The Portable James Franco

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Below is an excerpt from an essay I wrote for my friends’ online culture magazine, Vannevar. Featured in the “What We Talk About When We Talk About James Franco” issue, the essay renders a world in which all of Franco’s films are real.

A dingy bar above a hair salon, smoke swirling a slightly off-balance pool table, tread marks marring the green cloth.He sat in the corner perched on a misplaced bar stool, black leather boots crossed at the ankles. He leaned back slightly with his arm extended in front of him, a better vantage point from which to take photo after photo of his self-assured grin, glazed eyes and shimmering pink lips he had likely just balmed in the bathroom. Later, he would saunter to the pool table, lean back on it as though no one was trying to shoot, and flash that toothy smirk at a couple of heavily-made-up undergrads as he tousled his over-moused hair.

I sneaked sidelong glances trying to figure out if it was really him. Hanging out in my dive bar in my town on a Saturday night, taking enough selfies to fill a flip book and hitting on girls more than a decade his junior.

It reminded me of the first time we met. It was fourteen years ago, back at Gilmore High School. He went by Chris Campbell back then. He had the hots for Maggie Carter2 and lied to her about his favorite books, bands and films – Nine Stories, the Eels, Casa Blanca and anything by Monty Python – none of which he had actually read, listened to or watched. This was when he pretended to volunteer at the nursing home where Maggie worked and plugged his nose the second he walked through the door. He stole an old woman’s Jell-o and when she asked where it had gone, he responded “Pipe down you old bag.” This was when he trimmed his armpit hair and believed the best way to get a girl in bed was to prey on her insecurities and tell her that her hair looks “butch.” This was when he was throwing around the catch phrase, “The old Chris Campbell nail and bail.”

Naturally, I lost touch with him after that. It wasn’t until a few years later that our paths crossed again, this time at William McKinley High School.3 At this point he was telling people to call him Daniel Desario. But there was something different about him. Something softer. Kinder. Funnier. Something that made me think twice about just walking away. Maybe he was done pretending he had read books he didn’t give a shit about, done letting a girl’s best friend pen emails and grand speeches on his behalf that would woo the pants right off her pear-patterned panties. This time, he seemed genuine, no longer concerned about whether or not people saw his actions as weak or “gay,”4 as he wont to say back at McKinley.

I could even see what Lindsay Weir5 saw in him. Particularly at that time when I, not unlike Lindsay, was tired of Jesus-loving, rule-abiding, do-gooder, A-honor-roll friends like Millie Kentner,6 so preoccupied with what you’re “supposed” to do,7 just as I was tired of dating spoiled soccer players, my gaze turning instead toward carefree, stoner musicians. Never mind James aka Daniel couldn’t really play guitar. He wasn’t high strung like me or Lindsay or our old friends, and that was so refreshing. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, whether that meant toking under the bleachers during fifth period, or getting hot and heavy with his girlfriend in your kitchen even though your parents were in the adjoining room (were they actually having sex? It’s hard to say, but I kind of hoped they were). It made you hopeful he might one day get hot and heavy with you in such a vulnerable place.

Read the full article at vannevar.net.


Notes

1. The bar in question is the Attic in Boulder, CO, which resides above West End Hair Salon. For the record, smoke did not actually swirl the pool table.

2. She goes by Marla Sokoloff these days. You might better know her as Gia from her days gallivanting with Stephanie Tanner.

3. Yes, he technically attended McKinley first, in 1999 (although he pretended it was 1980, which comes as little surprise given his penchant for pretending; he also has a talent for getting people to go along with his fantasies, somehow convincing everyone else at McKinley to also pretend it was 1980), and didn’t go to Gilmore until the following year. But not unlike Billy Pilgrim, I tend to jump around in time.

4. Whether he was really being genuine remains unclear. Can someone simultaneously be genuine and pretend they’re living in a past decade (see footnote 3)?

5.  Aka Linda Cardellini.

6. Aka Sarah Hagan. If you’re wondering why all these people change their names so frequently, so am I – is it James’ prowess at getting people to go along with his fantasies, or do they only change their names later on, when they’re done with James and desperate to escape his manipulative ways (keep reading for context)?

7. Not unlike James’ Chris Campbell phase. They were both concerned with meeting the expectations of their respective peer groups – Millie, the do-gooders, and Chris, the preps and jocks.

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