Play Me, p.1Laura Ruby
For Jess, who asked.
“Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn’t that what makes a man?”
“Sure, that and a pair of testicles.”
—The Big Lebowski
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Me)
10 Things I Hate About You
Dial M for Murder
Best in Show
Some Like It Hot
West Side Story
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Saturday Night Fever
Lost in America
Rebel Without a Cause
The Return of the King
About the Author
Other Books by Laura Ruby
About the Publisher
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Me)
Most people turn into complete morons when you put them in front of a camera, and thank God for that.
Today I’ve got the digital trained on the two guys in my driveway—one on a unicycle, another on a tall bike. They’re getting ready to joust. Their pages (pimply dorks with anime brain) hand them their lances (poles made from PVC pipe). Duct-taped to the ends of the lances are huge stuffed animals, an Elmo and a Hello Kitty. The object? To ride straight at your opponent and Elmo him right onto his Hello Kitty. And if you knock him hard enough to cause (a) bleeding, (b) broken bones, or (c) a humiliating, painful, and yet strangely hilarious groin injury, that’s even better.
It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen and I’m so happy. Watching these guys strap on bike helmets decorated with flaming skulls, I have to keep from doing my own moronic dance of joy.
“This is going to rock,” Rory says, fiddling with the boom mike he’s setting up to catch the walla walla of the crowd gathered in the garage and in the yard. We’re shooting for our show, Riot Grrl 16. Our riot girl, Gina, is in full costume: black cherry lipstick, pink and black hair spiked as high as she could get it, striped shirt, and camos. Her feet are bare, but her pants are rolled up so that you can see the tiny tattoo of an ivy vine on her calf. (I told her once that it would be good for the show if she got a dagger tattooed somewhere; she said that the best place for a dagger was my heart.) In this scene, she’s supposed to be partying at a tall bike joust when her drug-addicted brother shows up claiming to be in deep with the mob. Instead Gina’s busy leveling her patented Death Glare of Obliteration at me. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but since the Death Glare looks good on camera, I don’t care.
Rory’s still fiddling with the mike. “Are we going to get any sound or what?” I say.
“Keep your panties on, princess.” He built a mile-long boom with multiple joints so we can get the thing almost anywhere, and we’ve never had it drop into the shots. He also built the steady cam. And we have a dolly that he rigged up from the Segway Gina’s richer-than-J.K.-Rowling parents bought her, the one they said would help her be a more environmentally responsible human, the one she called “the Dorkway.” But today, like most days, we’re using handheld, held—of course—by me.
“Okay,” Rory says. “We got sound.”
“It’s a revolution in filmmaking!” I say. He gives me an obscene gesture that he’s given me so many times in the last six years it’s ceased to have any meaning at all. I blow him a kiss. Joe, who had moved quickly to Gina’s side to talk her out of any psychotic breaks she might be contemplating, rolls his eyes at both of us. Joe’s the third member of our production company. If Rory’s job is the technical stuff, Joe’s job is the human stuff. He mostly works with Gina and the other actors, giving them suggestions, motivations, pretensions. He’s an actor too, one of those fanatics who believes in immersing himself in roles, the kind of guy who would spend six weeks living in Beulah, Alabama, to deliver one line of dialogue with an authentic accent. For Riot Grrl 16, he dropped twelve pounds he couldn’t afford to lose so that he could be more convincing as Riot Grrl’s drug-addicted half brother. His face looks like a carved pumpkin. A pissed-off carved pumpkin. I can’t understand why he’s not more excited about this. It’s our ticket. Our big shot.
To quote Matt Damon in Dogma: Somebody needs a nap.
A groupie hovers to my left. She’s standing so close I can feel her breath on my arm. She’s a junior at my school, but I keep forgetting her name. She’s hot, if you like legs that go up to there (and who doesn’t)? She’s been hanging around our shoots for weeks now.
“It’s so cool that you guys are in this contest,” she says. “I mean, MTV! Can you believe it?”
Yes, actually, I can. “It’s pretty sweet.”
“What will you do if you win?”
“We’re just trying to make the top five and get on the prime-time broadcast,” I tell her. “That’s enough visibility for us.” This is the standard answer I give so I don’t sound too full of myself, even though I think Riot Grrl 16 is the best in the contest and people would be insane to think otherwise.
“Oh, you’ll totally make the top five,” Groupie says.
“You think so?”
“I know so.” Groupie’s lips are nice. Puffy and full. Lips you could use as throw pillows. “I’ve been watching you,” she says. “You know your way around a camera.”
I shrug. “I should. I’ve been doing it for long enough.”
She nibbles at her puffy bottom lip and flutters her lashes. “I heard you know your way around a lot of other things, too.” It’s a lame line, but her voice is low and scratchy and hits me right in the fly. I calculate how fast I can hustle twenty-five tall-bike-riding geeks out of my yard.
