The Amazon and the Iceberg

12 04 2010

I’ll start this story off by copping to the fact that at this time in my life I had not finished college. Don’t get me wrong, I had been on track to graduate college, I just hadn’t crossed the finish line. I had been 17 when I started college at USC Film School. In my second year of college, I met a woman, got into a relationship with her, and unexpectedly started a family. This pulled my focus away from the pretend world of college and firmly into the very real world of parenting. Shortly after my daughter was born, her mother passed away, and I became a full-time single Dad. The dream of finishing school seemed to get farther and farther away as I took on a day job to pay rent, and found myself coming home at the end of a long work day drained, exhausted, and still needing to be a father. Time passed, and along the way I started other relationships, met women, went out on dates, went to clubs, and followed around one of my friend’s bands.

It was at one of my friend’s shows that I met her… one of the women who would have an indelible, lasting impact on my life, and not at all in the way you think. I don’t want to use her name here, but I’ll allude to it. She had taken on the name of a famous vine swinging jungle man, and it was oddly appropriate since she was a 6 ½ foot tall amazon herself. She was tall and well-built, with long streaming blonde hair. She was hot and knew it… flaunted it… used it…

I had been on a few “dates” with her in a friendly capacity, but this night was different. This was an actual date. Just the two of us, no noisy rock band, no other friends, just this tall drink of water and myself. I picked her up at her pad on Melrose, and took her out to a nice meal. We laughed, and flirted, and boy did she flirt back, never failing to blow a kiss, or smile, or bat her eyes. After the dinner we laughed, and walked arm in arm to the nearby movie theatre.

This was 1997, and at the time the biggest movie of all time was in theatres. You know the flick…. DiCaprio, Winslet, and a fucking enormous hunk of ice. Now don’t get me wrong, in retrospect, the movie is definitely not all that… but at the time, it wasn’t about the story, or the dialogue or the slightly schmaltzy love story… it was about the experience. James Cameron had delivered something that reminded people what was great about movie making… he united an entire country in the collective experience of being on that ship’s final fateful journey. When you stepped into that theatre you physically left dry land and spent the duration of the trip on an experience… a true popcorn epiphany, surrounded by a full theatre audience that was on the same journey with you. When the boat creaked, and the boat began to break apart, you have expected your feet to get wet. Every sound, every effect was designed to make you feel a visceral part of that experience. It succeeded beyond al measures at fully capturing the audience’s imagination and attention. A true classic movie experience… even if the movie was a little hokey.

But that’s not the way the Amazon saw it. To her it was just a lousy movie with lousy writing and flat acting. To her it was an overblown and unbelievable love story wrapped around a historical contrivance. To her it was the worst that Hollywood, or even America has to offer. It was an embarrassment, a waste of celluloid, and an all around complete waste of her valuable time… and after the movie we had a drag out knock down fight about it.

She was not just content to insult the movie, she had to drag the entire audience into it. She called them slow, stupid and dim-witted for falling prey to the marketing machine, and believing that this was a movie worth seeing. They were fools, and America was full of morons if this was what passed for entertainment…

I argued with her, trying to explain that it was about the experience of the film, not the movie itself. It was about being a part of something. It was about a collective socially bonding moment where the entire audience became as one… but she would have none of it. It was just schlock. Nothing more. And then she said it… I couldn’t believe what I heard then, and almost 15 years later, I still can’t believe she said it.

“Well,” she said smugly, “I graduated from Yale, so I should know!”

I was dumbfounded. I had long since given up any hope of taking this woman to bed, and was just trying to salvage the last vestiges of my own sanity through this discussion, but that stopped me dead. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to say something, or couldn’t have said something, it was just that I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what I WANTED to say.

“Well I graduated from USC Film School, so I should know BETTER!!!!”

But I hadn’t graduated… and I knew it. I couldn’t say anything. I felt like the scarecrow, and somehow her diploma did make her smarter…

I don’t remember the rest of the evening, or what if anything was said after that between us, but I do remember that feeling of having this woman taunt me with her supposedly elite educational accomplishments. I remember the feeling of not having completed something that had been important to me. I remember feeling less than….

And within a few days I was in action. I pulled together info about USC. Found out how many credits I was shy, how much classes cost, what I needed to do to secure student loans, and I made a vow to myself that I would never get stuck in a discussion like that again. I felt like an unarmed man at a gunfight. This time I was going to finish what I started.

Before long I was back in classes with a new passion. The first time I had been in college it had been for my parents, for my pride, for the bragging rights…. This time it was for me. I delved into classes hard. I took challenging courses and kept rigorous notes. I took pride in my education, and I paid for every class with my own money. Along the way, I sold a TV pilot, helped my father get through a divorce, dated and got engaged to a sorority girl, and found myself, but those are all stories for other posts….

I remember before I went back, I had been keeping a long, long to-do list. It was a chronicle of every thing I wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Write a book, travel to Europe, start a business, buy a computer, get my daughter to the dentist, buy toothpaste…. Just an epic running chronicle of a million tasks, and in bold letters FINISH SCHOOL. A friend had given me some great advice when he saw my list. He suggested I break it into two lists…. He explained that some tasks are reoccurring, and never really go away (like wash the car, or pick up the dry-cleaning), while others get finished and then are done, never to find their way back onto your to-do list (like get a dog, buy a new car, have kids… etc). Those one time tasks are the ones to focus on, because once they’re done, they’re done… So I followed his advice, and reorganized my list. There has never been a greater sense of satisfaction or pride than the day I got to look at that list and just draw a big dark line across that one lonely task:

FINISH SCHOOL

What’s the moral here? Well, my beautiful woman shared a concept with me recently. She explained that for any situation, there is always a reason to do it, and a reason not to do it… and then there is the third force… a separate entity that pushes us all to make one decision or the other. For me, the Amazon was the third force, and for that I am forever grateful. The moral is that you never know when, how, or through whom that third force is going to show up and change everything for you… be conscious of the people you meet, be clear in your intentions, and always be ready to plant that tree, otherwise you might find yourself stranded on a sinking ship with a 6 foot tall Amazon and an impending date with a gigantic fucking iceberg….