Print Story The Bohemian Chrysalid, Part II
Working life
By CheeseburgerBrown (Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 04:36:57 AM EST) hip hop, rap, job, photography (all tags)
This is the second in a multi-part series detailing my transition from impoverished freelance bum to corporate art director. In this installment I supervise a photography shoot for the cover of a Hip Hop album.

Hip to be Square

It is Monday morning and I'm driving into the pits of my local megalopolis, my destination vague but further details have been assured. I am to call again when I'm closer. The city is a brown-grey smear on the horizon. The highway is fringed by black snow.

(I'm driving my mother's car (bright yellow, tiny, peppy, British-cum-German) because my mother is away at the Heineken Regatta. Later on I'll drive my father-in-law's car (black, dirty, bestringed, Swedish). With a little grease from my step-father I'll be driving my own used car (black, dirty, dented, Swedish) a few weeks after that. If anybody is planned on tailing me I'll be giving them a run for their money. Up yours, Magnum!)

I ditch the bitter bottom of my Tim Horton's tea on Islington as I approach the lakeshore. The neighbourhood I enter awaits gentrification. I paw my mobile out of my suit pocket and hit recompose. The Talent's manager explains to me that he's not quite sure where the studio is, so he'll call me back in five minutes with directions. I park. In five minutes the manager calls back to tell me to meet him at a cafe across the street. He tells me to have a coffee, because they're running late. "Traffic and shit," he explains.

"No worries," I tell him.

I get out of the car and step into the presence of a pear-shaped retarded white man with a bottle of Pepsi hanging at his side. "That yaw caw?" he asks loudly, spittle flying.

I confirm his hunch as I lock it.

"Aw yeah stupid," he replies, "you got the keys and everything, I'm so stupid." He smacks himself on the forehead theatrically, then considers his Pepsi for a moment before asking, "You like it? You like yaw caw?"


"I like it too it's nice and it's yellow."

"Thank you very much."

"I won't touch it when yaw gone."


He lopes at my heels amiably for a few paces and then grabs my elbow. "Hey you gottagettaticket."

"I'm sorry?"

"You gottagetta ticket or you getta ticket on yaw caw. The machine is right thea." He points with a Pepsi-sticky fist toward the automated parking monolith. "I'm just telling you," he pleads, in case I am angry. "I'm just helping."

I am not angry. "Thank you very much," I say again.

When the ticket is printed out and stuck on the Mini's dashboard I look up and down the street in search of the cafe the manager has mentioned. Once again the pear-shaped simpleton comes to my aid and escorts me to the cafe, outside of which he loiters waving at me while I order a coffee.

I flip open my fob-watch. Time passes.

I flip open my PowerBook. To my surprise it awakens to network. "Hey cool, you guys have wireless," I say to the sad, unshaven man behind the counter.

"What, man?"

"The wireless Internet access. I'm surprised and delighted."

He blinks. "You saw this place on the Internet?"

I shake my head. "Nevermind." Evidently somebody in one of the dingy apartments above has an open network. Across the street is an unemployment office. The sidewalk is peppered with clusters of careless black men, gathered around benches or leaning against walls. A police cruiser drives past the cafe every seventy seconds or so, like a bad cartoon loop.

I browse HuSi and MeFi idly while I sip the coffee. I sit in the front of the shop to be visible. Eventually I am spotted by a brace of black men through the glass. In the lead is an older man with whom I make eye contact and nod; trailing him is a youth in a large brown parka. As they enter the cafe the Talent's manager pulls me into one of those elaborate handshake sequences that I always flub so tragically -- except this time I don't. I somehow get it just right.

"CheeseburgerBrown my friend," says the manager. "Let me introduce the Talent."

"Sup," says the Talent warmly as we enter in kind into our own chain of handshake variations.

"Good to meet you," I tell him.

The Talent tells his manager he needs a muffin so the two of them get muffins and tea. I note that, as in the photographs I had seen on the Web, the Talent sports nary a bling. While they munch I open the concept sketch on my PowerBook and discuss the photographic plan of attack. The manager says he likes my idea but goes on to describe a more expensive variation on the theme. The Talent enjoys his muffin.

The manager has a swank silver automobile. We ride one block. The elusive photography studio is around the corner. We pass through a derelict-looking storefront into a renovated apartment in behind, the back-half of which is decked out with photographic bric-a-brac like lighting rails and tripods and looming white flats. Between the kitchen and the studio is a megalith of PCs and LCD monitors, gathered in a Matrixy mound. The kitchen is very tastefully decorated.

I am introduced to two more friendly brothers: Gondor and the Movieman. Gondor is the photographer. His work hangs framed everywhere. I can see right away he's got a lovely eye for composition. The Movieman shares the studio space with Gordor. He describes himself as a jack of all trades.

