Yes, you know this person… The doubter. That one, not-so-well meaning person in our lives who insists it’s their personal responsibility to themselves and society to inform the less-talented dreamers of the world, that any notions of a career beyond the local lumberyard is nothing more than a wonton fantasy.
Mine was named Tana Moore. Well, to be more accurate, Ms. Tana Moore. She was my assigned counselor at the very small-town high school where I was imprisoned for four mind-numbing years… Del Oro High School, home of the Golden Eagles. Known to rival secondary schools as Bonsai High, given our strong percentage of first generation Japanese-American students.
Ms. Moore and I weren’t exactly tight. I don’t recall a single class where she was my teacher.
Yet there I was, three weeks into my senior year, as pimple-faced as a stadium full of Cheap Trick fans. I was seated across from her in a Frigidaire-sized office, about to have the what-am-I-doing-after-high-school discussion.
“Do you have any plans for after graduation?” she began as if on remote. This was before re-scanning my first few years of secondary school marks. “That, of course, is assuming you graduate at all.”
“I understand my grades aren’t so good,” I confessed.
“No, they’re not,” she said flatly. “A two-point-zero GPA isn’t exactly college material.”
Yes, that’s right. My high school grade point average was an unscholarly two-point-zero. A scarlet C average. Not that I’d actually scored a lot of that middling, letter grade. That was just the average of a lot of As and Bs in stuff like art and phys-ed, along with some decent scores in English. So to turn those As and Bs into a straight C average required a significant measure of Ds and Fs and incompletes. My mother tired of reading the same dry comment on my report cards – “Doug appears bright but refuses to apply himself to his school work.”
“Since we’re obviously not applying to a four-year college,” continued Ms. Moore, “What do you see yourself doing in the future?”
“You mean, for a career?” I clarified.
“Yes. Career? Job? What do you imagine you’re qualified to do?”
“Well, what I want to do…” I said, sitting up a bit straighter, stoked that I was going to get to talk about something other than my lame high school academics.
“Yes,” she prompted. “What you want to do?”
“I want to make movies.”
“Movies?” she quietly repeated, swallowing the two-syllable word like it was battery acid.
“Yes. I want to make movies.”
With that, Ms. Moore tilted her head down a comely twenty-degrees, her raven hair cascading across her creaseless forehead, brought a pair of knuckles to her lips as if they would hide the smirk on her lips, then quit holding her feelings in check and let out something best described as a soul-crushing laugh.
Yes. Ms. Tana Moore laughed at me.
“Seriously, Doug,” she tried to save.
“I’m completely serious,” I answered. “I want to make films.”
She turned her hands flat, palms down – facing my transcripts, and mimed in a Mr. Miyagi-like “wax-on, wax off” motion. “This doesn’t exactly say filmmaker to me,” she rationed. “This says get out of school and get a job.”
And she was right. My grades didn’t at all speak to my high-school achievements. Not that she was completely unaware of my extra-curricular accomplishments. Hardly a teacher in the district hadn’t heard of my part in organizing the “Night They Raided Lazley’s” – the toilet paper assault to end all others. Over four hundred rolls of the white stuff were employed to paper a math teacher’s house on a dare from the math teacher himself. Not just that… I doubled-down and scored big by covering the prank with photos and an article in the local, weekly newspaper. The journalistic cred this earned me eventually led to an investigative piece I wrote on some financial and probable sexual shenanigans involving the advisor to our tiny high school’s newspaper and the girl he’d tapped to be the following year’s editor. My hard-hitting piece proved a little too hard, causing the advisor’s dismissal and the shutdown of the Del Oro Black and Gold.
Thusly, I brimmed with slacker confidence when I queried the following question to Ms. Moore. “So what do you know about what it takes to make movies?” I argued.
Ask a stupid question.
Ms. Moore went on to explain her remarkable credentials on the subject. As it turns out, she was married into some kind of Sacramento Cinefilia Society. Along with her husband and her high-brow friends, they and their downtown crowd would weekly attend whatever art films had found their way into the local revival theater. They’d drink wine, discuss and debate the art and relevance of modern cinema, and come Monday, return to their real-world jobs.
“I strongly suggest you re-evaluate your goals,” urged the counselor. “Stop dreaming and find something you can realistically accomplish.”
The meeting was over. I shuffled out of her office and tried not to show my obvious defeat, but not so insulted by her to change my educational tack. That’s my not-so-proud way of admitting that my two-point-zero GPA remained ingloriously intact through the finish of my senior year. I did though, find a way to graduate and eventually put Ms. Tana Moore in my rear view mirror.
SMASH CUT TO: Twelve years later.
Die Hard 2, Die Harder was days from opening. Because this was my first produced feature, the good folks at Twentieth Century Fox offered to throw me my own private premiere of sorts at a hometown movie-house of my naming. I chose a theater in a Sacramento suburb nearest to that one-stoplight town where I’d finally grown up and out of. On the night picture’s opening, the studio had the theater rope off some prime rows of seating. I invited family and friends. My pops threw an after-party at a local pizza joint. It was quite the evening.
Now, this is the part in most stories where I’d cue Ms. Tana Moore to waltz into the pizzeria to pick up the Friday night pepperoni pie to accompany her and hubby’s VHS rental of the night. Sure, it would’ve been sweet to tell her the place was closed for a private premiere party. So sorry to disappoint you. She never showed.
The big Sacramento Daily heard of my success and asked for a sit-down interview the next morning. I gamely obliged, sharing coffee, laughs, and stories of growing up in the outlying hinterlands with an appropriately geeky reporter. After which, the War Department and I climbed into our car and drove back to Los Angeles to prepare for our trip to Cuba.
Upon our return, I opened an envelope sent to me by the reporter. Contained therein was the Sunday newspaper that followed my visit. On the front page of the Arts section was my photo, full panel and above the fold, along with the attached article which began something like this:
“When Doug Richardson was a high school senior, his college counselor, Ms. Tana Moore, asked him what he wanted to do with his life after high school. When Doug told her he wanted to make movies, she laughed at him.”
“This weekend, Doug’s first produced feature, Die Hard 2, Die Harder, opened in theaters across the country. And tomorrow, Monday, it will be the number one movie in the nation.”
I can’t quite count the number of times I’ve imagined Ms. Moore and her perfectly lacquered nails opening up that Sunday paper to her favorite arts section. Seeing my animated mug. Maybe being so dismissive as to wonder if the young man in the picture appeared familiar to her. But then at last reading her own, unforgettable name printed in plain, black and white, Franklin Gothic font.
There were doubters before her and so many ever since. I’ve discovered that naysayers never recede into background. And like the dawn, they remain queued up for a turn to knock me back to earth. My words to them are always the same…
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