Oh, my aching back! Cripes! I can barely move! And my feet! Dear God are my dogs barking! This past weekend was one of the most miserable weekends of my life. For that was the weekend I helped famed movie director Robert Altman move. Robert Altman was as good as his word - he said he would move to France if George W. Bush became president. He's a man of his word, you have to give him that- not like those flip-flopping Hollywood phonies Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger. They backpedaled immediately on leaving the country in the event of a Bush presidency. Wusses.
No, Robert Altman said he was Franceward bound, and that's where he probably is right now, sipping Champagne on the Seine as bereted lackeys unpack his boxes. You know, in France they think he's a genius. I mean, he IS a genius, and Americans also think he's a genius, I just meant it was nice that he went to a country that also appreciates the work of a man who gave us 1993's emotionally resonant "Short Cuts."
We started with his matching set of sofa beds and it just got worse from there. He didn't like closets, so most rooms had oak wardrobes. And I never saw so many credenzas in my life. Everywhere you turned, boom, there was a credenza.
Watching him pack things into boxes was just sad. He would just throw a bunch of random crap into a box and tape it up. He hadn't gone through anything. I swear one box was full of old Beverly Hills phone books. I almost stopped talking about the brilliant casting of 1980's "Popeye" to comment on it, but I decided I had better let it slide. I had already had an awkward moment when I asked, "When are the others getting here?" and he said, "What others?"
But I think the saddest moment came Saturday when we took a well deserved break to watch the inauguration on his heavy looking wide screen (Why couldn't he have bought one was of those nice new light flat screens?!). He seemed to watch intently, especially when the camera cut to the crowd. His trained director's eyes were scanning, scanning, scanning. But for what? Right after Bush took the oath, Altman seemed to sag visibly. I watched the great man for a second.
"Turn it off," he said.
"What's the matter?" I asked jokingly, "You were hoping he'd get assassinated right during the oath of office?"
Altman turned with a start and stared at me. I think I heard him mumble "maybe" under his breath, but then he jerked his head toward the Italian-marble-topped coffee table.
"Let's get that on the truck," he said. I let out a little sigh and grabbed one end.
"Hey! Lift with your legs, not your back, buddy" he said. If I had a nickel for every time he said that to me, I could have used the money to hire some professional movers. And I had a sneaking suspicion he kept calling me 'buddy' because he had forgotten my name.
"We'll get the refrigerators next, buddy," he said as I walked backward down the stairs with the coffee table.
"Quit pushing! Not so fast!" I said. Somehow I always ended up being the one to walk backwards, listening to his innumerable admonitions to watch the door frame. Why a big celebrity director was so adamant about wanting his security deposit back was beyond me. And why the hell did he need THREE refrigerators?
And why oh why did I have to bump into him in that Safeway? Why did I have to offer a few trenchant insights into the elegiac americana of his epic 1975 work, "Nashville," that got us talking? Why did I tell him 1999's "Cookie's Fortune" was undeservedly underrated? Why, oh why oh why did I agree to help him move? What the hell was I thinking? I guess I was just overwhelmed by his star power - I mean, the guy directed M*A*S*H (1970), the AFI number 7 American film comedy of all time! But who knew he would own so many heavy, heavy things? I thought it would be all movie posters and maybe a couple of oscars or something. Throw 'em in a box, throw 'em in the truck, and boom! It's beer time! How wrong I was. How very, very wrong.
And finally, my back aching, my muscles sore, my shirt soaked with sweat, and after trying to make small talk by praising his early films "Countdown" (1968) and "That Cold Day in the Park" (1969), what do you think he did? Did he say "Great job, pizza's on me?" Pfft! No.
Avoiding my gaze, he muttered "thanks," and said, "Look me up if you ever get to Paris, buddy," as he hustled me out, DELIBERATELY not giving me his new address. I didn't push it cause I was ready to get the hell out of there. But... no beer, no pizza - I mean, those things are just common courtesy - it's understood that at the end of a move there will be beer and pizza.
I pity the poor frogs he hornswoggles into helping him move into his new place in France. God as my witness, I will never help Robert Altman move again. I don't care if Hitler gets elected president.