232. Mirror in the Bathroom Please Talk Free

Sukanto Debnath/Flickr Creative Commons

Sukanto Debnath/Flickr Creative Commons

My next film was FX2. The cutting rooms were located at Warner Hollywood, a short walk from my shitty apartment.

Jack, the film’s producer, set up an office on the lot, too. His upstairs neighbor had a tendency to blast his music, which eventually pushed Jack to take decisive action as only a producer can. “Goddammit, I can’t take it anymore. James, go tell that bastard to turn it down.”

I trotted up the stairs, stepping around a scale model of a movie set that crowded the landing. I knocked on the office door and told Tim Burton to turn down his music, and then I wondered how long it was going to take before I was canned for telling Tim Burton to turn down his music. On my way back down the stairs I recognized the model as a set from Edward Scissorhands.

Theresa, my Music Plus crush, called. “Hey, I’m home on break. Want to hang out?”

“Heck yeah.”

That night we went to a Thai Restaurant in Los Feliz. She was still beautiful and I was now single. The soup was delicious. I babbled on and on, probably about seeing a model from Edward Scissorhands, and she smiled and nodded, her eyes darting between my line of sight and my hairline.

The thing about going bald is that it sneaks up on a guy. I don’t know the science behind this, but some of what we see in the mirror isn’t really there. It isn’t a reflection of that moment, but an aggregate of light bouncing off of a shiny surface and some mental image that we carry around with us. Maybe that’s how Elvis grew so sloppy and never seemed to notice, I don’t know. I’m not Mr. Science, but it explains how so many bad outfits and worse haircuts escape the privacy of our homes.

I was walking through the Beverly Center shopping mall one afternoon, and this young guy was walking toward me, his shoulder length hair obviously thinning. I was embarrassed for him. How in the world could he not see what I saw? It was like he was clinging to his youth or something.

What made the whole episode more uncomfortable was that we were walking directly toward each other, and he was staring at me. I didn’t know what to do, whether to ignore him or give him the “what’s up” head nod. Maybe I should be the one to break the news to him: “You look ridiculous. Cut your hair.” Obviously nobody he knew was willing to do the deed.

And then I realized that I was walking toward a gigantic mirror.

To some extent we see what we expect to see reflected back at us. Not having a chance to set my brain to “James,” I saw what I really looked like for the first time in years that afternoon, so it was no surprise that Theresa kept looking at my receding hairline. We hadn’t seen each other in at least a year, after all, but watching her eyes flit upward was making me feel self conscious. “You know, it’s okay to look me in the eye,” I said.

Theresa blushed. “Oh, no no. I wasn’t looking at your hairline,” she said. “It’s just that there’s this shine coming off of your forehead.” That night marked the last time that we ever saw each other.

What was I talking about? Movies.

The FX2 crew went up to Northern California for sound mixing. We stayed and worked at Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’s facility in Marin County. It couldn’t have been more different from the utilitarian, drab environment at Warner Hollywood. A Norman Rockwell painting hung in the guest house’s dining room, and an N.C. Wyeth hung in my bedroom. I’d never been so near something that valuable without a guard nearby. Everywhere I looked something cool was waiting: A Tucker in the parking garage; C3PO’s arm in a showcase; Linda Ronstadt’s horses romping around the pasture. Every morning I awoke to the sight of fog clinging to the grapes in the vineyard outside my window.

And then we returned to our dingy cutting rooms on the Warner Hollywood lot, and there I sat at my editing bench, waiting for something to happen. My phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hey, come over to Jack’s office,” my editor said.

“Please don’t make me tell Tim Burton to turn his music down again,” I said.

“Just get over here. Jack has a TV.”

“What’s going on? Something about the movie?”

“No,” he said. “We’re bombing Iraq.”

Categories: Memoir

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3 replies »

  1. Lucas Ranch. Yeah. Not a real world kind of place. I had the opportunity to stay there for work once for the score of “Home of Our Own”. Kathy Bates was there as her husband was producing and she starring. They were amazing. Chalk up one good experience. All good. Yet…

    The ranch, well that was an experience. The music editor on our obviously undersized project, Kenny Wannberg, was doing a little double duty, which was the first Jurassic. He pulled me over to his moviola (yes, a moviola) and said to me, “Just stand in the doorway. If anyone sees you, you have to tell them I didn’t know you were there.” Okay I thought, what now? Little Ewoks were going to attack? George himself was going to hover through? Well it was much simpler than that. He was about to show me something so top secret that even John Williams’ editor was under a signed confidentiality agreement concerning any footage of what I was about to see.

    The moviola cranked to life and in front of my eyes, on a 6″ screen, in black and white, was my first experience of modern high-end cgi. Sam Neill was on the screen looking awed at something. Pan right and bam, a fully alive Brachiosaurus (I looked it up). One of those things one never forgets.

    As to the rest of the visit, there was being dragged (by Mr. Wannberg) on a morning walk around the grounds. During the ‘walk’ I was escorted to the “Library” of one Mr. Lucas. The mahogany wood staircase itself could have kept me feed for probably 20 years or so. I was shown where the “helicopter’ landed when needed. This was important as Mr. Wannberg and Mr. WIlliams were flown there by copter at one point for something or the other. There was the ‘commissary’ which housed food of a caliber that would make Whole Foods seem like a funky corner market where you played the lottery and picked up your cigs. Yes, Lucas Ranch. Don’t forget, it had its own fire department.

    It ultimately wasn’t that weird at all. No. Because as I came in from setting up for the next scoring session one night (the ‘programmer’ is always last in) I came into the guest house to see Kenny, John Neufeld (Williams’ amazing orchestrator working with us), and Michael Convertino, sitting in the living room of the guest house (one of three at the time) sipping wine or Cutty Sark, by a roaring fire, conversing about… gossiping about… hell I have no clear memory because I waved hi to the “come on in’s” and headed right back out to drive forty five minutes south looking for any resemblance of a normal city where I was determined to find a pizza joint. Found it I did.

    I will forever be in debt to that pizza, as it alone saved my sanity.


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