The words of thirty-five-year-old David Melman's Jewish grandmother still haunt him. He's scared to settle down. Instead, he dates twenty-something pop stars that he meets through his celebrity-branding business. But when his niece and nephew inform him that he's hit "rock bottom" with his latest inappropriate relationship, David realizes that change might be in order-so when his sister Marcy, with her own ulterior motive, pushes him to take a film-writing class taught by her friend Laurel, he agrees.
Will writing a movie about a childhood visit to his grandparents in Florida, an unforgettable driving lesson, and a 1977 Cadillac bring David love? Luck? Or both?
Alternating between David's present-day life and his past through his movie script, Chuckerman Makes a Movie is a romantic comedy blended with a comedic coming-of-age.
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
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The Ride to the Bottom
My official arrival at rock bottom occurred on May 7, 2002, the day of the annual Slip Melman Birthday Ride — something I invented five years earlier to honor my grandfather. On Slip's seventieth birthday, back in 1977, my father gave him a cutting-edge, fourth-generation, two-door, yellow Cadillac Coup de Ville. The yellow Caddy was the crème de la crème of cars, and Slip drove it until he could no longer drive.
The surrender of his license occurred around 1992, the same year I dropped out of medical school. I was floundering, so he loaned the car to me. When he died a few years later, he left it to me, along with a pile of illegally acquired cash. I've been driving it since then. And every year, on Slip's birthday, my niece, my nephew, and I bring a cake to the car, and I retell the Story of the Cadillac so we never forget who we are and from where we came. It's our tradition. Our personal Passover. But traditions, I suppose, are made to be broken, and it seemed my sister Marcy was looking to bring ours to an end.
The threats began as soon as I pulled up in front of her bakery last Sunday to collect Estie and Ryan. As usual, the bakery was bustling. On Sunday mornings, folks — mostly women from the various and sundry walks of Marcy's life — fill the bakery because Marcy offers the "Melman Special," a discount on the donuts of the day. After 9/11, Marcy said it was our duty to build community. "And if I can do it with discounted pastry, I will," she declared to anyone who would listen.
Apparently it was working, since when I honked that morning, the kids came running from a store teeming with women. Marcy, with apron on and hairnet in place, followed with the birthday cake. After handing me the cake, she told me, as always, to be careful and to not buy them any more presents.
Then the derailing began. Marcy turned her skinny neck toward the backseat and winked — a disturbing, mouth-opening, eye-scrunching gesture. The kids gave maniacal winks back at her. A cop could have positively identified them as her children on the winks alone.
"Subtle," I said.
"Enjoy the cake," Marcy answered. Then she slammed the door and ran back to the bakery.
"What was that all about?" I asked, looking into the rearview mirror.
"What?" Estie said. She glared at Ryan.
"I'm not going anywhere 'til someone spills it. I saw the winking.
I wasn't born yesterday."
They both stared straight ahead, trying not to laugh.
I threw the car into park and pulled out my wallet. I waved a dollar in the air. Everyone in the Melman family except Marcy is genetically programmed to respond to money.
Ryan and Estie looked at each other and then at me.
"We're good," Estie said.
I pulled out a five. They again looked at each other.
"Each?" Ryan asked.
"Whatever it takes," I told him.
"Done," he said.
Two fives floated into the backseat, and the news flowed forward that I was too old for the Ride.
"We don't think you're too old," Ryan clarified. "Mom does."
"Why am I too old?" I shouldn't have asked. I didn't want an answer.
"You're thirty-five," Estie said as she folded her five-spot and tucked it into the light blue purse she started carrying this year.
"So what?" I answered.
"If you don't wake up and smell the coffee, you're going to die alone," Ryan explained.
"There you go again, listening to your mother. You know, you're not supposed to listen to her. We are all young enough for the Ride. Ten is young. Thirteen is young. Thirty-five is young."
"Thirty-five's not that young," Ryan said.
"It's kind of young," Estie qualified. "It's probably young enough for the Ride, but not young enough to be dating your clients. Share's only seven years older than me, and you still babysit for me."
She had a point. I'd never really thought about age. I generally don't dwell on an issue long enough to experience an emotional reaction to it. I do feel fear; fear is my friend. Though fear is an instinct more than an emotion. Nonetheless, I must admit, I felt afraid of Ryan's smelling-the-coffee comment. Not afraid that I was going to fail to smell the coffee and die alone, but that my niece and nephew were buying my sister's dubious opinion of me. Or, worse, that they'd formed dubious opinions of their uncle on their own. Was Uncle Davy, marketing and fragrance genius, cool and rich brander extraordinaire, somehow letting them down? This, I did not want to do. I was, after all, the family historian — the keeper of the Cadillac.
Ryan came to my defense. "It doesn't matter how old Share is, because Mom says Share isn't even a real person anyways. She's manufactured by you. She says Emily Kaplinsky would have been perfect for you, but you wouldn't have given her the time of day."
"When did she say this?" I asked, turning around to face them. Ryan was now on the floor, his five dollars plastered in embarrassment over his eyes, but Estie scooted toward me and, with her hands on the back of my seat and her chin resting on her hands, began to talk.
