Tag Archives: Writing

My First Wife

Facebook isn’t good for a whole lot, but one thing it’s great at? Alerting you to the fact that your junior high crush got hitched over the weekend. And no, I don’t mean that in the abstract. Amanda Corfman, she of the bewitching seventh grade smile and sexual precociousness, is a married woman now…

…or again, depending on how you look at it. Allow me to explain¹.

(Oh, and before I forget: Congratulations, Amanda!)

***

News of my imminent plunge into fatherhood came as quite a shock and had me second-guessing all I thought I knew about sex. Here I was on the precipice of pubescence about to become a dad, and yet I was at least another presidential term from separating myself once and for all from my virginity. What exactly had happened in that cave?yosemite-spider-caves

Squeezing through the jagged insides of the pitch-black Yosemite Spider Caves earlier that morning, I had accidentally touched Amanda Corfman’s arm. Along with a red face full of embarrassment, this mistake had also apparently made me a father. Well, at least according to Amanda. Only a few months removed from my first official course in sex education², I had to at least consider for a brief, terrifying second that she was telling the truth.

However, soon logic and the condemning words of Nick Moore stepped in.

“You can’t knock a girl up like that.”

Of course not, and deep down, I did know better. Sure, I’d never touched down on Planet Ecstasy, but god knows I’d collected enough data running test flight, solo missions to know that sex was supposed to feel a lot better.

Regardless, my mind was racing and my legs felt weak as the news sunk in, although I blame the latter on a strict diet of trail mix that had been imposed for the hike. I suddenly felt distant from my fellow Woodside Elementary 7th graders; once they caught wind of the news, I would be just another statistic.

As Amanda came up along side of me, I nearly had the first 13-year-old heart attack. Her stomach had swelled to more than three times its normal size. Luckily, it was at that moment that I spotted her backpack, worn backwards, peaking out from underneath her “GUESS?” sweatshirt.

“So, are you going to ask me?” she pleaded, her usual mind-bending smile creeping to the edges of her mouth.

“Huh?” I replied as eloquently as I could manage.

“You’re not going to leave me to raise this child on my own, are you?” she asked rather dramatically, which is to say about normal for a 13-year-old girl.

“Well…” I began, before she cut me off.

“Of course I’ll marry you, it’s the only thing to do,” she beamed.

And with that the charade was in full swing.

The wedding came swiftly just a few minutes later when our trail group stopped for a break a mile from the top of Nevada Falls. The ceremony was nothing if it wasn’t efficient, with Justin Brown serving as chaplain. He married us with the power vested in him by his status as a senior in high school and adult chaperone on the trip. I think I said, “I do” although it’s hard to say. Amanda, my blushing bride, controlled the proceedings from beginning to end.

This should have come as no surprise; Amanda Corfman had an uncanny ability to control me, and any other middle school boy with a pulse. I think most girls figure out at some point during the course of their life that if they play it right, they hold all the cards when it comes to their male counterparts. For most women, this epiphany occurs somewhere around college or the early real world years. Amanda Corfman, it seems, figured it out sometime between laying in her hospital incubator and her first word, which I can only assume was “Is that a roll of quarters in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Her grasp of the male psyche can perhaps best be explained through a life-altering exchange that had taken place just a few weeks before back at school. Sitting across from her on a wooden bench in the courtyard, she did a complete splits in mid-conversation. And as my jaw plummeted to the ground she offered with a look and smile that transcended suggestiveness, “You never know when that could come in handy.” In my own little 13-year-old world it was like living the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct. Part of me is still reeling to this day.basic-instinct-scene

Lyndsay Hayes Maloney was “born” late that afternoon as our trail group began its trek back towards the Village. She was named after Amanda’s oldest, and she told me secretly, favorite sister (with all apologies to Cate, the middle Corfman goddess). The middle name was a salute to the 3-year-old girl my mom nannied, who Amanda had taken a liking to during her many visits to school. Amanda had even gone to the trouble of naming Hayes an honorary 7th grader; needless to say, Hayes was beyond pleased.

The birth itself was decidedly less gory than the one I’d been unfortunate enough to witness in Sex Ed. It merely consisted of Amanda moving the backpack to the outside of her clothes. Our bouncing, bubbly³ baby girl weighed in at three pounds, six ounces and had two extra front pockets perfect for carrying pens and pencils.

