Disclaimer: I am not interested in things as they are but how they seem, how the feel, how they could be, how they should be, and most importantly, how I damn well want them to be.
To read previous installments click here & here & here. CHAPTER 8: WE BUY GOLD
I wake up in my own bed gasping for air, coughing out a gob of thick brown substance onto my sheets. I roll off the mattress and hit the ground struggling to breathe. I inhale deeply but feel a tight restriction in my chest blocking any air from reaching my lungs.
I've been having this problem for a few weeks now. I initially wrote it off as stress as I'm prone to intense anxiety attacks but I'm beginning to think it might be something more. If anything, it's helped me cut back on my smoking.
I probably have pneumonia and I probably should be more concerned than I am. I recently lost a close friend to pneumonia over the summer. It was devastating. He was 29. I'm 29. Who the fuck dies of pneumonia at 29? But getting diagnosed means chest X-rays and I don't have health insurance. Nor do I have the $300+ those X-rays are going to cost me .So I fight through the coughing fit before showering.
I dress and get ready for another day of work.
Outside of my small Kensington row home, someone is blasting Muslim chanting prayers on megaphones. It reverberates up and down the street like some foreboding siren announcing the coming apocalypse. A few neighbors have collected on the corner to complain about it. Threats of calling the police are screamed followed by more violent threats involving 9mms and 45s.
Someone's dumped their garbage on my front steps again. I'm not exactly popular on my block. I'm new and as far as the locals are concerned, I represent the early signs of change, I represent the beginning of a new wave of gentrification. I'm the harbinger of increased mortgages, higher taxes, potential red-lining, and more.
I'm already running late. I don't have the time to clean up the trash strewn across the sidewalk.
I start the engine to my clown car. I say this because I have four different colored doors after a high way accident a few months ago. A semi truck changed lanes without signaling and without checking his blind spot. He tore off the entire side of my Saturn station wagon without stopping. My back axel is also bent in from getting T-boned by an uninsured North Philly dealer the other week, just another expense I can't afford.
No one believes me when I tell them I work at Cash for Gold shop, but I do. I often have to go through the whole story myself to figure out how I got to this. I was hired to produce a commercial for some wacky student recruitment agency in Vietnam. It's a new startup company that's funded by a small franchise of Cash for Gold shops. For whatever reason, my client thought I'd make a good gold buyer.
I initially declined his offer to manage my own store. He then asked me how much I was pulling in doing the film stuff. When I told him my yearly earrings, he laughed. Then he made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
Two years later, I now have my own Cash for Gold shop in Ridley; a shit stain of a town located one exit away from Chester, an even worse shit stain of a town. Chester is the suburban equivalent to North Philadelphia, an extremely impoverished and notoriously violent region that provides the majority of breaking stories for the nightly news.
My store is located in a dilapidated strip mall on a stretch of barren suburban wasteland that's been crushed by the recession.
It's a weird business. My shop consists of two rooms. When a seller comes in, there's the appraisal area with one fold out table and myself. I have a guard sitting at a smaller table at the opposite corner. Then there's a small back room that doubles as a makeshift office space and is where we keep the cash. Of course, we have a panic bar on the entrance and have to buzz customers in.
I try to look at my own life from an outside perspective. I'm not actually here doing this, I'm merely an observer. If anything, as a writer, my job provides plenty of material. The people who come into my store? They're a colorful bunch.
I hate it when they scratch themselves a lot; it's a dead giveaway that they're coming down from whatever it is they dosed with earlier in the morning.
I notice the track marks on his arms, the dark rings under his eyes, the craters on his face, and the stink in his breath. He's been here before. He generally sells me junk jewelry, nothing that would raise any alarms but I make it a habit to flag anyone who comes into my shop more than three times.
This guy has been here twice in this week alone, and now he's dropped a four ounce 22k gold necklace on the table in front of me. Its market retail value is impossible to appraise, anywhere from $10000 to $15000. Its melt scrap value is roughly $6400. I'd typically make an offer along the lines of $3000 to $3500.
But I have no doubt that this piece of jewelry is stolen and while I'm sure I've bought plenty of hot goods since I've started this job, I do believe in Karma, and this is just too obvious.
I tell the junkie that the necklace is worth a lot. I don't want to buy it so I lie and say that I don't have enough in my bank to purchase it, he should try somewhere else.
