Getting the Picture
by d.r. sanchez

After life in rural high school,
before college in the mountains of country roads,
my summer was spent on a corner in Queens.

My daily commute a subway, a bus, a transfer,
and ten-block walk to a lot near a hospital bus stop
where I watched employees and patients.

Some were safe, others harassed, few threatened
yet I was unafraid, protected by the window locks
of the Foto Hut with conditioned air, and no phone.

Just enough room to stand, four feet wide, six deep,
drop off bins under the counter in front of me, film and flash
inventory above, stacked to the ceiling, within easy reach.

I locked up for grilled cheese with pickle and bacon,
for daily lunch at the diner across the street, and an egg cream
which has no egg, has no cream.

Business was slow, the delivery driver stopped
mid-afternoon to pick up, to drop off
what the customers dropped off, picked up.

Books and solitaire to fill the between
and I honed my ability to pry open seals on envelopes
careful that none witnessed me examining the contents.

It was 1978, no selfies, no smart phones or computers
people used cartridges and rolls to capture their exposures
and trusted their private secrets to curious teens.

PHOTO: Artist’s rendering of Fotomat from 1970s — a business similar to the Foto Hut described in the poem.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have written and rewritten about this job in several ways over the years. I challenged myself to convey my experience as concisely as possible and decided that a poem was the best vehicle to meet that challenge. It brought back memories that made me smile, and some that made me shudder. My cousin Paul got the job for me. Memories are all we have of him now. I dedicate this poem in his memory.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: From left, my cousin Paul, me, his sisters, and my brother (Queens, New York, 1978).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debra Sanchez has moved over 30 times and has lived in five states in two countries…so far. She leads and attends various writing groups in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area and also hosts writing retreats. Her writing has won awards at writers conferences in various genres, including children’s stories, poetry, fantasy, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Several of her plays and monologues have been produced and published. Other works have been published in literary magazines, newspapers, and anthologies. Visit her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.