Monday, June 27, 2011

Cold Fried Chicken: Short Screenplays and My Rocket House Days

The Preface

I spend a great deal of time talking to my buddy Bill. Bill and I discuss books and movies and the theater over beers at the dirtbag bar near the fancy restaurant where we both work. Unfortunately, our work schedules differ; Bill works the back of the house and I work in the front. Needless to say, I'm grateful for the few shifts a week (or a month) when we get out at the same time and walk down the street to the dark bar reserved for the likes of us, restaurant workers.
Bill and I are by no means the only service industry workers at the bar. Rather, there are several and everyone comes from all of the nearby restaurants. The cacophony of conversations range from poorly behaved customers to outdoor adventures and music festivals. Yet for Bill and me, the conversation is one of us asking the other about his impression of a book, movie or play.
You see, Bill is a theater guy. He's passionate about the theater. I suppose it's only fitting that he works a kitchen. An actor/director as a cook/kitchen manager? I learn something from Bill during each conversation. I hope that he learns something from me too. Of course, I am a writer/waiter which is only a difference of one letter. Like Bill, I don't let the job for pay get me down, instead, I do it to afford time for what I find important.
So, that's all the real background you might need for the impetus of this story: Bill and I drink beer after work and talk books, movies and plays.
The day after one of the above dark bar excursions, Bill handed me a stack of books and movies. Among them: Writing Your First Play by Roger A. Hall, a textbook Bill used in college. He had raved about the book at some point, and I was curious about it too. I thanked Bill for the treasure.
That night, after work, and being burdened with a half dozen of Bill's books, and a few of my own, I began the march up the hill toward home.
I passed by The Roxy which is an all night eatery. Just the smell of old cooking grease, burnt butter and fried potatoes was enough to make my decision for me. In old cartoon fashion, the smell came wafting out of the open door and lured me in with my feet six inches off the floor.
Sitting at the counter, I ordered “The Letterman,” a nice plate with two eggs, homefries, and fried ham complete with toast. Once the server walked away, I decided to read away the minutes until breakfast.
I quickly moved through Writing Your First Play. I was instantly impressed with it. I could see why Bill liked it. The book has humor, good structure, sound advice and meaningful exercises. Although I have no interest in writing a play, I have written a number of screenplays and I have taught writing workshops. This book was a real treat to read.
Breakfast came.
I was daydreaming when I dug into the eggs.
Nice hat,” she said.
I looked up from the plate of greasy breakfast to see a glassy-eyed patron standing at the counter near me. “Thanks,” I said.
Where'd you get it?” she asked.
Salt Lake City,” I said.
What were you doing there?” she asked.
I could have told her, my family lives there, but then I have to explain too much and strangers aren't worth it. And whatever would happen with this stranger was not going to be my fault; I didn't make eye contact. “It doesn't matter.”
You're right,” she said. “It is a cool hat.”
Thanks,” I said. I hoovered down over my breakfast. Late night diners at late night, I really should have known better.
What are you reading?” she asked.
As I looked up, she had moved over a few stools and although she was close enough to me, she was kind enough to leave a stool between us. “Oh, this: Writing Your First Play,” I said.
Her eyes rolled across the cover. Then, oddly enough, my glassy-eyed diner-counter neighbor began to discuss theater. She quickly moved to David Mamet, then to the film version of American Buffalo.
Now that we were on the subject of film I began to enjoy the conversation, after all, I have seen more movies than plays.
At length, her food came, all boxed and bagged, to go.
Come over and watch a movie with me,” she said.
I can't,” I said. And it was no lie, there were at least fifty reasons why.
Come on, just a movie,” she said. “I'm staying in the hotel, room 308.”
I can't,” I said.
Yeah, well, goodbye,” she said. She said it in such a snarky way to add one more reason to the fifty.
Once she left the diner, the place became quiet and peaceful again, late night and hushed. Over my breakfast I shook my head, hat and all, and looked back at Writing Your first Play. Who writes such books? I wondered. Then I wondered if I could write such a book. The last diner thought, of course, what movie did the glassy-eyed girl really expect to see?

No comments:

Post a Comment