Jonathan Penton



Now I am writing a book. I am not waiting until I land in El Paso. This is my book, and this is the third page, if single-spaced. I can double-space it later. I love computers.

There. I smoked the grass. I can now begin this book anew in what is hopefully a less self-pitying direction.

My screen saver came on. That means I was away from the computer for 14 minutes. Intolerable. I shall sip my coffee from my HONORARY CAJUN mug. Part of what made the grass-smoking take so long is that after every couple of puffs I would peer out the window to see if Pablo was coming with more grass, which, of course, he is not. I will not play solitaire on my computer, for I must stay focused on my writing. I am hungry. I must be cautious of trips to the kitchen, for in my current state of impairment, I might never safely return.

I went to the kitchen. I never made it back. That's OK. Today is a new day, or rather, tonight is a new night, after an inexplicably tiring day. I am not accustomed to being so exhausted after so little activity. But, I have my HONORARY CAJUN mug and my spot on the couch. I am ready to go. Today, I am trying to decide whether I write better in silence or while listening to classical radio.

One of the most disturbing realizations of my recent life is when I realized that women are more, in regards to their sexual drive, superficial than men. Of course, a word must be said about sweeping stereotypes. Obviously, when you separate the entire human race into two groups of 51% of the population and 49% of the population, you cannot make very clear, precise, or consistent statements. It would be absurd and insane to pull one woman off the street, then pull one man off the street, and declare that the woman must be more superficial in sexual matters. One has no way of knowing that. At a one-on-one level, every stereotype – including the assumption that a man will have a penis and a woman, a vagina – breaks down. So when I discuss, here, the difference between men and women, my comments are completely useless in judging individual men and women, and anyone who attempts to use them in such a manner is a fool. Still, I believe that if you take a million American women and a million American men, you will discover that the women are, as a group, more superficial in their sexual longings. (It is lovely to make assertions about experiments that could never take place, no?)

One fine Saturday night I grew bored and decided to give Pablo a call, to see if he had entertaining plans. In fact, he was attending a script reading, hosted by his screenwriter friend, Stella. Stella knew me, although not well, and when I got Pablo on the phone, they decided I should attend the script reading.

Forgive me if I'm insulting your education, but not everyone I've encountered knows what a script reading is. A screenwriter has an infinitely trickier job than a writer of prose, for a screenwriter must create something that not only leaps off the page to such a degree that a corporation will want to spend millions of dollars making it into a movie, but she is writing something that only reaches its full potential when being read by a bevy of other people, who are, of course, acting. A script reading is designed to assist the screenwriter in the horrifying process of making his or her work something that will grab an executive's eye. The screenwriter hosts a party, hopefully with good food and liquor (Stella tried to serve me white zinfandel, along with a host of less ludicrous cheap wines), and has each partygoer read a part from her script. This is supposed to give the screenwriter a better idea of how her ideas will appear on the screen. At the end of the reading, the actors/readers/partygoers offer the screenwriter what is hopefully both candid and constructive feedback regarding her opus.

So I was belatedly invited to the script reading, and left my aunt's house for Stella's apartment. The drive was long, and I arrived when the partygoers were giving themselves an intermission, between the first and the second, final act of the script. Stella kindly offered me good food and the aforementioned bad wine. I met the other readers. Pablo and Stella I of course knew, and I also knew the middle-aged lesbian couple who were involved in theatre and art and said they knew Terrace Stamp. Lisa and Mary, they were called. Lisa was notable for her warm disposition and enthusiasm about meeting new people; Mary was notable for her mood swings and frankness. I consider all four of these traits virtues. As a unit, they were most notable for their pretending to be heterosexual, which is outrageous both because of the lesbian-friendly political climate of the time and place, and because they couldn't fool a Yankee in a Taiwanese whorehouse.

Also in the party was Marcus, an extremely effeminate black man and his extremely butch white wife, Sarah. (I don't know, so don't ask.) There was another couple there who left early and whose names I don't remember, and Stella's good friend, Johnson.

Johnson had a lot of stories about working as an independent filmmaker, many of which were implausible. He told one story about his urban film, Shockwave, which had something to do with, I dunno, urban shit. Anyway, he tried to market it, after it was finished, to a mainstream executive at a major company, hoping she would distribute it. We'll call the executive Dolores Haze.

