Diamond in the Rough, a.k.a. WTF, Disney?

You’ve heard the phrase. “A diamond in the rough.”  Somebody who’s full of potential but has a coarse exterior. But what do you think the phrase means in a literal sense?

I’ll tell you what I thought. My entire life, I was under the impression it meant a diamond buried deep in the ground that needed to be unearthed, a gem hidden below the surface that could be brought to the fore.

Is that what you thought too? Because if so…

Diamond Landscape Cutaway

You’re goddamn wrong!

Yesterday, I found myself using the phrase, and suddenly my brain began to process it. I’d always assumed “the rough” was a place, kind of like in golf when your ball lands in “the rough.” But no!

Diamond in the Rough

“The rough” isn’t a place; it’s a state of being. The diamond is unpolished, or in professional gem-cutter parlance, IN THE ROUGH!!!

Because when you first see a diamond, you’re all meh about it. It’s just some hunk of rock. But then when you cut and polish it, kablam! You’re a freakin’ chamillionaire.

I was a bit shaken by this realization. I take misunderstanding of language incredibly seriously. After all, there’s reason my chosen profession is unemployed screenwriter. How could I be worthy of that noble mantle if i didn’t understand this basic concept?

But NO, I told myself. This is not your fault, Russ. There’s no reason why you, in this modern age, should be expected to know some niche hobbyist’s random colloquialisms just to understand a rare idiomatic expression!

And then it came to me. I realized the reason I’d spent my whole life misinformed, that year after year after year I’d been living a lie…

Disney’s Aladdin.

That’s right. Motherfuckin’ Aladdin.

I distinctly remember that’s where I first heard the phrase.

It’s that goddamn sand-cat cave. It opens its mouth and talks about how there’s a diamond in the rough. And then what’s inside that cave, deep in the depths of the earth? A bunch of fuckin’ diamonds! And others jewels and shit.

Little did they realize their film would feed an entire generation a heaping helping of misinformation. By far the sneakiest element of their dastardly plot was that the meaning of this misunderstood phrase ends up being the same. Whether the diamond needs uncovering or polishing doesn’t matter! The result? We’ve all been using the phrase correctly despite not understanding what it means!

Maybe it was their plan all along! A nihilistic linguist’s prank, insidiously manipulating our slumbering  subconscious. Of course kids are going to think that those diamonds buried in the sand are “in the rough.”

“Oh, what a great pun we have made,” the writers probably thought. “In the rough/in the rough. A ha ha la tee doo tee dahahoo.” Laughing their hoity-toity laughs.

Sand Cat Fuck You

This is an exposé, people. Disney needs to be held accountable for its actions. I want to how many people had this wrong. Because I brought it up to my girlfriend, and she had it wrong (and was very on board with my Disney theory). Then I brought it up to beloved Sam, reasonably ludicrous co-conspirator, and he also had it wrong!!!

Sam then explained that this was a wonderful example about the endless mutability of language, of the power of puns and creativity to hew new meaning out of the ever-less-solid rock of the collective lexicon.

But that’s a bunch of hogswallop. All I have to say is:

What the fuck, Disney? What the fuck?


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Moving is Terrible

Part One

I’m sure most of you, oh classy and attractive readers, have had to move at least once in your classy and attractive lives. I know I have! In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve moved 17 times in the last 8 years. But each of those moves was a cake walk compared to the most move-y of all moves, the one move to move them all, the move when I was dispelled from the warm, fuzzy, warmth-fuzz of higher education into the cold, spiky, ice-spikes of real life.

I’ve never really thought about what a cake walk is until now. Maybe it meant something back in ye olden times when you were just a blacksmith’s daughter and the most exciting moment in your life was when the traveling cake salesman came into town. But right now all I’m picturing is trying to hop from one cake to the next in a “the floor is lava” kind of scenario. Seems like an awfully wasteful use of cake, although I guess it’s better to stomp those sugary anti-lava platforms than to ingest their frivolous, delicious calories. Mmm… cake.

The four left arms help with balance.

