Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of I Can't Stand Up (for Falling Down)
By Angela Stockton
Edited by Elizabeth Angela
In a classroom filled with students taking the SAT, Eli is laboring over his answer sheet, erasing furiously as he second-guesses himself, tapping his foot and dropping one of his pencils. On a chain around his neck he wears a small padlock. [In black and white, he plucks the strings of his guitar as he recalls being advised to not dwell on a difficult question but simply move on to the next one.]
Interfering with his concentration are jumbled memories of his parents' attempts to coach him for this test. While playing one-on-one basketball with Eli, Rick recalled that he also took the SAT twice and scored higher on the second try, and encouraged Eli to have confidence; glumly, Eli predicted that he'd probably do worse. When Karen tutored him on the verbal section, she knocked over a coffee cup in her eagerness to praise him for a correct answer. [Again in black and white, Eli, his head stuffed with sample questions, paces and beats a rhythm on the guitar like a bongo drum.] In the classroom, his frustration builds as he "hears" in his mind a torrent of newly learned vocabulary words.
When the proctor announces a break, Eli lays down his pencil and looks across to Jennifer, who gives him a wry smile. Outside the classroom he accepts the soda she offers him, and they make stilted conversation like the estranged ex-sweethearts they are.
Eli's buddy, Coop, walks past and declares that he's leaving early because he's also struggling with the SAT and is already resigned to attending community college. Before he leaves, Coop and Eli confirm their plans to meet that night for band practice. Eli explains to Jennifer that they're forming a band, which he's named "Anti-Inflammatory."
Later, in her kitchen, Karen discusses with Leo and Jessie what movie they should see that evening. Leo's enthusiasm for going to "Some Like It Hot" at a local revival theater is lost on Jessie. When Eli walks into the kitchen, he declines an invitation to go with them, noting that he has band practice.
Concerned about his SAT, Karen asks, "How'd it go?"
"Fine. It went fine," he responds tersely.
"You feel good about it?" she persists.
"Yes," he answers, reluctantly adding that he's not sure about the math section. The arrival of bandmates Coop, Ted, and Wink, lugging their instruments and amplifiers, saves Eli from more questions, and he disappears into the basement. Leo praises Karen as "one hip mom" for allowing the boys to practice in her home, and wonders if he should go downstairs and check on them. "Do you really think they need help, or are you just hoping they need a bass player?" Karen teases him.
While Jessie quietly observes and Leo boogies, the band members bicker and create noise that ranges from merely earsplitting to awful. Vibrations from the amps rattle the dishes Karen is setting on the dining room table for dinner. As she lunges to save a glass from sliding off, her doorbell rings. The visitor is Rick, bringing Jessie's French textbook.
Rick asks Karen about the SAT, and she tells him what Eli said; but as he presses her for more details, she admits that Eli didn't feel like talking about it. Irked at Eli's indifference, Rick says, "I don't think we ought to go easy on him."
"Go easy on him?" Karen repeats. "He studied all summer. What else do you want him to do?" The racket from the basement interrupts them. Karen explains about Eli's band and again lunges for the wobbling glass. This time, she's too late, and it falls to the floor and shatters.
Rick goes downstairs to speak to Eli. He asks about the SAT and receives the same short, evasive answers that Eli gave Karen. Behind them, Leo picks up a guitar and begins jamming with the band. When Rick suggests that they make an appointment to talk to the college counselor at Eli's school, he's drowned out by the band, and by the screech of feedback from an amplifier. Pointing to the amp, Eli asks Rick if they can talk later. Although Rick agrees, he pauses while climbing the steps to level a long, disapproving stare at Eli. Once Rick has left, Eli frowns and strums his guitar with extra vehemence.
Rick and Lily spend the evening at her house, sharing pizza while she works at her computer and he talks about the band, whose name he doesn't even know until Grace asks, "Are you talking about Anti-Inflammatory?" Zoe asks what kind of music they play. "I don't know, Sweetie, they were too loud, I couldn't hear them," he answers sourly. He's taken aback when Zoe asks if she can attend one of their rehearsals.
"I'll bet they're adorable," Lily comments, as interested as her daughters. Unable to share her enthusiasm, Rick says only, "Uh-huh."
