Aunt Flo Meets Uncle Sam: Menstruating While Incarcerated

The ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of eight female inmates from the Muskegon County Jail who assert that “inhuman and degrading policies at the filthy, overcrowded lockup violate their constitutional rights.” Among the (many) degrading policies is the jail’s refusal to provide adequate feminine hygiene products to inmates.

Unfortunately, this is a common problem facing female inmates. According to Maya Schenwar, who has worked regularly with incarcerated women she has heard one recurring complaint from female prisoners: “There are never enough feminine hygiene products to go around.” Many facilities don’t provide feminine hygiene products at all, requiring women to buy pads or tampons from prison commissary. In these facilities women can wait weeks for their commissary to come in. Others have no external source of funds and are forced to go without or use makeshift hygiene products made of toilet paper. (more…)

Track and Field with Judith Butler

Earlier this month Dutee Chand, a sprinter from India, was barred from international competition following an evaluation of her testosterone levels.  Chand has a condition called hyperandrogenism, which is characterized by excessive levels of testosterone. The condition puts Chand’s (naturally occurring) testosterone levels in the male range according to the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the governing body of track and field. Both the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) currently use testosterone levels to determine whether female athletes can compete as females. Though they have moved away from the language of “sex determination” testing, and now suggest that their efforts are designed to ensure fairness because (though this is highly contested) having testosterone levels in the typical male range give some women an “unfair” advantage.

Dutee Chand
Dutee Chand via the New York Times

It’s unclear what prompted the request that Chand be tested, which was reportedly made by someone at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in June. In a prominent past case, South African runner Caster Semenya was required to undergo sex-verification testing after she somewhat suddenly improved her times and began winning races. Though Chand has exhibited no such sudden changes, she acknowledges that she has a masculine build, which might have motivated someone to request that she be tested.

This might seem odd (and sexist, and draconian) but it’s actually a return to normal for international athletics. Sex-determination testing used to be required for female olympians, a result of regular allegations that men were posing as female athletes. Testing was, thankfully, phased out in 1999 but in the past several years has come back to international track and field with a bang. (more…)

#APSAonFire

The annual meeting of the American Political Science Association was last week. Its scheduled time — the week before Labor Day every year — is terrible and should be changed, but given the centrality of this conference within the discipline it is almost required for advanced graduate students and new assistant professors to attend. The conference itself is frequently underwhelming. It is hot and crowded, and I always come away having learned less than I thought I should. That, coupled with my only-recent attempt to get back onto a normal human sleep schedule after a summer’s worth of research mania, left me tired and irritated.

So having the entire conference majorly disrupted for the second year out of three enhanced my irritability immensely. Two years ago, when I was entering the job market, the conference was canceled. You see, there are often hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico this time of year. Notwithstanding this fact the organizers scheduled the flagship conference of the premier political science association in New Orleans. Going to New Orleans during August makes little sense even in the best of times: it’s muggy and hot, the city tends to smell bad in such conditions, and yet folks feel compelled to dress for business at the meeting. We should never blame victims, I agree, but planning to accommodate about 10,000 political scientists in this environment was unwise. So no one was surprised when Hurricane Isaac made his way up the Gulf. The conference was canceled in full. At least I got a meme out of it. In the end, #APSA2012HungerGames was probably more fun than #APSA2012 would’ve been, and some enterprising folks gave their presentations online (#VirtualAPSA2012) so a quasi-conference happened anyway.

Last was as uneventful — in the sense that means “not tragic” and also “pretty dull” — as you would expect and APSA meeting to be, so we were due this year. And we got it. First came the bombshell that there would be panels scheduled for 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. I was put on one of them. This is ridiculous. The whole reason most of us become political scientists in the first place was so that we wouldn’t have to do this sort of thing.

No worries! All those panels would be canceled once the meeting was attacked by suspected arsonists. Wait… what’s that? Yes, someone attacked the damn political scientists. Who? Who knows! (My guess is someone associated with Tom Coburn.) Why? Why ask why? All that matters is that all social order broke down at the Washington Marriott Wardman and, while we got some more decent snark, for the second time in three years the main conference in our discipline was mangled. And next year is in San Francisco where, well, you know.