He began by calling Ms. Haze's company and asking for the receptionist's name, then to be transferred to Haze's office. He was, and voicemail answered. He then called the receptionist back and said that he got disconnected, could he have Ms. Haze's cellphone number? The receptionist gave him the number, which, presumably, the receptionist was not supposed to do.

Johnson then allegedly drove to Ms. Haze's building and found the receptionist he had spoken to on the phone. He had a VHS copy of his movie, and demanded the receptionist put it on Ms. Haze's desk. The receptionist refused. "Here's the deal," said Johnson. "Earlier today, you gave me Haze's cellphone number. I have no business having this number, and if you don't put the tape on her desk, I will call her over and over complaining about how you gave it to me. I will make it totally impossible for her to work, and make sure she knows you were responsible." So the receptionist agreed to put the tape on Haze's desk, after Johnson promised to destroy Haze's number immediately, and never tell her of the receptionist's misdeeds.

Later, Ms. Haze called Johnson (his number was presumably attached to the tape), and said, "How the fuck did your movie get on my desk?"

For, dear reader, when a fictional character in a fictional book tells a bullshit story about his imaginary movie and the nonexistent executive that rejected it, you can be sure that the executive will speak in expletives.

"If I tell you, will you watch it?" Johnson asked.

"If you don't tell me, I won't watch it."

"But if I tell you, will you watch it?"

"Yes, if you tell me, I'll watch it. If you don't tell me, it's going in the trash right now."

So Johnson told her the whole story, giving her the receptionist's name, and Haze watched the movie.

"What did she say about it?" I asked, as the script party was breaking up and Pablo was attempting to extricate himself from Johnson's ramblings.

"Oh, she said that it was interesting and edgy, but she didn't buy it. She said that if it was a little less depressing, or if it had any sort of celebrity at all, anyone, that she would have bought it."

"Ah," I said.

Johnson also had plans for the future. He spoke at great length about Wil-Mart, and the Beyond Armageddon series.

"Are you familiar with the Beyond Armageddon series?" he asked me.

"Yes," I replied, truthfully.

"Well, it's a series of books by pastor Andrew Levay detailing, from a fundamentalist Christian perspective, what will happen after the Rapture, when all the Christians are called up to heaven, in the final days of the Earth."

"I know," I replied, equally truthfully.

"Well, did you know there was a movie?"


"Did you know it starred former sit-com heartthrob Kurt Cremeal?"


"Did you know it was distributed exclusively by Wil-Mart?"

"I did not." So far, I had not lied to him.

"No theatrical release. No mucking around with a distribution house; secular, mainstream, or anything else. But more importantly: no one but Wil-Mart sharing in the profits. Andrew Levay made that movie dirt cheap, and only Wil-Mart takes a cut from retail sales. He gets a phenomenally high percentage from every tape sold."


"And they're selling, man. He knows his market…"

"Yeah, I know a lot of people buy those books."

"You're damn right they do. And everyone who buys the books buys the movie. They all buy it from Wil-Mart: there's one in every town! And Levay makes hard cash, cash that he would never make if he worked with one of the big video chains, or a major distributor."

"That sounds interesting," I said, sincerely. He had not yet told me the Haze story, so I had no reason to question his honesty.

"So I'm thinking: this is the perfect plan. Make a family-friendly movie – that's the kind you got to sell to Wil-Mart, you understand – and get Wil-Mart to carry it. Build them some displays. If it doesn't sell, you aren't in very much debt, just the cost of the movie and the tapes you made for Wil-Mart, and there's no limit to how many you can sell. If your displays are good, and the movie is good, you can tap into a huge market of Wil-Mart shoppers who automatically go to Wil-Mart for all their entertainment needs.

"That could work," I said, and meant it. At this point, I really should have thought to mention, "I would rather have all of my ball hairs ripped out than work on a family-friendly film," but I didn't think of it, because his enthusiasm was infectious, and I saw no reason he shouldn't succeed.

"Do you know who Jim Johanson is?"


"He played Sal Urkett on that TV sitcom."

"Ah, yes," I said, my disgust unable to conceal itself at that point. Sal Urkett was a comical nerd, the type of character on the type of show that presents smart people as socially inept losers, worthy of ridicule and scorn.

