May 1999
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Once Upon a Time

First of all, let's clear this one up and get it out of the way for the last time. I am not, repeat, NOT in Episode One. It went down like this. Lucas and I had been looking for an excuse to work together ever since I suggested he go with prequels and thus elegantly sidestep the unfortunate aging of the Empire. He had been having nightmares about the final battle in the next movie being waged with canasta, and my idea gave his epic (and his career, I might add) an unexpected rebirth.

In return, George offered me the part of Gunther Solo, Han's drunken, abusive, lothario, Nerf-herding father. It was a cleverly written character, and it did well to give some context to Han's bad-boy image. I even had a catch phrase all set to go, "Boy-howdy! Wookies is big!" But, try as he might to show otherwise, Lucas found that Gunther's influence on the Star Wars universe was flimsy at best, and mostly I stood around the set in a wife-beater T-shirt with a black vest and black cargo pants, trying like hell to get Natalie Portman to notice me.

Even though I ended up a cutting room whore, I still can't wait to see the final result. Well, not as much as those freaks over at ("You guys are real Jedis!!!"), but enough that maybe I'll rent the originals before I step into the fiasco that will become the screening of this flick.

Now, let me refute a second myth. Star Wars is NOT the all-encompassing cultural foundation of the mid-twenties to mid-thirties set. Yes, we wore Boba Fett Underoos. Yes, the term "Use the force" is ensconced in our vocabulary. Yes, there are those of us that wish we could do that Darth Vader finger-choke thingy to bosses and blind dates. However, and listen closely Timmy, Star Wars did not make you what you are today, the force is neither religion nor physics, and Luke Skywalker made a little movie called Corvette Summer soon after the first installment.

What Star Wars is, is one hell of a story, perhaps the pre-eminent three-act play of the latter half of the twentieth-century. And a good story is worth a million IPOs. In a klatcsh, it can substitute for charm and personal hygiene. It built Hollywood and - just between you and me - it's the only reason people hang around George Clooney.

I admit to having quite an arsenal myself. I'm going to use a few of them to help you develop your technique.

Know your audience. One of my favorite ice-breakers is "Coed-Naked-Volleyball-and-Singalong." This particular tale, about a night in college where seven friends and I - four women and four men altogether - bought a keg for a party that didn't materialize. We decided the solution was to drink as much of the keg as possible. Details out, we were in close proximity to a volleyball court, and, when we gained enough spectators, somebody thought clasping hands and singing would be "a hoot."

This story tells the listener that I had and may still have a wild streak in me, that I can be a lot of fun and uninhibited, and that I get naked real easy. It has served me very well over the years. However, I realize that I'm going to have to retire this one when I hit thirty, as there is nothing more pathetic than a thirty-year old man telling you about the last time he was naked in public.

Know your limits. A friend of mine has this harrowing yarn that I believe Fox could squeeze a TV movie out of. It's called "The Five-Oh Story." It involves a much-anticipated first date, a bout with the flu, a Mexican restaurant, and a club called the Five-Oh. It is there, on the dance floor, that my ailing friend sneezes and suffers a bodily accident of the worst kind. He flees the club, only to be berated at length a half-hour later when his date arrives at his apartment via taxi. He could do nothing but stand there in a fresh pair of khakis and take verbal body blows, nowhere near able to explain his actions.

The question arises: How much do you want to reveal? This story makes my friend a hero in some eyes, for sheer depth of confession. Others think he's just an idiot. Taking this to the next level, you could get away with "Volleyball" on Letterman. "Five-Oh" would probably only work with basic cable on down.

Know your source. Be plausible. If you're relating the latest zany episode that happened to you, I warn you, no matter how wide-eyed you are and no matter how much you personalize it, I will stop you and reveal that you got your story from the Internet.

Not that spicing up something with a bit of fiction is wrong, just make sure you start with fact. For example, taking the wrong girl to Red Lobster, followed by a week of cowardice and hiding in my bedroom turned into "How I Stole Christian Laettner's Girlfriend." The one about how I once test drove a 911 Turbo and crashed into a for-sale sign and got away with it under the guise that I was Leonardo diCaprio, is true word for word. Except replace 911 Turbo with Geo Metro and Leonardo diCaprio with Michael J. Fox. Then there's that time in 94 when I broke my foot skiing in Killington and was kept company by an equally lame Jennifer Aniston. She made me soup and helped me do crossword puzzles and we talked late into the night about dreams and unfulfilled sexual fantasies. Great story But it wasn't Jennifer Aniston. It was Janet Reno.

The inspiration for every tale we tell comes from a desire to relate information about ourselves to others, in order to be accepted, lauded, respected, or shunned, as the case may be. And I'm as guilty as the next when it comes to selfishly divulging my CV under the guise of an anecdote. However, equally important to the process is the entertainment or moral value of the narrative. I can't stress that enough. Shorting any sort of secondary purpose makes the point so worthless that we might as well just walk around with the words "I'm so cool!" stamped on our foreheads. Hmm. On reflection, that may not be so far off anyway.

in the junk drawer:

feature car
ac/dc gun
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

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