05 December 2016

coney island baby (licorice and Hershey bars)




E's favorite was Coney Island. We took the D train, and when it lurched from the underground tunnel and began rattling over the buildings, she stared at everything. Miles of graffiti, stretches of forgotten furniture, signs for tire fix places. This was a scene for Blackbetty, which I had hoped for but was ready to surrender if she could not travel. I had seen her face, chin resting on the cold glass so long ago. The sun is out today and giant flares dance around the lens as we splash in and out of shadow.

And then, the ocean stands in front of us and her walk becomes a run. She dances, arms flapping like one of the gulls and she is right on the water's edge. Feet soaking wet, the waves surging around her she turns and smiles at me. I cannot remember her this happy.

Shells and bits of ocean glass are studied and collected.
"Look Pop, part of a crab!" She shouts at me, pointing at a stray blue claw.

The wind whips up, blowing sand into out eyes.

My film falls together, like some sort of prophecy coming to fruition.


The next days churn into one, and we are already on that cab ride to the airport, weighed down with strawberry licorice and Hershey bars. We sleep the whole way home.

Moscow is cold, great drifts of snow already turning grey and brown from truck exhaust.

Her head leans against my shoulder.



28 November 2016

Brooklyn Bridge (eggs and sausage)

She stares out the window, at the bright dots of light across the river and the silhouetted stones of the Brooklyn Bridge passing in front of us. It is all a fantasy, a fairy tale kingdom, a place she was never going to see before she was 18. There was another nerve-wracking wait in that room in the Moscow airport, staring at the scuff marks on the floor, the familiar edge of that sad lonely desk. We waited there for forty minutes, our documents being examined in some room we could not see by people who did not know our faces. E was ready to surrender, her face dropping lower and lower, her lips shaking as she tried not to cry. We had been in this exact moment, in this exact room six months ago and it did not end well.


But somehow, on this random Friday morning the gates swung wide. A woman appeared, waving us on with our documents in her hands. She had long red fingernails. E began to smile, a sudden Cheshire cat next to me as we bought crappy hamburgers and slurped on giant sodas before boarding the plane. She asked me a thousand questions, about what to do, how to move her seat. It was already an adventure and we had not even gotten off the runway.




Our first morning in New York, I bought her a black leather motorcycle jacket. She looked like a lost Ramone, her hands shoved into her pockets, knees poking from ripped jeans as we walked uptown. A celebrity turned the corner of Houston and eyed us. Her neck craning at E as we did the same to her. It was a brief, silent exchange. I told E who it was a few steps later and her eyes lit up. “That was Cameron from Halt and Catch Fire? Ohmigod.”

She gets tired, tearing up the sidewalk with me. She sleeps like a pile of rocks each night.

Today we got to Washington, where I will shoot part of a documentary. We wake up early, and I lead her to the Cup and Saucer on Canal street. The sky is just getting bright. Old Chinese people are doing tai chi on basketball courts, the music floating around us. The diner lights are bright, the owner is alone inside. I see the front door is closed. He hustles over and unlocks it for us. We sit at the counter. I order eggs and sausage, the blueberry pancakes for her.

His employees straggle in, some lifting a heavy door behind the counter, stepping down into the floor like some kind of magic trick.

A women brings us coffees. The owner is singing Christmas songs as he slaps my egge around in a bowl. He gets half of the words wrong, out of sync with the radio but nothing stops his singing. E’s pancakes hit the grill and he scatters the blueberries on them like he is Jackson Pollock. E looks up at me, tired, a sheepy smile plastered on her face.

“This is New York.” I whisper to her.
“I know Pop, I know.” She tells me.








21 November 2016

an early Sunday morning

In the darkness, I see a broken piano by the front door. It stands half-ripped open, naked, crooked. The snow is piling up around its feet. I shrug off a shiver, and bring the equipment to the car. Alexander is waiting, and we have to drive for a few hours.

