I had taken to holing up inside of the apartment I was subletting in Edinburgh. The man who lived there had stocked the kitchen with a finite amount of Nespresso pods. Except it wasn’t Nespresso. It was something more off-brand than that that I can’t remember now. And, for as many as I put into the machine, they always came out overly watery or not quite watery enough. Whatever brand they were, I couldn’t stop drinking them, needed them to pass the time in that confined space that would probably be described as “efficiency” in America. One might say I had an oral fixation, a need to keep my mouth on something at all times in order to quell all the emotions I so often stifled. Plus, it kept me from too early drinking something more potent, i.e. the bottle of shitty wine from a shitty Scottish corner shop I had bought in one of my few attempts at “seeing the sights.” In my meanderings through the streets that favored a route away from the beloved Edinburgh Castle, it seemed to me everything about Scotland tended to deliberately embrace its inferiority complex in that the Scots tried so vehemently to separate themselves from the British. Pubs like The Conan Doyle served to reiterate that this pocket of the UK had its own distinct identity and didn’t need to be lumped in with the others. This was a Scottish author. A monument to James Young Simpson on Princes Street touted the Scottish achievement in medicine (not surprisingly related to anesthesia). The country clearly had a lot of pride stemming from overcompensation. And though it had come up in the world of late as a destination/place for expats to live, I had only journeyed here on a whim. On the basis that somehow, it was the cheapest place to fly to from Sicily. It was a bizarre fluke, and perhaps a fortuitous one as it led me back to Cyril. Curmudgeonly, impenetrable Cyril. Brown-haired, pale-skinned and chronically coffee-drinking, we had met during his stint in L.A., where I still resided when I wasn’t running from myself. He worked as a gaffer on a few Emma Stone movies before abandoning the ship that was L.A.
Cyril was the only soul I could think to call on in Edinburgh—or rather, the only soul who had called on me. In fact, right when I landed and switched my phone out of airplane mode, a text from him appeared. To humor myself, I had entered his name in my contacts as Cyril Baird of Edinburgh. When I met him on the set of Gangster Squad, a movie we both agreed was ill-cast with regard to Stone, and probably should have featured a more curvaceous “dame” like Eva Mendes—though Ryan Gosling, for some reason, seems to have more chemistry with Stone—I found him almost intolerable. In my position as “best boy,” still somehow sexistly unaltered in title in the twenty-first century, I had to endure his mood swings. And while I understood that to work in film generally meant being of a surly temperament, Cyril daily made me question my desire to have any part in the industry. That I was only “training” to become a gaffer in my own right added to the absurdity of the abuse I endured.
“Why do you want to become a gaffer? You haven’t got the look for it,” Cyril told me one day during a lull in shooting.
“One has to look a certain way to be a gaffer?”
“Aye, hideous like me.”
“Well, honestly, I have this thing with light. This obsession with what it can do and the tricks it can play. I think it started when I was a kid and my mother would always refuse to turn on my nightlight once I reached a certain age.”
“That happens to every kid though, dunnit? Why did it affect you so profoundly?”
“I guess I’m hyper-sensitive. Or maybe it was the first example of my mother’s flagrant disregard for my wishes. So it stuck with me.”
“How else did she disregard your wishes?”
Mercifully, the director of photography came over to give Cyril some new instruction, helping me to evade getting too personal with him. He didn’t strike me as they type you could get too intimate with anyway. Nor would I want to considering that intimacy would forever be like dynamite to me, an electric spark doomed to fade out before exploding into the abyss completely.
We didn’t come into contact with one another again until re-teaming for Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), where our contentious rapport resumed as usual. And yet, it was the sort of contention founded on semi-flirtatious repartee. Or so I told myself as he snapped, “I could get better assistance in the lighting section of Ikea.” In the end, though, we worked on something together that we were both proud of, created the combination of light and shadows to the specifications of the DP. We may have been the orifice through which he funneled his creative vision, but without us, he would be nothing. This is what made me want to ultimately become a Chief Lighting Technician, as the position is rarely more formally called. The technical side of the artistic is what suited my brain. I didn’t have to overthink, but still engaged critically and felt a part of the movies, an avenue for escape I had so long held dear.
After the movie swept the Oscars in 2015, Cyril seemed to have a nervous breakdown. It was like the dream he had so long wanted to come true finally did and his existence didn’t turn out to feel any different, or like anything at all. Nothing really changes with success, except that more is expected of you. And Cyril couldn’t handle that, so he went back to Edinburgh, where all of his family still resided. He didn’t admit that he was giving up to me when we met for a goodbye drink at Ye Olde King’s Head, insisting, “I just need to rethink some things.”
“What about your apartment? You’re just going to surrender that sweet, affordable Arizona Avenue spot?”
“You can rent it from me if you want. I don’t care.”
“Can you give me a discount?”
“If anything, I’m going to charge you more.”
“You’re a real prat, you know that.”
“Don’t use British slang. It’s my pet peeve when Americans do that.”
I took a sip of my beer as I rolled my eyes. Cyril never did rent me his apartment, sort of just slinked out of town. When I finally got the coveted role of gaffer that I had so long been striving toward, people would ask me, “Whatever happened to Cyril?” I would say simply, “He’s still in Scotland for a while longer.” I didn’t want to sully his reputation in any way and somehow figured that informing people he had most likely permanently defected would do just that.
After wrapping on the shoot for Everybody Wants Some!!, I decided to take a vacation. But it wouldn’t be a full-fledged one as part of the entire purpose was to see if getting in touch with any of my European social contacts might lead to working on a film abroad. Cyril was just one such contact.
When I invited him over the night before to the previously referred to apartment I had reserved for a week, I didn’t expect that anything would happen between us. Yet, at the same time, I also did. Somehow intuited that a man doesn’t come over to a woman’s Airbnb for no reason, especially since he himself had no place for us to confer in privacy being that he was still staying with his family. But I refused to make any advances, even after consuming roughly one and a half bottles of wine and putting on Houseboat starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, which is a decidedly romantic film. Instead, I just sort of awkwardly rested my head on the pillow near him, expecting the ten years he had over me to make him be the assertive one, which, the following morning, he finally was.
When we were finished, the tension between us that had at last been eradicated transmuted into a different kind. And to ease it, I offered the last coffee pod, ergo the last coffee, so as to have a viable reason to get up and remove myself from the room. Up to this point, I hadn’t quite been able to get the level of frothy film one expects from a Nespresso-type coffee. But the way this one came out was incredibly pristine, and I wanted it for myself. As I was contemplating taking just a small sip, Cyril emerged, eagerly eyeing the coffee. So I handed it to him.
“Here you go.”
“Cheers, this is just what I need.” He subtly took in a whiff of the scent before drinking from the mug. He got the better cup of coffee.
And I, I got a job on a Scottish movie.