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

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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.