Mr. Kemp challenges Jonathan

            “Wait.” Mr. Kemp raised his left hand, turning it palm up. “You haven’t read Moby Dick, so you say you can’t give me your opinion about the main character, Captain Ahab.” He raised his right hand, palm up, now posing like a balance scale. “And on the other hand, you say you haven’t read the Bible, either. And yet, somehow, you’re all set to give me your opinion on what God wants.” Both hands lowered. “Jonathan, does that make any sense to you?”

(An excerpt from the book, EnDvironment)

            Mr. Kemp didn’t return until Thursday and was busy all morning. Jonathan cleaned up the studio and shuffled a ladder into the corner as Mr. Kemp entered. Good. Now he could tell him about Monday’s shoot at the steel plant, how good it went. A real chance for him to shine.

“Hi, Mr. Kemp. That shoot Monday wen—” Mr. Kemp signaled, stop.

“I already called the client,” Mr. Kemp said. “Larry said you finished up in good time, rushed the proof sheets, rushed the prints—helped them out.”

Of course, Mr. Kemp would follow up with the client. Should’ve known. Jonathan offered a thumbs up. “Well, I tried to give that extra service, so—”

“You didn’t do anything extra. You do what I pay you to do—your job.”

Embarrassing heat flooded Jonathan’s face. Mr. Kemp considered client service more important than eating or sleeping, had a demanding work ethic for himself and expected employees to follow his lead. There were stories––different ways Mr. Kemp showed the door to those he fired. Quick, nod or something to agree.

“You people today,” Mr. Kemp puffed, “you think you’re too special to work anymore. You get so much handed to you—grow up thinking life is just entertainment. TV and movies all the time, hour after hour!” He charged about the studio, checking and adjusting photo gear.

Forget any praise from the boss. Probably thinking about that time he’d come in late. More embarrassment. Probably thinking the only reason he’d worked his butt off Monday was to save his job. Probably. Just follow Mr. Kemp around the studio and help with––whatever. Still, why is he acting so upset today?

“You don’t know things,” Mr. Kemp started. “You don’t study hard enough to know about anything. You don’t read anymore. Don’t want to read. People your age don’t even know how to read!”  Mr. Kemp turned to him. “Have you ever read the constitution of the country you live in?”

“The U.S. Constitution?” Better ask, just to make sure.

“Yes,” Mr. Kemp drawled, “the U.S. Constitution … I’m pretty sure you live here.”

“Well, I don’t think school ever required—”

“That’s a lot of crap!” Mr. Kemp blurted, shaking his head while checking a camera lens. “Schools even help your laziness by lowering the bar. Why do you suppose that is?” He turned to Jonathan with brow wrinkles that could grate cheese. “So, you fops will always pass! Because if you don’t pass, they get less money to do their job—a job that they don’t really want to do, either!” Then he stepped over to the wide workbench and made more room on it, shoving things to the side, hanging gel filters and light shields.

Keep busy. Jonathan’s embarrassment began to fade. Wind up electrical cords and stuff. Anything. Was Mr. Kemp right about school? “Mr. Kemp, I didn’t think my education was so great but,” he shrugged, “I didn’t really know it, until a couple years out of college.”

Mr. Kemp softened a bit. “I’ve taken pictures at schools around here for years. Student pictures. Class pictures. I’ve seen changes in how schools are run and I’ve seen changes in kids as a result. Used to be, kids dressed decent for school. Now they dress like slobs. Ask them to dress a certain way and it’s all boo-hoo, boo-hoo and parents cave! What the hell?” He moved film canisters across the workbench like a fast-paced game of checkers. “I know some school administrators around here, personally. I’ve talked with them, had lunch with them.”  He drew a breath and let out a gust of air. “I’ve never seen so many idiots, in so many important positions, where they can do so much damage to young people. And they’re paid with taxes! I pay them. You pay them. And they’re a bunch of screw-ups who don’t know or even care about the kids.” He turned. “They’re like you, Jonathan. Full of pride, think they’re doing society a big fat favor. Something extra. Truth is, they don’t even do the bare minimum because they don’t teach kids the most important thing of all.”

Jonathan’s jittery fingers lost grip of the electrical cord he’d been winding. Several coils dropped to his feet. “What’s that, Mr. Kemp?”


“Thinking?” Quick, rewrap the cord, make it neat.

“Yes,” Mr. Kemp reached and gently tapped Jonathan’s right temple. “Schools aren’t teaching kids to ‘think,’ to use the brain inside there.” His arm dropped to his side then he returned to fidgeting with several gadgets on the workbench. “I have seven grandkids, some smarter than others, just like some people are smarter than others. Even so, everyone should be encouraged and taught to think. Teach them to read. Really read. Teach them to study literature written by people who are dead.”

“Dead?” Don’t let the end of the cord get away this time.

“If you only know about this time, right here, and only learn from what people living right now tell you, then you don’t have enough perspective on things.”