Word of our nuptials spread quickly that night when we joined the rest of our class at the Village dining hall. A secretly jealous group of well-wishers approached me throughout the evening offering congratulations. I greeted each one with an embarrassed smile.

My wedding night proved rather disappointing, however, as Amanda spent the night flirting up a storm, bouncing between Jeff Millichap and John Foret—the two resident doctors of cool in the 7th grade. Each one had served as Amanda’s off-again, on-again, off-again boyfriend since I had known the trio. Jeff and John, of course, always remained good friends. It’s one of those love triangles that only works in middle school.

Later around a campfire, I learned that Todd Shields, my best friend, and Lilli Milton, the girl I’d spent the last two years holding an inescapable crush on, had just been married. It might have been the first “reactionary” marriage in history. But what is junior high really but one long tug of war for attention?

It was supposed to be the greatest night of my life. Here I was married to the prettiest and most sexually suggestive 7th grader on the planet and I had just become a father of my first make believe child since kindergarten. But from what little I could tell, all I’d really gotten out of it was a brush against Amanda’s arm (which I couldn’t even see) and a shotgun wedding that I’d been guilted into. It had become plainly obvious that the entire production that day was a ploy by Amanda to enjoy her two favorite activities: have people shower her with attention and make me squirm uncomfortably.

While Amanda was off gallivanting with John and Jeff, I was left lying in bed listening to Nick Moore get acquainted with his obnoxiously loud REM breathing pattern in a tented cabin that was rumored to be infested with every arachnid known to man.

As Nick let out another rumbling snore, I turned over in bed and placed a pillow over my head. And as I did, one last thought passed through my head before I passed out from exhaustion that can only come from hiking 15 miles in a stiff pair of new jeans. It lingered for quite a while.

I’d been hosed.yosemite-wedding

Amanda and I didn’t really talk much after the Yosemite trip and when we did Lyndsay Hayes was never mentioned; I guess my fifteen minutes were up. But when I was leafing through my seventh grade yearbook a few years later, after I’d moved away and on to high school, I found a note on the inside cover that she had written:

Mikey,

How is Lyndsay Hayes? I love you!

Your Favorite Person,
Amanda Corfman (I mean) Maloney

I don’t think I realized it at the time, but Amanda Corfman was that girl.

The girl that when you pick up a 7th grade class photo you can pick out right away. And it’s not just because of her smile, although it does seem to radiate, even sandwiched between an overweight science teacher and a garish olive knit sweater that Nick Kromat probably should have had the better fashion sense not to wear on Picture Day.

She stands out because she’s out of place. 44 faces and bodies, all made overwhelmingly awkward by the harsh effects of puberty. And there’s her, the only 13-year-old girl with any semblance of grace. The Audrey Hepburn of the junior high set. I’m always kind of baffled that her name and face have stuck so vividly in my head all these years until I run across that picture.

It was five years later when I saw her next. The Woodside Class of ’94 was holding an informal reunion and I think in a lot of ways she was the only reason I showed up.

She arrived fashionably late and didn’t stay very long. I don’t think we even acknowledged one another when we first made eye contact. These things sometimes happen when you run into your first ex-wife.

But after everyone had eaten and dispersed throughout Greg Fontana’s backyard, she found me sitting alone in a lawn chair and promptly sat right down in my lap. Five years earlier, as an awkward and squeamish 7th grader, I probably would have fled. But, of course, time has a way of making you more comfortable with yourself and even the Amanda Corfmans of the world.

We didn’t really look at each other, and only a few words were exchanged. We just sat there, staring off into the distance contemplating questions like, “How can five years pass so quickly?”

After a long silence, we looked at each other and smiled. I came this close to asking her about our pride and joy, but I thought better of it.

Today, Lyndsay Hayes Maloney probably sits half-buried in a closet or hidden in the depths of some dusty garage. Perhaps it’s too cruel a fate for the one true relic of my first marriage. Maybe.

But hey, it’s cheaper than day care.

