avenueF
8/02/2005
avenueF
Lunatic, lover, poet
The other day, I got an e-mail from Puck:

WHOA NIGGA,
Is it fo'real that you leavin on mothafuckin FRIDAY? NIGGA NEGRO NIGG-R BLACKIE CHAN we gotta go out and sneak into the Hotel Gansevoort and go to Comme des Garçons at least one more time.
~LV


(He signs all his e-mails to me "~LV," mocking my signature "L, F." I asked him once what the LV stood for and he replied: "What brand of my liking can be shortened to LV? Said LVs can be found adorned onto the bags of many a rich J.A.P. -- and fake ones on those of many a poor Jamaican nanny.")

He'd known for quite a while that I was leaving on the 5th, but I guess it had only just hit him. So we made a date for today: "Meet me in front of Urban Outfitters at 12:15-ish SHARP," he oxymoronned.

"Which Urban Outfitters?" I asked. "Ours?"

"Yes, the one on 14th," he said. "It's actually more mine than yours, since it's on the south side of 14th." This has been our running argument for six months, ever since I blogged, way back in February, that "technically, Puck is a Chelsea dweller; he lives a few blocks down from me on 7th Avenue."

"I do NOT live in Chelsea!" he always explodes. "14th Street is the divider, and I live below it -- in the WEST VILLAGE, bitch!"

"If you're walking distance from my building," I always retort, "then we live in the same neighborhood. And my neighborhood is Chelsea."

We fight bitterly on this (essentially moot) point, pretty much nonstop. Sometimes one of us gains on the other -- my greatest victory was when, after performing in Kiss Me, Kate, I met his mother. "I'm sure we'll see each other again," she said to me. "After all, we live in the same neighborhood!" I gloated about that for weeks, but of course Puck and I kept arguing about it, since we're both the kind of people who would rather argue forever than admit we're wrong.

Anyway, the date was set. I wondered what we were going to do today, how we could possibly say goodbye to each other. I was shocked to realize recently how much I'm going to miss him -- maybe more than any of my other friends. It's not that he and I were especially close; it's that our relationship was so surreal and violent and passionate and intense and strange, I couldn't even imagine how to leave it behind.

We shared the role of Puck in Midsummer Night's Dream -- that's pretty much how we met -- and sometimes, when we finished each other's sentences or made the same joke at the same time or chose the same weapon ten times in a row playing Rock-Paper-Scissors, it seemed like we shared a role in real life, too. And he was mean -- evilly, heartlessly, sociopathically, girlishly so -- employing an anthropological shrewdness that delighted me when I wasn't on the receiving end of it, which I often was. I hated it then -- he knew how to make you hate yourself, and when he did that to me, I hated him. And then, of course, we wrestled. That was special: he didn't wrestle with anybody else, just me. He didn't hold back; he hit hard, often leaving visible wounds. And I liked it.

The defining characteristic of our friendship was that I was never quite sure whether or not it existed. I don't kid myself: it was based almost entirely around avenueF. We rarely associated until I started blogging about him, and the rest is cyclical history: the more I blogged about him, the more we saw of each other, and the more we saw of each other, the more I blogged about him. At some point I realized I'd essentially appointed myself his own personal publicist, but the Puck stories on avenueF transcended P.R. -- I'd created in him this almost mythical figure, this magical creature known only to the Internet as mon époux infernal, monstre saccré, golden devil-child, dangerous angel, mad spirit, sweet Puck.

He lapped it up, of course. Being my muse gave him the celebrity he craved. Still, it all felt so tenuous. As much as I would have liked to think that it was symbiotic, I always felt like a parasite. Maybe all writers do.

I did, that is, until last Thursday. We actually went through with the black-tie affair I mentioned in last week's entry -- I hosted it and arranged to have it catered by the Second Avenue Deli. Puck, LK, Shapiro, Rie, and I all dressed in formalwear and ate extra-lean corned-beef sandwiches on rye with sour pickles and coleslaw and latkes. Because Puck's birthday had been the day before, we gave him gifts; because the rest of us were going away to college, he gave us gifts. He gave Rie a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, and Shapiro a T-shirt that said "G is for Gangsta," and so on.

His gift for me was forty pages long.

Dearest Frankie, the first page began.

Getting to know you has been splendid and I can only hope you continue to work hard, make movies, and become a discerning fashionista. When we're rich and famous, we can go shopping together.

This "book" is merely a hard-copy of selected blog entries on AvenueF that chronicle your experiences making your first film. Hopefully, your blog will never crash or die or get a virus or whatever, but just in case it does, now you have a physical copy of some of your writing. My commentary is in red ink, and I should only hope it is as entertaining as the entries themselves.

Hopefully on one snowy Los Angeles day when you're disgruntled and cursing Hollywood for not discovering you soon enough and pondering "WHY OH WHY DO I CHOOSE TO TORMENT MYSELF? HOW CAN I SURVIVE SO FAR AWAY FROM PUCK?", you will read through this home-made tome and feel better. That was quite a run-on sentence.

Anyway, I've tried to make this unique and about me, but in the end I realized that you and I are quite similar Frankie, and I know that I'd much rather read my writing than someone else's anytime!

Whenever you feel down, remember my anthem and set your mind on what you feel like accomplishing.

Do it way big Frankie, I'm counting on you.

~LV, Puck


And then we wrestled for half an hour, strangling and whacking and kicking and smacking and pinching and smothering each other, until Puck broke a lightbulb and we just lay there on the floor among the shards of glass, sweaty and gasping in rhythm with each other.

...


Today didn't pass by so much as unspool, like a reel of film, soft and light and inevitable. We covered miles and miles of New York City, and the whole time just talking and talking and talking -- it doesn't even matter what we said, or how we veered from gossip to philosophy to pop culture to Madeleine L'Engle to teachers to academics to how The O.C. parallels Wuthering Heights. We just never shut up, we never could when we were together, it's always a constant stream of chatter. We met at the Urban Outfitters on 14th and 6th, and then we walked from there to the American Apparel store in Soho, and then we had lunch at the falafel store on St. Mark's place, eating our falafel sandwiches in the cool, dark little harem of a back room.

"My roommate's name is Hye," I told him.

"What about Shapiro?" he asked.

"She doesn't have a roommate. She got a single."

"Oh, that's too bad."

"No, it's good. She'd be a terrible roommate."

"Really? I'd have thought she'd be a great roommate, always cleaning up and organizing."

"No, she raids the cabinet in the middle of the night and leaves crumbs and chewed-up toothpicks all over the floor and makes paper airplanes out of magazine fallout and eats an entire bag of cookies and then puts the empty bag back into the cabinet."

"Jesus! Why?"

"She's...a very nervous person."

"Oh, nervous people are the worst," interjected the fat mustachioed middle-aged guy sitting next to us, as if he'd been part of this conversation all along. "I should know. I've known my share of nervous people."

"It's true," I told the guy. "But they can be pretty cool, too. This girl is, anyway."

"According to the Tibetan mystics," said the guy, "there are three categories of negative personality. One is fugitive emotions -- that's when you're always running away from something. You're not necessarily running away from anything, but you're running away from something -- know what I mean?"

"Yeah," I said. "What's the second category?"

"That's a primitive view of reality."

"What's the third?" asked Puck.

"The third is conflicting emotions. That's when you want to do this, but you also want to do that -- know what I mean?"

"You have a primitive view of reality," I told Puck.

"Yeah, probably," he said, grinning.

"What am I?" I asked him.

He considered. "You don't have fugitive emotions. I think you're probably the same as me."

"Are you an actor?" asked the man.

"Yeah," said Puck. "So's she."

"I'm an acting teacher," said the man. "So I know. Tough luck, kids."

"I liked that guy," said Puck as we walked out.

Then he and I walked to Greenwich Avenue and 11th Street to a lovely little upstairs café, quiet and deserted with a full view of the street, and we spied on passing hipsters and their dogs, and we gossiped while he had an iced chai tea and I drank Earl Gray and ate coconut sorbet. Then we had to go to the bathroom, so of course we did what we always did when we had to go to the bathroom: we snuck into the chic, gorgeous bathroom in the lobby of the Hotel Gansevoort. Back on the street, he showed me how I could make myself cry convincingly by spreading stinging beeswax lip balm under my eyes. Then we browsed the trendy mink-lined shops of the meatpacking district, and then we explored that cold kooky museum of overpriced couture that is the Comme des Garçons store (to which I had first introduced him), and then he realized that he'd lost the clothes he'd bought at American Apparel, so we hopped into a cab and retraced our steps, only to wind up exactly where we'd started: at the border of Chelsea and the West Village.

We stood there, dusk falling as it dawned on us.

Then Puck spoke: "What should we do now?"

"I don't know," I said, and I didn't.

"Let's do something really romantic," he said. "In our neighborhood."

We began to walk. There was a pause.

"I mean my neighborhood," he added, but he'd said it and he knew it, and we smiled at each other. I took his hand.

"I'm going to miss you," he said.

"I'm going to miss you too," I said. "I mean, I'll get over it, of course -- but the initial shock is really going to hurt."

"There won't be initial shock for me," he said thoughtfully. "I'll just be going along like usual, and the days will go by...and then one day I'll make a joke, and no one will laugh at it, and I'll think, Frankie would have gotten that..." Pause. "Because it wasn't funny...I know where we're going now, by the way."

"Where?"

"You'll see."

He took us to the scuzzy Duane Reade on Seventh Avenue, where we spent the next half hour or so playing hide-and-seek tag amongst the shelves of merchandise.

And then it was time for him to go home, so we walked very slowly back to 12th Street.

"You can come up to this crack in the sidewalk today," he said generously.

"Really?" Usually he doesn't let me get any closer to his building than the manhole covering on the corner. "Gee," I wisecracked, "I should leave for college every day."

"No!" he giggled.

We stood on the sidewalk crack and hugged. "Have a great year at college, Frankie--"

"--have a great junior year at school--"

"--and good luck, and write me e-mails--"

"--I'll blog about you--"

"--thanks -- and please bring my gift with you to college--"

"--oh, of course -- I love it so much--"

"--and I'll talk to you online--"

"--give my regards to your mother--"

"--and I'll see you when you come back."

