A movie came to town. This was big news in little Savannah, not that this was the first film shot in the poor man’s Charleston. The fountain in Forsythe Park was featured in a key scene of Burt Reynolds’s Gator, so we had that going for us.
But this promised to be a really cool movie. Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Downey, Jr. were the stars, along with old timers Bruce Dern and Mariette Hartley. Wynona Ryder was supposed to be there, too, and the writer/director won an Oscar for On Golden Pond. This was no Burt Reynolds redneck car crash movie.
I can’t say everybody in town was excited, but everybody who came into Record Bar seemed to be. Celebrity sightings were the buzz: stories of Robert and his girlfriend, Sarah Jessica Parker, at this club or that, Kiefer or Wynona here or there, that kind of thing.
Even I enjoyed a celebrity brush with greatness one afternoon when I approached the only customer in the store, a guy busily thumbing through the classical CDs. “Can I help you find something?” I asked, and Kiefer Sutherland’s head popped up.
“Vivaldi?” he said.
“Oh, you’re a classical fan?”
“It’s a gift,” he said. I found The Four Seasons for him and he left. This celebrity brush with greatness stuff wasn’t so exciting, after all.
Kristi, my housemate and landlady, met the director through her job as the receptionist at SCAD. The film crew scouted locations in some of our art school’s buildings and the two hit it off and started dating. That was pretty cool, I guess, but overall I remained checked out of the movie hype.
Jody wasn’t, though. Since giving up modeling in New York she was gravitating toward acting, and she wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. “There’s a casting call this Saturday for extras. Will you give me a ride?” she asked.
“Yeah, of course.”
Saturday morning arrived. We hopped onto my bike and rode down to River Street. I loved having her on the back of my motorcycle, her hands around my waist.
The office was a makeshift arrangement: a couple of desks, a few chairs, and lots of hopefuls. Each would be superstar filled out a form and waited to be called to the casting director’s desk. He asked a couple of questions, clicked a Polaroid, stapled it to the person’s form and motioned him or her out the door. He was quite efficient, though overly stressed.
All of those people crowded into a small space with Mr. Stress was too much for me. I leaned against the door jamb and waited for Jody.
“You,” he said, and he pointed at me. “Have you filled out your form?”
“No, I’m just waiting on my girlfriend.”
He sighed. “I just want to know if your paperwork is done.”
“No, I’m just waiting on my—”
“Come on! I don’t have time for this!”
“I am not interested in being in your movie,” I said.
Mr. Stress stared at me like a dog that heard a high whistle. “Why not?” he asked. “You’d be perfect.”
And like that Jody and I were welcome at Joey’s desk, where we completed our profiles, listened to his location gossip, and told him what to do in Savannah. “There’s a really great scene at your art school. I think I can get you two superstars into that one,” he said, and away we went.
Jody was thrilled, and admittedly I was, too. Being involved with the movie was exciting, even if we weren’t quite yet. But Joey called us his superstars, we were a cinch. We started hanging out down at Kristi’s apartment, listening to her insider stories.
A week or so passed and the phone rang. “Is this the superstars?” Joey said. “Listen, I have some amazing news. A-mazing. I found a scene that only has eight extras in it. That means you’d be guaranteed to show up in the scene.”
“Oh my God!” Jody said.
“I told you I look out for my superstars! And listen to this: There are two speaking parts, one for a boy and one for a girl. I can’t promise anything but believe me, y’all are way better than anybody else, seriously.”
“Joey, I love you!” Jody said.
“I know! You can get SAG cards! There is one thing, though. The scene is a hippie commune — a nudist commune.”
“Wait, you mean naked?” I said.
“Totally; well, you might get a hat or something,” Joey said.
“Can we think about it?”
“Okay, but don’t take too long. Call me back.”
We hung up. “I’m doing it,” Jody said.
“Come on, let’s go get some food and talk about it,” I said.
“Okay, but I’m doing it.”
We rode over to the only decent Mexican restaurant in town and took a table near the back. “I don’t know about this,” I said.
“What’s not to know? I can get a SAG card,” Jody said.
“What is that, anyway?”
“SAG? It’s the actor’s union. You have to have a SAG card to work on union movies, and all the big movies are union.”
“So? You’ll have other chances.”
Jody laughed. “Oh, honey. People wait years for this.”
“But it’s naked,” I said.
“So we’ll be naked.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “I’m doing it.”
“You don’t mind the whole world seeing you nude?”
“Not if it means I get a SAG card,” she said.
“So, wait. You’d pose in Playboy if you thought it would help your career?” I asked.
“First of all yes, and second that’s not that same thing.”
“How is that not the same thing?”
“Because Playboy is forever,” Jody said.
“Movies are forever!”
