Las Vegas bus stations didn’t seem nearly as full of vagrants as the stations in Los Angeles were.  In Vegas, they kept the homeless on the streets-its not like Paul looked homeless, he was still wearing his only suit.
He returned his hand to the pamphlet, scratched his scalp, and began to read:

“In the rash environment of Las Vegas, people tend to lose consciousness of their money.  It is a common occurrence, and it is very hard to deal with.  What is important is that you must realize there are numerous ways to make your income back; No one has to be broke forever.  You also must come to terms with your gambling addiction...”

Addiction?  Why does one have to be addicted to lose their money gambling? The paragraph would go on to suggest it was an addiction that everyone got when they lost their money, or started to lose money, where one would keep on betting, keep on trying to win their cash back, just to spare the embarrassment. 
That was not Paul!  He was not some cliche image of the master of poor choices.  Hell, back at home, back in LA, he was a very successful sports agent.  He worked at an agency specializing in athletes, mostly young baseball players from Central America, desperate for jobs in the major leagues and million dollar contracts, and citizenship!  It was his signing of Ester Fernandez last year that made the firm triple in achievements!  He was no poor embarrassed sap in some dirty Vegas bus station.

“The real problem in gambling, the real way money is won, is by taking advantage of those who are so desperate to make money, those who have no money or have already lost theirs and will bet anything to win, including their life savings.”

