I gave my notice at the small art house theater I worked at in Orlando first thing on a Tuesday. The Executive Director looked at me with horror in her eyes and was about to ask a question when I cut her off at the pass.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll be here to manage Kidfest.” It was baffling to me that this seemed to give her a sense of relief. There are really only two things you need to know about Kidfest. The first is that it’s a filmmaking summer camp for children between the ages of ten and thirteen. The second, and perhaps more important, is that I was unequivocally the worst man for the job.
My day-to-day role was that of the surly, perpetually exasperated Assistant Food & Beverage Manager who was routinely in trouble for being hateful to customers and making the female servers flee a pre-shift meeting in tears. Who better to be the staff representative in charge of thirty or so tweens rampaging through the theater for ten days? Who, I ask?
After the managerial position at Kidfest was thrust upon me, I made it crystal clear to any and all that I would have one and only one job. And that? Well, I figured I, as a veteran of the most menial jobs on a film set, could take a dump in a copier and produce at least a five part lecture series that would impart to the campers all they needed to know about the film business at those delicate formative ages.
I wasn’t wrong.
“Alright kids. The little guy from Married With Children is your charge for the day. He’s god some real sticky weed, but no papers. He needs you to get them for him without alerting his clingy girlfriend, who is also in the van, so he can stumble through both of his lines in this latest National Lampoon travesty without eating a bullet. What do you do? Let me see those hands!”
In order to distance myself further from the proceedings I decided to take a dictatorial approach to my demeanor. When I lectured I used a booming voice, doing everything I could to send an imposing tone over the P.A. and anything short of banging my shoe on the podium a la Khrushchev in 1960. When I walked amongst the kids working on a project I did so with both arms wrapped behind my back, one palm securing the other wrist, not unlike newsreel footage of Hitler inspecting badly shell-shocked veterans somewhere west of Leningrad.
This will be ironic in a moment.
Some of the kids were annoying. Some boring. Others were just plain fucking strange. As an exercise on the process of adapting an already existing work, the children, after having watched it, were to conceptualize and then draw a movie poster transposing Charlie Chaplin’s silent classic The Gold Rush to another setting. Most of the ideas were what you’d probably expect.
The Avengers Gold Rush. Harry Potter Gold Rush. Disco Gold Rush. Gold Rush On A Beach, Gold Rush On A Plane, Gold Rush On Snakes On A Plane.
You get the idea…
However, one team consisting of two children who were clearly undiagnosed with, but suffering from, a severe autism spectrum disorder decided their setting would be Minesweeper Godzilla Gold Rush.
I don’t know…
I was in a worse mood than ever when I arrived at the theater for the second Monday morning of camp and wondered, while I sat over my fifth cigarette and first diet coke of the morning, how exactly one could break into the international arms trade. When I stepped into the theater to get the day started, a female counselor was setting out another of the children’s camp-long projects on a table.
Each child was given a blank book to make from scratch. More than anything it was busywork to toss the chimps when the adults needed a break. They’d been given markers, stencils and patterned paper they could use for the project.
The books I’d thumbed through were either plain dull or fucking bizarre. But as I walked past one of the books caught my eye. It was evenly covered on the front and back with neatly cut pieces of sepia-tinted wallpaper material and on the front cover, in large block felt-tipped-pen letters, were the words: The Second Anne Frank.
My mouth hung agape. I desperately wanted to look inside, but suddenly felt a pang of guilt like I’d discovered a Christmas gift two weeks early and was struggling with the decision: open the box or don’t? Anticipation coursed through my body.
I was alone in the theater – silence other than the sound of sudden pounding excitement in my ears. It was obviously just for me! I hesitantly opened the cover and looked at the inscription page. Now, let me relay my observations to you in the exact ordered they occurred.
Holy shit! It’s a sequel to The Diary Of Anne Frank!
Does this kid know that the diary doesn’t end well for Anne?
Holy shit! She drew, colored gold and carefully cut out a Star of David and has pasted it on the inside cover.
Holy shit! It’s written in journal form. It’s supposed to be in Anne’s own writing!