The ride is mostly silent, the actor Egor in the back seat. We make small talk. The camera rests on my lap and sometimes I yank it up to the window, shooting the dark, blurry landscape as it swishes past us. Slender trees, heaves of blue snow, clouds in the distance, the little dots of light that are houses, people surely sleeping there under warm blankets.

We turn onto a small road as the sky grows bright. There are airplanes covered in cloth, straps flapping around in a steep wind. Out of the car, stretching our legs I am ready to shoot an arrival shot, a shoe leather shot as they used to be called.




The morning goes quickly. Egor has good instincts. The location is perfect, all soft light and tender corners. I take a deep breath and let it out, packing up the camera. I call home. Everyone is just waking up.

It is good to get out of the city, I tell myself. The nerves, the fury, the desperation that I did not know were in my blood - they are vented now, drifting off into that giant white sky. Head lowered, we walk and chew an endless gristle without even knowing it.








14 November 2016

white riot

It was eight years ago, and I was working in a makeshift office near Prospect Mira. Men used the place to sleep with their mistresses at night, but I could be there during the day. There were used condoms and empty bottles in the trash most mornings when I shuffled into the place. There was nothing to eat around there but a McDonalds. It was a very low point for me, in many ways. One morning an old client from New York sent me an email, would I be able to design a t-shirt for an Obama rally? I did, in about fifteen minutes, sending it off feeling a shiver of pride. No one that I knew wanted Hillary in those days, and Obama had his work cut out for him. I think it is purely wishful thinking, but that rally in New York, I think it was in Union Square, that is when the tide started turning or so I would like to believe. In any case, we know how that story ends. Thousands of miles away, struggling to make money, struggling to avoid pissing people off, I did something that might have mattered.

A week ago, I chewed the insides of my cheeks. I stayed up as late as I could, seeing no results to report. It was after 3AM, so I decided to wake up in two hours and check.

I did, and we all know that story too. I sat there in the darkness, looking out at the snow on the trees. There was no sleep after that.

The week disintegrated into the work at hand, playing with V trying to blot it all out, and E with her long face asking me impossible questions. I think she took the news worse than I did.

I started to find catch phrases that stuck to my thoughts - echo chamber sat at the top the pile. How many mornings did we wake up, seeing her 84% chance of winning on the cover of the Times, breathing a careful sigh of relief? Boy, we sure as hell dodged a bullet with this one, I heard myself say every day.

Now, I wonder if people that get shot really feel it. Maybe that is just some action film fantasy, but is it possible - to be shot and be in shock and not feel it? I see the marches, the anger and the fury, the hurt and the wound - all from the other side of the world. Here, nothing changes. The ruble goes up, the ruble goes down. There are giant pumpkins in the stores and you can buy them. They are sweet.



WHITE RIOT

The Clash (1977)

White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own
White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own

Black man gotta lotta problems
But they don't mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick
An' everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
And nobody wants
To go to jail

White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own
White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own
All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it
And everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
And nobody wants
To go to jail
White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own
White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own

Hey, you, standing in line
Are we gonna sign an agreement?

White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own
White riot, I want to riot
White riot, a riot of my own





07 November 2016

after the shoot




The shoot is over. The actors have said their goodbyes. Our producer, Alexander helps us carry all of the equipment upstairs. There is a shorthand between us, barely a few words say everything. A handshake, the door closes. I am starving, nothing to eat since breakfast at 7AM on a cold Sunday morning. E is dragging her backpack to her room, and I ask if she wants to get something to eat. She says she will go, but isn't very hungry.

The morning and afternoon are fading, countless setups, lens changes, changing dialogue, the hurried retelling of stories and jokes in-between scenes. Paying the actors, paying the sound man who is one of the quietest Russians I have ever known. My script is twisted up, wrinkled, at the bottom of a bag now. It is all on the data cards, everything I wanted to say today. My heart on my sleeve, dangling like a tooth about to fall out.

