My First Date
The job is one of small perks, small pleasures and small paychecks. It’s been suggested that I could move along deeper into the real world, be more engaged in my days and better compensated for my time, but I like my freedom to sneak in and out like a thief and how it’s okay to get distracted by a random album or movie that I stumble across. I dig through bins of product, looking for something which might make us a quick buck if the condition is alright, but they won’t let me have anything too exciting because they want these choice items for the store. Fair enough, so I’m up to my wrists in dust mites and red tags hoping for a decent cache of DVDs to sell on the internet. My favorites are the all region discs from Asia because I’ll find things which aren’t released in the States and I can take them home and watch them before having to sell them.
Today I had no such luck, just a small collection of yesterday’s hot titles that were so mass produced and marketed that everyone already has a copy except for those deprived souls in Canada and Australia. I’ve never seen “Havoc” starring Anne Hathaway– I’m not even sure I’ve seen her in a movie– but I know that I can make a buck off it. Somehow, staring down at the slickly designed cover promising sex and violence and intrigue, a million random collisions erupt through my brain and I’m sent hurtling back ten years to when I was fresh out of highschool and had started working full time at the pizza joint I’d been at since I was fifteen.
I was the youngest on staff but my coworkers, on average five to ten years my senior, didn’t treat me as though I was a kid all the time. We hung out in our off hours and engaged in the grizzled debauchery restaurants encourage. Drinking, drugs… and drinking and drugs. My cohorts tended to be more interesting than me: one of the cooks had released several albums over the years as President’s Breakfast and built a studio in his house; a couple had emigrated from overseas; the general manager and co-owner worked for Nancy Pelosi and had done a stint in DC. One of the waitresses, Alexi Lacey, was getting her MFA in film at State and was ready to begin shooting her graduate movie. She needed a crew of volunteers and somehow I found myself included in a disparate collection of artists and weirdos sitting in the living room of her Guerrero Street apartment holding a script and probably a cocktail. They had a bar installed in their living room so there must have been some cocktails.
Alexi had written the script based on a formative weekend in the life of her younger self; we would be spending a weekend in Monterey shooting on location. I can’t actually remember much of the pre-production meetings as I must have been pretty pre-occupied alternating between feeling awkward and being obnoxious, but everyone definitely took their involvement seriously enough to commit. It would be a lot of work, even for the grip that I was destined to be, but I was excited about this opportunity to step inside a mysterious world. Early one morning I was picked up and we collected the gaffer, the cinematographer, the sound guy; we packed the gear in the trunk and wherever space was available. This was thrilling, this was an adventure. Everyone was perfectly nice and no one treated me like I was the little kid brother they had to watch. We hit the highway.
Intense weekend. We were all crammed together in a couple rooms at the motel where we would be shooting a pool scene but fortunately sleep would only be available for a couple hours at a time. Nothing went according to plan and arguments between Alexi and the director of photography broke out frequently. After being given a crash course on equipment I was running around dragging lights and sandbags and cables, then left with nothing to do but chainsmoke for an hour while something was figured out. There were several locations throughout town: the motel pool where we were staying; a room in a motel down the road and the parking lot out front; the arcade and carousel at the Cannery; several streets in the surrounding area; the rocky ocean coast. Big budget blockbusters have their share of headaches and our cobbled together student production would not be any different. I remember trying to keep drunken hicks from wandering out of a seedy dive and into the shoot but bikers would look at my green hair and ask me if I thought I could stop them. We had a cable visible in one shot which required me and Greg, the gaffer, inching along with screwdrivers and tape trying to hide the cord in a seam in the concrete. The DAT recorder which had originally been borrowed was broken and Jonathan had to drive back to San Francisco, pick up a new one, then drive all the way back in the middle of the night without sleep. There was an ugly incident involving a crock-pot brimming with everyone’s dinner, the rental van and two days of rotting stink that I’ve sworn to never talk about. To prevent the “talent” from getting into trouble while we were setting up a shot I had to take them to a nearby Denny’s and watch while they ate pancakes and didn’t get stoned; the two actresses were older than me and the actor constructed a tower of silverware that defied gravity. During a windswept rainstorm I stood with the generator on a soaking wet deck hanging a thousand watt light over a beach while using an umbrella to prevent everything from exploding. Eventually Greg got freaked out and yelled at Alexi which stopped filming and prevented my untimely demise. We fought, talked shit, ate little and slept less, drank a lot of vodka and had nervous breakdowns. It was a fucking blast and I would do it all again in a heartbeat, even tho I know I was really the kid brother who got underfoot more often than I was helpful.
