ROBERT ALTMAN FILM?
PART II: The Sequel
ROBERT ALTMAN FILM?
PART II: The Sequel
“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”
“The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert!
“I was misinformed.”
– Bogie explaining to Claude Rains why he came to Casablanca–
In the first installment of A Robert Altman Film? our protagonist goes from New York to L.A. to interview director Robert Altman, but Altman puts the interview on hold while he’s editing his adaptation of John Grisham’s The Gingerbread Man. A certified member of Pitchaholics Aynonomous, our protag goes pro the minute he hits L.A., and starts taking meetings and pitching his projects while waiting for Altman to come out of the editing room and talk to him. Between the surreality of pitching and the quagmire-dream state of La La Land itself, he is witness to a shocking nervous breakdown (in the middle of lunch) by an infamous screenwriting guru, that will foreshadow the realization that he’s so strung out by the hustle of the pitch again that he’s plotting to pitch Altman his projects in the middle of interviewing him. Rather than helping him kick his addiction, this admission frees him to kick into the addiction full force, and he epiphanizes that he must be a character in Altman’s sequel to The Player, because the life he’s living might be on somebody’s reel, but it can’t be real! In the meantime, Altman, either psychically avoiding the pitchhound on his trail, or ducking his own nightmares, escapes back to New York, and announces he’s considering taking his name off the Grisham film, and letting good ole William Smithee have the credit if the studio takes final cut away from him. Needless to say, our protag follows right behind him. On the way to the airport, he pictures his hands. There is nothing on the San Diego Expressway but his hands. And they’re in a hurry, a big hurry. All grabbing, squeezing, twisting their way to a rendezvous with the Red Eye Special. In line to check his bags through, he finally looks up from his hands. The passenger in front of him immediately starts talking, and begins to relate a dream to him he had about him: And of course because it is a dream, he relates a dream back to him in the dream. In the dream he relates in the dream, he is the director of a Robert Altman film, but he knows it’s a dream so he knows he can’t be the real director. Just then, the real Robert Altman shows up in the man’s dream. A very imposing figure, with a Buffalo Bill goatee, Altman approaches him on the set of an airport and tells him he is Altman, and orders him to get on the plane. In the dream, he’s terrified that if he look directly at Altman he’ll get on the plane and the plane will crash; but he’s equally terrified that if he looks directly at Altman, Altman will yell, “Cut!” and he’ll not only miss the plane, he’ll never get an interview either. When he arrives back home in New York, he finds himself just in time to transfer this pitch addiction to the even bigger addiction of “The Fall Season,” and jumps right into the frenetic hustle of the Independent Feature Film Market and New York Film Festival.
On the plane back to New York I look down at the enchilada spread out beneath me and get a flash of catharsis about Altman, but can’t quite hold on to it. All that sticks is the image of one lonely screenguu muttering over and over to himself, What’s in it for me? By the time the plane crosses over The Grand Canyon it hits me like an explanation point that the answer to that question is fragmentation. Complete fragmentation, folks! Early and total, with a little help from your friends.
Altman, of course, knows more than a little about fragmentation. Not only is he totally in tune with the times, he’s been in front of the Adoption Curve for years. When his detractors call his work “episodic”, who are they comparing him to, Thomas Wolfe? None of us have the patience to read the book again, much less are able to go back to the concept of that place that’s always there in the sweet dysfunctional memories of our youth, because fragmentation is not only what we all have to look forward to for the rest of our lives, it is in fact the art form of the future, a future which is already on us.
