Riding on a wave of advice from friends and family which, despite the varied forms it was delivered in, all centred around the invaluable nature of experience, I sat in the passenger seat of my mom's 2004 Toyota Corolla, slowly bumping along Josephine Street. She caught me looking listlessly out the window, loudly slapping a hand down onto my knee and offering a warm smile, "Ready for your debut, sportsfan?".
"I'm not even going to be in front of the camera, mom."
"Not yet!" she laughed as we turned right onto Park Road. The car's stripped brake pads whined as we eased onto the soft, damp shoulder of the street. Somewhere along the drive over, the early morning rain had stopped without my knowing, but its presence remained, filling the tiny spaces in the saturated gravel below. The wet pebbles squished beneath my foot as I launched myself out of the car. Across the street, the opposite shoulder of the road disappeared downward before levelling out into Riverside Park.
"I won't embarrass you in front of your new co-stars. Have a good day!" Mom exclaimed as she rolled back onto the road. Her head rotated owl-like in pace with her driving to watch me as I watched her, driving blindly back and forth across the painted yellow lines until she turned to face forward and slowly, but surely, rounded a corner ahead out of sight.
I crossed the street to survey the area from atop of the hill leading down into the park. Beneath me, a colony of humans abuzz. Parked trailers, pick-up trucks, and Yarises littered the grass below. On the park's solitary basketball court, an unforgiving rectangular island of concrete afloat in the sea of grass (I can feel the stab of pain watching my basketball hit the edge of the concrete and fly impossible distances away whenever I made a shot without hitting the rim). Tables, chairs, and mobile dressers were scattered about the concrete, holding snacks, people, and hair products, respectively. All of the above wore plastic, transparent ponchos, uncommitted to the notion that the rain had yet stopped. The plastic tarps on the least mobile of the three, the table laden with snacks, still held small puddles of water, tiny lakes suspended in midair above fun size bags of Cheetohs (Frito Lays), bottles of clean, spring water (Nestle), and bowls of M&Ms (also Nestle), sorted by colour.
Shifting my gaze closer to the river, I saw crew members setting up complicated cameras on complicated camera stands among the reeds and riverbanks. A little more inland, a row of three directors' chairs sat filled with, according to the white labels along the chairs' backs, one "director", one "producer", and one "star", from left to right. Returning a little more outland, I grimaced at the murky waters of the Maitland river. Though the passing observer may attribute this chocolate milk opaqueness to the recent downpour, the passing observer who visited the park on a sunny day would know better.
I calculated my angle of entry. My mom had dropped me off at the most severe angle from the road above to the park below. In the winter, when a healthy coat of snow covered everything, we called this hill, "The Killer". The name was first proposed in 2006/07 when an intensely rainy autumn significantly eroded the more delicate slope the county had installed long ago. The result, a frightening vertical plunge, led to three broken wrists, a fractured leg, and triggered countless cases of early onset Carpal Tunnel in children whose hands burned white beneath their heavy mits as they gripped the wheels of GT racers and prayed to gods they weren't sure existed. All within a single Christmas holiday, too. The name was corroborated and accepted into town vernacular when Sean MacIntosh's dad drank too many Mike's Hard Lemonades and accidentally took his Ford Taurus for a run down The Killer with exceptionally more fatal results. In the summer, no less.
I stared down (literally down) the Killer, purging a shiver from my shoulders down through my trunk and legs and into the soft earth below. Looking further down the street, the slope of the hill weakened as the road sunk, reduced to no more than a wildly unsatisfying toboggan ride by the baseball diamond at the far end of the park. I had taken two steps in the diamond's direction when a voice below interrupted. I froze and looked back at my steps, five of them, well-defined in the wet, fine gravel. I then looked down to the figure below. A bushel of wild, crunchy red hair that I suspected hid a woman beneath it, bundled down by a microphone headset, 3 lanyards, and wearing all black waved below.
"You the intern?"
"Y-yeah. Yeah, I am"
"Where are you going?"
I pointed to the low end of the park, "I was going to walk down over there."
"We don't have time for that, just come down here."
"But that's The Killer."
"I'm sorry, what's The Killer?"
"The crazy steep hill in between us, it's called The Killer around here."
"This whole shithole of a town should be called The Killer, in my opinion."
"Have you ever left it?"
"...No, but I don't mind it here."
"You'll probably die here. That's why I thought it should be called The Killer. Kinda poetic, eh?"
I shrugged, unwilling to admit that it was kinda poetic.
"You'll be fine, now come down. We've got to be ready to start shooting when the sun comes out."
I glanced up to the overcast sky, unerring in its utter cloudiness. I looked back down. I sighed. At the sight of the steep angle below, a throbbing ache slowly rose and thrummed deep in the joints of my wrists. I rotated my hands in circles nervously before waddling forward.
I tried to not use my hands for the first couple steps, maintaining a safe distance between the exposed mud of The Killer and my clean hands and the clean arms attached to them and the clean button-up shirt I was wearing on top of all that. Down below, I saw the face hidden below the explosion of red hair twist into an unsure grimace at my strategy.
"Okay, maybe you should walk down and around the Killer."
Relieved, I instantly reversed my last pace, placing my right foot into the muddy print behind me. Alas, my first step in this location had produced irreversible changes to the ground structure, breaking the critical bonds among the delicate arrangement of mud and grass molecules. The earth instantly gave way when I put my body weight back on my right leg.
In slow motion, I watched first my right leg, then my left leg, kick out in front of me from the sleek mud below. Floating in a seated position, I thought about the only time I, myself, had ridden down The Killer many years ago. The dull pain in my wrists reignited. For one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, I hovered. When the face below looking at up me turned from horror to amazement, I plummeted straight downward, landing squarely on my ass on the edge of the slope. In hopes of understanding the cold, damp sensations I felt along the backs of my thighs, I imagined a sponge squeezed tight in a fist being released underwater. The face framed by the eruption of red hair below returned to a look of horror. I watched god descend from the heavens and place a huge fingertip gingerly against my sternum, keeping me delicately perched on the precipice of The Killer. He bided his time, waiting for a bizarre shrieking to come from the onlooker and ensnare the attention of all others in the park, who took turns to rotate and watch me up above. Farther off, above the backs of the directors' chairs by the water, I watched the upper half of a director and producer twist to see me sitting high on the edge of a cliff. Satisfied with the maximization of comic gains, god removed his finger from my chest and drifted back upwards. My eyes bounced to my right side then left and back again, watching the surrounding mud and grass of the hill slowly accelerate past me. As I began my second, and final, ride down The Killer, I struggled to come up with an analogy that could explain the new sensations on the backs of my thighs, but couldn't think of anything.
I came to at the bottom of The Killer minutes later, laying on my back. The skin on the back of my knuckles entirely white, each fist clenched the 2 inches of earth below it, compressed tightly into ergonomic organic stress balls. Hovering over me, the mess of red hair rained down. Buried deep in its maw, a pair of black rimmed glasses sat, framing eyes blinking blankly down into mine.
"Are you okay?"
I released the compacted clods in my hands. "Am I okay?"
Hesitant nodding. "Can you stand?" Pairs of arms from other crew members in black slowly hoisting me up by the elbows and shoulders.
Leaning on my supporters. "Can I stand?"
