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Here’s Looking at You Kid

Here’s Looking at You Kid

Dave Meir

writer | artist

Here’s Looking at You Kid


Throughout the 1980s and 90s I worked as a residential real estate appraiser in southeastern Minnesota. If you’re unfamiliar, real estate appraisers are – most often – tasked by mortgage lenders to determine the value of a property. The lender wants to know that the property is worth – at least as much – as they’re about to lend on it. 

In the late 80’s the economy was in the midst of yet another bank meltdown and appraisers were also tasked with valuing properties in the midst of bank repossession. Most often these homes were – hopefully – vacant.

During one of my early appraisal education courses, I had a roommate from Florida who worked with his Dad valuing and then selling bank-owned properties in Miami, Florida. He related any number of stories wherein disgruntled homeowners – continuing to squat in their property – were hiding in closets or dark basements when he came through to inspect the house. In one particular case, the owner popping out of a closet – loaded shotgun in hand. Granted he was in Florida and this is Minnesota – but the stories stuck in my head. And as you’ll see, fueled by baseless subconscious fear, the unchecked human mind can create any number of vivid scenarios.

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

It’s a bright blue sky morning and the air is filled with the flutter of fall leaves. I pull into a desolate dirt track that winds to a wooded home site somewhere south of Blooming Prairie, Minnesota.

My platinum-gray four-door Mercury Cougar coasts to a stop; I leave the engine running, the heater on. Opening my hard-plastic briefcase I begin assembling the tools of the trade for entering and appraising yet another vacant home. Clipboard, mechanical pencil, and house keys at the ready, I’m prepared in my mind to face Freddy or Jason or whoever lay in wait in the house. Just as I’m about to open the car door, I look up to see my windshield covered with bees.

Not honeybees mind you (Not that it would have made a damn bit of difference – bees are bees.) but those big ugly long-tail-hanging-down wasps; the kind you see clinging to the sunny side of the house in the fall of the year. I look towards the house to see a squadron of wasps streaming from the garage service door. With no intention of becoming the victim in a Stephen King novel, I decide this house will not get appraised on this day.

Fast forward a couple of weeks; quiet puddles have begun to ice over and there’s a wisp of snow on the ground. I’m back in front of the Beehive, waiting and watching, motor running. Fifteen minutes zip by in a breath with no notice of any bees. Exiting the safety of my wasp-proof platinum sedan I steel myself for the task ahead.

Surrounded by stately oaks the house is a large cedar-sided rambler with a two-car attached garage. A rusty-around-the-edges white metal service door leading to the garage stands open by six inches. Pushing it open the rest of the way with the toe of my size ten-and-a-half, brown Florsheim loafer, I step into the garage.

The concrete floor is littered with dead wasp bodies, the kind that sting. I approach the house entrance and press my ear to the door, listening for the whispered buzzing of live bees. They don’t make much sound, these wasps, so it’s hard to know whether or not I’m heading to a painful puffy death.

I can feel my heart pounding as I put the key in the lock, set my hand on the cold brass knob, and turn it; gently pushing the door into what appears to be the kitchen. No wasps, nowhere. Cool.

The inspection part of appraising a house requires a lot of head-down concentration. When my own house was last appraised the guy used an iPad for everything. Back in the day we filled out a paper Fannie-Mae appraisal form and sketched the floor plan as we walked through the house. I can’t count the number of times, walking through vacant houses sans furniture, where – concentrating on my clipboard – I ran head-first into the dining area chandelier.

My inspection routine always started in the basement and the door was to my left. Here we go. My mind flashes back to Florida and my Appraisal 101 roommate. Not to him specifically, of course, that would be weird, but to his stories about repo squatters hiding in basements and closets. My heart races and my breath comes in short staccato bursts as I descend to the inky blackness of the vacant beehive basement.

