Slow Dancin Down The Aisles Of The Quickcheck

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By Thomas Wade Jackson

INTRODUCTION

At the first crew meeting for Slow Dancin' Down the Aisles of the Quickcheck, Thomas Jackson made a brief speech:

I told everybody the most important thing is I want everybody to have a great experience, have a good time, and learn from the experience. It was important to me that the set was pleasant and everyone felt good about it because there are so many sets you go on that suck. You hate to be there. So it was so important to me that this be a pleasant experience for all involved. Then I said, "But one of our goals is to be the first student film from Florida State to win a student Academy Award." I don't even know if the crew members remember it, but I remember it like it was yesterday because it was such a hard thing for me to say. In the South, you're taught to be self-deprecating, and when you say something like that, even humbly, it sounds like you're being pretentious, even though at the time and even when we won the regional competition I felt we don't have a chance. But I've learned in life you have to state things. Just verbalizing it. Putting it out there. There's something about saying it that sort of puts your ass on the line. And you have to live up to it. And if you say it, it puts you in a mindset to make it happen. But I also wanted the crew to know I was taking this seriously. I wanted them to feel they were working on something they could be proud of. And it kind of set the tone.

In May 1999, Thomas was notified that his film was a finalist for the student Academy Award. He would find out in June if he'd won first, second, or third place.

But the journey from idea to the Academy ceremony in June was a long one. In 1998, when Thomas wrote the first draft of Slow Dancin', he did not have a story. Fifteen rewrites later, he'd found his story and a whole lot of rich significant stuff in the process:

What's funny about writing is that I guess in some ways things come out that are somewhat your philosophy but at the same time sometimes they just develop, they just come out of nowhere, you don't know where they come from. They just kind of bubble up. In a way, I mean. I believe it. I mean, the thing is, I've been married twice and divorced twice, but you just have to take those chances, I guess. I'm a hopeless romantic. You have to believe that you can make the connection with the person. You have to look beneath the surface. See who they really are. So I'm in Georgia, and peach season came in the middle of the rewrites, and a peach came to represent this true thing in a person. So, in the screenplay, the produce manager, Jerome, says to Earl:

JEROME

You got to look for the peach inside of her, and see her in a way ain't nobody ever seen her. Then talk to her with your peach . . . You just look deep into her eyes, past all the flesh, blood and bone, and see that peach inside of her.

Would Earl have the courage to make this authentic connection? That became the central dramatic question of the screenplay and film. As director, Thomas didn't make a great many changes in the screenplay:

I want to say all the scenes are there. Even in editing, we didn't cut any scenes. There was added dialogue in production, or I would give the actors lines. When you're there, you just have to see what works for you and adjust accordingly. Then there were throwaway lines like when Earl's on the floor, stuff in the background. I'd tell the actors this is what it's about, and they would adlib.

The process of filmmaking, though, like true love, did not always run smooth:

I watched the dailies the first day and I thought, Oh my God, this is the worst thing. What am I doing? I went home and went paranoid. And I said to my girlfriend, if this film sucks, will you still love me? But you just have to walk on faith. No, it's more than just faith. You have to take action. But without the faith part, the action doesn't work. Even when you think it sucks, you still have to go out there and believe it will all come together and it's gonna work. It's all about just doing it. And until you have to let go of the film, it's a work in progress. That's the greatest thing about film. You have chance after chance to make it better.

But the first cut was the one he loved best.

After that you get lost in detail. The final cut is a million times better than the rough cut, but that's the only cut that worked for me. I actually saw moments in it, but now... it's painful. You watch it a million times and it doesn't work for you. There are things you just cringe when you watch it. That is the saddest part about filmmaking. I don't think I'll ever be able to make a film and watch it and say, 'God, I hit the mark.' I used to listen to Woody Allen say Annie Hall doesn't work, and I'd think, God, how could he say that? He's just saying that. Now I totally relate.

Many others do not. Slow Dancin' Down the Aisles of the Quickcheck won First Place in the Student Narrative category at the 1998 Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival; the 1999 Cine Eagle Award in Washington, D.C.; Third Place in the 1999 Student Emmy Awards for Comedy; the 1999 Grand Prize-Overall and Second Place-Fiction at the Florida Film Festival in West Palm Beach; First Place at the 1999 Palm Beach International Film Festival Student Showcase; First Place Featurette Audience Award at the 1999 Filmfest New Haven; as well as being screened nationally and internationally, including the Emerging Filmmakers series at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. And, on June 14, 1999, in Los Angeles, California, Thomas Jackson received an Academy Award (Bronze) in the Narrative Category of the Student Academy Awards for Slow Dancin' Down the Aisles of the Quickcheck.

