Saturday, April 16, 2005

short story

Dear All:

What follows is a rough draft of a short story I am attempting to write. Your readership is appreciated, your comments are welcome.

I always thought that my life would make a good movie. Not the entire thing, of course, just some of the more exciting parts. It’s not like I was ever in a car chase, or had ever been in a really big fistfight or something like that. I hadn’t even fought in any wars. By the time I was out of college the first war in Iraq was already over, and I really wasn’t ever much of the volunteering type. But I always thought I would have made a good character in a film about a young punk kid who was drafted into service and then did something really rebellious, like lipped off to his commanding officer on the first day of basic training or something. Or maybe I would have participated in the senseless slaughter of a small subsistence farming village, not in Iraq, but in some little town in Syria or something where the government had sent troops but no one really knew about it. Then I would be haunted by the memory of what I did for the rest of my life, even though I was just a scared kid when I did it.

Whatever the case, I always saw myself as a good movie character, and now in my older age I still do. Sometimes, when I’m all dressed in my suit and tie and overcoat and walking to the bus stop on the way to work and I have my headphones on to a really rocking song I can just see myself in the middle of some great flick. Especially like when it’s raining and I have my newspaper under my jacket, I can just see myself walking up the steps of the bus in slow motion while some guitar is wailing in the background and just unloading bullets on everyone on the bus, and in slow motion the bullets bust through the headline of some presidential scandal or war or something that was on the paper I was carrying, and the people at the film are at once awed and horrified by the actions of this modern-day hero, because in the film I’m just a normal guy who had to stand up for something. I would imagine that a bunch of people get up and leave during the festival showing and that creates the publicity that makes the movie take off. Or there are those sunny days when I go to the back of the bus, open the window, take a deep breath and imagine that it’s the end of some instant classic where the character that I’m playing is getting on a bus to God-knows-where only to get away from the lady that had torn up his heart for the length of the feature. He still loves her and he always will, but he’s happy to be going because that’s what he has to do and that’s what people are supposed to do in these sorts of situations. My girlfriend now is a nice chick and doesn’t deserve that kind of stuff, but I can still imagine how liberating it might feel.

I remember reading once in a column on the internet that Tom Hanks’ performance in Turner and Hooch was his best work. To be able to pull off a movie – and pull it off as well as Tom Hanks does – where a dog is your supporting actor is a pretty damn tough thing to do. I have a dog. It’s a part golden retriever, part-pug. Ugly as sin, but I like it. Some sleeping golden bitch must’ve been jumped by a sneaky pug and not even have woken up and the little-dick bastard still knocked her up. I call him Turner, even though that was Tom Hanks’ name in the movie. I think it’s a clever turn-around, but most people don’t get it.

Believe it or not, my favorite movie scene of all time is from Turner and Hooch, when Tom Hanks is being held up inside of his car and the villain is holding a gun to his head and ordering him to drive and Tom just puts on his seatbelt and guns the car right into a pole, killing the shit out of the guy with the gun. Hooch was tied up or something while this was going on. The best thing about this scene is what a good idea it is. What kind of kidnapper remembers to put his seatbelt on, and if he’s got a gun to your head, what chance do you really have of getting out alive if you do what he says? Common wisdom dictates that you shouldn’t even get in the car in the first place. That was Tom’s first mistake. Then most of those guys probably just kill you after they’re done doing whatever it is they do to you, so you might as well go out with something kick-ass like that. Anyway, I have a variation on that scene where the guy is holding the gun to my head and I’m just driving along all calm and stuff and I say, “Do you swim?” and the crook is all like, “What? Just keep driving.” I keep my eyes on the road and calmly repeat the question. “Do you swim?” By now he is getting really agitated and he is jabbing the gun against my temple, not noticing that I have put my seatbelt on and that I am slowly increasing the speed of the car. “What the fuck!” he yells at me. “Stop asking stupid fucking questions and drive!” But by then I’m right where I want to be. I yank the steering wheel to the right and careen into a tree right on the edge of a cliff. The crook slams through the windshield, rolls off the hood of the car, and completely falls off the cliff and into a raging river below. I get out of the car, bloodied and bruised but able to walk, just in time to see his body surface below. “I asked you if you swam, motherfucker,” I say as I turn around and start walking back to the road. I have always thought that that would be a good movie scene, but maybe it’s so close to Tom Hanks’ story that someone would notice.

My friend Blain is a story editor for a reality television show on cable. Let me rephrase that. The show isn’t on air yet. It’s a pilot show where these three rich brothers walk around and hit on girls. There doesn’t seem to be much more to it, but the producers for the channel that Blain works at seem to think it’s really going to do well. In my opinion, the only thing that separates the three brothers in the show from regular people is the fact that they have money. But I guess that’s enough.

Anyway, I went in to work with Blain one day to help him edit down some tapes that he had gotten back. It was depressing. Five takes of a scene in a diner. The waiter took their order five goddamned times. And it was still as interesting as watching one dog sniff another one’s ass; that is to say, maybe I’ll watch it go on if I’m outside on a sunny day, but there’s no way I’m sitting through commercials to see what happens next. Four hours of these douchebags walking around and talking about things. What were they talking about? Getting tail, mostly, because that’s the point of the show. But other than that, nothing. No politics, no education, no books. In hindsight, it may have been even more depressing to have to watch those guys make attempts at intellectual conversation. Still, it would have been nice to seem them at least pay respect to the fact that higher pursuits exist.

That’s the problem with reality television. It’s too real. It’s boring. Know why I would never allow someone to make a reality show out of my life? Because I would be running the risk of realizing that my life is as boring as everyone else’s. What if my life to a soundtrack is nothing more than random music played over some meaningless mundanity, and not even mundanity for art’s sake but just plain-Jane mundanity? Everyone who submits themselves to being filmed in reality television runs the risk of discovering their inherent normalcy, and that’s as scary as anything, because once you get packed into a snowball, you can’t go back to being a snowflake.

I would rather have someone write my story. Let someone take some artistic license with it. None of this who-stole-my-peanut-butter? drivel. Even the Tom Hanks story would suck on reality television. I would wake up from the crash, either with a broken nose from the steering wheel or two searing eyefuls of chemicals from the airbag, dripping blood and sniveling like a little girl (let’s just assume that the cameraman lives), crawl out of my mangled car, probably puke at the sight of the dead crook, curl up on the ground, and wait for the police to come. Then I would have to put up with at least a cursory homicide investigation, even though no jury would ever convict me. Afterward I would have to live with the thought that I killed a man, even if it was in self-defense. It’s a far cry from ripping off a snappy tagline and cutting to a swank restaurant scene with a beautiful lady. That’s why I want to be in a movie. It’s easy. Pain is painted on, reality is suspended, three-minute training montages get me ready for the big fight, and everything turns out well in the end, with no regrets. Now that’s life.

1 comment:

thomas said...

good writing style, as per your usual. it feels a little flat, though. where is the conflict? this is more a character sketch than anything else, imnsho... i think i understand that you are giving us a flat idea of this character because he wishes us to see him as flat (on the screen, heroic, etc.) but as a stand-alone story it doesn't really do it for me.

my recommendation: insert immediate conflict. i don't want to listen to this guy whining about his boring life the entire time--i know he's going to do it and that's cool, but i want to see what he will do when we throw some real-life adversity at him. will he respond like he's in a movie? or will he crumble like a guest on celebrity jeopardy?