Before I decided on being a writer, for a few years I had the idea that I was going to be a film director. This all started on career day at school. Everyone went around saying what they were going to be when they grew up, future football players, police officers, and marine biologists among them. Marine Biology was a popular choice then. Free Willy was the biggest movie that year, and everyone wanted to swim with dolphins and run around busting orca whales outta second-rate Sea Worlds parks.
I knew what I was going to be. I have always had the voice telling me to write, even when I didn’t know how to write, or what to write about. It was no marine biologist, but when my turn came, I planned to announce myself as a writer. On this day I had also decided to wear MC Hammer pants.
The day before, my mother had been given a bag of hand-me-downs by her co-worker. My mother arrived home with this huge bag of clothes, which was appropiately, a garbage bag. We heaped them on the floor, clothes for young teenagers and adults mixed together, a whole family’s hand-me-downs. I saw those Hammer pants and ran to the bathroom with them to see if they fit. They did. Even my mother said they looked cool, using the word awkwardly, the intonation meaning something else.
But the next day, I wore them. God knows why; I didn’t even like MC Hammer. I just liked the pants, and it didn’t take long after getting off the bus for the first kid to notice them.
“Are those MC Hammer pants?” It was all they asked, but the intonation in the words ensured I wouldn’t wear them again. I’ll never forget what another classmate wore that day either–Katie, a girl with a mousy face and yellow bangs covering her eyes. On career day, she wore a shirt with cat butts on it. I remember this because kids were poking her cat butts with their pencils. At least it distracted them from my terrible pants.
Now it was Katie’s turn to say what she wanted to be when she grew up. I couldn’t wait to hear what this was–probably something really lame, like a librarian. I bet she loved the Dewey Decimal system. She was probably best friends with the school librarian too. That’s where she got all her cat books. Then she said it. She wanted to be a writer. A few of the pencil pokers stifled a laugh.
I couldn’t laugh. I was too busy reeling in horror. My turn was next. I couldn’t say what I planned to say now. I couldn’t be associated with her. I couldn’t be lumped in. Writer. The word was dirty now, tainted by cat butts. Writer, and I was having a bad enough day as it was. The teacher called on me. Beads of sweat formed inside my flowing Hammer pants, insulating my legs, burning. Katie may have been brazen enough to wear that shirt and brazen enough to say she wanted to be a writer, but not me. I was chicken.
I had to think fast. So I blurted out the coolest thing I could think of. “Movie director,” I said. The teacher smiled. “Like who?” she asked. Jurassic Park had also come out that year. “Steven Spielberg,” I said.
When I went home to write my essay about my career choice, I started to like the idea–making movies. We grew up with a video camera, and me and my sister were hams in front of it. But now with my newfound career interest, I wanted to get behind it. I begged my parents for a chance to use the video camera, a honking piece of equipment that holstered on the shoulder and recorded on VHS tapes. After weeks of promising I’d be good with it and not treat it like a toy, they finally relented.
I already had my two star actors–my sister and the dog. My sister, the great actress, age 10. And people didn’t recognize this, but Spritzy was actually very expressive.
My earliest film was a serial, “Spritzy and Me.” It involved my sister sitting on the floor with the dog, having a complete conversation. Several of these conversations were filmed, all improvised, and sometimes a stuffed bear was brought in. I played with zoom buttons, perfecting the close-up of the eyeball shot.
Though I was fast developing my craft, I was no mini-Spielberg in the making. I was probably more like a John Waters. My muses were puke and dying. The next movie was about a school talent show. We got my sister’s friend Amber to be in it. The plot involved Amber dying while rehearsing for this show. We killed her off in a quite gruesome way–tripping while doing a dance move, severing her spinal cord and skull. Dramatic dialogue included, “she snapped her neck and now she’s dead.”
I continued making short films for friends well into high school, and that’s when my masterpiece, my Citizen Kane, came through. Entitled “Lisa Marie as a Child,” I envisioned a character–based on Elvis’ only daughter–a deranged girl who ate a pickles out of the toilet.
Starring once more my sister as Lisa Marie, we plotted the funniest and grossest ideas, and we took it seriously, writing scripts days before filming. When Lisa Marie couldn’t find anything to drink in the refrigerator, she gulped down some pickle juice, which led naturally to vomiting a whole pickle into the toilet, which led naturally to eating the pickle. Did my sister actually drink the pickle juice and actually eat the pickle from the toilet, or was she just acting? Let’s just say she would do anything for a laugh.
My friends thought these videos were hilarious, but my mother only watched silently, never cracking a smile. Me and my sister wanted to hear her thoughts. Waiting for her to praise my sister’s comedic timing or stuntwork, she only looked directly at me and asked “why do you do make your sister do these things?”
We went on to make two more Lisa Marie sequels, a Blair Witch version, and a Christmas special. We intended to make a fourth film, Lisa Marie Goes in the Shed, but my sister refused once she saw the cobwebs.
I’ve never lost the interest in making movies, but I believe creative people are born with an innate knowingness, an understanding of their craft, and I only became a film director because of cat butts. Yet I still watch the director commentaries on every DVD with just a little longing, and I watch amateur YouTube movies knowing the joy that goes into making them.
Even if it never took off, we were groundbreaking. There’s no one else eating pickles from the toilet. No kids snapping their necks from one ill-fated cartwheel. No one’s doing it. We did. I just thank God there was no YouTube then.