When I was twenty-three, I attended the New York Film Academy (this was before it had the gazillion branches it has now). I wanted to write and direct movies. I was one of two girls in the class and the other ten were guys, some of whom were from Mexico City. We became close friends. We’d run around the city in crews of four, switching jobs to assist whoever was directing. I was on an eight-week high; we were taught how to tell stories in under ten minutes, direct actors, handle a camera, and edit on an old-fashioned Steenbeck. It was movie camp, and looking back, I can’t believe how fortunate I was to have my parents support my dream – even though I’m sure deep down they prayed I would just “get it out of my system” and get a real job. My mom goes to synagogue once a week to pray, but apparently that wasn’t enough, because I spent the next ten years in pursuit of that same dream.
It was awesome to be the only girl (the other woman was older, married, and German), but even back then, I was already “taken,” dating the guy who was to become my future ex-husband. In retrospect, what an idiot I was for not maximizing on the boy/girl ratio. Those boys were hot, international goys! And I had not-so-secret crushes on every single one. I lost touch with my crew, except for “the Mexicans” as we lovingly called them. One of them – who back then was only sixteen, painfully shy, with a bad complexion he masked behind long greasy bangs – is now a well-known actor named Gael Garcia Bernal. The other two went back to Mexico City and started their own businesses.
I saw one of my Mexicans the other night – thanks to Facebook – for the first time in thirteen years. He’s 37 now, a self-made businessman, and been through a lot. He’s realistic and yet unjaded. And to my delightful surprise, he still wants to make movies. (Me? Not so much. Maybe Mom intensifying her prayers during my divorce finally paid off).
We all know how impossible it is to cover thirteen years of adulthood in three hours, so instead, we got right to the good stuff. Not facts or timelines, but our learnings: comparing and contrasting who we are today to the kids we had been back then – full of hopes and dreams.
I’ve noticed that I like Meds (no, not that kind): Latinos, Italians, and Greeks. Perhaps it’s because they speak like Israelis…not just the broken English and talking with the hands part – but they get right to the guts of an issue, with no fanfare. I wonder if they even have the word “airs” in their vocabulary. Most importantly, we can curse and yell at each other. People who witness this think there will be blood, but to us, it means there will be love.
For example, here are topics that my friend and I covered, and our dialogue. By the end of the night I was calling him “Yoda Mexicana.”
On being single….
Me: Have you done the online dating thing? I’m not sure I believe in it.
Him: We try to find love through computers. But we are not computers.
Me: More people than we realize have had affairs. I don’t know how they do it. Not the cheating part, but how they are able to live their lives pretending.
Him: Well, they are not cheating on anyone else. If I cheat, I cheat on myself.
Me: When I left my husband and moved to NY, I started from scratch. I was a mess.
Him: People that stay die. People that move, live.
Me: So you and Gael used to be roommates? Wasn’t he broke before he became famous, how did he pay rent?
Him: He didn’t. He lived on the floor.
Me: I don’t regret all that time I spent married, or the divorce. I found my passion because of it: writing. You know what I mean?
Him: Life gives to people who take advantage of it.
On bad patterns…
Me: Why do people, myself included, keep banging their heads on the same wall – trying to get through to the other side – without realizing that they should stop and go through the back door?
Him: Because people are stupid. Dogs are smarter. They only need to get hurt once.
On being “selfish”…
Me: It took me a long time to subscribe to the conceit “you have to do what’s good for you” without feeling like I was being a selfish bitch.
Him: No, no, you are not conceited. It’s like on an airplane, when they read you the safety rules. First you have to put your own mask on, before helping others. If you can’t breathe, then what good are you to people around you?
I wish I could remember the rest, but every time I stopped him mid sentence to write this stuff down, he gave me a look that said: “How is any of this a newsflash to you?” So I told him to F*ck off, he waved his hand at me dismissively, and we ordered more drinks. But he’s right – none of the above is news, but maybe it’s all about how it’s said. Maybe when your vocabulary is compromised, it forces you to simplify overcomplicated thoughts and get to the essence of the matter.
Needless to say, if after thirteen years a guy is able to display such growth and wisdom, I think he should continue to follow his heart, and pursue the same dreams he had at 23. Shouldn’t we all?