Unicorns - by John Sealander


It's easy to forget that things aren't always as they appear. People see my flashy art director friend driving around in a new 911 Carrera and naturally think he is wealthy. What they don't realize is that the car is leased, the driver has a net worth of zero and he is only a paycheck away from financial ruin. Other people envy my stylish former boss, with his storybook golf course house and gorgeous Barbie Doll wife, not realizing that the couple are in the middle of a nasty divorce that will leave their lawyers rich and the two of them with virtually nothing.

Almost everything is an illusion these days. Politicians talk about "spin control." Corporations talk about "positioning" their products. If you haven't altered your own appearance with plastic surgery, you probably know someone who has. I guess this shouldn't surprise me, since I'm in the business of creating illusions myself, but I still find the current fuzzy state of reality a bit disorienting.

The illusions are getting so pervasive and convincing that I think people "want" to believe them. I was walking out of a movie theater last week listening to the couple in front of me talking quite rationally about how the aliens were revealing themselves to movie people like Steven Spielberg first, using the filmmakers to create a mythology that would cushion the blow when they revealed themselves to the general population later. They were serious. I wonder where this is all going to end?

Before office workers start telling each other where the CIA is keeping the anti-gravity spacecraft. Before postal workers become convinced they are destined to deliver the mail in Ferraris. Before every flat-chested woman starts thinking she is really a 36D, everyone needs to experience creating their own unicorn. Making a unicorn is a sobering experience. And once you have brought one to life, you will never look at illusions in quite the same way again.

My own unicorn was quite nice actually. When you saw him on television, it was easy to believe he was real. He would prance through verdant primordial forests, white mane flowing in the wind, and effortlessly make jewelry appear with his horn. All this majestic animal had to do was dip his ivory horn in a clear mountain stream and a bubbling waterspout would appear, bringing a gold Rolex watch to the surface. When he touched his horn to an unassuming brown rock, the rock would split, revealing a glittering diamond tennis bracelet inside. Anything was possible, including making flowers bloom that had diamond engagement rings for stamens.

Customers of the shopping mall jewelry giant that was responsible for this jewelry selling unicorn generally found him quite convincing. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew the real story?

It's hard to be romantic about a unicorn while you watch it shit from one end while two Hollywood hairdressers struggle to braid a hair extension into his mane on the other end. The miniature Rolex-bearing waterspout lost a bit of its luster as well, after I spent six hours listening to a couple of California special effects wizards swearing like sailors. They were humiliated and angry because the director had sentenced them to hard labor, digging a deep hole in the middle of a sparkling stream so their waterspout trick would work.

I imagine David Copperfield couldn't fly very well the first time either. Nevertheless, it was hard to keep from laughing when I saw the expression on the faces of these two wizards, an elite pair who created the special effects for Ghostbusters and Dick Tracy, as they were informed the strange looking contraption they brought with them wouldn't work. It had been designed to operate in at least five feet of water, but as luck would have it, the director had picked a stream that was only eighteen inches deep.

Little details like shallow stream beds didn't faze the production company's intrepid director. The guy thought he was Moses. Halfway through the first day of shooting he had a brainstorm that he could improve the commercials by eliminating all the shots that had the client's products in them. Naturally, this stroke of genius endeared him greatly to the two jewelry clients, who before this stunning development, spent most of their time in an air conditioned motorhome bitching about the mosquitoes.

These weren't the only animosities on the set however. The line-producer was furious at two bonehead grips who somehow managed to wreck a rental truck they conveniently forgot to buy insurance for at the airport. The rest of the crew was mad at the line-producer for conning them into working for a flat rate when it became more apparent by the hour that the shoot was going to incur some serious overtime.

The only people happy about all the delays and snafus were the actors and the weatherman., The three actors sat in their motorhome all day, played poker and eating up the catered food at an alarming rate. They were all SAG/AFTRA, so they didn't particularly care what happened. All they knew was the longer they sat in the motorhome, the more money they were going to make. The weatherman just sat in a lawn chair and read a book. The shoot was insured against rain. But to make sure the production company didn't try to cheat them, the insurance people insisted that a "real" weatherman be on the set at all times to make the official call about whether it was raining or not. The official weather guy brought a couple of rain gauges and stuff, but his most important instrument was the lawn chair.

It was only a matter of time before the clients decided that the director was an jerk and refused to speak to him. This didn't prevent the director from calling the clients a couple of dumb cunts and threatening to walk off the set. And where was he going to go anyway? We were in the middle of a forest one hundred miles away from anywhere. Due to the escalating hostilities, I spent almost my entire time in the woods walking back and forth along the seventy-five yard DMZ that separated the warring factions, carrying terse and usually meaningless ultimatums from one set of assholes to another.

It was an ugly scene. The two special effects guys were turning blue because they had been shoveling mud in the middle of the shallow creek for six hours. The delusional director had forgotten he was doing a television commercial and somehow managed to convince himself that he was filming the sequel to Braveheart. The clients were threatening not to pay for the commercial unless the director apologized to them. The ad agency people were screaming at me for introducing this unholy crew to each other and then allowing them to reach critical mass and explode. Even the forest service got into the act. Seeing the growing hole in the middle of the little creek, two rangers in Smokey the Bear hats informed the director that we were digging in a protected Salmon stream and that we would have to stop immediately and move the entire production five miles down the road. Somehow the filming continued, but I don't even want to know how much the line-producer had to bribe the forest rangers to continue.

Over the course of three days, two of the crew got in a fistfight. One of the clients told the ad agency people that she really didn't like the idea of using a unicorn in the first place. This client also got stung by a bee. The other one managed to lock herself out of her car. The horse trainer said the horse was being overworked and threatened to take him back to California before the filming was finished. One of the diamond rings got lost for a day. Nobody got laid.

On the morning of the first day, when all fifty people connected with the production first assembled in the woods, I had a brief fantasy that this must be what it would be like to command an army. By the end of the third day, I knew I had been granted a brief preview of hell instead. The commercials were eventually finished and to everyone's amazement they looked beautiful. They ran. They won a few awards and then the client who didn't like unicorns got promoted to ad manager and canceled everything. After three or four months, we all started convincing ourselves that the three days we spent in the forest weren't so bad after all. Some of us even went on to work together again. I remember what really happened though. Every time a see a beautiful woman, or even a beautiful sunset, I think of unicorns. Things are seldom as they appear.


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copyrightę1995. Contact John Sealander at: john@sealander.com 36552 readers since 7/2/96