"I love you, Doug."

"Love you too, Frankie."

We parted, and as I walked home I thought: If I cried now my tears would probably sting like beeswax. But I didn't cry. I was happy.

And I was ready.


7/24/2005
avenueF
Rose-Colored Times
Below, in no particular order: a series of vignettes from the past week or so.

***

Shapiro: "So, when are you leaving for California?"
Me: [mumbles]
Shapiro: "What?"
Me: "August 5th."
Shapiro: "What? Dude, that's--"
Me: "Bitch, don't even."

***

Family Friend #1: "California, huh? That sure is far away."
Me: "Yes, I know."
Family Friend #1: "So, are you excited about college?"
Me: "Oh, yes."

***

Rie and Puck pay me a surprise visit at the video store.

"Let's watch Zoolander on the monitor!" suggests Puck, and since it's a slow Monday and absolutely nothing else is going on, I say sure. I put the DVD on.

"Hey, Frankie," says Rie as we watch the movie, "do you want to come with us and a bunch of other people to that screening of Jaws in Bryant Park?"

"I can't," I say. "I'll already be in California by then."

"Really?" says Puck. "When are you leaving?"

I mumble.

"What?"

"August 5th."

"What?"

He is weirdly nasty to me for the rest of the day.

***

Puck's pet project this summer is to transform Shapiro into Lil' Kim. So Shapiro and I had been eagerly researching Lil' Kim for several weeks when the news broke that she had been imprisoned for perjury. That sealed it: we're now fans for life.

We all have different favorite songs. Puck declares: " 'Doin' It Way Big' is our mothafuckin' anthem." (That is, his and Moonshine's.) We can all recite along to it by now:

My bathroom is Chanel, my bedroom Louis Vuitton,
And office decorated in Ralph Lauren,
I got a Versace couch and pillows I sleep on
With the matchin' robe and slippers -- I beg to differ --
La Perla lingerie, 'cuz it fits my body
Get with us, we know how to throw a party
And you can't get in without a Queen Bee members-only jacket that reads:
"Doin' it way big!"


Shapiro is partial to "Suck My Dick." She and I like to act out the chorus:

"Come here, bitch."
"Nigga, fuck you!"
"Fuck YOU, bitch!"
"Who ya talkin' to?"
"Why ya actin' like a bitch!"
" 'Cuz y'all niggas ain't shit! Man, if I was a dude,
I'd tell y'all to SUCK MY DICK!"


But whenever I get anxious, I just close my eyes and call to mind Kim's voice in "Big Momma Thang," snarling over and over again:

You wanna be this Queen Bee that you can't be!
That's why you're mad at me!


Puck floods my e-mail inbox with Kim quotes ("Roll some weed with some tissue and close your eyes / Then imagine your tongue in between my thighs") and I respond with a dissertation:

See, it's because of quotes like this that I think Lil' Kim should be a feminist icon. A lot of people don't like rap because they think it portrays women as vapid sex objects, but Kim turns that around -- she turns the men into her own sex objects! Female sexual pleasure is such a taboo subject, and most girls wouldn't be caught dead admitting that they jerk off, but "Kim likes to play wit her coochie when she up in the tub."

And I listen and listen and listen, and at some point I realize what draws me to her: even when she's rapping about clothes and money and cunnilingus, there's so much pain in her voice. For whatever reason, she's the Billie Holiday of hip-hop.

***

Family Friend #2: "So, are you excited about college?"
Me: "Eh."

***

LK hosts a dinner party for me and Puck and Shapiro. She cooks pasta with sausage sauce and green salad and bread and butter and a fruit salad, and afterward, Puck puts on music from his iPod. "Guess what this is," he says, choosing a song. I listen. It's the "Tango: Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge. He grabs Shapiro and spins me and the three of us tango all over LK's apartment, singing along: You're free to leave me, but just don't deceive me, and please, believe me when I say I love you...

***

His other pet project for the summer, he has decided, is to turn me into a denim maven. He takes me to the Soho Bloomingdales and gives me a full tutorial in designer jeans. By the end of the day, I'm in awe: it's like he's taught me a whole secret language, like I've cracked the hieroglyphics of the denim Rosetta Stone. Did you know that each line of designer denim has its own unique symbol stitched onto the back pocket? Levis have a seagull shape; Citizens Of Humanity has a loopy W; Seven has a straight line with a curl; Antik has an intricate symmetrical design; PaperDenim has a swoosh; G-Star has a horizontal line that reaches only halfway across the pocket; True Religion has a horseshoe; Rock And Republic has an abstract capital R that looks like a hammer and sickle, and Victoria Beckham For Rock And Republic has a crown.

I walk down the street and glance at people's back pockets, and it's like I can read into their souls.

Me: "Look, that girl over there is dressed all bohemian and alternative, but she can't fool me -- she's wearing Citizens! She must be rich!"
My mom: "Mmm."
Me: "And that fat girl, she's wearing Seven For All Mankind, which are supposed to flatter every body type. She must be insecure enough to spend a lot of money to look thinner, but she can't fool me."
Mama: "Okay."
Me: "That guy is wearing G-Stars. That figures -- he's black."
Mama: "Stop it!"
[Pause.]
Me: "Ooh, she's wearing True Religions! That means--"
Mama: "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!!!"

***

One of our wrestling matches got out of hand, and Puck tore my little denim dress.

***

We go to Chanel and Guess and Barney's Co-Op and Comme des Garçons and Century 21. We play hide-and-seek in the Food Emporium. We eat at upscale Italian restaurants. We ride the water taxi to South Street Seaport. We go to Sepphora and have a perfume fight in the perfume aisle, sneaking up on each other and spraying each other with the free samples until we're all dripping with chemicals and reeking to high heaven -- I call it "Cologne Wars" (like Clone Wars -- get it?) and think I'm terribly witty, but no one else cares. We plan a black-tie affair at my mom's house, catered by the Second Avenue Deli. We make a date to see the terrible-looking Rent movie on Thanksgiving.

***

I wrote a villanelle.

***

Family Friend #3: "So, are you excited about college?"
Me: "No."

***

After Puck and LK and Shapiro and Rie and I go to see The Wedding Crashers, they suggest we go out to dinner.

"I can't," I say. "I promised my dad I'd have dinner with him tonight."

"Oh, come on," they say.

"I promised," I say, "and anyway, I'm out of money."

"Well, then," says Puck, bitchily, "we're going to have dinner without you."

"Walk with me, at least," I plead.

So we walk downtown, through Times Square. They can't decide on a restaurant, and as I walk with them, they fall into our old pattern: "Let's go there!" "Ew, are you crazy? Let's go here!" "That's way too expensive -- how about this place?" "I hate that place. How about that one? It looks nouveau-chic." I'm listening only vaguely. I miss my dad, and at the same time I want this moment to last forever.

"Frankie," LK finally says, "you know I love holding your hand, but...it's getting kind of sweaty."

"Oh!" I let go. "Sorry."

"It's going to be okay, you know," she says gently. "We'll both be in L.A., remember? I'll visit you all the time."

"Of course," I say. "I know. I know."

Finally they all stop in front of Lindy's. "How about this place?" says Rie. The girls agree and look at Puck. He sighs. "Fine," he says. "Lindy's. Whatever."

"Well," I say, "...I guess I'll see you guys later."

Rie comes up to me and gives me a goodbye kiss. Then LK comes up to me and gives me a goodbye kiss. Then Shapiro comes up to me and we tap our fists together. Then everyone looks expectantly at Puck. He's just standing there, looking at me with an unreadable expression on his face.

"Come on, Puck," says LK, "at least say goodbye to her!"

He doesn't move. He's just standing there looking at me and I can't tell what he's thinking.

"Okay, then," says Rie, "we'll be waiting inside the restaurant, Puck."

The girls turn around and go into the restaurant. Puck watches them leave. As soon as they're out of sight, he turns around and, wordlessly, we just start walking.

Quietly, in the dark, down Seventh Avenue, for thirty blocks, we walk each other all the way home.

***

Every night, I lie awake worrying.


7/20/2005
avenueF
Our Rich Cultural Heritage
[SCENE: Friday afternoon, July 15th, Sixth Avenue in the West Village. Frankie, Puck, and Shapiro have just seen and enjoyed "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"; gone to the Guess store in Soho where Puck bought a necklace; sat on the Union Square steps and re-enacted the Katie Holmes interview in "W" magazine with Frankie as Katie Holmes, Puck as the interviewer, and Shapiro as Jessica Rodriguez, Ms. Holmes's new Scientologist best friend. Now, as they make their way back home, Shapiro -- who has been speaking on her cell phone -- hangs up.]
Frankie: "Who was that?"
Shapiro: "That was my sister. She wants me to come over so we can stand in line outside the bookstore until midnight, when they release the new Harry Potter book."
Frankie: "Ooh, can I come?"
Puck [whirling on Frankie, horrified]: "You like Harry Potter?"
Frankie: "I do."
Puck: "Ew! Oh, Frankie, I thought you were better than that! I thought you liked literature!"
Frankie: "I do like literature. I also like Harry Potter. Just as I go to see art films, and I also go to see Spider-Man. They aren't mutually exclusive, you know."
Puck: "But Harry Potter is so stupid! It sucks that the only book that gets American kids to read, is a book that doesn't teach you any words except, like, 'persniphelophagus,' which means, like, 'a flying lizard with the head of a pony that shoots fire out of its brain.'"
Shapiro: "That's not a real Harry Potter word."
Puck: "Whatever, Tronic. The point is, the Harry Potter books are so mindless, and mainstream, and designed to appeal to the masses, and filled with clichés--"
Frankie [to Shapiro, indicating Puck]: "This, coming from the fellow who went to see Monster-in-Law the day it opened."
Puck [blushing]: "Well...I was bored! Do you read Harry Potter because you're bored?"
Frankie: "Sure."
Puck: "Well...then...you should go see Monster-in-Law."

