The radio silence I've maintained for the last week could be characterized as a respectful mourning for the passing of my twenties. Early early this morning, I entered decade number four. This feeling I have...it's as if I suddenly looked at my watch and realized how late it was, that the last bus of the night had come and gone, or a shop I wanted to visit had already closed, or that I had missed an audition I had told myself I'd attend come hell or high water. Melancholy, with a spoonful of regret, all carrying the sheer numeric weight of the accumulated history behind me.
Sometime in my mid-twenties, I came up with a list called 30 Before 30, thirty things I wanted to accomplish before I entered my thirties. It took on a life of it's own, and now, ticking off the items I missed out on is a letdown. For example, I never set foot on all seven continents (how did Antarctica qualify to be a continent anyway?), never directed a movie, never made it into outer space (though I still may beat Lance Bass), and I didn't retire today.
But I guess my thirties wouldn't be much fun without a few goals to chase. I'm going to add 10 to the list and carry over the remains of the previous list for a 40 before 40. Underneath it all, I have a hunch that my thirties will be my best decade yet. I'm ready for my scene.
Friends and family have been amazingly kind in helping to cushion my fall. Last Friday, I thought I was headed to Whistler with Dan and Jason. Around lunch, I walked to the elevator on my floor to go down to a meeting. The elevator doors opened, and Sarah and Jason were standing there.
"Where are you headed," Jason asked.
"To a meeting with Andy."
"No, you're not. Pack up, meet me down in the parking lot."
"Now? I thought we were going to Whistler later in the afternoon."
"I have some bad news and some good news. Bad news: we're not going to Whistler. Good news? We're headed to the Sundance film festival for the weekend."
Sarah had prepared a detailed itinerary for my surprise weekend excursion, titled Project Eugene, and a few hours later, Jason and I were checking into a condo at the base of the Park City ski resort. It was so completely unexpected and overwhelming that I didn't really truly comprehend it until...well, I'm still a bit awestruck even now.
Things only grew more surreal from there on out. First person we run into on Main Street in Park City? Joy, former CFO of Amazon, up to whom I used to report. She was strolling around town with her family and Jason and I just walked right into her. I thought the weekend might degenerate into a David Lynchian episode of "This Is Your Life". Joy gave us a set of tickets to a movie the next morning and sent us on our way.
We walked down the brightly lit street in ridiculously cold sub-zero temperatures and walked right into Sundance founder Robert Redford. A few more steps, and Lance Bass strolled out of a bar in front of us. A few people would mention later that this year's Sundance was light on celebrities, but coming from celebrity-lite Seattle, we felt as if we'd landed in the celebrity sightings pages of People Magazine. Eventually, we made it to Emily, one of the conspirators in Project Eugene, and she ushered us into some exclusive party where some famous chef had prepared a fancy multi-course dinner. Midway through our meal, Kato Kaelin walked up and started chatting us up. For some reason, he thought he had met me the night before and kept apologizing for having stepped on my foot the day before.
Just as the room was near empty--everyone was migrating to the Blender Magazine party upstairs where Liz Phair was scheduled to perform--in walked Paris Hilton and boyfriend Nick Carter and Nicole Richie. Paris and Nicole are to the world of professional partying as Doyle Brunson to professional poker. If one were to distill American celebrity to its purest essence, devoid of any relation to anything, what you'd end up with is Paris. Bold fans ignored the burly bodyguards surrounding their table and thronged to get her autograph.
Upstairs, Liz Phair played a set to a half-inebriated crowd. The Blender Magazine party had featured Nelly the previous night and had Pete Yorn lined up for the next night and Macy Gray for the following night. Every day a long line of hopefuls snaked back and forth outside Harry O's desperate to get inside. After you got inside, there was an upper level that required yet another level of access to enter. A bewildering world of parties within parties through which Emily was our guide, like Virgil to Dante in the The Inferno.
The following day, we caught the movie Brother to Brother, then learned that it's practically impossible to make it off the waiting list into anything other than the earliest morning showings (primarily because so many attendees sleep in, trying to shake off a hangover from the previous night's parties). Many of the theaters hosting screenings at Sundance are tiny. We tried to get in off the waiting list for The Fight, but the theater it showed at only sat 150! We stopped to check out the waiting list line for Garden State and two hours prior to the movie's showtime the line was about 200 people long.
In the afternoon, Jason and I visited a digital filmmaking center where all sorts of video editing systems and software and camcorders were on display. Sony brought their entire line of professional camcorders, including their fabled 24p HDCAM HDWF900. For a mere $102,360, one of these beauties could be yours.
Emily's party selection for that night was the Project Greenlight party. We had just gotten inside when Ben Affleck and Chris Moore brushed past us and got on stage with Carly Fiorina from HP to announce a joint promotion/contest. Upload five photos, and you could be the on-set photographer for a week on the set of Project Greenlight's next film. Ben and Chris shared their example You pages with the crowd (Ben's was a mosaic of Boston sports team jerseys), and so did Matt Damon in a taped message from Berlin where he's filming The Bourne Supermacy.
[Affleck is a funny guy. I wish he'd take greater advantage of his natural sense of humor and do more comedies instead of action flicks.]
All the party attendees had received tickets on the way in. During the press conference, Fiorina announced that anyone finding an HP and Project Greenlight logo on the back of their ticket would walk out with an HP gift bag. Lo and behold, I turned my ticket over and found the magic graphic. In a photo area in the back of the room, I was handed an HP shoulder bag containing an HP Photosmart 945 digital camera and an HP Photosmart 245 photo printer. By this time next year, the story will have evolved such that it was Ben Affleck who gave me the gear for my birthday.