If you’re under 30 you don’t have to worry about being fragged, of course. Music videos have already destroyed the endorphins in your brains that associate memories of life experiences with certain times, places and situations that you first heard a certain song. Now everyone under 30 gets the same memory and the same association for the same song, which on one hand further depersonalizes you as individuals, but on the other side of your generational coin, takes you another step up the evolutionary ladder towards becoming perfect consumers. Though I can’t believe that targeting market demographics is exactly what Evolution had in mind for itself, it is the inevitable next quantum leap from postmodernism. And it’s obvious that those of us over 30 who cannot play off the fragged states of our lives, from this point on will glitch out on a multiplicity of psycho-sexual-eco-geo-spiritual-political levels, and totally disintegrate into the generic dust. Those who can surf the chaos of the future without interrupting the flow of their own individual thought processes, however, will not only survive, but have a damn good shot at bioflourishing in this whacked out new world. Where once upon a time, nine-to-fivers looked at frenetic as a dangerous-dirty word, in the future anyone who wants to hold on to their scared-sacred little piece of the rock, better consider hyperfreneticism as a way of life, then do up a bottle of Ginsing every other hour, as they remind themselves to “breathe now. . .”
Naturally, when I find myself walking down the aisles advising anyone who doesn’t like it, to lump it, and head for the closest monastery before they hit the rocks, I realize I am not personally breathing now, and probably haven’t breathed properly since the moment I started pitching scripts again. When that realization hits, I sit back down and begin to Om just as a little voice that sounds like Don Pardou tells me it’s dangerous to use the mind to think about anything other than what you’re trying to sell next, especially while jetting cross coast. Philosophizing about life on the redeye can cause a condition in the brain which is much like Rapture of the Deep, and for all practical intents and purposes, makes you feel like you’re not only crashing from bad drugs, but want more. With this sinking stone of surreality in the pit of my stomach, the big bird descends on The old Apple like a taoist wet dream, not so much waking me from my nightmare as surprising me how messy my universe has become. If my micro’s not totally confused by my macro, there’s a girl staying in my apartment. . . She’s come to New York through a friend of a friend of a cocktail party, to show a work-in-progress at the Independent Feature Film Market. At the butt of the 90s it’s still the best lotto available to emerging filmmakers. Among the many breakthrough indie productions discovered there were, Blood Simple, Clerks, My Dinner With Andre, One False Move, Reservoir Dogs, Return of the Secaucus Seven, Roger & Me, Slackers, Stand and Deliver, Stranger Than Paradise and Welcome To The Dollhouse. Going into its 19th year, the annual week long pitch-party is held at the Angelica Film Center, down on the Village-SoHo cusp, and by now is considered the mandatory first step on that long bumpy road to finding an audience for an independent film. Though nothing from the ’96 Market’s broken out of the pack yet, 14 films got distribution deals, 10 went directly to Sundance, and dozens of others went to film festivals in Berlin, L.A., Vancouver, Avignon, Seatttle, and the notorious Slamdance, among others.
I told our mutual friend of a friend almost two months earlier that she could stay at my place while I was in L.A., so she arrived the day before I left, but now I’m back early, and she’s still in my apartment . . .and I can’t remember her name. . . much less what so-called friend of a friend sent her in the first place. . .No doubt the term independent filmmaker is a complete misnomer, but there’s no denying this girl’s ripe, ripe, so lush you could roll out the carpet of good intentions all the way to hell. So young, firm and fully packed, I imagine she might even be the daughter I’m not sure was mine 20 odd years earlier when I was still just dew on the honeysuckle, so to speak. If what’s left of my memory serves correct, she’s a tall short long blonde brunette with streaks of punk glazing her eyes. As it’s written in the script she wants to be a model dancer actress star, like all the rest, though her true passion is filmmaking. She has half a dozen screenplays growing like tumors in her head, which she’s threatened to tell me about after she squeezes the last drop of toothpaste out of my tube, and I dream 21 gun salutes to a spent youth.
