Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Letters To My Unborn Self

I’ve just been sobbing quite uncontrollably for a while – something I haven’t done in quite some time.

It started earlier tonight when I decided to look for some old photos of myself and others from my distant past. There was a big Rubbermaid storage box filled with old photos and keepsakes in a closet, I thought. So I rooted it out and decided to spend some time looking through the photos for the best ones to scan and share on Facebook. They seemed to cover a huge span of time… everything from my mother’s early childhood in the late 1940s to just a few Christmases ago. And some were of me – a lot of me and my sister as kids. I pulled out the ones I liked of myself. (My sister can scan her own photos someday if she wants to.)

Then I found something I wasn’t expecting to see. It was a baby book that, by the age of 31, I never knew I had. As I opened it up, I saw a black and white picture of a newborn baby boy. My name was written lovingly underneath it, with the date – September 19, 1980 – below that.

8 lb 7 ounces, 21 inches

I was shocked. My parents had never told me I had a baby book. They’d never pulled it out to show me as a kid or to embarrass any girlfriends as a teenager. Why was I finding this on my own only now? I still don’t have an answer for that.

I continued to leaf through it. There weren’t any more photos of me. Those were all to be found in the piles of photos I’d already gone through. This was less of a photo album and more of a book of artifacts and keepsakes. A book of records my mom kept and jotted down as she began to raise me; a book of “firsts” and “favorites”. It was all very sweet. I read through it all, imagining what my mother – and my father, too – must have been feeling as they kept jotting down little notes about how baby Michael was developing; chronicling my experiences for me.

Then the book ended. I closed it, looked through a few more old photos. And then I came across a very non-descript light blue file folder. Inside were what appeared to be old office papers, filled from top to bottom with scribbled handwriting. My attention wasn't immediately drawn to that group of papers – I leafed through a few more on the other side of the folder. But soon, I looked again and saw it was my mother’s handwriting. And I saw the words, “Dear Baby,” adorning the beginning of the first paragraph. Then I saw the date that had been scrawled just to the left of that – “1/28/80”; less than eight months before my birth.

This document was a journal, written by my mother, directly to me: her as-of-yet unborn child. She was chronicling her experiences in a letter to me, and yet I had never known this letter existed until now (– literally, just a few hours ago as I write this). She first tells of how she came to find out that she was pregnant – that she’d been feeling symptoms of sickness and headaches. She’d been describing these symptoms over the phone to her cousin Joan, with whom she was very close. Joan already had birthed three children by this time (two more would come from her later on) and she urged my mother to go to a doctor to get a blood test. She was writing this only a short time after receiving the results of that blood test over the phone. This was the first she had ever known of my existence, and it is the first direct record I’ve ever seen of it. It was like reading the moment of my very conception. (Not literally, of course – I would choose not to read that.)

She went on to write more entries. Later dates – 2/11/80, 5/19/80 – and she would scribble, in ever-decreasing legibility, about her excitement for my arrival, her fears about how she and my father would afford to raise me, fears about the contentment and serenity of the environment in which I’d be raised, but mostly that she just couldn't wait to meet me. She wrote again on 9/12/80 – my due date. She’d been on maternity leave for two and a half months now and was growing as restless as she was large. She explained that she was uncomfortable a lot of the time, but was, more than anything else, just eager and “anxious” to meet me and to hold me in her arms. I was born one week later.

The next and final entry is dated 12/4/80. Her handwriting is much clearer now.
Dear Michael,
This is my first entry since you were born. Tomorrow you will be eleven weeks old, two and a half months. You are even more wonderful than I ever dreamed. Since the moment you were born, you’ve had a calm and happy disposition. You’ve brought me more happiness than I have ever known in my life. You’re an unusually good baby. You seldom cry but smile a lot and sleep the majority of the time. Your birth was a marvelous experience, and since that time, you’ve been a joy. Your Dad tells me at least three times a day how much he loves you. He spends a great deal of time playing with you and taking care of you. Ceci & Eric
[half-siblings] also take care of you and play with you. They think you’re pretty special and already I can see that you feel the same about them. Grandma McCarthy is just overjoyed with you and thinks you’re so special. Grandma Wood just met you for the first time about ten days ago and she is really enjoying you.

