I found this strip of photos left in the dispenser of the photobooth in West Edmonton Mall in the summer of 2006. This is what I see:
Lewis is turning eleven in four days but his birthday party is tomorrow. His mother, Gary’s wife sent them to the mall to get last minute party supplies and one gift that Lewis could pick-out himself. For the last four years, Gary’s job has required him to be on business trips half of the time and work long days the other half. Unbeknownst to Lewis, his mother arranged this excursion for some father-son bonding.
Lewis was named after his maternal grandfather. It won't be until early adulthood that Lewis will realize he has lived his whole life with others wishing he was someone else. His unique combination of God-given skills makes him a rare gem, but his uniqueness makes others uneasy. Throughout his life his parents, teachers and friends have tried to condition or tweak him to fit into the norm. It started in Kindergarten when his teacher found his quick-wittedness and joie-de-vivre disruptive to the class, to remedy this he was diagnosed and treated for ADHD.
Gary is known as a no nonsense kinda guy. He is good at his job because other men trust his him for his stoicism and directness. Gary does not like clutter, excess or over indulgence, as these are all signs of weakness. This made it difficult for Gary to be in a place like West Edmonton Mall, an international landmark for frivolity. When a toy would catch Lewis’ eye and excitement instantly spread across his face, a small part of Gary recoiled at the dissimilarities between he and his only son. But today was nearly the kid’s birthday, so when Lewis saw the photobooth and asked if they could use it, Gary thought for a moment and said “Sure, kiddo.”
Gary was surprised by the weight of his kid on his lap. He reached over Lewis to insert the coins and then leaned backward, not caring too much to be in the photos himself. The adrenaline from the new experience took a hold of Lewis and in a few awkward seconds he spontaneously tried to find a new pose for each shot. Gary was amused but also felt bombarded with energy.
Once the flashes finished Lewis popped out of the booth ran in circles, accompanied by sound effects in the area. At first Gary was embarrassed for the way Lewis was acting, but as he tried to tame him without success, he grew embarrassed for his own lack of parental authority. He felt the eyes of other parents upon him while Lewis’ spectacle grew more and more attention. He was uncomfortable and gradually growing angry for having been made uncomfortable.
“We’re going.” Gary said sternly.
Lewis stopped his faux karate chops to rebuttal “But the pictures aren’t ready yet!”
“I don’t care. The stupid machine is broken, its taking forever.”
“It says it needs three minutes.” Pointing to the sign on the booth.
“It’s been three minutes.” To Gary it had felt like three minutes, but in reality it was still shy of forty-five seconds. “Anyway, we’re going, your mom is expecting us back.”
Lewis felt and then fought the urge to cry. Gary could see it in his face and remembered having that feeling himself as a boy but was not interested in exploring it in public place.
“Come’on, you’re almost eleven, act your age. We’re going home.”
Two minutes later the photobooth dropped a strip of black and white photos of a man and a boy into the dispenser.