Inspiration for the Disney Channel TV movie, Geek Charming!
Dylan Shoenfield is the princess of L.A.'s posh Castle Heights High. She has the coolest boyfriend, the most popular friends, and a brand-new 'it' bag that everyone covets. But when she accidentally tosses her bag into a fountain, this princess comes face-to-face with her own personal frog: self professed film geek Josh Rosen. In return for rescuing Dylan's bag, Josh convinces Dylan to let him film her for his documentary on high school popularity. Reluctantly, Dylan lets F-list Josh into her A-list world, and is shocked to realize that sometimes nerds can be pretty cool. But when Dylan's so-called prince charming of a boyfriend dumps her flat, her lifeand her social statuscomes to a crashing halt. Can Dylanwith Josh's helppull the pieces together to create her own happily-ever-after?
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Table of Contents
chapter one: dylan
chapter two: josh
chapter three: dylan
chapter four: josh
chapter five: dylan
chapter six: josh
chapter seven: dylan
chapter eight: josh
chapter nine: dylan
chapter ten: josh
chapter eleven: dylan
chapter twelve: josh
chapter thirteen: dylan
Special Excerpt from The Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“I guess I don’t have a choice.” I sighed. “Meet me on The Ramp at lunch on Monday and you can start then. But I’m telling you I don’t care what my father says—if I see that you’re trying to make me look bad, the deal’s off. Got it?”
“Got it,” he replied, nibbling away on the black side of the cookie.
“And don’t think that this means that all of a sudden we’re like friends, or anything,” I said. “It’s strictly business. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Asher and I are super serious, so if you were thinking of using this documentary thing as a way to, you know, hit on me or anything, it’s not going to work.”
“Don’t worry,” Geek Boy said. “Like you said, it’s strictly business. But who knows—maybe this’ll be the start of a long and rewarding working relationship.”
Sheesh—someone was taking this movie stuff way too seriously. “What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said as he stood up and put out his hand. “So we have a deal?”
I put mine out as well. “I guess so.”
As I walked him to what he called the Neilmobile (Hello? Can you get cheesier than that?) I tried to look at the bright side of things: helping Geek Boy fulfill his dream of getting into USC film school had to balance out whatever bad karma I may have had.
Not that I had any, of course.
BOOKS BY ROBIN PALMER
Little Miss Red
The Corner of Bitter and Sweet
FOR YOUNGER READERS
Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker 1: Girl vs. Superstar
Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker 2: Sealed with a Kiss
Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker 3: Vote for Me!
Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker 4: Take My Advice
Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker 5: For Better or for Worse
Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (usa) Inc., 345 hudson street, new York, new York 10014, u.s.a.
registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 strand, London WC2r ORL, england Published by speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (usa) Inc., 2008
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION Data Palmer, robin, 1969-
the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
To the real Amy Loubalu,
With special thanks to:
Jennifer Bonnell—the world’s best editor and midwife—for getting me the way she does, and for always making me laugh through the pain of the contractions.
Eileen Kreit at Puffin for being such an enthusiastic cheerleader.
My agent, Kate Lee, for everything else.
And New York City, which became my new home while writing this.
chapter one: dylan
One day as I was watching Oprah, waiting for her to get to her “Favorite Things for Spring” segment (she has the cutest taste in accessories), I heard this self-help guru guy say that the word for crisis in Chinese is actually two words: danger and opportunity.
The reason I looked up from Vogue when the guru said this is because I have one of those lives where there’s always a crisis going on. Like 24/7. My best friend, Lola Leighton, says that I’m just a drama queen and that they’re not real crises, like, say, the kind she would’ve had to deal with if her parents hadn’t adopted her from the orphanage in China. Okay, yes, when you put it in that context, I guess Lola’s right. But since I live in Beverly Hills and not a third-world country, my crises and the crises of nonadopted kids are bound to be different, you know?
Take, for instance, the time I was driving home from the Justin Timberlake concert at the Staples Center and I was all by myself because I had a huge fight with my boyfriend Asher after I caught him staring at Amy Loubalu’s boobs like seven times that night even though he swears he wasn’t, and my BMW conked out on the 405 freeway at midnight and I had to wait an hour for Triple A to arrive. Now, that, in my book, is a crisis—especially since I was wearing a miniskirt and tank top because it was a million degrees out. I mean, if a serial killer who liked girls with long blonde hair and blue eyes had driven by at that moment, I would’ve been dead meat. The only “opportunity” there was the opportunity to be chopped up into a million little pieces.
As far as I’m concerned, sometimes a crisis is just a crisis. Like what happened last week with my Serge Sanchez bag. Yet another crisis—and the only opportunity there was to see what $1,200 worth of red leather would look like after it dried out. (FYI, it turns out that it doesn’t look so bad—sort of a cross between my two favorite nail polishes, OPI’s I’m Not Really A Waitress and Essie’s Scarlett O’Hara.)
