9/01/2011 The Magic Words
No sooner had my business partner, Des, taken a seat at our
table on the patio of the Cat and Fiddle
then he and Wendy were talking business.
I should have known that he would immediately connect with her. He had a weakness for women who didn’t
have a problem being one of the guys, especially if they were younger. And it didn’t hurt that Rhoda, his
recently hired intern, older and more standoffish when it came to his loose
banter, was beginning to get under his skin.
“So what kind of movie do you want to make?” Des asked Wendy
after she had come right out and asked for his help.
“Don’t do it,” he grunted.
“You don’t even know what it’s about yet,” she objected.
“The first movie I ever made was a documentary,” Des
said. “I lost my ass.”
The waiter appeared and Des looked up at him. “I bet you hear that a lot around
Des always assumed that the service staff hovered near by
hanging on his every word. But
this young man, hustling between the noisy tables, wasn’t even aware that Des
had spoken. “What’s that?” he
said, being polite.
“People losing their ass on a movie.”
“No,” the waiter smiled, “they’re usually losing their ass
on their music.”
“Touché,” Des laughed.
“Give me a shot of tequila and Dos
In the middle of my third beer, I had slowed down, as had
Wendy. The waiter gave us a glance
but we shook our heads.
Wendy gave Des a challenging stare. “What was your documentary about?”
After Des’s tour of duty in South Korea, he had spent time
living in Harlem. I never got the
full story why, but I think he had met someone in the service who invited him
to hang out with him in New York. Harlem was as cheap a place as any to
live on the island, and, as Des told it, the women and drugs were in plentiful
supply. The quick chain of
fish-out-of-water experiences, from being in the military in Southeast Asia to
being a white guy in a black community in Manhattan, stoked his story telling
ambitions. Considering himself an
outcast, he identified with American minorities, allotting them a deeper
spiritual essence than what he found in the primarily white corporate culture
of mainstream America.
“It was my UCLA thesis project,” Des explained. “Spent forty-eight grand making it,
thirty trying to distribute it. No
such luck. To put it on TV was
going to cost me money. When it was all said and done I was a
hundred grand in the hole. Never
got a penny of it back.” He leaned
forward, narrowing his eyes at Wendy.
“And I was shooting Gospel music; who doesn’t love Gospel music? Damn movie bankrupted me. I don’t even own the print.”
“But music,” Wendy sympathized, “that’s got to be
expensive. My movie wouldn’t cost
that much. We could shoot it right
up the black at the Y.”
“The Y?” Des
straightened up. He liked the
YMCA. It wasn’t swank, or
pretentious; it was the sort of gym that rebels without a smoking habit
“I play volleyball with these old timers. They all come from the movie business
and they have these great stories.”
“Old guys sitting around telling stories.”
“No, no,” Wendy argued, “we shoot the volleyball and cut to
the stories. You should see them
play the game. They’re really
quite amazing for their age. You
got guys in their eighties spiking the ball. They’re just as competitive as they were when they were
making Lawrence of Arabia, or Doctor Zhivago.”
“Shipwrecked survivors I can see,” Des said as the waiter set
down his shot of tequila followed by his bottle Dos Equis. “Cameron’s
thinking of putting one in his version of The
Titanic. But the
surviving crew from a David Lean film?”
“They were epics,” I pointed out. “A lot of desert in one, a lot of snow in the other. We’re not talking Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”
Des tossed down his shot of tequila. “Give me Sex, Lies, and Videotape!
I won’t lose my ass on that one.”
“You’re not going to lose your ass on this one either,”
Wendy fired back. “I’ve already
talked to some of the guys.
They’re willing to invest.”
Des cocked his head and
regarded her with a new sign of respect.
By offering access to other people’s money, she had just said the magic
words. I’m sure if Des had a split-screen,
it was showing a rock rolling away from the opening of a cave where hidden
treasure was buried.