When I asked what he was up to now, he said, "As far as what I am doing—for the last year and a half I've been living in New York City and working at a small recording studio. I've just started back working on a screenplay that I began right before I moved up here and spent some time with last year. It's a Southern Gothic Romantic Comedy that at present is titled, "Rattlesnakes and Roses." Before that I spent time in Nashville teaching filmmaking at Watkins College and eight months in L.A. working at a sound post house. Mainly I've just been learning life lessons and getting my act together. Maybe one day I'll be ready to take it on the road (again)."

SLOW DANCIN' DOWN THE AISLES OF THE QUICKCHECK

By Thomas Wade Jackson

FADE IN:

EXT. QUICKCHECK—PREDAWN

The parking lot is empty and quiet, except for a green 1979 Toyota pickup, a distant train whistle, and the muffled sound of a guitar coming from inside the store.

INT. QUICKCHECK—SERIES OF SHOTS—PREDAWN

The Quickcheck sleeps as a voice lays lyrics over the music from the guitar.

The meat counter glows under the display lights, stocked with chittlins, bologna, fish roe, pork souse and the feet of both chickens and pigs.

A perfect display of peaches rests happily under a sign that reads, "Nothing's as Sweet as A Georgia Peach."

The magazine rack holds various magazines; a tabloid reads, "Ghost of Hank Williams Haunts Rush Limbaugh." DOLLY TO REVEAL:

The silhouetted back of the man, playing the guitar, sitting on one of the check out counters. CONTINUE TO DOLLY AROUND THE SIDE OF EARL, a plain-looking, 41-year-old man. He sings a troubled line and looks over at the Employee of the Month Sign:

EXTREME CLOSE UP of the Polaroid picture of Earl shaking hands with a faded beauty in a cashier's vest.

CLOSE UP of Earl as he finishes his last line and looks from the Employee of the Month sign to a newspaper in front of him.

CLOSE UP of Newspaper. CURTIS, a 38-year-old man wearing a Cowboy Hat, and a sparkling red, white and blue suit, grins at Earl from the paper. The headline reads, "Local Country Star Returns Home for Concert."

TITLE

INT. FRONT OF THE STORE—MORNING

The doors of the Quickcheck sit quiet for a second, then MAYBELLINE, the 38-year-old Head Cashier and woman in the picture, walks up outside, calling to someone OFFSCREEN.

MAYBELLINE Come on, Mary Jurgeana, I want you to hear somethin'.

Hold your horses.

Maybelline comes in the store and makes a bee line to the radio. She turns it on, and a steel guitar cries out over the music with a distinctive cheesy Nashville sound. MARY JURGEANA, a slightly overweight black woman, struggles through the door.

MAYBELLINE Hurry up, it's almost over.

MARY

(walking towards Maybelline) I ain't got no hurry left in me, girl. Daryl came home with some Colt 45 last night, pretendin' he was Billie Dee Williams, again.

MAYBELLINE Let me guess, you had to be the young starlet who wanted a part in his next movie.

MARY

No, last night, I had to be a teenage school girl who wanted his autograph.

MAYBELLINE

(smiling)

What did he want to write it with?

A man's twangy voice begins to sing about his Pickup Truck, over the music.

MAYBELLINE Remember the guy I was tellin' you about yesterday? Curtis?

MARY

You mean the old flame that ran off and became a Country Star?

MAYBELLINE Yeah, this is him. Listen.

(she listens) He did this on Nashville Now Tuesday.

(listens some more) They call him a star on the horizon.

MARY

What horizon's that? The hillbilly horizon?

MAYBELLINE They said he had a distinct voice.

MARY

Sounds like every other redneck song, to me.

MAYBELLINE And they said he'd be worth over a million dollars by the end of the year.

MARY

They listen some more. The deep country voice of a D.J. speaks over the end of the song. Maybelline and Mary turn their attention away from the radio, and clock themselves in for the day.

Whew, that boy can sing it, can't he? That Bainbridge's own Curtis Anderson, putting the Country back in the Country.

Maybelline and Mary talk over the D.J.

MARY

Girl, I trade my Bille Dee, for an old boyfriend with a million dollars, any day.

MAYBELLINE

I like Daryl.

MARY

That's 'cause you ain't ever had to pay Lando Calrissian's Jerry Curl bill.

MAYBELLINE

Who?

Mary pulls a Lando Calrissian action figure out of her purse.

MARY

Billie Dee played him in Star Wars. I keep findin' these in my pocketbook.

MAYBELLINE (taking figure) This don't look nothin' like Daryl.

Mary clocks in and notices the Employee of the Month sign and that the picture is missing.

MARY

Looks like Earl's runnin' late again. Maybelline looks at the empty slot and smiles. INT. BATHROOM—SAME

Earl stands in front of the mirror in his brown slacks and a tank top T-shirt, his middle-age pudge hanging slightly over his belt. He pulls the wrapper off a new girdle.

EARL

(unsure) Maybelline, my heart is a song.

He sucks in his gut and tightens a girdle around his waist with all his might, fastening it down. He looks at the picture and finishes the line, but has trouble due to the tightness of the girdle.

EARL

(groaning) And you are its melody.

He leans towards the mirror, knocking a can of Ajax off the sink. He starts to pick it up, but the girdle keeps him from bending. He gives up, takes the Polaroid off the mirror, and puts it in his pocket.

INT. STORE FRONT—LATER

Maybelline and Mary sit in the crow's nest, counting the money for their tills.

MAYBELLINE She said that Curtis, personally, asked her to call me. I thought that was kind of surprisin'.

MARY

Why?

MAYBELLINE It's just been a long time.

MARY

How long?

MAYBELLINE At least two dress sizes ago.

Behind them Earl walks out from the end of the aisle. He sees them, then ducks back out of their sight. He pulls the Polaroid picture out of his breast pocket and looks toward the Employee of the Month sign.

MARY Well, what was he like?

MAYBELLINE (reflecting)

Well, back then he used to play with this band called East River Junction. He had long hair, and a tattoo on his arm of a guitar that said, "Honky Tonk Hero." That's how he saw himself. He always wore a leather jacket and black boots with silver tips on the toes.

As Maybelline talks, Earl sneaks up to the office, disappearing behind the wall.

MAYBELLINE And he had this '57 Harley Hydroglide with a 74-cubic inch overhead valve engine, one just like The King rode. Curtis sure loved that Harley. You ever do it on a motorcycle?

Earl, who is about to return the Polaroid picture to the Employee of the Month sign, misses the slot, and the picture falls to the floor and under a chewing gum machine. He starts to reach down for it, but can't bend.

MARY

No, but I did it on a lawnmower, once.

Earl struggles for the picture. He squats awkwardly, trying to reach the picture, but it's just out of his reach.

MAYBELLINE Curtis used to drive that Harley into the bedroom, wearin' nothin' but a cowboy hat and a smile. And he'd leave it runnin' while we did it, and when things got hot, he'd rev it up. I'd feel my whole body vibrate.

MARY

I don't think that lawnmower ever ran.

MAYBELLINE Well, let me tell you, there's just somethin' about that much horse power between your legs.

Earl loses his balance and falls over. As quick as he hits the ground, he grabs the picture and puts it in his shirt pocket. Maybelline and Mary hear Earl's fall.

MAYBELLINE

Earl, is that you? Earl lays on the ground, looking up at the ceiling.

EARL

Yeah. Ya'll in early this morning. He tries to sit up, but can't.

MARY

It's after eight.

MAYBELLINE Good morning to you, too, Earl.

EARL

(still trying to get up) Sorry, good mornin'. I guess I'm runnin' a little behind.

Earl bounces up trying to grab the time clock. His fingers almost touching it.

MAYBELLINE (O.S.) Better a little behind than a big behind.

Now, don't go there.

MAYBELLINE (realizing what they'd been talking about)

How long have you been standin' there, Earl?

There is a crashing sound, and we hear Earl grunt. Maybelline and Mary react to the sound, and Maybelline leans over the top of the wall and looks down at Earl, who lays on the floor with the shell of the time clock in his hands.

MAYBELLINE Earl? Are you all right?

Mary's head peers over the wall at Earl.

EARL

(pointing to the bottom of time clock) Yeah, I'm resetting the clicker.

MARY

Guess what, Earl, Maybelline got invited to that Country Star's welcome home party tonight. Did you know that they used to be an item? Who knows, you might be lookin' for a new employee of the month, tomorrow.

MAYBELLINE You sure you're all right?

Earl nods, and Maybelline and Mary go back to work.

MARY (O.S.) So, tell me more about Mr. Harley Davidson.

MAYBELLINE He also had this thing about showers. For a guy with a tattoo he was always clean.

Earl can't stand to hear any more.

EARL

Maybelline.

Maybelline sticks her head back over the wall.

MAYBELLINE

What is it, Earl?

He looks at her like he had at the picture in the bathroom. He clears his throat and speaks, but the words are difficult.

Mary sticks her head back over the wall.

MARY

Oh, yeah, he also gave her backstage passes for the concert this weekend. Ain't that something?

Earl gives up and nods.

EARL

Yeah, that's something.

Mary's head goes back over the wall.

MAYBELLINE What was it you wanted, Earl?

EARL

Just wanted to remind you that we're havin' a two-for-one special on Check Cream Cola.

MAYBELLINE Just like every Friday, right?

