(Before we begin: Another edition of The Sidepiece went out yesterday. I do not intend it to be a weekly thing, but it has been so far. You can subscribe to The Sidepiece here.)
So now then:
Earlier this month, I wrote about “Maggie May,” touch football, and the coming of autumn. In addition to a pic of Rod Stewart, I included another photo with that post, a newspaper clipping my mother saved. I’m not going to post it again, as I think some of the guys in the picture would not want their 11-year-old selves repeatedly broadcast over the Internet, but you can go back and look at it.
On the subject of old pictures, I should say here I do not consider myself a saver, although I am an accumulator. I have boxes of stuff from high school, college, old jobs, other places we have lived, boxes of pictures and boxes of newspapers and boxes of junk, but they’re not organized. I cannot go into a closet or walk down to the garage and pull out a specific piece of memorabilia on demand. (I could not even tell you where our wedding pictures are.)
That one clipping, however, I have saved.
Everyone has seen it, a famous photo of the Vietnam War: the South Vietnamese officer executing a prisoner by shooting him in the head. But there is also video of the moment. The officer raises his gun, shoots the man, he falls down dead, and the camera moves on.
While shocking, the film packs a lesser punch than the still photo. On film, the shooting is an incident, a ripple in the river of moving time. In the still photo, the moment is frozen. It is always happening, and it will never stop happening.
On an October afternoon in 1971, another film is made. It’s a home movie of the city park-and-rec sixth-grade touch football championship game, pitting the Northside Browns against the South Raiders. I get into the game briefly, which is by no means a certainty on that day, for I am the scrubbiest of the scrubs. Although I like to play football and other recess games, it is obvious from the way I move that I am no athlete and I am never going to be one. I gamely chase after the ballcarrier even though I have no hope of catching him.
Now the film cuts to a postgame scene. Excited, laughing Browns form up so the photographer from the local paper can take our championship picture. One boy, the team’s alpha dog, holds the trophy. We stand still and the photog snaps, then we break up to accept the congratulations of parents, siblings, friends. I am aware that I am being filmed, so as I walk away, I throw up a jubilant gesture at no one in particular, an upraised index finger into the sky, we’re number one.
The movie is no more than a few seconds, an incident, a ripple in the river of moving time. In the still photo, the moment is frozen. There is time to tell its story, what happened before and what happened after.
One of the guys is a banker.
One of the guys was my mother’s boss at her office job.
One of the guys runs his father’s company.
One of the guys taught me how to swear.
One of the guys was the best athlete of us all, but he stopped playing after one year of high school and I never knew why.
One of the guys has a copy of this picture framed on the wall in his home office.
One of the guys I have beers with every once in a while.
One of the guys dated a girl I wanted but couldn’t speak to, yet I hated him for it anyway.
One of the guys I knew from the school bus and rarely saw anywhere else.
One of the guys I knew from church.
One of the guys I have no idea what became of.
One of the guys is dead.
One of the guys is a writer who looks back at his young self with fondness and regret, thinking of roads both taken and not.
In the still photo, the moment is frozen. It is always happening, and it will never stop happening. There is time to tell its story, what happened before and what happened after.