The Short Fuse Muse

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

Back in the autumn of ‘04, I was watching All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) when I was suddenly taken by a composition of an entrenched German machine-gunner, firing upon a French infantry charge.

When the movie ended, I took a few screen captures to ponder over. In my mind’s eye, I kept the camera angle, but exchanged the weapon for a wrist-braced slingshot. The new operator pulling back on the bands was a long-absent friend: Chastity “Titty” Garfield, an olive skinned, 20-year old, short-haired tomboy. Distancing away from the image, I saw her crouched on the wooden deck of a tree house overlooking a heavily wooded backyard, aiming at something below. She was wearing a black tank top, cargo shorts and green flip-flops—exactly as how I last saw her.

Titty had been a supporting character (named Leyaní Garcia) in a road fantasy I had been obsessed with from 1996 up until about 2002. Exit the Sand was about two couples that flee a civil war-torn America for a falsely advertised utopia, where they drift apart, grow old, die, and are reunited in a place that isn’t a heaven or a hell, but where something like a deity awakens. I am not a spiritual person, but I’ve always been fascinated by some of the stories one finds in religion and mythology, along with the relationship between the material and its psychological as well as sociological effects.

After many revisions (including a screenplay submitted to the first Project Greenlight contest), Titty and her boyfriend Freddy (who played the part of Alfredo Muni)—both of whom having helped lighten the story up with some humor—had had enough of the scenario. And since the project had ended my four consecutive years of writing nature and fantasy poetry, both she and her beau, along with my hobby, faded away.

Back on the tree house, Freddy was nowhere to be found. But I knew seeing Titty again meant that he couldn’t have been very far. Because for all the fighting they had done in the aforementioned story, it had simply been just an act they had put on for me. Freddy’s by and large a pacifist, and while Titty is attracted to the excitement and glamorization of violence, she doesn’t really enjoy watching people get hurt, except in make-believe.

I immediately felt compelled to find a story for them as the leading characters, but no satisfying adventure or plot came to mind. Instead I jotted down moments of them simply hanging out together.

Freddy resembles a bear in a cartoon sort of way, though not particularly hairy. Half-Cherokee, he’s a big-boned, handsome faced fellow who likes to feign passiveness, which helps to balance Titty’s impulsive behavior. They met in a Chinese bistro, which was where Titty had landed her first job as a server. Freddy had been there a few times before, but this time he was lunching alone.

She had gone over to his table and introduced herself as his waitress, like it was no big thing. He looked up from the menu, briefly smiled, said hello, and kept on browsing.

Freddy: You know, I’m in the mood for something new. What do you like to recommend?

For some reason or other, Titty’s mind went blank. Her face contorted sort of funny-like, as she tried to squeeze out the information while glancing over his menu. He smiled again, thinking she looked cute.

Freddy: I’ll make it easy on ya. Is there, like, a plate you’ve liked so much that you’ve eaten it to the point where you’re sick of it?

Titty (pointing a finger at him): Yeah! Mongolian beef with garlic noodles.

Freddy: You see? Perfect. That sounds good.

Titty: Aw, nah, man. It’s great. It’s just that I’m sick of that s—t.

Titty’s eyes went huge with embarrassment, as she slapped a hand over her mouth. Freddy started chuckling, which got her to smile.

Freddy: Alright, let me get that s—t and a Coke with a shot of Jack. I’ll start dieting again tomorrow.

Laughing to herself, Titty headed off towards the kitchen and bar area while glancing back at him. Unfortunately, not paying attention to oncoming traffic, she crashed into a busboy carrying a tray full of drinks, and fell on her rear end. Luckily, the busboy also survived.

My favorite night out with these two became the seed for what seemed like a chapter in a story. I believe it came from the idea a friend of mine had about vampires, which I did not want to steal, so I decided to instead give Titty a reason to refer to vampires.

Months later, while I was working as a licensed realtor—which I was not cut out for—I met an accomplished Latin music video director, while showing her property. The leading topic of our conversation was cinema and who we regarded as our favorite directors, with a few questions about utilities and amenities here and there. During that time, I was crazy about Luis Buñuel; the reason partly being was that I was eagerly awaiting The Criterion Collection’s release of The Phantom of Liberty (1974), which was causing me to revisit and discover some of his other work. So when I mentioned him and she responded with similar sentiments, I felt we were on the same page. And this made it feel all the more positive when she brought up the notion of considering doing a low-budget film, provided she could find the right material. Of course I let it be known that I enjoyed writing and so she asked if I could generate a film treatment; or a detailed synopsis used to sell a film idea. I immediately told her I had a story in mind. (At least I thought I had a story, by sewing together what I had.)

Pressed for time, and inspired by the chain of events, I took a Buñuelian stylistic approach so as to quicken my decision-making while working with the material at hand. I imagined writing for him something for modern American independent film audiences, which would would utilize some of Buñuel’s recurring obsessions; or, at least those I enjoyed most. In addition to this helping me visualize what I had in my head, I brought in French actor Alain Delon as a model for one of the story’s new characters, as I thought it a shame that the two never got to work together.

In the end, she and I both liked it. But there was no money. It didn’t bum me out though, because I Am a Rock (named after the Paul Simon tune) was fun to write. The story took place in South Florida, with a few sequences in Tennessee and Sherman Oaks, California. It was a surreal coming of age tale with Titty (once again as Leyaní) flying in to visit her cousin, who’s projecting the desire for a father figure onto his mother’s new boyfriend while fancifully imagining the man’s somewhat unknown and mysterious background.

Having just recently read it again with the intentions of presenting it, I realize that some of my favorite bits (those that existed prior to the Buñuel influence) were readapted into the crime novel I was writing before abandoning it for Pick Up the Gun, My Son. (Incidentally, the character of Tracy Little in Pick Up is none other than Titty, but as a more mature adult.)

Since I’m not going to be returning to work on that novel, and being that neither she nor Freddy will be appearing in either of my latest efforts, The Superkiller is being converted into a screenplay to be posted up very soon. It’s definitely the most fun the three of us ever had together.

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