Thirteen wooden steps into the ever-increasing darkness my loafer catches on a stair tread. I lose my footing and then regain it just as quickly. I am, after all, an appraiser. Blindly I wave my hand back and forth in front of me, searching for the pull cord from a ceiling light fixture. I find a string and pull; beautiful incandescent light. God bless Thomas Edison. All good. No shotgun-wielding squatters. No bees that I can see.

I write down the bare minimum of needed information; forced air heat, central air, 150-watt electrical service, 40-gallon propane water heater, and I’m back up the stairs in a flash. Only a fool would spend any more time than absolutely necessary in the basement of a vacant house.

Back on the well-lit main level, I begin the process of sketching the floor plan in the kitchen dining area. Using quarter-inch graph paper and my bionic eye I’m fairly accurate in estimating room sizes for the sketch. I’ll verify it all later when I use a tape to measure the exterior.

I check the boxes on the Fannie-Mae form for dishwasher, disposal, and range hood. I notice a couple of dead bees on the counter and one on the vinyl floor in front of the ‘frig. Great, I think to myself, I thought the bees were only in the garage. Taking a breath I continue checking boxes and making notes; Formica counters, basic cabinets, average construction.

I draw in the six-foot-wide patio door that leads to a green-treated wood deck at the back of the house. Mercifully I sidestep the chandelier without even looking up – I’m in the zone now.

Stopping at the patio door I look out to the backyard. The wind has picked up, even the branches on the big oaks are bending. The house creaks in complaint of the cold and a shiver creases my spine. The temptation to get the hell out of there is overwhelming. I’ve been in hundreds of similar houses so I already know what’s at the other end of the house; three bedrooms and a bathroom. The only thing keeping me is appraiser ethics; I can’t report it on the form or the sketch unless I see it.

Rounding a short L-shaped wall I enter the living room, a long hallway at my left. Continuing my sketch I draw in the entrance to the garage and then a bow window that gives a view of the wooded front yard. I check the box for carpeting as the house creaks again and something imaginary crawls the back of my neck. Oak woodwork, typical basic ranch casing, I sketch in the front door and the coat closet next to it. Could it be anything other than a closet? Nope. And I don’t need to check either.

Drawing in the final wall of the living room I look up from my clipboard and glance down the hall . . . to see my nightmare come to life. Never have I screamed in terror and I don’t now;  thankfully. But my entire body convulses backward. My mouth drops open to say something but no words come. A hundred thousand tiny needles poke my back and I realize I’m not breathing. A flip-flop churning in the pit of my stomach brings me to the realization that scaring the crap out of someone is a real possibility. It is definitely one of those fight or flight moments and I’m strongly in favor of flight.

Starting a slow-motion spin to my right I try to make my escape on the legs of a rubber chicken and watch as my nemesis does the same. In fact, I suddenly realize, he’s also wearing a blue shirt and tie and size ten and a half brown Florsheim loafers. He is me and I am him; my reflection in a full-length mirror at the end of the hall.

So that – in case you were wondering – is how to scare the crap out of an appraiser; let them do it themselves.

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It occurs to me, as I struggle to write the opening of this story, how ignorant I can be. I’ve come to this realization – that may have been apparent to others all along – while thinking about how often I exist in my own little world. Assuming everyone’s life is similar to mine, that they think what I think, and believe what I believe.

This story, as example, is about Easter, the Easter Bunny, and Easter Baskets. Come to find out, after perusing the internet, Easter is celebrated in a variety of different ways. And as hard as it may be to believe, not everyone in the world acknowledges the existence of a rabbit that brings children candy and colored eggs. Shocking right?! In fact, not everyone in the world acknowledges Easter, period.

For the sake of brevity – which is not my strong point – let’s establish a baseline and assume you’re one of the logical populace who marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by lying to their children. We tell them a story about a rabbit who’ll come to our house and leave them a basket full of candy and eggs. If they ask why? Because we’re all so happy Jesus died for our sins. Makes sense right?

