Monday, April 30, 2018

J. Marion Sims Monument

As I was walking along upper Fifth Avenue recently I passed what remained of the monument to J. Marion Sims, once lauded as the "father of modern gynecology" and now condemned for the experiments he conducted on female Afro-American slaves in the antebellum South.  According to his Wikipedia bio, he performed surgery on one poor woman in Alabama thirteen times without ever once administering any form of anesthesia to lessen her pain.  How could anyone show such indifference to the suffering of others?

After a recent survey of monuments in New York City occasioned by the controversy over Confederate statues in the South, Sims's was ordered removed.  Below is an enlargement of the plaque placed below the pedestal where Sims's statue once stood.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Fifteen

“What do you want now?” asked Chester as he peered out from behind Lachner’s half opened front door.  “I tried telling you last time that you’re not welcome here.  Is there something wrong with your hearing?  Or are you just stupid?”
Quinn took in Chester’s baleful expression and smiled pleasantly.  “That’s right.  You did attempt to explain that to me once before, didn’t you?  The problem is that I don’t give a shit what you have to say.  Now would you mind letting your boss know I’m here?  Tell him I apologize for not having made an appointment beforehand.”
“You’re a really funny guy,” Chester said as he moved to close the door in Quinn’s face.  “You make me laugh.” 
The smile stayed on Quinn’s face as he gave the door a shove that sent Chester sprawling back against the wall behind him.  “Stop trying to act tough.  You be a good boy and tell Mr. Lachner that company’s come calling.”  He watched the other carefully.  “And if you put your hand anywhere I can’t see, I’m going to kick your teeth down your throat before you have a chance to pull anything.  Believe me, I’d enjoy doing that. I’d enjoy it a lot. ”
Chester tensed his muscles and began to rise from where he’d fallen.  His mouth spilled one obscene curse after another.
“Who’s there, Chester?” asked a quavering voice from behind him.
“Hi, Mr. Lachner.  It’s me. Quinn.  I’m sorry to have to bother you again, but there’s something I need to find out urgently and you’re really the only one who can help.”
Lachner must have signaled to Chester because the door swung open to let Quinn pass.  As he stepped inside, he saw the young man retreat into the shadows.
Quinn turned toward his host.  “That’s one sad ass guard dog you’ve got there.  If he’s the best security you can come up with, I’d worry if I were you.  Maybe you should think about getting rid of him and buying yourself a Rottweiler.”
Lachner viewed Quinn uncertainly.  “Chester’s very devoted…”
“I’m sure he is.”
“Never mind.”  Lachner appeared too weary to argue.  “What can I help you with, Quinn?  I should warn you that if you’re after more information about Behan, I’ve already told you everything I know.  There’s isn’t anything else.”
Quinn shook his head.  “No.  This time I was hoping you could tell me something about a Wall Street financier I recently met with.  He’s a major player and could even have been a client of your old firm for all I know.”
The look in his eyes showed Lachner was interested in spite of himself.  He motioned Quinn to follow and once again led the way to the living room.  He seemed no surer on his feet than he had the last time and Quinn made ready to take his arm if he should stumble. 
The parlor appeared as immaculate as before.  Everything was spotless and perfectly in its place.  Quinn noted, though, that since his last visit a pair of heavy brocade curtains had been pulled so tightly across the front windows that no one on the street would be able to obtain a glimpse of the interior.  The lack of light gave the room a gloomy appearance.
“You should draw back those curtains and enjoy the view,” suggested Quinn.  “Sitting here in the dark isn’t good for your health.”
Lachner didn’t take the time to acknowledge Quinn’s words.  “Who was it you wanted to know about?” he asked.  “I’m rather busy today and haven’t much time to spare.”
“Great.  Let’s get down to business then.”  Quinn seated himself on one of the Louis XIV chairs.  “The man I’m interested in is named Cecil Curwin.”
Lachner didn’t immediately respond.  He was staring at Quinn as though seeing him for the first time.  “You’re much better dressed today than the last time you were here,” he said as he took in his guest’s appearance.  “That’s a very well made suit you’re wearing.”
“Thanks.  I appreciate the compliment.”  Quinn straightened his tie.  “Behan left behind a whole closetful of clothes.  It seemed a shame to let them go to waste.”
“Those are Behan’s clothes?”  There was incredulity in Lachner’s voice.  “Whatever was he doing with them?  He certainly never wore any of them when he visited here.”
Quinn’s expression gave nothing away.  “You know the kind of guy my father was.  He never liked to show off.”
Lachner let it go.  “So, you met Curwin.  How fascinating.  It couldn’t have been about business – you’re hardly on his level – and he’s usually far too busy to socialize.”
“He made an exception for me,” Quinn replied.  He didn’t bother to elaborate.
Lachner nodded his head thoughtfully.  “You’re full of surprises today, aren’t you?”
“I tried finding out as much as I could about Curwin online before coming here,” Quinn went on.  “He’s been pretty successful on Wall Street.  Phenomenally so, one might even say.  I was very impressed.”
“As well you should be,” rejoined Lachner.  “The man came out of nowhere and made a fortune with a few shrewd investments.”
“You know him well then?”
“As you’ve already guessed, Curwin was a client of my firm.  Or rather it was his company that was our client.  It went from being a minor concern that was handled by a junior partner to a major source of business that I took an interest in myself.”
“You just mentioned ‘a few shrewd investments.’  I guess that’s what everyone on Wall Street is hoping to come across.  They’re not always so successful though.  Was Curwin really such a genius?  Or was he just lucky?”
Lachner smiled and lifted a finger in the air as if about to launch into a lecture.  “Luck always has something to do with it.  One has to be in the right place at the right time when an opportunity presents itself.  On the other hand, an investor also has to be knowledgeable enough to recognize the extent of that opportunity.  Before putting down his hard earned money, he has to have a fairly good idea what profit he can hope to realize on it.  There’s no point in tying up one’s assets if the return isn’t sufficient.  Better to sit tight and wait until something better comes along.”
Quinn leaned back and heard the chair creak beneath him.  “I suppose an unscrupulous investor would be willing to take chances to improve the odds in his favor.”
“What do you mean?”  Lachner appeared puzzled.
Quinn came to the point.  “Were all Curwin’s investments on the up and up?  Or did he have any associates when he went into them who might not have been totally legitimate themselves?  I’m talking about silent partners who would have had to stay in the background, perhaps because they had a criminal record or ties to the underworld.”
Lachner was very interested now.  His eyes sparkled.  “Could you be more specific?”
“I’ve learned that Curwin invested in a film company that specializes in softcore porn films.  It’s run by a Japanese national named Yukio Ito.”
“Oh, that.”  Lachner was instantly dismissive.  “I know all about it.  Curwin disclosed all the details of the transaction in his company’s annual reports.  There’s nothing about it that isn’t completely on the level and open to inspection.”
“Sort of an odd investment for such a prominent financier, wouldn’t you say?”
Lachner chuckled.  “Don’t tell me you’re so narrow minded as all that, Quinn, that you’d condemn a businessman for putting money into a company that makes sexy movies.  Why, those films aren’t even considered pornography by today’s standards.  You can see the same or worse every night of the week on cable.”
“What about Ito’s other investors?” Quinn persisted.  “Wouldn’t being in business with some of those guys create problems for Curwin?”
Lachner stopped laughing.  “What other investors?”
“It’s well known that Ito was financed by the yakuza while he was doing business in Tokyo.  I have it on fairly good authority that Curwin may have ties to them as well.”
“You’ve got to be very careful what you’re saying.”  Lachner once again held up his finger, this time in warning.  “If rumors were ever to circulate that Cecil Curwin was involved with underworld crime syndicates, whether local or international, it would have a disastrous effect on his business.  For better or worse, the markets thrive on innuendo.  On the Street, a man is only as good as his reputation.  You could ruin even a top level player such as Curwin with one ill considered word.”
“I’m only repeating information I’ve been given.”
“Information I’m going to do my very best to forget I’ve heard,” Lachner replied as his voice grew condescending.  “You see, Quinn, I know you’re an innocent who’s only just wandered into town and has no idea what he’s talking about.  The problem is that others may not realize how great your ignorance is and may mistakenly put credence in these wild accusations.  And then the damage would be done.”
“Hey, I’m not making this up,” Quinn protested.  “I may not actually have documentation in black & white of what I’m telling you…”
“Then it’s only hearsay.  Aren’t you able to understand that?” Lachner asked in exasperation.  “It’s irresponsible, even criminal, to hint at such things without being able to furnish absolute proof of their veracity.”
“Are you worried about your own firm’s involvement with Curwin?”
Lachner was taken up short by the question.  “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you seem to be overreacting.  I came here to ask you in confidence about a well known financial figure.  If I’ve mentioned something about him that’s come to my attention, it’s obviously only between the two of us.  I’m wondering now why you’re so upset.  Do you have some involvement of your own with Curwin’s unsavory associates?  You certainly seem nervous enough.”
Lachner sat up straight.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Quinn gestured to take in the room about him.  “Come on.  You’re sitting here with the curtains drawn on a bright sunny day.  You’ve got an assistant who’s an ex-con.  Doesn’t any of that seem excessive to you?  It certainly does to me.”
Lachner bit his lip.  “You can’t be too careful these days.”
“What is it you’re so afraid of?” Quinn asked.  ‘Is someone after you?  Who exactly is it – the bad guys or the cops?”
Lachner flushed deeply.  “No one is after me.  There have been some break-ins in the neighborhood recently and I thought it best to take precautions.  An older man living alone might easily become a target for robbers and hoodlums.  That’s one reason Chester is here.”
“Whatever you say.  It really isn’t any of my business anyway.  I just felt concerned for you because you were one of my father’s closest friends.”  Quinn shifted his weight and heard the chair crack beneath him.  “Not that you seemed that broken up over his death.”
“Thank you for your concern.”  Lachner’s voice dripped acid.  “But you were right the first time.  It really isn’t any of your business.”
Quinn smiled and stood up.  “I think that’s my cue to leave.”  He moved forward until he stood directly in front of Lachner.  “I’ll be seeing you around… I hope.”
“What are you trying to say?”  Clearly agitated, Lachner rose unsteadily to his feet.  He stared apprehensively at his departing guest.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me.  I’m not out to get you.”  Quinn paused meaningfully.  “But that doesn’t mean no one else is.”

