Column: You can look back, but you can’t go back

I revisited Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” on Blu-Ray this weekend. It made me feel things.

“Pulp Fiction” was released in 1994 and, for those of us toiling away at Tower Video in Yonkers with hopes and dreams of writing our own screenplays, it was seminal. So much so, we went back and saw it three more times in the theater; I don’t think I’ve done that with any movie since.Jason-Column2

The significant thing about watching “Pulp Fiction” this past weekend is it made me remember the 1994 version of me and all the things he thought he might do and all the things he thought he wanted to be.

More so even than that, it made me think about how much of the world still lay ahead of me in 1994.

I turned 20 that year. I hadn’t met my wife yet, and I was less than a year removed from the tumultuous two-year relationship with my first girlfriend. I was a free agent in those days; spending most of my time working night shifts until midnight at Tower and sleeping during the day. My remaining waking hours were filled with movies, talking about movies, Star Trek, talking about Star Trek and action figures and talking about action figures.

How did it take me two years to find another girlfriend?

The one thing I wanted to do then more than anything, as I mentioned above, was write a screenplay. I read the standard how-tos of course; Syd Field was en vogue then.

So was En Vogue, but I digress.

Seeing “Pulp Fiction” four times was like rocket fuel for my desire to make my own mark on cinema.

As luck would have it, I would get that chance. Sort of.

Another Tower Video jockey, a kid my age called Mike, was a thesis student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Such students spent most of their last year at the school making a film to be shown in an awards festival at the Cineplex Odeon on 51st St. at the end of the school year.

As you can imagine, I got on with Mike very well. As it happened, the script for his thesis film, penned with another student, fell apart.

And so, over one late Tower night in, I believe, early 1995, Mike and I hashed out the idea for a short film that I would write and he would direct with other SVA students as crew and a cast of professional, working actors in front of the camera.

On the day of the SVA awards ceremony, called the Dusty Festival, I sat in an actual movie theater and watched the actual short film I wrote actually get laughs and reactions from an actual crowd.

If I’m honest, nothing’s really ever topped that.

I didn’t stay for the awards ceremony itself, so I missed Abel Ferrera, director of movies like “Bad Lieutenant” and “King of New York,” hand Mike the award for best film at the festival.

I’d never written a screenplay, I’d never set foot in SVA or any other film school and a film I wrote won the top award from what is to this day a significant festival at a significant school.

It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.

From there, I thought, things would be cake.

Mike and I would conceive another short film story, I’d write that, he’d direct it, and then maybe, after say one more, we’d start looking into financing for a feature.

Assuming no one from Warner Bros. or Miramax beat a path to our door first.

In addition to my collaborations with Mike, I started a feature screenplay of my own about the U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the military underserviced by movies to this day. In furtherance of that effort, I visited the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and I even toured the high endurance cutter Dallas, which was stationed at Governor’s Island at the time.

Mike and I got as far as the script for another short, and my Coast Guard screenplay made it to about page 15 before it was all over.

Mike moved to California to seek his fortune in Hollywood, and I moved on to other things. I met my wife, I left Tower, I had other jobs and wrote other fiction.

Starting in May 1996, my life morphed into something different, in many ways better, but nothing has ever felt more open and filled with possibility as the time after that first short film. When I think about it, even now, I can feel a cool breeze on my face.

That’s what life felt like then, a cool breeze coming from somewhere in a bright future.

But that was a long time ago. The Dallas was decommissioned in 2012. Syd Field died last year.

This all might seem a bit depressing at this point, but it’s really not because Mike came back from Hollywood a few years ago, much the same as when he left, without ever having achieved cinematic greatness, or even much of a profile on IMDB.

We still got on great, we even saw movies together again for a while; it was as if he never left the life we had in 1994.

But I had.

My life is with my wife now in our Yonkers co-op. I’m here at your newspaper now, and I’m searchable on Amazon. Mike and I never made good on our plans in 1995, and so watching “Pulp Fiction,” the movie that meant so much to us back then, is sort of a reminder of that.

But it’s also, I realize, a reminder of the road I traveled between one phase of my life and another; a time when the best laid plans were brushed aside by a cool breeze and the man who talks to you here each week was probably born.

I didn’t end up where I planned to go in those days, but, however briefly, I knew what it felt like to get somewhere.

I’ll never be able to thank Mike enough for that.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com