He nervously pulls out a cell phone and begins texting someone. And that's when I notice two hooded gentlemen hanging around outside the shop, standing by the entrance.
One of them pulls out a cell phone from their pocket and reads a message on it.
I already know that the junkie inside my store is texting his friends outside. This worries me. I deal with a lot of shady people on a daily basis. It's not a matter of if I'm going to get robbed; it's a matter of when.
One of the hooded friends outside knocks on the door. He wants to come in.
I have to make a decision now. This is shady, there's no doubt about it, but I run a risk of starting an unnecessary conflict if I don't buzz this guy in.
The decision is already made for me. My guard has woken up from his nap and buzzes the other man in.
The hooded man signals the junkie to go wait at the back of the small room. The meth head does what he's told, leaving the necklace on the table. The hooded man sits down and places a matching 22k bracelet on the table next to the necklace. It weighs a solid 2 ounces, half the weight of the necklace. It's another $3200 worth of gold.
The hooded man asks me "So you ain't got the cash to buy this?"
I shake my head "no." I already know he's casing me. He's trying to figure out just how much money I'm keeping in my bank here.
"What if I come back in an hour? You'll have the money then?"
I shake my head "no" again and I answer him, "For a purchase this large, we would go to the bank together and I'll make a withdrawal there. These goods that I'm purchasing would be placed directly into our safety deposit box at that location as well."
The hooded man looks at me for a while. He's trying to call my bluff.
"You don't want to buy my gold and make a profit?"
"You want to show me your license and sign a police report declaring that these aren't stolen and then follow me to the bank? Then I'll be glad to buy your gold."
"I think you're lying."
The hooded man signals the junkie to open the door and let the other friend in.
I already know what's going to happen.
Within 5 seconds, the other hooded man is in the store with a gun drawn and aimed at my guard.
Obviously, the man in front of me already has a loaded Springfield XD 9mm pointed three inches away from my face. Just like it is in the movies, time comes to standstill.
In this moment, I realize that I forgot to pack my own gun. Of course, the one day I'm not carrying is the day I get a pistol shoved in my face. I have no defense whatsoever.
I've got an unloaded Taurus .357 revolver hidden under the table which I only keep around as a prop. I've been cased before and generally use it solely to intimidate would be crack head robbers. It's a scary fucking gun. It has a six inch barrel and looks remarkably like the hand used by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry series. Although, Callahan used a Smith and Weston 44 revolver which is ridiculous. "They use those in Africa to kill elephants for Christ
And I'm going on a pointless internal rant.
The hooded man orders the junkie to go into our backroom.
He yells out to him, "What they got back there?"
The junkie nervously answers him.
"Not much gold, but they ain't got no safe. I'd say there's probably five to six grand in cash back here."
The hooded gun man turns his attention back to me.
"Shit. That's all you got?! I knew you was lying, but I figured you for at least ten."
This is a problem. This is a big problem. I don't give a fuck that they're robbing me. What scares me is that none of these guys are wearing masks. I can easily identify all of them.
This fucker is going to shoot in me in the face.
I see his finger tighten around the trigger. I close my eyes and expect to meet my maker or who I'd like to otherwise refer to as "the assshole responsible for all of this shit.
A deafening explosion erupts from the hooded man's hand.
I'm still around to hear another shot.
I open my eyes and find that my would be robber has put two rounds into his buddy holding up the guard.
The junkie comes back into the main room. The gun man is crying hysterically, his arm is shaking as if he has no control over it. He aims the weapon at the junkie and fires again.
This part is not like the movies. The junkie's head doesn't explode. There is no cloud of red mist that blows out of the exit wound, no arterial sprays of blood. The junkie simply falls to the ground like a lifeless rag doll. It takes a few moments before the bleeding starts and when it does, it pours out of the wound like a small waterfall. It's like someone puncturing a hole into can of dark fruit punch. It's really not that visceral, just sad, and ugly.
The gun man struggles to regain control of his arm. He's cursing to himself as he lifts the pistol and puts it in his mouth. My guard has already passed out with the first shot. I'm now the only one bearing witness to any of this.