But, none of that matters. I am a father, and there is that look in her eye.

We walk through the snow, as it crunches under our feet. E tells me about the other kids at school, how they talk through all of the lessons, passing notes. One girl asks her all the time if she has a boyfriend.
"I'm only eleven." She says, her hands wiggling around.
I rest a hand on her shoulder.
She tells me about what is important to her classmates - dolls, chewing gum, cartoons.
"I haven't played with a doll since I was seven." She announces.
I think of those frantic visits to stores when she was five, and how a Princess Jasmine doll was all she wanted.

I tell her not to let it bother her. There is a lot of sexism here, and no one complains about it. They actually like it that way - men opening doors for women, giving seats on the metro, stepping back in long lines. I tell her that it isn't wrong, so much as different. She understands. It isn't about one place being better than another, it is just about being the exception and how that road is a frustrating one. But she knows full well, that this is all training for greater things. Being vulnerable and strong, that takes some to figure out.

We sit in the crappy sushi place near us. It is really the only sit-down restaurant in the neighborhood. A security guy in a suit bangs a gong softly when we enter. It will be a full thirty minutes before someone takes our order, another forty before the food comes, bland and salty at the same time. I am too tired to have gone further from home, and she suddenly has an appetite, reaching across the table to snag a few pieces from my plate.

There is a walk home, in darkness even though it is only five o'clock. We go to the tiny market that has Italian sodas. I buy something for dinner, and halfway home E realizes we forgot to buy pickles for the third time. She is laughing hard, as the snow falls around us.

"I am your kid." She says, cracking a smile.



31 October 2016

the ocean


There is an undertow at work, a sense of the inevitable. A shiver when you enter an empty room. There are crows fighting in the trees outside the windows. The snow comes, with barely a warning. The sky, a flat piece of paper with nothing written on it. Boots are tugged from the backs of closets. Heavy coats smell of dust, and old cardboard boxes. My gloves appear, twisted into a tight ball from the last time I wore them.

But the undertow is much more than snow, much more than cold weather. There is a shadow, and I ignore it as often as I can. But this lurking ocean, this golem - they can see the future. At least I think they can, and that scares the hell out of me. We live in a time of paranoia. Maybe we have all been living in the shadow of some fear for generations, ever since the atom bomb. Maybe the cavemen were scared shitless too.

I brush it off as often as I can. I make things. I run around in the woods with actors and cameras and brush this sense away, like a bug on a picnic blanket.







24 October 2016

combat boots and red socks

There is a ripple of laughter dancing around the dinner table. E is perched on her chair, her head tilted back, her mouth wide open as she howls. N's eyebrow is raised, like a movie star. V is slapping her palms against the high chair, mashing rice into her fingers. They are all in complete agreement about what I will write about this week, as sure as sure can be. The shitty teenagers obsessed with their phones during the concert, lips pursed in eternal duck faces. The long wait in the cold because we could not find the VIP entrance, and then eventually did in the back of a parking lot next to a tiny market.

They know I will piss and moan about the lack of food, the choice of whiskey. And as for the bomb threat that ended the show, and how no one announced we should all leave the building? Well, I must write about that too, with righteous indignance. Were they just going to let us all stand there and hope it was a fake threat? 

But I am doing none of that. 

I am swept up in the realization that I took my daughter to her first concert. People were indeed getting trampled. Beer bottles shattered. Cigarettes dangled above our heads and dripped hot ash. My child knew the words, and shouted them at the top of her lungs. She pumped her fist in the air. She wobbled back and forth in a new pair of Dr. Martins, their laces dancing around her ankles. She shivered with excitement. I leaned on the railing next to her, feeling invisible. Not the dad in the Fat Possum hat, not anyone. A ghost. The music bounced around the room. Beautiful, stark images played on a wall of screens. The drummer pounced and flailed. The singer wore red socks, his black pants hiked up for some flood that never came. 

She was happy, even thrilled.