I remember the time you snuck a couple of PopTart packets from my table like a starving extra and not the lead, the draw. Bayonne cemetery in November, skeleton crew, half a page of script on the call sheet. You pocketed the foil sleeves with your Dunhills, shuffling, sealing your coat. Looking back, I wish I’d said something. The weather, a compliment. Futzed with the Funyuns bags or made ziggurats with the Gatorade bottles, anything. I’m sure you were still stinging from Assistant Director’s comment the day before about your Ritz with Cheez Whiz (Loading that baby like the last lifeboat on the Titanic, huh?). I had to laugh inside when you Oops-ed the Ritz onto his Airwalks and ignored his bull-horned Back in! I should have laughed aloud. I should have brought a plate of loaded lifeboats to your trailer afterwards and dared Roger to fire me for leaving his table.
I remember wanting to gouge out all the eyes that kept track of every little thing. Your powdered donette halves, thumbnails of bagel, shorn cuticles, Zolofts. You had a way of dusting bakery crumbs from your fingers when you ate a baby carrot. Castanet flicks, slo-mo head shake. It looked a harder pretend to inhabit than any role. I remember how it hurt whenever you left the table without a thank you, a smile, but I told myself it was because you could tell that pretend didn’t work on me. That maybe I could see the masticated carrot bits tumbleweeding inside you, not knowing what to do with themselves.
I remember being too spineless to call out Roger for his lies. Like the time he sent me to Gristedes to buy windmill cookies with the tiny per diem but made me tell everybody they were Magnolia. (Then again, it was a hoot watching Scripty fall for it. Scripty with her felt tips and granny glasses and airs, ferrying a napkin of windmills to Director, who was a pedo, everyone knew it. I never faulted you for working with him, honestly. Indie cred held that much sway. I only wish I could have warned you of the new century, the question you’d be pressed to field: How was it that a cause-championing A-lister like yourself managed to separate art from artist with such questionable ease?)
I remember picturing my mother visiting me on set unannounced. Nudging me to observe closely and ask lots of questions and make notes like it was NYU. Dream too big or too little and you only get cancer, she’d have said. I don’t think she believed either was true. Just like I never believed it was the life she’d wanted. Scraping as a paralegal, screening silents and Ida Lupino retrospectives in church basements and nursing homes, writing reviews for those free weeklies that molder in bags on driveways. I wish I’d been less nervous on our hooky trips to Blockbuster. Slashing the DVD case spines, slotting the discs into the waistbands of our sweats, bingeing all night on our plunder and over-microwaved popcorn, always shocked at the dawn. I should have been less a daughter and more what she’d wanted. A partner in victimless crimes, a sister cineaste, a movie buddy.
I remember thinking Mom would have said you nailed your suicide on the first take, fuck Pedo with his One more, love, again and again. Two a.m. and the wind machine still blowing you off a fire-escape mockup onto a gym mat. Okay with some nipple this time? I’m thinking next take, no panties. Roger making me hand out pb&js to the grumbly Teamsters. I should have spooked Pedo with my stare when he deigned to come over for a snack. Made him wonder if the liquid pooling in the Nutella jar was my spit, if the Sour Patch Babies were laced. A craftier Crafty would have planted deeper inklings. Cursed sets, broken necks from snapped safety trampolines, live bullets in prop guns, freak struck-by-lightnings. She would have made him choke on his own fear.
I remember when AD finally called it a wrap and you grabbed a furnie blanket and a pb&j and ran off down Greenwich St., your sobs louder than the genny. I was so tired I half-dreamed myself at the eyepiece of a Bolex 16mm, Kodak TriX black-and-white stock, capturing you in your slip and your bare feet gifting the blanket and the sandwich to a dazed homeless vet who didn’t know you from Adam. You were so thin and shivery, like the peeling steam pipe that ran floor to ceiling in my SRO on Avenue C. You drifted back to set finally, everything shallowed and grainy. Even the twin towers came into your foreground, their lights like a thousand dancing haloes crowding you in the frame, eating you alive.
I remember wishing life were out of order sometimes, the way endings are shot before beginnings. Or reconfigured. Middle parts spliced clean away. Like the montage of Roger dry humping me on a furnie blanket in his van and docking my pay for parking tickets. Just lengths of film curlicued to the floor.
I remember wondering why you hung around the table after the PopTarts were yours. So not like you. Prop flowers sticking out of your other pocket, for laying at your scripted mother’s stone. I thought of asking if I could have one of those blossoms, to lay myself, half a state away. Of saying I love PopTarts, too. Of swearing your secret was safe. Of waving you around to my side and gifting you the blessed reprieve of fanning Nature Valley bars on a Chinet like a true uncredited.
I didn’t do shit. But I remember how you pointed at the coffee urn, our misshapen reflections on the stainless, and smiled. The two of us looking like movie monsters, breath to breath, tentative allies in an interspecies understanding.
I wish I smiled back. Made us both human again.