As part of that, for the second time in three years I didn’t get to give my damn presentation. So here’s what I would have talked about had my venue not been torched:

A Japanese Veteran’s Quest to Come Clean with His Service to His Nation

Introductory note from Kindred: This is a guest post by Dave Hackerson, one of my oldest friends and an American emigre to Japan since 2003. Nothing like the commemorations of Aug. 6, Aug. 9, and Aug. 15 exists in the United States. If it did we would also have to grapple with the consequences of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo, Dresden, and other cities. I have written previously in support of the position that the use of atomic weaponry was intended to signal to Moscow rather than Tokyo, which makes these anniversaries even more cruel. Of the World War II belligerents the United States may be most in need of honest reflection, but it is not the only one. I’ll now turn it over to Dave, who may or may not agree with the above.

Summer in Japan divides up nicely into two distinct stages. The first stage from the end of June to late July is the rainy season, with intermittent rainy weather filling the rice paddies with water and producing luscious hues of green that transform the mountains into verdant canvases. The second stage is where we get the “real” summer. That means hot and humid weather akin to my native Midwest in the United States, festivals and fireworks, and the national high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium in Osaka, one of the truly greatest events in all of baseball.

Yet in the midst of all this fanfare and excitement, each August the nation takes time to reflect on three dates: August 6, August 9, and August 15. The first two dates are the days of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, while August 15 is the day on which the Emperor’s announcement of Japan’s decision to surrender was broadcast on public radio. There is a lot of questioning and soul searching at this time of year, with the nation seeking to make sense of a conflict that forever altered its destiny. Why did Japan continue to escalate the conflict in China? Was war with the United States truly inevitable? What lessons can be learned from Japan’s mistakes in the past? Each year these questions are rehashed and debated on TV and in the media. Scholars and writers pore over documents from the era and conduct interviews with veterans and other individuals who lived through the war, seeking to gain new insight to help make sense of this conflict. As the years pass, there is a growing sense of urgency as the numbers of these living witnesses to history dwindle.

This past week on August 14 the TV station TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) broadcast a powerful interview with a 94 year old veteran named Hajime Kondo. I have watched many of these interviews on TV and in NHK’s (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) online archives in my 11 years in Japan, but this particular interview with Mr. Kondo was especially powerful. Kondo’s story is unique in that he survived the war on two different fronts, spending over 3 and half years in China and then fighting on Okinawa in 1945 in Japan’s last ditch defense to prolong the invasion of the home islands.

Kondo first began to share his wartime experiences in the 1980s when a number of revisions were made to school textbooks. Some of these revisions stressed the negative face of the Japanese army’s defense of the island, such as using Okinawan civilians as human shields or ordering them to commit mass suicides. Kondo did not directly refute these allegations, but rather expressed his utter disgust at portraying all the Japanese soldiers who defended Okinawa in a highly negative light. “I just couldn’t take it,” he said reflecting back. “There were so many us determined to make a stand, for by defending Okinawa, we were defending Japan”. He recalled seeing troops with tears streaming down their eyes as they rushed forward in a final banzai charge towards the American lines. This desire to set the record straight and provide a more balanced account is what motivated him to speak out.

Kondo was one of the few Japanese soldiers who survived the battle. He was wounded and captured when he made a banzai charge against the American lines with two fellow soldiers, both of whom were killed. On Okinawa, Japanese soldiers not only had to battle their American foes, but also had to endure the hardships of a formidable environment and inadequate supplies. These harsh circumstances, combined with the massive loss of both combatant and civilian life, lend tragic overtones to the defense of Okinawa. “When we speak about Okinawa”, Kondo said, “We tend to portray ourselves as the victims (of poor military decisions and the circumstances of war). Yes, we may have been the victims there, but in my case I also spent 3 years and 8 months in Shanxi, China. There the story was the other way around. We were the assailants there, the people in the wrong. We soldiers did some horrific and unthinkable things to the Chinese while we were there.”

Burned out villages and crying orphans on Okinawa. Residential districts of Tokyo burned to the ground during the fire bombings of March 1945. The complete and utter devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the wake of the atomic bomb. Watching these images broadcast on television, it’s easy to see where the victim mentality Kondo alludes to comes from. But as scholar Kizo Ogura states in his Overcoming Our Perceptions of History (1), these tragic events are the end result of a war that Japan started by invading other territories. It was the instigator, the perpetrator, Japan’s inability to talk about this fact is one of the factors impeding historical dialog with China and Japan.

