I slammed the car door, making the windows rattle.
"I could be doing BETTER things with my time!"
"Honey. You need this. Colleges are going to see all this on your applications and just DROOL over you. We've been over this. You've picked a fine time to fight about it, Mark, in the parking lot. We're already here. Quit your kvetching."
"Look. Mom. Would you just hear me out, for, a second? Honestly. Pottery class?" I leaned close to the car window, waving my hands. "Ooh! Harvard and Stanford are gonna PUMMEL each other over me…"
"Mark. It's not what you're doing, specifically…"
"Ha! Then you admit it. This is stupid."
"No, no, now I never said that. Mark, you've been doing this for two weeks and you pick today to give me a hard time. Just go. Maybe later we'll talk it over with your father. I have to go. I have to get your sister to Singer's reading. He's doing "The Estate" tonight in Beech Hill."
"Please stop with the sarcasm. I'm sure we'll work something out."
"Yeah. Try telling that to dad…"
I reached in through the open passenger window and pulled out my camera bag hastily.
"Oh, don't bring that honey. You don't need it. Why do you always bring that? It's going to break and then you're going to get mad at me."
"I just…I like it better when it's near me, okay? Bye."
I was so sick of this. My dad INSISTS that I come to the community center EVERY Monday and Thursday, and INSISTS that I take extra-curricular classes, to "enhance my resume' and broaden my horizons." I could care less how broad my horizons were. Any normal high school junior should be at home from seven o'clock to ten every Monday and Thursday. Not packed in an ancient, asbestos coated art room toiling away at a pottery wheel. I had homework to do…
I entered the pottery room slowly.
The teacher, a burnt-out hippie with bleached hair and unruly eyebrows, glanced up from the pot she had slathered with acrylic only long enough to acknowledge my presence. She grunted, admitting my attendance, and hurriedly resumed painting. This could barely be called pottery class. We never learned anything, except for the first day, when the teacher warned us not to stick our fingers under the spinny part of the wheel, or eat the clay. Otherwise, it was a free-for-all.
In the back, two boys perched on the windowsill, flinging flecks of clay at each other. A dried piece hit one of them in the corner of the eye and he flinched so violently he nearly toppled out of the open window. Again, the teacher glanced up quickly to bark, "STAY OFF THE WINDOWSILLS!" but then took no further disciplinary precautions.
A clique of girls giggled naughtily to the left of the boys. They had shaped a mound of clay into a rather impressive, rather hairy penis and were performing obscene acts with it for the boy who had kept his composure on the sill.
Another girl spun away intently near the teacher's desk. She wore cat eye glasses, and kept her black hair short in a mod cut. Her nails were bitten off and painted hot pink, and they eagerly worked grooves and notches into the vase she was constructing. I'd tried starting conversation with her once before, because she seemed like the only other sane, conversation-worthy attendant of this class. That proved horribly wrong. Her name was Nanette, and Nanette hated all other human beings, it seemed. She shot me down immediately. It was just my luck that she was my partner in the tango lessons my father had enrolled me in on Thursday nights. Needless to say, that class wasn't particularly rousing either...
This group was the crème de la crème of oddities. I would've loved to just be a fly on the wall and film them as a documentary, but my camera had to stay safely in its bag until free time.
I sighed and plunked down in one of the metal chair/wheel combos and got to work. I spun nothing in particular and thought of all the other things I could be doing right now. I was currentlyon the verge of a breakthrough in terms of filmmaking. I'd started a serious documentary playing with the concept of solitude. It was a non-verbal piece, just a series of five second shots of people in deep thought, thinking, reflecting, being alone, being introverted. Maybe it was a subconscious reminder of how lonely I really was. I hoped to submit it to the 1981 Greenwich Amateur Film Festival- that is, IF I made the deadline. I wasn't too keen on time limits. I preferred to work at my own speed.
When break time finnaly arrived, I decided I wasn't coming back in this room. I got a drink from the water fountain, and then wandered the halls. I doubted the teacher would take note of my absence. Near the back of the building I discovered an exit to the receiving alley, and I pushed it open and stepped out.