Everyone’s got a story, of course. And everyone wants to tell their story. Everyone wants to sell their story. But not everyone knows how to tell their story. Which is why they come to hacks like me. . . At the end of the 90s, it’s obvious the screenwriter has replaced the private eye in what used be to called the problem solving process. No one just wants to tell their story anymore, not unless they can tell it on Oprah, get a book deal, and sell it again to Hollywood, or HBO. And who can blame them? At the end of the century, going public is apparently the only way to get validation for our existence, even from ourselves. No blame for this solipsistic state, as the I Ching would say. It’s just “the context of no context” in the infancy of the Information Age. At this point, no one really knows how to use the tools available to them, except for marketing, which is why the closest thing we have to pure reality anymore is out in the Hype Zone. For instance, there’s this girl sleeping in my bed. Even though she’s in her mid to late 20s, I can’t call her a woman despite the fact she has this body, this incredible body that takes ten years off my life each time I touch it. Or lick it. Or plunge the flag like a marine on Iwo Jima, into the heart of her dreams. When I look down at her sleeping, she opens her eyes as if my attention is attached to some inner radar, smiles up at me, then pulls me down into bed with her and buzzes, “Did anyone ever tell you you look like Jack Nicholson?”
Ah there, yes, innocence, of course, everybabe on the make tells me I look like Jack Nicholson, because in fact, if I had my way I would be Jack Nicholson. That’s the way hype hones in. These moments of wistful, shall we say, toxic hallucination, come to me more and more often as I approach the magic number 50, and find myself alone, save for that wild innocent flower of lust helping me spew my own lost delusions of immortality into her vortex. Oh taboo!
Whoever she is, she’s lying there next to me. The motor purring, breathing out of the sea shell consciousness of her courage as she plays the hair on my chest as though I’m a harp. . . Beautiful music. . .the best thing about it is you don’t even have to listen. . .like a dream. . .She’s talking about her Daddy. . . Talking about Jack Ruby. . . “What would you say if I told you Jack Ruby is alive?” she whispers in my ear.
I open my eyes. Screenwriters, it should be noted for future generations, are a horny lot. Nothing is surprising anymore. But this girl’s got megachops! She’s definitely got my attention now! “Say what?” I ask.
“What would you say if I told you Jack Ruby was my father?”
“You’ve got to be shitting me!”
“Not many people know this, but Dad was one of the earliest independent filmmakers,” she plows right through my cynicism. “He was out there with John Cassavetes. But a lot more underground, because of the. . .nature of the material.”
I hardly know what to say.
“Mom was his first big star. Maybe you’ve seen the one about the Chinese Dentist?”
“Ugh. . .”
“If you’ll meet me at the Angelica tomorrow at six, I’m screening Dad’s work in-progress at the Market.”
“Kiss me,” she says.
She pays for her hustle, of course. Old man’s lips have to lift up the anthem on high, as the flag refuses to rise again before sunrise. But don’t call it Taps. If fate had not dealt me an inside straight I could’ve been dead meat already. A victim of a lowlife profit motive war. Or shot by a jealous husband, or boyfriend, or father, or son, as the case is more often than not these days. At this point each new lover is a victory, moral and amoral, so to speak. Though to be honest, I still can’t remember her name. I’ve got the first letter on the tip of my tongue. Something with an L. Laurie, Linda, Louise, Leslie, Lucina, Louella, Lylla. . .none of those ring a bell, so I slip out of bed, slide across the hall and begin flipping through the Rolodex as I check for messages on the robot: BEEP. “Your check is late! Your check is always late! Don’t tell me it’s in the mail, don’t tell me the check’s in the mail, just make sure it’s in my hand, babe, or this time I will take everything.” BEEP. “They love the idea, baby, it’s sensational! I know you just got back, but Jeffrey wants you back out here to pitch, Tuesday morning. Hone it to touch the wallet, manipulate the mangy masses to plunk down and come back crying for sequel. This is for the ranch.” BEEP. “Mr. B. here. Where you been? Out moonlighting on your benefactor’s dollar? We need your immediate evaluation on the vampire script. We’re ready to pick up the bond if you say GO. Say it quick, or you be GONE.” BEEP. “This is Robert Altman’s office. Mr. Altman can see you in his office tomorrow, between three thirty and four thirty. If you can’t make it, let us know early, otherwise. . . BEEP. “Guess who. It is your old motherfucker, Jean Phillip. I know you are not so inclined to do anything more than, how you say, blow this frog away, but I am looking for low budget hard core noir that will lift the prurient interest of audience up to art form, and I know you have, because Otto give me the script. You, of course, do not have to forgive me for sleeping with Jesse. In fact, you should not, because I know your bowels cry out for revenge, but to look at other hand, my brother, you should not suppress your art either. I am at the Chelsea Hotel waiting your decision, whatever it will be.” BEEP. “This is the Press Office of the New York Film Festival. We’re sorry to inform you that your Press pass has been revoked, since you didn’t write anything positive about the Festival last year.” BEEP. “Yoo-hoo, dear boy, it’s you know who. I’ve been thinking of you a lot lately. Your work, your work has not gone unappreciated. I’m considering recommending you to write the screen adaptation of my latest. What do you think about that?” BEEP.