-MPM

¹This piece was originally published in 2007 as part of Memoirs Ink’s annual writing competition (I placed second). It marked the first time I’d been paid for a piece of creative writing. So, you might say that Amanda Corfman was my first muse.
²Of the non-playground variety.
³Okay, maybe not bubbly.

The West Wing of the Playground

In terms of political impact the annual Roy Cloud Elementary School student council election ranks right up there with the New Hampshire primaries. And knowing full well that securing a seat as one of my class’ third grade representatives was a one way ticket to (at the very least) a gubernatorial position in one of our 50 great states, I decided to run.

I launched my campaign inside the cozy confines of Mrs. Scheppler’s third/fourth classroom, announcing to my classmates that I wasn’t just seeking their vote come Election Day, I was starting a revolution!ELECTION-DAY-QUOTES

“We can’t keep standing idly by, as the income inequality in this school continues to spiral out of control! I mean, did you know that the teachers at this school make infinity times more dollars per year than the students?!?”

Cheers emanated from every corner of the room, although it should be noted that my bombast was overshadowed by Mrs. Scheppler’s simultaneous announcement that a party was to take place on Election Day. Cupcakes were thought to be involved.

For my opponents, the campaign trail proved rather straight forward: they simply signed a sheet of paper stating their candidacy and waited two weeks until the vote. (Sad). I, however, realized through some early polling data that I needed to improve my standing with girls who played on the swings at recess—a pivotal portion of the electorate I affectionately referred to as “swing voters.” To win them over, I did what any great politician would do: I made promises, and then I made hats with those promises printed on the front in big, easy-to-read letters.

“This school thinks it can shorten our lunch recess by 10 minutes and get away with it! Well, not on my watch, ladies! Elect me, and we’ll make recess an hour again!”Make Recess an Hour Again

One of the girls was particularly taken by the free headwear. “Look,” she beamed, “I can put my ponytail through the hole in the back.” “You’re goddamn right you can!” I said. One campaign event and my approval rating was already on the rise!

In the days that followed, I spent most of my time grandstanding in the classroom and glad-handing around the lunch tables. Though a few days before the election, the glad-handing was momentarily derailed, when Michael Verducci reached out with an intriguing proposal from across the aisle (of the cafeteria).

“I’ll give you my vote and this Capri Sun… if you can get them to stop teaching science in the classroom. I hate science, man! It sucks!”

And there it was. The first potential flashpoint of my political career. Verducci’s vote was important; he had lots of sway with the kickball crowd (yet another key demo). But could I compromise my morals for one Maui Punch? And if I did, would the smart kids in my class think I was in the pocket of The Dumb Lobby?

“Sorry, buddy,” I said, holding on for dear life to both my principles and the chocolate milk in my hand, “can’t do it. Some things just aren’t for sale.”

“Okay, fine. My Capri Sun and these Oreos,” he countered.

“I’ll do everything I can,” I said, shaking his hand, “you have my word on that.” (Hey, judge me if you will. But this is politics, man! Everybody has a price!)

When Election Day rolled around, each candidate was given two minutes to present their platform to the class. I found this hardly enough time to stress the importance of family values, narrowing the income gap, and keeping our military strong, while still leaving time to make outrageous promises like more field trips and “free Brownie Fridays” (or the “Brownie Bill” as it was called by my campaign staff). But being the trooper that I am, I rolled with the punches and did what I could in the time allotted. In the scope of political speeches given during the past century, it would probably come in a close second to when Roosevelt said that stuff about “fearing fear” or whatever.Obama speech

Finally, it came time to vote. Naturally, I checked my own name on the ballot, and just as quickly, I also voted for the girl I’d held an inescapable crush on for the better part of that year: Liz Dalrymple. The way I saw it, there was no better aphrodisiac than the potential for a sordid political affair between student council representatives.

After a short time, the votes were tallied and Mrs. Scheppler announced that we would need to hold a runoff, as five kids had tied for the two seats available. It seemed that under school code 31-L, only those tied in the election were able to cast runoff ballots. So, in the fifteen minutes before the vote, I did what came naturally: I lied and cheated my way to assure victory. I told each one of my opponents that I’d vote for them if they’d vote for me, knowing full well that the only non-Maloney getting a vote from me wore Guess sweatshirts and had a beautiful, braces-laden smile. #ImWithHer

But the ploy backfired, and Liz was instead joined on the winning ticket by my hated rival (and known Liz-crush), Nick Nardini. I did everything I could to stop it. I called for a recount. I filibustered like a madman. I even questioned Nardini’s birth certificate (I mean, since when do third graders have biceps?) But in the end, each and every one of my appeals were denied.