It was Tuesday afternoon and I was at The Dell, which is a huge outdoor mall on the border of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood that my dad happens to own, with Lola and Hannah Mornell, our other best friend. The day before I had seen these absolutely darling J.Crew red gingham ballet flats that I just had to have because I knew they’d look so cute with my black capris and a white shirt I had bought the week before. Very 1960s movie-starlet-ish, which was going to be my new look for fall. So I had gotten the shoes (plus two dresses, some tank tops, a cashmere hoodie, and some lip gloss) and the three of us were hanging out in front of the fountain deciding whether we should go to Urth Caffé for sugar-free iced vanilla lattes or Pinkberry for frozen yogurt when the Crisis-with-a-capital-C occurred.
“Omigod, Dylan,” said Hannah as she clipped a tortoiseshell barrette onto her short auburn bob. Hannah is incredibly preppy for L.A. standards. While I may buy something from J.Crew occasionally, like the ballet flats, almost her entire wardrobe is from there. B-o-r-i-n-g, if you ask me, but I do believe in freedom of speech in fashion choices, so whatever. “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you who Jennifer Bonnell saw at Pinkberry on Sunday afternoon!”
“Who?” I asked, with my face tipped up to the sun as I tried to get some fall rays.
“So?” I said.
“So,” said Hannah, “she just happened to be talking to Asher.”
My head snapped down so fast I’m surprised I didn’t break my neck.
This is when the Crisis began.
“She is so Single White Female-ing me!” I cried. Single White Female was a movie I once saw on HBO about this woman whose roommate starts dressing like her, and gets the same haircut, and then steals her boyfriend and kills him.
Lola rolled her brown eyes as she put on some lip gloss. “Um, excuse me but she looks nothing like you. If anything, she looks like me.”
“Um, don’t take this the wrong way, but if you haven’t noticed, you’re Asian,” I said.
“Yeah, but we both have long dark hair,” she replied.
“She has a point,” added Hannah.
Okay, so maybe Amy didn’t look like me, since I’m blonde and she’s brunette, but she was obviously trying to copy me by stealing Asher away from me. People like to say that when people copy you, it’s supposed to be flattering, but I don’t see it that way. Frankly, I find it very lazy. I’ve worked very hard to be the most popular girl in the senior class at Castle Heights High and it’s not fair for some girl to think she can just ride on my coattails.
As I continued going off on Amy in front of the fountain, I was waving my arms a lot, which is what I tend to do when I go into what Lola calls DQM (Drama Queen Mode). Just then my Serge Sanchez bag—which had been hanging on my right arm like it always was because I was terrified of having it stolen—went flying into the fountain. Apparently my arms had gotten really strong from Pilates because it’s not like the bag just sort of plopped over the edge so I could easily fish it out. It went soaring all the way into the middle, and since it’s such a huge fountain, there was no way I could get it out myself.
After that I did what anyone in my situation would do—I started freaking out and threatening to sue until Hannah pointed out that not only did I not have a reason to sue because the whole thing was my own fault, but since my dad owns The Dell, I’d be suing him and that probably wouldn’t go over very well. When I realized Hannah had a point, I did the next best thing that someone in my position would do—I started looking around for a guy to jump into the fountain to fish it out for me. Not to sound full of myself or anything, but getting guys to help me out with stuff is never a problem, whether it be trig homework or opening my locker, which is always getting jammed due to the fact that I like to keep a few different ocharset=UTF-8its in there at all times in case I have a fashion mood change. The only problem is that most of the guys you find at a mall at 4 P.M. on a weekday are either old or gay, so the chances of one of them agreeing to jump into a fountain fully clothed to fish out a handbag aren’t so good, even when you start screaming that there’s a reward at stake.
I’m sure I was causing quite a scene, but it’s not like you could blame me. I mean, if you had put yourself on the wait list at Barneys New York a year earlier for the Serge Sanchez Jaime bag and then used all your Sweet Sixteen booty to buy it, you’d be freaking out, too. Not only was it the bag of choice for every celeb who had been on the cover of US Weekly or People over the last few months, but I—Dylan Frances Schoenfield—was the only nonstarlet high school girl in all of L.A. who had scored one so far.
“Miss. Miss. MISS!” I heard someone say as I sat there on the edge of the fountain with my head between my legs trying to get my breathing back to normal.
My head popped up. “What?!” I snapped.
In front of me was a pimply-faced security guard, dressed in overalls and a straw hat to go along with the whole “Dell” theme. Everyone who worked at The Dell—from the parking-garage people to the bathroom attendants—were forced to dress up like farmers or milk-maids. Ridiculous, I know. You can thank my dad for that. I tried to talk him out of it because not only is it corny, but farming and shopping—unless it’s for eggs—don’t really go together, but Daddy says that if you want to succeed at something, you have to have a gimmick. He may be a genius when it comes to real estate, but the truth is he’s kind of a geek. I mean, I love him to death but he’s utterly hopeless when it comes to being creative—especially if it happens to be fashion-related. In fact, after my mom died a few years ago, I had to take over her job of picking out which shirt and tie he should wear with his suit in the morning. I’m not complaining, though. Sharing my incredible talent for color coordinating and accessorizing with the man whose name is on my Amex card is the least I can do.