Despite this conversation, I bought Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the day it was released, finished reading it within 48 hours of buying it, and was on the Internet discussing it within ten seconds of finishing it -- just like everybody else in the world. I don't care what Puck says: I love being part of the masses for once. In a world torn apart by differences in race, class, religion, politics, sexuality, language, and generation, it's beautiful and miraculous that one thing (even if it is a poorly edited and cliché-ridden thing) can bring us all (except Puck) together.

I counted at least three people reading it yesterday -- an old white man on the subway platform, a middle-aged Asian woman on the train, and a young black woman on a park bench.

Last night, I was walking the dog, and I noticed a light on in the ground-floor window of somebody's room. Being the snoop that I am, I peered inside. It was a little boy, lying quietly on his bed, immersed in Harry Potter -- and he was almost finished with it.

This morning, I saw a homeless man sitting on the curb under a shady scaffolding and reading it.

And check out this sweet paparazzi photo of newlyweds Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. Yes, Ben Affleck is reading Harry Potter!

At this point, the actual content of the book is beside the point. No book will ever have this kind of unifying effect again. I'm just grateful that I was alive to experience it firsthand.

Meanwhile, on a related note, here's another excerpt from my fifth-grade journal. Frankie, age ten:

1/13/98
I've just discovered the Spice Girls, and now I'm a Spice Girls freak. I think that their music is just so totally awesome. My favorite song of theirs, of course, is their hit song, "Wannabe." It's so bright and colorful. My mom thinks that modern pop songs are really boring because the background music never changes, but I just know that she'd like the Spice Girls, if she gave them a chance, because of the variation. If only I could get her to listen to "Wannabe"!


So, having just acquired a free iPod, I've been downloading all my old favorite songs on iTunes. After I'd cluttered up my hard drive with the complete oeuvres of Britney Spears, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Gwen Stefani, and Lil' Kim, I secretly downloaded "Wannabe" and then called my mom into the room.

"Hey, Mama," I said, "stand right there and listen to this."

I turned the volume on my laptop all the way up, then began to play "Wannabe."

"What's this?" asked my mom.

"Just listen," I said.

She listened. "Oh, wow!" she said. "This song is great! What is it?"

"Just listen," I said.

She listened some more. "I love it!" she said, beginning to dance along a little. "It's so bright and colorful, and energetic. But what is it?"

I just smiled to myself.

The song finally ended. "That was terrific!" she said. "It had such variation! Come on, tell me who it was."

It took eight years, but I did it!


7/14/2005
avenueF
Who's Afraid of the Start of School?
I am, George...I am.

Last night I had, I think, my first college-anxiety dream. On the surface, it was a fairly typical and likely-to-happen-to-me scenario: I couldn't find the dining hall and got lost on campus.

It was the first day of school, and I was trying to find the dining hall. I noticed that some guy was going there too, so I figured I could find it if I just followed him. But I soon lost him and had to find my own way.

I walked down a winding dirt path lined with scrubby little desert pine trees -- the kind that grow all over in southern California. So far, so good. But as I walked, the path got twistier and wider and steeper. I kept walking uphill, certain that it would lead eventually to the dining hall.

I walked up and up and up. The trees became a wild green forest; the atmosphere turned thin and cold and mountainous. The path kept breaking off into lots of different little paths, and I kept getting confused as to which one I should take. The area was wilderness, absolutely uninhabited, except for me.

Suddenly, I ran into Katie Holmes. (Click on the link and read the article before you go on.)

"Katie Holmes!" I cried out, relieved to see someone, but knowing full well that she would be no help. "I'm lost -- how do I get to the dining hall?"

"I love Tom Cruise," she parroted, her eyes glazed and unfocused as usual. "He's the man of my dreams."

"Which path should I take, Katie?"

"Tom is amazing. He's just an exceptional person, and he's so generous and he makes me laugh."

"Katie, where are we?"

"I'm just so happy. Tom is the most incredible man in the world. I love him," she intoned, and wandered off the path and into the forest.

I sighed; I'd expected as much. I walked on alone.

As I walked and walked, the trees started to thin out, and I started to notice patches of snow on the ground. Before I knew it, I was up to my waist in snow -- snow was everywhere, deep wet white snow as far as the eye could see. I had reached the top of the mountain and there was nothing but snow-capped peaks for miles around.

Finally I came upon a ski lift. I called up to someone riding in it, "How do I get to the dining hall?"

"You've gone the wrong way!" the person called back down. "Grab on to the lift and it'll take you back where you should be!"

So I jumped up, grabbed hold of one of the chairs on the lift, and dangled precariously as the lift carried me across the mountains. I clung to the chair as hard as I could, but eventually, my grasp slipped and I fell screaming, down, down, down...

I landed with a splash in the raging whitewater rapids of a river. I tried to swim to safety, but the river was too strong for me, and it carried me along. "Look out!" I heard someone call out. "You're about to be attacked by barracudas!" I looked around frantically for help, but the only person I saw was a young Judy Garland, and I knew I couldn't trust her, because she took drugs.

I washed up on a scary junkyard of rusty scrap metal. I saw an old man and asked him, "How do I get to the dining hall?"

"That's easy," he said. "You just have to build a raft out of sticks. The raft will take you right to the dining hall." He pointed to a pile of sticks. Since I had no choice, I began gathering sticks. I built a crappy little raft that wouldn't have stayed intact in a pond, and then I set sail...

...into the Pacific Ocean. It was a huge motherfucking ocean, filled with fifty-foot tidal waves that would have been too strong even for the Titanic. I paddled futilely as a giant monstrosity of a wave formed above me, towering over me, threatening to crash down at any second and crush me and drown me...

And then I woke up.


6/29/2005
avenueF
A Thousand Words
avenueF is wordy. There's no doubt about that. It's definitely the wordiest blog kept in my social circle. Words come in very handy when I want to set the scenes and develop my characters. Last Wednesday, for example. Scenes: Sushi Samba, the streets of Chelsea, the Hudson River. Characters: Puck, LK, and me. Expensive cilantro-miso soup and tuna sashimi in the expensive cool green-lit ambiance. Walking in the sunshine in our sunglasses -- mine pink, his black, hers paparazzi-fleeing movie-star huge. LK's photographing arm is reflected in my pink sunglasses; his wrist droops so elegantly, and he's pouting and sullen because he's afraid that people will think we're tourists; LK's lips are parted sensually, and she looks like an alabaster swan, and the entire city is reflected in her movie-star sunglasses. Taking off our shoes and playing tag on the wet lawn by the Perry Street Pier of the Hudson River. Collapsing onto the grass for ménage à trois sur le plume -- urban and pastoral, rolling around in Impressionistic bliss. Lying upon each other, gazing across the Hudson River at the dark green-gray-black storm clouds gathering over New Jersey, and counting the forks of streak lightning, watching as they draw closer and closer until crack! the skies open up and rain pours down, soaking us, the wind snarling up our wet hair. Puck wrapping himself in LK's orange cardigan that belonged to her grandmother, me shivering in a light vintage dress, LK struggling with a canary-yellow umbrella. Les paraplouies de Chelsea Piers: the yellow umbrella blows away in the wind and I run after it in my slippery wet zebra-print flip-flops, skidding through puddles, chasing the bright spot of color that always eludes my grasp by just a little. Puck laughs. I catch the umbrella and we huddle under it together and LK pulls out her camera.

I could describe all that. But why bother, when artistic LK photographed it?

Richard Avedon, eat your heart out. Click on them to enlarge them.

Here:



And here:




6/21/2005
avenueF
Terrific, Radiant, Humble
Yesterday, around noon, I was walking through Union Square in a fantastic mood. I had a date with LK for lunch and ice cream and shopping and gossip and all those happy summer girl things, and it was a gorgeous day, bright and breezy and not too hot, and I was deep in thought about the new script I'm working on. I was thinking about it so hard that it was in a sort of trance that I noticed, through my pink sunglasses, the man walking toward me from the other side of the park.

I noticed him because of his robe. It was long and flowing and very pale and faded, and through my pink lenses, I couldn't tell if it was orange or white or pink or what. I was trying to remember what an orange robe meant -- did the Hare Krishnas wear them, or did the Tibetan monks? Or were they the same thing? Or did they wear wheat-colored robes? No, those were the Buddhist monks in that inspirational novel The Holy Man, I was pretty sure. I hoped he was a Hare Krishna; I'd never seen one before, and I'd only ever read about them in Bee Season, by Myra Goldberg, which I'd loved.

And then, somehow, the man caught my eye. I'm not sure how he did it through my sunglasses, but he did it. He shuffled right up to me and said, "Excuse me, ma'am, may I ask you a few questions?"

"Sure," I said. He spoke with a slight Australian accent, and his skin was brown and leathery, but I couldn't tell what race he was because his head was shaven. He had a streak of yellow paint between his eyebrows.

"Where did you get that shirt?"

I looked down at my shirt. It's just one of my regular shirts, the tight black sleeveless shirt that has the words "WONDERFUL FAIRY" sewn on in white beads, although the strap of my shoulder bag was covering up the words at that moment.

"I got it in Italy," I told him. "A few years ago. I don't know what it means, why it says Wonderful Fairy, but I thought it was funny, so I bought it."

"How did you get to be so humble?" he asked.

I stared. "Excuse me?"

"I'm a wandering monk," he explained. "I read auras and things like that, and I had to come over and talk to you because you are one of the most humble people I have ever seen. How did you get to be so tolerant?"

I was so surprised I started laughing. "No one has ever called me humble before," I said. "I've gotten 'snotty,' 'catty,' 'self-absorbed'--"

"Who would say such a thing?" he demanded, appalled. "I'd like to have a word with them!"

"Girls, mostly," I said. "You know how it is."

"Well," he said, "it's not true. I could tell right away that you had an enlightened soul. What are you doing in your life right now?"

"I just graduated high school," I said, "and this fall I'm going to the University of Southern California." I felt surprisingly relaxed, talking to him. It was a beautiful day and I didn't have to meet LK for another ten minutes.

"Congratulations!" he said, and shook my hand. "What will you study?"

