Saturday, January 2, 2010

$200 The Hard Way

As will often be the case, certain names in the following entry have been changed for reasons that should be incredibly obvious by the time you’re done reading.

You know it’s going to be a story about my former roommate Jen when it starts with this simple question: “Chris, can I ask you something?” Those six words were the catalyst for every shit brained, logic bending scenario we got ourselves so hopelessly tangled up in. This was the second time I waltzed right into this trap (the first is another story for another time). Jen’s adorable little smile was the hunk of cheese for your dumbass rat Narrator.

We’d only been living together for a couple of months and while the transition back to life in the windy city had been a jarring one, Jen had been one of the few things helping me to keep my head on straight. We couldn’t have been more different. She dated NBA players and her parents had just bought her a brand new red sports car. When I went out with her friends it was like being inside of a beer commercial. Our paths should never have crossed. But her old roommate had left suddenly and I only had a few days to find somewhere new to live. And for some strange reason it worked. Both of us had just gone through a pretty rotten break-up and in sharing our stories we discovered that we had a similar sense of humor. It wasn’t a lot. But it was enough to make our living situation an agreeable one.

I know, I know. All the back story is an anchor on this ship and we’re going down. You’re thinking to yourself, “I’m not writing your biography so just get on with it chucklehead.” Fair enough…

So I told Jen to go ahead and at first what she was proposing didn’t seem like a big deal. It never did. She said some other film students from my school were in desperate need of a location to shoot one last scene for their movie. She was pretending to ask my permission when in reality she had already agreed to let them use our apartment. I asked how she knew these guys. She didn’t. They had posted an ad on Craigslist. Normally it would have been hard to hear anything that followed over the sound of the Shady F*ckers alarm ringing in my head. But believe it or not way back in 2005 Craigslist was still new to me. I’d never even heard of it until that very moment. The way Jen described it seemed completely legitimate. And in retrospect, entirely incorrect.

They only needed our living room and it was only going to take a few hours. Jen and I were also going to get $200 each. I was going to be in class when they wanted to shoot but Jen promised she’d keep an eye on them the entire time they were there. We knew the two guys who lived next door to us and we made sure one of them was going to be around in case something went wrong.

The next day was my day off. No class, no work, no alarm. So I was irritated as hell to be awakened by the sound of our buzzer. The talk button on it never worked the entire time I lived there. So if you weren’t expecting somebody you had to go downstairs and open the front door of the building to see who it was. Which I did. Half asleep, still wearing my pajamas, and with my hair sticking up like Edward Scissorhands.

When I opened the front door there was a man standing outside with his back to me. A man wearing a bathrobe, sneakers, a bluetooth headset, and nothing else. He was holding up a digital camera and taking a picture of our street. “Hello…?” I called out to get his attention. He spun around and a big smile stretched across his face. He was approaching middle age and if it weren’t for the Bluetooth and camera I would honestly have thought it was a homeless person. And then there was the issue of this damn bathrobe. It wasn’t even tied all that well. A huge flesh colored triangle spread out from his waist exposing greasy curls of chest & stomach hair. His swollen belly was laughing at the little cotton belt attempting to contain it. “Ha ha ha… it’s so cute that you’re trying!”

“Hi! You must be Jen’s roommate!” He said as he grabbed my hand. I hadn’t even offered it. He just snatched it right up and shook it. He explained that he was the director of the film and Jen had told him it was okay to come by and take some photos of the apartment. So we walked upstairs, both of us in our pajamas. At least I’d just gotten up. What was this clown’s excuse?

Naturally I was suspicious and I started asking questions about what class this was for and who was working on it. Because despite his age, I was still giving him (and Jen) the benefit of the doubt. He clarified that this wasn’t a student film but that most of the crew went to Columbia. I asked him what the movie was about. He said it was about a couple of thieves who pull off a robbery but wind up on the run for longer than they had planned because of one particular cop who’s on their trail. Apparently they were almost done shooting and as he talked about how the production had gone up until that point I realized he knew his stuff. He talked about equipment, video formats, permits, and he was using all the right jargon. So although this man still weirded me out considerably, I was starting to feel a little more at ease.

He snapped a couple pictures of the living room and noticed some photos we had hanging up on the wall. I told him we could take them down if we needed to. He stared at one of Jen and her friends and said, “She’s got cute friends. Think they’d want to be in the movie?”
“Yeah, probably.” I replied and we laughed. Then it occurred to me I never got his name.
“Call me, Peter.” He said, “But that’s not my name.” Right. Fine. I was too bewildered to even inquire further. “Oh, you’ve got a papasan chair.” Not Really Peter noticed. He suddenly looked very deep in thought. Then he said something that sent us crashing into a whole new level of crazy. Not Really Peter inquired to himself out loud: “I wonder if they can f*ck on the papasan chair?”