When I was a kid, Sue, Cathy, Michael, and I each received a single Easter Basket. It was a multi-colored wicker affair lined with cellophane Easter grass. Cellophane Easter grass that – for months – would turn up in the strangest places; like your socks and your cereal bowl. You’d pull a handful of change from your pocket and Easter grass would come with it. You’d take a shower and the drain would be clogged with hair – and easter grass. (And you were like – where in the hell was that?)

In your Easter basket, mixed in with the grass, on top of the grass and under the grass were, of course, colored hard-boiled eggs. But also jelly beans, candy-coated chocolate-filled eggs, chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs, chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs, and – because I was Raised by Smokers – candy cigarettes.

If you were bad, you also got some of those disgusting yellow peeps. And, as if they weren’t disgusting enough on their own, the Easter grass would stick to the peep which would then stick to your fingers when you tried to peel it away from the sugar-coated marshmallow. Like a long green transparent booger – but sweet not salty.

When our son was born, somehow the one Easter basket tradition became two and then three and then more. Because of course, both Grandmas would have to drop off a basket on their way to Easter Sunday Church. We moved from our hometown when Ben was three so my wife picked up the Grandma-slack by upping the number of baskets she provided.

Now we have granddaughters and I think at last count they each get something like 15 Easter Baskets. And Easter baskets are no longer just about candy and colored eggs. No, no, now we have flip flops and beach balls and sand toys – I guess for the Spring Break Beach vacation they may – potentially – take. And then underwear, and sunglasses, and books, and Silly Putty, and plastic gee-gaws by the dozen that fill the dollar bins at Target as soon as the Christmas decorations come down.

Does Grandpa get an Easter basket? Yeah right. Grandpa gets shit. Grandpa gets the purple jelly beans and the Hot Tamale flavored peeps no one else will touch. Grandpa gets the leftovers.

But there was a time – back when my Mother-in-law still loved me* – that I received a very special Easter surprise.

In this particular year, we were gathering for Easter at Auntie Barb and Uncle Jack’s house; Barb is my Mother in-law’s sister. Barb and Jack lived in Wabasha, Minnesota on Lake Robinson, a backwater lake on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River.

My cousins were there – technically my cousin in-laws – since these were my wife’s relatives. Chris and Nick and I were all into hunting and fishing and used Lake Robinson as our jumping-off point for hunting and fishing expeditions.

My in-laws – Mommie Dearest and Mr. Fix-it – along with Barb and Jack, had just recently returned from Mexico where they’d traveled for a late winter getaway.

This was before granddaughters as Ben was only about three or four years old. So as usual there were several Easter Baskets for Ben and one each for my wife and me. (I’ve always been my Auntie Barb’s favorite.)

Tucked into the cellophane grass of my basket, carefully wrapped in what appeared to be a sandwich bag that had once held Cheetos, was a beautiful . . . . . (drumroll) . . . . . gold . . . . . (wait for it) . . . . . . Rolex watch.

It was, at first blush, incredibly awesome. It had the traditional gold clasp bracelet, the Rolex crown logo with the words “Rolex – Oyster Perpetual” proudly embossed just below the triangle 12. The outer rim of the bezel was inset with a complete circle of individual sparkling diamonds. But it was, oddly, unimpressively lightweight. As though it were not, in fact, made from the traditional Oystersteel. But instead, perhaps . . . just oyster shells? With feigned breathlessness, I clasped it to my wrist.

“Wow,” was all I could say with a straight face. In those days, at that age, I may have been a wee-bit vain. I liked fancy things. I spent money I didn’t have on expensive pens and sunglasses and jewelry. While I was fairly certain this wasn’t the real deal, I didn’t want to make light of my gift and offend the giver. Then again, chances were equally good they were laughing into their sleeves thinking, “See, even you can’t tell the difference between the real thing and a knock-off.”

My father-in-law, Mr. Fix-it, is – some may say – tighter than a nun. Others may call it being shrewd or thrifty or prudent. Less benevolent critics might say, Scrooge-like, or tightwad, or skinflint. But I, the ever-loyal son-in-law, am more apt to say, “He’s just always on the lookout for a good deal.”