“Uh, you’re gonna have to quiet down or else I’m going to have to remove you from the property,” Farmer Security Guard mumbled.
“Excuse me, but my father happens to own this property,” I shot back.
“Yes. He does. I’m Dylan Schoenfield, daughter of Alan Schoenfield of Schoenfield Properties.”
“Oh.” He shrugged. “Then I guess it’s okay,” he said, shuffling away.
I turned toward the fountain to get an update on my bag and saw it bobbing along in time to Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” that was blasting over the sound system. Another one of Daddy’s gimmicks was to have the spray of the fountain synchronized to the music, like you see at the hotels in Las Vegas. I just hoped that it didn’t switch to something with a really fast beat or else I’d never get my bag back.
“My poor bag!” I cried as Hannah and Lola stood on each side of me and patted my shoulders. I couldn’t remember being this devastated since the time Asher blew off my Sweet Sixteen dinner for a Lakers game. “What am I going to do, you guys?” I panicked as a brown-haired guy with thick-framed glasses walked toward us.
“Get your dad to buy you a new one?” asked Lola.
The guy was so busy trying to juggle his knapsack, doughnut, and Coke that he tripped on Lola’s Marc Jacobs bag, which she had bought with her Sweet Sixteen money, and fell flat on his face right in front of me.
For a few seconds he didn’t move.
“Are you all right?” I asked while watching with horror as my bag bobbed around in the fountain.
When I didn’t hear a response, I tore my eyes away from the fountain and looked down at him. Because of the glare of the sun, it was hard to see if his body was rising and falling with his breath.
“Um, hello?” I said.
I started to get scared that maybe he had broken his neck and died instantly, which would not have been good because not only would his parents probably sue Lola’s parents but they’d probably also try to sue my dad as well. Daddy likes to say that suing is what people do for fun in L.A.
As Hannah ran to the edge of the fountain and reached her arm toward the bag (as if that was going to do anything), I watched with horror as it got caught on a water jet and started whipping around like it was in a T-ball tournament. Extending my foot, I carefully poked the guy with my shoe. Obviously if he was dead it wouldn’t matter if I did it carefully or uncarefully, but I was raised to be polite and courteous. “Excuse me, but ARE. YOU. ALL. RIGHT?” I yelled as if he were deaf and non-English-speaking.
This was now officially terrifying—both the idea that I might be a witness to an accidental murder and the fact that my Sweet Sixteen booty was about to go down the drain. Literally. “Omigod! Omigod!” I shrieked. “Someone call an ambulance!” I announced to the mallgoers before turning to Lola. “And you—be a best friend and go help Hannah try and get my bag. Now, please.”
Lola stopped examining her own bag for scuffs and rolled her eyes before getting off the fountain ledge and slowly walking over to the other side of the fountain. Unfortunately, unlike Hannah, who was being productive—she had somehow gotten hold of a pole from one of the mall cart people and was using it like a fishing pole to try to rescue my bag—Lola just stood there and scratched the side of her nose as she watched. I’m not one to talk bad about people, but sometimes I couldn’t believe how selfish and self-centered Lola could be.
“Ooooffff,” the maybe-dead guy finally said as he reached up and put his hands over his ears.
“Oh, thank God.” I sighed. Even though my bag had moved on to being shot up in the air like a cannonball (not a good sign), I was relieved he was alive (good sign).
A moment later the guy struggled to his feet and slowly started bending his arms and legs like one of those puppets with the strings that Marta, our housekeeper, once brought back for me from one of her trips to visit her family in El Salvador.
“Did you break anything?” I asked anxiously as my bag made a graceful arc in the air before plummeting back down.
“I don’t think so,” he said, wincing as he wiggled his fingers.
Up close I could see that he was around our age, and that he was wearing a T-shirt that said GEEK GANG. I don’t mean to be mean or anything, but why someone like him would choose to wear a shirt that announced such a thing to the entire free world when it was obvious just looking at him that he was a geek was beyond me.
I looked back at the fountain. Just as it seemed that Hannah had hooked the strap of the bag with her pseudo fishing pole, the pole slipped out of her hand and started floating away and the bag began to slowly sink.
“If you’re okay, then I need you to do me a huge, huge, HUGE favor,” I demanded as the guy crouched down on the ground.
“My inhaler! Where’s my inhaler?” I heard him mumbling over and over as he rifled through the spilled contents of his knapsack, which included about twenty different pens, some magazine called Fade In, and a copy of the Hollywood Reporter.
“Your what?” I demanded.
“My inhaler. I have really bad asthma,” he replied nervously.
Great. Just what I needed—another crisis.
