Tag Archives: Quentin Tarantino

Overthinking in Belgrade

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

Overview: Living in Berlin, Istanbul, and Belgrade over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot: about the world, about how it’s broken, about who can begin to fix it and how I might fit into that process. When I start to get this philosophical, I know it’s probably a good time to reflect on that time I drank tequila with Quentin Tarantino.

I am in a strange place. I don’t mean physically, although Belgrade, with its statues of former Yugoslavian leaders centered amidst crumbling grey blocks of apartments, would be a great place to shoot an adaptation of a dystopian sci fi novel.

Mentally, I am in a place I’ve been only a few times before: a place of new beginnings. Sometimes I need to tear everything down and start over, and right now I feel like a baby phoenix waddling around in its ash nest, ready to fly away the moment the right wind current sweeps by.

A few years ago, I met Quentin Tarantino. I had just snuck out of some terrible SXSW tech fair and escaped to the hotel bar when I saw him sitting there by himself. I sat down next to him and, after an internal pep talk, I managed to strike up a conversation with him that I’ll never forget. After discussing his casting selection on Death Proof (one of my favorite movies), I asked him how he decided when it was time to make another movie. He told me that when something grabbed him such that he thought it would be worth spending the next two years of his life on, he knew. We did shots of Avion Reposado at two in the afternoon and he bid me adieu.

Dorothy got Glenda the good witch; I got the cinema king of carnal violence. And I may as well have just clicked my lucky cowboy boots together because I knew it all along: time is truly the most valuable currency. The best work of the artists of the world is not motivated primarily by money, but by the ever-present ticking clock of our own mortality.

I entered the media business when I was nine years old delivering newspapers for 10 cents a piece. Seventeen years later, I founded my own publication. It didn’t work out how I hoped it would, but I learned from the experience. I’ve moved past the disappointments and stopped thinking in hindsight; I’m ready for the next two-year (or more) commitment, and I am getting close to figuring it out what it will be.

When I was little, my mom used to play the “hot or cold” game with me. She’d think of an object in the room and guide me to it with temperature words while I wandered, aimlessly at first, and with more purpose as I got warmer. I’ve since internalized the process. I don’t yet know what it is that I’m looking for, but living in Berlin, Istanbul and Belgrade over the past few months, I’m sure I’m getting hot, and I know that I have to keep hunting.

I’ve been finding breadcrumbs my whole life in the form of special people. They are the seeds of possibility for a better world, hidden among the greedy weeds and complacent trees. They are rare, but they are everywhere, and I’m getting better at recognizing them when I see them: the quiet rebels, the ones who have always done what they were “supposed to do,” all the while knowing the game was rigged, the aimless, the lost, the ones who are waiting for something to happen, to be activated; The underappreciated people with underutilized or misused talents; The dissidents. Finding them and realizing that there are so many others out there who can see the problems clearly but are still able to enjoy the present… they give me hope enough to work toward making something new and unconventional again.

The more I travel to various places and learn about the various problems plaguing different areas of the world, the more massive the oppressive forces seem. There’s something very wrong in the world. And yeah, maybe it’s always been that way and life isn’t fair et cetera. But with rampant governmental corruption perpetuating the problematic distribution of global wealth, I predict that soon we will all be forced to change the way we live. I’m afraid for the future, and I don’t understand how others are not. I don’t want to deal directly with people who bury their heads in the sand and make things worse anymore. I want to work with the people who can also acknowledge that things are fucked up, to try to change them if we can, and laugh about them if we can’t.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but it will involve increasing international connectivity for the sake of global literacy about the various realities unfolding simultaneously across the world every day, and how they all relate to each other. It will involve harnessing latent creativity, and defibrillating those hyper-intelligent minds slipping through the cracks because the present markets favor the mediocre and benign. Whatever it is that I decide to do, I’ll keep traveling, keep hunting, turning over every rock to find the people who can illuminate the big picture. And if I can’t do those things, then I’ll go live in the jungle with a flock of parrots until the end of the world.

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That time I slammed tequila with Quentin Tarantino at 2 in the afternoon

SXSW had barely begun and I had already slipped away from the crowd. Feeling overwhelmed by startup pitches, I had just made my way down to the lobby to get coffee with Joel, one of my best friends and partners in crime. I led him into the Omni’s sunny bar lounge and plopped down in a booth seat in the banquette farthest away from any other people. Joel sat in the chair across from me and looked at me expectantly, probably thinking I had something important to tell him.

“Sometimes I just need to sit and chill,” I told him.

“Baby, you got it,” he said with this faux-used-car-salesman air that makes me smirk every time.

We talked for approximately two minutes about how good it was to be in the same city again before I saw a man walk up and sit at the far end of the bar. My eyes widened with recognition.

“Is that Quentin Tarantino?” I asked Joel. He squinted at me and slowly shifted his body in his chair, keeping his eyes on me for any signs of Tom Foolery, before finally turning his head to look.

He snapped back to face me. “Yes,” he said decisively.

“Oh my God. Should we talk to him?” My pulse quickened.

