Reality Road Kill (work in progress!!!!)

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CHAPTER 16 -- JODI’S NEW SHOES

A day later Paul gets a call that a second camera is ready and they can resume shooting, with a call time of noon instead of six p.m. Paul figures Dwight is so anxious to start shooting again that he wants everyone to be working the moment the camera is available, even if the kids are asleep. When he steps outside Maggie’s apartment, Joel’s Lexus is waiting for him at the curb. He slides into the passenger seat without a word. They drive south on La Brea all the way to the 10 Freeway before Joel even speaks.

“I was able to get another camera.”

“Great. So, the insurance came through?”

“Sort of. Almost. It wasn’t completely insured. The camera was worth thirty-five thousand and we only insured it for thirty thousand,” Joel says.

“That’s not bad,” Paul says.

“Except there’s a lot of paperwork, and we have to rent another camera on top of it. The budget is so damn tight as it is.” Joel bites his lip and shakes his head. “And that kid that Duncan kicked around -- he has second degree burns across his crotch, and he needed a dozen stitches across the back of his head. It took ten thousand dollars and a half-day of lawyer’s fees to pay him off. If he had been anybody important, he could have really hurt the project. We got lucky, but we still lost a lot of money last week.”

Paul can feel that something else is coming. “What? Say it.”

Joel turns off the light music on the stereo and sighs. “We have to cut corners everywhere we can, and Dwight says one way to do that is to let you go a week early.”

“What? That would mean today is my last day.”

“Exactly. Today is your last day.”

“But I have a contract. I signed a deal memo.”

“A deal memo is a deal memo, not a contract. And considering what Dwight said I think we’re being more than reasonable.”

“What did Dwight say?”

“He said you were partly to blame for the camera getting wrecked.”

Paul swears and punches the dashboard.

“Hey, that’s veneer, be careful,” Joel says.

“Three days ago, you were telling me Dwight was a lying sack of shit. What makes you think he’s telling the truth now?”

“I don’t. But he is the director, and his word counts more than yours. Besides, he says he can manage the audio himself for the last week. It’s not a blame thing, it’s a budget thing. Trust me.”

“So, you’re saving seven hundred and fifty bucks by blaming me for the camera and firing me a week early. Is that it?”

“Don’t look at it that way. You’ve done a great job. We’ll work together again.”

“How do you know I won’t just grab my gear and leave?”

“Because I know you need the money.”

Paul wonders if Joel will ask for the two thousand dollars back. He then remembers the envelope with the cash is still buried deep in the front pocket of his jeans. In his exhaustion, he’d completely forgotten about it, and Paul is aware of the edge of the envelope through the cotton. To his credit, Joel doesn’t say anything.

They arrive at the brewery. Joel parks his Lexus behind the white van. Dwight waves, and Joel gets out of the car to shake his hand. Paul sits in the car for a full minute, watching the two men through the windshield, sworn enemies just 48 hours ago, and now they’re allies...because they need to get rid of him.

Good riddance, Paul thinks. He’s getting off this damn shoot a week early. So, he’d make seven hundred and fifty less, but he still has the two thousand in blood money that Joel gave him. He’ll put a fake smile on and get through the day. He is half-inclined to just grab his gear and walk away, but he does needs the money and Joel and Dwight could maybe find a way to somehow hurt him.

Paul gets out of the car as Joel gets back in. “Thanks Joel,” Paul says.

“Stay in touch,” he says as he drops behind the wheel. He starts the Lexus and is gone. Stay in touch. That’s code for we’ll never see each other again.

Paul puts his rig together without a word, and without looking at Victor or Dwight. The kids are already awake, so Paul and Victor nod at each other and go inside. This will be the last time I have to walk into this dump, Paul thinks.

Victor establishes the scene with some low wide shots. Jodi and Trent are arguing in the main room while Duncan watches from his newspaper-stuffed pallet. Ilima is in her new bedroom, completely passed out.

Victor goes into the back room and gets a tight face shot on Ilima. Her skin is grey and wet with sweat. Paul puts his boom microphone as close to the edge of the picture frame as he can and gets the sound of Ilima’s tight labored breathing. She looks like she’s dying.

Back in the main room Jodi slowly pulls off her black combat boots. She’s not wearing socks and her feet are blistered, scabbed and bleeding.

“Fuck! I’m sick of this!” she yells, and throws her boots across the cement room. “These boots suck! This pain has GOT to stop.”

