By Chuck Palahniuk
After filming wrapped on the movie Fight Club in 1998, the director, David Fincher, gave everyone in the cast and crew striped auto racing jackets with the 10 rules of Fight Club covertly sewn into the lining. Mine’s still wrapped in plastic, buried in the writer’s equivalent of a hope chest. Last year, when my novel Choke went into production as a film, the racing jacket got some company. Director Clark Gregg’s original idea was to give everyone stainless-steel butt beads engraved with the movie’s title and the shooting start date. Every member of the cast and crew. But the budget ran short, so the new idea was to give everyone rubber butt beads, or plastic, strung together on chains or strings, black or pink or red plastic, sealed inside hanger cards. But the stores in Manhattan ran short. In all the uptown and midtown adult novelty shops, the walls were crowded with dildos and handcuffs, but they were empty of butt beads.
This is how I’m in the West Village, shopping for more butt beads, but not the kind with a white cotton cord.The clerk says those are only a novelty; after one use you’ll never get the cord clean. Instead, she recommends the black rubber balls strung on a rubber cord. Not only will they not show dirt—they’re also dishwasher-safe. I take her entire stock and ask if she has any more in storage.
My next stop is the Essex County Mental Hospital in N.J., which has been abandoned for the past six months. We’re shooting much of the film here. The 36 red brick buildings were designed by the
architect who built the receiving hall at Ellis Island, and since the hospital relocated to a new facility, they are crowded by overgrown lawns and trees. Today’s call is for six in the evening, with filming till six tomorrow morning. Already fireflies are hovering in the knee-deep grass.Some film interns are lost in the asylum’s subbasement Civil Defense fallout shelters, connected by miles of underground steam tunnels. Every few minutes they send camera phone photos of Satanic altars, rotting animal sacrifices, and burnt candles, which they stumble across deep in the dirt under us.
Because this was a mental hospital, any door might lock behind you, leaving you trapped in a hot, dusty ward or wing with barred windows, crowded with stained mattresses and jigsaw puzzles. Crew members disappear for hours until they’re found, frantic. One Teamster won’t leave his truck because of the old nurse people keep seeing, a gray-haired woman wearing a starched white cap and uniform who disappears midway down long hallways or into dead-end rooms.
Amid the mildew and wheelchairs and posted warnings about tuberculosis, it’s hard to say which is more remarkable—the ghost of a nurse or the caterer who circulates, giving out pineapple
sorbet, chocolate gelato, smoked salmon, and Red Bull.
After my errand for butt beads, [Choke star] Sam Rockwell inscribes one black rubber string: "FOR CHUCK. OH, THAT I WERE A GLOVE UPON THAT HAND...THAT I MIGHT TOUCH THAT CHEEK." Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Classy stuff. Inside my striped racing jacket, it only says, "THE FIRST RULE OF FIGHT CLUB IS..."
I’ve found a pad of blank prescription forms, so I’m asking Sam how to spell “Percocet.”
By Chuck Palahniuk