I had some downtime on the job last night, and for some strange reason felt moved to do a Web search for a man with whom I went on a date when I was 17. I'd noticed his name while looking at an old journal and wondered if he'd continued in his pursuits as a writer.
What I found was a Hartford Advocate article about the recent Jim Carrey/Kate Winslet film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," which was scripted by the acclaimed Charlie Kaufman. In that surreal fantasy, Carrey's character discovers that his ex-girlfriend, played by Winslet, has had her memories of him medically wiped—so he decides to get his memories of her wiped too.
According to the article, Kaufman based the Carrey character on my one-time date: Paul Proch.
I actually hung out with Paul a few times, but we only had one "real date." We met in 1983 or so, when I was 15 or even younger. Back then, I was living in the North Jersey suburbs and would visit Greenwich Village on Saturday afternoons (and more often in the summer), stopping at the sci-fi store Forbidden Planet. Paul worked there, and I developed a girlish crush on him.
I was attracted to his shyness and wit. He was smart, yet modest, and he had a cool kind of non-greaser 1950s style—I remember Hawaiian shirts and gabardine this and that.
I also liked it that Paul wrote for National Lampoon. He'd done a big
"Firestarter" parody for them called "Eggboiler"—now that I think about it, I remember he told me he wrote it with his old school pal Charlie.
My mother, who remembers every thought I have ever uttered to her, likewise recalls that Paul was "very shy and quiet"—the same qualities that Kaufman told the Hartford Advocate he drew upon for the Carrey character.
Mom also says that I was attracted to Paul because I thought he looked like me. That freaks me out.
When I turned 17 in September 1985 and moved into my dorm room at NYU, just five blocks from Paul's workplace, he was one of the first
people I looked up. We went on a movie date. I'm sure I must have asked him, as he was too shy.
It turned out to be a foolish move, as there wasn't really any chemistry between us other than friendship. But I was still at an age when I would kiss a cute guy out of curiosity to see if sparks would emerge. (That age lasted longer than I care to recall.)
So I kissed him—no sparks.
I did try again, a few times, just to be sure.
After that, I was too embarrassed to go back to just being friends with Paul, so we drifted apart.
My last memory of Paul is having lunch with him at a Chinese restaurant
on 11th Street and 4th Avenue or thereabouts. I got very annoyed with him because he thought it was hilarious when I accidentally bit into a chili pepper. I remember just fuming at him—literally; my mouth was that hot—because when the waiter came and I asked desperately for water, Paul added gaily, "She bit into a pepper."
Brazenness is always much more surprising when it comes from a shy
At any rate, I'm very happy to see that Paul is getting some major notice, not just for his writing, but for his art—he did the Carrey character's drawings in "Eternal Sunshine." More than that, he's a bonafide muse for an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. The meek will inherit the earth.
So does all this make me Kate Winslet's character? Probably not. But my life this morning does feel a bit like a Charlie Kaufman screenplay.