So strong is his desire to save, so relentless his penchant for pinching pennies that on occasion, he may be blind to reality. Myself, I’ve never been to Mexico, but I hear tell you can get you some good deals thereabouts. Did my father-in-law, in his quest for the holy sale, believe he had found the ultimate discount?

Sometimes you just have to go along to get along. So I took the high road and thanked them profusely for the amazing Easter gift.

Throughout Easter dinner I would, every so often, quote the time of day for anyone who cared. Dinner done and dessert waiting until later, Chris and I hopped in his fishing boat and headed across the lake to see what was biting.

It was a beautiful sunny spring afternoon and though spinnerbaits were the lure of the day it wasn’t long before the jig was up. Casting my lure towards some lily pads I cranked the handle on my spinning reel and heard an unfamiliar soft “tink.”

I looked at my Easter Rolex and gee-golly-whiz, the crystal had popped right off and landed in the bottom of the boat. Examining my gift closer, I twisted the crown, and the entire face – now free of the friction from the crystal – rotated within the body of the watch. It was becoming ever-more likely someone had been duped.

Back at the cabin, the truth was told and we all had a good laugh about the dependability of a twenty-dollar Rolex. I had to admit though, while I was fairly certain from the get-go it was fake, I still thought it was pretty cool.

And you’d think that was it wouldn’t you? But the story isn’t over, ain’t nobody singin’ just yet.

Mommie Dearest, Mr. Fix-It, and Barb and Jack all went to Mexico again the following winter, and come springtime, old Mr. Easter Bunny – you guessed it – brought me Rolex 2.0.

I wore it proudly for several months – being careful not to make any sudden movements with my left hand. Fall rolled around and it was time for duck hunting season.

Chris and I and the rest of the hunting gang were down at the shore getting boats and equipment ready for the following morning. I was standing on shore and Chris was out at the end of the long dock – a distance of better than thirty feet.

He found a walnut lying on the dock and – because we’re worldly mature men, we occasionally throw shit at one another – casually fired it in my direction. Like an inadvertently well-aimed – very large – shotgun pellet, the walnut smacked Easter Rolex 2.0 square in the face. The watch exploded in a karat-less golden cloud of springs and gears and two little tiny hands and settled quietly into the backwaters of the Mississippi.

The moral of this story? I guess I’ll stick to my trusty Timex, those Rolexes just don’t last.


(* My Mother-in-law still loves me. I’m just keeping her on her toes.)

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My older brother Michael hasn’t beat the living crap out of me for more than 50 years now. Lucky for him. In this day and age, they’d lock him up for that sort of thing. Fifty years ago he got by with a stern talking-to from Dad. Needless to say, I was (almost) always innocent.

Okay fine, did I once crash his Honda 350 motorcycle – that I wasn’t licensed or allowed to drive? Yeah, but he was living out of town at the time and asked me to winterize and store it away for him. He told me to be sure I drained the gas out of it before I put it in the barn and covered it up. I just thought it would be easier to run the gas out of it than drain it out.

Did I drive his home-built Heathkit mini-bike into a ditch in a field and bend the front forks? Maybe. But in that case, he did say I could ride it. How was I to know about the ditch? I was riding through the middle of a cornfield and all of a sudden it was just there.

While honestly, though those are the only things I can think of that might have set him off, our arguing was pretty . . . . consistent. I can remember any number of family vacations where Dad, driven to the brink by our bickering, would shout from behind the wheel, “If you two don’t stop arguing we’re going to put you on a bus and send you home and Mom and I will finish the vacation ourselves.”

Seriously Dad? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for threatening kids. But you have to be able to follow through. Are you really going to put two kids, ten and thirteen, on a bus by themselves and send them home to a vacant house? Then again, we did quiet down for five minutes so we must have felt it wasn’t a completely empty threat.

We lived, with our much older sisters Sue and Cathy, and our parents, in a three-bedroom brick rambler just south of LaCrosse, Wisconsin in what’s known as the Town of Shelby.

