CHAPTER 6: SELL IT TO ME, BABY!
Uzi is adamant that we get dinner immediately after finishing our session with the Sunshine Podium.
"What are you in the mood for, Greg? I could go for some Mexican. Scratch that, I NEED some Mexican. How do you feel about tacos, Greg?"
"I like tacos, who doesn't?"
"Good. You can't talk shop on empty stomach. Follow me."
Uzi tells me that he comes to San Diego often for business and that the Gas Lamp district is just a tourist wasteland of shitty chain restaurants and crappy fusion restaurants that cater to the hip artisan lunch truck crowds who worship at the altar of everything Austin. If we want good food, we need to travel.
Uzi has to explain it to that we are currently standing in the Gas Lamp District as I still know absolutely nothing about this city.
We get into a cab and head out a few miles west into Shell Town. We leave behind the crowded hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego and enter a quiet stretch of rustic urban suburbia.
The streets are lined with small Mexican styled homes and vacant strip malls with countless store fronts that have all been boarded up long ago. The only places still open for business are liquor shops, pawn shops, cash for gold shops, and lots of taco bars.
The taxi drops us off at a small greasy spoon called Humberto's. It's a small blue box of a restaurant with a sign prominently advertising cheap beer and 24 hour service. It's barely one in the morning and Humberto's is already hopping with a line wrapping around the outside past the corner to a laundromat across the street..
I can't even imagine what this place is going to look like come two hours from now when the bars and clubs have closed and a sea of young white hipsters too drunk to find their way home flood the street in their taxis hoping to prevent the weekend destroying hangover they're already headed towards.
Uzi tells me to wait outside for a moment while he heads in. Producers, they either know everybody or they'll bribe everybody.
I'm still feeling elated from the Sunshine Podium session. It doesn't even bother me that one of the most impossibly beautiful women I have ever seen in my life is standing next to me with her tongue six inches down some tattooed wannabe rock star's throat as he gropes her ass and shoves his hand down the front of her perfectly fitted pants.
They're mere inches away from me on the crowded side walk and they're practically fucking.
Amidst the horde of taco hungry suburban white kids pretending to be living dangerously, I have nowhere to step away to.
Normally, I would find such an aggressive display of public affection to be inconsiderate and rude. Normally, I would tell them to get a room. Normally, I would contemplate pulling my cock out and return their show with one of my own. Normally, I'm an asshole.
But tonight, I don't care. Tonight, I learned what I can be, what I will be. Tonight is one the first nights I'll be having a meal at one in the morning while sober, eating tacos, and negotiating a deal for my screenplay with one of Hollywood's most influential producers.
Tonight, I'm a new man.
A few minutes pass before a small Mexican man who could either be twenty years old or forty years old comes out and instructs me to follow him back into the restaurant.
Every table and seat is already occupied, no matter what sway Uzi may have, there is space available for us to be squeezed into here. So he was able to do the next best thing.
The Mexican man guides me through the small restaurant, past the front counter, through the bustling kitchen, and out the rear door into the back alley where a small fold out table has been set up. Uzi is already waiting for me while he picks at a bowl of nachos with a tray of assorted tacos, and two glasses of waters placed in front of him.
He explains nothing. With a mouth full of tortilla chips, he says, "So, tell me about Dead Heroes."
And that's exactly what I do. I give him the full pitch, the same pitch that won me accolades at numerous script pitching contests and workshops I attended when I was still foolish enough to attend those types of things.
"Dead Heroes is a super hero horror film. It's Superman meets Nightmare on Elm Street. It's Batman meets Friday the 13th. Let's face it, Michael Meyers, Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees; they are the protagonists of their own respective franchises. They are the heroes. We don't go to slasher films to be scared. We go to slasher films to root for the killer. There is no real terror or suspense. We already know that the sex starved teens will all die by the end. That's what we paid to see from the start. Dead Heroes reverses the tables, it reinvents the genre by giving us a killer who we have to hate, and it does that by making him a hero. Think about all of the great super heroes. They're never able to actually stop the villain, instead, they spend their time beating up and usually killing a bunch of nameless henchmen, a bunch of poor people trying to make ends meet by taking a job where they just have to stand by some door holding a gun as a watch out or as security. The villain gets away, and some schmuck from the ghetto ends up in the ER with a fractured spinal cord. Dead Heroes is a super hero story told from the perspective of one of these sympathetic henchmen, not just a henchman, but a henchwoman. She's a young African American woman who's just trying to survive, who took the wrong job to support her family and now she's the target of HIM, a racist homicidal super man."