The trigger is pulled again and the gun man's face caves into itself like a puckered asshole. Only, it doesn't stop. The man's gun and hand are also sucked into the bullet hole followed by the rest of his arm. The man's entire body begins to fold into itself like some black hole has formed in the center of his face. The other two dead bodies on the ground start doing the same.
I blink and when I open my eyes the room is completely empty except for my guard who is still unconscious.
There's only one explanation for this, and unlike Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, I'm not going to claim it was any miracle of God but something much darker.
Can she somehow see me right now? Can she read my thoughts? She should be at the big Film Office party tonight but I'm not sure if it's in my interest to go.
CHAPTER 9: HAS THIS REALLY BEEN WORTH IT?
Since the last few chronicles in this journey have gone live, I've received a lot of ecstatic support from friends and colleagues. But I can't help but feel slightly paranoid and insecure about it. Have these articles been legitimate fun read for my fans or am I being egged on to completely humiliate myself. I've lost my trust in others. There could be darker, hidden intentions and agendas for the people encouraging me to continue this.
There also hasn't been any shortage of detractors. Some can't decipher what is true and what is made up. I tell them that even I have a hard time with that on a daily basis. I tell them to just assume it's made up, that is, of course, unless it's true.
Oddly, I feel a sense of guilt and responsibility for potentially hurting others. That was never an intention but certainly, I should have known there would be collateral damage in skewering a scene like this.
I'm sitting at home, nursing a glass of Johnny Walker on the rocks while putting together a makeshift costume for a party happening in a few days. For the time being, I'm playing denial with the events that took place at the gold shop earlier in the day.
For now, my Halloween costume is my biggest dilemma. I'm thinking of going out as Edgar Allen Poe since I'm already playing the part of a bitter stark raving mad writer in my daily life, it wouldn't be such a stretch to pull it off for the holidays. I'm laying out an assortment of vests and ties on my bed when I get a phone call from a close friend who works for a major viral marketing firm in L.A.
"Holy fuck, Greg. These articles are awesome, man! They've been a huge hit at my work, been passing them along to everyone. When is the conclusion coming?"
"Aw, thanks. Not sure. Trying to finish it up for Monday but I'm having second doubts about all of this."
"What do you mean?"
"I think I'm an asshole."
"Why? Cause you're telling it like it is?"
"I'm not telling like it is, I'm telling it how it's been for me. I'm sure it's that way for a lot of others, but it's not the same as telling it like it is. I want to de-glamorize and de-mystify the film scene. But I'm attacking people. Maybe they deserve it, maybe not. I'm trying to be vague and silly enough to keep it kitschy, but I know I've already burned a whole lot bridges. I went into this thinking it was going to be my swan song. This is about me cutting all of my ties with the film world. This is me having an ugly break up with a really shitty girlfriend so I can move on."
"Dude, film has been your life since you were 10, you're not moving on. You're only going to drive yourself crazy with that thinking."
"I have no skill sets, I work a job that makes me feel like a shitty human being but it's the best I can do with my bullshit film degree. No one cares what I did 10 years ago and my debts are too large to be taking the same risks I've been taking. No, I can't just go out and make a fucking movie, and I can't keep working hard solely for the gratification of being involved with a scene mostly populated by people I can't stomach."
"Dude, you did the New York thing, I'm doing the L.A. thing. We both know that when you're out there in the real world, you're in the ocean swimming with sharks. You went back to Philly and now you're in an aquarium watching all the guppies cannibalize each other, and to what point, who's ever left alive is still going to be stuck in that goddamn aquarium. The bridges you're burning were never there to begin with."
"Most of these people have never liked me, and now they hate me. I know I shouldn't be so upset over this. I just don't want to be a malicious jerk."
"Greg, how many times have you been fucked over so someone else could get ahead?"
"A lot. Ironically, one of the people who've fucked me over the most whom I vaguely mention in the articles kind of outright admitted to it. What's funny is that he loves the articles and glad to be a character in them."
"See? This whole industry is run by sociopaths."
"I don't want to be a sociopath."
"The fact that you're doubting yourself, feeling guilty, and trying to make apologies for crossing lines you haven't really crossed means you're not a sociopath. I'm telling you, I think this shit might work out for you. I think this might take you somewhere. It's just like getting laid. When you're out there, trying real hard, being all desperate, the women can smell that and they don't want it. When you're in a relationship, or you give up and have an indifferent attitude towards them, they all come to you. You've finally given up, and now you're truly free to be your own thing. You've finally found your voice."
