"Every photo lab has 'the box,'" he says. "Ours happens to be a drawer, but it's the same thing."
"The box" is in a back room, halfway down a sterile metal file cabinet. He rolls the drawer open. Inside are photographs--hundreds, thousands of photographs, right side up, upside down, jumbled together, mute but nonetheless eloquent testimony to a profound equation of the human condition: that for every damn fool dumb enough to send nudie pictures in for processing, there's a photo-lab employee ready and able to strip off copies for deposit in "the box."
Or "the drawer."
The drawer exists; I have seen it. It exists in this photo lab, somewhere within the limits of the city of Chicago; if our host is to be believed, such archives are kept elsewhere as well. A number of details about this particular drawer, our host, and the photos within, however, have been changed.
Nudity is not the only thing to be seen in the drawer. Lab employees keep tabs on anything weird, anything out of the ordinary. There are autopsy photos--bloodied legs and arms predominate. There's also the odd accident photo--detectives searching the grass around a body lying in a field, a smashed front end of a car.
And of course the celebs. There's Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, looking a bit the worse for wear. There's the Chairman of the Board, caught in a spotlight. And look--it's the Nuge, Ted Nugent himself, grinning with a fan!
But in the photo lab, objects of such undeniable interest take second billing to the beauty of human flesh in all its forms.
Breasts, thighs--fat, skinny, just right. Vaginas and penises, armed and dangerous, otherwise occupied, on duty or not, as the case may be. Rear ends: pasty white, nicely tanned, thin as a rail, broad as an ark. Beards, mustaches, wigs, sunglasses, bras, underwear. Contortionists. Handcuffs. One, two, three, four people at a time. Flesh.
A raven-haired woman wearing nothing but a tattoo poses awkwardly in a kitchen. There's more of her--1, 2, 6, 18, 30 more. She's one of the photo lab's regulars. "Oh, she comes in all the time--there's one of her tied to a lawn chair," our host says.
Next is a crotch shot of a man with equipment the size, if not the color, of a hefty ear of corn. Then come couples galore--right side up, upside down, over, under, sideways. Bottoms up!
Three, they say, is at least 50 percent more fun: here's a cozy shot of two men--one rotund, the other rather distinguished looking--and an enthusiastic woman all engaged in a mildly acrobatic stunt for the camera.
"The swingers are some of my favorites," says our host. "Wait till you see the oldsters."
The next shot is of a gamely smiling young Asian man hanging upside down, naked, inside a hotel-room closet.
"The guy who brought these in was amazing," he says. "He was staying at the B---- Hotel. He came in with two rolls a night four nights straight. One night it was women, the next guys."
The grinning young man is obviously an adult. Photos involving children get sent to the police.
Pictures fly by. Bachelor parties galore--guys drinking, guys in underwear, guys getting serviced by a woman apparently hired for the occasion. Men with inflatable dates. More swinger shots, including some fairly athletic displays of golden-years group sex. The participants look healthier than the Monkees.
The Monkees have their clothes on, however. This photo lab has not hit genuine pay dirt--a genuine celeb genuinely in the buff. But it does have some close calls. "This," says our host, "is ---- ---- from ----." The man lies proudly on a bed, executing a no-hands salute.
"And we also have a photo of ---- ----'s penis," he says. The name is well-known. "It's just in the corner of a picture--it looks like it accidentally got into a picture his wife or whoever was taking of their cat."
More genitalia, more and more and more. Endless shots of zit-strewn rear ends, lubricious men leering for the camera. Priapus pluvius. Smiling women displaying their breasts. Lesbians. Gays. Vibrators. Bottles of Jim Beam. Sunburned beach boffers.
A 70-year-old female exhibitionist. "She came in about every two months," the guy says. "But then one day Joanie laughed at her while she was ringing up her order and she never came back.
"Sometimes," he concedes, "it's embarrassing when the person comes in after you've been processing their pictures. But then they giggle and then you giggle and they don't care.
"Other times, particularly the guys, they come in with something in mind. They say, 'So, d'ja look at 'em?' I say, 'Yeah, so?' He says, 'D'ja like 'em?' I say, 'Look, I've seen it all before.'"