Cheap shots

Parent-wise, there are certain things I’ve done a reasonable job of avoiding, mall-wise: gumball machines, claw machines, coin-operated hippos, lingerie shops and photo booths.

It hasn’t been a perfect record. Before Christmas, I ended up in a La Senza. I’ve often wondered what “La Senza” means. I now understand it means “definitely not designed for warmth.” I saw a bra made out of aquarium rocks, I swear.

Lingerie shops are on a whole other socio-sexual level of avoidance, of course, and I only bring it up because, seriously, that can’t be comfortable…

As for those other mall traps, over the years my kids have pestered me for money for this thing and that. “Please, Dad, can I have a dollar for the grubby hippo? Please, Dad, can I have a quarter for a calcified gumball? Please, Dad, can I have 20 bucks for an eye-patch – I mean a thong?”

And almost always I’ve said, “No way. Waste of money. Uh-uh. They’re a rip-off. Here, watch this sad child with no friends ride the acid-trip hippo and you’ll see how sorry and pathetic it is. No? Still, not convinced? Climb on my back and I’ll undulate slowly. Just maybe not in front of the lingerie store.”

On occasion, though, I’ve relented, spending a buck on a ride, usually on the basement-level of the mall by the licence bureau and Dollar Store, surely the most will-sapping square-footage on Earth. Sometimes, though, I could fit three kids on a ride for a buck, which felt like the smallest of victories.

Rides, claw machines and their ilk – they’re money vacuums, and I’m onto them. Photo booths, though, are a whole other kettle of coin-op. I’ve said no to photo booths as well – “What are you going to do with photos? Just stick ’em on the fridge?” – but I feel more like a heel when I do.

I have no personal attachment to the photo booth. There are no photo strips from my childhood depicting my siblings and our parents, with our father wearing a pork pie hat and us kids making faces like, “Dad, stop wearing food on your head!”

Yet there’s something inherently nostalgic and charming about photo booths, like department store lunch counters, cross-country bus rides or Betty White. The chrome-and-plastic construction. The stool spinning up to desired height. The three choices of background – curtain, no curtain or half-curtain. The murky hint of a lens behind the glass. The clunk-a-clunka of processing parts. Using a photo booth feels like being inside a jukebox, and you’re the record.

The photo booth was first presented at the Paris World Fair in 1889 (as, coincidentally, was Betty White), and they’ve never really gone out of style. In fact, photo booth rentals are popular these day at wedding receptions and birthday parties, although the funeral photo booth has yet to catch on.

But why, in the Age of the Ubiquitous Selfie, does the photo booth continue to not only exist but modestly thrive? Why, unlike vending machines, do I feel photo booths are borderline acceptable?

The answer lies behind the half-curtain. The cramped quarters of the photo booth offer thrilling moments of intimacy in the midst of the faceless bustle of shopping malls and train stations. Nosy passersby can glimpse only a leg or four or possibly eight if there are some real shenanigans going on. There you are, squeezed together, in artificial privacy, sitting on laps, giggling in anticipation of the – POP! – I wasn’t ready!

Plus, unlike that cellphone selfie sent out into the world, this is just yours, one of a kind. You get to take it with you, a private keepsake of that day, that time, that ugly 80s haircut.

And not just one photo, but four. They say the photograph steals the soul. But a series of photos animates it.

I dug out a strip of our kids from a decade past, taken on one of those times we relented. They’re crammed into the booth like they could never manage now. Each successive shot shows their expressions getting wilder and tongue-ier, until at the end they’re looking like kids you ought never let loose in public, least of all a lingerie shop. It’s a happy moment, but then, there are few sad moments in photo booths.

The other day, on impulse, my wife and Abby ducked into a photo booth at the mall. In their photos, mouths widen, tongues loll, eyes cross. It freezes a mother-daughter moment in early 2015 (bra shopping was involved). And now it’s stuck on our fridge, because that’s what fridges are for, and money well spent indeed.



About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
This entry was posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Really Did Happen! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Cheap shots

  1. Awwww….I love the photo booth! It’s the way my daughter and I still mark our rare shopping trips together (she’s a junior in college). I have a whole collection from when she was 4 right up until a few weeks ago. Priceless! Thanks for a great post, Ross!

    (psst: just letting you know that the link from the e-mail didn’t work, but I poked around and found the post anyway! Just thought you’d want to know!)

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Thanks. Weird things happen when I use the WP app. When I publish, it’s as if I published 12 hours earlier, which buries it way down in the Reader… so then I edit the publish time, which screws everything up for notifications and yada yada yada…

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Yada yada yada is right, Yoda. Fuck sake. Sorry didn’t mean to reply to the world when I replied to your post like WTF and here I’ve done it again. Lying in a burned out basement now, remediated for Radon levels considered toxic, eastern Pennsylvania, snow creeping up the coast like green snot on the radar and impossible to get out of its way, and stoked. We don’t get snow (or snot) like this in Washington. Nice to talk to you in your time zone, for once. (That was a Neil Young reference in case it didn’t transmit, about the burned out basement.) Have a good weekend Ross.

  2. Paul says:

    Interesting post Ross. I was watching a TV show the other day that was describing how collectable those photo machines are becoming. As they are removed from stores and malls, people who have memories made in those machines are snapping them up. There’s quite a resale market for them right now. So if you happened to be in the basement of your local mall and you notice that there is no one there but you, it woud be a profitable use of your time to unplug the photo machine and sneek it out the through the receiving dock. If anyone asks you can just tell them that you were asked to remove the old thing.

