Stop me if you've heard this one before: there we were, in a cornfield in Oklahoma, just me, a tornado victim, a production crew, and an insane director.
Stop right there. Jesus, I always mess up jokes. The truth is, we couldn't have been in a cornfield. That whole week I was in Oklahoma, I didn't once see a corn field. One of the natves clued me in on a dirty little secret on my second day there: in Oklahoma, the corn really isn't as high as an elephant's eye. In fact, the only line in that song that has any honesty is the one about the wind sweeping down the plain.
And boy, does it. Which was why I was standing there in ninety degree weather with that tornado victim and that crazy director, filming a video in the sweltering heat. What nature had wrought had been harrowing, and the stories being told about hiding in closets as the twister closed down upon your house, of the dreams destroyed and property lost spoke to the heroic spirit of the people who lived here. It also told me I'd never live in this place, not in a million years.
"And, cut." Her raspy cigarette-ravaged voice, reminding me of none other than Mercedes McCambridge, filled the ear.
With that, Amy hopped off the soap box to give the old man sitting in the rocking chair a big hug. She was a comical figure, an aging sixties hippie with a big floppy hat on her head and a willowy floral outfit that she insisted protected her from the sun. She ran over to the man, gave him a big sweaty hug. "You were so good," she cooed, holding his head in her hand. He gazed up at her with complete adoration. Then, when all that nonsense was done, she turned to the cameraman, all business. "How was that?" she barked out.
The cameraman, not one for gush, nodded. "It was okay."
Amy frowned. "Okay? I don't want okay, I want to know how it went. Okay doesn't tell me anything. When I ask you a question, I want an answer. Christ!"
Well, that did it. She was so completely done with him. She turned to me. "Can you believe this guy?" She moved closer, whispering in a conspiratorial fashion, which was ridiculous, because he was still only about a foot away, and could hear every word. "You know, I never wanted to use this clown for this shoot. Too negative. I've always hated working with him. He has a bad attitude. When I saw his name on the production list, I wanted to fire him on the spot. But I gave him a second chance. I believe in redemption, Ted." Her voice rose, as she started to forget she was talking shit about the guy right next to her. "I wish I had fired him. He's lousy." She elongated that last word for dramatic effect. The cameraman looked like he was about to say something, but then decided to move on.
In an instant, her attitude changed again. Amy was like a tornado in Oklahoma. Her dark moods would come up her quickly, cause havoc, and then disappear from view. Now she was beaming at me. She reached out her hands for me to take them. "What did you think, babe?"
I grabbed those sweaty hands. I was a PR pro, after all. I always knew the right bullshit to sling. "Just great, Ames! This is going to be terrific."
I mean, it was a company video, for God's sake. We weren't exactly filming Gone with the Wind. We had a small camera crew and a styrofoam board to control the lighting. I wasn't exactly expecting miracles.
I also hadn't been expecting Amy. When we first started on the video, I thought the director of the shoot would be the same guy who had produced our last one, three years ago in Alabama. He was a low key guy, soft spoken and efficient. Corporate. Unfortunately, he had been busy and she had been doing a lot of work for the company recently, so...I should have known during my first encounter when, by way of introduction, he has passed the baton over to her by saying, "Welcome to the Amy Danielson experience."
She lived up to that introduction from the very start. Amy was anything but Corporate, a fact that I kind of liked. She was from Los Angeles, a fact that she wore proudly. Within five minutes of our first meeting, we were bickering about animal rescue shelters. One of our customers had lost a dog in the tornado, and Amy got it into her head that she wanted to interview someone at the local animal shelter to see if that happened a lot.
"Amy, this is a video about how our company helped out our customers," I pointed out.
"Oh, I know, I know," she rasped, clearly brushing that aside. "The lost animal is an interesting side story, though. Maybe we could end the video with information on how to contact your local animal rescue league to make a donation or something. Or, hey! Maybe the company could make a donation!"
Maybe Sarah McLachlin could come in and star in it, too. "But Amy," I repeated, trying to be patient. "That's not the point of this video. When would you film that? It would take a long time to shoot, and we only have two days."
"Just think about it. Be creative."
And I was the one she got along with! As I said, she hated her production crew, with the sole exception of her Production manager Cindy, who she was paying for out of her own pocket. Cindy was everything Amy was not: sweet, friendly, calm, and possessed of the patience of Job. The rest of the crew Ames had no use for. They were all misfits: the camerman (negative), sound guy (lazy), and the PA, who was a hot college junior (clueless.)
She did like the customers--and they loved her. She was truly excellent with that. On the other hand, while she seemed to like most of the company adjusters (with one big exception,) they didn't quite get what the Amy Danielson experience was all about.
Which made sense. It was kind of like Sheriff Bart coming to visit the local townsfolk in Blazing Saddles. Cut to narration by Gene Wilder: "You have to understand, these are simple, practical folks. People of the earth." these are people who are used to dropping everything to cross the country and help out people during times of disaster. They are not used to LA folk and their ways. And Amy had ways...
Like, after the first day of shooting, she made it a point at dinner to go around the room to each and every adjuster and kiss them on the top of their heads. It was meant to say "I love all of you," I guess, but the look of irritation on their faces as this flaky director made the rounds was priceless. Or the way she would try to get the male adjusters to loosen up by brushing up against them with her boobs and rubbing their arms and shoulders and having deep, thirty minute conversations with them. Perhaps that would have been helpful, in anything other than 90 degree weather. In that heat, it was simply sweaty, gross and annoying. It made them more agitated, and it kept the rest of us waiting around, annoyed.
Then there was the way she liked to disrobe. She was a practicing nudist, she confessed to me at dinner on the night of the kissing-go-round. She thought nothing of taking off her clothes at the drop of a hat. I didn't realize that she would put this into practice until the second day of the shoot, when she decided to take her clothes off and change into a new outfit. Although she had her poor PA use the styrofoam sound board to cover her from the front, that hardly protected the sides. I discovered this fact as one of the adjusters and I were walking back to the scene.
We stopped, mid conversation. There they were, in dazzling technicolor. Amy's breasts, dangling in the breeze. "When did this become a nature video?" I joked, but the adjuster, a good old boy from Texas, turned all shades of beet red and walked away as quickly as possible.
Now, I'm no prude, and aside from this unexpected display of exhibitionism, I rather enjoyed my initimate discussions with Ames. At dinner, I opened up about my life, and she chatted away about hers--about her three husbands, especially about her gay second husband and his huge cock. About how she found him in Central Park one day, servicing several other men at a park bench. These are the sort of stories I live for. Tell me more, more, MORE LA lady! This was the foundation upon which we became good friends.
Anyway, I am sure it will be a really good video, because Amy really did pour time and creativity into it. The stories of the customers and adjusters will certainly come through. Be that as it may, I think that the common consensus is that we'd think tiwce before hopping aboard the Amy Danielson experience again. She was too mean to her crew and tended to agitate the adjusters. She was moody and mercurial and had to be reined in a lot. All in all, the end probably wouldn't justify another means.
But, oh! What an experience it was. When it comes to devastation, I will never forget the tornado-strong winds that gusted out of L.A. Amy. She is one of a kind and a character, and I like that about her. It gave me something to talk about for a week now. It made the time spent memorable. In a world where all we really have are memories, that's saying a great deal. My time spent with Amy will certainly not be gone with the wind...not for any time soon.