PROLOGUE: PANIC ATTACKS AND PROSTATE INFECTIONS
For anyone who's stuck going through life dealing with any form of an anxiety related disorder, there is no hell quite like having a panic attack in an airplane bathroom.
I'm drunk with the spins even though I haven't had a drop of the sauce and the already tightly confined walls of the small toilet space are closing in on me. I try holding in my breaths and counting Mississippi's in between my inhales, but it's a futile effort.
I'm officially freaking out on a packed commercial flight to Salt Lake City.
I'm headed to Sundance Film Festival with nothing more than a press badge, three hundred bucks, a bike messenger bag with two outfits, a pack of business cards, and a bottle of Quaaludes.
I came across my badge at the last minute and was unable to plan for any type of accommodations. I'll be homeless for the festival, and I doubt the bill fold in my wallet will last me more than 2 days at a ski resort for the rich and famous.
I have no idea what I'm doing. I never bothered to make any concrete plans. My whole life, I've been shooting from the hip, constantly moving like a shark afraid to take a moment of pause thinking l'll simply die if I do.
I boarded my flight from New York rather than Philly as the airfare was nearly half the price. The cabin outside of this restroom stall is full to the brim with familiar faces, the young, hip, and successful Brooklynites whose head shots fill the pages of Filmmaker and Moviemaker magazines.
At least half of the passengers occupying this Boeing 737 are still wearing some ridiculous assortment of Ray Ban sunglasses and frizzy winter scarves indoors. And those who aren't are proudly wearing their Canon Ti3 DSLRS around their necks ready to Instagram the first thing that happens. Nearly everyone here looks like they've just stepped out of an American Apparel ad.
What the fuck am I doing here? What do I hope to accomplish? Why does it still matter so much to me to stake out some weird claim in this fucked up, insincere industry. Do I really think I'm some great writer or artist, or am I just the pissed off drunk throwing his shit at strangers passing by?
Why can't I just give up? Haven't I embarrassed myself enough lately?
I grip the double thumbed fist charm hanging on the sterling silver chain necklace around my neck and try to convince myself that none of this really matters.
And this still isn't even taking into account that my prostate feels like it has swollen up to the size of a golf ball. I feel like I have to piss so bad that I can almost taste it, but nothing is coming out, and the few drops that I am able to squeeze out burn like hell.
This has been a regular problem for me for the past ten years or so. I generally get 3 or 4 really bad prostate infections a year; chronic prostitus, the doctors call it. While it was almost unheard of only a few decades ago for man under the age of forty to suffer from this, it has become something of a recent epidemic affecting my generation. Prostate infections are like migraines, doctors understand how they work and how to treat them, but they're still unsure of the initial cause for them. Although, I've been confidently assured by multiple doctors that I can probably expect prostate cancer in twenty years, so at least I have something else to look forward when I hit middle age.
Being a former film school student, I generally work jobs with low pay and no health insurance. Chronic prostitus is a shitty condition to have when you don't have any means to pay for a proper diagnosis or treatment. I've become something of a scholar on inner city walk in clinics.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the bacterium that causes prostate infections is similar to Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. Truth be told, the first 3 or 4 times I had prostate infections, I was sure I somehow magically got the clap from masturbating too much. Luckily, the antibiotics used to treat prostate infections are the same used for most STDs.
Now, whenever I get a new infection, I simply head to the local city run STD clinic to get my free meds. But, as a city funded non-profit, it's just as bureaucratic as any other civil service office. If I walk in already knowing that I have a prostate infection, I'll be turned away. I have to have an STD and pose a potential health threat to the community in order to get my free antibiotics.
There's no discharge with a prostate infection which means I'll pass whatever cotton swab test they give me. But there is a way to get around this and it involves lying, the type of lies that will only make me seem like a far worse human being than what I really am, something I've become an expert on.
All of I have to do is make up some crazy story for the nurse.
"Well, I'm glad that I passed the test but it really does burn when I pee. You see, I went to Woodys (notorious gay cruising club), and I experimented with crystal meth for the first time in my life in the bathroom, and I'm pretty sure I ended up in a motel where I was bare backing a transsexual escort, and I'm just really scared."
After that, the nurse usually gives me enough drugs to kill the bubonic plague.
I can't imagine there are any free STD screening clinics in Park City for me to get my antibiotics and I doubt the $300 in my pocket will cover an appointment with any doctor in practice there.
I'm going to have to suffer through the week with a constant urge to piss and a burning urethra.
I grab the bottle of Quaaludes I've smuggled onboard. I need something to calm my nerves. I need something to dull the wave of soul crushing anxiety that's washed over me.
I find myself physically shaking. I pray to the god that I don't believe in that I can just squeeze a few more drops out to relieve the false sense of pressure in my bladder.
And then I hear a knocking at the bathroom door.
I hear the voice of a woman, soft spoken but assertive, friendly, too friendly. She must be a flight attendant. She's telling me that the plane can't take off until I take my seat.