"I don't think I like my voice, I think a lot of people are going to not like me because of my voice."
"Ya gotta break some eggs to make an omelet."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I have no pull, sway, or power. I'm now just another troll ranting online, looking for attention and vindication. The people I'm making fun, they're me. I'm rough with them, but it's out of empathy and sympathy. I am just as much of a bottom feeder; the difference is just that I'm able to recognize it. "
"Fuck man, sounds like you're smoking the wrong shit. You put your heart in your writing. You're like Lena Dunham only you're not a spoiled rich bitch whose celebrity parents shoehorned you into the lime light. And you have an actual passion and zest for life... and a soul. These other fuckers, they just got ego. You need to finish this fight; you need to finish your story. I'm personally going to be disappointed in you if you don't."
"Now hang up and finish it."
I hang up the phone, look at the clock, and decide I have a party to go to.
CHAPTER 10: DAD WAS RIGHT ABOUT ME; I'M A MISTAKE PART 1
So, to set the scene for the party that I'm attending....
Most cities have film offices which are non profit entities usually funded by a combination of city grants, federal subsidiaries, and private donations. The role of these film offices is to help stimulate and facilitate the local film community by acting as a liaison between big studios interested in filming in the local region while helping find work for local film crew people. These film offices also often provide support for local screenings, indie DIY productions, and much more.
The Philadelphia Film Office has done a lot of remarkable things in the last decade although almost all of it is overshadowed by the notorious ego of their director.
The animosity in this scene can easily be likened to politics, as far as I can tell, everyone hates each other, and yet, they continue to play this charade of being a big strong, happy, family. I don't have the social or emotional facilities to navigate these complicated mind games.
So, this year is the 20th anniversary for the director of the Film Office. She even got a cover story in the city's biggest alternative paper. Ironically, this paper was the official sponsor of the film festival and yet the festival received very little actual press. They got a brief write up with 5 or 6 capsule reviews while the director of the film office received a two page interview where she takes credit for nearly everything that has ever happened in this city.
Maybe I'm rubbing salt in everyone wounds, but this is just to provide further example of this city's culture. I'm quite sure the festival organizers feel sore over this. The same thing happened to me. This paper was my official media sponsorship for a week long Japanese film and music festival that I organized with two other prominent programmers as a charity for Tsunami relief. We were promised half page colored ads and featured write ups. What we got was a small banner on their website. We had a very difficult time finding an audience. We turned the lobby of an opera house into a video arcade with 20 game cabinets. We had chip tune and Japanese punk bands playing in a black box stage while we screened major Japanese film premieres on a the big screen in the main theater space. We had a live kendo demonstration with Versus star, Tak Sakiguichi and Yakuza Weapon director, Yudai Yamaguichi thanks to the help of NYAFF. And we probably had 200 people come through in total. I don't even want to talk about the attendance for the other nights.
So, the director of the film office gets her own fluff piece that stole all of the thunder of the biggest film festival this city has to offer, and it's to promote a big self congratulatory party that's invite only. The more exclusive something is, obviously, the more important it is. This is Philly pretending to be L.A.
I decide to come in my Edgar Allen Poe costume, because, what the hell, it's close enough to Halloween for me to make an ass of myself.
The party is being held at one of Philadelphia's largest concert venues, The Electric Factory, a place that can easily hold three to five thousand people.
I get to the entrance and immediately recognize the door man, unfortunately, he also recognizes me.
A RANDOM FLASHBACK: LIKE A SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENT
I used to go around and do those pitch fest contest things. Yeah, I was one of those people, the type who'd wait in line for hours to excitedly describe my film ideas to a panel of has-beens and hacks that'd then deconstruct and nitpick my presentation into an abstract I couldn't even understand.
There are plenty of fun documentaries about the wonderfully wacky world of screenplay pitching contests. And if you've ever seen one, I'm definitely one of the loonie tunes from Mars who pitches stories that makes people shake their heads and roll their eyes. I'm definitely the geek show character that documentarians have a field day exploiting for comical relief.
So I did a few pitches for contests run by the film office when I was fresh out of college. The door man is one of the people responsible for running them, and I think I made quite the impression.
