I found the Movie in a junk shop between a laundromat and a pawnshop in the worst part of town, the kind of place where there’s bars on all the windows and beer bottles broken on the pavement everywhere you step. The kind of place where I wouldn’t normally go, but I had to find the Movie and I lusted for it so much, I was so incredibly hungry, I thought I would surely die if I did not get it.
I had been looking for the Movie for literally years. Not because of its fine cinematic quality, for every review I read of it said that it sucked, even for being an art film. Not for its fine actors, for I’d never heard of any of them. Not because I am a collector of rare films, for I hardly ever watch them at all. No, I’d been looking for the Movie because it was based off the Book, and my reading the Book precipitated the great epoch of my life, changing me irrevocably. At last I knew what real life was like, and what you had to do and what would happen if you didn't.
Ever since I read the Book for the first time, I’d read anything I could find by that author. And I’d gotten in touch with him myself—with some difficulty, I procured his phone number and, trembling, called him to tell him how much I liked his book. He must have been a bit stunned to hear from me. We had never met. We lived a continent apart. I was twelve, almost thirteen. He was seventy-three. But he listened to my gushes about the Book with great courtesy and he was very kind to me—something I wasn’t accustomed to from anyone, especially so venerable a person as the Author.
I fell in love with him then. Wildly, irrevocably in love with him. I’d have run off with him to the Caribbean if he had only asked me to. I mean, what’s sixty years’ age difference in the grand scheme of things? And he must have known how I felt, for twelve-year-olds are notorious for being unable to conceal their thoughts. In any case, I kept calling, and he listened to me with grave attention and spoke gently to me and I loved him so much that my chest felt tight whenever I thought of him. Surely he must love me back—otherwise why would he tolerate me, this crazy little girl, this abused child, already with a host of neuroses? Surely he loved only me, surely he must have wept over what fortune he had that we could not be with each other always—or at all. But he could never show it, being burdened by a wife of fifty years’ standing, and four children, and a dozen grandchildren, many whom were older than I was.
I understood. I understood that I loved him and he loved me but we must never speak of it, much less act on it—there were too many things at stake. Still, I lived for his voice. I devoured all of his books and analyzed them endlessly and told him what I thought. I was his slave.
When I was fifteen, he got sick. We had still never met, but I immediately made plans to run away from home to see him. Before I could leave, he died. I was devastated. I wept for months and entered therapy to get over the loss. Eventually I learned that life was still worth living, and I continued to talk to the Author, in my head of course, having imaginary conversations with him every day. “Hey, I read a good book today, I’ll tell you about it…” “Hey, I might have some new symbol in your second novel, did you really meant to put it there?” At sixteen I stole my father’s credit card, absconded from my home and Greyhounded across the country so that I might see his grave and weep over it. I saw. I wept. I came home. Boy, were my parents mad! They made me repay every penny of the money I spent, with interest.
I grew up. I went to college. I still had imaginary conversations with the Author in my head—every day, several times a day. I had a proper boyfriend, and he worshipped the ground I walked on, and I was very fond of him. But I often wondered if I should dump him, for he didn’t quite measure up to the man who was still the love of my life. I had read all of the Author’s books and all the biographies of him multiple times, and I had read a lot of criticism of his books. I had downloaded every picture of him that I could find online, and scanned every picture of him from his biographies, and saved them in a folder in my computer, and I gazed upon them often with misty eyes. I’d seen all the movies of his books. (And they all sucked. The Author’s books didn’t adapt very well into film. But I loved the movies anyway, because I felt closer to him.)
But I hadn’t seen this one. But that might change, I thought, for I had told my friend Dave of my search (“I can’t even find it on the Internet. The Internet, Dave. You can find pictures of furniture having sex but you can’t find this stupid movie”) and he said thoughtfully said, “You know, there’s a place downtown that sells rare movies. I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen ads for it. They might have what you’re looking for.”
Hope renewed! An oasis in the desert! It was getting on seven p.m. and I didn’t know if the movie place Dave spoke of was even open, nor did I know exactly how to get there, but I threw on my coat, grabbed my wallet, and took off running. I could have got there faster in a car, of course, but in order to do that I would have to waste time and track down someone willing to lend their car to me, and I couldn’t contemplate doing that. I mean, imagine saying something as prosaic as “Can I borrow your car” when you know your ultimate dream might be coming true.
At nine o’clock, after getting lost and wandering through several miles of stinking alleys populated by potential serial killers, I arrived at the movie place. It was a shabby little hole in the wall and it stank of something chemical. But it was open! I rushed up to the tired-looking man behind the counter and said breathlessly, “IneedthisonemovieandImustknowdoyouhaveitpleaseplease PLEASE have it.”
“Come again?” he asked, blinking at me. He didn’t even look puzzled. Just tired.
I shook myself violently, like a dog just come out of the water. I consciously slowed my voice and said, very carefully, “There’s this movie I’ve been looking for since I was twelve years old and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Not even online—you know it’s got to be rare when even E-Bay doesn’t have it.” I told him the title. “Have you got it?”
