Tag Archives: non-fiction

Extra Extra

movie set

 

Wardrobe has me put my hair down, then slaps several leather bracelets and a tweed trilby on me. “You stick close to the band,” the costumer tells me. “What instrument do you play?”

“None.”

“No, I mean what do you want to play? What prop do you want?”

I say banjo to be silly, but she immediately radios to the set. “Props, put a banjo by the street band setup.”

When I get to permanent holding, the only stool I can find is one next to a striking South Indian woman. She’s beautiful to the point that I have trouble believing she’s real.

I’ve only ever seen women like her on TV, I think, then I remember where I am.

“What instrument do you play?” she asks me with a deep accent. She fingers a charm on one of wardrobe’s bracelets.

“Not a damn one,” I tell her.

She laughs. “The poor musicians,” she says, nodding to the people who brought actual instruments. “They’ll be playing to an audience that will only hear a soundboard.” She takes the hat from my head and puts it on. “How do I look?”

“A damn sight better than I ever do,” I tell her.

She laughs, and then the PA comes and ushers half the room outside for a crowd scene. My seatmate gives me back my hat. “Here I go!” she tells me.

I watch the crowd pour out into the brightening morning, then notice a woman looking me in the eye. She’s smiling, and luckily I smile back. I say luckily because my general instinct when a woman smiles at me is to look away in a stricken panic, and then spend the next eighteen hours cursing my inability to recognize basic flirting. Her smile widens when I respond, her red lips framing impossibly white teeth. She has blonde hair, the edges turning pale in the rising sun. Smoky eyeliner contrasts sharply with her creamy skin. The same PA comes back in.

“I need everyone on these two rows to come with me!” And Smiling Woman goes with them. I’m beginning to wonder if this PA is enforcing some obscure No Hookup rule I wasn’t aware of.

Three hours pass before the PA calls for the band. “Time to work for your money!” she tells us.

“Right,” I say to the cute acoustic guitarist, “because it’s not like we’re grownups playing make believe.”

She responds by looking at me like I just waved Mardi Gras beads in her face.

While I pretend to play banjo, a guy in his mid-fifties practices his pacing. He’s the wipe for the shot, an extra specifically designated to cross the entire frame. He works full time, with union benefits and a pension. Before today I had no idea that was possible for an extra. I seem to be alone in my ignorance.

For the final scene that day they sit me on a bench beside a woman whose neckline I’ve been making a serious effort to avoid examining. We pantomime drunken conversation while two women playing vampires run their lines in front of us, and between each take she tells me about her voice over work and her English boyfriend.

Everyone here takes this so seriously, and I’m treating it like a field trip. Whenever the horses for the scene clop by I gawk like a ten year old at the circus. I’m an extra among extras. Everyone here is so professional, but when I see the main actors I want to shout “ARE THOSE THE VAMPIRES?”

I find out later they’re actually playing werewolves.

The PA calls a wrap for all but twenty of us. While everyone else files out to validate their vouchers, I’m brought back outside for a pickup shot. The sun has set, and the French Quarter set is now aglow in strings of incandescent light. I’m paired with the pale-haired woman from earlier. We’re made to hold hands and touch foreheads, and with each take we have to sway like we hear music.

“This feel awkward?” I whisper.

“Little bit,” she murmurs.

“Is it strange that that’s a relief?” I ask.

“Probably,” she smiles back.

When we finally wrap for good she and I talk while we sign out. We exchange numbers as we head to the shuttle that will take us to our cars. The doors behind us flap, spilling the other dreamers into the night. They make me think of eyelids fluttering awake at dawn.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

It’s a Pleasure to Meet You! Your Genitals Disgust Me.



I don’t bring it up very often, but ever since childhood I’ve had to manage living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I don’t mean the sanitized “disorder that’s secretly a superpower” OCD you see in movies and TV. I don’t solve crimes by “obsessing” over details, and I’m not fastidiously neat to a comical degree. My OCD is legitimate, but manageable. It’s been well over a decade since the compulsions were in any way clinically significant; while it’s odd that I tap door frames four times, at least I am not paralyzed at the sight of one black pen and one blue pen waiting for me to use them.

