The Shoot (Part Nine)

“Maybe we should just call it a day,” Mike says.

“No,” Miranda says flatly. “We need more material.”

“It’s too dark to shoot now,” Mike says, raising a hand to the sky. “The sun’s been setting for the past hour.”

“It isn’t setting,” Miranda says as if she can reverse time through sheer tyranny of will. “It’s rising. We’ll run these shots at the beginning of the video and say it’s early in the morning.”

Mike has papers to grade. Amanda wants to be an artist again. Natalie and Drago are still up for anything despite the cold and the setting sun. They all look to me, and I point to a worn-out baseball I’ve been eyeing since we reached the bottom of the hill.

“What if we play some baseball?” I say, flipping my guitar over and swinging it like a bat. “Natalie throws the ball. I knock it into the outfield. It lands at Mike’s feet. Mike picks it up, and we all become friends.”

“Perfect!” Miranda says in shades of Ed Wood. “Marc, you stand in the batting place. Drago, you get behind him, and Natalie, you take the ball to the pitching thing and get ready to throw it.”

“Mound,” I say.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

I’m not really trying to hit the ball with my guitar. Miranda will just try to perpetrate the illusion that I’ve hit the ball when she edits the video together. At least, that’s the plan as Drago and I take our places in a muddy batter’s box.

“There’s a big puddle here,” Drago says. “So don’t throw the ball directly at us. Try to throw it over that way.”

“Got it,” Natalie says, winding up for the pitch.

Then she throws it directly at us, hitting the center of the puddle with astounding accuracy.

“Can we do that again?” Miranda asks as Drago and I wipe the mud from our faces. “I wasn’t shooting.”

The second, Natalie doesn’t splash us with mud. I swing the guitar, and Drago tosses the ball into the outfield as if I’ve just hit it. When Mike picks up the ball, we all gather around him and start slapping him on the back.

With that, I imagine we’re done – and not a second too soon. It’s starting to get dark, and though it’s only in my imagination, the people who live across the street from the park are peering at us through half-parted curtains as they reach for their phones to call the police.

“Great work, guys,” I say. “I think we can call it a day!”

“Not quite.”

Curiously, it isn’t Miranda who wants to keep shooting this time around. It’s Mike. And though my instinct is remind him of the papers he has to grade, I keep my mouth shut and hear him out.

“See that tree over there?” Mike points in the direction of a fallen tree on the edge of the outfield. “It’s the perfect backdrop.”

He’s right. The branches arc up and over to form a small cave or a primitive shelter from the elements. It’s easy to imagine prehistoric hunter-gatherers finding it and setting up camp for the night – or breaking camp at dawn, however you want to look at it. In any case, if Mike’s on board, then so am I.

“Okay, team,” I say. “Let’s do it!”

But they’re already ahead of me, trudging through snow, slush, and mud to take their places in beneath the skeletal remains of the fallen tree. When I take place next to them, Miranda tells us all to start dancing. We’re having a great time, she says by way of direction before commanding each of us to strut toward the camera and look into it with our very best diva pouts.

“Keep dancing,” Miranda shouts when we’ve all finished with our close-ups. “And don’t forget—you’re all rock stars.”

In that moment, with the cars whizzing by in the distance and the good people of Henry Avenue watching us from the comfort of their homes beneath the blinking red lights of the radio towers above, I believe her. This is my band, and as the sun sets pink and orange over Roxborough, Miranda’s camera turns us all into rock stars.

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The Shoot (Part Seven)

The mood in Mike’s car is somewhat subdued. Maybe it’s because the sudden, scowling apparition of Mike’s dad has reminded us all of the feckless nature of today’s outing — and, by extension, of our collective interest in what some might consider less-than-serious pursuits. Or maybe it’s because that same apparition is a grim reminder of the humorless future that awaits all of us if we decide to go straight, as it were: no more art, no more music, no more movies, no more toys, no more comic books. In a word, no more fun.

Mike asks about my approach to grading. Miranda asks if we can focus on the video shoot. The GPS informs us that there’s traffic ahead and asks if we’d like to try an alternate route. It’s an existential question as much as a practical one.

In the distance, radio towers loom over Roxborough, red lights blinking a slow, steady rhythm high above the hills. Natalie lives in a decommissioned chapel at the foot of one of the towers, and by the time we arrive, the sun has begun to set, and there’s a distinct chill in the air.

My stomach knots slightly at the prospect of meeting new people, but I follow Mike and Miranda through the front door and try to blend into the cluttered background. Natalie and her housemates, it turns out, are not neatnicks. Art supplies abound, left wherever they were last used, and my eye is drawn to the various ukuleles, hand-drums, and unstrung guitars that litter the floor.

“So you’re the guy we’ve heard so much about!” Natalie says.

“I am?” I say.

In the kitchen, a man with a bushy beard is rattling pots and pans. He hasn’t said a word, and my innate paranoia tells me that his silence is a sign that he’d rather not be bothered by whatever shenanigans Miranda has planned. Or, more to the point, that I’ve instigated by writing a song about a dead prostitute.

As a matter of fact, the paranoid voices in my head start whispering, that guy definitely hates you.

I look at my feet. I look at the walls and ceiling. I look everywhere but at the man in the kitchen and see nothing but the clutter that reminds me how far I am from the tidy confines of my comfort zone.

“Hey!” the bearded guy says, suddenly standing in front of me with a chunk of bread dripping in something white and pasty. “Do you want to try my mango dip? I just made it!”

“Wow! Yes!” I say. “But I can’t eat gluten. Is there gluten in that?”

“Oh, sorry,” he says. “Yeah, there’s gluten in the bread.”

Before I can say anything else, he pops into the kitchen and returns with a plastic spoon slathered in the dip.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“Delicious!” I say before I’ve even tasted it, mainly because saying I’m just glad he doesn’t hate me might come off as slightly off-putting.

Then there’s a pause, and I fill it with one of the go-to questions from my script:

“So, what do you guys do for a living?”

And then there’s a longer pause, and suddenly I realize I’ve taken over the role of the oh-so-serious old man in the room — that, in essence, I’ve just become Mike’s dad.

“You know, whatever comes up,” Natalie says. “We were going to plow some snow today, but then Miranda asked if we could help with your video.”

“Oh,” I say. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be!” Natalie says. “This sounds like a lot more fun.”

And there’s that word again: Fun!

Apparently it comes natural to some people.

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We didn’t end up going with these costumes.