Stranger #6 had a common woman's name. Think something along the lines of Sarah or Jenny or Mary. But I'm not going to call her by her real name. Instead I'll refer to her as Winky. Like this:
Why Winky? Well, I'll get to that, but first a little background information: I met Winky at the Blue Dot Cafe in Alameda, the small island city next to Oakland. When we met, she had only lived in Alameda for a couple of weeks, coming by the way of small town Wisconsin, college years at SCAD in Savannah, GA, and a post-Katrina New Orleans. At 26, she was the youngest of the strangers to meet with me so far. She had red hair, pale grey-blue eyes, a patriotic bracelet, and a pretty kick ass leather jacket. She was also someone who liked to keep busy: after a few short weeks in Alameda, she was already going to school for psychology, getting a certification in personal fitness training, trying to finish a movie/musical she'd written and filmed that was stuck in post-production (check out the promo here), writing two serial novels, and had joined a barbershop quartet and a softball league.
By comparison, I spent my day today listening to a baseball game on the radio. I might also have sent some emails and eaten a pretty tasty kiwi. And I took a shower. I'm clean as a whistle!
But what about this nickname? Winky. As with all good nicknames, there's a story behind Winky. My retelling of that story goes something like this:
Winky had moved to New Orleans, post-Katrina, for a job. A really good job. A job that could lead to other jobs in a booming industry. This job involved being a "set dresser" for the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Yes, that Benjamin Button - based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, it's the whimsical tale of a man who ages in reverse.
Wow! Big deal, right? We're talking Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and the director of Forrest Gump here! And, as expected, this set dresser job led to other, similar jobs in the same industry, as apparently New Orleans is quickly becoming an up and coming city in the motion picture industry. Lots of stuff is being filmed and produced there now. It's like L.A.'s baby sister! In addition to Benjamin Button, Winky had a hand in movies such as In the Electric Mist, The Mortician, and a horror film by the name of The Final Destination. Here's the trailer for that last one, which is the latest installment in a pretty successful series of movies:
Winky, for her part, described Final Destination as a movie that "I wouldn't go see." What's more, working on that movie not only made her miserable, but it made her realize that the world of talking pictures might not be for her. She didn't like how the industry treated people and eventually even changed them: "In general," she said, "anybody, even the nicest person, is going to become tainted while working in this industry, and they get more selfish and high strung."
When I asked if she felt "tainted", she replied: "Yeah, I did for awhile, until I saw there was a light at the end of the tunnel."
And what was that light at the end of the tunnel? Quitting the movie business and getting the hell out of New Orleans, a town to which Winky was never enamored. But not before she went temporarily blind in one eye. Seriously. While working on Final Destination, there were a couple of days when things started to get suspiciously blurry in one of Winky's eyes. At first she didn't think much of this fuzziness. She thought, at worst, that maybe she had something stuck in her eyeball - like lint, dust, or a dead gnat. She complained every now and then to her co-workers until, eventually, her boss took notice and forced her to take some time off and see a doctor. A general eye doctor and a retina specialist later, the diagnosis came in: stress related retinal leaking.
Retinal leaking? Gross.
What's more, Winky let it slip that the retinal leaking in her eye might have had something to do with, wait for it, steroids! She slipped that little nugget into the conversation somewhat casually, almost to the point where I nearly missed it, until suddenly I had to interject:
Steroids? Wait. What?
Was there a point in Winky's life where she was going all Barry Bonds? Did she used to be a crazed, softball-mashing machine with muscles on her muscles, anger management issues, and an ever-expanding hat size?
Turns out that Winky was so stressed, busy, and reluctant to take a day off from working on Final Destination that she took steroids to squash a pesky flu bug. The steroids killed that flu bug dead in its tracks, but combined with the stress, likely triggered a little retinal leaking.
Which leads to the inevitable question: what cures retinal leaking? In Winky's case, an eye patch and two to three weeks of making a conscious effort to relax did the trick. Not taking steroids also probably helped. She still plugged away at Final Destination, but she also forced herself to take her mind off work by going to the beach, playing some volleyball, and joining a pool league.
Pool, however, involves a lot of depth perception, which can be a little tricky when you're pretty much blind in one eye. At the same time, Winky was finding that her eye patch was kind of scratchy and uncomfortable. So while lining up her shots, she would flip up her eye patch and squint and WINK a lot at the balls on the table, much to the amusement of her fellow pool leaguers.
And, voila! Surrounded by blue chalk, green felt, and black balls, Winky was born!
Which brings me to one last point: where did Winky get those steroids? Maybe I'm going to all the wrong doctors, but I've never heard of prescribing steroids for the flu. I've heard of rest, chicken soup, and orange juice, but never steroids. Unfortunately, I failed to ask Winky to clear up this issue, so I'm at a loss.
I like to think that she got them in some shady, back-alley deal. Or maybe some Hollywood star gave them to her. Hollywood stars, after all, are always doing odd, weird, and crazy things. As well as meeting and/or working with stars like Brad Pitt, Peter Sarsgaard, and Mary Steenburgen, Winky did do some work for everyone's favorite Italian Stallion - Sylvester Stallone! If anyone could ever hook you up with muscle juice, I'd think it would be ol' Sly.
How's that for some rampant, potentially libelous speculation on my part? I'll look forward to a letter in the mail from Sly's lawyers. Or maybe, just maybe, Sly himself will come knocking on my door and deliver me a can of fire and brimstone whoop ass.
That will probably look something like this: