Personally, I’ve never been much of a stickler for the rule of three. You know how it goes in stories, like the three little pigs. The big bad wolf blows on the house of hay. It falls. He blows on the house of wood. It falls. Hey, this is easy! He blows on the house of bricks. Oops! Two similar actions, with similar results seem to establish a pattern. The third similar action fails to achieve the expected result. We, the audience, are expected to be surprised by the subversion of our expectations. But can’t we usually see it coming for miles? And of course there’s the old thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Hell, in my heart of hearts I don’t even buy into that three act structure nonsense. How restrictive. And don’t even get me started on the holy trinity. What’s up with that? Take it all back to that Pan-Hellenic pre-Socratic esthetic. Blame it all on Pythagoras, and why not?
But three. We’ve fallen afoul to threes in our movie. Two examples: we have three motels in our list of locations; and, we have three restaurants in our list of locations. The motels are supposed to be three clearly different sites. We, however, managed (successfully, it seems) to make one motel (the Aloha Inn) appear to be three different motels. We did this purely in the interest of expediency. We didn’t have time to break down the production and move to another site. The restaurants were less difficult. We planned, early on, on using a single place. It would easier, we knew, logistically speaking. We went so far as to turn it into a gag. Polynesian, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants which clearly are the same place, only marginally redressed. Only Brother Augie seems to notice. In fact, he is served by an identical waitress at each restaurant.
I think we succeeded as well turning Chapala Taco House into three restaurants as masterfully as we faked the Aloha.
The original shooting schedule had allowed us two days for the restaurant scenes. We plunged ahead and got all done on Tuesday.
I’d forgotten all the problems inherent in shooting in restaurants. Audio issues everywhere. Refrigerators, freezers, fluorescent lights, air conditioning, ice makers, automatic coffee makers, et al. Most of this stuff needs constant attending. You can’t really leave refrigerators and freezers unplugged for too long, certainly not if the owner is on premises. And of course under the hot lights, the lack of AC becomes a comfort (and by that I mean a discomfort) issue pretty fast. Someone’s always needed to run and plug stuff back in or turn switches back on.
Our waitress, Louisette, was wonderful. (We liked her so much as our sexy lady in the motel scene, that we brought her back as our cynical waitress.) Louisette proved to be quite the quick change artist. After several camera set-ups where we had her sighing and rolling her eyes at customers in her Mexican peasant dress, we began dressing the restaurant for the Polynesian themed eatery. I looked up as I was moving a light and saw her sitting patiently in her south sea island waitress outfit. Same for the Chinese version of El Dante’s Diner. I turned around for just a second, it seemed, and she was wearing something like a kimono and had chopsticks in her hair.
JT and Chad were in top form, as usual. When it came time for Chad to pop a cooked, unshelled shrimp into his mouth and crunch away on it with a satisfied smile, he did so without a second thought. Halfway through the bit, I noticed Tim over at the camera shaking his head. “His face went out of frame just as he started chewing.” We prepared for another take. Someone held out a napkin for Chad to spit into. “Naw,” Chad said with his famous lop-sided smile, his mouth now empty. “I’m hardcore.” And he slung shrimp take two into his mouth and crunched it noisily and with apparent gusto.
Mr. Garcia, the owner of Chapala, popped in every so often. I assumed that he couldn’t take what we were doing to his taqueria. Manhandling the tables, chairs, display coolers, dirtying his dish with prop food. I just knew we were breaking his heart. We told him we’re be done by eight or eight-thirty. And I was amazed that we got out of there at nine o’clock. Not bad, seeing as we didn’t get our first shot off until about four in the afternoon.
We moved fast clearing out equipment and rearranging the place back to its original state, because, in all candor, we made quite a mess. I did a final walk-through, to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. To make sure we hadn’t left a freezer unplugged. To make sure we hadn’t broken an oven or a plate. All the while I’m avoiding Mr. Garcia’s eyes. I wasn’t sure how he was taking all this. And at the last stop, the restrooms.... Well, shit. And I mean that literally. One of us (cast or crew)—I’m not sure who, but I have my suspicions—clogged up the toilet with his...well, I’ll spare the gentle reader the details. Suffice to say I spent ten minutes pushing a toilet plunger to its very limits. Eventually, success. When I walked back into the restaurant, all the crew people were lounging around the parking lot. I assumed they knew what I had been up to, and wanted no part of it. I thanked Mr. Garcia and apologized for anything awful we might have done. He shrugged it off with a smile. “I was watching some of what you were doing. It’s really boring.” He was right, of course. But what makes it fun is getting swallowed up by the process. You get so deep inside all the minute details that you never get a chance to pull back and notice how mind-numbingly dull it all is. “How much did you get done?” he asked. “Um, about seven minutes,” I said, suddenly feeling inexplicably guilty. He smiled and shook his head incredulously. He thought we were crazy. Hell, maybe he’s right.
Me and Pete stopped by Chapala’s the next morning for breakfast and to make sure we hadn’t unknowingly done something awful. Everything seemed fine. Mr. Garcia joked with us. Great. Pete noticed that the bench on his side of the table was rather loose. No problem. I had become an old hand at reattaching the bench seats on Chapala’s tables. I dove underneath like a mechanic scooting beneath a car. A couple of well-placed blows with the heel of my hand, and, perfection.