The article about photographer Gary Winogrand in the New York Times Weekend Arts section triggered it again. Running two pages, it contained photos of his work in Manhattan during the 1960s––a time and place that roller skating enthusiast, mother of two and retired high school arts teacher, Helen Zimmerman, desperately wanted to experience.
Helen believed she could go back in time.
Granted she’d never accomplished this, but deep inside where those who practice a religion keep the tenets of their faith, Helen had created a place for time travel. She didn’t just wish she had lived in New York City in the time of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can paintings. People wished that all the time. It was New York City for God’s sake. And the ’60s. No. Helen had the expectation that if she stopped whatever she was doing, paused long enough and concentrated hard enough, she would actually land there. And be able to stay. Not one to speculate on what her life could have been like if she’d ditched her family and acquired a 212 area code after high school––she considered that frivolous. Why waste time imagining when by sheer will you could move mountains or at the very least travel across the US and the time-space continuum?
It was around noon. In Helen’s kitchen, the Winogrand article was spread on a freshly installed charcoal grey granite countertop––chosen because it was labeled “Midtown Street” at the Kitch-n-Place outlet in town. Town was Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Helen was loading the dishwasher. Perhaps the mundane task of rinsing off the strawberry-residue bowls from the previous night’s shortcake drove her to reflect on the photo taking up the top third of the first page: a line of women in Bass Weejun loafers––no socks––sitting on a bench in what appeared to be Madison Park. Any of them could have been her she reasoned. She never wore socks with her loafers.
Maybe. If she’d lived in NYC. She had not.
She focused on the image on page C15 of a woman striding up Fifth Avenue, straw purse slung over one shoulder––who so closely resembled her that she was sure someone would be calling any minute to ask if it were she in the photo.
It, of course, was not.
Not that any of her friends would be reading the Times article out there in Fish Creek, being as she was the only one in town who got delivery of the paper. According to the mailman.
She paused, plate in hand frozen midway into the space behind the butter dish in the lower rack of the dishwasher. Winogrand’s black and white photos threw her into a longing so strong that when she recognized, yet again, she wasn’t teleporting anywhere, she doubled over and let out a small sob. The plate dropped into place.
But maybe the moment between the longing and the realization that she was still there––that split second pause––was the true reality. Maybe 20 years from now, Helen Zimmerman is crossing a charcoal grey street in Midtown Manhattan, looking at a New York Times photo essay of Fish Creek, Wisconsin, and jumped into that frame.
Or maybe it was just the Ambien.
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Pat Obermeier’s debut novel, “The President Factor, The Reality Show That Rocked a Nation” (political satire) was released in September, 2015. She worked in the TV industry in New York City for close to 20 years. Her bio includes four Emmy awards, Promax and BDA design awards (30+) and design and writing/ producing /advertising work for CNBC, CBS News, NY1 News, “History’s Lost and Found,” IFC, Studios USA and many others. Prior to that she worked in the morass of politics in DC at a political TV network and came out unscathed.