By Marcia Wilkie
months after I graduated from college with my degree in theater,
I was held up at gunpoint. The guy only got 50 bucks, and it wasn't
even my money. I was at work. There was no one to scream "help"
to because I was the only employee in the store. Only one employee
could fit in the store because it was a Fotomat, one of those freestanding
film-developing booths with a drive-up window. This one was in a
7-Eleven parking lot in Kansas City, Missouri.
I was an easy target. The guy drove up, pointed a gun, took the
money and drove off.
my working hours chain-smoking cigarettes and looking through the
packs of developed photographs before the customers returned for
them. It gave me a keen eye. Very few people pay attention to what's
in the background when they take a picture. For example, here's
a common mistake:
would take a photo of a baby with a cute, mischievous look on his
face pulling open a kitchen cabinet. But the photographer has not
taken that extra moment to move the bottle of Clorox, the drain
opener or the bug spray out of the shot. They could have hung a
small wreath on the U-pipe under the sink and, presto! a Christmas
that takes an artist's touch. Right?
the robbery, my friends counted on my evening shifts in the photo
booth as a kind of therapy session or a bar stool experience, depending
on the point of view of the one visiting. They could always tell
from blocks away if I was working. The booth was fluorescently lit
and with my continuous cigarette smoke, it became a huge lava lamp,
a beacon, welcoming all other misguided thespians that held a B.F.A
one of us had left for New York City as we so boldly planned just
months before in the broad kingdom of the student lounge, sprawled
on vinyl couches, our ashtrays spilling over on the yellow laminated
posture alone, we asserted our statement as a group: "We're
the theater majors, capable of all things unpredictable, daring,
outrageous." At the tone, your eight semesters of delusional
thinking will be up. Bllleeeeep.
the graduation photos we stand, diplomas in hand, each face a look
of complete terror. I can tell you why I was afraid. Because, to
be honest, I knew that my college acting resume, which included
my researched portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest ("Three votes, Mr. McMurphy. Just three.
Not sufficient to change ward policy") would be laughable outside
of Kansas City, or even off-campus.
I hid in the Fotomat, employed in the tiniest possible world I could
find: four glass walls, arms-length apart, my timid terrarium.
friends would drive up and idle at the little sliding window and
we reaffirmed all of our weak-kneed reasons for not pursuing a life
on stage. We would smoke and laugh at pictures of other people's
lives because we had no idea what to do with our own. The only acting
I did was when a customer would flip through their photos in the
drive-thru and show me their favorite shot. I would have to act
like I hadn't seen it already.
the phrase "wasting your life" could be dropped from our
vocabulary. The people who really do "waste their lives"
obviously never think about it, and the rest of us who probably
don't waste our lives spend hours concerned about whether or not
we do. And in all the hours we spend feeling panicked about it,
we are indeed "wasting our lives."
were a couple of memorable things about being held up at gunpoint.
One is that the guy was pretty good looking, except that he had
a dead eye. It might have been a poorly fitted glass eye that didn't
roll right, but I'm pretty sure that it was his real one, only dead.
I may not have noticed the dead eye if he was just driving through
to pick up his photos. But when he pulled out a gun and said, "Give
me all the money in the drawer," his right eye had a very menacing
"I mean business" intensity to it, whereas the left eye
had a more lackadaisical "Oh, you know, when you get a chance"
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