My first year doing the pitch fest, I had a father and son werewolf story. It was your typical indie "daddy didn't love me flick", only it took place within the real world culture of Philly bike gangs and used werewolf mythology as a lame metaphor for a history of familial mental illness and violence. For my pitch, I made a CD with lines of dialogue recorded by actor friends. It even had music and sound effects like some old timey radio show. My verbal pitch was timed to the CD so that it was almost like a live presentation of a film trailer. I created large full color poster sized storyboards featuring scenes from the film. I even brought in a small fog machine for Christ Sake. I thought I was being creative, I thought I had showmanship. I've always placed far too much importance in gimmicks, but the gimmicks always had to be worked into something personal and real. I thought I was some cross between Hemingway and William Castle. I wanted to stand out, and I did, like special needs kid.
When I finished my pitch, the jury panel, and others in the audience waiting their turn to pitch stared at me in dead silence. I received plenty of stilted, patronizing, fake praise. Some were treating me like a special needs student who just learned to color in the lines while the rest treated me like a special needs student who just shit himself in class.
For another year, the contest stipulated that the stories must be set in Philadelphia. I pitched a story set in the early 90's about a young African American female in a Riot Grrl band living in one of the most violent community housing development projects of Philadelphia. When she gets mixed with a petty thief, she unwittingly becomes the target for a racist Superman like character who was born out of the rubble of the Move bombing of 85'. For anyone outside of Philly, this probably means nothing. I suggest a little research. The Move bombing is one of the most insane incidents in recent American history and it's absolutely mind blowing that it hasn't been the subject of a film yet. I had to use it as the backdrop for a superhero horror movie. I illustrated a small 4 page comic book portraying some of the film's key set pieces which I handed out at the pitch.
Again, you could hear crickets when I finished. Later in the afternoon, I found myself in a room, chatting with some peers when the man who organized the pitch contest asked me to leave.
"You're in the VIP area; these refreshments are strictly for industry insiders. C'mon, you should have known better than come in here."
The refreshments included a water cooler and a plate of Tasty Cakes.
I responded, "I'm speaking with a friend here, I'm not bothering anyone, there are maybe five of us in here, and I'm shocked that it's a problem."
"You're here for the pitch contest; I can't have you mingling with people in the VIP room. It's unprofessional and it makes us look bad if this room is open to the general public."
Well, of course, I lost my shit.
"I AM here for the pitch contest. And I AM also here for the party that's starting in an hour, and my invite for that party came directly from the fucking governor because I work in the capital press office."
I take out my wallet.
"And this is my fucking DGA card, and you're more than welcome to call your boss over here because I've done work for your office before you were hired, and my boss funds your boss' operations. So maybe I'm not the general fucking public. I'm not back here annoying people for their autographs. But do you feel good and important now for belittling me in front potential collaborators? Is it giving you a hard on to kick me out of here and embarrass me? I'm sorry that I'm mooching off all the free fucking water and tasty cakes here."
I ended up being escorted out by security. After a phone call to the governor, I was back in the party an hour later."CHAPTER 10: DAD WAS RIGHT, I'M A MISTAKE. PART 2
And now I need to get into tonight's party but the door man knows me and like a lot of others, he doesn't like me.
"I remember your pitches from a few years back."
I try to avoid making a scene.
I ask, "And is that a good thing?"
"I don't know. That was some wild stuff. I liked all the props you brought. It was like a Carrot Top bit. Are you on the guest list? I can't imagine you got an invitation."
I give him my full name to check on the list.
"How do you spell Christie?"
"Just like Jesus but with an i and an e."
As he scans though the sheet of names, he asks me, "What's with the get up?"
"I thought it was a costume party, figured I'd come as my favorite writer."
"It's not a costume party."
"Well, every day is a costume party for me."
"Fair enough, but you're not on the guest list, I can't let you in."
"What if I told you there was a very dangerous woman who harnesses all of the powers of the underworld in there, and for all I know, she's feasting on party goers in the bathroom stall and I'm the only person who can probably stop her."
"Am I going to have to call security again? Rendell's not in office anymore, so I know you don't have any governor connections to threaten me with."
Dammit. I need to come up with a plan B.
I exclaim, "Holy shit, Will Smith is here!"
The door man turns around looking for Philly's favorite fresh prince and I simply run past him into the concert hall.