“Here it is,” he said. After he took a hit, his shoulders moved down from around his ears to their proper location. “Okay. Much better. Sorry, were you saying something?” he asked as we both stood up.
Was anyone other than Hannah able to get out of themselves for just one minute? I pointed at the fountain. “I need you to climb in there and get my bag. Like this very second.”
He put his now-crooked glasses back on to get a better look. It took everything in me not to reach over and push his shaggy brown hair off his face. Didn’t he realize the whole emo look was so 2006?
“You’re kidding, right?” he said.
“Hmm . . . let me think about that . . . um, no!” I yelled.
“Do you realize what kind of diseases a person could get in there?” he asked. “In addition to leptospirosis, there’s shingellosis, and—”
“What are you talking about?”
“I read about it on WebMD,” he said defensively. He took another hit off the inhaler. “Plus, I’m susceptible to inner-ear infections, so I have to be careful not to get water in my ear.”
By this time Lola had decided to be a friend and was putting her flirting skills to good use by going up to all the cart guys to see if they’d help, but from all the head shaking it was obvious that there was no mall community spirit in this bunch. I made a mental note to tell Daddy to send a mallwide memo talking about the importance of coming together in times of crisis to help people out.
“It’s only like two feet deep in there!” I exclaimed. “It’s not like I’m asking you to go deep-sea diving in the Bahamas. Please,” I begged. “I’ll give you . . . a hundred dollars.”
He shook his head. “Sorry. I really can’t help you.” He crouched back down to put his stuff back in his knapsack. “Just ask them to shut down the fountain until you can get it out,” he said.
“I don’t have time for that!” I cried. As Christina was replaced by Gwen Stefani singing “I’m Just a Girl,” my bag rose from the dead and started a wild modern dance solo in the air. “Can’t you see this is an emergency?! What about two hundred?”
He shook his head. “Really, I can’t. They canceled our health insurance because my mom didn’t pay the bill for the last three months; so I’m trying really hard to not get sick right now. Which is kind of hard, because I don’t have a very strong immune system to begin with—my mom thinks it’s because I was three weeks premature.”
I thought about explaining to him that there were these things called tanning salons and maybe if he got some sun and lost the Pillsbury Doughboy look, he wouldn’t get sick because the sun is very helpful for colds and diseases, but since I was in the middle of watching my status go from It-Bag Girl to No-Bag Girl, I didn’t have time to be giving out advice to strangers.
I turned toward the fountain for an update. The solo was over and my bag was back to sinking. Lola couldn’t even get the T-Mobile cart guy—who had a massive crush on her—to come over and help.
I grabbed Geek Boy by the shoulders. “Please—you’ve got to help me. I’ll do anything. I’ll even—” I was about to say let you take me out on a date, but then I thought better of it. “Be your friend on Facebook. Please—just tell me what it will take to make you go get my bag!”
As he took another squirt of the inhaler, his eyes bugged out and a huge smile came over his face. “I’ll do it if you let me film you and your friends,” he said.
“Eww!” I squealed. “What are you—some kind of pervert? That’s totally disgusting!”
“No—I mean make a documentary about you! I’ve been trying to think of something to send in with my essay for my USC film school application and this is perfect. You know, like an ‘inner workings of the in crowd at Castle Heights High’ type of thing.”
My eyes narrowed. “Wait a second—how’d you know I go to Castle Heights?” Maybe this guy didn’t just happen to walk by me—maybe he was stalking me. Not to sound stuck-up or anything, but I have been known to have that effect on guys.
“Because I go there, too.”
“What are you, a junior?” I asked.
“No,” he scoffed. “I’m a senior. Like you.”
“Did you just transfer there or something?”
“No. I’ve been there all four years. We had Spanish together freshman year.”
I couldn’t remember ever having seen him before in my life. Which wasn’t so surprising, I guess, seeing that none of the geeks ever came within fifty feet of The Ramp in the cafeteria, where my friends and I sat.
Hannah walked up to me, her barrette hanging off the edge of her bob and her shirt soaked. “Okay, I know we’re best best friends and all, but I’m done trying to help.” She pointed at Lola, who was now twirling a lock of her hair around her finger as she threw back her head and laughed at something the T-Mobile guy was saying to her. “Especially since she hasn’t helped at all.”
I leaned over the fountain as far as I could without falling in, but I couldn’t even see the bag anymore. I turned to the geek. “Okay! Okay! It’s a deal! Now go,” I demanded.
“Really?” he asked.
I yanked the inhaler out of his hand and started pushing him toward the fountain. “Yes. Go! Go!”
Celine Dion started singing “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and the bag rose from the dead yet again. Every time Celine hit a high note and sent a jet of water up into the sky, Geek Boy ran for cover behind the marble centerpiece like a duck in one of those amusement-park games. If I hadn’t been so worried about my bag, the whole thing would have been hysterical.
By this time a huge crowd had gathered behind me to watch. “What a dork. Too bad we don’t have a video camera—this would make an awesome YouTube video,” said Lola.