“No, you can hold Playboys. They’re magazines. You can stick them in a drawer, like you don’t already know that. But this is just some stupid movie. It will be gone and forgotten in a month, but if I get that speaking park I’ll get my SAG card. I’m doing it.”
When we got back to our attic apartment we called Joey and told him we were in. “I’ll call you when I know more, superstars,” he said.
There was no end to the shit that I caught from Mason when I asked for a long lunch. His point was that Record Bar was a business, and he couldn’t very well keep the doors open if he let his employees come and go on a whim. My point was that this was a once in a lifetime thing, so maybe he could not be a dick. I must have made my point a little more eloquently because he let me go.
Thirty or so people, all in their twenties, crowded into a small conference room. They were split 50/50 male and female. The only people I recognized were Jody and two kids from art school, Larry and Kyra. I didn’t really know either of them, but I’d seen them around SCAD.
We all knew that this was a cattle call for spots as hippies on the beach, and we all knew what that meant. Some looked at the floor, others made nervous small talk. Larry worked the room as if he was at a party, making the rounds until he zeroed in on his true target: a beauty pageant brunette in a frilly dress and white Daisy Duck heels.
They were a strange mix, the pageant queen and the art school boy. She was perfectly put together and Larry looked like an extra in some dystopian punk rock movie. He chatted her up and she shot him down, not that he noticed.
I busied myself staring at my watch and willing time to work in my favor. Every minute that ticked away Mason would be a little angrier, but my watch didn’t seem to care. Neither did the casting people. How long were they going to leave us trapped in this room? Forever? How long until we turned on each other? Fuck this hippie shit, I’m going Donner Party if we’re not out of here by the end of my lunch break. How unprofessional is this? Some of us have jobs, people. The world doesn’t revolve around your stupid movie.
The door opened. “Hey, everybody. Thanks so much for waiting. The director is running a little behind but he should be here soon. So, um, if you could just disrobe he’ll be here as soon as he can.”
The door closed. The only sound in the room came from 29 pairs of eyes boring holes into the floor and ceiling. We were locked into the last scene of a Tarantino movie, a stalemate with zippers instead of guns.
My watch didn’t care how shy the frightened bunnies were, and I could see my Record Bar job slipping away, tick tick tick. And so James, the guy who didn’t want to be in the movie in the first place and sure as hell didn’t want to hang brain on film made the first move. I whipped off my clothes and stood there. Others followed, slowly peeling off their garments, never looking away from floor or ceiling.
The pageant queen was the slowest of all of us. She only stripped as far as her Daisy Duck shoes and her lacy white panties, and then she stood with her arms crossed over her bare chest.
She wasn’t alone. Everyone’s body language was closed, limbs drawn tightly, eyes averted, each person studiously trying to be alone in a room full of nude strangers. Not Larry, though. He stood tall and proud, stance wide and hands on his naked hips, head on a swivel as he chomped his gum open-mouthed and surveyed the talent.
At that age and in those pre-internet days I hadn’t been exposed to many penises, or vice versa.There was my own, of course, and a therapy-causing glimpse of my father’s on a camping trip. I saw my cousin’s once when I was a preschooler and he escorted me to the restroom, and one of my junior high buddies whipped his out and took a leak once while we were walking down a back road. That makes four at that moment in my life: A sample size of four represented the entirety of my penis knowledge.
But there stood smiling, gum chewing Larry, drawing extra attention to his junk with his Superman pose, and to my inexperienced eye this was the absolute wrong thing to do. His wang looked like a Hershey Kiss wearing an Afro wig while balanced atop a bright pink kiwi. It wasn’t so much a penis as an outtie belly button moved to a more southern climate. Maybe it was a snowbird on its way to Florida.
Being naked in a roomful of strangers was the most traumatic thing to ever happen to the pageant queen. No one has ever tried harder to be invisible. Larry looked her up and down, chomping his bubblegum. “Man, this is awkward,” he said.
“Yeah,” nodded the pageant queen.
“Really makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it?”
Silence, but for the sound of Larry chomping bubblegum.”Man, it really makes you want a beer or something,” he said.
“Yeah,” nodded the pageant queen.
Chomp, chomp, chomp.
“I could go for a beer right now.” Chomp chomp chomp. “You, um, you want to go get a beer after this?”
I was and remain an idiot when it comes to romance, but even I knew that: A) You never ask out a stranger while nude, and B) especially if the frank doesn’t even hang past the beans.
The pageant queen caught a break. At that moment the door swung open and the director stepped into the room. He said a few words, but all anyone heard was their inner voices screaming “Oh my God I’m naked Oh my God I’m naked Oh my God I’m naked,” and then it was over. I dressed as quickly as I’d stripped and sped back to Record Bar, where I hoped I still had a job.