Behind the counter was an old card catalog. The clerk, repeating the title to himself so as not to forget, opened one small square drawer and rummaged through the cards. “Ah…yes…I will show you.”
I squealed. Squealed like a rabbit, or like a teenage girl suddenly face to face with Vin Diesel. I practically danced as I followed the clerk through the dim recesses of the store. He pointed at a shelf and walked away without a word. And yes, there it was, revealed in all its dusty glory: a sorry specimen of VHS, the cardboard case missing, the tape itself dented in places. I had it at last.
I checked the price. Thirty-five dollars—ridiculous. A new DVD didn’t even cost so much. I thought: do I have that much money? My parents gave me barely enough to keep me in pizza and I was constantly short of funds. But…who cared, I had to have it! I took it to the front.
“You won’t believe how hard I looked for this,” I gushed to the clerk as I handed him the tape. “I once drove to a rare films store halfway across the state to try to find it and even they didn’t have it. I’m surprised you do.”
He smiled. “I’m glad I could help. That’ll be seventy dollars, ma’am.”
Something wasn’t right. “Excuse me?”
“That’ll be seventy dollars. Plus tax.”
“But the price tag says thirty-five dollars,” I said weakly.
“You’re a college student, aren’t you?” he said, looking at my college sweatshirt. “Ever taken economics? Do you know about supply and demand? You demand it, and you just said we are the only people who can supply it to you. That will be seventy dollars.”
The asshole. I would see him fired for his presumption. “Let me to talk to the manager.”
The smile had turned into a grin. “I am the manager. I own this store. Seventy dollars—take it or leave it.”
I left the store with a spring in my step. I had the Movie at last—the only movie of the Author’s books that I hadn’t seen—and, for the moment, the bad check I’d just written didn’t bother me in the slightest. I would watch the Movie tonight and deal with the bank tomorrow. It was like getting drunk and being happy for a few blissful hours, knowing you will hate yourself in the morning. For I was drunk with anticipation.
Although I did have to cut through an alley to avoid a group of young men with designs on my virtue, I somehow made it back to campus and rushed up to Dave’s room. “I’ve got it!” I shouted when he opened the door. “I’ve got it!” I waved the Movie in his face and squealed again.
“Great!” he said. “I’ll watch it with you if you want. Let’s just go up to your room and do it right now.”
We went to my room. Something wasn’t right. “Uh…Meaghan,” Dave said nervously. “You, uh, don’t have a VCR. Or a TV.”
I hadn’t realized this. I was devastated.
“Don’t cry,” Dave said, patting my shoulder. “We’ll just wait till tomorrow after class and go to the Media Center and borrow their TV and VCR.”
“But I need to watch it tonight,” I said. “I’ve got to do it tonight, Dave, you don’t understand.” For I knew that until I watched the Movie there was no point in doing anything else. I could not sleep, I could not study, I could not think, I could not breathe until this was over and I could tell the Author all about it in my head.
Dave gallantly offered to drive me to Wal-Mart. It was almost eleven-thirty when we got there, it closed at midnight. We rushed to the electronics section and I selected the smallest, cruddiest TV and the cheapest VCR they had. I wrote a rubber check for them as well, having no other choice. Perhaps in the morning, having watched the Movie, I could simply return the viewing equipment.
It took another hour and fifteen minutes to get back to school, haul the stuff up my dorm, and set it up properly. It was now almost one a.m. I had class at eight. But no matter. The only thing that mattered was that I be able to view the Movie. Heaven forbid it be worn out—and that seemed a very real possibility. I would have to commit honorable suicide if that happened. After of course first killing the asshole movie store owner.
It was viewable, as it turned out. We had to keep messing with the tracking, but we could make out the picture, after a fashion. And the sound was only occasionally warped.
And it did suck. Abominably. It was the worst movie I’d ever seen in my life. The acting was terrible, and the dialogue…well. It was supposed to be in English but for some reason the characters kept switching back and forth between English and French, occasionally in midsentence, for no apparent reason and without the benefit of subtitles. There were whole scenes where I didn’t have a clue what was going on. And the prop people were really bad. There was one part where some characters drove to a lake with a boat hitched to their car so they could go fishing, then there was a shot of them driving away from the lake later, without the boat.
Dave was aghast. “You spent how much for this again?” he asked. I, however, was enraptured. That night, as I lay in bed wondering how I would get through my classes on only three hours’ sleep, I told the Author all about it.
The total cost of the whole debauch was something in the order of two hundred seventy dollars. Seventy for the Movie, one hundred for the TV and VCR, fifty for the overdraft fees (Wal-Mart had cashed my check by the time I was able to return the equipment) and fifty in bounced check fines to both stores.
A week later, my boyfriend dumped me. He said he was tired of having to share a bed with two other people. It would be just me and the Author from here on out. And I was okay with that.