Maybelline's head goes back over the wall, and Earl puts the time clock cover over his face.

INT. GROCERY STORE—MEAT DEPARTMENT—LATER

A cleaver slams down, cutting the head off a chicken.

Women?

JOE, a 40-something redneck, covered in blood and chunks of meat and bone, turns to face Earl, who stands by the door.

There's only two things you got to remember. . . Chittlin's and Mountain Oysters.

GENE, a 30-something redneck, also covered in blood, laughs as he whacks open a Hog's Head.

GENE

Bullshit! Mountain Oysters my ass.

Go ahead and laugh, but there's just somethin' 'bout mixin' intestines and hog balls that makes 'em work like a African-deeshee-act.

GENE (laughing)

The only meat I know's gonna make a woman hot is some good ole USDA Tube Steak.

Yeah, you must be really firin' up with that Vienna Sausage you're totin'.

Gene looks at Earl, who looks out the window, down the aisle to a distant Maybelline.

GENE

I told you, if you'd bring your ass out to Bookie's once in a while you could meet some women. Drunk Women. Women that'd be impressed you was the Manager of the damn Quick Check. Hell, most of 'em are happy if you got teeth.

He throws the brainless hog's head in a five gallon bucket and grabs another head.

EARL

It's too smoky and there ain't nobody like Maybelline out there.

Gene with hog's head in hand.

GENE (mock frustration) Earl, that place is full of Maybellines. You just need to reconsider your standards. It wouldn't hurt you to lower 'em a notch or two.

Joe whacks off another chicken head.

If yours got any lower, people'ld have to start lockin' their dogs up at night.

Gene splits open another Hog's Head.

GENE

Earl, you've always been like this. In High School you carried around that chubby for Lou Ann Cullpepper for a year, but you never said a Goddamned word to her. And when you did finally say something to her, she laughed at you. Why?

Earl turns away from the window and looks at Gene.

EARL

This is different.

GENE

Because you told her some bullshit about your heart bein' a song.

Earl turns back to the window.

GENE

When you gone learn, Earl? Women don't want to hear poetry, they want you to buy 'em a few drinks, dance a couple dances with 'em, then take 'em home and pop your John Henry to 'em a couple times.

Boy, you talk like a man with a paper asshole. When it comes to women, you don't know a Dick Whistle from a yo-yo.

GENE (to Earl)

Ain't you heard? They want it as bad as we do. You just got to get 'em drunk first.

Look, Earl, I'll see what I can throw together by closin'. Maybe I can dig up a few Mountain Oysters for you.

Curtis's song starts to play on the radio.

Here it is again. The new one, our very own Curtis Anderson.

GENE (overlapping D.J.) I just wanta know what the big fuckin' hurry is? You gone this long without a woman.

Earl stands staring down the aisle at Maybelline.

EARL

It just has to be today.

It just has to be today. The man walks around with a chubby for months and it has to be today.

INT. REGISTER—SAME

Maybelline is finishing checking out ROY, a heavy-set man dressed like a cowboy.

They're having Oyster Night at Bookie's this weekend. Pay ten dollars to get in and eat all you want. What you think?

Maybelline smiles as she takes his money.

MAYBELLINE I'll pass this time, Roy.

Okay, but Country Cruisin's gonna be playin'.

MAYBELLINE Do you want your green stamps?

You know, you can have 'em, darlin'. Maybelline smiles, and Roy winks at her and leaves.

MAYBELLINE

(calling over his shoulder) Bye, darling.

MARY

Look at you, hustlin' customers for their Green Stamps just so you can get a set of Elvis Presley china. If you get with Mr. Harley Davidson, you won't have to worry about stuff like that.

MAYBELLINE You know, I don't think I'd enjoy doin' it on a Harley, now. I don't think I could take the noise.

MARY

So don't do it on a Harley.

MAYBELLINE The thing is, sometimes I got the feelin' Curtis was more into the Harley than he was me.

MARY

And that's bad? Hell, if it wasn't for Billie Dee Williams, I don't think Daryl could do it.

MAYBELLINE It's like when Curtis sings a song. It sounds great, but you don't believe he means it. He's just doin' it to be cool. You know, like when Elvis sang one, you knew it was from his heart.

MARY

Well, girl, let me tell you, Elvis is Dead.

MAYBELLINE I know. And I'm gettin' too old to keep lookin' for one, right?

MARY

Hell, you've already dated about every man in the county.

(pause; small laugh)

Except Earl.

Earl marches up the aisle towards the front of the store ready to give it another try, but when he hears Mary mention Maybelline's dating habits, he stops and begins to straighten a honey display, eavesdropping in on their conversation.

MAYBELLINE Well, most of the men around here ain't good for nothin' but havin' a good time. Of course, I ain't ever been against havin' a good time.