Hesitant nodding. "Well, thanks for showing up!"
I ventured to stand unsupported, shaking each limb to test its ability while my core slowly vibrated back into awareness. My entire backside felt raw. I twisted my head to peek over my shoulder and just barely resolved the edges of a splatter of dark mud. I imagined laying face down on god's breakfast Fiestaware as he scraped a gigantic butter knife across the Killer's soft face and spread the mud from my ankles to ass. Unsatisfied with this coverage, he shook a near empty bottle of murky water downward several times before forcing out a great splotch of it on my back. In my head, I could even hear the farty noises of the giant cosmic squeeze bottle and the familiarity of the sound drove me to instinctively look down to check the front of my shirt for ketchup or mustard stains. From the front, I looked great. Shaken, but great.
A hand grabbing my wrist gently. "Did you hear my instructions?"
I did not. "Yes, yes". I rotated my body with her movements to keep my backside invisible to her. All the other crew members had returned to their stations.
"Alright, great! I'll introduce you now."
As I was led by the arm, I achieved resurrection. Whereas my feet first stuttered, performing sporadic, reactive steps to simply maintain my balance as I was toted onward, with time and distance my strides redeveloped. As we passed the crews along the basketball court, I probably could have even walked by myself. By the time we reached the directors' chairs, I had caught up to the red-headed crew member and stood beside her, inspecting the ratty baseball cap, bald spot, and feathers gracing the backs of the heads of the director, producer, and duck, respectively.
The giant mass of red hair cleared her throat.
The three ignored her.
She cleared her throat again, louder. Even risking a, "pardon".
None turned, but the director on the left spoke loudly forward, "DO YOU HEAR SOMETHING?"
The producer responded, just as loud, out towards the river, "I DON'T THINK SO."
The crew member beside me sighed. She adjusted the headset microphone in front of her dry lips and held a button on the left earcup as she spoke.
"Check check. Come in, the Council, come in."
The director cleared his own throat, gently shaking his head.
The crew member rolled her eyes severely behind thick black frames and pressed the button again.
I watched the director's shoulder blade contort beneath his rain poncho and plaid shirt as he raised something to his face.
"Roger that, over."
"Ahoy, the Council. Five-legged Ant, here. The Gopher has landed. I repeat, the Gopher has landed. Over."
"Roger that FLA. Over and out."
"Over and out."
The director slowly twisted his body, the dramatics of the movement exaggerated by the loud plastic wrenching of his transparent rain poncho. He rested his forearm on the back of his chair, eyeing me up slowly behind his heavily tinted aviator sunglasses. He smirked and leaned toward the producer sitting beside him who was still facing the river, "And what a landing it was."
I achieved new hues of embarrassment across my cheeks as I reached out an open palm and inexplicably bowed.
"Hello, I'm Tim, the intern."
In lieu of the director's hand, which hadn't left his chair, the red-headed crew member intercepted my reach by placing a loose microphone headset into my palm. I understood immediately, placing the headset over my hair and orienting the microphone to my lips. I pressed the talk button.
"Hello, I'm Ti--"
The crew member kicked the side of my leg gently, her mouth wide as she violently mouthed the word "Gopher" several times.
"H-Hello sir, Gopher. Reporting for duty? Over."
The director turned back to face the river, raising his walkie talkie and nodding happily. "Reading you loud and clear, Gopher. Glad you made it in one piece, though a bit of that piece seems to have been shaved off by the hill down into the park. I'll be frank. We're gonna run you ragged today, Gopher, so I hope you're up to the challenge. For today, I will act as your main point of contact to the Council. After today, you can go back to calling me Jonathan DirectX. Over."
I was floored. I had heard the rumours about the shoot's director, but had long assumed that a profound cinematic master such as Jonathan DirectX would never stoop so low as to work on a commercial. I slammed my talk button immediately.
"Oh my god, Jo--er, the Council, I'm a huge fan of your movies. Yes, Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Wild Things are Over Here, I'll Watch the Watchmen, Freddy vs. Jason vs. The Wild Things. I've seen them all! Hell, I've listened to the director's commentary on each! Over!"
"That's nice, over."
"It's an honour, over!"
"Today you'll take your orders from us alone. Whereas I will communicate with you directly, being the director, know that my orders come from all three of us. Mechanistically, we will work today as a single entity, the Council. Beside me is Janz Heinz, the producer of today's shoot. A high-ranking representative from the Kraft Heinz conglomerate and financier of branding and advertising. A legend in the field of making the unreal, not only real, but authentic."
I think the producer nodded gently. I definitely heard a plasticy ruffle come from his poncho, but I'm not sure if I saw a physical movement that I could attribute it to.
"And finally, beside him, is the duck in third seat, the star of the show."
The Duck in the third seat waddled in place to rotate and peek over the back of his chair. He stared deep into my eyes before emitting the most joyous and tender quack that had ever graced my ears. The single syllable mentally transported me to a clear, bubbling stream beneath a perfect blue sky. I closed my eyes, letting the mental echoes of the sound reshape the image I conjured in my head whenever someone said "duck".
"Yeah, he's pretty good at that. Over."
I re-opened my eyes to be met with the shitty turbidity of the Maitland River.
"It's a pleasure to meet and work for you three today. Over."
"Sorry, which three? Over."
"The three of you, here, that is. Over."
"I'm sorry I don't see three of us here. I see the Council, powerful in its vision and irreducible in its complexity. But you must have already known that." Then a particularly harsh, "Over."
"It is a pleasure and honour to work beneath the Council today, thank you very much for the honour. Over."
A gentle bouncing nod, quiet crinkling of the pancho below.
"We accept you, Gopher. Know that. We trust you and we love you. If you trust and love us, you will go far. Over."
Then me, perhaps too quickly, "I trust and love you, the Council. This is so exciting. I'm eager to take my first steps to climb the ladder to a career in cinematography. Over!"
I judged there to be no attempts to stifle the laughter erupting from the laughter out toward the river.
"That's great, Gopher. Now you're first mission, should you choose to accept it (if you noticed in your contract, you are obligated to accept it), is to float and fix that roll of green screening over the surface of this ugly fucking crick. Over and out."
"Oh okay, to cover the whole river? It's a pretty large river. What should I attach the roll to to keep it in place? Over."
The crew member grabbed my wrist gently and pulled me in as she whispered, "He said over and out.", before she shrugged once.
I quickly resigned into the microphone. "Over and out."
The crew member led me to the water's edge, gasping aloud as she caught sight of my muddened backside, catching herself, and clearing her throat loudly. "This is the part of the river we're going to be filming at. As you can see, it's a disgusting creek. By floating a green screen on it, we can change it to look clear, beautiful, and serene in post-production."
I surveyed first the water's thick tinge, then the vertical roll of thin green vinyl beside me, and then the crew member. "Don't you think the river is already sufficiently green?" I motioned to the very green river.
She pondered the question for a long time. Bouncing her gaze between the thick opaque Maitland and the clean bright roll of vinyl over the course of 5 minutes. She whispered a couple sentences into her headset microphone, waited for replies and finally looked off behind us at one of the men setting up the camera. I turned to watch him perform increasingly exaggerated shrugs, worried that the subtle gesture needed to be amplified to cover the communicative distance between us. She responded.
