For What It’s Worth

Writings and Musings of Bob Onner: From Home to the Horizon

12/30 12:44 P.M.

It feels like I’m just waiting for this damn party to come; I haven’t been doing much.

I combed through the screenplay yesterday and found a glaring weakness after my midpoint (or Act 2A – Act 2B). But – I think I might have figured it out. The problem isn’t the writing itself (which I found to be pretty satisfactory) but it’s the flow, progression, overall tone; I skipped a few steps and went straight into something instead of building it, which really wasn’t because of indolence. I had this thing in my head I heard Vince Gilligan say about the first episode of season 5B – where he mentioned that the writer’s room found it best to just get on with it between Walt and Hank. The problem was my “get on with it” wasn’t preceded by fifty hours of development, so I have some work to do. I do have an idea where it will go, but the execution thereof is another hurtle.

I’m not a huge fan of the word “talent.” I prefer the word “skill,” or “ability” — they’re more tangible to me. But if there is a component to script writing where the word need apply, it is in the execution of the idea, and not so much the idea itself. It seems pretty safe to say that the idea can be the art, the structure the science, and the execution the talent: you know where that scene needs to end up, the positive or negative charges lapidary in the dialogue, the push-pull – how it moves the story; and all of it needs to be done in this subtile way so as to eliminate the subtlest hue of overtness.

There’s nothing like good cinema to revive spirits and raise morale when that process becomes disillusioning (and it will as sure as the sun rises). I watched Flight the other day, and it really reminded me why there’s such a strong gravitational pull to the medium. Sure, Orange is the New Black is good, but when you have Denzel – physically compromised, flying a plane inverted over an apartment complex, and I’m on the edge of my seat, feeling the pulse behind my eyes – it’s easy to be reminded why were in this thing; why we’re going for it.

In terms of expenditures – I kind of broke – ostensibly brought on by that groovy T purchase. I bought a footlong chicken, bacon, ranch at Subway – then a chocolate milk and yogurt at Walmart. The footlong was made to perfection, a true sandwich artist. It always varies a few degrees: the ratio of banana peppers to ranch dressing, chicken to bacon, how the bread comes out of the toaster, etc. etc. But this one was delicious (that’s not an understatement when you jump from dried almonds and water to footlong sandwiches). The feeling of the first bite in my mouth – the taste buds, the instantaneous “full” feeling in my stomach – was like diving into a cold pool after a long run on a hot and humid, ninety five degree day. Then with the cold chocolate milk … it was great.

I Googled skulls the other day; I’ve been feeling the bones in my under-eyes and they feel pretty asymmetrical (although my problem is the fluid building up … but I wonder if the asymmetry in the bone structure exacerbates that: as if the interconnecting system of veins and nerves and paper-thin arteries have a harder job because they are enveloped around this awkward, unusual structure, akin to going around the edge of Argentina as opposed to the Isthmus of Panama). And I was trying to confirm my asymmetries when I started looking at the images closer; not in any ghoulish way, but thinking, “I can’t believe that material is formed inside a woman’s stomach. Soooo weird.” When you see a human being you don’t think twice about that because their outward form is so in the flesh, and with their personalities and character traits – forget about it.

12/31 1:19 A.M.

I’ll see ya in the New Year.

1/2/15 10:16 A.M.

Jesus.

10:22

I got in around 4 o’clock.

Checked in, went to the beach, listened to music. Got back to the room and whipped out the bag of wine (I’ve been unclear about the wine. I bought a box of merlot the day before I left Jersey and tucked it in the trunk. I’ve been sipping it here and there since, and haven’t done much damage to it). I told the guys that I brought it for the room: “feel free to have at it.”

No one had it. Figures – it was pretty suspect.

I couldn’t bring the box because it wouldn’t fit in my backpack, so when I whipped the plastic bag out of my dirty, slovenly backpack – in combination with the uninviting flubber sound of the bag smacking against the countertop – men recoiled. Everyone has their guard up in hostels, and rightly so – most probably because they’ve seen Hostel. I think they thought I was trying to poison them, which was later confirmed when I came back from getting a bite to eat: “Why aren’t you drinking any of your wine, bro?”

I got out of the shower and there was a girl in the adjacent bedroom where I was sleeping. A French girl: beautiful. A French girl: nice. A French girl: smart. She was teaching French in Portland, Oregon.

