Thursday, October 1, 2009

I Am No Superman

One of the many, many girls on whom I have never put any moves is named Allison Mack. I didn't know this when I met her, though - to me she was just a random actor playing the role of "Chloe" on the TV show "Smallville".

It happened like this: When I went to the casting agency to fill out the forms and get my picture taken so I could start doing some extra work, they told me I "had a good look", and that I would probably get lots of calls to do shows like Smallville. This made me happy, because it was Smallville that got me interested in the extra gig - I'd only ever seen one episode, but it was partly filmed a few doors down from where I lived at the time in Aldergrove, British Columbia, and it seemed like I was always seeing or hearing things about the show. For example, my insane buddy "Chip" told me that one time he'd come home and found the black dude who played Clark Kent's pal, hanging out in the kitchen with his brother and some girl they knew. That sparked off a whole conversation between Chip and I about how we should go find where they film it and kidnap the guy who played Superman and, like, make him eat lots of brownies or something. (Before you report me, let me make this clear... it was a joke - we just figured it would be pretty funny to be able to tell all your cell mates that you had kidnapped Superman.)

So when I saw this random-looking advertisement on Craigslist for extras for film and television, I naturally thought, "hey, I bet if I did that I'd get called out to be on Smallville, and I could at least punch Superman in the face". Which is exactly what happened (the getting on Smallville part, that is). Smallville was the second call-up I got, right after doing an Anne Hathaway movie and crushingly defeating the little strumpety starlet in a stare fight (I'm not kidding. It was, like, three minutes long. I kicked her little movie-star patoot.)

I got the details and then drove at ridiculous o'clock in the morning on my motorcycle out to the place in Burnaby where they shoot Smallville. I left early, but got lost and ended up arriving after my call time - which I didn't find out until I'd wandered around for a few minutes in this huge, creepily-lit space full of plasticky-looking interiors. I eventually ran into a swarthy, annoyed-looking guy with a walkie-talkie, who directed me over across some train tracks to the other warehouse, where everyone else had gone.

Nobody was around when I opened the large exterior door and entered a dimly-lit corridor with another door at the other end. I presumed that the whole thing was intended to keep outside light out, so I shut the door and started to walk in. Along one side they had a couple of carts piled high with goodies, but I had scarcely had a chance to hone in on the roasted almonds (I had learned to wear pants with zippered pockets) when the far door opened and who should walk through it but Tom Welling, the guy who plays Superman.

It was just me and him, then, walking towards each other. I had on a leather jacket and was carrying a heavy helmet in my left hand. It would be so easy, I thought. I could just take a quick swing and run for it. If he chased me down, I had a helmet, right? Besides, I was late already and they had warned me at the casting agency to never, ever, ever be late. I was probably done as an extra anyways, so I might as well get something out of it. Except, the closer I got to the guy, the bigger he got. He just got bigger... and bigger... and bigger. I'm not sure how big, exactly, he eventually got; but to a five-foot-ten-inch slim/slender chap such as myself, it was plenty big. I gave him a nod and walked on by, my ego shattered.

I went to wardrobe, got dressed, and after a while wended my way with the rest of the extras over to the set of "The Talon". Between takes early on I happened to be standing by Tom Welling and Allison Mack, and they were talking about some issue related to social justice. Maybe I was still smarting from my earlier wuss-out, but I can remember thinking, "Oh, yeah... right. A couple of millionaire actors pretending to care about something really important." Apparently my ego had been really bruised. Not exactly a high point.

They started to set up again and one of the extras handlers came over and told me to go into this little side hallway. He told me that when they said "Action!" he wanted me to come bustling out, walk over to a table and pretend to greet people, then walk to another table and greet some more people "with a lot of energy".

Pretty straightforward extra stuff, so I went in there and started waiting. My back tends to ache a little when I stand for too long, so after a while I squatted down. There, right in front of me, was a plastic rose. I picked it up. I stood up again. Someone walked into the hallway from the other end and leaned against the wall about four feet away from me. I looked over and it was Allison Mack. She smiled at me. Then she glanced down at the plastic flower, then back up at my face. She smiled again and said, "hey".