The Talent sprawls onto a red loveseat opposite a large television with a transparent housing on a velvet pedestal. The television is tuned to BET, showing Hip Hop music videos. His manager is talking on his mobile, apparently trying to get a girlfriend of his to come over to iron the Talent's clothes before the shoot.

Gondor sets to setting up his gear. The Movieman tends to his PCs but, when the manager attempts to do the ironing himself, insists on taking over and giving us all a little lesson in the art. "You have to spray water on it, with linen," he says as he irons; "some people will tell you the water has to be hot but that's bullshit. Cool water will do fine. But ironing linen without water is crazy. It's just stupid. It just shouldn't be done. It's bullshit."

The Movieman has angled, pointy sideburns like the people on Star Trek. Like the Talent and the Talent's manager, the Movieman is heavily muscled.

I sit on the couch and chat with the Talent about music videos that have images in the letterboxed area, and wonder how they reformat the videos for modern televisions with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The Talent comments on the editing of the videos. The Movieman tells us that he used to work as an editor and claims to know a few tricks.

We further critique the editing in the music videos. It quickly becomes apparent that the Movieman is speaking from a place of uncontaminated ignorance. The Talent is indulgent.

An angry woman with fancy hair comes in and takes my place on the couch while I am chatting with Gondor. After sitting there with her arms crossed staring intently at BET for half an hour she and the manager disappear together and do not subsequently reappear. The Talent says that this is not rare behavior for his manager, who only the day before had logged three hours against the Talent's sixteen hour day in the recording studio touching up tracks.

"Really? Shit," sympathizes Gondor.

The Talent puts on the first outfit and then becomes indignant when it becomes clear in the mirror that the jeans he has been supplied with feature a face etched in faded material on the back of each knee. It is hard to deny that the jeans look totally retarded, but the Talent is obliged to wear the labels of his endorsers. Reluctantly he stands amid the white flats and waits while Gondor meters the light.

Gondor and I squat on the floor over my PowerBook and discuss the angle of attack, and then supply the Talent with props of the size and height required to be stand-ins for elements which will be composited in later. With the Movieman's help we switch out a couple of different chairs and stools meant to be the hood of a car upon which the Talent is leaning (a 1982 Cadillac pimpmobile, to be exact).

Gondor takes photos. Outfits are swapped. Gondor takes more photos.

The Movieman fusses over his wire-infested nest of PCs and proudly demonstrates to me the meat and potatoes of his motion picture piracy enterprise, including his database of hundreds of titles. He tells me that new release romantic movies are a very popular item, since watching the films in the comfort of home with a lady presents a more direct route to getting busy (without having to take the bus first, for instance).

We segue into a conversation about women and children. Everybody present has sired children, but only one of us lives with them as a family (me). The Movieman warns me that if it hasn't happened already my wife will soon cease "to be sexy" for me, because that's "what women do." As in any other field raised today, he claims expertise due to copious front-line experience.

"My wife is still sexy," I tell him.

He kisses his own lips dismissively. As the afternoon progresses the Movieman continues burning DVDs and industriously packaging them. He then loads them into translucent bins and carries them out to his swank black automobile in the back alley. "Five bucks a pop, I'm gonna make an easy five hundred with this shit today," he says.

"Wow," I tell him as it seems required.

While Gondor re-arranges his gear for interior sleeve photographs the Movieman attempts to evaluate and critique the level of stardom achieved by the Talent, including a long and complicated system of differentiation for the various levels of stardom. This discussion brings us to the subject of being ostentatious with wealth, so I ask the Talent about his lack of bling-bling.

The Talent suggests that it is a good thing for people to see that her is basically a regular person -- someone who wears sweatpants to the grocery store and doesn't shave when he doesn't have to.

His responses are frank and unpretentious, and found to be disagreeable in every way to the Movieman who seems to be on the border of risking calling the Talent a fool. The two men disagree in a gentle, non-confrontational way that stands in strange contrast to the loud, semi-belligerent exchanges they seem to have over subjects where they do not even differ. I theorize that this restrained approach to argument may be a facet of their notion of respect.

The Talent and I discuss the thin line between belief in oneself and destructive arrogance.

The Movieman claims he is learning the secret formula of success, and that as a man who has studied the art he warns the Talent to heed his counsel, a mixed message about demonstrating one's level of glory and wealth while practising humility and sound financial management practices. The Movieman is persistent. Rather than continue to dance the Talent turns back to the television.

"That Latin chick is it," says the Movieman, tracking his gaze. "We should go to more Latin clubs."

"Shit," warns the Talent. "Latin brothers be fucking you up if they see you talking to their women, man."

One of the PCs dings. The Movieman steps across the floor in his pointy shoes to queue up another burn. Gondor signals ready and the Talent sighs and takes his place. Flashes flash. Film is cranked and the shutter trips. The Talent is handsome and patient -- he could've been an underwear model. The Movieman takes another batch of DVDs out to his car.