And that’s it. That’s all she wrote for me. I was already sniffling and wiping tears off my cheek at this point, but then I leafed through the other pages on the other side of the folder. I found more hand-written letters, this time on lined paper. It was my father’s handwriting.

“To my child,” it began. Oh, great! I thought, as I rolled my eyes and felt an even bigger lump hit my throat.

My father went on to explain that he was writing this letter on the BART train, on his way home from his office in San Francisco at 11:22 AM because he’d received word that my mother’s water had broken. He wrote that he wanted to tell me exactly what he was feeling as this time. I imagined my 45-year old father, tall and slender, in his suit and tie – probably in a mid-70s style, striving hard to avoid the evolution of fashion – his tightly combed brown hair and his neatly-sculpted mustache – too young yet to need his glasses – bouncing and swaying gently as the railway train carried him East toward my mother at 60 miles per hour. His emotions came through his words and in his handwriting, and I could feel the mixture of excitement and fear in him. He explained that he wished he could give me a more natural experience upon entering this world – he almost seemed to be apologizing as he described the bright fluorescent lights, the cold scales and instruments and the busy shuffling of people I’d be exposed to upon my arrival. How he wished he could offer my mother and me a home delivery, surrounded only by loved ones and a single nurse or doctor, or maybe a quiet, solitary experience – just my mother and me. He tried to explain, again, apologetically, to an unborn, unknowing blank slate of a baby why it would have to be subjected to these modern discomforts – that it was a trade-off for the awe-inspiring stimuli of our modern society. He expressed his desire that he will be able to teach me to appreciate a balance with nature and with society… someday.

He also explained that he had spent a lot of time rubbing what he believed to be my back and my shoulders as best as he could figure from outside the womb and that I’d responded to his touch by calming my movements or my kicks. He told me he couldn’t wait to rub my back in person – directly – and that he hoped I would develop to know the difference between a maternal touch and a paternal touch. I don’t know exactly what he meant, but I know he wrote it with so much love in his heart that maybe it was causing him to not make sense.

His train arrived, and he had to catch a bus to the hospital. And with the end of that entry, his life without me in it came to an end.

The next entry was written about 13 hours later. My father went on to tell me all the details of my delivery; that it was smoother than even he – who’d had four children with his previous wife – had expected. That I was the first of his children whose birth he’d been allowed to witness first-hand, and how my head changed shape right before his eyes as I was squeezed out of my mother and reformed into a bulbous little cranium on a tiny body, that I’d been born bigger than any of his previous children and that I was instantly mesmerized by my new surroundings. He explained that, although he and my mother wished she could hold me right away, bare skin to bare skin, the nurses insisted that I be wrapped in a blanket first. But that when my mother did hold me, I was instantly secure and calm and that he persuaded the nurses to let us be alone for another hour or so before tending to their various duties with me.

For the first time ever, he wrote down parts of the story he would go on to tell me countless times in my life – that I’d caused him to miss the final episode of the miniseries, Shogun, on ABC, but that he was glad to have spent the time with me, instead, (the box set on DVD would make for a nice gift years later,) and how my mother had made a specific request for dinner that night; a cheeseburger and a milkshake, which he was happy to visit the nearest Burger King to obtain for her. He thanked me for arriving early enough in the evening (at 8:15 PM) to allow him to spend time with me, make the requisite phone calls to friends and family, and get home in time to see his other teenage kids and go to bed himself at a reasonable hour.

“I love you, my son – very much.” He closed. “Welcome to our home.”

