Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

Sometimes at the end of a long day I amuse myself by clicking through the movie channels looking for one that features a certain swarthy Irish character actor. He's been in at least a dozen movies, very small parts, and the chances are good.
One that's in heavy rotation right now is Miami Vice, in which he has several lines at the beginning, a few minutes in, and then another short scene about 45 minutes in. What's actually going on in this movie is a mystery, and will remain so, but I know the sequences cold. The other day I clicked to it and I hit the scene in which Crockett and Tibbs (Tubbs? Tubby? Don't know; don't care) are talking to a bad guy about a shipment of drugs, which they call a load.  No irony. They call it this about 35 times in a row. That's my load. You lost your load. You stole my load. How do you know it's your load? No one laughs at this. Why not?
Anyway, after the who-moved-my-load scene, there are some shots of an airplane, something that looks like a souped-up O2, flying over a jungle. Then a business in a limo. Staring, smirking, talking. Then some ten minutes of scenes in Cuba. Dancing, talking, sex, more talking, more sex. Then, vroom, vroom, an A-lister rides a power boat. Then my favorite guy comes on for his four lines. Granted, he stands in abysmal lighting, off mic, and has to share this scene with Frick and Frack, the A-listers, and with some other guy making scale, but I don't care. After 5 p.m., I need a deadline and a treat.
I know that all of that filler takes about 20 minutes. In that time I can turn over the laundry, chop the rest of the vegetables for dinner, sing three rounds of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, email a possible source on my floundering story on Latin American land deals, soothe two bouts of hysteria, answer ten questions about Darth Vadar, apply a Band Aid and sort through the junk mail. I can even pause to look around the house, taking in the holes in the walls, the linoleum curling up off the kitchen floor, the rips in the upholstery, the roof that leaks after each snowstorm, the piles of papers and clutter on every surface, the toys, and pieces of toys, strewn in every room. I can pause and notice these things and breathe in the shame of it all, and the fear that we will never have enough money to repair our half-broken, limp along life, the fear that I will never be organized, never have real free time. Oh, and pay the water bill. And write a note to my son's teacher about lunch tomorrow. I can do all of these things and have plenty of time to cruise back to the couch and watch those four lines.
I can sit and sigh and think, he's so handsome. I can think about buying the actor a cup of coffee and telling him in very soulful terms about his talent, and how he should have had good lighting there and a microphone that worked, and more lines. Many more lines. But I can't get very far with this before the kids start yelling in the next room, and then the scene is over and the actor is striding offscreen, no doubt to pick up his check, one that would probably cover our mortgage.
For me, the movie ends there, and it's time to get up and finish making dinner.

THE EXERCISE: Detail a guilty pleasure. It doesn't have to be well-written, as evidenced above, but it does have to inspire guilt. Try for several paragraphs, maybe 250 words. Shrug off your dignity for this. You won't need it today. In most writing ventures dignity is a burden, anyway. 
I used to use this as an ice-breaker at the beginning of every class. And may do again soon, as I teach again in a week or so. I've had great luck with this. People start off by telling a guilty pleasure in a sentence or two, and they are fantastic. Nothing illegal, I say in class. One woman talked about her lipstick fetish. She had collected more than 100 tubes of lipstick. She knew the exact number. She loves buying lipstick. Fantastic. Another woman wrote about how she has an empty bottle of good gin at home and she routinely fills it with the cheap stuff. She calls it bottle climbing. Love it lots.

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