Class starts at six o’clock in the evening. Do not be late!!! Maintain a subtle presence, Chris. Seriously, I’m not screwing around here. Margie dropped off a rented sedan so don’t even think about bringing the stupid Porsche. It got you in this mess and you sure as hell don’t need more shit right now. God knows I don’t.
Participate, listen and keep your God damn mouth shut. Your publicist is on her way to the hospital with an aneurism from all your crap and if you don’t keep it cool, she won’t live long enough to see her kids graduate high school.
Okay, I know that was a low blow and an exaggeration but I want you to take this seriously! It’s not just in your best interest but everyone who works with you. Don’t forget, you’ve got lunch with Natalie from the Times on Thursday. Ta ta and good luck. —Sam
My agent could be a little abrasive at times but I understood. This anger management BS didn’t make me happy either. Six meant dusk in September and the dimming light in a rundown high school parking lot instilled me with little confidence in security. Even if Sam hadn’t told me to leave my car at home, I wouldn’t have risked bringing it there anyway.
Uncut grass and indecipherable graffiti exposed a place few people would consider a healthy learning environment. Visiting sport teams must’ve thought one of two things: either the school didn’t have the money to field any good players or the guys they found were tough as shit and ready to kick some ass. The truth probably lived in the middle.
People made movies about places like that. Some tough as nails coach came in from the outside and decided to make a difference. The students might learn basketball, football, ballroom dancing or balloon animals, but the ultimate message was always the same. First, Hollywood wanted to say kids needed balls to overcome hardship and second, everyone has potential, they just have to unlock it.
Whatever passed for security during the day didn’t hang around at night, meaning attendees of this hug fest were on their own to prevent theft of private property. Someone propped open the big metal doors with rubber stops, though when those things closed up, a potential criminal needed more than a brick to get inside.
A brown folding table sat just inside boasting a hand painted welcome sign, art by middle school kids unable to draw a straight line. People milled about, going through the most important part of this experience: signing in for proof of our attendance to the court. I got in line and tried not to fidget while waiting my turn.
Butterflies danced in my stomach. They didn’t represent the good nerves my first drama teacher described. He explained stage jitters away as benevolent energy waiting to be channeled into a great performance. New age concepts aside, I tried to turn my current fears into something positive but failed.
The course itself remained a mystery to me. Did I have to pass a test? Would I end up in jail (again)? Honestly, this brush with regular life should’ve happened a long time ago. I’d become entirely too detached to function normally. I figured it out when I hit the grocery store and six people bombarded me with questions, requests for autographs, their screenplays and hopes I might get them a break.
Paparazzi and fan recognition made it hard to be random dude in crowd (I’d been in that role before). As a result, it seemed fate wanted to kick me in the ass and show me I needed some grounding. No one would fault me a little eccentricity but eventually, one should probably stick one’s head out to smell the Taco Bell.
Actually, bad example. I’d rather go to Wendy’s.
Shit, if I posted such a thing on Twitter, it would be crazy! I’d get a call from Sam asking why the hell I endorsed a fast food place without pay. Taco Bell chow hounds would…well, I doubt they’d do much. Their menu reads like a manual for surviving frequent marijuana use. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with recreational use (no, I don’t partake) but…
Wow, I’m digressing.
Back to my fate rant. None of the other attendees seemed to recognize me, which seemed cool and not at the same time. My films all together grossed over two billion dollars. A lot of my work fell into the action genre, which I figured angry people would like. Perhaps they worried too much about their predicament to notice the celebrity in the room.
Those who didn’t read the news might even think I showed up to research a role.
My anonymity vanished when I stepped up to sign in.
The woman might’ve been a decade older than me, just pushing past forty but she still looked hot. She kept her mousy brown hair cut to shoulder length and flat ironed it into a limp curtain surrounding pale features and full cheeks. Upon closer examination, she wore her makeup thick, trying to hide wrinkles around the eyes and lips. The effort almost paid off.
“Oh. My. God.” She spelled out each word, her blue eyes widening impossibly large. This made the makeup around her face crack and instead of hiding the wrinkles, they became enhanced. Her accent was odd, somewhere between Jersey and a valley girl placing her origin at God knows where. She slapped her mouth with a hand and bounced in her seat. “I saw your name on the list and wondered if it was really you! I can’t believe it!”
