"Photo paper", not photo paper.

Short story.

Visited a nice second-hand store. After cruising the aisles for a few minutes, I knew I wouldn't find any vintage cameras about. Oh, well. On my way to the exit, I see something out of the corner of my eye; a familiar yellow box with red lettering: It just screams Eastman Kodak. I recognize it as being a box of some kind of photo paper. From the looks of it, not too old (in a relative sense compared to my own age). The box was in a glass presentation case, the reason why it needed secure storage I could not guess.

I move to it to get a good look. Cool. It's a box of Polycontrast Rapid RC II photo paper. 250 sheets. Five bucks for the box, I'm in. I ask a clerk for help in finding someone who could open the case to show me the box.

A very young woman with several facial piercings soon arrives with the keys to the cabinet. She reaches in and does her best to assist the potential sale on her part with some chatter. Things like, "It looks almost new. There's plenty of paper inside for printing." I nod knowingly and wait for her to present the box to me for a quick examination on the way to the checkout counter. Instead, she cradles the box with one hand, and before I can stop her, she lifts off the top of the box. I see white paper.


I'm gurgling some kind of incoherent response while my face contorts in a questioning look. "Why did you just do that? Are you stupid?" She sees my confused expression and quickly states, "It's paper for printing photos on an inkjet. You know, Kodak photo paper. Like at Office Depot." She draws out the words "photo paper" slowly in the hope that I would understand her better.

"See, it says it right here, photo paper." She gestures with her index finder adorned with a white skull on shiny black fingernail polish. "Photo paper." Thinking I need some further visual stimulus to get her meaning, she lifts up about fifty sheets from the box and fans them back. I imagine billions of atomic exchanges going on as each sheet gets full exposure.

I finally blurt out, "Yes! It's PHOTO PAPER!" Now it's her turn to look at me with a furled brow. "Right, photo paper," she finally nods in agreement.

I take a cleansing breath and say, very calmly I might add, "No, you don't understand. Light-sensitive photo paper. By opening the box in the store in this light, you ruin the paper's ability to be used to print photos. You might as well toss that in the garbage now."

Oh, yeah. Whoosh. Right over her head. She looks down and sees (to her) ordinary white paper. She looks back up at me.

"Look," I say, "this kind of paper was used in photographic DARKROOMS. It's a special kind of paper with a thin coating - an invisible coating - that must be kept in the dark until its ready to be used. When you project a negative on it - in the dark - where the light strikes an area of the paper, it will eventually turn that part black during chemical developing and fixing and . . . ".

Whoosh again. Well THAT little lecture didn't help. Her expression remains fixed and befuddled.

"Photo paper?," She says. "Photo paper," I reply. She turns her head slightly to one side. She takes on a thousand-mile stare. I begin to back slowly away from the counter. I smile and give a little wave. "Thanks, but I'll pass on the . . . photo paper."

As I turned to go, she looks down and fans a stack of sheets again, perhaps looking for some confirmation of what I was talking about.  


  1. It seems that the sales person doesn’t expect you to be that knowledgeable about photo paper. I am imagining the looks on her face when you explain those things to her. I am pretty sure she was quite embarrassed but doesn’t show it off.


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