"Film."

"You want to be an actress?"

"No," I said, "probably a director."

"And a writer?"

"Yeah, definitely."

"I'm a writer too," he said. He opened up this beautiful silk-embroidered satchel that he was holding (it seemed to be endlessly deep, like Mary Poppins's handbag) and pulled out a little paperback book. "I just wrote this book of recipes, but it's not just a cookbook -- it's also a guide to meditation, and cooking for a higher purpose. Can you read English?"

"Yes," I said.

"Good. Parts of it are in ancient Sanskrit, too." He opened up the book and showed me a picture of an old man. "That's Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, my spiritual grandfather," he said. Then he flipped to a glossy color illustration in the center of the book. "That's the Lord Krishna," he said.

I looked at the picture. It looked like this. Krishna was the most beautiful deity I'd ever seen -- all silvery-blue and androgynous and glowing and holding a fawn in his arms. Below the picture was an inscription: "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." --Bhagavad-gita (9.26)

"Do you believe that animals have souls?" the man asked me.

"Yes," I said.

"So, then, they have the same basic right to life as we do?"

"Of course."

"Ah! but then why do we slaughter and eat them?"

"Well," I said, "why do they slaughter and eat each other? For the same reason. It's just natural."

"It's natural for them," he said, "but not for us. We have the responsibility to protect them. Now," he said, opening his bag, "here's another book about meditation through yoga."

"Ooh," I said, "I'm very interested in yoga."

He smiled. "What an inquisitive mind you have! That's why you're going to be a great filmmaker. You must have had a wonderful upbringing."

"My family is pretty great," I agreed.

He showed me some more of his books. "I give these away freely," he said, "but I usually ask for a donation."

"I'll buy The Higher Taste," I said, anticipating what LK would say when she saw it; she's a real foodie, plus she took an Eastern Religions class this past fall. "How much do you want for it?"

I gave him a five-dollar bill. He put it in his satchel and saluted me. "Hare Krishna," he said. "Can you say that?"

"Hare Krishna," I tried, but it didn't sound right.

"Thank you for your donation," he said, "and give my regards to your family!"

As we parted ways, I felt fresh and innocent like I'd been reborn. I wondered what about me had struck him as humble. I would never in a million years have described myself that way, but maybe -- with his Hare Krishna powers -- he saw in me something that I didn't know was there. Well, from now on, I would try to live that way. I would start, I decided, by writing that new screenplay. I'd been thinking about it when he spotted me, so it was logical that it must have had a good effect on my soul.

I spent the whole day with LK. We walked through Washington Square Park, ate two-dollar falafel in the East Village (I don't usually like falafel, but I gave it another try that day, and I was surprised by how good it was), ran through the sprinklers in a children's playground, looked at cheap clothes and jewelry for sale on the street, ran into our old English teacher Mr. Singer on the street and chatted with him, walked back to Chelsea, and wound up sitting at an outdoor table at the Eros Café where we each had a strawberry ice cream soda with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

When we went back to my house, LK announced to my mom, "Frankie got accosted by a Hare Krishna!"

"Yeah," I said, and told my mom the story. "...And then," I was saying, "he said, What an inquisitive mind you have! You must have had a wonderful upbringing."

My mom laughed. "Well," she said, "at least he got one thing right."

"One thing?" I said. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, come on," she said. "You? Humble? Not in a million years!"

My face fell. "But -- but he said I was humble--"

"That was just a good pickup line," she said. "And it worked, didn't it? You bought his book."

I had the vague sense that LK was laughing at me too. I wondered if she'd reacted the same way when I first told her, and was just too polite to show it. I didn't know what to say. "I -- I made a donation for his book--"

My gave me a curious look. "You didn't actually take his compliments seriously, did you?"'

"But -- Union Square was so crowded -- and he came over just to talk to me--"

"Well, you made eye contact with him."

"But I was wearing my SUNGLASSES!" And with that I turned and fled into my room. I was so tired. I flopped down on my bed and wondered if I could fit in a nap before work.

Don't listen to your mom, I said in my head. He's a wandering monk. He can read auras. He looked into your soul and saw that you were a good person.

Oh, please,
said another voice in my head. Who are you going to believe -- this random guy, or your own mother?

What does it say about you,
said a third voice, that even your own mother just laughs at the notion that you could be a good person?

Then my mom came in and sat down on my bed next to me and asked, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I mumbled. "I'm just tired."

She smoothed my hair. "You're not okay. I really hurt your feelings, didn't I?"

I didn't say anything. I knew she hadn't meant to hurt my feelings, but there was nothing she could do now. She had planted the seed in my head that I'd been tricked, and I felt like such an idiot. I went to work that evening with tears in my eyes.

When I got home from work, I saw that she'd sent me an e-mail.

Frankie, I'm so sorry I could cry. I took all your sunshine away this afternoon, and in so doing I took all mine away as well. I hope you really do understand that I made an honest mistake. I thought you were telling me the story to make fun of the hare krishna guy. I didn't realize you were really touched by what he said, and that that was why you bought his book. I thought you were sort of goofing on the whole thing.

I only made matters worse by trying to explain why I thought his calling you humble wasn't exactly on the mark. Do you really aspire to being a humble person? I thought you were sort of proud of being proud. Which is a fine thing to be. Anyway humility is just something that comes along with the process of living, if the process goes a certain way. It's not something we can decide to be or attain. I think about this a lot. The minute we aspire to humility, we've committed the sin of pride. It's like trying to see that nearly invisible star in the Big Dipper: you can't look at it directly or you've lost it.

Anyway, I'm very sorry that I hurt your feelings. I hope you'll forgive me -- and that we can keep our 11:00 appointment on the couch.

L,M.


6/18/2005
avenueF
DVD Killed the Video Store
That's my belabored play on the song title "Video Killed the Radio Star." It's true, too: when it comes to renting, I'll always prefer DVD to VHS, but at work my heart belongs to VHS. DVD has pretty much replaced VHS for new releases these days (because really, why rent a video when you can rent a DVD?), so we have a finite and unchanging number of videotapes in the back shelves, and there's a place for all of them. Whereas we have so many DVDs, and we just keep getting more and more of them every day, and they're all crammed in there together and falling off the shelves and scattered all over the floor. My cuticles have been pushed way back from trying to shove DVDs into the shelf, and even so, 2001: A Space Odyssey sticks out of the shelf like a mailbox flag. We have officially run out of space for DVDs whose titles begin with S, mostly thanks to Star Wars and Six Feet Under and The Sopranos and Sex and the City. I'm asked to shelve Sling Blade, and I don't even bother trying to see if it'll fit in the shelf; I just toss it onto the floor.

"You know, guys," I finally exploded during my first day on the job, "denying you have a space problem won't make the problem go away!"

Alan laughed delightedly. "I knew I hired this girl for a reason," he said.

Alan is amazing. His encyclopedic knowledge of movies borders on the savant (once, when it was my turn to choose the movie that played on the monitor, I put The World of Henry Orient into the VCR without telling anyone -- and instantly, as the opening credits began, Alan called out, "The World of Henry Orient!"), but he's hardly a nerd; he's like a father to everyone who works in his store. Sometimes people come into the video store just to chat with him. On my first day, this old woman came in and said: "Alan, I've been trying to find this great movie I saw on TV back in the seventies. I think it was called The Super."

"Hmm," said Alan. "Was it a comedy?"

"No, it was a drama," said the woman. "It was really good."

"I think I know what you're talking about," said Alan. "Wasn't Louis Gossett in it?"

"That sounds right," said the woman.

"And Martin Sheen," said Alan. "Didn't it have Martin Sheen?"

"Yes," said the woman, "yes, I think it did!"

Alan looked it up on the computer and confirmed: "The Guardian, 1984, made for TV, starring Martin Sheen and Louis Gossett. I used to have a videotape of it. I wish I still did."

"Oh, that's all right," said the woman. "I didn't want to rent it; I just wanted to see if you'd heard of it, because nobody else has. Isn't it a wonderful movie?" And with that, she walked out.

Another time, early one morning, an old man shuffled in and said to Alan, "I just wanted to tell you that my wife died this morning. She had lymphoma." Alan looked deeply upset, and while he was commiserating, the phone rang. I figured it was up to me to answer it. I picked it up.

"Hello, Alan's Alley Video," I said, feeling really cool.

"Hey," said a young female voice, "can I talk to Alan?"

"Um," I said, "he's kind of deep in conversation with someone--"

"Yeah, but this is his daughter, and it's like urgent!"

Luckily the old man left before I had to prioritize the grieving widow and the frantic daughter. It turned out that the latter was calling from France; she needed her dad to send Raisinets and everything-bagels, stat.

Most of my workday is spent not with Alan but with Ryan, the red-haired bespectacled grad-studenty guy who knew my name from all the times I came in to rent Wet Hot American Summer. I admit that it is a little disappointing to discover that Ryan knows every regular customer's name -- not just mine. But he's been working there forever, so he knows everything there is to know about the place, which is pretty intimidating. I am utterly dependent on him to teach me how to do everything I have to do -- find titles, shelve videos, charge rentals, confirm returns, get late fees, bill credit cards, send faxes, receive faxes, make reservations, file receipts, answer the phone, go to the bank, rewind tapes, clean DVDs, even figure out when my lunch break is. Every second of the day is a new opportunity for me to pull a Terri Schiavo, and he makes no secret of his disdain. He actually reminds me of Bram, in that I think he secretly likes surrounding himself with people who are less cool than he is. It makes him feel superior.

Still, we're bonding. We discovered on Thursday that we both hate What the Bleep Do We Know?, we both love Saved!, and we both think that Tom Cruise's love affair with Katie Holmes is a calculated Scientologist publicity stunt. I think the ice officially broke when a kid -- maybe seventh grade -- walked in and asked me, "Do you have Charly?"

"How are you spelling that?" I asked, professionally.

"C-H-A-R-I-E, I think," he said. "It's based on a book."

"Oh!" I said, suddenly realizing. "You mean that movie about the retard who becomes smart?"