“I’m sorry, Michael,” Mrs. Scheppler said, “this is a democracy, and I’m afraid that the people have spoken.”

And so, that was that. Just as quickly as it had started, my time in politics was over. I was left to toil away in obscurity; and worse, I had to watch Nick and Liz become the student council’s unquestioned “power couple”. Not only that, Michael Verducci made me pay him back for the Capri Sun and the Oreos he’d tried to buy my influence with. In short, it turned out to be the worst year of my life. Thanks, Obama!

The Girl Without a Name

Timecode: 33:48 – 36:17

SAM
You got Dramamine?

KAFFEE
Dramamine keeps you cool?

SAM
Dramamine keeps you from throwing up; you get sick when you fly.

KAFFEE
I get sick when I fly because I’m afraid of crashing into a large mountain, I don’t think Dramamine’ll help.

SAM
I’ve got some oregano, I hear that works pretty good.

If AFGM was a wedding, its invitation would include that post-script you see more and more these days: “We love your kids, but this is not an event for children.” The film spans 138 glorious minutes, and there’s not a single childSam's Baby

Actually, scratch that. There is one: Sam’s baby girl, who as you can see from the above photo, “just looks like she has something to say.”

But I’m afraid that’s about all I can tell you about her, because for some strange reason, the tiny actress’ name never appears in the credits¹. Now, it’s not like I expected to see her billed alongside Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, but I assumed (incorrectly) that every actor who appears on screen (even those that can’t yet eat solid foods) would at least be acknowledged in the end credits. Nope.

Somehow, the film’s payroll assistant (Harry Winters), first aid specialist (Roberta Wells), and negative cutter (Donah Bassett) all earned themselves a credit. But not the tiny tot who was precocious enough to point to a mailbox, as if to say, “Pa, look! A mailbox!”

Well, needless to say, I was outraged [primarily because I’d come up with the (baby) genius idea to turn this post into a thousand-word blowout all about the film’s littlest “star”]. But then it hit me: I’ve got the Internet! You can find out anything on the Internet!

So, I went to IMDB: nothing. Then I Google’d everything from “who played Sam’s baby in A Few Good Men?” to “Is the government trying to keep me from knowing who played Sam’s baby in A Few Good Men?” And guess what? Not even a clue as to who this tiny towhead might be.

I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise what famous dialogue exchange immediately sprung to mind:

That’s right! I do want answers! I do think I’m entitled! I need to know why this baby didn’t get her goddamn due! Could it be because…

…the baby tragically died during the making of the movie? (Of course not! That would definitely be on the Internet.)

…they couldn’t find a baby girl to play the role, and last minute, decided to dress a baby boy up in that little pink jumper, but wanted to spare that boy any residual gender-identity-related scarring down the road? (I’m not ruling it out.)

…the baby was played by Tom Cruise’s illegitimate daughter, and he got cold feet about making the movie their coming out party as a father and daughter? (Let’s hope not, ‘cause Siri’d be pissed!)

Whatever the reason, I need to know! I mean, what if it turns out that this baby has grown into the woman of my dreams² and fate is trying to keep us apart? You have to admit that it’s at least possible. I mean, a dedicated AFGM blogger falling for the uncredited baby that appears in the film? At the very least, it could make for a great Lifetime movie (assuming the woman ends up suffocating me in my sleep after our relationship goes off the rails). I mean, just look at those eyes; there’s definitely some darkness behind them, right?Sam's Baby2

Who knows? Maybe she’s out there right now, reading this… And if she is? Well, my dear, I hope you feel like you finally got your due.

Whatever the hell your name is.

-MPM

¹I watched the scroll twice just to be sure.
²I did the math: it wouldn’t be creepy.

Should I Keep Writing?