Kondo does not shy away from this fact, but is very open and direct. “I’m just telling it as is” he says. He states that some veterans have accused him of telling too much, but he insists they have an obligation to tell people about what they did. “We can’t be judge of our own actions. The people who hear our account are the ones who decide. It’s up to them to judge whether or not we acted accordingly”. Kondo admits that for years he did not feel much remorse for the things he did in China. It was only when he held his grandchild for the first time that the guilt swept over him. “Holding that child in my arms, I thought ‘good heavens, I have done some many terrible things, so many wretched things’. I knew then I had to tell people what really happened there.”

Though he is 94 years, Kondo remains active and committed to ensuring the historical account is complete. He has traveled back to Shanxi with a NPO that seeks out Chinese survivors of sexual abuse and other acts committed by Japanese soldiers, personally speaking with survivors he meets. He also continues to travel around Japan, holding lectures for young people and others willing to listen about his experiences in the war. He talks about being ordered to bayonet a captured Chinese prisoner in training after he first arrived in China, describing how that experience showed him how easily human life could be taken. He delivers a chilling account about how soldiers had their way with a young mother, and then threw her infant off a cliff only to see the mother run after the child and jump. Speaking with an interviewer from his home, he talks about how he and his fellow soldiers would line up prisoners, stand 30 meters back, and then see how many they could take down with a single shot from their standard issue rifle. Hearing him relate these accounts, it’s easy to imagine why other veterans condemned him for speaking out. They seemingly fear being viewed as monsters.

However, Kondo does not necessarily feel the responsibility for these horrific acts lies completely with the soldiers. Rather, he indicated that people should level blame at the military-dominated government of the time for plunging the nation into conflict and placing men in such desperate circumstances. His thoughts echo the sentiments of Jiro Horikoshi, the main engineer behind the Mitsubishi Zero Fighter. On August 15, 1945, Horikoshi penned the following entry into his diary:

“I can’t help but feel that the cause of that whole war was the fact that the military and politicians connected to them threw a fit, to the point that they tried to get their way by force rather than pursue a peaceful diplomatic solution”.

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and yet there are some who feel Japan may be heading down the same path again. The Japanese government’s recent decision to pursue the right of collective self-defense saddens Kondo. Standing before the memorial to the dead in Okinawa, he said “The struggle and sacrifice of these people is what the peace of our nation today is built upon. Now some 60, 70 years have passed, and here again we find our country being pulled along on the path to war. Looking at the names here, I feel so saddened and powerless.” We can only hope Kondo’s efforts to pass his account on to posterity will not have been in vain.

1) Kizo Ogura: Overcoming Historical Understanding: Determining the Obstacles that Inhibit Dialog between Japan, China, and Korea (the English is my own translation of the original Japanese title).

What last meals can teach us about the death penalty

After reading hundreds of articles about the trials, appeals and executions of criminals for my research assistantship I’ve become depressingly familiar with the tradition of reporting on an individual’s last meal. In the US, most states offer individuals on death row the opportunity to choose their last meal. The details of these requests appear in almost every article covering an execution, sometimes incorporated into the article, and surprisingly often as an afterthought, “He was pronounced dead at 12:17 am, following 15 years of appeals and an unwavering assertion of his innocence. In his final words he expressed his love and gratitude to his family. Oh, and his last meal was pecan pie.” I knew this practice existed, I’ve seen it in news coverage before, but reading mentions of last meals back to back to back was different. It made me realize just how weird, and contradictory and depressing the practice is.

Photo from photo essay by Celia Shapiro
Photo from photo essay of prisoner’s last meals by Celia Shapiro

Brent Cunningham has a great essay on last meals in which (among many other things) he traces the tradition back to ancient Greece and Rome, specifically to Roman gladiators who were fed lavish meals before their day in the Coliseum. The public obsession with last meals is much more recent, and probably stems from the shift away from public executions in the US – which has left the public with less opportunity to view executions but no less interest in them. And the media are well aware of this interest. CBS News coverage of last meals describes them pretty accurately as “an enduring, if morbid, source of fascination.” The Huffington Post, covering a website dedicated to last meals, describes them as “fascinating yet creepy.”