So there I was, completely done with my schooling. I’d just returned from producing a feature film I co-wrote, and everything I owned was safely resting in the hands of a highly reputable portable storage company, whose representative had assured us that he had most definitely left the murderous gang life behind. (But that he couldn’t quite afford tattoo removal). And that’s when I, my roommate, and my one, precious suitcase which had kept me afloat for the last month checked into an Airbnb.

Get ready for it.

This particular studio apartment claimed to be in Koreatown, but was in fact in Little Salvador, I think. Salvadoria, they call it. And what a lovely town it was. Except for the fact that every night, there were prostitutes ten feet from our front door. And these were not just any prostitutes. Nay! These were the scariest, hairiest, bare-(it-all)-iest prostitutes I’d ever seen, and believe me, when I say a prostitute is frightening, you can trust me, because I know pretty much nothing about prostitution.

Now, even though there were a lot of nice ladies with whom you could go for a ride, there wasn’t any place to park your ride. (Best joke ever!) We had to wake up every morning at 7am to move our car to a pay lot before the meter kicked in, and every night we had to move the car back to the street. And this was not just any pay lot. Nay! It was the jankiest, skankiest, rank-(it-low)-iest parking lot I’d ever seen, and it was run by an old black man named Pops. He had one, single tooth, and as far as I could tell, he was homeless (like me!) and spent every hour of his day on a milk crate doing drugs.


I swear to mighty Zeus, I am not making any of this up.

Pops was quite the character. I felt all kinds of confidence turning my keys over to him, especially when he’d add comments such as “You boys look familiar. Were you in the cell over from me?” Or “Thanks for bringin’ my car back. I’m gonna drive it to Beverly Hills and bang dem bitches.” Then he’d laugh his scary, one-toothed laugh, straddling the line between doing some sort of stand-up bit and simply plunging deeper into the abyss of his insanity. Classic Pops.

One day, after making eye contact—a lot of eye contact—with a homeless person whilst he urinated all over a pay phone, my roommate and I were leaving the pay lot to move our car to the street. Pops was sitting on his milk crate, doing some hard drugs with a deranged homeless lady with pigtails, so we rolled down the window and asked, “Hey Pops, do you know what time the lot closes?”

He turned to us, mad look in his eye, and shouted, as if possessed by the milk crate parking demons of old “You gotta go NOW! NOW, I say! Go boys, GO!” He wasn’t joking around, but we hadn’t quite gotten our answer, so we repeated the question. “No no, we’re just wondering when the lot closes.”

“NOW! Quick! You gotta get out while you still can!”

We weren’t making a lot of progress with the whole getting answers thing.

Luckily for us, there was still one key player: deranged homeless lady with the pigtails. She turns to Pops. “I think they just want to know what time the lot closes.”

The fire leaves Pops’ eyes, parking demon exorcised, and he calmly responds, “Oh, it closes it eight.”

For a brief moment, we wondered what had overtaken our dear friend Pops. Drugs? The aforementioned demons? And then we glanced at our clock. It was 7:58. He knew! He was trying to save us.

And that’s why, to this day, Pops is my very best friend.


Part Two

We found the place! Sure, it’s a little expensive, but it’s walking distance from awesome, there’s plenty of room, and the toilets work. Definitely the place. Only there’s one caveat: the owner wants to meet us.

When you dive deep into the mires of craigslist, you’re bound to run into some unsavory characters… If they’re unsavory, does that mean they’re sweet? The palate of personalities is a confusing place. Our particular dish was an Asian guy named Alex, young dude, slick suit, slick hair, no grasp of the English language. As the guy who listed the house, he joined us on our meet-the-owner adventure.

And meet her we did! This little old lady is like a Chihuahua in human form, what with the constant shaking, the fear of anything and everything, the fraying coat. You know how people start to resemble their pets? Me neither, but in this case, the made-up concept clearly applies, for the most frightening part of the extensive interview process was this lady’s derpy dog. It’s 17 years old, blind, deaf, and barely has any hair left. Basically, it’s this wrinkly, furless skin scrap that has no means of sensing the outside world, so it periodically makes these strange sounds that remind me of a dying bird trapped inside a whirling vacuum cleaner.rental

I imagine the sounds translated roughly to “Someone, please kill me.” But maybe the other dogs couldn’t quite understand it because its teeth had rotted away, so its tongue was always lolling out of its mouth, and the tongue was bent so it was lolling at a 90 degree angle, which looked about as comfortable as being in a conversation with a scared old lady who thinks you’re some kind of serial killer.