Her name, the girl’s name is LuLu, according to the Rolodex. The woman on the answering machine, good ole you know who, is throwing out carrots again. It’s the only McGuffin she’s got in her stew to entice me. As for that August body, the New York Film Festival, they ought to give me an award for not writing anything negative about their attempt to control the flow of commentary about their choices. And that’s what I think about that. Of course I shouldn’t be thinking at all, I should be celebrating. It sounds like somebody on the left coast finally wants to buy one. Which one is the question. If I am asked the right question it will dislodge a resistance in me. . . Instead, I try reading the Bible. There are only seven basic plots in the good book. But oh so many hooks. . .so may variations on variations I decide to give up drinking. Then almost immediately think of Jean Phillip and Jesse, and fall into despondency. . .Begin to mourn my potential, and realize I’ve become a bona fide media casualty. Pop songs, Great Moments in Sports, planetary catastrophes, accumulation of experience overwhelms me. I suppose that’s why I do what I do.
For LuLu, on the other hand, it’s ordained. Escape is her M.O. Real world is dangerous. There are lions and tigers and bears on the brick. I’m someone along the road who’s suppose to listen to her story. Someone who know what to do. Knows who to pass it on to. Right time, right read, and all she has to do is give me a clean pitch to hit out of the park. But LuLu can’t pitch, or catch either, until after her third cup of coffee. She stretches and looks past me at herself in the mirror. A work, she is a work-in-progress. Beautiful, incredible, so indescribably delicious she feels cheated she can’t come close to experiencing herself as others do. Yet this is not vanity. There are things she knows; she can tell grown men when to buy, when to sell, when to change their underwear, or read their astrological charts and tell them when to attack or surrender. I’m the worst kind of client, she tells me, because I don’t listen. Not to a thing.
She’s right, of course. I have keys. Words. Symbols. Gestures. The right one at the right time catalyzes me to action. For instance, the way she brushes her hair, or smiles, or will stick out her tongue at me across a crowded screening room will always get a salute. But right now I don’t have time. I promise to meet her later at the Angelica. At the screening of her film. Then I’m out the door.
Bright and early, I tell myself, as I hit the pavement. That’s the only way to get started. Look up at the sky, dead letter grey, when you say that, son. Suck a little October into the nostrils and keep the eyes riveted on the street. Only civilians are exempt from seeing rich boys’ toys, futuristic dinosaurs of ambition, malling over America. Filling the streets and stores with the promise of ancillary rights, as back down here on lonely earth, steam crawls out of the subway vents like the crippled, hideous, bent out of shape veterans of failure, too defeated to even stand on their own feet to beg for a better deal. Humanity, including yours truly, is too numb to even notice anymore.
“Spare change?” Spare parts.
Quick now. Duck inside civilization, dude. First stop, Mr. B.
