I found this on my 5-year-old laptop and have no idea what I was trying to write, but as I read it the story grew on me again. Enjoy!
November 11, 2011
Tokyo, Japan—A young English teacher excuses himself as he tries to get onto the crowded Metro train. In the middle of Shinjuku Station, amidst a crowd of businessmen shuffling with their briefcases in hand and high school students knocking around like billiard balls, the man sighs and checks his mobile phone.
Delhi, India—Seated in a large, flat wooden chair overlooking the garden of the Bahá'í House of Worship, otherwise known as the Lotus Temple, a young woman wearing a turquoise three-piece sari stares out at the surrounding beauty of her world. Beep beep, titliyan titliyan hayo, rabba titliyan titliyan...
Beijing, China—There is a building in the waves of concrete that has a spectacular first-row view of the National Stadium where the 2008 Summer Olympics were held. Placing a large, gnarled hand against the cool glass, a work-hardened man in a gray suit jumps when his phone vibrates in his chest pocket. “Shuí?”
Paris, France—With a haggard look and unshaven chin that is itched periodically, an Eiffel Tower tour guide checks his watch and then his phone with a frown. His group pauses, waiting, and he excuses himself for his rudeness, “Ah, sorry mesdames et messieurs, please follow me."
London, England—There is bumper-to-bumper early afternoon traffic along Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster Abbey, and a business woman favors hitting the steering wheel of her ten-year-old Bug over glancing at her illuminating cell phone poking up from her drink holder. "Fuckin' bloody 'ell, why's there traffic on the goddamn road at this bloody hour?"
San Francisco, USA—A diverse handful of people look at each other with wide smiles. An ex-college football player turned car mechanic, up-and-coming software programmer, unestablished writer, independent film director, and a career line cook stuck in a messy studio apartment filled with sounds of rock music jarring the stains in the thin wicker carpet. "Ready?" The writer asks, and the other four nod, holding their respective cell phones up expectantly. "Begin our first and probably only social experiment…” “If we don’t get arrested!” Chimed in the mechanic. The others laugh. The writer continues, “Begin, The Book of Life." Beep Beep.
Chapter One: Birthing an Idea
There is a single conference room on the 48th floor of the Transamerica Pyramid, one of the largest buildings in San Francisco, one of the top focal points in the city's skyline, and one of the features of David Horne's urban-themed architectural documentary called San Francisco's New Heights. The room sprawls out with large double-paned windows on either side, black table lined with stiff-backed office chairs, and a glass-encased stairwell in the background. From the entrance, the tops of buildings can barely be seen, but inch by inch, step by step into the room, the city of San Francisco unfolds into a glorious view of the Chamber of Commerce, downtown, the Bank of America building that is said to beat the Pyramid in height, the glimmering Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and then the red and golden garden of Chinatown.
David Horne takes in all of this with a panoramic sweep of his camera, pausing to playback the 6-second clip. Behind him a black-suited business man holds position by the doorway. A pinched mouth and grim demeanor place him as someone who isn't used to letting kids into the esteemed 48th floor, and doesn't like it. David is grateful for the opportunity, because there have been only a few people who took clips from the highest floor of the Pyramid. And now he is one of them.
Without thinking, he places a hand against the cool, smooth surface of the plexiglass and the businessman behind him coughs. He jumps back and his handprint sticks, suspended in air and marking the room with his DNA. He whips out a lens-cleaning kit and briskly transfers the thousands of atoms from the window to the rag. Then, a sharp voice cuts in,
"Have you gotten enough?"
Footage, yes, view, no. The ecstatic light that filters through the sprinkle of clouds, aiming rods down from the heavens, it compliments the video by giving the buildings an otherworldly quality. Some buildings are in shadow, others softly glow. When he was playing back the clip, David realized that whatever feeling stirred within him when he stepped up to look down, it couldn't be captured in 6 seconds. This feeling of being on top, in control, but at the same time distant, like the city of San Francisco was a toy, a clock he had calibrated and set into motion. This is probably how God feels, is what David thinks as he exits the room, claustrophobically followed by his escort.
But the truth is that down below are people David probably knows. Homeless featured in his independent films, high school friends going off to college, and his lower-middle class coworkers at Mike's Car Shop. They were all down there, seemingly invisible in his camera lens— The life behind a still landscape.
In the elevator, David stretches his arms and rotates his aching shoulder. After a long day full of applying for a guest pass, interviewing the architect of the Pyramid, meeting the director, being assigned an escort, and taking various angled-shots of the Pyramid, he feels depleted of energy and devoid of character. As he cracks his neck, the elevator opens to the 23rd floor filled with office spaces. Half are empty, but the large one in the back is occupied by an equally large man with a bristle mustache.
"Did you get enough footage?"