As I closed the folder, I slowly began racing back to the present after having spent a very strange time in a part of my own past I feel like I’d never actually experienced – my birth. I saw myself as a newborn through both my mother’s and my father’s eyes, and experienced our introduction to each other through them. It was so strange, how it seemed to be written to me – not 5-year old me, or 20-year old me, but me right now – today – from people whom I’ve come to know quite well, but not in this form… never this young. My parents from my distant past were talking directly, in these letters, to me in their future. I’m still coming down from this strange trip. I actually felt, as I read all these words, like I was there in the delivery room with them, watching myself being born. And I felt the excitement and the overwhelming love they all had for me in their hearts at that moment. The ink from their pens from that very day was right here under my fingertips. Their words and their handwritings were not a conduit, but were the very scene itself. And, for all these years, I’d never known these letters existed.

My sobbing was unstoppable. I cried hard into my hands, struggling and choking the sounds back because I didn’t want to hear them. But they kept coming, and my logical brain wanted to know why. Was I sad about this? Were these tears of joy? Of pain? Relief? The only conclusion I believe I could come to was… yes! I was feeling all of these things.

But why should I feel sadness and pain in the light of these letters that are testament to my parents’ love for me? Because now, as I read them, my parents are also 31 years older. Their health is beginning to fail. They’re both working so hard far-past their retirement age just to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. And I do not know that I will ever be able to introduce them to their grandchildren, should I ever be able to give them any. I am bitterly sad that life should provide opportunities for such amazing moments of joy and pure love, only to have them slowly and painfully taken away from us in the end. I was crying because a part of me was all too aware of the fragility of it all, and it was not beautiful in its fleetingness. It was tragic and heart-wrenching.

And yet, it was joy and bliss and relief for my soul as I read these messages that so patiently waited in an over-sized shoebox for me to discover them and to ingest them at the exact moment that fate would decide I needed and could appreciate them the most.

And yet I also felt a depressing feeling – almost shameful – that I have, in m 31 years, come nowhere near to fulfilling the potential that my mother and father wrote so lovingly that they hoped I would. I felt that I was a failure at the game of life; that, a midst this economic and social depression, I’m a victim of circumstances only to a certain degree, and that my current sorry state of affairs is so much of my own doing that I have undoubtedly disappointed these lovely, hopeful and caring young people who had just reached out through time to speak to me. I had let them down. And even at two o’clock in the morning, as my 76-year old father surely lies sleeping soundly next to my 64-year old mother in their bed, not thinking of me at all, I am – concretely – a great disappointment to them still.

But then another thought occurred to me. Perhaps my young parents – the hopeful, happy souls who wrote the letters – had reached me at this point in time for another reason. I felt that I could not let this strange trip into a pseudo-time-warp of undying love and devotion to the very idea of myself that my parents gave to me be a negative and disheartening experience; that some good must come of it now.

And that’s when I saw myself – perhaps only for a moment, but a moment long enough – through their eyes. Perhaps I wasn’t the total disappointment I thought I was. Perhaps, although not in the position in my life that I wish I were, I was not anywhere near the son that they might have feared I would become. To be fair, those young parents would probably be thrilled to know that their son would not become a drug addict, or an alcoholic. He would never be arrested or spend any time in jail. He would never be seriously injured in a car crash or while playing a sport. He is not un-driven or un-motivated. He is not without passion and desire. That he is, in fact, creative, witty, intelligent, and musically inclined. That he enjoys writing, and drawing, and telling stories. That he loves children and that they, inevitably, always seem to love him. That, despite the problems he feels he does have, there are many problems of the world that he does not and will not ever have. And perhaps they would be pleased to know that he read their letters. And that he heard their words. And that, to know more about who he is and where he’s come from, he needed them more than ever… on this very night.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Photog

In a classic film noir style, a mild-mannered wedding photographer is approached by a mysterious person and offered a large sum of money to spy on (and take photos of) some other mysterious person. It's all very vague and strange to our hero, but the money is far too much to pass up, so he agrees, believing - as his client has suggested - that the less he knows, the better. But it all turns out to be more complicated than that.

