In early 1980 I was struggling for entry to any pack-mule slot in the camera department.  Making the most of too much free time, I enrolled in film classes at Columbia University and was handed a wind-up Bell & Howell camera and a Sekonic light meter with a sticky needle.  The Filmo 70-DR is an all-metal, three-lens turret device adapted for World War II documentary cinematography – which was probably the last way this one was used.  That its operation manual also endorsed it as a field-expedient bludgeon was not lost on me whenever I shot with it on the streets of New York, but that’s a story for another time.  It was a professional tool and I was ecstatic to get some experience with it.

            Kodak’s cash-and-carry counter was located in an office building on Wanamaker Place between Broadway and Lafayette.  To set things ablaze, I needed a 100′ daylight spool* of Tri-X B&W reversal stock*, which was the preferred palette of my skinflint demographic.  A non-descript, middle-aged man named Gus was on duty at the window when I appeared there.  Over time, we developed a casual acquaintanceship.  Friendly but not familiar, he always had an encouraging way about him; unlike so many others, there was no question about his sincerity.  I never learned his last name, but I liked him and thought he liked me.

            One morning months later, in full celluloid fever, I came up short of the cash needed for my next fix.  A busy day beckoned: classes, work and other issues imposed too much to do in too short a time.  Returning home to fetch the errant ten-spot would’ve meant being late with my filmed assignment, and that was something I was loathe to do.  I was a respectful kid and shared none of this with Gus.  But he must’ve sensed something amiss as I wall-crawled my way toward the elevator.

            “Hey, you need a couple a bucks to cover the tab today?”

            Those were his exact words, and somehow, against every instinct, I responded to his offer.  He dug into his pocket and made up the difference, relying on my handshake that I’d pay him back the next time I saw him.

            At 8:59 the following morning, I was there as he rolled up the barricade.  Accustomed to spotty CBGB rejects and emaciated poseurs, Gus was as surprised as he was appreciative to see me.  For my part, it was the only legit response to his kindness.  He graciously accepted the payback and we never referred to the moment again.

            Though I have no recollection of what I shot on the film I bought that day, I remember Gus with crystal clarity.  He was a true gentleman – a family man and a fine individual by every measure.  I was saddened when he suddenly passed away in the 90’s, yet all these years later, our small encounters are more important to me than ever.

            Do people who can make an impression like that even exist anymore?

* For those who might not be aware, a daylight spool allows for loading the camera in less than light-tight conditions, which is an obvious advantage under battlefield challenges.  Also, reversal stock delivers a positive image without any intermediate steps; its lower cost led to its popularity among starving film students.


6 thoughts on “GUS”

  1. Great story, Richard.
    I think everyone of us has had a Gus or two in our lifetime.
    My high school photography teacher , Ed was one of those.
    We still keep in touch.
    I sincerely hope that I am a “Gus” to someone, I certainly try to give back
    at this stage, whether it be on the set or as a mentor.
    By the way, I own one of Denny Clairmont’s electronically controlled Eyemos
    with a Nikon mount. If you ever need to borrow it……

  2. Yes, I’m happy to say people like that exist! Thanks for sharing that recollection, Richard.

  3. This is a wonderful memory and a great story. NYC is forever a black &white world in my memory for the countless hours I spent roaming the streets with Tri-X.

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