Mid-Fall Story-Thon, Day 20
Today's suggestion is from Pat Baer: "Hickory"
I did a shitty job on my Andrew Jackson paper. It wasn’t even like I forgot about it and remembered at the last second and threw it together as best I could, which happens sometimes. Nope. I remembered it every day and every night before it was due and sat on it anyway and watched TV and scratched my balls and when the time came, I threw it together as poorly as I could, cribbing whole sections from Wikipedia and rewording them just enough so it wasn’t explicitly plagiarism. You’re really gone too far this time, I thought. On this one you get your comeuppance. I winced when I handed it in, and I winced when it got handed back, and I stopped wincing when I looked down and saw that I got an A minus.
If you’re in school right now or you have been in the past, say, fifteen years, you know that basically you cannot fuck up. Past a certain point failure is impossible. Don’t get anybody pregnant and don’t bring a gun to school and you’re pretty much golden. No one is holding you to much of a standard, and it’s not like, when nobody else expects all that much from you, you’re just going to wake up and be Thoreau all by yourself.
Andrew Jackson knew I got him all fucked up, though. He was waiting for me when I got out of history class, standing in the middle of the hallway, an unlikely ray from a skylight hitting him, his hair blowing in a wind nobody else could feel, and he stared me down, daring me to go around him to get to the cafeteria. He tailed behind the lacrosse players on their way out to the field wacking each other with sticks, and he brandished a hickory rod and promised to tan my hide for doing him wrong on my glowing paper-spitting devil machine. Later he bellowed that I was a callow shit-stain, a fatted calf of industrialization, no kind of man and no repository of dignity, and I was the one who felt small and weak even though he was shouting at me from a twenty dollar bill and I was handing him over to the school bookstore lady to settle the balance of my photo lab fee.
To get him off my back I wanted to suggest he get all the teachers and administrators and drive them Trail-Of-Tears style around the track, all through one of their in-service days and into the night, until they agreed to call kids on their bullshit once in a while, and, like, expect great things from us like in inspirational movies. And of course it would be cruel and fucked up like a lot of things he did, but at least he would be acting on deeply held beliefs, which is something I think people stopped doing around like 1900. So I was going to ask him to force-march the English department at bayonet-point, I really was, but when he leapt through my bedroom window astride a great grey stallion when I was in the middle of watching Conan and pointed a sabre at me, all I could do was mumble something about trying harder next time.
“Who,” he asked, “is the subject of your next composition?”
“John C. Calhoun,” I said.
“Oh, well, in that event, you are at liberty to do another terrible job,” he said, sheathing his sabre. “If there is anyone who deserves memorializing by a half-wit sixteen-year-old whose primary concerns are sweets and self-abuse, it is he.”
So with Old Hickory’s permission, I came home half-stoned from Terry’s on a Sunday night after watching like two seasons of 24 on DVD and really fucking phoned in my John C. Calhoun paper. I did not do the traitorous dog so much as the courtesy of half-decent scholarship. I got an A minus.
Mid-Fall Storython, Day 19
Today's suggestion is from Joanna Smith: "Southern-fried and fabulous."
You know what your studio needs? A post-apocalypse picture. These things are hot right now. You know the ones. The world got nuked or something and now a guy, we don’t know if he’s bad or good, he rides around the wasteland on a motorcycle or a horse or a horse that’s gotten fused with a motorcycle somehow.
How? I dunno how! I’m a big-picture guy, not a detail guy. You want to know how the horse got fused with a motorcycle, you get a detail guy. You want to know what kinda mutant freak-o villain the guy fights in the third reel, you talk to me, Maury Sheinkoff. You also talk to my writing partner, Sid Ablom, who, unfortunately, could not be at this meeting today. Stomach bug. Go figure.
I don’t gotta tell you this, but these pictures are all fundamentally the same. Afformentioned guy rides around on some sorta weird futuristic vehicle through the wasteland. He meets a broad. It’s important that the broad have been a slave. First, it makes this guy who we’re not sure if he’s a hero look like a hero when he rescues her from slavery, but not too much like a hero, ‘cause right after he rescues her he probably says somethin’ like, “Don’t get comfy.” Second, if the broad was a slave she’s all tousled and dirty and has got a dirty tunic that’s ripped in all the right places, you know what I mean? She’s sexy but she’s dirty. Everything in these pictures is dirty. We did one of these for Classful Pictures, me and Sid, and at the top of the shooting script, no joke, the first stage direction was “Everything is covered in shit.” Sounds crass, but that picture did twelve million in rentals. Go figure.
