It was still dark when I headed for the movie set. First workday of the week and people on the road, going to their daily toil. Old factories and some new scattered amongst them in the industrial section of Chattanooga. When I cruised up the hill past the gravel pit, you would have thought that there had been an accident.
Security had gone from minimal to maximum overnight. Police cars in the street, stopping everyone. I was checked in, told to park the car in a gravel lot about 300 yards from the set, pulled into the lot and directed to a specific spot by another security guard. Who then told me how to walk down to the set. With an implied, "Don't make any sudden moves, boy, we're watching you." You guys ever work at the airport?
It was frantic ant city on the set. A catering truck parked at the big tent, white-aproned workers unloading hot food and cold drinks. All this activity to make something that never happened appear to be real. Let's not get existential here.
I squeezed into the main tent, dodging crew and caterers to sign in, given another list of instructions, rules and regulations of the movie set. Speed read the laws of the land, while eyeing the food goodies laid out on the nearby tables. The crew was going at it, piling up plates of food and getting hot coffee, tea or chilled caffeine for the morning buzz. My stomach reminded me of my granola in a bag and lukewarm, non-iced tea breakfast at the motel.
I looked back at the fine print of the 'background extras' regulations. There it was, in all it's font and glory, sub-paragraph v, section 9: "The background extras shall starve and watch the cast and crew gorge themselves at the feast tables. There shall be no whining, sniveling or pandering for food. Groveling or other obtuse acts will be treated with disdain. Violators will be flogged and hounded from the set." Thus spake the rulebook.
I noticed that the politician had already worked the crowd and was standing next to one of the tables, trying to balance enough food to feed a third world country on one plate, while filling up a gallon coffee mug with the other. He spotted me watching him, so he YELLED; "Hey dude, come on over and get some of this, it's great!"
Looking around, I noticed that I was the only person in the area, he wasn't talking to the sea of chairs around me. You ever try to duck under one of those folding tables? Those damn extension arms that hold the legs up will hit you in the face every time. Nice welt though, with the imprint, "Made Somewhere Else" emblazoned on my face.
David, the generator man, train expert and Model T driver strode into the tent. He noticed me and came over to the table, "Hey, get something to eat. That's what it's there for. You're gonna have a long day and who knows when we'll stop for lunch."
My protests about the fine print were met with a shake of his head, "Forget it, this cast is so small, it doesn't make any difference. If we had about 400 people here, like we will next week, then they would enforce it. Come on."
He pivoted and headed towards the tables. I looked around at the rest of the background extras, none of whom had budged, more fine-print readers. They watched me closely, waiting to see if lightening would strike or I would be just dragged from the tent. I hadn't seen this much food in one place since coming over on the cruise ship from the old country.
As I loaded up my plate with food that is only available to movie stars, royalty and CEOs, I almost felt guilty. Almost doesn't count for shit. After all this little excursion was costing me money. It wasn't going to put anything into my bank account. In that respect, I figured that I could eat like a pig. The only problem was that I was too nervous and backed off, just eating stuff that wouldn't turn over in the old stomach. Heavy on the fruits, rolls and donuts, tea, a breakfast burrito, no hot sauce.
I had never had a burrito for breakfast, due to my long-standing strike against fast food restaurants and their contrived menus. Halfway through the burrito, I decided that it was a plot to upset the delicate balance of my stomach. Which is renown for it's cast iron ability to withstand rotgut tequila at 8AM, without the benefit of food. A real good reason to never start drinking, much less make it a lifelong habit.
When you wake up with a hangover, you want to do something to make it go away. Aspirin is so boring, just have another drink. After a few years, you'll wake up one day and go, "Damn, am I already 30? or am I 40?" Your entire youth will have passed you by in a blur. If you live that long.
The volume level in the tent flattened as the tension rose suddenly, people nodding towards one corner, some craning their necks to see.The Star had arrived and was doing the greeting the troops thing.
OK, we're fine with that. I respect the man. Got a screenplay parked in my briefcase, sitting right next to me. Come on over here....yes, he's moving this way. NO! Wait...damn, he goes back out the door? flap? opening? of the tent and into the cool, foggy morning.
This gets my hopes up, maybe the female lead will show up in the next few minutes. I ask around the table if anyone has seen her. I didn't come down to see The Star. I just want him to buy my screenplay or the rights to my book. Hire me to do rewrites.
Now, the leading lady, that's a different story. You can never appreciate the true beauty of a woman until you see her face to face. Even if she's about to slap you for that last comment.
So, where was she?
"She's not here." David informed me, between bites into his breakfast.
"What! What the hell are you talking about?" My feelings of betrayal were obvious.
"She's not here, he's the only one, besides a couple of others that came down from the other location."
"I didn't come down here to see a bunch of guys!" I grumbled.
"Yeah, well, that's how it is," he deadpanned, taking a sip of coffee to wash down his sausage biscuit.
Great, how are you supposed to charm a woman when you can't even meet her?