“In just three months my life is gonna change forever,” announced Hefty the Comic.
Now, I call Hefty a comic because of the numerous times he told me he was. I’d never caught his act, though I’d been invited once or twice. No. I knew Hefty because every so often he’d carry my golf bag. That’s right. Hefty was a caddy at a local country club.
Caddying at an LA golf club is an honorable living. Not so much a career, but a prescription to earn quality cash while taking acting classes or working on a script, a music career, or drug and alcohol recovery. You name it, caddies do it for the dough. And to have Hefty describe it, all those sweaty, double-bag eighteen-hole loops were finally going to pay off.
“Did a huge movie,” said Hefty. “Just one scene, but it’s awesome. It’s all me. And I’m funny as shit in it.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, cautious but still encouraging. “What’s the picture?”
Hefty named the movie. And yes, it was a high profile summer sequel with an advertising budget that rivaled the cost of bringing an NFL team back to Los Angeles.
“It’s gonna be huuuuuuuuuuuuge!”
“For your sake, I certainly hope so.”
“My life is gonna be so different!”
“Now don’t get too far ahead of yourself,” I cautioned.
“Yeah yeah,” he said. “I hear where you’re coming from. But the scene I’m in. It’s super funny and important to the story so they can’t cut me out.”
“Well, you got that going for you.” I continued to play it calm. That’s because with every syllable, Hefty would get even more animated. He was sweating with so much anticipation and we hadn’t even stepped off the first tee yet.
“Three months, man,” Hefty insisted. “You won’t be seein’ me haulin’ golf bags for assholes no more.”
“Assholes like me?”
“Naw, man. Not you. You’re cool,” he said. “But can you dig it? I’m in a huge movie. Everything in my life’s gonna change.”
“And that’s a good thing?” I asked.
“Hell yeah! It’s everything!”
Everything. Wow, I said to myself. That’s a lot of self-expectation for a Tibetan monk to handle, let alone a comedian-slash-caddy who was battling sobriety.
Yes. Hefty was a drug addict and alcoholic. During our good walks around the grassy links, I’d yacked plenty with the man. We’d covered everything from his recovery from booze and cocaine to the difficulty of booking stand-up gigs. Because I’m a writer he’d even ask to work over a few bits with me, looking for the sharpest joke in the routine. Between swings I’d assist as best I could and always wish him nothing but the best of luck when I’d tip him out after the round.
If there’s one thing I’d learned from Hefty it was that he was always struggling. If not only with jokes, but the day-to-day grind of that is sobriety.
“Putting a lot of pressure on yourself,” I said.
“Pressure’s not on me,” answered Hefty. “Pressure’s on (the famous movie director.)”
“C’mon. Not talking about if the movie’s going to be a success,” I said. “It’s about your crazy big expectations.”
“Movie’s gonna be huuuuuuuuge,” he repeated.
“You said that already.”
“And I’m fuckin’ awesome in it,” he insisted. “Did I say that? Sky’s the limit, man.”
“Agreed,” I said. “Sky is always the limit. But until it happens, you’re better off staying in the moment.”
“I hear you, brother. I’m goin’ to my meetings. I’m just excited for myself, you know?”
“I getcha. I’m just worried about what happens when the movie opens and the result doesn’t live up to your expectations?”
“C’mon. It’s gonna be a giant movie.”
“Which you have a small part in.”
“Which I’m awesome in.”
“Listen,” I said. “I hope it all happens for you. I hope all your expectations come true. But I’ve been around long enough to know that unreal expectations are incredibly dangerous.”
With that, I related to him a story about an old roommate’s big brother. He’d spent six months toiling in a character role on a big summer movie. His name was fifth on the call sheet. His part was not only important but utterly ubiquitous to the film. June came around. The picture opened and became not just the movie of the summer, but one of the massive box office hits of the decade. And then my roommate’s big brother sat for months and waited for the phone to ring with the expectation that his life was one call away from changing forever.
It never did. Not in any miraculous sort of manifestation. At his auditions he received kind words of congratulations, but his role in the global hit movie never ginned up any significant work. The big brother appeared in a supporting role in only one more movie before finally retiring from the acting game after years of dining out on heavy portions of disappointment.
“I hear ya,” said Hefty. “I appreciate your worries. But I’m gonna be okay. Things with the movie don’t work out, I’m still gonna be me. Still gonna keep pushin’. Thanks for the love, man. All your encouragement.”
That was the last time I saw Hefty. As his movie neared its launch date, he was pretty much nowhere to be found. At least not anywhere near the caddy shack. I’d inquired about his health and heard precious little.
Then came a Thursday night about two weeks before his big summer tent pole opened. I was invited to a screening. The unspooling was at a Westwood movie theater. As my guest, I brought along Japanese horror-master Hideo Nakata. In him I confided that I was nervous for my boy, Hefty the Comic.
The lights dimmed. The music bellowed. And I was generally unsurprised by the noisy, final product. What nagged at my nervous system was Hefty and his big, life-changing scene. Would it be intact? Well-handled? One of those single-scene bits of genius ala Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop? Or Larry Miller in Pretty Woman? Maybe even such as Michael Imperioli in my own movie, Bad Boys?
At last, after months of intrepid anticipation, Hefty’s “life-changing” scene arrived. I couldn’t rightly tell how intact it remained. But it was shot and edited in such a blink-and-you-missed-it manner that Hefty’s on-screen moments were relegated to his meaty hands, fast-shuffling feet, his character dropping objects, the back of his massive head, and his voice. It was over in little more than a few brief flickers. And that was the end of Hefty’s big moment.
It was hard for me to recall much more of the picture after that scene. Exhausted from production prep, Hideo fell asleep between the explosions somewhere during the movie’s sagging second act. Meanwhile, my mind kept wandering to Hefty and his unhealthy expectations. The edited scene could easily prove devastating to a normal wannabe, let alone a recovering addict with tendencies toward emotional fragility.
I wanted to warn him. But struggled with whether it was my place. Especially considering all the unsolicited advice I’d already dumped on him. I chose to play it by ear. If perchance I ran into Hefty in the coming weeks, I might speak to him about it. Otherwise, he would have to face his own haunting disappointment.
As it turned out I never saw Hefty again. Not at the club. Not anywhere. I did however hear from a another caddy that shortly before the movie’s opening he’d fallen off the wagon. Hard. Months later, I learned Hefty moved back to the Midwestern burg of his youth. I prayed he’d reconnected with his sober self and, wherever he’d hung his hat, was making people laugh.
Here’s my coda. Life is full of life-changing moments. The caveat is that such events hardly occur when we most expect them. More often, such happenings occur on life’s terms. Positive or negative, we are not so much in control of these spin changes as we are our own reaction to them.
Every day a handful of new Hollywood hopefuls arrive with the express interest in lucking into some form of life-altering success. I say to you that change will surely come. It is as inevitable as tomorrow. The most important question is will you be ready?