Too early to even comprehend, we are awake on Sunday in the very enormous Ballroom 20 teching through stuff for our panel that afternoon. On our way out, a Comic Con employee is barking at early arrivals: “Smile! You have to smile! It’s Comic Con!” When we return hours later, she will still be shouting this at the same volume with the same enthusiasm, which is way impressive.
Upon our arrival in the green room at noon before our panel, I am instructed that there is a special “VIP bathroom” we can use. It is a normal bathroom around the corner but there is a sign hanging outside reading “bathroom temporarily closed.” This is, I guess, meant to keep non-VIPs out. Makes you wonder how many supposedly “closed” things are just for VIPs. Maybe there is not a recession at all, just a profusion of VIPs-only businesses.
Since there is a lot of running around and communicating on the fly at Comic Con, this necessitates a lot of really dumb texting-while-walking. This is generally a difficult thing to pull off but becomes even more so when the feet you see walking back and forth in your peripheral vision when you are looking down at your phone have reptile toes or the boots of Master Chief from HALO or aren’t feet at all, just black cloaks rushing by, and you get very distracted.
Ballroom 20 is near the Anime hall and its surrounding passageways are swarmed with anime kids. It has probably been pointed out somewhere by someone else, but: you’re not just KINDA into anime. The shit is wonderfully specific and tribal. I have tons of respect for these kids. The attention to detail is profound: “You know that character with spiky purple hair and an impossibly big sword? Well when I dress up as that guy, I want my hair to be exactly that spiky and purple and I want my sword to be just that impossibly big.” A bunch of girls in Team Rocket uniforms are offering to wash people’s Pokemons (or something.) God love you guys.
At the panel, we debut our short film and then take questions from the audience. It’s a total gas. Again, if you were there: thanks! After the panel, we are taken back into a press room where we will sit and answer questions. There are people from another project and some other press people already in said room. As we enter, a woman who seems somewhat in charge stands up and looks at us, kind of grossed out, like we are a roach she just smashed with a paper towel and she is still holding us while fast-walking to the toilet. To our publicist, she whispers, faux-friendly: “Hiiiiii…who are they?” It’s very amusing. We adjourn to another room to do the interviews and no one in there looks at us like we are sentient tumors.
We finish out the day in our booth. An inordinate amount of the kids I talk to are from right there in San Diego. A kid we have seen a bunch this weekend, Denzel, and his buddy are among them, and they hang out for a while that afternoon. “Comic Con is all we have, real talk,” Denzel says about Comic Con as it relates to San Diego. Then he says it’s either that or smoke and go surfing, none of which sounds all that bad, to be honest with you.
The last day of Comic Con ends at five. There is a flurry of last minute buying and selling and giving-away everywhere and then the floor is cleared so we can start packing up. We leave to get dinner before returning to disassemble our booth, and as I step out into the mezzanine I realize a booth a couple doors down from us that was playing the “Where The Wild Things Are” trailer all week has given me the auditory equivalent of sunspots, burning that one section of that one Arcade Fire song into my brain. It isn’t just that it’s stuck in my head. I actually think I hear it looping and looping somewhere far away for a few hours after leaving the booth. We have dinner with some of our beloved film bloggers, new friends and old, and then we head back to the Convention Center for the final time.
A flier is hanging outside a Convention Center bathroom. It says “CAMERA LOST. JUST WANT MEMORY CARD.” It details all the unique events that are recorded on the memory card, like a daughter’s graduation. It’s typewritten, but there are handwritten embellishments all over it, like dad did the first draft on the computer and mom thought it wasn’t heartfelt enough so she went and added a bunch of stuff like “PLEASE HELP!” in pen after the fact.
Move-in was advertised as a strict and unforgiving process and turned out to be relatively easy. Move-out was not advertised as anything and turns out to be pretty much anarchy (anarchy in the ideal sense, everybody leaving everybody else alone and fending for themselves in whatever way they see fit and things getting done that way, rather than the more negative sense of grandmas getting stomped out in the street and fires everywhere). We realize that rather than undergo the whole shrinkwrapping-and-palleting Teamster process, we can just pull our van out front and bring our stuff out by hand. Dominic goes to bring the van around front and Nick disassembles and crates up the Mystery Team stand and we are pretty much done in less than an hour. At move-in, crackly shrinkwrapped cardboard footpaths were laid down between the front doors and the doors to the convention floor, and these footpaths have returned. As my feet make crackling noises and I walk back and forth to the van, behind and in front of aging dudes with gray ponytails carrying crates full of comics and Star Wars memorabilia, I get wistful. It seems exactly one thousand years since we arrived. I look out at the skyline and realized when we arrived I had it mis-oriented in my head, as you often do when you first get to a place. We stand and laugh and talk with Donald’s dad and sister for a minute, and then it is time to park the van in our hotel parking garage and get dinner and drinks and think about what a cool week we just had.
I will draw no grand conclusions here at the end of the recounting of our Comic Con 2009 experience, other than to say it was maybe the most purely fun experience I’ve had in the process of making “Mystery Team.” A thing I never got tired of pointing out in interviews was that “Mystery Team” is a story about characters who have clung tight to a childish enthusiasm you’re told you have to abandon when you enter the “real world,” and their struggle is figuring out how not to leave that behind entirely, but work it into their adult selves so they can carry it into the rest of their lives unharmed. Comic Con is a hundred thousand or so people who have figured out how to do that, how to take unfiltered childhood joy and enthusiasm and make it a part of their adult lives without compromise, to make it something that enriches the sometimes mind-numbing everyday. Everything about it made me happy and heartened. We put together a handmade booth for a handmade movie and got the kind of reaction you hope to get when you’ve made something with ten tons of love. If I met you it was a pleasure to meet you and if I didn’t, I will most definitely see you next year.
We have drinks in a lounge on the roof of our hotel. This is the actual top floor, the actual roof, after a week of “roofs” on the fourth or sixth floor. Nighttime San Diego is in every direction. At one point I am drinking four beverages (a beer, a shot, a Red Bull, a water.) I am a geek for a lot of things but most of all I am a geek for drinking multiple beverages at once. I am here to tell you, it was heaven.
We wake up on Saturday to several messages from Rachel and Perkins (my orientation buddy Freshman year who is randomly friends with Rachel and her gang and is also a published young-adult author and superfox and generally a credit to NYU DDW class of ’07) saying that if we get our asses down to Hall H in like ten minutes they think they can get us into the LOST panel. We make every effort to get our asses where they need to be in the time allotted because like all right-thinking people LOST is the center of our universe. We run. Pedicabs are employed. It ain’t pretty but we get there and Rachel snags us and leads us inside.
“How did you sleep?” a female fan asks a male fan behind us. “4 hours,” he says. “But it’s okay. My pants got wet from the dew.” He is referring to the fact that people slept in line overnight to get into the LOST panel. Apparently they were visited by Lindelof and Cuse in the middle of the night. Those guys are fucking rad.
Again, the panel has been well-documented elsewhere but I will say that it was retardedly fun and exciting and the “Those We Lost” montage, set to Boyz II Men, only made me tear up a little. We have to book it directly after the panel as we are doing a signing at our booth. If you came to said signing and you are reading this: Hey! What’s up? I think you’re the greatest! Thanks for hanging out with us.
Later, I am going back to the hotel to pick up another box of Mystery Team trading cards. People from a socialist worker-type political party have lined the sidewalk between our hotel and the Convention Center. “You should care about people, not some comic book characters!” I hear one of the guys say to someone who isn’t me. On the way back I am lugging a box and a Socialist Worker woman attempts to give me what I can see is a pamphlet in the style of a comic book. I decline to take it because my hands are visibly full. “It’s a comic!” she says. “Something you guys like!” I am hot and tired and something about the way she says you guys really hits me weird and I say something about ten percent bitchier than the situation warrants. The Socialist Worker guy from before chides me and repeats his “care about real people” line. I ask him not to be a dick. He says he isn’t being a dick. No one wins this argument. I am half a block a way by now anyway.
Later, I am walking behind the owner or manager of a gentleman’s club who is leading some of his girls around the showfloor. Later, on the way to lunch, I see a street musician serenading Wonder Woman.
Back at the hotel, a nap puts me miles from where I need to be. I know it won’t help, that it will just give me that foggy unsatisfied post-nap feeling, but at that point it’s less about feeling refreshed or less tired than it is about “fuck, a nap sounds nice.”
I am on my way to get coffee when someone yells “Hey!” I look over and on a balcony, a little boy and his sister are playing. The little boy yelled at me. He is dressed as Buzz Lightyear. His sister is dressed as a princess. A block away, at a café table, a dad and his son both draw in their very own sketchbooks.
We meet up with the illustrious Drew McWeeny (editor of Motion/Captured) who has just come from the "Iron Man 2" panel. They showed the exclusive footage twice and thus he is able to describe (almost verbatim) the footage they showed, as well as the Robert-Downey-Jr.-instigated lead up to it. We get fucking geeked. Drew is welcome to recount anything to me any day. He kills it. It’s like Threepio telling the Ewoks the story of the Death Star's destruction, if instead of cowering behind their blankets the Ewoks said “Fuck yeah that sounds awesome” and then they all went to get drinks and discuss their own upcoming Comic Con panel.
We approach a restaurant where we can sit and drink and talk and I tell a guy “Five,” like there are five people in our party. He gives me a strange look. It turns out he doesn’t work there. He’s just walking around with two handfuls of napkins.
I notice there are silver Sharpie stains all over my hands from the signing. I look like an android whose flesh-tone is washing off. At this restaurant a margarita comes in a different, ridiculous glass every time your order one, probably not on purpose. By gathering’s end our table looks like a futuristic glass metropolis in which all the buildings have frosty salted rims.
Speaking of drinking, it's a joy to do it indiscriminately knowing you can just walk home to the hotel. Someone needs to patent cheap rocket-enhanced sneakers and turn LA into a walking city.
Friday morning on the way to the Convention Center I watch a guy defy a crossing guard. She has told a big clot of pedestrians to stop and he keeps walking, shouting,“I have stuff to do!” He has spiky hair, is muscular, and is wearing the t-shirt of a street-marketing firm, so I assume he is both hopped up on and on his way to get more free promotional energy drink. He makes it to the other side of the street and a cop yells “Hey!” and starts chasing him on foot. I have often felt the false sense of superiority “having stuff to do” imbues you with, but I rarely act on it in such a brash and dick-y way, and now I know why: it will get you chased by the San Diego police and put you on the receiving end of a stern curbside talking-to.
After a morning at the booth we go to a hotel where we will have a “roundtable” with journalists at Wired Magazine’s promotional café. None of us knows what this means. We are going to grab a bite at the restaurant downstairs at the hotel, but it turns out we won’t have enough time, so we bail. I split off to find coffee before going upstairs. I have been told the Wired café is on the roof, but the “roof” turns out to be on the sixth floor, despite the hotel being several stories taller than this. When I get there a few minutes after everyone else, I am whisked onto a balcony by an official-seeming person with a clipboard. I am rarely whisked anywhere, so this is exciting.
There is free food and a not-unattractive female DJ and a make-your-own mojito station. A girl empties excess mojito ice into a nearby planter full of tropical flowers. The coffee-getting turns out to have been redundant because there are veritable rivers of energy drink and booze and coffee-related sweetened canned beverages flowing everywhere. We are planted at a table and we talk about the movie with lots of nice folks.
At one point I am drinking a Patron-and-pomegranate cocktail and a Monster energy drink. I ascend into doucheheaven and am seated at the right hand of the douchefather.
This seems like as good a place as any to say, I love steampunk! There are tons of people at the Con all done up in steampunk gear and I love them all. I love that it is not (to my knowledge) tied in with any one particular book or movie or property, but just something that sort of organically appeared, and it’s a space in the sci-fi/fantasy spectrum that isn’t “medieval guys” or “future guys” but something in between that’s elegant and hand-made and just…COOL. I mean, airships! Top hats! Gilded laser eye-wear! Hell the fuck yeah!
Another costume-related thing I love about the Con: when you are dressed up as a character, as far as anyone else is concerned, you ARE that character. Particular if your costume is awesome. People are star-struck to be in your fictional presence and want their picture taken with you. Why have you spent countless hours and lots of money attempting to emulate an alien who is only briefly on-screen in the “New Hope” cantina scene? Because it rules, is why. And we get it.
