The Last Video Store - a short film I made about a video store in Brooklyn

The Witches

Malibu, she says to her friends. Last summer’s garden party. Dreadful. Genevieve and Richard. Fabulous. She either has money or knows its vocabulary. She’s had almost two bottles of Sancerre to herself.

She is sitting in the lounge of the Bowery Hotel on the Lower East Side. People with a certain degree of celebrity (directors, comedians) skulk on velvet couches, drink champagne, thoughtfully nod at their producers and consult stoic friends wearing atomic red lipstick. The waitresses are leggy and perplexed. Overlapping Persian carpets cover the floor, Victorian lamps barely illuminate cocktail menus. It is a terrifically civilized place.

On another set of couches is a heavily botoxed man sporting a soul patch and namaste necklace. Next to him is his wife and her arms, superfluously fit, unless she professionally hauls crabs on an Alaskan fishing boat. 

The two-bottle-deep drunk woman cackles with a pair of over-accessorized and well-waxed girlfriends. Her damaged blonde hair is pulled into a low ponytail with a black scrunchie and the breadth of her hips suggests A Life-Long Battle With Weight Loss. She is about fifty, is not beautiful, and never has been. As she complains to her friends about the contractor she hired to build her wine cellar, a lout, she calls him, two models walk into the room.

They wear puffy winter parkas and no makeup. They are laughing, facing each other, gripping each other’s forearms, conspiring in accented English, a Norwegian maybe, and a German. Something hilarious has happened. They are similar looking, Disney princesses, wide eyes, small chins, flowing blonde locks. It’s a demanding beauty, the kind that snaps its fingers in front of your nose in the middle of a daydream. They have paused in the dead center of the room to laugh and sigh. The men in the room linger, lose trains of thought. The women size them up.

The drunk woman watches them with a dark furrow of resentment.

"Excuse me," she shrieks, the way a lawyer might to a high school tour group blocking doorway to the Supreme Court. "Could you please keep your voices down?" She yells more loudly than they were talking.

They look down at her, pretty European mouths wide open.

"Do you think that we all," she waves a beefy arm around, implicating everyone in the bar and beyond, all residents of the Tri-State Area, "want to hear about who you are [air quotes] ‘fucking?’"

Her girlfriends lean back, as amused as bullies holding the dodgeball at recess.

"I’m sorry, it’s a bar? We’re just standing here," says the German, factually.

The Norwegian leads with a bang and calls the drunk woman a “fucking cunt,” two-steps, and clenches her fists.

The drunk woman leans forward, as aggressively as one can lean forward while seated, mouth downturned in condescension.

"This is my hotel, and I spend a lot of money here, are you even staying here? I don’t need to sit here listening to two nineteen year old girls, swearing and talking about screwing when I stay here for weeks at a time and spend lots and lots of money."

The German, a stickler for the facts, says, “I’m twenty-three,” and the drunk woman hoots wildly and shakes her head as if to say yes! This proves her point, precisely!

And so on and so forth, I’ll have you kicked out, fucking bitch, what exactly is your problem? Until the models stumble off outside, furious and bewildered.

The drunk woman’s friends shake their heads good-naturedly, cover their mouths, huddling closer together, some ancient part of their brainstems tickled by the thrill of bonding against this pair of enemies. The drunk woman throws her fat head back in a cackle and flicks her eyes across the room, looking for more approval, allies, attention. The botoxed fisherwoman, looking to be a part of the action from the beginning, catches her eye and says reverently, “You are awesome.” They all strike up a conversation, and soon enough rearrange themselves so they are all sitting together, one nasty coterie. They rehash and gesticulate, arranging the narrative in their favor.

They all look as ugly and old as witches gathered around a cauldron.

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now

There’s a famous sign in Boston that sits along a traffic clogged stretch of road leading to the bridges and highways out of the city. The sign says: If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now. That’s one of the places I lived in Boston.

On the same day in 2005 when I found out my boyfriend fucked my best friend from college I ran into him on Boylston street, a few blocks away from the Boston Marathon finish line. My anger was as physical as an element, Carbon, Titanium, Rage. I slapped him very hard. He said, I’m sorry. I hit him again. Afterwards I had three martinis at the Charlesmark, the same hotel where they found the lid of a pressure cooker on the roof.

My roommate and I were once locked out of our Allston apartment. A pair of burly Irish boys broke the glass of our screen door and carried us over the shards. Later we had a party there and a stack of red plastic cups caught fire in the kitchen. I picked them up, threw them in the sink, and ran the water. It doesn’t make any sense, but I didn’t burn my hand. Someone stole $80 out of my wallet that night.

I fought with a different boyfriend on West Cedar Street in Beacon Hill, gas lamps overhead cobblestones underfoot. I was so drunk that I was seeing double. I cried and he walked away.

At the site of the second bombing there’s now a restaurant called Forum. It used to be a place called Vox where I spent nearly every Saturday night for two years. It was the post Sex and the City-era. The gimmick was martinis. My martini budget was $40 per Saturday. My friends were once kicked out for smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. The food was not very good.

The only time that I’ve fainted in my life was on the Green Line on my morning commute. I opened my eyes to a guy holding me up. I said, I think I fainted. He said, Me too. When I got to work the paralegal ladies at the office next door fed me cookies.

