Joe was the cashier at the cafeteria. He was introduced to me by Nathan (of course). Nathan had told me that Joe came over from Russia about ten years earlier. He had been in a labor camp for six years for pissing off some official. He had felt that he had been unjustly dealt with by this person and had voiced his dissatisfaction in a way that got him thrown in jail. Upon his release, his family brought him to Canada.
One day I asked him if I could take his picture. He was delighted and came to the studio that afternoon after his shift ended. I gave him a print a few days later and he thanked me for it. From that day on, he would never let me pay for my coffee. When I walked by the cash, he would reach into his pocket, pull out 50 cents and put in the till.” It’s OK” he would say.
This went on for a year. One day as I passed through the cash he said that he had shown the picture to one of his sons. “ My son says it makes me look like shit” he said. Could you do it over again. I said sure but that I was very busy and could not do it for a few weeks. “No he said!— right now!— today”. I said that I had a lot of Joe work to do before going away on holiday and that I would be happy to take it over again when I got back. “Who the hell do you think you are” he said. “I have bought you coffee every morning for the past year and how do you repay me.— by taking a picture of me that makes me look like shit. My dog could take a better picture than you can. 50 cents please!” I paid for the coffee as I wondered about that anonymous official in Russia that he had pissed off so many years ago. We never spoke again.