Maggie is responsible for the most surreal moment that I’ve ever found myself in. One strange turn of a conversation put a weightless feeling in my stomach and danced with the possibility of a full-on out of body experience, and all during lunch at the crappy sports bar in the student union!
When I first declared a major at the University of Central Florida, I chose the Film Bachelor of Arts program, Cinema Studies track. The secondary reason* that I decided to go to this school to begin with was that my original choice, Florida State University, limited access to their film program. I waffled on submitting a portfolio (I didn’t have one) despite having already decided that I wouldn’t get in, and then chose a different school that I felt confident would give me a shot at my desired course of study. I was already living in Orlando and taking classes when I found out that there was a Bachelor of Fine Arts Film program at UCF that was limited access – and that they were the only ones who got to take all of the actual filmmaking classes and use the school equipment.
*Sadly, the primary reason I chose UCF over FSU was a rumor that I heard about the girls at FSU having a higher rate of STDs. This was a game changer for high school Brantley, because I was absolutely certain that I would be having lots of sex with lots of different girls while I was earning my degree.
The first year or two of my Cinema Studies degree would be all general education requirements and pre-requisites for later film classes, which luckily happened to be the same as required by the BFA program. The plan was to submit a portfolio to get into the cooler program before I fell behind.
At this point, I didn’t know how to write a script. I had never shot anything. I didn’t own a camera. I had film editing software but my computer crashed every time I opened it. I had no tangible evidence of artistic interests or talent. All I had were some short stories, copious notes for a novel I would never write, and individual scenes of that novel in screenplay format (even though I didn’t understand how to put it in screenplay format, so it was completely wrong).
For so long I kicked myself for not submitting a portfolio before enrolling that first year, but now I know that it would have looked horrendous and would have made me the laughing stock of the film faculty (probably).
I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t find any useful information on specific things that the faculty looks for in a portfolio. Desperate for information, I searched Facebook for UCF students in the Film BFA program. I found a few, friend requested them and sent them a message explaining my need for direction. Only one responded.
Maggie was encouraging and optimistic, even though she didn’t know anything about me. She said that her portfolio was an assortment of random writings and other art projects and that none of it was even all that great. I was relieved to find out that I could submit my writing, because as I said, I didn’t have any film projects to my name at the time.
We were in the midst of a weeks-long back and forth correspondence when I awoke bright and early to the fire alarm one day. By “bright and early,” I mean 10 AM. I reached for my cell phone, stupidly thinking that my alarm clock had been using steroids while I slept. Yes, I was that groggy at 10 AM.
Then it dawned on me that a screeching noise was informing me that the building was on fire. Or that it was a fire drill. I scrambled out of bed disoriented and considered gathering my most prized belongings in case the building would soon by a big pile of ashes. More importantly, I paced around my small dorm trying to decide whether or not pants were necessary. If the building actually was on fire, nobody would judge me for escaping the inferno in my underwear. If it was just a drill, I would be that guy who took it way too seriously – which would lead to ridicule (real and imagined) from the strangers that I was already too terrified to talk to. Pants it was.
That morning, I saw a lot of future friends and acquaintances in pajamas. One looked particularly familiar: Maggie. She lived in my building. I told myself that I couldn’t be certain that it was her and thus justified not introducing myself in person. I suppose I saved myself the joys of saying, “Hey Maggie. I’m that stranger that found you on the internet.” Instead I mentioned in my next message that I thought I saw her and asked if she lived in my building.
She confirmed that she did. We made a plan to meet in person for lunch at the crappy sports bar in the student union. It was January by now, so I was sure to count the encounter as progress towards my New Year’s Resolution to put myself out there and be a better person.
We discussed film stuff, figured out common people that we knew (including Mallory, who also lived on our floor), and just got to know each other in general.
Then. It. Got. Weird.
Being Facebook friends, I already knew that Maggie was the type who wasn’t shy in sharing her epic romance with her high school boyfriend with the entire world (whether anyone wanted to hear it or not). They were so very in love. It warmed my heart. Or maybe that was just indigestion. There’s a fine line between sweet and nauseating. Maggie was nowhere freaking near it. This is how I knew that she was not single, rather, she was about as far from single as you can get without marriage.
Much like her social media habits, she was very candid with me about her boyfriend (and she was getting more and more candid by the second). I got the full performance of how awesome their love for each other was. They were so perfectly happy together.
“What about you?” she asked.
“Oh I’m single.”
“Well what’s your type?”
“I don’t know.” (I guess at the time “girls with low enough standards to be interested?”).
“Well surely you have a type. What about girls like Mallory?” (This was fair. She was our only mutual acquaintance at this point, and it was also a bit prescient as Mallory and I would have a little absolutely-nothing-ever-developed later on in the semester.)
“Yeah, Mallory is pretty I suppose.”
“What about me?”
“Uhm…uh…” DOT DOT DOT. “Yeah you’re pretty too.” (It was weird, but I just figured that I wasn’t the only awkward person in the world – or even at this particular table for two).
If I found a magic lamp, one of my wishes would be used for a flawless memory. (The other two would be infinite money and a Batmobile, but don’t get me sidetracked). I don’t fully remember how the rest of the conversation went down, because the turn that it took made me feel like I finally was living in a movie. It was a moment too strange, too bizarre for reality to have conceived. This moment had to have been birthed by the perverse mind of a desperate screenwriter trying to make a name for himself through any means possible.
I was in two places at once for this exchange. Part of me was mechanically going through the motions of the conversation just to get the check so I could get the hell out of there. The other part was figuring out just which phone call I would make first when I left. Everyone had to know about this.
“Well, can I tell you something? You have to promise not to judge me,” her tone changed.
(I was already judging her). “Umm, okay.”
“And you have to promise not to tell anyone,” she continued.
(I already knew that this would be something that I needed to tell a lot of people). “Okay. I promise.”
“My boyfriend doesn’t mind if I get with other guys.”
(All of a sudden, her asking if she was my type has taken on an entirely different meaning). “Oh. Okay.”
“He actually…he actually kinda likes it.”
“He likes when I call him and tell him about it.”
(I was running out of monosyllabic grunting noises to make). “Oh.”
“He likes it when I take pictures or videos too.”
(Check arrives) “Well that’s interesting.”
I paid quickly, suddenly remembered that I needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else in the whole freaking entire world, and ran the hell away (observing as many courtesies as I could muster without ending up making a porno for this girl’s boyfriend to enjoy).
Within the hour, one person back in Pensacola heard the story over the phone, another had a tidy editorial bit delivered to her Facebook messages. As for someone with feet on the ground in Orlando, a childhood friend from back home asked me the obvious question after hearing the story: “Well, are you going to get with her?”
I’m not proud to admit that my answer was: “I don’t know.”
Nobody had ever propositioned me like that before! Any physical occurrences thus far had been products of a passionate moment, things that I kinda saw coming. (I’m glad I don’t tell these stories aloud, because there’s an obvious double-entendre there that everyone in the room would have to stop and pat themselves on the back for identifying).
I was 19 years old. Doing the math, 80% of my bodyweight was still semen (a decrease from a peak of 95% at age 14). I knew that I wasn’t attracted to this girl. I knew that I didn’t want to star in a nasty movie for some dude’s gratification. The prospect of having a male audience of one enjoying my highlight reel had a very real limping effect. Like I said, I’m not proud that I answered anything other than a resounding “NO!”
I did come around to that conclusion though.
Right after we finished.