Dark and slick like a Gucci soul, he may not be the B of Bs, but he’s nobody’s flunky either. You don’t get a penthouse on top of the Underdog Building, a wide open line of credit and three chipmunks for nothing. He took a fall. Kept his mouth shut. (Like I’m doing now) Hard to do for a friggin’ genius, baby. Gotta swallow, gotta eat the ego. It ain’t no big thing, a pipeline to God; any asshole can get one. That’s Democracy.
“Brilliant, B., brilliant!” according to X, Y and Z, all young production sheep in backward baseball caps. They’re bahhing now. Bahhing. . .
B. stands up.
“Nice shoes,” the lead cap bahhs.
“Armadillo,” B. bows. “Made in Texas. You like them?”
I nod. I don’t know if the script works, I tell him. Then ask, Why do another vampire movie anyway?
“Why?” B. laughs. “Why? I’ll tell ya why, because we’re all vampires, that’s why! Bathing in the glory of somebody else’s glory. Right?”
“Right!” the three sheep bahh, bahh, bahh. . .
“We’re all hungry. Pass the blood.” B. laughs a little too loud.
I really don’t want to hear it.
That’s the way it works. You bite your tongue, preserve the inners until after lunch. A little Mexican-Italian joint in the mid 50s; I can almost taste the green chile marinara skoonj on a bed of crisp olive skin, as Mr. B. waves my check in front of the guacamole. “Vampires, right. Solid as gold,” B. smiles. “And what makes this one different from all the others is
. . . it’s exactly the same.”
There’s no arguing with that logic. Not if you want to get paid.
Out on the street again, I deposit my check in a Money Machine, then heave what guts I have left in a trash container on the corner. Step back, suck for air, as Mr. Bojangles wobbles up to the container and scoops my waste up with a crust of a discarded Big Mac. You deserve a break today, but today doesn’t look like the day. . .
The Chelsea, which is not exactly the Carlyle or the Royalton, provides the right ambience for my rage. It’s not that I actually even want revenge anymore, it’s just that I feel honor bound to get it. The rundown hall alone brings all the old feelings bubbling to a head. I feel the cold blue steel in my coat pocket as I knock on the door, and tell myself, if he even mentions her name. . .
He opens up a crack, sticks his head through the slit, and Lou Reed comes jumping out of the box, taking a walk on the wild side of this hundred dollar-a-day sewer. And the colored girls are singing, nah-nah-nah-nah as the semi-seedy Belmondobee swings open the door, spreads his arms wide, and roars with glee, “My brothhhh-errrrrrrrrrr!”
“Spare me the shit,” I hiss as I brush past him.
“Of course I am understanding of how you feel about J.P.,” he swigs from a chartreuse cocktail.
“You couldn’t possibly understand how I feel about you, because I don’t feel anything about you. You owe me money, period. As for my ex wife, naturally I’m disappointed her taste was so putzé–“
“Putz-ay? What is this putz-ay?”
“You’re putzé. That’s like being passé, but with a putz in front of it.”
“Ahh. . .”
“Karmically speaking, I consider the episode an old pay back due me for something I did long ago that I knew was going to come back on me some day, so I eat that one and hope I’ve cleaned the cosmic slate. But not getting paid for my work I do not eat, and you’d better clean that slate, Jean P.”
“I am at the moment between money.”
“Of course you are, man! You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t; you’d be off in Switzerland getting another brain transplant.”
“Ah yes indeed, but for this girl gang movie I can, I think get the money.” Sucking on a menthol cigarette for all he’s worth, Jean Phillip starts babbling about Acqua and Velveeta, two dominatrixes down the hall, who also double as art healers. In the last year alone Jean Phillip has not only met the Dalai Lama, he’s bought lunch for Spalding Gray. On top of that, he’s a big admirer of my friend Otto’s work too. So if Otto recommends the girl gang movie, Jean Phillip is sure it is “licking the razor, cutting the edge, kissing the ice. . .” or something cool.
