When I was in 9th grade, my class was assigned a diorama project on books we recently read. I chose Norton Juster’s "The Phantom Tollbooth," a short novel about a middle school-aged boy who, apathetic about learning, is thrust into an odd world full of punny, learnable moments. It features characters like a spelling bee (a bee that insisted on spelling everything after saying it), along with a watch dog (who was a loyal dog with a large ticking clock inside him).
As most of the class created shoe boxes of cardboard or clay characters and scenes from their chosen books, I decided to take it a few steps further. When I got to class my diorama was a giant present with no opening or scene to show. Upon presenting it to the class, I hit the top of the box and the side of it popped open. There, a small scene (smaller than the full size of the box) displayed the protagonist finding a giant present in his living room (the tollbooth). It was the first of many scenes I had re-created. Inside the large diorama were a few turntables, there were scenes on the other side of walls and each of these walls could be lifted to reveal more scenes behind them. It felt like magic.
My grade for the project was 125 -- a bonus 25 points for all the efforts I had done. I realized at that moment that people love a great presentation and that I could be rewarded both in praise and admiration, qualities I lacked as a socially awkward kid in middle school.
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I met a distant relative when I was 12 years old. This was the sort of relative you meet on a road trip once and have a great, fulfilling memory of but most likely never see again. He did a few magic tricks for me that I'm sure he had learned when he was 12. (He was easily in his early 70s when I met him). The tricks were so incredible that at that moment I was sure it was real magic. I knew I had to learn them, and he graciously shared his secrets. They involved making things in your hand disappear: one was a quarter; the other a playing card.
From that day forward, I continued to hone these two tricks. I would practice for hours on end the quick sleight of hand and dexterous finger slipping and tipping needed to create the illusion so gracefully handled by the him. Around this time, I had been obsessed with David Copperfield and would hungrily consume his television specials, eyes wide in naive wonder. These were the first two tricks that made me feel like a real magician. I had always wanted to be a magician and loved the presentation of magic and mystery. The problem that arose was that my patience for careful study could never outlast my insistence on receiving praise and admiration.
I was also never comfortable being in the spotlight. The idea of "performing" was always outright terrifying. Learning lines as an actor or performing some quirky patter (as magicians do) became more and more unlikely as I grew up and became more self-conscious about my growing attraction to men and my inability to make lasting friendships.
A few weeks later, I was practicing making a card disappear in my hand while waiting for a movie to start. A small boy behind me leaned over, wowed by one of the quick flicks of the card. One moment it was there, the next it disappeared. He quickly wanted to see it again, and his eagerness and admiration was intoxicating, so I obliged. I performed the trick again, this time not as nimbly, and he instantly saw the ruse. Leaning back into his seat he said that it was "just behind your hand."
This moment hurt. I had been practicing this trick for what felt like ages, and I completely ruined it. It was the beginning of the end to career as a magician.
* * *
My mom used to work in a video store back in the early days of VHS. She used to bring home videos and tape them onto blank VHS tapes off her VCR. It was a tradition that didn't stop, even long after she stopped working at the video store. By the time I left home, my mom had amassed more than 3000 films, taping three or four moves per tape. When DVDs began to become popular, she would raid the Wal-Mart $5 bin and take home 5-10 movies. And when Blockbuster went out of business, her movie collection grew even more (DVDs went on sale for $1). Movies have always been a big part of my growing up.
One of the chores a hated doing was mowing the lawn. Not the actual mowing part, which was no picnic in itself, but dealing with the piles and piles of wet, soggy, heavy grass. Raking and piling them into plastic bags and hauling them over to the sidewalk to be picked up on another day was brutal. To this day, the idea of owning a lawn sounds awful. On one particularly hot day, I had to mow the lawn after school. It was a Friday evening and there wasn't much going on. My Dad was in Haiti at the time (he was in the Army and was deployed there for a tour). My sister, who is six years younger than me, had been put to bed, and my Mom invited me to watch a movie. At the time, she was making homemade hot fudge and we sat down with ice cream sundaes while watching Carrie.
One of the opening scenes of Carrie is shot in a girl’s locker room with full frontal nudity. On this occasion, unlike in the past, I wasn’t told to turn my head. For the first time, I wasn’t treated like a son who should be sheltered from adult things. Instead, I was allowed to be an adult, or at least how I imagined being adult would be. My relationship with my Mom growing up wasn’t very easy, but it was at this moment -- watching a bunch of girls shower naked -- that I felt respected by her. I could handle being an adult. It wasn’t until later in life that we grew closer together, but until then movies became our sort of unspoken relationship. Watching a movie together was a way of showing that we were alright.
* * *
I was at work late in November of 2007, about a year after moving to Los Angeles. It was a new job as a production coordinator on a reality show that was shooting down in Long Beach. Being about a 45 minute drive to work, this gave me an excuse to carpool with a workplace crush. On our way home for the long Thanksgiving weekend, he asked me out for drinks. Being naive, I took this as a friendly get together and agreed. It turned out that he too was attracted to me and so began a new relationship. It was a surreal experience for me since most workplace (or college crushes) turned out to be straight guys. This was the opposite and quite nice.
Somehow, this wasn’t the most surreal and amazing thing that happened that week. Days before, I had gotten a phone call with news that a short I had written and directed had just been accepted into the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Life was no greater than at this moment. The festival and my new partner in crime were all a guy could ask for and made for one of the best opening months of the year, and February started out pretty solid as well.
Then on February 28th, 2008, I tested positive for HIV.
* * *
This site is a place for me to memorialize the things I’ve done, the work I’ve accomplished, the occasional thoughts I’ve had, and to simply compartmentalize a life led. It involves game design, filmmaking, and writings.
Please: pursue, peruse, enjoy.
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