David Mamet Can Go Fuck Himself
I won’t say what semester it was or even the gender of the teacher, but I took what I consider to be The Worst Writing Class In The World at one point in my academic career. The teacher was, to be blunt, nothing short of catatonic and lacked any sense of how to create a cohesive curriculum for the class he or she hadcreated for the New School. I mean, fine, you get forced in front of a chemistry class when you’re just a basic science teacher, I can accept a certain deficiency in your command of the material, but if you came up with the class, don’t overreach and invent something you don’t know how to teach.
We looked over a David Mamet play one week—this was, by design, a class that was not supposed to have anything to do with plays—and then we were forced to interview someone “about the most embarrassing moment or event of his or her life.” To get the preferred five pages of story, we were told to “drawn the person out” using such Pulitzer Prize-winning tactics like asking “how so?” and then transcribe the interview up to the “crux” of the story. At that point, we were supposed to continue the conversation by approximating the way each of us spoke and ramp up to a “revelation” that “changes the relationship between these two people.” This was supposed to help us discover how to use verisimilitude in our dialogue by making us pay attention to the “rhythms and verbals tics” and “conotation [sic] of tone of voice.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this same teacher—the one who doesn’t know how to spell “connotation” or what those red squiggly lines in Word mean—stood at the front of the class, dazed and stammering, when I asked if she could think of any short stories that were good examples of the type of dialogue we were supposed to mimic. Fuck it, the name of the class was “The Great American Short Story,” and much like Lakes Michigan, Superior, Champlain and so on, I didn’t see what was so great about it.
Question: So. I need to interview someone about an embarrassing moment, and I naturally thought of you.
Answer: Like we had to do for Zia’s class last year?
Question: That was just an interview with someone interesting, wasn’t it?
Answer: I don’t remember. (Pause) That was like a year ago.
Question: Okay, well, what was your most embarrassing moment?
Answer: Uh… I don’t know. There are… there are so many. (Pause) Are you expecting me to tell you it was that workshop where everyone misunderstood the thing about the hotel?
Question: I figured that would rank pretty high up there. You were pretty embarrassed.
Answer: I had kinda forgotten about that. Thanks for reminding me.
Question: Do you want to talk about that or something else?
Answer: Who’s going to read this?
Question: My teacher. She might make me read it in class. Your identity would be held in the strictest of confidence.
Answer: It doesn’t really matter. It’s not like I go there anymore.
Question: So do you want—
Answer: Is this another non-fiction class?
Question: No, it’s a fiction class called the “Great American Short Story.” We’re working on dialogue. Hence the interview assignment.
Answer: I’m kinda asking all the questions here.
Question: So start telling me your most embarrassing story already.
Answer: If I just tell you a story, how is that a dialogue?
Question: Because I’m interviewing you, it’s a dialogue between us.
Answer: That means I have to tell you a story you’ve never heard or weren’t there for like the workshop story. You know all those details.
Question: You can tell me whatever story you want. You can even make it up.
Answer: Can I see the assignment?
Question: Yes, sure. Let me just… email it… to you… (Long Pause) Okay. It’s there.
Answer: Don’t have it.
Question: Give it a second.
Answer: (Pause) Okay, got it. (Longer pause) What does “draw the person out” mean?
Question: I’m supposed to say “How so?” a lot to get you to expound on details without getting in the way of the story… if I remember correctly.
Answer: Wait, you’re supposed to stay out of the story?
Question: Sort of.
Answer: You’re supposed to stay out of our dialogue.
Question: As much as I can, yeah.
Answer: That’s not a dialogue. That’s a monologue. (Pause in which words are being quasi-read aloud) What’s the crux of the interview?
Question: The way it’s going, we may never know. I mean—
Answer: “An essential point requiring resolution or resolving an outcome.” So says M-W. You have to transcribe the turning point but not the resolution. No denouement.
Question: Something like that.
Answer: Uh… (continues reading to himself) then you write a fake part of the interview where that “revelation changes the relationship” between us? I thought there wasn’t going to be a resolution. You’re cutting it off before the resolution, at the crux.
Question: I really don’t know. The crux and then I make up the resolution. Something. I don’t know. Why don’t you just tell me the story and let me sort it out.
Answer: How are you going to change a relationship if we’re not having a dialogue? How do you establish a relationship? Won’t it—
Question: I think this preamble should establish our relationship pretty well.
Answer: Point. What is all this about Mamet? David Mamet?
Question: We had to read the first scene from “Speed-the-plow” for class.
Answer: The play?
Question: Without the mercury poisoning, but yes. It’s—
Answer: A play.
Question: Verisimilitude of dialogue.
Answer: In a play.
Question: Yeah. I know what—
Answer: Uh… What’s this at the top of the page?
Question: Let me look. (Pause) The bold? The name of the class?
Answer: Read it.
Question: I know, but—
Answer: Shhhh. Just read it to me.
Answer: Read it.
Question: “The Great American Short Story workshop.”
Answer: Okay. Not so hard, was it?
Answer: Can I ask you a question?
Question: We’ve proven that you can ask me many questions. Yes, go ahead.