I still struggle somewhat with controlling the typical obsessive thoughts that follow this disorder. It’s tough for me to spend time with friends and family without continuously visualizing what they would look like dead.

This isn’t pleasant for me, but it happens. I’ve learned not to freak out over it or feel guilty. I know I want the best for the people I love, despite a habit of imagining what they would look like swarmed by bees or hurled out of airplanes. It’s fucked up, but again, it’s not something I can stop. It hits me, and the only thing I can do is roll with it until my brain finally decides to shift gears into something more closely related to what I imagine a normal thought process is.

I bring this up because the other night, at a David Sedaris book signing, I noticed that the infinity fountain he sat in front of was lit with light bulbs placed under the water. That’s not too weird. You see underwater lights all the time. But the power rigging was underwater too. Big, thick metal cables twisted along the tile, intersecting through gnarly, chunky power boxes. For all I could see, these things were sealed with little more than pressure from the screws.

I know well enough that there was no legitimate danger of electrocution, but the thought wormed its way into my head the way a masturbatory fantasy does when you’re thirteen and in church, or twenty-eight and in church.

What if Sedaris fell in?

And then there was no stopping me. The image played out like a sad advertisement for Weekend at Bernie’s III. I could see someone tripping up as they approached Sedaris, their arms flailing as they struggled to catch the small library they’d brought for him to sign. It was biting cold out, so the added layers of clothing would add to the poor bastard’s momentum until BAM. He and Sedaris would fly into the artificial pond, their cries muffled by the sparks in the water and the hum of the lights as they flickered on and off.

As we got closer to the signing table, the oafish schlemiel in my head began to look a lot like me. I’m no legal expert, but I’m pretty sure they shoot to kill the second they find out you’re imagining the accidental murder of a celebrity, regardless of whether you meant to think it or not. We were two couples, then one couple, then just a few feet.

My jacket kept slipping in my arms. My hands were sweating, making my books so slick I had to tighten my grip on them. Goddammit, why am I holding these things like weapons? How do schmoes like me keep getting past security?
With a polite smile and a little wave, Sedaris beckoned my friend and I to the table.

Oh Jesus, I’m about to murder David Sedaris with my own stupidity. The dumbest guy in the room was about to kill the smartest.

Of course none of that happened. I managed to approach one of my favorite authors with the same general level of competence that allows me to access ATMs and water fountains. The book I brought had been previously owned, and inside someone had written To Michelle, I hope this brings you all the laughs it brought me. Sedaris dutifully corrected laughs to pussy and drew what could almost be construed as a hooded Eye of Sauron. Evidently Sauron is a regular with Brazilian waxing.

“I’m not even really sure that’s how they look,” he said. “I mean, mostly I just see pictures of them in medical books.” He looked to Monica. “Are they difficult to maintain?”

Mo shrugged. “Like, a few days a month, yeah.”

“I just don’t get the appeal of the vagina,” he went on. “I mean, I see pictures and I just can’t imagine ever being turned on by that.” He looked at me. “Is that how straight men feel about cock?”

I told him that as a bisexual man, I wasn’t the best resource to turn to.

“Oh, then you just like it all. That must be wonderful!”

“Well, I don’t have much of a taste for bestiality.”

“Oh, it’s very passé nowadays.” He covered his mouth and looked at Monica. “Jesus, I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have insulted your genitalia if you’ve bought my books.” He laughed. “Holy shit, I’m really sorry. That was really pretty shitty of me, wasn’t it?”

“Hey, that could be a new opener!” I said, suddenly imagining Sedaris giving me a strange look after an awkward attempt on my part to be funny. I ploughed ahead anyway, with the same dedication that never got me laid in high school. “It’s delightful to meet you! Your genitals appall me.”

Sedaris laughed, and I would have gladly paid double what I did for our tickets for that. With our books signed we braved the cold back to our parking spot, Monica laughing over the fact that Sedaris expressed explicit interest in her vagina. This seemed like quite the achievement.

