For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

I’ve got three more stories to tell, and I’ve decided that they will all come from the set of the first movie I ever produced. It was called Puberty: The Movie and it is still technically in post-production, nine years after we shot it.

I recently spoke to one of the writer/directors on a podcast and we cracked each other up, talking about this project that almost killed us both. And even though I could probably talk about it forever, because the whole thing was basically a 24-hour emergency for three-and-a-half-weeks straight, I will try to concentrate on three major events, starting with the time I almost manslaughtered our star.

 

Killing Joe Lo Truglio

We should have known things would fall apart.

I was anxious the day I picked up the stars of our little movie. It was the night before we were scheduled to begin principal photography, and I was to drive our leading man and lady from New York City to the small town of Sharon, Massachusetts. I picked them up just after dark and we began the four hour drive, excited to finally get to the set. But I was anxious.

I was anxious because, as producer of this film, I needed to be a leader. I had never produced a feature film before, and I was a little bit terrified that that fact had escaped no one. I hoped to make everyone feel comfortable in my capable hands; to project a level of confidence and professionalism that screamed, “DON’T WORRY! EVERYTHING’S COOL! SHE’S TOTALLY DONE THIS BEFORE!” And I’d be flying solo with our film’s stars for four hours in my little car. That’s a lot of one-on-one-on-one time in which I’d be wearing my “Best Behavior” hat–the worst-fitting hat in my metaphorical hat collection.

I was also anxious because I was still a little bit star struck. Our movie’s lead actor, Joe Lo Truglio, is a super friendly, funny and warm guy. But when I picked him up that night, I had only ever spent an hour or two around him. He wasn’t my friend Joe, yet, he was a former star of MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer –two of my favorite things, ever, and having a former star of MTV’s The State and Wet Hot American Summer in the front seat of my car was still a tiny bit hard to believe and totally fucking awesome. Especially since he turned out to be super friendly, funny and warm.

But I was mostly anxious because just a few days earlier I received a disturbing piece of information about my driver’s license. Apparently it had been suspended, both in New York and Connecticut. The story behind this is a really long one, so let me see if I can sum it up briefly: thought I took care of a ticket; turned out I was wrong; both states suspended my license without notifying me; insurance company discovered this and called to let me know they were canceling my policy.

It took years to straighten it all out. It was still very much un-straightened-out by the time we began principal photography on Puberty the Movie, which meant that the film’s two lead actors were being driven from state to state in an uninsured car by an uninsured driver with a suspended license. I was an outlaw; a rule breaker. I could have been arrested! I was paranoid.

I was anxious.

My anxiety intensified just outside of Mystic, Connecticut, when one of my passengers asked me to make a pit stop. Both Joe and Caitlin, his costar, were deep in conversation when I exited and I had to repeat myself a few times to get their attention.

“Um… Guys? GUYS? The car’s not stopping.”

“What do you mean it’s not stopping?” Joe asked. I tried to mask the abject terror on my face as we approached the intersection ahead.

“It’s not stopping. I’m pressing the brakes and it just keeps going.”

It was late and the exit was deserted, luckily, so I ran the stop sign and merged back onto the highway. I managed to stay out of the way of other cars as I called my roommate, Andrew, the only other person who had driven my car for the past year. He had no knowledge of any problems with the brakes, or anything else, for that matter. But he put me on hold and called his older brother who apparently knows more about cars than either of us.

As I waited for him to return to the line, I weighed my options. I could try to pull over on the side of the road and stop the car, but then we’d be stuck on a dark highway. Maybe a police officer would see us and offer to help. And maybe that police officer would ask for my driver’s license and insurance information. And maybe Joe and Caitlin would watch, helplessly, as I was handcuffed and carted off to a Connecticut jail (probably a really nice jail, but still…).

Or, I could exit the highway again and try to make it to a service station. But the next intersection might be more crowded. Had I watched enough Cannonball Run movies to successfully navigate a runaway car through a busy intersection?

Andy’s brother didn’t have any advice for me, so I decided to chance it. I don’t know how much is “enough” but I have seen a lot of Cannonball Run.

We all held our breath as I exited and rolled into the intersection. We were facing a red light and oncoming traffic from both sides, but the cars were few and far between, so I went for it anyway. I ran the light, turned right in front of one car, then immediately left in front of another. As I pulled into the gas station on the corner, I kept my foot pressed down on the brakes, but the car wouldn’t come to a complete stop. So I threw it into park and, with the engine revving loudly, turned the key.

DON’T WORRY! EVERYTHING’S COOL! I’VE TOTALLY DONE THIS BEFORE!

We solicited the help of a young kid who worked at the station, and who promised he could fix me right up when his shift ended at midnight. We decided to kill some time at a Friendly’s restaurant across the street. It was freezing outside, but I wasn’t ready to call in the cavalry just yet.

