The meet-cute (a rom com, act one)
When Rom meets Com on the set of a Major Hollywood Blockbuster, things get a little crazy.
Before we get into today’s essay (which critics are calling a “wow”), I’ve got some fun news. For the last twelve years or so I’ve been using a little known ‘social networking’ platform called Instagram.
I don’t expect most of you to know what it is - but trust you me it’s a good time.
In addition to my comedy videos and tiny photos, I’ve recently been posting a ton of fun stuff from and about THIS NEWSLETTER - excerpts from past newsletters, Pulitzer prize winning doodles, and highlighting some of your comments too!
But then I realized - wait! The substack peeps don’t know about my IG. It’s time for my two families to meet. You can 'follow’ me here, which simply means you’ll know when I post new stuff inside the app - honestly it’s pretty brilliant and I think the app could be really good for society. I don’t foresee any problems with it, especially for for my mental health or yours.
Oh one more thing: HUGE thank you to Evan L., Z.S., Julia, and Adam M. who all recently became paid subscribers to BAT!
If you’re really loving the work and value Both Are True in your life, consider becoming a paid subscriber. It keeps the work sustainable AND gives me ammo whenever my parents ask ‘so, how’s the whole writing thing going?’
It’s a Rom, but it’s also a Com
“The rom-com is dead.”
— a dirty tabloid called The New Yorker
The rom-com is alive and well. Thriving, even, right here in my very own home.
Nighty-Night, Sleep Tight
I didn’t know Lauren talked in her sleep. Then…this happened.
A few months into our relationship, in the thick of our puppy love infatuation, each of us sleeping, she sat up in bed and screamed , “THERES A ROBBER IN THE HOUSE.”
She then realized she was sleeptalking, giggled, and said “oops, nevermind” and went back to bed.
While I, there next to her, feeling like I’d just chugged a hellish brew of coffee, red bull, and battery acid, staring up at the ceiling, fight and flight both activated in my very nervous nervous system.
I’m no expert, but there’s gotta be a better way to tell your boyfriend, “Hey, uh, just so you’re aware, I might wake up in the dead of night screaming about active crimes. But if I do, don’t stress, I’m just being a silly lil billy!”
I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since.
Another time, she sat up in bed, grabbed our dog Robert and cradled him in her arms like a baby, saying, “You have to hold the baby like this” while Robert and I gave each other the understanding look of ‘ah, it’s happening again.’
Talking with a sleeptalker feels like a low-stakes version of negotiating with the bad guy in a hostage situation: keep things simple, speak their language, and never negate their reality - their truth is the truth, period.
The other night I get into bed and she says, already sound asleep, “I’m so tired.”
So instead of saying “you’re literally asleep”—and risk her going through the existential version of dying in your own dream—I say, “I know, you should just go to sleep then,” making sure the ‘should’ is as gentle as possible.
But she doesn’t, instead asking, “how was the show?”
“Good,” I said, lying.
Much like that infamous Facebook relationship status of yesteryear, the truth is complicated.
See, the show I was watching was Distance, a web series about a couple in a long distance relationship that was created by, checks notes, yep - me. I made Distance, a show based on my and Lauren’s own long distance relationship.
Loosely based, Lauren makes sure to remind people, largely because of the cyber sex episode. She and I and a ragtag crew of misfit degenerates made it in 2018, and I haven’t watched it since. All I can see in it is the negative - it didn’t sell, this scene didn’t work, my acting there blew butt, you know, the classics. Which sucks, because its definitely the single biggest and hardest project I’ve ever done.
Which is why I’m watching it for the first time since 2018 - to see if maybe I can no longer hate it and, ipso x facto, no longer hate myself.
There’s a weird thing that happens when you translate your life into fiction - nuance is flattened, traits oversimplified, and inside jokes broadened for the outside world, all in the service of the market and the audience and most importantly, making sure the show was bought.
Selling Distance would make my dreams come true - we’d be the next High Maintenance or Insecure (both web series that sold to HBO back before it went all Max), I’d pay back my investors, and I’d get taller somehow like 4-5 inches taller, etc.
That didn’t happen, and so despite the great reviews, playing at SXSW, the Gotham Award nomination, the nice writeup in that other rag of a gazette, The New York Timesand all our friends saying they loved it, it got thrown into the box in my brain labeled Failure. Also not a box - a whole floor of a house - there’s a lot in there.
The Selective Memories of Negative Neal Who They Call Al For Short, coming this fall to Lifetime.
A guy, a girl, and a high school slasher film
Perhaps Distance was doomed from the start, an imitation crab of what is without a doubt the best king crab meets queen crab story of my life.
The real story is our personal mythos, a tale of two idiots who met and fell into a dream-like haze of love, separated by 3,000 some odd miles, insane and dumb and destined to fail and yet…
It’s the sort of love that, even if for a brief time, makes you forget how cynical you are about the world, about yourself, about the possibility of finding someone that might accept you in ways you may never accept yourself, proving the dumb ‘love yourself before you can love’ completely false.
Even if just for a little while, its a miracle that it happened at all.
You know what else is a miracle? That any feature film ever actually gets made. Like say for example a film about, oh I dunno, a group of senior friends who find themselves visited by a deadly presence from their past in the dark and desolate halls of their very own high school.
Bloody Homecoming - June 2011
We met on the set of Bloody Homecoming, the film that has won Best Picture at the Oscars every year since its 2012 release.
It was my first feature film - I got paid a whopping $0 for it - and Lauren was doing makeup, a gig she got through her grad school in North Carolina.
Lauren reminded me that this was the headshot I was using at that time, which is insane. You can’t see half of my face! But something about it must have caught the eye of the geniuses behind Bloody Homecoming…
Lauren says I walked into the makeup room and said, “Hi I’m Alex, I’m playing Steve Stein,” like an eager idiot.
I thought she was so cool. Funny and beautiful and poised and out of my league like several leagues away in fact. She wore a leather jacket which I’ve since learned was not leather. But that’s okay - I wasn’t really Steve Stein.
A week into the shoot, we were doing a — SPOILER ALERT —classic “killer finds the teenagers at one of their houses during a party” scene. It’s not professional to have your phone on your while filming, so I asked the makeup artists if they could hold it for me.
When I got it back an hour later, after no doubt absolutely crushing the scene (I’ve won Best Single Scene Oscar ten years running), I started receiving flirty texts from an unknown number claiming to be an actress on set. Not one of the other ‘teenagers’ who were all, like myself, in our mid twenties, but one of the ‘adult’ characters who played a teacher or principal and honestly I think ended up being the killer lol.
That’s another spoiler alert. Dang. Can’t delete this gotta keep going.
I responded in kind, knowing that it wasn’t the actress but that whoever it was, they were super funny. Finally I found the makeup team and asked who was texting me and they went ‘uhh durp” and so I called the number and bam, Lauren’s phone rang or buzzed probably since we were on set.
Lauren claims that once I handed my phone to the makeup team to hold (something I have since learned is not part of their job description), one of the other makeup artists suggested they prank me as payback for thinking they were bonafide assistants for the actors.
None of the other makeup artists wanted to do it, so Lauren, always being a helpful and great member of any makeup department, was the one who ended up having to send the texts pretending to be the actress.
I love how weird this detail of our relationship is: we began flirting over text message and inside of a joke, layers upon layers of artifice to protect and embolden and still, through all that, both of us were like ‘ok this person sorta rules.'
I wish we still had those texts - the first of what must be, by now, hundreds of thousands of our written back-and-forths via text, email, gchat, fb messenger, etc.
We also still have the leather jacket. I think one day we’ll hang it up like sports teams do with retired jerseys.
Back to sleep, 2022
My favorite example to date of Lauren’s sleeptalking happened about a year ago.
I crawled into the bed trying not to wake her.
“Hey,” she said, half asleep, her voice sounding a like a drunk fairy.
“Hi,” I said back.
Usually Lauren would ask, “are all the doors locked?” But tonight she didn’t, not exactly.
“Are we all buckled up?” she asked, sleeptalking.
“Yes. Yes we are,” I said back, laughing to myself, already planning how I’d tell her about this in the morning.
Loosely translated, ‘are we all buckled up’ is the dream-babble way to say ‘are we safe?’
In dream babble, ‘are we all buckled up’ basically means, ‘are we safe?’ A question that contains within it the answer - you ask it only because you feel safe with the other person, okay to be your your weird, unsexy selves.
Bloody Homecoming, 2011
Two weeks into the production, we finally had a day off. It was Wednesday. We all went out in Downtown Austin, though maybe we met up before hand? Downtown Lauren and I sat next to each other and couldn't stop talking, so we went walking down sixth street, each wanting the other to think them cool.
