From LAKE EFFECT:
We went back to my house, sat around the attic, and listened to our
records. In the summer, the floor creaked and the wind blew. Sometimes,
as Jamie talked about the meaning of some obscure verse, I would record
him on video tape. (I had borrowed the camera from C. C. Durst, a tough
fireplug of a kid, and returned it years later when it broke.) Onscreen,
Jamie looked like a second-tier movie star, the vehicle of a late night
mystery. I featured him in a movie called The Humiliator, in which he
played a white-collar bully. In the course of the action, I am paid to
humiliate him and do so with nothing but a cup of lukewarm water and
impeccable timing. I used Jamie in Cross Now, based on Apocalypse Now,
in which Jamie, once a promising young crossing guard, has gone wild in
the forest, giving people bad directions and crossing them into the very
teeth of traffic. In the last scene, I terminate Jamie's command. And
then The Embarrasser, a sequel to The Humiliator, in which Jamie and I
humiliate the Embarrasser. I am especially proud of the training
Just when I thought I couldn't bear the torture of high school another week, I found Rich and Mark. It wasn't that I found them for the first time. We all grew up in the affluent, slightly sanitized suburb of Glencoe, Illinois on Chicago's North Shore and I had known them since grade school. But our sophomore year in high school we gravitated to each other: a few Glencoe kids hoping there was something more to life than the painful and trite/ubiquitous high school preoccupation with fitting in and being popular.
We started hanging out together on a daily basis. Rich was our ideas man: he always had plans of what to do each day. This was refreshing for me, as I found it hard to fill my suburban days with anything other than the usual sporting and school activities.
When we first borrowed the video camera from Josh Everette for the day, we didn't know we wouldn't return it for over two years, and in much worse condition than when we received it. Our homemade movies started with the single unorganized premise to film a trip into downtown Glencoe -- "Our Trip to Town." It was Rich's idea to borrow the camera in the first place and then to take the camera to downtown Glencoe and start bothering people, while capturing it all on film. While maybe not the most original idea, we made this first movie in the mid '80s, well before the advent of America's Funniest Home Videos or even the widespread use of personal video cameras. The camera was huge, heavy, and unwieldy. It took full-size VHS tapes and it took about two full seconds to engage once you hit the record button. Needless to say that caused a number of retakes.
"Our Trip to Town" was received with mixed reviews from our friends and families. Getting kicked out of the Glencoe bakery was probably the best scene, after Mark ordered one of everything and the lady behind the counter started filling the order. When he told her he was kidding, she said, "Out. Get out. I said out," while the other customers complained about "kids these days."
The plots progressively became more complex, as did the acting. Probably our most developed movie was "Cross Now," which was based on Apocalypse Now. The plot was about a crossing guard who "went crazy up river." Rich has always had a flair for the absurd.
I was probably the best actor in the group. For the good of our movies, I would eat my pride and play the dork character, of which there always was one in our films. Being cool was such a preoccupation of high school that contrasting it against an uncool character was a reoccurring theme in all our movies. Maybe Rich was trying to tell me something, or maybe since I acted the part well I was type-cast, or maybe Rich and Mark's egos were too fragile compared to mine to play such a part, but either way I was always the dorky character.
The hardest acting job I had was taking shit from Ernie Gross in the movie "Humiliator2", as I had to play the role of his chauffeur whom he abused. His character was the "Embarraser," who had come to town to displace the Humiliator, who was played by Rich. The Embarraser, a new competitor in town, was out-doing the Humilator at this his own business (hired guns who would humiliate or embarrass their Client's chosen target for a price).
In a scene I'll never forget, to prove Ernie's prowess at his craft, he humiliates me in front of Sara Jones, my real-world girlfriend at the time. The irony was I was taking crap from Ernie, who wasn't particularly cool and was only involved in our movies in a cursory way, just as a body we needed, and he was giving ME shit, in front of MY girlfriend, while Sara was falling over him in adoration (I might add she seemed to enjoy the scene immensely). I was so humiliated both on screen and for real that it still makes me cringe.
Although the best looking actor of our crew, Mark was usually involved in a supporting role in the movies, and was usually found the behind-the-scenes as the camera man-director. He liked doing behind-the-scenes work and making cameo appearances.
While the movies were not slick productions, they seemed to have an attraction for people. It was their raw fun and the play on universal themes and cliches that made people ignore the awful picture quality and appreciate the "garage band" style of the movies. By our senior year in high school, Cross Now was actually circulated around our high school, and we would show up at parties where it had played earlier and be adored as true movie stars. As luck would have it, we were now the popular guys.