Chester was waiting for Quinn by the front door.
“Now you,” said Quinn, “I definitely hope I won’t be seeing again.  I’ve already had more than enough of a little runt like you to last me a lifetime.”
Out of nowhere, a stiletto popped open in Chester’s hand.  He held it up for Quinn to see.  “I could cut your heart out with this and laugh while I was doing it.”
“Yeah, but then what would the guy standing behind you say?”
As Chester glanced involuntarily over his shoulder, Quinn punched him full in the face with a hard right hand.
Chester fell to the floor.  The knife slipped from his grasp.
“That was easy.”  Quinn picked up the stiletto, examined it, and then closed it by pressing the point of the blade against the wall.  He tossed the closed knife down to where Chester still lay rubbing his jaw.  “You’ve got to be pretty stupid to fall for that one.  It’s the oldest trick in the book.”
“I’ll get you for this,” muttered Chester.

Quinn leaned down till his face was only inches from the other’s.  “If you ever pull that knife on me again, I’ll break every fucking bone in your body.  You got that?”  He spoke slowly and distinctly, making sure the man on the floor heard each word.  Then he turned his back on him, opened the door and let himself out.

Monday, April 23, 2018

SmugMug Acquires Flickr

Last month I posted my thoughts on file sharing sites, including my own poor experience with Flickr.  That post had been occasioned by VCG's recent acquisition of 500px.  Now Flickr too has a new partner.  It was announced on Friday that SmugMug, the venerable image hosting service, has acquired Flickr from Yahoo and has great plans for it.  Exactly what those plans entail has been addressed in FAQ format in a post on SmugMug's site.  The biggest takeaway from the article is that both entities will remain separate and continue to operate as they have in the past.
"Flickr and SmugMug will continue to operate separately, just as both have been. Your SmugMug and Flickr accounts will remain separate and independent for the foreseeable future."
Flickr had never been an easy fit with Yahoo, so the change in ownership is probably for the better as far as photographers are concerned.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Fourteen

Cecil Curwin’s corner office on Beaver Street was spacious and luxuriously furnished.  Placed against the solid mahogany paneling was a glass display case filled with plaques and trophies; beside it were ebony bookcases lined with leather bound volumes too neatly arranged ever to have been opened let alone read.  On the desk was a photo of Curwin shaking hands with the mayor at some charity fundraiser.  Quinn took all this in from the heavily upholstered chair to which he’d been directed.  
Curwin himself was younger than Quinn had expected.  A clean shaven Afro-American in his mid-thirties, he had the height and build of an NFL linebacker.  Still, he moved gracefully enough as he rose from his enormous desk and crossed the room to shake hands.  He was dressed in a freshly pressed Valentino suit and had had his hair styled in an elegant cut that must have cost several times more than Quinn’s monthly rent.
“It was good of you to come here on such short notice,” said Curwin.  His manner was smooth.  “After your visit to my wife yesterday, I thought it imperative that we talk.”   
Quinn stood to return the handshake.  “I apologize if I disturbed your wife.  Behan and I were close, and I’d hoped she could tell me something that would help.”
“Help in what way?” Curwin inquired.
“Help me find out who killed him.”
“To tell the truth, my wife wasn’t at all upset by your visit, even though she may have found your attire at the time a bit … unorthodox.”  Curwin paused long enough to stare curiously at the dark herringbone suit Quinn was now wearing.  “Actually, she told me you had been very courteous to her.  But surely you must have realized, even before intruding into my home, that Penelope hadn’t seen this Behan in quite some time and so couldn’t possibly have had any information that would assist you in your quest for justice.”
“Quest for justice.”  Quinn rolled the phrase on the tip of his tongue.  “That’s a great expression.  I like it.  As for the hoodie I was wearing yesterday, I’m sorry if it freaked out your wife.  I hope she’s recovered from the shock.”
“I admit I’m relieved you decided to dress more properly for our appointment today.  This is a place of business and appropriate attire is required even of guests.”
“Yes, well the hoodie hadn’t come back yet from the cleaners and I certainly didn’t want to be late, so I threw on the first thing that came to hand.”
Curwin sat down at his desk but continued to stare at Quinn’s outfit.  “That suit is very becoming on you.  I used to own one very much in that same style as a matter of fact.  The tie looks familiar as well.  Your tailor isn’t Wimple & Connors by any chance, is it?”
“Sorry, but I don’t think I ever heard of those guys.  I picked up these threads on sale at Willie’s Jeans on Eighth Avenue.  That’s where I buy all my fine clothes.”
Curwin gave a weak smile.  “You can have your little joke if you like.  What’s important is that you knew enough to display correct etiquette when you arrived here.”
“Tell me.  If you had a potential client with millions to invest in your firm, would you really send him away if you weren’t happy with the clothes he had on his back?”
The smile faded from Curwin’s lips.  “Those with substantial funds to invest didn’t earn their money and become as successful as they are by sneering at society’s standards.”
“Wasn’t it Conrad who said a success is a man too boring to be anything else?”
Curwin remained unfazed.  “I doubt very much that Conrad wore a hoodie.”
“I wouldn’t think you’d worry so much what people wear when we’re only a few blocks from Zucotti Park where the Occupy Wall Street protestors camped out not too long ago.  You could have seen all the jeans and hoodies you wanted then.”
“That rabble?”  Curwin grew suddenly excited and began to pace rapidly about the room.  “They were a dangerous crowd, criminals keeping honest workers from their jobs.  If they hadn’t been evicted from the park, it would only have been a matter of time until they’d attacked some upright Wall Street businessman out of pure spite and jealousy.  And you’re right about their clothes – those protestors looked and smelled worse than the homeless.”
“Isn’t the term ‘upright Wall Street businessman’ an oxymoron to begin with?  As for the ‘rabble,’ how can they afford to buy expensive suits when they’re out of work?  Of course, I suppose you’re one of those who believe it’s their own fault they can’t find a job.”
“There’s plenty of opportunity in this city.” Curwin moved to a window from which he could see much of lower Manhattan.  “The Burger King on the corner of Church and Liberty has a ‘Help Wanted’ sign posted.  I pass it every day.  If these people truly desired to make themselves useful, they’d take a job there instead of freeloading and begging.”