So this lady interviews us,to the background tune of scary dog sounds… For. An. Hour. More than an hour! And the whole thing is some gargantuan sob story/guilt trip.


No, Sam. That’s a gilt trip.


Now that’s a guilt trip.

She says she lives in an apartment with no furniture and no TV, so she needs the money incredibly badly. We won’t screw her over, will we? We’ll make all our payments? And we’ll make them on time? In fact, her payments are due on the first of the month, so ours will have to come before then. In fact, who knows if checks might get lost in the mail, so we can’t mail our checks to her. We have to go to her bank each week and deposit money directly. We’ll do that, won’t we? And her daughter has made horrible life choices, so she needs money for her daughter, so we won’t screw her over, right? Please god, promise we won’t screw her over. And this house is all she has left, so we’ll take the best care of it ever, right? We won’t ever wear our shoes inside the house? Even though we’re leasing it, we’ll follow all these specific rules for its upkeep? And since she’s so worried, we’ll pay a seven thousand dollar deposit? She’s taking such a huge risk renting to us, she’s just not sure if it’s worth it.

Please don't punish me for my wasted life

And throughout this speech, she’ll keep wandering into random rooms for who knows what reason, and Alex will turn to us and say “You sign lease, you party! No follow rules, eh? Wear shoes, fuck bitches. You like fuck bitches? I know some bitches, you want fuck them?” And we’re like, “Yeah, sure, Alex. Whatever!” Doing our best to appease the strange personalities around us. Though there was no pleasing that dog.

Sad Chihuahua.

Then the woman’s leasing agent arrives. Apparently she’d been trying to sell the house and had never rented anything to anyone (obviously), but the market was bad, so she was forced to consider drastic options, like trusting me, the worst person in the world.

Her agent steps in and does the worst job of being reassuring I’ve encountered since my Uncle told me that it’d be fine; everyone accidentally kills a hooker sometime. Just kidding. I don’t know anything about prostitution, remember?

So this agent comes in and explains that our credit is fine, but there’s not much of it because we’re young, but he says we seem incredibly trustworthy so she should definitely lease the apartment to us. Then again, she’s taking a HUGE RISK, but who cares about that? Just go for it. Then again, there’s NO GUARANTEE. But who needs guarantees? We seem nice. Then again, it would be an INCREDIBLE LEAP OF FAITH. He goes on like this, telling her she should do it, then undercutting his own point with this slowly-delivered, over-the-top sense of worry.

The two of them go off to confer, and Alex turns to us again. “You guys do molly? You such cool guys. We go to Vegas, yeah? We party. I have room. We drop molly together. I bring beautiful bitches. They down to fuck. Fuck anybody. When they rolling they just want the sex. They totally fuck you. Gotta wear a condom though. Definitely condom. You down?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever!” we say, wondering how all this madness will play out.


Part Three

We didn’t get the apartment.




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Oops, I Got a Screenwriting Degree!

This morning, I woke up to a horrifying realization.

Oh my god! I forgot to blog for two years straight!

Wait, wait. Let me try that again:



RUSS NICKEL (20s) tosses and turns on a fold-out IKEA futon. Wearing only boxers, his shaved head does little to hide his bald spot, and he grinds away at his adult retainer like a madman.

Suddenly, he sits up and his eyes fly open. He SCREAMS. Then looks to the ceiling.


What have I done?!


Okay, I admit it. That’s not much of a scene (but those cops will be happy; they’re always telling me not to make a scene). And it’s not even that accurate. I mean, c’mon. I obviously don’t wear boxers when I sleep. I just wanted to protect myself in case Sam thought about drawing me naked. Again.

But the rest is true. I’ve made a huge mistake. I got a masters in screenwriting.

When I got my English degree and found myself unemployed, what did I do? Did I grit my teeth, buckle down my bootstraps, hike up my pants, put my nose to the grindstone and otherwise idiomatically prepare myself to start from the bottom and work my way up? Of course not! I took another loop on the roundabout and went to graduate school like any self-aggrandizing young adult with a crippling fear of actual work and the real world.

