My “Mona Lisa” Is A Guy Named Derek.
“Take a picture of my pecker!” the man slurred at us.
“No, Derek! No!” the woman shouted, simultaneously amused and concerned.
The two clung to each other as they walked a short distance ahead of us on a street in downtown Seattle. Fireworks continued in the distance while lines of toilet paper soared over our heads and empty beer bottles rolled down the sidewalk. Cars piled into the streets, one right after the other, honking and blaring into the new year. We strolled along, taking pictures of the city, the happy chaos of everyone around us, and feeling like the only two sober people within a 10-mile radius.
My friend, Ryan, and I had ventured into Seattle specifically to take pictures of people celebrating. For me, photography was new and I was still figuring it out. As I learned more during my last year of high school, I grew increasingly fascinated with photojournalism. Meeting people all over the world and listening to their stories started to feel like a calling! So on this particular night, Ryan and I were feeling ambitious as we photographed drunk “crazies” who probably wouldn’t remember us in the morning!
“Derek, stop!” the woman shouted at her friend again. Now she was getting frustrated. “We need to get you back to your apartment!”
“No way!” Derek protested. “These people want to take a picture of my pecker!”
Derek whirled around and wobbled in front of us. As he barely stood up straight, he asked us one more time if we wanted to–ahem–take his picture. Ryan looked at me as if to ask, Should we? I looked up at him in girlish fear and bashfulness. At that, Ryan replied to the man, “Why not?”
What felt like minutes of anguish was, in fact, a mere 30 seconds while Derek struggled with the zipper of his jeans. Watching him, I wondered if the next gust of wind might knock him over. I aimed my camera, focusing the lens on anything above his waist. His eyes appeared closed, like he was sleeping. The corner of his mouth had a slight crook in the corner, as if he might burst out laughing at any moment. But even in his stupor, I was charmed by his uninhibited vulnerability and blatant humanness. Maybe he wouldn’t act this way without the alcohol, but strangely, I was overwhelmed with compassion for this random guy we met on the street.
His friend stood off to one side, clearly battling her own buzz, but even more embarrassed by her friend.
“I’m really sorry about this,” the woman said, crossing her arms in front of her.
“No, no, it’s fine,” Ryan replied in genuine consolation. After all, we both knew this was going to make a great story to tell our friends later!
Eventually, Derek managed to unzip and posed for us, pants down, like a nude model in front of a group of art students. Of course, if this had been a still-life exercise, we all would have failed because of the model’s inability to hold a pose! Regardless of the circumstances, we lifted our cameras and clicked enough times to satisfy Derek and he pulled his pants back up to his waist.
Derek took a cigar from his jacket, bit into it and through clenched teeth, exclaimed, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!”
He barely finished buttoning before he began trudging down the street again, his feet lacking any sense of direction while keeping one arm draped over the woman he was with before.
I stood there, watching the two continue on their staggered journey. “What just happened?” I asked Ryan.
He grinned, “A man just flashed us.”
“I think it was a little more than that,” I said, but I wasn’t referring to Derek.
“Happy New Year!” Derek called out to us.
“Yeah, thanks!” his woman-friend added, probably because of our willingness to indulge him.
“The pleasure’s all ours!” Ryan yelled back with a wave.
And he was right about that much. That moment was truly ours to be had.