Below the hospital window, a short block away on the west side of Bernardo Street, on the corner of Park Hills Drive and Florida Boulevard sits the old Kadair's Camera & Records building where many of the photographs in the suitcase were developed. Forty years ago, it is the place to flip through albums of Broadway shows, Slaughter on 10th Avenue with a man posed, knees bent, one arm above his head, the other out to a dark-haired woman doing a dance split on the floor, her short black skirt bunched up around her legs. Stand and peer into glass cases at 35mm cameras with lenses pointing back at you, 8mm movie cameras with windup cranks on the side, the mysterious early Polaroid Land Camera ready to pop up and spit out instant images.
Kadair's is part of a string of businesses along Florida Boulevard, a few blocks from the sign at South Acadian and Florida that reads:
You Are Now
Vibrant & Dynamic
Big deal. Ten blocks of squatty buildings stretching to North Foster. Beyond that there are few businesses until later, in the late 1950's, early 60's. Sears Roebuck moves from downtown to further out Florida, then the Bon Marche Shopping Center is built, considered classy but is nothing more than a large strip shopping center. Much later, further out Florida, another shopping center is constructed, this time an honest-to-goodness mall. Kadair's opens a branch store there, at Cortana Mall, and it is there in the 1970's, when the girls are young, the marriage between Dee and myself still fresh, that I go to work selling cameras for the Kadair family, for Howard Kadair, the kid working behind the counter at the original store while I pursue albums and drool over the glass camera cases.
Looking back, our work ethic reflects the times, when so much of the 1960's still bleeds over into a laissez-faire attitude of the early 70's, a let's-party-because-the-bomb's-still-out-there syndrome. All of us at Kadair's in Cortana are young, some married, most finishing up at LSU, and we don't take shit off of anybody--especially customers who want a 35mm camera but don't know from Instamatic crap. If they are rude, we are also. If nice, hey, we wait on them. When the weather is bad--tornados buzzing about, hurricanes on the coast--the mall is home to real trailer types (as Sarah Reed calls them), folks who know the value of getting out of their tin foil homes, strolling around with fried chicken legs while the storm rages overhead. We have a Cretin-of-the-Week contest and judge the results from Polaroid pictures. Anytime one of us gets a candidate--say, a fat lady with underarm stains and torn stockings or someone with shit on his boots, feathers in his cowboy hat, and rotten teeth, or a kid with a rolled-up t-shirt and lurid tattoos or even a Japanese buying a camera from us--one of the other salesmen without a customer gets out a Polaroid and saunters over on the pretense of testing the camera. Snap. Zip. Watch it develop.
There are boxes of Polaroids taken of each other posing and goofing off in the storeroom or drinking wine or beer we keep stashed in the refrigerator next to the VPS film. We drive customers crazy by turning the sound up and down on the bank of remote control televisions while they are watching them. The frustrated customers turn and look around, see us engaged in quiet banter, totally unaware of them. The customers turn back to the televisions, the sound magically restored just as their fingers almost touch the volume control. And of course we look at every roll of processed film that comes back from the lab.
We have regular customers who call themselves professional photographers who shoot housewives in messy bedrooms, posing on the bed in lingerie, their fleshy legs dimpled with fat; giggling teenagers who give themselves away when they drop the film off and whose pictures show Bobby or Jimmy or Eddie driving a convertable with his dick sticking up like a floor-shift; and even one nun who takes pictures of herself in the mirror with her black dress hiked up to reveal a shaved vagina being saved for Jesus. Kadair's lab doesn't discriminate, as Sarah is fond of saying. A shaved vagina is the same as a shot of Ralph and Lulu on vacation at the Grand Canyon.
When I quit Kadair's, I take some of the best Polaroid shots of the crew there, some of Sarah--standing at the register, ringing out the receipts at closing, one barefoot resting on top of the other, working, smiling, laughter forever caught in her eyes.