Uzi stops chewing for moment as he stares at me. He doesn't swallow the food. He doesn't say anything. He waits for me to continue.
"I know. It's the perfect high concept idea; it's amazing that no one has thought of it already. You could just as well put a cape on Michael Myers and have him stalking poor black people in the dark labyrinths of a public housing community, and you'd have Dead Heroes."
Uzi spits the half chewed nachos out into a napkin and exclaims. "That's fucking brilliant. I can already see it."
"It get better, Uzi. You see, this is much much more than just a stalk and kill film."
"The whole story is really something of a tome to my home town of Philadelphia. You see, the killer super hero was formerly a corrupt police officer born out of the rubble of the Move bombing."
"What the hell is that?"
"Well, it's kind of a long story..."
"I don't like long stories. Give me the short one."
"There was a black radical group that sort of grew out of the Black Panther movement of the 60's in Philadelphia called The Move Project. They were too radical even for the Panthers. The basic gist of their manifesto was that being black meant that they were descendents of slaves who were brought to American by force. Therefore, they do not recognize themselves as Americans and shouldn't have to abide by American laws. They should be free to live by their native African laws. They were also a back to nature group and cult that had developed an inner city commune in the mid seventies. They were mostly peaceful, although very aggressive and controversial in their politics and protests. They were also composting in an inner city house and had no running water which meant they were shitting all over their own property. They were deemed to be a public nuisance and there was a big shoot out between them and the cops. A bunch of them were killed, one officer died, nine people went to jail. A few years later, they developed a new commune which was far crazier than the first. This time, they were violent and a legitimately dangerous threat to the neighborhood. So again, they were deemed to be a public nuisance. The city couldn't evict them and had difficulty bringing them out of the house and feared they were storing lots of arms. So they dropped a smoke bomb to clear them out, but the smoke bomb had four pounds of C4 in it which pretty much blew the house up with everyone in it."
"Yeah, even worse, the Philadelphia police force decided to let the resulting fire continue to burn which ended up consuming two city blocks and 52 homes."
"This really happened?"
"And your screenplay is about that?"
Uzi goes silent for a moment. He takes a sip of his water, and I can see that he's disappointed that it isn't a beer. The smile has faded from his face. He struggles to bring it back.
Has the euphoria from our group therapy already left? Has he finally realized that he's sitting down eating tacos and talking business with a madman?
Uzi asks me, "And what about this hench woman character?"
"Her name is Jessica. She's a badass half African, half native American riot grrl."
"Riot grrl, what the hell is riot girl?"
"Well, it was a genre of music; more of a culture really, it was all part of this feminist punk rock movement that was popular in the early nineties."
"And your screenplay is also about this?"
"Absolutely, the screenplay opens in 1985 during the Move bombing when Jessica was sixteen years old. She lived on Osage Ave in Philadelphia when it happened. She lost her severely autistic brother to the flames and develops an everlasting disdain for all figures of authority from it. She also kills a cop who shoots at her without just cause during the fire. The script then skips to the early nineties where she's in her twenties and the front woman to a riot grrl band called The Uncle Toms"
Uzi spits out the water that he's been swishing around in his mouth into his lap.
"Jessica unwittingly takes a job with a local mob boss hoping to make ends meet. She's also schizophrenic and has visions of different figures from Lenape folklore who bring her visions of the future."
Uzi asks, "Lenape?"
"It was the largest Native American tribe that inhabited the Delaware area including Philadelphia."
"And the screenplay is about all of this as well?"
"It's all background, context, and pretext. It's the stuff that fills in the gaps."
"So is this a message film?"
"God no. I fucking hate message films. There is no political agenda. It's about identity. It's about chaos. It's about conflict."
