Updated: 5 days ago
Published: August 14, 2020
Here is the first chapter of Colton Nelson's Just Being Human
Benson sat in the audience. Many people sat behind him. He was given a front row seat, but he didn’t like sitting front row. It drew attention to him. He hated attention. He much preferred being in the background: there, but not noticeable.
The stage was freshly cleaned. Shiny, like Bruce Willis’s head. Who, as a matter of fact, was just a few seats to Benson’s left.
Everyone around Benson wore nice clothes. Benson did not. He was wearing jeans and a plaid button-up shirt. His hair was done up nicely. But he didn't look as lovely as any of the other people in the room. If people didn't know his face, they would have mistaken him for the custodian, a member of the crew, or a box office man. His attire was not up to code. But he didn't care. Hell, he didn't need a ten-thousand-dollar suit to be happy.
Last year, when Benson was eighteen, he shot a low-budget independent film. He had a full cast and crew of ten people. The actors he hired filled multiple roles, everything from their title jobs to production assistants. It kept the cost of production down, and everyone experienced how a movie was made.
Since Benson’s movie caught the attention of some important people, he’d gained major success. But that's not why he did it. He couldn’t care less about this awards show. He was only doing it because his crew told him he needed to be there. Benson was nominated for Best Director. In fact, his film had earned ten nominations, more than anyone else’s that year. He’d broken other records, too, but that's a whole other story.
To the public, Benson was ‘the man to be’. But he rejected that idea.
Benson wasn't self-centred. No, he cared about other people way more than he cared about himself. He just didn't like all the attention he was getting. Sure, it was nice that he’d got so far with this movie. He’d had the time of his life making it.
But the night of the awards show was about the cast and crew. The real stars. If it wasn't for their patience, kindness, and work ethic, his movie would still be a script in a box collecting dust.
The show began. Benson focused on the stage, knowing that a camera would now be on him, the ‘star of the show’, until the end of the night.
The host emerged from backstage, a late night comedian who began with, “Welcome to the Oscars, ladies and gentlemen!”, and continued with an extensive monologue that included political jokes, then the mocking of pop culture and the awards themselves. Cheap jokes. But they did get a few laughs from Benson.
Benson and his crew had a pre-existing arrangement. He would attend the show, but would not go up on stage. And if the show got boring, he would leave and wait out in the hallway.
It took fifteen minutes before Benson told the nearest cameraman that he was leaving. The cameraman nodded, just happy to be spoken to like a human.
Benson escaped out the side door.
He always carried a deck of cards with him. He loved to go out and find someone who was waiting for the show to end so they could clean up afterwards. Or anybody who worked for a living. A normal person. Someone without a big ego, who he could relate to. Benson would offer to play a game of cards with them. He would talk to them, get to know them. He loved hearing their stories. It made him feel normal.
Benson found a man who was exactly his type, a backstage crew member waiting for the show to end. The man had a bushy beard, light brown skin, short, dark hair and glasses.
Benson approached the man. He pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket, smiling. “Hey, bro, how would you like to play a hand or two while we wait?”
The man looked up at Benson, confused. He pointed to himself, mouthing the words, who, me?
“Yeah, you, Bud,” Benson said, softly.
“If I’m caught, I could get in trouble.”
“I'll cover for you.”
“Why would they listen to you?”
Benson realized this guy didn't know who he was. “Because I'm nominated for Best Director.”
The man didn't flinch at those words, which surprised Benson. The two shook hands, then, and sat down on the stairs, Benson on the lower steps, and the other guy sitting a few steps above, leaving room to put the pile of cards between them. It was a bit dark backstage, but there was still enough light to see the cards.
“So, you’re not an awards show man.”
Benson started to shuffle the deck. “That’s right. Hate them.”
“Same. If I could find a job with better pay, I’d leave this place.”
Benson, now dealing the cards, suggested, “Go Fish?”
The man laughed and agreed.
“Hey, what's your name?” Benson asked him, then.
“Benson. Got any twos?”
Alex and Benson played cards for about ten minutes before they got into a real conversation.
“Is that so?” Benson laughed.
“Yes, my aunt has a way of stirring up shit in our house. It’s kind of her thing,” Alex said.
“Who else lives in your house?”
“My mother, her sister, my two sisters, my brother, and his kids,” Alex replied.
“That’s a lot of people in one house. Why so many?”
“Americans tend to leave their families at a younger age. In Mexico, we stay at home until we’re married, sometimes even longer. We’re all family and we’re there for each other. Sure it can be hard sometimes, but family is important.” Alex then asked Benson for a king.
Benson forfeited his card. “Family is definitely important. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve left home at eighteen and headed into the world not knowing anything.”
“When did you leave home?”
“I was kicked out at seventeen,” Benson said.
“May I ask why?”
Benson didn’t like telling the story, but he gave in. “I was, like some other teenagers, a problem. Mom couldn’t handle me, not after my brother.”
“What happened to your brother?” Alex asked. “Any fives?”
