On The Boardwalk

It all seems too soon.

I don’t really know the context for that statement.

It’s just what I said.

Along with:

“Cheesequake. I remember that.”

I was riding shotgun in the DP’s car headed back towards New York City along the Garden State Parkway. There had recently been a semi-argument over whether we should cut through Staten Island to Williamsburg and the DP’s home, or whether she could cut through Manhattan, drop us and then cut across Kenmare towards the Williamsburg Bridge.

The sound mixer, the other occupant of the car, was the one who really pushed for the second plan. I was just happy for a dependable ride, if you could call a Saturn Trans Am with it’s roof-lining 6 inches down from the car’s ceiling, dependable.

But when I realized she’d take the tunnel and I’d be dropped on Canal and West Broadway, I gave up any pretense of arguing her side and just accepted. I’d be ’round the corner with all my bags.

Ready to go home.

***

Cheesequake was the name of a town, or at least a rest stop, somewhere along the Garden State Parkway that we stopped on the way down.

My dad had given me a ride and a half a sandwich out to Williamsburg in the early Sunday morning to meet the DP’s car for the drive down, which I appreciated until he started asking me what I wanted to do with my life and telling me that if I wasn’t writing every day I was “fooling” myself. (I told him to go fuck himself and slammed both car doors, while taking the sandwich and some Mandarin Orange seltzer.)

The gig was an unspecified Production Assistant/Digital Assistant gig, somewhere on the Jersey Shore that I’d be swooped into by a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew I needed work. My good karma at the movie theater had paid off and I’d found someone to cover my shift and I was relieved. I’d be getting paid a bit (that I wasn’t even sure of originally), but I’d be working on a film set, a welcome return after the pain of my last job and what seemed like a hasty exodus from the industry I’d gone to school for.

I’d never been to the Jersey Shore before and though the ride was long, it was brisk with both windows open. I met the DP and the Mixer and talked with them a bit in the car before retreating into video games. The DP particularly was very nice and offered to hook me up with gigs even on the ride over there.

“Let’s see if I’m not completely incompetent first.” I told her.

“You don’t seem it.” She said. “But I’ve been wrong before. Often wrong.”

***

The director ended up being a pleasant and eccentric man, somewhere out of the 80s PBS documentary world who had gotten tangled up somehow in a boardwalk amusement park out of Wildwood, NJ and had decided to make a “docu-soap sizzle reel” out of it. He was a nice, older man who kept making nonsensical witticisms and jokes that seeemed to ask for that “second laugh” that comes when you know that someone’s told such a miss that you might just laugh out of sheer wonderment.

The park itself was a pretty interesting place. It took up several piers on the Wildwood boardwalk and featured a general family amusement park, a “Splish-Splash-style” Water Park and a Six Flags-style “Extreme Pier”. I would have thought the economy would have hit a place like this hard, but people kept coming, later and later into the night to the fill the whole place out. It was as if all of New Jersey and the surrounding states had materialized for the late August in Wildwood.

And why wouldn’t they? A constant breeze, pretty sunsets. Public beach access and fairly inexpensive food. The beach seemed clean and was cut toward the Atlantic, so there were even small waves crashing on the shore. I stared at them jealously from the piers but never got close enough to jump in.

But the park itself featured more than rides and a beach and that’s why the crew was here. Every summer, the park imported it’s labor with college-age foreigners from Russia and Bulgaria and Romania and Malaysia and more. Older teens flock to work the concession rides, living 12 to a dorm-style apartment and getting paid min-wage to live in America for a summer and improve their English. They mixed with the native New Jerseyers and Philadelphians who came up to work there, along with the other band of school teachers and ice rink proprietors who were out of work for the summer.

Our director had come to film these people and find characters for a potential show. It gave me a good feeling with possibility, but by the end I wasn’t sure if we’d found the story we needed.

Not that I would know as I spent almost the entire time reliving old video games.

I know, it sounds sad.

But such is the job of the DIT, which thankfully I turned out to be on this set, since otherwise I would have been lugging a tripod around in high heat and humidity.

Yes, I sat in front of a computer and a card reader and many hard drives and worked through workflows and formatted P2 cards. Considering that I hadn’t done so in years, it was a small triumph for me that I figured I did my job well.

But while the other members of the crew came in complaining about sand and water and heat and sweat and lack of caffeine, I only took a couple Excedrin once, to numb some eye strain I’d gotten looking at too many screens from too long.

It was a couple long days, sitting in front a computer in a hijacked administrative conference room.

***

On the ride back and throughout the shoot, I kept on thinking of my old job, as I had to explain to the director and others that I did, indeed, know what I was doing.

“The thrust of my whole last job was dealing with hard drives and proper compression.” I assured them, but it just dredged back bad memories.

When I saw the DP and the Mixer stand up to the director when he asked for less than an 8-hour turn-around, I was shocked.

“Well, you got to have boundaries.” the Mixer told me.

What a foreign concept. I felt like anytime I’d tried to set boundaries at my old job they were ignored or I just got yelled at. I didn’t think you could say no to these people successfully.

But even our director, who was far from any of the sort of excess I could find at my last job, respected their wishes and they all came to a compromise where we got home earlier on Tuesday and everyone was ok.

I found myself unloading on the DP and the Mixer as we drove back toward New York, still agonizing over my last job.

“I mean, it was like an abusive relationship.” I told them. “You keep doing things that make you feel dirty that you don’t want to do and then you blame yourself for not being able to stop them.”

“You just got to say no to jobs like that.” The DP told me. “The more people who take them and deal with these people, the more these crazy people think they can walk over anyone.”

“But now the people who used to be below me have my job and they seem fine.” I told them, thinking about the emails I had gotten half-knowingly acknowledging my movie theater employment.

“That’s on them. The point is your out of there and they can’t do anything to you anymore.” The DP said.

And if it seems like everyone I meet is involved with working out my own conflicted self, it’s only because I force them to on a literal or figurative car ride from New Jersey.

“Cheesequake.” I said, cutting the after-silence of my dilemma.

“Cheesequake.” The mixer replied.

And we drove on.

***

I give this advice knowing people won’t go often to Wildwood, NJ, at least not the readers of this blog (with the possible exception of Mr. Robert Martin Malone).

But I did eat some pretty good ice cream there.

Like the piers, the ice cream shop (and even the mexican deli!) was staffed with immigrant teens and when I went to get my “small” cup a blond girl with bad teeth and a nice smile gave it to me with a funny accent.

It was 3.20 for the cup.

It was huge.

I got “Fudge Swirl” on the girl’s rec.

Pretty darn good if I do say so myself.

I haven’t had Vanilla Fudge since I was about 13, opting for the purer experience of chocolate-based flavors once my palette matured, but in the late and humid New Jersey night, heading back to my motel room–

What can I say?

It hit the spot.

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2 Responses to On The Boardwalk

  1. Lisa says:

    everyone in that car is correct and best of all, you got to work on a good project with smart people–and a cup of delish ice cream. I say HUZZAH!

  2. Matt Chao says:

    Stay in touch with that DP.

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