Monday, August 24, 2009

15 Seconds of Fame

It was an average bus ride toward the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Stanton, Pennsylvania. The normal, forty-five minute, drive took over an hour and fifteen minutes because we urged the bus driver to stop at the convenience store so we could pick up snacks. We had a major case of the munchies. I guess it was because we were smoking weed at the back of the bus.

Or rather, the other kids were smoking marijuana and munching on snacks. I sat more at the front of the bus, not exactly in the “Geek” section but farther from the “Cool Teens” section. I didn’t get along with the kids at the back of the bus (let’s not go into those details). I also didn’t enter the store for anything, afraid these students would tell the bus driver that everyone had returned and he would pull out while leaving me stranded there. Instead, I had one of the nicer boys go in for a few candies with the extra money going to himself so he can pick up a bag of chips.

This was back in 1993. So I was 18 and entering my final year of high school while also taking computer programming classes at the vo-tech. On this day we arrived at the building, late of course, and started to head inside. At least everyone else went through the main doors. Normally, I took a right turn from the bus and went to the other set of doors farther down because those were closer to my computer room. On this day, two people stood at the main entrance.

One was the . . . I guess the principal of the vo-tech if they had such a thing. He was more like the head administrator managing the people in the office. That’s about as far as his duties went. None of us knew who the second person was. He could have been an undercover narcotic officer. The man watched with a keen eye as each student walked between them hoping the smell of weed wasn’t noticeable. When I got off the bus and took a right, he called out, “THAT ONE!”

Next thing I knew, they quickly walked toward me. They pulled me aside and asked if I would be part of a video production.

Okay . . .

I stared at the stranger like he had gone plumb loco, but I shrugged as he handed me a note to give to the teacher saying I was a “Chosen One.” Later, I found out someone else in my computer room had also been picked: a girl named Annette. We both headed to the side lobby by the second set of entrance doors. Besides the administrator and the stranger, who was the director, there was another man setting up camera equipment and three other students.

The adults had asked the students to bring along their school books, only a few that would be easy to carry without lugging an armful like an overworked librarian. They informed us that this video would be for enrollment purposes at the local high schools. It would illustrate the classes offered and the advantages of attending vo-tech. We had all seen the previous video during those days before attending - outdated to the extreme, like a 60s hippy convention at Woodstock. It definitely needed an upgrade. Outside, a bus sat with a driver, my bus driver, as the director gave us our instructions.

- Walk from the bus and enter the building.
- Act natural and smile
- Pretend to converse with each other by saying “apples and oranges”
- Don’t look at the camera
- Move at an even pace in a single file line

Apples and oranges?

Hey, this was what the director told us. He said that whenever you see background people talking in a movie or television show, they didn’t have any real lines. Instead they said, “apples and oranges,” repeatedly to each other. Supposedly, these words appeared the most natural, could stand in for any type of words in any conversation, and it would not leave any awkward moments if the people go through their lines without having anything else to say. His explanation seemed iffy to us, but we were teens. What did we know?

Well, I knew that I would feel dumb when talking about fruit. So while we sat on the bus waiting for our cue to disembark, we joked about the lines. Laughing and smiling, we stepped off with the camera pointing at us as I said to Annette and the boy walking behind me.

“Are they for real? Apples and oranges? This has to be the most stupid thing a person can say? I feel like a Barbie doll with a fake smile walking into a place I don’t want to be at. You want me happy? Set this camera up at the mall and hand me a $1000 shopping spree certificate.”

We entered the building as the camera shut off. The director told us he wanted three more takes. Understand something; this video would have an announcer talking about the school. So there was no actual audio. They taped none of our words. The director and administrator stood far enough away that we could talk quietly without them overhearing . . . except the snickering cameraman who looked like he wanted to bust a gut. But there was even more irony to be found in the situation.

Five teenagers, pretending to be upstanding students talking about how excited it would be to attend this school where they could find a good education and the start of a vocational background, were in actuality ragging about the school at every opportunity while disembarking from a bus that had been previously used as a weedhead’s smoke house and kitchenette.

That’s one long sentence. But I think it captures the scene perfectly.

After our last take, we stood in a small room looking at the video on a monitor. The director nodded, liking what he saw, and thanked us for our help. Then we were dismissed back to class.

My first movie gig, and they did not pay me for it. To this day, 16 years later, I should be cussing out my sleazy manager - if I had the foresight to hire a sleazy manager. Although I don’t know if our part was ever used in the full production or if we were left behind on the cutting room floor, the possibility remains that, at the beginning of September, every high school in Central Westmoreland County could be running this video in their auditoriums. And at that moment, a student will lift his finger and point at me as I walk across that silver screen. The student will lean over to his friend and snicker.

“My Gawd! How old is this thing? They look like hippies from a Woodstock convention.”


  1. I love this story. Great stuff!

  2. Geez, they always told us to say, "watermelon". . .

    But you know, those film directors are just a pretty fruity bunch, anyway. . .

  3. Nothing wrong with being part of history... :)

  4. If you had had any lines, they would have had to of paid you scale...$400.00, I think was the going rate in 93. Oh, the trials of a budding star!

    Fun read!

  5. Wonderful post! You never know when those "15 minutes" will reappear in your life. Oh ... the possibilities!

    Small Footprints

  6. Great post, Michelle. Makes me feel old though, since I won't even tell you what I was doing in '93. It was way past high school though :) Thanks for the glimpse, as always.

  7. Suldog: Thankee kindly!

    Desmond: Hee-hee... fruity bunch!

    I think those lines are different with every director. Someone else told me they said "asparagus."

    Jinksy: Nope... although they never did say if we made the final cut.

    Funny Girl: $400.00!?! ARRGGHH! I knew I should have hired a sleazy manager.

    Small Footprints: Take the opportunities when you can.

    Eric: Thanks.

    Old? You? Never. I figured from your picture you'd be around 35 or 36.

  8. "Apples and Oranges". I always wondered what extras in the background were talking about. Now I will never look at it the same way.

    I don't think I could keep a straight face repeating that line over and over.

  9. Buckskins: I sure couldn't hold a straight face. I'm just glad the director wanted us to smile.

  10. Gee, I never knew you were a movie star :)) Send me your autograph?


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