I really love my friendship with Kelly Rothberger.
We joke that we are “twins from different mommas.”
It is truly story time. Here we go…
For college, or university (…which is what they call it outside of the US. Calling it “university” sounds so much cooler than “college” btw) I chose to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and I studied Architecture.
It was an intense five-year degree consisting of 10 design studios. For non-architects, design studio is basically the core architecture class where you…well design something. For the most part, you spend the entire semester working on a particular project/building type. You may design a library, a transportation center, a museum, a house or housing development, etc. Each design studio project was at the discretion of the respective architecture professors, and we would select our studio based on the type of project to be created/explored.
In addition to the 10 design studios were core curriculum courses and open electives. It was a total of 171 credit hours over the five years, if I am remembering correctly. Our class started large and ended not so large. It was not just an education, but a war of attrition, a gauntlet of survival. You had to be friendly to survive. You had to find your clique of buddies. Who else would be there with you in Studio at 3:00 AM when you had 7 drawings to complete before your 8:00 AM critique?
Everyone’s face in the class became pretty familiar after 1st year. By 2nd year, you could tell who was going to stay around. She can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure it was in 2nd year Spring semester that Kelly and I officially met one another. Up until then she was just a familiar face, but soon she was more than that. We found that we had two things in common pretty quickly, a love of movies (I’ll get to that in a minute) and a competitive spirit.
Our project for that semester was to design a chapel on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. Two design studios went on a field trip (is it still called a field trip in college?) down to Virginia. We stayed in VA for a couple of days, which of course meant bonding time for the students. We had a blast, touring UVA'ss campus, dining out, etc. It was one evening and over a card game that I learned of the competitive spirit of Miss Kelly Rothberger.
There is a card game, maybe you’ve heard of it, "Egyptian Ratscrew?" If you haven’t, I’ll just describe it simply as: a card game centered around the luck of the draw, keen eyesight, and even keener reflexes. In the beginning of the game, each player is given the same number of cards. To win, a player must obtain the entire deck from his/her opponents. The winner does this by: obtaining or having certain face cards (I can skip that part), and, more importantly, by being the first to slap the stack of cards that are in play, based on certain pre-established patterns of cards that make the stack wild or winnable.
Each round of Egyptian Ratscrew involves players placing the top card of their stack face up on the playing table. This is done one player at a time. Player A places his/her card on the table, then to the left, player B, will place his/her card and so on…
Before the game begins, all the players know and agree on certain card patterns that make the stack wild, “slap-able,” or winnable. For example, “doubles” are slap-able. If player A places a “9” face up on the table, and then player B also places a “9” on the table, the deck is now slap-able. After the “9” fully leaves player B’s hand, the first player to slap the top card…the TOP CARD (that’s usually a big area of contention) of the stack, wins the entire stack of cards that have been played. This helps you win in a big way because these winning card patterns can occur at any time, at random.
Examples of card patterns:
Doubles - two of the same card type in a row, 9, then 9 - SLAP!
Runs - three cards in consecutive order played in a row - 7, 8, 9 - SLAP!
Sandwiches - two of the same cards played around a differing card - 5, 3, 5 - SLAP!
So if cards are being played without any card pattern appearing, then players will just continue to place cards until one appears. That's how you end up with a large stack of cards during a particular round.
I think you get it…? You understand Egyptian Ratscrew? I’ll continue with the story…
As I was saying, one night back in one of our hotel rooms, a group of us decided to play Egyptian Ratscrew. Man, was that a mistake… Kelly was a beast. She wasn’t that aggressive, she was just really good. If I remember correctly, she was sitting to my left and she was always able to slap the cards a fraction of a second faster. My left pinky finger became very familiar her right pinky finger. It was hilarious. We would slap the pile to win at virtually the same time, and that would be our indication that she had won the pile; we would freeze and look to our hands, if my pinky was resting on top of her pinky…it meant, by the laws of gravity and physics, that her hand was there first. It sent me into quite the frenzy. I made all kinds of excuses about my chair, the height of the table, the angle at which I was sitting, when all I had to do was admit that she was faster. Kelly just kept a grin on her face and continued to win.
Kelly and I would go on to share a few design studios the following semesters. I cannot remember how many in a row or total, but it was a good few (3, 4?) We discovered in proceeding semesters our 2nd big thing in common: a love of movies. We also discovered that we had an amazing talent for annoying our classmates.
Have you ever heard of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? The game where you try to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon in six people or less? You connect the actors based on common work in particular films. For example: Connect Russell Crowe to Kevin Bacon. Well, Russell Crowe was in Les Mis with Hugh Jackman, and Hugh Jackman was in X-Men First Class with Kevin Bacon. So you’d say that you connected Russell Crowe to Kevin Bacon in 1 person: Hugh Jackman.
Architecture studio was normally a quiet place. About 15-20 students are focused on their project, drawing or model. There are many headphones plugged into laptops, MP3 players, and it was the mid 2000’s, so even a CD player. Virtually every head is down in some way. The professor may stop in from time to time to personally discuss and advise a student on recommendations for their project, and that’s usually an “inside voice,” “12 inch voice” kind of conversation.
Now imagine that atmosphere, relatively silent.
And then image out of nowhere, you hear someone yell out, “George Clooney!”
Then, you hear someone call in response, “Okay! …Mira Sorvino!”
