Friday, October 9, 2009

Helmut and Cloverdale's School Picture Day.

Helmut Smelling. Cloverdale Middle School. 7th Grade 2009-2010

Research shows that students handle picture day one of three different ways. Caring Students get up early on picture day and shower, shave, fluff, pamper, trim, groom, powder, cover, mask, moose, pluck, and primp for an hour or so in front of the bathroom mirror to ensure a perfect representation of their idealized state. The Non Caring students crawl out of bed at the last minute and put on the same pair of jeans they left crumpled on the floor beside the bed the night before. Any old T-shirt found in the pile of clean clothes on the floor between the closet and the dresser will do to finish off their miss matched ensemble. The Non Caring Student generally spends ten seconds or so in a half hearted attempt to clean their teeth with a toothbrush that should of been disposed of years ago by a certified hazmat team. Their non caring attitude is their way of sticking it to the man and bucking the establishment.

Forgetful Students make up the third group of students for picture day. They go into panic mode once they get to school and realize their mistake. They end up in the restrooms, standing beside the Caring Students doing a final, desperate touch up before meeting the camera's unforgiving lens. Except they must do it with the tools nature gave them - their fingers and tap water.

Failure to do a final ‘touch up’ could result in a bad picture and we all know a bad school picture hanging on the wall going down the stairs into a family room can haunt you until your parent’s pass away and the picture is destroyed. Of course, there are cases when other family members get to the picture first, resulting in - how do I put it nicely........ getting screwed. That horrid picture will be broadcast across the universe on Facebook, shattering all the lies you told your children and their friends about how 'hot' and 'popular' you were in school.


Helmut Smelling lives two blocks from the school on Whitmore Street in Cloverdale. He never forgets the trauma of school picture day. For the past eight years Helmut's portraits came out in black and white while everyone else's were color. Every year he complained about his picture and every year his complaints were brushed off with what Helmut considered 'lame excuses'. His mother and father considered complaining but didn’t. Mrs. Smelling works the graveyard shift at the meat packing plant and is too nackered to bother after a full night of packing ‘Plucking Clucking Chicken’ for the Piggly Wiggly and Red Owl grocery store chains. Mr. Smelling is color blind, so all the pictures look fine to him.

The photographers give Helmut a series of excuses they rotate through every year. On even numbered years they tell Helmut his black and white pictures are the result of a malfunctioning camera. On odd numbered years his black and white pictures are shot deliberately to hide Helmut's freklely and blotchy complexion. They say black and white photography is the only medium capable of making someone photographically challenged, like Helmut, look reasonably human.

This year Helmut decided to take a stand. He would do whatever it took to get a good picture. He set his alarm for 6:00 A.M., ran downstairs and made his mom’s breakfast. It had to be cold cereal. She wouldn’t be home for 30 minutes. Once the table was set with bowl, glass, cereal, milk, and toast he ran back upstairs and jumped into the shower. He scrubbed extra hard to removed anything that might cause a bad picture.

He spent the next ten minutes on his hair and face. Dressing came next. Finally, his trademark, the popbottle cap. He looked at himself in the mirror and nodded. This was Helmut at his best, in the prime of life. He knew this was the day he would make a perfect picture, as long as he didn’t blow it. The clock showed he had 30 minutes before he needed to leave for school. Plenty of time to practice his poses.

Helmut pulled out the magazine clippings he kept in the bathroom vanity drawer. He secretly clipped pictures of male models from several magazines kept at the Cloverdale Public Library that catered to young females. He taped the pictures on the mirror and started mimicking their poses. There was the ‘I’m a rebel’ pose - without smile. He had that mastered from last year’s picture day. There was the ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ look he never really mastered but wasn’t going to give up on. He was partial to the ‘I’ve been a bad boy, please forgive me’ pose. He practiced trying to get his eyes just right, you know, the bad puppy look. He felt good about it after ten minutes. Finally, there was the model running on the beach with drop dead gorgeous girls chasing him. The smile on the model's face was perfect - something Helmut knew he could replicate. His plan was solid. He would sit down on the stool, envision the hottest girls in the 7th grade chasing him, and produce a smile that would shock the camera into producing a colored portrait.

It was two minutes to blast off. The pictures came off the mirror and back into the drawer. He ran downstairs and kissed his mother goodbye. She said something confusing while crunching her corn flakes. He stopped to listen but couldn't understand a thing she said. She gave up, pointed to her full mouth and waved him off with a half hearted thumbs up.

Helmut’s walk to school wasn’t as traumatic as it was for several of the other students. The wind was blowing in an early storm. The unlucky students who walked to school had their hours of preparation destroyed in the swirling gusts. Once everyone got to school all the girls and 40% of the boys went straight to the restrooms for an extra touch up and redo. Helmut had his popbottle cap. His hair was fine.

At 10:00 A.M. Helmut's class was called to the gym for school pictures. Many students took careful steps to the gym, walking with perfect posture to ensure a good picture. The Non Caring slithered down the hall. Several pulled their pants further down their behinds to be sure to demonstrate their hatred for this lame social requirement.

An elderly woman greeting each class just outside the gym door. She took your picture money and handed you a card telling the photographer what kind of package you purchased. Helmut noticed she smiled nicely to everyone who looked like they were prepared to produce a good school picture. She frowned at the Non Caring.

Helmut expected a smile. For two reasons.

  • He was purchasing the most expensive packet, using a large portion of his lawn mowing money from the summer.
  • He was properly prepared to produce a perfect school picture.
He repositioned his cap two people from her. He broke into his wild beach smile one person from her. Then it was his turn. He handed her the packet. She looked at him and smiled. "YES!" Helmut muttered to himself. It was really going to happen. He was destine to take a good picture. Then, the old lady's smiled transformed into a chuckle. A moment later the chuckle evolved into a laugh. A laugh she quickly covered by her white handkerchief with pink lacing.

Helmut was noticeably shaken. He wondered if his decision to go with the wild beach smile was wise? He heard his named called. He stepped forward. The aide took him by the shoulders, spun him around and sat him on the stool. She took him chin and moved it to the left while pushing the top of his head to the right.
“Will this do?” she asked the photographer.
“It’ll have to won’t it? I mean there isn’t much to work with - is there?” He replied.
“Grayscale?” she suggested.
“You read my mind. Grayscale for human reasons.” The photographer pushed a button and held up his hand. “Helmut, don’t move. On the count of three. One....... Two........

Helmut suddenly broke out of the trance he was in and started to form the wild beach smile.

“Three!” The flash captured the moment. He was just short of time.

Today Helmut's black and white picture hangs in the stairway. His mother says it’s his best yet. His father says it was a waste of money. As for Helmut, he agrees with his mother. It is the best yet. Now, he knows what to do for next year’s school picture day

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