I'm now the asshole holding the entire flight up. I'm terrified to leave this stall, I need more time.
The attendant continues knocking on the door.
I probably have another minute before she loses her professionally polite demeanor and gets a cop to drag me out. I'm sure her patience is already being tried by a plane full of unruly, coked up actors, drunken bloggers, and overly demanding producer /director types.
She probably assumes I'm getting high in here and I decide not to let her down. I pop the cap to the Aspirin bottle and quickly down a few Quaaludes before zipping up my stinging, still dripping dick.
I look at myself in the mirror one more time before opening the door and entering the void.
CHAPTER 1: MCRIBBS & POVERTY PORN? THEY CALL ME UZI SILVERSTEIN!
It's only fitting that I get a middle seat on this flight.
The young man to the right of me has NYU written all over him; Perfectly fitting H & M pants, a Uniqglo sweater, Dolce and Cabana glasses, Burberry scarf, topped off with a Calvin Kline fedora. He's reading an issue of American Cinematographer which I'm shocked is still in publication. He's looking at the equipment sale ads in the back while jotting down a wish list on an Ipad resting on the food tray.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Next to the Ipad, appropriately enough is an open Macbook. It looks like he's been updating his IMDB profile online.
I half expect him to pull a Friers Mitchel Director's Finder out on a necklace and start making imaginary framing compositions with his thumbs and index fingers. I already expect this kid to be a participant in the Sundance workshop. He probably produced his senior thesis film on a $75000 budget that came straight out of his trust fund. Got a lot of buzz after landing a mid tier actor who held some fame in the early 90's which got him a sponsorship from Kodak to shoot on super 16mm. I'm thinking he's made some David Gordon Green, Killer of Sheep type rip off that presents inner city poverty from the perspective of some whimsical child with an added dose of magic realism. Probably won a whole bunch of prestigious film festivals, and will probably get his masters from AFI. He looks familiar and I assume I've seen him listed in Independent Filmmaker's 25 new faces of film at some point or another.
The much older man to the left of me reminds me of my uncle, a brilliant recluse whose home is literally a library with millions of books stacked up to the ceiling along the paint peeling walls of his small Upper Darby row home.
The man just inexplicably exudes a certain world weary wisdom and acute intelligence but his appearance is just barely presentable. His balding hair is unkempt, there are noticeable smears on his horn rimmed glasses, beverage stains in his white beard, and his clothes looked as though they would have been nice thirty years ago. His appearance may be sloppy, but not in a way that would suggest that he's lazy so much as he doesn't need to put emphasis in such things. He's reading a copy of Dominque Laporte's History of Shit, which is actually a personal favorite of mine. The History of Shit is a coyly philosophical essay that correlates the evolution of culture with the development of modern sewage systems.
I'm pretty sure I can catch a passing whiff of marijuana on him and his eyes are redder than my inflamed urethra and infected prostate.
If I'm gonna be stuck talking to anyone on this flight, I want it to be the old guy to my right.
But it's the NYU grad who's first to introduce himself.
He doesn't even tell me his name, he simply hands me a business card and asks me what I do.
I lie and tell him I handle international film distribution, that I run a small distro label out of Philadelphia.
I tell him that I mostly import Japanese porn.
I glance down at the business card that I was handed and I immediately recognize the filmmaker's name.
I decide to play him like a fiddle.
I interject that I'm trying to branch out into production and I'm interested in producing a feature based on a friend's novella about a romance between an African transvestite prostitute who falls for a racist, homophobic, alcoholic Irish Fishtown resident. I said that the novel may sound incredibly dark, but there's a lot of surreal touches, such as the Transvestite magically becoming pregnant with a child after the couple consummate their love and get married, and there's a local street gang dealing crack that I want played by Asian children with down syndrome wearing black face who sing limericks. I've already locked in Devotchka for the soundtrack.
I see it in the young filmmaker eyes that he thinks that this sounds brilliant. I've got him hook, line, and sinker.
He asks for his business card back and jots his personal cell phone number on it.
He asks me my name.
I give him my newly purchased smile. It took me 3 years to save up for the dental work to replace all of the broken teeth from years of self destructive behavior.
And in this moment, I decide to create a new persona for myself. I decide that I'm not going to be Greg Christie, drunken film blogger for ScreenAnarchy.
"The name's Uzi Silverstein."
"I fuck motha fuckas up like a sub machine gun."
We shake hands to seal the nonexistent deal.
He excuses himself for the bathroom when I see the older burn out to my left eyeing me with a knowing smirk.
The old man finally speaks.
"You are not Uzi Silverstein, and you are not Israeli."
Maybe this is a bad idea.
"How do you know?"
"I make a living studying people and I know who you are."
"Who am I?"
"I don't wish to get mixed up with a guy like you, you're a loner."
I finish his line for him.
"A rebel. You don't look like a Pee Wee Herman fan to me."
He gives a soft chuckle, the type of warm and assuring laugh that you imagine brilliant
He continues to talk.