Ryan overheard me and burst out laughing so hard, I thought he was going to choke. It was a real accomplishment; I'd never seen him break his stony facade before.

"Yeah," said the kid, relieved that I knew what he was talking about. "My teacher is making me rent it."

"So," Ryan asked him, "you're reading Flowers in the Attic at school?"

Now it was my turn to crack up. "Flowers for Algernon!" I corrected him. "Flowers in the Attic is that V.C. Andrews novel about incest."

"Oh, whatever," said Ryan.

Mostly, though, I alphabetize. I've been alphabetizing a lot of gay porn (this is Chelsea), and often I find myself agonizing over whether Bi Sex Revenge precedes Bisexual Rampage alphabetically -- obviously I don't really want to ask. I hope that I'll eventually become comfortable with shelving titles like I Wanna Be Your Anal Whore and Raw Meat and Cumsuckers Part II, but I wish that all titles possessed the whimsy of Nacho: Latin Psycho! and To Bi or Not To Bi and Mutiny on the Bounty (yes, the porn version). There's something so intimate about shelving returned porn DVDs; I now know the names of the renters, and even though I've never met them, I know what kind of porn they like. It's deliciously voyeuristic.

Also: Hey, Ethan Hawke, if you're reading this -- it's high time you returned those videos. Just because you're famous doesn't mean you're exempt from late fees.


6/13/2005
avenueF
Nesting dolls
Graduation is at six o'clock tonight. This is the last entry I'll ever write as a high school student.

I'm not sad. I've done everything I wanted to do -- learned French, read Hamlet, had a boyfriend, laughed with my friends, fought with my enemies, starred in a musical, made a movie, been a local celebrity. Now I'm going to work at the video store, like Tarantino, and then I'm going to study film in California. How could I be sad?

Here's what it says about me in the yearbook:

FRANKIE
Quote: "Gee, I guess I'm a transvestite!"
Dream: Great American Novel.
Reality: avenueF.blogspot.com
Prediction: Goes to Hollywood.


Here are some of the yearbook signatures I've gotten:

Dear Frankie,
Sing high, sing beautiful! Your dry humor never ceases to make me laugh. I have no doubt that you will indeed become one of the most important directors of our age!
Love,
[Wonder Boy]

Frankie,
Of all your various talents, I think the most notable is that you are always able to get attention -- with your writing, your humor, your blog. It is nearly impossible to ignore you, and for this I admire and envy you. I'm sure you'll succeed at whatever you attempt -- and yay for the Lit Mag!
Love,
Martha

Franks,
you totally rock my world! Holy Trinity of Musical Theatre forever! I mean, 4 EVA!!1ONE!!1ELEVEN! Thank you so much for Double Negative -- it really meant a lot to me. Recall (ha ha, RIE-call) good ol' Rocky in the days of yore. Invite me to L.A., slut. Bye sex!
--Rie

Franksadanksa,
You are a truly unique and amazing (and I realize this is cliché) woman. I must admit I am slightly intimidated writing in a writer's yearbook. Anyway I will miss you greatly in the musical and in Jazz Vocals! I love you Frankie you are my idoless.
--Maddy (the brassy curly haired junior)

Franks, I've loved you and hated you, we both know, but I want to take this time to tell you that I admire you. The way you've persued your interest in writing and developed your talent is amazing. The way you seem never to care about criticism or other people's negative comments always blows me away. It was an honor to get to know you, because so few people do. Getting invited to your house and to Rocky just made me feel special. You certainly don't need luck in whatever you do in the future so I'll send you off w/ love, respect and admiration
[heart] Tracy

Frankie,
What can I say? You're the crazy, androgynous, lispy, quirky, frantic, talented sister I never had. I absolutely loved "Double Neg" and I'll never forget it. This brings me to a story I meant to share with you. It's about a girl named Lucky and, rumor has it, she cries in her lonely heart...I forget the rest of it, but the moral is: don't be that bitch.
Love you Franksta,
[Lysander]

Dear Frankie,
You's a'ight, bitch.
Love ya,
[Puck]

Dear Franks,
I love you. It's an honor to have been in your movie and to be with you on stage. Love you, bitch,.
[Moonshine]

What more can I say? You're the man.
--Shapiro
P.S. J'adore.


(In Shapiro's yearbook, I wrote: "Without you, I would be like Terri Schiavo without her feeding tube." And it's true.)

And, finally, here's an e-mail I wrote to Abigail today:

Traditionally, on the last day of school, the Friends Seminary students gather for a big Silent Meeting. Every now and then, during this silence, if a student is moved to do so, she will stand up and speak out into the silence. Usually on the last day lots of people pop up and speak out tearfully. On Friday, Claudia rose to speak.

"I've been at Friends Seminary for thirteen years," she said. "I have so many memories -- I remember how shy I was on the first day of kindergarten. And I remember how, in the third grade, Amanda and I had a fight over a part in the class play. And I remember my three best friends in the fourth grade -- Martha, and Frankie, and Abigail. She doesn't go to Friends anymore, I wonder what happened to her."

You must understand that Claudia is not in my social circle, and hasn't been for years and years; I don't think I've exchanged a single word with her since the fifth grade.

Later on in that silent meeting, I stood up and said:

"I've been at Friends for thirteen years too, and I remember everything that Claudia was talking about -- it's funny, because I can't even remember the last time we spoke, and yet we have this history together. Claudia, if you'd like to know whatever happened to Abigail, I'll tell you afterwards. I'm still friends with her.
So it's been thirteen years, and I have a history with Claudia and with Martha and with all these other random people, and I feel like one of those Russian nesting dolls. You know, those things where there's a tiny little wooden doll, and it fits inside a bigger doll, and that one is inside an even bigger doll, and so on -- you know what I mean? -- and I feel like I'm made up of thirteen of them. At the very core is the little one -- that's kindergarten -- and then outside of that is the first-grade one, and so on, for thirteen layers, with senior year being the very biggest doll, and, well, I've been thinking about it and I didn't really know how to deal with it.
But yesterday, the last day of classes, I had an idea how to deal with it.
The chorus was meeting for the last time ever. We spent the period rehearsing the song we'll sing at graduation, and we finished the rehearsal, and we were all about to leave -- when suddenly, one of our wonderful freshman boys said out of nowhere, 'Let's sing '"The Heavens Are Telling!'"'
That's a piece we sang earlier this year, and haven't sung since December. But the accompanist went over to the piano anyway, and he played the intro, and we started to sing.
It's a huge piece, part of Haydn's Creation, and yet somehow we all remembered it. Yes, some of us were a little rusty, but we helped each other -- all these different people, from different grades, most of us not really friends outside of chorus -- and we were all listening to each other, and harmonizing with each other, and sometimes the notes clashed but in the next measure they resolved, and it sounded so amazingly beautiful!
If you've ever been in a chorus, you'll know that you never really forget a choral part, and I realized that decades from now, if we all got together again, we would still be able to sing '"The Heavens Are Telling'". And it would sound beautiful."

Afterward, Claudia came up to me, sobbing, and threw her arms around me and said, "Yes, I want to know! Tell me everything!"

"She goes to Smith now," I said. "She left UNIS a year early because she hated it there, but now she's having a good time at college. She cut her hair really short, she's experimenting with lesbianism, and she wants to be a landscape architect."

"Still tall?" sniffled Claudia.

"Yes," I said. "Still tall. And curvy."

L, F.


6/04/2005
avenueF
This Is Your Life!
Double Negative is finished. And in one week, high school will be finished, too.

I love how the two things are drawing to a close at the same time. Double Negative pretty much was high school for me -- it was inspired by my freshman year; I got the idea for it at the end of freshman year; I started writing it during sophomore year; I worked on it all throughout junior year, and then I spent my senior year polishing the script, casting it, shooting it, editing it, and -- now -- showing it. My school financed the project. The characters are based on my schoolmates and played by my schoolmates. The whole thing was shot and edited and shown at my school. I'll never be able to think of one without remembering the other. But that's the way it ought to be.

It all came together this week, just like a musical in dress rehearsals. On Tuesday, Shapiro and I selected the music for the montages and the credits. On Wednesday, we cleaned up the sound, created a seventeen-minute gag reel full of outtakes, and broke up the movie into twenty-five chapters for the scene selection on the DVD. On Thursday, we planned to burn a bunch of DVDs; but it took us about four hours to burn just one, so we were all like "Fuck this shit!" and we went on the Internet and within five minutes we had found a local service -- ScreamDVD -- that would do it for us professionally.

ScreamDVD operates from a cramped little fluorescent-glaring hole in the wall of a midtown office building. It took us quite a while to find it, but once we were there, we were welcomed by the three guys who ran it -- a slick and handsome but space-cadet-distracted middle-aged man; a stiff, humorless young computer nerd in emo glasses; and a cheerful young slacker-type who didn't even bother to get up off his sofa to greet us.

"What do you want the DVD label to say?" the slacker asked us, poised lazily to type it up on Photoshop.

"Double Negative," I said.

"That's all?" he said, typing.

"No, under that, in smaller letters -- Directed by Frankie Thomas. And then, under that, Produced by Laura Shapiro. And could you put it in Courier New, please?"

"Sure," he said, and he did. (Though I had to teach him how to spell "Laura.")

"How many do you want?" asked the stiff, humorless nerd as he turned on this impressive black wall of softly buzzing, high-tech DVD burning equipment.

"How much will it cost to make a hundred?" asked Shapiro.

"$4.75 a DVD for a hundred," he said. "$5.75 a DVD for fifty."

I did a quick mental calculation and said, "We'll take a hundred."

"Wait a minute," said the middle-aged man, turning around from his computer. "Are you two students?"

"Yes," I said, "this is my senior project."

"Hey, why didn't you say so?" he exclaimed, spinning around vaguely in his office chair. "We always give a discount to students. For you it's $4 a DVD, instead of $4.75. And how are you paying for this?"

"Cash," I said; once again, I'd dipped into my own personal life savings for this.

"Then I won't even tax you!" he said. "Come back in an hour and we'll have these ready for you."

It was a deus-ex-machina (and wacky New York independent communications office) straight out of Double Negative.

