“It’s for a student movie.”
These are the words Mike Gooodman uses when his mom catches him masturbating in front of the family video camera.
Granted, there aren’t many things to say in this situation: sitting at the edge of your bed, covered, waist-down, while the camera pointed at your crotch counts the seconds out. It’s amazing that he thinks of anything.
And even more amazing that Mrs. Goodman seems to buy it. She is a lot of things: devout Mormon, government conspiracist… But Mrs. Goodman has never been a connoisseur of the arts.
But for his next birthday, Mike receives his very own video camera, so he can film whatever he wants, on his own time, without endangering the family equipment.
We never ask Mike why he was filming himself. Let me remind you that this is before the age of camera phones or sexting; no youtube, no porntube, no youporn. The only audience for this video is Mike, and the amount of meta that goes into making a masturbation movie for your own enjoyment is some fifth-level Inception shit.
We’re not excited about why he does it, we’re just excited about that he does it. In the name of art! The Student Film. Any tomfoolery is tolerated when you’re holding a video camera. And one thing is for sure: Mrs. Goodman never bothers us again.
Over the years, the phrase “It’s for a student movie” becomes less believable. Youtube comes along and makes the Film Degree the biggest joke of academia. Suddenly, everyone is jerking off in front of cameras and nobody cares about the mise-en-scene or the F-stops anymore. It’s all poor lighting and awkward angles. It’s disgusting.
I jump ship to the second-most useless degree. I become an English major.
I become a writer.
After four years of traversing the English program, I emerge on the other side with more knowledge of the phallus than Mike’s movie could ever teach me; I also come out with a line. The line, in fact! The five words that get me into and out of every adventure of my adult life: “I am a freelance writer.”
The beauty of this role is that it doesn’t require credentials, props or costumes (although a grizzled beard won’t hurt). Even the English degree is unnecessary. You, you and you, sir, can all be freelance writers! Even the title sounds attractive: Freelance —you answer to no one. Writer—you probably have access to top-notch antidepressants.
“I’m a freelance writer.” The line gets me into music and film festivals. I get VIP treatment at the CMJ music showcase. I meet my hero George Romero. I get access to more House Party-themed photo-shoots than the average person.
I use it to get an internship at Vice.
In this environment my freelance power fades. I’m simply known as The New Guy. The other intern, an 18-year-old fashion blogger, uses her title to seduce the entire editorial staff, none of whom are at all interested in my story lines. I spend my days cleaning toilets assaulted by vegans and fishing American Spirits out of ashtrays, waiting for the opportunity to show them that I am more than just The New Guy.
That opportunity comes in the form of an invite to a cooking presentation. The email reads:
Vapor cooks better
Learn Why & Taste How
Join us for the Launch of 360 Cookware — a revolutionary, eco-advanced
new line with an innovative new cooking method.
Don’t get me wrong: this sounds like capital The Worst, but I’m sure no one else will volunteer to cover it—automatic blog post for me. Also, I’m poor and fairly certain I can get a free pot out of it. (Cooked ramen? Everything is going Bradford!)
According to the email, the demonstration centers on these pots that utilize the “power of vapor” to cook food better. How is this different from steam? I’m not sure, but I am thrilled to call bullshit. I pitch the idea for the blog and the Vice editor says yes.
I get to the place—some non-descript warehouse loft on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Outside, a group of food-bloggers have gathered to bitch about some terrible restaurant that just opened. I try to fit in by sharing the only bit of food-knowledge I know: That the first KFC was built in Salt Lake City. One of the writers smugly says “I knew that.” It makes me want to stomp on both his toes and say “Double down, mutha fuckaaaa!” I run inside instead.
The man who guards the entrance cannot find my name on the RSVP list.
This is the moment.
I stand straight, look him in the eyes, and don my Freelance Writer disguise.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m a freelance writer for Vice Magazine. There must have been some mix-up.” The man with the list gets the biggest smile. A little stream of drool falls out of the corner of his mouth.
“My and my friends love the Dos and Don’ts,” he says.
I say, “Thank you, I write all of them.”
He ushers me in.
A spokeswoman from the 360 company takes us into a serene, bleach-white loft that looks less like a set for a cooking presentation and more like a scene from Gattaca. Everyone is well-dressed and has that passive, blank stare that I assume people from the future have. I become aware of my own stained shirt and ripped jeans, so I start the game I play when I’m in awkward situations: become the drunkest person in the room in the least amount of time.
Once word gets out that I am from Vice, people begin treating me with the same trepidation and fear as you would upon finding and viewing your son’s masturbation video. One of the marketing women from the 360 company starts talking about online traffic and the business-prospects of twitter, but since I only tweet about haunted houses and Dunkin Donuts, I can’t relate. The conversation ends with me recommending that she “tell the boys in the lab to make a 360 pot big enough to cook a turkey.” I say this with the conviction of a man who cooks turkeys on the reg. She does one of those “I’m gonna stand over there” things.
By the time the actual presentation starts, I am about five or six cabernets in so the details are a little hazy. I do remember that there are five layers of stainless steel in each 360 pot and that cooking with vapor “locks in the flavor.” They keep describing how the food is “moist” and “stewing its own juices.” It grosses me out so I leave.
On my way out, the enthusiastic Vice fan gives me a door prize: my very own 360 pot! (I also take a wine glass, which isn’t a door prize, but pretty easy to fit up my sleeve)
The first thing I do when I get home is test the pot myself. I can’t wait to call bullshit. I am dismayed, however, when the awesome vapor locks in my ramen’s Oriental flavor. Vapor: one; freelance writer: zero.