Let honor be to us as strong an obligation as necessity is to others.
- Pliny the Elder, Roman Naturalist (23-79 A.D.)
One of the best things that can ever happen to a person is to have life deal them a blow that leaves them totally and completely humbled . . . humbled and left stripped of all ego.
I’m not a religious guy, but I can only imagine what an asshole I’d probably be if the reminder weren’t constantly imposed upon me of the debt I owed to God, and how any talents that I may have made use and all the adoring praise I may have received for those talents were nothing more than gifts given out on loan.
When you’re succeeding and thriving and feeling invincible, those are the times when it’s easiest to believe all the hype as the accolades are showed down upon you, to tell yourself that you did it all on your own as the Sun, the stars and all the press assembled revolved around you as you stood there, in the center of it all.
I am a man who has truly been humbled, however. This is my story and to tell it to you properly I write to you as I recollect it now: from the third-person’s eye.
The Buspar was kicking in and a subtle wave of calm began to envelope him. He was objective enough to know at this point, the 10 milligrams morning and night simply served to maintain his levels. It would probably be more realistic to dismiss this wave of calm as purely psychosomatic, but he preferred to think that perhaps it came from the sense of relief he felt in being focused again and in doing what it took to keep from slipping.
Today was going to be an interesting day on the set. Today was the day that his character Jack Dawson would first run into Shiela Danforth’s character Molly at the diner.
Nick mused on the actresses’ screen name and couldn’t help ruminating for just a bit . . .
Sheila Danforth, the name alone conjured up images of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and obviously, whether she had come up with the name herself or whether, like they did in that bygone era, a studio exec had helped her into her new name, the name Shiela Danforth seemed an obvious acknowledgement that they were tapping into something sensed about her, something about her that seemed classic, a style and a grace from an era gone by. She had this regal quality about her and yet it never came off as haughty or aloof. He thought to himself how great she would look filmed in black and white.
He couldn’t be sure that she had been named by some studio exec, but one thing he did know, those suits may be patently obvious in how they mold their starletts, but most of those guys got to where they are on some pretty sharp instincts.
He walked past the assembled lighting without seeing it, he looked around the dingy diner and already he began to feel the bitterness of his character creeping in.
And he welcomed it.
Jack Dawson was like the character in the hobo camp that everybody calls, “Professor.” Dawson’s story wasn’t that of the proverbial college professor who had drank his way off the campus, however, but his was the story of the mind that had so much promise but were it for that single life-changing event that he just couldn’t seem to get past.
Unable to tear himself free from that fateful moment, he began to try to use whiskey to lubricate himself free, but of course, the lubricant only served to slip him deeper and deeper into that quicksand.
As an actor, Nick considered himself lucky in being a second-tier movie star who somehow had never had to endure his share of headlines as a target of the tabloids, but this was the third overtly alcoholic character he’d played in just over a decade (not to mention the roles he’d turned down) and he’d begun to wonder just how it had come to be that the casting agents would inevitably mention his name alongside such notables as Nick Nolte and Gary Busey whenever there was a need for an actor who can pull off that “noble heart meets vagabond soul” type of thing.
As they usually did in the final minutes before shooting began, the crew swirled around with muted commotion and last minute scrambling, but Nick was the embodiment of calm, the eye in the middle of the hurricane as he began his meditative focus, a process where he would narrow the entire universe down to a single, solitary object. This time the universe was reduced entirely to the left ankle of the actress standing before him.
He didn’t know how his eyes would chose where they would land, but this was all part of the routine, a moment of meditation, focused on one thing while all the memorized lines were momentarily relieved from the front of his mind. It was a random thing that he would focus on and as he did so, the butterflies were condensed into a tight, inner core.
He would never make it as a Tibetan monk and he marveled at their ability to enter a state of mind completely cleared of all thought whatsoever, but for him, this did the trick.
Her ankle was, of course, well defined on such slender legs beneath well-defined calves. For a brief flash her ankle reminded him of race horses testing the track before a race or the knobby knees of twelve-year old girls playing softball, but he stayed with the ankles. He was completely unselfconscious as he stared, completely unaware as Shiela herself followed his gaze down to her ankle, worried perhaps there was something amiss.
When she couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary with her ankle, she returned her eyes to his, and in that split second of returning, she felt a bit unsettled, imagining that his own eyes would be waiting to greet her with the maniacal, piercing stare of the truly deranged.
As her eyes met his, however, his gaze was still fixed, but as she tried to read him, instead of finding the leering stare of some weirdo with an ankle fetish, he came off as calm and serene and deeply in thought. She teetered on wanting to break the spell with some clever crack, but the serenity she felt from his stare made her feel no rush to move him along.
A calm casual return to the here and now followed, with a self-assured grin and a “hey, how ya doin'” and she responded casually herself.
They took their spots. He was now fully in character now and the director’s call for “action” was like someone pressing play on a life in pause.
“Good God,” she said softly, “you look like you could use something to warm you up.”
“Good God? What’s so good about God?” The lines delivered not with the air of a philosopher but as a bleak indictment on life, “There is no heaven, there is no hell, there is nothing more than this box of our own construction.”
“Okay hon, you just let me know if there’s anything I can bring you over to your box.” With a slightly cocked head, a hint of a smile and a twinkle of curiosity in her eyes, she had played it perfectly. An audience imagining a normal response along the lines of a mumbled, “Yeah, whatever,” would look into her eyes and see that this waitress was not so quick to write him off as an incoherent drunk just yet, and so she brings the audience along with her to wonder as well.
Even as the cameras were rolling, Nick was always split. He’d be in character, and yet there was still that Nick part of him, analyzing the scene and even running a little silent commentary such as those quick thoughts just passed . . . Long ago he’d tried to silence that commentary, but instead he’d learned just submerge it beneath the visible surface. As she turned to walk back to her station, his character’s face let just a crack of the whimsical shine through the browbeaten facade. As the Nick beneath gave a nod to how she had played it, his character said, “Uh, just a cup of joe will do.”