Our house was one of four, all clustered together on the edge of Mormon Coulee Road, a two-lane Highway that ran east to Coon Valley, Viroqua, and the great beyond.

Across the road from our front door stood a 100-foot tall bare sandstone bluff; the southern beginning of wooded rattlesnake-infested bluff lands that ran north to the end of LaCrosse County. To the west were the wide-ranging swamps and backwaters of the Mississippi River and to the east were the valleys and streams of Mormon Coulee. As a kid, I fished, hunted, and hiked, all of it.

Less than a quarter-mile south out our back door was a neighborhood we referred to as The Addition. Five short crisscrossed streets developed with 50 or 60 small homes. I grew up with the luxury of a huge yard with endless explorable acreage in all directions – and a neighborhood full of kids within shouting distance. If you shouted really loud.

Four kids and a set of parents in a three-bedroom house meant Michael and I shared a bedroom. And sharing a bedroom with my older brother meant I was always an easy target whenever he felt like walloping someone. A feeling which overcame him – if I’d had a choice – more frequently than I would have liked.

In the late 60s, when I was in fifth grade, there was this thing everyone did – getting someone to flinch. You pretended you were going to punch somebody in the face and if they flinched you drew an X on their shoulder and you got to punch them on the X ten times. Now that I think about it, maybe that never really was a thing. Maybe my brother just made it up so he could punch me whenever he wanted to.

I should take a moment here to explain that I am a little brother by trade. And if you’ve ever had a little brother or sister, then you know how we can be. We are the down-trodden, the put-upon, the meek that will someday, supposedly, inherit something. Therefore our purpose in life is to take advantage of every opportunity to get back at those – the older brothers and sisters – who would grind us under their oppressive heels.

Did my older brother ever really – literally – beat the living crap out of me? Never.

Well . . . almost never.

As I was saying, I was in the fifth grade, which meant Michael was in eighth grade. We’re in our bedroom and I’m sitting on my bed – completely minding my own business. Apparently, Michael didn’t see it that way. He stepped over to my bed, rears his arm back, and warns, “David, someday I’m gonna beat . . .” and tried to flinch me. Unfortunately, he misjudged his reach just a smidge. Instead of coming up short, he landed a full-speed balled-up fist at the furthest extension of his arm – square in the middle of my forehead.

I sat in stunned silence for all of two seconds before starting in with the screaming and crying. Within minutes I had a yam-sized lump on my forehead and by that evening two bar-fight – sympathy generating – black eyes.

And I thought, “Wow – who gets two black eyes at one time? The fifth-grade women are gonna love me.”

Maybe the fifth-grade women would have loved me more if my Mom had let me wear jeans and a t-shirt like Ronnie Riek and all the other cool fifth-grade boys. Instead, I boarded the bus the next morning, the same bespeckled pudgy fifth-grader carrying a cello and wearing plaid dress pants with a puffy-sleeved shirt. I still looked like a nerd – just a nerd who’d had the shit beat out of him.

My Dad took me to Gunderson Clinic just to make sure I didn’t have (more) brain damage and the Emergency Room staff gave him the third degree about potential child abuse. But this was 1969, he probably just told them, “No I don’t hit my kid! I have his brother do it for me!” And then he and the doctors and nurses laughed and laughed.

In school the next day my fifth-grade teacher asked, “What happened to you?”

What was I going to say?

“My brother hit me.”

“Your brother hit you?!?” as if that was something that didn’t happen in the real world.

Could I have explained the entire story to her as I just did for you? Sure. But she was busy and I didn’t want to bother her with the trivial details. As I said, I’m a little brother by trade.

Time passed and we both got older, just not necessarily wiser. We didn’t make trouble as much as we made mischief. As the first children, our sisters got the actual trial-by-fire parenting. I think our parents figured that since Sue and Cathy made it out of the house alive by the time Michael and I were in Junior High and High School, things in the parenting department became pretty lax.

