My belated Oscar wrap-up

It’s been nearly two months since the Academy Awards aired, but I’ve been mentally reliving the event a bit recently, not only because I’ve finally gotten around to watching several of the Best Picture nominees, but also because I read a brief “news” article yesterday in which Jared Leto said that his Oscar statue is all sticky and gross because his apparently grubby friends have been playing with it. And these are the people we admire and aspire to be like. Anyway, in place of a traditional recap, which would be pointless by now, here is a stream-of-consciousness presentation of some of my thoughts during and after the ceremony.

As I look into Jared Leto’s beautiful yet strangely vacant eyes, I wonder if he’s shown up to the Academy Awards as stoned as the character he won his Oscar for portraying (a person called Rayon, frequently stoned, and appearing for much of Dallas Buyer’s Club in a covetably comfy-looking pink cable-knit bathrobe).  But no, surely not, since he’s accompanied by his mom.  And his acceptance speech is lucid–not brilliant, but lucid, a high compliment indeed on this night.  I mean, the literal kind of “high.”

Thinking about Best Supporting Actor nominees accompanied by their moms turns my thoughts toward Jonah Hill, and I think to myself that someday he is going to be a real contender for this category and not just a person that the presenters make gratuitous comments toward because they feel charitable toward him because he is less sexy than they are.  And he is going to win, and he is going to throw his Oscar in their stupid condescending faces.

Then I wonder why I am throwing so much imaginative energy into my Jonah Hill revenge fantasy, and I realize that it’s because I’m bored, because essentially none of my favorite actors are here.  This has a lot to do with the fact that most of my favorite actors are British and obviously couldn’t make the long trip to Los Angeles.  Or, more likely, they weren’t invited.  If you are an actor from the UK and you want to be made much of at the Oscars, you have to either 1) be Colin Firth, although even that doesn’t work every year, 2) be old enough to be an institution, or just not dye your hair, so that people think you’re old (that’s you, Helen Mirren), 3) always play Americans, like Christian Bale or last year’s Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, or 4) find your way into a small role in pretty much all of the Best Picture nominees, like Benedict Cumberbatch did this year (okay, I think he was in two of them).

*Long mental digression while I calculate the odds of Martin Freeman ever being an Oscar nominee*

My guests are gasping, and I gradually realize it’s because they think Ellen Degeneres is being “mean.”  And I’m thinking, did you ever see Ricky Gervais host the Golden Globes?  This is like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in comparison.

Which brings me to the pizza interlude.  There is a lot of debate about how spontaneous, hence “authentic,” this actually was, but that’s not the question that captivates me.  My question is: Do these people actually eat pizza?  On paper plates, no less?  The possibility boggles the mind.  One of the actors we saw ostensibly preparing to eat pizza was Brad Pitt.  It’s true that Brad Pitt is seen constantly eating food in many of his movies (e.g., Meet Joe Black, in which he develops an obsession with peanut butter), but I guess I just assumed he spit it out after the take.  Did Angelina make him spit his pizza out during the commercial break?

These, thank goodness, are not questions that keep me up at night.  However, this is: What in the world was Matthew McConaughey talking about?


a cousin story

On a roll, I wrote another scene for the piece I mentioned in my last post.  I’m calling the overall piece Cousin PercyAfter reading this scene, you will have met all the cousins except for Peter, the one who’s still in college.  I intend for quiet, self-effacing Peter to be the one who unexpectedly breaks through to the frustratingly uncommunicative Percy, but I haven’t quite developed that idea yet.  In this scene, you’ll see just how frustratingly uncommunicative Percy is.  You need to know that Percy doesn’t yet know that Harry was once married and has a rather sad back story.  He thinks he’s got Harry all figured out.  This scene is shorter and, I think, funnier than the last one I posted, but you should still be able to feel the underlying tension.  By the way, I promise that my next post will be on another topic.