There were two other shoots that I worked. One was in front of a liquor store in South City where, in lieu of any gear, we set the camera up in the back of a convertible and kept it in neutral. Actually, I didn’t do any of that, I was in front of the car keeping it from rolling down the hill too fast. The last bit of shooting was at another coworker’s house which was a less fun all day affair. I had only been able to make it to because I stayed up all night before and was picked up by Alexi and Wynn (her boyfriend, my manager) in the predawn hour. Little for me to do in such a contained environment so I was relegated to running for milk and staying quiet. What’s memorable about this particular day was that the cinematographer invited everyone to some sort of Carnaval party. I was on the front steps smoking with the lead actress (Lucky Strike straights were mine and she had a Capri) and she asked if I was going to the party. No, no fucking way. The next time we were on the steps smoking she told me she had been trying to act me out earlier. Act me out? I didn’t understand, what do you mean act me out? When she was done laughing she said she had been trying to ask me out, to go to the party. Oh… Mostly we had spent the length of shooting making fun of one another, her in a bathrobe lounging by the pool, me and Greg smoking cigarettes and setting up lights.
After the day was done I went home and laid in bed trying to rest until I was supposed to meet her; by this time I hadn’t slept for a day and a half and had eaten a slice of pizza and a pot of coffee. She was late in calling me so I broke down and checked in, found out where her house was and, to kill time, walked across town. Although they had recently broken up she was still living with her ex; I think they moved here together from Louisiana. He owned the building. I wandered around the spacious apartment and watched her smoke pot on the back steps, I looked in her very pink room, I tried to keep my thoughts straight as my vision bled in and out of focus. Her ex came home and, upon learning I was going to take my date to the party on MUNI, insisted on driving us. In his SUV. I sat alone in the back seat while they talked and bit my tongue as he took wrong turns and ended up in the wrong part of town.
When we arrived at the party my instinct was to placate my nerves as quickly as possible which I did by taking a paper cup and filling it with vodka. We wandered from room to room weaving through costumed revelers and hid her umbrella in a closet. We chatted, tho I can’t remember what about, and walked down to 24th street to buy cigarettes. She asked me why I hated her and I, not hating her, scrambled for some kind of response. “It’s hard to trust an actress,” I pulled out of my ass, “since you never know if you’re seeing the real them.” On the way back to the party I really had to piss and had her stop so I could duck in a doorway. She stared at my back until I was done and then said, “No one has ever done that in front of me before. Ever.” By the time we got back to the house and I finished my vodka I was reeling drunk and she had sat on a deck chair which soaked her pants see-through. I excused myself and left on my own, walking the block trying to clear my head. My stomach was churning and I couldn’t see straight so I found a driveway out of the rain which lowered gradually to the street. I laid at the top facing downhill in case I passed out and puked. I passed out for a little while but didn’t puke. When I came to I made my way back to the party and found my date sitting in her wet pants where I had left her. She was less than happy, thinking I had simply ditched her. We collected the umbrella and I tried to argue that I could get home on my own but she insisted on our sharing a cab, despite the fact that we lived across town from one another. I had no money. When the cab pulled up in front of my parents’ house I leaned over to hug her and she kissed me on the cheek. My lips her so dry they were cracking and saying goodnight, I fell out of the car.