“Um. Yeah. I want to get a picture with him.” One does not simply ask Quentin Tarantino for a picture, I thought, but I wanted one too. I don’t usually get celeb-crazy, but here was someone famous for actually being talented, who creates wildly entertaining films to stealthily convey his social commentary. He is no pawn or puppet of Hollywood. When Quentin Tarantino wants to make a movie, he kicks in the door and blasts the industry in the face with his agenda.

“OK. What do we do?” I asked Joel.

“Let’s just… go to the bar and order a drink,” he said. I contemplated leaving my coffee behind so I could actually have a reason to go to the bar, but I wanted it too much. I gathered up my belongings and we headed over to the bar.

Joel leaned on the bar in a space that was one stool away from Quentin, forcing me to sit there and act as a female buffer zone. I wanted to but could only stand behind the chair awkwardly. I didn’t want to bother him, and felt bad for even being near him. He was drinking a margarita, perceiving if we were about to annoy him or not. I was having a major processing malfunction trying to think of something to say. Joel turned to him and said, “I just wanted to let me know you’re a huge idol of mine.” Quentin turned to him with a look on his face that was humble, tired, standoffish, pleased, and a little skeptical — all at the same time. “Thank you,” he said, and focused back on his margarita.

Joel ordered his drink and I stood there stupidly for another awkward moment that seemed to stretch out into eternity. Finally I asked him, “Do you mind if I sit here?” He turned and looked at me. I was wearing my Texas best: A vintage button-down shirt, half-white half-black with southwestern triangles of the opposite color on each sleeve and a diamond cut out of the chest to make the collar look like a bow tie; standard black pencil skirt; cowboy boots. “No, go ahead,” he said, and gestured to the stool. I climbed on and sipped my coffee, thinking about what I could say to him that wasn’t completely boring, something that he hadn’t heard a million times in the past week.

“Death Proof is like, my favorite movie,” I told him. He arched his eyebrows at me.

“Oh yeah? Who’s your favorite character?” Oh shit. It really was one of my favorites, maybe not THE favorite but close enough. But far enough that I couldn’t remember “butterfly’s” actual name in real life or the movie.

“Well, I love the jukebox scene, I memorized that entire lap dance.” I blurted out. He chuckled.

Butterfly

A stranger walked up and point-blank asked him for a picture. “I’m sorry, no, I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink and I don’t want to take pictures right now,” he told the fan. Joel and I looked at each other wide eyed, glad we had at least some tact. Quentin turned back to me:

“As I was saying, did you know that entire sequence was filmed just down the street at the Texas Chili Parlor?” I told him to get out. No, he was serious. I relaxed a little, as we were pretty much old friends at this point. A woman with long, curly blonde hair came and sat on the bar stool next to him. “She’s a fan of Death Proof,” Quentin told her, pointing his thumb at me. I smiled at her. The bar manager brought up a bottle of tequila from the basement and displayed it for Quentin. Avion reposado. He ordered a second margarita, this time with the good stuff, and a shot for his friend. “Fuck it, I’ll have a glass as well,” I told the bartender. It tasted exactly like Quentin Tarantino’s drink of choice should taste.

As we sipped, we talked about his casting inspiration for Death Proof. I told him I was in awe of Jungle Julia, that I had never seen a woman who looked like her take on such a powerhouse role. He told me about the billboards they put up all over Austin while they were shooting, advertising Jungle Julia’s radio show like it was real. I told him I made my handle Amazon Arikia after I saw that movie, inspired to reclaim a name that boys used to call me in middle school when I was taller than all of them. “I’ll bet they don’t make fun of you anymore,” he said.

JungleJulia

He told me that the funny thing about the actress who played Jungle Julia was that nobody wanted to cast her because of her ethnic look. I told him she was beautiful, and that it was really comforting for me to see someone with hair as curly as mine strutting around with confidence, kicking her shoes off and laying it down in the DJ booth.

We talked about how Death Proof was the movie that broke all the rules when it came to women in films. In college, there was a challenge that went around the Michigan Daily newsroom: Name a movie where there are A) more than two women B) Who talk to each other C) About something other than guys. Nobody could name one, but I fired back with Death Proof. I remember when it came out, people criticized it: “Who wants to hear a bunch of chicks gabbing for an hour in a movie?” they would say. I did, and I loved it, and the way they kicked the shit out of Stuntman Mike in the end.

Our drinks were getting low, and I turned to Quentin and asked him: “What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not making movies?” He shrugged. “Live life.” Then he furrowed his brow and said, “no, let me revise that. It’s ‘not make movies.'” He explained that it was difficult for him to put his work away, and to experience life without being compelled to process people and events for the big screen. “So how do you decide when you’re going to stop not making movies?” I asked. “Well, something really has to grab you to make you decide to do only that for the next two years of your life,” he said.

When he asked for the bill, I told him I didn’t want to be one of those fans, but could I please have his autograph? I gave him my journal, which I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone else touch let alone write in, and said he could have a whole page.

QuentinTarantinoAutograph

That, my friends, is how you win SXSW on the first day. Life lessons from this encounter:

  • Dress like you want to be addressed, and if you want to be addressed like a cowgirl than fucking hell yeah, do it.
  • People who say you don’t need to drink to have fun or get ahead in life are WRONG.
  • If someone makes you nervous, it means you should definitely talk to them.