Perhaps our hero has been set up as a "fall guy" or, perhaps, he's actually been unwittingly involved in a larger plot from the very beginning. Once this realization hits him, he delves further into the seedy underbelly of the secret world that continues to reveal itself to him. As he deals with his normal life, which seems less and less important compared to the ordeal at hand, he delves deeper into the mystery and becomes an impromptu detective trying to clear his name or get to the bottom of the mystery and put it all to bed once and for all.

I think it would be cool to set it in as modern a world as possible, bringing all the essential noir elements into the modern world but without ever being too obvious about it. Hopefully, it could have all the noir themes inserted subtly into what seems like just a cool, fast-paced drama/thriller.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Filmmakers Mockumentary

11:01 AM I have an idea for a mockumentary I'd like to make about two filmmakers - based on the personalities of the Coen brothers as I've seen them in interviews - who are endlessly creative but lack any real great talent.

The amazing thing about these filmmakers (perhaps they're brothers as well) is that, despite critical lambasting across the board, they are never deterred and are continuously inspired to make more and more films. Perhaps these delusions of grandeur are similar to those of director Ed Wood, as portrayed in the Tim Burton film baring his name; despite public disapproval and a complete critical beratement, he continues to do what he loves to do and he continues to love doing it. The point of the story is that, in the end, that's all that really ever mattered anyway.

The setting for this film is that a behind-the-scenes crew is documenting the process of making the brothers' latest production, but the film also jumps into biography mode between events in the making of this new film, so we're continually bouncing between the past and the present.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

1987

I want to make a movie about a group of young people - maybe just a few years out of High School - in the year 1987.

The group consists of four young men - Mitch, Chris, Mac and Carl - and a few of their friends, family and other antagonists. The four guys are the central focus of the story - they're in a band together (perhaps named "Vinyl Sweat") and this story will cover their rise to moderate (local) stardom, their almost equally-instantanious fall and their modest return (perhaps a few years later). They idolize bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Ratt, Cinderella, Bon Jovi, Dokken, Slaughter, Vixen, Heart, and the other glam rock/hair metal bands of the mid-80s.

One of the main characters is named Mitch - he's the guitar player of the band and the main songwriter. I want to base this character on the strong, silent type of rock stars of the 80s like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Perry and Slash. He's very talented and has a very strong ego running the show inside him, but he's also fairly insecure and shy. Women like him, but it's the lead singer - Chris Diamond - whom the women really go crazy for.

Chris is a year or so older than the rest of the bandmates, and that counts for a lot at this age. And compared to Chris, Mitch's ego is almost non-existant. This character is based on David Lee Roth, Axl Rose, and Steven Tyler. Chris is the real deal - an amazing singer, poet/lyricist, front-man, and performer - flamboyant and extroverted both on-stage and off.

Chris and Mitch will clash several times, over women and issues of who is the star of the band, which will eventually culminate with Chris leaving the group. After an unsuccessful solo career, however, a tragic event will reunite the original line up of the band.

The other two guys are Mac and Carl. Mack is a big dude and the drummer of the band. Mac is the backbone of the band because he's the rich one. Well, his dad is, anyway. Mac's father provided much of the funds that have allowed the band to exist at all - rehersal space in the "spare garage", instruments and eventually the funds to record their first demo tapes. Mac's dad even bailed Chris out of jail at one point.

And then there's Carl - the really tragic figure of the group. Carl wasn't always in the band, but when the founding bass player leaves the group on bad terms, the guys hold auditions. Carl is initially rejected without even a chance to audition, but when the band finishes the auditions with unsatisfactory results, Carl is waiting for them in the parking lot, his bass and amp set up in front of their van/cars. He wows them with his natural talent and his completel knowledge of all their songs. They have no choice but to select him as their new bass player. Mac and Chris haze Carl - the new guy - a lot, but Mitch is kind to him and takes him under his wing a bit.

Eventually, however, Carl will be killed in a tragic accident and it will be at the funeral where the band reunites with their original bass player and Chris, the singer. (Perhaps a note or a photo that belonged to Carl is revealed and inspires them all to reunite.)