David smiles at the PR Director, clutching his tripod protectively, "Yes, thank you for this opportunity." And as the man makes a curt reply, David's age shows in the crease of his smooth brow, slightly haunched frame, and twitchy arms. In truth, he is just some kid with an agenda to make a short, unimpressive documentary about buildings.
The director motions back towards the elevators, "I hope to receive a copy when the video is completed."
"Of course, the very moment I make it. This contact okay?"
David holds up a business card with the Pyramid icon stamped on the side. The director nods and turns away, "Please follow Mr. Harper out, we appreciate your visit."
Looking back at the Pyramid from the ground at Sansome and Clay, David doesn't see an architectural building. He recaps the skyview of San Francisco and the miniature cars, and the feeling of disconnect from the rest of the world. He sees a summit. With a shrug of his camera bag, the boy walks to the parking lot to shuffle around until he found his van, full of thoughts. Obsessed with the idea of hundreds of thousands of people captured in a 6-second video. That in reality those people all had faces, families, and pasts, but they barely made a pinprick against the swipe of a camera across the city's natural and artificial landscape.
Like life was truly irrelevant when faced with the larger picture.
David shakes his head and unlocks the driver's side of his van, using both hands to gingerly lay the camera bag on its side in the passenger's seat. With the twitch of a key, the vehicle sputters to life and swerves back into clunky city traffic.
Driving in the downtown San Francisco is cramped but ebbed with a natural flow between stop and go. Some drivers are crazy, splitting off into lanes without signals, honking at every minor upset, and blasting loud rock or rap music out of quaking windows. And then there’s motorcyclists. Everyone ignores these daily cultural rituals. David himself honks when the car in front of him refuses to move at a green light. Then, he sees what makes the driver stop and jams his car into park, lugging his camera back out of the bag and flying out the door.
A small female figure is sitting in the middle of the street, blocking traffic at Montgomery and Market. And not just any woman. David weaves through the swelling crowd of onlookers and positions himself at the corner, popping the lens cap off and adjusting the focus. The woman is wearing a familiar musty-pink woven shawl and frizzed braids, looking like 'Mad Marj' who was featured in the last independent film David shot, Paved Roads to Nowhere.
Marj is yards away, so David adjusts the zoom to get her crooked hands working at yet another accessory, her wrinkled lips mumbling under her breath. What she is saying is ripped apart by blaring horns, shouts of obscenity, and progressive sirens in the background. But oddly, she seems at peace. Then, David notices an opened locket around her neck, falling into her patched lap and catching the glint of a fading sun.
Just as he is about to move in closer, a pair of boots stomps into the video and she is forced off the street by a pair of cops. Scuffle, inhuman shrieks like that of a captured bird, and the locket comes unhinged from the chain, falling with a chink to the pavement. But no one notices, everyone is watching them stuff the crazy old woman into the back of a police car. The air becomes eerily silent when the thick door snaps shut on the clawing hands, and all you hear is sirens as the car slides back through the stunned traffic, out of sight.
Taking his chance, before traffic starts moving again, David crosses the street, but stops in the middle to act like he dropped something; instead, he picks up Marj's locket. Fingering the intricate metal surface, he can't help thinking that this time Marj will be sent to an asylum where she belongs. And he feels a cold throb of pity.
Then, David wonders if he could have seen Marj's arrest from the 48th floor room. Probably not, and for some reason that makes him frustrated. He could have easily missed it, and not known until it was printed in the papers, with Marj wearing a blinding-orange convict jumper. But he is confused about his reaction, not knowing what his own mind is mulling about. From Market to Van Ness to 24th he passes thousands of people without noticing how the light is gradually fading with every second, and that this would be a perfect shot in his own life's story. When he pulls into an apartment complex parking lot on 24th and Treat, parallel parking between two working vans with ladders, he pauses. The car has been shut off, the windows rolled up.
Very few young people are like David anymore. He never went to college and constantly jumped back and forth between odd jobs, finally landing a secure position in a car repair and washing facility under his best friend's brother’s management. David has perseverance and, more importantly, an empathetic quality about his work. He always wanted to be a filmmaker, ever since he saw ** at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, featured on the local news. From then on, he saved every spare penny from his job to buy his Canon HV30 off Amazon for $850, a deal when compared to its launch price of $1000. Then the lens and editing software, then the tripod and the case. Bit by bit, he learned how to manipulate video and capture the right amount of light to get the scene just right for the depressing parts, the urban wastland, and the dejected characters. He wanted to bring urban sprawl to the foreground, to make a statement for the people who cannot or don't want to.
