Philadelphia Metropolis

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Pay As You Go

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By Eric Rivera

I was single, broke, and lying face down in a New Jersey bowling alley. I didn't mind: a stack of free pizzas awaited us extras after the filmmakers perfected the shot. I played an actor who passed out, drunk. The "Producer" wants to know what's wrong with me. The star of the film says, "He's a method actor." I suggested they change the line to, "He has issues with his father." No one got the joke.

I'd just been through a bad breakup, and owned a $10-pay-as-you-go phone. It was the cheapest one available. I worked at the TLA Video on Locust Street, but could barely break 20 hours a week. To make extra money, I'd work local film shoots. Sometimes the only compensation was food, and the opportunity to talk to women who didn't know my life was one flat bike tire away from financial ruin.

I had little in common with Samantha, another extra, which is what I liked about her. She was Asian, she hadn't gone to art school, she didn't have a food philosophy, and she didn't qualify liking popular things by saying it was "ironic." Plus, she had nice tits. I kept her laughing by riffing on the fact that we were the two only people on set not of Irish, Italian, or Irish-Italian descent (I'm Puerto Rican. I had an hour's worth of material on how cute and confusing our children would be). She gave me her number. I entered it quickly into my phone so she wouldn't see how pathetic it was.

But I wussed out when it came to calling her. The pressure was too much: she lived in New Jersey, an hour and a half away from Philly. What if, outside the bowling alley, she hated me? Better to leave the situation as it was: a reminder to my bruised ego that I could still get a girl's number. If I had 12 hours. And if neither of us were allowed to leave.

A few weeks later, a girl also named Samantha was hired at the video store. She did go to art school, made zines, and had an asymmetrical haircut. I made a decision early on not to hit on any of the women I worked with, to avoid creepiness if it didn't work out and awkwardness if it did. But I wasn't above hitting on their friends, as cool girls tend to know other cool girls. So I told Samantha about a screening at Secret Cinema, which programs a strange collection of films on a theme. That night's final film was a reel of a movie called Dream Girl - the curator called it an "unusually arty softcore sex film, or an unusually adult student film."

I got to the screening late, and texted Samantha. She didn't reply. Was I fooling myself thinking I could impress her friends? Was she annoyed by me already? I couldn't concentrate on the films, because I was composing the perfect non-committal follow-up text in my head. I sent it to her during a short documentary from the 1960s about balsa wood model airplane buffs.

During the intermission I went outside and found Samantha and her friends smoking. I decided not to bring up the texts, or overstay my welcome. I'd leave on a high note, as soon as I got a laugh. Samantha was explaining to one of her friends the then impending switch to digital TV.

"With an antenna you find the channels and can get a little bit of a signal. With digital you just get it or you don't."

"Like jazz," I said.

They laughed, and I left. Samantha said they might be outside for a few minutes, so could I text her when the final reel started? I did, but Samantha and her friends didn't come in until halfway through Dream Girl. Afterward, Samantha asked me why I hadn't texted her.

"I did! I've sent you three texts tonight."

I looked at my cell phone history and realized my mistake with dawning horror. I'd been texting the wrong Samantha, because on my cheap phone I could only see two entries for "Samantha from."

"I guess I can't get reception here," I told to Samantha from Work

On the way home, I turned the phone over and over in my hand. I knew I should call Samantha from Movie to explain. But I wussed out of that, too. I can't imagine she would have picked up. Would you answer a call from the strange number that sent these three messages:

"I'm here."

"I can see you."

"The sex movie's starting."

I bought a new phone the next day. My old phone may have been the cheapest available, but cheap things have a way of eventually costing more.


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