I guess as we get older we are faced with sadness more frequently. Change bothers us, aches and pains take longer to heal, I have to think when is the cut off time for my last espresso of the day going into the night.
Two of my film cameras were acting up from lack of use so I called up Herman The German. To my circle of fellow photographers this was what we called him (not to his face). It was a term of endearment I guess. It was nice to see that he was still fixing cameras. His name was Herman Rider and he had been working out his house in Culver City forever. He worked out of the front room that overlooked a quiet pretty street. A plastic covered carpet led you into his workshop where a radio was always tuned to a German station. The wall on the left was covered with pictures of Herman and his family from years ago. Some were straight ahead vacation photos but most were thematic family portraits. Herman and his family dressed up likes cowboys, pirates and all wearing Santa Claus hats and fig leaves. The one that has made a lasting impression on me all these years is where Herman is dressed like a cannibal and is cooking his son in a big black cauldron.
The last time I saw Herman I was in to get my Hasselblad fixed and an old Nikon lens adjusted we talked about photography and this and that. He said business was slow. He was modifying these bizarre plastic skulls so the eyes would light up and the jaw would go up and down and produce a maniacal laugh. I told him my kids would love one of these. He asked how many kids I had and I told him that I had 5 boys and that my 10 year old Theo likes to take broken cameras apartÂ and make guns and other weapons out of found objects. Herman went silent for a moment and he looked out the window. I can’t remember what he asked me, but it must have been Â something about having kids or being a father. He told me that his son Hanns had Lou Gehrig’s disease. He visits him in the hospital everyday and he combs his hair because he can’t even use his hands anymore. He said a father should not have to see his son this way. It’s no way to live. I sat down amongst the plastic skulls and Hasselblad parts and looked at the boy cooking away in the stew pot. Was it Hanns? It probably was. German music was playing while he told me Hanns’ sad story. I retraced my steps on the plastic pathway out the front door and found myself back on the quiet street. I got in my Volvo and put on Ray Bradbury reading The Illustrated Man on a book on tape which is always perched half way into my cassetteÂ deck.
Today I called Herman to ask when would be a good time to drop off my Polaroid 195 camera whose shutter has been sticking. Â His wife answered the phone. I asked to speak to Herman and she said, “Herman is not here, he died.” She said he had a stroke, became blind and hung on for a couple months but died. I told her that I was so sorry, that Herman had fixed my cameras since the 1980′s and I expressed my deepest condolences and hung up. I thought about those pictures on the wall, those kids in the cauldron and I wondered who was going to comb Hanss’ hair.