At only five paces away he screams, “ARE YOU EVEN AN AMERICAN?” straight into my face. A chill, nerdy black security guard to my left shifts his weight slightly and advises Mark to “Cool It.”
I blink and nod, in earnest reply to both of them. Mark is dressed in a nice herringbone wool car coat, wrinkle-free khakis testing the limits of their name, and white trainers. His clothes are nicer than I expect. His hair is kind of rakishly askew. He gives the security guard a friendly chuck on the shoulder and Guard gives him a menacing look in return. Mark is drunk, but nonetheless offers up savvy commentary on the correlation between Oscar contenders Lincoln and Django Unchained. Guard joins in. I ask Mark if the audience responded in kind to Django; he snorts derisively. “I watched at the library.” Guard brightens. He also uses the website Mark used to stream movies illegally. Drunk bum and apathetic security guard bring together the first pleasant-to-observe fist-bump of 2013. Over a website.
I feel stupid and ostracized for thinking people still go to the movies.
But then what the hell are all these billboards advertising? I ask the pair about Warm Bodies, the upcoming zombie comedy love story. They call another dapper vagrant over, who produces a tablet on which he quickly cues up the trailer. Not that quickly, because “the wi-fi is only good over at the southwest corner” of the park. This is all blowing my mind. These guys are wired in.
My phone rings and when I answer, a barely intelligible barrage of high-pitched Australian good cheer comes through. Teresa Palmer. The girl I’m watching on a homeless guy’s tablet.
I find her leaning against the railing that surrounds Pershing Square’s pathetically small ice rink. She is outfitted in a generously sized scarf, fuzzy hat, and gray skinny jeans. All of which combine to give the impression that she intends to skate and skate well.
Teresa Palmer is enthusiastic and warm. She bounces and bobs, steps with studied grace and a sort of feline implication of spring in the limbs. Her eyes are astonishing against an impossibly pleasant and consistent peachy skin that wraps her skull.
Ice skates are sorted for us by a boy who loses whatever wit he may have had in the face of Palmer’s juggernautical smile. When I fumble with the locker key, Palmer pretends to not know how it works either. She giggles over her impatience and bides her time. I continue to fumble, muttering increasingly bizarre self-deprecation.
She doesn’t relent with that amused vibe.
This is a quickly turning into a contest. A war of situation control. She in the soft cozy scarf is carefully modulating a sea of charming fun to combat the oppressive awkwardness of place, unfamiliarity, context, and basic motor skill dysfunction. I’m off the rails now, and trying with all my might to throttle our spontaneous bonhomie. Notes From Underground-style. I’m starting to win. Like Dostoyevsky’s dearest, I am channeling the universe’s natural emotional entropy, inevitably drawing our glib interaction back to the fickle threats and drunk fist-bumps of Pershing Square.
Sensing the tide, she suddenly snatches the key from my paw with a merry laugh and opens it like magic. A coo of faux-surprise escapes her lips. She did what she had to. She won.
This tells us that Palmer doesn’t mind playing along, to a point. One might be tempted to think that she’s not paying much attention. That, however, is not true. There are hints and traces of wariness, a consciousness of all that’s happening. This betrays itself in her words almost never, but it is certainly there in her eyes. Nestled deep in the soft blue of her clear gaze is the alert twitch of a raw soul.
We skate. Gingerly at first. She says she hasn’t skated in well over a decade. She tells me about growing up outside Australia’s Adelaide. Her dad bought some kind of school and turned the grounds into a private wildlife park, full of “brown snakes and other poisonous things.” He turned the auditorium into Australia’s largest and most intricate model train landscape. Also, this massive expanse served as their home. As a six year old, she recalls sleeping on a bed in the corner, out of the way of the train. Her dad slept up on the stage, on the other side of the auditorium. She hadn’t a lot of toys and she definitely wasn’t allowed to play with the train. “I loved pencils. I had whole families of them; the red family, the blue family, and I would play for hours with them. I would even take them to school with me, but not to use. I had other pencils for that.”
I am skating faster now, to keep up. She is gradually but relentlessly building velocity as we skate around the rink. There are a few children skating and they are starting to feel the heat: There’s serious skating to be done here. I feel like reminding everyone that this girl does whatever it takes to win, but I suppose they’ll figure it out for themselves in the end.
She clearly considers talking about herself a chore. When I ask her about friends, she seems relieved to deflect the attention and lavish praise on those close to her, like stylist Annabelle Harron, and actor/director, Mark Webber. She talks about Annabelle’s styling acumen and evinces some very sparkly-eyed enthusiasm for the Untitled Mark Webber Project, which may or may not have gotten the name The End of Love soon thereafter. She is also full of joyful words about working with Terrence Malick in the forthcoming Knight of Cups.
Having proven her ability to skate everyone into the walls, and perhaps having already outgrown the tiny rink, Palmer suggests we end the skate session. Skates off, white socks with large polka dots folded under her, she looks straight at me for the first time, really.
She is more warmth than wariness, when viewed straight on. When she says she might be in love, it seems likely. When she scrunches up her face to advise me on some matter of dietary consideration, her effort seems genuine. She claps her hands together apropos of nothing. She talks about destination weddings, underwater birth methods, and the banalities of life in LA.
But still, those blue eyes. They say something not altogether different, but definitely more complex.
On my way out of the park, the nerdy chill guard is standing on the southwest corner (where the wi-fi is good), smoking a clove. I ask him where Mark went. He asks where Zombie Girl is. Mark went to sleep in the 500 Days of Summer Park, says Guard. I say Zombie Girl went back to Hollywood. “This whole damn city is Hollywood,” he says, taking a deep drag on his clove.