There was a party the next weekend that I invited her to and she agreed but bailed at the last minute. I went alone, brought cocaine, and holed up in a room the entire night selling pinners for five a pop. The cops spent some time parked outside with their lights going and a room full of paranoid delinquents sat sushing one another while my friend poured candlewax on his record because we refused to turn on the lights. The next date we arranged was after she got off rehearsal at some downtown theater. We walked to a nearby Japanese restaurant, ordered, and then she told me she thought it would be best if we stuck to being friends. I found myself with a lot of food I suddenly had no desire to eat but the remainder of our hanging out was the most fun we’d managed to have together. I dropped her off in front of her ex-boyfriend’s building and told her to call me if she ever felt like it and she never did. Eventually I got over the disappointment which I felt regardless of our having nothing in common whatsoever.
I’m staring at the DVD cover for “Havoc” starring Anne Hathaway– I’m still not sure I’ve seen her in a movie– and because of a million random collisions erupting through my brain I’m thinking of Jessica Kiper. She moved to Los Angeles not long after the movie was done to try her luck in Hollywood so I look her up on IMDB. Four episodes of Gilmore Girls? Two on Survivor?!? The pictures could be her but it’s been ten years and a lot of fried braincells since I’d seen her so I look her up on Google. I find Free Spirits Film, a production company founded by Alexi. It is indeed the same Jessica Kiper who sat in a wet deck chair waiting for me to wake up in a driveway around the corner so that she could pay for my cabfare home. More exciting is that “Weekend at the Casa Munras” is available in its entirety.
As this was a graduate school project there was an official screening at State. I know I went, I remember pacing nervously around feeling nauseated and drinking wine because it’s all that was available. I know my friend Erica kept me company and we sat in the aisle because it was so crowded, and that problems dragged the event through the night; I think Erica might have left early. I watched a student’s final melt in the projector and groaned along with the audience. I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing this movie, except for one scene I wasn’t on hand for that I watched sitting with Alexi in an editing suite. I can’t watch it as a movie, of course, because I’m looking behind the camera and remembering. I’m cracking up. I’m laying on my back on the floor of the carousel holding a reflector that’s blinding Jessica; everyone’s getting dizzy. I’m standing above the arcade dragging cables and there’s a room full of unpopular looking teens clustered around a cheap folding table playing Magic: The Gathering. I’m holding an umbrella above the Bolex which is bolted to a wheelchair, and everything’s one take because in a matter of minutes the streetlights will turn off– we had to wait long enough for the sun to come up so the camera could see. I’m standing next to a statue of Steinbeck with Alexi and Greg framing a shot. Greg: “If we shoot it like this we get the sun rising between her legs.” The motel room: Jessica in her swimsuit running to the bathroom to wretch in the middle of the night and I’m at the motel we stayed at listening to her arguing with herself whether she should bleach her pubes to match her hair. Alexi’s directing with a White Russian in hand, I’m clapping the time-marker with a cigarette dangling from my mouth and we still don’t have a functioning DAT recorder.
The next movie Alexi made, “All This Way”, was shot at The Makeout Room. I was excited but by the time I showed up for shooting there was already a crew assembled. People ran around with clipboards and yelled “Quiet on the set!” one after the other. There wasn’t much need for me, tho I made myself useful by being the person who would risk climbing a janky ladder and crawling around the ceiling moving lights. Mostly I stood outside the door chainsmoking to make sure no one walked in while they were shooting. When extras were needed a girl walked up to me and hit me in the face with a powder puff but I refused to dance. There were a couple shots with me in the audience but they ended up being cut. I wasn’t at all hurt by that. Alexi gave up on film for a while and decided to travel overseas with Wynn, her boyfriend (and my old manager), and I haven’t seen them since. But I’m going to see if this e-mail address on the Free Spirits Film site works.
All images are taken from the film, “Weekend at the Casa Munras”, written and directed by Alexandra Lacey, 1998.