Graduate school offers post-adolescents like me the opportunity to postpone troubling questions like “how do I pay for food?” “what are taxes?” and “oh my god what if lemurs become sentient through a medical mishap, master the art of horseback riding, and go on a rampage to overthrow their human masters?!”

I figured that I’d poured about twenty years into my schooling so… two more years should be just the amount of time I needed to get it all figured out. At the time, my final, ultimate, daunting graduation seemed endlessly far away. But real life comes for all of us sooner than you think, and mine came in the form of a furry panther creature handing me a diploma.

"This document is a symbol not of your achievements, but of the fact that you can no longer keep hiding in the womb of education.  Err, I mean, Meow."

At first I was frightened that I might be having acid flashbacks to that time I had that weird dream that I’d accidentally tried acid, but then I remembered it was our school mascot. I didn’t see it around too often since I was a graduate student, meaning my only interaction with main campus was awkwardly hitting on sorority girls. Anyways, with a growl of ‘good luck’, ol’ panther sent me on my way, and I found myself unequivocally unemployed, and even less quivocally homeless.

But what’s a little case of homelessness when you’re writing the next great American screenplay? That just enhances its authenticity! All I have to do is find a 24 hour café and wash my armpits in their bathroom.

In my experience that’s the only part of the human body that builds up any level of grossness, but I could be wrong about that. Keep in mind that I have English and Screenwriting degrees, so science mostly evades me.

Now, when I say homeless, I don’t mean, oh, I just haven’t figured out where I’m moving. I mean my lease ran out in July, I have basically no money because grad school is ridiculously expensive, and all my stuff is in storage. For the last quarter of a year I’ve been living out of a suitcase, sleeping on the proverbial street-side that is a string of friends’ couches, err, IKEA futons.

"Would you please wash your armipits?" -Raccoon

I’d thought Screenwriting was a good idea. English was too vague, but Screenwriting, that was a vocation. It’s more focused. There’s a real practical application, an industry built around it. Someone in said industry would surely employ me, right? And once again, my friends and family foolishly supported me in my endeavor. Live your dream! Make movies! Move to Hollywood, woo Yvonne Strahovski, and have beautiful, beautiful Strahovskian children. It all sounded so simple.

Ah, every man's dream... to own a pitchfork.

But it’s not all guns n’ roses. In school, writing had been relatively easy. After all, there were domineering authority figures with impressive scarves and even more impressive imdb pages giving me deadlines, hope, and a fair bit of good ol’, swear-word-filled tough love. Writing isn’t so easy out here in RL. Suddenly I realize that, rather than coming naturally, it’s a muscle to be stretched, berated, pulled, and then overcome. Without the structure of education, without a home base, I’m trapped in an echo chamber of reality, sputtering down the river of my rapidly depleting budget toward the waterfall of regular job-iness, trying desperately to build a raft out of my own creativity, and even if I do construct said raft, the odds that it’ll float are like one in a thousand. It’s not a perfect metaphor.

You’d think people who get accepted to an institute of higher education would be educated enough to know that an MFA in Screenwriting doesn’t put you on the fast track to success. I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of me, and I don’t know if there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

So what went wrong? Looking back on it, I think I must have seen one too many movies. Movies where the message is that anybody can make it if they believe hard enough. Said believing will trigger a montage that gets you to the exciting part of your life in the time it takes to play Eye of the Tiger. I thought, if I just go to school, if I work my ass off, if I pour my soul into script after script after script, I could become the person who… writes one of those ridiculously misleading movies that tricks a whole generation of young adults into throwing their lives away in order to make movies. It’s an endless feedback loop of that most despicable of all feelings: hope.

All he hoped for... was to escape the loop.

But there are still ways for me to feel good about myself. I just have to think of screenplays as my home, my ethereal, 1s and 0s, totally un-move-into-able home. And you know what, I’m okay with that. So if you ever see me begging for spare change on the side of the road, don’t pity me. By all means, still give me a dollar, but as you do, think of how incredibly fulfilled I am. Because I’m living the dream.

And for a few hours each night, life is perfect.


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