There’s only one thing worse than hip Europeans, I think, and that’s Americans imitating Europeans’ imitation of so-called hip Americans. Jean Phillip is nth degree separation or something or other, but I don’t know the strain. I feel like I’m being thrown up against the funhouse mirror again as the living lice in front of him rolls up his sleeve, and ties-up, but naturally is too distracted to hit the vein. He loves my idea, of course; a hard core postmodern musical of Venus In Furs, set in Los Angeles.
“That’s not a bad idea, but it’s not mine,” I correct him. “Mine’s about a tough Brooklyn girl gang who kidnap an internationally famous macho rock star.”
“Can we set in Los Angeles?” Jean Phillip asks, missing the vein again.
“Hey, we can set it up your ass, but the film is about the death of the American Dream — the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles is the metaphor I’m using for that.”
“I am not one to grok this.”
And I don’t want to be one to explain it. “Look,” I say, inventing a hole card on the spot, “the sequel is set in L.A. You got that intuitively. That’s good, that’s brilliant, Jean P. But the first one has to be in Brooklyn or the parlay won’t work.”
“I am not into your baseball,” Jean Phillip grins.
“It’s not mine, and I’m not into it anymore either, but the metaphor is important. Did you read the script? Otto gave you the script, right?”
“He give to me, he talk about it too — even Jesse when we are having the good sex in Mendocino, it is all she can talk about, but I am not ready then.” The grinning shithead across from me has just said The Magic Word. The immortal Duck of yonder yore drops down, and I feel obligated to bring action into this lame dialogue.
But before I can move on the notion of blood, Jean Phillip leans over the script in question, picks up the phone and calls room service, just as he apparently finds his g-spot. “Do you want I should get you something?” he grins at me, as eyes bug out of his head from the crank suddenly flooding his system.
“My dignity back,” I whisper, just as the rush overwhelms him, and his head goes totally slack, and crashes down on the table!
It could be worse, I think, picking up the phone off the floor and asking the desk, “Can you call Emergency and get an ambulance? I think we’ve got the reincarnation of Sid Vicious in Room 586.”
As much as it pukes me out to give him credit, Jean Phillip has earned a undeniable level of cachet by splitting his head wide open and actually bleeding all over the script in question. I’m honestly so glad to be spared the indignity of injecting gratuitous violence into this bad scene, I give him a gold star for Fucking Up, and then another one for his having the nerve to ask me to autograph the bloody screenplay for him as they’re carting him away on a stretcher.
Don’t look back. There’s no point. Whatever was gaining on me must have already caught up and lapped me years ago. I’ve got courage to go now. All the way to Altman’s midtown office. No sweat. I feel good. Feel strong. Like a human fly, I can soar 23 floors without nose-bleed, do a lotus sit, and drop jive! The moment I walk through the bleeping door.
But naturally Altman’s not there. He’s gone back to L.A.! Don’t I check my machine for messages? They left a message for me not to come. If I go to L.A. tomorrow, Altman will do the interview. It’s a guarantee.
Sure it is. . .And in the year 2014 the IFP will present Jack Ruby with a Gotham Lifetime Achievement Award for Independent Filmmaking. Obviously I jest, I think. . . Though once upon a time Abel Ferrara won the award, so maybe Jack Ruby has got a chance. Though probably less as a filmmaker than as an actor in one of Abe’s gritty little gems. I can’t think of another performance in our time that quite comes up to that quirky thing he did with one Lee Harvey Oswald, back in the good old days when television was live.
I look through the program once I get to the Angelica, and see that the screenwriting guru is listed on a panel on the screenwriter’s plight.
