This weekend, I'm heading to Denton, TX.
Ah, Denton. I lived there for about three years while I was in college. For those who don't know, Denton is about 45 minutes north of Dallas and Fort Worth. It's the apex of what is known as the Golden Triangle. Probably my favorite city in Texas. It's home to Texas Women's University. Don't let that name fool you...guys can go there too. That must be a weird thing. You walk into a guy's office, and on the wall is a diploma that reads, "Jim Manlyman - Texas Women's University." Denton is also home to my alma mater, the University of North Texas. UNT boasts a long list of famous alumni, including "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Glenn Frey, and Norah Jones (to whom, by the way, I would pay a large sum of money to sing me to sleep every night).
I had my fair share of hijinks and shenanigans while I lived in Denton. I wasn't a frat guy, I didn't hang out with sorority girls, and I wasn't really much of a drinker. Even when I did partake, it was Mike's Hard Lemonade (because it was fruity), Skyy Blue (because it was smooth), and Mike's Hard Iced Tea (because it wasn't carbonated). My lack of stereotypical college life didn't stop some crazy stuff from happening. Here is one such story:
My roommate and I were both studying for a degree in radio, television, and film. That's another way of saying that we were studying to have a slim chance of ever using our degree. In some of the film production classes, we would have to shoot short silent films to be critiqued by professors and classmates. The great thing about having the same major as your roommate was that we could always count on each other to be in our movies. From romances to French-style art films, we became each other's franchise player. He was the Tom Hanks to my Ron Howard, and I was the Johnny Depp to his Tim Burton.
Daniel (my roommate) came to me one day and asked if I'd be in his newest assignment, a silent mobster movie. Being a fan of the genre, I was all over it. I was hoping that one of the cute girls who lived below us would be cast as the damsel in distress, but they were too busy hanging out with guys who were majoring in something with more foreseeable success. Daniel called a few more buddies, and we agreed to shoot the whole thing that night in the parking lot of Kroger on University Drive.
We all show up around 9:00 that night, with the sun already having gone down, the "mobsters" donning trench coats, and dreams of making the next "Scarface," or at least "Scab-butt." Daniel went through the basic plot of the five-minute movie. I was playing the smart detective who, surprise surprise, was wearing a wire. And in another should-have-seen-it-coming twist, the wire was discovered by the mobsters. Guns are drawn, my hands go up. Right as the boss was about to off me for wearing the wire, his "heavy" would take out his own leader, ascending the mafia hierarchy from #2 to #1, and letting me go in the process.
So, here we go. Daniel's getting reaction shots, closeups, establishing shots. He's the Fellini of Denton, TX. We do the scene where the wire is discovered and everybody draws their guns on me. The guns were toy guns, of course, because we weren't THAT stupid. They were bought at Walmart and still had the orange "this is a toy" tips on the end of the barrel. Toy guns. Orange tips. Remember that. It's important later. Just as we move on to the next scene, we hear tires screech very close to us. Lots of them. We then hear...
"ON THE GROUND! ON THE GROUND RIGHT NOW!"
I turn around to see four Denton police cruisers parked 20 feet away from us. Each cruiser has the driver's side door open. And behind each driver's side door crouches a Denton police officer. And in each Denton police officer's hand is a handgun. And each handgun is pointed directly at us.
Have you ever had that moment where you think you're going to pee, even though you didn't have to pee right before that? Have you ever had that moment where you almost soiled yourself, but knew that you could probably hold it in? Have you ever had that moment where you weren't sick, but you could possibly vomit right then? All three of those feelings washed over my trembling body as I slowly lowered myself to the ground and into the prone position.
As I was lying on the asphalt, many thoughts were going through my head. "What did we do wrong?" "What are my parents going to do to me?" "Am I lying in discarded enchiladas from El Matador?" I can hear and see the officers cautiously going around to each of my fellow film students, patting their bodies down. For some odd reason, they never patted me down. I was lying there for what was, in reality, about 30 seconds. In my head, it felt longer than 20 episodes of "Hee-Haw."
Finally, we were allowed to get off of the ground. As I dusted myself off, I was relieved to see that nobody was in handcuffs. In fact, the situation had calmed down considerably. So what exactly happened to turn us from college students into potential shooting targets?
As it turns out, it was because of the scene where all of the mobsters pulled their guns on me. We had to shoot that scene several times to get it right. And the parking lot was adjacent to University Drive, which is one of the main roads in Denton. As people drove down University that fateful Monday night, they glanced into the parking lot to see a group of men pointing guns at me. Sure, they were toy guns, but when you're driving 35 MPH at night and in the dark, you can't see those little orange tips on the guns. So, the Denton Police Department gets flooded with calls that there is a gunfight in the parking lot of Kroger. Minutes later, police zoom in, guns are drawn, and I regret not wearing darker underwear.
Once Denton's finest realized what was up, they were laughing. We tried to laugh, but that's difficult when your stomach is still lodged somewhere near your epiglottis. They even apologized, which wasn't necessary. They were just doing their job. They knew that, we knew that, hands were shaken, and the DPD went on their merry way. All's well that ends well, right? Well, sort of. Daniel and I ended up locking our keys in the car, having to hitch a ride back to the apartment, wait for the overnight maintenance man to let us in, hitch a ride back to the scene of the almost-kinda-a-crime, and finally drive home for the night.
Yup, I'm heading to Denton today. I'll drive right by that parking lot. I'll think about that night and smile. Then, I'll realize that my recollection is a little too detailed, and will probably check my pants again, just to be sure.