Made sense. Kind of.  “So, the Constitution … would fit that description?”

“Yes, like the Constitution. Like Moby Dick. Like the Bible.”

Bible? Jonathan stopped.

Mr. Kemp motioned. “Let’s set up for this afternoon’s shoot. Get the strobes, but first we’ll hang the paper.”

He grabbed an adjustable pole stand as Mr. Kemp selected a light blue roll of background paper.             “Jonathan, you never read the Constitution, right?”

“Well, yeah, that’s right.” He opened up the stand’s legs.

“But you hear stuff about the Constitution on the news sometimes?”


“How do you know if the people on TV are telling you the truth?”

“What?” He set the stand at one end of the paper roll and started to adjust its height.

“The truth,” Mr. Kemp repeated, sounding more irritated.

“Well, I just figure they know what they’re talking about, and—”

“How do you know, Jonathan? You never read the Constitution. Do you think they have?”

He shrugged. How would he know? “Well, I don’t know if they’ve read it. Guess I never thought about it before.” Hurry. Get another stand from over there.

Mr. Kemp still held the roll of paper up in position, ready for the other stand to be placed.

“Ever hear people argue about what the Constitution means?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard people argue about it.” Hook the bracket. Tighten adjustments.

“So, Jonathan, tell you what. Let’s discuss Moby Dick. It’s a book about a certain whale.” Mr. Kemp gave a head nod to raise the stand Jonathan had just placed. “Do you think Captain Ahab was nuts?”

“Well, I never read the book so I can’t really say…” Loosen, raise, tighten.

“Okay.” Mr. Kemp relaxed his grip on the paper, now held up by the stands at either end. “You never read it? Fair enough. Then let’s talk about the Bible. Do you think God wanted his ten commandments to apply to all people, all the time?”

“Well, I think there’s some exceptions—”

Mr. Kemp approached, a scowl overshadowing his words. “Have you read the Bible?”

“Some of it. Or do you mean the whole thing?”

Mr. Kemp nodded and leaned in, now closer than arm’s length. “The whole thing.”

“Well … no …” Jonathan stepped back for more space. “But Grandma reads it all the time, and she tells me––”

“Wait.” Mr. Kemp raised his left hand, turning it palm up. “You haven’t read Moby Dick, so you say you can’t give me your opinion about the main character, Captain Ahab.” He raised his right hand, palm up, now posing like a balance scale. “And on the other hand, you say you haven’t read the Bible, either. And yet, somehow, you’re all set to give me your opinion on what God wants.” Both hands lowered. “Jonathan, does that make any sense to you?”

The question felt like quicksand. Should’ve paid more attention in school. Or maybe it really wouldn’t have mattered.

“Does it, Jonathan?” Mr. Kemp’s eyes narrowed.

“Well, whether you read the whole Bible or not, you—I mean we––we can make up our own minds about God. In this country we have freedom of religion, right?”

They started to set up the lights and Mr. Kemp adjusted a light stand. “Who was here first?  God, or the United States?”

That question bordered on ridiculous. Maybe it was a trick question. “Well, God was here first.”

“So, did God give you freedom of religion? Or did politicians?”

“Well …”

Mr. Kemp motioned to follow back to the workbench at the side of the studio. There, he picked up a 35 mm camera and shoved it toward Jonathan. “Here. Take a look, over that way. Tell me what kind of lens is on this camera just by looking through it.”

Confident, Jonathan held it up to his eye, focused it, and looked across the studio bay. “Wide-angle … 24 millimeters.”

“How much of the studio can you see through this lens?

“A lot. The whole back wall, across the corner, down the side wall and over to the garage door.”

“Give it.” Mr. Kemp extended his hand, took the camera, changed the lens and handed it back. “Now?”

Jonathan held it up to his eye and focused. “Telephoto … 250 millimeters.”

“You’re standing in the exact same place, but what do you see through the camera now?”

“Well … it’s a close-up view … can’t see as much, left to right … only see a few cement blocks on the far wall … but now I can read the calendar hanging over there.” He handed it back. “I couldn’t read the calendar with the wide-angle lens.” Hoped he passed the test.

Mr. Kemp looked at the camera then back at him. “Same room. Same camera. But with different lenses, you get different views and different information.” He faced the expanse of the studio with a broad sweep of his hand. “Same world.” He tapped the side of his greying hair as he turned to Jonathan. “Same brain.” His gaze turned to a stare. “But different books, like different lenses, mean different viewpoints. And that leads to seeing things you couldn’t see before.” His stare hardened. “Only then, can you start comparing. Only then, can you start to ‘think.’”

They worked together on another setup beside the first, getting ready for two different shoots in case the other agency came through with their plans.

