INT. CLASSROOM. DAY.
 
SUBTITLE: "NOVEMBER, 2003."
Bill and his classmates sit around the conference table. Professor Maxwell circles them, leaving stapled packets face down in front of each student.
 
PROFESSOR MAXWELL
Alright, now upon receiving your first papers,
you’ll find my two-to-four cents are stapled to 
the back. On the front you’ll see two things:
a letter grade, circled, which is invariably
the moment you’ve all been waiting for, and
you’ll see the name of another member of this
class. That will be your brainstorming partner
for the next paper. It’s safe to assume I’ve
given these partnerships a fair amount of
consideration. And if it unnerves you to think
that perhaps this whole time I’ve been watching
you, well, you picked the wrong school.
 
A packet lands in front of Bill and he reads the comments nervously:
 
Bill - This is an excellent paper, thoughtful and precise. Your research is strong, your argument is strong, and your interest in the concept of negative space will likely occupy you for the rest of your studies, if not your life. As you know, I am loath to let freshmen into my upper-level classes but you are singlehandedly inspiring me to be more lenient. I’m very impressed, and believe you me, that doesn’t happen often. Now speak up in class!!!
 
He flushes red and turns the paper over. At the top, circled as promised, is his grade: A --. And beside that, much to his excitement, the name of his study partner: Jacob Overman.

English Paper

William Taylor Bright <octopusgarden@aol.com>

To:       Jacob Overman <joverman@eastover.edu>

Dear Jacob,

This is Bill from Professor Maxwell’s class. I saw that we were paired to brainstorm for the upcoming paper and was wondering if that would be something you’d actually want to do; I definitely have enjoyed your contributions to class so I’d love to pick your brain for this essay. No worries though, of course, if you weren’t planning on doing that part of the assignment.

Thanks and all best,
Bill

 

RE: English Paper

Jacob Overman <joverman@eastover.edu>

To:       William Taylor Bright <octopusgarden@aol.com>

 

oh wow thanks bill! yeah of course i’m planning on doing that part of the assignment haha! am curious to hear your thoughts on the class... have yet to hear you speak but i have appreciated your expression of rapt attention (and occasional justifiable annoyance?) in class! i live on the third floor of spolin down the hall from a parlor that no one ever uses -- we could meet there wednesday at 9? looking forward! j

 

FADE TO:
 
INT. PARLOR. NIGHT.
 
A large room with antique fixings -- built-in bookcases, a fireplace, sconces -- but hardly any furniture other than an incredibly dirty sofa where Bill now sits, his backpack at his feet, a copy of House of Mirth in his lap. He checks his phone: 9:21. Time to give up.
 
He rises, putting his book in his bag as he makes his way out the door...
 
INT. HALLWAY - CONTINUOUS
 
“All those nerves for nothing,” he thinks as he continues down the hallway. He was surprised that Jacob had already observed him from across the room -- it added pressure to an already stressful situation. What’s he supposed to do now? Send another email? He can’t; he’s too intimidated. It’ll sound passive-aggressive, dweeby. Suddenly he thinks he can hear the faint sound of jazz, and as he continues down the hall, he’s sure he can -- it’s coming from behind one of these doors, and he’s getting closer and closer to its source.
 
Finally he stands at the door where the music is surely coming from. On the door is taped an artisan ex-libris bookplate with a picture of an elephant on it. The smell of incense wafts from under the door. Of course.  
 
He stands outside the door a moment, not even considering knocking but feeling something at the knowledge that Jacob is likely on the other side of the door. Too busy with Ahmad Jamal and Nag Champa to help some timid freshman with his paper. Bill is blushing to himself, at himself, when suddenly the door swings open. Jacob is standing there in a Casper t-shirt and pajama bottoms, freshly showered, his room pleasantly glowing behind him.
 
JACOB
Oh my God. I totally forgot! I am so
sorry. You’re Bill, yeah?
 
BILL
Oh -- uh -- yeah...
 
JACOB
Did you just get here?
 
BILL
...yeah...
 
JACOB
I’m so sorry; I completely spaced. I --
is it horrible if I ask if we can
reschedule? This week has been...
 