A trolley and an actual no-fooling train track run right outside the Convention Center. This leads to lots of wonderful snares where thousands of costumed Con-goers are trying to cross, in both directions, and a train comes and the bells start clanging and the red-and-white striped arm comes down and the red lights are flashing and no one is excited. At one point walking back from the roundtable, trolleys going in both directions are slowly crawling through when we’re stuck on a median between them, and then, an actual train comes by. This is hilarious because Donald is trying to talk on the phone.
After some more time at the booth, we join another absolute mob leaving the Con. Outside the restaurant where we end up eating dinner with Donald’s dad and sister, a homeless woman with cigarettes in her please-give-money tray draws tiny, detailed cross-hatching on a sheet of paper using a reggae flier as a straight edge.
The jazz band playing right behind us at dinner plays a slow cover of Green Day’s “Long View,” which is only the eight or ninth time a trio of middle-aged guys in various kinds of hats has played an ode to masturbation while I dined in San Diego.
Across the street after dinner, a trio of skaters try and determine if the faux-broken windows at Urban Outfitters are actually broken, or if they can be broken more.
After going by the hotel to freshen up, we get in line for a big fancy Con party at the Hard Rock Hotel. There is something about waiting in line for a big event where your name is supposed to be on the list that makes me ready to punch someone at a moment’s notice. I don’t know what it is. The highlighter, the flashlight, the list, the crossed-off-names. The unbuttoned top buttons on button-down shirts. The throb of techno from inside. Just let me in there, you want to say, I swear I will be able to make fun of this music much more effectively once I’m inside. It’s a whole process.
This party is on the roof of this hotel. The “roof” turns out to be on the fourth floor. I guess the “roof” is always on 4 or 6. I think about asking to see the blueprints, but I am too busy being whisked. A lot of whisking today.
The party is suitably crazy. People are watching the festivities from their rooms overlooking the courtyard, and from hotel rooms in adjacent buildings. If you look up you can see the silhouettes of little kids and their parents and people drinking like it’s a sporting event. I guess it is sort of a sporting event. There is a wrestling ring in the center of everything and briefly, professional wrestling guys are wrestling in it. “Don’t look or you’ll be complicit,” says James, a film writer for MSN. I must be complicit, then, because I look. I am also complicit in the drinking of free Japanese beer and the talking of too loud. Something not surreal almost happens but then it stops happening so the surreal stuff can keep happening unabated.
Later that night, I eat French toast.
I have been told the floor opens at nine on Thursday. I take for granted that it is going to take me any time at all to walk from our nearby hotel to the Convention Center. It is in fact going to take me tons of time, because even this early in the day there are French Revolution-level crowds thronging the very narrow strip of sidewalk. Also I am carrying a box full of Mystery Team trading cards so I can’t break into a dead sprint. I am supposed to meet my friend Kiki who will be helping us work the booth outside around now. She calls to tell me she got stuck in traffic and she’ll be a little late. By my calculations, the floor is opening now and there is no one manning our booth. And once I’m inside, I won’t be able to go outside to get Kiki her badge. Total tactical snafu. I have a feeling I often have, which is, “I should have been an adult and shown up at dawn and then nothing would have gone wrong.” In my head the solution for everything is showing up at dawn. I have never shown up anywhere at dawn so I have no way of gauging if this is actually the solution to anything.
I get inside and the floor is still only open to exhibitors. I guess the nine o’clock information I received was mistaken. I had imagined our booth being torn apart by hordes of eager kids anxious to run away with anything not screwed down, but instead there are only a few people walking the floor who aren’t manning their own booths and everything is cool. (This would be a theme for the entire Con: I was told to expect a lot of fast-handed no-goodnik kids with hate in their hearts who would eviscerate our little booth like adolescent piranhas, but everybody who came by our booth, in fact, pretty much everybody I encountered the entire time, was patient and good-natured and nice. No one stole nothin’.)
I start cleaning up our booth. The booth across from ours belongs to a specialty Asian-cinema release company. They are playing a loop of a trailer for an R-rated animated movie. In it, among many other weird things, a little girl gives guy a nut-shot with a crowbar. Donald comes by after a while to relieve me so I can meet up with Kiki. Kiki and I talk about having known each other since high school, and realize this means we have known each other for probably almost ten years. I leave her to staff our booth before we both turn into dust and blow away.
A lot of kids, most of them in their teens, are wearing shirts reading “FREE HUGS.” I will see this tons of times over the weekend, including satirical takes on the “FREE HUGS” phenomenon, like “DELUXE HUGS $1.” I feel about this how your mom probably feels about “poking” on Facebook, where I don’t get it and assume there is fact something there to “get,” when in fact it’s probably just a thing people do because they think it’s funny. Does anyone know what the “FREE HUGS” deal is? If it turns out to be connected to some artistic or corporate entity beyond just being a thing nerdy kids think is fun, I might be sad.
I overhear a security guard greet another security guard: “Hey, Bertha!” Bertha is also the name of the plus-sized blow up doll that is shoved into the bottom shelf in one of the cabinets in our booth. (One cabinet is full of things representing the innocent, child-like origins of the Mystery Team, the other is full of fucked-up adult shit representing what they encounter on their adventure in the seedy underbelly of their town. It was way more fun to buy the kid stuff. Adults just don’t have that much fun stuff made for them. Sex and booze and drugs and that’s it. It’s all seedy and vaguely sticky and for the most part not stuff you can put on a shelf.)
I'm walking along the sidewalk outside the Convention Center and a car that’s stuck in traffic is blasting the fast dance-y “Birthday Sex” remix. I am so primed to receive marketing I assume that this song is advertising something. There is also a big “Halloween 2” billboard-truck stuck in traffic, so I imagine “Birthday Sex” is being played in conjunction with Michael Myers gutting people. I will sing the “Girl you know I-I-I” section of the song to myself for the rest of the day involuntarily but that's not to say I don't enjoy it.
Our own personal hero, Rachel, Con publicist, fellow NYU kid and all around badass, gets us in to Hall H for the “Avatar” panel. The drawback is, we will have to sit through the Summit Entertainment panel, including “Twilight.” This turns out to be a total blast, actually. Hall H is what I imagine one of those mega-churches is like: folding chairs stretching as far as the eye can see, towering projection screens broadcasting what is going on on stage, overwhelming religious fervor. Watching anything on screens that big, in 3-D, with sound that enormous, with that many people around you, is a gas. The sound in particular is boner-making: the bass is clean, physically huge, but somehow un-loud. Several horror movie trailers play and the crowd, which is mostly girls under 18, goes gasp-crazy. It is SO fun you guys.
If the Twilight panel is Beatlemania, I am your paunchy bemused father standing in the back with his arms folded, half-grin on his face, saying, “Well, I s’pose I felt something like this about Benny Goodman.” I am not a Twilight fan. But I am unequivocally a fan of Twilight fans, especially after this panel. They are a roaring ball of enthusiasm for books and movies. They will never again in their lives think it is weird to get excited about a book or a movie. And not just excited, RABID. That is normal to them now. As a person who makes things I want as many people in the world as accustomed to getting excited about art as possible, as in-the-habit of seeking out books and movies and paying for them as possible. Get ‘em girls.
I am walking to the bathroom while a middle-aged bookstore-y woman in black is hamming up her question to Robert Pattinson. I overhear one blonde long-haired fifteen-year-old kid standing into the back say to another blonde long-haired fifteen-year-old kid, “This is the gayest panel I’ve ever seen.” And he says it in the PERFECT disaffected teenager voice, too, the kind of voice you use to say “Cha! Right!”
Lots has been written elsewhere about the Avatar panel so I’ll mostly refrain except to say I couldn’t stop writing down James Cameron quotes, like when he said the film was “14 years in the dreaming” and when he said our love of science fiction had made us all enraptured of “the idea of living outside our bodies on a great adventure.” Also: Sigourney Weaver, what’s it gonna take to make this work between you and me? Me charming your grown children and lots of sex, you say? Great. Done.
During the Q&A, a timid kid in a knit hat I know is from Firefly because I saw it for sale earlier thanks James Cameron for making something that isn’t a sequel or a remake. I will go ahead and thank him for that too! Original properties. Let’s get ‘em out there. Otherwise what will people like me remake forty years from now when we are old and creatively bankrupt?
Our “Mystery Team” screening is at a multiplex at a nearby mall called Horton Plaza. We go there to check out the theater before we go and grab food. At one point I wander off and lose everyone. Horton Plaza is like a first person shooter level as done by Sunset Magazine. Everywhere I look is an Escheresque angle of stucco, store, shopper who isn’t my friend. I am starving. Finally I get a message that they are at the Hard Rock Café. I join them. Our Convention eating style is, food is placed in front of us and it ends up in our stomach later and therefore we assume we must have eaten it.
In Starbucks, there are either one hundred European tourists or no European tourists.
Our screening that night is a rocking good time. There is a completely full house and we stick around afterwards and meet kids and sign posters. If you were there, thank you for being there! You were a killer audience. Right outside the mall there is a full-sized Ninja Turtles van. I did not have that toy when I was a kid, but I had a Ninja Turtles blimp, so my childhood wasn’t a total bust.
Wednesday is Preview Day, which is supposed to be less busy than the other days. The floor opens for a few hours in the early evening. I sneak away from our booth at one point and walk the floor. To be quite honest with you in the lead up to the Con I had been sort of dreading and resenting it, it was just so much work and the thing itself was just a big unknown. But walking the floor when it’s still largely unteeming I am surrounded by Star Wars stuff and new video games and comic book things I recognize and even more excitingly, don’t recognize, and I start to walk on my tiptoes, and at least internally, I am skipping. Oh right, I think. This is fucking COMIC CON and I am a fucking NERD. This is THE PLACE. An overweight kid with glasses and a pork-pie hat and a red Hawaiian shirt and green gym shorts is standing on a stage singing “You Give Love A Bad Name” at the Rock Band booth while lots of other people stand around and cheer. An older comics writer (I’m guessing) is saying to someone, “You can always thread those stories through…” I get an autograph from Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel, who is chilling at his booth. On the way back to our booth I sort of almost tear up, sort of.
I spot my first pink-wigged anime girl at four fifty-one PM.
After dark we are walking back to our hotel and a little kid behind us is looking at a downtown building that has a crown of colored lights and he says to his parents, astonished, “The blue square changes colors!!!” Don’t tell him what to geek out about. Standing on the edge of the strip of sidewalk that will teem with convention-goers all week, a security guard has the job of shining a flashlight at a fire hydrant to warn people that it is very pointy.
In our hotel I can text message in the elevator, whereas most elevators will kill your phone service. This is novel to me, as I am an overconnected douchebag.
Donald and Dan have joined us so we are the complete picture. That night we go to a nearby hotel’s bar to have drinks with lots of film bloggers, several of whom we know and are fond of from Sundance. TVs behind the bar that seem like they would normally play sporting events are tonight playing an all-CGI anime movie. At one point Pete Sciretta from Slashfilm tells me Kevin Eastman was just there. I get psyched, because Kevin Eastman is the co-creator of the Ninja Turtles. “Wait,” says Pete, “he might still be here.” We look at a nearby group of older guys talking. Pete points out one of them. I take out my iPhone and quickly Google image search the man. Then I embarrassingly circle around their group and look at the guy I think I am looking for, then back at the iPhone, then back at the guy and say, loudly, “Yup, it’s him.” I am drunk so I think this sort of behavior is okay. Everyone else in a quickly growing group of Eastman fans laughs at me. When I realize Pete was actually talking about a different guy, and I was standing much closer to the actual Kevin Eastman when I said some other guy was him, I am suitably embarrassed. Nevertheless, we continue to gather a crowd. It seems like he is leaving several times but he keeps talking civilly with more and more groups of what we assume are fellow artists. Finally I say “fuck it” and apologize for interrupting his conversation but we have a large group of people who would like to quickly say hi and thank him for all the entertainment he’s given us over the years. He is convincingly abashed and touched and nice. I shake his hand and give him over to the rest. It’s seriously very cool.
DERRICK goes to dinner at TGI Friday’s. None of us have eaten in a long time. Everyone else has apparently seen a very attractive girl dressed as Rufio from “Hook.” I am jealous, because there is no fantasy of mine this does not fulfill. I have stupidly placed my phone on top of my wallet and at one point it slides off and hits the floor with a disturbing clatter. I dropped my phone and it shattered completely the other week, but I received an undamaged screen without having to pay anything or do anything but stand in line for a few hours. I wonder if fate will now punish me for my bravado. I note that for the moment, we are in the world of Schrodinger’s iPhone, dual realities where my phone is all fucked up and useless, and is also unharmed. I pick it up off the ground. It’s okay. I have learned exactly no lesson, the hard way or otherwise. At a certain point it’s last call and a waitress comes by our table and forces us to all to drink our drinks quicker for legal reasons. We comply and then pay and then walk back to the hotel. Thursday will be the first full day of Comic Con.