From that point on, we were all business. For the first time, there were no creative or artistic decisions to be made: we were focused entirely on the financial aspects of filmmaking. The next morning we set up shop in the school lobby, set out a pile of freshly burned and neatly labelled DVDs, and called out to passing students and teachers: "DVDs for five dollars! That's right -- for just five dollars, you can own your very own copy of Double Negative! Plus, the DVD contains a seventeen-minute gag reel that we won't be screening at the premiere! Only those who own the DVD get to see the gag reel, and for such a reasonable price! And we'll throw in a free cookie!"

We sold to teachers and students and parents, but I understand now why advertisers target children. The biggest demographic of our market turned out to be sixth-graders; they're so suggestible that if they have the money, they'll buy anything. We were so intent on selling that it wasn't until hours later that it occurred to us that the language and content of Double Negative might not be entirely appropriate for an eleven-year-old. Oh well: caveat emptor.

Standing beside us for much of the day was Bram, my tenth-grade history teacher (and current history teacher to tenth-graders Puck, Oona, and Veronica). If you look up "New York hipster" in the dictionary, you will probably find a digital glamour-shot of Bram. There is not a single aspect of Bram that is not ironic, from his ironic slogan T-shirts to his ironic plastic-framed glasses, which he purchased ironically at WalMart (he told me). Last year he grew an ironic porn-star mustache, and when I was in the tenth grade he even sported ironic trucker hats, but of course he ceased wearing them when they ceased to be hip. He is so very hip that when he talks, he mumbles sarcastically, almost without moving his mouth, as though it's not even worth the effort to deign to converse with unhip civilians; it might compromise his hipness.

Girls find him dreamy; boys (especially Puck and my former love interest) love to tease and provoke him; and as for me, Double Negative actually parodies him. I wasn't sure at first why he was putting his hipness at stake to hang out with Shapiro and me, but it didn't take me long to realize that he just wanted to irritate us.

"Hi, Bram!" we said. "Would you like to buy a DVD?"

"Nah," he mumbled. He was wearing a T-shirt that announced to the whole world, in bold letters, that he resided in Brooklyn and rode the G train. "I haven't even seen it yet. I'll wait till the premiere."

"Ah," I said, "but the DVD contains a seventeen-minute gag reel that we won't show at the premiere."

"Seventeen minutes?" he mumbled. "Jesus, how long is the movie?"

"Forty-five minutes," I said.

"That's it?"

"Forty-four minutes," I snapped, "and thirty-two seconds, actually."

"Not to get all teacher-y on you," he mumbled, "but where exactly is this money going?"

I exploded: "I spent four hundred dollars of my own personal life savings on getting these DVDs manufactured professionally, to bring happiness to the lives of people like you -- and now we have to earn it back!"

He shook his head (or, rather, he conveyed his disdain by moving his head as little as possible). "You went to all this trouble, just for a forty-five-minute film?"

"Hey," I protested, "Moonshine told us he approved of the spare and abstract design of the DVD label!"

He glanced at the DVD label and rolled his eyes. "There's not that much to approve."

"Get a life, Bram," I said. "If you're going to stand here and be annoying, the least you can do is buy a DVD."

"No," he droned. "I'm not gonna waste my money, in case it sucks." Finally, he shuffled away, probably to go torment some other poor student in hopes of forgetting what a weak, pathetic, attractive, endearing loser he is.

The hours ticked by, and the pile of DVDs shrank, and our pile of cash grew -- and soon it was three o'clock, time to prepare the screening room for the premiere.

I hadn't had anything for lunch but this weird Japanese coconut shake, and I was starting to regret drinking even that. I was sweaty and shaking and I thought maybe I was going to be sick. I stood alone in the corner, waiting for my audience to arrive. No one was there yet. Maybe no one was going to show up.

Then the people started to pour in.

Moonshine and Puck, and a few girls in their posse, arrived first.
Then Veronica, who gave me a big hug of support.
Then a few more sophomore girls, and then some junior guys, including Satan, my love interest during sophomore year and onstage in Kiss Me, Kate.
Then some freshman girls and boys -- what looked like the entire Upper School chorus.
Then I spotted Julia and Mardet, the eighth-grade girls who helped me out.
I caught sight of Oona, who waved.
And then I noticed Mandy and Nola, the two freshman girls who stuck up for me backstage during Kiss Me, Kate.
Of course my singing teacher, Linda, was there, accompanied by Jennifer, who's directed me in every single school play I've ever been in.
I saw my sweet English teacher, Camille. She's really pregnant now.
My cool yoga teacher showed up, and so did Chotiner, my beloved A.P. American History teacher from last year.

Frankie Thomas, said an announcer in my head, This Is Your Life!

There were kids in the crowd I didn't even recognize. I think most of them were sophomore girls.

Finally, Bram showed up. He took one look at the crowds of sophomore girls and rolled his eyes and mumbled sarcastically: "How many of these people do you think are here just for Puck and Moonshine?"

"A lot of them," Shapiro guessed.

He sighed. "They do have a way about them, don't they?" was all he would say.

Well, it's an old Hollywood truism: If you want to put asses in the seats, cast a star. Or two.

The crowd got bigger and bigger, until it formed a line that extended out into the hallway and down the stairs. They were jumping up and down, noisy, raucous, excited. Moonshine and Puck were at the front of the line, throwing chairs at all their adoring female acolytes. I was sure that we weren't going to be able to fit everyone into the screening room, that we'd have to turn people away.

But we moved tables out of the way, and we filled the room with chairs, and somehow, we managed to fit everybody in. Moonshine and Puck shoved their way to the front row -- "We get V.I.P. seating!" they kept saying.

Shapiro was up front, trying to connect the projector to the computer. "Um, quiet down, you guys," she said halfheartedly.

"Shut up, lesbian!" said Puck, and all the girls giggled.

"Puck, you can't talk during the movie," said Shapiro lamely.

"You're a terrible producer," he said. "You're never going to sell any DVDs. Frankie!" he said, twisting around in his seat and catching my eye. "Your movie is going to suck, because you're such a terrible director and you're so, so, so incredibly..."

I wormed my way through the crowd and found myself standing there, under the big projector screen, at the front of the room.

"...good-looking," Puck finished.

Everyone was looking at me, and I suddenly realized I was expected to make a speech. I cleared my throat and what came out, at about a mile a minute, was:

"Welcome to the premiere screening of Double Negative, a film by Frankie Thomas, produced by Laura Shapiro. I ask you to please turn off all cell phones, pagers, and any other portable beeping devices, and kindly refrain from talking during the movie. This movie took three years to write, three months to shoot, three weeks to edit, and one hour to burn the DVDs -- which are on sale for five dollars and include a seventeen-minute gag reel that we won't be showing at this screening. So...well...here's the movie. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it." I caught Puck's eye again and added, a bit reproachfully, "Or more." I hesitated. "Um...I'm gonna go put on my glasses."

I slunk to the back of the room as everybody applauded. Then the room went dark, and the projector started running, and I heard the opening chords of the opening-credit music, and the entire audience fell silent.

My movie was starting.

Shapiro and I hid in the back of the room for the entire duration of the movie. Of course we'd seen the movie hundreds of times, but I'd never before viewed it as an audience member, sitting in a seat, wearing my glasses.

But mostly, I watched the audience. I registered every single laugh, every joke that worked, every twitch of emotion that crossed every audience member's face. When the movie ended, and the last frame faded to black, and the words "written & directed by Frankie Thomas" appeared on screen, and the entire audience burst into applause -- my eyes were filled with tears, though no one could tell in the dark. And the whole time, I was reminded of that quote from Lily Tomlin's one-woman show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe:

"We think so different, the aliens and me. The aliens find it hard to grasp some things that come easy to us, because they simply don't have our frame of reference. I show 'em this can of Campbell's tomato soup. I say, 'This is soup.' Then I show 'em a picture of Andy Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's tomato soup. I say, 'This is art.' 'This is soup.' 'And this is art.' Then I shuffle the two behind my back. Now what is this?
No, this is soup and this is art!
Did I tell you what happened at the play? We were at the back of the theater, standing there in the dark, all of a sudden I feel one of 'em tug my sleeve, whispers, 'Trudy, look.' I said, 'Yeah, goose bumps. You definitely got goose bumps. You really like the play that much?' They said it wasn't the play that gave 'em goose bumps, it was the audience.
I forgot to tell 'em to watch the play; they'd been watching the audience! Yeah, to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things...that just knocked 'em out. They said, 'Trudy, the play was soup...the audience was art.'"


P.S. After the screening, Bram bought a DVD.


5/30/2005
avenueF
On the town
It's Fleet Week. Everywhere I go I see groups of happy sailors in those wonderful crisp white sailor suits, and I cannot see them without thinking of On the Town and singing in my head:

We've got one day here, and not another minute, to see the famous sights!
We'll find the romance, and danger waiting in it, beneath the Broadway lights!
New York, New York, a hell of a town...


And today, in honor of it all, Puck and Shapiro and I met to have lunch and bask in each other's awesomeness.

To be more accurate: Today I had a date to meet some of my future USC classmates, and then I had a lunch date with Puck and Shapiro. But I'm not going to go into much detail about the USC date. It's not that it was dull -- I had a pleasant time meeting everybody, especially Carrie, a shy and ethereal but deceptively witty girl with bobbed strawberry-blonde hair who clasped her hands modestly around the handles of her purse as we wandered aimlessly through Times Square and discussed the death of sincerity in contemporary Broadway musicals due to the advent of ironic "faux-tunes." We're going to avoid the beach and drink milkshakes and study film together.

But I can't think about California now. Today I'm too in love with New York City.

Puck and Shapiro and I met in front of Barney's Co-Op and set forth like the Mod Squad, all three of us in five-dollar sunglasses (his black, hers blue, mine pink). We wandered the streets of Chelsea in search of a place to eat, finally settling on a heart-stoppingly nouveau-chic pan-Asian glass box, where we sat on freaky silicone seat cushions and admired ourselves in the mirrored ceiling and ate sushi and noodles. Puck dropped a wedge of tomato into my Coke, and I spiked it on my chopstick and ate it. Then we poked Shapiro's boobs with our chopsticks every time she looked away.