Before I showed up at the bakery, she explained, Marcy's friends had asked where she and Ryan were headed at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning with a car-shaped cake. Ryan said they were going to celebrate their great-grandfather's birthday in their uncle's Cadillac, which was really their great-grandfather's but now belonged to their uncle. When Ryan explained that we do this every year, my sister raised her brows and said to the women, "Don't ask." Then she added, "He's stuck in the seventies."
Estie claimed she came to my defense with, "No he's not. He's dating Share. How can he be stuck in the seventies if he's dating a pop star?"
Marcy, according to Estie, came back with, "She's not a pop star. You can't be a star if you only have one song. And he's not dating her anymore, thank God. Talk about hitting rock bottom."
Apparently, the remark about smelling the coffee also came out in this general time frame.
"But don't worry," Estie reassured me now, "no one was listening. Most of them were still asking questions about Share, like if Mom's ever met her and if she's ever going to release another song."
Ryan crawled back onto his seat to join the recounting. "But Laurel was listening, and she told Mom you should take her class."
"Who is Laurel?" I opened the cake box and swiped a bit of the frosting. Yellow, to match the car.
"You know, Mom's friend Laurel from yoga?" Ryan asked.
I shook my head no. He rolled down the window of the car and pointed to someone through the window of the bakery. "She's right there. You can see her legs. She's wearing cowboy boots."
"Who wears cowboy boots with shorts?" I asked.
"Laurel," Estie answered. She, too, was now licking yellow frosting from her finger.
"Dad calls her The Mormon Rodeo," Ryan said.
"She's some sort of movie writer, and she teaches a movie writing class," Estie chimed in, "and when Mom said she had no idea how to make you get a grip on reality, Laurel said that you should take her class."
I told my niece and nephew that their uncle has a perfectly fine grip on reality.
"You might want to take the class anyway," Ryan said. "Laurel said it's usually full of single girls. And she said she'd let you take it for free, to pay Mom back for all the free food."
"So you are in," Estie said. "Whether you like it or not."
"That's what the wink was about," Ryan said.
"It starts after Memorial Day, and you need to come with an idea for a movie." Estie grinned.
At this point, the car door opened and I found myself presented with Marcy's Knead Some Dough apron.
"Why aren't you going anywhere?" she asked. She looked at our yellow fingers, then reached down and slammed the cake-box closed. Seeing the frosting licked from one of her creations is her pet peeve. Her one and only peeve, she claims, in effort to distinguish herself from me and my other sister, Rachel — we have thousands.
"We're going. Right, David?" Ryan asked. He sounded as panicked as I felt at the notion that the Ride would not go on.
"Yep. Leaving right now. Don't worry, Sis, I'll be back in time for the writing class." I gave her an exaggerated wink.
Marcy poked her head toward the backseat. "What happened to keeping your mouths shut?"
Ryan waved his five-dollar bill in the air. Estie patted her purse.
"I told you not to give them anything."
"You told me not to buy them presents. I just bought myself some interesting information."
Marcy rolled her eyes and rested a knee on the passenger seat. "Don't knock the class until you try it."
I flipped my baseball cap around on my head. "You seriously think I've hit rock bottom?"
She shrugged. "I think you need a life based in reality."
"'Cause I'll be honest," I said, "if I ever thought you'd bottomed out, I'd offer up more than a writing class to save you."
"Let's hope it doesn't ever come to that."
"If it does, will you get us a dog?" Ryan asked.
"Maybe you should get a dog instead of taking a writing class," Estie said.
Marcy backed herself out of the car and said there would be no dogs.
"The Melmans don't do dogs," I said, which was true. We can barely find compassion for each other, let alone for animals.
"Then the writing class it is," Estie said. "What are you going to write about?"
"He's supposed to write about himself," Marcy said. "Laurel says that's the best way of getting to the bottom of things."
"I thought I was already at the bottom of things."
"You know what I mean." She sighed and adjusted her hairnet. The elastic at the bottom of it had imprinted against her forehead, further detracting from her already low credibility. Marcy is not known, at least in the Melman family, for her logical reasoning skills. Nonetheless, she continued to counsel me.
"You obviously have a blockage of some sort — a hang-up or insecurity that is keeping you from becoming a fully realized adult. I don't totally understand it. I'm a baker, not a shrink. But Laurel is deep, and she recommends writing. She says a person should always start with his worst fear. Laurel is —"
"The Mormon Rodeo, I know," I said. "You get a lot of information for five bucks."
"Well, Laurel suggested that you write about your worst fear."
"This is my worst fear. That my sister, in full baking regalia, will, right here on University Place, interrupt the Birthday Ride to tell her kind and supportive brother — the same brother who just bought her a minivan for her birthday — that he is leading an unproductive life. That is my worst fear."
"I never said you were unproductive," Marcy said. "I know you're successful. But who wants to drive a minivan in New York City?" "The same person who drives this Caddy," Estie said.
