“FRO-BACK FRIDAY!” My New Camera was Smokin’!

If you received the Cup ‘O Jo Newsletter earlier today, you’re probably wondering, “Where’s the newest blog? Where are the fros?”

Everything is right here, my friends!

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A look back at some of the best ‘fros around.

Today, we feature Paul Chase, and his hair.

Paul's biggest fro 001

My Papa Tom with my brother Paul Chase.My Papa Tom with my brother, Paul Chase.
Thanksgiving with, from left to right: Robert Roth, Paul Chase, Barbara Roth Cohn, Beth Chase Avraham, Susan Roth Stricker, and me!
Thanksgiving with, from left to right, Robert Roth, Paul Chase, Barbara Roth Cohn, Beth Chase Avraham, Susan Roth Stricker, and me! 









Back in the 1970’s, my parents gave me a Pentax K1000 camera after 8th grade graduation. It was, and still is, the coolest gift I’ve ever received. Because it was completely mechanical, I had to learn how to manually set everything, including film speed, shutter speed, aperture/ f-stop, and focus. Luckily, my father knew his way around camera settings, or I would have been as stymied about that camera as I have been about every computer I’ve innocently caused to implode.

I experimented with black and white film, and color film in a range of speeds. My Pentax had several interchangeable lens attachments and a removable flash the size of a football. In order to remove the camera case or put it back on, I had to screw it to the bottom with a button the size of a half-dollar. I only needed to remove the case to load or use the hand-crank to rewind the film, so I usually kept it on, even though it flapped and flopped as I walked around; I decided I looked cooler that way, anyway.

I fancied myself quite the photographer after getting that camera. All I was missing was a burgundy tam. I remember taking a photography class in high school where we were assigned to tell a photographic story of ourselves. I artfully arranged my toe shoes on my parents’ slate entryway floor, along with my tap and jazz shoes. I took a self-portrait using a mirror. I took photos of my Standard Poodle, Fred. I felt like an artiste. I was ready to head to Santa Fe or Taos in a vintage Volkswagen bus, and sleep in a tent with Hippies. One problem: I wasn’t old enough to drive.

VW bus and tent

The best part about that class was that we got to develop our own photos in a darkroom. I loved the chemical smells and watching a piece of blank paper blossom into a black and white masterpiece. I’m sure all of the toxic fumes from those chemicals — that are probably now banned — permeated my brain, leading me to believe that all of my photos were of professional grade.

That summer my parents had a party, as they often did. It was a beautiful evening and I decided to take pictures of their friends and relatives as they milled about in the backyard sipping wine and being fabulous; the men in lilac, and powder blue Leisure Suits, with open collars revealing thick gold chains that lay upon chests of thick hair, and the women in multi-colored caftans, with lilac or powder blue eye-shadow to complement their husband’s attire, and, as it was the shade of that decade, orange lipstick.

I loaded my camera with 400-speed film which was, at that time, the fastest film available. It always took several attempts to load the camera because I had a hard time lining up the slits on the sides of the film with the cogs on the loading device of the camera. I chose the lens I wanted to use and attached the flash. It took some time to set up my cherished Pentax K1000, but it was worth it because I was a P.I. T. M. (professional in the making.)

With that camera in my hands, I was Victor Skrebneski, Irving Penn, and Annie Leibovitz, all rolled into one. I was capturing moments in history in whichever way my creative mind thought would make for a good shot. I was so excited and so proud.

With a huge smile on my face, I walked over to my Aunt Aldeene, who was talking with another woman, to show her my new camera. “Oh, that’s nice, Dear,” she said, not even looking at me or the camera in my hands. And then, to my absolute and complete horror, she took her cigarette and snuffed it out in the open camera case. In her defense, I guess she thought I was bringing her an ashtray. But I was 14 years old, and we were at my house! Why would I be bringing her an ashtray? Even if it had been a catered affair, why on earth would I, the daughter of the hosts, bring her an ashtray? And why would anyone bring anyone an ashtray? This was our backyard; not Hugh Hefner’s.

There I was, standing there waiting for my Aunt to admire my pride and joy. Instead, she scarred my prized possession for life.

When I think back to that frozen moment in time, I see myself looking down as if floating above, watching the carnage. I remember exactly what I was wearing. I remember having used empty frozen orange juice cans in my hair the night before so my hair would be straight for the party. I remember the psychedelic headband I wore with my bell-bottom jeans and un-tucked white button down shirt.