After lunch we wandered into the clothing stores of the meatpacking district to admire the overpriced couture. Normally I can't stand clothes or fashion or shopping; but today the shops all seemed so clean and bright and breezy, the stoic black doormen almost glad to see us, the ridiculous thousand-dollar prices almost witty ("Look," we'd call out gaily to each other, "this terrycloth polo is only four hundred dollars!"); and we savored the sensation of running our fingers across rich white suede and pink cashmere and ostrich leather.

Then we all had to go to the bathroom, and it was starting to drizzle a little outside even though there were still sunny patches of blue sky between the clouds, and we needed to get inside fast, and there was this big chic modern glass hotel right there smack in the middle of the meatpacking district, and before we knew it we were walking into the lobby.

Casually, we snooped around until we found the bathroom, which was gloriously clean and well-decorated and eucalyptus-scented. Then Puck sat down on a modern leather sofa in the lobby and said:

"I was thinking -- why don't we explore this hotel?"

We all looked at each other, grinned, and shrugged. "Why not?"

No one tried to stop us as we strutted up to the elevator, like we owned the place. At random, we went to the seventh floor. We ran up and down the cool, quiet hallway, sneaking around corners with our hands in gun postition, pretending to be spies.

"Why don't we go to the penthouse?" said Shapiro.

So we took the elevator up to the restaurant on the rooftop (fourteen stories up), and we sat down at a table and looked out at the breathtaking view of the neighborhood and the Hudson River.

"We're tourists from L.A.," said Puck. "My name is...Xavier. You can call me Xav, or X."

"You're Scarlett," said Shapiro to me.

"You're Terri," I said to her.

She laughed. "Schiavo?"

"Yeah," said Puck, "and your street name is T-Schiavs."

"Look, Terri," I said in my Paris Hilton voice, "you can see the Empire State Building from here!"

"Maybe later we'll go out to eat at a real New York restaurant!" she said, in her Paris Hilton voice.

"Do I look less like a tourist if I tie my sweater around my shoulders?" asked Xavier.

As X and Scarlett and Terri, we lounged around by the swimming pool and made small talk with the Midwestern tourists and asked the waiters and waitresses about room service. Then it started to drizzle again, and the place cleared out, but Shapiro put up her umbrella and the three of us hid behind it and unbuttoned my shirt...I had to button it again in a hurry when it stopped raining and the tourists came back. Of course I misbuttoned it, and I had to re-button it quickly in the elevator.

"Have a nice day!" the maids called out to us as we left.

"You too!" we said sweetly.

Once we were back out on the street, Puck said, "Let's go to the river!"

So we went down to the river, where we ate ice cream and lay down on a wooden bench and watched gay couples go by and played Guess Which One Of Them Takes It Up The Ass. Then, somehow, Puck and I were wrestling again. I think. It was either the most tender wrestling match or the most brutal cuddle session I've ever had, and Shapiro was quite embarrassed to be seen with us.

"I'm getting weird looks," she complained.

"Shut up, pansy-ass vagina," Puck murmured. "Frankie, does this hurt?"

"No."

"Does this hurt?"

"No."

"Damn it! Does this hurt?"

"Ow!"

"Ha! I hurt you!"

"No you didn't! That was an 'ow' of indifference."

"Crap! I'll hurt you if it's the last thing I do."

Water taxis came and went. The sun set over the river. Finally we disentangled ourselves from each other, and the three of us walked home holding hands. My bra fell off on the way home.

When I got home, Puck Instant Messaged me: "I wrote you a limerick."

There was a young lady in blue
Who said, "Is it you? Is it you?"
When they said, "Yes, it is,"
She replied only, "Whizz!"
That ungracious young lady in blue.


"That's so true," I said.

"I didn't copy it from Edward Lear," he said, lying.

Then my dad came home and broke the news to me that my childhood pet -- a blue lovebird named Sadie -- was dead.

I loved Sadie. I begged my parents for a bird all throughout middle school, and one Christmas, when I was in the seventh grade, they finally relented. Sadie was a peach-faced lovebird the color of the Hudson River in the rain. Sea-green. She had the sweetest peach-pink face and bright black eyes. I devoted hours to training her to perch on my finger, and sometimes I would spend all afternoon at the pet store, buying treats for her. She would perch on my shoulder as I did my homework; she liked to bite little holes into my homework papers, and when my teachers asked about the neat little perforations across all my worksheets, I'd tell them: "My bird ate my homework." I would scold her, but she would always reply with an indignant wing flap and a feisty little "Tweedleet!" that my parents found ear-shattering but I found charming.

But my parents split up at the end of my seventh-grade year, and after that it was hard to take care of Sadie. I tried to shuttle her cage back and forth between my mom's house and my dad's, but it was a real hassle to do it three times a week, so I just left her at my mom's full-time, even when I wasn't there. I don't know if Sadie forgot who I was or whether she was just pissed off at being abandoned, but she stopped being tame then. Every time anyone came near her, she would bite -- and she bit really hard, hard enough to draw blood.

I still loved Sadie. I loved her even though she bit everyone -- in fact I loved her partly because she bit everyone. Sometimes I wished I could bite everyone, too. And I loved her because everybody else hated her. Someone's got to stick up for the bitchy little birds that bite.

But eventually even my mom couldn't stand her anymore, and it was agreed that it would be best for everyone if we gave Sadie to Julia, my for-all-intents-and-purposes-surrogate-grandmother-type-figure-it's-too-hard-to-explain.

Julia wanted me to have Sadie's body. So I had dinner with her tonight, and after dinner, she took me into the back room and showed me Sadie's body at the bottom of her cage. She was so little and delicate and soft, and her eyes were half-open as if she saw me.

Julia put Sadie's little blue body in a beautiful little blue box, and we tied a ribbon around it, and I carried it home. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it -- for now, for Memorial Day, she's just lying there in her box, still and quiet for once, my ungracious young lady in blue.


5/26/2005
avenueF
Poster child
I hate actors.

There, I said it. I hate them. All of them. I hate working with them, I hate dealing with them, I hate talking to them. They all, in one way or another, just suck.

I'm not including myself when I speak of actors. I don't think of myself as an actress; I'm a writer/director. Actors are a different breed, a different species even, and definitely a subhuman one. (You know they're the lowest form of life on a movie set when there are different words for the males and females. Goose/gander; duck/drake; falcon/tercel; hen/cock; cow/bull; mare/stallion; doe/buck; actor/actress.) "Actors are cattle," Hitchcock said. I wish. I'd rather work with cattle. At least they don't throw diva-tantrums.

The time has come, you see, to promote Double Negative. Now that we're officially in the postproduction stage, the fun can really start: we can create the press kit, plan the premiere, send out the invitations -- and design the poster.

Shapiro and I designed and printed the promotional poster today. I'm proud of my contribution to it -- I selected three stills from the movie and decided how to arrange them on the page. On the right, there's a still of the characters Marion and Joseph (Double Negative couple #1), looking to the left. On the left, there's a still of the characters Penelope and Donald (Double Negative couple #2), looking to the right. And between the two couples is a gorgeous shot of Angel, smiling radiantly. It looks like both of the couples are gazing at him.

Above these photos, we put the tagline: "You ain't seen nothing yet." (Clever, right?) Below, we put the title -- "DOUBLE NEGATIVE" -- in big letters; below that, in smaller letters, "a film by Frankie Thomas"; and below that, the time and place of the screening. (And below that, in tiny letters: "Laura Shapiro helped, too!" Hey, she insisted on it.)

It was an incredibly snazzy-looking and eye-catching poster. Pleased with ourselves, we printed out twenty copies.

It was then that we ran into one of our actors. I'm not even going to give him the honor of specifying which one, though I'm sure you can guess.

"Hey, lesbians," he greeted us. "What are you doing?"

"We just made some posters for Double Negative!" we told him excitedly. "Look, you're on them."

"Ooh, can I see?" he asked, and we handed him one.

He murmured as he scrutinized it, and we watched as the expression on his face morphed interestingly from excitement, to curiosity, to puzzlement, to realization, to embarrassment, to disgust, and finally to rage:

"Wait, where am I? Oh, over here, on the right...Oh, god, that's not a good shot of me at all...Oh, ew, I look terrible...Hold on, who's in the center?...Oh! Ugh! I HATE it! You fucking WHORES, making me look like that! YOU CAN'T USE THIS POSTER! I WON'T LET YOU! IT'S TERRIBLE!" And with that, he held up the copy of the poster he was holding, ripped it noisily to shreds, threw the crumpled remains at our feet, and stormed off.

So, naturally, Shapiro and I got some tacks and tape and put up the rest of the posters all over school.

Later that day, I went to see a reading of a classmate's play in the Black Box Theater. In the middle of the play, Lysander crept into the theater and came over to stand beside me. I smiled up at him in a friendly manner.

He smiled back (he's always friendly, unlike SOME of my actors), and then, almost soundlessly so as not to disrupt the play, he whispered:

"Fuck you. FUCK YOU for choosing the WORST picture of me that you could POSSIBLY find."

"You wanna take this outside, bitch?" I whispered back.

"Oh, it's on, girl!"

So we crept out of the theater and into the lobby, where we stood and discussed the poster for a good ten minutes. I had logic on my side: He didn't look fat. He looked fine. In fact, he looked skinny. He is skinny. Besides, it was important that we use a shot in which he and Penelope were both looking to the right. Besides, we had already printed out twenty copies and didn't want them to go waste.

However, logic is useless on actors. "Please, Frankie, don't use that picture of me!" he kept pleading. "Can't you see how fat I am in it?"

"Lysander," I pointed out, "you know you'd say that about any picture we chose. You already say that about every picture of you."

"No, I don't!"

"Yes, you do. Besides, would you rather that we left you off the poster altogether?"

"Well, can you at least put my name on the poster?"

"Lysander, your picture is on the poster."

"Yes, but it's a picture where I'm fat!"

