Danny's Story

     When Danny asked me if I had ever read a screenplay, I wasn't even certain what a screenplay was.

     "Say, Jarvis," said Danny, hitting on my wall. "Did you hear my question, bro?"

     "About screenplays?" I said. "Yeah, I heard you ... you asked if I'd ever read a screenplay, right?"

     "Yeah, 'cause I got one or two," he said, "that I want you to check out and–"

     "That's alright, Danny," I said. "I'm cool, totally fine with reading my books. I like them better than screenplays ..."

     "Well, how do you know, if you've never read one?"

     "Who said I haven't," I shot back, picturing Danny, barely 5 foot tall, bird-seed thin, and looking nowhere close to his old-man age. "I didn't say I never read a screenplay, bro."

     "Okay, then," said Danny. "Let's try this again. Have you ever read a screen–"

     "No! No! Danny, no!" I interrupted. "I have never read a screenplay ... Is that what you wanna hear?"

     "Yeah ... yeah, pretty much," he said. I could almost hear his mind sorting out what to use to get me to read one of his screenplays.

     "Say, Danny," I said, coming to the front of my cell. "Man, I'm not reading no screenplays. That's your thing, not mine." Danny had been trying his hand at writing movie scripts for some time.

     "Well, I didn't say that when you asked me to read that Buddhist book that day, did I? I stopped everything I was doin' that day to read it. And now, man, you're sayin' I can't get the same from you. I mean, it ain't gon' to take too long to read, Jarvis."

     "How many pages is it?"

     "It's only a hundred and twenty pages. But, trip, each page is like one full minute if you were watching the actual movie on a screen, not reading it."

     "Is that right?"

     "Yeah. Each page represents a minute."

     "How do you know that?" I asked.

     "Man, this is my field," he said. He continued, "I have more books over here about screenplays, man, in my cell right now, than you on Buddhism over there."

     "Is that right?" I said. "So, what screenplay, if I read one, do you want me to read?"

     "Are you really goin' to read it?" he asked.

     "I guess I could."

     "Jarvis, don't say you are and don't. 'Cause man, I will know if you did or didn't."

     "Man, Danny," I said. "Didn't I say I'd read it ... didn't I?"

     "But I'm just tellin' you I'll know if you didn't–I'm going to quiz you on things like fade in, fade out, what is POV, voice over, off screen, and things like that and–"

     "Damn, Danny!" I said, shouting over his voice. "Man, I will read it. I'm goin' to read it, okay?"

     "Well, I'm' just lettin' you know, Jarvis. Because things like ... like what I jus' said–fade in, fade out, POV, voice over, off screen, and–"

     "WHOA! WHOA! Man, Jeez," I shouted. "I just knew, I'd have to stand here like this, gettin' the third degree from you, Danny! Hey, didn't you hear me say I'll read it?"

     "Well, I hear you," he said. "But that's not the point."

     "Then what is the point?"

     "The point is every screenplay has things like 'plot points,' you know? And in order for you to follow it–you have to recognize 'em, as well as fade in, fade out, what is POV, close-up . . ." He talked like this for twenty more minutes.

     I stood at my cell door, wondering when he'd stop. Danny and I had been friends for ten years, though not always neighbors. We had been in cells on different tiers, and even housed in different parts of the prison. This distance had given our friendship precious space. We were like two friends who lived better across town, I realized, as Danny rambled on.

     Danny had always loved movies, always watched movie reviews on T.V., and he kept every movie article he could get his hands on. No reviewer that could say anything about a movie without Danny writing a letter of protest if he had an opposite view.

     Listening to my friend ramble on and on was irritative to my ego. Does he think I'm stupid? I thought, as he repeated himself several times, insisting on making points I had heard over and over for the past 30 minutes.

     "Say, Danny ... Danny!" I finally got in between his words. "Man, I perfectly, oh so perfectly, and now clearly, understand your point, you know? I definitely do, Danny ... and–"

     "So what's my point then?" he asked.