The sky was clear and the stars were just beginning to twinkle. I stood in the alley, taking in a deep breath, and then flipped on the camera and panned the alley and surrounding lawn. Suddenly, from around the corner, I heard someone cough.
Inquiringly, I snuck a peek. A boy my age sat between two trashcans, smoking a cigarette. He flicked a lighter on and off, staring absentmindedly at the flame. He had messy, strawberry blond hair that fell greasily in his eyes, and he wore a tattered army jacket covered in band patches, anarchy signs, and Communist hammer-and-sickles. He wore jeans ripped at the knees, and combat boots.He was the perfect subject!
Without hesitation, I whipped the camera around the bend of the building, trying to film as quietly as possible. I got in probably three seconds of footage before I was noticed. The boy did a double take, then throwing his cigarette aside, leapt from the ground and shouted, "What the fuck!"
I gasped and dashed back around the corner. I could kick myself for invading his privacy. Now I was probably going to get stabbed. My breath caught in my throat, and my heart thundered so loudly I bet he could hear it.
Pressing my back against the cement wall, I inched, unnecessarily slow, around the corner. Peeking only my head into the alley, I held my breath.
I leapt backwards, nearly knocking myself out on the crook of the partition between the exit door and the alleyway.
Hiding was no longer an effective option.
Now what was I supposed to do?
I couldn't just stand with my back against the wall. He'd already seen me. He was going to wonder why the fuck I was hiding.
He came around the corner suddenly, making me jump again.
He stood akimbo, blocking an escape route, and bared his teeth.
"Why the fuck are you spying on me, you little fag? Are you a pervert?"
I tried not to shake. I feared for my life.
"No! No. I'm not a…Sorry. Look I'm really sorry. I'm not trying to start anything. I just…I'm trying to…I'm trying to shoot a documentary."
He glared at me. "What?"
"A…documentary. I'm recording reality. A documentary, where, like-"
"I know what a documentary is, faggot. Why were you filming me?"
"Um. Look. I'm really sorry. I'll edit you out."
"That's not what I asked. Why were you filming me?"
I sputtered, "Uh, because you…um, I don't, uh, I really don't have an answer for you. Please don't punch me or anything. You just looked…interesting. You were- you're…reality. …Uh, I can't explain it. But, uh, I really don't think anythinggoing on right now inside that community centeris authentic realism. I mean, people don't go and play recreation volleyball or paint vaseswhen they're on a search for considerable practicality. They… tend to be isolated when thinking about life. I'm making a film about meditation- what people think about when they have no influence from society."
He stared at me quietly, taking me in. "Whoa. Well, that's deep."
I held back a laugh. I wasn't sure if he was humored by me. If I laughed at his perplexity he might…well, kill me.
"Still though, why me?"
"Uh, well…you were alone, smoking in an alley. I didn't see any pressures from society out here with you. I mean, maybe you weren't mediating, or like, ruminating the very meaning of life itself, but…uh, my camera doesn't record sound. In the final cut, it'll at least look like you were." I laughed nervously. "That is, if I have your permission."
He stared at the camera and me for a moment.
Then he chuckled. "Yeah. Sure. Go ahead." He shook his head. "That's some fucking movie you're making."
He paused to light up another cigarette, and held one out to me too.
"Uh, no. I don't…no thanks."
He plopped down on the sidewalk, splaying his skinny, gangly legs over the kinky weeds that grew rabidly from between the cracks in the pathway. He picked at a splotch of mud on the sole of his boot. "What's your name, Coppola?"
I smiled. "Well…it's not Coppola."
He looked up at me, cocking his head and shooting me a dubious glare. "You have a problem with answering straightforward questions, don't you? I didn't ask you what your name was not. Let me try again." He pointed to his chest. "Hi. My name is Roger." Then he pointed to me. "What. Is. Your. Name?"
I covered my face, embarrassed. "Sorry. I was just a little flattered. I mean, Coppola is one of my idols. You know,with "Apocalypse Now" and "The Godfather", and he-" Roger sighed and I stopped myself. "Wow. I suck at this." I exhaled noisily, squinted and said, "Hi. I'm Mark."