Blogs and crime tv website coverage of last meals trends towards morbid curiosity and frivolity. TruTv’s slideshow features mugshots and below, urges viewers to “also check out: hot celebs pretending to eat.” Headline News’ gallery is titled “Gatorade to Lobsters: Serial Killer’s Last Meals” and more disturbingly, features a smug Nancy Grace staring out from the page banner.

enhanced-buzz-wide-19104-1382108706-40
James Reynolds for Amnesty International. Text: “This was Ruben Cantu’s last meal. Executed in 1993. Proved Innocent in 2010.”

There is also work on last meals that is reverent and striking, including Celia A. Shapiro and Mat Collishaw‘s photo essays featured in MotherJones and Time respectively. Recognizing the power of the idea (and images) of the last meal, Amnesty International recently commissioned artist James Reynolds to recreate the last meals of men who were later proven innocent. The meals featured in an anti-death penalty campaign alongside the dates individuals were executed and presumed or proven innocent.

The Last Last Meal

In 2011, Texas, the state with by far the highest number of executions, ended this tradition following the execution of a man who did not eat any of the enormous meal he had requested (it included over ten items, one of which was a pound of bbq). Notably, the inmate in question was Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist sentenced to death for the gruesome, racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr. – a murder which motivated the passage of a Texas hate crime law and the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  Not surprisingly, Brewers final act outraged many, including State Senator John Whitmire, who called on the executive director of the Texas prison agency to end the practice of last meals. Within hours, the prison agency’s executive director had terminated the policy, effective immediately. The New York Times spoke to Whitmire about his opposition, which he said had little to do with cost and state budgets:

“He never gave his victim an opportunity for a last meal…Why in the world are you going to treat him like a celebrity two hours before you execute him? It’s wrong to treat a vicious murderer in this fashion. Let him eat the same meal on the chow line as the others.”

Whitmire was right not to worry about cost, since last meals are rarely as extravagant as they seem. In fact, the last meals published are generally what is requested, not what prisoners actually get. In most states there are limitations on what can be provided. In Florida, last meals can cost no more than $40 and all ingredients must be local. California provides last meals costing up to $50 and Oklahoma (the state with the third most executions) budgets just $15 for last meal provisions. Following the change in Texas policy, Timothy Williams of the Times interviewed a Brian D. Price, a former Texas death row chef who description of his efforts to fulfill last meal wishes is worth quoting in full:

“The Texas Department of Corrections has a policy that no matter what the request, it has to be prepared from items that’s in the prison kitchen commissary. And, like if they requested lobster, they’d get a piece of frozen pollock. Just like they would normally get on a Friday, but what I’d do is wash the breading off, cut it diagonally and dip it in a batter so that it looked something like at Long John Silver’s — something from the free world, something they thought they were getting, but it wasn’t. They quit serving steaks in 1994, so whenever anyone would request a steak, I would do a hamburger steak with brown gravy and grilled onions, you know, stuff like that. The press would get it as they requested it, but I would get their handwritten last meal request about three days ahead of time and I’d take it to my captain and say, “Well, what do you want me to do?” And she’d lay it out for me. I tried to do the best I could with what I had. Amazingly, we did pretty well with what we did have. They are served two hours before they are executed and it is no longer a burger and fries or a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich or whatever they requested. All it is, two hours later, is stomach content on an autopsy report.”

As Price’s experience suggests, the tradition of the last meal is often misrepresented and is inherently counter intuitive. The “choice” of steak or lobster in reality amounts to a choice of reimagined prison staples. And two hours later the privilege of a personalized and (we imagine) comforting last meal is “stomach content on an autopsy report.” (more…)

Consider the Extra

250px-Although_Of_CourseIn 2011 Michigan began offering tax incentives for movies filming in the state. Not long afterwards, The Five Year Engagement was filmed in Ann Arbor. I was living in Ann Arbor at the time and the town was abuzz with Jason Segel and John Krasinski sightings. They were rumored to have gone to a karaoke night and killed it. They filmed winter scenes in June and covered the main street with fake drifts of snow. I watched the movie when it came out on Netflix and was disappointed to find that the entire point of being in Ann Arbor was to shit on it and and joke about how miserable a place it is (a ruiner/extender of engagements). Still it was fun to see a bit of filmmaking magic. A few years later I’m living in Grand Rapids, Michigan is still throwing tax breaks at filmmakers, and now Grand Rapids is abuzz with news of a movie filming here, which happens to be a David Foster Wallace biopic featuring Jason Segel. And that’s how I became an extra.