Thats all I have for now - I'll have to add some stories about the trials they run into with women, booze and drugs. It will have a bittersweet ending, and plenty of laughs, but over all, the tone is light then heavy then light then heavy again, and so on.


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I have some more ideas. I think one of the first things that should happen after I establish a few characters would be to set up the up-coming "Battle of the Bands" in which the band, Vinyl Sweat, is set to perform against a few other newcomers. They were last year's reigning champions, but this year there are some new kids on the block and they intend to give the local kings of rock a run for their money.

One of the bands is an all-female band called Pink Death. They wear leather, black make up and their hair is huge! And more than any other threat, they ROCK! The lead singer is a young woman named Samantha - or Sam, for short. She's tough. She'll kick your ass. She's also hot. Very hot. Everyone wants her, but most also fear her. Mitch isn't sure, but he thinks he may like her. But she doesn't like him.

I want Pink Death to perform "Stand Back" by Stevie Nicks. They'll rock it. But right before the boys from Vinyl Sweat go on stage, they get into a fight and the bass player quits the band. They're forced to cancel their appearance. The crowd goes crazy and a mini-riot ensues.

Also, I think it's Chris who decides he likes Sam first and he begins to pursue her. Maybe even dates her. She seems to ignore Mitch for a while, but maybe there's a reversal and she gives herself to Mitch or shows her ulterior motive for dating Chris in the first place. She can't possibly be interested in a guy who's so full of himself.
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I also think it would be wise to connect some people, like Carl and Sam - she might be his big sister, competitive yet protective of his best interests.

I'd also like to add a new character - an enthusiastic friend of the band who has no musical talent whatsoever, but he has a ton of energy and enthusiasm, a great personality, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Rock n' Roll facts and history. he's also got a hell of a business/marketing sense and is studying business management in school. This guy's name is Bobby Parker, but his nickname is "Baby" for several reasons.

Bobby Baby runs with the band, he names the band, and serves as their roadie, adviser and business manager. he does it all because he believes in the band... almost as much as Carl does.

The story all starts out as the band has already gained some ground and have a bit of a cult following. They're getting gigs and local interviews. The best way, therefore, to get the exposition of who they are and how they got here is to do it in one of these interviews - perhaps for a local rock magazine or even as small as a high school newspaper. Maybe we see a montage in the beginning of their success and popularity rising quickly intercut with an interviewer asking questions and the band members answering them. Here we get the back-story on their characters, their names, their interpersonal relationships and history, etc. and this could be where the 'Battle of the Bands' is first mentioned.

And then maybe we cut again to young Carl reading the finished article... again, being wowed.
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OUTLINE

"A" story - The Band (& Bobby)
"B" story - Chris/Mitch/Sam Love-Triangle
"C" story - The tragedy of Carl

ACT ONE
(consists of:)
  • Magazine Interview/Rising Star montage
  • High School Performance/Carl watches Vinyl Sweat
  • Meet Mitch's bitchy girlfriend
  • Contrast her against Sam and her band, Pink Death
  • Meet Bobby 'Baby' Parker
  • Battle of the Bands
  • Bass player quits
  • Auditions for a new bassist
  • Carl wins the job
  • Mitch breaks up with (or gets dumped by) his girlfriend
  • Tensions flare between Chris & Mitch
  • Sudden success - first single hits radio!

ACT TWO
  • Bobby gets the band an agent
  • Pink Death ride into fame too (maybe on V.S.'s coat tails)
  • Chris starts dating Sam from Pink Death
  • Maybe Pink Death and Vinyl Sweat open a big concert together in town (for some big band)
  • Chris falls into excess (drugs, booze, etc.)/Mitch falls in love with Sam (maybe an affair?)
  • (Tour Montage?)
  • Original Bassist starts roumors - maybe Mitch's ex does too
  • Tensions flare - Chris quits the band
  • Things start to look rocky for Chris & Sam, too
  • Carl pleads for Chris & Mitch to reconcile - they refuse
  • Vinyl Sweat is dead

