Summer, 1942 - Slightly Out of Focus

Robert Capa Slightly Out of Focus, Henry Holt & Co. 1947,

There was absolutely no reason to get up in the mornings any more. My studio was on the top floor of a small three-storey building on Ninth Street, with a skylight all over the roof, a big bed in the corner, and a telephone on the floor. No other furniture -not even a clock. The light woke me up. I didn’t know what time it was, and I wasn’t especially interested. My cash was reduced to a nickel. I wasn’t going to move until the phone rang and someone suggested something like lunch, a job, or at least a loan. The phone refused to ring, but my stomach was calling. I realised that any further attempt to sleep would be futile. I rolled over and saw that the landlady had pushed three letters under the door. For the last few weeks my only mail had been from the phone and electric companies, so the mysterious third letter finally got me out of bed.

Sure enough, one of the letters was from Consolidated Edison. The second was from the Department of Justice, informing me that I, Robert Capa, formerly Hungarian, at present nothing definite, was hereby classified as a potential enemy alien, and as such had to give up my cameras, binoculars, and firearms, and that I would have to apply for a special permit for any trip that would take me more than ten miles from New York. The third letter was from the editor of Collier’s magazine. He said that Collier’s, after pondering over my scrapbook for two months, was suddenly convinced that I was a great war photographer, and would be very pleased to have me do a special assignment; that a reservation had been obtained for me on a boat leaving for England in 48 hours; and that enclosed was a theca for .$1500 as an advance.

Here was an interesting problem. If I’d had a typewriter and sufficient character, I would have written back to Collier’s, telling them that I was an enemy alien, that I could not go even to New Jersey, let alone England, and that the only place I could take my cameras was the Enemy Alien’s Property Board down at City Hall.

I had no typewriter, but I had a nickel in my pocket. I decided to flip it. If it came up heads, I would try to get away with murder and go to England, if it came up tails, I would return the cheque and explain the situation to Collier’s.

I flipped the nickel, and it was -tail ! Then I realised that there was no future in a nickel, that I was going to keep -and cash -the cheque, and that somehow I would get to England. The subway accepted the nickel. The bank accepted the nickel. The bank accepted the cheque. I had breakfast at Janssen’s, next to the bank -a big breakfast that came to $2.50. That settled it. I couldn’t very well go back to Collier’s with $1497.50, and Collier’s was definitely in for trouble.


2007-12-31 22:03:57



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