The film, End of Tour, is based on a book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky. The book is a rough transcript of essentially every one of Lipsky and Wallace’s conversations during the last days of DFW’s book tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky was a Rolling Stone reporter at the time and was interviewing Wallace for a piece in the magazine. The conversations are particularly interesting because they cover the period in which David Foster Wallace was realizing that Infinite Jest would make/was in the process of making him famous.  Rolling Stone never ran the interview, but Lipsky published the full conversations as a book a couple of years after DFW’s death. It became a New York Times best seller and NPR’s 2010 book of the year.

I arrive just before the 6pm call time,  behind three very young looking girls (who I later learned were 15). We walk past several Ryder trucks before reaching the entrance to the building, where I sign a release form behind the girls who when questioned confirmed that yes, they are 18. The call for extras referred to the 6pm extras as “dancers” and said to dress like you’re at a party in the 90s, and that everyone should be over 35. It said to focus on classic items/shapes with muted colors and no labels. Mentioned turtlenecks. So I’m wearing a camel turtleneck, short black wool skirt and tights. I ask if it’s okay to be under 35  and someone official says yes. I have no idea how these girls got in. They’re also dressed like they’re going as the 90s for Halloween/just raided Urban Outfitters’ exaggerated 90s throwback collection.

The two women behind me are in their early 20s. They’re super tan with perfectly straight hair and also dressed like they’re straight out of an Urban Outfitters catalogue. One calls a friend on the phone and whispers “Jackie and I had margaritas before we came.” The friend doesn’t hear. She repeats it again, and California-girl drawls out a joke about being a star before hanging up.

Funnily enough, the wardrobe area is in the bottom of a two story building, and the other half of the first floor is a classic Michigan blue collar bar occupied by regular patrons who are looking at everyone oddly.

image (3)
A view from the wardrobe area into the functioning bar. Note the glamorous “set” sign

After signing the waiver, I get in line for wardrobe. I brought a lot of my own things (as directed by the email) and the wardrobe people move the extras who brought their own clothes to the front of the line. I’m always pleased when reading and following directions are still rewarded in adult life, which is probably one of my more annoying traits. The charming red headed costume woman lights up when she sees me and says I know exactly what I’m going to put you in. She says please tell me you’re a size 7.5, I am! We’re both thrilled at this news. She rifles through a box of boots, labeling one pair creepy before settling on a pair that are “creepier.” She hands me the chunky black booties, a black dress and a long jacket and directs me to a changing….V? It’s two pieces of fabric stapled to wood in the shape of a V, with the open part of the V facing a wall. The dress is short, slightly flared with tee shirt sleeves and a crew neck and of course it’s ribbed. There’s a cream sleeveless turtleneck to go under it, also ribbed, and an amazing full length velvet jacket with several large embroidered flowers. I’m channeling dark Willow. The wardrobe woman really wants the jacket to be in the film, and she grabs my hand and leads me to the head wardrobe person for final approval. She lifts my hand a bit to note that she’s holding it and says sorry, I do this, I’m a mom. I love her. Next she’s telling me to smile and sell it. I smile though I’m pretty sure my character wouldn’t, but the British wardrobe woman doesn’t like the jacket. She thinks it will be too warm. She’s not a fan of the turtleneck either so I take that off and someone hands me a purple vest with mandarin clasps that looks like something out of Portlandia’s feminist bookstore. That’s roughly what the British woman says when she sees it. I end up wearing just the dress, with my own dark tights and the chunky boots. I’m kind of loving the 90s.

While I’m changing a slightly awkward looking guy (18 maybe?) walks up to wardrobe with an entire suitcase full of extra clothes. “This is the last time you’ll see me, I promise.” A wardrobe person I can’t see cheerfully responds, “I hope so.” I’m beginning to realize that some people are not doing this on a whim.