"But you have a film about a racist white superman born out of a tragic event that actually happened battling a feminist African woman?"
"And it's not political."
Uzi doesn't respond, he picks up one of the tacos off of the tray nestled between us and eats it in one large bite. He takes his time to savor it before recommending,"The chorizo here is the best outside of Mexico."
He waves his hand over the other tacos signaling me to take one, so I do.
I look for the taco with the most grease pooling around it so I can also taste this fantastic chorizo I've been told about. I find the soggiest shell and indulge myself. It tastes like every type of meat in the world combined into one ultra meat and I understand why Uzi wanted to take a taxi out to the middle of nowhere to eat it. I understand why there's a two hour wait at 1am to get in here.
Once I finish the taco, Uzi finally interjects, "We can still work this out. There's a great idea here. There's a lot of fucking money in here.....somewhere."
I'm still remembering what he said earlier in the night and whimper, "But I thought you weren't concerned about the money."
Uzi also now remembers that he was balling his eyes out to me and a whole bunch of other strangers only a few hours before.
He fakes his patented fake L.A. smile when he says, "You're right, I was just thinking like the old me again for moment."
I feel the joy from the Sunshine Podium dissipating. I feel as though Uzi probably regrets sharing his Thailand vacation stories.
It's pushing three in the morning and it's finally dawning me on that I have no idea how to contact Tom. I'm not sure if I even want to or should if I could.
This means that I don't know where I'm sleeping tonight. I imagine that finding an available hotel room anywhere within a reasonable distance is simply not a possibility that exists at this point.
My sudden fear of having to sleep on a park bench somewhere must be visible because Uzi asks me, "What's wrong?"
If it weren't for the Sunshine Podium, I'm not sure if I would have told him the truth. But I do. I tell him I have no where to go. I tell him I've just been discharged from a psychiatric ward and I have no idea what I'm doing.
He eats another tortilla chip and mulls it over for a few seconds before announcing that it's no problem for me to stay at his place for the night.
He has a suite near the convention center with an extra room and bed in it.
Half-jokingly, he asks, "You're not dangerous are you?
CHAPTER 7: THINGS RAPISTS SAY
It's now past four in the morning and I'm still not asleep.
Instead, I'm sitting in the living room area of Uzi's posh presidential suite at the Courtyard Hotel.
We're sipping champagne and still talking shop.
Uzi has his MacBook set up on a small glass table top in front of the leather couch that we're occupying.
I have my Gmail account up on the screen and have been searching through my archived messages trying to hunt down all of the unsolicited spec scripts that I've written and attempted to sell over the years.
Although, I can tell that Uzi thinks that I'm out of my mind and that nothing I've ever written is remotely bankable.
But for whatever reason, he still seems interested in my work, all of it.
I've already fished out a few screenplays from my email and saved them to his desktop.
He has me give him the official pitch for each of them, and I'm happy to do it. I know how to give a presentation.
All the while, Uzi makes sure that my glass never approaches empty.
On my fourth or fifth story pitch, I realize that I'm drunk.
Almost out of nowhere, the bubbly hits me, and it hits me hard. It runs me over like a tsunami wave washing away a pacific coastline.
I have to sit myself back down on the couch, but that only makes things worse.
I can't escape the oncoming spins.
I try to excuse myself to the bathroom before I lose all motor skills but I'm unable to form words to even say, "Sorry."
I'm in worse shape then the previous night when I had a belly full of moonshine.
Five glasses of champagne should not have this type of effect on me. I'm too seasoned of a drinker to be overcome like this by fucking champagne.
Uzi watches me struggle to find a point of balance on the couch. I know that I'm teetering off the side towards the ground.
Uzi doesn't look concerned at all and that is what concerns me the most.
I've felt like this once before. It was some years ago. I was at a small party and I accidentally drank out of a female friend's glass only to discover an hour later that said drink was laced with a date rape drug meant for her.
I know what I'm in for.
I look Uzi in the eyes failing to get my tongue and lips to work and accuse him.
I pinch my left arm and squeeze a small patch of skin until the searing pain is strong enough to make my eyes water but it does nothing to alleviate the drug's symptoms.