Maybelline smiles.

MARY

You know that there ain't no man around here gonna compare to a rich country star. You just need to get off your ass and go for it.

MAYBELLINE What do you want me to do? Propose to him?

MARY

No, you just need to go back to that party tonight in a short black dress with a lot of cleavage and spend the evenin' wavin' it in front of his nose.

Maybelline leans forward, pushes her breasts together to make cleavage, while considering Mary's suggestion.

MAYBELLINE

What'd you think?

Earl, seeing this, turns quickly back to his work, knocking over a bottle of honey. He sits the honey back up right, but it spills onto his hand. He struggles with the sticky bottle.

MARY

I think, if you just give Curtis some of that Maybelline charm, he'll be cookin' you breakfast in the mornin', honey.

Earl, flustered, tries to wipe his hands on one of the toilet tissue rolls. It sticks to his hand, and the roll rips open as he struggles to free it. In seconds Earl's hands are covered in tissue as he tries to gather the spilling roll.

MAYBELLINE (O.S.) You think he'd make me a back and grits omelet?

MARY (O.S.) With hash browns and gravy biscuits.

MAYBELLINE (O.S.) Stop it, girl, you're makin' me hungry.

A short elderly black woman pushes her buggy into Earl.

WOMAN (shouting out of deafness) Do you know where the napkins are?

He tries to compensate for her shouting by talking real low.

EARL (whispering) They're down the aisle.

WOMAN

What?

Earl tries to mime that it's down the aisle.

WOMAN

You all right?

Earl rushes down the aisle and grabs a package of napkins.

EARL

Here.

WOMAN

No! Not the table napkins. The Menstruation Napkins! My grandbaby havin' her first visit.

Everyone's attention is now focused on Earl and the Woman. His face is red. He looks down at his hands and then up to Mary and Maybelline who are looking around their magazine racks, laughing. Earl takes the woman to find what she wants.

MARY

He's pitiful.

MAYBELLINE Yeah, but he's kind of sweet.

Maybelline smiles as she watches Earl walk away, patiently, with the Woman. Toilet tissue trailing behind them.

WOMAN

Back when I had my first visit, we used rags. We'd just have to stop every now and then to wash 'em out.

INT. PRODUCE DEPARTMENT—LATER

Two shapes can be seen through the two small windows on the stainless steel swingin' doors to the back room.

JEROME (O.S.) You see, Earl, the Good Lord ain't made no fruit as sweet or as bitter as a woman.

JEROME, the produce manager, a 60-year-old black man, comes through the door, pulling a cart carrying produce, with Earl in tow. They walk through the dairy section on their way to the Produce department.

JEROME

And there ain't nothing more addictive. A man will give a woman the last penny he's got and smile while he does it.

Jerome sits the peach back in the crate and starts pulling the cart again.

JEROME

You're missin' the point, boy. You got to look for the peach inside of her, and see her in a way ain't nobody ever seen her. Then talk to her with your peach.

EARL

(confused)

I just want to know how to tell her how I feel. JEROME

That's what I'm tellin' you, boy. You just look deep into her eyes, past all the flesh, blood and bone, and see that peach inside of her.

He stops the cart and grabs another peach.

JEROME

And then you speak to her from your peach. Something like . . .

(he looks at the peach as if a lover) "Baby, your sugar is sweet." But don't say it. Just think it.

EARL

Jerome, I'm more confused now than when I came over here.

Jerome puts the peach in Earl's hand.

JEROME

Here, you try it.

EARL

What?

Jerome positions Earl with the peach in front of his face.

JEROME

Now, look into her eyes, boy, and think, "Baby, your sugar is sweet."

EARL

This is stupid.

JEROME

(insisting) Just do it, boy. Seeee theee Peeaach.

Earl tries the most seductive look he can muster, but he looks as if he's in pain.

EARL

(trying to imitate Jerome)

JEROME Think it. Don't say it.

Earl struggles with the thought, trying to telepathically seduce the peach. He strains.

JEROME Don't hurt yourself, boy.

Jerome laughs, shakes his head, giving up. He takes the peach out of Earl's hand and replaces it with another one.

JEROME

Here, try this one. I think you scared that one.

Jerome starts pulling the cart again, leaving Earl standing there with a peach in his hand.

INT. GROCERY STORE—FRONT—LATER

Maybelline sits on her register chewing gum, smokin' a cigarette, and drinking a Dr. Pepper, while reading a magazine. Mary sweeps the floor.

MAYBELLINE There's just this thing missin' from my life. Somethin', I don't think no man's gonna satisfy.

MARY

What's that?

Maybelline turns her magazine around to reveal a picture of a big shiny Peterbilt Truck.

MAYBELLINE A 359 Peterbilt with a 15 double over, and a Jake Brake.

MARY

What?

Mary walks over and grabs the magazine.

MAYBELLINE When I was nineteen I had this thing for truck drivers.

Mary gives Maybelline an "Are You Kiddin'?" look.

MAYBELLINE You know, 'cause I ain't ever been nowhere, and they had. Anyway, it didn't take long to realize, it was the truck and not the man.

MARY

(giving her back the magazine) You're crazy.

MAYBELLINE I'm telllin' you that if it wasn't for my speedin' tickets, I'd already have my CDL and I'd be haulin' a load of cows down some lonesome interstate.

MARY

Now I know you're crazy

MAYBELLINE (going back to Magazine) You've just never driven a Peterbilt.

MARY

Thank goodness.

MAYBELLINE Curtis never got it, either. He kept tellin' me I'd outgrow it. The deal was if he made it, and I hadn't outgrown it, he'd have to buy me a brand new Peterbilt.

MARY

See, now you've got a reason to go to that party tonight. To get a Peter Truck.

MAYBELLINE I guess it wouldn't hurt to go see if he's grown up any. They say anything is possible.

MARY

You just pretend he's got one of them Peter trucks in his pocket, and you'll be all right.

Maybelline looks back at her magazine and turns the page.

MAYBELLINE I don't know. I might could settle for a Freightliner, long as it had a jake brake.

She shows Mary the picture and smiles.

INT. GROCERY STORE—BACK ROOM—LATER

Earl is sitting alone in his cubby hole, staring intensely at a peach. Maybelline walks up.

MAYBELLINE

There you are.

He turns to face Maybelline, hiding the peach behind his back.

MAYBELLINE What you got behind your back, Earl?

Earl looks at Maybelline like he practiced on the peach. He strains to send her his thought.

MAYBELLINE Damn, Earl, I just asked a question. You don't have to look at me like I pissed in your cornflakes.

He deflates and pulls the peach from behind his back.

EARL

Sorry.

He sits the peach back on the dog food bag.

MAYBELLINE All that fuss over a peach? What's got into you today, Earl?

EARL Do you like chittlins?

MAYBELLINE What? Look, Earl, I was wonderin' if I could come in late tomorrow. I decided I was gonna go to that party.

Earl tries to hide his disappointment.

MAYBELLINE Do you think I can come in after lunch? You never know how late these things run.

EARL (small protest) Maybelline, you know Saturdays are our big day, and . . .

MAYBELLINE

(agitated)

Earl, I can't believe you would be so selfish. It's not like I ever ask for any time off.

EARL (reluctantly) Well... all right.

MAYBELLINE Thanks, Earl, but it wouldn't hurt you to act like you hoped I had a good time tonight.

EARL

Yeah, I hope you have a good time.

MAYBELLINE Earl, are you sure that you're all right? I think you might be comin' down with somethin'. You been actin' stranger than usual today.

She smiles.

MAYBELLINE (walking off) Earl, I thought you were allergic to peaches.

Maybelline leaves. Earl picks up the peach, looks at it, and tosses it into a box of trash.

INT. GROCERY STORE—SERIES OF SHOTS

This is a montage of people giving Earl advice. A Bugged Eye PEST CONTROL MAN sprays the produce section as he speaks to the CAMERA as if to Earl. Distracted, he sprays some of the produce that is stacked on the floor.

PEST CONTROL MAN How to get a woman's heart?

(slimy smile) Try a chainsaw.

A Big Burly HUNTER stands next to the Beer cooler with a twelve pack of Busch Beer in his hand.

HUNTER

Don't bathe. It's like deer. They got to smell your scent. It'll drive 'em crazy.

A Middle Age GREASY TRUCK DRIVER stands at the back entrance of his truck. He tries to tell Earl the answer, but stutters too bad to get through what he's saying.

DARYL, a 30-something overweight black man, poorly imitating Billy Dee Williams in both look and voice, stands in the dairy section holding a grocery basket filled with Colt 45.

DARYL

Earl, Billie Dee don't have to worry about shit like that.

The Truck Driver still stutters.

An Hispanic MIGRANT WORKER stands in the Spanish Food section of the store. He says something in Spanish.

MIGRANT WORKER (subtitles)

You could start by takin' off that fuckin' girdle. The Truck Driver finally gets it out.

DRIVER

Axle grease. EXT. LOADING DOCK—SUNSET

Earl sits, despondent, on the loading dock as the sun sets.

EXT. GROCERY STORE—SUNSET

Earl, downtrodden, pushes a cart of groceries out for MR. SASSER, an old man who talks by pressing one of those vibrating things against his neck. He has thick glasses and chews on a cigar.

