Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Advice For People In Their Late Teens About Taking Advice From Other People In Their Late Teens

I want you to know that I am not trying to tell anyone what to do. The story I am about to recount, which starts in my late teens, then ends badly in my late twenties, is meant as food for thought. This is a cautionary tale. If you want to let it go in one ear and out the other, be my guest. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I was seventeen years old. It was the winter of my senior year of high school. I was an extremely single-minded photography student, anxiously awaiting the end of high school so that I could go to college at SUNY Purchase. I would study art and photography there in a very serious fashion. Then I would begin what promised to be a fabulous career.

I was sitting in trigonometry class. There was a bit of a pleasant looking hubbub out in the hallway. My photography teacher, my art teacher and my principal were standing outside of the door. They pushed it open and came in. They were all smiling. Excuse me, Mr. Legacy, the principal said. We need to pull Karen Capucilli out of class for a few minutes.

We all went out into the hallway. That is when they told me the most amazing news I'd ever heard. They had just been informed that I had won the highest Scholastic Award given that year. I don't remember what it was called, but it was a best in show type recognition. Previous to this, the highest Scholastic Award ever awarded to a Westhill High School student was the Gold Key. I'd already won some of those the previous year.

If you are not familiar with the Scholastic Art Awards, I'll give you a little description. If you were a high school art or photography student in upstate NY in 1980, this was like the Oscars for you.

The principal had already called my mother at home. I was enthusiastically creating a happy ruckus in the hallway, which added to the hubbub I mentioned earlier. In addition, an untenable situation was forming inside of the math class. The students in there naturally wanted to know what was going on. So Mr. Legacy came out to investigate.

Mr. Legacy congratulated me. But at the time he was strict. He reminded everyone present that although I was clearly advanced in the photography arena, I needed some serious work in Trigonometry if I had any hope of passing the Regents.

So back in we went. The best part was when the whole class applauded. That was really nice.

When I said that Mr. Legacy was strict at the time, here is what I meant. He was strict in the classroom. But over the summer, when people were having their graduation parties he was completely cool and very loosened up. He was singing and dancing like nobody's business to what we now call classic rock music. I didn't know this dude had it in him.

Word about the prize spread around school very quickly.  I wanted to share my good fortune with all of the friends I made at a special summer program I had attended the previous year. Since I couldn't do a status update on Facebook for another thirty years, I phoned some of my closest friends from the New York State Summer School of the Arts. I also talked with my boyfriend Jeff. We were conducting a long distance relationship because of the fact that he lived on Long Island.

One of my friends, Andy Cohen, was so happy for me that he sent me a dozen red roses with a card that said All my Love, Andy. My mother put the flowers on the dining room table.

I felt like the flowers were a very lovely gesture. However, it also made me feel a little uneasy. I was worried that the red roses meant that Andy Cohen was harboring romantic feelings for me. In addition, I was worried that I might be reading too much into it. I was in a quandary because I liked Andy Cohen very much - just not that way.

Also, I already had a boyfriend and I was almost always very faithful about the relationship. Very close to 90 percent of the time I was completely faithful about the relationship.

After obsessing for a bit, a very helpful thought popped into my head. My friends give fantastic advice, I thought. Let me give some of them a call.

First, I ran the situation by my female friend from school. She listened and then gave her proclamation. She felt it was unmistakable. Andy Cohen was in love with me. He had probably been suffering with this for some time. The phone call with me was the straw that broke the camel's back and he was not able to hold the feelings in any longer.

You need to let him down gently but firmly, she said. She suggested I do this in the form of a letter.

Then I called a male friend. Well, I called one male friend and he wasn't home, so I called another one. It was important to get some perspective from a guy. As you can see, I was being really thorough.

He too, felt that Andy Cohen was holding a torch for me. He advised me that I needed to tell him my true feelings because anything less would be leading him on. My friends and I all agreed that leading people on was very bad.

One or another of my friends felt that time was of the essence in a situation like this. You don't want him showing up at your house with an engagement ring, asking your Dad's permission to marry you, said either the male or the female friend.

My 51-year-old self would have a lot to say to my 17-year-old self. If such a conversation could occur, I would say the following things.

I would ever so gently suggest that in addition to my friends, I should consult with an older individual. I would concede that my friends certainly had some assets to bring to the table. For one thing, they were available. The other thing they had in abundance was good intentions.