I tried to change the subject: "You know what else we did today? We made the credits!"

It worked. "Really?" he said, his interest piqued. "Who gets billed first?"

"Rie, of course."

"Who gets billed second?"

"Me."

"Who gets billed third?"

Shit. "Um--"

"Frankie, where do I get billed?"

"Well," I said, conveniently avoiding mentioning the opening title sequence, "the closing titles are in order of appearance. So you get billed third -- above any of the other boys."

He let out an audible sigh of relief, and suddenly I dreaded talking to the other boys.

You'd think that now that we're done with shooting, I'd be rid of my actors for good. But real actors, I've learned, never stop being actors. And I hate them for it.

And yet. And yet. I was in charge of casting for Double Negative. I could easily have cast nicer people in the male roles. I chose to cast rude, spoiled, hyperactive miniature male versions of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and, oh god, Norma fucking Desmond. I complain, but it was my choice. More to the point, I'd do it again. When I make my student films at USC, you can bet that the boys in them will be bitches and princesses.

That's the thing about actors. You can't work with them; but nothing works without them. Oh, my little starlets, I love you all.


5/24/2005
avenueF
"That's a wrap!"
I actually got to utter those three magical words today. Yes: We are done with principal photography on Double Negative. We are done. We are DONE. We are done with charging the camera and wrenching open the tripod and cursing the blinding sunlight and nagging people to remember their clothes and dressing them in heavy coats to mask the shirt incontinuity and pausing for loud offscreen noises (school bells and drilling and motorcycles, oh my!) and praying it won't rain and bombarding people with calls and e-mails and lying awake nights worrying that they won't show up and making endless mental lists of clothes and props and carrying heavy bags of them and calling out "Three, two, one, ACTION!" and "CUT!" and "Lysander, let's take a look at your lines. Lysander? Lysander. Lysander. LYSANDER. Lysander, get over here! Great, now let's -- wait, where's Puck? Puck, get over here. Puck. Puck. PUCK, stop groping my cinematographer and stand next to -- Rie! Rie, we need you! Hurry up! Everybody ready? Okay, take one: three, two, one -- hey, where'd Lysander go?"

In short: The cats have officially been herded. From here on in, it's pure editing and choosing the music and arranging the credits and planning the premiere and smooth sailing.

"This is the life!" sighed Shapiro contentendly as we settled down this afternoon to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, Gilmore Girls, Friends, Strangers With Candy, and of course Laugh-In for five hours straight.

I should have agreed with her. I should have rejoiced and relaxed and been absolutely ecstatic. And you'd think I would have. But instead, my stomach was tied up in knots. I just could not stop obsessing over one small encounter.

Our final shooting day got off to such a wonderful start. The sun was shining, to everyone's surprise, and Moonshine and Puck were bouncing off the walls but in the best possible way and making up little skits for the camera, and Rie was laughing, and she gave Moonshine some beads to wear and he looked wildly hot, and all three threw themselves happily into the scene we were shooting.

When we were done with that scene, we all went downstairs: we still had three lines of dialogue, left over from last week, that we had to shoot in the Development Office. Nothing involving anything so elaborate as Polyhymnia Weiss, of course, or even Thadeus -- we just needed Rie, Puck, and Moonshine, for literally three lines of dialogue. I knew we could get the whole thing done in thirty seconds.

But when we knocked on the door of the office, the friendly young girl working at the front desk looked dismayed. "This really isn't a good time," she said. "Can you come back at four-thirty?"

"NO," said Moonshine and Puck. "Absolutely not. Not gonna happen. Incidentally," they added, softening, "when did the Development Office start hiring supermodels?"

The girl was not to be swayed by their flattery. "You'll have to talk to Donna," she told me apologetically. "She oversees the whole office, so she has the final word."

That was all it took? Relieved, I went to find Donna. She was the nice lady who was kind enough to reserve the Development Office for us last week -- yes, she ended up forgetting, so we had to fight a little for the location anyway, but it was the thought that counted. I knew she would understand.

I found her in her office and explained my situation. "It'll literally take, like, two seconds," I said. "Can we do it now?"

Now, Donna is one of those motherly women who never stops smiling. She has always been perpetually sweet and good-natured and pleasant, for as long as I've known her. So you can imagine the terror that struck my heart when she looked up at me and her face was -- for the first time -- utterly stony.

"You have to understand, Frankie," she said, her mouth a tight, grim, bureaucratic pucker. "When you shot here last week -- there were people working here, and the language you were all using -- it was just so inappropriate, and so incredibly inconsiderate to everyone...!"

To my horror, she went on and on and on while I stood there mutely. What could I do? I had to shoot this scene, so with my ears flattened and my tail between my legs, I pleaded: "But that was last week. It won't be like that this time. I promise. It'll just be in and out and you'll hardly even know we were here."

Donna sighed and said she would leave the decision to the girl at the front desk. You could tell that Donna was really hoping that the girl would pitch a fit and refuse to let me shoot, but the girl said of course, go ahead, she'd be glad to let us shoot in the office. I think I could have married her at that moment. Donna stormed off.

True to our word, we shot the scene in about thirty seconds, and then we were off. We were finished with the rest of the scenes by three-thirty, and as soon as we were done, to show my gratitude, I went back to the Development Office and presented the girl at the desk with a cheap bouquet of tulips. (If I were really hardcore Hollywood, I'd have sent her a fruit basket, but she seemed pleased enough with the flowers.)

And yet I couldn't let go of it. As Shapiro and I watched television, I began to make a list in my mind of all the people I'd somehow alienated within the course of making Double Negative: Donna. My aunt, whose megaphone I'd borrowed. My mother's sister's husband, Rudd, who'd wanted to meet with me to discuss my script, but I never managed to find time (he always insisted, when I asked him, that he hadn't taken it personally; but both my mom and my aunt are constantly telling me that he was "stung," that his feelings were hurt, and that he just isn't telling me so). Countless school janitors who'd been inconvenienced when I was shooting in classrooms they were trying to clean. The kids who were playing basketball in the school courtyard until I flipped out and yelled at them to be quiet or leave. The guy who works in the school computer lab, who keeps asking us when we'll be done with the camera, because other people need it too and we're hogging it. The New York Water Taxi Commission.

The list went on and on and on, and then it became Puck's voice reverberating in my head: "You're such a bad director, Frankie. You're a terrible writer and you suck at directing." He loves to tell me that, because he knows it gets to me, even though I pretend like it doesn't. It wouldn't bother me if I didn't secretly suspect -- every single second of my life -- that it's true.

So when I took a break to check my e-mail, and I found a message in my inbox from my project advisor, and the subject line was "Donna," I nearly deleted it out of wrath.

But of course I read it. It began:

F-

Hmmm, I'm sorry you had to experience a reaction such as Donna's. But you do have to ask yourself some questions... Why are you upset? Are you upset because someone was offended - your work hurt them? Are you upset because someone didn't
approve of what you were making? Are you upset because it gave you something else to worry about? Are you upset because it was Donna who brought it up? In the end, do you care what they think? As an artist, these are things you are going to have to think about.


The question floored me. (It floored me so much, I almost didn't notice the misplaced modifier in his last sentence.) I hadn't thought to wonder why I was upset. I sat there, thinking about it, and then I began to type.

That's actually a good question. When I got home, I made myself a list of reasons why I SHOULDN'T be upset.

1. It wasn't like I'd FORCED them to endure the shooting. If anyone had been offended at the time, they should have spoken up, instead of sitting there stewing about it.
2. I had permission to shoot in the office. Donna never said that the permission was conditional: she said it was okay for me to shoot there. Did she really think we were going to shoot silently?
3. The girl at the front desk was totally nice about the whole thing.
4. The Development Office is -- to use one of your words -- "dreary." If I worked in there, I know I'd welcome a little excitement now and then.

These are all rational reasons, and yet -- when you get down to it -- I'm still upset. I'm just completely chagrined about the whole thing, and I cringe whenever I think of it. Why am I letting it bother me so much?

I'm thinking about it, and I think it might have something to do with this: I am not a Hollywood director. I am not even an experienced director. I'm just a privileged kid with a video camera and a group of unpaid amateur actors who won't even dignify me with eye contact unless I beg and plead and yell. When people ask me what I'm doing for my senior project, and I tell them I'm making a fifty-minute movie, their eyebrows invariably go up like an involuntary reflex. Every step of the way, I have had to prove -- to myself and to everyone -- that I am for real, that I'm serious, that I can pull this off. All the while, there's this voice in my head saying that I'm just spoiled and overambitious and what are you THINKING, Frankie?! And every now and then, I have my moments of triumph, where I transcend that self-doubt and become a Real Director who's making a Real Movie.

But just as often, I get cut down to size. Donna was one of those times; my aunt, and her megaphone, was another. When all I'm trying to do is make my movie and I end up getting chastised for my misbehavior, suddenly I'm not a director anymore: I'm a kid who misbehaved. Every ounce of Real Director is gone, replaced once again with that spoiled, privileged little kid with the video camera and noisy friends and too much time on her hands and ridiculous amounts of chutzpah.

On the inside, I always kind of believe that that's all I am, and I devote pretty much all my energy to trying to stop believing it. So when the outside world confirms it, it's just the most humiliating thing in the world.

I do understand, intellectually, how much I've accomplished and how far I've come. I know that "Double Negative" is beautiful, and now that principal photography is done, I should be rejoicing and relaxing. You'd think that I'd have proven myself long ago. But on the inside, I can never stop worrying and feeling like a confused little kid. I'll probably secretly continue feeling like a confused little kid for the rest of my life. Don't we all?

But now that I've written all that out, I can forget about it. Thank you for helping me realize it.

I'll see you tomorrow in the computer room -- from here on in, it's all editing, all the time.

L, F.


And with that, I think I just became an adult. I've realized the key to it all: The secret to being a grown-up is acting like a grown-up. No one ever stops being a self-doubting kid on the inside. But you can choose to bluster on and pretend to be confident and in charge, and no one will suspect that it's all a sham.

Except, maybe, Puck.



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