At five AM on Tuesday we load up a storage van with booth stuff for the trip down to Comic Con. Bringing stuff downstairs, it turns out the front door to my building will not even open with my key once it’s closed, so I keep having to go around the side of the building to the back door. I remind myself to put my shoe or something in the door to keep it open and forget every time. The sunset the night before was beautiful and it has comeback for an encore as the sunrise. A lady in the apartment building across the alley from us comes out on her balcony to watch it.
Boxes I shipped my stuff in from New York, still assembled and stacked into my closet, are pressed into service to carry props down in my trunk. I am proud of them for getting back into circulation. My boys!
At Starbucks, an old guy is PUNISHING an oatmeal and a newspaper. When Starbucks got oatmeal he must have said “Finally!” because he’s always felt all businesses should offer oatmeal. “It’s just common sense,” he would say.
I am driving Dominic and Meggie and myself down in my car and Donald and Dan will join us later. I have purchased one of those iPod cassette tape adapters for the occasion. When I go to put it in there’s already a tape in the tape deck. I eject it. It’s an Animaniacs tape. Seems like a good omen for a week of nerdiness.
The tape adapter comes into play hardcore on the drive down. It seems to make the music play much louder in the right channel, which is a little bothersome but doesn’t keep Meggie or Dominic from falling almost comically asleep, Dominic in the backseat nuzzling an antique television. Traffic routinely fucks then unfucks itself. Flowers that are actually little pieces of white trash bags stuck to dead grass on the side of the road blow and blow as we pass. We are in a seemingly endless progression of LA-adjacent towns and then suddenly there’s lots of fog and we break through it and we are next to the Pacific, passing through seaside communities like San Clemente, which I know best as a sticker on the back of my friend Brian’s champagne-colored van in high school.
Looking at a map the morning before the drive and seeing how close the highway was to the ocean I actually said, “Should be a pretty drive tomorrow,” and with those words, completed my transformation into your father.
The Convention Center is in San Diego’s gleaming urban-renewed downtown, which is almost crazily idyllic and clean. In the lead-up to the Con we were told that there was a rigorous and unyielding system in place for loading your booth into the Convention Center and if we didn’t follow its very specific procedures to a T our stuff would be thrown into the ocean where it would bob depressingly among Threepio dolls and Buffy scripts belonging to other exhibitors who mistakenly thought they could flaunt the rules. We would discover that this is only sort of the case, and that in practice everything was a welcome degree of lax. I have experienced this countless times, where something is built up to you as being rigid and unforgiving and turns out to be a big puppydog in comparison. It feels like when they would describe high school to you in middle school, or when they would describe college to you in high school, and you would arrive at the next institution expecting the advertised No Fucking Around and instead find Plenty Of Fucking Around. I don’t know what this phenomenon is called but I am still waiting to encounter the stage where there is in fact No Fucking Around. Death, maybe?
Inside the Convention Center, it’s enormous. Grown Teamsters tool around on bicycles. Certain days of the Con are advertised towards certain age-groups and fanbases, and Tuesday at Comic Con is popular with fans of scaffolding and Teamsters. Rumor had it that this year Jimmy The Teamster was going to unveil his long-anticipated work, “Ignoring His Foreigner Ringtone While Piloting A Cherry-Picker,” and he came through in a big way, to the delight of all of us Teamsterheads.
Cabs in downtown San Diego have strange names, and each of them is a different color. They are named things like Absolute Cab. Rumi Cab. Kabul Cab. I wonder what this signifies and if cab drivers get to name their own cabs, and if my naming fetish and the promise of getting to name my own cab would be enough to entice me to move to San Diego and start driving a cab. I wonder if the “_____ Cab” structure is hard and fast or if I would be allowed to name my cab Absolutely Cabulous.
In our hotel, there are signs reading SALES CONFERENCE and tons and tons of identical dad-esque white men in shorts and polo shirts streaming in and out of a big ballroom. “Sales Conference” is entirely too generic. There is no way this is not a cover for a pot-bellied “According To Jim”-enjoying Illuminati meeting.
I am the president of saying “Okay, let’s go,” and then hypocritically saying “Wait” and going and grabbing one more thing, like a jacket or my phone charger. It has to be one of my worst qualities, or at the very least a bad one.
Dominic and Meggie and I are down at lunch in the lobby and I run upstairs to charge my phone and when I get up to our floor I realize I don’t really remember what number our rooms are. My phone is dead so I can’t call down and ask. Instead of going downstairs and asking my friends I decide to start randomly trying doors. I have not slept in over a day and have spent all day on the convention floor helping build our booth so I am deliriously tired and this all makes sense. I try one thousand doors. I should just go downstairs but I get into that place where you’re thinking, “I have already invested a lot of time and trying into this, and the next door I try will DEFINITELY be the one.” I finally give up and am headed back to the elevator when a dark-blazered man appears at the other end of the hallway. In the moment I am certain he is a hotel security guard who has seen me on closed-circuit security camera trying every door in the hall with one key. In retrospect I’m not so sure that was the case, but at the time it makes my elevator ride downstairs and walk back to the downstairs hotel sports bar a thrill-ride.
After lunch we return to the floor and finish building the booth. It’s a good little booth when we’re finished. It really is.
That night we have dinner at a restaurant looking out on the ocean where the waiter schtick is on point (after your waiter has finished saying a waiter-joke you can hear a waiter at a few tables over start in to a different, equally waiter-y joke) and then we eat too much ice cream which in the moment is the perfect amount of ice cream and go back to the hotel and fall asleep for ten glorious hours.
For our third day of Comic Con prop-shopping Meggie and I hit up Hollwood Boulevard for the dirtier items on our list. I parallel park my car and am proud of the job I do. We hop out onto a street of tattoo parlors and the whole block has a college town record store smell.
I can’t tell if it’s because I’m so tired but the first place we go, a junk shop I feel like I would usually love, creeps me out beyond measure. One of the ladies behind the counter rushes up to us to inform us that they sell salvia, the “legal drug” that makes you babble and drool for a little while your friends tape you and laugh. We decline her offer and turn back to the sales floor, where everything we see seems horrible and perfect. Old gay porn, “Critters” on VHS, Deep Space Nine collectible plates. It feels like America’s collective unconscious if it were staffed by two aging Indian ladies. We leave without buying anything.
Somehow a huge wig-and-costume shop is more wholesome. Along with wigs and costumes they also have lots of bric-a-brac, including a stack of “Star Wars: Episode 1” action figures in their original red packaging, which I recognize instantly because before the movie came out I would walk down to the drugstore every day after school to see if they’d gotten the new “Episode 1” figures in. After I had collected them all and after the movie was a profound disappointment those red packages became a symbol of hope completely fucked. Appropriately enough, none of the toys on display are the actual figures, they’re just packages of weapons labeled things like “Naboo Accessory Kit.”
We point to several fake mustaches on display and a large Arab employee brings them down for us. Later, as I’m browsing through neat old sci-fi pulp novels, he and I will both start absentmindedly half-singing “Because The Night” simultaneously along with the radio.
Later in the trip we are looking for a DVD player and we are headed into a store that isn’t guaranteed to have it when I see another giant store, the side of which reads ELECTRONICS, which I think maybe we should try first, and then I realize the store is completely shuttered, and then my eyes track across to a giant concrete monolith and I realize that this used to be a Circuit City that was boarded up and stripped of all its red decoration when the company went under. I wonder what will go in that building next. Stores you can tell used to be other stores are a weird delight.
We are walking back to our car after getting some stuff at an office supply store and I realize I’ve left my GPS AND my headlights on. This is probably the fifth or sixth time today I’ve left something in my car on and glowing. I treat the power in my car battery like cash in a rap video, except when I waste it in a flagrant, careless fashion, no one desperate blows me in a VIP room while all of my friends stand around.
On Sunday Meggie and I make our second booth-prop shopping excursion and we have lunch beforehand at Chipotle. It is the first Chipotle I’ve had since New York. It does not make sense because it’s a huge chain restaurant but I strongly associate Chipotle with New York and college and deep burrito-related satisfied feelings. I am nostalgic and starving.
We get coffee afterwards. When you’re getting iced coffee drinks and going to bring them to other people somewhere else, I really like the trick of leaving the straw wrapper on the top of the straw. I get a huge kick out of it. I would have made an awesome personal assistant. (Untrue. But I would be awesome at the straw-protecting aspects of the job.)
If a caveman could see modern man at a parking kiosk trying to pay for parking while his credit cards spits in and out of the machine and the screen displays an error message, the caveman would actively decide not to learn tools, generously robbing the human race of the ability to ever get to that point.
We are at Target in the candy aisle. Blow Pops, Tootsie Rolls: the candy aisle conjures tons of jingles. I have to write one for Werthers in my head. It goes, “Werthers is the fuckin’ best!” because they are.
In the elevator down to the parking garage, a little boy sleeps in a shopping cart, while in their father’s arms his baby brother bangs on the steel elevator door.
A sign in the parking garage warns you that Target’s shopping cart wheels will lock automatically if you try to take them off Target property. I am not in favor of this. It stuns the natural, inexorable flow of shopping carts out in to the world. Shopping carts want to be free. They want bag boys to come find them, thus getting much needed off-lot time. This is ruining the symbiotic bag boy/shopping cart relationship, removing the trust. As a former bag boy I have to draw a line here.
Later, we are at the sporting goods store. There is entirely too much ping-pong paraphernalia, but then I realize most of it is actually bought by people who are about to play beer pong. If you’re the ping pong industry you’re PSYCHED about beer pong. Other arcane activities should angle for the drinking-game market. They should find an alcoholic variation on chasing a hoop down a street with a stick, and maypoles.
We pull into our parking garage at home just as my mix CD ends. It was the exact duration of the trip. I am overjoyed.
Dom has come back from a ten-thrift-store expedition in Burbank with an old-ass TV for our booth. It is wonderful. It has knobs and everything. It doesn’t get a signal anymore, though, which is kind of a lonely thought. We geek out on it for a while. Dominic plays XBOX on it. Obsolete things are the best. Give me a girl with glasses and an island full of obsolete technology and leave me be, because I am set.
There was a Long’s drugstore by us. It was open twenty-four hours and it got hit up a lot for various things. Since we’ve been here it has become a CVS. This is a bummer, because while they’re just a couple of faceless drugstore chains, Long’s was a drugstore chain we did not have back in New York, so it was new and novel. And there’s something about “Long’s” that feels more classic-drugstore. I feel like I could tell you to meet me at Long’s for a soda in the fifties. I feel like if it were the fifties and I told you to meet me for a soda at CVS, you would tell people I might be a communist, and I couldn’t blame you.
Everything in my bathroom has made a dying-dog noise at some point. A few weeks ago it was the toilet. On Saturday morning it’s the fan that turns on when the light turns on. Nothing in my bathroom doesn’t howl. I want to think it’s a gateway to The Other Side but I know it’s just a falling-apart bathroom in Beverly Hills.
Meggie and I are going shopping for items for the Mystery Team Comic Con booth. Driving to the first store, we see an old-school peace protest on a street corner. It is a lot of older guys and their signs are not protesting any particular conflict so much as they are saying “Hey, peace.” Someone honks and I think they’re honking at me so I get self-conscious but then it turns out they are just honking for peace.
Our first stop is a toy store at the Farmer’s Market. I’ve never been to the Farmer’s Market before but I immediately fall in love during our quick in-and-out operation and swear to myself to come back someday and bleed leisure time all over the place. It combines the best parts of Seattle, Los Angeles, and one of those crowded marketplaces in futuristic dystopias where steam is jetting out of everywhere and little Asian kids are running around, playing with clones of themselves.
You know what song is on the radio right now in Los Angeles? “You Dropped A Bomb On Me.” I don’t have the radio on, yet I know it’s playing somewhere on the FM band right now. It is always playing. It is the oxygen in the radio’s atmosphere.
On Saturday night we are appearing as guests in Seth And Ed’s Puppet Talk Show at UCBLA. It is a total blast. You have to smile when you are talking to a puppet. You can’t fight it, and if you can, you’re not a person. When standing in the back watching the rest of the show I am reminded of the kind of people it was always best to stand next to in the back of UCBNY: look-laughers. The kind of people who laugh really hard and genuinely and look at you when they do it to kind of say, “Can you believe this? We’re an AUDIENCE!”