Three nights before Christmas, Harry Sinclair sat in a dim, deeply-recessed booth in the corner of the pub nearest the door, nursing a bottle of cream soda and watching the acoustic band intently.  During a particularly loud moment in one of the American folk songs the band was valiantly plowing through, his cousin Percy, whom Harry had known for exactly four days, approached the booth, carrying a pint and wearing the leather jacket that, Harry had already decided, made him look like a Liverpool dockworker circa 1959.

“This is the only empty seat in the place,” said Percy by way of explanation.

“Well, sit down!” said Harry in an unnecessarily expansive voice that sounded, to both men, a bit false.  “What brings you here on this cold evening?”

“Why does anybody come to a pub?” Percy replied flatly as he sat.  “Having an ale.  What are you doing here?”

“Why does anybody come to a pub?”  Harry paused before continuing, “I’m spying on my employee.”

Percy grunted into his pint, possibly indicating interest.

Harry took the indication and ran with it.  “He’s the one on the stool at the front of the band, playing the guitar.”

“The fat kid?”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “Totally unnecessary, but yes.  He’s the portly chap who’s singing right now.  That’s Sam.  He helps me out at the shop.”  Harry made a slight confidential lean toward his cousin; Percy made no response of any kind.  “So I’ll say to him at the end of the day, ‘What are you doing tonight, Sam?’  Just making conversation.  And he’ll always say something like, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll just go home and watch TV.'”  Harry said this in an exaggeratedly glum voice.  “Only he’s a Scotsman, but I can’t do his accent right.”

Percy cleared his throat, which Harry took as another sign of engagement.  “So the other night, I’m leaving the shop, and I see him sneaking in here with a guitar case like he’s about to do a drug deal.  So I said to myself, I can be sneaky too, and the past few nights I’ve been hiding in this booth, thinking, hey, this kid has got some talent.  But the next day, not a word about it from either of us.  So tell me, why do you think he’s trying to hide this from me?”

Percy took a swig of ale and said nothing.  Harry sighed.  “Did you hear anything I just said?”

The cousins stared at the band for a few minutes before Percy looked down and asked, incredulously, “What are you, having a cream soda?”

“Yes, I’m having a cream soda,” Harry replied, glad his cousin was making an effort at conversation.

“Don’t you drink, or what?”

“No, I don’t drink anymore.”

“What were you, a wino or something?”

“I wasn’t a wino,” Harry retorted, beginning to think the uncomfortable silence was preferable.  “I just don’t like myself when I drink.  I’m sarcastic–and obnoxious.”

Percy snorted.  “Only when you drink.”

Harry turned in his seat, trying to force his cousin to make eye contact.  “Well, I think that’s a pretty rude thing to say considering you hardly know me.”

“Oh, I know you,” Percy said into his glass, not looking at Harry.

Harry clenched his hands under the table, determined to remain civil.  “Well, I’m afraid I can’t say the same about you.  Why don’t you ever tell us anything about yourself?  We’re family and all.”

Percy shrugged.  “There’s nothing to tell.”

Harry gave a short, humorless laugh.  “I know you know that I know that that’s bullshit.”

Percy made no sign that this assessment fazed him.  The cousins lapsed back into silence.  The band was playing a twangy song about Raleigh, North Carolina.  Harry tried again.  “I don’t get the fascination these lads have with playing all this American local color stuff.  I mean, half the people in this town have never been more than two hours away.  What do they know about Raleigh?”

“How do you know where they’ve been?” Percy asked, still looking straight ahead.

Harry shrugged.  “I fix their cars; they talk to me.”

The band had moved on to a plaintive song about the Blue Ridge Mountains.  “Have you ever been to the States?” Harry asked.

“Yeah.  Lived there for a while.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Harry, pleasantly taken aback by this rush of self-disclosure.  “Where did you live, exactly?”

“New York City.”  Percy was not equally excited by the conversation.

“Ah, indeed,” said Harry, like someone who knew.  “Where else?”

Percy paused in lifting his pint and gave his cousin a sidelong glance.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Harry didn’t actually know what he had meant.  “I just thought…New York City was a sort of melting pot,” he replied lamely.

