My Grumpy Subconscious
My office overlooks the street in front of my condo. I enjoy watching people pass while I work - mostly. When the words are tough to come by, nothing amuses me, period. I growl at everything. Tweeting birds hear it from me for being too damned loud; garbage collectors (why do we need seven on every block) must think I’m certifiable since I’m standing in front of my glass doors screeching at them or the gardeners with those insanely irritating leaf blowers.
Being a typical, open Eastside Costa Mesa neighborhood, there are no street walls so the endless parade of humanity is available to me: new mothers walking off baby weight, joggers, people with dogs of all shapes and sizes, and kids heading to and fro on mysterious journeys.
Three young skateboarders and their girl pal - all about thirteen - came by yesterday. They all had that wild, windblown look of kids on a mission to get into trouble or find something they could illicitly claim as their own. Sure enough, one of the intrepid explorers focused like a heat-seeking missile on a packing/moving box that a neighbor had dropped for trash. Being a clothing box, it was long, thinnish and had a metal bar for hanging clothing inside. I inwardly groaned thinking I knew what was coming next.
As predicted, one of the boys quickly decided that the box needed its ass kicked - or so I thought - and set to it. The one with the metal support began beating it and I figured it was only a matter of moments until I had to go out there and do some crowd control in the form of “get the hell out of here, you freaking, little hoodlums.” Not only were they distracting me from the script I wasn’t writing, they were having fun - and I wasn’t.
Then, as I watched, their plan began to take shape and I saw what they were actually trying to accomplish.
Brilliant, I thought, as the form and function of it emerged. When the holes for the arms and face were sufficiently cut out using the crude hammer/hanger bar and they slipped it over the wild-haired towhead’s body the plan was complete - a skateboarding robot.
The boy in the box began to laugh hysterically when he realized he couldn't put his arms down so an adjustment was quickly made by beating the arms holes bigger. The cardboard simulacrum was now almost ready for its street shakedown.
Problem: The tape that had once held the box top closed was no good. The robot’s shape was lost every time said top popped open. My sliding door was cracked slightly so I could hear the discussion and the possible solutions which included heading to someone’s house for tape. But no one wanted to do that so the robot was probably going to be left abandoned and unfinished; the sad end of the glorius street theater they were in engaged in.
They all spun toward my opening front door and stared at my semi-grizzled face (no shaving that day). I had a scowl plastered on my face and a 'tude wrapped around my body. Two of them began backing away as I stepped toward them.
“What are you thinking?” I said, noting the nascent defiance in the leader’s eyes. He was already covering the girl slightly for her protection - this had all the makings of a pissing contest/turf war.
I took another step, brought my hand forward. Things were gonna get ugly. “You need good tape”, I said as I held up a roll of silver duct tape.
It took a few seconds for this fact to sink in - this guy, me, was an ally not an enemy. One of them smiled broadly, thrust his arms into the air and said, “YES! Finally! Someone who isn’t grumpy.” (I swear to God)
I had made four instant friends who were thrilled that I was helping to complete their mad dream of the skateboarding robot. “Someone has to take a picture,” I said. “I’m on it,” said their girl pal and then she thanked me for the tape - three times - gushingly - as did the others. I couldn’t have not smiled at that point if someone had had a gun to my head.
I honestly hadn’t been any happier than those few moments with these kids in quite a long time. The unadulterated (that word seems particularly fitting here) joy and gratitude in their faces transformed my day, my week - perhaps my year.
I taped the top of the robot with the boys surrounding and helping like a pit crew at NASCAR and then went to get my mail a few feet away. When I came back, they had the carboard box situated on the crazy volunteer and the two other boys stood proudly by him on either side while the young girl snapped a photo.
My mind snapped that same photo of the two boys hugging their robot skateboarder buddy while their girl pal acted as a support unit memorializing their triumph for all time. I only hope that the photo somehow survives to their adulthood where they can reminice about those glory days when a box in a driveway became a project that bonded them for an afternoon. Maybe they’ll even say, “Remember that old dude who had the tape and...” And I’ll be memorialized too.
The effect of all this distraction was I was able to sit and write - the temporary block had been broken.
I often wonder where my ideas come from. The past, I posit foggily. Now I’m a bit more informed. They come from everyday life - hourly, daily, weekly, life. So my takeaway on this - the world has some of the sweetest, unexpected moments you could never imagine. Just be open to them and they will come. And they will pay you in a coin that at some point can be cashed though your subconscious mind and directly into your work - or at the very least, provide a thoroughly pleasant distraction away from it.
THE SKATEBOARDING ROBOT (a work in progress)
EXT. STREET - DAY
THREE YOUNG BOYS and a YOUNG GIRL skatboard down a sidewalk in Southern California. Suddenly, one of them spots a carboard box and heads for it.