I shrugged. “Me either. Mind if I…you know, do whatever?”
“You just have to sign in.” She spun the clipboard around so fast I thought it might fly off the table but she caught it with shocking reflexes. Her fingers slapped the page hard enough to shake the table. “Right there, by your name. Oh, it’s such an honor Mister Tam! Really! Truly! An honor!”
“Thanks,” I muttered, scrawling my name on the sheet. I paused for a moment, then looked up at her. One time in New York, I paid for something with a check. A month later, the place sent me a letter and said I owed them the bill plus thirty percent. The person I paid kept my signature. If it happened again, I’d be in jail. “Do you want my autograph? You know, so the sign in sheet stays here?”
“Really? I would love it! If it’s not too much trouble…” she reached into her bag and pulled out a black book. “Please, right there on this page.”
“Who should I make it out to?”
“Dotty with a Y,” she replied. “Can I just say I loved you in Love’s Altitude? It might’ve been the most beautiful love story I ever saw.”
I groaned inwardly. The movie she referenced (I refused to say the name) did me absolutely no favors. Some ass clown recommended I do a romantic comedy and, against my better judgement, I agreed. Someone said dude, you’re always in macho beat em’ up roles. Stretch! Do something heartwarming and cuddly!
The studio put it out against a superhero sequel, the reviewers hated it and my core fan base called it a cheap sell out pile of crap lacking all integrity. Considering my films before and after, I worked hard to forget Love’s Altitude ever happened. Unfortunately, people like Dotty always brought it up.
Karma wanted to ensure I never made the same mistake twice.
All that ran through my head but when it came time to reply, I erred on the side of classy. I mean, it’s not Dotty’s fault I hated the movie and regretted it. The fact she enjoyed it enough to bring it up made me feel better, honestly. It meant the situation, and starring in a bomb, held some value, however small.
“I’m glad you liked it.” I turned to the book and scrawled a quick message. To Dotty. You found the weirdest place I’ve ever met a fan. Thanks for making the situation less stressful. Christopher Tam.
The message may have been schmaltzy but it also wasn’t entirely true. When they took me to jail over the incident, I met a dude who loved everything I ever did and quoted half my lines to me. The others in the holding cell got in on the fun and instead of giving me a hard time, we all ended up talking movies.
Most surreal time ever, I swear.
“Jesus, hurry it up, already!” Another woman’s voice sounded behind me. I thought Dotty and I were alone. Maybe they just arrived.
I glanced back at the scowling, twenty something lady with jet black hair streaked with blue in the front. She wore a gray hoodie over black, torn up jeans and her combat boots were only partially laced. Any figure definition was lost in the sea of fabric, garments far too big for a smaller person.
“Sorry,” I muttered, turning back to Dotty. “Thanks for the help.”
“Have a good class, Mister Tam!” Dotty called after me as I walked away. Before I entered the auditorium, I saw her normal attitude as she turned a cold gaze on the goth girl. Even her tone dropped thirty degrees as she said “sign your name here.”
Whoa, how’s it going, Misses Hyde?
I shook my head and fled the scene.
The auditorium looked like the set of a terrible classroom film where kids suffered through after school detention. Some of the bulbs overhead flickered and the off white walls appeared brown from years of soaking in dirty sweat. Dust floated in the air and the nearby stage must’ve been built in the age of don’t give a shit. Clearly visible splinters stuck up high enough to be counted from the back of the room.
Mismatched chairs sported threadbare cushions, each with exposed stuffing. A few had broken arm rests and missing feet so when someone sat in them, they’d wobble. Papers and books littered a folding table in front of a chalkboard on wheels. Others already took seats, a scattered bunch of humanity ready to endure their court appointed lecture.
I sat near the fire escape. The place should’ve been condemned and I had no faith it wouldn’t burst into flames at any moment. A demonic film might be better than the high school drama. Cast trimming, lots of gore, screaming and this place, looking scary without a lick of paint or care from a prop master.
No, I would not star in that direct to VOD schlock, even if I did conceive its simple stupidity.