Holy shit! The journal entries are dated on consecutive days, but starting in the year 2018! Nazis savagely murder a boy on the first page!
Holy shit! She misspelled Nazis as NATZIES!
I drew a few conclusions from these initial frenzied observations, but here are the broad strokes: an eleven-year-old girl is in the process of sequelizing The Diary of Anne Frank, but she’s writing it as Anne, who is dead, so it’s really a prequel. However, it is set in 2018, six years in the future. So, it’s a Nazi Holocaust sequel prequel time travel story.
I paused and thought.
That’s never been done before! She’s invented a new genre!
It occurred to me in those first frenzied moments that what I held in my hands was the work of either a pure genius or a severely demented victim of fetal alcohol syndrome. Or both. They are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps it was genius. Vonnegut-esque. But even Vonnegut wouldn’t have had the balls to sequelize The Diary of Anne Frank. And, if he had, he would have at least given it to Kilgore Trout to write and would have changed the names.
It had fallen to an eleven-year-old girl at a summer camp to insert this into my life. I felt the slight guilt of mocking someone behind his or her back. But I wasn’t mocking her. I was in awe of her…and I had to possess the book.
There was just one small issue: the children were to be given their books at the end of camp when they were reviewed and scored. I couldn’t let that happen! I needed to have it on my bookshelf. I fantasized about having friends over and strategically walking them past my collection and lingering for just a moment or two too long in the hopes they’d inquire about the strange, slender homemade tome slipped between my store-bought books.
“Oh, this?” Casual. Cool. “This ain’t nothin’.”
Graduation was the Sunday after the last day of camp and I pondered various scenarios that would allow me to walk away from the day with the book in my hands.
The first strategy that occurred to me was simple. Just ask the girl if I could have the book. I could tell her I thought it was brilliant and I wanted to share her genius with the world. Being that familiar, however, obviously smacked of something vaguely felonious and perhaps pedophilic.
Another of the camp counselors, a female, offered to try to buy the book from the girl’s mother for me. It would seem better – less threatening – coming from a woman. I considered trying this myself. I figured half a sheet would do it. And what’s fifty dollars compared to possessing the hand-draw eleven-year-old girl equivalent of The Gospel According To Eve or the remainder of The Ancient Epic Cycle? That volume just between The Iliad and The Odyssey where the lotus-eaters wear gold stars on their lapels and one of them has come unstuck in time.
If the girl kept the book it would be just another mythical volume, filled with magic and wonder, lost to the ages. How would history judge me if I let it slip through my fingers?
With a swift kick to the balls, I imagine.
Finally, the day came. Graduation. We premiered the movies the kids made. They were, of course, pure shit. The rich girls – the blonde-mafia – came in newly minted gowns, walked the red carpet and kept their sunglasses on indoors, a carefully crafted impression of a movie star desperate both to be seen and to not. The scholarship kids wore the same t-shirts and tennis shoes they’d worn every day of camp. I guarantee they had a better time.
I made a short speech.
“Your children were wonderful. We had a great time. This experience changed all of us.”
Et cetera. Ad nauseam. Blah. Blah. Blah.
And then, when everything was winding down, the moment of truth came and I met the girl’s mother. Anne’s mother. She shook my hand, said her daughter had always come home talking about how much she’d learned and how much fun she’d had. As we talked I felt the presence of the female counselor over my shoulder, waiting to be given the high sign and to start the negotiations. She was totally on board – understood the gravity of the situation – and was willing to sacrifice to make it happen.
But as my conversation with the mother came to a close, I turned, looked at the counselor and gave her the abbreviated headshake. She lowered her eyes to the ground and sulked away. And as the theater cleared out and I found myself alone, I felt a tremendous sense of loss and also, suddenly, regret.
Something occurred to me then that hadn’t before.
There are a few moments in life when stealing is justified: to feed your family, to provide for the poor and, most importantly, to posses the sequel to The Diary of Anne Frank.
Dan Lauer is without academic acheivements of any stripe worth mentioning. He makes his living as a technical writer and can be heard every six weeks or so on “The Drunken Odyssey with John King” podcast and can be seen every few months reading at There Will Be Words in Orlando, FL.