Saturday, November 15, 2003
There are certain choices in life whose effects will forever alter one's fate. These are the defining moments where we literally create ourselves by our actions. Sometimes they are dramatically clear, sometimes they are murky and confusing. Sometimes our choices affect not only ourselves but the world at large and the destinies of others. Sometimes we are immediately aware of the consequences, sometimes we never know. And sometimes we don't find out until it is too late.
There is a fairly famous bar/cafe in my neighborhood called Barney's Beanery. At one time it was the hangout of rock stars. Jim Morrison was once a regular there. Janis Joplin was there the night she died. Although it isn't quite as hip as it was back in the day, you can still occasionally see a famous face sitting at the end of the bar or, as in my case, at the table across from you.
It was on a Sunday morning and I was enjoying a hearty meal of bacon, eggs and homefries -- back when I could actually enjoy such a meal. Sitting in the next booth there was a gangly looking guy with an oversized head hunched over a spiral notebook scribbling furiously. It was Tarantino.
Now even though I've never counted myself among the legions of Tarantino fanatics, I was pretty excited to see him there in the flesh. Don't get me wrong, Reservoir Dogs was a great movie; Pulp Fiction was interesting and certainly kick-started a genre; Jackie Brown was O.K. And now here he was, obviously in the middle of writing his next movie. He had an undeniable intensity and fervor that made me even more curious. What would it be? Man would I love to sneak a peek at that notebook. I'd have the scoop on every wannabe screenwriter and hack director in town. Maybe I could chat with him about my short, you know, filmmaker to filmmaker. I mean after all we're just a couple of guys hanging out at Barney's. Hell, we're neighbors.
Then it happened. Tarantino got up to use the men's room and LEFT THE NOTEBOOK ON THE TABLE. I froze. Holy crap, now's my chance. What should I do? I looked around. The joint was practically empty -- apparently Tarantino and I are the only ones who actually have breakfast on Sunday morning. Should I slip over and take a peek at a few pages? Or should I grab the thing and run out the door like my ass was on fire? I could make a copy and then ransom it back to him. Or maybe try to get him to give me a job. Or sell it on E-Bay and make a fortune. These ideas were racing through my head as the seconds ticked by. The waitress appeared. I held my breath. Go away! She asked me if I needed anything. I shook my head. Just leave bitch! She smiled and wrote out my check, leaving it on the table. Finally she was gone. Tarantino was still in the bathroom. It's now or never.
But then that little voice spoke up. You know the one. Always telling you to think before you act. To be an adult instead of a child. To consider others and not just yourself. I hate that little voice! I hesitated. The guy just left his notebook sitting on the table and walked away because he has faith enough in his fellow man to believe that no one would be callow enough to run off with it. Damn him! I have to respect him as a fellow writer even if I don't really like his stuff all that much. How hypocritical would it be of me to cash in on something that I don't even appreciate? It's better to just allow him his privacy and live my own life without intruding on his.
Of course by now Tarantino had returned and was already scribbling away with increased passion. He must have gotten inspired in the toilet. My chance at greatness had passed. I made my choice and now I would have to live with it. I thought of telling him about the moral dilemma I had just faced, but he probably would have thought I was an idiot for not stealing the notebook. I paid my check and left.
A couple of weeks ago, I took the day off and went swimming and then to a movie. A friend and fellow screenwriter had recommended Kill Bill and so I had decided to check it out. From the all the previews I had already made up my mind not to see it, but it was getting rave reviews and my friend said it was worth seeing, so I went.
It was a crapfest. A meaningless collection of cliches and rip-offs with no discernible intent or focus or intelligence to guide it. Just a series of "wouldn't it be cool if..." scenes strung together by the weakest excuse for a plot ever devised. Oh I know what they're all saying, it's a satire, it's a parody, he's making fun of the genre, he's making fun of himself, it's a cartoon, it's not meant to be taken seriously, etc., etc. Bullshit. It's trite, unoriginal, uninspired and just plain badly written. And worst of all, it's boring.
As I left the theater, feeling more depressed than ever about what passes for genius in Hollywood, I realized that I might have prevented this crime if I had only acted when I'd had the chance that fateful morning at Barney's Beanery. That's the script he was working on that day. That's the script I could have stolen and after having read it, burned it. I could have saved myself and countless others from being subjected to another onslaught of sensationalist hackery that passes for cinema in our deranged culture. Perhaps I could have engaged Tarantino in a dialogue, encouraging him to dig deeper, to write something with some heart, to aspire to a higher calling as a writer, instead of recycling a bunch of worn-out riffs and pop-culture references.
But I didn't. I failed. My moment came and I missed it. If only I had known then what suffering I could have averted. But you can never know such things. You can only know what's in your heart and when the moment comes you must act on what you know is true without fear or trepidation. With hope, I may someday be given the chance to redeem myself. Until then I will try to accept the pain and ugliness that my inaction helped to unleash. I hope others can forgive me. I'm not sure if I can forgive myself.