So these pictures are all the same schlock except for two variables. Number one: what the world ain’t got. Whatever bomb or gas or alien attack made the planet go ka-blamm-o robbed of some essential something. It really doesn’t matter what except now everybody in the world is fighting for it. Better than fighting, they’re racing around on motorcycle horses for it, and that guarantees you all kinds of action sequences. Instant motivation! We gotta get the water! We gotta get the gasoline! We gotta get the…I dunno, protein! Sid has a diagram with a whole raft of these things, but he ain’t here. But protein works just fine. Ferrinstance, in one of these pictures where everybody’s fighting over protein, when the guy first rescues the slave chick, he could throw her on the back of his moto-horse and she’d say, “Thanks, mister,” and he’d say, “I’m gonna trade you in for protein first chance I get!” Who is this guy? Do we like him? Who knows! It’s called moral ambivalence. This stuff sells!
Number two: who’s in control. It’s never a president or a prime minister that’s runnin’ the joint, like in a pre-apocalypse world. In these pictures, it’s usually roving gangs. Who they are and what they’re roving on is up for debate. We know they’re roving to find whatever the thing everybody wants is. So, protein. Who’s trying to get the protein? Doesn’t matter, but the freakier the better. Roving gangs of racist drag queens! Roving gangs of Chinamen who all got gills somehow! Roving gangs of half-robot socialists who determine their social hierarchy based on how long their beards are! Think of it: they’re chasin’ down the hero on their rocket-powered scooters, their beards are whippin’ out behind ‘em, ten feet long! Maybe the beards catch on fire, maybe they don’t. Sid has a stack of cards with nouns and adjectives on ‘em, and we usually through ‘em up in the air and pick two out and that’s who the roving gang is. That’s how we got the roving gang of blind electricians for the post-apocalypse picture we did for Horsefly Studios, “EARTH 2020.” We sold it based on the idea of the zeros in the title being skulls on the poster. Highest per-screen average of any p-poc pic that year. Go figure.
It’s simple. Once you know who yer roving gang is, your third act basically writes itself: all gets down to a futuristic death race between the roving gang’s mutant champion and our stubbly anti-hero for the fate of the slave girl and a whole fuckload of whatever we decided everybody’s up in arms about. Kills the mutant. He faces down the king of this roving gang, usually a big fat guy with a crown made of trash, spits in his eye. Says he don’t care if the girl lives or dies. Is he bluffing? I don’t know! I don’t care! I’m too busy gripping the Cineplex arm-rests and creaming my average teenage movie-going jeans. Then the guy whips a bottle full of something explosive into the air, shoots it, offs the king and a baker’s dozen of the other baddies, then high-tails it into the poison-orange nuclear sunset on the back of his Moto-horse, the slave-girl holdin’ on for dear life, and when she says “thanks,” the fella says, “I didn’t do it for you, I did it for the wheat germ!” Or oxygen! Or crescent wrenches! Or whatever the fuck thing we decided everybody was so worked up about. But we suspect maybe we did it ‘cause he loves her, but not so much that it’s corny. In these pictures, you want to ramp up the roving mutant motorhead suicide cult aspect, and ramp down the corny aspect. The kids can smell it a mile away. If Sid were here, he’d tell you the same.
So that’s it. You prop one of these long-hair mumbly-Tom method actors up on a saw-horse painted to look like a robot dinosaur Vespa, wrap a slave bimbo around his waist, drag ‘em around the Mojave from the back of a truck, in and around some burnt-out car chassis, for a couple weeks, shoot the whole thing, shoot some close-ups of some wacka-doo midget extras made up to look like mimes and call ‘em a roving gang of psycho clown nuke-dwarves, slap a title with “Death,” “Earth,” or a year that starts with a two and a zero in it, and you can sit back and start printin’ money and laughin’ to yourself. Sid and I can give you the words for these Joes to say while they’re toolin' around the desert, and we can do it on the cheap.
And again, Sid apologizes for not bein’ here. Bad Mexican. Go figure.
This spiel from a bad writer is a small show of support to all the good writers out there right now jobless. I don't get political on here often but support your local Guild writers and hard-working production folk who are losing their gigs. Stay free, WGA.