BILL
Totally. Yeah, man, no worries at all.
 
JACOB
Thank you. I’m so sorry about that. I’m
just like -- I’d just rolled a joint, was
totally getting ready to like, hang the
fuck out.
 
BILL
Oh, for sure. I know, uh... I know how
necessary that can be.
 
What the fuck is he saying?
 
BILL (CONT’D)
We can... We can just, like, email later
and make a plan, so... Yeah. Have a good
night.
 
JACOB
Perfect. Yeah, you too. Thanks. So sorry again.
 
Jacob retreats back into his room, closing the door, and Bill turns, making his way back down the hall. He’s almost at the stairs when
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
(back in the doorway)
Hey Bill!
 
Bill turns. Jacob holds up the unlit joint.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Want any of this?
 
CUT TO:
 
INT. JACOB’S ROOM. A LITTLE LATER.

Bill sits in an armchair. His room transcends what Bill thought was even remotely possible for a dorm: the whole place has been decorated like a proper apartment. Every object has been carefully chosen, from the colorful area rug on the floor to the Sendak prints on the wall to the steaming mug of tea Jacob is placing before him now, which bears, curved across its ceramic face, a photo of the Monkees.
 
JACOB
I hope you don’t mind if I’m cutting up
magazines we’ll we talk... It’s been my new
routine here to get stoned and save stuff for
collages. I’m in Drawing 205 but I haven’t
submitted basically anything that has my hand
in it.
 
He kneels by his bed and rifles through a pile of vintage magazines, settling, finally, on National Geographic with a picture of the Patagonian forest on it.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
I just really like seeing these weird
incompatible combinations, trying to make
them compatible. Things’ presences change
so much when you put them side by side. A
clipping will have such a life of its own,
such a, like, presence, but then when it
gets recontextualized and starts responding
to something new, it totally changes. When I
was a kid my parents would take me to the
Met and I was really into the rooms where two
exhibitions opened into each other. Like,
where the Egyptian section converges with the
American section? Pretending those were all
one collection.
 
He lights the joint in his hand, taking a long, elegant drag from it as he makes a seat for himself on the ground, surrounded by his tea and his magazine and the scissors he’ll be using to cut it up. Bill has never quite met anyone like Jacob before: his sincerity and availability make him all the more untouchable.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Sorry, I’m fucking rambling.
 
BILL
No! No. I’m just thinking...
 
Jacob passes him the joint and he takes a hit. As he exhales...
 
BILL (CONT’D)
It’s funny to me that you see collages as
so alive. I see them as dead. Or not even
dead -- absent. When I’ve seen collages --
which, granted, isn’t that much -- the clips
of the photos always feel like they’re just
a references to the full photo. And then
photos obviously are just references to
whatever they’re of.
 
Jacob, who has opened his magazine, stares at him fixedly.
 
BILL (CONT’D)
(quickly)
Oh my God, I don’t mean to, like, diss
your project, though. That’s totally just
my take; that’s all I meant.
 
Now Jacob laughs.
 
JACOB
Why haven’t you been talking more in
English class?
Bill laughs, turning bright red.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Seriously! You’re a freshman?
 
Bill shrugs.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Are you liking it here?
 
Bill shrugs.
 
BILL
It’s... I dunno.
 
JACOB
Yeah. It’s weird settling here. I was
surprised by how homesick I was, actually.
 
BILL
Yeah?
 
JACOB
Yeah... I’m really close with my parents,
and I have a super tight-knit group of
friends from high school -- and we were all
driving each other nuts by the end, for sure
-- but it weirdly felt so wrong to be gone.
We had spent so much time preparing for this
impending end, and then when it arrived I
was suddenly like, “Wait... This feels so
arbitrary!” Y’know? Like, they’re my family.
Why’d we all go our separate ways?
 
“He’s such an open book,” Bill remarks to himself. Is this how dudes get to talk to each other now that they’re in college? Or is this guy just different somehow?
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Are you homesick at all? -- Where are you from?
 
BILL
I’m from Madison.
 
JACOB
Nice. That’s... Wisconsin?
 
BILL
Yeah.
 