Back then the drinking age was 18 and since Michael and I both looked older than we were, going to the store to buy beer wasn’t a problem. Plus this was Wisconsin in the 1970s, the drinking age was more of a suggestion than a law. Actually, in Wisconsin, I’d say that’s still the case.

Whenever Mom and Dad would leave on vacation the first thing we’d do was move all of the food off the top shelf of the fridge and fill it side to side front to back with those beautiful little seven-ounce bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. In today’s world of craft-beer Pabst is probably considered rotgut by many, but back then it was our go-to. Let me tell ya, there’s nothing quite like the sight of an entire refrigerator packed to the gills with seven-ounce bottles of Pabst.

Mom and Dad were away for the weekend and we’d filled the fridge with beer. Micahel and I and his friend Jim were sitting around the kitchen table drinking Pabst, playing Black-Jack, smoking cigarettes, and eating cheese and crackers.

Mom had this little wood cutting board that was shaped like a pig. At the back end where the pig’s tail would have been was a hole to store a paring knife. The paring knife had been lost long before and we were using a chrome Chinese meat cleaver to cut up the cheese. The cleaver had a razor-thin blade and was sharp enough to shave the hair off your arm. Which we had of course proven – by shaving the hair off our arms.

We were halfway through the top shelf of seven ouncers and getting sillier and slower by the minute. Michael was dealing and winning so for fun I dropped his package of Camels on the carpeted kitchen floor, grabbed the cleaver, and whack! Like Marie Antoinette’s head on a guillotine, it sliced those Camels clean in half.

A few minutes later it was my turn to deal and Michael decided it was time for payback. He dropped my Tareytons on the floor and grabbed the cleaver. As I said, our – in particular my – reflexes were somewhat stymied by alcohol. In a made-for-TeeVee slow-motion blur, he brought down the cleaver while I reached to save my pack of cigarettes. Whack! This time the cleaver didn’t quite make it through the cigarettes, what with the tip of my middle finger being in the way.

Fortunately for both of us, the cleaver didn’t cleave my finger completely. But 45+ years later, as I type this, I can still see the scar on my finger.

The kitchen sink was nearby so we ran my finger under cold water for three and a half hours. By then the flow of blood had been reduced to that of a gently undulating stream instead of a swollen raging river, so we wrapped it with gauze. Rolls and rolls and rolls of gauze and medical tape. And more gauze. And more medical tape – just to be safe. This is, apparently, why paramedics aren’t allowed to drink on the job.

Mom and Dad were home early the next morning. We hadn’t cleaned up the kitchen as well as we thought and when I and my finger – showed up at the breakfast table before Michael – in unison Mom and Dad asked, “What happened to you?”

What was I going to say?

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Five seconds ago, the baby was being all cute and smiley and giggly. Now he was bleeding and red-faced-screaming at the top of his six-month-old lungs. My yogurt and pretzel lunch was arguing about whether to stay in my stomach as I looked around the camera room; certain everything I’d worked so hard to create was about to disappear in the lawsuit headed my way.

We were two babies into our first Babies and Bunnies Easter portrait promotion. Like a miniature rabid Wolverine, the bunny had bitten my client’s baby on the top of the foot. 

I’d created a written release for all the parents to sign. The release advised them that rabbits are typically gentle domesticated creatures. But on occasion, when provoked, become evil, biting, scratching, kicking, punching little gremlins.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a system in place for actually getting a signature on the release. And of course, as luck would have it, this Mom hadn’t signed.

“I am so sorry.” 

I was falling all over myself, apologizing to the Mother holding the screaming little boy.

“Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” she said, “it’s just a scratch. We have cats and dogs at home, nothing we haven’t seen before.”

Turns out this was the youngest of five. If worse came to worse and the baby vapor-locked from rabies, they had four more kids to fall back on. 

My wife and I, and for a while, my older sister, operated a photography studio in Minnesota for 17 years. This was early on in the studio’s life, and we were trying to expand our child photography business. 