That night I coin two pun phrases I feel deserve their own full-page articles in Cosmopolitan. One is “Mister-sogony.” This is when you are misogynistic towards a man. Another is “Bacheloretiquette.” This is bachelorette party etiquette, like knowing the right time to present the prospective bride with the penis hat she will be expected to wear for the rest of the evening. I don’t understand why I’m not paid to further pollute the lexicon with junk like this. Put me in a room for an afternoon and I will basically write you your entire Sextember issue.
On Friday morning we are driving to another test-print screening at the post house. I have a mouth full of coffee and I suddenly have to sneeze. Rather than go “ah-choo” and shoot coffee all over my windshield, I somehow manage to sneeze and keep all the liquid in my mouth, which is an impressive feat I am pretty sure breaks my face. Call me over if you want to see me perform this trick. It is pretty much like seeing a guy sneeze except after he sneezes he goes "Ow" and then he goes "Huh, I guess I can do that."
Apparently in the process of finishing a 3-D film there is something called ghostbusting. I am interested in knowing what this means but I never get the chance to ask. This is actually kind of good because it means that there’s still a chance that at some point in the post-production process on a 3-D movie the ghosts whose spectral powers enable two-dimensional images to appear three-dimensional have to be tricked into returning to the spirit world, leaving the audience free to enjoy “Ice Age 3-D” without all that awful wailing and soul-stealing.
I am going to the bathroom during the screening when I notice on the tote-board outside the screening room that “Citizen Kane” has the room after us. Apparently they are doing a new re-mastering. I am star-struck by this. I hope our movie will do for swear words what “Citizen Kane” did for writing, directing, cinematography, and art. If you don't like "Citizen Kane" it's fine, it just means you can't be entertained.
There is a neat mural on the side of a Warner Brothers building in Burbank. All of the various DC Comics heroes are there and then, as the sun goes down, the villains fade up, projected on to the heroes in creepy green-and-purple light.
Later Dan and I are out on the balcony and down at the intersection a car doesn’t turn left fast enough and the driver of the car behind it honks his horn and swears audibly and generally comes off like a jerk. There is a shaggy black dog hanging his head and one paw out off the honking car’s driver’s side window, and it is fun to imagine a thought bubble over the dog’s head that says “My owner is a human taintmuscle.”
We are watching a test screening of our movie printed to film at seven on Thursday morning so we stay up through Wednesday night getting stuff done. We go downstairs to get in the car around five fourty five AM because we hope to get some breakfast in Burbank before the screening. I call shotgun but Meggie actually gets it because she has a migraine. A man can let another person have the physical shotgun seat if he knows that he has spiritual shotgun.
I am fundamentally distrustful of anyone else who is up this early. “Go to bed,” I think at other people on the road. The radio station we are listening to plays audio resumes of listeners between songs. People describe their education level and past job experience.
We go to a diner near the post house. When I’m very tired music sounds weird to me. Sometimes it will sound like it’s at a faster tempo that I’m used to. The diner is piping in an oldies station and “Take It On The Run” sounds like it’s being covered by Weird Al, like Weird Al gave up on the parody side of the equation and just decided to cover songs straight at more or less their original tempo.
The waitress is trying to ask us if we’re alright with the booth we’re seated in but what she says is, “Are you content with this tent?” She apologizes but there’s no need, it’s six o’clock in the morning and we should all be given a pass.
They sell a Monopoly derivative called Burbank-opoly at the register. We all eat whole rafts of breakfast food and drink lots of coffee.
Inside the post house I am pouring myself some more coffee and an employee tells me they haven’t set out the milk and things yet and asks me if black is alright. If he knew me, and knew that if I could, I would have all the affectations of a 1930’s detective, but I don’t have a desk to keep a bottle of bourbon in or an office door for trouble to stroll through so I pretty much have to settle for a style of coffee and a wry and cynical interior monologue, he would know that this is a silly question he needn’t have asked.
We are reviewing a print of our movie that has been converted to actual thirty-five millimeter film. Our movie was shot digitally and has been digital every step of the way, so seeing it in the form of light shining through actual physical film, complete with the grain and imperfections you sort of take for granted until they aren’t there and things feel too smooth, is a really incredible experience. Our movie looks like a movie, thanks to many many hours of painstaking work by Dan and the color correction guys at the post house. It is chemicals and celluloid rolled up into big canisters. It is a record of the light given off by things in the actual physical world and after being captured and flying around digitally for several generations, now a year and change later it’s once again physical and warm and organic. It’s a movie on film. I can’t explain how cool that is.
At one point in the day in a meeting I hear a schedule referred to as a “living document,” meaning it will change a whole bunch. I like that.
We eat lunch at a place with a couple of jazz- and James Brown-related posters in the bathroom that I would hang on my wall for sure. I would like to have lots of framed posters from jazz festivals in the 70’s and 80’s that I clearly did not attend. For whatever reason this feels like a profoundly adult thing to me. I feel like if I had a lot of framed posters from jazz festivals hanging around the place, my shoes would come untied less. The bathroom also has blue glass pebbles in the sink.
Later back at home I encounter the building manager. She very sweetly asks if Dominic and I can shut our door more quietly because the lady across the way from us (very sweetly) complained. Everybody has apparently been very sweet at every step of this process so I try my best to be sweet too and I apologize and say earnestly that we will cut out the loud door-closing. The manager says she understands that we leave for work very early, like five thirty, but if we could just try, that would be great. I say again that we will. I don’t get in to correcting her misread of our schedule, or in to explaining that there isn’t one.
I wake up hungover on Wednesday. I have not had a hangover in a while and the novelty of not having had something in a while doesn’t entirely conquer the native suckiness of a hangover. There is a campfire burning at the base of my skull.
Meggie and I don’t agree on the Entertainment Weekly Harry Potter cover headline “Welcome Back Potter.” She thinks it’s lame. I think it’s great. I am always happy to see puns increasing their visibility. I like puns as much as Meggie likes the Harry Potter franchise. But unfortunately puns can also be used in service of hatred: Meggie says in high school people called the color guard “Flaggots.”
With few exceptions we work all day. The big non-work event was getting Diablo sauce on my veggie burrito at Baja. I like the Diablo Shrimp burrito but I wanted a veggie burrito and I was able to get the sauce from one on the other. There is that old aphorisms "it's the little things," but sometimes it isn't the little things, it's just that you only have little things at the moment and they'll have to suffice.
I am coming out of my apartment and an old lady comes out of the apartment across from me and gasps like I startled her. I smile and apologize but secretly I am excited that I am still young enough to intimidate the elderly.
I wake up for the second day of shooting more or less on time but extraordinarily tired. I text the rest of DERRICK to see if anybody wants anything from Starbucks. Later, on my way to set, I am walking to my car with everyone’s drinks and thinking about how I am the sort of tired where you are definitely stupid and mostly insane. I thought I was on time but I am becoming late. I put everyone’s drinks except for my own in the space where my front-seat passenger would put their legs and start to pull out of the parking garage. I am putting my ticket into the robot that charges me for parking if I’ve been in the garage longer than I have, and thinking sophisticated thoughts like “GO! GO! GO!” when I hear a high-pitched plastic-y thud from the driver’s side of my car. I look behind me and see an iced coffee all over the garage concrete. I left my drink on top of my car when I was getting in and it fell and died. I briefly consider going back but there is now a huge line at Starbucks and I will definitely be late. I am very sad, because this coffee was all I wanted in the world just then. Fatigue has turned me in to a frazzled romantic-comedy heroine and I have a very emotional time driving to set.
When I get to set, Meggie suggests having Justin our intern run to Starbucks. Justin is up for it. After demurring for a while I accept his offer. Sending someone else for coffee is the beginning of the end for me. Soon I will be sending lackeys to Mexico for heroin and never removing my sunglasses.
Until you are super tired you don’t realize how many things you normally are not just doing, but doing RIGHT, until you start blowing them. Throughout the day I will do wrong a lot of things I normally do right. I will leave letters out of the middles of words I’m writing. I will pick things up and walk places with them for no discernible reason. I never realized “not picking up something random and walking somewhere with it” was something I was doing right until I started doing it wrong.
A motel guest has complained to Meggie. She said the filming last night didn’t bother her, but it kept my daughters up. Lady, we saw your daughters. They were like eighteen years old. We only shot ‘till eleven. If your daughters go to sleep by eleven, then they do not deserve sleep, or to be young or American.
Our DP Bernard lets fly with some awesome film lingo and says he was “ghosting the 4K into the sky.” I gather it’s supposed to be a joke but I don’t know what’s funny about it because I know a 4K is a light but I don’t know what ghosting is or why doing it into the sky would be illogical enough to be humorous. Either way, it’s an awesome thing to hear someone say. Later, our assistant director Cassandra says “copy you,” which is a thing people say a lot on sets, and then she apologizes and says she hates set terminology and “copy you” in particular. I am sad to hear this because I love saying “copy you.” It makes me feel like a goddamn professional.
Later I am in the kitchen and our 1st AC and I are talking about Comic Con. He went last year and is thinking of going again this year. He says last year he dressed up as a Spartan. I ask him what he would dress up as this year. He says Vegeta. Vegeta is a Dragonball Z character. He doesn’t tell me this, he just assumes I know who Vegeta is. I take this as a huge huge compliment. I really do. I wore several large Dragonball Z t-shirts in middle school and I guess I still have the aura of the type of person who would’ve worn several large Dragonball Z t-shirts in middle school.
I have my laptop with me and at some point I burn a mix CD for my drive home from Burbank. I could get one of those radio iPod things for my car but I haven’t yet and I’m really getting a kick out of burning CDs for my car. CDs are already a charming arcane technology. Uh oh!
Several people on set are absentmindedly singing Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose.” I had been singing it absentmindedly at makeup on the first day. I think I unintentionally created a two-day Seal ear-worm. It is like Stephen King’s “The Stand” except with a song from the “Batman Forever” soundtrack instead of a superflu that decimates the populace allowing dueling good and evil factions to rise and do battle. (I haven’t earned that “Stand” reference. I read about twenty pages of it when I was in high school. I might have the aura of someone who read all of it, but I’m faking.)
At around eleven PM Meggie gets a call from her dad, which is weird because he’s in New Hampshire where it’s late, but it’s because he’s just gone to see a midnight screening of Harry Potter. He says he loved it and it had both action and comedy.
We get everything we need and wrap on time and Dan even has time to get an extra shot. We never got shut down by the hotel and everyone was friendly and hard-working and professional, including our one-man art department Nick who has flown in from New Hampshire to help us out at Comic-Con. We had a great team of PA’s that were nice enough to help us out for free. It was disconcertingly fun.
We are wrapping out and Donald can’t find his wallet. He thinks maybe he left it at home. He’s looked everywhere and tells me he’s about to give up looking, it’s definitely at home. Then he looks under the motel bed and his wallet is there. A good day for everyone all around.
I am walking back to my car which is parked on the street near the hotel. I see that my GPS was on the whole day. Its little glowing screen is like a message from a scattered and upset morning me. I am happy to hear from that version of me but now the scattered and upset has turned to wired and high-strung and psyched and I drive home faster than I probably should. I think, I am driving home from a film shoot through Hollywood. It is an unironic first-generation feeling of joy. It feels like you think it would.
I wake up early but later than I’m supposed to to get to the first day of shooting for our “Mystery Team” short. I have some new socks I’m excited about. They’re white and from Target.
I am going to take our magical Cahuenga route to Burbank and I try to get cute and drive very far east assuming the road I am on will eventually hit Cahuenga, which runs north-south. The road never hits Cahuenga when I think it will. It turns out L.A. is not the foolproof grid system I want it to be, not at all. I quickly realize my error and soon I am on set after street-parking my Jetta.
I get an automated telephone call from my bank. They think my card has been stolen and the computerized voice reads me some recent transactions and asks me to confirm that I made them. I did. I knew all along that my card had not been stolen but it was a nice way to relive the past three days.
Do you enjoy sitting on the curb with your girlfriend and lighting her cigarette while she talks on her phone? Well now try it shirtless! A message from the Depressing Motel Patrons Association.
The first set-up is in one of the motel rooms. On our location scout we noticed that the room had a distinct pee smell. Now that there is a film crew inside of it the hot lights have fried the pee smell into something particularly evil. Everyone comments on it individually. It binds us together, this pee smell. We are a community of humans packed into a crappy motel room that is becoming hotter and worse-smelling by the second. We handle it.