That was me and Kelly. Whenever either of us would tire of the tedium of architecture work we would stop and distract one another, and our entire studio, by playing a round of our favorite game. We’d walk around the studio thinking of the fastest connection possible. It was a race to see who was first then to see who could do it with less people. We’d split that game pretty evenly. I may have answered first, but Kelly would usually do it with less people. I used the Ocean’s Eleven cast too much…
I’m not kidding, we really did get to a point of annoying our classmates with it.
[By the way, George Clooney to Mira Sorvino. Without IMDB, I got it in three people, but I bet it’s less. Mira Sorvino is in Romey and Michele’s High School Reunion with Lisa Kudrow, who is in Analyze This or That with Billy Crystal who is in America’s Sweethearts with Catherine Zeta Jones, who is with George Clooney in Ocean’s 12 and Intolerable Cruelty.]
Expanding and extending our mutual love of actors and movies, Kelly and I started to go to many movies on weekends or after classes were done during the week. I wish I kept a list of all of the movies we saw together (maybe I’ll start now) because it was a lot. Along with our classmate and my roommate, Michael, we ventured to many films and dubbed ourselves the Mod Squad after the classic series. After a while, Michael, bowed out and Kelly and I kept the tradition alive. It became our weekly ritual.
Okay, fast forward to graduation, May 2007. At some point within the five years, we both respectively decided that being an architect was not in our future. But we decided to stay with the major and complete our degrees. On May 10th, 2007 we received our Bachelors of Architecture. I knew that I would be starting a job within a few weeks in Sevierville, TN, and I did not know Kelly’s plans. But about week after our graduation, Kelly was still in Knoxville, and gave me a call. She asked if she could come over to hang out and talk for a bit. I can remember us sitting in my living room. We chatted and caught up politely, then she let me know what was on her mind…
“I’m thinking about going to grad school for screenwriting...”
Without hesitation, I responded, “Yes. Absolutely. You can totally do it.”
She let me know that she was interested in the American Film Institute (AFI) and was looking to apply and submit a personal entrance thesis/essay. I was beyond thrilled for her. I knew that without a doubt she could be successful. Knowing her passion for film…yeah, she'd rock it.
Kelly and I went our separate ways for a while; I stayed and worked in Knoxville/Sevierville and she moved back home to Signal Mountain, TN. In April of 2008, I moved back to Stamford, CT and was working in Hospitality. Before the end of the year, I heard from Kelly. She was in New York, interviewing for her spot at AFI. Awesome! She wanted to catch up for a drink in Manhattan. I hopped on the train, and it was wonderful to see my friend. She told me all about the interview process and how they liked her personal essay. It was happening for her and I was thrilled. She got accepted and moved to Los Angeles.
Though our paths diverged again, we traded Facebook messages over the years. I was into photography, freelancing all over the place and she was making great student films at AFI. We continued to support and encourage one another while talking about life, love, family and of course, movies.
Fast forward again to 2013. My mother had passed away the year prior, and I was putting together the pieces and deciding the next steps to my life. I knew that photography was my future, and possibly film as well. I had thought about a few cities to move to, and then I left it up to God. I let things flow…
Los Angeles, CA had always seemed like a far-fetched idea, but for some reason, on February 8th, 2013, I woke up and the very first thing I did was send a Facebook message to Kelly:
I'm coming out for a visit soon, love. I just need to finish my blog and I'll be on my way :)
Her response was classic:
"I'm more excited than a tween girl at a Justin Beiber concert!"
See how funny and talented she is?
I was going to visit Los Angeles. Wow. And Kelly was there with open arms. I flew out there for a week and we had a phenomenal time. She was on call with her job, full time, but made room for me, and we hung out everyday. We went to Malibu, saw an LA Kings game, went down to Hollywood, out to museums, you name it. There were two very important moments during the week:
First: On my first night in town, a Sunday night, we did not have any solid plans. We went to dinner and then neither of us were ready to call it a night, so Kelly decided to take me for an impromptu drive around Los Angeles. She pointed out landmarks and neighborhoods and in the middle of it all said something so profound:
“I feel like this is some kind of preview for you…”
The second: On Tuesday, I went down to see some friends in San Diego, when I returned that evening, Kelly and I went out for some drinks at the Standard in West Hollywood.
As we sat and took in the vibe and atmosphere, she asked me about San Diego, but then she went in for the kill:
“So do you think you want to move here?”
(It wasn’t the LIT’s talking. It was me.)
I am wowed to this day because it was the reciprocal conversation that we had almost six years prior in my living room in Knoxville, Tennessee. This time, it was me saying that I was interested in moving to Los Angeles, and it was Kelly encouraging me that I could make it happen.
Like I said in the beginning of all of this, “twins from different mommas…”
Kelly and I stayed in touch throughout the remainder of 2013 and in November, I was in Los Angeles again, interviewing for a day-job at a hotel in Burbank. I interviewed for the job, and landed it. Kelly was beyond thrilled and I was terrified. I did not have any place to live but had committed to starting the job two weeks from that day. That was a very funny night/dinner.
It all came together and I became a Los Angeleno. By the end of November 2013, Kelly and I lived in the same city and state for the first time since May 2007.
We spent a few great months together in LA, and this particular day in March 2014 was a good one. I honestly don’t remember how it came together; I needed to practice, and Kelly was willing to let me photograph her. She thought the campus of AFI would be a good setting and it turned out to be a great one. It was a particularly hilarious outing. I always say that photographing someone’s portrait is an intimate experience, and despite how long Kelly and I had known each other, there was a lot of nervous laughter during and between shots. Here's what we came up with: