Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not a Blast...

but more of a gentle twinkle from the past.  I wrote this for a friend's newsletter when Tori was in 1st grade, and recently he sent it back to me.  When I saw it for the first time in years I realized that I loved it--not my telling of it, but the memory of the experience--just as much as I did in the moment.

"I know a story about the Big Dipper," my daughter says, looking up. We're walking to the playground in the quiet spring night air.
"Tell me," I say.
"See that smallest star, at the end of the handle?" She points.  "That's the youngest brother. There was once a little girl who had no brothers. She made beautiful suits of clothes for seven brothers, and they made her their sister. But one day a calf came to the door and said that the buffalo herd wanted her. The brothers said they couldn't have her, so the the buffalo attacked. The girl and her brothers climbed up a tree to escape, and the tree kept growing higher and higher until they reached the sky. And they began to glow."
She points again.
"And that's them?"  

She nods.  "That's them. They turned into stars."  

"Is that true, do you think?" I ask as we reach the playground.  

"Its a legend Mom," she says, and climbs onto the swing. Her toes barely reach the ground as she pushes off.
"You pick if you believe it."
She stretches her feet toward the sky so hard that her long hair brushes the gravel in the dark, and I absolutely believe that a child can climb high enough to join the stars.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Too Discreet to Function

Last month, I spent a few days at the Ritz-Carlton Resort on Amelia Island.  It was a lovely place with excellent service, nice restaurants, onsite shops and a wide array of services I would never have thought to take advantage of.  And this was the view from my room:

The truth is, though, the whole atmosphere was a little more tactful than this carpenter's daughter is accustomed to.  For example, it took me quite a while to locate the ATM, which had its own spacious room behind a heavy wooden door with only the smallest and most discrete of signs identifying it.

I didn't get into real trouble, though, until I unexpectedly needed to make a purchase that apparently upper class women do not discuss in public.  There were several shops in the building, including one that advertised "sundries", so I didn't anticipate a problem.  But a quick turn through all of them turned up nothing.  After a review of the map of the resort confirmed that I hadn't missed any shops and that I was a good half hour from town, I went to the front desk and asked whether there was a drug store on the premises.

"No, I'm sorry," the young woman behind the counter said.  "But the sundry shop does carry items like..."

She trailed off.  She looked away.  

I was raised in a barn (well, a small industrial town in Illinois) and I was in a hurry.  I filled in "feminine hygiene products?"

"Yes," she confirmed with obvious relief.  "That's what I was going to say, but I was looking for something more...delicate."

Then, she continued, "But they keep them behind the counter."

I thanked her and hurried back to the sundry shop.  I've never bought drugs, but I think this might be what it's like...if your dealer is a nervous novice.  I approached the cashier and said, "The lady at the front desk said you had feminine hygiene products back there?"

She quickly looked around to make sure no one had heard.  Then she gestured me behind the cash register and opened a cabinet at floor level and completely concealed by the counter.  I made my selection and started back around the register to pay, but she whisked the package out of my hand and into a bag before I made it around the corner.  

This bag:

(The tissue paper is a nice touch, don't you think?)

Underneath the fancy wrappings, of course, these were the same products that I casually toss into my grocery cart every month.  Until last month, I thought everyone else did, too.

I'm not sure how the refined professionals at the Ritz-Carlton would feel about my telling this story in public, complete with the vulgar use of "feminine hygiene products" on at least two occasions.  I'm thinking of it as a public service, though.  Ladies, if you're wandering the hallways of a swanky resort in minor crisis, just ask at the sundry shop. But for God's sake, keep your voice down!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Katie Pukes on the Big Screen

I've talked before about reading the original script for Motivational Growth back in 2006 and how I first met The Mold long before Jeffrey Combs had signed on to play him.  In 2010, Director Don Thacker sent me a much-revised copy of the script.  The new script included between forty and fifty characters, but as I read it I knew exactly what he wanted.  I went to the bottom of the stairs and called up, "Tori?  How do you feel about vomiting on camera?"

Then I IMd Don to let him know I'd read the script and he said, "I have Tori in mind for Katie."

Yep.  Just as I thought.

Katie is mentioned exactly twice in the script.  Here's what it says about her:

Katie pukes.

And then later:

Katie pukes.

Turned out that it takes approximately eight hours to puke twice on film, and that fake vomit tastes a lot worse than the real thing, and that sitting with a maple-syrup-based concoction in your mouth for the better part of eight hours messes with your blood sugar in a very negative way.  But Tori was a trooper.

Then all of the stuff happens that typically happens with movies: you hear one is being shot or it's shot in your home town and you get all excited about it and then your children grow up and leave home and your dog dies and you've been through three cell phones and two automobiles before you hear that it's going to be released next summer.  Tori was 14 when she sat far into the night holding fake puke in her mouth and she's just shy of 17 today.

Last night, we attended the private screening of Motivational Growth. I'd seen three or four rough cuts by this point, so it was hard for me to really watch the movie like a typical theatergoer and get a sense of it.  So, I did two things.  I listened for the audience reaction (a very good rhythm of suspense, quiet attention, surprised laughter, repeat) and I watched for my kid.  She's only in the film for approximately 60 seconds, but it's broken up into pieces (she pukes more than once, after all, and then there's the altercation with the main character and the blue genie).  Turns out that when she's puking at 12 feet tall, she looks pretty much like she does when she's puking in my bathroom at home.  I guess that's a good sign, since she wasn't actually puking in the film: apparently she does a good job of ACTING like she's puking.  (Or wait...maybe that's not such a good sign. I don't think this is the niche she's going for.)