Victor follows her into her room and gets an over-the-shoulder shot of Jodi pulling out a jewelry box. She opens the top and reveals the red velvet lining inside, along with buttons, pins, roach clips, earrings, and barrettes for her hair -- what seems to be the last remnants of a girlhood that Jodi once had long ago. Jodi pulls back the velvet lining and uncovers two long gold chains she’d hidden in the back. Victor trails Jodi back into the main room and gets a shot of her showing Trent the two chains. He tries to grab them but she quickly pockets them.

“Those are worth money. Why didn’t you tell me you had those?”

“Because they belong to me. And I’m pawning them to buy a decent pair of shoes.”

“Not looking like that, you won’t,” Trent warns.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Because you look like you need money so bad they’ll give you a lousy price. You got to clean yourself up and dress nice.”

They pull out the old suitcase that Duncan stole from the fat man in the train station and they fill it with all her dirty clothes. Duncan joins them like an obedient puppy. Then they count out five dollars in quarters that they had left over from spanging on Hollywood Boulevard and head out into the streets.

“What about Ilima?” Duncan asks.

“Let her sleep,” Trent says. “That way she can get better.”

Victor and Paul follow the trio as they lug the fat man’s suitcase down the street, with Dwight keeping pace on the opposite sidewalk, chattering away into his walkie-talkie as he looks at his handheld monitor. They reach the Soaps and Suds Laundromat where they use all their quarters to wash her clothes.

“This better be worth it,” Jodi says. “This is beer money.”

Victor gets shots of the clothes going into the machine, close-ups of the quarters sliding into the coin slot and a dusting of soap going over her crusty yellowed underwear. He puts the camera in the dryer first and leaves it on, getting a shot of the clothes coming through the opening and covering the camera. Paul records the whir of the washer and the tumbling of the dryer.

They all help fold. They sniff the clean clothes and hold them to their faces, their brief warmth a deep comfort. Then they load up the suitcase and walk another four blocks to the Casa de Familias, a neighborhood shelter and legal center.

“I hate coming to this place,” Trent says.

“I’m just taking a shower, I’ll be out in fifteen minutes,” Jodi says.

Jodi goes inside and Duncan and Trent cross the street, trying to be as far away from the other homeless people as possible. Paul can understand why. The homeless men who gather in front of the Casa are in bad shape, from crack, alcohol and mental illness and months and years of street living. The tribe is younger and healthier than these ghosts and Trent and Duncan want nothing to do with them. Dwight stays twenty-five yards away, and directs Victor to do long tracking shots of the homeless men across the street, and then over-the-shoulder and tight face shots of Trent and Duncan watching them.

A small woman in her 50′s in a grey skirt and a white blouse exits the Casa and crosses the street towards Trent and Duncan. Victor steps to the side to catch her approach on camera, and the woman speaks right to the lens. “I don’t give you permission to use my image for your TV show, so please don’t point that camera at me.”

Victor keeps rolling, so she kicks him hard in the shin with her pointed shoe. Victor stops shooting and hops on one foot, while she jabs a finger right in his face. “The men tell me you carry a gun and point it at them. If you come anywhere near the Casa with a gun, I’ll have you all put in jail.”

Dwight runs up, all smiles and apologies. “Sister McGinty! One of the kids is in the Casa taking a shower, that’s the only reason why we’re here.”

“I’m glad. I want them all to take showers. That way I can convince them to get off the streets and away from you. Are you paying any of them yet?”

“Sister, it’s a documentary. No one gets paid,” Dwight says.

“What about you hiring some of the men off the street then? Give back to the community instead of taking?” She pokes her finger at Dwight now, the gold cross bouncing on the white blouse on her chest. Dwight backs away, and Paul can see that Dwight is intimidated by this small woman. Paul is ready to be attacked next, but she passes him over and goes straight for Trent.

“You sure you don’t want to come in?”

He shakes his head. “We’re not like these people.”

“Really now? And how do you figure that?” she asks, moving closer. Trent turns away from her and lights a cigarette as if she wasn’t there.

“Don’t you even think about blowing that smoke in my face,” she says, poking him. “You think you’re better than these people?”

“We’re not old toothless crazy drug addicts. We can take care of ourselves.”

“So then why aren’t you in Hollywood with all the other runaways? That’s where the youngsters are. You like the commute?”