“Sure, if you’re into making bad karma for yourself, it would be,” sniffed Hannah.
“It’s amazing how some people totally lose their sense of humor when they’re PMSing,” snapped Lola.
“Um, hi, ladies? This is so not the time for catfights, okay? This is about me and my bag.” It was rare that I made it all about me, but if there was ever a time, this was obviously the case. I mean, now that I had experienced how incredible the feeling of the leather from the Serge Sanchez felt against the skin of my arm, it wasn’t like I could go back to a regular old Marc Jacobs bag or something like that. That would be like being content with a soft-serve cone from the mall after having tasted Häagen-Dazs. Not that I ever touched the stuff myself.
A huge cheer went up as Geek Boy finally caught the bag like a football and held it over his head in triumph as he walked toward us like an ocean liner sailing on the sea. “Here,” he panted as he thrust my waterlogged bag into my arms after stepping out of the fountain. Judging from the way his face resembled a tomato, this seemed to be the biggest workout he had gotten in years. “Where’s. My. Inhaler?” he gasped.
“Here it is,” I said, picking it up from the ledge of the fountain and exchanging it for the bag. Other than the bag weighing about five extra pounds because of the water, it looked salvageable—especially when the guys at Arturo’s Shoe Fix got their hands on it. But once I unzipped it, I could feel my face pale. “Oh no,” I whispered. I could care less about whether or not my lip gloss was ruined, or if my wallet was wet, or if my pack of gum was all soggy, but as I pushed the buttons on my Weight Watchers points calculator and the screen remained blank, I could feel my heart start to race to the point where I wished I had my own inhaler.
I looked at him. “My calculator. It’s ruined.”
He took another hit off the inhaler. “So go to Good Buys and buy another one,” he replied. “You’ll get a great deal—especially with the Just-Because-It’s-Wednesday sale going on.” Good Buys was this cheesy electronics store in the mall. I kept telling Daddy that it was so not in line with The Dell’s reputation for excellence, but he just ignored me.
“It’s not a regular calculator—it’s my Weight Watchers points calculator!”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “But you’re so skinny. You don’t need Weight Watchers. You need to gain weight.”
I couldn’t believe he would say something so rude. “Of course I don’t need Weight Watchers,” I replied. “And the reason I don’t need it is because of this,” I said, pointing to the calculator.
“I’ll never understand girls. Oh, and you’re welcome,” he said as he started ringing out his T-shirt, exposing his squishy fish-belly-white gut.
Lola cringed. “Ew, dude—can we watch the nudity, please?”
“Welcome for what?” I asked.
“Getting your bag for you?” he replied.
“Oh. Right. Thank you.” I threw in a just-bleached smile. “I very much appreciate it.”
Now that the crisis was officially over, everyone went back to shopping.
“So here’s what I’m thinking in terms of the documentary,” he said.
“The documentary. The one you said I could make in return for getting your bag.”
“Oh, that one—right,” I replied. “Hey, can we talk about it tomorrow? This whole thing has been super traumatic and I think I need to go home and lie down. Come on, girls,” I said to Hannah and Lola, who were now sitting on the edge of the fountain with their faces toward the sun.
As the three of us started walking toward the parking garage, Lola kept trying to edge out Hannah with her hip so that she’d walk just the teensiest bit behind us instead of next to me. So rude, I know, but I didn’t like to get involved in their drama. While the three of us were BFFs, I was definitely the glue that held us together. Being the person that everyone liked the best could be exhausting at times.
“Okay, but I don’t have your e-mail address. Or your phone number!” Geek Boy shouted. “I think we should schedule a preproduction meeting for some time over the weekend to talk about the logistics and how filming is going to work. I mean, obviously we could do more of a guerrilla-style type look and style, but while I was in the fountain I was thinking the look for this should be more polished. I’m thinking how Alek Keshishian did the Madonna documentary Truth or Dare back in ’91. Even though we don’t have a lot of time to prep, I’d like to make the most of the time we do have.”
I walked back over to him. “Yeah, let’s talk a little more about this documentary thing. Are we talking MTV-reality-series-like?” Maybe I could end up getting a deal there for my show. Maybe even a talk show. People were always telling me I was like a younger version of Oprah.
“No. I’m thinking more hard-hitting than that. More in the vein of something Barbara Koppel would do. Or the Maysles brothers.”
“Do they go to our school, too?” I asked.
I couldn’t imagine anyone would be so rude, but it almost looked like he cringed when I asked that.
“No, they don’t go to our school,” he replied with a sigh. “They’re only two of the most important documentarians in the history of documentaries.”
“If it’s a pair of brothers and then that Barbara person, that’s three,” corrected Hannah. It was stuff like that that explained why she was in AP classes and me and Lola weren’t.
“I stand corrected,” Geek Boy said. “So can I get your number?” he asked, holding out a notepad and one of the dozen pens from his knapsack.