JACOB
Awesome.
 
BILL
I guess. I definitely don’t miss it. I mean,
Madison’s interesting enough. But it doesn’t
feel particularly relevant. There’s no one
there who’s...
 
“Like you,” he wants to say, but he stops himself and just shrugs. Jacob has resumed thumbing through his magazine.
 
BILL (CONT’D)
I dunno. I had a girlfriend for all four
years of high school... We broke up when
we left for school. She’s on the West
Coast, so.
 
JACOB
Fuck. That sounds so hard.
 
BILL
It is. And we haven’t spoken once; we’re just
trying to... Y’know, to give each other space
for a while. Have you been in a serious
relationship?
 
Jacob looks up, shaking his head.
 
JACOB
Nah.
 
BILL
It’s... It’s sorta like what you’re
describing with your friends. She was my
family. And now...
 
He can’t believe he’s saying this to anyone, let alone the Radio Host.
 
BILL (CONT’D)
I dunno. I don’t know why I had to change
my life so that she wasn’t in it anymore.
 
JACOB
Damn.
 
He’s begun cutting out a photograph of a Grecian statue, a large chunk missing from its head.
 
BILL
But you -- you were saying you found a
group of friends here?
 
JACOB
Yeah, I have... I... I mean, it’s
complicated, for sure. Things have felt
maybe a little more in flux this year than
I’d expected...
 
BILL
Yeah?
 
Jacob makes a final snip of his scissors and the image falls out of the magazine. As he picks it up, holding it in front of himself:
 
JACOB
I dunno. Uh... My best friend here suddenly
has a new best friend. Which is fine -- it’s
obviously allowed and maybe, like, healthy.
It’s just different when I didn’t expect it
to be different.
 
BILL
Totally. Who’s the friend?
 
A sudden authoritative KNOCK ON THE DOOR -- Bill and Jacob both jump.
 
VOICE (OFFSCREEN)
Security!
 
JACOB
(mouthing at Bill)
Fuck.
 
He leaps up and stubs the joint on the windowsill, throwing it out the window once it’s out.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
(polite as can be)
Just a sec!
 
He begins to fan out the window rapidly with his arms; Bill leaps up and joins him. Another LOUD KNOCK...
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Coming...
 
He opens the door. Bill, still at the window, can’t see the guard’s face.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
Oh, fuck off. I cannot believe you.
 
In walks the Beatnik, the one who Jacob was with in the bookstore. He’s cracking up.
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
I threw a fucking joint out the window
just now.
 
NICK
It was too easy.
 
JACOB
I hate you. Nick, this is Bill; Bill, Nick
is an asshole.
 
NICK
I am.
 
He offers a high-five.
 
BILL
(taking him up on it)
Bill. Nice to meet you.
 
JACOB
Should I roll us another joint?
 
NICK
I honestly don’t care, dude; I’m so fucking
stoned.
 
JACOB
I wasn’t asking you.
 
Bill laughs, shrugging -- sure. He makes brief eye contact with Nick, who nods at him, a slight smile of affirmation on his face. Jacob rolls a perfect j as they talk:
 
JACOB (CONT’D)
So how’d it go?
 
Nick suddenly switches gears, rocking back and forth above his feet.
 
NICK
It went fine.
(shaking his head)
I’m just kinda blocked, man. Or not blocked
-- I wrote a new song today, it just sounds
totally different from the last one. Which
sounded totally different from the last one.
I dunno, sometimes I feel like I’m, like,
schizo.
 
BILL
You’re a songwriter?
 
Nick nods.
 
JACOB
A, like, gifted songwriter.
 
Bill believes it.
 
NICK
But my songs don’t work together. I don’t
know who I am, or some shit.
 
JACOB
I’m not worried about it. I think they’re
really solid songs and that’s what matters.
 
BILL
I’d love to hear them sometime.
NICK
We still need to record them.
 
JACOB
Yeah.
(to Bill)
We’re in a band. I play bass.
 
BILL
No shit. What’re you called?
 
JACOB
Narrator.
 
BILL
Shit. You guys have a drummer?
 
Nick nods.
 