The afternoon wanes. All rolls are shot. We discuss the possibility of a second shoot in a week, which I am dubious about. I don't know the details of the budget but it seems unlikely to me that my superiors will admit more delays. The Record Label wants the album artwork yesterday, I remind the Talent, but he tells me it's worth taking the time to do it right.

I take my leave after another round of handshaking mambo. "We'll be talking," the Talent promises me. The Movieman goes off to ply his wares. I get in the Mini and cross the core, eager to get north ahead of rush-hour, a roiling wave of grey spume I can see in my mirrors.

I take a deep breath and dare to consider the first day of my new job to be a reasonable success. I crank up the music and crow.

Next time: the office, welcome to.

< That's great | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
The Bohemian Chrysalid, Part II | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)
Well, despite the occasional bullshit . . . by slozo (4.00 / 2) #1 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 05:19:06 AM EST
. . . sounds as if you have an entry for Best First Day Ever! And no underlings present to fuck up the vibe . . . sweet.

As an aside - what did the crazy guy do to your mom's car?

Fatty Kept His Promise. by CheeseburgerBrown (4.00 / 2) #7 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 08:19:32 AM EST
The car was untouched and even unticketed, despite me paying for an hour of parking and staying for 4.5 hours. It's sunshine all around!

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski.
[ Parent ]
You made by ni (4.00 / 1) #8 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 09:50:01 AM EST
your slow assistant sound incredibly endearing. I hope he's happy.

Think metahistorically, act locally. -- CheeseburgerBrown
[ Parent ]
He Was Sweet, And Known To The Neighbourhood by CheeseburgerBrown (2.00 / 0) #12 Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 04:16:46 AM EST
As I sat in the cafe I watched him wander up and down the street greeting shopkeepers and fellow derelicts. A people person, if you will.

Also, except for the lack of deformity, he bore a passing resemblance to the big bald freak man in Goonies, who, in the end, also turned out to be a sweetheart.

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski.
[ Parent ]
Uh, I missed the part by Rogerborg (2.00 / 0) #2 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 05:56:49 AM EST
Where you actually did anything.  You do have a sweet job.

Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.
That's fairly normal. by ambrosen (4.00 / 2) #4 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 06:26:20 AM EST
I was surprised about the bit where he enjoys it.

Also, he gave a bit of advice about what the cover should look like, or summat.

[ Parent ]
I Designed The Cover by CheeseburgerBrown (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 08:14:29 AM EST
And directed the Talent and the photographer to do my bidding, as per my concept sketch.

I didn't break a sweat but it's still an honest day's work, more or less.

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski.
[ Parent ]
Less [nt] by Forbidden (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 01:47:23 PM EST

You once was.
[ Parent ]
Uh-Huh. by CheeseburgerBrown (2.00 / 0) #13 Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 04:18:02 AM EST
How famous is the talent? by nebbish (4.00 / 3) #3 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 06:17:00 AM EST
I'm pleased he was OK and the people around him were the wankers. Dunno why, it just pleased me. You expect it to be the other way round.

Interesting job you've got there.

It's political correctness gone mad!

You were at Islington & Lakeshore? by Driusan (4.00 / 5) #5 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 07:56:30 AM EST
Next time you're in the area have your people call my people, we'll do lunch. You can wear your suit and talk about your people, I can wear a pair of jeans and talk about my imaginary people.

Vive le Montréal libre.
I don't know if I can kiss my own lips by duxup (2.00 / 0) #10 Thu Mar 09, 2006 at 03:32:29 PM EST
My lack of knowledge about that industry and poor reading comprehension probably contributed to the fact that I’ve no idea exactly what your purpose was there, other than maybe to suggest some photo ideas and to produce an interesting husi post.

He kisses his own lips dismissively.

How does one do that?  I’m not familiar with that expression.


Spend More Time In Da Hood by CheeseburgerBrown (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri Mar 10, 2006 at 04:14:39 AM EST
The mofos who consider themselves badass often purse their lips and make a tight kissing noise to express displeasure, contempt, boredom or even occasionally approval when mixed feelings are involved.

It is sometimes described as "kissing the teeth" but only by white people who are alarmed and confused by it. Sometimes the mouth is simply pursed and saliva sucked back in a noisy way -- there are all sorts of variations.

Please note: I am not a cultural anthropologist or professional ethnographer.

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski.
[ Parent ]
Kindof like "IANAL" by Phil Urich (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Mar 13, 2006 at 02:08:00 PM EST
Except "IANACAOPE".  And even people on acronym-friendly places like slashdot will go "huh?"  And there is no hope to be found for them in their puzzlement, I like it.

[ Parent ]
The Bohemian Chrysalid, Part II | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)