I wrote down my phone number and handed it back to him. “This weekend’s kind of jammed but call me and we’ll set something up.”
“Great,” he said with a smile. His hair might have been a lost cause, but he had very straight teeth. He held out his hand, which looked like a waterlogged prune. “I look forward to working with you.”
I tried not to cringe as I shook it. “Uh huh. See you around,” I said as I started walking away.
Poor guy. Between the fact that he looked like a drowned gopher and the fact that I had had my fingers crossed behind my back when I had agreed, I almost felt bad for him.
chapter two: josh
It’s funny how when something’s meant to be, all these things happen to just make them . . . well, be. Like in Knocked Up, when Seth Rogen gets Katherine Heigl pregnant—first it seems like they’d never make it as a couple and then they end up realizing they do love each other even though he’s a schlub and she’s gorgeous.
And like with the documentary.
Flashback to the night before the purse-in-the-fountain incident. Me and my best friend, Steven Blecher, were hanging out at this coffeehouse called Java the Hut on Vine Street in Hollywood, where Quentin and Judd (that’s Tarantino, as in Pulp Fiction and Apatow, as in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and the above-mentioned Knocked Up) have been known to stop in when they’re editing movies at one of the various postproduction places in the area. Quentin and I are buds. Okay, well, I met him once when he spoke at our school’s Film Society, so maybe we’re not best friends, but we have exchanged dialogue.
As Steven bickered via IM with some kid at NYU film school that he met in a MySpace group devoted to Steven Spielberg about where Jaws had been shot, I worked on my essay for my USC application. “Do you think I should tell them that my dream is to become the Woody Allen of the twenty-first century, or do you think they’ll get that when they watch Andy Hull?” I asked Steven. Because the competition to get into the film school was insane, the week before I had decided I’d submit a short film with my application. My plan was to make one called Andy Hull, which I saw as being similar to Annie Hall—Woody’s 1977 masterpiece—but instead of being about a nerdy, neurotic middle-aged guy, it would be about a nerdy, neurotic teenage girl. I even had my leading lady picked out—Diane Lowenstein, a girl who my friend Ari had gone to theater camp with the summer before.
“Dude, I told you to bag that Andy Hull idea,” Steven said as he broke off a huge chunk of my brownie. “It’s lame.” Steven’s a bit on the tubby side. My mom’s always on me to lighten up on the sugar, but honestly, as far as I’m concerned, it’s preparation for later when I’m doing night shoots and need a quick pick-me-up. “If you’re going to blatantly rip off a movie that’s already been made, at least find some Japanese horror one no one’s seen instead of something so mainstream.”
I shook my head. “That’s way too 2005.” I sighed and tipped my chair back. “I just need to face it—I’m undergoing my first official creative block. I feel like Nicolas Cage in Adaptation when he couldn’t write the script.”
I would have done anything for Quentin to walk in at that moment so I could ask him what he did when he was blocked creatively, but I had no such luck. Instead I had to wait a full twenty-four hours, until I ran into Dylan. If you had told me even a week before that Dylan Schoenfield of all people would have ended up being my muse, I would have laughed in your face. Not only is she spoiled and stuck-up, but she’s also über-popular. Like Best Dressed/ Homecoming Queen/Miss February in “The Girls of Castle Heights Calendar” popular. Like Dylan-Has-2,028-Friends-on-MySpace popular.
Me? I have 612. And most are fellow movie buffs. I suffer from the opposite problem: not many people at Castle Heights know who I am. It’s not like I’m some weird loner who wears a Black Flag T-shirt and trench coat and army boots—I mean, I have friends, like the guys in the Film Society and Russian Club—but I’m a film geek. And proud of it, I might say. I already know that I’ll be quoted in the articles about me in Film Threat ten years from now as saying that I didn’t come into my own until my twenties, and I’m fine with that. Everyone knows that every artist who’s any good wasn’t popular in high school. Take Tim (that’s Burton, as in Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice)—I highly doubt he was prom king at his high school.
To me, the idea of doing a documentary about cool kids in high school was as original as it got. Sure, it had been done, but everyone knew that even though Laguna Beach was quote-unquote reality television, it was about as real as the idea of me getting crowned homecoming king that fall. My documentary—which, during the drive home from The Dell that day I had decided would be called The View from the Top of Castle Heights—would be a no-holds-barred look at the beautiful people. The good, the bad, the ugly—no one and nothing would be spared in my quest for the truth of what really went on behind the velvet ropes that led to Castle Heights’ cool crowd. And because we were talking about popularity in glitzy, sunny Los Angeles rather than, say, gray, rainy Portland, Oregon, it would be even more intriguing to audiences.
After saving Dylan’s bag—and getting zero thanks, which shouldn’t have been much of a surprise since she walked around acting as if life was a movie that had been written as a starring vehicle for her while the rest of us were just supporting characters—I went home and put together a killer proposal for the documentary. Block gone, as my fingers flew across the keyboard I felt like how Woody must have felt when he came up with the idea for Annie Hall; or Quentin, when he came up with the idea for Pulp Fiction; or Martin, when he came up with the idea for Taxi Driver. (That’s Martin as in Martin Scorsese, another one of my favorite directors.)