The three of us ate some food, played some cards and talked a lot. I assured them both that everything was going to be fine; that we weren’t stranded in Mystic, Connecticut and that I hadn’t almost killed us all with a Toyota Echo named “Magic Bobby.” I put on a brave face and pretended to have my shit together, but my shit was far from together.

After hours of Friendly’s coffee, several hands of poker and a few trips to the gas station to check the progress of our young handyman, I had to admit that we were stuck for the night. It had begun snowing and we’d missed the last train out of town. I left the car at the gas station and checked us all into a Howard Johnson’s within walking distance.

The woman who checked us into the HoJo was named Sparkling Water. She told me about her Native American heritage as I paid for the rooms, while Joe sat at a small table meant to keep children occupied while their parents checked in and out. He had a blank piece of paper and a pencil cup full of used crayons. When I walked over to give him his room key he handed me a drawing–a small car with a stick figure poking out one window, shouting “Help me!”

I said goodnight to them both and went to my room to call the film’s directors. Just after “Hello” I began to sob, uncontrollably–I was simply exhausted from wearing my brave face for so long. It’s the worst fitting face in my metaphorical face collection.

We were back on the road the next morning–in somebody else’s car. But in the weeks to come we’d look back on that night as one of our more fortunate ones. It was the only night I had to deal with one emergency, rather than twelve. Compared to the rest of the shoot, that death drive was practically a vacation. Or maybe it was just an omen of a shitstorm on the horizon.

We should have known things would fall apart. And maybe we did know. But even now I don’t suppose I would have done things any differently.

Except, maybe take the train.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

 

The Truth About Eatin’ Shirts

Has this ever happened to you? One of my best friends likes to take things that I say to her as a joke and then repeat them to other people as if I was serious. She thinks that it’s HILARIOUS. I would probably agree, if it didn’t make me seem like such an an idiot.

The most famous of these incidents occurred sometime around 2000, when I was living in Greenwich, Connecticut. I had just bought a car, so it only took me about five minutes to get to my office in Stamford. I started coming home at lunchtime whenever I could. And one day, while home for lunch, I called her (in Seattle) for a chat.

She asked what I was up to and I told her I was eating leftover spaghetti. Later, as I was ending the call, I told her I had to go so I could change clothes. She wanted to know why, so I explained to her that I had worn a nice, white blouse to work, because I had a client meeting later that afternoon. When I came home to eat leftover spaghetti for lunch, I took off the blouse to keep it clean and threw on the t-shirt that I had worn to bed the night before as a temporary replacement.

I have boobs. Boobs are notorious for attracting foods like spaghetti sauce and salsa to white shirts.

Anyway, I made a joke (A JOKE!) about it, like, “You know–had to put on my eatin’ shirt!”

Now, keep in mind that I was talking to one of my oldest friends–someone who knows me. She knows that I don’t actually have a shirt–one shirt–that I only wear while I eat. She knows I was kidding around and pretending to be some sort of yokel to make her laugh. And she did laugh. And I laughed. We both got a really good laugh! And then we hung up and she continued laughing with other people.

The way she tells the story is this: “My friend Darci said she has an eatin’ shirt! She wears it so she doesn’t get food on her work clothes.”

WILLFULLY MISLEADING MISREPRESENTATION OF FACTS.

The way she describes it, one would imagine I have a ratty old cotton shirt falling apart from years of use, covered in food stains of every color and crumpled in the corner of my bedroom gathering flies.

The truth is, I changed into a tee shirt one time so I could eat spaghetti.

And she knows that is the truth. But it’s so much more fun to say things that aren’t technically lies and let the people fill in the blanks with a funnier version of events.

When she told her coworker, who had never met me before, about “Darci’s eatin’ shirt” they both laughed about it for days. Then her coworker took a picture of my friend holding a chicken leg and making a crazy face. He had that photo put on a t shirt with the words “Eatin’ Shirt” on the back. He gave it to her for her birthday and she wore it around the office. EVERYONE LOVED IT.

Everyone but me.

TO THIS DAY, whenever I meet one of her Seattle friends for the first time, they light up at the sound of my name and ask, “Oh! ‘Eatin’ shirt,’ right?!!!”

16 August, 2007

Today is the penultimate day of our vacation with Anna’s family. Tomorrow evening, we will pile our two boys and our belongings into the trusty Corolla and head back home to West Hartford, Connecticut. Except of course, that we are not really heading back, or home. We are heading out, going forward, doing something new and quite unlike what we’ve done before. We are leaving our crowded little apartment in the crowded little city of Somerville, Mass. (preceded by like abodes in Cambridge and Brooklyn), for a proper house, three bedrooms and a living room and a dining room (fully separate from the kitchen, mind you) AND a finished basement, all sitting upon a quarter acre of gracious, green, unapologetically boring, suburban land.