“My, my,” said Quinn.  “Was it at Burger King that you and your Wall Street friends got your start?  I’d no idea.”
Curwin scowled angrily.  “You know perfectly well what I’m trying to say.”
“All the 99% want is to earn enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table.  That doesn’t seem so unreasonable a demand to me.”
“If you want to side with them, go ahead.  I didn’t ask you here to discuss politics.”
“Exactly why did you invite me here?” Quinn asked.  “I certainly don’t want to keep you from your own hard work.  The voice message you left said you had something important to discuss, but so far you haven’t done anything but strut about like a stuffed shirt and look down on me.  I didn’t ride the subway all the way to Bowling Green for that.”
“Then let me come straight to the point.”  Curwin placed his hands on the desktop.  “You are not to attempt to contact my wife again.  Is that clear enough for you?”
“If your wife really has nothing to tell me, then why would I want to see her again?  I only went to your home yesterday because I thought Penelope might remember something from the time she and Behan knew one another that would point to a reason for his murder.  There had to be some motive, even if the police haven’t yet been able to find it.”
“I’m sure the police are capable of doing their job without any assistance from you.”
“That’s exactly what they tell me.”  Quinn glanced over his shoulder at the display case behind him.  “You have a lot of trophies.  What did you get them for?”
“Marksmanship.  I’m an excellent shot.  In my senior year at Yale, I nearly qualified for the Olympics.”  Curwin gave Quinn a crooked smile.  “But before you ask me if I’m the one who killed your friend, I can assure you I’ve never shot anyone.”
“Was Behan shot to death?  How did you happen to know that?”
“I didn’t.  But it’s common knowledge most murders in this city are committed with handguns.  Just read the mayor’s latest statement on the importance of gun control.”
“I’m sure permits are readily available to the wealthy,” Quinn observed.
 “If you have a problem with that, I suggest you talk to the police commissioner.”
“I wonder if Behan had time after he’d been shot to realize he was about to die.”
“You’d have to ask him.”
“That’s funny,” said Quinn.  “You’ve got jokes.  It really must have rankled that your wife would have wanted to associate with someone as low class as Behan in the first place.”
“I never actually met the man.  I didn’t have to.  From what Penelope told me about him – and no, she never bothered to keep her association with him a secret from me – his entire life was one long failure.  To the best of my knowledge, he never accomplished anything meaningful.  If he’s dead and gone, I can’t believe it’s any great loss to the world.”
Quinn controlled himself with difficulty.  “Behan might never have made a lot of money or been a big businessman, but he took some wonderful photos.  I don’t think someone who creates art and brings beauty into the world can so easily be written off as a failure.”
“Perhaps not from your perspective.  My own standards are quite different.”
“That’s enough about Behan.”  Quinn clenched his teeth.  “Now how about dropping the act and telling me about your partnership with Ito?  I went to visit him, you know.  He didn’t say anything about you, but I understand that you’re a big fan of his and have dumped a lot of cash into his film company.  I heard you even put together a consortium of investors from among your friends to give him all the financing he needs.  It all sounds pretty cozy to me.  I’m just wondering what you get back for your money.”
“I don’t have to detail my business dealings to anyone.  But there’s no mystery.  Ito’s films make money, both here and abroad.  A lot of money.  That’s why I’m backing him.”
“I bet you big spenders get special treatment.  Does Ito ever send you over any actresses to fuck?  Sort of as a way of saying ‘thanks for all your help.’”
 “Do you know how low you are to even suggest such a thing?” Curwin raged.  
“Perhaps.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not true, does it?”  Quinn left Curwin no time to answer.  “Why did Ito have the photos Behan took of your wife?  Is he going to star her in the next sick piece of garbage he puts out, the same one you’re backing so generously?  Is that part of your deal with Ito, to hand over your wife to be raped on film?”
Curwin’s eyes went wide.  “Are you completely insane?  I would never even consider allowing Penelope to appear in one of Ito’s films.  Do you realize what a scandal there would be if she were seen and recognized?  Do you how greatly it would hurt my career?”
“So which is it you care about more – your wife or your career?  Did you ever really love Penelope to begin with, or was she just some exotic ornament for you to wear on your arm?  To guys like you, having a beautiful wife is like driving an expensive sports car.  They both help give you the right image.”
Curwin couldn’t believe what he was hearing.   “How dare you insult me this way?”
“Or maybe you’ve got a thing for porn stars,” Quinn suggested.  “Do you get turned on in bed by those hookers Ito has under contract?  Is that the real reason you’re so interested in his sleaze fests?”
“That’s enough.”  Curwin pounded the top of his desk.  “Get out.  Right now.”
“I’ll be out of here in a minute.  I know what packed schedules you Wall Street financiers must have.  I wouldn’t want to keep you from whoring for another dollar. Maybe we can meet again, though, and continue our discussion somewhere more private.”
“I only brought you here to tell you to stay away from my wife.”  Curwin stood and pointed to the door.  “I have nothing else to say to you.”
 “Well, thanks for sending me away like I was the hired help.”  Quinn too stood up.  “But before I go, here’s a warning for you.  If you ever talk to me like that again or even look at me sideways, I’ll kick your ass from here to Battery and back again.  That would teach you some badly needed manners.  You wouldn’t be so smug afterwards.  Your suit would get wrinkled and your hair would be all mussed up.  Whatever would you do then?”
“I don’t have to listen to threats from an ass like you.”  The veins stood out on Curwin’s forehead.  “You’d better leave now before I call building security.”
“You won’t do that.  You just got done telling me how you don’t want any scandal rocking your financial wizard image.  But don’t worry.  I’m happy enough to leave on my own.  After having met with you, dealing with a mugger on the subway would be a step up.”
As Quinn left Curwin’s office, he turned to take one last look back.  He saw Curwin leaning over his desk with his fists planted firmly on top.  The financier was breathing heavily and staring blankly ahead.   

