By Chris Miskiewicz
I was leaning against the narrow counter beside the front window of the Gray’s Papaya on the corner of 8th Street and 6th Avenue waiting for it all to begin.
I stared across the street at that old library building that I used to think Doctor Strange lived in when I was a kid. I always liked the village. Back in high school I felt like that neighborhood had attached a magnet to my back due to how often I got lost in its alleys. The memory of Ginsberg, Warhol, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan were running strong through the generations above me who hung out there. The forty-plus year olds were thinking back to yesterday and the sound of a song they never recorded. The how it was of things.
But the village always felt like it was ripe with a story. Most of them were just leftover echoes from the early 1960’s music scene that brought all the things that artists, writers, and musicians tend to bring to a town.
Things like drugs, energy, sex and picture perfect nights hidden with friends on fire escapes, sharing cigarettes, staring into windows while fighting the cold with nothing but your laughter.
Even after the majority of chess shops and music shops closed and got replaced by bars, the ironic rice pudding store, or my favorite…the peanut butter sandwich place that sold them for nine dollars. (If there was ever a business that was so silly, or so blatantly created while on a munchies high, I don’t know of it.) Even then, I still found myself wandering around those streets.
They just felt like you were gonna see something, or find something, or run into some kind of action.
“Action!” the Assistant Director screamed, which was immediately followed by the interior of Grays Papaya coming to life as the background created a picture of a normal night.
I waited for a few beats and then exited with Veronica beside me. We passed the skate punks, avoided the angry phone guy, dodged the drunk couple, and then continued for half a block before they called “Cut!”
We went back and took our position again as the crew adjusted lights, props, and background. I twirled a quarter through my fingertips watching everything. My constant flaw, or benefit, being an ability to record whatever is going on around me.
I was standing in for the male lead on a feature starring JLO. It was the first time that I had the position for one of the leads in a film. There were perks to it, but for the most part it meant a lot of long hours in random places fueled by countless cups of stomach killing craft service coffee, followed by walking out of a Gray Papaya hot dog place all night.
After a few minutes of resetting the scene JLO and Alex, the male lead, came in and took the position.
I exited into the thick summer air. Large crowds stood around at every corner snapping pictures while calling out to JLO. I had never been on a gig where so many people came out to simply see a person, nor could I imagine what having that kind of attention would be like I believe I counted over seventy paparazzi across from us one afternoon across from Central Park. The amount of people watching us on any given day was incredible.
Marc Anthony, her husband at the time, didn’t help the situation when he came to visit. Since he was a huge star all on his own, the crowds swelled even more, which was the case on this particular Friday night.
I leaned against a phone booth just outside a tent near one of the guys from JLO’s security detail who stood like an angry soldier before the crowd. He peered through reflective sunglasses guarding the tent where the director and Marc Anthony watched the monitors.
The guard, Manny, was one of four menacingly tough Spanish guys who you’d never want to mess with. They were massive men that echoed a constant I will kill you vibe. However, I found out midway through the shoot that half of them were comic geeks who were big on Wolverine, Batman, and some random Image Comics character from the early nineties.
We got along great after that.
The director continued to call cuts and rolls until they had the shot. JLO exited the scene to a hug from her husband as we took their places for the turnaround. And that’s when it got weird.
Some drunk frat boy who was passing her detail screamed out for her to “suck his dick.” This comment caused her husband to immediately lunge for him, and that’s when all Hell broke loose.
Suddenly her detail swarmed around the man and took him down to the pavement. The crowd gave a scream, and that scream caused the paparazzi to explode like a plague of vampires who had just escaped from some bloodless place. They charged at them with a fury of clicks and flashes.
I ran out of Grays Papaya just as JLO and Manny ran in behind me. Without thinking, I took up a defensive position opposite him to guard her. Production ran past attempting to stop a crowd of screaming fans who were making their way through our lockup. I stared at the mob with clenched fists ready for anything, quickly tapping Manny’s shoulder and saying, “I’m here.”
“Good. Good.” He nodded, changing his position.
I glanced down the street where her detail had taken the frat boy. I assumed they folded him into an envelope and placed him inside the first mailbox that they had come across.
That’s when I turned and looked at JLO for a moment. We locked eyes as a thought hit me.
“What the fuck am I doing?”