"No, you have to do this. Over."
"We're not talking on walkie talkies."
"Oh right, either way, please get the river surface covered in the next 20 minutes." And off she went.
I eased the roll of green screen down onto its side and pushed the hefty cylinder forward, pausing to cleverly set rocks on its corners, lest they catch the wind as I unrolled. I looked up to see if anyone had noticed my careful planning. Nobody saw. I trundled forward, waddling alongside the roll and prodding it forward, unfurling the fabric along the river's edge. In the absence of scissors, I bit and ripped the roll at my estimation of 50 feet, placing more rocks on the new wet, uneven, gnawed corners. Now, to transplant this surface onto the river. I removed the rocks from the beginning of the sheet and held its corners as I wandered up to the river's edge.
I looked down at the toes of my new sneakers, edged with flawless white, vulcanized rubber. Pushing down on my toe, I twisted my ankle to reveal the horrible streaks of brown and black that marred its heel. I inhaled deeply and plunged my leg deep into the river, where my foot, shin, and then thigh disappeared immediately beneath the opaque volume. I dragged my other leg in from off the shore and stood in the river. I looked down at the solid green tinge. I sent the neural signals from my brain downward to wiggle my toes, but who knew what was going on down there.
I waded outward, surprised by the river's depth (my mom never let me swim in it because of E. coli). Holding a corner of green screen in each hand up above the surface, I looked down, watching my body break through the unsettling film floating along the top of the water, accumulating as a grimey ring against the front of my shirt. The width of the green screen was, at best, 6 feet. Accordingly, I suspected I would have to place two lengths of the roll side-by-side. Wading out the six feet from the bank that the first green sheet would cover, I poked small holes in the fabric's edges and threaded reeds and errant sticks breaking the river surface through them to anchor the vinyl in place. I bounced on my feet back to the river's edge to repeat the process with the other end of the green screen. From the river's bank and six feet out, a solid sheet of bright green covered the water surface, secured from the slow and steady flow of the Maitland.
I hoisted myself out onto the bank upstream of the anchored green screen, sitting for a moment before I caught my breath. As I leaned back, propping my upper body up on my arms behind me, I looked again to the sludgy waterline across my chest. I leaned onto my left shoulder, bringing my right hand around to prod a particularly large clump of green gelatin skimmed from the river, wondering what sorts of diseases were trapped inside. Looking up and around me, I caught a stern gaze from several of the camera men. Attributing this disdain to my resting, I shlyly popped up to my feet and jogged over to the green vinyl roll, using rocks and shoves to roll out and bite free an additional 50 feet(-ish).
Back up to my chest in filthy water, holding the second sheet up high over the first sheet in the water, I noticed a problem. Whereas six feet from the riverbank, reeds and plants and sticks still punctured the river surface, at twelve feet out, no such anchors existed. I secured the closer corners of the second sheet to the distant corners of the first, but found that the farthest unsecured ends immediately dove underwater, taking most of the green sheet with them into the imperceptible depths.
A solution came to me while I blindly was reaching below the water to retrieve the sunken sheet. Tilting my chin up to desperately keep my face above water, I looked along the water surface toward the bank. Caught among some of the sparse reeds just downstream of where we were filming, a Mountain Dew Code Red (PepsiCo) empty bottle floated, bobbing up and down with the ripples emanating from my frantic dips lower into the water to retrieve the sinking green screen. Shouting shyly to the crew members closest to the shore, I asked them to begin throwing me their empties.
I caught maybe most of them. Some of them, either thrown with insufficient force or aim or both, drifted downstream slowly, but surely, out of reach and out of sight. The bottles I did manage to collect, I stuffed beneath the further green sheet, having lifted it back from the river's bed below. Diet Pepsi (PepsiCo), Coke Zero (Coca-Cola), Red Bull (Red Bull GmbH), Sprite (Coca-Cola), spring water (Nestle), and even a couple empty jars of unsalted peanuts (Kraft Heinz) were crammed together into a makeshift floatilla beneath the second green sheet. The strategy was working and most of the second sheet of green screen floated over the river's surface. I assumed you would be kind enough to ignore the strange bumpy texture the green screen took on further out from the bank.
Though I waved off the excited gathering of crew members along the bank, signalling that I had collected enough refuse to prop up the fabric, they persisted and, having run out of empties to toss, began throwing half drank and ultimately full bottles of Nestea (Nestle), 7-Up (7 Up International), and Orange Crush (Keurig Dr Pepper), handfuls of peanuts (Planters), Chex Mix (General Mills), and M&Ms (Mars Incorporated). I began playing the panicked goaltender, deflecting and spiking down incoming trash (is it trash if the bottles are full and unopened?) beyond the reaches of the green screen or back into the muddy bank beneath the crew's feet. I hollered for them to stop, begging in between rabid swats of my soaked arms until a full Java Monster 300 French Vanilla (Monster Beverage) caught me in the temple and, if we follow along using the map taped to the back of the door to my grade 12 biology classroom, rode the intricate system of nerves down to my knees, buckling them out from beneath and plunging me forwards onto the floating greenscreen and the buoyant refuse it hid beneath.
On my back, underwater, I opened my eyes. Through the thick schools of grit floating between me and the surface, I noticed the sudden absence of bottled and canned refreshments breaking the water above me. I imagined the crew on the banks cringing in unison as they watched me decked with the extra large can before I fell backwards, taking the floating green screen and all of the empties beneath it down with me, only to watch only the plastic bottles take turns popping back up, breaching the surface somewhere increasingly downstream. I closed my eyes and revelled in the silent empathy I had assumed of my crewmates, ignoring the extreme measures it had taken to achieve. But the moment was splooshed by the sounds of new full bottles being thrown into the river closer to shore. It seems, upon sinking the distant green screen, the crew had now committed to using similar projectiles to also flounder the closer sheet. I imagined my haphazard anchoring of this sheet to riverside reeds ripping and crumbling against the gravitational force of upwards of 500ml of thirst quenching at a time. I reluctantly rose back up and out of the water. Beneath me, the green screen I had fallen on and pinned down celebrated its new freedom by blindly trawling the river bed like a lost octopus.
My head back above water, I looked to the shore, but most of the crew had grown bored of sinking the green screens using heavy litter. I watched their turned backs return to their posts among filming equipment or styling products or the Kraft table to restock drinks from coolers hidden behind the table curtain. The only remaining crew member scrunched her nose and winced at my reappearance, a shallow display of pity framed by a mane of wild, red hair. She apologized.
"Sorry about that, I didn't think I had that kind of arm."
"It's okay. But I'm going to need more time." I motioned helplessly to space between me and her, where a surface of green was tragically sunk, leaving the slightly grimier green of the river exposed below.
"No no no, you've already done it. You're actually a genius!"
"I am?" I, personally, thought the flotilla of plastic idea was pretty clever.
"Remember what you said about the river already being so green and opaque that it practically is a green screen?"
