Like all things, last night's Academy Awards presentation reminded me of my own life. In fact, it loosened up a memory I've long repressed, of one of the worst bits of behavior of my entire adolescence.
When I was 18, on break between college semesters, I reunited with a small group of male high school friends. We wanted so badly to lead each other down the new avenues of sophistication and intellectual pursuit we'd been exploring at university, so we mutually decided upon the most efficient vehicle possible: we would shotgun beers while one of us filmed the entire thing.
This, of course, turned into four of us piling into a Jeep Cherokee – my parents' mini-van was not availabl – and proceeded to film ourselves doing at least 15 other idiotic things, fueled by the 18 (well-documented) beers we'd just consumed in rapid succession. The evening began typically enough; we drove to a supermarket parking lot, late at night, and played shopping cart ten-pin. During this sequence none of our faces were visible on camera, except the occasional volunteer whose job it was to line up a cart in front of the Cherokee so we could lock it in place. Instead, our presence was established by a symphony of girlish titters as the Cherokee, kissing a lone shopping cart, picked up speed. Then, as our wheel man slammed on the breaks, the video soundtrack includes four young men swearing excitedly – oh shit oh shit oh shit – as the cart is launched from the Jeep's grill. The audio took several directions from there, depending on what happened next. More or less, here were the possibilities, matrixed by cart-trajectory outcome:
CART FLIES OFF FAST, JUMPS OFF TO SIDE, AND PERFORMS SEVERAL FLIPS BEFORE LANDING ON ITS SIDE: "Check it out! Check it out! NICE!!"
CART FLIES OFF FAST, HITS EMBANKMENT, GAINS ALTITUDE, THEN CRASHES INTO OTHER CARTS: "That's it! Ohhhhhhhhhh FUCK! [giggles, high-fives]. Good one."
CART GETS LOOSE TOO SOON, ROLLS AWAY, SLOWS DOWN, AND IS STOPPED EVENTUALLY BY GRAVITY/GENTLE CURB: "Oh maaaan. That sucked. Quick. Someone else drive."
CART FLIES OFF, AND SMASHES INTO PARK CARS: "Oh shit! Oh fuck! Oh shit! Oh holy shit!!!! Let's go!! [insane giggles, tires squealing, engine gunning.]"
And then, somehow, the night got dumber. One of us, possibly me, got the idea that it would be awesome to interview homeless people on camera. Our interactions would be priceless because we are extremely droll, and homeless people are drunk or crazy. And what was the nature of these interactions? We would roll up to homeless people, pointing the camera out of the window and ask them, "Who do you think will win the Oscar for best supporting actress this year?"
We thought it was perfectly absurd. It was like asking a starving person about his favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and WE LOVED IT. Of course, it wasn't especially difficult to find a couple of obliging homeless people but as soon as we turned the camera on them and asked that question, the process was painful and sobering. We were too stupid to abandon the project but with each long, meandering monologue our spirits sank a bit more and the alcoholic buzz leaked slowly from our pores. I think the most telling moment in the video comes after we interview one homeless man who claims the last movie he'd seen on the screen was Gone with the Wind. After he explains how shocked the nation was when Clark Gable said, "Frankly Scarlet, fuck you and the horse you rode in on [sic]," the camera lingers on his face for a moment and the sounds of a couple of embarrassed, ashamed post-adolescents can be heard saying, "Oh God, this is just terrible. We're going to hell." Then, from the camera man's first-person perspective, a hand darts forward with a pile of bills and change – a collection from the vehicle's occupants – and they're pressed into the homeless man's hand. "Thank you. Please stay warm, and God bless," the camera says. No one was giggling, until about five minutes later, when we were a safe distance away. Ah, youth!