Keeping the stars to himself
September 3, 2006
The Persied meteor shower of 1992 was a particular good one, and I have pictures to prove it.Well, sorta?I had several jobs in 1992 – I was on the house staff (translation: chair mover) at the Snowmass Conference Center, and I was the darkroom technician for the Snowmass Sun newspaper.During the night of the big meteor shower, my boss (to whom we’ll assign the standard not-his-real-name name) Jim, and I snuck on the roof of the conference center, spread out some blankets from the linen closet and reclined for what would be the most amazing celestial display I’ve ever witnessed. I dragged my camera and tripod along to try to capture some of the meteor action – huge, glowing, long-burning fireballs lighting up the sky every minute. This went on for hours, and I was excited to think what my camera must be capturing. So was Jim, and he insisted that I make him a print.The next day I developed my black and white film (remember film?), examined the negatives, and saw nothing. There was the occasional speck or fleck that could just have easily been dust, but hardly the bursting fireworks that I thought for sure would be on the emulsion. I may as well have left the lens cap on.As I stood there with my useless strip of negatives I wondered just what a black and white photo of a shooting star would look like. Basically just a bunch of specks of white (stars) on a black background (sky) with a streak of white (meteor), right?Hmmm. I took out a sheet of photo paper, dipped my finger in the fixer and spattered the paper with the foul-smelling chemical. Fixer is the final chemical in the developing process, and “fixes” the image on the paper, so where the liquid fixer landed would leave little dots of white. Then I took a cotton swab, dipped it in the fixer and did a quick streak across the corner of the page. I turned the light on to expose the sheet, ran it thorough the chemical trays in the usual manner and by golly if I didn’t have what sure looked like a black sky filled with stars and a meteor streaking past in the corner. I was years ahead of the Photoshop era. I set the photo aside and went on with my other work.The next day I took it in to show Jim. As I handed it to him, I was about to say, “Isn’t this cool? I did this with my finger and a Q-Tip. Doesn’t it totally look like what we say last night?” However, before I could say anything, he snatched it from my hand and went absolutely mad.”Dude! That’s awesome! Wow! That is so cool! Hey, check out this picture that Barry took of the meteor shower! C’mere everybody!”Before I could say a word he had shown no less than 30 people this picture, all the while slapping my back and thanking me for the great reminder of such a spectacular event.Suddenly I was faced with some difficult options:1) I could tell Jim how I made the picture, as originally planned.2) I could say nothing.3) I could tell everyone BUT Jim how I made the picture.If I told Jim, he would not only no longer have the cool picture he thought he had, but he’d probably be embarrassed. As long as I kept my mouth shut, Jim had a frozen moment from his front row seat at a heavenly pyrotechnics show. If I blabbed, he had nothing.I’m ashamed to admit that I was finding option 3 INCREDIBLY tempting. Still, I decided to say nothing.A few months later I was at his place for a party, and right there on the fridge was that Q-Tip streaked faux photo. I thought about spilling the beans that night, as I figured enough time had elapsed that we could all laugh about it now, and I could rack up some practical joke points. But instead I just opened the fridge, grabbed a beer, and continued to keep the secret safe. Why let something as arbitrary as “truth” take away someone’s shooting star?Barry Smith, an award-winning performer best known for his show “Jesus in Montana,” appears in The Aspen Times every Monday. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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