I nodded and she replied bodily, striking out her two arms to her left in presentation. I followed the direction of their jab along the bank where, far upstream, I saw a cluster of cement trucks backed along the bank. I could just barely resolve a man wearing a neon vest and yellow hard hat along the bank as he raised his hand to cup his headset close to his ear. He nodded and waved wildly downstream to us before turning back to a control panel on the side of the first truck. As the giant cylinder continued to roll, a thick, dark sludge suddenly spilled out of the cement shoot into the river. The second it hit the water, it spread rapidly, diluting with the river to produce a bright green hue that contagiously diffused along the Maitland. As its blurry front lunged forward, I felt sick watching the rapid contamination. Her voice from the bank.
"Don't let it touch you, quick!"
I responded to the threat instantly, tensing and making large bounds for the riverbank, a heavy shoosh of water with each knee raising and seeking purchase among the muck and stone below. But the complicated physics of my legs were no match for the simpler physics of diffusion and the bright green caught me just before I could hoist my left leg from the drink, the rest of me crumpled up desperately clinging to the bank just above the water surface. I scrambled the rest of the up, falling onto my back at the feet of the red-haired crew member. She looked down not at my face, but at my left leg on the grass. I raised my head from the ground, curling my chin to look there too.
My pants were ruined, the light khaki now a neon green from hip to heel. I sighed heavily and groaned as I sat up. I tugged up my pant leg to reveal a neon green sock attached to my neon green shoe and, tugging the single pant up even further, the bright neon green skin of my shin. I felt like laying back down.
"Oh god, I-I think it's okay. I'm sure it will wash out. I'm sure of it."
"What the fuck is this stuff?"
"It's Yellow No. 5. The dye they use in Mountain Dew."
"How did it get here so quickly? Am I going to die?"
"Look at the river!!" She pointed back toward the Maitland. I ambled to my feet to see that the flow of bright green had invaded the entire water surface for as far downstream as I could see. Leaning over the bank and looking back up beyond the trucks, I noticed that the colour had even diffused upstream as far as I could see.
"It's a perfect idea, much better than those lousy green screens you had floated on the surface. The Council is pleased, over!"
"We're not speaking on our headsets, you don't have to say, ‘over'"
"They requested you report to them for your next mission, over and out."
I sighed, "Over and out." I dragged my legs, one khaki one green, through the flattened grass back to the three directors' chairs.
Standing to the backs of the three seated, I cleared my throat and muttered into my headset microphone.
"The Council, the Council, come in, this is Gopher. Over."
The subtle moving of the director's shoulder before a staticky click over the airwaves.
"Gopher! Let me just say that we are thoroughly impressed with the dye solution, over."
"Well, it wasn't actual--"
"Admittedly, Kraft here questioned whether or not pouring so much concentrated dye into the river would have to break some form of county bylaw or international environmental treaty, but who's gonna argue over these results?! Over."
"Wait, is it dangerous?"
"Well Gopher, let's just say it's a miracle you ain't got just a neon green femur sticking out the bottom of your chinos. Over."
I looked down and tugged up my pant leg and bent down, absently rubbing at the green grime about my ankle. The skin burnt below the friction. Had it always been burning? Unsure of what to say, I hoped that just, "over" would suffice. A meaningless volley back to the Council for direction.
"Haha, okay. Well we've got your next mission for you, Gopher. We need you to catch us some ducks. Over."
"Weird I seem to be getting some kind of feedback on the walkie talkie where the device echoes what I just said instead of absorbing it and using it to guide his next actions unquestioningly like the contract stipulated. Yes. Catch some ducks who will star in the commercial, Gopher. Over."
I arched a brow and directed my gaze two seats over, blinking at the back of the Duck in the third seat's head just cresting the back of the director's chair. "Don't we already have a star? Over."
A gentle bouncing laughter crinkled the shoulders of, first, the director, though soon he was joined by the producer, and this laughter became punctuated by a jabbing quack from the duck. "We couldn't afford to get Duck messy. No no no, this will be the BEFORE duck, as we call it. Over."
"Over." I immediately murmured back, a verbally commanded fast forward button on this awful conversation.
"Please catch, oh….maybe 4 ducks and put them in the pen on the riverbank, Gopher. Over and out." This call-off met with the director raising his hand to point out a couple ducks floating in the bright green of the Maitland beside the distant bank.
"O-Over and out." I stumbled out while squinting, my eyes following the gaze. Here's the immediate problem. The two ducks, idly floating in the green beyond, are female wood ducks. A flurry of brown streaks pattern their bodies attached to a grey feathered head and topped with a black beak. The true star of the commercial, the Duck in the third seat, is a male mallard. His body is painted with shiny thick coats of brown, green, and light grey about the breast, head, and body, respectively. Brightest among his features is a flawless bright yellow beak. Furthermore, the visual differences between the ducks afloat in the river and the one in the chair only multiply when you move beyond colouration and account for body form and proportions. A crackle of the walkie talkie.
"Sunlight's burning, Gopher. Over and out."
"Over and out." As I stared agape, momentarily looking up to the endless cloud above.
I set to work. Now attuned to the hazardous properties of Yellow No.5, I sought paths around, not through, the water. I tracked down the red-headed crew member. "Do you guys have a car I could use?"
"Maybe a golf cart?"
I frowned at the two dinghies that had become anchored in the river nearby, holding the stands supporting bright filming lights balanced on their rubbery bubbled floors.
"How can I get to the other side of the river?"
"Easy, just jum--"
"Without jumping in."
"Easy, run around", she paused, her eyes looked beyond me at the giant streak of mud I had left on The Killer on my slide down from the road earlier this morning. She qualified, "very carefully."
I would accept futility. I ran down to the ballpark, up onto the road, back down along the park, across a large bridge upstream by the trucks dumping dye into the river endlessly, back down the far bank and slowly crept up to the edge where the ducks had floated. Parting the thick reed forest bordering this side of the river, I spied the ducks now floating over by the crews across the river.
I ran, the whole circuit in reverse. Well, directionally reverse (I wasn't running backwards).
The ducks, somewhere along my jaunt back, had returned to their original position across the river, bobbing among the reeds.
Repeating the whole circuit forward (reverse? Double reverse) and the ducks have avoided me again. I sat on the bank, catching my failing breath. I saw the small figure supporting a bush of red hair wandering near the bank by the cameras. I hollered and waved. She waved back before reaching up to her face.
"There is a point to the walkie talkies, you know? Over."
I blushed and reached up for my headset, "can you scare them? Over."
"The directors? I'd sooner murder them but sure what were you thinking? Reckon I could clock one with another energy drink like I did with you? Over."
"No no, the ducks, can you scare the ducks over to me? Over." I motioned wildly towards her but a little downward to the grey and brown floating forms just beneath her feet on the bank.
"Roger that, over and out."
"Over and out!" My sore feet rejoiced as I watched her perform strange jumping jacks, arm circles, kicking rocks and tossing pop bottles into the water just shy of the ducks. Slowly, stubbornly, but surely, they paddled over to the space in front of me.
I was hovering over their two small forms, mere feet away, when I realized that I didn't know what to do next. I hadn't a lasso, or a pole, or a riot control net gun. I plunked my knees firmly into the bank to steady myself and leaned further forward, my arms outstretched. With surprising ease, I simply scooped up a duck under each arm. They hadn't fought at all. I reasoned that they, too, had tired from the back-and-forth chase across the river. Cradling a duck under each armpit gently, I trotted back, successful, to the crew's side of the bank.
