I’ve read in psychology books and plays and trashy romance novels that when a person is the victim of a very traumatic experience, sometimes they make an alter-ego for themselves as a means of distancing themselves from the trauma. Recently, I was the victim of an extraordinarily traumatic experience: I worked as an onset extra for a popular TV show. This experience was so scarring that it has forced me to give birth to my own alter-ego — one more terrifying, more complicated than Bumblekee. Its name is Extra Special.
I decided that I wanted to submit myself for extra work for the first time because — why else? — I have a huge crush on one of the stars. Also because money. But mainly because of my huge crush. I had dreamweaved all sorts of scenarios in which Mega Crush would drop his top hat (I recently saw Lincoln so all of my dream men wear top hats now) and I would pick it up, and as I handed it back to him our index fingers would softly brush against one another, and fireworks would shoot out of his eyes, and then I’d pretend to be a virgin and he’d marry me.
The call time for the shoot was 6:00AM, so I laid out my dress the evening before, and then spryly hopped out of bed at 5:00AM to give myself ample time to practice my “virgin face” in the mirror. Then I left and got to the set fifteen minutes early in full costume. I was asked to wait in what is called the “holding room.” This struck an Ohio string in my heart, and then I remembered that, ahh yes, a “holding room” is also the name of the area where cows are held before they are milked. Our holding room, unlike the cows’, was not heated.
After entering the holding room, I noticed that my fellow cows had already divided themselves into two groups: 20-somethings who weren’t making eye contact with anyone, and 70-somethings who were loudly complaining to each other about the food, and then sharing stories about their more recent extra jobs — “I was shooting a restaurant scene on 30 Rock last week, and Alec Baldwin and I looked at the same lobster tail. The same exact lobster tail!”
I tried to make conversation with a 20-something guy in a tuxedo who looked friendly enough, but when I asked him if he’d done extra work before, he only looked through me and responded, “Yes. And you haven’t.”
Moments later we were all asked to please line up to have our outfits checked by wardrobe. It was at this moment that I realized most of the 20-something girls were wheeling small suitcases with them. But they were already in costume. “Hmmm,” I thought in bewilderment as I lined up behind a 70-something who was asking his friend, “They’re looking for a partially nude dead body, do you think I’m right for that?”
The two women in charge of wardrobe were each wearing fannypacks and seasonal sweatshirts — one was embroidered with a Christmas tree, the other with a seasonal wreath. They looked like the nicest of aunts. I watched as the first girl in line twirled around in her very pretty dress, and Christmas Tree shook her head and barked, “Open the suitcase.” The girl pulled out six — SIX — other dresses she had brought with her. Christmas Tree picked three, shoved them at the girl, and said, “I want to see all of these within seven minutes. Go.” And the girl sprinted away. Then it was my turn, and Seasonal Wreath beckoned me over.
Surely Seasonal Wreath would like my dress. Seasonal Wreath was the good cop to Christmas Tree’s bad cop. Seasonal Wreath would offer me five years in a minimal security prison with possibility of parole. Nope. Seasonal Wreath, brandishing a safety pin, gave me a once-over glance and crisply asked, “Options?”
“Oh,” I said, “was this not a good choice?”
“It’s, umm. Well, I don’t have anything else with me.” The entire line behind me went silent.
“Are you kidding me?” Seasonal Wreath whispered, gripping the safety pin a little harder.
Seasonal Wreath anchored herself by gripping her fannypack. “Do you see all these people behind you? They all brought options. You are the only person here who doesn’t have options. Do you think you’re special?”
“Do I think I’m, I’m what?” I asked, turning very red and feeling my tear ducts getting all worked up.
“I said, do you think that you are special?” Seasonal Wreath asked again, very loudly, and as if I was very stupid.
And that was the moment Extra Special was born. So instead of simpering or crying or telling her that I was really sorry, Extra Special stepped in.
“Yeah,” Extra Special said to Seasonal Wreath. “I am special.”
Seasonal Wreath narrowed her eyes, but being very short on time, only clucked like an angry chicken, turned to her rack of spare dresses, and handed Extra one.
“Five minutes,” Wreath said.
Extra nodded and added, “It’s my wedding day,” as it exited.
Wreath gave Extra Special the equivalent of a lace potato sack, which might have bothered me, but Extra Special didn’t seem to mind. It whispered, “The shadows betray you, because they belong to me!” and then returned to the cattle pen/holding room. Extra Special identifies with Bane on a deeply personal level.
Throughout the morning, Extra Special was used in several scenes, and felt it did a very good job. During a dinner scene, it made the choice to be very interested in a fork. During a party scene, it made the choice to be very interested in a chandelier. When someone tried to talk to Extra Special during said party scene, it abruptly turned to them, smiled, whispered, “I’m a little psychic, but only a little,” and then went back to examining the chandelier.
It wasn’t until the eleventh hour of shooting that Extra Special got a glance of my/its/our Mega Crush. He was pacing back and forth, talking quietly on his cell phone. Extra Special watched him for about ten minutes. It thought of faking a seizure, but dismissed the idea because it doubted anyone would care if an extra died. Then it considered throwing something at him and then trying to pass it off as an accident, but nixed that because even Extra Special has morals. Then, just as Extra Special was deciding to fake a broken leg, someone called Mega Crush’s name, and just like that, he was gone.
Extra Special, in its mere 11 hours of life, had experienced all of life’s greatest trials: embarrassment, acting, hunger (it got hungry at one point, I forgot to mention that), and now this strange, empty feeling in its chest. “Ahh,” it said to itself, “this must be what is called ‘heartbreak.'” And indeed, it was. Suddenly, Extra Special found itself craving chocolate and this thing called Love Actually. It was recalling lyrics to Mariah Carey songs it had never even heard. And Extra Special knew that it was time to let me have my body back. And so it did.
Later that evening, as I handed the lace potato sack back to Seasonal Wreath, she asked me if I had a wedding to get to. I looked at her, thought about sheepishly apologizing or explaining myself, but instead whispered, “I’m Gotham’s reckoning, here to end the borrowed time you’ve all been living on,” and left.