“That’s what I’m going to call my next one.” I told Rob.
“What?” Rob asked loudly.
It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon in a quarter-crowded movie theater up at the Walter Reade Theater of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Rob (of moderately well-groomed beard) had convinced me to come out to see two Clint Eastwood movies (“A Perfect World” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”) with him, mostly through lack of anything better to do with a Sunday afternoon on my part.
I got to the box-office early and thought about trying to mug the whole “I write for you guys” thing to get in free, but I didn’t know the dude at the box office so instead used my one-month-left student ID and forked over my 8 bucks.
I sat around playing video games as Rob showed up late, or on time, depending on who’s telling the story.
“Hipster goes on food stamps.” I told him, again oblivious to the surrounding crowd trying to watch the movie.
(Actually not that oblivious; the people behind us were poppin’ beers.)
“But you’re not on food stamps.” Rob smirked.
I gave him a face in the dark theater that amounted to “fuck you”, but I’m afraid it was lost somewhere near the pro-Confederate Clint Eastwood smackdown on screen.
The reason I had decided that would be my blog title was not in fact that I was on food stamps (though I was recently unemployed, more on that later) but that our mutual friend and Bummer-filmmaker Zach Weintraub had apparently recently gone on food stamps.
“How’d he do that?” I’d asked Rob during the first Eastwood flick.
“Just applied, buddy.” Rob told me. “Gaming the government.”
Rob knew something about this, as he’d spent the last few weeks working a temp government job that comprised mostly of reading the collected stories of Rambo.
The thought hit me kind of odd. We had been making fun of Zach, whose new movie The International Sign For Choking we had recently read in our bi-weekly writing group, for living out in hippie-capital Olympia, Washington and going to work in a suit everyday for a not-even-film-related job.
“He made a fucking feature.” I told Rob over a chief-on-squaw Eastwood love-scene. “I mean, c’mon.”
“Don’t mean nothing bro.” He replied, looking forward. And then:
“Do you know you can used food stamps to buy beer?”
“Great.” I replied. “So that’s why Zach is going on food stamps, so that he can trade them for beer.”
My thoughts went racing back to my extremely limited knowledge of food-stamps, wondering whether any of the drug dealers on The Wire had accepted them.
“No he isn’t.” Rob told me disgustedly. “That’s a fucking lie.”
“And whatever you do don’t print it on your blog. Zach’ll fucking kill me.”
“Yeah.” I replied. As I wondered at Civil War-era Native American virility.
The movies were both pretty good. A Perfect Year ended up being about a surprisingly top-form Kevin Costner kidnapping a Jehovah’s Witness kid who doesn’t have a dad and their relationship.
It was sort of like a non-sexual Badlands except for the scene where the little kid shows Kevin Costner his dick (I shit you not).
The Outlaw Josey Wales was fun too, a good western, though I admit little tolerance for that “The North was evil” civil-war crap, as I’m one damn Yankee.
Rob and I ended up eating too much popcorn and coffee and Belgian pastries as we struggled to kill a Sunday.
So I quit my job on Wednesday.
I wish it was some sort of long-brewing Jason Lee act of defiance or else the opposite, a professional-style exit, complete with two weeks notice.
But the truth was my bosses were some sons of bitches who were going to fuck me no matter what I do.
A cynical attitude? Perhaps.
I remember marveling in a previous blog-post about my friend Selom’s optimism and how it found her interning endlessly until she got a big-name gig, before the rest of us.
But my bosses weren’t just underpaying me (illegally) or threatening me (implicit and/or explicitly).
No, in my mind, they committed the greatest sin they could have: they made it not about the movie.
I had been working on an indie feature film and that comes with what you’d expect: long hours, a lot of running around and a constant invocation of Murphy’s law.
But I really never had a problem with that. As I say on all of my job applications, I’m looking to be a part of something. To make something, of a movie, of a company, of myself.
But the problem was by the end, I wasn’t working on the film: I was working to suit my bosses’ petty whims.
It wasn’t all so obvious.
Sometimes it was, with people asking me to pick up scripts or copy DVDs or even, doing personal accounting work (something I almost quit over several times).
But other times it was just in the way they treated me, calling me with no respect for my time, not to problem solve or fix something desperate, but just to complain, yell or ask me to do something later.
I was the personal gopher, paid for 4 days a week, but on call for 7.
I ended up spending each day and hour tense, worrying not about the movie, but about another stupid thing I’d be called about, another call I’d be required to answer.
Because if I didn’t pick up, there’d be more calls, text messages emails. There wasn’t any telling these people I didn’t have time. All that elicited was an argument, bargaining. They held on to my time like they would die if they didn’t get it, going through the stages of grief for it.
And then there’s my initial comment, that it wasn’t about the movie.
I remember working for my old teacher, Robby Benson, a mentor to me at school. He brought me on for a feature he was making, as a makeshift script supervisor. I ruffled a few feathers with bad jokes I’d have gotten away with on a student set and I found myself not getting in edgewise with his crew, shunted farther to the back with the PAs. When I asked him at lunch what had happened, he was honest with me and told me to just keep my distance on set.
“You messed up, you’re learning.” He told me.
“But I can’t do my job.” I told him.
“Then someone else will.” He replied. “Just remember: it’s not about you, it’s about the film.”
The next day I came to set with no attitude. I was super-polite, super high-energy. Suddenly, everyone took a shine.
I didn’t make jokes, but I laughed at other ones. What mattered was the shot. The film. We were all working towards.
The breaking point came for me on this project when I got a call at 8:30pm asking me to be available at 10 to be chastised and then 9am the next morning in a group session.
There were problems about the film, but these meetings were not about them. They were about seeing how well my bosses could control me.
And suddenly I snapped. I consulted my friends. I told them I was too busy to work on their film anymore.
And I felt great.
Until the next day when I was ambushed by both of my bosses and forced into work and more pointless excoriation.
I ended up feeling pretty bad about it.
Until my bosses asked me for help the next week and I said I wasn’t able to help.
Or something like that.
I want to say that there’s a good ending to this tale.
That I was rewarded quitting a bad job. For getting out of there when I could. For not causing a big “scene” like what happened in my last few jobs.
Well, at least not as big of a scene.
I’ve got some interviews. Some semi-paid day-PA work.
Theoretically speaking I’m a “freelancer” at an agency.
I’ve written nice thank you emails and sent out nicely-written cover letters, I didn’t have time for before.
I’ve thought about Alaska or Prague or wherever the hell my dad wants me to go.
I’ve even thought about graduate school, though thankfully, it’s way too early in the season to think about applying.
Which is when I went into see my therapist, who I had left five minutes early last session, I described it like this:
“I no longer live in a state of constant terror; only a state of vaguely uncertain and occasional terror.”
“Sounds like an upgrade.” She told me.
And I agreed.
My old net-obsessed boss Amanda, who Rob still asks about for DTF availability, invited me out with fifteen minutes notice to a hoity-toity museum gathering.
“Free booze.” She told me and I was there.
We talked about mostly how I wasn’t an art person and she wasn’t a theater person and how neither one of us belonged there.
She also ordered a bourbon on the rocks that she ended up pouring most of into my bourbon-and-ginger-ale.
“Can’t drive drunk.” She reminded me.
“Bike drunk.” I corrected her, as we’d just locked up her bike on the Bowery.
“That too.” She replied, sipping the remains of her drink.
It was only a few minutes there, looking at some mash-up hippie stuff and discussing job politics.
A typical bit of conversation: “I can’t log on to Foursquare.”
Our two-person nerd-fest ended quickly as she unchained to go back to her beer-brewing-boyfriend in Brooklyn.
As I stumbled home, half-drunk, I picked up some cupcakes from a place I had not initially impessed by, called Baked by Melissa, famous for selling you 3 button-sized cupcakes for 3 dollars.
This did not exactly excite my Jew-boy value-meter, but my Jew-boy low-alcohol tolerance wasn’t paying attention and I got the ‘cakes.
Surprisingly, alcohol or no, they were near perfection.
For some reason, their small size concentrated their cupcake-richness and made you value each bite.
It almost seemed like prophetic insight: that part of the problem with any cupcake is “too much”. To make such a large thing too rich would make it inedible, while erring toward heartiness would cause the same.
The cupcakes (Cinnamon Bun, Cookie Dough and Cookies and Cream) were just rich perfect little morsels, concentrated nuclei of a flavor and rich texture.
What more did I need, I thought?
They came in a coffee filter and soon they and the coffee filter were gone.
A final note.
When I was getting ready to write this post, I called up Zach to give him half-a-warning.
“You’re kind of the main character in this one.” I told him.
“I’m touched.” He replied. “Now why don’t you hurry up and tell me what you thought of Choking.”
The last time I had talked to Zach after all, had been when he had sent me a text message referencing the film “Babies”, saying “THEY’RE COMING! I’M COMING!” (NSFW, kids.)
When I woke up this morning, I found this on my pillow.
And I decided to keep the byline.
BAKED BY MELISSA
3 Micro-Cupcakes- $3
NW Corner of Spring and Broadway
6 to Spring St. R to Prince.