Re-entering Riverside park, holding two ducks, I nodded happily to each crew member I passed, regardless of where they were looking. I had never gone hunting with my dad, but I started to see the appeal. I located and headed up to a rude looking cage, cobbled together with walls and a roof of chicken wire. I pawed my foot against the loose sheet of chicken wire acting as a door (attached on one side to the cage structure with plastic zipties) until it struggled ajar. I unloaded one, two ducks into the inside and swiftly pushed and tugged and rattled the door closed. My struggle to close the door was punctuated with the raw ends of cut chicken wire scratching claw-like down my right forearm, leaving three parallel bright trails of red.
I surveyed the scratches on my forearm. Out of focus just below them, I noticed that the bottom of my shirt had achieved a still-wet splotch of bright green. Expanding my search radius, I noticed a symmetrical stain on the left half of my shirt bottom. The colour immediately reminded me of the new colour of the Maitland, but I had tactfully avoided entering the poisoned waters during my hunt. I recalled the ducks, just seconds ago, nestled tight against my shirt on each side and looked up into the cage to reinspect the captives. Each duck's bottom half (the sinking half) had, of course, been dyed a bright green. A brutal punishment for their temerity to continue floating in the river in protest of the industrial chemical being added upstream. For a moment, I wondered if the green chemical could also explain the non-combative behaviour of the animals upon capture. As if on cue, I heard the heavy, dull, echoed claps of industrial metal machinery and looked upstream. The first truck had emptied its entire load and a second had backed in and begun pouring a new batch of Yellow No. 5 into the water. As far as I knew, we were nowhere close to filming yet.
I needed two more ducks. I scrambled around the work site, stealing glances far up and down the river, but all other floating wildlife had made the smart decision to abandon the bright green waterway. I paused to consider the wildlife hidden below the solid green surface, but quickly shook the thought from my head as that fauna was far outside my current purview. I began asking crew members if they had seen any ducks. Most didn't respond, and most of those who did hadn't seen any ducks. However, a tiny audio technician, the top of his head level with my armpits, told me that he had, in fact, seen two (2!) ducks back up by the road on a lawn across the street. He warned me, though, that they were the biggest and meanest ducks he had ever seen and that they shit everywhere. I disregarded these warnings, attributing this fear to his relatively diminutive frame, and set off jogging downpark and back up onto the road shoulder.
They were easy to spot once I crested the hill up onto the road. They sat stoutly on a front lawn across the street, as reported. Sadly, they also were not mallards. Sadly, like the ducks captured before, they were mostly shades of brown and grey. Sadly, they weren't wood ducks, male or female. Sadly, their necks were too long, their bodies too bulbous. Too huge. Sadly, they were Canada geese.
Most sadly, daylight was burning and I needed two ducks. I charged the geese and dove, roughly tackling both on the lawn in an eruption of breathy honks. Necks tangled, webbed feet kicked, the chicken wire scratches on my forearm became hidden beneath a forest of new scrapes before I managed to force a goose under each arm. By holding an arm around each set of wings and body, I faced the tragedy of leaving the angered geese's necks, and more importantly the beaks attached to the heads attached to the necks, free to nip about my neck and shoulders and face. Mostly face. I hustled back down to the park, each step accompanied by a new lump or bruise or slash along my chin and cheeks. I wrestled the chicken wire door open and fired one, two geese into the caging. I collapsed and caught my breath, giving a chance for the light bleeding along my arms to stop. Inside, the geese towered over the wood ducks. The oddity of the two disparate pairs of birds boggled my mind. I had become insane Noah. When I shook my stupor and got back up, I hobbled tenderly to the three directors' chairs and phoned in.
"Come in, the Council. This is Gopher, over."
Poncho crinkling, "Gopher! Those two ducks are fucking huge. Over."
Duck in the third seat barked a series of quacks.
"Duck says that you should remember to stay hydrated and make sure you signed the NDA. Over."
I was and I had. "Roger, over."
"Great, well Gopher, we're one step away from shooting, believe it or not. We need you to escort one of your clutch over to the stylist. Over."
"My clutch? Over."
"It's a term for a group of birds, Gopher. Over and out."
"Over and out."
I grimaced when I turned to look at the rickety caging containing my captives. Savouring the time it took me to meander over, I ultimately knelt down by the door and decided on a plan of attack. Inside, the two geese had galloped from my presence into a back corner and were nipping and pecking around the metal fencing's corners. Conversely, the two wood ducks sat just about where I first put them, to the immediate right of the inside of the door. Between the species, squashed and piled awkwardly in the middle of the cage, sat a butchered handful of lettuce and a couple broken sticks. The red-headed crew member, who had soundlessly appeared behind me up over my shoulder, explained.
"I thought it looked a bit sad in there and that this would remind them of home."
"Lettuce and sticks?"
"Look around us, there are sticks everywhere! And the lettuce matches the colour of the river. At least, now it does."
"Do they have any water?"
"Look at the river, Gopher, do you really wanna feed them that?!"
I looked to the Kraft table, where a fresh line of bottled Nestle waters sat beneath plastic.
Additional advice from behind, "I'd probably work with the compliant ducks first. The two ducks in the back look like assholes. Over."
I agreed and, after wrestling the makeshift gate back open, I scooped up the closest wood duck, cradling it close to my chest while I re-shut the gate. Before I stood, a sudden deep sadness arose somewhere below my stomach. The pang staggered me while I squatted and I caught my balance by driving a knee into the soft dirt. I looked down to the meek bird held to my chest and could not tell if the pain was emanating from me, the duck, or somewhere inbetween. A hand on my shoulder from behind shook me back to the task at hand as I rose and was guided to the make-up artist.
A scattering of carts holding an array of hair products, blushes, lip sticks, prosthetics, mirrors, hair dryers, and curlers sat along the closer half of the basketball court. I stepped up onto the concrete, my nose reflexively scrunching as I pierced the aromatic barrier of aerosol encompassing the area and approached a barber chair, behind which the stylist stood.
The stylist looked wildly normal. This was in wild contrast to my expectations. I had assumed to find neo mohawks, chains, fishnets, straight bangs, pigtails, bracelets, fur, talons, fangs, extra veins, style, anything. Instead, I don't believe I could even pick the figure I met out of a line-up. If I had to guess (for the sake of the story), the stylist was an average height female with brown or blonde or maybe even black hair. The hair was either buzzed short or exceptionally long. Like the rest of the crew (aside from me), they wore all black. I uniquely remember black nail polish on their fingernails. It was the only thing to remember.