I counted fifteen people which surprised me considering how pissed off everyone acted all the time. I leaned back and tried to relax but something in the seat poked right into my tail bone. Some asshole probably rigged them on purpose to ensure everyone paid attention but two hours in there would be absolute murder.
Not to mention the fact everyone had anger issues. Poking them in the butt didn’t exactly seem calming. Oh, and also, I needed to attend four sessions to avoid jail time. My heart sank.
Goth girl shuffled in and flopped in a chair six rows back. She tossed her leg over the seat in front of her and started playing on her phone, ignoring everything around her. The others fidgeted, also messing with their cells but they suffered from a twitchiness she seemed immune to. If anything, I guessed she was more annoyed than anything.
At least she was cozy. I doubted I’d find the place comfortable if they brought in a Barcalounger, spritzed it with unicorn tears and brought me a pair of slippers. My fellow students looked tense and I picked up on their vibe. Crowds, I handled okay but awkwardness sucked. This place didn’t compare to a Japanese talk show I visited on a press tour (they had furries, a monkey, two cows and a dude who might have been crossbred with a mouse), but it ranked up in the top ten.
The next couple weeks promised to be very long.
A guy came in and stood behind the table, making a show of organizing the papers. If he didn’t want to be an actor, I’d have eaten my own elbow. Genetics crafted him for the job with high cheek bones, a chiseled chin and perfect, wavy hair. His blue eyes put him in the same realm as Chris Pine and he wore a couple days of facial hair like a hip TV professor.
His outfit made him look prepared for a hot mentor role with a hound’s-tooth jacket, untucked black shirt and blue jeans. He turned his sparkling gaze to the audience and smiled, even teeth gleaming long enough for his close up. The silent director called aaaaaaaaaaaaaand go, starting the presentation.
“Good evening, everyone. My name’s David Halsey. I’ll be your guide these next four weeks. Note my choice of words…not instructor, not teacher. I’m here to help you conquer anger. We’re going to explore the emotions which can lead to anger and by the time we’re done, you’ll have the tools necessary to master them.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do but for our first session, we need to talk briefly about what brought us here. Some of you came on your own while others were ordered to by the courts. I can assure you I’m here to help you no matter the situation. It’s said Vikings gathered in their towns once a week to reinforce the bonds of kinship and camaraderie. They shared mead and stories, building lifelong bonds.
“Let’s mimic that noble warrior culture and establish some history, trust and some good old fashioned companionship.”
Vikings might very well be the angriest sons of bitches in history. I didn’t claim to be any sort of scholar but the TV show sure didn’t show a bunch of hugging ninnies chilling out over fermented honey. They tore people up and conquered. Comparing us to these raiding maniacs was either genius (calling us Nordic warriors seemed complimentary) or idiotic since they probably weren’t good role models for the terminally pissed.
David stepped out from behind the table, holding his hands up like a televangelist about to pontificate the dangers of brimstone and virtues of donations. I fought hard to not roll my eyes…and ultimately failed.
This guy cannot be for real.
“I like to think of these sessions like a great sailing ship,” he said, “a long boat if you want to stick with our Viking parallel. We’ve got the sails up and they’re ready to catch some wind, which you represent by being here and admitting there’s a problem. Now, we’ve also got some solid oak underfoot, supporting us through the adventure. I represent the boat but please be gentle, I’ve got a bad back!”
The comment warranted scattered, nervous chuckles. If David went to school for this, he needed a refund. Anyone out there who might buy his BS probably didn’t need the class. If anything, it made us angrier for how condescending it sounded. I did give him credit though. He sold it with a hundred and ten percent commitment.
B movies would be lucky to have such a handsome, confident guy.
“Alright, we’re about to weigh anchor and set out on our journey. We’re leaving Anger Island behind as we cast off to the horizon of control. Come with me, each of you. Remember, you’re all in this together and together, you can accomplish anything.”
“Could we accomplish a better metaphor?” Goth girl muttered loud enough for everyone to hear. “Seriously, we’re pissed off, not simple.”
“Ah.” David turned all his attention to the heckler. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Cecile Trudeau,” she replied.
