Vice President of Procurement

by

06/07/2004

151 West 54th Street, ny 10019

Neighborhood: Midtown

LLL

Yes, he was wearing sunglasses inside his tinted command car.

He did not exit the car; he exuded suspiciousness. I could see that he didn’t have much room in there. He was surrounded by banks of monitors and servers. Half hidden, he waited for me to explain myself. I told him my particulars, held out my camera and asked if there was anything he could recommend I photograph.

Stony silence. He remained wedged and unmoving. He told me that perhaps I should first have a look at the bigger conference inside on the 54th floor. I told him I’d do that and maybe stop back afterwards for a tour. I felt like I’d interrupted a significant bowel movement. Like a hermit crab, he shrank back out of view and quietly closed the door.

Three steps inside the lobby, I was approached unexpectedly from the left flank by a man in plain clothes who was clearly something else. He had a microphone in his ear. “Can I help you?"

There it was, my least favorite question, asked in that clipped, authoritative tone that implies much but only ever means one thing: ‘I will not help you’

I told him of my intentions to go up to the 54th floor and he said immediately. “That’s a private function. You can’t go up there."

I stared at him blankly for a two count. "The guys in the command car told me that I should go right on up. They said it’s fine."

"You can try, but they won’t let you in."

Turned out he was wrong.

At the 54th floor, I exited the elevator and approached a table where two dark-haired, attractive women sat stiff and straight. They appeared mildly alarmed at my presence; the camera didn’t help. But I talked fast and unflinchingly until one of them stood up and said, "I’ll get Jennifer."

The room all around was full of men in suits. They were milling stiffly. They ignored me and I stood to one side, arms folded, affecting the air of someone who is very calm and pleased with the current progress of the day. An explanatory poster by the elevator read "L3 Communications. Ticker Symbol LLL"

Jennifer was tall, attractive, sandy blonde and powerful. She may have been 32. She scanned my face and her eyes were like a vacuum of shrewd discerning. Had I been illegitimate, she would have detected my doubt immediately. I told her that all I really wanted was a fun photograph and she seemed to take to that idea. It was a glorious thing to come out on the other side of her keen scrutiny with approval.

We went first to the "Wescam MX-15."

This high-powered surveillance camera, designed to be mounted on the belly of an aircraft, was suspended like a large, metallic, larval cocoon over a window that faced West. It’s encased, telephoto lens was, at that moment, zoomed in on a helicopter flying far beyond the reach of the human eye, somewhere over New jersey. The helicopter appeared on a large 30 inch monitor and filled the frame.

"That news chopper’s about 7 miles out." Said the salesman proudly.

We discussed focal lengths. I expressed amazement and the salesman found his stride, barraging me with data and statistics.

The image of the helicopter on the monitor appeared to waver slightly. Heat and air pollution kept it from appearing crisp. To demonstrate the tremendous range of the equipment, he spun the camera 180 degrees, using a remote control device and pointed it in to the room. There we all were in a wide angle frame.

"Ya wanna see something scary?" asked the salesman in a disconcerting undertone. He flicked a switch and now we were all visible in infrared. This, he explained, was for night vision. The camera was reading our heat. "Bunch of monsters," he said and it was true. When people talked, you could see the movement of blood in their necks and faces. A close up on my face revealed a spidery galaxy of hot capillaries radiating out of one cheek. I was frightened to look upon myself.

The cocoon camera was captivating but it didn’t lend itself to a photograph. Too much backlight. Too many reflections.

A man and a woman behind me were standing over one of those dummies that lifeguards used to learn CPR with. This dummy could blink and had operative internal organs. The two salespeople connected to "Stan the dummy" were good sports and pretending to be resuscitating Stan for my benefit. They wore doctors outfits and one had a stethoscope.

I took a few shots then conferred with Jennifer who had an idea. "There are some guys on the far end shooting guns", she said, leaning in a little to whisper."

"Really? that sounds excellent." I was fully tantalized by her new confidential tone.

"I believe they’re laser guided" she said and she looked at me.

Jesus. Perhaps I only imagined it -or wanted to- here was a brief glimpse of deceit and fertility.

We walked over to the handgun range.

Executives in suits, surrounded by other executives, shooting handguns at digitized targets on screens. There were two types of targets: traditional circular or human. One shooter was a "Vice President of Procurement". He was clearly excited. He was gunning down bad guys and taking a body count. No one was hooting or waving their hats. This was a fairly controlled, senior NRA type crowd. But the good ol’ boy feel was there. It had to be.

With a flourish, one exec. attached to "the system", pulled a previously unseen semi-automatic rifle out from under a table cloth to stifled sounds of surprise and approval. That was fun for a while but the gun’s report wasn’t satisfying enough so the rifle guy warned everyone in his immediate vicinity and put blanks in to the rifle. Then he fired off about 15 rounds in rapid succession, spent shells arcing away as though desperate to flee his proximity. He grinned as he fired and I had a seminal insight in to the term: ‘white devil’. Others on the far end of the wide room looked over, fearful and delighted, at the sound of what appeared to be real gunfire.

Jennifer was at my side again. She indicated another man who was watching. "That man over there is John Shalikashvili. He used to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Clinton."

He was short, shorter than I. His face was so reddened by Rosatia, I involuntarily wondered what it would look like through the infrared lens. He spoke with an accent. I asked him if it would be allright if I took some shots of him firing one of the hand guns and to my amazement, he said "Yes."

LLL2

On a good day there are moments like these, when you know that this is the shot, that you have actually found, begged, hunted or simply asked for it and it has appeared. My heart was thrilling. I was silently, deliriously excited as John Kalikashvili and I simultaneously steadied our respective weapons, took aim and fired.

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