After the stressful weekend, Eli returns to school where, during a break from classes, he sits outside and tries to write a song. When Jennifer joins him, he asks for her help with the lyrics. Grace walks up to them moments later and, invited by Jennifer to help, steals a shy, worshipful glance at Eli before suggesting a new line.
Carla strolls over and, joining the conversation, admires Eli's guitar and volunteers that her father owns a rare guitar. Eli appreciates her interest, but Jennifer takes an instant dislike to her. Grace and Carla leave for their next class, and as Jennifer gets up to leave, Eli invites her to his next practice.
After school, Rick tells Eli that he's made an appointment with the college counselor and shows him some catalogs. With his guitar slung over his shoulder, Eli explains that he's going to another practice and promises that they'll read the catalogs later. Miffed, Rick watches him leave.
As Jennifer looks on, Anti-Inflammatory again practices in Karen's basement. Leo bounds down the stairs to tell Eli "I've scored you a gig" at a coffeehouse. Although it will be an unpaid performance, Eli is thrilled. Coop interrupts to ask Leo, "This isn't gonna be one of those things where now you get to be in the band, is it? 'Cause we've got four." Leveling a stare at the boy for two slow beats, Leo Fisher, M. D. snorts, "Get over yourself."
Lily and Rick have a date that evening, and while Rick waits in her kitchen for Lily to finish primping, he decides to call Karen. She's out, but from Jessie he learns about the gig and is so upset that, in spite of Zoe's repeated requests, he forgets to ask if Zoe can attend a rehearsal.
On a visit to Karen's office the next day, he complains about the amount of time Eli is devoting to the band. In turn, Karen complains that Rick appears to be blaming her, and insists that she's just as worried about Eli as he is. They decide to talk to him, and pledge to be reasonable.
Eli is in the basement, lost in the sounds from his headphones, when his parents approach him. Rick's first reference to college makes him wary, but when Karen mentions the band and their concern that he's spreading himself too thin, he becomes defensive and ends the conversation by storming out.
At breakfast the next morning, Karen reminds him to ask his coach for permission to miss basketball practice in favor of his meeting with the college counselor. Eli replies that he's thinking of quitting the team: "I wouldn't want to spread myself too thin," he sneers.
During lunch with Karen at her office, Leo says that arrangements for the gig are complete. Although he assures her that it will end early, Karen is upset that it's on a school night and tells Leo that some of his attempts to take an interest in her children come across as interfering. When Leo demands that she make up her mind where she wants him in her life, she reminds him, "Maybe sometimes it's just not about you."
After school, Jennifer and Eli meet at Rick's apartment, and together they work on his song. Liking her suggestions, he incorporates them into his lyrics while she gazes at him adoringly. He stops singing, and they kiss.
As the late afternoon sun casts shadows across the living room, Eli is seated on the floor, leaning against the wall and strumming his guitar. Jennifer comes down the stairs, wearing boxer shorts and his shirt, and kneels beside him. Before either can say anything, they hear a key turn in the front door, and Jennifer dives into the kitchen.
Rick enters and, seeing Eli bare-chested and Jennifer wearing Eli's shirt and pulling on her jeans, immediately realizes what they've been up to. Initially at a loss for words, he manages to express surprise at finding Eli there when he should have been at Karen's. "We're writing a song," Jennifer explains.
"Really," Rick comments coolly. Eli demurs when Jennifer suggests that he play the song for Rick, saying that he has to return home.
"You got any other plans for tonight?" Rick asks with heavy sarcasm.
"Yes, I was gonna eat dinner, do my homework, brush my teeth and go to bed. Is that okay with you?" Eli taunts him.
"You're free to do what you want, obviously -- as soon as you start acting like an adult," Rick replies, seething.
"Why are you doing this?" Eli asks in frustration, but leaves with Jennifer without waiting for an answer. Rick slumps against the wall.
Next day, Rick and Lily slip away from their offices to meet in a public park. Lily asks about Eli's band and the coffeehouse concert, and asks whether it would be "weird" if she were to come see him and bring Grace and Zoe. Rick responds that there may not be a concert, because he and Karen think Eli should devote more time to sending in college applications and less to the band.
