At that time, it was unusual for a guy to be a secretary. And although you might think that it was fun, it wasn’t. Secretaries, and administrative assistants, were the slaves of the organization. I was at a the PR Firm – and one of my jobs (this is after finishing school at NYU MFA) and working on film sets, was to get coffee for whoever needed it. If there was a conference in the morning I needed to enter the room first and prepare coffee and danish and maybe bagels. I found this to be the worst part of the job.
And after having fallen so far down, so quickly, I began to suffer from panic attacks. Panic attacks are common in my family. I once did a family tree, putting red dots next to the branches that suffered from any sort of mental illness, and almost the entire tree was red. My father always walked around with valium in his pockets. And my mother was simply a phobic though artistic woman. When I first got my driving license I had to drive her to her psychiatrist since she was terrified of driving.
My own phobias were numerous: I know realize I had social anxiety; fear of being stuck in a crowded subway car (pretty common in NYC); terrified of pretty girls; and the ultimate terror would be the dentist or a close tie with the doctor. Maybe I’ll write an entire chapter on family phobias later – but for now – let’s just say that if I had my choice between having a severe anxiety attack where you faint – or being mildly depressed for a while (and don’t think I haven’t had this conversation with family members) we all agreed that depression would be preferable. But anyway…
So it wasn’t surprising that I was unhappy bringing coffee and danishes for the bosses who were younger than I was brought me back to that anxious state of feeling like a complete and utter failure.
All of a sudden I found myself chained to a typewriter (yes that far back) and my three bosses would buzz me; and generally I would be asked to type up a press release, or call people to set up a meeting.
And as I say, I hadn’t suffered from panic attacks too often – but I began to feel sick to my stomach as I entered the skyscraper. The periodontist who was scraping my gums in my off time had given me a few 5 mg valium tablets, and I broke them up into four tiny bits and took one at the start of a day, finding that it helped.
But there was something to be discovered there. The trio of PR agents I worked for were mostly responsible for training authors on how to present themselves during t.v. interviews.
Did you know that when you see so-and-so, unless they are very famous and have done this before, there are mock studios all over the world for them to train in and getting “news” placed in the newspapers or t.v. You’d be amazed at how much of what you see as news (even today) is really just PR firms pushing products or personalities.
There were mock t.v. interviews for new authors. For a special appearance – there were mock studios with actual audiences to make noise and clap and get the author used to being in front of a crowd.
I can remember seeing an author walk into our mock studio, and my boss asking me to get coffee and danish and I brought them in and there were mock t.v. cameras made from cardboard, I think – maybe plastic – and – well you get the idea.
A few days later I saw the same writer being interviewed on one of the morning shows.
* * *
Don’t worry, there’s a connection between all this PR stuff and how I fell back into photography. I wasn’t shooting at that time.
Early on, I asked my friend Lester what I should do. That I was just very unhappy. He advised me to quit. I had saved enough money to last a few months and look for something else; but after being so broke for so long, I was afraid to quit.
Instead, I found a psychiatrist. It was my first session. And it was cheap. These were actually psychiatrists in training. But I made my way to the clinic every Tuesday evening.
Strange place. For one thing you had to sign in when you arrived, and the sign-in pad was there for anyone to see.
One day I noticed that someone had signed in as David Beckerman.
Weird. Not me. But of all things, there was another David Beckerman in New York – and he was also going to this place. I asked one of the ancient clerks who sat behind the barred cage if they had ever seen this David Beckerman – and did what did he look like.
That they wouldn’t tell me, but they did say that they had noticed the fact that there were two David Beckerman’s, and that we were both seeing the same therapist and how confusing that must be for all concerned.
Fortunately, they said that my double didn’t look anything like me. He was, they said, very short – probably about five feet tall – and had blue eyes.
Whereas I was tall and skinny (about six foot) with brown eyes. However, as time went on, I became more curious about this other David Beckerman and one day while waiting for my session, it turned out that he had rescheduled his appointment for the following day (Weds morning).
I don’t know what I thought I was going to find out about him. David is a pretty common name. But the idea that we were both seeing the same therapist – that was definitely weird.
I decided that I would call in sick the next day, and see if I could pick this guy out when he went to the therapy session. And it was at this point, that I had the brilliant idea of pulling my old SLR out of the closet – and I still had a pretty good telephoto lens – and my plan was to get there early (his appointment was for 9 a.m.) and at the very least take a snap of him when he arrived.
This was the first time I had taken the camera from the bag for a very long time and turned out to be how I got back into photography for what I’ll call the second time. It was crazy what it lead to.
[to be continued in Memoirs of a Photographer Chapter 3