“Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
They had to ask.
My parents were going away, much to my protest, to a small island off the coast of South Carolina called “Kiawah”, a family resort we had gone to as a family in my youth, which I best remembered for a child performance act known as “Rick and his Kazoobie Band”.
I say “much to my protest” because I was not in favor of them returning to Kiawah, somewhere I had only middling memories of anyway, when they could use their hard-won vacation-time to go somewhere exotic like the south of France or beautiful like Vancouver. After all, it hadn’t been a good year for just about anyone (unless you were selling guns or bibles) and it would be nice to get somewhere far, far away.
That is, if you were going to get out of New York City to begin with, something I had no intention of doing.
“I’ll be fine.” I told my mom, with an air of boredom steering towards blankness.
New York was a place I had left neither for college nor vacation in quite some time. Unlike my wayward friends who’d come here expecting something, I did not have any sort of delusion that New York was trying to eat me, nor that it was out to get/stab/rape or mug me.
It was a place I was content in being and I chocked up my parents uneasiness with leaving to an uneasiness at relinquishing an accustomed proximity.
“I’ll be fine.” I told them.
“I have things to do.”
I spent one-half of today trying to convince someone I was competent and the other half realizing I wasn’t.
Competence, as I would describe to my friends, was a virtue that I held above much else in film school.
“Most of producing is just basic competence.” I told to a first-time student producer at lunchtime on a friend’s set.
“Can you fill out paperwork? Can you get it in on time? Can you make sure lunch happens? Can you call everyone to see if they’ll come?” I listed.
“You’d be surprised,” I told the first-timer. “How many people are completely incapable of doing this.”
Yet I, who supposed myself an expert on competence was being traced for it at once.
“Basically, the interns are all shit.” The interviewer told me. “And me? I’m trying to de-shitify the bunch.”
The woman interviewer was matter-of-fact, which I appreciated, but obviously more than a little p.o.-ed.
“It’s just like I’ll tell one of them to do something and they’ll be like (insert nasal voise ‘Well why do I have to do it that way?’ and I’ll be like because that’s the best damn way to do it and they’ll be like ‘yeah, cool’ and no it’s not cool, it fucking needs to get done, am I right?”
It was a testament to her experience that she wasn’t breathless after saying this.
Her explanation for all this–that she was the alpha-intern who became paid and she wasn’t going to have any shit-intern fuck it up–made sense. But I felt like the questions she was asking me bored on the “Are you stupid?” brand.
“Do you feel comfortable getting coffee?” She asked. “Can you go to the grocery store?”
“If we ask you to go to Kinko’s, do you think you can handle that?”
I smiled and answered yes.
The catch-22 of internships is that if you’re applying for one you either have no experience or weren’t good enough at your previous internship. Because, well, if you were good enough at your previous internship, then really, what the fuck were you doing here.
So as I tried to explain to the woman, my life story in short, my path as an “aspiring screenwriter” and what I saw as my abilities towards basic-level competence, she seemed to relax slightly, even though we both knew that me being here on some level was an admission of some sort of personal failure.
As this grew, so did her smile, her confidence. By the end of the interview, for all the incompetence of her interns, she was the lord of them, the success story, just interviewing another groveling failure. She could return to that now.
I thanked her for her time, took my New Yorker and empty water bottle and left.
I was cast.
I’d imagine this would be an admission of joy to someone like an actor I’d know from school, most of whom are attempting to concentrate on their careers in the service industry before they even get a chance to think about auditions.
But as I looked over the cavalcade of scripts, schedules and assistant directors, stage managers, rehearsals and previews, I realized that perhaps now was a good time to shit my pants.
“Are you comfortable with lines? With memorizing?” The director had asked me.
The prospect sounded good and I’d remembered advice that people had given me to say yes to everything when you’re young and have nothing to lose.
“It’s not that memorizations so hard.” The director added. “Just giving some feeling to the lines can be hard for people.”
“Well,” I told him with a smile on my face. “I’m good at Karaoke. Or at least not bad.”
And I didn’t have any problem doing a dramatic reading of my lines as I looked over one of the scripts I had received. The play was a massive structure of three different casts of actors doing different strands, variations on a theme simultaneously, all in a boat anchored on the Hudson.