I would say I like drinking sodas when I’m on a set, but that isn’t it exactly. I just like getting the soda out of the cooler and opening it and taking two sips and holding it for a while then setting it down somewhere and forgetting about it. It’s like a talisman. It’s an achievable goal. You can think “I want a soda” and then when you have a minute that you aren’t needed you can go grab it. It isn’t about the caffeine or sweetener so much as it is about having something to do, or about wanting something and then getting it.
The manager of the motel has warned us that if we get three complaints from guests we will be shut down. It is tough for us to imagine that we won’t be on some sort of thin ice. Shoots by their nature are sprawling and obtrusive and we anticipate people being annoyed with us. But for the most part, the guests seem to be getting a kick out of it. We are near Hollywood. If you are on vacation here a movie shooting in the parking lot of your motel is probably a neat bonus. Hopefully you will not realize it’s just a short film that stars unfamous people. Hopefully you will not have too tough of a time making it to the ice machine and you won’t complain about us.
At one point we are shooting outside and a little kid in a tank-top wanders into frame. He is very skinny and has a great bewildered-wandering-kid face. If we were shooting a movie about war it would be great to have him wander across a bombed-out concrete wasteland, or if we were shooting a movie about Dickensian England it would be great to have him wander out of a dirty smoke-filled alley. But since we are not shooting either of those things, our assistant director Cassandra has to beckon him sweetly to leave the shot. Even if we were shooting one of those things, she would have to ask him to leave the shot so he could go to hair and makeup and get covered in soot.
I am in holding and we are talking about a news story. There has just been an earthquake in San Diego that caused a bunch of giant squid to wash up on shore, and a recent study says the tectonic plates under California are locking up, causing a recent rash of tremors and implying that The Big One that will probably turn the state into a lake of fire is going to happen soon. Alexis our line producer calms me down by saying there has been a similar story every month of every year she has lived here, and she’s lived here for twenty-seven years. If I told you I was additionally calmed by the fact that twenty-seven is my lucky number, you would realize that I am not a good barometer of things to be worried about.
Towards the end of the day there is a shot where I am supposed to walk out of frame, leaving Dominic and Donald on camera. In the notebook I keep in my pocket I write “DICKS” with an arrow underneath it and after the next take I plan to put this little sign back in frame so everyone by the monitor will know that Dominic and Donald are DICKS. I do it after “cut” is called and I can see on the onboard monitor on the camera that the sign stays fuzzy and out of focus so no one can read it and know how hilarious I am. “Sorry,” the first assistant camera man says to me. “I tried to pull to it but it was too close!” (meaning he tried to focus on it but it was too close to the lens to be seen clearly). The fact that he is good enough at his job to do his job correctly and then apologize when he cannot help make my stupid little joke work speaks volumes about his superprofessionalism.
The night is almost over. We are a little behind but for the most part everything has gone smoothly. I am standing in the parking lot with Dan and Meggie and I look up and see the elaborate vintage red neon motel sign framed by three palm trees and behind it, stars. Califuckingfornia!
There is a huge Gaslight Anthem poster hanging on a building off Cahuenga. Can I have it? There is a huge Flogging Molly poster next to it. Can me in tenth grade have it?
We are shooting a Mystery Team short film that will premiere at Comic Con. To prepare, we have been spending a ton of time at a motel. I have observed that the official sport of motels is drinking out of little plastic cups while your children run around with no shirts on.
A lot of the pre-production process is three or four people walking around a public place, one person holding a viewfinder, which to a normal human probably looks like a detached camera lens. The person holding the viewfinder walks in particularly weird patterns while the other people stand around. It is a really strange thing to be doing but you take that for granted when you're tired and cranky. You kind of want to shout at interested passers-by, "Why can't you just immediately understand this very unusual thing we're doing that you would have no reason for ever knowing what it is and I shouldn't expect you to? Why must you have natural curiousity?
I like film terminology. I will never get to load torpedoes on a submarine or tell a guy on his way to Mars his trajectory so when I occasionally get a chance to sling around some movie-related lingo like I actually know what I'm talking about, I relish it. My favorite phrase isn't technically a film term but it gets used in relation to movie stuff: "civil twilight," which is (I think) the minute the sky starts to get light in the morning. We are talking about a shot out of a doorway and Bernard our awesome DP refers to sunlight as "spicy." The light at 3 o'clock is "3 o'clock spicy."
Dan and Meggie have to work on something on the way back from Burbank and Dan's car is full of lighting gear and there's only room for the driver so I end up driving it home. Dan's driver's side mirror is a little broken and the CD I burned for our trip to the beach is still in the stereo. In a car with a busted mirror and full of expensive equipment I rock (safely) to "Return Of The Mack."
We go by Target to pick up some costumes. While there I see a young white woman with curly brunette hair who has the same face as rapper The Game, without the tattoos, but with a tiny blue mark by one of her eyes that reminds me of the tattoos. For all that she's not unattractive. If you pitched me a fusion of The Game and Andie McDowell I don't think I'd say I'd date the resulting person, but with her here in front of me I'm not so sure.
We get home late and our only food option is to order out from a place near us. I go to pick up the food and the guy behind the counter is extremely energetic and accommodating and immediately guesses that we are working on a shoot. As he is fussing over making sure the hot stuff is packed with the other hot stuff and the cold with cold it becomes clear that we've ordered a butt-ton of food. "So," he says, "twelve place settings?"
There are five of us eating. I am embarrassed to say this so I say, "Uhm...no, just...however many you have in there...is fine."
“How many do you need?” he says.
“Uhm, five,” I say. “I was embarrassed to tell you.”
“Not at all!” he says. “You’ve been working too hard! You need to eat! Gorge yourself and then you can sleep. That’s what I do!”
This seems like extremely good advice and we take it except for instead of going to sleep Dan and Donald and I stay up watching old footage from college stuff until way too late, even though we have to be up early.
Sometimes you hear a car horn that’s short enough in duration to be the first beep in a horn-based car alarm but then it’s just the one beep of someone honking their horn and you are grateful.
We are driving home and I look over and see the front seat of someone’s sedan has three people in it, a girl is straddling the center armrest. If there are three people in the front seat and three people in the backseat and you are driving a car that seats five comfortably then you are definitely on your way to having fun. No one packs a car six deep on the way to see their estate planner.
We work all day Saturday and take a break around 10 PM. I decide to go to the Kogi Korean BBQ truck. This is a taco truck that makes tacos and burritos that are full of Korean food. There are two trucks and they are in different places every night and you find out about their locations via Twitter. If you are a young person in the Los Angeles area I get the sense that you know about this already.
On my way there I am taking a very circuitous route and I end up having to make a u-turn and as I spin the wheel I accidentally flip my wipers on. I am new at my car and I can’t figure out how to turn them off again. The lever I think should logically get them to switch off just turns on my brights. I am still driving (very slowly) as I try to figure this out so to an observer it looks like a sensible German car is rolling very slowly down a mostly deserted major thoroughfare blasting guitar music from open windows and toggling its brights while its wipers go slow then fast then slow but never turn off entirely. I pull off on a side street and stop and turn on my hazard flashers and figure this whole thing out. I find the switch that controls the windshield wipers. There. Now I am ready to be cool. I re-emerge into the night.
The truck is parked off the Miracle Mile. I park across the street. A guy in a green reflective vest appears from nowhere and says “If you’re going to the club or whatever, I wouldn’t park there.” He says I will get a ticket because the rich people whose condos I have parked in front of are bastards. I thank him and head back towards my car. He keeps restating the reasons I shouldn’t park there. I continue to thank him. I get the sense that he’s lonely.
I park by the truck. There isn’t much of a line, which is nice. A European couple in line in front of me is making lengthy conversation with the guy who is taking orders. The New Yorker in me is screaming “fucking stop talking and GO” in my head until finally the woman turns and notices me and apologizes for taking so long and pulls her husband away. They are very nice and I feel bad for having cursed at them via thoughts.
I am more or less the last person to get my food before they shutter the truck to move on to their next location. A guy on an impressive motorcycle wearing a black old-style motorcycle helmet pulls into a nearby apartment building. He walks up and asks the guy in the window what time they close. The guy in the window says they’re closing right then, does he want something? “No, I’m just making sure when you close,” motorcycle guy says, and walks back to his apartment building, pure spite. When you are at the motorcycle dealership buying your nice bike and your cool helmet, the guy selling you the stuff should be required to say, “You realize all this stuff won’t make you NOT an uptight prick, right?”
Driving back, I am stopped at a light behind two cars. A green light comes and goes for us and nobody moves. Finally an employee comes out of a donut shop to our right and walks to the corner and yells to the driver in the car at the intersection: “You okay, bro? You gotta wake up!” I guess he does wake up because his car pulls forward. We all drive away in various directions. Stopped another light, a couple guys in black shirts and black ties run in front of my car in the middle of the street. It is like that scene in “A Hard Day’s Night” if instead of The Beatles and thousands of screaming fans it featured two guys from The Hives and nobody.
There is that scientific principal about how observing something changes that thing. There are those particles that are there when you aren’t looking at them and then aren’t there when you are. Along those same lines, a skinny Asian guy doing the robot in the backseat of his friend’s car will stop doing the robot when observed. And the scientific observer will want to say “Aw, it’s cool, man, keep doing it, I don’t care,” but will not have the means to communicate that to the observed Asian guy. A thumbs up would seem patronizing and sarcastic. The scientific observer considers pouring his entire government grant into inventing a new, entirely sincere thumbs up that will certainly have numerous aeronautical and military applications but can mostly be used to tell people to not stop dancing.
If you ask me if I like anything more than driving around alone with my music up very loud I will tell you “no” and mean it.
Dan and I are driving to Burbank. On Sunset I see a tall skinny guy in his thirties who is wearing a white wifebeater and black suspenders. He and his friend are smoking and looking at the bulletin board that is shaggy with fliers for bands in the tunnel next to Guitar Center. I hope that this board and placement on it is important to someone, maybe this guy and his friend.
In Burbank we are driving and ahead of us, laid out one next to the other because of the way the road bends, is a strip of six red cars and trucks. It seems like a day full of signs and wonders but it just seems that way because I’m exhausted.
On the way back home “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” comes on the radio. I was just thinking about this song the day before for no reason while shaving. LA is a place where the radio dictates reality and vice versa.
A car in front of us has a license plate reading “Philles.” I wonder if it is a reference to Phil Spector’s record label and decide that it probably isn’t. Phil Spector is a creepy old murderer but you cannot fuck with his music or his influence. I read a book about him last year and the biggest revelation was not that he was a deeply sad man living in a freezing castle full of bitter regret, but that his music happened in the early-and-mid Sixties, overlapping with the Beatles and stuff, which is weird, because you think of songs like “Be My Baby” soundtracking dudes cruising around town in cars with big fins. It feels very aggressively like the Fifties, in my head, anyway.
Another license plate: “Mibrid.” Like, My Hybrid. Oof. Liberals, come on guys, we’re a mess out here.
I am in the process of programming the numbers one through six on my stereo to tune to different radio stations. Right now I am being extremely generous and if I have ended up on some anonymous station in the middle of the band and a song I like comes on, that’s enough. You have it very easy at the moment, Los Angeles radio stations. One good song gets you in. It’s like the first week of college when you are taking people’s phone numbers for no reason beyond you both like Kevin Smith movies. This will probably not be a lasting friendship, but you don’t know that at the time.
We have had to go back and forth to Burbank seemingly several times a day for the past few days and there’s this snare around the Hollywood Bowl that always ruins us and makes going out there take forever. I attempt to bypass this snare on the way back with Dan, but as often happens, we are fucked by getting fancy. My detour I thought was so slick ends up taking us straight up into the hills where the roads will barely admit one Jetta, much less two cars going in opposite directions. It ends up probably taking longer than if we had just stayed on the traffic-y main road but hey, nice to feel like we were in Europe for a minute.
We are driving back out to Burbank later in the day, this time in two cars. I’m in Donald’s car and he is playing a mix from a DJ event here in L.A. a few weeks ago. The DJ’s MC-ing is recorded along with his music choices so it’s a weirdly day-specific mix. He will occasionally say things like, “If you get hungry, be sure to go inside, get yourself a plate of food!” Which, even if you aren’t listening there that day in the present tense, is good advice.
Dan texts me from the other car. They are going to try this other route, getting on Cahuenga before the traffic Vietnam of the Hollywood Bowl. We follow them. This proves miraculous and cuts maybe twenty minutes off our trip. Say what you will about driving everywhere but it does add another area of your life where you can feel like you've won or lost, which is awful when you’re losing and just great when you win.