     Did he want me to repeat the last thirty minutes? "Your point ... your point isssss this," I finally said. "That whenever I run across something I don't understand, or something like POV that I have no idea about, or whatever, I am to stop right then and there, to ask you to explain it to me; that you don't have any problems, man, absolutely none, in taking the time to explain them! Man, ha! That's your point, Danny."

     "Yeah, Jarvis," said Danny, laughing. "That's my point. That's my point exactly, man! I couldn't have explained it better. Yeah, man, you're goin' to like this screenplay I'm sending you."

     "What are you going to send?"

     "Hmmm, how about Lethal Weapon. Have you ever seen that movie?"


     "Man," Danny said. "You mean to tell me you've never watched Lethal Weapon? With Danny Glover?"

     "Not that I know of," I said. "Is it 'posed to be good or something?"

     "Well, I liked it. But knowing you–well, it may be too much violence. 'Cause man, they straight blowin' shit up in this movie, you know?"

     "Man, Danny. Just send it over to me."

     "I got it all ready," he said. "Come on, throw your fish line out." I got my fish line out and slid it under my cell door, out onto the tier, where Danny's own fish line caught hold, bringing it into his cell. In minutes, Danny had tied the screenplay, in its manila envelope onto my fish line. "Okay, pull it," he said.

     "Okay, I got it, Danny."

     "Just take your time, Jarvis. There's an abbreviation index inside. So whenever you run across somethin' you don't know, the index will explain it, okay?"

     "Okay. Right on!" I said, opening the envelope and seeing the index on top of the screenplay. I found a comfortable seat on my floor on top of two folded blankets and began reading Lethal Weapon.

     An hour passed, then two, and I was in the middle of Lethal Weapon. I liked it. I memorized all the script abbreviations in the first slow hour and now, pleased with myself at coming this far without any questions for Danny, was starting to think I could one day write my own screenplay.

     I sped through the last half without any bumps and curves. I couldn't stop reading it. I really liked it. I felt as if I'd watched a movie, not read it, and I had begun re-reading it when Danny called over to me.

     "Say, Jarvis, you still reading it?"

     "Yeah! I just started re-reading it again."

     "Man, is that right?" he said, laughing. "So you like it, huh?"

     "Not only do I like it," I said, "I think I can write one, I mean, my own screenplay."

     "Hey, is that your way of asking me to teach you?"

     "Well, hell, yeah! You can say that," I said, with my eye still glued to the page. Man, we ain't ever too old to learn, right?"

     "Okay," he said sternly. "Come tomorrow morning, at eight o'clock sharp, I want you to be ready ... you'll be learning from me."

      "I like how it's written ... it's like seeing a movie being shot from a writer's pen-lens, instead of the movie camera."

     "Yeah, that's it. But come tomorrow, at eight o'clock, you'll be in my classroom!"

     These last words made me look up and stretch my forehead. What exactly did he mean, that I'd be in his classroom? A subtle shift of dismay blew across my curiosity. But what the hell, I'd find out tomorrow, at eight o'clock sharp.

     The next day I woke up early, did all my routines–meditation, stretching, exercising, and then washed up again, as if any minute now I would be picked up by Danny and taken to school.

     Danny called me as he said he would, at eight o'clock sharp. I was standing ready at the front of my cell, with only the wall between us.

     "Okay, Jarvis, the first thing we need to establish is that I'm the teacher, you're the student. And man, it ain't goin' to be no 'buts' about this!"

     "I don't have a problem with this," I said. "I just want to learn, and–"

     "Well, you need to listen," he cut me off. "Cause yesterday I had to repeat myself way too many times."

     "What do you mean way too many times? Man, I heard you, but you kept talking and talking, Danny."

     "You see, you ain't listenin'! And this ... this stops now!"

     "Oh, shit, man," I blurted, then thought: How did I ever end up with this crazy dude teaching me anything? Instantly, Danny reminded me of what I'd told him, that all those many years ago when I was in public school, hating it, I was always hanging out with my friends in the restroom, to smoke cigarettes and pot, or cutting school altogether, to roam the streets. He reminded me that now, following the rules was the price I had to pay if I really wanted to learn about screenplays.

     "So are you listenin' now?" Danny said.

     "Yes! Of course I'm listening," I answered.