She has a two-month break before going back to teaching, then heading back to France at the end of the academic year. She’s from South France, and she has a boyfriend. We spoke for awhile; she was quick to laugh, she was sweet. She was company.

I started talking about (and mispronouncing) players from the French New Wave: Francois Truffaut (France-wah Troo-fawh), Jean-Luc Godard (John-Luke God-urd), Claude Chabrol (Clawed Sorbet … no I got that one), and I told her to watch Linklater’s Before trilogy. She gave me her notebook about her travels in America, and I wrote down the titles.

Now I’m an American: through-and-through-red-white-and-blue. I told her that I loved the fact that I could pack up a car and drive off and go do whatever it is that I want to do in this fine country – how I can operate to my own wishes. She told me in France you’re not allowed to wear crosses or dress in religious garb, but in America, religion is ubiquitous: dating back from manifest destiny to contemporary endnotes on speeches – God bless America. “It’s a shame that expression – your ability to express your faith, or ideas, or thoughts and musings – is restricted in France. If I happen to believe in something, or identify with something, why should my expression of that be stifled? Or policed?” “Oh you wanna talk about police? American police?” We said we wouldn’t go into debate. “How are Americans viewed in France?” “The stereotypes are dumb, fat, limited in scope … we learn about American history, not just French history. We learn about a lot of countries and their histories – it’s part of the curriculum.” “Well I had one year of modern european history in high school .. yeah .. MEH .. yeah we had MEH, Camille.” The topic of education continued: “I don’t know. I applied to Columbia. I probably won’t get in but even if I do I don’t know if I’ll go. It might not be worth it. Tuition is 55k a year.” “Fifty-five thousand dollars? One year?” “(head nodding in the positive)” “Guess how much it is for me to go to University?” “Euro or U.S.?” “Either one.” “Five …. fifteen? Five. Five thousand euros.” She held up five fingers. “Oh so five thousand. I was right.” “No. Five.” “Five what” “Five euros” “(dumbstruck; incredulous)” It costs her five euros a year to get an education at University in France.

Now I’m an American: through-and-through-red-white-and-blue. But when and if I do travel outside these borders, France is the first place I’m going. And it’s not so I could maybe on some chance encounter see Camille again and mispronounce her name, and she happens to be single, and there happens to be a shooting star overhead or something, and maybe there’s a violinist, and maybe …

What is it about France? French women? Marion Cotillard, Berenice Bejo, Eva Green, Melanie Laurent, all so gorgeous and talented, yes, but an air to them, a discarnate force – their projections and mere presences incantations without diction.

Why did Hemingway retreat there as part of the expatriate gang in the ’20’s?

Why did Susan Sontag go there and make it a mission to learn the language?

Why does love and romanticism thrive and foster in France?

There must be something braided into the Alps, something woven into the Riviera, something inherently spellbinding about the land, that makes that corner of the world battily alluring to love.

I was drinking with the kids at the hostel, a cast of characters onto themselves. We were shootin’ whiskey, chasing with wine. Two kids – I won’t even try to recreate the conversations, or even a perfunctory recap of what transpired. I think that one’s for me and the casket. They were cool though. One was trying to size me up a little bit. They had been doing blow all day and betting on horses at the race track about forty minutes inland. They were from one of the Dakota’s.

Long story short, we (all 5 of us) got drunk and shot the shit for awhile. Cut to –

Nikki Beach. Now I’m hammered, way past the red – way past the red, wan-white mien, soon to feel blue.

I really don’t remember what I did to be denied admission. I slightly remember doing something questionable in line, but I can’t remember what. So I was kicked out of the line. I went and got in a different one and some guy – who was so angry, so fucking angry with me – picked me up by my legs and walked me about fifty feet to the center of the parking lot. When he put me down he started yelling in my face, “You’re lucky I don’t lay you the fuck out.” “What did I do though? Just tell me what I did.” “Whatchyou say?” “I’m asking what I did” “I will lay you the fuck out.” The thing was no one would tell me what I did. I tried to talk to another kid who was running things, and he started shoving me with his little flashlight and clipboard. Some Australian or New Zealand guy in line stepped in and said, in an advising tone, “I think you better leave, mate” (those guys are some tough bastards). He was right, and sympathetic to my state. The Clipboard Kid started radioing in for police and back up, so I left. I just left.