ACT THREE
  • Chris works with original bassist on solo record
  • Sam leaves Mitch / Carl (Sam's brother) is heartbroken & lost without Vinyl Sweat, Sam worried about him (connected?)
  • Pink Death rises in popularity - Carl helps with his sister's band
  • Months go by
  • Carl gives some big dramatic, dogmatic monologue, one last big effort to reunite Mitch and Chris
  • Carl dies an ironic , horribly tragic death which amplifies the power of the band's music.
  • At the funeral, Chris, Mitch, (original bassist) and Mac all reunite. Pink Death is there, and Vinyl Sweat reforms under its original lineup -they do it for Carl.
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Cast of Characters

Vinyl Sweat:
  • Chris Diamond
  • Mitch
  • Don (original bassist)
  • Mac
  • Carl Summers
  • Bobby "Baby" Parker
Pink Death:
  • Samantha Summers
  • Ashley Turner
  • Kate Shurewell
  • Becky Romer

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Time For A Sandwich

This is a short movie idea I just came up with.  I'm jotting the story beats here so I don't forget it.

*A guy - who is wearing a Metallica T-shirt - wants to eat a sandwich.
*He goes to the kitchen and finds that his last heel of sliced bread is covered in mold.
*He gets into his car to go to the store, but he runs out of gas before he can get out of the driveway.
*So he hoofs it to the 7-11.
*At the 7-11, he goes to buy a new loaf of bread, when he is taken hostage by a crazy man with a long scraggily beard who robs the store.
*The crazy man takes him away in a van and then dumps him in another neighborhood and screams some crazy and nonsensical warning at him about a kid on a bike before peeling out and driving away.
*The guy still wants a sandwich.
*He walks for a while until he finds a deli.
*On his way to the deli, he pulls out his wallet to check how much money he has.  There's a crisp new $20-bill inside.
*A kid rides up on a bike and steals it and rides away.  The guy chases after him.
*He chases the kid who rides into a residential area, ditches his bike and hops the fence into a private back yard.
*The guy runs into the owner of the house in the back yard and the kid hops another fence and gets away.
*The owner of the house is a "Doc Brown"-type mad scientist, and he grabs the guy and takes him into the garage, ranting that he's the perfect subject for his new experiment - a time machine!
*In the garage, there is a refrigerator decked out with a bunch of wacky sciencey stuff.  The mad scientist throws the guy into the refrigerator, slams the door closed, spins a dial and hits a button.
*The guy pushes the door open again and he's in 1974.  He still wants a sandwich.
*He runs into a bunch of very young metal-head teens and they see his T-shirt.  They think Metallica would be an awesome band name.
*The lead kid tells the guy where he can get a job as a grocery bagger.
*The guy works at the grocery store for 35 years.  He grows a long scraggily beard.
*He still wants a sandwich.
*He goes to buy a sandwich, but that same kid on a bike steals his wallet again.
*In a desperate rage, he robs a 7-11 and takes a hostage, whom he dumps out in a remote neighborhood and screams a warning about that kid on a bike.
*The guy proceeds to the nearest grocery store and buys a load of sliced bread.
*He brings it home and goes to make himself a sandwich.  That's when he realizes he's out of lunch meat.

THE END

Friday, December 12, 2008

SAD MAX

This is the first page or so from a script I've been wanting to write for a while. It introduces the main character - Max. The story is tentatively titled "Sad Max".

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FADE IN
EXT. LOS ANGELES - TRAIN TRACKS - TWILIGHT

The lone figure of a pathetic, round, little man sits, shoulders hunched and head down, on the edge of an object in a deserted space of land surrounding a pair of iron train tracks which slice through the weed-covered wasteland as the only shiny object in sight. The sun is setting and everything is casting long shadows to the left. The only soul in sight is MAX. He sits facing the barren tracks.

Max appears to be about 40 years old, a bit overweight and sluggish. He’s been balding without resistance for years and his glasses appear useless on a man who doesn’t seem to be focused on anything. His sorrow would be felt by strangers just by gazing upon him.