"Well then, I would very much like to see the day you buy a minivan for your own family and not for mine," Marcy said.
"We are his family," Ryan said, looking up at Marcy. Nothing is better than having a guy on your team. He threw his torso into the front seat and said to me, "And I think your greatest fear should be losing your sense of smell, because if you did, your perfume business would go under and then you wouldn't be able to buy a minivan for anyone."
"That's not bad," I said. I pulled my baseball hat off my head and put it on his. A sign of camaraderie. "If I was ever going to write a movie, that's the route I'd take. Comedy."
Marcy said she thought I could do better. Estie said we should go for the Ride now and think of an idea later.
"I agree," Marcy said. "I'm going to tell Laurel that you are on board." She squeezed my shoulder before slamming the door shut.
"So you're actually going to do it?" Ryan asked.
I grabbed my hat and returned it to my head. "I didn't say that." I also didn't say I wouldn't do it. Could it be that I felt the slightest-ever gravitational pull toward the class? At the time, I assumed the draw was the promise of girls. That I might be seeking something more didn't cross my mind.
"Of course he's doing it," Marcy hollered through the window. "You are about to take a journey. Onward and upward!" she yelled as she backed herself toward the bakery door. "This is so exciting!" she screamed as she disappeared behind the door.
Had there been a billboard, it would have appeared just then: "Welcome to Rock Bottom. We hope you enjoy your stay."CHAPTER 2
What Do You Know?
You'll know her when you see her." My brother-in-law Broc's words looped in my mind as I carted myself to Room 702 of the Tisch School on Broadway and wedged myself into a chair — the tiny kind that attaches to the desk, like at Baskin-Robbins on Columbus. I glanced at the syllabus on my desk. Sixteen lessons lined up one after the other, starting with today's, entitled, June 11: What Do You Know?
Not much about film writing, that was a given. But I did know how to dish out a name, and I was anxious to analyze whether my brother-in-law had chosen the right name for Laurel. In fact, I realized as the gentleman next to me introduced himself as Don and the woman next to him as his wife, Helene, my dread of this first day was trumped by curiosity.
The Mormon Rodeo? I had to meet her.
I figured she had to be big — not fat, but large, strong like a bull, curvy, perhaps, and buxom, the stock of rough-and-tumble Utah pioneers. And, of course, Mormon. Most novices of the naming game go purely according to the superficial. Take Broc, for example. He's forty-five and still going by his fraternity nickname. (At Colgate, where he met Marcy, he was tall and wiry, with a mess of dark blond, curly hair, like a stalk of broccoli. He's since lost his hair but he's still saddled with the name and my sister.)
My point being, if a name is going to help a person emerge into his or her true artistic self, as I tell my clients, and stand the test of time, as I tell their agents, it has to hit on aspects beyond those that meet the naked eye.
That said, seeing the person you are assessing never hurts, and thus far, I'd yet to lay eyes on the Mormon Rodeo. I'd yet to lay eyes on much, actually, as the shades in the room were drawn and the lights were out. There was enough light from the hallway for me to find an open desk and realize a dearth of the as-promised cute girls — at least in my area, where the average age was sixty-five. I could also see, crouched beneath a television stand at the front of the room, her back to the group, the silhouette of a woman.
Moments later, from her knees and above the whine of a tape machine and the chatter of the class, the silhouette announced, "Thank you all for being here." She paused to play with buttons and click a remote. Clearly, she was having technical difficulty. But her voice, so raspy I would have liked to have offered her a lozenge, did not convey it.
"Despite outdated technology," she said, "I assure you that you are about to embark on the most progressive film writing class around. I like to start off a new session with an inspirational montage." She went on to explain that she'd pieced together clips of movies that have shaped American dramatic film and which she hoped would help to shape our own scripts. "My selections reflect my opinion," she clarified as the machine started to make noise and the screen came to life. "I apologize upfront if I've left out anybody's favorites."
Apology accepted, I thought, as I had a hunch that my own chart-toppers, The Big Lebowski and Caddy Shack, were not going to make the cut. And they didn't. But others' apparently did. Within seconds my classmates were oohing and nodding with approval over clips I didn't recognize. I did suspect the Jews in stripes being loaded in black-and-white by Germans onto cattle cars was from Schindler's List — which, much to my mother's shame, I refused to see.
I've never been a huge fan of death. Or of movies, for that matter. Due to a fear of the dark, I never sat through an entire movie until I was ten. I'm still not a big fan of the dark, although I was doing okay — not great — in that dim classroom.
My anxiety eased somewhat when I started to see familiar scenes. The Godfather. The Graduate. Midnight Cowboy. Terms of Endearment, my mother's second favorite behind Schindler's List, was also featured. The montage took us all the way to present day — Memento — and by the time we got there, I'd settled in for the show. I might even say I was enjoying myself when suddenly, without warning, without a conclusion or credits, the montage ended, the lights popped on, and there she stood, front and center, the Mormon Rodeo.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Chuckerman Makes a Movie"
Copyright © 2018 Francie Arenson Dickman.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
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