Quinn continued on his way to the elevator.  As he approached it, a goggle eyed secretary who must have heard every word that had been spoken stepped back against the wall and stared at Quinn as though uncertain whether to scream or to call the police.  In the end, she did neither.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Another Film Discontinued

Fujifilm recently announced it will discontinue its Neopan 100 Acros black & white film in October 2018.  This is a fine grain (a property of its low ISO) film that's long been popular among portrait photographers.

The film is already shown as discontinued at B&H while last week it was still in stock and selling for $6.49 per roll. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Thirteen

As he returned home from the East Side, Quinn once again ran into his neighbor Mayla on the stairwell.  “How are you doing these days?” she asked.  “All settled in?”
“Yes, there really wasn’t much moving to do – I’m wearing everything I own – and I’ve even managed to find myself a new roommate.  Her name’s Violeta.  She’s the one who really keeps the apartment in order.  You’ll have to stop by sometime to meet her.”
“I’d love to.  If you’re not too busy, I could drop by this evening.  I’ll bring some wine as a housewarming present.”  Mayla laughed.  “Or would you rather smoke weed?”
Quinn smiled at the thought.  “Why not bring both if you’ve got them to spare.”
“I certainly do.  My Dominican friends from Inwood are always laying Purple Haze and Sour Diesel on me.  A couple of joints of that shit should keep us high all night.”  Then Mayla had second thoughts.  “But what about your roommate Violeta?  I don’t want to sit there smoking and drinking if it’s going to disturb her.” 
“Don’t worry,” Quinn reassured her.  “I don’t know about weed, but Violeta enjoys a drink as much as we do.  Stop by around ten o’clock if that’s good for you.”