MR. SASSER

(subtitles)

Now, take that Curtis fellow. He's somebody we can be proud of. He ain't drivin' up and down these streets drinkin' and doin' dope. No, he's up in Nashville makin' something of hisself.

Mr. Sasser gives Earl a quarter for unloading his groceries.

MR. SASSER

(subtitles) You know why he made it, don't you?

Earl shrugs.

MR. SASSER 'Cause he knew what he wanted and he went after it.

(he climbs in car) Most people just spend their lives thinkin' and talkin' about shit, but never doin' nothin' about it. Earl, don't be a thinker, be a doer. Now, let me hear you say it. Come on now.

EARL

Don't be a thinker be a doer. Mr. Sasser drives off, smiling.

MR. SASSER

Now keep that up. Earl watches, mumbling the line. He smiles as it sinks in. INT. FRONT OF STORE—SAME

Earl turns the OPEN side to the CLOSED side and stands looking at his reflection in the glass door. He dabs on some cologne and straightens the girdle. Then he turns and walks towards the registers, mumbling Mr. Sasser's line over and over. Mary stands alone, counting her money.

EARL Where's Maybelline?

MARY

She's reshelving the returns. You all right?

Earl takes off in search of Maybelline. Mary sniffs the air and makes a face about Earl's cologne.

CUT TO:

Maybelline takes an item out of the grocery buggy and puts it back on the shelf.

CUT TO:

Earl walks quickly down the end of the Aisles looking for Maybelline, mumbling his new mantra. He sees her at the other end of the aisle as she's leaving. Earl rushes quickly down the aisle. He's at the end when Joe comes striding out of the Meat Department.

Your troubles are over, my friend.

EARL

What?

Maybelline pushes the cart out of sight down the dairy aisle, on the other side of the store. Joe pulls Earl towards the Meat Department, while Earl looks back in search of a glimpse of Maybelline.

Wait 'til you see it.

Joe leads Earl, who continues to search through the window [thinking his mantra] into the meat department. Gene is in the corner hosing down the bloody floor. Something lies in front of them on the table under a dirty meat apron.

Are you ready? I call it my Lover's Surprise.

Joe pulls the apron off revealing two mountain oysters placed below a phallic-shaped pile of chittlins shrink-wrapped on a white Styrofoam tray, shaped like a heart. The chittlins are supposed to be cupid's arrow.

Earl fakes a smile and then looks back out the window, his eyes following Maybelline as she comes out the end of an aisle. He politely listens to Joe, but waits for the opportunity to leave.

Now, you want to make sure you mix 'em up in a skillet with scrambled eggs and Hogs Brains. Then you got all your bases covered. And don't cook 'em over five minutes or you'll cook out their potency.

EARL (starting to leave) Thanks, Joe.

Gene steps in front of Earl and snatches the package from Earl. He looks at it with disgust and then at Joe.

GENE

This is just sick.

Who you gone listen to, Earl, a pervert pushin' hog ball or your cousin who's tryin' to get your ass laid.

EARL

Get out of my way, Gene.

GENE

Look, Earl, I'll do you a favor. While you close up, I'll pick us up a fifth of OFC, and then I'll take you out to Bookie's tonight, and we'll get you a piece of ass. I guarantee it.

Earl shakes his head and tries to push past Gene.

GENE

I guess you think you're too good to go out to Bookie's with a lowly meat cutter, huh?

He squirts Earl with the hose.

EARL

GENE

Just 'cause you Manager of the goddamn Quickcheck, you think that you're better than the rest of us.

He sprays Earl again.

EARL

Stop it, or I'm gonna have to do something. GENE

Oh, I'm scared. He sprays again.

Earl looks down, picks up a big tray, and chases Gene, who continues to spray him, into the freezer. Gene pulls the door shut, but Earl's momentum can't be stopped, and he slips on the watery blood and bits of flesh, crashing into the door, then falling on his ass. We hear the girdle snap on the way down. He sits wet and panting in front of the freezer door with his head on his knees.

Let me out of here.

EARL (giving up)

It's over now. He pulls the broken girdle out from under his shirt.

Damn it, Earl, it's cold in here, and my pants are wet!

You can't let yourself get so worked up over a woman.

EARL

She ain't just a woman. She's why I get up in the morning. She's the only bright part of this miserable job, and after tonight, she'll be gone.

Earl sits wet and defeated in watery blood and bits of flesh. He looks at the unrepairable girdle.

Gene, I ain't had this much fun since Betty Sue rented that Kamasutra Video.

I'm not laughing. Earl just sits, defeated, holding the limp girdle. EXT. FRONT OF STORE—CLOSING TIME Earl, still wet, opens the door to let Jerome out.

