How To Be a Fly on the Wall

For my main documentary project here at Salt, I’ve been following a small group of gaming teenagers. They play Yu-Gi-Oh! at the store I was covering with another project, and I just kept finding myself drawn into their back room, delighted with the kinds of pictures I could take with them. They were always hugging each other, sitting on each other’s laps, playing with each other’s hair. Their cards were decorated with holograms and they spoke of summoning monsters, scorpion girls, corridors of pain. They had braces, crazy shoelaces, they loved pineapple calzones and Nickelback. They were so . . . teenagery! Man, remember being a teenager?

“Hey, you guys mind if I do a whole project just on you?” I asked one day.

“Sure!”

They taught me how to play their game. I’d follow them to the convenience store, the playground, alongside highways and railroad tracks. We’d leave two of them alone to make out by the lake while we constructed boats for insects and then threw rocks at the boats and then sunk the boats. I followed a few of them around their high school classes (learned about: rugged individualism, the Hoover Dam, John Malkovich starring in Of Mice and Men, whaaaat), and then realized getting some bus shots would be good too.

6:50am, yesterday morning: on it. The din of adolescence slowly quieted in the background as I whipped out paperwork. “Hi there. Adrianne Mathiowetz. Student at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. I’m doing a photo project with those two. Here’s the release form from their parents, I’ve also spoken to the high school and received consent, I won’t take pictures including anyone not listed on the form, nice to meet you.” I smiled at the busdriver winningly and followed the twins to the back, our journey dutifully noted by sets of suddenly curious Maine blue eyes.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked some kid.

“Excuse me . . . Miss?” the busdriver called back to me. “Come up here. I’m going to need to see that paperwork again.”

“Ooooooooo!” the riders crescendoed.

I stood up, jostled awkardly to the front.”Oh, uh . . . of course. Here it is.”

“And how do you pronounced your name?”

“Math – oh – wets.”

The busdriver breathed into her radio. “She says her name is Adrianne Mathiowetz? Have you heard anything about this?”

Static responded, vaguely in the negative.

“Yeah –” a boy quipped from his green pleather seat, “no more homeless people riding the bus!” The riders erupted into howls and giggles.

“Ha ha, homeless!”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you ride this bus,” the driver said. “I’m not allowed to transport anyone who isn’t a student.”

“Really? But . . . I got permission from the school. I spoke with Principal [X].”

“We’re really very strict about it. It doesn’t matter if you got permission from the school, you can’t ride this bus. You’re going to need to leave now.”

“Ooooooo!”

Lord, school bus kids. I turned and looked at one of my subjects, who was gazing back at me hopelessly. I gave her a half-hearted salute as I stepped off the bus. It disappeared down the hill in a cloud of road dust and pollen.

* * *

“Hi there, just signing in,” I said at the front desk. “Can I just grab the visitor pass again?”

“Oh, Adrianne? Could you actually come back here please? It seems there’s been a misunderstanding. The principal will meet with you in his office.”

“Ah, Christ,” I said, slinging my bag over my shoulder.

No more getting on the bus. Are we clear on this, Ms. Mathiowetz? Are we clear? Yes, we’re clear. Are we clear? Okay.

I defeatedly shuffled my gear into the foyer, and found a bench. I pulled out a book to read. Fifty minutes until the next bell rang; then I could get back to business. Business! To at least feign professionalism, respectability! A cop walked by.

“Excuse me, miss? Shouldn’t you be in class?”

The bell rang.

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