“Okay, Miss Trudeau, since you seem eager to talk, why not tell us your story?” David’s tone surprised me. The statement could’ve been used to bust her chops and burn her ass for talking shit but instead, he invited her to participate. He probably knew she wouldn’t respond well to an attack. I guess they picked the right guy for the job after all.
Cecile huffed, thrust her phone into her pocket and stood. “Do I have to come up there?”
“You don’t want everyone to have to turn around in their seats, do you?”
“You’re right,” Cecile replied as she made her way toward him. “They might get sea sick.”
Her comment made the crowd chuckle, this time more genuinely. Half of me believed they staged this crap. Was she a therapist playing off his coo coo diatribe of adventure and Viking clam bakes? No, the way she dealt with Dotty didn’t say doctor playing a role.
When Cecile stood before the group, her bravado vanished. All the posturing, the sarcasm and sass disappeared as she peered at the floor. She cleared her throat and fidgeted, all eyes burning into her as she stalled. I knew from experience, the longer she waited the worse it would get and David didn’t seem like he’d throw her a bone.
“Okay so…” Cecile spoke too softly but caught herself, standing up straighter. I still had to lean forward and strain to hear her. “Last month, some asshole tried to mug me.” A couple people gasped. “I know, right? Jerk. Anyway, he came at me and I fought back. I ended up really beating the shit out of him…like bad. Like call the cops bad.”
“Seriously?” A random voice shouted. “Typical! They probably saw things after they started!”
“Yep,” Cecile confirmed. “By the time I heard sirens, it was too late. My attacker ran off. The cops pointed guns and started shouting. I was arrested but luckily, someone saw the guy grab me and testified on my behalf.”
“So how’d you get here?” Someone else asked. “Self-defense shouldn’t land you in an anger management class.”
“Well…” Cecile’s cheeks darkened. “I went to court and my lawyer secured the self-defense thing but…the judge took exception to the way I dealt with the creepy attacker guy. He decided to throw out a big lecture on unnecessary force. Apparently, if I really hurt him, things would’ve been worse for me.
“I got really upset because you know…they never even caught the crook. No one knew how bad I hurt him. So I kind of…lost my temper.”
“What did you do?” David asked.
“I…well…” Cecile cleared her throat, turning her gaze to the ceiling. “I just said this is bullshit, man! I fought back in self-defense! I mean, I weigh one-fifteen soaking wet and here’s this asshole judge victim shaming me. Just because I came out okay and didn’t act like a damsel, didn’t mean I should be punished.”
“Damn straight!” The comment earned some applause.
“Anyway, he tossed out some contempt of court crap and I…kind of…told him to kiss my ass. My lawyer nearly had a stroke. The charges were going to be dropped but since they decided I had anger issues, here I am.”
David rubbed his eyes as the others offered words of encouragement. Cecile won some allies on the USS Angry Sailors. He took a deep breath before saying anything. “Well, you’ve got a…colorful story, Miss Trudeau. Please, have a seat and we’ll move on to someone else.
The next few tales made Cecile’s sound like a public service. One guy ran someone off the freeway. Once they both stopped, he hopped out and assaulted their car with a milk shake in one hand and a ten pound dumbbell in the other. He shattered their back window, tore off their bumper and poured some java flavored ice cream into their gas tank.
God knows how he got so far but after his three months in jail, he landed in the anger management class.
Another dude caught his girlfriend sleeping with his boss. He threw the naked man out a window, burned her shoes in the bathroom and ran around screaming the National Anthem. When none of that calmed him down, he decided to drive her car into the pool, which he then took a leak in. Cops arrived and he had to be tasered.
He faced prison time, the amount dependent on how many things he checked off on a list of contrition activities. Considering how he reacted to shit, I decided not to remind him there are other women in the world. Of course, some jack ass asked if he got fired by the boss. For the record, he said he quit.
One of the many things he shouted while the dance of insanity took him for a ride.
A lady stood up and talked about how she went nuts at a salon. One of the other patrons called her a fat cow with terrible skin. She sprayed the person with the shampoo station hose then menaced her with a pair of clippers, threatening to fix her nappy rat nest hair. When the police arrived, she punched one of the hair dryers hard enough to break her hand in three places.