After letting it sit for a day, and doing a rewrite on Thursday night, I stopped at the post office after school on Friday afternoon and mailed off my application—I even splurged and spent a little extra to get delivery confirmation—and then I went to work at Good Buys, where I’m a member of the Geek Gang and fix people’s computers. I don’t like to advertise this because if the people at Good Buys ever found out I’d most likely be fired, but I’m a film geek rather than a computer one. Obviously I know that you can’t go wrong with pushing control/alt/delete all at once, which is how I usually try to solve a problem, but if that doesn’t fix it that’s when I call Microsoft or Mac’s help line. To my credit, it’s not like I pretended to know a lot during my interview, but Raymond, my boss (a budding filmmaker himself), said that I was the only person he had ever met who knew the little-known fact that Quentin collected board games that were based on old TV shows such as The Dukes of Hazzard and I Dream of Jeannie. How exactly that came up in conversation I don’t remember, but I do know that it got me the job.
“I assume you’re aware that Spike Jonze started out in documentaries before he did Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Agent Rosen?” Raymond asked that afternoon as he tinkered with a laptop that had an “I Love My Spoiled Rotten Cat” sticker on the front. The store was relatively empty, even though we were running one of our Just-Because-It’s-Friday-Get- 60-Percent-Off sales. We’re the white-trash cousin to Best Buy and Circuit City. We don’t carry any of the fancy Japanese name-brand electronics like Sony or Toshiba—most of our stuff comes from Kuala Lumpur or Pakistan, and from the number of customer complaints we receive, it’s built to last for approximately six weeks.
“Actually, it was music videos,” I said, tapping my foot on the counter in time to the Muzak version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” “Hey, seeing that it’s so dead, can I take off my tie?” I was allowed to wear my Geek Gang T-shirt when I was on the road doing house calls, but per Corporate, I had to wear a white oxford and clip-on tie when I worked in the store.
“No you may not, Agent Rosen,” Raymond replied as he yanked my hand away from my neck. “When you’re on the clock, that stays on your neck.” He pushed my feet off the counter so hard I almost fell off my chair. “Feet on the floor. And it wasn’t music videos—it was documentaries.”
I sighed as I readjusted the tie. Raymond always thought he was right. “Nope—I’m pretty sure it was music videos, Raymond.”
He looked around to make sure no one had heard me even though the only people in the department are an elderly couple who, from the way they were yelling at each other, seemed to be wearing hearing aids. “When we’re at work, it’s Agent Strauss, Agent Rosen,” he whispered. After having worked with him for a few months, I was starting to understand why Raymond didn’t have all that many friends. And people called me a geek?
I went to the Geek Gang computer and Googled Spike Jonze, clicking open one of the articles that came up. I pointed to it. “See?” I said.
Raymond looked around to make sure no one was looking, since this was a non-company-related Google. Once he was sure the coast was clear, he began to study it like it was some top-secret government document, stroking his pimply chin. “I stand corrected, Agent Rosen. It seems that you are correct,” he said, closing out the Spike Jonze window. “At any rate, I agree that you do in fact have a real chance here to expose the seamy underbelly of the world of popularity. Perhaps when you’re done, you could try to get it into Sundance or one of the other festivals. You could pitch it as ‘Lord of the Flies: Beverly Hills-Style.’”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking!” I said excitedly. Raymond may have been a nightmare boss, but he was a real visionary when it came to film stuff. In fact, he was a USC film school grad himself. Some people might think that the fact that he’s making fifteen dollars an hour as manager of the Geek Gang and not off making millions of dollars a year directing films might not be a good sign, but that’s just because he’s spent the last four years writing a horror-slash-action film called Send in the Killer Clowns that he likes to pitch as “Die Hard at a circus” and he doesn’t want to try to sell it until he does another rewrite.
“Tell me more about this girl. What’s her name—Delilah?”
“Dylan,” I corrected.
“So what’s she like? Other than popular.”
I reached for the Coke I had hidden behind the computer. “Let’s see . . . she’s spoiled. And self-centered. And thinks the world revolves around her. And walks down the hall like she owns the school. And won’t talk to anyone who’s not in the ninety-ninth percentile of popularity.”
“In other words, she’s prom-queen material,” Raymond said.
I nodded. “Remember the Heathers in Heathers?”
“Of course,” Raymond scoffed. “That was Michael Lehmann’s masterpiece. Even though he did get to work with the babedacious Uma Thurman in The Truth About Cats and Dogs a few years later.”
“Well, think of all three Heathers times a hundred,” I said.
