22 March 2007

Flashback: An Evening's Soiree Cycle

19 March 2004

At Ray's housewarming party, I wasn't expecting to see a whole tier of friends I considered just Chala and Mike's, but I guess San Francisco is a small town that way. Some 80 people had RSVP'ed to his eVite that they were coming, many with friends in tow. I did my best to psych myself up to deal with a mass of strangers and a handful of acquaintances.

I dusted off my chitchat with aspiring photographer Wayne. He praised a documentary he'd recently seen about a photojournalist whose bread and butter was capturing suffering and admitted that he found pleasure in watching those images.

Then there was Stan, a film student with a day job. He claimed that he'd be perfectly happy to just sell scripts even if they were never made, that "you just have to follow Hollywood convention."

I commented that a talented friend of mine with 7 polished scripts hadn't yet been able to get an agent. Upon telling Stan, "It's who you know that matters," he shook his head.

"I don't want to believe that," he declared.

A plastic cup of sangria hit the floor splattering my khaki carpenter pants. This is what I get for wearing light colored pants to a party. Stan didn't seem to notice and told me confidently, "All you need to get an agent is money."

I countered, "You need a decent agent to have it be worthwhile, so people will read your stuff. Assuming you want to work in the studio system. If you have money to produce it yourself, great, go indie."

"You just have to work within the system, use the three act structure a la Syd Field but personalize it."

"My friend's scripts do have acts and structure; it's the subject matter that's unconventional."

Stan proclaimed, "He has to compromise if he wants to sell."

"But there comes a point when you do all that when you're no longer serving your own creativity."

He didn't care. After several more fruitless rounds, I was thoroughly bored. When there was a brief pause in our conversation, I walked off towards the food.

I stood by Chala, snacking for a bit and then alone, consuming. The bass from a nearby speaker throbbed, but I was grateful for a chance to rest my voice.

Once my hunger was somewhat assuaged, I headed over to Chala and Mike. They introduced me to a couple of trendy women whose names I never caught and to Debbie, an acquaintance's best friend whom I'd heard about for months. One of the trendy women commented that she felt short, citing her height as 5 foot something and three-quarters. If you use fractions with your height, you're short, I thought to myself.

Then Mike announced, "I'm 5 foot 5 and a half."

I smiled.

"I'm near five ten," Debbie contributed. "Probably close to six feet with my shoes."

Standing next to her, I could tell I was an inch or two taller. She was more like five eight.

"You're not wearing heels, Claire," Chala remarked, observing the height disparity between Debbie and me.

Amused that she noticed, I smirked and confirmed her assertion, "Nope."

"How tall are you?" Debbie inquired.

Glancing around the circle of people, I didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable, but I wasn't going to lie to prevent it. "Five ten." Reassuring freak-of-nature/amazon statements came to mind for the "and three-quarters" woman, but I didn't really care, and the conversation sped along without it.

I suppose five ten is that magic model number. That might explain why tall women who are five eight or nine always seem to claim they're just that inch or two taller. Short people might as well lie in the same way, but many seem to fixate on the precision of their measurement as though it makes them superior to someone a fraction shorter than they are.

"So, what do you do?"

Loud Depeche Mode had obscured the conversation occurring on the far side of the group for a few minutes, but now Debbie was addressing me, and I wasn't sure how to answer. Describing the random and varied work my arrangement with Ray entailed never came easily to me.

Chala interjected, "She's a talented filmmaker not doing shit about it."

I shrugged and said, "Yeah, something like that."

Our circle splintered and redistributed itself throughout the multitude in Ray's apartment. Navigating the dense pockets of people, I spent quite a while hunting for Ray since I'd yet to speak with him. He was deep in conversation when I found him, so I waited patiently. Though he was Mike and Chala's dear friend, to me, Ray was mainly my boss and de facto landlord. We exchanged a brief greeting, and then he was ushered into a clique of people I didn't know.

Since there was nothing nonalcoholic to drink, I finished another cup of homemade sangria; I could feel my cheeks flush, but the lights were dim and no one noticed.