JEROME

You got her all to yourself. Now's the time. EARL

I think it's a little too late for that now. Good night, Jerome.

Jerome walks back over to Earl and holds out a peach. Earl doesn't reach for it.

EARL

Thanks anyway, but it won't do any good. JEROME

(putting the peach in Earl's hand) Take the peach, boy.

He turns and walks out into the night.

JEROME

You can't keep your peach hid forever, Earl.

Earl watches him go, unconvinced.

INT. CROW'S NEST OFFICE—SAME

Earl stands outside the office, by the still-playing radio. Maybelline sits in the office filling out her paperwork.

EARL

Do you mind if I cut this off?

MAYBELLINE (not looking) Sure whatever.

Earl cuts off the music and climbs into the office, trying to hide his condition by putting on a coat. He puts the peach on the counter in front of him and starts making a grocery order. Maybelline notices the peach and then Earl's condition.

MAYBELLINE Damn, Earl, what happened to you?

EARL

Gene.

MAYBELLINE I don't know why you put up with him.

EARL

'Cause he's my cousin.

MAYBELLINE Still, Earl, you got to start standin' up for yourself.

EARL

(turning back to work) Maybe you're right.

MAYBELLINE You know, a little backbone wouldn't hurt you, none.

They work in silence for a minute.

MAYBELLINE Earl, I'm sorry if I got a little short with you, earlier.

EARL

It's all right.

MAYBELLINE You just ain't been yourself today. I think you been spendin' too much time in the meat department.

EARL

I guess my mind's been elsewhere.

MAYBELLINE There ain't nothin' wrong with that. My mind spends most of its day in the front seat of a Peterbilt.

EARL

I think it's good for a person to have dreams, like that. It's somethin' I always like about you. I ain't never had the courage to do much dreamin' myself.

Maybelline stops what she's doing and turns to face Earl.

MAYBELLINE You know, you're the only person that's ever called it that.

EARL

What?

MAYBELLINE A dream. Most people think I'm a little crazy 'cause of wantin' to drive a truck.

Earl, nervous by Maybelline's attention, turns back to work.

EARL

Everybody's got to want something.

MAYBELLINE What is it you want, Earl?

He didn't expect this.

EARL

MAYBELLINE Come on, Earl. I know there's got to be something you've always wanted.

Earl pauses, looks at Maybelline, then he turns back towards his work. Trying to think of something to say.

EARL

Well, nobody knows it, but I'm kind of a closet songwriter.

MAYBELLINE I didn't know you were musical, Earl.

EARL

(he goes back to work)

Yeah.

MAYBELLINE

What'd you play?

EARL

The guitar.

MAYBELLINE

What kind?

EARL

I got a couple. I got a Gibson J-45 flattop at home, and I keep an old Yamaha FG-460 at the store, for times when I'm here alone.

MAYBELLINE You mean you come here on your time off? You need a life, honey.

EARL (explaining)

I come here because it's quiet, except for the hum a sleepin' store makes. I write my best songs here.

MAYBELLINE (looking around) It's kind of sleepin' now, ain't it? Why don't you get that guitar and play me one of them songs.

EARL

Well, I really need to change the strings.

MAYBELLINE Come on, Earl. I'd really like to hear one of your songs.

EARL

I couldn't. You're use to hearin' people like Curtis.

MAYBELLINE I'll have you know, I used to be queen of the karaoke down at the Charter House. And you can't be no worse than any of us were.

Earl hesitates and lets out a small sigh.

Earl gets up, climbs out of the office, and opens his secret compartment in the hollow under the crow's nest.

EARL

Just don't laugh.

MAYBELLINE I might throw tomatoes, but I'd never laugh.

Earl gets the guitar out. He puts his leg on the steps and the guitar on his knee, and makes a few tuning adjustments and starts strumming.

EARL

I'm not used to playing with somebody listenin'.

MAYBELLINE Don't be nervous, honey. It's just ole Maybelline. I'm an easy audience.

Earl sees the peach and decides to play a different song.

EARL

This one I've been workin' on. It's not quite finished.

MAYBELLINE Okay, Earl, sing the song before we get old.

With his head looking down at the guitar, Earl stands below Maybelline and serenades her with a song that expresses the things he hasn't been able to tell her.* Maybelline sees a side of Earl she never knew existed. As he sings, he finally gets the courage to look up, and Maybelline smiles.

CUT TO:

LATER

As the song continues to play, Earl and Maybelline dance down the aisles of the Quickcheck. We PULL BACK through the register and PAN to the peach.

I've often wondered if this moment came Would I have the courage to call out your name And could I look in your eyes without going insane Darling, I'm calling you now I've often wondered if I had the chance Would I find the courage to ask you to dance And could we waltz into some sweet romance Darling, I'm asking you now

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