Anyway, it would be impossible to cover everything that was cool about the evening or to mention all of the amazing people involved in the production, but here are a few highlights:

  1. The Patio Theater in Chicago is billed as an old "movie palace" and it lives up to its designation.  The architecture is on a par with some of the great live theater venues in Chicago, and the ceiling mimics a starry night sky with moving clouds (hence the name, I'm guessing).  
  2. It was amazing to see my dear friend Don Thacker and his wonderful bride and producer (the former Alexis Nordling) reach this point with a film they've poured their hearts and souls and sometimes lunch money into for more than two years.
  3. I mentioned that my kid was on the big screen in a beautiful old movie house, right? And her name.  Oh, and mine, too--I was very touched to receive a wholly undeserved "special thanks" in the credits.
  4. My 16-year-old went and hung out in a bar with her co-workers.  Sure, I was there and the only thing she consumed was pizza bread, but it was still a kind of shift.  A kind of shift that already takes place in this crowd because they're the only group that Tori and I each independently relate to as peers.  She's always been comfortable with my friends and I with hers, but this is the only context in which they're the same people.  (Short version:  My kid grew up while I wasn't looking, but I'm not sure how it happened because I've never looked away.)
The only negative moment in the whole evening was when the bartender at Sabatino's on Irving Park Road in Chicago "misplaced" my change after I gave her a twenty for a $2 Coke and then accused one of our friends of having stolen it.  The piano player was excellent as was the floor server, but after the manager defended the bartender's actions and shouted at me that it wasn't the bartender's responsibility to get my change back to me, I'll never go there again.  I could have lived without the $18, but not with service staff who accuses my friends of stealing rather than admitting to a mistake.

You've probably noticed that I haven't said a whole lot about the movie itself.  In part, that's because it was a private screening and I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say.  In part, it's because the less you know walking into this movie, the better the experience is going to be.  In part, to be honest, it's because it defies description.  I can't even assign it a genre.  There's more puke and blood and fungus than I typically favor, but there are also a lot of open questions (which I very much appreciate in film) and some really standout acting.  I think we would have left the theater revisiting certain scenes and asking questions if, you know, I hadn't read multiple versions of the script, talked at length with the writer and director and seen the movie multiple times and a couple of different endings.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dancing in Elevators

The other night around midnight, just after an outrageously funny game of Lego Star Wars, Tori announced that she was ready for an adventure.  I'm usually game for most things, but opportunities for adventure are fairly limited in a small town on a rainy weeknight in December.

We kicked some options around and decided it might be fun to take some plastic animals out and leave them in odd places around the neighborhood.  If you can't see why that seemed like a good idea, you're clearly a healthy, well-balanced person but you should probably stop reading now.

Of course, Tori is my youngest child and she's sixteen, so we didn't have any plastic animals at the ready.  That wasn't a problem, though.  In a small, midwestern town the ONE thing that's open after midnight is Wal-Mart.  I try not to shop there, but I figured that a few bucks in plastic animals wasn't going to make or break the economy.

When we went into the store we were laughing about not "arousing suspicion" with our animal purchases and such, so we were both a bit taken aback when (possibly for the first time in all my years of shopping) the cashier commented on the oddity of our purchasing a bunch of plastic animals at 12:30 a.m.  As if that weren't enough, she went on to tell me that her kids still played with those animals, "And, for some reason, they think it's hilarious to go around and leave them in people's..."

I swear, she paused.  And during that pause I thought, "Wait, kids do this?  This is not a unique idea?  We're JUST LIKE THE CASHIER'S TEN-YEAR-OLD SON?"

Then she finished her sentence. "...beds and stuff."

She laughed.  I laughed, too.  "We're not going to do that," I said.

We walked quickly out of the store with our bag of plastic animals, trying not to laugh.

Though we were planning to distribute most of the animals in our neighborhood, we'd chosen a special one for a childhood friend of my daughter's.  She lives in a quiet neighborhood but on a main street, so as we drove toward her house I said to Tori, "Probably the police are going to come to find out why we're prowling around Megan's neighborhood at this time of night."

She said, "Probably" and laughed and then we turned onto Megan's street and...the police were there.

I'm not going to give away all of the species and locations, but I will tell you that one of the animals we delivered was a plastic dinosaur.  We left the dinosaur on the frame of a work truck, just over the driver's side door. We don't know the owner of the truck or anything about the residents of the house.

Or we didn't, anyway.

We finished the strategic placement of lions and giraffes and such in the late-night rain and headed home, amused with ourselves and not expecting ever to know what happened next.

The next evening, I took the dog for a walk as usual.  On my way down the block, I noticed that the truck had been moved from the driveway to the street and there were two men talking in the driveway.  I was absurdly self-conscious, walking by the house, as if they might look across the street and say, "That woman there, with the Yorkie!  The one we've never seen before!  Probably SHE put the dinosaur on the truck."

Or, of course, it was possible that the dinosaur had been stolen before he'd come out in the morning, or that he'd driven off without noticing it and it had fallen somewhere.  I forced myself to walk at a normal pace, right on past, without looking toward the house.  By the time we passed the house again on the way home, it was getting dark.  A young man was walking toward us on the street and the dog barked at him and the barking caught the attention of the men in the driveway, who looked up and saw the young man and greeted him.  I was delighted, because this directed their attention away from me and the imaginary, "Hey, me and my kid left a plastic dinosaur on your truck last night" sign over my head.

I kept walking west.  The young man kept walking east.  And just as he was about to pass out of range of the house, one of the men in the driveway called out to him, " leave that dinosaur on my truck?"

It is, it turns out, possible to actually choke on laughter bitten back too hard.  While I was coughing, the man on the sidewalk said, "What? Nah.  It was probably Fred."