When I was six years old, I spent countless hours alone in my room playing this game I’d made up. I’d take one of those small plastic “bubbles” – the kind that held those cheap little treasures that you’d get for a quarter at the grocery store – and throw it onto my bed. A second later, I’d launch all of the stuffed animals from my sizable collection onto the bed after it. See, the “bubble” wasn’t a bubble; it was a football. And my many stuffed animals were football players involved in a free-for-all to recover the game-clinching fumble. (Obviously).

The moment the dogpile was complete, I’d slowly sift through the (adorable) wreckage and see which stuffed animal had prevailed at the bottom of the pile¹. That lucky “beast” would be hoisted into the air triumphantly, as I announced the results to the “crowd”. (Although, full disclosure: the fix was in. Kermit the Frog, a.k.a. my favorite stuffed animal, won at least 90% of the time due to his long green arms…and the fact that I always threw him on the bed first.)Kermit the Frog celebrates 50 years in show business

Now, obviously my childish antics were far from unusual. I mean, show me a little kid, and I’ll show you a tiny crazy person who talks to themselves non-stop and gets lost in their imagination. But the thing about me is, well…

…I never really grew out of that phase. It’s 30 years later, and while I no longer have a stuffed animal collection, I still spend an inordinate amount of time talking to myself², as I drift off into an imaginary world of my own creation. Sure, life (and responsibility) can get in the way sometimes, but chances are, if I’m driving, showering, lying awake in bed, or just staring off into the distance, my mind is somewhere else. It’s trying to envision a world that isn’t but could be. It’s trying to figure out how Kermit (or more likely, the current “hero du jour”) is going to emerge victorious this time. It’s trying to tell a story.

For the longest time, I saw this as a quirk — an amusing glitch in my programming. It’s only recently that I came to realize: it is the program. It’s hard-wired into the way my brain processes (and makes sense of) the world. As you might expect, this has had some rather far-reaching implications when it comes to my life…

…but the reason that it’s been coming up for me a lot lately is that it answers a nagging question:

Should I keep writing?

If you read last week’s post, you know that it hasn’t exactly been non-stop hookers and ice cream around here lately. In fact, it’s gotten pretty dark. Writing for an audience that hasn’t really materialized (yet) can do that to a person. You can start to feel like you’re tilting at windmills.tilting at windmills

So, you start to wonder… Am I wasting my time pursuing this? Am I delusional about how talented I am? Is anyone (outside of my family and friends) ever going to give a shit about what I write?

If you think about these questions long and hard enough, you can’t help but fantasize about a world where you don’t have to answer such difficult questions. A world where life is unburdened by ambition and expectation and hope. But that’s about the time that you have to face another question:

Well, if I didn’t write, what would I do instead?

And that’s where things get a little bit clearer. That’s when I remember Kermit the Frog and the pile of stuffed animals. Or writing and performing a “Wayne’s World” sketch at Lilli Milton’s 13th birthday party. Or spending all of my free time in college sitting on the floor of the bookstore reading interviews with great filmmakers. Or going five straight days without speaking to another human being, but never noticing because I was so engrossed in a rewrite of my script.

“Being” a writer? It isn’t something I do. It’s something I am. I mean, shit, an alligator can stand on its feet and ring your doorbell all day long; that doesn’t mean it’s gonna stop being an alligator.

The reality is I don’t get to know if I’ll ever be Kermit and emerge from the pile victorious. But I do know one thing. I can’t imagine a world where I ever stop playing.

-MPM

¹“Prevailed” is probably a pretty generous term to describe part of a stuffed animal touching a plastic bubble. But the stakes felt pretty high at the time.
²Although I have gotten just a LITTLE bit better about keeping that dialogue INSIDE my head.

And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’

Timecode: 31:46 – 33:47

KAFFEE
You got authorization from Aunt Ginny.

JO
Perfectly within my province.

KAFFEE
Does Aunt Ginny have a barn? We can hold the trial there. I can sew the costumes, and maybe his Uncle Goober can be the judge.

Uncle Goober

This week’s Minutes involves a pair of (consecutive) scenes that show us Kaffee at his most (sexually?) frustrated (with Commander Joanne Jo and her interference) and at his most relaxed (slinging cliches back and forth with Luther at the newsstand)¹. And while the two scenes have plenty of memorable moments², I thought I might focus instead on what joins them together: music.