Paul was conscious of his investments in the end when he was about to lose it all.  His last dwindling bet, on the passline of the craps table, the easiest place to win money in Vegas.  Now staring at him like a blotch, like a tumor, and he recalled that, as the dice left the roller’s hand, he regretted his decision.  To the pitbosses, and the other gamblers, it must have looked like just another bet. 
And when the dice were thrown, and a five and a two were revealed, and the table watched as the dealer took Paul’s chips away, did any of those other gamblers ascertain that Paul had actually been up money earlier in the weekend? That his craps skills had, at one point, actually yielded some fortune to his soon to be doomed cash-pile?
The bald man with his face buried in his hands was the only photograph in the entire pamphlet.  Paul had began to wonder if the man even lost his money, if maybe he was sad about something else-Vegas has to have more problems than people losing their money.  He even began to wonder if the man even knew he was being photographed, and if he knew his picture would graze the cover of a pamphlet about gambling addiction.
He glared around the bus station.  There was a young spanish lady sitting across from him wheeling a tiny baby carriage back and fourth-he was uncertain as to whether or not a baby was actually inside.  Beside her was an older black man in a suit reading a People magazine.  And beside him was another man, about the same age, bearded, wearing a trucker’s hat, flipping through a newspaper, removing the hat every once in a while to brush his balding scalp before returning to the paper.
Suddenly, this moment seemed to freeze in time.  This motley crew of visitors, of bus station patrons, sitting beside each other with no intention of conversation.  It was muted, it was frozen, it was a photograph! 
Paul stared at the trio as if they could not see him, analyzing little details like the African American man’s Ipod headphones sticking out of his jacket pocket, the spanish lady’s vivid brown eyes, and the trucker hatted man’s wrinkled hands, as if aged by construction work. 
Suddenly, the three of them had back stories:
The woman was a single mother.  Her husband, no, her boyfriend with whom the baby was conceived departed shortly after its birth.  She had received a postcard a few days ago from the Las Vegas Department of Corrections asking how the child was.  She did not respond, she was actually worried, surprised, scared that he somehow had her new address.  So, she is moving away!  Well, not away, she’s moving to California to her mother’s house, baby and all, because the child does not deserve to be brought up knowing its father even exists, considering his poor life choices.
The African American man, on the other hand, is a highly successful sales agent who is also going to Los Angeles.  He likes to treat himself to a vacation in Vegas every few weekends, when he feels his job’s success yields some form of reward.  But he has a secret, he comes to Vegas with $2000, no more, no less, and expects to blow it.  If he winds up winning, well, it was a good weekend.  If he winds up losing, no big deal, just go home and make the money back.
The other man is merely a traveler, a destination-less soul, originally from New York, actually, who makes it his life’s duty to travel.  He has stopped at Vegas, on his way to California, to see the city.  He does not gamble, he is not lucky, but enjoyed his stay as the city is a rather thrilling adventure to travelers.
No photograph could ever tell you that.
“Excuse me.”
Paul snapped back to reality to find a young girl standing in front of him.  She could not have been older than her early 20’s, long blonde hair, a short skirt exposing her long, tan legs, and a pink carryon bag at her delicate side.  She was smiling too, but it was a polite smile, a smile one would put on before talking to any stranger they wanted to like.
“Can you do me a favor?”
Paul nodded, putting down the pamphlet.
“I just put a dollar into the vending machine and my candy bar got stuck.  I tried to lift it but I’m not strong enough.  You think you can help me lift it real quick?”
“Yeah,” Paul answered, rising from his seat.
“Thank you so much!”
“No problem.”
“Here,” she announced, turning her back to him and leading the way towards the vending machines, “Its just, its just hanging there, and I don’t wanna spend two dollars for a candy bar, you know? So I figured I’d find someone who could lift it.”
“Yeah, its definitely not worth paying for another candy bar when you can lift it.”
She laughed.  “I can’t lift it! That’s why I got you.”
He nodded with a smile.
She brought him to the scene where a black labelled bar hung barely out of the metal spirals behind it like a man contemplating jumping to suicide off a tall building.  Paul stared at the candy bar behind the thin sheet of glass and proceeded to the back of the machine.
“I figured we can lift it from the back,” she went on, “Maybe pushing it forward will make it budge.”
Paul nodded again and began to pull the machine away from the wall.  He stared down at the bottom, the flattened ledge just above the legs, and secured his hands underneath.  He began to push up but the machine would not budge.
“Here,” she said, her eyes appearing to lose some of their allure, “Let me grab this side and you grab that side.”
He glanced up and slid over, letting her affix her hands beneath the near side of the machine so they could lift together.  This effort proved fruitless too and they both returned to their erected form.
“I don’t know,” Paul spoke, “Maybe its bolted to the ground.”
She laughed politely.
“What happened?” A third voice suddenly intervened, “You get something stuck?”
“Yeah,” the girl responded, “We’re trying to lift the machine so it will come out.”
Paul glared over at the man who asked.  He was a six foot tall kid, slightly older than her, with a drawn out muscular body like a movie star’s.
“Let me give it a try,” the kid insisted, squeezing himself between the girl and Paul.  “Tell me if it moves.”
“Okay,” the girl responded, returning to the front of the machine.
The kid lifted from the ledge, bending his knees up, moving the machine off the ground.
“You got it!” She exclaimed prompting the kid to return the machine to the ground as she dug into the door for her candy.  “Thank you so much!”
“No problem,” he replied, disappearing like a cowboy.
Paul was shocked, staring at the kid walk off.  He walked out of behind the machine just as the girl secured the candy bar into her carryon.
“Thanks for trying,” she said, her face smile-less, as she turned to continue on her way.
Paul just stared at her leave, feeling defeated.  He began to wonder just how much information she was able to derive from this short interaction with him.  Was there anything she would walk away from this with beyond her assumption that Paul was just a weak, broke, old man?
He began to think about himself when he was the kid’s age.  He used to be muscular too, he used to be bigger than the kid.  Hell, ten years ago, he would have been lifting vending machines over his head for pretty girls, especially if it meant embarrassing the old, bald fuck beside her. 
It was just then that Paul had the painful revelation that no one sees him for his past, no one can see from the picture which Paul’s body unintentionally paints that he used to be something to talk about, someone capable of many things his current self is not.
He realized that, to this girl, the whole vending machine incident was merely a photograph in itself.  This whole incident, just a memory now, is an image that will never change, and Paul’s inability to lift the machine will be the gist of said memory.  Every memory is just a photograph, but every event makes a new memory-so, as humans, we are constantly posing for photographs, whether we realize it or not. 
Just then, it all hit Paul like a bus.  A photograph never changes.  Sure, it ages, it deteriorates, but it can never change.  A photograph is just an un-editable piece of art, an idle image standing there like a blunt reminder, a big red blotch, of something you can never deny truth to.  Moreover, photographs can never lie.  A photograph is real life, it is blunt unchangeable life, and there are no poor assumptions, there is no altering of facts, because the photograph is finite, the photograph is complete.
And isn’t it a bitch, Paul finally thought, how sometimes a photograph is all we have.  Sometimes our entire image of something, our entire perception of a place, an item, a person, is through this undeniable image, this fact, this still-life rendering of existence, no matter how profound, how blunt, or how unforgiving it is. 


© Copyright 2019 Mike Florio. All rights reserved.

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