During my last year of film school, a Big Deal Writer-Director and former student came in to talk about a little novel called Sideways he was adapting for the screen. He pointed out that he and his screenwriting partner had given Miles a job—where in the book, the character had been as chronically unemployed as yours truly. Their idea was to make this total loser more likeable, even as he was stealing money he didn’t need from a mother who’d offered it to him anyway. I suppose there’s something humanizing about a guy who goes off to work every morning versus one who sits around in his undershorts all day dreaming up stories nobody wants to read.
Now that I’m stuck in a cubicle, even temporarily, I’m worried that I’ll learn how to stop dreaming at all. Three days in and I’m already convinced that’s what happened to my co-workers. Ask any girl what she wants to be when she grows up, and I somehow doubt she’ll mention data processing. The good news is I still don’t grasp the over-arching psychology of office life. It seems really odd to me, for example, that everybody isn’t running around screaming all the time. Why do they all come back after bathroom breaks? Why not find a window, knock out the glass with the janitor’s bucket and dive through it like La Femme Nikita?
I get the whole line about the regular paycheck, but surely there’s some other way. When I was a journalist, I used to travel a lot in Europe, where I’d look out my hotel room window completely captivated by the business people going off to work. These were bona fide foreigners who ate salami for breakfast and spoke in strange, sexy tongues. Hugging their overcoats, their boot heels clicking over the sidewalks, they had to have somewhere intriguing to go. Interpol, maybe, or Scotland Yard. Some covert train depot buzzing with fellow cell members from MI5. It all seemed so Mission Impossible looking down over all those rain-slicked piazzi in my past.
What touches me most about Miles, given my own personal circumstances, is that he’s not a bad writer, but rather a pretty good one who probably won’t make it anyway. They definitely won’t talk about this one in film school. The guy stuck scooping ice cream at Sav-On’s could have written Casablanca and he still won’t be paraded in to discuss its perfect structure. The prodigal stars, meanwhile, only bring up the details of their menial day jobs once they’re a thing of the past. It’s just not all that cute until it’s over. Since nine long weeks between me and adorable seems like an awfully long time, I'll sign off with some words bound to make all of us dreamers a little weepy tonight.
INT. MILES'S APARTMENT - EVENING
Miles enters his tiny apartment. He loosens his tie and puts
down his satchel.
On his way to the kitchen, he presses a button on his
ANSWERING MACHINE. As it plays, he opens the
REFRIGERATOR and looks inside.
One new message.
Hello, Miles. It's Maya.
Miles FREEZES, not wanting to miss a single syllable.
Thanks for your letter. I would have
called you sooner, but I think I've
needed some time to think about
everything that happened and what
you wrote to me. Another reason I
didn't call sooner is that I wanted
to finish your book, which I finally
did last night.
Miles's heart pounds.
I think it's really lovely, Miles.
You're so good with words. Who cares
if it's not getting published? There
are so many beautiful and painful
things about it. Did you really go
through all that? It must have been
awfully hard. And the sister character --
Jesus, what a wreck. But I have to
say I was really confused by the
ending. Did the father finally commit
suicide, or what? It's driving me
crazy. And the title.
INT./EXT. SAAB - DAY
THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD --
We see ourselves taking the BUELLTON EXIT.
Anyway, it's turned cold and rainy
here lately. But I like winter. So
listen, if you ever do decide to
come up here again, you should let
me know. I would say stop by the
Hitching Post, but to tell you the
truth I'm not sure how much longer
I'm going to be working there. I'm
going to graduate soon so I'll
probably relocate. We'll see.
EXT. MAYA'S APARTMENT BUILDING - DAY
Miles climbs the wooden steps and approaches Maya's back
Anyway, like I said, I really loved
your novel. Don't give up, Miles.
Keep writing. You're really good.
Hope you're well. Bye.
Miles takes a breath. Finally he KNOCKS.