In this scene, Lena and her daughter Peeka visit Warren’s restaurant, where Lena reconnects with her old friends Andy and Wendy, who are engaged to each other. Warren makes a bet with Lena that if she wins the next billiards game against him, he will give her “free dinners ‘till Christmas”, and if she loses, she has to clean Warren’s boat “from bow to stern.” Lena loses the game and her ex-boyfriend, Russell walks in, causing an awkward silence. (Empire of Dirt 48:45-49:35)
There are several moments in Empire of Dirt that remind me of some of my personal experiences. One of them is Lena’s billiard game which becomes awkward when her ex-boyfriend, Russell walks in and ruins everyone’s positive mood, bringing a loud silence in the room and resentment in Lena’s face. It reminds me of the time on my grade eight graduation trip when a fun billiard game with my friends was interrupted by a classmate who we did not really like. Although this classmate was not an ex-boyfriend of any of my friends, he barged in and made the game awkward, ruining the joyful mood we all had a few moments before. The emotions and actions happening in this scene remind me of the similar encounter I had and how I felt in that moment, which was annoyed.
Throughout grade eight, this boy in my class annoyed everyone. You may think that it was some immature, elementary school behaviour, but he also crossed lines and made people uncomfortable in the process. He once asked my close friend if he could borrow five dollars and said he would “pay her back.” Months flew by and he still did not pay her back, despite the many reminders he got. It came to the point where my friend did not even want him to pay her back anymore. It got worse when he played victim to win the teacher’s favour and get other people in trouble, which came to a point where the teacher constantly took his word over ours. He also flirted with some girls who were definitely uninterested, claimed to be friends with everyone and made a few racist “jokes” to some of my other classmates, which offended them. There were also some instances where I felt uncomfortable with some of the things he talked to me about. I could tell he was trying to make a few friends, but his approach was in all the wrong ways. He reminds me of Russell as he is a highly disliked character by Lena as well as her friends and family, just as my classmate was disliked by many of us. Yes, I agree with you, his acts were really disappointing and terrible, you would hate to see it.
The time finally came, the grade eight graduation trip. By that time, the boy had no friends that he regularly spent time with, but we all tried to be civilized with him as we were spending our last elementary days together. Our graduation trip was at an activity center, which had many games from laser tag to bumper cars, sports and game consoles. I remember the laughs we shared as we played dance games on the console and the adrenaline we felt during laser tag. I took many photos and videos of my friends and me, having fun with different activities. I would occasionally see the boy try to talk to me, and because the school year was ending, I made an effort to be nice to him. Later on, we even had burgers for lunch and had meaningful conversations about the future. It was a blissful time and certainly not one to miss.
After lunch, my friends and I decided to play billiards but ended up playing table tennis as we waited for a pool table. Once we got a pool table, we started playing. There were about seven of us, which was already quite a bit of a player. Just like the scene in the film, we happily played billiards and even made bets on who would win. While we were joyously laughing, the boy joined our pool table, acted like he knew what was going on in our conversations and claimed that it was his turn to shoot. At that point, our laughs faded away and it became awkward, similar to the scene in the film. We glanced at each other and decided to carry on with our game, but it was not as fun as it was before. I vividly remember feeling sympathetic for him because he was trying to make friends, but I could not exactly tell what his intentions were, especially since he has offended people as well as myself.
I always try to be kind to people and handle situations in a kind and classy manner. But because of the way he disrespected people and made them uncomfortable, I ended up distancing myself to avoid any conflicts with him. Luckily, after the billiards situation and the first year of high school, I heard fewer stories about him over time and that he also moved schools. As I think about it now, I wonder how he is doing and if he managed to improve his mannerisms. Perhaps the universe gave me that last awkward moment with him to endure before I was relieved of it completely. Perhaps I just needed to give him a chance to redeem the bad impression that I got from him. I could just be pressing my luck with that though.

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