But I would remind my 17-year-old self that none of the friends dispensing this advice had any romantic experience at all. We all got our information from the same sources—The ABC Afterschool Special and The Love Boat.

And while I had befriended some of the brightest kids at Westhill High School—kids who today would be labeled gifted and talented—I would feel obligated to remind teenaged me that the smart male friend I consulted enjoyed stealing watermelons from a supermarket called Wegmans on Friday nights.

I would firmly insist to my younger self that any older individual - a trusted teacher, a parent, my grandmother, the lady next door - would have reasonable advice. That advice would probably be some variation on the words Chill out and stop worrying. Send him a thank you note and leave it at that.

But alas, I had no adult advice on board. So I proceeded to do what I knew to be the right thing. I wrote Andy Cohen a long letter.

As a senior in high school, I had three favorite classes. Number one favorite was photography class. Second favorite was art class. Third favorite, but really high up on the passion meter was English class. I loved both reading and creative writing.

At the time, unleashing all of my creativity and literary influences in a letter to Andy Cohen seemed like a good idea. It was as though Sylvia Plath, Elton John, John Steinbeck and the editors of Seventeen Magazine had formed an unholy alliance.

I'm positive that I wrote the words I know that you'll make a very lucky girl a wonderful husband one day. Then I took a stamp from my mother's desk in the family room. It was with a heavy heart that I walked to the mailbox at the end of the block.

I never heard from Andy Cohen again. I proceeded to forget about the whole thing.

Weeks turned into months, months turned into years. I found myself to be a 28-year-old still life photographer. This photography career was mostly fabulous. There were moments when it was less than glorious - times when it was boring, ludicrous or a downright pain in the ass. But for the most part, I was enjoying myself.

I liked to think of myself as leaving the 1980s behind and truly embodying the 1990s. I felt that in the time since high school I had acquired a certain je ne sais quoi without losing my joie de vivre.

I was at a place called Community Darkroom for the day. This is a place where photographers would rent darkroom space by the hour and do color printing. Over the last few years I'd worked hard at honing my printing skills. I was there laboring over some colorful images I shot for a magazine.

I'm in and out of the darkroom I rented, minding my own business. Actually, that isn't true. Whenever I was waiting around for a print to come out, I'd be socializing with the other photographers there. Minding my own business was not what I was doing.

One of the nice people who worked there called out that my lunch delivery had arrived. I signed for my lunch. It was either a falafel in pita or guacamole in a pita. I sat down on the overstuffed couch to take a little break and have lunch.

That's when I noticed that Andy Cohen was there.

At first I was a bit alarmed. For Christ sake! Out of all the C- printing labs in NYC, he had to pick this one! Actually, there weren't that many. Maybe four at the most. But this was colossal bad luck. My 80s self and my 90s one were about to collide.

But then I calmed down. Listen, I told myself. He probably doesn't even remember the letter. This is the kind of thing only you think about. He might not even recognize you.

I was wrong about Andy Cohen. He remembered me. He remembered the letter. It was apparently something he would never forget. That is because of how hilarious it was! Not only was it extremely comical that I thought that he thought he was in love with me. But the letter itself was so freaking funny that he told everyone at Community Darkroom who happened to be in the common lounge area the entire story.

I can still hear him laughing. It sounds like the maniacal laughter that happens in horror movies right before something bad happens. I think that is my memory putting a certain patina on it. I'm fairly sure it was just regular laughing.

I finished lunch and proceeded to tackle my color printing. What I should say is that I multitasked. I did the color printing but also pulled some other photographer friends into my rented darkroom to discuss the incident with Andy Cohen. I also insisted on visiting friends in their rented darkrooms, closing the door and discussing the Andy Cohen thing. Sometimes I insisted that two or more other people, along with the owner of the darkroom, meet in my darkroom to discuss it.

I am still like this. When something happens, I need to process it.

I took a little time by myself in my private darkroom to take some deep breaths. I was feeling much better after the support I'd received in various darkrooms from other photographers. I packed up my prints, slapped an address label on and called a messenger. I was on deadline, so the prints needed to go to the client immediately.

On my way out I made sure to mention at reception, within earshot of Andy Cohen that a package addressed to the New York Times Magazine was about to be picked up. Then I went out into the street and moved on to planning my next prestigious assignment. 

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