A blurry view of the very sexy wardrobe area
A blurry view of the waiting area, wardrobe is at the back of the room

Then there’s more waiting, while other people make their way through wardrobe. A giant light shines through the window and everyone tries to avoid making eye contact with it. Finally someone important looking comes down and shushes us. He’s the assistant director and he’s going to take everyone who’s gone through wardrobe to the set. We’re told to turn our phones off and leave our things downstairs but a couple of women, including me, take their purses with them. He guides us through the bar – more looks from patrons – to the set upstairs.  It’s a large rectangular open space with a checkered dance floor in the middle and a bar along one of the shorter walls. More waiting, more shushing and we’re admonished that the actors and crew are working, and so are we – though of course no one is getting paid – and the 15 year olds are already giddy at the mere prospect of a Segel sighting. We’re told to have a character, not to think of ourselves as extras but to imagine that we’re real people here for a real reason. But they don’t tell us anything about the film or the scene. So you know, just imagine some reason for your character to be dancing in a bar with the weirdest collection of people ever and David Foster Wallace.

We wait while the crew sets things up, no sign of Jason Segel or Jesse Eisenberg yet. A woman next to me wearing what we both agree is an unfortunately frumpy floral romper says that she’s been to some of the other days of filming. She was in a scene they filmed at the local airport (based on skimming the book I assume it doubled for O’Hare) and tells me that her “character” was going to Minneapolis for a job interview. She tells me about some of the other scenes she was in, one of which went on for 20 hours straight. She says that they only had donut holes and bags of chips until the very end when they got sandwiches. The call for extras said that there would be lots of food. I’m beginning to realize that that was probably a lie. And that everyone else here might be a little insane.

Several crewmembers put plastic over the windows while others do light meter readings on a giant wearing sweatpants who can only be Jason Segel’s stand in. I make conversation with the people around me and overhear the three 15 year olds discussing their desire to “grab Jason’s butt.” A trio of Tina Belchers.

a_560x0
A fan photo of filming at the Mall of America

Later I meet two women who have been to almost every filming and act like old pros. One is young, early 20s and pretty. She’s wearing a dress that reads Blossom or Phoebe. The other older woman, is a mom (she announces that she’s wearing her son’s flannel shirt) with bright highlights, a serious tan and glittered eyeshadow. Their bragging is thinly veiled, they talk about how they met doing a scene where one of them looked at condoms and another ate ho hos, then high-five. They call Jason Segel “Jason” and talk about fleeting interactions with him in a way that I can only describe as really forcedly casual. The older woman says that she thinks their first scene will be in the bloopers. I’m wavering between being annoyed and sad.

Finally we dance a bit, sans Segel, to Build Me Up Buttercup, Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough and Celebration. I’m dancing with the two extra veterans who don’t look at me at all and do a lot of over the top joke dancing with each other. After a couple of songs they tell us to pair up and another veteran extra, a guy with a simple sweater on and close cut hair swoops in to dance with the older veteran. The younger woman and I are going to dance together until two men our age ask if we want to pair up. We say fine, I make small talk with the guy who just graduated from Michigan State and is applying to med school. I tell him about my new dog because I’m that person now. He and his friend are just here “as a bucket list thing” which I can appreciate. Though after I tell him that I moved here with my boyfriend he immediately asks me if I think he’s going to propose soon. Ah, West Michigan. I downplay it more than I normally would because I’m annoyed by the question. “I don’t really care, we’ll just talk about it when we want to get married.” Take that, patriarchy. The assistant director pushes the 15 year olds to the back telling them they’re too young, they’re ruining the scene (in a joking, charming way, I can see why he’s in charge of wrangling us).

0c6bc7330dfb037e3089c73e9e6c8e9e
Segel as Wallace filming in Grand Rapids

Jason finally arrives to a flurry of points and whispers and we’re filmed dancing around him. After one take we’re told not to duck when the camera approaches, and to move out of the way when we see four men barreling towards us. Oddly, the camera man is guided around by a man with his hands on his waist, followed by the director and assistant director. The cameraman wears a green patch over his non lens eye so his spooning partner guides him around the floor while the assistant director motions to Jason by enthusiastically crossing his arms to pat his shoulders a la Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own.