By and large, the AFGM soundtrack is a March Shaiman joint, relying almost exclusively on his gripping, original score. In other words, this isn’t exactly The Breakfast Club or Garden State soundtrack that you’d fire up on a long road trip. In fact, there are only four songs used throughout the entire movie — the first of which we hear when Kaffee fires up his ‘63 Chevy Impala and tries to get as far away from Commander Joanne Jo as possible:

That’s right, folks. Four years before Elvis laid down his iconic version of “Hound Dog”³, Big Mama Thornton recorded it first. And like a lot of blues recordings of that era, the sound is far more visceral than anything (even the King himself) could ever hope to achieve. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go.

What’s crazy is that until I did the research for this post, I’d always thought a man was singing whenever I watched this scene. In my defense, I was probably unduly swayed by two things: the more popular Elvis version and the fact that the next character you see on screen (Luther at the newsstand) looks like he could be a member of a blues band that would cover this song in a smoky club on some random Friday night. I guess you can add it to the list of gender/race-”defying” voices that have flummoxed me over the years.Can't Beat Em Join Em

As for the song’s use in the film, it not only is the first song featured, it’s ultimately the only one (as the other three songs, discussed below, are all playing in the background of otherwise dialogue-heavy scenes). While I think its placement is largely used for a tonal transition (from one scene to the next), one can’t help but find some echoes of the plot in its lyrics:

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog
Been snoopin’ ’round my door
You can wag your tail
But I ain’t gonna feed you no more

Whether Jo or Danny is the hound dog in this analogy, of course, would depend entirely upon which of the two of them you asked.

As for the other three ditties featured on the soundtrack, you’d have to pay very close attention to even notice them. They merely act as a subtle emotional backdrop for the scene they play behind. In the order they appear:

Patty Loveless, “Timber I’m Falling in Love” (1989)

This plays in the seafood restaurant, while Danny and Jo break bread (and crab legs) and exchange resumes. Given the sappy lyrics of the song, its placement sure feels like a vestigial limb of an earlier draft of the script, in which Danny & Jo had much more of a fully-realized Hollywood love story.

Jimmy Cotton, “Next Time You See Me”(1967)

This plays during Danny’s return visit to the newsstand — right before Markinson stealthily slips into the backseat of his car. Makes perfect sense to choose another bluesy riff (just like “Hound Dog”) to lull us into a sense of security. And the cliche-laden exchange with Luther will double-down on that expectation before…

…BANG! Markinson scares the shit out of us (and Danny). Plus, I mean the lyrics, c’mon! Could they be anymore on the nose? “Next time you see me, things won’t be the same…”

UB40, “All I Want to Do” (1986)

Time after time I say to myself
Working all my life isn`t good for my health
Get old, get tired, get put on the shelf
I do all the work, someone else gets all the wealth
Wish I was on an island in the sun
Where I wouldn`t have to worry how to get things done

While you can’t actually hear these lyrics in the bar where Kaffee meets Smilin’ Jack Ross to tell him about Markinson, they do seem to fit their work-based friendship. On a different night, the two of them could share a beer and a laugh, and they’d never have to resort to cheap shots about daddy issues or softball skills. But tonight is not that night.

Taken as a collective, the thing that stands out is that despite playing an incredibly minor role in the story, the songs have clearly been very carefully selected. It just goes to show you that a movie is nothing more than a collection of thousands upon thousands of very specific choices that are crafted to look like one seamless tapestry.

-MPM

¹Long live the parenthetical!
²(Chronologically): 1) Jo’s hip-swaying walk to Kaffee’s car. 2) A peek into Louden Downey’s life on the farm. 3) This aforementioned classic. 4) Danny’s 1963 Chevy Impala. 5) Luther’s triumph in a battle of wits.
³Which changed the lyrics a bit from the original.
What? You thought all that business about white people hijacking rock ‘n roll from African Americans was an old wive’s tale? Pssh.
Like Jackson Browne or Ray LaMontaigne (who I thought were black the first time I heard them), or Dobie Gray and Maxine Nightengale (who I thought were white), or early Tevin Campbell or Nina Simone (who I thought were the opposite genders).