"You're an angry young man, you feel scorned and unsure of yourself. Your emotions are wild and intangible. You feel a deep seeded sense of self loathing, but that's conflicted with a sense of arrogance and self entitlement. You tried to work your way up and failed. Now you've decided to give up, but not altogether. You're on the sidelines making a mockery of everything you feel has cheated you out of something that was really never there for the taking. You're the annoying little Chihuahua who's foolish enough to go barking at the pit bulls."
"Jesus, what did you say your name was again?"
"Since you've given a fake name, I suppose I should do the same."
The old man extends his for me to shake.
"The name's Barton Monarch."
He has a firm grip, I know he's testing me and I appreciate it. Call me old fashioned, but I still judge a man by his handshake which is why the majority of filmmakers I come across at these festivals give me the impression that they're all pansies. None of them seem to know how to actually shake another man's hands, fucking rich kids.
The name sounds faintly familiar and it sure does have a great ring to it.
Barton Monarch. Barton Monarch. Barton Monarch.
And it hits me. I know who this guy is. Holy shit, I know who this guy is.
I briefly worked an internship with Fantastic Fest and heard plenty of juicy celebratory gossip from the various wait staff. Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, and Terrence Malick all have their own designated, reserved seats for special screenings and events. Only, they rarely use their real names. Except Rodriguez, he likes the attention, he generally shows up with a drunken entourage and likes to get all rock star every chance he gets.
But Terrence Malick, one of the most revered and reclusive filmmakers in history; the wait staff all knew his pseudonym, Barton Monarch. Barton referencing Barton Springs, an iconic local hang out in Austin, and Monarch being Malick's favorite car. Martin Sheen's character steals a black 49 Monarch in Badlands at some point.
The flight attendant who disrupted me in the bathroom earlier comes over asking us if we'd like to order any drinks.
Malick and I both get whiskeys and I order a tea for the NYU student for when he returns from the pisser.
I have no desire to let Malick know that I'm in on the game being played. This is more fun. I know the moment I tell him that I know who he is; he'll probably clam up and become an impenetrable wall once again.
So, I'll continue to refer to the elusive master of cinema as Mr. Barton Monarch.
"Well, Mr. Monarch. What's bringing you to Sundance?"
"All of the free food and booze of course."
Barton hands me an inhaler just as the attendant brings us our drinks.
I look at him for a moment trying to decide what I should be doing with this. I don't have asthma.
He puts his hand on my shoulder and speaks like some ancient sage.
"I find that this gives me great clarity before I lose myself in the sea of chaos."
I suck on the inhaler and instantly know that it's actually a smokeless marijuana vaporizer. I probably breathe way too much in because it's hitting far too hard far too fast.
Barton reaches into his pocket and pulls out two McDonalds McRibb sandwiches, squashed and nearly pressed flat, but still neatly wrapped and intact.
He must be able to read the look of absolute astonishment on my face and says.
"I do love these things. I have a strange tendency to stock up and carry them everywhere I go."
At this point, all sense of time becomes loose and fuzzy.
Barton and I eat our imitation rib sandwiches and wash it down with the cheap watered down airplane whiskey while the NYU kid tweets pictures of his airplane meal on his Ipad and continues to update his IMDB page.
Barton and I are getting rowdy and I'm pretty sure I'm tweaking from the vaporizer. I can't stop laughing.
I turn to the young filmmaker on my right and start talking like Aunt Jamimem.
"You don't like ya Salisbury steak? We don't needs no steak, Hush puppy!"
Barton chimes in. He folds up the now empty Mcribb sandwich wrapper and places it in his pocket.
"I keep the wrappers; they remind me of whom I was when I ate them."
We both burst out into a deep guttural laugh that gets every overly pedicured passenger on this plane gawking at us.
I decide it's time for another Quaalude, which, appropriately enough, I wash down with some more cheap bourbon.
I find myself drifting off. My thoughts become less and less coherent. I hear discombobulated flight attendant voices telling me to calm down but I can't really be sure I'm not already asleep and dreaming.
Somewhere in a nightmare, I see Lena Dunham through the small airplane window standing on the wing while trying to pull the plane apart with her bare hands.
I wake up to an empty plane. The pilot is only one still around to shake me awake.
"You gonna be ok to find your way out of here son?"
"Sure. Where am I?"
"Salt Lake City."
"Where did you think you were?"
"I never know anymore."
I grab my one carry on and leave the plane.
I make my way through the packed airport, searching for the nearest restroom. My aching prostate is in desperate need of some release.
I find myself sitting on the toilet of a bustling airport restroom for a solid half hour. I can hear people already networking at the urinals just outside my stall.
I already know that I'm going to be Antoine Roquentin for the next week and it'll be a miracle if I don't actually vomit on any strangers during any screenings.
But I also need to figure out where I'm going to find shelter. Park City is pretty damn cold, and I don't have my car to sleep in the back of like I did in Austin.
I'll figure it out, I always do. And with my newly found confidence, I pop a Quaalude and light a cigarette.
Park City, here I come.