After they’d finished eating, Quinn and Violeta sat together in the living room later that same evening.  He had already told her that he had invited Mayla to join them. 
“Sure,” Violeta had replied.  “I always love to drink fine wine and smoke good grass.  But don’t worry that I’ll cramp your style – I’ll excuse myself if you two want to be alone.”
“There’s nothing to worry about there.  Mayla and I are just neighbors, nothing more than that.  I’m surprised you haven’t run into her before this.  She’s on the floor below.”
Quinn then told Violeta about his meeting with Penelope, but he refrained from mentioning the kiss he had given her.
“So, in the end, she got the rich husband she’d been looking for all along.  I guess we should be happy for her.”  That was Violeta’s only comment on Quinn’s story.
“Yes, I wonder where she met her husband.  I forgot to ask.”
“Probably online.  Everyone looks for matches on dating sites these days.  She was lucky he turned out to be what he said he was, and not some psycho pretender.  It’s rare these days to find someone, online or off, who tells the truth about himself.”
“Just because a guy’s rich doesn’t mean he’s not a psycho,” Quinn pointed out.
“If he’s rich, most women in this city wouldn’t care how psycho he is.”
Quinn suddenly changed the subject.  “Violeta, is it really so wrong for a man to be attracted to a married woman?”
Violeta shot Quinn a curious look.
“What is it?”  Quinn kept his expression blank.  “I was only asking a question.”
“Yes, maybe, but why that particular question?  And right after you finish telling me how gorgeous this Penelope is.  You have to admit it’s pretty strange timing on your part.”
Quinn looked away.  “I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
Violeta sat up straight.  “Quinn, you’re not thinking of getting involved with that woman, are you?  She was nothing but bad news for Behan.”
“I doubt she’s the one who killed him.”
“You realize that’s not much of a recommendation, don’t you?”
“In the end, it doesn’t make any difference how I feel about Penelope, does it?  People like me and Behan don’t really exist for her.  We’re just there to be used if needed.”
“Don’t let her get to you the way she got to Behan,” Violeta warned.
“There’s no need to worry.  She’s married to money now, and you can bet your sweet life she’s not going to do anything that would rock the boat.  She’s too smart for that.”
Violeta wasn’t taken in.  “Will you see her again?” she asked.
“What for?”  Quinn tried to shrug off the question.  “Penelope didn’t have anything important to tell me about Behan when I saw her today.  Nothing that would help me find his killer anyway.  No, there’s no real reason for the two of us to meet again.”
“You can do what you like, but I think it would be better if you didn’t.”
“There’s one problem though,” Quinn mentioned.
“What’s that?”
“I had a message waiting on the answering machine when I got back home today.  It was from her husband.  He wanted to know if I could meet him at his office tomorrow.  Penelope must have called him as soon as I’d left and told him I’d been to see her.”
“Uh, oh.  Are you going?”
The question took Quinn by surprise.  “Why on earth wouldn’t I?”
Violeta poured herself a large shot of cacha├ža.  “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Mayla rang the bell at eleven, an hour later than had been arranged.  “I couldn’t find any wine, but I brought some wonderful weed.  It’s hydroponic and really packs a hit.”
For a few hours, the three friends sat crosslegged on the floor rolling one joint after another and pulling six packs of beer from the refrigerator.  Mayla talked about famous actors she’d met on set, Violeta about her life as a model and Quinn about his travel assignments during those times his sister had been well enough for him to leave San Francisco.
By two o’clock, Violeta was ready to call it a night and get some sleep.  “I hate to be a drag on the fun,” she announced, “but I’ve got a location shoot scheduled for 7 a.m.  Photographers don’t care much for models with big bags under their eyes.”
“They won’t complain when the model’s as attractive as you,” Quinn said.
After Violeta had left, Quinn and Mayla continued talking and drinking through the early morning hours.  They smoked another full gram of weed and then popped open a bottle of French champagne Quinn had found at the bottom of Behan’s refrigerator. 
“If I know my father, he’d probably held onto this for years.  What a total romantic the guy was.  He’d get the best, like this Roederer, and then he’d put it away while waiting for the perfect evening to arrive when he could be alone with a pretty woman.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Mayla asked.  She lit up a cigarette.
 “Nothing, I guess, depending on how long he had to wait.”
They were both silent for a moment. 
“What about you Quinn?  Are you with anyone right now?”
“I met someone just today, but as luck would have it she turned out to be married.  And to a multimillionaire no less.  I don’t expect anything will happen there.”
“Ha.  Marriage doesn’t stand in the way of many men, let me tell you.  I have a ton of girlfriends who’ll testify to that.”
“You should be married yourself, Mayla.  You’re a beautiful young woman.  All the guys must be after you.”
“You’re sweet, Quinn. And thanks for calling me ‘young,’ but I bet the woman you were so attracted to has a lot less years on her than I do.”
“Hey, even if she is a little younger, it can’t be by much.”
“Well, if you do run into Ms. Millions again, you might want to consider wearing different clothes.  No offense, but you’re not exactly dressed to impress.”
“She’ll have to take me as I am.  Even if I were willing to torture myself by putting on a suit, I don’t have the bucks to go out buying any fancy clothes.”
“Why would you have to buy anything?  You’re about the same size as Behan – I’m guessing a 52 long – and his closets are stuffed full with high priced clothes.  He showed them to me once.  There’s an incredible selection there.  Some of the suits may be a little out of date, but quality never really goes out of style.  And the Italian silk ties are classic.”
“You should be doing commercials on late night TV.”
“I wish I was,” Mayla sighed.  She took a deep drag on her cigarette.  “I’ve known actors who’ve retired on the money they made from residuals.”
“But where did Behan get such fine clothes?  The man was always dead broke.”
“That I couldn’t tell you,” said Mayla.  “I often wondered about it myself.”
Quinn walked to a closet and opened it.  There were a line of suits facing him, each still in its cellophane wrapper from the dry cleaner.  “What would you suggest?” he asked.
Mayla stood up and moved beside him.  “That black Versace suit is really sharp.  It would give you a continental flair. ”
“Bullshit.  But I do like the color black all right.”
Wear it with a white shirt and you can go anywhere.  I can see you and your mystery woman having dinner at 11 Madison.  Just make sure she’s the one who picks up the tab.”
“Not if I can find a black dress shirt somewhere in here.  As far as I’m concerned, that would go a lot better with this suit.  If I were to wear a white shirt, I’d probably get busted for impersonating a stock broker.  Or else be mistaken for an undertaker.”
Mayla couldn’t control her laughter.  “Have it your way.  Now let’s look for a tie.”
For the next half hour, the two rifled through Behan’s closets and drawers.  They pulled out every expensive piece of clothing they could find until at last Quinn had put together a full wardrobe.  Every so often, at Mayla’s urging, Quinn would try on a jacket or sweater to make certain it fit.
“You’re a really handsome guy, Quinn.  When we get done with this you’re going to look like a millionaire yourself in those clothes.”
“Is that really such a good idea?” asked Quinn.  “When I was talking to Viktor the other day, he told me the best way to get targeted in the city was to put on a suit.  And he was right.  Once I start wearing expensive threads, I’ll be putting myself in the crosshairs of every hustler on the street.  I might as well flash a Rolex on the subway and be done with it.”
“Tsk, tsk.  You’re never going to become a playboy with that attitude.”
“Sorry. Mayla.  I don’t mean to be ungrateful.”  Quinn regarded her fondly.   “You know I really appreciate all the help you’re giving me.”
It was almost 4 a.m. when Mayla finally stood up and shook out her long red hair.  “I’ve got a call back at nine tomorrow morning.  I better get a few hours’ sleep before I go, or I’ll look like a total hag.”  She stubbed out her cigarette and gave Quinn a kiss on the cheek.  “When I see you tomorrow on the stairs, I expect you to look like someone new.”

