Bay City has its dull skies, its grey days, but it’s nevertheless one of the sunniest cities in the beautiful United States, a Technicolor city under a bright blue sky. You’d think that a man with a camera would want to go out and capture that color, but instead Starsky is increasingly fascinated by the possibilities of black and white, the sharp and the blurred edges of monochrome.
Not that he uses those words to express his obsession. Instead, he throws prints on Hutch’s coffee table, and says, “What do you think?”
Hutch takes the pictures up in his big hands and works his way through a steady, unflinching study. There’s about twenty of them. Some are the street where Starsky’s apartment is, taken at odd angles. There’s one that Hutch knows is taken early in the morning looking out from the top of Casa Vera Road, because he knows the road and he knows the light of early morning the way a mother knows a restless child on the edge of a tantrum.
There’s one that’s a self-portrait of Starsky. Starsky’s done something in the exposure or the lighting. It’s harshly contrasted, and makes every line of pain and experience stand out on Starsky’s face like canyons casting shadow. His eyes seem to look into the viewer’s eyes, and despite the worn look of his face there’s something light-hearted in the depth of his expression.
“I like it,” Hutch says, putting it down on the table and tapping it with an index finger. “I don’t know if your mother would want to have it on her china cabinet in a silver frame, but it works.” ‘It looks like you’ he wants to say, but he thinks it would sound stupid. It’s a photograph, of course it looks like Starsky.
Starsky grins. “It came out okay, but man, I look like twenty miles of bad road in that.”
Hutch looks up, surprised.
“What?” Starsky asks.
Hutch feels stymied – the only words in his head sound like sentimental twaddle. The photograph is Starsky, plain and simple in his hope that life is worthwhile, and not even defiantly so. It would be so easy to be defiant in hope after everything that David Starsky has seen and experienced.
“You don’t look so bad,” Hutch says instead.
“Here,” Hutch says one day. He hands over a book, one of those big, coffee table volumes. “It was on sale, so don’t get excited.”
“Oh, hey, thanks,” Starsky says, turning it over. His face lights up as he reads the information on the back cover – the book is a retrospective of the work of several famous photographers.
“I thought you might get some pointers out of it,” Hutch says.
“Why?” Starsky says with a smirk. “Do you think I need some?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Hutch says, stupidly flustered, before he realizes he’s been caught out by his own awkwardness at offering a gift when there’s no occasion.
Starsky grins. “Can you make some coffee? I have a present I want to look at.”
Hutch makes them coffee, and then puts it on the table, while Starsky, as is his way, opens the book up and starts reading from the beginning. Starsky is not a person who skims through a book. He begins at the beginning – although he will only end at the ending if he finds the book is worth his while. Starsky has always had his quirks with what he finds worthwhile.
Starsky puts the book aside after a minute or two to pick up his coffee cup. “Changed your mind yet about letting me use up a roll or two of film on you?”
“Aw, come on, Hutch. Why not?”
Hutch gives Starsky a look over his coffee. “Because I’m shy,” he says, hoping that his flatly discouraging tone will make Starsky drop the subject. Hutch has occasionally appeared in Starsky’s photographs, but he tends to be hyperaware when Starsky has his camera in his hands. Starsky hasn’t got much in the way of shots, either posed or candid.
“What if I promise that you and I are the only people who’ll see them if you don’t like them?” Starsky wheedles. “I do my own developing, remember.”
“Starsky...” Is Hutch whining? Damn it, he thinks he might be, and Starsky pounces on the sign of weakness.
“Tell you what, I’ll get my camera now, and we’ll get it out of the way. Since you’re so shy,” he mocks affectionately.
“I’m just going to sit here with my palm over my face,” Hutch says in a last ditch effort at defense.
Starsky is annoyingly unconcerned. “That’ll make an interesting shot,” he says, and goes to get his camera.
“Here ya go,” Starsky says, and puts the latest packet of photographs on Hutch’s coffee table.
Hutch looks at them and tells himself that he’s being silly about delaying to pick them up. Taking the pictures had, in the end, not been so bad. Starsky had goofed around a lot, and Hutch is unsurprised that in the first photographs he’s smiling, grinning even. But there’s one that reminds him of the face he saw in the hospital restroom mirror after Starsky was shot. It’s not as miserable as that face, when Hutch stared into his own eyes and saw all the worst possibilities in the world coming home to roost like demon crows. But there’s something braced about this shot, a tension that reminds him unpleasantly of that still, frozen figure under the fluorescent lights.
He’s paused over the picture, and Starsky says, “Yeah, I like that one the best.”
“Why?” Hutch says sharply. “If you think you looked like twenty miles of bad road in your picture, I look like twenty miles of bad road paved with shit here.”
Starsky frowns, puzzled and a little hurt. “You liked the picture of me, I like that picture of you, and I figured out why you liked mine. Because we’re wearing our lives on our faces and we’re still here. Isn’t that it?”
It’s close enough, but Hutch still feels uncomfortably naked when he looks at the picture. So, okay, it’s Starsky, who’s seen Hutch naked both literally and metaphorically more times than Hutch can count, so what does one more time matter? But in a post-Gunther world, it does count. Hutch still hasn’t shucked the awareness of vulnerability, the sure and certain knowledge that everything can be taken away. Just like that, gone.
“I look old.” Plus he sounds like a grumpy old man, but Starsky just chuckles.
“You don’t look old. You’ve got....” He pauses. “What’s that word?” He snaps his fingers, drawing memory out. “Gravitas! That’s it. You’ve got gravitas.”
Gravitas. Hutch doesn’t see it, thinks that Starsky is looking with his emotions rather than the stark honesty of his camera lens. But still. He can live with gravitas.
“I was thinking of going out for a drive some day next week,” Starsky says. “Thought I’d get in the car and drive and see what I can see with these two eyes and the camera. Wanna come?”
Hutch looks up. There’s something in Starsky’s eyes that leaves him wary, and resignedly amused.
“I’m sensing a caveat on this invitation.”
Starsky stretches out his legs. “Yep. No ducking behind me whenever I get the camera out. I, David Starsky, am actually allowed to put you, Kenneth Hutchinson, on film.” His eyebrows lift in gentle, humorous encouragement. “First time wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Hutch sighs. A deep, obvious sigh, so that Starsky can see what a big favor Hutch is doing for him. But still. He figures he can live with that too.