After another couple of songs (keep in mind that by songs I mean those same three songs played over and over) the Assistant Director goes through the crowd, picking out everyone under 35ish and directing us to the bar at the side of the room (out of the shot). They pass around water bottles and position the extras who are still in the scene. I climb onto the bar and sit with the 15 year olds. At this point I find out that they’re 15 and that they’re here “for Jason” who is “amazing, right?”

Jason Segal comes off as charming and funny even though he’s just dancing around. At one point he dances towards the bar area a bit, making eye contact with the 15 year old girls and I and smiles raising his eyebrows as he shimmies. They swoon and stifle squeals. His dancing is pretty great, silly without being over the top, though I have no idea if it’s true to character. Did David Foster Wallace shimmy and grin goofily? Who’s to say.

Jesse Eisenberg walks in and sits down in a corner and the kid with the suitcase from before sidles over to him to make small talk.

This photo of Jason Segel at a local Krispy Kreme went viral after appearing on reddit.
This photo of Jason Segel at a local Krispy Kreme went viral after appearing on reddit.

There’s more dancing with some feature extras that I won’t discuss for fear of spoilers/lawsuits and then we’re moved to the other side of the room, still out of the shot. At this point I’m sort of over being an extra, it’s clear that the under 35s won’t play much of a role in the filming. The two veterans are talking again, about how they were supposed to get sweatshirts for the end of filming but didn’t, so the older woman stole Steve’s. Sorry, Steve. Also she got yelled at the other day, but she’s not venting about it so much as she is patently bragging about the fact that she’s “in” enough to get yelled at. Then she lists her set nicknames.  I make my way over to some seats along the wall and surreptitiously start texting my significant other, “I’m beginning to second guess this decision.”

Jason Segel is still hamming it up dancing with the middle-aged party goers and between takes the makeup people spritz the extras with sunscreen or something to make them shiny. At one point they take off Jason Segal’s blue headband and try a cream one. They go back to the blue.

More dancing, more secret texting, a couple of snapped photos that capture more of my purse than they do of the set. Finally we’re called back for a take in which everyone dances. I don’t have a partner this time so my character is dancing on her own and at this point she is relieved to have an excuse not to make eye contact with these people. We’re spread out so that we take up the entire space. During the first take the older veteran woman and man dance across the middle of the space (halfway between Jason Segel and the wall) making a push back motion and urging everyone to move backwards. I was watching the assistant director and director before the scene and they didn’t say anything to these extras. I guess they’ve taken it upon themselves to do some staging. They do this for the next scene even though gesturing wildly and mouthing MOVE BACK as they rapidly sidestep across the floor has got to be more distracting than people not being perfectly spaced out.  And of course they manage to stop wherever the camera is. Aside from that I don’t mind dancing by myself in a room full of strangers. The two girls in front of me now look 16, one looks like she’s wearing her street clothes (skinny jeans and a modern looking sweater) and her iphone is visibly hanging out of her back pocket. Earlier another extra warned her not to get caught taking pictures. I’m sure veteran extra Nurse Ratchet would have a field day with her. She takes pictures while everyone dances.

The music cuts out and someone yells that’s a wrap. Everyone claps, Jason Segel disappears like a giant messy batman and they announce one final dance with the crew. I grab my purse and head for the stairs, hoping to beat the rush at wardrobe. Jesse Eisenberg is walking up the small stairway as I walk down, wearing a very Jesse Eisenbergy black jacket (which later sleuthing reveals is wardrobe for the film) and talking into his cellphone. We smile like you smile at people you make eye contact with on the street, though I assume he thinks I’m excited to see him and that irritates me. I’m clearly really really over being an extra by this point. I walk through the bar and head for wardrobe. I’m the only one who left the crew dance early so the wardrobe people are befuddled that I’m returning my things, until someone confirms that the scene upstairs has wrapped. I change back into my clothes and turn in the dress and shoes at a folding table. Waiting for my ride, I spot a lonely variety box of chips in the corner. I treat myself to my first Dorito in seemingly forever and watch wardrobe prepare for the “flood” of extras returning clothing. The veteran extras line up to take a group photo, I grab a second bag of chips.