I feel sorry for Will Ferrell.
A couple weeks ago I was an extra in Stranger Than Fiction, the movie he was shooting in Chicago with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Directed by Marc Forster, it’s about an IRS auditor who’s being driven crazy by an omniscient narrator that only he can hear. His love interest is an anarchist baker, of all things, who ices her cookies with little encircled A’s. She’s played by Gyllenhaal, and I feel bad for her too. Because, glamorous as it seems, being a movie star turns out to be deadly boring.
I sat in a plastic chair for hours as the crew shot ten seconds’ worth of footage of a woman driving her car past a Little Village bakery. Every so often two giant black SUVs would pull up and deposit the stars onto the set. They’d recite a few lines, then be driven away again. This went on for 11 hours, even though Gyllenhaal reportedly had an eye infection.
The whole thing felt like a cross between prison and jury duty. I was supposed to come back a few days later, but I told a casting assistant I’d had enough. I was in one shot–as a pedestrian crossing the street–but I was told my shoes were too loud, so I’ll probably get cut.
Last Saturday I got a chance to act like a celebrity, without the prerequisite suffering. I was a guest on ImprovOlympic’s Late Night Late Show, a weekly parody of late-night talk shows. I wanted to show up in style, so I called a limo.
My friends and I sat in the back listening to Jack FM, slamming Stellas and homemade limoncello the whole way. When we got to the theater, Chicago Antisocial photographer Andrea Bauer went all paparazzo, snapping pictures of me as I walked to the door. People looked on curiously, probably wondering who the hell I thought I was.
In the backstage lounge, we chugged more beer and did shots of whiskey; I must’ve been drunk, but I was so nervous I couldn’t even feel the liquor. By the time I walked onstage the combination of alcohol and bright lights made the 150 people in the audience seem like a hazy, dark cloud.
The host, “Howie” (actor Alex Eillhauer, filling in for regular host “Mark Luge”), asked, with faux enthusiasm, “What’s been so wild that you couldn’t put it in your column?” I talked about the time Andrea and I donned wet suits for a hunting, fishing, and scuba expo. A couple days later we both had vaginal infections.
After the show, a spiky-haired man approached me and asked, “So, you guys have a different show every week?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “But I’m not part of the cast. I’m a real person.”
He cocked his head and blinked a few times, then said, “You’re actually an antisocial columnist?”
I’d prepared for my appearance by spending the previous day sitting at a counter with my hands under an ultraviolet light, staring at an oily little bottle of Shiney Coat. I hadn’t had a manicure in seven years, but I was holding a gift certificate a friend gave me for helping her with a film project last year.
Stylish Nails, on the 1800 block of West Chicago, has all the elegance of a factory, or a hive. And it’s just as busy. As soon as you walk in you’re told to wait in a folding chair, as about a dozen Asian women (and one guy) flit from customer to customer.
When it was my turn, a stumpy Korean woman with penciled-in brows asked me, “What color you want?” Year of the Dragon on my pinkies, Big Apple Red on the rest, I said. She shoved one hand into a bowl of warm soapy water, grabbed the other, and started filing.
The employees at Stylish Nails don’t talk to customers. They do, however, call across the room to one another in Korean, then roll their eyes and giggle. During my manicure my nail tech said something to one of her colleagues, whose eyes shifted to the tattoo that takes up a third of my arm. She looked horrified.
I took my fancy new nails to a party that night in Wicker Park whose theme was “Unicorn Fantasy”–you were supposed to dress up like something mythological. I didn’t realize this until about five minutes in, when I saw a pink stuffed unicorn hanging from the ceiling, and several people milling about in racy animal, god, and goddess costumes. I was wearing flip-flops. Flip-flops! It was a new low.
A woman wearing a unicorn horn on a headband and a maroon lame dress told me it was her birthday and invited me into the kitchen for Jell-O shots. I choked down a couple as she explained that the party was a fund-raiser: the $5 admission fees would be used to send her friend (and my acquaintance) Sara Fagala, a clothing designer, to the POOL Show, a fashion trade show in Las Vegas in August.
Fagala walked in, dressed as a goddess in a sheer, low-cut gown, with a very tall guy caked in makeup and draped in gold fabric. He fanned himself with a handful of peacock feathers. He said he was dressed as Caligula. “Guess how old I am?” he asked no one in particular.
“Twenty-one,” replied a petite young dude in a yellow T-shirt and football pants.
“Oh! You’re my best friend!” exclaimed Caligula–one of those annoying 23-year-olds who complain about being old hags.
“No,” said the little guy demurely. “I’m your slave.”
A woman dressed as a bird in a gold leotard and red stockings with black-and-white speckled feathers in her hair sashayed in. “I looooove women,” she told me, looking me up and down. I’ve met this woman several times, and every time she says the same thing. Once she told me, “I would fuck the shit out of you.” Not I want to but I would. She used the conditional but never elaborated on the conditions.
Later, on the dance floor, a husky dude shoved me in the back so hard I thought my spine would crack. I recognized him as someone I’d poked fun at in one of my columns. I spilled beer into his man-purse in retaliation, then walked away. He followed me and tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around he poured his entire beer over my head.
I leaped into action, channeling the spirit of the 73-year-old Kenyan farmer who made international headlines after he saved himself from an attacking leopard by reaching into the animal’s throat and ripping out its tongue. I smashed my hand into the guy’s mouth, grabbed his tongue with two fingers, and shoved his jaw with the heel of my hand, whipping his head backward. “You’re outta here!” I yelled, pushing him toward the door. He left without a fight.
My manicure survived. That’s how good it was.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.