I found myself walking down Ocean Drive about a half hour later – headband undone, mustache looking dumber than ever. I rehashed the scene in my head and up came a pang of fury; I tossed my phone into the dark abysses of the South Beach meridians and made course for the water.

Found it.

Sat.

And balled.

Hysterically cried for a half hour, hour (it’s always good to cry, even if it is drug-induced. The hurt was in there; if something external helped bring it to the surface, then great. That’s great).

And that’s how I rang in the New Year: fireworks went off, distant whoops of jubilation and jocosity, with me sitting there – ululating – cracking up the concentrated entrails that lied within.

I remember yelling “Dad” a lot; I jumped in the ocean, then laid on the banks of the beach as waves came up and broke back.

When I got back to the hostel, I tried waking up Camille. She turned in pretty early and now had someone sleeping in the bunk above her. I tried to be quiet and discreet: she pretended to be asleep. I rustled her leg a little, and she turned over with a face of disgust and repulsion.

I then hopped up on my bed, put on music and headphones, and started confessing my love for this girl in a very audible tone, perhaps waking up some of the same cast of characters I had been macho with earlier. Then I started talk-singing along to the songs: “Don’t you want somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody body to love? Bob you better find somebody to love. You better find somebody to love, Bob.” This went on for a solid, steady, twenty five minutes, with varying gravitas and intonation.

Checkout was at eleven A.M. When I woke up I went to the bathroom and made my greetings with the new kid that was sleeping in the bed above Camille’s. He was taciturn.

I ran up to Ocean Drive and started combing through the area where I thought I threw my phone. I woke up some kid who was passed out under a palm tree, spoke with sanitary workers, police officers – no dice. No phone. Then I popped into a hotel lobby and called it – over and over and over again – until it went dead.

The one officer told me to try the station. I called ’em up and they didn’t want to help me but I was pretty vociferous in my cause – steadfast to remedy the things I could. They had a phone that fit my exact description: iPhone 5, gray case. I ran down to the station but it wasn’t it. It wasn’t fucking it. IPhone 5 gray case not my fucking phone. Crazy. So I went back to the hostel, called my Mom from the lobby and bitched to her about it. Camille came down with the kid that I made my greetings with a few hours earlier – it was her boyfriend. And he had his guard up, hesitant to be amiable (but at the same time a little intrigued, really – like he was kinda interested in this volatile, emotionally schizophrenic American who confessed his love for his girlfriend after one conversation). Camille pretended as if nothing happened the night before; she was her affable, French self. She lent me her phone and I texted mine: “This phone is lost. If found please, plz plz plz, call (908) 507-8686” (mom’s phone number). Then I re-dialed my home phone, spoke with my mom, and whilst speaking, she got a call from my number. I hung up, dialed my phone, made arrangements with the kid, and thus repossessed my block of technology.

And that’s basically it. I checked out, hopped a bus, and made my way back to the Walmart lot after a coupla breakfast sandwiches (there’s an addendum I’ll add for shits and gigs: I ended up seeing Camille and her boyfriend one last time after I checked out. The comma between “checked out” and “hopped a bus” reads something like: I wandered around aimlessly, hung over to hell, went to the beach – it started to drizzle – I left, walked the streets and up to the posh shops, peering in at happy people, then the rain started to pick up. Then it started to really come down in idioms, and I fled for shelter. I found a side entrance for a building with a little overhead structure and parked up on the steps. As soon as I did this the rain stopped, almost instantaneously, and I buried my face into my hands, rubbing my under eyes, thinking the more I rub them the more I’ll have a chance at looking alive – palms to sockets, fists to balls – a dumb eyebrow on my upper lip – Camille and her Boyfriend walk up. Laughing, at the tail end of their cavorting for overhead shelter.

That’s where they found me: “How are you?” “(getting up, fake jolly) Yeah – good, I’m good. Yeah I’m just tired. Just tired.” “Take care, yeah?” “I will. I will.”).

Palms to sockets, fists to balls – a dumb eyebrow on my upper lip – I won’t.

“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday that’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday is my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.”

  • Pat Solatano Jr.
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