“What are you doing here?”
Ah, the first day of Advanced Production Workshop, the summit of the classes of New York University Film School.
Beyond the introductory classes, which were offered on digital video or black+white reversal film, you could make a movie in Color Sync as a junior or a lower-scale one in the one-semester Narrative Workshop, but neither one of them was Advanced Production, the class I’d looked forward to since I was a freshman.
Back then, I’d heard tale from guest speakers, NYU Alums, coming in to our freshman colloquium, speaking of the ritualistic camp-outs that would happen between the top students at NYU, waiting in hiding in one of the rooms of Tisch to be the first to register in the pre-computerized registration line the next day, all for the best Advanced class, which would somehow assure them their best, final NYU-Film.
And now here I was, after it all, staring down from the back row, looking at all the fresh faces, the students who were ready to take that plunge in their lives, ready to compete and complete their films.
The teacher came in the room finally and looked at me and said:
“What are you doing here?”
“Shit,” I replied. “Blake, was that on my list?”
Blake LaRue, resident Tisch-y pseudo-17-year-old, and I had made a bet on what would happen when Ezra Sacks, my old professor for Advanced would notice that I was in the room upon entering.
“I dunno.” Blake replied, with apathy, as he returned to his discussion regarding basketball.
“I believe the top bets,” I announced. “Were ‘you don’t belong here’, ‘what the hell’ and ‘go home'”
“That one was next.” Ezra replied. “Go home.”
“C’mon,” I exhorted. “Other people have come back to their old Advanced classes before. I just wanna be a part of the new generation!”
“I don’t want them infected.” Ezra told me bluntly.
After which I gave him my puppy-dog eyes to which he answered back with a basset -hound stare.
I began packing my things.
“Don’t you have something to do in the real world?” He asked, as I packed up my things to go.
“Actually I was just kicked out of my internship for–”
“I don’t care.” Ezra said merrily, as he gave me a smiling one-hand wave, goodbye.
I actually just had been kicked out of my internship for the day when I headed to go see the first advanced class.
When I left the office, I realized that I could go home and play video games and try to make my bed or I could go see my friends Blake LaRue and the stolid J.D. Amato in their first day of Advanced.
As noted by my friends and office colleagues, the start of a new semester is a reminder that your life is leaving you behind.
And with my life so uncertain, with play-performance cancellations due to weather and still no source of discernible income, it made sense to cling to something certain and hopeful, the first day of Advanced, even if Ezra’s reaction was somewhat expected.
As to why I was kicked out of the office, the reason was debatable.
I had finally finished reading a terrible script for them that I had been reading for weeks, they had just added me on a new assignment and they had executives coming in to a small office. It was possible for me to work from home with my assignment, making them look better and leaving me just as productive.
These were all good reasons.
But the real reason was thi: I still hadn’t karaoked in weeks.
What I mean by this is that there was still that aching gap in my soul that yearned for a musical release, to pound one’s heart and soul out in musical fashion to the music of Al Green or Green Day or Daydream Believer.
There was that yearning, unexpressed even in shower-morning singalongs that desired to be free.
So when the morning radio that my bosses had on turned to “Thunder Road”, what can I say except this: I was helpless.
In the middle of script-reading, I began a full-fledged performance that started off soft but geared up, louder to a discernable level eventually moving downstairs to my bosses’ level as they noticed me, even as one of them began uncontrollably laughing during the performance.
“What can I say, Rob,” I would later explain to my Ro-Stubbled friend Rob Malone, in a lengthy voicemail. “You can hide beneath your covers and study your pain. Make crosses from your lovers or, well, throw roses on the rain.”
“Waste your summer, praying in vain, for like, a savior to rise from these streets.”
“Well, I’m no hero, that’s understood. All the redemption I can offer, Rob, is beneath this dirty hood. With a chance to make it good somehow, but say, what else can we do now?”
“Except I don’t know, that’s why I’m calling you so talk to you later, peace.”
(I later received a call back from Rob that simply started with the phrase: “I know the song.”)
But the fact was the same: that, despite amusement and my game explanation of karaoke deprivation (“It’s my song! I implored), I was asked not to come back for the rest of the day and work from home instead reading my new assignment.
Leaving, I wondered whether the fact that it took my boss coming in and telling me my shirt was probably inside out after I had been in the office for 2 hours might also have had something to do with it.
All I knew was that the same radio station played “Birdhouse in Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants as I was leaving, one of my favorite songs of all time.
And it almost, all started, all over, again.
That night, like the night after it and part of the night before, my performances were canceled because of rain and I had a free evening which I gave to my friend, the rascal-y Dan Pleck, since he had been planning to see the show with his father, who was in town for just the night, all the way from Illinois.
Dan wanted to go out to dinner and I suggested that we go out to a place that a good friend of mine and his larger-than-life Italian father had taken me, a place called Becco over in the theater district, which offers a delicious unlimited trio-of-pastas tasting menu for a relatively cheap price, something that had previously gotten me so full that I couldn’t even eat dessert.
But the reservation we could get there was too late and we ended up going to an Ethiopian place, Meskerem, which was my first experience with Ethiopian food, which I deemed OK but generally not as good as the Indian stuff I had had.
It was nice seeing Dan’s father, a college professor/intellectual teacher of History and talking politics at the table along with the friend of Dan’s father with whom he was staying. It was also nice to see Najia, Dan’s beleaguered girlfriend who had been bogged down in a well-paying but long-houred medical researcher job, as well as the countless medical school applications that she would later describe to us.
“What’s one word I can describe myself in?” She asked.
“No,” She said disappointedly. “Those don’t work.”
“I checked out medical school websites and they said that’s often a question they ask in the interviews: to describe yourself in one word.”
I found this rather ridiculous as I criterion for our nation’s health-care providers, but held my tongue. Najia would have to find her own word.
After dinner, we headed up to see Dan’s new apartment, a place he shared with other friends-of-mine who have appeared on this blog before, So-Cal Fresh-and-Clean Andy Roehm and my former erstwhile roommate Brennan McVicar.
Dan showed me his room as he and everyone else seemed to marvel at it, a small sized room with a large queen-sized bed taking up the whole of it.
“It looks nice. ” I told Najia and Brennan to their laughter.
“You know Najia, now that I have a girlfriend, I appreciate how you’ve been making fun of my small twin-bed I have at my apartment. This seems really nice, if you’re going to invest in room-space to invest in this. After all, I keep slamming my girlfriend against the wall in my bed as we’re sleeping whenever she comes over.”
What I didn’t know, saying that, was that Dan’s father and friend were in the other room and, like a stencil, their conversation had come to a halt directly before the phrase “slamming my girlfriend into a wall” came up.
For the rest of the night, I received confused, earnest looks from Dan’s father as well as a guido-voiceover from Dan as he walked me to the Times Square Coldstone for a craving.
“Yah, dude, I totally fucked the shit outta that girl last night, you seen her.” He ad-libbed. “Man, I slammed her against the wall!”
And they cracked up as I tried to divert the energy going to blushing to thoughts of Chocolate Jello Pudding ice cream with Caramel.
That and home.
Trio of Pastas Unlimited Tasting Menu w/Salad or Antipasto included– $17.95 for lunch, $22.95 for dinner
46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.
ACE7 to 42nd St-Port Authority