March 22, 2010

On the monitor, there’s a shot of you curled up in this chair that looked like a hand, not a tacky one like you’d see in a tiki bar, but one you can tell someone spent a lot of money on, though that doesn’t necessarily make it NOT tacky. You have a phone in the crook of your shoulder and what I’m supposed to do is draw an arrow pointing to the phone, and the words “KARA (John’s Girlfriend),” add drop shadow to the arrow and the words, and then make the whole thing wiggle around slightly over several frames, an effect that probably looked “alternative” when the show was new all those seasons ago but now just looks antiquated.

I’ve been doing this kind of graphics work on reality programming for a couple of years and when I first got into it I felt unequivocally better than it: it’s stupid, I thought, it flattens actual three-dimensional people into two-dimensional characters and worse, it probably doesn’t even have to do that much work, so willingly are the people involved flattening themselves, competing to see who can be the simplest, the most sum-uppable. And I don’t know if it was getting jaded from watching hour after hour of it, but after a while, I started to revise my initial judgment. People I knew in real life, who were nowhere near lights or cameras, started to seem to willingly give up their dimensions, seemed to race towards a time when that criticism of reality television, that it was SO far from reality, would no longer really hold up. No one had cast Ethan as “the alcoholic,” but he was going to give his life over to it anyway, at the expense of his music and girlfriend. No one had cast Ilana as “the party girl,” but, case in point, that night we met when we weren’t supposed to.

I was visiting her while she was working on the show you were on in that town that none of us are from. It was her night off. We were drunk at a club she swore she didn’t know the cast members were also at, though she’d later admit she knew. We made a stupid, employment-risking game of dodging the cast and the cameras. I told her someone from production was sure to spot her, and she threw a cocktail umbrella at me and told me not to worry, “they know me.” I started to tell her that that WAS my concern, that they knew her, but then I realized what she meant was they KNEW her, as in, she was the crazy girl who could not be controlled, on or off the clock, and you either went with that or you didn’t, or something. I got up to go to the bathroom, more as something to do than anything, and that’s when I ran into you, John from Boston, and it was not until thirty minutes later and a lot of prodding that you revealed you were on the show, and even then, I didn’t believe you, because you were not at all vapid, and you were actually really nice, and you seemed, I guess, multi-dimensional. I know that’s a dumb thing to presume about someone based on a cursory conversation in a club named after a perfume, but I’ll say this in my defense, even though it makes me a total hypocrite in light of everything I said about reality television stripping people of nuance, but: I can tell. Even when someone’s eyes are locked right on mine I can tell when they’re listening past me, and I have learned that sometimes, even when we’re finishing each other’s sentences and that first rush of comparisons, music taste and backstory, reveals that we’re practically twins, we haven’t shown anything, really, but an aptitude for loudly advertising ourselves in close proximity to someone else while they do the same. I guess what I’m saying is, I make snap judgments. Not about anyone’s upbringing or sexuality or moral fiber, but just about whether or not they are present. If there is a fundamental not-there-ness I wonder if anyone else notices about anyone else. If your insides are, and I’ve never spoken this phrase aloud to anyone or written it down so it might be impossibly trite or lame or something, but if your insides are a dead lake. I can usually tell right away and I’m always right. I’m desperate for a lot of things, as I’m sure Ilana would so willingly tell you even with me standing right there, but I’m most desperate to be proven wrong just one time. I am waiting for the math of someone to match up with how I actually end up feeling around or about them. You seemed great and I felt great around you. You mentioned you had a girlfriend but I already knew nothing could ever happen between us so that, that night while the A, B, and C cameras were all trained on Nicéne basically going down on a random girl in the middle of the dancefloor, didn’t bother me all that much. I had four drinks in me. I was getting on a train in six hours. I was not thinking about having to watch you every day at work, about having to introduce the world to your girlfriend via a little squiggly arrow pointing at a phone nestled in the crook of your shoulder.

I am not going to tell you the things I think are great about you. There was barely anything you told me in that brief exchange you wouldn’t end up revealing in the final edited-together version of the show, and taking into account all of the raw tapes that I have been sneaking into the edit bays to watch on Thursday and Friday nights after everyone’s gone home, you covered it all. It’s not like you showed me some hidden persona, and to sit here and list off the things I find attractive about the man you seemed to be to me and seemed to be on the show, I would not be painting anything but the kind of two-dimensional portrait I was decrying above, and besides, legions of John-From-Boston fangirls will soon do that on the Internet anyway. The only thing I can say about you that I don’t think they will, and the thing I’m pretty sure Kara has never told you, though admittedly I’m only working from the phone conversations the two of you have on the show and the things you say about her and the way you say them, is this: YOU ARE THERE. There is a person-ness to you. And I want to do all the things anyone would want to do to someone they were infatuated with, but more than anything I want to clap my hands to either side of you and hold you there, the three-dimensional person you are, and not let any part of it slip away, not let them flatten you out, not let them or life or any of it convince you to do it to yourself.

I think about what I would do if I were Ilana, or better yet, Ilana’s boss Wendy, and when the show was shooting I was right there behind a wall with an ear-piece in my ear, and I was shaping your experience. I could do my damndest to throw things in the way of you and Kara. I know they did, and I know the way you remained loyal will drive the inevitable John-From-Boston fan-girls crazy, and it did a number on me, even though I feel the way about Kara that I feel. But say I was in Wendy’s seat and I tried harder, threw more female cast-members your way, more forcefully: it’s not like I would ever be in the story. For all that, I could only push you away from where you are, I could not pull you toward me.

I think about writing bitchy stuff in the parenthetical description of who Kara is. I try out some permutations, and I smirk at them for a minute before deleting them and writing what I’m supposed to. I animate. It takes a little while. Then, while it’s rendering and I have a minute of nothing to do, I fantasize about undoing my work, stretching the arrow out so it no longer points at the phone, stretching it below the bottom of the frame, stretching it off the monitor and out into actual space. Replacing the words “KARA (John’s Girlfriend)” with the words “MARCY (That Girl From The Club).” I think about hitting play, watching the letters and their shadows wiggle, watching the arrow dance in three actual dimensions. You look up and say, “Hi.”

I say, “Hi.”

You tell Kara you’ll call her back.

The clip finishes rendering. I watch it through. It works. I drag it into a bin and open up a different clip, where I’m supposed to add a caption below a guy’s face, telling the audience that his name is Corey, and that he’s your boss at the juice bar.

This whole thing was shot weeks ago. I think you’re back in Boston now, anticipating fame.

Posted by DC at March 22, 2010 05:40 AM
Comments

Is it sad that all I needed was the description of the chair and the phone in the crook of the shoulder to know this was a Real World-type thing?

Very well written. I read it from a male's perspective right up until the end though. I think I preferred it that way, but then again, you're the published author.

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That was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Thank you.

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