When Lily seems surprised by their hard-line approach, Rick asks what she's thinking. "I always feel that any kind of creative expression is really a good thing," she answers. Her ringing cell phone -- the caller is Christie, who needs her for something that she insists can't wait -- forestalls any further discussion between Lily and the visibly irritated Rick. Lily kisses him good-bye and leaves.
At the counselor's office, Rick and Karen wait for Eli, who never shows up for their conference. They go to Karen's home and find him practicing with his band. Furiously, Rick unplugs the amps and orders Coop, Ted and Wink out of the house. "You're acting like a crazy person!" Eli protests.
In the ensuing argument, Eli admits that he believes he did worse on the second SAT. Desperately trying to make peace, Karen tells him they want to explore whatever he wants to do. "This is what I want to do, I'm good at this!" Eli shouts. "I'm seventeen. You cannot tell me what to do any more!"
"And I'm not gonna stand by while you make the biggest mistake of your life!" Rick shouts back.
"It doesn't really matter because this is what I'm gonna do!" Eli insists, turning away to adjust a microphone.
Rick runs upstairs and leans against the kitchen counter, clutching his chest. [Wringing his hands, Rick explains to the camera, "My dad left me without any kind of map, without any way of knowing how to raise a son....I've tried really hard, but the truth is, I may be doing everything wrong."] Karen comes up behind him, but before she can speak, Rick bolts out of the house.
In a school hallway, while Eli hangs fliers advertising the Anti-Inflammatory concert, he turns and finds Jennifer standing behind him. He apologizes for not calling her: "It's just my parents..."
Jennifer tells him she has no regrets, "What happened happened," and she doesn't expect it to change anything between them.
"I hope you know it meant something to me!" he exclaims. "It's just -- I have a lot going on right now, and no idea of what to do with my life." When he asks if she's coming to the concert, she promises to be there.
When Rick drives Jessie home from school, she pleads with him to attend the concert, saying, "It'll mean a lot to Eli." Preoccupied, Rick backs out of Karen's driveway without checking his rearview mirror. Leo's "Hey!" and the crunch of glass and metal bring him to a quick stop.
Leo painfully picks up himself and his bicycle and shrugs off Rick's abject apology, saying, "I've had plenty of ex-husbands try to kill me before." Leo offers his own apology for arranging the concert without asking Karen first. "Eli would have found a way to rebel without you," Rick replies philosophically.
With only his guitar for company, Eli sits in a park and broods. ["It's like he puts all this thought into being a parent. Really, he's too hard on himself, but I guess he feels guilty. I know he feels guilty," he tells the interviewer.]
Rick tries to work at home but is unable to concentrate. [He recalls an occasion when he was a boy and played in a baseball game which his father uncharacteristically attended. Although surprised and happy at first to see him, Rick became so rattled by his father's presence that he struck out and made numerous errors. "After the game, he gave me all these tips and pointers, and I was furious because that's how he thought I played normally. It killed me that he thought that's who I was. My father had no idea who I was," he says resentfully.]
At the coffeehouse, Eli and the band are setting up. ["He thinks -- I don't know what he thinks," Eli admits, looking puzzled.] Karen, Leo, and Jessie find seats. Karen brightens as Lily, Grace and Zoe enter, but her smile fades when she realizes that Rick is not with them. Eli feigns indifference and, as his drummer offers him a look of sympathy, begins to sing. Jennifer's pride turns to unease when she spots Carla slouched at another table, coolly studying Eli. Grace sits with Carla and boasts "I wrote that!" when she hears her lyric.
Intent on his song, Eli is not aware until he happens to glance toward the entrance that Rick is standing there, observing his son with new insight. Karen notices the sudden change in Eli's expression, turns and sees Rick, and smiles with relief.
"Let me walk down that road, 'cause you know I have to go," Eli sings defiantly. Rick gives him an almost imperceptible nod, and Eli, his voice unsteady, offers Rick an almost imperceptible smile in return.
At the end of another school day, Eli and Jessie walk home. Eli opens the mailbox and finds an envelope addressed to him, with "SAT" in the return address space. "Any good mail?" Jessie asks.
"No, just junk," Eli answers curtly. He shoves the SAT envelope into his bookbag unopened, and they enter the house.
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