It’s Always Darkest

I didn’t want to write this. And honestly, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t wanted to do much of anything.Depression_2014_Types_10-22-14_5PM-img_1280x720

The explanation for this malaise really depends on your point of view. A medical professional would probably diagnose me with a case of situational depression. A philosopher (and/or “The Prince of Denmark“) might suggest that I’m experiencing an existential crisis. But I’m a writer, so all I can think is, “we have now entered the ‘dark night of the soul’ portion of our story.”

Even if you’re not familiar with the terminology, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that 10-12 minutes near the end of the second act when everything – and I mean everything – goes to shit for the main character. Their significant other breaks up with them, they get fired from their job, their dog dies, their favorite sports team loses Game 7 of the NBA Finals¹, and their latest Facebook update gets zero fucking likes.

Hope is lost. Existence is questioned. And shit gets dark. Basically, it’s this song playing on a loop in your head all goddamn day²:

So, yeah, I’m having a tough time. And while my favorite team did choke away Game 7, and I have gone through a breakup recently, and I’m still not sure what will happen with my career, the thought I keep coming back to is this:

How can I be 36 years old and have so little to show for it?Dubs lose GAme 7

To be clear, by “show for it” I am not referring to material possessions like a house, or a sports car, or even a bank account with lots of zeroes in it. I’ve never really been motivated by those things³. I’m talking about the impact I’m making / have made on the world around me.

There’s a reason I became a writer. And it’s not because I was talented, or because someone in my family did it and I looked up to them, or because I wanted to trick people into thinking I was smart. I became a writer because I spent the vast majority of my childhood by myself, and I had a deep yearning to connect with other people. Writing was like a siren’s song: here was a way that I could connect with lots and lots of people simultaneously…

…and you might say: I’ve been crashing into the cliffs ever since in pursuit of that feeling. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like sometimes.

The summer before I started film school at USC, I took an old professor of mine (from my undergrad days at UCLA) to a baseball game. As we were walking back to the car, he told me the story of another former student of his who went to film school. “He spent his two years there, he wrote a bunch of scripts, and then nothing happened,” my old professor said. It was a cautionary tale. The not-so-subtle subtext was, “Just because you’re a good writer, and you’ve gained entry into the best film school in the country doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

Obviously, he was right. And I knew that, even then. But I don’t think you can set out to be successful in anything (be it the creative arts or business or anything else) without being a little delusional — without believing that, on some level, you just might be exceptional. And life, of course, has a way of leaving you just enough bread crumbs to keep you walking down such a path.

If I was some talentless hack, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now. Because I wouldn’t have gotten into USC in the first place. Or secured representation. Or sold a few projects. Or had a few others that came oh so close to becoming something that you actually saw on a movie or television screen.

But that old cliche about talent and hard work being the only two things that you need to succeed? It’s starting to feel like another siren’s song. A “promise” that’s lured me to where I find myself now, more than 10 years after I started this journey: dead in the water and lost at sea.doldrums

I’m standing on the deck of a ship, staring up at the sails, waiting for the wind to pick up. Because it doesn’t seem to matter how hard or how long I blow, my lungs just don’t seem capable of getting the damn thing to move on their own.

I’ve been here before, of course. Because our lives aren’t really a single narrative so much as they’re a series of stories told over time. There was that time in college, for instance, where in the span of 10 days, my girlfriend broke up with me, my car died (for good), and I got laid off from my (then) dream job of writing for FoxSports.com. Or that time I spontaneously broke down in tears at a stop light, because I was feeling so profoundly unfulfilled by my 9-to-5 job in marketing. Or that time after grad school ended, a different girlfriend and I broke up, and I spiraled into such a long and miserable depression that I ended up betting a thousand dollars on a football game just to feel something.

Having survived those experiences, I know (on an intellectual level, at least) that there is one cliche that can be believed: “this too shall pass.” But when you’re in the middle of it, when the night is its absolute fucking darkest, you can tell yourself that until your blue in the face, and it still won’t feel that way.

All nights end eventually; it’s true. But the sun doesn’t rise on command, you know?