Percy sniffed–laughed, possibly–and finished taking that drink.

“So, was it a nice place to live?” Harry asked, determined to press on.


Harry nodded, hoping for but not really expecting more.  “And…are you going to tell me about it?”

“No.”  Percy put his empty glass down hard on the table and slid out of the the booth.

“I didn’t think so,” said Harry to his cream soda.


another brother story

You guys know I like stories about brothers, right? Well, today I wrote down a story that’s been living in my head for a while, and the characters are two brothers. This is a portion of a much longer piece I’d like to write someday–I think it would be best as a screenplay–about a tough drifter type, with the unfortunate name Percy, who has to spend Christmas with his tight-knit family (aunts, uncles, and four male 20-to-30-something cousins) in a small town in England. The portion I’m sharing with you today is from early in the narrative, before anyone knows there’s a long-lost cousin. It introduces the characters and lets you know what Percy will be getting into when he comes on the scene. I apologize in advance–this post will be longer than my usual.

“Before you say anything, I’m not William Wallace; I’m a Pict,” announced John Sinclair as the kitchen screen door slammed behind him.

His brother Brian looked up from the fortress of bar exam prep guides that had once been their parents’ kitchen table.  Blue paint covered John’s freckles, and a kilt covered not very much of his legs, which were slightly purple from the cold outside.  “I didn’t think the Picts wore natty white button-ups,” Brian smirked.

“It would have been more accurate to go shirtless,” John conceded, plunking down a stack of essays onto the counter.  “But that would have been totally inappropriate.”

“I don’t think your 15-year-old girl fan club would agree,” Brian retorted, flashing a rare trickster smile before returning his gaze to a tightly-scrawled sheet of notes.

“You’re mental,” said John, getting a Coke out of the refrigerator.  “Say, that reminds me.  You were locked in your room–”

“–the spare room.”

“Well, yeah, same thing; it’s your old room, isn’t it?”  John looked at his brother quizzically, but Brian was fixed on his notes.  “Anyway, you were up there last night when I told Mum and Dad about my date.  I mean, there’s not much to tell, but you’re always interested in my romantic exploits.”  John concluded with a rueful laugh that clearly indicated that the last term was hyperbolic.

Brian looked up.  “I’m always interested in you acknowledging the existence of anyone who isn’t a blood relative or a student.  Tell me more.”

John pulled out a chair and sat down at the fortress.  “Well, we had a coffee, and she told me about working in London, and about this blog she just started, and I told her…” he paused, trying to remember the conversation, “…about how my students loved it when I came to class in a toga…”

“Bet she thought that was sexy.”

“Actually, I think it weirded her out a bit.”  Brian snorted; John didn’t seem to notice.  He was searching his memory.  “Then I told her about how you were home for the holidays, and how you’re almost a barrister…and I told her about how Peter’s coming home for the holidays, and how he’s writing his thesis on Dickens…and I told her about how Harry’s auto shop has a name from Shakespeare.  People find that interesting, don’t you think?”

Brian sighed.  “What I think is that this girl, woman, whatever she is–doesn’t give a flying fig about your brother and your cousins.  I think I know where this story is going.  Go on.”

John shrugged.  “That’s about all.  We finished our coffee, and she said I was really nice.  That’s it.”

“Yeah, that’s right, John.  You’re really, really nice.”  Brian shook his head and returned to his notes.

“But what does that mean?”  A twinge of desperation made John’s voice crack slightly, and he leaned across the table toward his brother, knocking a book off its stack.  “You say that word like she said it, like it’s some sort of code word.  What horrible thing does ‘nice’ mean?”

Brian rubbed his forehead like it hurt.  “You’re very intelligent, and you look like Eddie Redmayne.  That’s why women go out with you.  But you’re kind of like a child.  That’s why they only go out with you once.”