He stroked his chin again. “Hmm . . . sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Is she pretty?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, if you like blondes with blue eyes.” Which I didn’t. I liked brunettes with violet eyes. Specifically brunettes with violet eyes named Amy Loubalu who were seniors at Castle Heights. As far as I was concerned, Amy was the most beautiful—not to mention the nicest—girl at Castle Heights. Back before my parents’ divorce, when we still lived in Brentwood, I used to see her at Jamba Juice with the kids she babysat on the weekends. She always went out of her way to say hi to me and ask for a list of movies she should rent from Netflix, but most times I just clammed up and could barely speak, afraid that I’d get Tourette’s syndrome and just say “You’re so beautiful” over and over again.
“So when do you start?” Raymond asked as he straightened his own tie.
“I’m hoping Monday. I’m going to call Dylan when I get home and try and set up a prepro meeting for sometime this weekend.”
He nodded. “Excellent, Agent Rosen.” He grabbed me by the shoulders. “Just remember one thing.”
I leaned my head back as far as I could without breaking my neck so I could get away from the garlic fumes left over from the baba ghanoush pita sandwich Raymond had had for lunch. “This is your movie. You’re the director. This is not a collaboration—it’s your singular vision. So don’t give in to her. No matter how used she is to getting her way or how pretty she is. Understand?”
I nodded. “I understand.”
“You’re a filmmaker,” he continued, getting more and more riled up. “A truthteller. You can’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. You’re on this planet to serve your muse. Look at me, for example—do you think I enjoy having to deal with idiots who don’t realize that if they keep powering off their computers without logging off first, sooner or later there’s going to be a problem?”
I shook my head and took a step back.
“No!” he exclaimed. “I don’t enjoy it—I loathe it! But I do it because it’s mindless and therefore allows me to conserve my creative energy so I can continue to work on Send in the Killer Clowns, which is destined to become a cult classic if anyone’s smart enough to recognize its brilliance.” He grabbed me by the shoulders. “But you, Agent Rosen, have the opportunity of a lifetime—a chance to show all your fellow geeks and the geeks-in-training of the next generation that they’re not missing out on anything by not being in the cool crowd. That, in fact, maybe their lack of cool is saving them from selling their souls and going over to the dark side!” He leaned in closer. “Don’t let them down, Agent Rosen. Leave something behind that you and generations of misunderstood geniuses to come will be proud of.” He let go of me. “Understood?”
Talk about a tall order.
When I got home, Mom was at yet another one of her Learning Annex classes (her postdivorce hobby), so I grabbed a bag of Chips Ahoy I had stashed away on top of my closet and went into the family room. Postdivorce we moved to a house in Beachwood Canyon, which is in Hollywood. It’s small, but it’s right under the Hollywood sign, which is obviously a terrific example of foreshadowing in terms of my future. Ever since Dad left Mom two years before for one of his actress clients (he’s an entertainment attorney, which means along with agents and managers, he negotiates deals for actors) and shafted Mom in the divorce, money has been really tight.
Our house is cool—built in 1923, with a lot of built-in bookcases for my DVDs. I like it better on this side of town because when you’re a director, it’s very important to keep it real and stay in touch with the regular Joe moviegoing public, and Hollywood, with its mix of ethnic groups and high crime rate, is a lot more real than snooty Brentwood. Plus, there’s a great used-record store down the street on Franklin Avenue where Quentin has been known to pop in from time to time.
After I settled myself on the wicker couch that Mom had gotten at the Rose Bowl flea market a few weeks earlier (ever since the divorce she’s been on a nothing-should-match-in-order-to-reflect-the-randomness-of-life kick) I called Dylan. Let me rephrase that: I called the number that Dylan had given me. An old woman answered, who, when I asked to speak to Dylan, started screaming in Russian and hung up on me. So I called back, and this time a man answered.
“Hi, is Dylan there?” I asked.
“Who?” he demanded.
“Dylan. Dylan Schoenfield?”
“You have wrong number,” the man boomed.
“Um, are you sure?” I asked.
“Who this?” he demanded.
“This is Josh Rosen. I’m a classmate of Dylan’s.”
“I tell you—no Dylan here! Now you never call here again!” he said, slamming the phone down.
Forget my promise to Raymond that I was going to make the documentary of my generation. At this point there wasn’t going to be a documentary.
Amy Loubalu never would’ve done anything as cruel as give me the wrong number after I risked my life for her (which, by the way, I would have gladly done, no questions asked). In fact, I bet Amy would’ve let me take her out for a Jamba Juice in return.
“I can’t believe you’re really going to do this,” said my friend Ari on Monday during lunch as he, Steven, and I sat at our usual table in the far right corner of the cafeteria near the garbage bins. Tall and thin with receding brown hair and black-rimmed glasses, Ari’s a dead ringer for Steven Soderbergh, the guy who directed Ocean’s Eleven, not to mention Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen. I took a picture of the two of them together when Steven gave a Film Society talk and they look like they could be father and son.
Excerpted from "Geek Charming"
Copyright © 2009 Robin Palmer.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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