His father incessantly reminds him to not care about people so much, that it's a sure-fire way to destroy yourself. But destroy himself he does. In the few years after high school, he lost money from supporting ex-girlfriends, helping one move to the city and share his small apartment, only to find she cheated on him with another guy through happening across her littering of Facebook messages on her unlocked phone. He gives the extra bits of his wages to various charities, and spends time working in soup kitchens and talking to homeless people, and after hours just sitting and talking.
One time, he tried marijuana with a band of druggies playing hip hop music outside his dingy apartment. It was okay, after the coughing fits, but he never did like the displacement feeling of being outside himself looking in. And he would always lug his camera around, everywhere, recording everything in a certain slant of light, and find out the next day nothing he captured was worthwhile.
In his apartment now, the sun is melting across his cream-colored walls, giving the impression of honey or amber. It's a soft, warm light, but a light in peril, a light about to be extinguished any moment now. Rushing into the arms of his craigslist sofa, David lets the dwindling rays wash across his chest where his heart is rumored to be.
He met 'Mad Marj' 2 months ago, and for a brief moment when she wasn't drugged or drunk. In that 3-minute interview for Streets to Nowhere, he probably got to know her better than anyone in the world. At the beginning of the clip, she was keeping herself busy with her woven bracelets she attempted to sell at Marketplace without much luck. Moving her arthritic hands to cut, tie, weave, clasp, crimp, and thread her strings of bright beads found and stolen. Or glass she breaks and sands to small chips. In the last crucial minute, Marj looks up to the camera, her soft hazel eyes striking against her dark braids and ashy skin. “My name ain't Marj,” she says in finality. No, her name is Clarissa, and she can't remember her last name or how she even ended up being called Marj. And she doesn’t have any surviving relatives worth mentioning, and young people like David need to take care of the elderly folk because they’re the keepers of memories.
Keepers of memories… After that interview, David remembered how he had to play back the last minute of that interview a couple more times, in the editing stage and in the final movie preview. It had become the hook of his documentary, focused on the nameless homeless people who are given identities by others but rarely have the opportunity to hold their actual names. It was a small irony that the woman who couldn’t remember her own name would consider herself and those like her to be a ‘keeper of memory.’
And that's when David realized what was bothering him since Montgomery and Market. Marj probably won't get a trial, they might just announce her insane and cart her off to an asylum without hesitation. He wasn't really sure how things like this worked out, but Marj might not be allowed on the streets again. And he was the only witness who knew Marj— No, Clarissa, well enough to defend her.
The voice of his father pops into his head: Stop worrying so much about others and take care of yourself. Take care of what? The garage? His rundown studio apartment? His nonexistent pet and girlfriend?
With resolve, David swings himself off the couch and punches the local number for the police station, something every filmmaker should memorize. In the second before a slurring man's voice picks up, he notices the rich redness of everything. The light is going out.
“San Francisco Central Police Department, if you have an emergency please call 911.”
“Hello, I’m David Horne, and I am calling to inquire about an elderly Jamaican lady who might have been recently brought in.”
“... Are you related?”
“Uh, no, but--
“At this time only close relations are allowed to see her.”
“I understand, I’ve been to your station many times…”
Before David realizes the error of his phrasing, he can feel the abrupt prejudice cut off the rest of his words as the man, perhaps a cop, dismisses him entirely, saying he can wait until her story comes out in the papers, and then hangs up. He is tempted to call again, seeing as he had just gotten home, but as the colors fade around him he decides the best course of action is to go down early tomorrow morning and sort it all out.
But with a thermos full of black coffee in one hand, and his camera bag gripped tight in the other, he finds out he has been horribly naive. Marj, no Clarissa, had been transferred overnight to the county jail where she is being held pending trial on the grounds of insanity, where if found guilty she would become a ward of the local penitentiary. The state is prepared to have her jailed for repeatedly disturbing the peace, stealing an undisclosed amount of cash from a local bakery’s tip jar, obstructing traffic on numerous occasions despite an equal amount of warnings, and resisting arrest. The cop who is explaining this does not sounds like the man who answered his call, but David detects the same curt prejudice.
Storming out, the young man has every mind to drive the three hours to Sacramento that day, but is distracted by a text message on his cell phone. It’s from Dominic, his best friend’s brother, his boss.
[Where are you at? You have morning shift!]
David rushes back to his van, carefully places his camera bag in the passenger seat, buckles up, pays the insane parking fee, and drives a little more precariously through late morning traffic a few blocks down to Powell and Pacific. The tiny three-stall repair shop, and open-air handwash out back, has only four parking spots adjacent to the main office. Luckily, someone else had also skipped work and David thanks god for tiny miracles as he whips his van around to a slightly askew stop. Emotions well up inside because he is not used to being late, at all. He carries his camera bag through the backdoor and places it in the small, dim employee lounge area before approaching the front counter where Dominic is in the middle of helping a middle-aged woman...
To be Continued