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Dad, Projector Man

By Kristine Hayes

My dad was a stick shift man.

He believed automatic transmissions were the work of the devil.

Stick shift cars weren’t the only thing my father held in great reverence.

He also preached the gospel about the bright future of 8-track tapes, beta-max movie cassettes and slide projectors.

Prognosticating wasn’t one of dad’s strong suits.

I remember one of his sermons from when I was six years old.

“Mark my words. Fifty years from now, 35mm slides will be the only kind of photos anyone will have.”

By anyone, he meant just us.

In our house, print film was blasphemous.

So were polaroid cameras.

My entire childhood is documented in Kodachrome.

There are no actual photos in my baby book.

Just a few hundred 35mm slides taped to the pages.

Growing up, we’d have slide night at least once a month.

Dad would spend the better part of a day preparing for it.

He’d get the card table, the retractable screen and a projector out of the attic and dust them all off.

We had lots of projectors.

But none of them actually worked. This fact did not deter my father.

He’d carefully load approximately 50,000 slides into a towering stack of slide carousels.

Carousels implied fun. Like a carnival.

Slide nights were nothing like a carnival.

I still have flashbacks and nightmares about them.

The reason behind my trauma is simple.

Slides have orientations.

Slides can be upside down, right side up, sideways and backwards.

All at the same time.

Statistics suggest that, even if loaded into a carousel in a completely random fashion, at least 0.0001% of the slides should end up in the correct orientation.

But somehow none of them ever did.

After dinner, my dad would gather us in the darkened living room and declare the festivities were about to commence.

Festivities marked by yelling, cursing and the occasional flinging of random projector parts.

Usually in that order.

For the next hour, we’d crank our necks to the left and then to the right, viewing images that appeared to violate basic laws of gravity.

Upside down slides were particularly problematic.

Headstand anyone?

And then there was focusing.

Like an ophthalmologist trying to hone in on the perfect eyeglass prescription, dad would continually twist the focusing knob of the projector from one extreme to the other.

“What looks better? Focusing here or here? There or there?”

The images violently shifting in and out of various degrees of clarity would make me motion sick.

Like the kind of motion sickness you get on an amusement park ride.

I guess slide nights were more like carnivals than I thought.

As the night wore on, we grew more tense.

We all knew what was coming and we knew there was nothing we could do to stop it.

And then we’d hear it.

The sound of a slide getting crushed deep within the bowels of the projector.

It was the sound of the dreaded slide jam.

Dad took slide jams very seriously.

Maybe too seriously.

He’d use tools akin to the jaws of life in an attempt to extricate the lifeless body of the slide.

Bit by bit, the slide-eating projector would be dismantled into a pile of assorted projector parts.

Dad would always assure us this was just a momentary setback.

A slide show intermission.

But we all knew better.

We’d begin quietly slipping away to our bedrooms, leaving dad to carry on his battle into the wee hours of the night.

Usually by 1 or 2 a.m. we’d hear the triumphant call of my father, celebrating the removal of the errant slide.

And the sound of Taps as yet another projector was laid to rest in the graveyard in our attic.

— Kristine Hayes

Kristine Hayes recently retired from her job and moved to Arizona. She and her husband own four dogs that they train in scent work, which is just a polite way of saying their dogs sniff inappropriate things all day long.

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