“Maybe we just like the excitement of living downtown.”

Sister McGinty takes out a pen and a card and scribbles on the back. “If you don’t want to come here, there’s the Night Shelter in Hollywood. You’ll find a lot more people like you if you go there.” She hands him the card. “That’s the address, take it.”

Trent does, and the Sister walks back across the street.

Five minutes later Jodi emerges, and her snow-white face and shock white hair is a contrast to the crowd of black men she must push through to get to them.

“I’m clean, let’s go,” she mutters.

Back at the loft she opens the suitcase and takes off all her clothes, not caring who watches her. The tiny points of her breasts are the only curves in the taut white skin that stretches over her ribcage. Her pubic hair is a brown patch in a tiny triangle of white skin and jutting hip bones -- a contrast to the white bleached hair on her head. Lit by one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling she is more famine victim than centerfold. Victor and Paul glance at each other only once, but Jodi sees it and laughs.

“Let’s see you put this on TV,” she sneers, and flexes her biceps for the camera.

She puts on clean underwear, a t-shirt, a blue denim skirt, a clean pink shirt from the fat man’s suitcase, a beret over her spiked hair, tiny pink socks and Ilima’s white platform 70′s shoes. She grows four inches.

Trent hands her some lipstick and a broken hand mirror. “Go ahead, put it on.”

Jodi paints her lips, then makes a gagging noise. She almost looks like the all-American suburban girl that she’d buried long ago.

“You look so normal,” Duncan says.

“Fuck it,” she says, “let’s go make some money. I want me some new shoes.”

Trent and Jodi heads for the door, but when Duncan try to follow them Trent stops him. “Stay here and take care of Ilima,” Trent says. “We’ll only be gone a few hours.” Duncan nods and sits back down.

A mad buzzing comes through Victor’s headset. He pauses to listen, then motions for Paul to follow him. They dash back down the hall and scramble down the creaky fire escape, where Dwight waits with a small digital video camera.

“Paul -- stay here and cover Duncan and Ilima with the small DV. I’ll take your audio gear and follow Trent and Jodi to the pawnshop.”

“I’m the only one allowed to use this gear.”

“I’m the director, and I say it’s fine,” Dwight says.

“The insurance policy only covers me,” Paul says. “If you mess it up I’m responsible for fixing it.”

“I know how to run an audio rig,” Dwight says.

“Why can’t you cover Duncan and Ilima while Victor and I do the pawnshop?”

“Because I’m the director and that’s not what I want. Now give me your rig.” Paul pauses. If he wanted something from Dwight -- to borrow the camera to shoot something for his film, for instance -- Dwight would never give it to him. That’s because even after six weeks of shooting, Dwight still doesn’t trust him and probably never will, yet he still insists that Paul trust him without question.

What the hell, Paul thinks. There are only ten hours left of shooting and Big Andy has made his money back on his rig at least ten times over. By this point, Paul is so sick of Dwight and Victor and their condescending attitudes, and most of all he’s sick of carrying around a stupid audio rig. He can have it for a few hours.

He unclips the mixer and bag from his harness, then unzips his bag and pulls out a thick shoulder strap which he clips on. He then hands the rig, headphones and the boom pole to Dwight, who slaps the money into his hand, along with the tiny DV camera.

Trent and Jodi walk by. Dwight heaves the rig onto his shoulder, picks up the boom pole, slides his headphones into place, and he and Victor dash after them. Paul stares at the camera in his hand. Should he do this? Why not? He heads back up the fire escape, twenty pounds lighter.

Paul stops in the doorway of the main room. Duncan paces like a bored tiger in a cage. Paul clicks the camera on. Duncan hears the noise and stops.

“Where’s everybody else?”

“They’re following Trent and Jodi. Just keep acting normal.”

Duncan laughs. “Okay, I’ll just keep acting normal.” He goes back to pacing. “How’s this? Does this look normal?”

Paul moves in close for a tight shot, but Duncan grabs the camera away.

“Come on, Duncan. Give it back.”

Duncan holds the camera up to his eye and hits the record button, then walks forward until he is just an inch away from Paul’s nose.

“It’s your turn now,” Duncan whispers. “Go ahead, just act normal.”

Paul doesn’t try grabbing the camera back. Instead, he walks over to the window where the setting sun will silhouette him. Duncan follows him, shooting the whole time – until the brightness of the background changes so much he stops shooting.