Amazingly talented teenager Jason Mraz was on hand to play a set (if you don't own his CD Waiting for My Rocket to Come, please click on that link and purchase the album immediately), and Jason, Emily, and I snagged front row seats for the show. It's as close as I've ever been to a musician I admire with the exception of seeing Liz Phair from the front row when she visited Amazon.com. During the concert, both Jason and Emily dialed their brothers, huge Mraz fans, on their cells, and Mraz actually grabbed Emily's phone and spoke to her brother. It wouldn't be until the next morning that Jason and Emily's brothers realized it wasn't all some kind of drunken joke. Mraz live? Very very good.
Emily ran into a friend from her school days as we were walking out, and it turned out he was married to Shannon Elizabeth. The two of them were just arriving. In hindsight, I wish I had prepared some pithy comments to say to all these pop culture figures, but I conjured nothing all that clever the entire weekend. The best I could think of was, "Wow, you're really short." We saw Gael Garcia Bernal strolling around town and he was a wisp of a fellow, maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. The camera doesn't just add ten pounds. It adds twenty pounds and puts everyone in high heels.
Partied to exhaustion, Jason and I slept in the following morning. We hit the Park City slopes for some snowboarding in a blinding sunshine just before mid-day. I learned that ski-in ski-out means staying on the slope itself. We walked out our back door and got on a lift, and our last run of the day brought us straight to our back patio. Very convenient. The snow of Utah is world-renowned for being remarkably dry, and though there wasn't a ton of powder, I could see why so many ski fanatics the world over reminisce fondly of that one perfect day in Utah when they whisked through a powdery lull in gravity's pull. [Oddly enough, the mountains and high pressure fronts in Utah also trap a great deal of smog in the valleys, and the urban communities around Salt Lake City have some of the dirtiest air in the United States].
That evening, we attended the world premiere of The Machinist, directed by Brad Anderson (Next Stop, Wonderland) and starring Christian Bale and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Bale was on hand with his stunning wife. He lost 63 pounds to play the part of Trevor Reznik, a machinist plagued by insomnia and strange visions. He was so thin on screen that the audience gasped in pity, disgust, and awe everytime he appeared on screen without a shirt on. He looked near death, and he laughed in disbelief during Q&A when someone asked him afterwards how much of his weight loss was the result of digital effects.
I really enjoyed the movie and would be surprised if it didn't receive some distribution in the U.S. It's an artful visual mystery that has a twist of an ending in the vein of The Usual Suspects or Memento, and it's fun to try and solve the puzzle based on the the clues interspersed through the dialogue and visuals.
Afterwards, we rushed over to a party co-sponsored by Amazon. Paris and Nicole were on hand again. Jason and I were drinking a beer when a photographer stopped the two of them in front of us for a few photos. As soon as the camera was raised, without a second thought, they turned sideways to the camera, facing each other, and then posed looking over their shoulders at the camera. As I would learn by the end of the evening, many who live in the public eye have acquired the ability to strike a pose unconsciously, on demand. In most of those Paris/Nicole photos, Jason and I lurk in the background drinking our beers like a couple of Forrest Gumps.
I then met my first supermodel. She was introduced to me as such.
"Eugene, I want you to meet supermodel Carmen Kass."
I've never heard anyone introduced to me personally in that way. Is anyone else's job in life so vital to their identity that it becomes part of their name in a noun-noun compound? Only in Hollywood. It sounds ridiculous in any other context (Eugene, allow me to introduce mother of two and middle manager Jane Smith; Eugene, this is basketball legend Michael Jordan; Eugene, have you met recovering alcoholic Homer Simpson), but standing in front of Carmen, it seemed appropriate. La féminin absolu? Absolument.
The entire weekend was all the more surreal because it was so unexpected. I can't recall the last time a weekend had ended up playing out so differently than I had anticipated. Jason pulled off a real doozy, with a huge assist from Emily, probably the most memorable birthday surprise yet. In another thirty years, he and I will be sitting around in some bar cracking up about it over a beer.
Back in Seattle, I thought for a moment that perhaps the actual turning of the odometer would slip past quietly, but no one lets you off the hook when the far right dial spins from 9 to 0. Audrey treated me to a meal at Bandoleone (tasty...make sure to get the banana flan) and a showing of The Company (despite being nearly plotless, it's one of the best Altman movies in recent history); Jenny and her son Nathan (donning a hairpiece courtesy of Photoshop) filled in a missing chapter of my childhood (I started to laugh until I realized that the depiction of my childhood coif was uncannily accurate); Joannie sent me an e-card with a dog cackling madly (the caption read "Hee! Hee! Hee! Haw! Haw! Haw! Sorry, I just realized you weren't counting in dog years.") while Karen sent me an e-card from what she felt was Amazon's disappointing birthday selection, only to learn that she had sent the one that Joannie considers the best of Amazon's birthday e-cards, one she uses all the time; Joannie, Karen, and Mike also sent me some lovely tableware and flatware from Crate and Barrel so I no longer need to feel embarrassed to have people over to eat; tomorrow Eric is taking me down to his courtside seats for the Sonics game; Friday the boys are going to re-enact perhaps my most memorable dinner in Seattle ever--"credit card roulette with a shred of intelligence", the $676 tab before tips that Dan was so kind to treat us to that drunken night at Morton's.
The point of all this blathering, besides being a record of a memorable week and a public expression of thanks, is to log the realization that everytime I wanted to hang my head over turning 30, one of my thoughtful friends and family got me laughing, and when I finally stopped laughing and looked at my watch, I had missed the big countdown and was well on my way into the next decade.
There now, that wasn't so bad, was it?