Chapter I: One Road Starts at the End of Another

"I travel the country in a large cargo truck painted to look like a horse drawn circus wagon decorated with an elegant theater stage draped in crimson curtains and ornate gold tassels. Written above each panel is the legend: "The Lost Sons of Zhitomir Rolling Film Society." Zhitomir is the town in Russia which my paternal grandparents came from in the early 20th century, and the name honors the grandfather I never met who, according to family lore, when asked where he came from, said: "I'm a lost son of Zhitomir." By the way: you pronounce Zhitomir like this: ZHUH TUM MIR. Below The Lost Sons of Zhitomir Rolling Film Society, in a fine calligrapher's lettering, it says: For Hire: All Occasions." The truck is my house, my studio, my film library, and storage for the tools of my trade: showing and writing about movies."


Chapter XV: Candelabras and Organs: A Seven Day Fishing Trip

Standing at the microphone, he clasps his hands together in front of his heart, inhales once to steady himself, and introduces himself as if no one in the room knew who he was.

"I am the right honorable Giuseppe Salvatore Boccacio and being of sound mind and body" (the audience laughs out loud but Fish ignores them and repeats the last line), "being of sound mind and body present for your consideration the following creation, entitled, Looking For That Little Stream Where You Caught Your First Trout." Fish takes one visible inhale in which his massive chest rises accentuating the formality of his attire, then bellows

"It's gone, man, long gone.

So far gone you even gotta hurry to find someone with a memory of it."

Fish's deep-voiced recitation begins like a soulful epoch elegy, and by the time the first two lines are finished everyone is locked on to this timeless messenger.

"Gone like big trees, wooden boats and large salmon.

Gone like the groups of Indians used to hang around Fourth Street selling trinkets.

It's gone like Model A's and Maxwells, and hand cranks and fifteen-cent gasoline.

It's gone like the Good War, and "Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor,

Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free".

It's gone like the Ten Commandments and "Brother Can You Spare A Dime".

Gone like cold winters and teenage love and sleepless nights

Or hikes into nowhere, with crazy friends.

Gone like Lindbergh.

Like the Nobel Peace Prize and the Olympic Movement.

Gone like black-and-white photographs of grandparents on their wedding day.

Gone like heroes and patriotism and truth

And little salutes by Cub Scouts.

Gone like safety and the boundless potential.

Gone like tireless muscles and an unbroken heart.

Gone like Jackie Robinson and the "suicide squeeze".

It's gone like you can change the world,

Like rock-and-roll without fame.

Gone like Impressionism and poetry with a lunatic structure.

Gone like falling off to sleep easily.

Gone like silent movies of little blind girls and noble tramps on the streets of Paris

Gone like pole sitting and

Gone like prayers with simple requests and simpler answers.

It's gone, like caring about art, and belief in words.

Gone like faith, hope, and charity."

Fish drops his hands and the audience is silent and not sure whether he's finished. Just before a few in the audience are about to applaud, Fish takes one last deep breath, re-clasps his hands and finishes:

"You looking for that little stream where you caught your first trout?"

With that, Mr. Giuseppe Salvatore Boccacio makes a deep bow to the audience, leaves the microphone and walks towards me. I switch on the first projector as the cafe lights dim to blackness in an orchestrated punctuation to Fish's recitation. Amidst the applause that follows Fish's poem, some five seconds later the following image begins the screening of The Last Waltz:


Chapter XXIII: How to Write a Love Scene

What was the first love scene you wrote?" I ask Tanner.

"Oh, you'll love this. I was working on a nothing picture with Earl Cowell, one of the last giants of the early age. The picture has an eight-day filming schedule, still in the old system mind you. Cowell didn't worry too much about scripts, he fired the original screenwriter and then they hired me to do any fill-ins. He called me the skinny Polish Kid. Cowell, he just barked a lot and hoped things worked out like they did in the Twenties. "Get me lighting, get me wardrobe, get me make-up, and get me the skinny Polish kid! Write me a love scene and have it ready in two hours!" And he meant it. There's not a thing tying the two characters together and I have to write a love scene for them. I'm twenty-eight years old, my marriage is shot, my life is a mess, I haven't made love in over a year, and I have to write a love scene in two hours between two people who don't know each other and the same thing that is killing my marriage is dictating movies at that time: you can't reveal anything too truthful. She's a poor girl who got thrown out of her home, he's a rich guy off to prove to Daddy he's worth the inheritance. Pretty lightweight stuff, and, as I said, the Code maybe a little looser in the post-war environment but still hovering like the rhythmic requirements of a sonnet.

"So, what did you write?" asks Nina.

"I'm getting there. When I leave the set I've got no idea what to write and I'm starving, so I walk to the commissary and there I see these two extras who don't have enough money so they're sharing a hot dog. They're sitting at a table and each one has half a hot dog on a lonely porcelain plate. They didn't even have money for coffee.

As I'm watching them, I close my eyes and started dreaming everything I hadn't allowed myself to want or feel or demand or accept or believe was possible, and I had to do it quickly. I know you can appreciate the inspiration of a deadline. You can't write love scenes without knowing hunger. Love is the ideal; it's not the real. We feel love in Mother and Father, puppies, warmth and food, in shelter from the driving rain, in hot tea and strong coffee, in a cup of cocoa topped with little floating marshmallows in the hands of a frightened child, we feel love in sacrifice. Love is something sought after, seldom achieved, and despite all the Harlequins and the soap operas, love does not always conquer all. It is so rare and special that when I closed my eyes that day, all I could think of was everything I'd neglected to share with my wife, all the things I found fault with, and I wrote what I should have done in those times."

Nina says, "How did you bring them together."

"Well, first things first, I gave them a couple of bucks to buy some food and then I stole their hot dog and topped it with everything.

"So, here's the scene. Trudy and Hank, the characters' names, are walking from different directions on the Coney Island boardwalk. It's dusk and they both spy the last hot dog stand with its lights on. They arrive there at the same time. It's the forties mind you, so he stands off for her to go first, and in that moment they look and see there's only one hot dog left. She offers to give it up to him but he's a gentleman and demurs gracefully while walking off. He's got his back to her, when she yells for him, "Hey, mister, wait," and they end up sitting on a bench sharing the hot dog, watching the moon come up and the rest follows from there."

"And Cowell, what did he think?" I ask.

"He hated it! He went nuts, "I ask for a love scene and you buy me a hot dog?" But, he was stuck for time and so he used it and then I was fired that afternoon."