Cue the Squirt
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Cue the Squirt

Randy and Adam are in the bathroom flushing the toilet over and over again. They are doing this in the dark, with the door closed. This is because the light switch is connected to a ceiling fan, which poisons the sound—light on, fan on, light off, fan off. To avoid the sound of the fan, they must avoid the light as well. They giggle and fumble in the dark. Later, in my headphones, I will hear their quest for the perfect swirling, gurgling, pipe-whining flush.

Randy: OK, right, um, this is toilet flush take four . . . go, dude.

Adam: Wait a second, dude. I can't find the handle.

Randy: Your hand was on it, like, a second ago.

Adam: All right. Right. Got it.

Randy: OK, this is still toilet flush take four.

Whoosh. Gurgle. They will also meticulously record the sound of pacing footsteps, cracking knuckles, a racquetball bouncing at various rates, the slap of a racquetball hitting Randy's stomach, and the semi-silence of a room without voices or activity—just forced air and the dull hum of many office machines, muffled whirs of outside cars slipping by one after another, maybe a plane overhead. This busy nothingness is called "ambient sound" by some and "room tone" by others. There is no place without its own aural sensibility—its own feel. Our ears have all come to distinguish the sound of an office from that of the outdoors and the sound of a small room from a large one, though often it is a knowledge only tapped when the sounds are wrong—unexpected.We are distracted only by the wrong ambient sounds; the right ones completely escape our notice. [End Page 95]

Randy and Adam take turns recording the sound of Reddi-Whip shooshing rapidly out of the can and into their respective mouths and then giggling as they choke on whipped cream. This is a stand-in for what we imagined to be the sound of air rapidly exiting an empty can of Cheese Whiz as one presses the nozzle. As it happens, a real can of Cheese Whiz makes no such satisfying squirting noises as those we expected; it is disappointingly silent whether empty or full. Thwarted in our aural expectations for the squirt, we manufacture an approximation for the sound we awaited but never heard. The true squirt of processed, compressed, spreadable cheese sounds fake. The fake squirt sounds satisfyingly true. I am making a movie.

Randy is a dynamo. He informs me before our marathon first weekend of shooting that he will be best served by the ample provision of Starbucks Double Shots—small cans of potently blended espresso and sugar. After sampling one, I am reminded that caffeine is a powerful, if legal, mind-altering drug. This is the drug that has had a critical place in the evolution and function of industrialized societies on tight schedules. This is the drug that makes adherence to rigorous business schedules possible. An investor friend of mine likes to laugh about sowing discomfort with a senior Starbucks representative when grilling him about the company's returns. If powerful drug dealers make high margins, why not the most powerful purveyor of the most ubiquitous drug? He thought Starbucks's margins ought to more closely resemble those of a crack pusher.

I bring Nutter Butters, Oreos, Goldfish, potato chips, grapes, bananas, three kinds of soda pop, and a case of small bottles of water to the set, along with the required ration of Double Shots. This is in addition to regular strength coffee and bagels. It is also in addition to ordering in lunch each day—Thai on Saturday, pizza on Sunday. Ultimately, feeding people turns out to be more expensive than purchasing and processing film—and film is expensive. I also bring a case of Rolling Rock with the intent of introducing it at some late and cranky hour. Some of my crew is underage. I weigh legality against goodwill and opt for goodwill.

The Nutter Butters are extremely popular and elicit chirpy exclamations of "Hey! Nutter Butters!" because they are, apparently, a cookie everyone likes but never...


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