“Jeez, can you focus for three seconds?” Joe says. Joe doesn’t believe in fame, commercial success, or groupies. My mom told me that one day Joe will be forced to do TV ads for foot fungus cream just to have the work and then he won’t be so proud.
“Hello?” says Joe, doing that slow-blink thing he does when he’s annoyed.
“I’m focused, I’m focused,” I say. I can’t help it; my eyes are drawn back to Groupie’s up-to-there legs.
Joe snorts and whispers something to Gina. Gina is making some kind of snarling sound and jabbing fingers in my direction, so I hurry up and center the shot.
The two jousting goons start racing toward each other, both of them wobbly as six-year-olds. I love it. For a minute, I forget about the groupie, I forget where I am, I forget everything that’s happened in the last year and revel in the idiocy that unfolds before me. Tall Bike completely misses his opponent, but Unicycle gets in one good whack. Tall Bike looks a little dazed, at least more dazed than when they started. They circle for another run. Charge!
Groupie wraps her hot little hand around my bicep.
And Gina launches a bottle at my head.
“Ed! Duck!” Rory yells. Too late, as usual. The bottle misses my face but bounces off my arm, ricocheting into the garage behind me. My father’s tools explode off the Peg-Board where they’d been arranged like a row of exclamation points.
“Hey!” I say, not because she probably shattered all the bones in my arm, but because of my dad’s tools. My dad hates when his stuff gets messed up. He’ll kill me when he sees it. Okay, he won’t kill me, but he’ll make me pay for any damage, which might as well be killing me because I’m broke. I spent everything I had on the new video camera. Speaking of, what if she’d hit it?
Rory shakes his head, which tells me he thinks Riot Grrl 16 isn’t acting; she’s running riot for real. Behind her, the jousting continues. It’s not looking good for Unicycle.
“What?” I say, reframing the shot so that Gina’s in the foreground with the joust behind her. “Who’s an ass?”
“And you can put the stupid camera down,” she says, glancing around the garage for more ammunition. I lower the camera. My arm is throbbing.
Joe throws up his hands, picks up his Bible, and flops in one of the folding chairs in the garage to wait this little episode out. He hates any drama that we don’t create for the screen. And Gina is drama personified. She’s spitting out an array of impressive and colorful swearwords, which, if she wasn’t saying them so fast, might have an impact. Right now, she sounds like she’s shouting in Latvian: mutherfushiheadasdik!
I’m getting impatient. We do one episode of Riot Grrl 16 a week. We have till tomorrow to finish it and get it up on the web; otherwise we’ll be disqualified from the contest. We really don’t need to have our star freaking out on us, not unless she’ll let us post it on the internet.
“Gina,” I say. “Can we talk later?”
“We can talk now!”
Behind her, Rory has pulled his own digital camera out of his pocket. I know he’s filming this. It’s wrong, but I don’t mention it. I had to promise lots of screen time to these guys to get them to joust at my house instead of at the park; we should have something to show for today. Besides, I’m missing all the action in the driveway. Unicycle went down. No embarrassing groin injuries, but it appears he did fall on his face, which now sports a few racing stripes. Two new guys are setting up to joust, one of them with fat, matted dreads snaking down the middle of his back. White guys should never, ever, ever wear dreads, especially while riding a tall bike with a SpongeBob strapped to the handlebars.
“What’s the deal with her?” Gina says.
“What’s the deal with who?”
This is not the right thing to say.
“Her!” Gina bellows, pointing at the groupie. “Ms. If Her Shorts Got Any Shorter, They’d Be a Gynecological Exam.”
This has got to be about what happened three or four weekends ago. We were rehearsing for Riot Grrl 16. Dad was out for the night, working late as usual. So, yeah, things got a little out of control, but not in a bad way. I thought Gina was cool with it.
I guess Gina’s not cool with it.
She’s really crying now, the black mascara or eyeliner or greasepaint or whatever it is that she puts on her eyes dripping down her cheeks and onto the striped shirt. I like Gina; we’re friends. I don’t want to see her so sad. And she does look sad. Small, slumped in on herself.
Rory really shouldn’t be filming this.
“Gina, look, I’m sorry,” I say. And I am. Yes, we hooked up, but I didn’t promise her anything. I didn’t think she needed any promises. I mean, she even hooked up with Rory once (if you can believe Rory).
Then something else hits me and for a second I can’t breathe. I take two steps toward her and try to lower my voice (for all the good it does). “Wait. You’re not, like, late or anything, are you?”
Gina’s mouth drops open.
Joe’s mouth drops open.
Even Rory’s mouth drops open.
It would have been funny, if things weren’t so very unfunny.
“Jesus,” Joe says.
“Dude,” Rory says.
Gina starts to laugh then. Some kind of crazy-creepy laugh. Sort of scares me, that laugh.
“No, I’m not late, you loser. But even if I was, I’m not sure I’d tell you anyway.”
“So what are we fighting about?”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” she says.
