Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Way it Is(n’t): A Love Story - Part One

I met her in at a fraternity house before my senior year of college, which is surprising considering how much I disliked most Greeks.

But in this case it was summer, the university mostly a ghost town, and just about anyone left on campus was invited to a big fraternity party. The place was packed. Booze was everywhere. Ice chests packed with beer, kegs standing in lines like soldiers, more vodka and whiskey than an entire liquor store. And the food. Tables stacked with pizza boxes, chips, cookies, even several boxes of Twinkies. It was somewhere around ten o’clock and I’d already gorged myself on pizza, but since I was drunk I thought I was still hungry. The Twinkies were almost florescent under the warm lights in the dining room, so I unwrapped two of the little yellow cakes and smashed them together to make one big one. This seemed like a great idea at the time. But just as I opened my mouth to take the first giant bite, someone cleared her throat behind me.

I turned and saw a girl, miraculously gorgeous, and felt my face flush red. She was one of those blonde coeds so attractive that it was impossible to say anything witty to her. If you tried to approach someone like that you wouldn’t even be able to make your mouth move. And yet she was definitely standing there, seemingly materialized from nothing, watching as I prepared to inhale a ball of fake yellow cake. I waited for her to cut me to the quick. I winced at what she might say.

What she said was, “That’s a big Twinkie.”

And that’s how it started.

* * *

For the rest of the party, the two of us were inseparable. We took Jell-O shots together in the kitchen, played pool in the game room, and spent hours sitting on a sofa, just talking. I remember we turned all the lights off because of a huge saltwater fish tank that stood against the far wall. The tank was lit from inside and cast the entire room in a flickering blue light, almost ethereal, and which somehow added magic to our drunken conversations. Or so I believed at the time. By the time she was ready to leave, I felt like I’d known her for my entire life. Which I realize sounds trite and not very creatively expressed, but anyway that’s how it felt.

Her apartment was nearly two miles away, and mine a bit further, but neither of us were sober enough to drive. So we walked. After a few minutes of “accidentally” brushing our hands against each other’s, I finally laced my fingers between hers, and she let me. I didn’t feel awkward or nervous like I normally would in a situation like that, where I might be trying to gauge the feelings of someone else, wondering if she felt the same, if I was moving too fast or not fast enough. It was all completely natural. And when we finally arrived at her apartment, I didn’t hesitate to ask for her phone number. I assumed we’d be seeing a lot of each other in the coming days and weeks, so logistically this was the next step.

But her answer was, “I can’t, Thomas. I have a boyfriend.”

It probably seems profoundly egotistical to say so, but I couldn’t believe she was serious, boyfriend or not. We were in college. How close could they be? Of course it was lost on me at the time how I could apply the same logic could apply to myself.

“Don’t you want to talk to me again?” I asked her.

“I do,” she answered. “Very much so.”

“Then let me call you.”

But she wouldn’t. When I asked why she’d spent the whole night talking to me, why she let me hold her hand, she blamed it on the alcohol.

“Sophia, come on. I’m sure you’ve been drunk a hundred times, but did you have a night like this?”

She didn’t answer. She just hugged me and told me it wasn’t meant to be and walked away, and I felt like I had just reached for and missed the most important opportunity of my life.

* * *

Today we take things Facebook and instant messaging for granted, but back then social networking was still theoretical because the Internet didn’t exist in its present form. However, installed on all the machines in the computer lab was a chat program called ICQ, and then, just as now, people used computers more for wasting time than doing actual work.

I was in the lab one day during the summer session, scrolling through the user names on ICQ instead of studying, when I saw one that said “SophiaP.” I’d never had a reason to ask Sophia for her last name, but I also couldn’t imagine there were many people on campus with that first name. So I sent an unsolicited message, and to my delight it turned out be her. She was sitting in the back corner of the computer lab and smiled when I stood up.

We chatted online for more than an hour. About movies we liked and songs we couldn’t live without and why both of us were taking classes in the summer instead of spending it at the beach like her boyfriend. She told me about another summer party the following weekend, where a new indie band called The Flaming Lips would be playing. Her boyfriend was driving into town for the concert, but she invited me to join as well, so I did.

I never saw the boyfriend at the party. He spent most of his time in the bar and I spent most of mine outside watching the band. I’d never heard of the Lips back then but their live show was already fantastic, lit beautifully in hues of blue. Sophia joined me for a while. We moved in rhythm to the music without making much eye contact, dancing together even if neither of us was willing to acknowledge it.

At one point she leaned over to me and said something like, “This music is so spacey, as if it came from another world” and it made me think of our first night together, talking on the sofa, bathed in that ethereal blue light from the fish tank. I was young and surely impressionable, but the whole situation seemed preordained to me, too perfect, almost as if someone had scripted it that way. It just didn’t seem real, how easy and natural it felt to be with her, and it was in that moment I decided I couldn’t give it all away, boyfriend or no boyfriend.

After all, I was a budding screenwriter who felt like he was living in one of his own stories. If someone was going to write us an ending, it might as well be me.

“You just like men who play guitar,” I replied to Sophia.

“I do. You should learn to play.”

And that’s when I realized how our story should end. It was obvious. The only thing left was for me to make it happen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why Do We Put Up With Garbage?

"They don't make 'em like they used to" sounds like something an old person says. I always thought no matter how old I got wouldn't act like an old person.

Like when I see crazy hairstyles a la Justin Bieber, my first instinct is to say "What in the fuck is THAT?" but then I remember that fashion is always changing and as soon as you stop changing with it, you're a forgotten stick in the mud.

Same with music. I may not like a lot of new music, but I don't begrudge whoever does, because the older generation always hates the newer generation's tunes, and that's just dumb.

But Hollywood, man. They're fucked. You hardly EVER see a good big budget film anymore. They're out there. I loved the recent Star Trek film. I loved Wall-E. Inglourious Basterds was great, but at $70 million it's sort of medium budget by today's standards. Black Swan was amazing but it "only" cost $30 million.

Why do the rest of them suck? Because Hollywood won't pay screenwriters, and when they do, they end up rewriting it anyway.

Think about it. If you spend $200 million on a film, can't you budget, say, $2 million for the script and get the world's best screenwriter to pen it? I would expect every big budget film ever made to have the best story human beings can generate. Seriously. The films have the best special effects money can buy, but without a story, isn't it just a fucking video game that you don't even get to control? And screenwriters cost a hell of a lot less than special effects.

Full disclosure: I write screenplays, and I've had one optioned that was never made. So this is personal to me, and maybe a bit of jealousy on my part. But even if I never sell another script, I STILL WANT TO SEE GOOD FILMS!

I read an excellent article today by Roger Ebert about poorly screened films and how Hollywood is suffocating itself with mediocrity. He's totally right, and it's not just with projectors and their operators. It's the entire idea of putting out garbage and having the moviegoing public accept it.

Seriously, if Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky and a few other select directors can make films without creative interference from the studio, I bet there are 100 more out there. Talent is everywhere. But when marketing and business people muck up the product with their harebrained ideas about what they think will "sell," they effectively cannibalize their own product.

The music industry suffered mightily because of shortsighted executives who couldn't see how technology would change their business. Hollywood, I'll have you know I spend ten times more time on YouTube than I do at the theater, because content that "amateurs" offer for free is almost always more entertaining and genuine than your contrived shit that's written by committee.

You don't have to pay me. I'm serious. But please pay someone. In the long run, your customers will thank you with record ticket receipts. I guarantee it.