In 2006 and I was a juror on a trial for a murder that happened in 1985. The victim was shot in the carotid artery. The crime scene photos were more horrific than I hope you can imagine. Arterial spray, gunpowder residue, ballistics, crack cocaine. I thought the defendant was guilty but I was selected as an alternate juror which means that I didn’t get to deliberate. The jury acquitted him. The defendant was left handed and wore a black suit with bright white basketball shoes.

I liked to read the New York Times on the Esplanade on twinkling summer days, hot breeze, sailboats, rosé in the shade. There were lots of house parties in Charlestown, girls with crunchy hair gel smoking Newport Lights and up-to-no-good thuggish boyfriends playing video games in the basement. Baby showers in Milton. A frigid roofdeck Halloween party in Southie. Bud Lights with Irish contractors deep in Brighton at 4am. A cocktail party at the UK Consul’s Beacon Hill residence, gin and tonics and paintings of hunting dogs. And Marathon Monday, of course, beers in the filthy Pour House, grimacing at bleeding nipples.

My first job after college was in government affairs out of an office on Winter Street. Imagine the skeeziest motherfucker you can, greasy, tubby, cheap. That was my boss. Then I was Campaign Director for a State Representative race in the suburbs. My office was in the basement of the candidate’s lunatic mother’s house. We won every precinct in both the primary and general elections. I got a master’s degree at Suffolk University which you’ve never heard of because it’s the least consequential university in the world. I worked as a temp. Lawyers yelled at me downtown and I read books and accidentally hung up on people in the office parks off I-495. Then I did data entry at a startup, which somehow lead me to where I am today in San Francisco.

It’s true that Boston never leaves you. It is indeed a city where one comes of age. But it’s scrubby, it’s nasty, it must be possessed. Boylston Street is mine. That shithole in Allston that we almost burned down is mine. The parties and the schizophrenic weather, the cheap cigarettes and the cheap beer, the townie mean girls, the shitty relationships, the shitty flavored coffee, the shitty martinis. And The Marathon. Of course the Marathon. The Marathon is mine. 

Boston is mine the way that my tendons and kneecaps are mine.

Boston is not in my blood. It is under my fingernails.

Boston

Marathon Monday and Patriot’s Day, an obscure Massachusetts state holiday that commemorates the beginning of the Revolutionary War, always fall on the same day. What this means is that if you work for a government agency or in a downtown office in the sweaty tangle of the marathon route you get the day off. I lived in Boston for seven years; I have been to the Boston Marathon seven times.

And this is what it’s like: while the rest of America is at work, you are sitting on a patio of some cheesy Boylston Street chain restaurant with your friends, either freezing your ass off or getting a sunburn (it is the end of April in Boston so there is no balmy middleground), holding a terrible margarita in your hand, feeling like you’re playing a delicious game of hooky. But you’re not, thanks to you, Paul Revere.

Runners slowly jog past, their own names etched into their legs with markers, their nipples bleeding. You call the names that you read off their bodies to cheer them on. They have made it so far and are now so close, just a couple of tenths of a mile away. You sip on that margarita, in such a pleasant group of friends, on such a wonderful day, thank you, Paul Revere, watching one person after another finish, finish, finish. It makes no sense that you’re there really, since it’s a Monday afternoon, and since you don’t even know anyone running the marathon. It’s just what you do.

It’s a glorious quirk, this state holiday and the marathon.

To Boston and all of her wicked glorious quirks in this horrible time. 

Here’s what happens at SXSW.

You are undernourished and your diet for days has been barbeque sauce, sodium and meat. You are constantly hungover or half drunk on Lone Star, which of all the beers in the world is the beer that tastes most like beer. You rush from bar to bar to bar to band to band to band. All of your friends are around and you have more fun than you normally have in a month in one day.

And tonight you’ve made your way to another crowded bar. You are being elbowed and someone somehow spills beer inside of your shoes and you are agitated from being in another confined space with one hundred people.

And this band that you listened to just a little before tonight starts to play. It’s a song you know. And suddenly it’s like you’ve been trying to open a door with the wrong set of keys and finally. This one fits.

No one around you seems to get it like you do. Except for the one guy, right in front of you, whose face you can’t see but whose voice you can hear, screaming along with the words. It’s like there’s a tin can telephone string pulled tight between the mic and your chest.

You are overheated from dancing and warm from the inside out, in the way you think people who see the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast must feel at church. But this feeling at this moment with this band is more more neurologically clean than anything religious because it’s true and real and has nothing to do with faith. You can see the sweat beading on the forehead of the drummer and you can sing along with your own voice and you can feel the bass in your gut.

Then the show is over. They are packing up their gear, you are looking away and pushing towards the door. You have to get out onto the breezy street because five minutes ago you were feeling elements and senses and your own physiology in their music. And it doesn’t feel right to accidentally look one of them in the eye while they wrapping cords palms to elbows, the normal human beings that they are.

 

 

The band was Bastille, but that part doesn’t really matter. 

Pardon My Swag

My latest film about a newsstand in SF with 2,000 different magazines and a very charming owner.