At the post facility we are in a room with bad reception so Dan asks me to take his iPhone outside so an e-mail will fully send. I do this and for a second I have two iPhones so I feel like that guy in a rapper’s entourage that has a million communication devices and is, by design, the only organized dude.
A phrase used in post-production discussion that could also be the name of a shitty conscious hip-hop band: “Wack Artifacts.”
I have that iPhone app Shazam that hears songs and tells you what they are. I love it. It makes me feel like we may yet see The Future. Secretly my favorite part is when you stump it and it doesn’t recognize something. Then you REALLY want to know what the song is, even if you only sorta wanted to know before. Now it’s an unknown classic. If you gave me a mediocre song on a vinyl single with the label peeled off and I couldn’t tell who was performing it and this iPhone app didn’t know and no one who I played it for knew and I made it into an mp3 and put it online and no one on various music-enthusiast message boards or anyone could recognize it, that song would become my all-time favorite song, even if I only actually liked it okay at first.
Dominic and Donald and I are doing improv at the UCB LA at 11 and Dominic and I speed home from Burbank so I can change my shirt. When we get in the car, the radio station is playing an early Springsteen club show in its entirety. Later the DJ will inform us that it’s a recording from the Roxy in LA in 1978. If you have not sped around blasting a live young Springsteen on your way to perform for the first time in your tenure in a new city, you should try it. It is beyond good. There’s a great crowd at the show and we have just a blast and meet lots of really nice people and even get to talk to Appel for a while.
After the show I go in the dressing room backstage to use the bathroom. There is a sketch show after our show so people are getting their props and costumes together back there. I am puzzled because the bathroom door seems like kind of an insubstantial plywood slat. I shrug and go in. It is only afterward when I’m walking out of the bathroom that I realize there was a larger door that I could’ve closed and gotten much more complete privacy. Dear girl dressing up as a terrorist: I’m sorry. You did not need to see a sliver of my back as I peed.
The UCB neighborhood smells great. It’s the perfect temperature outside. I even drink a beer after the show. What a good good night.
On Thursday we are taking some publicity stills for “Mystery Team” which means we all have to get haircuts. The haircuts Dominic and I have in the movie are particularly stupid. His is nearly a crew cut, with a very high, very severe, and seemingly random hairline in the back. Mine is a bowl cut, the haircut popularized by seven-year-olds and monks. We have now gotten these haircuts at every level of salon. We initially got them at this little boutique hair place before the shoot last May in Manchester, New Hampshire. We went back to New Hampshire to do some still photography in costume a month or two ago, and we got The Haircuts again at a salon at the mall. Now we are getting them at a salon at a mall Beverly Hills. It is a nicer one than the one in New Hampshire. You can tell because the people are generally thinner and the techno is louder.
My stylist is a very nice guy named Dave. He immediately understands what is going on: I need a stupid haircut for a movie. Dan shows him a still from the movie on his laptop and Dav sets to work. First he washes my hair. A bracelet he is wearing racks my right ear several times, but that’s okay. Then he brings me to a chair in front of a mirror and starts to work. Like I said, we got The Haircuts a few months ago, so the bowl cut fundamentals are still there, buried underneath a little bit of growth. But bringing out the old bowl cut isn’t enough for Dave. He is meticulous. Dan has emphasized symmetry, and Dave has taken this to heart. He really seems to be enjoying it, like an actor who is known for being reserved and subtle and you’ve given them a part that allows them to ham it up and be awful. Dave is giving a really great bad haircut.
I ask him, after the shoot is over, if I come back, can he make me look human again? “Absolutely,” he says. I end up taking his card. He recommends a hair product to me to address a dandruff issue that I have. I tell him maybe next time, because today I will be paying with a company card. “Let the company pay for it!” he says, “You don’t want those flakes on set!” I can’t emphasize how lucky I feel to have the kind of life where I get to hear things like that said in earnest.
You haven’t been a douchebag until you’ve gotten a bowlcut at a Beverly Hills salon while talking business with a guy you keep referring to as “your director.” The douchiness with which your are comporting yourself and the blatant unhip stupidity of the haircut you are getting will cause other stylist’s eyes to bleed when they look over and see you. The salon is full of mirrors so soon everyone’s eyes are bleeding.
Having just gotten, having just asked for a haircut Dave refers to as “The Chili Bowl” makes it extremely hard to flirt with the girl at the counter while I pay for my haircut. It is even harder when she says something like “and here’s the dandruff product Dave recommended.” I pay for it separately with my own money. I tell her the haircut is for a movie. She will probably go home and tell her boyfriend to quit writing that screenplay he’s been working on because they are already shooting a movie about a well-meaning twenty-something retarded boy.
TV screens all around the mall play a sizzle reel for Ed Hardy clothing on a loop. In it, the guy who designs Ed Hardy clothing, who’s name isn’t Ed Hardy and is something French, poses with various celebrities who are wearing his clothes. He jumps up in the air in front of a wall covered in Ed Hardy hats. He wears sunglasses while driving an expensive sportscar in circles in the desert, kicking up dust. It is like “Triumph Of The Will” if “Triumph Of The Will” had been advertising a line of apparel favored by date-rapists.
Later, we are all getting dressed in our movie costumes. In Donald's costume shoes Meggie finds three Polaroids. Two of them have writing on the bottom. One of them says "Hola, Barcelona!" and the other one says "Goodbye, Barcelona!" From this we can glean that whoever took these pictures took a trip to Barcelona and during the trip they decided they hated Spanish.
We get dinner at a place where if you order a Vanilla Coke or a Cherry Coke they will actually create the drink by adding the flavor to it right there in the kitchen. You need to order this every time you are given the opportunity to if you hope to live a full life. I’m having a hard time deciding whether I want Cherry or Vanilla. I am initially favoring Vanilla but I end up ordering Cherry because Cherry means you get an actual cherry in your drink. Vanilla, you don’t get shit.
If you are doodling on your paper place-mat, don’t draw one of the waitresses who is working in the restaurant at the time. Even if she’s not your waitress. Because the restaurant might be full and crowded and she might end up bringing your food over because your server is taking care of somebody else. And then you’ll consider covering that part of the place-mat with your hand but then you’ll realize that exactly where she’s going to want to put your food and her attention will be right on your hand when you move it, revealing the (pretty generous, you are realizing) depiction of her. So you will fold up your place-mat quickly, fixing things. Then she will curtly put your food down without saying anything to anybody at the table or smiling, and you will think, maybe she’s mean. Maybe she didn’t deserve to be drawn. Or maybe she’s just having a bad night. The question will plague you on your walk out to the valet stand. Better to avoid it all together and stick to drawing robots and your name in cool letters.
Outside of a Hollywood fire station there is a sign with the silhouette of a baby’s head that reads SAFE SURRENDER STATION. Which I think means you can leave your baby there if you can’t take care of it.
It’s not the only disturbing kid-related signage in our neighborhood. A digital billboard over an intersection nearby displays the images of kidnapped kids under the letters AMBER ALERT. Next to the kids an image of a mugshot of the suspect is shown. Four or five kids suspected taken by the same guy. This billboard alternates between this and a jeans ad and a Dodgers ad and an ad for Mexican beer.
On Wednesday I have lunch with my Uncle Steve and Aunt Jane and their friend Tracey and her son Sam. Tracey used to be Head of Trauma (I might be fudging the name and if I am I’m not too sorry, because that would be a pretty good name for a metal band) at Johns Hopkins and now runs a business that seeks honesty in patient coding at hospitals and she’s currently in LA doing research for a book she’s writing about Douglas Fairbanks Senior because she is a silent film die-hard. She is a very neat lady and excellent company and she buys us all lunch.
That afternoon I see my first visible case of road rage. We pull up to an intersection and there’s a car in the intersection attempting to make a left turn and there’s another car behind it, kissing it, bumper to bumper. Finally the first car makes the turn and the car that did the kissing speeds off after it. When it’s our turn to go we see that the guy in the front car has pulled over and the driver of the kissing car drives up and leaps out of his car and begins screaming into the other driver’s open window. He must be a just and honorable traffic cowboy, the guy who pulled over, to even pull over at all with a guy following him who looks like he’s not in an emotional place to weigh the long-term consequences of murdering someone. I think without thinking about it I would keep going. My adrenaline would get me to San Diego somehow four minutes ahead of my car arriving there.
Later, I am tying my shoelace with leg laid across my knee and I make a mistake and one of the shoelaces flies up and hits me in the eye. It is not thinking about how dirty it must be that freaks me out about this, it’s thinking about how many times in a day I look down and think, “Jesus my shoelaces must be dirty.” I have prepared myself to freak out about this, unknowingly trained myself to make this as gross as possible by building whole neural networks solely dedicated to how impossibly disgusting my shoelaces must be. There is a deep-seated deficiency in my shoe-tying technique so the things are always springing apart and dragging around and I used to live in New fucking York and took the subway a whole bunch. As I am flushing the affected eye out with water I think I can hear persecuted super-germs from all over the world declaring my left eye their Israel.
Our building assigns two parking spaces to every apartment but it’s the sort of layout where in order for both cars to park one of them must be blocked in by another one. Dominic and I split two of these parking spaces. Dan and I go downstairs to get in the car to go to a meeting and Dominic’s car is blocking my car in. We execute a very slick dual-car dual-driver parking garage maneuver involving lots of throwing of car keys and lots of me hoping I will have an interval between Dan pulling back in and parking Dominic’s car and Dan getting into my car so I can change the CD before we get on the road.
I do not have my Car Exit Strategy down yet for when I am driving. This is what you do after you turn the ignition off, the little tics and things to remember about getting out of your vehicle that I hope become ingrained in me over time because right now, oh boy, it’s a disaster. Our driver’s education system is hopelessly broken because it does not acknowledge that getting out of your car is just as important if not more important than getting into your car and driving around. I usually roll up my window by accidentally rolling down one of the rear windows. I usually leave my foot on the brake long after I’ve put the car in park so when I finally do remove my foot so I can get out of the car the whole thing lurches forward a disconcerting inch or two. I usually leave my phone in the cupholder and have to jog back and grab it. So many things are standing in the way of me making a wide and lazy turn into a parking space at a drive-in burger stand and then iconically climbing out of my car before walking across the parking lot in slow-motion to a song by Booker T and the MG’s, and one of them is that I don’t have pomade in my hair or a leather jacket or an old red car with fins and a backseat big enough to round the bases in, and another one is that I suck at getting out of my car and it always takes me five minutes and sometimes I accidentally honk the horn.
The sign in front of the church by our house says that mass starts at 5 1/2 PM because I’m guessing they didn’t have the magnetic characters to make 5:30 possible.
In Starbucks they are playing the audio portion of the Michael Jackson memorial. A lot of the big fixtures are present: Aging Frankie Valli is here, as well as the guy who always brings in a full desktop computer, who I have christened Homeless Jedi because of his many tiny ponytails. I am here for the second time in as many days to sit at a table and do some work. I wonder if two days in a row qualifies me for Eccentric Fixture status. I’m not sure my behavior is idiosyncratic enough. Maybe people who have come in both days and seen me will think of me as “Air-drums With A Colored Pencil Guy.”
I am reviewing the copy edits on the final draft of my book and I’m almost done. It should be the last thing I do to the manuscript. It is kind of an arduous task and for a while I want it to be over but then I realize it’s probably the last big thing I’ll do to the text and I get all sad and nostalgic. I take out my headphones and start listening to pop-punk, because it’s what I listened to pretty consistently throughout the process. Me and my book, it’s this tradition we share, and I am being all sappy and subjecting it to one last time through “Let It Happen” by MxPx before I let it out into the world. It is the first day of school and it’s tugging to get out of my grip and we’ve reached the edge of the playground and finally I just have to let go and say run, run, go play with the other novels.
Another song that gets listened to is “Hit Or Miss” by New Found Glory. My freshman year of high school I heard this song more than I heard my own name spoken aloud. I didn’t like it at the time but all my friends did. Time has proven them right. If you like this kind of music, hit-the-skate-park-after-Youth-Group music, it’s pretty unbeatable.
I remember this song having a couple versions, a stripped-down version that was on their first album and a slicker one they recorded after they were signed. I feel like that was the thing to do if you were one of these bands, to have your one signature song that was on your little album you cut before you knew you were going to be a big deal, that you then re-recorded once you got in an actual studio and had actual money and the pressure was on and you weren’t sure you could write another song that good. Where would the inspiration come from? What, were you going to get cheated on at after-Prom again? Probably not. Let’s get down a version for this record while we have all this nice equipment we’re not used to and the guy who did the Pennywise album behind the boards.