After the bars, I offered to take Lauren and a few others to an amazing Austin local spot. We ordered Ubers and after a long ass drive arrived.
You know, a classic Austin hole in the wall.
Everyone went back to the hotel where Lauren and the rest of the out-of-town crew were staying. We sat on some patch of grass and stayed up all night, talking. We laid for a while too, but we didn't kiss because I was sort of seeing someone else at the time, so it seemed wrong (me and the other woman weren’t exclusive, a fact I feel very defensive about even saying but its true!).
The sun came up, and then, oops, we kissed.
And what a kiss it musta been, because
because by 930am, I'd driven to see the other lady. She told me her aunt or someone in her family had recently died, and I still for some reason told her I needed to end things because I was 23 and an asshole.
This is classic rom-com stuff by the way, establishing a pattern of behavior that's...not great so as to create the room for growth, change, transformation.
I got back to set at 1230pm. We were shooting at this high school in Elgin, TX, the Sausage Capital of Texas.
I remember it super clearly or at least think I do: I approached Lauren and sat down next to her, sweating from lack of sleep and nerves and alcohol trying to escape my pores.
Great romcoms hinge on this moment. The “wuh oh” here-we-go moment, the ‘point of no return’ moment after which all the insane shit that follows becomes inevitable, even reasonable within the dream logic of the love that is the film.
It’s like everything so far has been a slow ascend up one of those old rickety roller coasters, rising into the heavens, clicking and clacking its way up the wooden tracks, up and over each wooden slat, creaking, groaning, and finally stopping.
And in that brief second of pause before the drop, you both wonder to yourself: will this creaky ass, definitely about-to-break roller coaster hold? Or put another way:
Are we all buckled up?
Or are we about to be catapulted into the fire and bramble, the goofs and the ramble?
Are we all buckled up?
Or will this RomCom Comet end in mutually assured destruction?
Are we all buckled up, or -
There we are, sitting against a brick wall in Elgin TX. The director yells “ACTION” and we try to be quiet, a silence filled with giggles. School children, we were, two children sitting in a school. I wanted to speak but I didn’t know what to say. Buck up, I told myself, buckle up!
Wood crashes against metal, stomachs drop and rise at the same time somehow, nothingness, everythingness,, silence, then…freefall.
“I ended things with the other girl (who I was just casually dating by the way lol),” I said.
Lauren snapped her head towards me, eyes wide and expression unreadable.
This was act one of The Rom-Com Roller Coaster. Next week I’ll have Act Two for you, when everything goes wrong.
🗣 Share this with that special someone who might one day soon break your heart!
Or not. Sometimes love works out even!
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Let’s talk about it. Some prompts:
Whats ur favorite romcom?
Whats ur fav movie that isn’t a rom com but is more true about love than any rom com ever?
Do you have a great origin story for your relationship? Or a terrible one? Either way plz share could be dope.
How many times have you seen Bloody Homecoming? Whats your fav part? Why are you so sure it will once again win the Oscars this weekend?
Case in point, I sent this essay to Lauren for review to make sure I didn’t besmirch her name, and she had me add the stuff about the Gotham nomination and the NYTimes and SXSW, all of which my mind had basically forgot ever happened.
(update from Lauren: we do not actually have the leather jacket)
the distance poster is amazing. MAKE IT A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE MR HOLLYWOOD
Movie that presents love better than other movies: It's not romance love, but more like family/friend love, kind of. The Fall (2006) hits me in my heart. It features Lee Pace before he was in everything and then in nothing, and a little girl who they deliberately filmed interacting with Lee Pace because they wanted her genuine reactions to things. She befriends him and he tells her stories but she kind of drives the stories--you know how you tell kids stories and they help you make it up as they go? The movie takes place mostly in her imagination but in a cool way and not at all a childish way and it hurts my heart. It's a must see.
My wife and I have a good origin story. I took her on a date, and she is from a different country so did not understand the clear signals of interest I was sending, and thought she was just hangin' out with her good friend Scoot and it was super awkward. I texted her overzealously after the date because in my head I'm thinking "crushed it!"-- I did not crush it. She politely declined future dates and then a few months later she moved to a new state.
Three years later she texted me out of the blue and she was coming to town to visit and we met up and had a magical time and she's been stuck with me ever since. We lived in different states until we got married and once we got married her entire family came to visit from her home country and we drove up and down the east coast of the united states like three times, sometimes with a car filled with stuff because my wife and I moved to a new, third state immediately upon getting married. It's been a wild ride.