Sunday, August 12, 2012

nostalgic ruminations on a failed love affair

The delicate sun warmed peaches are gone at the farmer's market and the sign of the changing seasons, the scuppernong grape is here. When mid-august hits and there is no sign of any autumn coolness, you can begin to imagine the leaves turning crisp and gold as you break the skin with your teeth and spit out the seeds. But this autumn remembered stirred a sadness I hadn't associated with north carolina before. A longing for a job I once held closely from September all the way through Thanksgiving. A short little affair, a fling and a burning ferocity. I was an alleged production assistant, working on a documentary that allowed me to leave the horrible dreariness of suburban sprawling Cary, and drive 45 minutes to the little main street in Durham.

The day I had the interview, it was raining and I connected with the director woman on a very real level (I thought.) I got coffee next door at the little bistro and warmed myself with its creaminess and the thought of $15 an hour and really working on a project that mattered. With a real film crew. Flown in from New York City. (That should had been the first tip-off right there, because I'm highly aware of perfectly capable crews in the area, but this woman HAD to have fellows from NYC imported.)

I was in a haze and a spell when I got that job. I would drive and crank the music and smile, smile, all the way to Bull City. I was so confident that I quit my anti-depressants and although going cold turkey was not recommended, it hardly mattered. I was dizzy but that was also from excitement. Even when I was taking the crew's lunch orders, or at a thrift store looking for period piece furniture, or detailing a log of what I'd spent money on for the director, I was having a blast. It was my first(and from what I can tell, last) real film job.

There was another girl working with me. She gave off a mannish vibe that I imagine is important to project in the industry. I tried to exude that too, after a while. Sauntering around in slacks and dress shoes. I'm a lady. I am working in a man's industry. I am Getting. Things. Done. But it never really took, and before long I was back in my skirts and blouses and taking orders for folks like a high paid waitress. It still didn't matter. I was on a film crew. I was off at 5. and 5 o'clock traffic was bad. So I'd go to the Pinhook and sit, cozy and confident in my adulthood, drinking local beer and admiring the warm interior of the high-end dive.

Once, we were in a fancy part of town filming in a ritzy house, when I was asked to drive a large moving van 4 hours away to pick up a hefty prop. Alone. It was getting dark earlier now, and twilight was upon us. I asked the director's cousin, the wardrobe girl, if she had spare time if she could ride with me. I'd never driven such a large van to a strange place in the dark. It seemed ilke a reasonable request but she said no, and gave no excuse. I got into the van and tried to back out. I hit a tree quite abruptly. I turned off the vehicle and sat and cried for a moment. This was something I simply could not do. I got out of the van in defeat and shame and took my tears to the director. I was probably more upset than I should have been but it was most likely because I was coming off of the anti-depressants and was freaking out about the smallest things. The director assured me it was fine that I could not do it after asking me,"Are you sure you can't?" At which point, her cousin volunteered to drive the van "If my boyfriend can come with me," she explained. "I've never driven one alone."

Ultimately, a substitute prop was found in the attic and no one had to drive the van. But it was the beginning of wrapping up. After that episode, I was asked to do more around the set like take photos, shake snow out of a tarp, entertain the child actors, and do more inventory work. I tried to be as helpful as possible and even take on other's jobs just to make it seem like the "van incident" never occurred. We wrapped without further happenings. I did not attend the wrap party because I'd lost my glasses and couldn't drive without them, and I was feeling more and more nauseous since I quit that stupid medication. I sent my well wishes and apologies in an email, but I think it was a mistake to not have someone drive me all the way to Durham to make nice and chat with the crew.

I expected my check a month or two later, and when it did not come, I contacted the pseudo-lesbian. "No, I haven't gotten mine either. And she hasn't responded to my calls or emails." Now, this was ridiculous. We did the work. Pay us. We went to her office for a scheduled appointment and she promptly stood us up. She simply did not show. And she did not answer her phone. After a day and a tank of gas wasted, I wrote a strongly worded, slightly threatening email throwing around phrases like "it is imperative" and "of utmost importance" maybe. I don't fucking remember. But I remember thinking that I needed to document this because "the woman is a crook."

I did get paid. And I did get apologies. And I thought we were square. But I have never gotten the single most important thing in this line of work from this person: a recommendation. She'd even promised me one when she finally handed me the check. I have tried to keep in touch to ask about the project and how it is progressing, and I have begged and squealed for some kind of recognition email, or that she is even alive. A recommendation would have been better than the thousand dollars I got for that work. A recommendation would have made any number of doors open because I was a legitimate PA, getting paid a PA's wages, and doing a PA's JOB. Her stonewalling clam-up has effectively closed the professional filmmaking door in my face. I am starting from scratch again.

I saw her at the documentary film festival in April. There was free beer and maybe that made me brave enough to approach her. I had had three. "Elisabeth!" I said all false Southern charm and style "How ARE you? I'm so excited about the movie!" She looked quite ashamed to see me, and part of me thrilled at that. Through my smile and crinkling eyes I was thinking, "That's right, bitch. I fucking come around. I come to your town and I walk on your block and I god damn know what you're doing."
She played nice though, (I'm not the only phony Southern socialite around) and talked with her friends near me and introduced me, and looked tired, overall. Maybe she really had been working too hard to write something. Maybe this is how the game is played. Maybe you work and you give, and you fuck up once and that is the end for you. Maybe, even though you're discouraged and you know the odds are against you, you still believe in that little job that makes you smile all the way to work.

"It takes more than one psycho fluff-headed director to ruin a dream," I tell myself. And without anti-depressants for a year, and with the anniversary of my love-affair job coming on, I can't help but think I made a type of progress. Even if it is invisible and might as well have never happened. But most loves are like that, burning so strongly and wasting away with painful death twitches, and questions. ("Will they? won't they? will I? can I?") The denial. ("This has to work, there's no way this can't work.")

Like a breakup, it's hard to go back to that bistro and get a coffee and be next door to her office, and it's strange to go into the Pinhook and know that I won't be back for a long time because it's such a drive to Durham for no reason. I don't know how long it will take to stop feeling sorry for myself. I don't know how long it will take to stop blaming others for my bad decisions. It will probably be like clockwork, something I re-hash pointlessly to myself before I go to bed for at least three more years.

I don't know why I am haunted more than others. I wish, like with everything else, this had turned out differently.

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