Notes of a Dirty Young Extra

Love is a hot dog from Hell on the race track set of the new Bukowski film

Then, suddenly, there's a flurry of activity. The much-ballyhooed raffles are beginning. I realize that I've failed to deposit my tickets in any of the brown paper bags from which the winners will be drawn. I quickly put in for free putt-putt golf, tickets to see the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and the glossy photo of Amy Grant. Local Waits-ian crooner Mike Gunther wins a gift certificate to Kennedy Transmission. I win nothing.

Finally, around 6:00 p.m.--10 hours after we first assembled, and seemingly apropos of nothing--everyone begins squeezing through the doors into the main concourse. We're herded up the stairs and the casting folks begin picking people out of the crowd. I try to look my skuzziest. After being passed over several times, I'm finally waved through and directed toward a bank of seats overlooking the racetrack. I plop down in the fourth row next to a chain-smoking guy in a ratty blazer who claims to have already served as an extra in another scene. I ask him for pointers. He ignores me.

The scene features Dillon and Fisher Stevens arriving just as the race that they've bet on is concluding. Our role is to track a pickup truck as it comes around the racetrack and cheer on the (nonexistent) ponies. Some of us have props: racing programs, glasses of ersatz beer, and (for product placement?) Caribou Coffee mugs. I play the part I know best: loser. I curse under my breath and shake my head dejectedly as the poor horse that I'd bet on limps to the finish line. Dillon and his buddy fare better. After they win, Dillon says, not surprisingly, "Let's get a drink." We repeat this exercise a half-dozen times and then move on to the next shot.

You get so alone at times...: on the set of 'Factotum'
Diana Watters
You get so alone at times...: on the set of 'Factotum'

This time Dillon and Stevens are seated just one row behind me and one seat over. I believe that my moment of screen stardom has finally arrived. The faux Bukowski's face is covered with red blotches, presumably to indicate alcoholism and acne scars. Unfortunately, the shot is framed extremely tight on the two stars. When the camera begins rolling, I go through the motions of dejected loserdom again, but it's obvious that I'm not going to be onscreen. The girl sitting next to me believes that her ear might make the movie.

They shoot several more scenes in the grandstands outside. Unfortunately, I remain inside to serve as background fodder. During one of these shots, Dillon strangles some guy.

By 9:45 p.m. the mood among the extras has disintegrated from that of a pep rally into something approximating an airport lounge during a winter blizzard--minus the booze.

We're ordered outside for one last task: to make "wild noise." This will apparently be used as filler during the horseracing scenes. On the first go round we all scream like banshees. But then the director reminds us that we shouldn't sound so happy, since not everyone at the racetrack actually wins. This is an observation that I have found to be demonstrably true. In fact, over the last three years of attending the racetrack--approximately 100 bets--I've cashed just one winning ticket: a two-dollar bet that paid out $11.50.

So when we're cued to again make some "wild noise," I realize that I've finally found a task for which I'm peculiarly well suited. "C'mon, Three horse!" I scream at the imaginary beast. "C'mon! Jesus fuckin' Christ! Get movin', Three! What the hell is your problem?"

Listen for me.

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