Quinn shook his head.  “You can forget that.  I’m too old to turn into someone else.”

Monday, April 9, 2018

Virtual Photography Models

According to an intriguing article in the New York Post, the latest supermodel to appear on the fashion scene is actually nonexistent.  As the story goes, the model named Shudu who recently attained internet fame wearing a celebrity brand of lipstick is actually a CGI created by British photographer Cameron-James Wilson.  After having kept Shudu's true identity a secret for months, Wilson recently revealed the truth.

As the article points out, Shudu is only one - if arguably the most realistic - of many virtual models to appear on social media.  This may be part of a new trend to replace living models with virtual counterparts.  After all, there are already music icons in Japan who are entirely computer generated.

Despite the huge advances that have been made in CGI that makes rendering so realistic an image possible, I'm still not sure why photographers would choose to go with a virtual model rather than a real one.  Even with all the high tech available, it still must be extremely time consuming and labor intensive to create a digital model when there are so many beautiful living models to choose from.   Even after having taken into account the time needed for hair and makeup and that required for post-processing, it sill seems considerably easier to pick up a camera and photograph a living model.  The only advantage to a CGI model that I can think of is that it affords the photographer - and the art director behind him - total control.  But one wonders if such control would eventually remove all the spontaneity from images and render them contrived and lifeless.  Or, on the other hand, has CGI become so sophisticated that there is no longer any means by which to distinguish the real from the virtual?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Twelve

Standing on line, his food stamps application clutched in his hand, Quinn had ample time to read the posters hung on the center’s walls.  The most prominent was painted with black & white prison stripes and cautioned, “Assaulting an HRA worker is a felony.   It’s the law and you can go to jail.”  There were others that read, “Be Honest – Medicaid Fraud” and “Don’t Cheat – Food Stamps.”  Quinn turned to the young woman standing on line behind him.  “Isn’t it great the way they make you feel like a criminal when the only thing you’ve done wrong is to be poor?”
“Yeah, whatever,” the woman replied.  She snapped her gum in Quinn’s face.
Quinn didn’t try talking to anyone else after that.
It had already been more than twenty minutes that Quinn had waited on line on the second floor of the Waverly Center on 14th Street.  The room was painted in shades of lavender.  There was only one worker standing behind the counter at Reception.  She kept her eyes fixed on the computer monitor in front of her and never bothered to look up at the long line that stretched before her.  Every so often she would glance at her watch to see if it were her lunch hour yet.  When Quinn finally stood before her, she glanced at his application, handed it back to him, and printed out a green sheet of paper with a number on it.  “Fifth floor,” she said.
On five, Quinn found himself in another waiting area, this one arrayed with cheap classroom desks and chairs.  The room had been painted in shades of lime green, and the same threatening posters as downstairs had been placed on its walls.  An electronic bulletin board hung overhead and showed the applicants’ numbers as they were announced.  For some reason, though, the numbers were not always called in order and sometimes skipped back and forth.  Quinn took a seat and settled in for a long wait.
Over an hour later, when his number finally appeared on the board, Quinn passed through a doorway into an office space filled with grey cubicles.  He followed a slow moving heavy-set man who beckoned to him and told him to take a seat beside his desk.  Although the printed information Quinn had been given had referred to this meeting as an “interview,” the man who had introduced himself as Mr. Kendrick did not look at Quinn nor address him directly.  Instead, he stared straight ahead at his computer monitor as he entered information.  “Do you have photo ID, proof of income and proof of shelter?” he asked.
Quinn wordlessly handed over copies of his passport, his most recent tax return and the lease he had signed with Viktor the week before.  He looked down at the floor and saw a can of Raid propped beside the desk.  “Do you have problems with bugs?”
“Sometimes,” answered Mr. Kendrick, still looking straight ahead.  He proceeded to ask a series of yes or no questions, most of which Quinn had already answered on the application.  At one point he excused himself for several minutes and left Quinn sitting alone.  Finally, he returned and handed Quinn a sheet of paper on which were checked off the items Quinn had provided to him.  “This is your proof I’ve met with you.  Make sure you hold onto it,” Kendrick advised and only then finally looked Quinn in the eyes.  “You’ll receive a determination on your application by mail within twenty-five days.  If you haven’t received it by then, call me at the number on the bottom.”
“Thanks,” said Quinn.  “I guess the reason you don’t make a determination on the spot is because you don’t want people who’ve been denied assistance going berserk and breaking up the place.  Do I have it right?”
Mr. Kendrick didn’t answer, only stared at the computer monitor.