I remember feeling over-exposed.

At the time, I was mortified. I was stunned. I was angry. But, there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t say anything to her or to my parents. In fact, I didn’t tell my parents about it until about 20 years later.

When I can get the film to load properly I still use the camera every once in a while. I recently took it to a camera shop to try to find a replacement case because the leather has worn off and what’s left of it barely resembles a camera case anymore.

The shop owner admonished me for not taking better care of it and said it’s the kind of camera that gets better with age and needs to be used often.

Then, he spotted the burn mark.

He examined it and then slowly looked up at me. I thought he was going to call DCFS.

“I swear I didn’t do it,” I said.

He disappeared behind a curtain that must have led to “the back” of the shop, leaving me there to wonder what he was going to do. I didn’t leave because I thought he might watch to see which car was mine and write down my license plate number.

He finally emerged from behind the curtain. Had he tucked in his shirt and combed his hair? Maybe it was his way of pacifying himself before being able to meet my gaze again.

“Look,” he said. Was his chin quivering? “This is a really good camera. You take good care of it and use it as much as possible. If you don’t, it will be useless.” I think he wanted to say, “It will die,” but knew he’d burst into tears if he used that word.

I assured him I would take the best care of it and use it often. I bought four rolls of film with different speeds. I smiled. I held the camera like a swaddled baby. I kept smiling and swaddling as I paid and backed out of the store.

And, because I was afraid he was going to send a camera-retrieving swat team to my house, I paid with cash.




18 Replies to ““FRO-BACK FRIDAY!” My New Camera was Smokin’!”

    THIS! I am your number one fan. I just laughed my a – – off!!!!! You are very talented, my friend, very talented. So stay talented my friend, stay talented. AND I can’t believe with all the torture you had been through with us as a child, you are able to have such a creative gift!!!!! You can stop hitting yourself now.
    Love your sister :-))))))) – all my chins

  2. UJ was photographer in High School (Marshall). He and his friend Alan formed a partnership (A & J Photos). They took photos and Portraits at dances, parties & Sweet 16’s. He built his own Booth in the basement Of his parents apartment building. There were many cameras, lenses and stuff. Fast forward……On our honeymoon he took many photos of me and scenery but there are very few photos of him because I could never figure out how to properly use HIS camera.

  3. I am still laughing ….what a great story and soooo well-written. Made me feel as tho’ the camera was alive! Aldine would be so happy you mentioned her….alas. Oh for the good old days of parties and fun around the piano with Lois playing. You really bring us wonderful memories. Thank you….love

  4. What a coincidence! I am a ‘Fred’ and Terri and I have had two poodles over the course of our marriage. Also, I still have two 1970 era Pentax cameras. One is a Honeywell Pentax bought here in the states, and the other is an Asahi Pentax, being the model sold in Japan that my mother had purchased on a trip there. come down to Springfield and lets do some slideshows!

  5. Loved your memories, of your life at IU. The time with the AADC, Dancing at the Carol Walker dance studio, pics of your famous parents, who were a joy to be with, and a great performers. Leslie, I loved it all. Yes, I am proud to,have that “I can tap dance” pin!”
    Your story was warm and fun and loving. Eat your greens!

  6. Hope you send this stuff to Paul and Helene and Jerry Scherer. If not, please let me know and I will forward . Also, Carol Walker and Susie, the Basses, Linch, Marcia, Schrifter and on and on and on. Love

  7. Where is the photo of you ( at 16) , me, and Paul all together with our Afros? I can picture it, but don’t remember if it was your sweet sixteen luncheon.

  8. Forwarded from Mom:

    Good morning, loved “The Smokin Camera” memoir, Leslie had me laughing the whole article. Wonderful.
    Also, thought the UI dance chapter was fun and funny. Love her writing. Her family has great sense of humor. So, Leslie, keep,on

  9. I don’t know if any of you would remember me. Back in 1979-1980 I started working at Chase and Werner as a legal assistant right out of high school. I was Paul’s secretary for a couple of years. I am shocked and saddened by what has happen. I know it is way late for condolences, but I just happen to look Paul and Norman up on Google and saw the notices. Anyway…just reaching out…

    P.S. I still have the plant that Paul gave me that he rooted in a coffee pot.

    Beth do you remember the caricature drawings I use to make for you?

    Hope all is well….and how’s Joey?


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