"I've been thinking," Jessica pipes in a sniffle through an affected cough. "I've been thinking about considering the possibility of not going."
This is a clever play, see. A couple of years ago, Jessica and I ruminated over the olive slosh of some dirty martinis about the invaluable trait of abstemiousness. Second only to the "I'm drunk, I'm leaving" plea for personal independence, we collectively surmised that cancellation was key — that it was the new attendance — and that in fact not showing up to planned affairs of the promoted variety was a favor paid forward. I'm not sure how we got to that point —vodka, laziness — but it sounded fair enough, and ever since I've held Jessica's reticence to join me in debauched publicity like something of a tea leaf reading, one that no matter how hard I throw my rune stones at it, I should probably take as a warning.
"But you promised," a rune stone is thrown.
"OK," she rasps. "I'm wearing good shoes."
All of this would be fine if I knew what I was getting myself and her shoes into. By all plain appearances, this late-Thursday-afternoon affair should be a cakewalk. The Orlando Film Festival has bumbled its way into its annual identity crisis weekend, and a late-breaking e-mail has surfaced, promising the penultimate disposability of the word "mingle." Naturally, the hollow conch shells of my brain were set into an echoing, oceanic flurry of busboys with screenplays and couches for casting, the vanity drone of cinematic ambitions as heard through the clinking of wine glasses and the cracking of expensive heels. This would be a fly-on-the-wall affair of choreographed effervescence that would charm its way through my ears and out of my laptop-bothering fingers without so much as a second thought. "What could be easier?" My mind wove through a traffic jam of charming one-lined retorts like "But what would Spielberg do with a giant pink anthill?" This shit writes itself.
Except when it doesn't.
Upon our arrival at the old-man rock-star fantasy playground known as the Gibson Guitar VIP Showroom downtown, there's the distinct sense this is not the Hollywood East stripper stumble I was hoping for. In the place of caviar, there are chips; in lieu of cocktails, there is beer that I have to put into my own plastic cup. More important, though, in the place of "mingle" — that fabulous abstraction of aesthetic voyeurism — somebody has substituted the term "press conference." Somebody has put their chocolate in my peanut butter, and I'm allergic.
"First we'll introduce the filmmakers," an event planner bends my ear. "Then you can go around and ask them each intelligent questions about their films."
"But," I sputter. "But I'm just here for the drinks! I don't even watch films."
Jessica and I immediately rub our cell phones together and produce backup — she brings in our friend Dave, while I goad music editor Justin into attending — and we all collectively bury our heads in a sparse media kit, searching for some kind of journalistic kernel.
"Wait," Jessica is not much of a journalist. "I don't have a pen."
"I'll get you one," I pull one out of my hair.
Speaking of hair, among the introductions is an old Hollywood moo-moo of a gal named Carol Connors — who is somehow involved with something topical called Courting Condi — and her dully dyed red hair is pressed skyward, but just in the front, reminiscent of There's Something About Mary.
"Is that gel?" Jessica quietly forms an intelligent question. "On her ear?"
Zing! Connors ups herself with tales of loving Elvis before breaking into a rendition of "To Know Him Is to Love Him" on a grand piano, because she is visiting us from that headspace of people that used to be famous.
And here the fun ends.
Within moments, I'm thrust into the personal space of a besuited jarhead and his blond TV-anchorish attaché with the intention of discussing (again, intelligently) the merits of their Crisis in the Americas. The doc supposedly centers on Venezuela and Hugo Chávez and boring and boring and boring, and is also produced in conjunction with the Department of Defense and Bill McCollum and boring and boring and boring. Boy, have I got a question for them!
"So, what do you think about Sean Penn?" I vamp. "I kinda like him!"
"We feature actual Venezuelans in our film," jarhead jars back. "Who are you going to trust, Sean Penn or actual Venezuelans?"
Who do you think? "So, Bill McCollum? What's he really like?"
"Erm, he's actually featured in the film."
Ugh. The rattle goes on about trade embargoes, narcotics (!) and boring, boring, boring until my eyes shut. Soon after, Jessica and Dave hit a similar wall with the tedious pair. While spewing the foam of his neocon drivel, jarhead decries $3 billion in defense spending by Chávez; Dave wonks, "Isn't that less than 1 percent of the U.S. defense budget?" and they get scorched with a Dr. Strangelove glare.
Poor Justin is caught "interviewing" a filmmaker and only pretending to write his answers down, but cleverly blames it on the pen in the end. And I make a go at talking to some radio guy with a movie about radio guys (Airplay), mostly because his hair looks like the Steve Schneider classic with the party in the back.
"What ever happened to Wolfman Jack? That was the good stuff," I blither.
"He's in the film," etc.
And just before I can make a hasty — even sober — exit, there are unexpected physical obstacles. Yes, Virginia, they have puppets, too. Orlando is full of them. Don't ask me why.
"I was thinking," I cell-grumble later into Jessica's ear. "I was thinking we should consider never doing this again."[email protected]