Woah, The Electric Factory, a divey rock club, has somehow been transformed into an elegant, extravagant ballroom. There are Penguin drink servers carrying trays of top shelf liquor, elaborate ice statues at every turn, and arelists suspended from the ceiling serving champagne while hanging upside down. There are dozens of buffet tables full of four star catering and kiosks with swag bags for the VIP guests. A live chamber orchestra is playing on the main stage, and members of Cirque Du Soliel are swinging from the rafters. No expense has been spared on this. I wonder where the money comes from? This party is organized by a small non-profit with a staff of five that's constantly talking of budget cuts and monetary restraints.
It seems to me that what is most important in building a resilient film culture is to play dress up and make believe like we're all Hollywood players. The party is arranged into different sections with different tiers for different levels of importance within the local scene. There are roped off VIP areas where wannabe big shots can schmooze with the celebrity guests.
Mostly, it seems that this non-profit spends most of its time and funds on sitting up photo-ops with stars.
I pass by the bathrooms when I see a pair of middle aged women running out. One of them is holding her hand over mouth as if she's going to be sick. The other one is white as a sheet as if all of the blood has been drained out of her system. She looks like she's seen a ghost. I already know. Gina must be in the bathroom.
I head into the ladies room because that's a sensible thing to do when you're drunk and dressed as Edgar Allen Poe at some elitist film industry party.
As soon as I make my way into the bathroom, I hear a low, trembling voice chanting something. It doesn't sound human. It doesn't sound as though it's coming from the tongue of anything that's alive. It sounds like it's actually in my head. But it speaks English conveniently enough. " DO. NOT. FLUSH. TIL. DOOMSDAY."
Huh, a demonic talking toilet. That's certainly fucking new. I think I saw something like this in an episode of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon.
For now, I decide to ignore the foreboding message of the evil toilet from the underworld and make my way to the back of the huge bathroom looking for Gina.
Sure enough, Gina is lying on her back in an open stall towards the rear of the bathroom. Her legs are spread open like she's at an OBGYN appointment. Or like she's about to give birth.
And then I realize.... Gina is pregnant, like really fucking pregnant. When the fuck did that happen?
She looks up at me and only says, "Your fault."
And that's when an eruption of blood shoots out from under her dress onto my face.
I'm momentarily blinded. It's in my eyes and it burns like hell. I remove the scarf that I'm wearing as an ascot and try wiping the viscera off my face
I stumble over to the line of sinks and turn a faucet on, splashing water on myself. I put my head into the sink, desperate to soothe the pain, and get my sight pack.
I hear the cries of a newborn child. I'm absolutely terrified to open my eyes and see it. Only Satan knows what demon spawn Gina has given birth to.
My sight slowly comes back to me. It's fuzzy and out of focus like a 16mm student film shot on an eighty year old Bolex. I can make out a small figure in front of me. It's slightly taller than a baby but it has the shape and proportions of an adult male.
It becomes all too clear to me that what I'm looking at is....me.
Gina has given birth to a miniature version of me, a naked, evil, miniature version of me. It even has a little mustache and hair on its little body, on its little chest, its little back, its little feet and little hands. Really, it's hideous, and it's embarrassing.
How this is possible? I haven't yet eloped with Gina since we've reconnected. But then again, if this thing happens to be the actual fucking Anti-Christ, then I guess fornicating isn't necessary.
This thing is just standing there on its two feet, looking up at me, smiling, smiling like its planning on fucking up the rest of my life.
Meanwhile, Gina is laughing.
This is how most of my relationships seem to end. Again, have you ever gone out with someone through craigslist?
Little demon me runs out of the bathroom into the party. Not good.
I hear the toilet chanting again."DO. NOT. FLUSH....TIL. DOOMSDAY."
I decide all of this is some great, big, fucked up, metaphor for my life. I have to stop that Anti-Christ that Gina just shit out. I have to destroy it. I have to destroy me. Only then, can I be at peace.
But how? Who knows what powers thing has?
And then I remember the Glock hidden in Gina's purse.
Oh, you all thought I forgot about that. You don't set up plot devices like that unless you intend on using them.
I take Gina's purse from the floor. She's now propped up against the toilet, smoking a cigarette, seeming content that she's done a good job of fucking my shit up, the vindictive bitch.