I stuck out my hand and he shook it. "There. Now was that so hard?"
I snorted. "Apparently." I sat down next to him, resting my back against the wall.
"So, why are you here, besides to create pragmatic silent films about life? You said it yourself- the Scarsdale Jewish Community Center hardly seems the essence of existence."
I shrugged. "I found you, didn't I?"
"Yes, but I wasn't in the community center."
"Were you playing volleyball?" He cooed, mockingly, in a baby voice.
"Okay, okay. I was making pottery. Are you happy now?"
"My mom wants me to-"
"Oh. I see how it is."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Do you always do what your mommy wants?"
"Whoa! Hey, hey…you just got really offensive, really fast."
"So, you're a momma's boy?"
I looked at him in disgust. I stood up and said, "So, you're an asshole?"
He stood too, and blocked my exit once again. Me and my big mouth. This kid had to be at least two feet taller than me and probably contained more combat experience in his little finger than I had seen in my entire lifetime.
I winced. "Sorry…sorry."
He grunted and stepped back. "Oh, come on! Defend yourself Mark…You just called me an asshole, and then you apologize. I don't understand! Are you just going to stand there and let me badmouth your mom?"
I was at loss for words. "Do you…want me to hit you?"
He burst into laughter. "Oh are you fucking kidding me? Ha ha ha, no please, spare me."
I shook my head and stepped sideways. "Bully."
"What is your problem? I knew I never should've come out here in the first place."
"Listen. Mr. Pottery? Maybe I get off on seeing you squirm. You couldn't have hit me if you tried."
"Alright then Roger, what are you doing here, besides hiding in the shadows, waiting for amateur filmmakers and preying on them?"
"Oop! You hit the nail right on the head there, Mark! That's exactly why I come here!" He gushed in mock enthusiasm.
I sat back down. "No, really. Why were you smoking in this alley, for real?" I held up the camera and pretended to zoom in on his face. "You gave me my interview, and I obliged. I was making a bowl, I got bored, and then I was making a film. You weren't smoking that same cigarette all night, what were you doing before that?"
"What is this, a fucking inquisition?"
I shot him a scolding look.
"Well, I was at my house, jerking off, then I caught sight of my watch and thought 'Whoops! Time to go bully the filmmakers in the rec. center alleyway!' And then I left."
"I know, aren't I?"
"There's gotta be another reason."
"Ooh. The boy is smart."
I stared at him.
"What! Why are you looking at me like that? Are you falling in love with me or something, because I'm not into that."
"Well gee, uh, then bye!"
"No. I'm not going to leave. I want an answer. I might need it for the film. There was a particular reason you were reflecting on life in this alley."
He removed his cigarette from his lips and dangled it impatiently from his fingers, staring down his nose. He snorted.
"Well, too bad for you. I wasn't reflecting on life. I was reflecting on death."
His answer caught me off guard and I suddenly was seized with concern. "Oh. Why?"
"Again with the questions! Well, if you ought to know…" He sneered. "I was about to kill myself."
My jaw dropped.
"But everything's okay now! You came along, nosey and unexpected, at the exact same moment I was gonna do THIS-" A pocket knife flashed from its concealment beneath his jeans, and he made a stabbing motion at his chest. The knife flipped closed before impact, but I'd nearly fainted in shock. Roger howled with laughter.
"Oh my God. Oh my God. What the fuck!"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I scare you? Dang. Bad Roger, bad!" He sniffed. "I can never do ANYTHING right. Ever!" He pulled up his sleeve and pretended to slit his wrists.
I watched him in horror. He didn't really, of course, but I couldn't help but notice the deep purple and black bruises patterned up and down his forearm. I wasn't going to prod. He caught me staring and quickly rolled down his sleeve, replacing the knife in his pocket.
"You're…not funny you know."
"I didn't ask for criticism." He began to walk away.
I turned on the camera. He must've heard the 'whir' of the film, because he turned around and flipped me off.
I sighed angrily and went back inside. I packed up the camera, bypassed the pottery room, and went straight for the front step to wait for my mom to pick me up.