“Go Fish,” Benson said. “My brother got into drugs. He dropped out of school and started making trouble. Mom and Dad kicked him out.” Benson paused for a moment. “Eights?”
“Anyhow,” Benson continued. This was a tough topic for him, but it felt good to let everything out. “I had an okay job, so I did fine when I left. And it was one of the best things for my relationship with my mom and dad. We needed a break. I realised where I went wrong, and they realized where they screwed up. We talked it out and still keep in contact.”
“How do they feel about you being a hit movie maker?” Alex asked. “Queens?”
“Go Fish,” replied Benson. “Mom and Dad love that I’m happy and able to give a part of myself to the world.”
“But, and don’t take this the wrong way, are you really happy? Because, if you were, wouldn’t you be out there accepting the award?”
“That doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is being with the people I care about on set, the cast and crew. What makes my happy is seeing others happy. These awards are bullshit. They’re nothing.”
“Then why are you here?” Alex asked. The two had put their cards down. The conversation was becoming more attention-grabbing than the game.
Benson smiled. “The whole cast and crew are here. Some of them are scared. I picked people from my small town, and we’re all pretty young. They wanted to go, but didn’t want to be alone.”
“So, you said you would go so they could have a good time.”
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. They’re all like family.”
Alex smiled. “And you should always be there for family.
Benson replied with a smile of his own.
“So, then, Big Shot,” Alex said, picking up the cards again, “what are you gonna do after this film? Any twos?”
“I don’t know,” Benson said, looking at his cards again, and giving Alex the two of hearts he had. “I liked what I did in the movie. I had a lot of fun, wasn’t expecting it to be a hit. But, there was something unique about it. I don’t think I could make another good product for a movie studio.”
“Is the studio pushing for another movie?” Alex asked.
“They’re businessmen. If something is a hit, they want to get in on as much cash as they can. That’s why there are so many bad sequels out there.”
Benson thought for a moment. “It was Disney or Fox, I can’t remember.”
“Same thing,” Alex replied.
Benson laughed. “Basically. They offered me five million for two scripts.”
Alex almost dropped his cards. “Five million? . . . Wow. Take it!”
“It’s not about the money. I have enough money for the rest of my life. Remember, I was my own studio and distributor for this film. All the profits stayed with me.”
“Wasn’t the box office like two hundred million?”
“Something like that.”
“Man…” Alex studied Benson for a moment, noticing his clothes and watch. “You don’t dress, nor act, like a millionaire.”
“Like I said, it’s not about the money. It’s about the relationships I encounter along the way. Like this one. I love hearing stories like yours. I like being with people.”
“Are you married?” Alex asked.
“I’ve never had a girlfriend.”
“Boyfriend?” Alex asked.
“No, I never really had an interest in dating. I was always waiting for the girls my age to grow up. Teenage dating is fake. It’s not like real relationships. There needs to be maturity on both sides. Most girls at my school got all caught up in the Netflix-and-chill.”
Alex put his pointer finger to his mouth and shushed Benson. “Can’t say Netflix in here,” he whispered, and let out a small laugh. “We’ll get kicked out.”
“My bad,” Benson laughed, too. “And I know not all girls are like that, but, too many are. I guess I’m just looking for the right one.”
“Well make sure you find one who doesn’t know who you are.” Alex gathered up his cards and handed them back to Benson, ending the game. “You deserve someone who loves you, not your bank account.” Alex got up, then, and stood over Benson.
Until then, Benson hadn’t realised that Alex was just a bit younger than Benson’s own dad. “Kid, just remember, family is there for each other. A family will love you for you, not for what you have. They’re the ones who care enough to get mad when you screw up. And they’re not just your blood. The ones who aren’t blood are even more important to keep around, because they don’t have to be there, but they choose to be. Go find someone you love. Someone you can call family. Just make sure she loves you.”
Benson looked up to Alex and could see him holding back tears.
“Are you telling me or yourself?” Benson asked.
Alex smiled and ruffled Benson’s hair. “Both.”
Benson got up and wrapped his arms around Alex. “You don’t have to hold it in.”
“Don’t tell me strong men cry.”
“Real men cry. Real people cry. It shows we care. Careless people don’t cry. Being strong or weak doesn’t matter. It only matters if you care.”
Alex started to cry. Benson could feel the tears on his shirt. He held Alex there for a while and didn’t say a word.
Alex pulled away, eventually, and rubbed his eyes.
Benson put his hand on Alex’s shoulder. “You’ll find someone to love, too. You’ll find someone to care for. A girl to cry with, to laugh with. It might take a few more tries. But don’t give up. Because if you give up, I’ll kick your ass.”
Alex laughed at that.
Benson took out a his wallet. He gave Alex his card with his personal phone number and email on it. “If you ever need someone to talk to, then give me a call. You meet someone and want to tell me about them, call. You need a good April Fools prank, call.”
Alex took the card and gave Benson one final hug. “Thanks.”
August 14, 2020