NICK
You play?
 
Bill shrugs.
 
BILL
Yeah.
 
Nick nods.
 
NICK
Cool.
 
A beat.
 
NICK (CONT’D)
You a freshman?
 
Bill shrugs.
 
BILL
Yep.
 
NICK
Met any girls?
 
BILL
Yeah, man. I have a girlfriend, actually.
 
JACOB
Wait... You do? A girlfriend here?
 
Bill blushes, feeling suddenly deceitful for not having brought her up before.
 
BILL
(shrugging)
Yeah.
 
JACOB
No way...
 
Jacob’s justifiable bewilderment makes Bill feel slightly judged, like he’s done something truly weird. But Nick’s expression is approving.
 
NICK
Shit. Already found himself a ball and chain.
She a freshman too?
 
BILL
No... She’s a junior.
 
NICK
Fuck, dude. Well done. She hot?
 
JACOB
Who is it?
 
BILL
Sheila Abbasi?
 
Nick and Jacob look at each other blankly. Bill shrugs.
 
BILL (CONT’D)
She’s the editor of the paper?
 
NICK
Oh, that’s why I don’t know her.
 
JACOB
I should know who that is.
 
BILL
(shrugging)
I dunno. But yeah. She’s pretty damn cool.
 
Nick nods.
 
NICK
Good for you, man. Not easy to find good ones
out here. Or maybe I’m just the one who’s got
the problem...
 
JACOB
Joint’s ready.
 
He holds up his masterpiece, offering it to Bill unlit.
 
NICK
I just can’t figure out what they want from me.
Girls, I mean. They say they’re looking for
sensitive, but then suddenly you’re too
sensitive. So really they want tough, then
you’re too tough. I dunno, man. It’s so hard.
I can’t win. I can't fucking win.
 
He looks at Bill, a pained look on his face. Bill nods sympathetically.
 
SHEILA (OFFSCREEN)
I don’t think he could win again.
 
CUT TO:
 
INT. SHEILA’S DORM ROOM. NIGHT.
 
Lights off. Bill and Sheila cuddle in bed.
 
BILL
Yeah?
 
SHEILA
Yeah, no, I don’t. He’s proven himself to
be exactly what the Democrats said he’d be in
2000 -- just as ignorant, just as incompetent.
I think he should be pretty easy to take down.
 
BILL
What’s his approval rate right now?
 
SHEILA
I can’t remember the exact number. But it’s
low. I think, like, historically low,
actually.
 
BILL
I just hope people are able to stay mad.
And that more people start to realize that
they’re mad. That was the problem in 2000 --
Al Gore wasn’t mad enough about what was
happening. We’ve gotta get people fired up.
That’s what Dean’s campaign is about.
 
SHEILA
(laughing)
I’m honestly impressed by how often you’re
able to bring up Howard Dean. I hope you’re
considering working for his campaign this
summer. Assuming he’s the candidate.
 
BILL
He’s gonna be the candidate. And I am
considering it.
 
Sheila laughs.
 
SHEILA
Good.
 
They make out for a sec. After they separate:
 
BILL
I don’t think Bush could win either.
 
SHEILA
He is a good fear-monger...
 
BILL
It’s true. Yeah, and Iraq’s far away.
 
SHEILA
What do you mean?
 
BILL
I’m just meaning to say, like, about the way
ignorance works... Because it is fear-
mongering, what Bush is doing. And part of how
it works, I think, has to do with like,
distance. And if something happens out of sight,
it’s easier for people to leap to conclusions
about it.
 
SHEILA
Or I think really what it does is make it
easier for scary people to step in and
shape people’s conclusions about it.
 
BILL
Totally. And that’s what Bush is doing.
 
SHEILA
It’s sickening. It’s truly sickening.
 
After a beat:
 
SHEILA (CONT’D)
I don’t even really want to talk about it
anymore.
 
After another beat:
 
SHEILA (CONT’D)
Fuck. Now I’m scared.
 
BILL
He’s not gonna win again. He couldn’t possibly
win again. You said so yourself one minute ago.
 
Another beat:
 
SHEILA
A minute ago it seemed true.