-MPM

¹Too soon!
²Except you substitute in your name for Peter’s, because otherwise shit just gets confusing.
³Although I’d certainly enjoy having them.
Technically, I bet 500 on the game against the spread (which I lost) and 500 on the Patriots money line (which I won). So, all tolled, I probably lost about 250 bucks.

The Six Degrees of Smilin’

Timecode: 30:32 – 31:45

ROSS
I hope for Dawson and Downey’s sake you practice law better than you play softball.

KAFFEE
Unfortunately for Dawson and Downey, I don’t do anything better than I play softball.

What better way to kick off the second act then to introduce our final key cast member? Obviously, AFGM’s director, Rob Reiner, was sick and tired of trying to tabulate how many degrees of separation stood between him and Kevin Bacon, so he went ahead and cast him in the role of Lt. (Smilin’) Jack Ross. And boy is the movie better for it.Jack Ross

In the hands of a less seasoned and less charismatic actor, Jack Ross would be blown off the screen by Tom Cruise’s megawatt stardom and be relegated to dispensing exposition in those precious moments between Kaffee one-liners. But this is Kevin fucking Bacon we’re talking about here. I mean, the guy already had Animal House, the original Friday the 13th, and Diner on his resume by the time Cruise enjoyed his star-turn in 1983’s Risky Business. And given the success of Footloose in 1984, you could even make the argument that, for a time, Bacon was the bigger star. (That, of course, would all change when Cruise starred in 1986’s Top Gun and ascended to a level of stardom that few actors have enjoyed before or since.)

The point is Kevin Bacon is not only a dramatic bad ass, he’s also a performer that audiences were (and still are) accustomed to rooting for. And I’m sure that this was the defining prerequisite for casting Kaffee’s legal opposition¹, because if you’re going to spend an hour of your movie in a courtroom (and maintain a high level of suspense), both the audience (and the jury) need to be compelled by the lawyers on both sides of the aisle.

And really, if you think about it, the Bacon casting is a microcosm of what allowed this movie to transcend its genre and become a modern classic. Every role was filled by an actor of the highest pedigree. And acting as part of an ensemble is no different than playing on an athletic team: greatness is more likely to be extracted from an individual if they’re surrounded by other great actors/players. (A concept that Kevin Durant no doubt understood when he chose to sign with the Warriors this past week).

It’s clear basically from the jump that Cruise and Bacon have incredible chemistry (and possibly even some unexplored sexual tension, if you’re to believe this mildly out-of-context still):Sticky Fingers

But (potential) sexual tension aside, their relationship is still among the most nuanced in the film, as they have to walk the tightrope between (professional) rivals and (personal) friends. Based on their back-and-forth in this scene, I’ve always assumed that, while they’ve battled on the softball field² and the basketball court numerous times before, they’ve never actually faced off in a courtroom.

Ross’ “Welcome to the big time” opener also establishes a clear dynamic: he’s the older brother. He’s been here before, and he knows where dad (a.k.a. the Gitmo Marines in this analogy) hides the porn³. And like like a lot of older brothers, he’s trying to look out for the kid…while also subtly manipulating him into acquiescing to his agenda (which, in this case, is a quick and painless plea bargain).

There’s only two problems with this strategy:

1) Their walk-and-talk takes place in a hallway armed with donut distractions. And as we learned in the infamous apple scene, Kaffee is no stranger to eating on the go or sticky fingers.Donut Time

And 2) Kaffee hasn’t been the same guy since Jo pushed his buttons. Think about it: (in the big picture) this scene with Ross plays out identically to Kaffee’s plea bargain with Spradling over the dime bag of oregano. It takes Danny all of about 20 seconds to get Jack to agree to his “12 years” proposal. If he were still the o.g. Kaffee, this case (and the movie) would be over by the time they reached the end of the hallway.

But we’re dealing with a changed man. And Reiner (and his production designer, J. Michael Riva) are there to underscore this point with a subtle visual cue. Just look at the sign behind Kaffee as he exits the negotiation:Courtroom this way

Even if Kaffee and Ross may not know it yet, this baby is headed for court.

-MPM

¹Well, that and his ability to remember who played the bailiff more than 20 years later.
²I’m sure Kaffee would make a Sherby-for-Ross swap faster than you can say, “let’s get two!”
³In his safe with all his guns. Duh.