The stylist motioned for me to place the duck on the barber's chair. Once settled, the makeover began. I watched as, through a flurry of hairsprays, gels, toners, and dyes, the female wood duck in front of me was styled, slicked, toned, and coloured into a near perfect clone of the Duck in the third seat. The stylist chuckled and explained the details absentmindedly to me, but I couldn't hear, standing aghast and wide-eyed watching those nail polished hands craft transmute life itself in open defiance of millions of years of evolution beneath them. If I would have listened, I could've learned that the wood duck has, on average, 4.5% percent longer wing and tail feathers than the mallard. Instead, I just heard the thick snipping of barber scissors correcting this disparity at the ends of each of the body feathers. I could've learned that the field of commercial avian cosmetology ignores important intraspecific variation in duck feather bowing, or the arc the feather naturally achieves from stem-to-tip. Instead, I stared in horror as I watched the stylist briefly and delicately apply the hair curler to each feather on the sides and back of the duck, isolating each styled feather against a clear plastic protractor before moving on to the next. I could've learned that the "flattenability" (A word I don't believe is a word) of the down covering the breast is critical to the holistically sleek appearance the mallard is aesthetically lauded for. Instead, I lost control of my arms while a generous coat of mousse was worked into the defeated duck's chest. Finally, I could've learned that the beak shapes of the wood duck and the mallard differed too severely to even characterize through mathematical derivation. I couldn't even hear the dull ripping of sandpaper on beak or the gentle farting of air squeezed out between drops of adhesive from a tube or the soundless application of the bright yellow beak prosthetic over the scuffed grey bill.
Proud of their work, the stylist presented the finished product to me with outstretched arms. Catching their expectant eyes, I tried to smile approvingly, though I believe the motions only occurred in my head, too deep from the skin of my face to affect the surface musculature, which hung cold and limp. I didn't know what to do when the stylist, running low on patience, stepped forward and gently pushed the duck against my chest. My arms remained stiff, sad, down by my sides. The stylist shifted to pin the duck to my chest with one hand and used their free arm to bring up my rigid limbs, which remained posed in the positions the stylist left them in. I now stood awkwardly cradling the duck stiffly. The stylist slowly rotated me towards the directors chairs and, with a polite goodbye, gave me a curt shove. The inertia was enough to propel me all the way, each step made only when my backfoot jutted out forward to reflexively to prevent a fall, the second time I had barely walked across the park today. I stuttered to a stop behind the director's back. A crackling from my headset.
"Jesus, Gopher, you look like shit. Did ya see a ghost or something? Over."
The absurdity of this characterization snapped my daze. Don't get me wrong, I did look like shit, I did see something that I at least was worried may become a ghost soon. But the director had never once turned to face me since my introduction. How could he know what I looked like. I shook my body a little to loosen up, hoping to generate some rosiness to my face just to make his assertions incorrect. I tilted my head down to my shoulder to press the talk button in the absence of a free hand.
"Brought duck, over."
My face was still thawing from its frozen horror, protesting my willingness to continue with the horrors of the morning by skipping every second word.
"Oh wow, that looks just like Duck," he wasn't looking at me, "amazing job as always. One more step, Gopher, and the filming begins. Over."
I muttered a reply.
"Step that? Does duck hurt? Over."
His head recoiled.
"Just take it to the set and pour the oil on it. Over and out."
I heard a crack inside my ear and all of my words suddenly spilled out onto the tiny foam microphone positioned just under my mouth. "Pour the oil on it? I'm sorry, wait what. Over?"
Silence. I would have to settle for answerlessness, I had been overed and outed.
I shuffled nervously up to the camera crews and gently placed the styled duck onto an "x" formed from two intersecting strips of green painter's tape poorly adhering to the wet grass below. I'll admit, the positioning was perfect, right in the middle of lush riverside grasses with a backdrop of flawless reeds and, beyond that, the neon green of the river. I petted the poor bird gently atop the head when the blurry edges of a bright white plastic bottle invaded my right periphery. Turning my gaze, I focused on the bottle of Castrol motor oil, then the hand wrapped around the bottle, the arm, then the body, and finally the head of the production assistant presenting it to me. Exercising no patience, he shook the bottle a bit to encourage me to take it from him.
"C'mon, sunlight's burning, buddy. Cover the duck and let's start filming."
"Cover the duck? In motor oil?"
"Duh. How did you think this was gonna work? We film the duck covered in motor oil, clean it with the magnificent grease-fighting power of Dawn, and then film the happy, clean duck swimming off."
Happy? Clean? I smiled a little at the concept of resolution inherent both in the plot of the commercial but, by extension, to the ills of the day. I thought about the tiny molecules of purple Dawn (lavender?), each adorned with large cartoon eyes and a knowing smirk, cutting through the motor oil and grime and dried up pasta sauce and pain and anguish and implacable pain in my sternum, stripping everything back down to its purest, natural state. I took the motor oil, happy to accelerate the process that would terminate in purity.
Though the duck had long given up quacking since its capture, as I held the upside down bottle over its head in two hands, watching the slow plunge of a thick string of translucent brown goo, I thought I heard a strange gurgle escape its beak. But it could have just as easily been the bottle, for I was squeezing that thing really hard, wrenching out some therapeutic release in the forceful compressions. The bottle emptied, I liberally lathered the viscous oil into the bird. Admittedly, I grimaced at the act. Instead of looking dirtier, the duck appeared glazed, like a chicken wing after you toss it in the sauce packet that came in the box. I recognized it as honey barbecue. A deliciously shiny forcefield encapsulated the wood duck mallard's form. My hands also glazed with the oil, I looked to the production assistant and the cameraman beside him. It appeared my grimace was contagious.
"It looks so fucking bad." One or both of them said. Maybe I said it?
The production assistant jogged back up to me and carefully picked up the duck, using more fingertips than any other part of his hands.
"Look man, prepare another duck, this motor oil just looks like teriyaki glaze."
Honey barbecue, I thought. My hands frozen in their hover, I felt very slow trickles of oil track down my forearms while I watched him carefully lift the bird. "What's going to happen to that duck?"
"Oh." He paused clearly and thoughtfully. "We'll clean it up with the unbashable sterile hegemony of Dawn and send it on its way." He nodded encouragingly and for a long time.
I smiled and nodded too. Before parting, I leaned up to the duck's face and whispered, "You can finally rest now, my friend. I'm sorry."
Utterly disturbed, the assistant sprung to his feet, holding the duck out far from his body and hobbled off somewhere down the river, presumably to the crew members with all the Dawn. While I considered whether it would be purple (lavender?) or blue (ocean?) Dawn, the cameraman flopped a towel onto my shoulder and motioned to my filthy hands. I thanked him and scraped the thick glaze from my palms and wrists onto the towel. Scrubbing hard, I managed to wipe my hands clean, though a persistent greasiness would stay with them for the following week. I jogged back to the birdcage.
I ran the cycle again, from birdcage to stylist to camera crew. To combat the aches that arose in me earlier while I had watched the speciation make over, upon handing the second bird off to the stylist, I simply turned around, surveying up and down the park. Minutes later, I spun back around and collected the perfectly mallarded duck. Perhaps this wasn't even the same duck, it looked so different. That must've been it. I playfully shot a couple exaggerated glances around, as if trying to find the wood duck I dropped off, and chuckled to myself. The stylist asked me to leave. Please. Back on the riverbank, I plunked the second duck down onto the taped "x". I noticed that all of the lights, cameras, crew, and "x" had shifted five feet downstream to avoid the unsightly streaks of motor oil about the grass near the first filming location. The oil left in the open air had taken on a darker tone that looked convincingly like teriyaki.
The production assistant returned, a glass erlenmeyer flask filled with a wholly opaque black substance had, at some point, replaced the bird in his hands. He presented the substance, "Voila!"
