PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

My Musings

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I Got a Wicked Hottentot!

Way back when I believed that the world was my oysta, I attended a conference in Providence, Rhode Island for budding screenwriters. There were seminars led by actual screenwriters, the obligatory appearance by Rhode Island’s own Farrelly Brothers, and, in a lecture hall, an interview with some big-time producer. After the interview and question-and-answer session, we screenwriting hopefuls were invited to pitch our ideas for screenplays to the producer, using the “20-words or less” guideline. The guys alternately shoveled out scads of nonsensical futuristic science-fiction bunk or gun battle stories in which heads got blown off; the women all pitched various versions of the exact same romantic comedy. One woman – a local New Englander – stood up behind me and started to spin her yarn for the producer and the rest of us, which hinged on a male character having a “hottentot.”

The producer, wishing to follow the story and believing she merely had misheard the pitch-mistress due to the echo in the hall, interrupted to ask her to repeat what she had just said. Again, the writer made reference to her male character being unwilling to commit to the relationship or some such thing, not because he wasn’t totally into the story’s female character, but because “he had a hottentot.”

“A hottentot,” repeated the producer.

“A hottent-hot,” corrected the future screenwriter (or waitress, I’m not sure which she ultimately became). Because, see, he had been burned before, this male character of hers, and thus had a hottent-hot. Or something like that.

The producer, stymied, tried again: “A hot and hot?” This unfortunate woman, a Californian who desperately wanted to make sense of the sounds coming out of the pitchster’s mouth, had no idea what the hell our hero, the screenwriter/waitress, was trying to tell her. Stricken, she looked to one of us other telemarketers-in-waiting to throw her a lifeline. Finally, a few souls chimed in, in normal-sounding English (which occasionally occurs in New England), that the character had a “hardened heart.”

This little nugget of my past was totally lost to history until the other day, when I got a political robo-call asking me to “support my husband, Motty Keough, for Boston City Council!” Finding no one named Motty on the ballot, I opted to abstain from voting in that contest.

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