A low rumble begins to break the peace of the scene and Max takes notice. He’s been expecting this sound. He reaches into a backpack that is laying in the weeds beside his perch and produces a spiral notebook. He jots down:

July 18, 2009
AMTRAK

Just then, the engine of a massive commuter train blasts through the scene on the tracks, whistle blaring, wheels screeching and clunk-clunking, again and again, over the connecting gaps, pulling behind it car after car after car.

Max stares at the juggernaut train as it blurs past him at 70 miles an hour only ten feet from his face. His mouth hangs slightly open as the pen in his right hand moves furiously over the notebook page. He moves his lips slightly, muttering something to himself. His eyes squint to keep focus as his glasses slowly slip down his nose and out of his line of vision. His hands are too busy to push them back into place.
After a few moments, the train has passed and all falls silent again. The echo of the train fades into the distance. It takes a moment again (as he closes his eyes to enjoy the wisp of wind left in the train’s wake pushing past his face,) for Max to open his eyes and look down at the page on the notebook in his lap. It’s covered in little hash marks.

Max counts them up.

CUT TO:

INT. MAX’S APARTMENT - LATER

CLOSE-UP on a white surface. Max’s hand comes into view and, with a large Sharpie marker, he writes:

“108”

We can now see that this is only the latest in a series of numbers of which Max has been keeping track. Each number, (some under, some over one hundred, but all within a small range) is under a date. The dates show that he has kept track of the number of cars on each Thursday night Amtrak train for several months now.

Max stands back and admires his work. The paper is a massive sheet unrolled and tacked to his bedroom wall. It’s the only thing on the wall and it is lit harshly by a single room lamp that has been propped to face the page.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

DEATH IN A CLOSET

by Michael Wood

If I’ve ever had a dream – a wish for myself – it was only to be happy with whatever it was that I did with my work. Happiness in my career; is that too much to ask? Today, it seems that it might be. I’ve found that it’s hard to be happy when you’re paid to kill people.

I’ve been a professional assassin (some would call me a 'hit man') for over a year now. I guess I’m technically still a rookie, but you’d never know it from my resume. My work has been quite successful and spoken of often in certain circles. But today my mark is a very young and otherwise insignificant man. This job is a sort of “pro-bono” kind of thing for a very important prospective client. If I do well tonight, it will do well for me in the future; that’s almost certain.

The young man’s name was Damon; he was actually a brilliant young man, barely into his twenties, who – some would say – was quickly getting too big for his breeches. His well-to-do background, combined with his spirit of entrepreneurial enterprise, was about to branch out into some very dangerous territory. Shark-infested waters, actually. Within this territory, Damon would have been quite unwelcome, to say the least. It would seem that I am to be the proverbial “unwelcome wagon.”

Young Mr. Damon lived in a lush little condominium uptown, (gaining entry to which, I must say, has proven far too easy). Usually in this situation, my instincts quickly remind me that a lack of one kind of security often points to an abundance of another – a guard dog, or a motion sensitive alarm system; but not this time. Damon was far too trusting.

A week ago, while posing as a mechanic at his regular auto shop, I was able to quickly make a clay-mold copy of Damon’s house key, as he handed me the entire key chain. And yes, of course, Damon has seen my face – but a little trick of the trade: often the best place to hide is right out in the open. If I were in a line-up, he couldn’t pick me out as his mechanic. He simply wasn’t looking for it.

I have to admit, it’s a fairly nice condo for a kid who should just now be getting out of college. Actually, it’s something I’d like to be able to afford someday. The life of a hit man isn’t always so glamorous. Most new businesses fail within their first year. Or is that marriages? I liked the out-dated art-deco retro-style furniture and the expansive kitchen. Damon must have been a good cook. He certainly seemed to be able to afford a few good cooking courses… and I’m sure that being a young, single millionaire bodes well with a good set of cooking skills. I would have lifted that sterling silver garlic press if it weren’t for the fact that this would soon be a murder scene. Rule number one: Don’t touch anything. Look, but don’t touch.

