I celebrated my twenty first birthday unceremoniously by working the two to ten thirty shift at Quick Stop.
I was single then, having recently severed ties with Kim Loughran, my high school sweetheart. She was home from college for the summer, and I’d spent most of that June trying to get our relationship back on a track I’d felt her tenure at Carnegie Mellon had disrupted. Despite my best efforts to get our on-again/off-again status reassigned to active duty, it had become clear that I’d been reduced in status from love-of-her-life to a mere summertime fling – at which point I’d thrown in the towel.
Who could blame Kim, really, for not seeing a future with me as she once did in eleventh and twelfth grade? She was in her sophomore year in a top-notch college, and I was direction-less and drifting through life back home. It became harder and harder for Kim to see me as husband material after my short-lived college career at the New School for Social Research ended after only a winter semester. And while I’d taken a few for-the-fuck-of-it courses with Bryan Johnson at the local community college, it was clear that I wasn’t going to put said studies to good use (i.e. – I was never gonna be a criminologist). As unattractive as I normally was, my complete lack of ambition must’ve made me even less so.
As if a twenty one year old with no plan wasn’t sad enough, I was still living at home with my parents – something neither of my elder siblings had done since graduating high school and heading to university years prior. Mom and Dad weren’t kicking me out of the nest, thank God, but they’d been chiding me to find a better job for some time. I knew that the arrival of legal adulthood would only up the ante on their campaign to get me out of the five-buck-an-hour convenience store service industry and into a gig that paid better and might finally deliver me from the realm of the per-hour rate into the promised elysium fields of a grown-up career.
So with no birthday celebration looming, how did I opt to spend my birthday? Behind the register, slinging smokes. My friends stopped by during my shift, but no post-work plans were made. When the steel shutters were closed at the end of the night, it would also signal the close of my first day as a numerical adult.
Around nine at night, my friend and co-worker Vincent Pereira closed up R.S.T. Video for the evening and joined me at Quick Stop, to stock the milk and mop the floors before heading off. We got to talking about movies, as per usual, and I told him about a review I’d read in the Village Voice for a film called “Slacker” that was playing up at the Angelika Film Center, in New York City. This was a film we’d seen a trailer about a week or so prior, after Vincent and I had read about an Angelika midnight screening of “The Dark Backward” which Judd Nelson and Bill Paxton would be in attendance for and “Pig Newtons” (a prop food item that featured prominently in the flick) would be distributed at. The “Slacker” review talked about a scene in which Madonna’s pap smear was discussed, and that captured both of our imaginations. Since we two Jersey ‘burb boys had successfully gotten into and out of the city for the “Dark Backward” screening with our virtue intact once before, we decided to tempt fate with a second trip into the city that night, to check out this “Slacker” picture. And so, after closing up Quick Stop at 10:30pm, Vincent and I drove from Leonardo, NJ to the Angelika Theater on Houston in New York City to see a little movie from Austin, Texas.
This was the moment that changed my life forever.
Richard Linklater’s “Slacker”, you see, was the film that made me want to be a filmmaker too. As that flick unspooled before the wide eyes of a freshly minted twenty one year old version of me, possibility was first introduced into my sphere of influence. This film was at once remarkable and unremarkable, and I viewed it with a mixture of awe and arrogance.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said to myself, following that thought with “But if this counts as a movie, then I think I can make a movie too…”
It was during that two-in-the-morning ride home from the Angelika, somewhere between the Holland Tunnel and Exit 14C on the Jersey Turnpike, that I first announced my intentions aloud.
“I think I want to be a filmmaker,” I said to Vincent. “I think I want to write and direct.”
That was fifteen years ago tonight. Since then, I’ve gotten married, had a kid, and made seven movies. And I finally moved out of my parents.
So, after a small poker party to celebrate what an old fart I’ve become, I’ll climb into bed with my wife and fool around a bit. And once she’s fallen asleep, I’ll spend the last two hours of my 36th birthday in the same way I spent the last few hours of my 21st: watching “Slacker”.