But as I gave my casual reading a cocky shimmer of that Feitel charm, I realized I would have to remember all these lines. That unlike Karaoke they wouldn’t be up there on the screen, an obvious relization but one that hit hard when I thought to myself, amidst confidence fleeing, as to a plan:
“Oh wait. I’m not an actor.”
This was the “oh shit” test I might have gotten some time in my career, the realization that I had neither the training nor the discipline ready to do theater, having not memorized lines since my eigth-grade production of Starmites. Even if I fancied myself a web comedian of sorts and some sort of occasionally funny presence, I just didn’t have the simple technique for getting down the most basic elements of theater.
I, Nick Feitel, who so worshipped and exuded competence, who reviled and derided incompetence had found myself, in a situation, incompetent.
And, dread setting in, I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew I had to wise up quick.
Karaoke this week didn’t feature Andy Roehm, who bowed out due to lack of funds, but J-Sam Bakken, another friend with a curlier Jew-Fro than mine and a propensity for shaking his bee-hind while singing songs.
I had always had a strange mixture of admiration/frascination and weirdness from J-Sam who could be seen as another foil for myself, but with clear distinctions.
Unlike a “doppleganger”, J-Sam didn’t bear too much physical resemblance to me: his hair was curlier, his manner more reserved and his social graces ranging from intensely awkward to smooth with what seemed like little between.
But we both made movies about ourselves and acted in them and other projects. But while I was donning a swimsuit while taking a bath and playing with rubber ducks, J-Sam made movies where he was aggressively naked, showing cock to camera to much repute. While I could only mine a version of myself to play a character, drawing on awkward caricature, J-Sam had a method to his acting, a tenderness and a strangeness that came out of his lack of affect.
Even Karaokeing, he seemed to throw himself into it with a verve, shouting and “ow!”-ing, only to return to a quiet, cataonic state on the zebra-striped couches of Planet Rose as if to observe all the weirdos, sipping his beer.
In short, J-Sam was a study in extremes, but in so he seemed more admirable to me, since he threw himself into things, sometimes literally unprotected, but always seemed to drag himself out.
After the good night of beers and shots and a raspy rendition of Bob Seger, I headed back walking with J-Sam over to his job as an RA for the Summer High School Program. He invited me up and drunkenly I accepted. I said hi to his roommates, housed in an old room of the old dormitory, Weinstein, I used to frequent as a freshman. I said hi to my actor, a student there in the program and said hi to the high school kids who were partying down.
As soon as I left them by the door to their festivities, I realized the livels of regression involved in being here:
-The last summer of camp counseling and the decision not to return to the hills of Vermont.
-The year as a freshman, sitting in a room-full-of-smoke, waiting for someone to clear it all up or for something funky to occur.
-Being in camp and being a high schooler somewhere else, afresh to your new-found powers of sociability and experiencing the dilation of emotion of summer camp.
All of these were new experiences, at their times and they all represented steps away from the old: a risk-reward model.
I went to Taco Bell much to my misfortune that night, as I left the summer dorms behind.
I regret the burrito I got there and the remembrance of new things old.
I added to my blogroll in my last entry the blogs of my friend Jason Lee in Iceland and Rob Malone’s zany adventures on set in Washington state.
Both seem to put in to focus their respective people.
I can conjure up in image of Jason somewhere near a fjord looking peripatetically out towards a friends camera, a slight sneer from behing his glasses.
I can imagine Rob in the Washington mud, haaving tussled hair-ily with Zach Weintraub over the last bar-b-que potato chip, the angle askew in the camera of mind, so as to emphasize the action.
By their remove, just like a lens, they come into focus, having been too close to imagine before.
As I think about New York, my past experiences here and the ghosts that seem to float around me of prior expectations and future responsibility, I wonder what I’d look like, at such a remove.
If you’re interested and have the time/movie interest, I’d ask you to check out the pieces I’ve written recently for my editorial gig over at FilmLinc. I’ve got two up right now, one on Almereyda’s Hamlet, the one with Bill Murray as Polonius, in the post-recession world and another, probably worthier, piece on the Nicholas Ray retrospective at Film Forum.
Check them out.
They make me look good to my boss.