And you know what? I don’t get it. What I do get is that the first episode of Riot Grrl 16, the one we did just for kicks even before the contest, was one of the featured videos on YouTube. It got more five-star ratings than the skate-boarding dog, the guy who stuffed a dozen olives up his nose, Top Ten Ways To Die in a Video Game, and The Best Banana Phone Video Ever! And what I do get is that Gina has completely lost it the way that girls always seem to, the way they do when you least expect it. It’s like they wait until you’re at your most stressed out and then they lay this weird trip on you, like you all of a sudden had more going on with them than you had. What is up with this? I just stand there, staring at her, watching her cry and laugh at the same time, wishing I could maybe hug her or something, but I know I can’t touch her.
Groupie pipes up. “Maybe you should go chill, Gina.”
Gina shoots her a glare that could kill. I expect to see Groupie’s guts fall out of her body right then and there, a big steaming pile of intestines all over the garage floor.
But my dad’s always saying I play too many video games. Gina’s expression goes from murderous to amused in under three seconds. She does that thing, you know that thing, where girls look each other up and down? Yeah. So Gina does the up-and-down thing to the groupie and smiles this schizo little smile. Then she looks back at me. “Someday some girl’s going to rip your heart out and stomp on it. I hope I’m there to see it.” And then she turns and marches down the driveway, but not before snatching Dreads’s SpongeBob off his bike and drop-kicking it into the next yard.
“Tell me you weren’t filming that,” says Joe.
Rory shrugs and slips the camera back into his pocket. “We won’t use it without her permission.”
Joe stares at him for a full minute. I try to convince myself that he’s simply stunned by Rory’s new hair, which he’s recently bleached snow white to set off his perpetual sunburn.
But that’s not it. Joe’s ex Joelle—I know, Joe and Joelle, kills you, doesn’t it?—was friends with this girl named Audrey who graduated last year. Someone, we don’t know who, took a picture of Audrey while she was hooking up with her boyfriend at a party and then sent the picture everywhere. Joelle was furious about it, which means that Joe was furious, too. Now that Joelle’s gone, Joe’s furious on principle. Joe’s all about principle.
If Rory has principles, we haven’t found them yet. Rory imitates Joe, blinking slowly and ominously like a hit man about to go for his gun.
A beater car pulls up to the curb and honks but has to park a ways down the road because of all the cars. “That’s my ride,” says Joe.
“We’re not done yet.” I fight to keep the whine out of my voice. “You can’t leave.”
Joe heaves his backpack onto his shoulder as if he were Atlas and the pack were the world. “In case you haven’t noticed, our star is gone. We only needed a few more shots. If you weren’t such a slut, we could have finished the episode already.”
“Can I help it that I’m irresistible?” This is supposed to be a joke, but Joe doesn’t laugh. Joe doesn’t think anything is funny anymore.
“You do know Gina’s been crushing on you for months, right?” he says.
“That’s not his fault,” says Groupie.
Groupie is officially more trouble than she’s worth. I don’t even look at her. “I never told Gina we were going out.”
“That’s what you always say.”
“Well, it’s true.”
“What if she quits?” Joe says.
That’s exactly what I’m worried about, but I’m not going to admit it. “She won’t quit. She wants this just as much as we do.”
Joe shifts his pack. “I still have to go.”
“We have editing left to do.”
“Not much. Do it without me.”
He’s been saying that more and more. “What’s more important than the show?”
“I have a history project due.”
“Give me a break,” I say. “We’re graduating in less than a month.”
Someone is standing outside the beater car waving for Joe. It’s a girl—a blonde—that much I can tell from here. She’s backlit by the setting sun, making her white shirt and hair blaze like a chemical fire. Even the jousting nerds have stopped jousting and turned to look, tenting their hands over their eyes as if it hurts them.
“Who’s that?” I say.
“Don’t worry about it,” says Joe.
“No, really,” I say.
“No, really,” he says. He jogs down the driveway toward the car.
Riot Grrl 16 is going to be big; we’re all going to be big—I can feel it. I aim my camera and zoom in on the human sunbeam. I want to know who’s so important that Joe would cut out on us.
“Eddy?” Rory says.
I zoom in. And zoom again.
I know this girl.
We have history.
As in History.
She’s not a sunbeam.
She’s a lightning bolt.
I’m too busy to notice that Dreads is operating a tall bike without the proper training and is coming straight for me.
About humiliating yet strangely hilarious groin injuries? Yeah. Mine gets 1,236 views on YouTube, which, funnily enough, happens to be the exact number of kids at my high school.
Gina is not the only girl who’s mad at me. Tippi Hedren is furious.
“I think you’re a louse,” she says when I limp through the door. She’s been in her cage all day and she is not happy about it.
“Sorry, Tippi,” I say, opening the cage. “But there were too many people around. You would have bitten them all new nostrils.” Her beak is wicked sharp.
Play Me by Laura Ruby / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes