This short story is dedicated to writer, professor Patrick Meanor who dedicated The Wrath of Grapes to writer, director Edward Burns.
Class is over. I think I’m going to make it out of here unscathed from another week of being delinquent in my work. Correction: unscathed from the professor’s threats to fail me. He won’t and I’m not stupid enough to underachieve that low. For this one literature class, I don’t have to be paranoid of my tendency to attract the general species of asshole professors with tenure. They can do whatever the fuck they want, their job is safe—me, not so much. My friends, also in the class, impress our professer pointing out parallels between our assigned stories and movies with similar themes. The teacher eats it up, so do the girls in our class who want to “share notes.” We’re in good graces with everyone. Some of the professor’s recent favorite movies are Good Will Hunting and the ones written and directed by a former student, Edward Burns. He hones in on me, again this time making a flattering connection between me, Burns and Matt Damon’s brainy nonchalant character in Good Will Hunting. At this point, the conversation shifts to how I choose my own adventure with his assignments, and he realizes my potential for more, as he once saw in Burns who was once in my shoes. During my sophomore year, I couldn’t find any concrete ground academically even as an English major—somehow in my mind, “Undecided” was watermarked over the concentration status of my degree. So now what? The professor is souping me up with this idea that he could be as proud of me as he is of his former pupil. I could be a screenwriter or write books like the pretty good one he dedicated to Burns… I don’t know. Flash forward to the spring of 2009, I’m nearing the end of my continuing education course study of screenwriting at the School of Visual Arts. I’m juggling a job as a waiter, deejaying part time for local New York rappers and singers, meanwhile trying to write a 30 page draft of my legacy for the screen. I’m spreading my professional life thin as New Yorkers do by their birthright—never sleeping, never not working. Somehow one of these things will stick, and be the lottery ticket to millions.
One afternoon, cruising the city (on foot) with my high school friend, I asked myself if Burns challenged himself in life with a similar balancing act while I watched him finish a slice with someone at Famous Original Ray’s Pizza. I couldn’t help but introduce myself. With such little time to 1) mention I’m a fan of his work without sounding like a groupie and 2) namedrop our former professor, my checklist of talking points already seemed like too much. But what the hell do I have to lose? He said our professor was the one who, “put him on the right path.” I assumed it was the encouragement to chase his own dreams and not let some of the monotony of our college get in the way. Burns asked me what is it that I do now. I scrambled for an answer. Unconfident as I was in my hobbies being my job (deejaying and freelance writing for magazines and websites), he still encouraged me to “stick with it.” I can’t say I’m really sticking to my life plan. My faith in magazine publishing is more fickle now than it ever was before after my two lay offs, and moonlighting as a DJ. And if you’re not the great DJ AM (R.I.P), I can’t put my kid through college at a rate of $300 per gig. These days, I’m back to I’m swinging for the fences with some short story writing which will lead me to the big leagues in TV and film. Seeing Burns’ trailer for Nice Guy Johnny speaks to my conflicted feelings about career aspirations—the main character is torn between his job as a radio DJ and a big transition into the boring financial world. Then there’s that underlying tug of war between his loyalty to his relationship and the temptation of a girl he’s hanging out with in the Hamptons. I’ve never even been to the high brow town of the Hamptons, much less Long Island in the past fifteen years. It’s a wonderful life, and Burns is living it in the real world and on film, as the writer-director and co-star. This just shows, if there’s anything I’ve learned thus far, it’s that there’s more than one road to Hollywood.
TRAILER FOR NICE GUY JOHNNY
[Ed. Note: This story was truncated from the original 1,000+ words simply because I don’t want the full story to be deemed property of WordPress. You’ll just have to wait for it to be completed when I can get some monetary advance from a publisher willing to invest in my imagination.]