“You obviously know so much about this,” said John in a voice so toneless that Brian couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic.  John was rarely sarcastic.  So Brian asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

John looked at the ceiling.  “It means…remember when Aunt Susie said you looked like Andrew Garfield?”

“Yeah, so?  She’s weird.”

“She was right!  Any woman would go out with you.  And yet I don’t see you in any long-term relationship.”

Brian gestured at the stacks of books surrounding him.  “I’ve been a little busy, haven’t I?  Anyway, you don’t know what I do when I’m not here.”

“Probably the same thing you do when you’re here, huddle up with your books like some kind of Gothic mad scientist.”  John took a swig of his Coke, and Brian went back to his notes.  There was a long silence.

“Oh, speaking of Aunt Susie!” John said suddenly.  Brian jumped in his chair.  “You know we’re all going over there this evening, because Peter’s coming home?”  The desperation had gone as quickly as it had come; John looked like an unusually cheerful Pict.

“I don’t think I’m going; I need to study,” Brian said, not looking up.

“Oh, come on.  You’ve been studying all day.  Don’t you want to see Peter?”

“I’ll have plenty of chances to see him between now and the new year.  But listen,” Brian pointed his pencil at his brother and gave him a significant look, “lay off Peter about moving back here, will you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean.  It’s not just you; it’s everybody.  Every time Peter’s here, you lot are on him about what he’s going to do after graduating.  If I remember correctly, last time you practically had him a job lined up at your school.”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” John said.

Brian shook his head and looked back down at his notes.  “Well, I hope it’s nothing to Peter, too.  Just remember he’s a grown man and he can live wherever he bloody well wants to.”

John put his Coke can down slowly and looked at the top of Brian’s head for a few seconds before he said, “Oh, I see.  This isn’t about Peter; this is about you.”

Brian sighed and put his face in his hands.  “Okay, yeah.  This is about me too.  Every time I come here I feel like I’m being smothered.”

“Then why do you come here?” It was hard to tell whether this was a challenge or a sincere question.

“Because it’s Christmas, for heaven’s sake, and I’m not some sort of monster with no familial affection.  I like you, and Mum and Dad, and…everybody, most of the time.  It’s just this town.  It feels like some sort of evil magnetic force sucking everybody back into its vortex of mediocrity.”

“A little dramatic, don’t you think?” John asked with a puzzled laugh.

“Well, look at Harry.  It sucked him in, didn’t it?  In London he was hanging out with real, live literary critics.  The man was brilliant.  I mean, he still is brilliant.  But here he is, fixing cars at Gad’s Hill Auto Repair.”

“Harry likes fixing cars,” John retorted.  His face was still blue, but his ears were turning red.  “And anyway, he wanted to come back here to be around people he knew.  He didn’t want to be alone in London after–”

“Oh, I know what everybody says,” Brian interrupted.  “Harry moved back here because he got divorced.  Well, you know what I think?  I think that’s part of the reason why he got divorced–because he wanted to move back here with his mum, and his wife had the good sense not to want to come to this depressing dump.”

John glared at his brother.  “Don’t you dare say that to Harry, ever.”

Brian threw up his hands.  “What do you think I am, some sort of prat?  Of course I wouldn’t say that to his face.  But it’s true, and I think you know it.”  Brian was quiet for a moment, writing on his notes.  “And you…well, we already talked about you.”  He relapsed into silence.

John finished his Coke.  Brian scanned his notes.  Neither brother spoke for a long time.  Then John said, “I have to go get this crap off my face.  But I want to say one more thing to you.  I know you think I’m some sort of developmentally arrested sad-sack.  But I like my life.  I’m happy, Brian.  And if you’re happy…well, you’re doing a pretty good job of hiding it.”  John got up and threw his Coke can in the recycling bin.

Brian didn’t look up until John was halfway up the stairs.  “All right, I’ll go to the thing for Peter tonight,” Brian yelled.  “Will that make you happy?”

John stopped on the top step.  “You never listen to anything I say,” he said.  “I told you, I am happy.”  He went into the bathroom and shut the door.