Uzi has moved the glass table away from the couch and is laying a large plastic tarp down where it previously stood.
He barely nudges my shoulder with his index finger but it's enough to send my entire body crashing to the ground and onto the tarp.
The moment my stomach hits the floor; all of the contents within it comes launching out of my mouth across the plastic sheeting.
After a gallon or two of half-digested chorizo tacos spill out, my spins finally subside. All of my energy is drained out along with the massive amount of vomit.
My entire body goes limp.
I'm still conscious when I hear Uzi say,"You can't have a drink with a Hollywood producer and not expect this to happen."
Everything goes dark for a while as I feel Uzi pulling me by my legs into another room.
I wake up shivering. My naked body is resting on a cold metallic service. If he's already undressed me, who knows what else he's done.
I can't fully make out my surroundings, but I can tell that I am not in a hotel room anymore.
There are numerous dark figures standing around me. I can feel their eyes on me.
I think there may be four, possibly five of them.
I hear Uzi Silverstein's voice again.
"I've brought some friends to party with us. They're all producers. You're going to like them."
I feel a hand reaching out to grab my right thigh. The hand is just as cold as the table that I've been put out on display on. The hand is cold, wet, and scaly. It feels like the backside of an iguana. I only know this because my childhood neighbor once had a pet iguana.
I can hear electric humming all around me and even though I can see any of the walls or even the ceiling, I sense them vibrating.
I turn my head searching for something, anything to identify but all I find is the soft reflective glow of a monitor screen projected against a corner.
Uzi leans in towards me close enough that I can finally see his face peeking through the darkness.
With all of the force that I muster, I reach out to strike him but I'm not able to form a solid fist.
Instead, I clutch a handful of flesh on his cheek and as I pull my arm away, the skin tears off between my fingers like plastic wrap..
Underneath, I can only see green.
Two other men are now grabbing my arms and strapping me down to the table.
I'm overcome with Deja Vu.
Uzi grabs at the hole in his face and peels the rest of the skin backwards as if he were removing a mask, all the while telling me, "It will be over much faster, if you don't struggle."
And that's when I see him for what he really is, a reptilian.
With his previous face now gown, Uzi bears a striking resemblance to one of the lizard aliens from V, the popular science fiction television show that aired in the 80s.
I hear wet, slithering cheers as I'm flipped around onto my stomach.
My cursing turns to screaming as I feel another cold, metallic objected thrust into me from my back side.
Someone or something shushes me like a crying child. My screams dull to a whimper as I give in to the attack.
I hear the whirling clicks of a camera's shutter and watch the streaks of light bounce across the walls coming from its flash.
They're taking pictures of me.
A stream of thick warm substance shoots out from the objected now imbedded inside my body.
The substance continues to move through me as if it were alive itself. I feel it in my stomach traveling up along my back riding against my spinal cord twisting its way into my throat.
I feel it creeping through my nasal passage, pushing behind my eyeballs before it enters my brain.
As the liquid trickles across the many wrinkles and crevices of my cranium, it triggers all manner of neuronal responses.
My left toe twitches, my right pinky finger curls downward, my left eye blinks uncontrollably and my pelvis thrusts harder into the table.
I feel the liquid searching my skull. It's looking for something specific.
When it finally finds what it wants, random memories begin to play before my eyes as I were watching a television..
They're so intense that it's as though I'm actually reliving these random moments from my past right now in the present.
I'm ten years old and I've just placed a line of small stones along the rails of the local trolley. I wait for the train to come and expect it to destroy the stones. I'm wondering if it will flatten them out like the pennies that I previously placed on the tracks. Instead, the entire trolley becomes partially derailed in the process. No one is hurt but I can hear people screaming inside the train. I am horrified. The conductor spots me hiding in the bushes. As he steps out of the train, I flee the scene. I run home as fast I can. I would spend the next three days hiding in my room in a guilt ridden fear that the police would be arriving any moment to arrest me.
