My friend Evan is acting in a film set in Sarajevo. In it, his character reaches a point of despair and becomes a petty thief, taking a flashlight and smashing through a jewelry store window in an industrial complex containing both a church and a McDonald’s. His accomplice, a young towheaded hood, pressures him to do the job.
I thought Evan’s character’s motives might have been slightly more idealistic, perhaps something to do with money-changing near a temple. But the two are detected, and the police move in. We see them herded off awkwardly and Evan saying, Ow!
Free-ranging over the set of a Gone With the Wind remake. I briefly lend a hand to some grips who hold up a screen, then stoop to scrape some pine residue off the floor of an old auditorium. It is being converted into an antebellum dancehall.
Evan’s wife, playing Scarlett, comes out and starts making demands about how she must be shot. She insists that her face be highlighted in different sparkling colors. So I put out a call to the Director of Photography.
I continue to circle. Young debs step out one-by-one in ballroom dresses, and finally Evan’s wife reappears in the arms of her dancing partner.
I am going to tell her the DP has been summoned, but am gently led aside by another crew member. He raises his finger to his lips and points to the two dancers.
They have passed through that looking glass and are now in character.
I’m not able to do much of anything right on the set. The screenwriter hands me an accordion folder containing some important memorabilia, and I misplace it. Then Evan asks me to watch his little daughter, who drops her doughnut on the carpet, picks it up, and starts to take a bite. I hold her arm for a second and examine the end of the doughnut. It looks OK to me. But Evan comes over, frowning, and pulls a thin carpet fiber off the end of it. He shakes his head and returns to the set.
The little girl tells me she wants to act, just like her French mother. She sits in a folding chair and pretends she is an elderly grand-mère. She points to the craft service table and asks me to bring her more “médication.”
Dutifully, I get another doughnut and feed a piece of it to her, but it is the wrong kind, with nuts, and she starts to make a fuss. She spits the chunk on the floor and proceeds to make gagging noises.
This time Evan is over like a shot, yelling. His daughter glares at me and sticks out her tongue.
Mercifully, or perhaps not, Evan assigns me to work on a little writing project. The topic concerns the career of two old film actors who once starred in an original musical production. Each man tells me hopelessly glorified anecdotes to put in my book and attempts to control the discussion.
Obviously, they have very little confidence in my own research abilities. But I locate a passage in a previous source that describes how the two had liked to toss a Frisbee during breaks from shooting. So when they ask me, somewhat paranoiacally, what I intend to write about next, I reply, a little defiantly, On Frisbee.
Evan throws me a little birthday party in my apartment. Typical gesture, generous but with a catch: no clean-up for him.
Never a too-hearty partier, I take a nap. When I awake, the wind is howling outside. A few party guests still mill around, though Evan is long gone. So I fall into the host’s role.
I notice one mysterious young woman—very dark hair, attractive. She is intrigued by a reference book I have on witches. She opens the volume to an entry about “Wicked Lucy” and tells me she wants to borrow it because her name is Lucy, too.
I ask her where she is from. She says, I’m your Anima.
Evan is visiting my screenwriting class but says he isn’t feeling well and must depart, disappointing several students who were prepared to bombard him with questions.
Not long afterwards, his old college girlfriend shows up, then a more recent mistress, then an old family friend, then a person claiming to be his brother John, though I’ve met Evan’s family many times and have never heard anyone talk about him.
Later, I get a phone call from Evan himself, nervous. I tell him about the retinue of visitors to my class and the man masquerading as his brother. He doesn’t reply.
Suddenly, I sense Evan might not have disclosed his full history to me after all. I tell him that if there is a rift, it seems John wants to heal it. No sense living with an old pain.
Evan finally responds, telling me the falling-out is more recent. I tell him I understand these things have a way of unraveling quickly.
But now I am the one who must get off the phone. I know nothing of the situation and have just about expended my whole stock of clichés.
Evan and I are driving around town with a location manager, scouting for an appropriate suburban house to use as a setting for a movie based on my script Dream Koans.
After hours of winding streets which seemed to circle back on each other, most with nicely kempt yards and homes, we finally find what we want: a house set back from the street with a wide porch and a crawl space. A large oak tree looms over the yard, permitting only mottled sunlight, and one limb hangs threateningly over the roof. The grass is long, dotted with dandelions and crabgrass.
So we ring the bell. It is answered by a middle-aged couple who do not appear too eager to talk—either with us or with each other.
The LM explains our purpose, the likely film dates, and the small remuneration involved. At that part, the man’s interest seems to increase slightly.
His wife, on the other hand, is not looking too pleased. For what kind of movie is this? she asks.
Evan nods toward me. It’s a drama, I say, a little creepy-scary, about strange doings afoot in suburbia . . .
I knew it! the woman interjects, giving her husband a withering look. I told him to get his sorry ass out there and cut the grass!
Evan is asleep, so I believe this will be a good time to sneak out and get us some coffee.
He and I are finally going to get it done—adapt one of his multiple screenplay concepts into a useable treatment which he can shop then around. It has taken us a few years to get together because we now live on opposite coasts. We stay at a timeshare he rarely uses and have reunited at the airport just the night before.
When I go to check the refrigerator, it is empty, of course. But I recall seeing an old bike leaning up against the side of the house and figure I might as well get some exercise and solve our caffeine deficit disorder at the same time.
The sun is just coming up when I return, laden with a thermos.
Evan is standing next to his rental car, speaking on the phone to his agent. He takes the thermos from me without a word, and nods. Then he tells his agent no problem, he can be back in LA in a few hours.
Evan has just completed a book of memoirs with his ghostwriter. It has been dedicated “To My Pals,” and I am being interviewed on cable TV. You were one of the “Two Michaels” mentioned in the book as being important influences, my questioner begins.
Hardly a question yet—nor a very promising lead-in to one. Do you think the dedication is to you?
I politely pretend to consider this inane speculation carefully, but actually I am just trying to think of a topper. No, I finally reply. The book is dedicated to pals everywhere, to all those who are willing to stop and be a pal to someone in need.
I am making a connection through LAX with my new stepson Yonas, and out of the blue decide to call Evan.
There are noises in the background, and I can’t tell for a moment whether someone has picked up the phone. Then Evan’s voice comes in loud and clear.
We’ll have to have you over to the house—you see, we’re having a party, he says.
He sends a limo to pick us up.
By the time we arrive, the house is full of guests. One man there I know, an old college friend of mine and Evan’s. He is upbeat because he thinks Evan might get him a job in which he can “use his photography.” He shows me a portfolio of his recent work—shots of bones done for a scientific publication. The bones are faintly outlined in green.
The houseguests gather around the home theater console and all of the seats fill quickly. A new movie begins to play featuring an absent-minded superhero. Evan is the producer.
After we watch for a while, Evan’s new wife notices Yonas beginning to nod off and offers to give up her chair, but I tell her we are fine.
I briefly contemplate asking her about an overnight stay, but know it will be far less complicated simply to head back to the airport early. So before any of the other guests can make off with the limo, I pick up the small sleeping boy and head outside.