I had to shoot my school’s basketball game recently. I don’t enjoy shooting sports and I prepared myself for a crappy night of unmotivated photography. Around me there were other photographers shooting away while I stood behind the backboard, comparing the loud “click-clacking” of the other cameras to the lifelessness of my own. I swear, one guy was shooting at least 10 frames per second; I chuckled at the thought of how much editing he was going to do. As the halftime buzzer rang, I went cross-court to get ready for the second half. I noticed an old man but paid no attention to him. Mere minutes went by and he asked me, “Is that digital?”
I replied, “yes,” and I immediately knew it was going to be a good night. He had a sparkle in his eye and I knew he wanted to talk. It was just basic stuff at first:
“Are you the school’s photographer? What school would you like to go to? UCLA? Such a great school, you would love it there. I started shooting back in 1992, so that was when I was about 61.”
At that moment, thousands of questions popped into my head. I started with an easy one. “How were the girls back then?” I asked.
“Oh my, they were much more proper. Wore long skirts past their knees and always covered themselves up. They had class.”
I laughed at that, then started to ask him more questions. I asked him what his favorite decade was and he immediately said, “The 50s.”
When asked why, he replied, “It was just better. No crime. You didn’t have to worry about your stuff being stolen. You could leave the doors open and you could find people asking others if they needed a ride home. You can’t do that anymore. I remember that Mom always used to cook the meals, three times a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were no fat kids back then. No McDonalds, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell. Life was just better.”
He then told me something that I know will stick me with for a long time.
“These are the best times of your life,” he said. “You’re young. After college, it just goes downhill. You get married, you have to work, you have kids, the fun kind of just leaves you. Just know that these are the best times of your life.”
I looked into his eyes and I saw his yearning to be back 60 years, when his mother would be there for him, when “steak dinners were a buck fifty, when a milkshake this big was ten cents, when there was no crime.”
He looked to his son, CVHS teacher and athletic director Andy Popper. Then he said, “I’m going to leave soon.”
I knew that this was a moment I would not forget and I took the opportunity.
“May I take your picture?” I asked.
“Of course, can my son be in it too?”
And that was that.
We lost the basketball game, but I couldn’t care less.
I met this man. I only know his name is Stan Popper. He will be 81 this year and he lived through eight decades that will never be able to be lived again. He heard Sinatra and Glenn Miller on the radio. He paid 10 cents for a matinee show and stayed there for six hours. I will never be able to live through what he told me.
He envied me for being young and restless.
I envied him for being able to live through such great times and wanting more of it.