"Well, he's a devout Christian and athlete, who owns a home outside of Atlanta. We could get him to star!"

Tonight I'm drinking a sparkling wine product that cost me $3.69 a bottle. It's only 6% alcohol. I'm right on the edge of a neighborhood which has 24-hour liquor sales, and another neighborhood that stops selling liquor at 11:45. I have a good bit of sparkling wine product left, but I'm not entirely sure I'll have enough to last me the night, especially if I stay up writing very late. I'm not sure how far I'll have to walk to get to the part of town with 24-hour liquor sales, and it's rather cold out, and I rather don't feel like walking. I could leave now for more alcohol, although I probably won't consume it. I'm making good progress with this part of the book, anyway, so I suppose I should just stay where I'm at.

Anyway, the script reading. The script was an unbearable romantic comedy called The Question of Wrist Movement. The second half of this movie, which I had the misfortune of reading from, featured a venal, easily irritated woman (who we were, I believe, supposed to identify with) as she flicked from adoration and rage and back again very quickly regarding a local celebrity who appeared to be semi-interested in dating her. There were happy points in this relationship, in which the celebrity made bad gay jokes and they rode around on rickshaws (the story was set in Savannah, Georgia). There were bad points in the relationship, in which the man showed up two hours late for a party and the woman became furious (odd, because in my experiences in the South, being two hours late to a social event means you're one of the first to arrive). Fortunately, the man was there with an excuse that wouldn't be believed by a heterosexual Lisa and Mary. Incredibly, not only did the protagonist believe him, but so did the screenwriter – and the audience was clearly intended to believe him, too. At the end of the movie, the celebrity decided that he wanted to make the woman happy by marrying her and impregnating her repeatedly. I am uncertain as to why Stella found such an ending either romantic or comic.

The first half of the script, according to the others in the room, featured a series of flashbacks, in which the protagonist told about all her previous, horrible relationships up until this point, her career as a bookstore owner is established, and she meets the celebrity, who is a combination news anchor and children's writer. (I don't know, so don't ask.)

After the reading, there was an uncomfortable silence, and one couple made their escape as the rest of us tried to determine what to say. The script was god-awful-horrendous, and everyone wanted to beat Stella to a deserving pulp, but all of us knew how hard it was to write and wanted to be constructive. We sat around awkwardly, while Stella answered a well-timed phone call. Mary began the honesty with,

"This was a chick flick. I don't like chick flicks. I like horror, and suspense."

You know, I don't know who originated the term "chick flick." But only the movie-reviewing industry could get away with the blatant sexism and anti-humanistic implications the term presents. First off, it divides men and women in terms of artistic appreciation. It applies a derogatory term to the women, reinforced with a bad rhyme (bad rhymes are offensive in and of themselves) and proceeds to slam all movies women might enjoy, because they enjoy them. It's the most circular of descriptions: chick flicks are bad because they are marketed towards women and they must be marketed towards women because women have no taste and we know this movie is marketed towards women because we don't like it. Journalists are as sexist as chemists, and chemists are sexist quietly, off in their little world, where I don't have to know about it. I'm exposed to the sexism of journalists constantly.

Last night, I was hanging out with Pablo and his fiancé, Carmen. That was a horrific experience of its own sort, but I can talk about that later, if I wish. We were watching the latest Adrian Lun movie. Pablo and I watched it with growing disdain, and Carmen watched it with a great deal of enjoyment. Finally, Pablo said, "This must be a chick flick."

"I thought chick flicks were serious, heavy, emotional romances, like The English Patient, Carrington, and Washington Square," I said.

"No, those movies were made for big old fags, like us," said Pablo.

"Oh," I said, and thought for a little while. I then concluded, "We fags must be a lot smarter than chicks."

I, dear reader, am a product of society. If society decides that my mannerisms and cultivated tastes make me a fag, then I have little choice but to fuck men up the ass. If society decided that bad movies are for women, I have little choice but to hate women. The greatest Western social reformists have always used satire as a means of expressing why society must change. Since this book is about my life, and my life is all about me, then if I want this book to express why society must change, I must become a satirical example of the worst society has to offer. Making sexist comments while watching videos isn't going to cut it. To finish this book, I must start killing women.