I can’t blame him for his temporary fixation on her pussy. For several years it was prominent on my mind as well, though I would wager in a significantly different context.

We broke up a couple years back, but the occasional hook-up punctuates our friendship like drops of ink from a leaky pen, or some other appropriately sexual simile. I got over it, but she was in my thoughts constantly until the day we finally moved out of our old place. She found a nicer apartment on the other side of the city, and I made the long haul back home, a state away. Sometimes she visits family in our hometown, and we’ll spend a day sitting outside and catching up. Or I’ll drive back up to Nashville, and we’ll pal around the city for a weekend until reality reminds us we have jobs and bills.

It was cold inside when we got back from the signing, and we both jumped under the comforter to get warm. We ended up spooning, my arm around her shoulders, my nose against her neck. A year ago this would have led to a clumsy rush to tear off our clothes, a ritual that always made at least one of us fall over like a drunk panda on YouTube. But by this night my mind had finally shifted gears, and we dozed off, fully clothed. I dreamed of tripping over my own feet, and of pussies scribbled on old book paper.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Theft

Cash

 

I watched a man rob himself once.

It was as weird as it sounds. During lunch rush I manned the register, taking orders and giving change. At one point I rang a twenty as a ten, and the customer pointed it out to me. He was polite about it, and I thanked him for it. It was my error at that point.

The mistake was noticed because I recited his change as $6.41. He pointed out that he’d given me a twenty. He was right, and I also noticed that I read the total as his change. I corrected myself, and he acknowledged he’d just thought about it too. I’d goofed, but it was an honest mistake and we both knew it. We’d worked through it and it was done.

At least…I thought it was. The guy leaned over the counter and stared directly into the cash drawer. This made me nervous, but customers do weird things all the time, everywhere, so I just let it go, and kept an eye out in case he tried to reach inside.

“Now you’re giving me too much,” he stated. I wasn’t. I had a five tucked between my pinkie and ring finger. It had been put with the tens and I was holding it separately until I gave the man his change.

“No sir, I got it. $13.59 is your change…”

“That’s $18.59.” He enunciated like school was in session. Polite in a condescending way. I kept my tone even and simply said: “Yes sir, it is. Your change is $13.59.”

I tucked the five in its proper compartment, handed him his change, and watched as confusion scrunched his face. “Wait, that’s not right either. You said my change was $6.41.”

“Sir…”

“No, listen, I saw the change on your screen…”

“That was the total, actually. The total was $6.41. And from twenty the change…”

“That was the change.” He wasn’t rude, but he was insistent. There wasn’t any stopping him now. He wouldn’t hear me. He counted out six dollars and thrust it at me. He then, carefully, counted forty-one cents, and dropped it directly into the drawer.

“I mean, it’s no big deal,” he reassured me. “Mistakes happen. It’s alright.”

Now, I admit, I could have pressed the issue. I could have made another, clearer attempt at explaining the problem.

But my temper was threatening to flare. When people who are in the wrong condescend to me, I instantly write them off as less than whatever I’d considered them before. You can assume me wrong. That’s no problem. I often am wrong. I was wrong not thirty seconds before. But do not assume I remain wrong.

I watched this guy walk downstairs to meet his law professor and fellow grad students. He was self-confident in a way that seemed to make him believe in everything he did, mistakes included. He was content and overcharged for a sandwich by double.

I sat the mistaken change aside and worked through the orders. I wondered how much more the man would lose to himself. Who could he call if he finally caught his hands in his own wallet?

I delivered his order, and then ignored him. I put the extra change in a paper bag and taped it closed. In marker I wrote: “TIPS FOR WHOEVER WANTS THEM.” I left the bag on the counter.

The money was still there when I clocked out. Maybe, in small streams of pennies and dimes, it’ll find its way home to its absent master. Or maybe its current will slip between his fingers, and spill upon thirstier folk.