An extensive CD collection, as well. He mixed his Metallica with Britney Spears, his Mozart with his The Best of The Carpenters. You should have hidden some of this stuff under your bed, pal. Choose a side. He never would have made it in the industry, anyway. This kid lacked focus.

I’d been watching my mark for a couple weeks now – that’s how I like to do it. I get in his head and forget about being myself. I actually become my mark and then perform a strange act of suicide – one from which I can still walk away unscathed.

I knew from my surveillance that each Sunday ended with a quiet evening alone for Damon. Sure, he’d spend his time on Fridays and Saturdays at all the hottest clubs downtown and would find a suitable companion for his bed each night. But Sunday was an exception – the Sabbath was a preparatory time for the coming week. He may lack focus, but Damon acted like someone who knew what he was doing; home by ten o'clock every Sunday night and in bed by eleven. It’s now 9:49 PM. And I, in my favorite disguise of a motorcycle helmet and leather biker outfit, am quietly crouched in the closet to which I know Damon will return to hang up his coat.

The preferred tool of my trade is a silenced Walther P22 3.4" black chrome barrel .22 caliber pistol. It’s so small and effective that it has become an extension of my hand and the temperature of the rubber grip quickly rises to meet that of my body. It’s no more a gun than an extra finger, but it certainly does more damage than the others. I knew Damon would be home soon, so I simply focused on my stillness. This is a sort of meditation that often makes the deed much easier to carry out.

There it is. The door is being unlocked. It’s open. It’s almost showtime, but I don’t dare make a move. I don’t even let my heart rate rise. I am a stone. Silent and motionless in the corner of the closet. I might as well be an old photo album in here. I do not exist. My breath is a constant in and out flow that is undetectable by any means. The darkness inside of the closet, coupled with the tint of my helmet’s visor over my face, makes the sliver of light between the closet door and the wall almost imperceptible. But I focus on it. I watch it. I hear him move from room to room. He uses the restroom and takes his time. That’s fine by me. I am a stone.

He exits the restroom. His next stop should be the closet. Here we go. I often think, at this point, that these are the last few seconds of my mark’s life, and he is not aware of it, but I am. It is an ironic thing that happens only in my line of work. At this time I am sharing a common thought with the greats. Hartwell knew it. Dabney knew it. Hell, Carson may have even invented it! No one knows these men, but I do. Some kids collect baseball cards. I had another hobby.

It was about this time that I noticed that Damon was taking an unusually long time to get to his death. I sat alone in the unopened closet wondering what variable must have entered his equation. Ackham's Razor would suggest that it is usually be the simplest of things that turns my best-laid plans into an improvisation act. The usual drink-of-water sort of thing? An interesting article in the periodical that now sits on his bedside table could have caught his eye? From this vantage it was hard to say, but I was now wondering if I should…

Hmm.

I heard a sudden, and very loud pop and my ears were instantly ringing. A hot sting of pain seared into my chest. I can't quite place it, but I know it means something went wrong. And then I realized what had happened. I must admit, I was quite stunned at this turn of events.

He stood framed in the light of the bedroom that now flooded into my quiet little closet sanctuary, his arm outstretched and his gun much bigger than mine. Don’t believe the movies when they say it doesn’t hurt. It does hurt. What they must mean is that your body simply gives in to the fact that there’s nothing you can do about it. What you feel, beyond the indescribable sharpness of pure pain, is the sensation of your body becoming completely fluid a little at a time as your skin is quickly enveloped in warm, red goop. It's hotter than you'd think, and if you're aware enough to realize that what's coming out of your wound is what you need inside to live, then you may even feel it burn as it seeps out. My body is emptying, getting colder. And again, the logical brain, in it's last moments, registers the result of the equation and sums that there is nothing you can do to change this moment, to alter this situation.

Well, actually, there is one common reaction to such unfathomable pain.

My eyes closed.

© 2004 by Michael Wood. All rights reserved