I no longer trust anyone using a pay phone.
I realized that the other week, watching someone hunched over a pay phone, reading something off a crumpled piece of paper. Was he lost? What was he doing? Sure, not everybody can afford a cell phone, I know that. But homeboy’s standing next to a Pizza Hut and a Blockbuster, and he doesn’t have any other access to a phone? Not a friend with a cell phone? Couldn’t ask me to use my phone? I’d rather loan someone my cell than force them to use a pay phone. Because if you’re using a pay phone, you’re selling drugs. I mean, sell drugs, but have the decency to do it loudly on a cell phone, walking down the street, chatting for all to hear like everyone else in this town. Don’t be so obvious, hunching over a phone that has a … cord.
This concludes your minute with the Hollywood Snob. This is the same person who can’t believe you never saw Lost In Translation. When you respond, “Well, it didn’t come to my town. And if it did, it was like, an hour away, and by the time I knew it was here, it was gone.” That’s when Hollywood Snob goes, “Oh. You live in like, Arkansas?”
It is very easy to forget that the rest of the country doesn’t have movie billboards on every available inch of real estate, and doesn’t set their business clocks according to the following months: Sundance. Oscars. Pilot Season. Staffing Season. Sweeps. Vacation. Vacation. Vacation. Sweeps. smallwindowofopportunity. Winding Down For Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. Winter Holiday / Vacation. Sundance.
What I’m about to tell you now isn’t a secret about me, but it’s something I’ve never told you.
I kill wonder.
stee will ask a question, like, “Do you think people still use pay phones?” He just asks it, just like that. He might even look at me while he asks it. This causes me to go, “Well, obviously some people don’t have cell phones and in public they need to use a phone. It’s elitist to assume that everybody has access to some kind of cell phone. And also people still buy and sell drugs, and people can tap your wireless phone easier than a pay phone, so that’s still a good use for phones. Plus, you know, it’s probably expensive to remove all of them at this point. Makes sense to just keep them there. Then they raised the price of pay phones to 35 cents. Did they do that here, too, or just in Texas? Man, that was a pain in the ass, finding an extra dime when you wanted to use the phone. I guess I used pay phones a lot in high school, but that was probably because we didn’t have cell phones. And we had a house phone in college in the drama building, and you know, there was pretty much a phone all over the place. But I don’t really walk down the street too often, and when I do I usually have my phone. But if I lived in like, New York, say, and my cell phone was dead, or I was down in the subway, I’d probably need to use a pay phone. But I bet I wouldn’t want to. I heard they’re dirty and most of them don’t work. But they made that movie Phone Booth, so somebody’s still using those phones I guess. What do you think?”
He has no choice but to go, “Yeah. I guess.”
I am physically, mentally, emotionally incapable of letting a question hang in the air. I guess I’m okay with an obviously rhetorical question. “Why me?” or “Who does that?” or “Why is this song stuck in my head?”
I take that back. I’d probably try and answer all three of those questions.
“You kill wonder,” stee concluded early in our relationship. “You ruin it. I want to wonder, but then you ruin it. There’s no wonder in your life.”
“Why do you ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer to it?”
“Sometimes I like to ponder a question. Like Frank and I will be talking, and one of us will go, ‘I wonder why that sign in the road there is facing the wrong direction.’ And that will lead to a discussion about the different ways it could be there. But we don’t just say, ‘Because someone turned it around or hit it with a car.’”
“And then what, you get inspired to write screenplays together?”
“Well, that is just stupid.”
“Like, when I ask a question about the stars, Frank doesn’t always answer it just because he works at the observatory.”
“Well, no. He probably does. But he at least has the right answer. You just declare an answer like it’s fact.”
This came to a memorable head at Allison and Chris’ rehearsal dinner, when someone asked a question about iced tea versus sweet tea. It doesn’t matter what I said. I said something answering someone’s question. Then stee was looking at me with that smirk.
“I know,” I said. “Sorry.”
“We were all talking for like, twenty minutes, and then you answered a question and now we’re not talking anymore.”
I looked at the rest of the table apologetically. “Stee says I kill wonder.”
This is when Eric’s face brightened. “You do kill wonder! It’s true! He’s right!”
“I know, okay? I ruin wonder.”
Eric wasn’t finished. “Sometimes you don’t even have the answer, you just give an answer, one that you’ve deduced right then, and you pose it as the answer, even if you don’t have a single fact to back it up.”
Stee nodded. “She totally does that. She ruins wonder.”
“And I always think it’s the right answer because she’s so sure of herself, and then I tell someone that as fact and they tell me I’m a moron.”
“That’s enough,” I said. “Let’s all toast to Allison and Chris, shall we?”
“Miss Pam.” This was AB. “Why do we put rice in salt shakers?”
I opened my mouth, inhaling. I stopped. Everyone was staring at me, wide-eyed, close to giggles.
“Yes, Pam,” stee said. “Why would that be?”
I closed my eyes, and exhaled slowly.
“Wonder Killer needs to speak!”
“I… don’t… know,” I said.
“Really?” Eric asked. “Huh. It’s a good question. It seems weird to put rice in salt shakers. Maybe it’s a mistake.”
“Or maybe it’s to keep the salt from getting bugs in it!”
“I bet it’s an old wives’ tale about salt over your shoulder.”
I was squirming. I sat on my hands. I looked down at my plate and pulled my lips into my mouth. “That’s such a great question, Anna Beth. I…wonder… why people would put rice in salt shakers. Let’s all open our mouths and drool a little, staring at the ceiling. That’ll be fun. Come on, everybody. Let’s wonder!”
“This is killing her,” Eric said, rubbing his palms together.
“Why do you ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer?” I asked them. “If you don’t want to know it’s so the salt will come out of the holes easier and not clump up–”
Everyone gave a celebratory whoop, hands in the air. There were high-fives.
“What makes a rainbow, Pam?”
“Why come when I put on a hat I stop being cold?”
“What does a cat mean when he wags his tail?”
“Why is money green?”
“If you drop a penny and a ball at the same time, which one hits the ground first?”
“Why do you ruin wonder?”
I think I turned three shades of red before they all eased off of me. My fucking lovely friends.
Why the hell would you ask a question if you didn’t want the answer? Didn’t any of you have little brothers or sisters who asked about seventeen thousand questions a day, each one with the same level of importance? Weren’t you ever the person who had to explain the world to someone? Man. If there’s an answer to your question, don’t you want to know it? Why would you just say a bunch of words and let them be out there, but not want to know the answer? What sense does that make?
- Still Holding: A Novel of Hollywood, by Bruce Wagner. I had criticism about the new book from a friend who thought it was “too inside.” Then I read a book like this, which couldn’t be more inside. I have to remember to write what I want to write, and not always what I think people want me to write. You remember that, too. Write what you want to write, not what you think will get you paid. I’m learning that the hard way.
- The Basic Eight, by Daniel Handler. Dammit if I hadn’t figured this book out by page 50. I was frustrated, and then wanted to be wrong, and then I wasn’t. “You always figure the endings out,” stee said after I complained. See? I ruin wonder.
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