     "Say it again, 'cause I didn't hear you."

     A long second passed. In my mind, I called Danny those same old names that had gotten me kicked out of school many times. But here was my one chance, after all these years, to see what happened if I didn't react by quitting and just exercised patience, patience, and patience.

     "Okay, Danny," I said finally. "You have the floor, the whole microphone! I won't say a word unless I'm spoken to."

     "That's right, that's right," he said. "I knew you'd see it my way. Now, what we're going to do is this: I am going to send you a page I copied from a book I have over here called A Guide to Writing Your Own Screenplay. And your lesson is to correct all the mistakes that it purposely has in it, okay?"

     "Okay, Danny. But why not just send me the whole book? 'Cause that sounds–"

     "Because I'm not!" he barked. "We goin' to do things my way. Listen, bro! There's a right way, a wrong way, and there is my way! So get your fish line, slide it out and come pick this one page up. And when you get it, you have 30 minutes to correct it."

     "But Danny," I said. "I don't understand ... why can't you just let me check out the whole book?"

     "See there, you not listenin' again!"

     "Okay, but before I throw my line over there, let me jus' say this. With all due respect, man, you's one hard dude, I mean, you's a straight-up tyrant! Hey, Danny," I said as he was trying to retrieve my fish line. "Do you know what a tyrant is?"

     "It's a word," Danny said. "Some ol' word that I 'posed to be mad at, right?"

     "Yeah, somethin' like that," I said with a smile comin' across my face. This was the Danny I had known so many years. To know him was easy. To accept these facets of his character–a grumpy old man who could not be shaken from whatever his mind was set on–was difficult, even sometimes funny like now.

     But when I pulled in my first screenplay lesson from Danny's fish line, he said I had 20 minutes to complete it.

     "What do you mean?" I said. "You jus' said I had 30 minutes."

     "If I did, I lied. The truth is, you now have 19 minutes. You wanna waste more time?"

     I quickly began reading the opening page from a screenplay. The obvious mistakes I corrected in just a few minutes. But I was certain there were others and I knew Danny would have shortened my time even more if there hadn't been, so I studied it more, making a mess with my pencil and eraser until my time was up.

     I returned the sheet of paper to him and stood at my cell bars, waiting in silence for the results.

     "Say, Jarvis," he said.. "You didn't get shit right! This is terrible."

     "What do you mean terrible?"

     "You forgot to put a comma here, and right here, this 'posed to be a period. You also misspelled Missouri. And –"

     "Whoa, whoa! Wait a minute, Danny. Is this about screenplays, man? Or is it that I'm only losin' favor 'cause of the grammar? Hey, dude, what about the screenplay, the screenplay, Danny. Did I correct the structure or not?"

     "Well, you got all that right, but that don't mean anything, zilch, nada, if all these other things is–"

     "Well, hell, man," I said, then stopped myself from saying 'I quit!' "Say, Danny," I said nicely. "Just send the damn paper back and I'll fix the grammar, okay? Is that what you want?"

     "That's exactly what I want," Danny said. "But you still flunked! And the next time I don't want to see these mistakes, okay? And also, so you'll know, we ain't havin' no cursing. So, are we clear on this?"

     I though: why in the world am I even doing this? I knew the name of the book–A Guide to Writing Screenplays–and I could easily get it and learn by myself. Was it because I still regretted always quitting school at the drop of a dime, because I never had the patience to learn? So, what, what in the hell was I doing? Yeah, okay, I thought, the man showed me several letters where he was offered thousands of dollars for his very first screenplay. (He turned them down, demanding more money.) Yes, he really, really knew how to write screenplays. No doubt about it! So I wasn't going to quit, even though that was what the crazy dude wanted just about now. And I wasn't going to do it!

     "Okay, Danny," I said calmly. "I will fix the grammar."

     "And the cursing," he said. "What about the cursing?"

     "Okay, that too!" I said, wanting to kick this Napoleon right off his high horse.


