Was it fate that Mark Shnackenberg should graduate from a particular college in Vermont and then find work as a weatherman in Cedar Rapids Iowa? Did he plan to live in Iowa? Did Mark Shnackenberg have the final say in the series of events that led him here? Or was it the imperative of fate? He might have chosen to drive a cab in his native New York. If he did, indeed, have a choice. Or he might have opened his own hot dog stand. Maybe his customers would, after a number of years, given him the nickname of “Shnack.” They might have said, “Hey, Shnack! How ‘bout a Snack?”
I don’t think that, if he were a hot dog vendor, his face would pop up on the first page of a Google search. A hot dog vendor doesn’t get face time on nightly local television. Or local morningly television. Or whenever he’s on. I don’t know when he’s on. Because I haven’t watched a local weather forecast in many years. I am only familiar with Mark Shnackenberg from the few times I did see him, back when he was a skinny sidekick to the main weatherman at the time, Jeff Kennedy. It’s strange to have this memory of a young guy and then, all of a sudden, while flipping through channels, looking for a football game, to see an old guy and to know without a doubt that both guys are the same guy. It’s like being involved in some kind of nightmarish time travel. How is it possible? How did it happen?
I have been trying, for the past few months, to change my career. I’ve been trying to write a screenplay. It seems to be an almost impossible thing for me to do. Writing a screenplay has very little to do with writing. It has, I think, more to do with imagining how things might look if they weren’t words. And also deciding in what order to deliver whatever it is you think you might want to deliver. There are not simple answers. But I want there to be. That’s why I read the books on how to write a screenplay. One book, Screenplay, by Syd Field, is supposed to be, according to the jacket, the authoritative text. But then, so is Story by Robert McKee. And so is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. There are lots of other “authoritative” texts, but these are the only ones I’ve read. Vogler talks a lot about the “hero” of the story. And he writes that the hero has the will for self-sacrifice. This, he writes, is how the ancient Greeks defined the word. So, we have someone who, if he is to be a hero, must sacrifice something. And this sacrifice should happen somewhere in the second act, which should happen between pages 30 and 90. Now, I read screenplays. And I watch the films that were produced from the screenplays. I notice how the dialogue, in most cases, varies greatly from script to film. I try to locate the first and second “plot points,” as they call them. And I always ask the same question about the hero. What did the hero sacrifice? Rocky sacrifices his body. Michael Clayton sacrifices his profession. Sometimes, when you start reading scripts like a maniac and watching too many films, you lose track of characters. You start to look at your wife as a character. And you ask, what does she sacrifice? I watch her with my son, Michael, who makes noise all the time. Always. Always. And it drives me fucking crazy in a way you will never understand unless you carry with you, throughout the day and night, a cage full of crickets. I need to get away from the crickets. That’s why I love my job so much. Because the heavy equipment, which, although very loud is at least regular and steady. Unlike the sounds my son makes. I watch Deb, who spends so much time with him. Who bathes him and never stops trying to teach him rock, paper, scissors. Who blasts Beethoven’s 9th from laptop speakers and moves Michael’s arms to the music because it makes him smile. And I know what she has sacrificed.
Everyone at church talks about the sacrifice that Jesus made. It’s the central Christian belief. Jesus gave his life to cleanse us of our sins. And ever since I was a little kid, I always thought it was about this poor guy who got nailed to a cross. That must have hurt, being nailed to a cross that way. As if the sacrifice happened in that one day. Or that stretch of days, with the whipping and crown of thorns and, ultimately, the crucifixion. But it took more than a day or three. For Jesus, the sacrifice lasted 33 years. He sacrificed 33 years for us. He studied. And preached. And prayed for us. And then he died for us. It was an entire life of sacrifice. But Jesus Christ isn’t a movie. Of course, there have been plenty Jesus Christs in movies. And they all sacrificed their lives. And, since I’m completely involved with myself and writing a screenplay based on a book about myself in which I am the “hero,” I can’t help but wonder what the fuck I have ever sacrificed in my entire life. And then I realize that I have sacrificed it to many disparate things. I think of the hours I’ve spent playing golf. I’ve sacrificed that time for golf. Not very noble. But not completely despicable either. I mean, I hadn’t spent that time sacking villages and raping women or anything. It was just a game. So I have, in part, sacrificed my life to a game. And I have sacrificed it to the repair of machines. I have sacrificed, all told, probably about ten seconds of my life conceiving my children and about twenty years raising them. So far. I could have done worse. And I could have done better. I mean, there are squirrel entrails burned upon the altar and then there are calf loins. Both sacrifices. One much better tasting than the other and maybe more pleasing in God’s sight. Or maybe not. What do I know? When it came time to decide whether I would devote myself to my family or not, what did I sacrifice then? Do I choose, every day, to devote myself to my family? Not at all. I go to work. Why? Because I need to in order to eat. And in order for my family to eat. But I’d do it whether I had a family or not. Do I regret, every minute of my workday, that I can’t spend the time with Michael? No. I’m grateful for the reprieve. So, if my life is my sacrifice (as is the case with each one of us), what is my life, exactly? What does it consist of? I think it’s probably more along the lines of squirrel guts than calf steaks. Which doesn’t make for much of a screenplay.
I have a service call on a chiller first thing tomorrow morning. It’s an air-cooled chiller that is located outside, so I’ll need to consider whether or not to pull on the old Underarmour before I head out to do the job I actually get paid for. In Mark Schnackenberg’s blog, which is entitled Shnack’s Storm Track 7 Blog, he calls for mostly cloudy skies all week long. Highs around twenty degrees. Variable winds. It’s good information to have. Brought to us by a man who has sacrificed a large part of his life to predicting where the wind will blow. And what it will blow. Which is a useful and worthy sacrifice. I write this humbly. Without sarcasm. And I’d like to say thank you. Thank you , Mark Schnackenberg.