Yeah, I hear ya, “Dave, who in their right mind would want to photograph children?” I’m a Grandpa now, and at this stage in my life, there are two children – older than a year – that I can stand; my granddaughters. Granddaughters, who are, of course, beautiful, well-behaved, polite, caring, intelligent young ladies. But back then, and still – on occasion – I have a soft spot for babies; because they haven’t been screwed up yet by their parents.

I’d read about other photography studios doing Easter photo promotions and thought we should give it a try. Some studios used baby lambs, some baby chicks, and others, like us, bunnies.

Baby chickens are pretty fragile. I’d heard stories about younger children – unintentionally(?) – getting a little too rough and breaking the necks of the baby chicks. Which, if you ask me, seems like a traumatic end to a photo session. And really, how many pictures are parents going to buy of little psycho Susie holding a dead baby chicken? 

“Happy Easter Bitches!”

You’d need more than one chick, of course. And one would assume they wouldn’t all die in the line of duty. (Workers Comp premiums would be ridiculous.) So that said, what do you do with the survivors? If you plucked them, I couldn’t imagine there’d be enough for a decent-sized appetizer. (And the Buffalo Wings would be Barbie-doll size.) But neither did I relish the thought of tossing them in the trash; being a heartless monster wasn’t my strong suit. So we ruled out baby chicks.

Lambs were a no-brainer decision. Our studio was downtown – not an ideal location for livestock. I grew up in the country and, on occasion, helped out on a dairy farm up the road, but I’d never dealt with sheep. That and the whole religious connotation about sacrifice and Jesus being the lamb of God, etc. I was willing to try and make a buck off a religious holiday, but using lambs seemed like it was taking it a little too far. 

I’d never dealt with rabbits either, for that matter, other than shooting them out of my Mom’s garden. (Long story for another day.) Some photographers went to the pet store and bought rabbits to use in their promotion. But then what? I can’t picture the pet store taking returns on what amounts to a “used” “seasonal” pet. So then we’re back to neck-wringing and trash-tossing. 

Right about here, we should pause and regroup. Some of you might read the above and gasp in disgust, incensed by my cavalier attitude towards these beautiful sentient creatures. 

So let me tell you a quick side story about my position on animal cruelty. Years ago, I was on my way to a photo session at a client’s home in a rural area. I rounded a corner, and here came Mr. Squirrel, bounding across the road – right under my car tire. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw him lying there; one paw waving frantically in the air, the back half of his body seemingly crushed. He wasn’t dead, and he was suffering.

It took less than a mile (it might’ve been two) for my compassion to get the better of me. I couldn’t leave him there like that. I whipped a u-turn and headed back the way I’d come, steeling myself to crush the rest of him and put him out of his misery. 

I got to the scene of the crime, and it was a goll-dang miracle – he was gone. Had Mr. Squirrel valiantly army-crawled his way into the ditch? Was he lying there, still suffering, smoking one last tiny cigarette, waiting for the darkness to come? Possibly. 

Or had a Red-tailed hawk swooped from the sky, snagging his helpless body in her razor-sharp talons, flying him off for a quiet supper with her young? Also possible. 

I preferred to think he was only stunned by a slight brush with the tire. His tiny paw waving in the air, his way of saying, “No problem, dude, I’m okay.” (That or he was giving me the finger and yelling, “Hey asshole, watch where you’re going!”)

So if we were going to do a bunny promotion, I had to solve the question of rabbits and their imminent unemployment. And then I remembered a high school senior from a couple of years previous. She was in 4H, and she raised bunnies. I called her.

“Can I rent some bunnies from you?”

“Can you what? She asked.

I explained. 

“Sure, we can do that. How many do you need?”

I had no experience as a casting director. I didn’t know what kind of hours bunnies worked. Did they demand personal dressing rooms? Fresh flowers? Evian or Pelligrino? Were they gluten-free? So many things to consider.

“I suppose two will do. But I need a cage to keep them in. And food and bedding. Can you help me with that?”