An hour later, Quinn was once again on Fifth Avenue after having ridden the 4 train to East 86th Street.  He strolled leisurely down Museum Mile while eyeing the luxury coops that lined his way.  Arriving at the Met Museum, he took a position directly opposite the high rise he had seen Ito and Penelope exit the day before.  While leaning against the cyclone fence enclosing the plaza, he tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. 
Quinn had a three hour wait with a blustery November wind blowing hard against him the whole time.  He had dressed as warmly as possible, but the temperature had dropped into the low 30’s the night before and soon the frozen air had numbed his arms and legs.  Tourists lugging shopping bags filled with souvenirs pushed past him, and he moved about as much to avoid them as to stay warm.
Finally Quinn was rewarded by the sight of Penelope striding along the sidewalk on the other side of Fifth.  She was moving rapidly and had almost reached the entranceway to her building by the time Quinn had crossed the street and come near her.  “You’re Penelope,” he called out to her.  It wasn’t a question.
The beautiful woman turned to look inquiringly at him.  She took in his hoodie and worn leather jacket at a glance.  Without uttering a single word, she took a quick step away toward the shelter of her home.
The building’s doorman, who had watched Quinn’s approach with a wary eye, now hurried forward.  Before turning his attention to Quinn, he gave Penelope an ingratiating smile to show he had the situation well in hand.  “Can I help you, sir?”  He deliberately emphasized the word “sir” to demonstrate how little he thought Quinn deserved the title.
Quinn ignored the doorman and again addressed the woman.  “You’re Penelope, aren’t you?  My name’s Quinn.  I was a friend of Behan’s.”  As he saw her hesitate, he added.  “You do remember who Behan was, don’t you?  He’s the photographer that got himself murdered a little while back.”
The doorman moved between them.  “Is this man bothering you?” he asked Penelope.  His tone was deferential.  At the same time, he directed toward Quinn a stare that was a good deal harsher than the November wind blowing about them.
Quinn held the doorman’s gaze and smiled back at him.
“It’s all right, Fred,” Penelope said in the tone of one reprimanding a dog that had been barking too loudly.  By then, she’d had time to take a second look at Quinn and had made her decision.  “He’s coming upstairs with me.”  She entered the building and Quinn moved quickly to join her.  The doorman fell into step behind them.
Quinn turned on his heel.  “Why don’t you wait on the sidewalk, Fred?  The fresh air will do you good.”
Penelope turned also and smiled brightly.  “It’s all right, Fred.  I’ll be fine.”
“He was only doing his job,” Penelope said when she and Quinn had gotten on the elevator.  She nodded her head to the operator who’d already pushed the button for her floor.
“Keeping the riff raff off Fifth Avenue,” said Quinn.  “That’s what Fred thinks his job is.”
The building’s top floor was taken up by a single penthouse.  Quinn, his feet sinking into the rich Persian carpeting, stood behind Penelope as she inserted a magnetic key card into its slot and pushed open the door.  Without looking back, she raised her hand over her shoulder and motioned Quinn to enter. 
Quinn took a good look at Penelope as he passed her.  He caught the scent of Chanel wafting toward him and noted the short black dress that was too simply cut not to have been fabulously expensive. 
The foyer in which Quinn found himself was the sort he had only seen in the back copies of Metropolitan Home that had once littered his dentist’s waiting room.  The carefully placed contemporary furniture was designed to complement the modernist metal sculptures beside which it had been placed.  Quinn observed that the floor, rather than being carpeted, was instead covered with chocolate colored leather.  “How do you keep it shined?” he asked.
Penelope looked at him in astonishment. “I don’t.  That’s the maid’s job.”  Her voice was matter of fact.
“Yes, of course.  I should have guessed.  Come to think of it, I can’t really picture you on your hands and knees with a buff cloth and a can of shoe polish.”
His host nodded her agreement. 
“You might ruin your manicure.”
Penelope looked at the perfectly shaped nails that had been meticulously painted a deep shade of crimson.
“Is Penelope your real name?  I only ask because I know models often use aliases to protect their identity.”  Without waiting to be asked, Quinn seated himself on a plush sofa.  He was about to hang his jacket on a nearby sculpture when he realized it was a Brancusi.
Penelope regarded Quinn for a few seconds without answering.  She was too busy appraising her guest.  “I didn’t think I’d be giving too much away by using only my first name.  It’s the one I was born with, and the one you may call me by.”  Careful to leave space between them, she took a seat opposite Quinn.
Quinn could not stop staring at Penelope’s face.  The long blonde hair and arched eyebrows only accentuated her pale complexion.  Her features were so perfectly symmetrical that it was difficult to believe they were natural and not the work of a cosmetic surgeon.  But it was her almond shaped eyes that most commanded his attention.  They were so light a shade of green that they were almost yellow; they reminded Quinn of a cat’s eyes so brightly did they glitter in the dim room light.  “You’re really something,” he said as he lowered his eyes to take in the tiny waist and the small breasted figure that couldn’t have been any larger than a size zero.  “I wasn’t ready for how gorgeous you were in real life.  No matter how talented Behan was as a photographer, he wasn’t able to do you justice.”
Penelope didn’t bother to argue.  “It’s strange you should put it that way.  Behan always said the exact same thing.  He was very modest about his abilities”
“I guess he was at that.”
“You said downstairs that it was about Behan that you wished to speak.”
“Yes, I’m really grateful you could spare a few moments for me.  I’m sure you know that Behan is dead.  He was murdered in an alleyway downtown.”
 “I was totally shocked when I read it about it in the newspaper.  I could never imagine anything like that happening to someone I knew.”  Penelope visibly shivered.  “It’s a shame this city is always so filled with violence.”
“Did you contact the police when you found out what had happened?”
Penelope appeared genuinely startled at the suggestion.  “No.  Why would I?  I wasn’t involved and had no pertinent information to give them.”
