Friday, January 6, 2017

Snow Scene, Fred Feldman

A Snow Scene

by Frederick W. Feldman

I saw the director Ives Bayreuth once. In real life, I mean. I’ll tell you about it.
I’m a big fan of his movies. I know he’s done a lot of stuff - written some books, for example – but his films are what I’ve really connected with. It was funny, because I had been reading a bunch of his interviews the week before I saw him. He’s a very interesting dude – a bit of an iconoclast, but I have a soft spot for those. I think people get locked into certain ways of thinking about things, and then they start thinking that those are the only ways of thinking, so we need people who come along and shake things up and force us to deal with other ways of seeing the world.

Discovering his work in college was mind-bending. Well, it wasn’t for college. I found him accidentally through an internet search while I was procrastinating on an assignment for college. I went for anthropology, if you were wondering. I think that might have been a mistake. So far, it hasn’t done much for me, and most of the things I learned weren’t things that I didn’t already know or couldn’t have figured out on my own. On the other hand, knowing myself, I probably wouldn’t have kept my butt in the seat long enough to expend the mental energy needed to write a paper about what I actually think about social hierarchies if I hadn’t been forced to do it by college and the carrot-on-a-stick called “grades,” so it was helpful in that sense. If it weren’t for deadlines, I don’t think I’d get anything done.
I suppose seeing Ives Bayreuth isn’t like seeing Steven Spielberg. He’s not a big name like that. I mean, he’s popular in some quarters, but it's a niche. Usually weird people like me. His style isn’t for everyone, but I like how much hidden depth he gives his characters. And they’re usually pretty philosophical, if you look deep enough. My favorite is Lover’s Meeting, the one where he uses the romance formula. The plot is basically that a guy is going to marry a dysfunctional girl from a dysfunctional family, but then he falls for the shop-girl as they’re shopping for the wedding, so he breaks it off and then starts dating this new girl, but then it turns out both of the guy and the new girl are kind of a mess and it ends up falling apart. I don’t think I explained it very well, but it’s well done, though it’s a very cynical twist on the chick-flick ideals that it’s inverting.
I watched all his stuff in college. I pirated it onto my laptop and I’d stay up until three watching it. My roommate would be fast asleep and I’d just be in corner with headphones on having this intense emotional experience, washed in the glow of Bayreuth’s color palette. College had a lot of perks and I made some amazing friends there, but in many ways it was extremely stressful, and his movies gave me something to cry to, to think about, to lose myself in – just to escape.
On the day I saw him…what was I doing? I think I was trying to avoid filling out job applications. I had dragged myself out of bed at noon and put some waffles in the toaster for, like, the sixth day in a row (would have been more but waffles only come in packs of eight…breaks my streak) and already my mom was haranguing me. She gets up at eight, and I could feel that she had spent those first four hours of the day working herself up with concerns about her adult child, who was a professional bum. I don’t remember what she said exactly – I’ve always had a hard time remembering conversations correctly – but usually she gives well-meaning advice that nonetheless has a sharp, sharp edge to it. Well, I was enjoying my unemployment as much as she was. I certainly had no interest in being a worthless drain on society, but my previous job had fallen through and I was having a very hard time finding a new one. And I don’t think I was coping very well.
That’s not to say that my old job was great. It took me months post-graduation to land it, and by that time my standards had been lowered by desperation. Anything’s better than nothing. I remember, after the interview, barely able to do anything except compulsively clean everything in sight. When the call came, I was sitting in the squishy chair by the window and my foot had gone to sleep because it was hanging off the really hard armrest at a weird angle and when the phone rang I swiped it up and my thumb just barely missed the hang-up button and when I heard the HR guy’s voice offering me a job I felt such enormous relief. The first thing I did was hobble into the closet on my tingling foot and start picking out outfits that weren’t based around plaid pajama pants, and then I took a shower.
I’m not sure how long I worked there. It felt like a long time, but I started following the thawing of the last winter, which happened late, and, leaving the store on my last day, I remember my boots crunching over the first salting of the streets, so it must have only been a few months. I was laid off, and I honestly tried my best. That might have been why I failed. I was a sales associate, and the work environment was not great. I got along well enough with the guy who stocked the shelfs – not closely, but in a friendly way – but the other sales associates were very bitter people and very critical. Endless gossip and backbiting.
My favorite part of the job was on the quiet days when only one or two customers would stroll in and I could devote my full attention to them and try to brighten their day and help them find what they were looking for. In helping them pick the right gift for someone, I might get to hear all about their loved ones; sometimes they would start telling me the story of their life or their current problems. I really liked that, but we worked for commission, not hourly sessions. It happened often that I would start to help a customer and Julie (one of the other sales associates) would swoop in, interrupt me or the customer mid-sentence, and start asking them what they needed. And then she would walk off with them and I’d be left standing around like a fool. That was really uncomfortable.