“The iris ring is on the front. Just turn it a little and the background won’t be so bright. Or see on the back? There’s a green switch for ‘automatic.’ Turn that on and the camera automatically adjusts everything.”

Duncan finds the switch and is pleased with the results.

“You can move to the side and try to make the light work for you too,” Paul says. Instead Duncan swings low and shoots Paul from below.

“Do you like being filmed?”

“It’s tape, not film. And no, I don’t like it.”

“Now you know how it feels,” Duncan smiles.

“Except you love being taped,” Paul says.

“Yeah? How do you figure that?” Duncan asks.

“You always know where the camera is. You wait for the camera to swing around and land on you before you say anything. And you always know where the best light is.”

Duncan smiles and lets the camera drop. “And I can tell that you hate Dwight and Victor, and they hate you. Right, Paul?”

Paul doesn’t answer. He reaches for the camera, but Duncan won’t let go.

“Why don’t you go check on Ilima?” Paul asks. “I’ll shoot it. That’s something you want on tape, isn’t it?”

Duncan stares at him for a long time, then releases the camera.

Paul takes it back and starts shooting. Duncan walks to Ilima’s room and peeks in. It’s dark inside, so Paul motions to Duncan to light some candles. Duncan goes around the room, slowly lighting candle after candle, letting Paul move in for each shot. The finished room full of lit candles makes for a wonderful shot. Duncan kneels on the floor next to the dirty mattress and touches Ilima’s face.

This shot is fantastic, Paul thinks to himself. He feels his stomach leap and turn at the same time. It is a fantastic shot, and it looks good because he directed it, even suggesting that Duncan go visit Ilima and then light the candles. However, it’s not the natural “fly-on-the-wall” footage that Dwight wants. Good as it might be, Paul is only getting the shot because he crossed Dwight’s purity line, so Dwight will never use it.

Duncan sits next to Ilima on the bed and strokes her sweaty face. Duncan finds a t-shirt and dabs up the perspiration, holding a candle to give Paul even more light to shoot. Ilima opens her eyes and smiles.

“Can I have some water?”

Duncan leaves and comes back with water while Paul keeps shooting. She sits up and sips from a cup, then coughs. Duncan holds the shirt under her chin as she spits up a green grey chunk of phlegm.

“Yuck. You’re really sick.”

“At least I’m losing weight, right?” she laughs.

“You should change your clothes, you’re all wet,” Duncan says. He digs through her pile and comes back with a sweatshirt. He pulls her shirt off, along with the yellow bikini top she uses as a bra, letting her breasts flop free. Ilima is too drained to object and just allows Duncan to dress her.

“Wow, you must be sick. Usually you’d slap me about now.”

He gives her another sip of water then tucks her back under the covers. Paul moves in for the tight shot. He starts on a close-up of Duncan, who leans down and kisses Ilima on the forehead. Paul tilts down and ends up a close-up of Ilima smiling wanly. “I think I’m ready to go to the hospital now. I want a real hospital room, with TV and Jell-O.”

“I’ll tell Trent when he gets back,” Duncan says.

“I can’t wait. Besides, he’ll say ‘no.’ You can take me, can’t you?”

“We don’t have any money to pay. Trent says they’ll just give you pills and make you go away.”

Paul remembers the two thousand dollars in his pocket. Ilima is sick enough that they’ll give her a hospital room, even if they are destitute. They might have to pay a little money, but not much, and these kids don’t know that. If Duncan doesn’t do anything, Ilima might die of pneumonia like Jim Henson, the guy who created the Muppets, who had keeled over after being a lot less sick. This is also Paul’s last day, and he knows that Dwight and Victor won’t do anything to help her. It’s him, or nobody.

Paul puts the camera down, and goes into the main room and retrieves the old suitcase. He pulls out the two thousand dollars from his front pocket, kicks open the suitcase and puts the cash in the zippered silk corner pocket.

When he turns back around, Duncan is watching him. “There’s two thousand dollars in there, for you and Ilima, Trent and Jodi. That’s enough to take Ilima to the hospital, and enough to help everybody change their lives. It’s yours, so take it. Then show it to Ilima and tell her what I just told you. Then take her to the hospital.”