I nodded along with him for a second and then froze suddenly. What did he just say?! Can who do what where?! Then, just in case it hadn’t sunk in yet he walked over to our bathroom and turned on the light. “Hmmm, yeah…” He shook his head, “Jen said this was way too small a space to shoot the threesome.” Instantly the puzzle had been completed and all the confusing threads left hanging tied themselves together neatly. Of course Jen would agree to let them shoot a porno in our freaking apartment. And of course this is what the director looked like.

Not Really Peter took a phone call and exited the building without saying a word to me. I couldn’t bring myself to sit in the papasan chair so I waited on the couch for Jen. When she finally returned home from work I told her the director had stopped by. “What? He said he was coming tonight to-” She stopped when she realized what this meant. The jig was up. Her excuse for all of it? She knew that if she told me it was a porno I would have said no. Now look, I’m no prude. I have no problem with pornography. I also don’t have a problem with monster truck rallies. It doesn’t mean I want to host one in my damn living room. And it’s not like this was some Vivid Video production with the slightest degree of professionalism. It was some skid mark off of Craigslist who couldn’t even dress himself. So I put my foot down and said no way in hell is that dude coming back into our apartment and letting people soil our furniture. Jen tried to persuade me by saying they had promised to clean up when they were done. Again, we were dealing with a man who couldn’t figure out pants. Now we’re trusting him with bodily fluids? Survey says get the f*ck out of here.

But there was a problem. Jen had already spent the money she’d been promised. And she reminded me that I’d recently been complaining about the cash I needed to shoot my next film. I kept saying no over and over and she spent the next couple of hours begging me to reconsider. I don’t know how it happened. I guess she just wore me down. Because I agreed. They’d be in and out in a few hours (in more ways than one), we’d clean the whole place like it was a crime scene, and then never speak of it again.

I did not go to class the day of shooting. I wasn’t letting anyone out of my sight. They used our kitchen as a green room for “the talent”, the bedrooms were off limits, and they set up all their gear in our living room. Which included very expensive, and very hot lights (which become important later). Jen and I were introduced to the cast (and I know you’re wondering and the answer is no, none of them were even remotely attractive) and crew. I did recognize a few students and asked them how they had become involved with this. They told me work was work and after awhile you become completely desensitized to it. So apparently the scene in question involved the two thieves (who were lesbians) hiding out in the apartment of one of their friends (who was also a lesbian). They decide to have the threesome that was too large for our bathroom to host when suddenly the hunky pursuing officer bursts in. Instead of arresting them, he joins in. You know… that old story.

Jen and I stayed in the kitchen for most of the shooting. But as they got ready to do the last part of the scene that involved all four performers, Not Really Peter asked if we’d like to watch. I immediately said no. Jen immediately said yes. “You’re coming with me.” She grabbed my hand and I resisted. “I’m not going if you don’t go and I want to see this.” She insisted. So I went. And I received the answer to Not Really Peter’s question… they could f*ck on our papasan chair. Our poor, poor little papasan chair.

There wasn’t a single moment during this entire experience that was even the slightest bit tantalizing in any way. Unless this film was called “People That Should Never Be Naked 7” I don’t understand how any of them were hired. But whatever, it was easy enough to divert my attention to other spots in the room. As I did this I still heard some choice pieces of dialogue. Most of it was routine porno silliness but there was one line that really caught my attention. It was when the hunky officer asked one of the girls:
“Are you my donkey? Huh?! You my little donkey?” She didn’t answer so I guess we’ll never know.

Although I was sparing myself the visual, there was something else I couldn’t ignore. See, all the windows had been closed because they were recording audio. And remember those hot lights I mentioned? They were doing us no favors. It felt like a swamp in there. And it was just as pungent. For the life of me I couldn’t take the smell anymore. As soon as they stopped to set up a new shot I bolted for the back porch.

Sweet, clean oxygen filled my lungs. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. Jen joined me and lit a cigarette. “That’s appropriate.” I said. We both started laughing.
“You’re not really mad are you?” She asked.
“Yeah… a little.” I replied.
“What? Come on, this is kinda funny…right? Just a little?”
“Yeah… a little.” I smiled. Not Really Peter stepped out and said that while they had a minute he wanted us to write down our names so they could credit us in the finished film. “No.” I shook my head, “This is not going to be my first IMDB credit.” After giving it some thought Jen declined as well.

We stayed outside until they were finished. When it was over we each got our $200. And the crew did clean the apartment as promised. Then we cleaned it again. And again. I don’t know what became of that film, but I do know that neither one of us ever sat in that papasan chair again.


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