For the first time, Jonathan began to admire Mr. Kemp. Sure, he’d respected Mr. Kemp as the boss and hard worker driven to keep the business intact. But now, Mr. Kemp seemed a bit like Grandma. Both had seen changes in the world and talked about it. Grandma was older, saw more changes than Mr. Kemp, but Mr. Kemp was still able-bodied. Not as quick, though, like Larry had pointed out at the steel plant. Maybe today’s world doesn’t like things to slow down. Maybe older people just don’t like things to speed up.

Mr. Kemp remained talkative. “You know, Jonathan, when you watch news shows, you see newscasters like teachers, behind their desk at the front of the class. Like they’re the authority, telling you the only information you need to know. And in college, you thought you were learning, until you got out. Well, if you don’t try to find out all you can firsthand, about whatever people are telling you, you’re never really ‘free’ to choose and to make up your own mind about anything. All you can ever do is blindly choose a side—like the rest of the ignorant people.”

“Maybe, but they say, ignorance is bliss.”

“Ignorance is bliss, huh? Want to hear how it was really written?” Mr. Kemp adjusted the tripod and rested his hand on it for a moment. “No more, where ignorance is bliss … tis folly to be wise. Thomas Gray, 1700’s.” He darted a piercing look. “People talk and talk, and soon twist things to suit their laziness. Anyone who says, or believes, ‘ignorance is bliss’ is a complete moron, a salesman, or a congressman.” He glanced at the tripod’s adjustments and back to Jonathan. “But then, those are all the same profession, aren’t they?”

Jonathan smiled as he unwound some of the same extension cords that he had just wound up earlier. Mr. Kemp readjusted some of the lights that Jonathan had set, changing angles and height.

“Jonathan, people have dropped or changed words for centuries. I used to live in southern Indiana by the Ohio River, little town called Newburgh. There was a historical marker down by the river. It read, ‘The only town north of the Mason Dixon line to be captured by Confederates in the Civil War.’”  He shook his head. “Fact is—it was the firsttown, not the only one. There can be a lot of difference when just one word is changed. Others hear it that way and just keep repeating the wrong thing over and over.”

Mr. Kemp readjusted power cords that Jonathan had routed here and there on the setup. Hmm. Hadn’t he done it the same way Mr. Kemp had taught him? Oh, well. Better to just step aside. If Mr. Kemp wanted to change something, no big deal.

“Jonathan, you ever hear, ‘Money is the root of all evil?’”

“Sure,” he nodded as he stepped over a cord being drug past him. “Isn’t it?”

“No, it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil. Not money itself. We use money so we don’t have to carry around warm goat milk to trade for a hammer––or carry around eggs to trade for a box of nails.”

“So, where’s that saying from?”

“From the Bible. All kinds of people talk about that book and the ideas in it—but they’ve never read it. Maybe they read a few chapters, or poke around in it. It’s the one book that Christian people say teaches about God.” He held up a single finger. “One book. And yet there’s Protestants, Catholics,” he said, holding up more fingers, “Lutherans, Baptists and all the rest.” He turned and studied the set.

“I always wondered about that, Mr. Kemp. Seems confusing.” He plugged in another cord.

“It’s confusing, because people are lazy. They’d rather have someone just tell them what’s in it and believe that person, instead of reading it themselves and believing God. Then those lazy people choose sides, believing this preacher is better than that one. They start pointing fingers, mine is right … yours is wrong. They put so much trust in their guy, that they’re willing to pay big bucks to keep a human leader in front of their church and push God to the back row. Complete ignorance.” Mr. Kemp checked the flash unit again. “Ignorant morons.”

“Yeah, pretty weird how God starts out in front, and then …”  Jonathan looked at the scar on the back of his hand. “You know, when I played football, before games and just before we’d go out to the field, our coach would have the whole team gather in the locker room and get down on one knee. Then he’d lead us in a prayer. Something like, ‘Please God, protect our team from injury and help us win.’ Later, during the game, coach would scream and yell at us if we didn’t try to knock someone’s head off!”

“How’d that work out?” Mr. Kemp handed him another cord to plug in.

“I’m not sure God was into football. Guys from both teams would still get hurt. But later, I did find out how much money the school got from ticket sales.” Check those lights for position. Oops, not that one. Mr. Kemp had that one set the just the way he wanted.

“Doesn’t sound too smart, does it?” Mr. Kemp’s face reddened. “They taught you guys just what you needed to believe to serve their needs, right?”

“Come to think of it, the other team was probably praying, too.” Jonathan shook his head. That was weird. Both sides praying for safety, when the object was to beat each other up.

“Jonathan, schools are full of unthinking administrators and unthinking teachers. And they get more and more money from unthinking politicians, all supported by lazy ignorant unthinking taxpayers.” He pointed at Jonathan, then turned his finger to include himself.

Oh, oh!” Mr. Kemp noticed his wristwatch. “Almost time for the client meeting.” Rushing to the workbench, he motioned for Jonathan to follow.  “I don’t ‘love’ money, but I don’t hate it either.”

(end of excerpt)