“I’ll have it all ready for you.”

She lived with her younger sisters, her parents, and her rabbits on the outskirts of the next small town over. True to her word, she had a double hutch, bedding, and food ready to go. And then I got to pick the rabbits I wanted to rent. 

The ex-senior and her sisters were all in the 4H Bunny Program, and their basement was like a rabbit pet store. They had Rexes and Flemish Giants, French Lops, and Checkered Giants. Albeit different from a pet store where the puppies frantically scratch at their cages begging to be saved, the rabbits were somewhat indifferent. They had it pretty good right where they were. Of course, had they known what was in store for them, had they known they were destined for stardom, they might have been a bit more excited.

I opted for a Flemish Giant, and a more traditional black and white spotted Rex. Flemish Giant is an entirely appropriate name for this rabbit. The Flemish Giant would be the star if someone wanted to write a horror story about giant killer rabbits. They can be as big as a small dog – or a large cat. This guy could have eaten the spotted Rex for lunch and not even belched.  

My rabbit renting ex-senior gave me some quick bunny wrangling lessons, and food, and bedding instructions. I loaded everything into the blue velvet back seat of my Buick Park Avenue and headed to the studio.

I am allergic to pet dander. We’ve had two Bichon Frises because they’re known to be the hypo-allergenic dog. I like some kitties, but most of them make my eyes itch. I’d never handled a rabbit, and go figure, turns out I’m deathly allergic. Well, almost deathly. By the time I got the “talent” to the studio, I was gasping for breath like a two-pack-a-day smoker running a 10K, and my eyes were watering and itchy. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be the bunny wrangler.

We kept the bunnies in the hutch in the basement dungeon of the studio. I figured it was better to keep them guessing about their future so they’d be cooperative when they had to work. 

The studio had huge windows that faced the busiest street in town. We covered the windows with construction paper bunny silhouettes and big letters saying, “The Bunnies are Here!” We also mailed postcards to a purchased mailing list and past customers. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday filled almost immediately. So we opened up Wednesday and filled that too.

We used our all-white background, and I had several all-white props; chairs, benches, and stools. I’d do a few images to get the child used to the set and the lights. Subject primed and ready, my sister would go to the dungeon and get a bunny from the hutch. We used a cardboard banker’s box to bring the bunnies up the stairs. (I’d tell the parents the rabbit was an accountant – the banker’s box – mostly it fell on deaf ears. Especially the IBM engineer ears. Don’t try to tell subtle jokes to an engineer.)

You have not seen cute until you’ve seen a three-year-old, dressed in their Easter finest, chewing on the business-end of a carrot, looking into the eyes of a bunny munching on the green leafy top. The pictures sold themselves.

In the first year of Babies and Bunnies, we photographed a little guy named Harrison. He was a riot, always giggling and always smiling. You couldn’t take a bad picture of this kid. He came back  – with his Mother, of course – year after year. When he was about five or six, they were there for their annual session. 

We did the typical warm-up images, and my sister went down to retrieve a bunny. It was the day’s first session, and the bunnies hadn’t seen the light of day since the previous afternoon.

Sampson was the Flemish Giant. Blue-gray color with big soft ears and huge paws. Little Harrison was a pro at bunny pics, so he was ready and excited to hold this big bunny. 

What we didn’t know is Sampson must have had a connection on the outside. Or maybe he’d made a deal with one of the dungeon “screws.” But someone smuggled in a 12-pack of Miller Lite, and Sampson had more than his fair share. My sister pulled him out of the banker’s box, and Sampson let loose with an entire six-pack of bunny pee. He soaked my sister right through to her bra and underwear, neck to knees. And what didn’t soak in, puddled up on the floor at her feet. Harrison laughed uncontrollably. My sister went home to shower and change clothes.

So yeah, Babies and Bunnies, more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Now there’s a thought . . . . a jungle-themed portrait promotion? Wonder if I’m allergic to monkeys?


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