As per house rules, I pulled off my Skechers to join my friends in Ray's bedroom loft, the floor of which was covered with Ikea sheepskin rugs. Part of me was unsettled by the dead animal skins, and the rest didn't want to rub my feet in the soft wool so many other bare feet had touched: I left my black socks on.

The configuration of the group varied as people went downstairs to get drinks and snacks, sitting at different points of our shifting circle. I stayed put, scoping for a bit of wall to lean against, glad to be off my feet.

When it was just Mike, Timmy, and I-- well, besides the threesome rolling around on the floor a bit further away-- Mike began, "So Claire, when you're looking at women, what do you prefer: hips or no hips?"

While I was pondering a reply, he added, "The woman who just walked by didn't really have hips."

I hadn't noticed one way or the other, so I said, "Hips, I guess."

Mike nodded in agreement.

No, that can't be my answer. I really don't think like that. I revised my comment, "I notice height more."

"Is that all?" he asked, as if I was missing out on the fabulous world of jugs, asses, and hips. (Also coming from a short man, he probably wasn't thrilled that I suggested height at all.)

"Sure, I'm drawn to what I consider attractive," I conceded, "But ultimately it's more of a whole package thing depending on someone's personality and how comfortable they are in their own skin, whether they be male or female," I tried to explain. "It's just rare that I encounter anyone I think I'd want to be with anyway."

Before going downstairs, Timmy frowned and said, "Here, you're all shiny," placing an oil-blotting sheet on my nose. A gay man with a style-centric world view, Timmy was either truly appalled by my recurring cosmetological and coif-related shortcomings or barely able to tolerate me. Months earlier, he kindly dyed my hair, gave me a trim I probably did need, and then insisted on plucking my eyebrows, chastising me for my too-lax-for-his-taste brow grooming. I couldn't imagine buying a pack of oil-blotting sheets to carry around in my check-to-check lifestyle, but the sheet proved effective.

"I'm going to get something to eat," Mike said. "Would you like anything?"

"I could really use something to drink."

"Sure, what would you like?"

"Just water, I guess, since there's nothing without alcohol."

"Yeah, there is."

"That isn't seltzer or diet," I amended.

"I'll find you something," he assured me.

The bars of the railing cut into my back, but it was still better than having nothing to lean against. As I stretched out my back and legs, Debbie topped the stairs, walked over and sat next to me.

I vaguely wondered if Mike and Timmy's departures had been contrived as Debbie succinctly told me about her painting, "Mainly nudes, somewhat abstract, predominantly in acrylic on canvas and sometimes paper." Then she asked me about my art.

I wasn't sure what to say, but since she was addressing me as a creative equal, I tried to live up to the Artist persona I'd been attributed. "My photographs involve texture and geometrics within landscapes and architecture."

"Have you shot in the city?"

"Some," I nodded. "Just a couple weeks ago, I shot a few rolls at the Palace of Fine Arts."

"Oh, what are you working on now?"

"Well, I've got in mind some black and white shots of a crane at a construction site nearby."

Even though I was only trying to keep the conversation going since it was just the two of us, I was cognizant that I was trying too hard. My words felt forced.

Debbie wasn't what I'd expected, not that I'd really thought about it. What I had heard prior to meeting her was that she was a lesbian, Lucy's best friend, and that she had a history of long-term bad relationships or rebounds or something which gave me the impression of a fucked up person not suitable for me to date. But in person, Debbie was attractive and well-spoken, probably mid to late 30s but holding it well. She wore dark grey pinstriped pants that I liked, a light green shirt with white square protruding buttons, and a light green leather tailored jacket that matched.

Timmy returned as she was taking her jacket off and asked if he could have it. When she handed it over, he said, "No, can I have it?" really liking it.

During their exchange, I noticed that Debbie's toenails were red and that she didn't have attractive feet. Upon Chala's arrival, she pressured Timmy to remove his socks, eventually pulling them off herself, but she didn't bother me about mine.

