The street was a mess. One lane had been completely ripped up leaving a gaping hole in the road, at least 50 metres in length and God only knows how deep. The hole was demarcated from the rest of the world with an expanded metal fence bordering its periphery. The fence was a temporary structure, plugged together and secured by heavy concrete bases, which had been painted a bright orange. Just in case anyone missed the gigantic masses, I suppose.
I assumed this was a construction site for the new Cross Rail, although I couldn’t see the usual signage to confirm my assumption. Nor were there any road workers about. I wasn’t even confident exactly what city I was in.
I have never liked seeing construction sites in a city. A city in a constant state of flux often makes me feel unsettled. It’s not that I am opposed to progress, it’s just that I like to see the finished product. I guess I am impatient that way. As I stared at the gaping hole I wondered, is it ever possible for a city to be “finished”?
The street felt unusually quiet. A few passersby and the odd cyclist, however there otherwise was not a car in sight. Usually such immense road works would create an exhausting level of city congestion. Was it possible that drivers were taking an alternate route? Or perhaps it was a Sunday? Whatever day it was, I stood on the corner of the street for a reason I could not remember. Across the road, a man weaved his way through the zig-zagging pedestrian access that had been set up around the road works. He was an old man with a tired face, drooping and bespectacled. He was short and slightly hunched, his hands tucked in the trousers of an oversized grey suit. He looked frail and diminutive, yet somehow he walked with purpose, at a determinedly brisk pace.
Upon successfully navigating the pedestrian maze, the old man walked into the pub on the corner opposite to me. The pub had large, dirty windows bordered with winter green panelling. The name of the pub was outlined in dull, gold lettering, which I couldn’t make out. It didn’t matter. It was just another utterly uninteresting corner pub in a nameless city. I crossed the road to follow the old man.
As I entered the pub, the old man was finishing up his conversation with the bar man. The old man waved goodbye and the bar man took the white rag from his shoulder and turned to finish polishing the pint glass in his hand. I walked over to the old man.
“Excuse me, sir. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you Woody Allen?”
Woody Allen furrowed his brow and rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand.
“So, I, ahhh, guess you would like an autograph?”
“Oh no, no, I couldn’t possibly trouble you. I just saw you across the street and I had to know whether it was actually you.”
“Well, it is.”
“So it is! So what are you doing in a place like this? Are you scouting locations for a movie?”
“Something like that.”
I sensed that Woody was getting impatient, but I couldn’t let him go.
“I’ve always been amazed at how quickly you move from project to project. I’m a bit of a writer as well and I could…”
“Look kid, I, I, I’d love to stay and chit-chat, but I’m looking for a record store and I’m on a really tight schedule, so…”
“Record store? Oh I know where that is. I can take you there if you like?”
Woody rubbed his chin, mulling over my offer.
“Okay, sure, sure. Well, let’s go.”
We left the bar and I led Woody around the corner and into the suburban streets. I was so immersed in our conversation that each street seemed to blur into the next. Our surroundings seemed to repeat on an infinite loop: stone stoop, lamp-post, puddle, rubbish bin, stone stoop, lamp-post, puddle, rubbish bin, and on it would repeat, set against a background of old, red bricks. Despite the old street scape, it was not a harsh setting. Spring was in the air. At least I thought as such. And the occasional beam of sunlight broke through the thick, maple leafed canopy above, into our private world.
Woody and I seemed to talk for hours. I asked him about New York, Midnight in Paris, Diane Keating, and the source of his seemingly infinite inspiration. Woody’s answers tumbled out through his trademark wit and charm. At one point, he told me that he was searching for a leading lady and I immediately thought of introducing him to Scarlett Johansen, although for some reason I never verbalized the thought. Later I would realise not only did I not know Scarlett Johansen personally, but Woody did, having cast her several times in the past. It seemed like an inspired thought at the time.
I told Woody about my own writing and my ongoing battle between wanting to write and choosing a more conventional life. An easier life. He listened without disdain and I’m sure he gave me brilliant advice, but unfortunately I cannot remember it.
Suddenly, we turned a corner and stopped beneath a long, black awning protruding on to the sidewalk from a dirty white building. The awning was curved like a dome and supported by two metal poles that ran to the pavement, not unlike the entrance to a fancy New York restaurant. I pointed to the battered wooden door, beneath.
“Here it is.”
“So it is. Well done, well done. Okay let’s go in.”
The door opened to a dark staircase that led down to the basement. Woody went down first and I quickly followed. At the bottom of the stairs was a dark, cavernous room, with a large ceiling that curved like an old wine cellar. The walls were lined with milk crates that were filled with records. To the left of the stairs was a small, makeshift stage. Thick, black electrical cables were knotted throughout the shop floor. Woody and I walked to the right where the shop counter stood.
Behind the counter, two young women, each with long, flat, ash black hair were making out under a bright spotlight. The face of the woman on the right was obscured by a big, grey manual cash register. The woman on the left was trying her hardest to be convincing, but didn’t seem to be enjoying the touch of a woman’s lips. They finished kissing and the woman on the right disappeared, leaving Katie Holmes on the left seeking approval. She turned to us and smiled.
“Woody! How did I do, Woody? Did I do good?”
Katie was wearing an army green tank top, with a drab, oversized, black cardigan over the top. Around her neck and left wrist were matching black, studded leather cuffs, and a gold nose ring adorned her right nostril. Her face seemed to light up with her smile. However, her eyes betrayed her smile. Pencilled thick with black eye liner and smudged haphazardly with matching eye shadow, they spoke of an enduring sadness.
“Yeah, okay, yep. It was great, Katie. Really, yeah, um, it was great. great. But let’s try it one more time. From the top!”
I smiled sympathetically at Katie. She nodded enthusiastically and turned back to the woman on the right, who had returned unnoticed. Woody put his hand on my shoulder and turned me away and back toward the stage. At this point it occurred to me: Woody had taken me to the set of his new film. I knew that pretty soon Woody would have more important things to do than hang out with me.
“Woody, I know you probably get this all the time, but I will absolutely kick myself if I don’t ask you, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it. And if you say no, then that’s fine, but at least I tried. So, I was wondering, and I know you’re really busy but, do you think that you could read over my script sometime? And give me some pointers? I know it is asking a lot but…”
“Of course! I would love to!”
Over on the stage, Keanu Reeves was wearing a long, white Kaftan and he was arguing with some muppets, who referred to themselves as the Crank Yankers. Suddenly, things didn’t seem right.
“Uhhh, Woody, what exactly is this film about again?”
He ignored my question.
“So uh, Drew, I need to fill a role for one of my male characters. It’s a minor role, but it’s very important. I want you for that role, if you want it.”
Before I could answer, a stage light shone directly in my face. I squinted my eyes, covered my face and turned around. I opened my eyes and sat up. I was in my bed. I searched around the pitch black room for a moment, trying to gain my bearings. Where was I? Had I blacked out? What was that distant memory?
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I smiled and buried my face into my hands. Consciousness returned and I knew. I knew! I would always cherish my short friendship with Woody Allen, but alas, he would not be reading my work any time soon.