  3. Lynn says:

    I have a number of these strips in my old photo albums! So many of us crammed into one little booth, so much fun! A funeral photo booth? You may be onto somethings, imagine the faces from those pics.

  4. “Climb on my back and I’ll undulate slowly. Just maybe not in front of the lingerie store.” Greatest parenting advice ever. I hope the bra shopping and Photo Booth fun were done independently, but if not, maybe those photos shouldn’t be placed on the fridge.

  5. It’s the new wedding trend to have some sort of photo booth with props so guests can have silly pictures taken, but it is a great way to have fun memories of the people who were at your wedding that you may not have had time to chat with!

  6. pinklightsabre says:

    Hey…is it just me or “post not found?!” I’m in the airport flying to Newark so maybe it’s just me. Wtf?!

    Sent from my iPhone


  7. Carrie Rubin says:

    Oh, the money I’ve wasted on claw machines in my boys’ lifetimes. Luckily they’ve outgrown them now. But I’m with you on the photobooth pics. A fridge wouldn’t be the same without them.

  8. My new favorite is photo booths at weddings… we fit 13 people in a photo booth {a bit larger than standard-issue mall-size} at a family wedding last summer. It’s definitely one of my current favorite mementos from the past. That, and watching Betty White on the Golden Girls! 🙂

  9. calahan says:

    If you take me bra shopping, I promise we can take all the pictures you want, Ross. Deal?

  10. markbialczak says:

    So much can be interpreted from the positions of the tell-tale four, six, eight feet below the pulled curtain, Ross. Of course you could walk past with only slightly splayed fingers over your eyes, as if watching a horror movie. But you don’t want to bump into anybody on that bottom level of the mall, you know?

    They have these new photo booth contraptions that take your picture, and if you punch in an email address and a personal message, it sends a customed digital postcard. I got one from a very happy-looking bar with a photo of my wife and her friends from their girls-only vacation at Myrtle Beach. The weather is here, wish you were handsome … I spent a long time looking for the missing comma.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      That’s marvellous. Say what you will, we live in the coolest of ages. And guys our age got to see it all happen… from nothing! From… Telex machines!

      • markbialczak says:

        One of my make-it-in-journalism jobs in college was copy aide at the Washingtop Post, with running the Telex machine high on the list of duties, Ross. Then my old boss called me up to help out during the 1979 World Series to run one and I got to witness the Orioles vs. Pirates games in Baltimore standing in the back of the press section … until the seventh inning, when I had to go to a room in the guts of the stadium in which we’d set up 50 Telex machines to whir out the copy, single sheet by single sheet, to all the sports departments around the country. I was five months out of college, the sports editor of a suburban Maryland paper with a focus on high school and U of Maryland sports, and Mike Lupica was talking to me about the World Series. How cool is this, I thought. So I recall Telex machines fondly.

        • rossmurray1 says:

          Literally grunt work. What a memory. There’s something to be said about the formerly tactile nature of journalism. In university, when I started out, it was Linotronic and strips of copy drying on strings across the production room, the smell of melted wax. I bought the school paper’s first Mac in ’87. Good times.

  11. Lots of fun – thanks for reviving those memories. 🙂

  12. Lily says:

    Love this! It’s such a perfect snap of time. Like I mentioned on facebook, I had a black and white photo booth at my wedding and it came with a guy (a guy!) who would tear one strip off and put it in an album for us, and the other for you to keep. Guys had them sticking out of their jacket pockets and it was just too cute. We also had our photobooth shots from the wedding on our thank you cards. I’m kind of obsessed if you can’t tell. But yeah, seriously. La Senza…haha!

  13. Never say “no” to the photo booth. Are you crazy!? They’ll remember those booth-cramming sessions forever. My kids do.

    Here’s a funny/not-funny aside. When I was a kid I always wanted a quarter for one of those crank machines the spit out a plastic egg with a toy inside. We were so broke that my mom couldn’t spare a quarter. Can you imagine a quarter being a budget buster?! I always felt bad about it. Now, when I pass those machines, I buy something just because I can, open the egg and toss the whole thing in the trash before I leave the supermarket. Calling Dr. Freud.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’m of the school that says you don’t want to devalue the “yes.” One “yes” for every 4-5 “no’s” makes the “yes” that much more memorable. (What a shit.)

      You’re a complex man, Mark. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I read things like this — childhood traumas that affect our adulthood actions — and I can’t think of a single thing I do today that is the direct result of something that happened as a kid, which means I had a pretty decent childhood, I guess. The best I can do is the fact that I grew up non-hockey in a hockey town, where the hockey guys got the hockey girls. So I have a very non-Canadian resentment of hockey. That said, I think I make it out to be a lot worse than it actually was. Bottom line: we’re all nuts.

  14. Ross I love this! I actually made a radio documentary (for Quebec AM) about photobooths, but I’m far more nostalgic than you are. The film ones are dying quickly, and those are the ones I have a particular attachment to.

    There’s also a great graphic novel that came out in 2014 about the history of photobooths you might enjoy:

    Link to the radio doc here:

    /shameless self promotion over and out.

  15. Trent Lewin says:

    You know, I’ve never taken my kids to one of these… I don’t really even see them around anymore. Maybe they blend into the malls. I think it would be fun, but I’m also concerned about the money vacuum they present. Had no idea photo booths had been around for that long… doesn’t seem to be lot of sentimental feeling for them, I guess it’s a convenient diversion that no one seeks but people occasionally get into if they stumble upon one.

  16. This part killed me…”Climb on my back and I’ll undulate slowly. Just maybe not in front of the lingerie store.” Dude…LOL!

    I’m a sucker for photo booths as well. They’re timeless and I pray that they stick around forever.

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