My gaze and soul disappeared somewhere into the absolute darkness of the solution. I mindlessly reached out, carefully cradling the glass in my hand to bring closer to my face. Intense solvent fumes trickled out of the flask's opening and invisibly flowed down over its edges, aromatic lava bringing a sudden sharp pain to my nose. I retracted my head in reflex and spied the viscous solution from a safer distance of arm's length. I tilted my face up to meet the assistant's, "what is it?"
"Who cares, it looks filthy, it's perfect."
I must've looked worried because he continued, unprompted, to allay my concerns.
"...and there's no way in hell it can match the unbearable deconstructive force of Dawn!"
I perked up and nodded, assured. I flipped the flask over the duck's head. Nothing happened. I watched the black fluid defy gravity, remaining crunched up tight against the flask's bottom (now top). I looked to the assistant for answers.
"I know, I know, give it a seco--"
Before he could finish the sentiment the structure of the darkness gave way and instantly fell onto the waiting duck below. After a brief lathering, we stood back to admire our work. It was perfect. The epitome of filth, the duck sported a calculatedly uneven coating of black smudge, each dollop of black caught the sun perfectly and, best of all, these idealistic traits translated to film. Along with the cameraman, we huddled around the back of the main camera and watched the small LED screen display the ultimate simulacrum of filthiness as if the lens on the other end was embedded deep into your tertiary visual cortices. We agreed, it was time to film.
Filming was a welcome departure from the earlier activities of the morning. I was now to sit back and observe cinematography at work. As I stood by boredly, I looked down to the empty flask still held in my palm. I brought it up to my face. Although I had watched its contents dumped out minutes ago, the residue left along the inside of the flask, wholly opaque despite its thinness, made the glass still appear full. I raised it higher, between my eyes and one of the bright spotlights across the scene from me. I was immediately transported to perfect night, not a single ray penetrated the coated glass. I let out a quiet whistle before wondering what this meant for my hands, which had been marked with countless black scuffs of the same chemical during the lathering of the duck. It looked like I had foregone a tattoo artist and just dunked my hands briefly into paint cans of their ink, significantly larger reservoirs than those tiny plastic capped watercolour containers they normally use.
I relinquished my worry in the squeaky comfort of knowing that Dawn would soon make its way to the set to deliver us all from taint. I returned to observing the Council, who had dragged their chairs up to the cameras and ditched the walkie talkies to provide direct instruction to the crew and wood mallard duck.
I watched from the safety of the Kraft table, where I blindly dipped a hand into the bowls of colour-sorted M&Ms, raising each to my mouth and chewing without ever noticing the opaque black fingerprints each acquired during its trip. Beyond me, the filming scene was repetitive and short. Before each take, the director enumerated that he wished to see the duck "stumble along sullenly", looking "lost and deeply unsure of the future". His words. These commands manifested as the producer snapping and waving towards the production assistant offscreen, who used a neon green broom handle (without broom) to gently prod and goad the duck into walking along the shore. After walking unsteadily for 4.35 seconds, the direction would motion to the Duck in the third seat, who generated what would be widely referred to as a, "sad quack" as the camera zoomed in on the aggregate of wood duck, mallard, and idyllic dirt. Following each "cut", the assistant would walk on set, spreading his arms and herding the duck back to its original position on the tape "x" before the scene would repeat.
After a full hour of constant filming, the director pulled the production assistant aside and, after a back-and-forth of whispers, both turned to look at me. I guiltily swung my hands behind my back, a green and black smudged M&M pinched between fingers in my right. The assistant jogged up to me and let me know that the Council wishes to explore the truth depths of possibility when it comes to the concept of a filthy duck. I didn't know what this meant. I told him so. He clarified. Although this duck has acted with an impressive embodiment of depravity and lowfulness, the Council wanted to "actualize their options". I didn't think the duck was acting. He reworded it. The Council wanted to try the scene with the larger ducks (Canada geese) I had kept in the pen. I nodded stiffly as the tension arose in my body at the thought of wrangling one of them out of the chicken wire cage.
And so, a new coat of bright red scratches adorned my arms and body, where the cut ends of wire managed to puncture the dried mud of my shirt, as I dove, tackled, and hugged tight the slower of the two geese. Unable to finagle my way back out of the cage (the loose door had swung closed and the crew members around me were blatantly ignoring my calls for help in favour of inspecting the small print and caloric decomposition printed on the small bags of Sun Chips they had swiped from the Kraft table), I said fuck it and just stood up, twisting and bursting open the feeble wire roof of the structure and then stomping, Godzilla-like directly through the nearest wall. The last goose instantly hobbled and flew up out of the park away to safety, which I believe relieved both of us.
Withstanding the constant onslaught of pecks and nips delivered by the unforgiving black beak of the unforgiving goose, I managed to land the beast onto the barber seat at the stylist. Intolerant to the inherent, violent opposition to glamour the bird was demonstrating, the stylist insisted that I gently restrain the bird during the, what I would learn to be, much more extensive make over. I tried my best to mentally phase out the traumatic scissored shaping, dying, styling, and spraying forced upon the goose. Nearing the end of beautification, I chimed in.
"You know the neck is way too long, right?" It was killing me. Had no one else noticed the futility of this avenue? The goose's neck was almost as long as the entire duck it was supposed to stand in for.
The stylist paused, taking two paces back and surveying the whole of the bird. They nodded deeply. I regretted bringing it up as I watched the stylist hesitantly attempt to loop or kink the goose's neck back upon itself and secure the knot with a hair scrunchie. I cringed hard at the alarming series of honks erupting from the struggle and eventually intervened, out of breath and sweating profusely from pure tension.
"Y'know I think it's okay, we'll make it work." I lifted the goose mallard up out of the chair and wandered over to the set.
Returning, I watched as the endless takes had resumed, though the mallard wood duck was becoming increasingly difficult to rile into locomotion. I cleared my throat to announce my arrival. Turning to face me, the production assistant lit up and jogged over. I happily handed over the mallard goose alongside all the incessant nipping and honking that came with it. I found small slivers of joy in the assistant's inability to wrangle the bird. Finally convincing the goose mallard to settle on the "x", the assistant picked up the wood mallard duck and dashed off downstream, in the same direction that he had taken the first bird, who I had assumed by now was cleansed of its slick honey barbecue teriyaki coating and was happily soaring over the blue skies (blue in my mind, overcast in reality), speeding along the watery veins of Huron County in search of a slightly less green tract of water. Inspecting myself over, the green of my pant and leg, the black of my hands and the red and brown of the blood and dirt in between led me to wonder if I would get a chance to be carried downstream by the production assistant, showered in Dawn and cleansed of the day.
The assistant back on set, I pushed through another episode of trauma, lathering the impossibly black solution over the mallard goose, deeper fears prickling against my stomach lining as I noticed the bird grow increasingly compliant with the application. Backing out of the scene. Everyone in place. Quiet on the set. Then a deep, guttural muttering from the producer. The first words I heard spoken by his bulbous form.
"The neck is too long." And a wave of the hand.
The assistant panicked a response, "oh...well…".
"Are you fucking stupid? The neck alone is as long as Duck."
I knew that. I wasn't fucking stupid.
The assistant nervously gestured downstream, "the other duck is...gone now".
The back of the producer shook, slowly at first, but accelerating to near vibration, the edges of his shoulders blurring against the out-of-focus scenery beyond him, and his poncho crackled out a low frequency constant static. His baldspot grew intensely red and the colour slowly diffused downward over the rest of his head. The director gently clapped a hand on his shoulder and silenced the moment.