I'm fifteen years old and I'm in the car of an older female friend named Sunrise. She is three years my senior and graduated at the end of my freshman year in high school. We had done dram club together became close friends. She went away to college at Penn State main. She now works as a stripper on the side. I'm still a virgin. I haven't even dated or really kissed a woman yet. Sunrise is back home for winter break. She asks me if I would like to see her breasts and of course I do. This is my first time seeing a woman's breasts in person. She asks me I would like to touch them and now this is my first time touching a woman's breasts. Sunrise tells me that she's too old to date me or have sex with me but she feels bad that I'm a virgin. Also, someone had accidentally poked me in the eye earlier in the night and now I can't see out of it. The pain is also unbearable. Sunrise is trying to comfort me. She gives me a hand job in the car before driving me to the hospital to have my eye looked at. I will never see her again after this.
I'm twenty years old and I'm sitting in the waiting area of a planned parenthood center. I'm here with a friend. Her name is Shelly. I'm in love with Shelly but Shelly is engaged to some shit head army recruit. I think she's pretty silly for getting engaged when she's only a sophomore in college. Her boyfriend has been acting abusive lately and she's starting to become afraid of him. She's also three months pregnant and she can't handle having the child. She can't tell her boyfriend or her parents and she doesn't have any reliable female friends. So here I am. While she's having her procedure, I sit in the waiting area playing a Gameboy and listening to the new Distillers album on a CD Walkman. All around me are crying mothers and their terrified daughters. They're all staring at me with accusatory hatred in their eyes. I'm the asshole who got the blonde in one corner drunk before taking her virginity, I was the irresponsible creep who wooed the the red head in other corner with lies and pillow talk before vanishing the moment I heard she was two weeks late. For the brunette, I'm the mistake she met at the club that she doesn't even remember. I've become the reason why they're all here. Meanwhile, I love Shelly but Shelly doesn't love me, and the kid's not mine.
I'm twenty four years old and I'm living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and I'm hanging out with my friend, Louie. Louie is a fun guy; Louie is also a coke head. Coke heads are always fun until they come down from their coke. I'm at Louie's house with his girlfriend. He's literally spilled some milk while fixing us a round of white Russians and he launches into a violent temper tantrum. He rips the door off of his own refrigerator in anger. His girlfriend makes a light hearted joke about his frequent freak outs and Louie shouts that he's going to kill her if she doesn't shut up. We all think he's kidding around as he stomps off into the room. He comes back out with an AK 47 he bought back when he was living in the south. He aims the gun at his girlfriend's head and I watch him chamber a round. I throw myself at him, tackling him the ground. We get into a physical altercation as I try to wrestle the loaded gun away. I win the fight and leave his house with his gun, his bullets, and his girlfriend.
I'm twenty six years old and I'm driving back to Philadelphia after failing to make a living in Austin. My car is trapped on a long stretch of highway somewhere in West Virginia during one of the worst winter snow storms in recorded history. I'm blocked by gridlocked traffic as far as the eye can see in all directions. The snow is almost up to handle on driver's side door and my fuel gauge is nearing empty with no highway exit for dozens of miles. I make a quilt out of T-shirts and underwear in the backseat knowing that I will be spending the night in my car. I go sleep terrified that I will freeze to death.
And now I'm back to being a thirty one year old who has been strapped to a metal table while a group of Reptilian Hollywood producers violate me and steal all of my memories.
I hear the lizard men around me speaking in a foreign tongue that I don't recognize. Out of the corner of my eye I see a wall of monitors all showing live video feed of missile attacks in Gaza.
Shortly thereafter, I pass out again.
When I wake up, my eyes burn from the sunlight. I'm outside, fully clothed, lying on a bench somewhere in downtown San Diego.
If I had known I'd end up on a bench anyway, I never would have went to Uzi's hotel.
My cell phone vibrates in my pocket. I answer the call to hear my friend, Colin's voice on the other end.
"Holy shit, Greg, congratulations on Dead Heroes!"
I'm still processing the hazy memories of the previous night's traumatic experience and am not capable of any legible response.
After a moment of dead air between us, Colin continues, "Celebrated pretty hard last night huh? I just read the announcement online that Dead Heroes is being developed into a film trilogy starting next year."
I drop the phone and start to dry heave for a full two minutes until I'm finally able to spit up the last bit of Chorizo left hin my digestive track.