people drive fast/people drink deep/people smoke weed/people skip sleep
"Pimpin'. Ain't. Easy," she said. "And neither is this." The wintry air was beginning to penetrate the layers of sweaters she'd told me to wear under my wool overcoat. She plastered a bright white smile onto her face and turned toward the cameras. How did she stand there for so long, just smiling in her thin sweater and puffer vest? It was a cheerful Hollywood knockoff of a winter ensemble, the kind that looks perfect but doesn't have the wherewithal to block out the cold. A sympathy shiver shuddered down my limbs as I thought about how many more takes they might need to do before they let her go inside.
A man wearing headphones as big as his head started waving his arms and cursing at the wind, which was whipping through the trees. "Take ten," the director said, his voice at once authoritative and defeated. "Let the wind die down." It took less than fifteen seconds to clear out the set as people bolted for the little cabin. Inside, craft services had laid out a few snacks and what seemed like one hot beverage urn per person.
"Is it always like this?" I asked her. She smiled again, handing me a styrofoam cup of steaming brown liquid. I wasn't sure whether it was coffee, tea, or cocoa, but at least it was hot.
"It's not always so cold," she said. "But I wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world." She smiled again, a couple of smiles in rapid succession. I think she was testing her face for thawing. After sipping in silence for a few minutes, I felt the hot drink start to work its magic, warming me from the inside. She looked at her watch and caught someone's eye across the room. Then she said, "Well, I guess I'd trade outdoor commercials in New York for outdoor commercials in California. But when I get out there again I'm going to look like I love it. All of it. And I won't even be acting."
I thought about her while I was driving back home later that night, the window rolled all the way down to accommodate my chainsmoking. The cold slapped my bare hand until it was numb, but it was easier to mark time in cigarettes when I drove long distances. I stubbornly squeezed each filter between my fingers until the smokeable part burned itself out. Three-pack trips always went faster with the window down and my foot pressed firmly to the floor.
We were friends from when I first knew she'd be an actress and she first knew I'd be a n'er-do-well, which was shortly after we entered the third grade. I spent a lot of that year indoors at recess, always writing about how I could work to be a better person until the teacher was satisfied that I'd "learned a valuable lesson about myself." She spent a lot of time indoors at recess too, acting like she had migraines or something so they wouldn't make her stand outside where the popular girls could taunt her.
"They're jealous of you," I'd said once. A kid who spends a lot of recesses forced to think about how to be a better person learns some interesting things about human nature, even though all I thought I'd learned was better penmanship.
"You're on crack," she'd said. That was a very popular thing to say at the time, despite the fact that most of those sheltered, suburban third-graders didn't actually know what crack was.
"No," I'd said. "You're cute, like a kid in a commercial. And you always seem to get what you want."
"I guess that's true," she'd said. "I'm inside, right? Maybe they are jealous." And that was how I found myself, 20 years later, speeding down I-95 once or twice a month and burning through gallons of gas and cartons of cigarettes like someone who could afford either luxury.
I knew that my roommate (another n'er-do-well) would be passed out on the couch when I got back. He'd have spent the evening smoking a bowl and eating ramen on Doritos, which is pretty much only appealing after smoking a bowl, at which point, it's the best food on earth. He went to med school but dropped out to be a full-time bartender--"The hours are about as grueling, but you get free booze and it's rare for anyone to die during your shift," he'd said--and just spent the rest of the time going to rock shows and playing video games. He paid the lion's share of the rent, though, which allowed me to use my meager freelancing income to drive back and forth to New York. So even though he was kind of an asshole, I never told him that to his face. It was a sweet situation, most things considered.
If I were to consider all things--like the fact that she isn't my girlfriend, and the fact that she will never be my girlfriend, and the fact that I couldn't hack it in New York as a writer, which is why I have to live in Richmond with my asshole roommate--the big picture would be a bit less sweet. Let's just say I try to think about this as little as possible.