For their third date, Derek took Mena to a very bad movie. Tommy Wiseau’s infamous opus, The Room, was playing at the art theater downtown. Derek had seen it a dozen times before, but only at home. Mena had only heard about it.
And they had a blast. People came dressed as the characters, tossed footballs around, threw plastic spoons at the screen, and shouted along with every “Oh hi,” right on cue.
Derek and Mena were still laughing on their way out.
“You were right, that was so awful,” Mena said. “It made Pumaman look like genius. Please tell me guys don’t actually spend all their time in tuxedos throwing footballs.”
“I always preferred board games, myself.” Derek put his arm around her shoulder. “But yeah, it’s like Wiseau’s trying so hard to make a good movie that it goes bad, but then it gets so bad it’s fun. You know he’s said it’s supposed to be like Tennessee Williams?”
“No way. You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve done Tennessee Williams, and that was no Tennessee Williams.”
“Really? When was that?”
“Back in college, Glass Menagerie.”
They opened the door into the dark, misty night. “You mentioned acting before,” Derek said. “Did you like it?” The closest he’d come to acting was in skits he’d shot with his friends in high school.
“It was all right, but I haven’t tried it since then. I’ve just been focusing on photography since I moved. On the other hand, lately I’ve been thinking… They’re auditioning for Streetcar Named Desire over at the theater center.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“I don’t know if I’m that good. It’s been a long time.”
“As long as you’re better than Tommy Wiseau.” Derek unlocked his car.
Mena said nothing as they dipped inside.
Derek started the engine. It roared like a chainsaw, but it was good enough for his salary.
When they pulled out of the parking space, Mena said, “You know, he reminded me of somebody.”
“Tommy Wiseau did?” Derek waited for some people to walk by.
“Yeah. Actually, I shouldn’t bring it up. It’s an old boyfriend.”
“Forget about it—I had a great time. It was just like those Rocky Horror shows I went to back in California.”
“You know, they’re showing that next week.”
“I saw the poster. Derek, we should go! I’ve still got my old Magenta costume. We can dress up and everything.”
“Let’s do it,” Derek said. “Though I’m not sure how I feel about going out in my underwear.”
“You can borrow some of mine.”
Derek blushed. This was almost going too fast for him. Almost.
He continued to muse about The Room on the way back to Mena’s apartment.
“It’s just remarkable, you know?” Derek said. “You have to wonder what the hell was going through his mind when he made it. Every shot took a deliberate decision, and every single one was wrong.”
“I can believe it,” Mena said. “I knew a few film majors back in school. So full of themselves! You could tell them everything they did wrong, and they’d just say, ‘Quit trying to stifle my artistic freedom.’“
Derek could picture them, noses pointed at the ceiling. “What was their stuff like?”
“Well, one of them…” She groaned and rubbed the bridge of her nose, as if preparing to unclog a toilet. “His name was Danny. Thought he was the next Scorcese, or Tarantino, or something. He made this big crime drama he thought he was going to take to Cannes, or Sundance. But he had no idea how to frame a shot, or build a story, or deal with actors. He’d give these stupid lines and throw a fit when we ad-libbed something better. He couldn’t even decide if it a comedy or not.”
“Sounds pretty bad.” Derek thought of what Harrison Ford once told George Lucas: George, you can write this shit, but you can’t make us say it.
He asked, “Were you involved?”
She froze. “With him or the movie?”
“Um.” Derek wasn’t sure, so he gave the honest answer. “Both, I guess.”
She twisted her hair around. “Okay. Yeah. Danny’s the boyfriend I was talking about.”
Derek wasn’t sure whether to keep asking. He was blowing it, he could tell. But he had to know. “So what did you do?”
Mena’s arms were crossed, and her eyes seemed to watch the unpleasant baggage roll up. Derek knew he should have shut up.
She sighed. “I was in it.”