     For almost three months Danny and I went on. The squabbling never ceased. We argued, fussed and fought like literary gladiators. I got used to taking the brunt of all the beatings. Nothing I ever did was right. Every piece of paper, exam and test sheet I returned to him, I got back filled with graffiti, almost unrecognizable with all his criticisms. Every day the tip of his big red marker boldly wrote: WRONG WRONG WRONG. He was good at nit-picking all my efforts. Under my breath, I called Danny every bad word I could think of. I began doubting myself even as a practicing Buddhist and a published author. I even questioned our friendship. But I vowed to hang in there, to pay these dues.

      I felt better when I saw how Danny had used his red marker to edit internationally-acclaimed, award-winning screenplays from his collection of scripts, some that had even won Oscars for best screenplay of the year. This lessened the wound of my ego and made me more committed, as I desperately wanted to pass the grade with him.

     Much as I cursed him under my breath, I had wholeheartedly accepted Danny as my screenplay teacher. He was teaching me tolerance and patience as well as the importance of details.

     One morning I heard him returning to his cell from taking a shower.

     "Man, Jarvis," he called over to me.

     "What's up?" I said, looking at the clock on my television screen. There was still an hour before we began our screenplay studies. "We still have another hour, don't we?"

     "Shit, man!" Danny said. "I'm not callin' you for that. I jus' got off the telephone and–"

     "Is that right?" I said. "I thought you were in the shower."

     "No, I just got off the phone. And man," he said in a low whisper, "Jarvis, they just killed, murdered my son. The cops in L.A. killed my son. Shot him sixteen times–"

     "Say what?" I said, in total disbelief. I rushed to the front of my cell. "Say that again Danny. 'Cause I didn't hear you."

     "I just got the news," Danny's voice shook. "That was an emergency phone call I just got. My son's mother called the prison chaplain, and he got her call through to me. And she cried tellin' me now, last night they killed our son. The cops in L.A. shot and murdered my boy, you know?

     "Little Danny?" I asked. "Man, not little Danny, your grandbaby's daddy?"

     "Yeah, they shot him down in cold blood, like a dog," Danny's voice cracked, then became silent. I could almost feel his crushing pain. I, too, had lost relatives to violence since being in prison. But not a son, not like this, and for all the life of me, I prayed for the right words to say.

     An hour passed before Danny called to me. "Say, Jarvis, man, what are you doing right now?" he asked.

     "You know, just thinking about you," I answered.

     "So, you ain't doin' anything, huh?" he asked again.

     "No, only thinking about you, bro," I said, and what you told me."

     "Well, Jarvis," Danny's voice was a very low whisper. "You want know the worst part about all this?"

     "Jeez, Danny," I said. "Man, it's all bad ... sad, you know?"

     "Yeah, Jarvis, but the worst part is this, trip." He then whispered even lower. "She told me that the people who witnessed them cops shooting little Danny heard the cops saying that they had killed me, not my son, you know?"

     I realized what was flashing through Danny's mind. His son was killed because of him. I knew there were only a few fibers of sanity that still held him together.

     "Say, Danny, what you need to do," I said, needing to say something, "is to not accept no versions to what happened last night, with your boy, until you hear the last one. I know you, Danny. And Danny, what I know is what you've been teaching me all this time. About the importance in the details, am I right? And right now, Danny, man, you don't have all the details yet. And that's the truth."

     "Well, what do you think happen?" he asked.

     "Man, Danny. Danny! I don't know all the details either, so how could I? But what I do know is, is, if you could blow up that whole L.A. police station right about now, I know you would. Hey, I do know that much!"

     "You're right, you're damn' fuckin' right!" Danny's voice became strong. "I'll blow it straight to hell! To smithereens. Right into oblivion with every motherfuckin' body in it!" he shouted, giving air to what I thought might explode inside him.

     For several hours, Danny and I stood at our cell bars talking about the death of his son. We never listened to each other more than we did that day. Every question that Danny asked of me, every piece of advice he sought, everything he needed to speak about, his desire to be with someone instead of alone in the deep loss and memories of his son, made me realize how important we had always been to one another. This was one of the greatest honors to my human worth, the best grade I could have earned from my friend Danny.

     From that day to this, Danny hasn't picked up a single screenplay. The same dedication he once had for them he has now applied to a wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles police department.