Duncan nods. Paul picks up his camera, and Duncan does precisely what he was told. Paul shoots him unzipping the pouch and taking out the wad of money. He then goes back to Ilima and shows her the cash. “This is two thousand dollars, for you and me. That’s enough to take you to the hospital, and enough to help everybody change their lives.”

Ilima smiles and touches his face. A tear rolls down her cheek.

After Paul grabs the close-up of the tear, he backs up for the wide shot. Duncan scoops her up off the dirty mattress, blanket and all. Paul backpedals out of the room as Duncan walks towards him, carrying Ilima like a rag doll. They follow Paul down the hall and out the window, then down the fire escape and out into the street.

“Don’t get too far ahead, this microphone isn’t any good past a few feet,” Paul whispers. Duncan barely nods with his chin held high and his eyes forward. He looks heroic. They walk two blocks to a pay phone. Duncan kneels on one knee, rests Ilima on the other, then reaches up for the receiver and dials 911.

“I need an ambulance. My best friend is sick,” he says, and looks down at her. She gazes back up at him with adoration. Paul captures it all on tape.

The ambulance arrives in eight minutes with sirens blaring. Ilima faints as Duncan lifts her back into his arms. He holds her out to the paramedics rushing to meet them. One checks her temperature and takes her pulse while the other asks questions.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s been sick for a long time. She’s coughing up blood,” Duncan says.

Paul keeps shooting, always circling, moving in closer, ending on a tight shot of Ilima’s face as they lay her head down on the emergency gurney.

“Pulse is 160 and thin,” one paramedic says.

“Pupils are dilated, labored breathing – she’s got an obstruction in her lungs, or that’s one hell of an infection.”

“Radio it in.”

They push the gurney into the ambulance, Duncan jumps in, the doors shut, and the paramedics are back in their cab before Paul can even think to ask to ride along.

“There’s no room. She’ll be in St. Luke’s Emergency,” the driver says.

The ambulance takes off. Paul rests on the shot of the receding ambulance, sirens blaring, letting it get smaller in the frame, until it rounds the corner and disappears.

Paul shuts the camera off and looks around. The street is empty. Dwight and Victor are still out following Jodi and Trent selling jewelry and buying shoes. After five weeks of working eighteen hours a day, here he is on his last day of shooting with three hours left on his schedule and absolutely nothing to do.

Paul thinks about leaving. His job is done and his last paycheck will be in the mail on Friday. He wants to leave the camera in the kids’ main room in the vats and just go, but Dwight had taken the audio rig.

Paul walks back to the brewery and sits down next to the panel van. He wants to wait in the van on Victor’s cot, but he doesn’t have keys. He sits on the curb and ejects the tape from the camera. He looks at it and wonders whether he should rewind and erase the beginning of it, where he breaks the rules and talks to Duncan.

Screw it, he thinks. Let him see it.

Two hours later, he spots Trent and Jodi coming around the corner with Victor and Dwight trailing after them. From this distance, he can see how absurd the whole arrangement is – two homeless kids walking along while one guy with a $50,000 camera creeps alongside and another guy extends what looks like furry roadkill on a stick over their heads. There is nothing real about any of it.

As they got closer he can see that Jodi wears brand new red boots, and she has already scuffed them up as best she could. Victor gets a low tracking shot of the kids as they come around the corner of the building. Victor and Dwight spot Paul and stop.

“Where are Duncan and Ilima?”

“Duncan took Ilima to the hospital. The ambulance picked them up two hours ago. But don’t worry, I got the whole thing on the DV camera.”

Dwight’s face turns purple. He takes Big Andy’s audio rig off his shoulder and throws it against the curb, then snaps the $800 boom handle across his knee.

“That’s for the camera. Now we’re even.” Dwight says.

Victor looks at Dwight, then looks at the damaged rig and knows he’ll end up paying for it. He hands the DV camera back to Dwight.

“I only have an hour left, so I’ll leave early. You can send me Jodi and Trent’s microphones later. Nice working with you guys.”

Paul collapses the pieces of the broken boom pole as best he can, then picks up the damaged rig and heads off down the street. He expects Dwight or Victor to come chasing after him, either to apologize and or to attack him, but they don’t.

They’ll chase me eventually, he thinks. Because now he has something they all want to see. He has the DV tape of the ending of the documentary that Joel wants so badly. He turns the corner, stops, and pulls the small digital videotape from his pocket. He holds it up to the setting sun. He didn’t know where this tape would lead him, but he’s moving into uncharted territory.

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