That was it. All I had to do was smile, hand her the flower, and say "Hi". That would have been the normal, human reaction to a nice, friendly greeting with a flower implication thrown in. My brain being the anomaly that it is, however, I don't generally do "normal". Instead, my mind went into turbodrive. I thought: "Wow... this is so cliche. A plastic rose? A smile? Come on. I can feel my life turning into a badly written soap opera. Plus, I'm married, and of course if I talk to her it will constitute adultery, and she'll probably ask me to go to her trailer to show me her collection of Amnesty International pamphlets, and I'll show her my pocket portfolio and she'll swoon over my artwork and I'll revive her with a kiss and we just can't have that happening, now, can we?"

I gave her a half-nod and a half-smile, which amounted to one whole dismissal. I looked away.

Now, contrary to what you may be thinking right now, I am not an idiot. I did not for one moment actually, rationally think that any of that alternate-reality scenario could have ever, actually happened. But split-second decisions rarely come from anything even close to a well-reasoned position, and in that moment I chucked all those turbo-thoughts and went on instinct - an instinct driven largely, I think, by the idiocy of ego-preservation.

She was just being friendly to a Moving Prop in the wings - something her job did not require her to do. I could have honored that and had a nice chat. It would not have gone anywhere ridiculous, even if I'd wanted it to. Instead I blew it, and promptly justified my bad behavior away as "good taste" or "moral rectitude". Then I did my best to forget the whole thing.

A few months ago, however - shortly after my wife had announced her intention to leave me - I was browsing the interwebs and that random moment in the Smallville hallway came to mind. I had been processing a lot of the unhealthy ways that I had dealt with people in my life, and I realized, then, that I had been something of a poo to Allison.

So I looked her up on imdb. I found out that she was born somewhere over in Germany and had come to America at the age of two. I learned that she was passionate about her craft, that she studies dancing, and that she learned to crochet from the actor who plays Clark Kent's mom. She is also about my same age. At the bottom of her bio they had a personal quote. She said,

"The most powerful way we can live our lives is if we stick within the community... when you come together as a community to acheive one specific goal, it's really just a beautiful thing."

That really grabbed me. At the time, I had been reading a book by Wendell Berry, who writes a lot about the value of community. It had been on my mind a lot and my curiosity was piqued, so I googled her and found that she had a website... a blog. I looked it up, and it was actually fairly interesting. It turns out that this Allison was not just some Five-in-a-Can TV Blond, and that she was actually passionate about a lot of the same things as I am. Hmm, I thought. Hmm. It is just possible that if i hadn't been such a dink on that set, we might have had a good and challenging conversation. I might have even learned something.

There are moments when it feels as though my life has been a long succession of these missed opportunities for real, human connection. This is obviously a more dramatic example, since it involves bright lights and celebrities. But in many smaller, less-glamorous ways I have developed a habit of allowing my fears, anxieties and judgments to come between myself and other people. It would be easy enough to get bummed about this, and then hold on to that bummed-ness until it turned into despair. I don't think I will, though.

I went on Allison Mack's website. I wrote her a note. Then, when she posted an "art challenge" to anyone who reads her blog, I got involved. She said that she'd been been reading "A Writer's Book of Days", by Judy Reeves, a book which provides a daily writing exercise. She said she was going to do them, and posted the first. It didn't give a lot of detail. It just said you had to write a piece that had to begin: "__________ is the color I remember". I took up her challenge, did the exercise, and then posted it in the comments section.

Maybe I'm right to be bummed. Perhaps my whole life has been a running farce of missed opportunities to connect and converse with people in a way that creates something new. But in this one instance, at least, I got a sort of a second chance.


Light brown is the color I remember – the chocolatey brown of the amazonian waters where I learned to swim, to almost drown, to love… to lust.

There is a smell these waters carry with them, a glorious musk compiled of tiny particles dragged from snow-capped alpine peaks, tumbled off smooth-worn rocks and pulled from mossy cliffs . Every year the rains swell the rivers and they reach out – first in fingers, then with broad sweeps of arms, laying a blanket of themselves over the whole Amazon basin and then sucking downstream tiny bits and pieces, drawing with them the stink of life and death and decay.

By the time this water flowed through the oxbow Peruvian lake on which I lived, the dank waters were so choked with this history of a watery life that to an outsider they were nearly unswimmable.

For me, however, each time I immersed the warm waters wrapped me in their amniotic embrace and I emerged, at last, feeling new-born and alive. It was a Baptism of Being – and although I now live in North Carolina, swimming only very rarely in the sterility of chlorinated pools – every once in a while I smell something so earthy and primal that I am transported in an instant back… back to the light brown waters of my childhood.

1 comment:

  1. josh, that was beautiful what you wrote about yarina.
    love,your sister, amanda