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Filed under Non-Fiction

Hello, October

Willow in Alabama

The choir of crickets and tree frogs is so loud I would have to raise my voice if I wanted to say anything. There’s no one here to speak to though, except the coyotes resting in the field. I turn a lever, and the work light by the barn dims and goes out. Stars twinkle around the black mass of the clouds.

I smoke a cigarette and enjoy the cooling air. Summers in South Alabama have a nasty habit of overstaying their welcome. Out here we’re close enough to the Gulf so that we get all of the humidity, but far enough away so that we get none of the breeze. It’s great country for gardens and mosquitoes. You can’t pick between one or the other, however.

But tonight the air is cooling fast, despite the obstinate, burning sun before. The only light I see comes from a pumpkin I carved an hour ago. I cut it and a dozen others from the patch out back, and couldn’t help myself from carving at least one. Tomorrow I’ll load up my cousin’s truck and drive them to the stand his dad sets up shop in. It’s never been anything more than a way to pass the time, but rituals must be kept.

Peanuts boil over in one of the old smoke shacks. No one’s left to tend the garden, but enough still grow on their own that we can supply my uncle with a good month’s supply. Those are always big sellers, those and the pie pumpkins he grows himself. Most people in this part of the country do their shopping in their yards.

I don’t really belong out here. I don’t fit in, though I don’t feel ostracized. My family is all over the county, and they love me, but it’s obvious to everyone that I was never going to live here one day. It’s enough that my family has roots here, where generations of dirt poor people labored so their kids would have just a little more than they did. Half the churches in town are headed by uncles and cousins of mine. Two miles behind the house is an old whiskey still my uncle, the Good Reverend Johnny, operated to supplement his services’ meager collection plates.

The light from the pumpkin shines a skull’s face upon the blueberry patch out front. The coyotes stir and begin to howl. Somewhere past the trees, other coyotes answer.

A tin bucket of green apples sits by my feet. There are about five more inside. I hate green apples but I pick them anyway. I’ll give them away to various aunts, who’ll make tons of pie and cobbler, and make sure I get a head start on packing on my winter weight.

I hear squealing grunts, and wild pigs make their way into the field where the coyotes are. The coyotes, to their credit, know better than to truck with wild pigs, and they hop to their feet and trot away. The pigs snuffle around the apple tree, gnawing the ones I tossed away from worms or spots. I think they have piglets with them, but I can’t be sure.

In the corner of the living room there are two tin washtubs overflowing with pecans. The tree is still shedding them, actually, and they crack against the roof like small hammers when they fall. Occasionally one will hit the house’s propane tank, and the empty steel will ring like a bell. Owls hoot whenever this happens.

The pecans will disappear faster than the apples. There will be the occasional pie, but mostly they will be eaten on chilly porches, while old folks with dirt under their nails watch the fading afternoon.

The fire from the smoke shack wafts through the night. In a few weeks some hogs from a farm in the next county will be brought over, butchered, and roasted. I’ll dig a pit for the bones, but there will be very little that will have to be thrown out. The feet will be pickled, and the horror that is chitluns will be prepared by somebody, for sure. The carcasses will be pried open and smoked for the better part of a day and night. The meat will be served freely at various church gatherings, and come November the process will start again for Thanksgiving. At that time, though, my cousins will charge by the pound. We always sell the heads to old people across the county, who I guess use them for headcheese. I’ve never really bothered to ask. We’re too far north for any of the Voodoo that leaks out of Mobile.

My cigarette burns out, and I decide I don’t want another. I drop the butt in the Mason jar I use for an ashtray. I sip tea from a glass that my great-grandmother bought, though back when she bought it, it contained baking soda. No one bought anything in those days thinking they would only use it once. The house is a little over a century old. The jars holding peppers in the cupboard are even older than the shelves they sit upon.

The tree frogs sing in harmony with the crickets. The pigs are long gone. My hands smell of the oil I used to clean the outside of the peanut kettle. The empty gas tank rings as a pecan strikes it. An owl hoots in the cool darkness of the trees.

Hello, October.

Hello.

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Filed under Non-Fiction