"We'll make it work." Turning to the assistant, "skip to the lather".
The producer faded back to his pale hue.
The milling of crew members. The assistant running off and returning with a new glass erlenmeyer flask, this time filled with a milky white solution. I curiously observed as the assistant dropped to his knees and poured this new liquid over the bird. Upon lathering, it produced an unrealistic amount of bubbly foam, worked thick around the goose's entire form until only the prosthetic yellow bill poked out from the mass of soap. From somewhere off-set, a beautiful woman wearing no more than a bikini and a pair of bright yellow kitchen gloves sauntered up behind the duck and lowered to the ground.
Over the following hour, the actress pretended to lather up the duck with the mysterious fluid as the Duck in the third seat provided a soundtrack of ambiguous, "questioning" hoots and quacks. Enrapt in the perfect calls, I found myself deeply engaged in the scene, uncertain of the goose duck's future. Would the bird ever rid itself of the entrenched industrial filth? The unforgiving byproduct of uncontrollable production, purchase, waste? The impossible cycle of extraction, exploitation, and deposition? With each "action!", the lathering on camera restarted (though was, in actuality, repeated by the production assistant who ran in with more white solution and lathered the duck goose thoroughly between takes, while the cameras were off), a new mountain of suds building, framed perfectly in front of the woman's gigantic boobs.
Seemingly satisfied with the number of takes, the Council advised the crew to move on to the next scene. The production assistant delivered a soft, fresh white towel from a clean pile nearby and shooting resumed. The woman gently ruffled the towel entirely overtop of the duck or goose or pile of bubbles, its whole form disappearing somewhere beneath. Watching the 2 second scene repeated ad infinitum, I saw (everybody saw) that with each toweling, her boobs encroached more and more into the shot. By the time the Council was satisfied with the filming, the bird and towel occupied no more than the bottom quarter of the screen and we had forgotten about all wildlife existing from the waist down.
The production assistant, predictably, scooped up the goose and ran downstream, another soul to be saved by the near religious act of a slathering with stainless, perfect Dawn.
But wait. Hadn't I just watched the mallard goose duck being washed with Dawn for the past hour? Looking around at the onlooking crew for answers, I located the red-headed crew member from earlier in the day and slowly sidled up to whisper.
"Why is the PA taking the goo..er, duck away? It was just washed for like an hour in Dawn."
She turned and frowned at me. I felt pitied. "That wasn't Dawn."
"It wasn't? Then what was it?"
"Baking soda and a weak acid."
I frowned too, thinking of the goose, horribly made up to look like a mallard and placed on a table with a faux wood finish in the school gymnasium, sitting uncomfortably in front of my bristol board display about volcanoes. The judges--a teacher, a parent, and a high ranking CSIS officer--looking on with clipboards at the ready as I poured vinegar over the goose and then, warning all to, "stand back", shook a couple tablespoons of baking soda out of a deflated balloon onto the wings. The gymnasium erupted, first in applause, then in explosion. There were no survivors.
"ACTION!" Snapped me back to the moment. The red-headed crew member, alongside all the other crew members, had moved, slowly closing in their circle closer to the scene. I butted in alongside her to see what was going on.
Just in time, a single take was filmed. The bikini model was back, gently tussling what looked like a new white towel, the figure beneath it seemed much smaller than the goose inside before. Pulling back the towel gently, the Duck in the third seat strutted out boldly. Several crew members had to silently clap a hand over their mouths to block the gasps, natural emotional responses to the evocative, natural beauty of the scene. Waddling cutely along a cinematographically intelligent path, the duck paused in front of the camera, nodding and emitting a perfectly warm quack. Hearts melted, I darted my gaze between sets of eyes, watching the tears of joy fall down the cheeks of the assistant, crew members, and bikini model.
"Cut. That's a wrap." Murmured through quiet sobs of the director.
I noticed the Duck in the third seat hadn't stopped his path, continuing to waddle off screen, off set, and off park, back up hill into a long limousine that had been waiting for him down by the ballpark. The car drove off.
A general ease took over the entire park at the finishing of everyone's work for the day. I helped odd crew members disassemble lighting and cameras and cabinetry and electronics and chicken wire and chairs before packing them into the backs of vans that eased down the shallowest slope into the park. Within an hour, most of the crew had left and I was hopping around the park, pouncing on empty packets of chips and snacks and plastic wrappings and bottles and cans and cartridges and spare cords left behind to litter the grass. Satisfied with my collection, I deposited the refuse in the nearest garbage can and surveyed the empty park. A return to normalcy.
Except. The river. It was still very green. I walked up to the edge and looked upstream. The trucks dumping Yellow No. 5 had long left, but the colour to the Maitland had not. I panicked at the localized ecological disaster the day may have wrought. I jumped, startled, at the hand clapped down onto my shoulder from behind. I spun to find the Director smiling wide at me. I fumbled for my headset.
"H-hello the Council? Gopher here! Over." I bowed again for some reason.
"Drop the act, kid, the shoot is over. I'm Jonathan now." He laughed warmly and pointed out to the river, "and don't sweat about that, Dawn is just as invested in rescuing the environment as scrubbing the dried up eggs and bacon grease off your Teflon." He motioned back upstream, where a new beeping signalled the backing up of a large tanker.
I watched in awe as the valve on the back hose of the truck was turned on and bright blue Dawn (ocean?) dish soap flowed into the Maitland. I watched the neon green opaqueness of the day crumble and dissipate against the rabid surfactant. What replaced the bright greens, however, was something wholly new. As the soap diffused downstream, the river behind its leading edge became crystal clear, taking on a beautifully bright blue tinge reserved only for below-ground swimming pools and Sandals resorts. I felt the tears welling up as the director rubbed small circles on my upper back, "I know, kid, it's beautiful, right?" I watched the Dawn cleanse the river far out of sight and beyond. I imagined the cleanliness transcending time itself, scrubbing the muddy darkness of the water in my memories of the Maitland throughout life. Watching the transformation, I swear I could hear the small popping sounds of E. coli rupturing, caving under the pressure of streak-free tidiness. The director dropped his hand and passed me a business card.
"You did great today, kid. I know it's not easy being an intern, but here's my card. We'll be in touch. I think you've got a big future in cinematography."
I nodded, shaking a few tears free from below my eyes to tumble down my cheeks. He laughed once more and turned to wander out of the park. I watched him go. I noticed no cars or limos or busses were waiting for him, he simply walked down the road far, farther, and farther, and out of sight around a corner deep into residential Wingham. I turned back to the idyllic waters of the Maitland.
Before my mom rolled back up on the edge of Park road, I thought about my big future in cinematography. I thought about the rule of thirds. I thought about bokeh and depth of field. I thought about the unsightly use of dutch angles in those commercials about toothpaste. I thought about the tenth dentist, who was too self-aware to allow herself to be filmed 35 degrees to the horizon. I lowered to my knees and shifted my head around, playing with the angles through which best to film the rejuvenated river. As the fish began popping up dead, floating along the surface downstream, I thought about how to use the setting sun to generate a tasteful solar flare effect off of their clean, white scales.