I retrieve the sub compact 9mm handgun from her purse and eject the magazine. It's loaded.
I pop the clip back in, pull the slide back, chambering a round, and stuff the weapon into the back of my pants.
I make my way out of the bathroom.
I'm now the guy in a Halloween costume with real blood all over his face and a loaded gun in his pants on a hunt to kill the Anti-Christ who also happens to me.
I'm definitely not getting invited to any more film parties in the future.
I make my through the many roped off VIP areas of the party.
I see the door man that I rushed past following me. He's walking side by side with two gorilla sized bouncers in tight black muscle shirts.
I already know that I'll providing tonight's most memorable entertainment.
The band has stopped playing and the director of the Film Office has taken to the stage. Before speaking, she takes a bow.
If I wasn't so pre-occupied with trying to save the world, I'd probably vomit.
The director is joined on stage by M. Night Shyamalan. He has really become Philly's biggest mascot for all things film related. He seems to get dragged around like a prop at all of the big fund raisers and political lobbying rallies for the tax incentive. The Film Office director introduces Shyamalan as America's greatest filmmaker alive which seems like a bit of a hyperbole. Just ignore his last 5 films and yeah, he's all right. I will say, knowing lots of people who've worked on his sets, I've heard nothing but great things about his work ethic and friendly demeanor towards his crew. I hear he is one of the nicest directors to actually work for.
But even though Shyamalan is probably the biggest name at this event, he's only allowed a few words before the film office director takes the mike back.
She talks like how the bible is written.
"I said Philadelphia needed a film production scene and I brought it here. I said Philadelphia needed its auteur to inspire us all, and I found M. Night Shaymalan. I said went Philly needed more film jobs, and I went to the Governor and I made him give us the tax incentive which brought jobs to our city. I said Philadelphia needed a hub, a center for major Hollywood productions, and now we have one of the biggest sound stages on the east coast."
I try ducking and dodging the door man and his two bouncers itching while having an internal dialogue with myself on the godlike proclamations just made.
There aren't many actual paid film jobs in this city. It's mostly New York crews that come here to get some cheap exterior shots. They'll hire a few assistants for the set dressers, a couple of scouts, and they'll turn all of the additional P.A. day player positions into unpaid internships for local college students.
All of the grips, electrics, keys, A.D.s, and other skilled, well paying trade positions are all New Yorkers.
And while production is the back bone of the film world, it's only a minor element of the industry. We have one prominent post house, but otherwise, development, post-production, and distribution outlets that pay simply don't exist here.
As far as our brand new sound stage, it's one of the biggest political fiascos/scandals of recent times. The best way to describe our hub for Hollywood mega budget productions is to liken it to the Monorail episode of The Simpsons.
There were numerous parties looking to build production stages in Pennsylvania back when the tax incentive was much higher. Lionsgate and other prominent studios were all fighting to get in. The state had issued an added incentive to match half the funding necessary for construction.
For whatever reason, all of the actual production companies that could have actually brought films here all fell through. The state settled on funding a private operation with a contractor with a past more checkered than a chest board.
Since beginning this series of articles, I've received dozens of calls and emails form prominent figures in the local film and political arena all hoping to add more wood to the fire. I now have a laundry list of insider gossip and legitimate scandals long enough to write a featured tell all Peter Biskin style book on the history of film in Philly. But that's not my desire. I'm not out to hurt or bury anyone on a personal level. If anything, all of this false support only exemplifies the animosity that exists here.
Still, no one realized that major studios aren't going to pay top dollar to rent out a brand new state of the art sound stage all the way out on the East Coast, located in one of the most violent and crime ridden areas Philly has to offer when they get can get an empty airport hangar in Hungary for an 8th of the price.
Apart from The Last Airbender, our beacon of hope for major film production has mostly been collecting dust since it opened.
But here we are toasting top shelf hooch, celebrating its mere existence.
I frantically scan the floor looking for Anti- Christ me.
I finally spot him on the main stage hiding behind a speaker tower. He's watching the film office director with great interest.
Shit. I think I know what it's planning. I hope all of my time spent training at the range isn't for naught. I'm about to find out if all these past years playing FPS video games has actually made me a better shot.
I pull the Glock out from my pants.
I watch the Anti-Christ climb to the top of the speakers and take aim. How is no one else seeing this?