Your cool friend would always have the pre-fame pre-Warped-Tour first album, and it was always subject to debate which version of the band’s signature song was better, the slick one or the one they did when they were really sixteen. Through some miracle I have the first-album stripped-down version of “Hit Or Miss.” It has a ten-second sample from “The Outsiders” movie on the front end. Their first album was called “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” In high school I’m sure I thought that naming their first album after a line from “The Outsiders” was corny and obvious. Now I think it’s extra-corny and extra-obvious but I’m also now of the opinion that neither of those things are necessarily bad. When obviousness and corniness are symptoms of pandering and artificiality, they’re bad. When they’re hallmarks of sincerity, they’re sweet and good and way too rare.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” came out in 1999, ten years ago, when I was a freshman in high school. To me the feeling of being like “that was ten years ago already?” has the same near-physical sensation as realizing you’ve forgotten to do something very important. Though in this case what you’ve forgotten to do is, I don’t know, I guess you forgot to not be subject to time.
After I finish the copy edits I go to Staples to ship the manuscript. Actually it isn’t really a Staples, it’s whatever Staples calls its UPS-front mailing-center. It’s essentially a place where the employees are really, really friendly to compensate for the fact that they don’t really have many products on the shelves. This puts them in a sad conundrum, though, because they are extremely eager to jump up from behind the counter and follow you on to the sales floor to help you find some office supply, but the sales floor is a looted-grocery-store-after-the-apocalypse level of under-stocked and they will probably end up leading you to a place where the thing you’re looking for should be but isn’t because they don’t have it. I am looking for a certain envelope and not only is the store undersupplied but it’s awkwardly laid out so without knowing it I end up charging behind the counter into the stockroom to look for what I need and for the first time the guy at the front breaks his maybe-too-friendly demeanor to shout “SIR! THAT’S OVERSTOCK!” I apologize to him. He helps me ship my package.
When I am done and leaving he has not taken the package off the scale yet so I look behind me and see it sitting on the counter and I know it’s for the best but I’m overprotective and it’s tough to leave the book there. I wish there were other authors there so we could commiserate and an older author who has done this many times before, whose oldest novel is away at college, could tell me knowingly that it gets easier every time and honestly she can’t wait for them to all be grown up because her and her husband’s sex life will improve dramatically once all their novels are out of the house. And then that author would offer me a cigarette and I would decline and then I would say, “Eh, what the hell,” and she would end up inviting me over a couple afternoons a week to drink white wine and compare funny stories about our novels and we would end up starting, weirdly enough, a book club.
On Monday morning I have a follow-up ear-nose-and-throat doctors’ appointment but I am thinking about calling in and rescheduling because we were up working until six in the morning. I wake up and call in an hour and a half before my appointment and I’m told I can’t reschedule if I want to have my appointment before like three weeks from now because the doctor is about to go on vacation. Or I can come in today, just later. I opt for that. But it won’t really buy me that much time because before I can go to the doctor’s office, I have to get car insurance.
When I bought my car I got temporary 21-day you-can-leave-the-lot insurance and before driving to Arizona I realized that insurance had just lapsed, so Dominic was nice enough to drive. Car insurance is probably the sort of thing you should shop around for and make a good decision and stuff, or so I have been told, not really the sort of thing you should try to do as fast as possible because you have to be somewhere at 2:15. But I have to be somewhere at 2:15. So I go to Geico’s website and I muddle through.
The genius of Geico is they know we are lazy. If we hear their name enough times in close proximity to the words “car insurance,” when it comes time to perform the unenviable task of insuring a car, we will opt for something that seems safe and likely to deliver us to the other side of the whole headachey process as soon as possible without having been screwed too too bad. That’s what I do. I have to call and make sure the coverage will start immediately, and the fella hooks me up. I drive out of our parking garage with plenty of time to get to my appointment in a car that is legally allowed to be on the road because if it hits you you will get paid.
When I’m driving, mostly I try to let people in. Sometimes I go out of my way to let people in. This is probably as artery-clogging for the overall traffic system as slowing down to gawk at an accident, and I must be miserable to drive behind, but I’m trying to work up some road karma. I figure I will need it, as I will make enough bonehead moves that will make other drivers think I’m an aggressive asshole when really I’m just a moron, and I want them to forgive me and go easy with their horns and gestures.
Driving down Wilshire I look up and on the side of a building they are replacing a gargantuan Tranformers 2 advertisement with a gargantuan GI Joe advertisement. This is not immediately obvious because they have more or less the same color scheme, but if you look closely you can see one strip of Cobra Commander going right down the center of Optimus Prime. This summer is what would happen if the tissue used to make the first cyborg happened to be the nostalgic part of the brain of a boy who was born in 1983, and the cyborg then hacked into the National Treasury and stole about a billion dollars. Financing this summer of movies is how he would spend that money. He would look up at that Neopolitan billboard and go “YES! YES! YES!”
In the neighborhood around the doctor’s office there are tons of banners touting Good Samartian hospital being declared something like one of the top 50 hospitals with a phrase I really like: “GOOD IS BEST.”
In the waiting room, an old woman is talking to the younger woman accompanying her, and she’s talking way too loud but it’s not at all unpleasant. They have somehow gotten on the subject of the brain and music. The old woman is telling stories of people who lost almost all brain function but yet were still able to sit down at the piano and bang out complicated tunes. “The human mind is capable of everything,” she says, “We just haven’t gotten in trained yet.” When the nurse comes out, she has to call the woman’s name twice, and the woman doesn’t notice until her companion tells her it’s her turn.
“See,” the woman yells at the nurse, “I can’t hear you!”
“Well you’re in the right place,” says the nurse.
My nurses’ name is Clemence, a top-shelf nurse name. The doctor is nice and understanding when I tell her about breaking my weeklong silence vow to go shoot a commercial. She puts a scope down my throat again and we part ways not knowing a whole lot more than she did before but she does give me a prescription for acid reflux medication so we’ll give that a try.
I am starving and a guy is selling cut-up fresh fruit at a little stand in front of the parking garage. He cuts the fruit up in front of you and throws some cucumber on there. The cucumber takes it over the top: this is fruits AND vegetables. As I watch him squeeze a tiny lemon with a special tiny-lemon-squeezing instrument, and then sprinkle salt and cayenne pepper over the whole deal, I think, man! Getting car insurance, going to the doctor, and eating fruits and vegetables without having to be told to: how much more adult can one guy get? On the way back to my apartment with my underwear-strewn bedroom inside of it I consider maybe growing a moustache and applying for a fixed-rate mortgage and needing jokes explained to me several times until they’re no longer funny.
Later at Starbucks I see the shady maybe-homeless guy who's always in there with a full desktop computer take out a little plastic canister and start breaking up weed onto a newspaper he has laid across his lap. I am pretty scandalized by this until I remember about medical marijuana and decriminalization. Then I am happy for him and a little disappointed in myself for being so square. California is a hard idea to fit in your head.
There is a stretch of highway outside of Phoenix on the way to Los Angeles where the roadside design motif is Enormous Babies. There is a field that contains a giant two-dimensional depiction of a baby sitting and playing with toy construction equipment that at this scale is the size of actual construction equipment. A few miles later, a swap meet advertises itself with a huge two-dimensional toddler in cowboy garb. It could be that there is a mad and brilliant artist holed up in the desert out there whose obsession is vulgarly oversized infants and selling his wares to local businesses is the only way he can finance his secluded existence full of elaborate ways to filter his piss into drinkable water. Or the idea of a big flat baby on the side of the road occurred to two rural Arizona business owners around the same time completely independently. Either permutation is acceptable and amazing.
McDonald’s in Quartzsite is teeming with people trying to get breakfast the day after the Fourth of July. It is like Grand Central Station except with syrup-infused breakfast sandwiches instead of trains to Long Island. A very skinny very pretty blue-haired punk girl brings a tray of full of food over to her boyfriend. There is a teenage boy with a full-forearm tattoo that says VOLKSWAGEN. Somehow I eat nine dollars worth of McDonald’s breakfast food in the front seat of Dominic’s car.
They are having a Freestyle Festival at a casino in Highland, CA on July 23rd. A lot of the heavy hitters are going to be there: Lisa Lisa, Stevie B, Expose. I don’t think I can go which is a bummer because I can’t think of a more fun way to spend a weekend than wandering around drunk at an obscure casino in the surreal and sweltering desert watching aging freestyle quasi-stars do their thing. If you are going I am jealous of you. May you end up at a baccarat table across from the key-tarist from Cult Jam.
Later that day, while sending an e-mail to somebody in New York, I realize that while at some point it won’t be summer, at no point will it ever be winter, not really. And as soon as I realize this, a deep gladness forms inside of me. While New York winter is what makes spring and summer so wonderful by contrast, it is also makes the first time you open your window and it’s a little chilly in, say, September, so very terrifying. It’s coming and when it comes it will not end. It’s kind of like a boring but stable relationship versus a tumultuous but passionate one: one is reliable and safe and comforting, and comfort is really hard to say no to. The other has an undeniable veneer of romance, which is alluring when you have the energy, but in practice is pretty maddening and exhausting. One makes you worry you will die by getting lazy. The other makes you worry you will die by getting killed.
I will probably never have to break out the big coat. Even more importantly, I will never put away the big coat with a sigh of relief only to have to break it out again a few days later to go out into a wall of pure winter pain. The seasons will not lurch jaggedly into one another. They will slide one into the next like a long-haired soft-rock producer is manipulating them on a big expensive studio mixing board while nodding his head in time and saying "far out" over and over again to no one in particular.
My grandpa says his drill instructor warned them the .45 had a lot of kick for a handgun, so much so that once, after firing, a trainee's hand had spun all the way around so he was pointing the gun behind his back, where he involuntarily squeezed the trigger again, shooting his drill instructor in the leg. Wanting to avoid this at all costs, my grandpa overcompensated and shot mostly at the dirt in front of the target. He never hit the target but he also never hit his drill instructor.
I live a six-hour drive away from my family now and it was a blast to see them this weekend. My brother John Paul and my cousin Phillip are going to Hawaii this weekend to celebrate their respective high school graduations. I made the same grandparents/Hawaii trip with my cousin Patrick six years ago this summer. It was really fun except for when I read through all the books I'd brought and had to be driven to the bookstore to re-up. Patrick is in Afghanistan now, in charge of ninety Marines. We missed him.
I hope you were very drunk this weekend. I hope you ended up near a lake and got double fireworks, the ones in the sky and their reflections. I hope you ate grilled food off a too-small paper plate with an American flag printed on it, and that the plate got soggy as you ate, and I hope the food was cooked by a guy who wouldn't leave his grillside post for anything and made fun of whoever it was that brought veggie burgers. I hope you are returning to work with a sunburn and somehow still a hangover, and I hope that right in the middle of the Venn diagram composed of the miserable the sunburn is making you and the miserable the still-lingering hangover is making you, I hope there is nostalgia for two days ago. That the party's painful echo reminds you of the party and you look back fondly.
My grandpa says after the fiftieth high school reunion, every three years they have a Fifty Plus reunion, and to combat the pronounced unspecialness of being lumped in with a bunch of people you didn't go to school with, his class had been having a get-together at a little bed-and-breakfast there in town the night before the Fifty Plus reunion every three years. It was a nice thing, just them and their spouses. Except now the bed-and-breakfast has shut down, and this year it's just going to be the reunion, lumped in with all those people none of them know, and it's a flight and a rental car and a whole deal just to get there, so he doesn't think he's going to go this year. He just found out some of his classmates have come up with a get-together spot that will hopefully replace the bed-and-breakfast tradition, so part of him thinks maybe he'll go back. But he doesn't know yet.
He went to Humboldt High School in Humboldt, Iowa. His name is Donald Charles Pierson, which is my name too.
We are going to get on the road to go to Phoenix and hang out with my family for the Fourth of July by four on Friday and this ends up not happening. So we are going to get on the road to go to Phoenix by five and then while waiting for the elevator I pull my iPhone out of my pocket and it slips out of my hand and files to the tile underneath my feet, screen first, bouncing a few sickening times. I pick it up, terrified of what I might find. The top part of its face, where the earpiece is, is completely shattered. Little shards of black glass are missing. The entire face is slightly dislodged. It is not what you want to see.
We get lunch and then everyone is nice enough to accompany me to the Apple Store. Dan is going to come in particularly handy as he is great negotiating in general, the guy you want at your side in situations like these, and he also has a working knowledge of the arcane AT&T iPhone upgrade structure. The thought is, maybe this doesn’t have to be all bad. Maybe I can get a new 3GS for less than the full price a sucker would pay. If I’m going to have to spend money anyway, I figure, I might as well spend a little more and walk away with something I can use to take videos of my testicles and e-mail them to people when we’re in the same car.
Dan ends up not getting to the store until I’ve already put my name in as a guy who needs his phone repaired. Dan tells me that this may have been a tactical error, he’s not convinced I even needed to put my name in. I tell him that the guy I talked to said “Screen replacement? A hundred and ninety nine bucks. You okay with that price?”and I responded “We’ll talk about it later,” which I thought was a cool reticent maneuver he’d be proud of me for, but he is not convinced I should have done anything before he got there. I feel the fool. There are no actual appointments left and my name is on a standby list and I’m told several times it should only be a half an hour but it’s almost an hour before another guy tells me, “Yea, standby, it’s always at least an hour,” and I kind of snap at that guy about how his other co-workers kept telling me a half an hour, and then I feel kind of bad about that. We are several hours behind our estimated departure time at this point. Dan has talked to another employee about my situation and the prognosis is not good. Nothing is going well.
Finally my name comes up. Dan and I go up to the counter and we tell our guy my deal. He tells us that it will be two hundred bucks just to replace the screen. Alhough I have AppleCare, I broke it, so it isn’t covered. He says he understands that this sucks. He is sorry. Dan asks if I’m eligible for an upgrade. I tell the guy when I bought my phone. He says he doesn’t think I’m eligible, but I’m welcome to go on Apple’s website and check. He spins his laptop around to face me. I put in a bunch of information and the widget comes back saying that after I pay the balance of my current phone bill, I will be eligible for an upgrade. It isn’t a free new phone, but it’s a new fancier phone for less than the sucker price. Our employee is surprised by this. I go on AT&T’s website and pay my bill.
As I’m doing so, Dan and I commiserate with our guy. “Did you ever think you’d have to be dealing with people’s phone bills?” I say. “No,” he says, “it’s like a glorified phone store now.” We tell him we can imagine how much it must suck to have their hands so tied by a phone company. He is clearly passionate about the place he works and sad to have seen it drifted away from what it was when he began.
I go back to Apple’s website and tell it I paid my bill and it comes back and says the upgrade it promised me, well, now it’s more expensive for some reason. I spin the laptop back around and show this to our guy.
“Hmm,” he says, “that’s weird. I’ll take this for a second.” He takes my phone and disappears into the back. Ten minutes elapse. I was not planning to buy a new phone but maybe if I end up paying less that full price I will feel okay about it. I am bummed that my shitty hands have put us this far behind schedule and set me back a few hundred bucks. A guy next to us, an older guy with lots of shopping bags, is trying to convince an employee to put a ringtone on his iPhone for him, because his laptop got stolen and could the employee just plug his iPhone into one of their store computers and put a ringtone on there? The employee is politely declining. The guy says they did it before, he came in here before and an employee did it for him.. “That employee was me,” the employee says, “and we’re not allowed to that anymore.” I have a headache.
Our guy comes back. He sets an iPhone down on the table and places a piece of paper next to it. I turn the iPhone over and see that it is my old phone, scratches and imperfections and all, with a brand new screen. The piece of paper is a receipt for screen repair. The charge is zero dollars. “Sign here and here,” our guy says, “and have a nice night.”
I sign and ask the employee his name. He tells me. I thank him as profusely as I can without blowing the atmosphere of “this is something I don’t do, you should be on your way.” It is a triumph. I feel rescued. I feel I was in the presence of a retail samaurai, a man of principal.
This is how you can end up with exactly what you had before, now five hours behind schedule, and feel like a champion. Like you came out way ahead. I am good as new, for nothing. This is how somebody can charge through the smoke and chaos of customer service and sweep you up and put you on the back of their white horse. Employee whose name I won’t write because I don’t know how okay the move you pulled is with your superiors, you were excellent. You saved a dumb man from the consequences of his dumbness and for that, sir, fucking cheers.
We do a lot of driving around on Thursday. We pass the aftermath of a pretty bad car accident and then a block later a couple are getting their wedding photos taken outside a cemetery. The cemetery has very nice scenery and I think they’re using it for that reason, and the photographer is probably not capturing the parts that are explicitly death-related, but it is a cemetery.
We get dinner at another place Eric recommended, a burger place called Counter in Santa Monica. I drive us there and we park on a street lined with ice-cream colored houses and as we walk to the restaurant there’s a really nice sunset going on. At a certain point you have to be okay with the phrase “That house is cute” coming out of your mouth without a trace of irony.
It is one of those days where you sort of forget to eat so that combined with the fact that the restaurant is, as advertised, really really good, mean that at least in the moment it feels like one of the best meals of my life. There are chili fries and side salads before the main event. The main event is burgers the size of your face, the toppings for which you personally select by checking boxes on a form full of delicious ideas. You are mostly accustomed to checking boxes on tax forms or at the doctor’s office, so it feels good to use your box-checking technique for something positive, something that will end in you being full of bacon and avocado and things. We are hungry and overwhelmed by choice so we mostly elect to go with our guts and check whatever sounds good without worrying whether or not the toppings and dressings make sense together. When our burgers finally arrive, they are each like a little former Soviet state, expressions of new-found freedom joyously and carelessly explored. They are a glorious fucking mess. Mine’s a real fucking mess. Dan pretty much nails his. But they’re beautiful, all of them. And then oh God the milkshakes. Our waiter treats us so right. I even drink a Mr. Pibb, the Cadillac of non-diet sodas.
After dinner we drive aimlessly around Santa Monica looking at streets for a while. A good day is one full of productive creative work that ends in great hamburgers and poking around suburbia with your friends. My car is full of knobs I can play with. I even have a sunroof.
In keeping with the trip’s theme of being late to things through all fault of my own, I make a hash of getting to the airport. I wake up in plenty of time to get to the airport and call down to the front desk and ask if they can call a cab, and then I go downstairs and sit for several minutes, looking outside waiting to see a yellow cab or something like it, before I am told by the woman at the desk that they didn’t call anyone because there is a fleet of four or five specialized hotel-only cabs to ferry guests wherever they need to go. I could have just walked out and gotten in one at any time. I consider it a sign of my fundamental humility that I don’t just assume there’s a fleet of fancy cabs waiting just around the corner at any point. Still, I am mad at myself and if traffic doesn’t break my way I could miss my flight.
In keeping with the trip’s theme of techno pouring out of every orifice related to the hotel, halfway through the trip the driver turns on dance music that the display on the stereo tells me is the hotel’s own mix. The driver is nice, and talkative. He tells me he had an offer to be the private driver for Haiti’s biggest rapper but he turned it down because “I don’t like that music and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”
He makes great time and I get to my gate through skilled application of fast-walking. On the way I spot lots of soccer teams from everywhere, like Italy, Jamaica, and indeterminate European and Nordic locales whose jerseys do not volunteer their country of origin. It is neat that they are all wearing their jerseys but I always thought the fun of being an away team at a sporting event would be traveling in a suit and tie, everybody on the team. Is that something professional athletes actually do, or is it just high school lacrosse teams? Either way: sharp.
The plane is stranded at the gate with us inside of it for half an hour because a hatch in the rear of the plane is shut but an indicator light in the cockpit says it’s open. I think one of the main criteria to be a commercial airline pilot must be an unwillingness to say “Eh, fuck it,” which is what I would do. The pilot apologizes and says they’ll have it figured out soon, then comes on a few minutes later and says they have it figured out, now they just have to do a lot of paperwork. Then he comes on to say the paperwork is done, and we start pulling away from the gate. Then the plane stops dead several yards from the gate and sits there for ten or so minutes and the pilot comes on and apologizes and says they have one more small technical problem, and they’re sure they know what it is and they will fix it very quickly once we get back to the gate, the thing that will take the real time and cause the real delay is all the paperwork.
For the parts of the flight where I’m not asleep, I have the phrase “Taco Crisis” stuck in my head.
Back in LA that afternoon, we are driving to a meeting. I am very tired and spacey and nothing seems all that real. My fundamental LA experiences seem to happen when we are headed to a meeting and I am very tired and spacey and nothing seems all that real. Today we are stopped at a traffic light and a car crossing the street in front of us veers and almost hits another car coming the other way, and the driver of the almost-hit car honks and flicks the other driver off. Then we see why the first driver veered, and why the second driver would probably feel like an asshole for flicking the first driver off if he knew: there is a kitten running around in the intersection. It is dirty and scraggly and black and white and darting around the intersection in a state beyond panic. We immediately start shouting at all the other cars around us, and at the kitten, and just in general. The kitten runs back up on to the curb as we are crawling through the intersection, and we drive on thinking it will stay there in safety, but we turn to see it bounce off the sidewalk and run back into traffic. We are a block away and my head is still turned and I see the kitten not make it. We all agree it was probably rabid, but it doesn’t make it an okay thing to have happened or to have seen.
Later, on the patio outside of a Starbucks in Burbank, I witness what I can only describe as a drug buy with knit baby hats instead of coke.
After our meeting we meet Drew from Motion/Captured for lunch. The dude is insanely nice, and funny, and has wisdom and stories to spare, and apparently he lives in the neighborhood from “E.T.” so if he’s not careful, one day we will cruise by his house on bikes. We leave psyched about "Avatar" and "Where The Wild Things Are" and full of barbecue.
On the way home, standing on the sidewalk we see a normal-looking couple in formal-wear who are also wearing Predator masks. The masks are up so you can see their faces, but you know they are Predator masks from the plastic fangs and dreadlocks.
A thing about L.A. I unequivocally approve of: a 1000% increase in the amount of times I have heard “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne in drugstores here over times I heard it at drugstores in New York. It is heavily featured in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” and on the DVD commentary Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe were talking about how they wanted the soundtrack to be music they actually liked, cool stuff like Elvis Costello, and I love that stuff too, Elvis in particular, but damn if I’m not glad the studio made them put in a bunch of music that was probably horrifically uncool at the time but now dates the movie in a wonderful, wonderful way. Timelessness can be overemphasized.
I have to shave my beard for the commercial and I leave my hotel room on Tuesday afternoon in search of a razor. It is very hot and the mostly empty street opens up at one point and there’s a highway running underneath it. I haven’t left myself enough time to get to the grocery store and back and shave a whole month or more’s worth of scraggle off before I’m supposed to be picked up at 3 PM, not enough time at all, so I decide to stop off on the way back from the grocery store and get Chic-Fil-A. Something in my eyes must scream “I’m in a hurry because I need to not look like such a hippie in a commercial but I am one of the worst time managers walking the Earth and I’m starving,” because the guy gets me my food fast. I rush back to the hotel sucking sweet tea and eating waffle fries.
I end up making it downstairs, shaved, with a few minutes to spare and an only moderately embarrassing amount of stray beard-hairs sticking out at weird intervals on my face. I nicked my adam’s apple, but it has mostly stopped bleeding. I remember that I never ate my sandwich from Chic-Fil-A. It is still sitting in my room.
On set it’s great. There is something plain awesome about Southern film crews. They have the fluid competence and camaraderie that geeks me out so hard about all film crews, plus they’re genial as hell and if you close your eyes you can imagine they’re all NASA engineers. There is something about a Southern accent that just wants to be rattling off complicated technical information, to my ears, anyway. I have a blast and I’m done pretty early.
On the way back to the hotel, I think, “Aw crap, my room is going to smell like Chic-Fil-A,” but when I get upstairs, it doesn’t smell like that at all. It is then that I realize I secretly wanted it to smell like Chic-Fil-A.
I am very very hungry. It is getting late and I decide to go across the street for dinner without washing the day’s makeup off. I will experience the characteristic thrill of thinking, “I am eating a steak in a sports bar and no one here knows I have makeup on.” It is one of life’s main pleasures.
After dinner, I walk past an enormous empty mall parking lot to get back to the hotel, and it’s a really really good empty mall parking lot. It makes me wish I had two or three friends with me and was 14 so I could go play in it. At that moment I would like to ride a shopping cart off of a grass embankment.
Going back up in the elevator I am joined by two people I am reasonably certain are on their way to a threesome.
Back in my room, the bathroom is a disgusting crime scene: someone killed a beard in here.