She still had to wear a cast. It happened to be pink.
I hadn’t felt so out of place since I auditioned for a role I didn’t know was a musical (I can’t sing). These people weren’t just pissed off, they bordered on certifiable. I sat in a room with people who all needed jail time or at least a lot of therapy. Sure, the world sucked but it shocked me to see how far stress pushed these poor bastards.
When my turn came, I worried they might lynch me for wasting their time.
David squirmed through most of the stories so at least I wasn’t alone. He pinched the bridge of his nose several times and gawked with wide eyes. Maybe his attendees never ceased to amaze him but I figured he should’ve heard everything by now. A trained professional found their tales outlandish so I didn’t feel guilty for being nervous.
“Mister Tam,” David said. “Please, your turn.”
We only had a half hour left in the session by the time he reached me. After I told them my pathetic yarn, we’d practically be free for the week. My motivation to stand up and get it over with included returning home as soon as possible. As long as I didn’t sound like a douche in front of people with real problems, I’d call the night a success.
“Hi there.” I waved, putting on an easy smile. “I’m Christopher Tam and the reason I’m here…is really lame to be honest.”
“Nothing’s lame, Mister Tam,” David said. “It doesn’t matter how we came aboard, just as long as we make some progress.”
“Right. That’s probably written down in a book or something.” I ran a hand through my hair before continuing. “Anyway, I went to an audition and the casting director became condescending. He went off on my last movie and said he expected more out of me then went off about how I became lazy and fat from Hollywood excess.”
“Wait, are you the guy in the Lethal Blood series?” I didn’t see who said it but definitely a man.
“Um…yep. I sure am.”
“Holy crap, I loved those movies, man! You rock!”
“Thanks, I appreciate it…”
“Did you have to do your own stunts? Looked freakin’ dangerous! And when you kicked the bitch on the roof of a moving train? Amazing! Say, I wondered, was that person a dude or a chick because let me tell you, dubious gender alert!”
“Okay, okay,” David interrupted. “Professions are something we can discuss some other time. They can, and do, contribute the emotional launch point of anger but for now, let’s get through the story. Please, Mister Tam, continue.”
“Should I answer his questions?”
“No, just go on with why you’re here.”
“Sure um…” I shrugged. “I didn’t do anything really crazy. I told the guy he was the tenth name in the opening credits no one paid attention to. And…I might’ve clenched my fist before saying I should’ve hit him.”
“You should’ve popped him in the mouth!” The fan blurted out. “Jerk deserved a real whooping!”
“Anyway,” I continued, “I left, hopped in my car and tore ass out of there. They arrested me for reckless driving but I think aggressive made more sense. I took a combat driving course for Lethal Blood so at least I kind of knew what I was doing…”
“Must not have been driving all that fast,” someone else tossed out, “if they caught you.”
“Oh they didn’t,” I replied. “They got the license plate and visited me at my house. I lost the cops by pushing one-sixty.”
“Whoa!” The fan stood up. “What kind of car, man? Must’ve been bad ass!”
“A new nine-eleven,” I replied. “By the time they showed up, I’d cooled off but when they added the casting guy’s report, they decided I needed to come here.”
“Thank you very much, Mister Tam.” David stepped in, trying to stave off a barrage of questions thrown at me. I missed most of them but I heard movie titles left and right.
“Sorry guys, maybe we can chat next time.” I waved on my way back to my seat.
“Anyway, we’ve got two people left!” David shouted over the noise. He finally lost some of his cool, eyes wide beneath a scowl. Without the power of a judge to call for order, he fought an uphill battle which wasted away another ten minutes.
I sat down and tried to relax but once again, the damn seat tried to get fresh. With only fifteen minutes left, I counted down the seconds before my escape. A screenwriter should haunt these places for ideas. The stories might just be outlandish enough for a few crazy ass flicks. How did my industry become so stale with creative gold sitting around in bad group therapy sessions?
Lack of marketability I guess…and the terrifying location keeping most sane people away. It definitely scared me straight. If only I’d done something worth correcting. Okay, the car chase was stupid, I get it. But I agreed with the fan in the audience, the casting director deserved an ass kicking.
Which is precisely why I was sent to the class. C’est la vie.