A few minutes later, Mike returned, handing me the drink he'd promised, a suspicious smelling concoction topped with whipped cream. Debbie smirked as I busted Mike for including a liberal dose of vodka in the glass, enjoying the familiar ruse. He handed me a second cup of untainted sparkling cider.

Once I felt like the pressure to perform was off, Debbie and I conversed fluidly. She carried her conversational weight which was cool.

Later on, I saw Debbie and Chala closely conversing, and I wondered what they were talking about. When Debbie decided to leave, she asked Chala to walk her to her car. If there had been chemistry, or if I were suave, then I would've walked her out or we would've exchanged numbers or something. But I was neither that compelled nor outgoing, so it was just, "Nice to meet you." If she asked Chala about me at any point, Chala never brought it up.

In the meantime, I was grateful that I hadn't had to rely on Ray's inscrutable bathroom door lock to prevent someone from barging in. When I came out of the bathroom, Tom was stretched out in front of the stairs, talking to a guy standing on a tread near the apex. I was going to venture downstairs for something to drink, but after a brief exchange, I sat down next to Tom finally getting a piece of wall to lean against.

Tom apologized to me saying that he shouldn't neglect his new friend at the top of the stairs and turned towards Jason. To make conversing easier, Jason took off his shoes and sat across from us. They talked about filmmaking and how they couldn't stand LA. Tom said he was going to move to Italy to work in film there. As an aside, Jason mentioned that he was a gaffer.

With a grin, I revealed, "I used to gaff." Finally, a chance to use some film slang without feeling pretentious.

The three of us were blocking the top of the stairs forcing people to cross between us. Jason moved to the other side of me, so we were all leaning against the wall.

"This town can't make a good movie," Jason stated. "I've been gaffing here for 8 years and I've had it. I make a good day rate, but the projects suck." He concluded, "It's all about who you know."

I'm vindicated! His words were a balm over my conversation with Stan. I even commented a couple of times how nice it was to talk to someone who understood. We commiserated over humping cable, bad movies we'd worked on, and the difficulty of transitioning from gaffer to DP. Jason told me work had been on the decline for him for the past three years. "There's just not as much work here anymore."

I'd never felt so confident and reassured that I made the right decision when I quit gaffing. In that moment, it was clear just how naive my friends really were when they admonished, "Oh, you're so talented, you have to get back into film!"

Since he'd been pursuing non-film work, Jason had heard all the same lines from people he knew that didn't get it either: the scope of collaboration required, the immense physical demands, the hours involved, the difference between g&e and creative involvement. Oh, how happy was I to have encountered Jason, however even that, I imagined my well-meaning friends would misunderstand.
I met a gaffer at Ray's party.

That's great, did you get his card? Are you going to work together? Did you give him your info? What's he working on?

All questions that would entirely miss my joy.
No, I don't even know his last name. We're not even gonna hang out, though I'd certainly talk to him again if we crossed paths somewhere.
Jason was just the first person in San Francisco to understand my relationship to filmmaking because he shared it. Chala, Mike, Stan, the others-- they just didn't get it, but I could be confident that I did, and that's what changed.

One year ago at TTaT: The Grey Goods; Pollen, baby powder, and now Wednesday
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  1. It's always good meeting someone who knows what you're on about. At parties like that especially - I'm usually at a loss around too many people... I had a friend once who was "5 foot 5 and a half" - which was really important as his wife was "5 foot 5 and one third" or something ;)

    I would have taken my socks off, though, I love walking barefoot. There's always water and soap later..

  2. I learned more about you from this one post than I have in so many others. And I understood what you meant when you mentioned speaking with someone that understand what you do and your opinion of it. The validation is pretty important.

  3. Scholiast: Absolutely, it's good. Parties of that magnitude and where I know next to no one aren't my thing at all either.

    Melissa: His validation was most welcome at that point. As for "I learned more about you from this one post than I have in so many others," it totally makes me think of telling someone, "Hey, you got your haircut," without elaborating. ;)

    Dan: It's linked to the definition within the story, but if it doesn't jump out at you, it's in wikipedia. Simply put, a gaffer is the same as a chief lighting technician.