Answer: You’re reading a play for examples of dialogue in a class about short stories and then doing a dialogue exercise where you transcribe a monologue and then change a relationship with dialogue that you haven’t established because the first part that’s non-fiction isn’t really a dialogue between two people except for “Go on.”
Question: “How So.” That wasn’t a question.
Answer: Oh wait, hold on… “If you do this well…” so on and so forth “…the readers won’t be able to tell where the actual dialogue ends and the fictionalization begins.”
Question: That’s the idea. Simulate the two voices so well that no one can tell where the change takes place.
Answer: Except for the huge line you’re drawing between the real interview and the fake interview. And the fact that suddenly you’re actually talking instead of a monologue going on with little interjections here and there. (Pause) I like the thing about the third note not being played.
Question: Forget that. That’s nonsense. Saying to leave out the third because we hear it anyway is ludicrous. You end up not telling the listener if the chord is minor or not. It’s nuts. Forget you read that and don’t ever mention it to me again.
Answer: Wow. That hit a nerve.
Question: It’s just it’s… it’s a guy… okay, here’s the thing: it’s a playwright talking about what his movie producer friend told him about fucking music. It’s abstract nonsense that doesn’t apply to anything except maybe jazz, and even then you’re talking about what’re the vocals doing, where’s the bass playing, how is that chord formed, sometimes you need it to establish a tone. It’s reductive nonsense coming from a man whose wife is a musician, and there isn’t even a line drawn through writing. Nothing. It’s a flowery way of trying to say something meaningful by saying something completely fucking nonsensical, it’s like… like if… it’s nuts.
Answer: (finishing laughing) Okay, fine. You won’t hear me say “boo” on Mamet ever again. Promise.
Question: Mamet’s fine. I’m sure his plays are great. I just don’t want to hear what he has to say about music.
Answer: What Joel Silver has to say about music.
Question: Him either.
Question: All right, okay. I’ve got a cigarette now. Calming down. (Exhales loudly)
Answer: That was great. I wish I’d recorded that.
Question: I am recording it. I did. Record that.
Answer: I mean on camera. How red was your face?
Question: Dunno. Volcanic, probably. So tell me your fucking story. Please. Let’s be done with this already.
Answer: What was the question again?
Question: (Sighs, sound of smoke escaping with sigh)
Answer: (Laughing) Okay, you want to know my most embarrassing moment?
Question: Yes, please, for fuck’s sake, at long last, yes, your story, let’s hear it.
Answer: Most embarrassing moment… I don’t know, this has been pretty embarrassing. But not for me.
Question: I would burn your eye with my cigarette right now.
Answer: That would be embarrassing for me. Um… I was picking my nose on the PATH once—
Answer: —and I looked over (yes, I was) and this cute girl was watching me.
Question: How so?
Answer: That doesn’t even fit. I just kept picking my nose—
Answer: —and staring back at her. Just leering. I would not break eye contact, just… (apes staring at someone with his finger in his nose)
Question: Are you, right now, sitting there with your finger in your nose staring into space?
Question: Is it possible that I’m interviewing you during your most embarrassing moment?
Answer: I’m not discounting anything at this point. This morning I flushed my toilet and my tub flooded. It’s been a long day.
Question: Okay, so what did the girl do?
Answer: She looked away almost immediately. But I kept staring because the way we were seated—she was in one of the long seats and I was in a short seat and she was one row behind me—so I could see her face in the window, and she was still looking at me in the reflection. So I kept staring.
Question: You’re a fucking lunatic. What did she—
Answer: She pretended the next stop was her stop and got up and moved to the other car. She didn’t come out of the door so she didn’t get off. And then when I, uh… when I got to Wayne, as I was leaving the train she was in the back of the same car.
Answer: She was picking her nose.
Question: Shut the fuck up.
Answer: I swear to God. She was picking her nose and the second, the very second she looked up, she had her finger in her nose and she saw me looking at her.
Question: That’s not embarrassing. That’s amazing. I am fucking amazed. What did she do?
Answer: She left her finger in her nose and started staring me down.
Question: Oh, come on.
Answer: And I started laughing. I was drunk, like I said, and I just couldn’t help myself. It was a church laugh, that kind of superlaugh that expands and doubles and is so horrible. The noise that was coming out of my mouth…
Question: I’ve heard that laugh.
Answer: Then I started laughing at how stupid my laugh sounded, and then I’d think about her picking her nose and that would make me laugh harder and my laugh would sound funnier so I’d laugh even more.
Question: At what point did the cops take you to the psych ward?
Answer: We finally stopped and the doors open and I had to crawl out onto the platform. I just laid there laughing for ten minutes. There were tears in my eyes, and I… I swear to God…
Question: Please tell me you didn’t piss yourself.
Answer: A little. I peed my pants.
Question: Jesus fucking Christ, man.
Answer: It wasn’t a full-on pants-peeing. I felt that little flow start and my body immediately clenched. That made me laugh even harder. It didn’t seep through my pants at all. There was just a pillow-drool sized wet spot in my underwear. It was dry by the time I got home, but it smelled like drunk piss.
Question: How so?
Answer: This interview is over.d