For obvious reasons, LuLu’s so-called father’s film is listed under her name. It’s already started when I get downstairs and note you know who standing by the door to the theatre. I nod to her as I slide by her, then immediately note other signs of impending doom inside when I catch LuLu looking at me from across the room. She sticks out her tongue, then comes over and sits down next to me. What can I say? She’s young, and I’m not dead yet, or as the story goes, her Venus is on my Mars, her Mercury in my Scorpio, her hand goes right through the popcorn to the only part of my brain still working. She’s a triple Leo or a double Sagittarius, and the moon is void, of course, but of course that isn’t the reason she’s all over me. She’s trying to avoid you know who too. LuLu may play the little muff fluff, but she’s no cheap trick. And I may look like Jack Nicholson right after he’s sold his soul to the devil for lifetime courtside seats to the Lakers, and had it returned as non-existent, but I am a man without fear of consequences, though don’t mistake me for a hero. According to the angst, you can’t kill a dead man, and up until the moment this tall short long blonde brunette with streaks of punk glazing her eyes sticks out her tongue at me, I am for all practical intents and purposes, doomed, but calm.
You know who slides into the seat on the other side of me. And immediately invites me to dinner, though the subtext lilts across me to the girl, LuLu, oh LuLu, Boodles is sorry she called you a whore. She knows you’re a model dancer actress star like all the rest. Come stay at my nest and I’ll take care of everything.
Sure she will!
I want to tell her I have AIDS, but have better sense than to diddle with The Laws of Manifestation. So instead say, “I’d love to come, but I have a plane to catch for the Coast as soon as the movie is over.”
My dear boy, she gives me that my dear boy, don’t waste your time. She’s been thinking of me a lot lately. My work, my work has not gone unappreciated. She is considering recommending him to write the screenplay of her latest. What do I think about that?
Well, what can I think about that? I point up at the screen, and say, “Let’s talk after the movie.”
In the meantime, up on the screen, buffs, that old black & white footage of Lee Harvey Oswald being led down the hall of the Dallas police Department is running. Suddenly Jack Ruby steps out of the crowd and shoots Oswald! If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. But this time I sense something is different. I hear a voice I’ve never heard before, yell out, “CUT!” The police let go of Ruby. Oswald gets up off the floor, and along with the police, goes back down the hall. Then they start shooting the whole scene over again. The police lead Oswald down the hall towards us. But suddenly Jack Ruby steps out of the crowd and shoots him! I hear the voice again, but this time it yells, “that’s a keeper!” And everybody puts their hands together and applauds — the cops, Ruby, even Oswald sits up and starts clapping. At this point the films starts running backwards, as big white numbers go from 10 to zero across the screen. Until an old man sitting in a hospital bed appears on the screen. He looks out on the screen and asks, “What if everything you saw on TV all those years ago was staged? What if I didn’t kill Lee Harvey Oswald? What if I didn’t die of cancer before I could tell what really happened?”
I think I’ve seen this one before, on HBO. “Sorry,” I lean over to LuLu, “but I’ve got to catch a plane. I’m interviewing Altman in L.A. tomorrow. I’ll call you from the coast,” I peck LuLu’s cheek.
I board last, just a figment of my own imagination. To go up into the night like a fork full of matter being swallowed by the void gives good digestion. Everything becomes nothing if you don’t separate it. The spring has to be empty before it can be refilled.
I look out the window into the night. Watch the darkness slowly transform to the haze of the Santa Ana crossing over the landscape of morning beneath me. Despite knowing better, I’m in the bullpen warming up, getting ready to pitch. What, I still don’t know. Where, I probably haven’t been. Why, I can’t remember.
If I am asked the right question it will dislodge a resistance in me and I will know what I have to know to take the next step.
The man across the aisle is talking to me. It’s the screenguu himself! I’m sure he’s going to relate a dream to me. And in this dream, I’m sure we’re going to be in a Robert Altman film. But instead, he smiles, and asks, “Are you Jack Nicholson?”
The plane begins to descend, circling the avocado spread out beneath me like a fork. There’s a girl back in my apartment. I just left her last night, and I can’t even remember her name.
© 2014 Mike Golden
Originally published in Creative Screenwriting Vol 5, #2, 1998