The rest of the job was a lot of answering phones, taking down numbers and tracking sales, and all the little details I’m not so good at. Being a sales associate is kind of soul-crushing, and it got to me, too. I quickly hated it and hated that there was no point to the work I was doing, but every day I would choke down the frustration and show up again. But what I was ignoring in myself ended up being more than mental – I wasn’t eating much, was sleeping poorly, and I contracted an illness that forced me to cut back my hours significantly. Once I did that, I was averaging four hours a day, so I was actually expecting it when the manager told me one day that they had to lay me off.
After that, finding another position was taking even longer than when I got out of college. I had an anthropology degree, some sales experience, and no one was biting. I was searching a lot for opportunities at non-profits, but, as you probably remember, the economy had just taken its first dive and those positions were either non-existent or very competitive. Plus, I was still recovering from my illness. For that reason, I couldn’t take a laborious job that would shred my health even more. I was sleeping a lot and the anxiety was piling up.
So that was my headspace on the day I saw him. Snow had fallen with some strength last week, and a flurry that was forecasted to be a heavy storm was gathering outside. I was halfway through my waffle and my mother was fretting about running out of milk and eggs and the snowstorm was going to cut off access to the supermarket and everyone was going to be stocking up and that would cause a shortage so she had to get out now or all the eggs and milk would be gone but she couldn’t because she had so much to do and she always had too much to do and it was stressful and I had three bites of my waffle left when she at last came out with it and said “you’re not doing anything, go out and get milk and eggs.”
The you’re not doing anything stung, of course. I had five applications to fill out, but I wasn’t going to argue with her and start a fight, and I was perfectly happy to avoid those applications for half an hour or so, anyway. I kept my pajama pants on, but I stepped into some snow boots and bundled up in a great big coat, grabbed the keys, and scraped the accumulating snow off the jalopy’s windshield. The heating barely worked in that car and I shivered all the way to the convenience store (no need to go to the supermarket, and the convenience store was only a couple miles away). The snow had picked up and was coming down steadily now, but when I went into the store I didn’t get a feeling of worry from anyone there. The atmosphere was pretty laid-back. Some of the customers were definitely stocking up for the storm – one scruffy-looking man had loaded up two jugs of milk, four boxes of crackers, and three 12-packs of toilet paper – but the only heaviness in the air was that of life, the usual burnt-out heaviness that always wafts into small convenience stores. When I squeaked to a stop in my wet boots at the checkout line I saw a skinny old fellow with a matted grey beard feeding a twenty into the lottery machine across from me, and I was struck with how beat-down and bent out of shape is the hope that makes people play the lottery. He stuffed his ticket in his pocket and lifted his plastic grocery bags away with his strong, wiry arms as the register beeped out my receipt.
When I got outside, there really was a snowstorm coming down. I was blasted with it as soon as the automatic doors opened. I buttoned up all fifty of my coat buttons as tight as I could and put my head down. Once I’d waddled to the car and tossed the milk and eggs inside, I looked up and that was when I saw him. An old-looking sedan pulled up to the curb in front of the convenience store. Ives Bayreuth stepped out – I knew it was him from all the interviews I had been watching – shielding his face from the biting wind, and slammed the door shut. He was shorter than I expected him to be, but his long overcoat, the lapels of which he turned up to cover his face and were whipped by the wind, gave him a sweeping elegance that made him look spectre-like against the starkness of the snow. He didn’t use the sidewalk, instead going straight to the hill and trudging up. He wore no hat and snowflakes flecked his black hair with white speckles.

A huge gust rushed in and I had to put my hand on the car to steady myself, and my nose stung with cold. I could have followed him in, I could have asked for his autograph, or told him how much his work meant to me. But I didn’t. I let him walk into the store and get whatever groceries he needed. I guess he was on a trip? I can’t think of any other reason he would be in our town. Going in and speaking to him seemed tacky; no words I could imagine trading with him could compare to the image I saw then: of his face contorted with rage and teeth gritted, and his whole body fighting against that enormous icy wind, as if the world itself was trying to push him back into his car and away from his bread and milk, and him pushing right back against it and struggling up the snowy hill into some meagre and non-descript convenience store, his footprints behind him being immediately erased, but his presence leaving an impression forever in my mind – a striking tableau of a man of strange visions battling against the elements of the material world. On that day, at that time, what else could I have asked for?


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