The funny thing is that the move to me seems worthy of excitement. We have purchased a perfectly sensible, utterly unexceptional Dutch colonial (that is a kind of house, I have learned) in a bland, agreeable suburb in central Connecticut (very fine schools, of course). Anna has a tenure-track position at a highly respected university and I have what promises to be an engaging non-profit lawyering job. In short order, we will buy a second car – a minivan perhaps, or a station wagon – to park in the second spot in our two-car garage and tote around our two children, presumably to soccer practice, PTA meetings, Klan rallies, and the like. We are standing on the precipice of no precipice at all, just the long slide toward middle-class, average, American comfort.

And yet, I feel I’m entering uncharted territory. I’ve never lived outside a city, never lived in anything but an apartment. As a teenager and even in my early twenties, I assumed without much thought that I’d never own a car, let alone a house. I described West Hartford to my best friend, who grew up with me in Brooklyn: the endless, quiet, tree-lined streets, the sidewalks empty of people after dark, the well-kept houses uniformly filled with the flickering blue glow of television. He said, “You’re kind of like a spaceman there.” He’s right, but instead of feeling like I’m taking an appalling cultural step backward, selling out, failing it to keep it street, etc., I’m excited. It’s like I’m embarking on a sociological adventure, an exchange program far more exotic than the year I spent in Argentina when I was fifteen. Also, it will be nice to have enough space, which we have not had since Max was born, and less still since Reuben came on the scene. Did I mention that we might buy a new car?

Maybe I am selling out and loving it. Anyway, the great unknown begins now . . .


17 March, 2010

The first half mile of an early morning bicycle ride in the cold is never good. The air is always sharper than I expected, finding its way between layers to chill my back and toes and make me think I should have bundled up more. No matter how hard I pedal, I can’t seem to move as fast as I’d like to, a point made manifest by the little speed meters the town police have installed here and there, one of of them a block from home, informing me that I am topping out at 17 miles an hour. Actually, that’s not bad for an old three-speed loaded with lunch, computer, and a 200-pound man in khakis and loafers, but the first half mile is about perception, and it feels slow. And cold.

It’s mostly dark at a quarter of six, and my end of town is shielded from the east by a pair of hills, so the dawn looks like someone shining a dim flashlight up from behind Hartford. As always in my godforsaken suburb, the only people on the street are dog-walkers and joggers, who are marginally more scarce at this hour. Cars, though, are mostly absent, so it is quiet. Just behind me, I hear the soft, regular clicking of the antique bicycle hub, parts forged and assembled forty-odd years ago in a northern English factory town, where hundreds of people likely plodded to work on three-speeds in pre-dawn hours; just ahead of me, I hear the zizzing whisper of an equally aged tire negotiating the asphalt. This is the part of the ride where I think about life.

And so? I suppose if I could have chosen an existence for myself in a central Connecticut suburb, had I even been able to name a central Connecticut suburb three years ago, I might have liked this: the misfit doing a 60-mile commute by bicycle and train in a place where people won’t even walk three blocks to the grocery store. That is an encouraging thought for a chilly March morning: I have not sold out. I still ride my bike whenever I can. I still work in the ghetto, still meet my clients at night in project hallways, still fight the good fight for a lot less money than most of my law school classmates are earning these days.

But!

Oh, the “but” is a serious thing in this internal conversation: I spend a lot of hours in the car every week. I have gained fifteen pounds. I live in West Hartford, an uppity, mostly white suburb that seems to pride itself, above all, on being different than the desperately poor city it adjoins – the kind of suburb I hate, not just because it is boring, but because it represents the abandonment by those with means of those without, the unapologetic self-interest underneath our vaunted American individualism. Oh, and in order to engage in this pleasurable bicycle commute, I have left my house before dawn and foregone the pleasure of breakfast with my wife and children, and Jesus H. Christ, commuting 60 miles by any method short of a helicopter is fucking absurd, and on top of that my job is too crazy, and I can never get enough done, and we can never make a dent in our credit card debt, and I really need to go to the dentist, and . . .

Luckily there’s not too much time for quiet reflection. I am past the hills now and moving through Hartford at a good clip. It’s warmer, and the air feels less like raw late winter and more like the muddy, optimistic ferment of early spring. Every now and then, the lovely, gold-domed Capitol peaks up ahead of me with glorious dawn behind it, and I get to thinking that phrase that has become my mantra since moving here: Maybe life isn’t so bad.

Where Farmington and Asylum Avenues converge, an empty lot slants downhill to a tangle of highway ramps. Above sits a huge patch of sky-blue openness, fringed with Hartford’s chrome skyline and punctuated on the southwestern edge by the Capitol, tall and unapologetically overwrought. I hesitate, caught between wanting to take a picture and worrying I will miss my train, but then I am buoyed by the pleasing thought that I will get to see this breathtaking panorama many many times again. I keep moving down Farmington, under the highway overpass and to the train station. Of course, I should have checked the time: I arrive at with fifteen minutes to spare.