“Behan was in love with you, though, wasn’t he?  Anyone could have seen that just from looking at the photographs he took of you.”
 “Even if he were, that didn’t have anything to do with his death.  Those photos were a private matter, not something that would involve the police.  Or you either.”  Penelope sat straighter in her chair.  “You haven’t told me yet how you learned of my friendship with Behan.  Or how you know about the photographs he took of me.  Are you a detective?”
Quinn had his explanation prepared.  “No not at all.  I’m staying at the apartment where he used to live and found your address and photos there.”  
Penelope raised her eyebrows in disbelief.  “You seem to know quite a lot.”
Quinn let it pass.  “How did you and Behan happen to meet in the first place?”
“He hired me after having seen my photo on the web.  I hadn’t been able to find an agency because of my short height, but back then I still had to earn a living to support myself.  Behan was a godsend.  He not only paid me but offered me prints for my portfolio.  The other internet photographers, and I use the term loosely, I’d worked with seemed never to have encountered any fashion other than what was on sale at a Staten Island shopping mall.  But even if Behan weren’t a professional fashion photographer, he still knew exactly what he was doing.  There was real genius in the shots he took of me.  When I showed his work to designers, even though I wasn’t a standard dress size, they were more than willing to lend me their best pieces in exchange for promotional use of the photos.”
“You never saw him except when you were working together?”
Penelope’s tone remained casual.  “Oh, once a shoot was finished, he sometimes invited me to an inexpensive Thai restaurant on Broadway for a quick lunch or dinner.   I’m sure he realized I hadn’t much money and wanted to be generous.  And then too I suppose it was fun for him to be seen about with an attractive model.  But it certainly wasn’t a date if that’s what you’re getting at.  After all, attentive as he was – and he really did go out of his way to be considerate – the man was old enough to be my father.”
“Mine too,” Quinn noted.  “And that was it?  There was nothing else between you?”
“Behan may once or twice have asked me to go with him to a movie, but I always declined as politely as I could.  You see, I didn’t want to say or do anything that might seem to encourage whatever romantic hopes he might have had.”
“It would be very difficult for any man not to want a woman as beautiful as you for a girlfriend,” said Quinn.  “If you weren’t married, I’d probably ask you out myself.”
“You’re being very kind,” Penelope replied, “or at least I think you are.  But, of course, I am married.”  She touched the platinum band she wore on her left hand.
“Yes, I realize you’re taken, and I respect that.”
“Then you’re one of the few men who do.”  Penelope glanced pointedly at a clock on the mantelpiece.  The timepiece was made from quartz and was completely transparent; all its internal gears could be seen in movement.
Quinn stayed in his seat.  “I’ll be leaving in a moment.  There’s just one more thing I’d like to ask you about, if you don’t mind.”
“What’s that?”
“Behan had a whole collection of semi-pornographic DVD’s in his apartment.  I couldn’t figure what he was doing with all that kinky stuff, so I went to see Ito, the director whose work it was.  I wanted to find out if he knew anything.  While I was there, I saw that Ito had somehow acquired several of Behan’s prints.  One was hanging on the wall above his bed.  You were the model in every single photo.  Do you know anything about that?”
“So you were lying before when you told me where you’d first seen those photos?”
Quinn only shrugged.  He was sure Ito had told Penelope of his visit to the studio.
 Penelope, set to explode in anger, leaped halfway from her chair but then restrained herself and regained her composure.  “Please don’t speak to me about that awful man Ito.” 
“You do know him then?”
“Unfortunately, yes.  He’s a business associate of my husband.  Cecil has invested in Ito’s production company and has brought him here several times for dinner.  Several times too many as far as I’m concerned.  I’ve had to play the polite hostess, but I abhor the man.  He makes my skin crawl.”  She made a face as though she had a foul taste in her mouth.
“Why does he have your photos?”
“He asked Cecil to loan them to him.  He gave a long winded explanation about needing new ideas for his films.  I didn’t believe a word of it.  Personally, I think he’s just a dirty old man.  On the other hand, I couldn’t very well object to his request since he is my husband’s partner.  What he does with those photos I don’t even want to think about.”
“It occurred to me that Ito might have wanted you to appear in his next production.  I’m sure he has a starring role all picked out for you.  Considering the type of films he makes, though, I’m not sure it would be that much of an honor.”
“If that’s what he wants, he will be very disappointed.”  Penelope’s tone was sharp as nails.  “There is only so much I will do for anyone, including my husband, and that’s a line I will not cross.  If Ito should try to persuade me, I will convince my husband that some action needs to be taken against him.  Cecil may do business with Ito, but he will not tolerate any disrespect toward me.”
“Fair enough,” said Quinn.  He stood and put back on the leather jacket he had finally laid on the sofa beside him.  “I appreciate the time you’ve given to talk with a total stranger.”  He started to say something else but then stopped abruptly.
Penelope had risen too and was making her way to the door to see him out.  “I wasn’t quite sure about you when you first walked through the door, but I can see now you really are sincerely interested in what happened to Behan.  He was lucky to have so good a friend as you.”  She held out her hand.  “I hope we will meet again sometime in the future.” 
Quinn ignored the outstretched hand and instead moved forward.  He put his arm around Penelope’s waist and drew her to him and then kissed her passionately on the lips.  The embrace lasted a full minute.  Penelope didn’t struggle or try to stop him.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said when Quinn had at last released her and stepped back.
“You can slap me if you like,” said Quinn, “but that will probably just make me want to kiss you again.”
Penelope raised her hand as though she might very well strike him.  Then she let it drop to her side and turned away so he couldn’t see her face.  “Please go now,” she said.

Quinn gazed at her with undisguised longing, then turned and left.