I take a deep breath and hold it as I line the little monster in my sights. It takes position at the end of the speaker. It's going to jump.
The film office director continues congratulating herself as a flurry of hired photographers and videographers circle the stage snapping pictures and recording hi def video on their DSLRs.
The monster makes its leap towards the party's host.
M Night Shyamalan actually sees it!
Everything slows down like a big action moment in some shitty Zak Snyder movie.
Shyamalan pushes the film office director out of the tiny naked monster's path and braces himself for a fight.
Well, I think I've got a hell of a twist ending for you Mr. Shyamalan.
I pull the trigger.
Anti-Christ me is hit dead center in the chest. Its tiny body is hurtled backward towards the speaker tower. I make a mad dash for the stage.
The entire party erupts into chaos. Well dressed drunk people run around panicking and screaming, trampling over each other as they try to scramble towards the exits. It's kind of like that scene in Land of the Dead. Man, that's such an under-rated flick.
I make my way to the stage with security in hot pursuit. I find the demon and grab it.
I could poke a finger through the hole that's been shot clean through the center of it, but it's not dead yet. It's barely moving, but it has enough life to curse at me.
"Cocksucker, mother fucker, asshole, you stinking bag of cancer, donkey dick licking son of a whore."
It sounds just like an ex-girlfriend of mine during my last breakup.
I grab the demon and instinctively know what to do; I run back towards the women's bathroom.
As I push my way through a riot of drunken, confused, terror and reach my destination, I hear the voice again. "DO. NOT. FLUSH....TIL DOOMSDAY."
I drop the demon into the shitter.... And I flush.
Everything goes silent. I turn around and find Gina standing behind me. She looks good for someone who just gave birth a few minutes ago.
She says, "This is it you know. It's all over."
I feel the ground rumbling beneath my feet like an earth quake. We don't get earth quakes in Philly. It grows more and more intense with each passing second. I can hear the building's foundation giving way.
I start to think that flushing the demon down a toilet that was tell me not to flush until doomsday may not have been the best idea.
And then I have to second guess myself and wonder if it was ever my decision to begin with. I've seen Gina's power firsthand. I may have been her puppet the whole time.
I can't help but think of Martin Landau doing his Bela Lugosi impersonation. "Pull the string! Pull the string! Pull the string!"
Fuck, I'm tired of having my strings pulled. But I'm also thinking I should probably get the fuck out of here before I meet whatever it is trying to break its way up through the floor.
Gina is just staring at me.
I tell her, "Well, it's certainly been very interesting, but I don't think we should see each other again."
She shrugs her shoulders and walks out of the bathroom as the glass mirrors lining the wall opposite the toilets explode.
I take cover behind a stall door as glass shards shoot past me. The moment it seems as though it's stopped, I take my chances and run out.
Giant psychedelic, neon color flames have engulfed the insides of the venue. Random party goers have been caught in them and are roasting alive, an aquarium of guppies cannibalizing each other.
It smells like Texan BBQ actually and I realize that's completely fucked up.
I'm able to make my way outside. I hear sirens in the distance. I hear the tortured screams of hundreds coming from inside. And then I hear the death rattle of some ungodly beast that must be the size of a small apartment complex.
I run. I run across the parking lot, I run across the street, I cross over Spring Garden and I keep running.
This agitates my possible pneumonia. The pain in my chest grows and grows until I can't breathe anymore.
Five or six blocks away and I collapse like the broken down man that I am. I fight to catch my breath as I cough and heave and throw up a lung.
And then I hear someone calling my name. I check myself to see if I still have the Glock on me but I lost it in the commotion.
It's "M", the woman I met the other night. She walks over to me with a concerned look on her face, lending me a hand.
She helps me up and asks, "Are you all right?"
"I think so."
"I was having dinner with an old friend at the diner across the street; I was just leaving to go to the Film Office Anniversary party when I saw you running down the road."
I'm still trying to catch my breath as a parade of police cars, ambulances, and fire engines fly by us.
I tell her, "Forget the party. It's over."
It takes a moment for her to understand where all of these cops, medics, and fire fighters are heading. She looks at me again.
I apologize to her although I'm not sure why. We share another uncomfortable silence before I say,
"Hey, you feel like going somewhere and getting a drink?"
She answers, "Um. Sure."