Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Acting Life

I was recently asked by a weekend house guest about my much talked about former career as an actor. This is something I hesitate to talk about. I am not ashamed or sad about this period in my life. It's just not something that matters much to me anymore. I have settled down comfortably. So many things have changed. I have a cat now as well as a Blu-Ray Disc player. I've reached that period many have spoken about in O Magazines. I'm not looking back anymore and I have entrepreneurial interests. I am thinking about starting a small business making homemade scented soaps and lotions with old timey labels that go bad after a week because they contain no preservatives, something I think is very important.

But as she was a houseguest, I indulged her curiosity and opened up my mental scrapbook of my life "on the boards." We made a pot of tea and I opened up a package of sea salt crackers that I received in a Tuscan themed gift basket from my lawyer. As I sipped a Coke Zero and munched on some Fiery Hot Cheetos, we went back.

I began my theater career as many do, in secondary school. I was cast as the leading role in "Twelve Angry Men," a classic absurdest play about 12 men who are locked in a room. These men are obsessed, for whatever reason, with a murder that took place. The play is five hours long and is a very confusing comment on a very important issue about society. Of course, the cultural significance of the play and the critical acclaim it garnered was lost on me at such a young age. This was my first play, my first leading role. What I remember about this play the most was that it was my very first (and not surprisingly not my very last) experience surrounded by an entire cast of male and female homosexuals.

If someone saw what was going on outside of rehearsals and performances they might have though they stumbled into a apocalyptic brothel. The show was, for that reason, halted before its final weekend due to a syphilis outbreak that plagued everyone but the director and myself. Many of the people involved in the outbreak never recovered and are institutionalized to this day. I know this because my friend requests on Facebook are left unanswered. I assume these "dummy pages" were set up by friends and family to protect their loved ones. I won best actor for this performance which gave me freedom to literally pick and choose my projects in the future.

The next role I chose was during my senior year of college at the very prestigious McHenry County College. It was the lead in "Crimes of The Heart" a melodrama about southern women. The play was a comment on society and women talking in southern ways about someone who died and a lawyer comes over and sets things straight. I played the much coveted role of the southern lawyer who comes to the house with a briefcase and says pessimistic things. One of the women falls in love with my character because he is a good guy and she's had enough of her old boyfriend who is pretty mean.

During the second night of the play, I had an experience which frightened me. In a scene at the kitchen table, I blanked out and forgot everything. I sat silent for what seemed like an hour. Luckily my co-star, a noted lesbian, prompted me with my line and we got on track again. Although I ultimately recovered and moved on, the school never did. The school administration and the media were thrust into a veritable Japanese Circus because of the incident. The drama department at the school lost its funding. Enrollment dropped dramatically and sadly, a year later, the school burned down in what many believe was an insurance/arson scam or whatever its called when people burn down buildings to get money. This happened to a grocery store in my town. The grocery store was never rebuilt. To this day, when I think about this play I can almost feel the emotions threatining to roll back and take over. Luckily, I have a wonderful psycho-pharmacologist.

After a brief hiatus from acting, the director of "Crimes of the Heart," a closeted, notoriously endowed homosexual, asked me to be the lead in an improvisational comedy experiment. After some initial hesitation, I agreed under the condition that I was paid considerably more than the rest of the cast. He agreed not only because I deserved much more than the others, but because I threatened to out him to his wife, who coincidentally, was a well endowed, alcoholic lesbian.

The improvisational experiment proved to be a success. The other actors (all homosexuals and one bipolar transvestite amputee) were mostly competent performers. But it was my name, and my precision comedic timing that filled those seats. The audience and the other critics knew this and suffered through the scened I was not in. When I left the show, due to a Tuberculosis scare, the show and the theater shut down. I often think about those actors now while cutting my toenails or emptying the bathroom trash can. I wonder if they are still performing or if they have, like most sexual deviants, taken jobs in IT. Perhaps they can find a way to infuse some of what they learned from me into their daily lives. That's all I can hope for.

My houseguest was very interested in my Oscar winning performances in "The Lighthouse," "Julie's Plan," "The Mopwasher," "Careful Who You Kiss" and "The Des Moines Affair." She was very sad that she found no mention of these films in any film periodicals or even online. I understood, you can usually find anything online. Like, let's say you find that there are some mischievous chipmunks in your dishwasher. You can type "I have chipmunks in my dishwasher" into Google and sure enough Delores in Seattle is posting about her chipmunk experience on DishwasherForum.

There is no information about these films because I have not allowed it. No DVD releases, no midnight screenings, no fan clubs. I have controlled this part of my life and any information concerning it. I did this, again, not because I have anything to hide. I did this to protect the people involved in these films- most, if not all alcoholic homosexuals and lesbians. Of course, I wouldn't say I agree with their "alternative lifestyles." I do believe that whatever happens in your bedroom should stay in your bedroom and/or on videotape carefully kept in Steve Madden shoe boxes under your bed.

Unfortunately, whether or not she knew, it was time for my house guest (a bicurious ventriloquist) to go. I escorted her to the door, firmly, by the arm. She thanked me for the weekend, and I thanked her for coming. She had one more question, and I indulged her. "Will you ever return to acting?" she asked.

This is a tough question that I get asked a lot. "For the right role, the right amount of money and the right co-star and the right lighting and the right amount of mayonnaise based chilled salads all in big frosted plastic jewel toned bowls- Yes, of course I would" I said.

And with that I said goodbye and wished her luck with whatever it is that she does and whatever kids or whatever. By then, it was early Saturday morning. I laid down on my couch and took an Ambien and let myself remember... just for a few minutes.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

I'd be safe and warm

I had double teachers for fifth grade. Two rooms seperated by folding vinyl partitions. But the partitions were never closed. Miss B and Mrs. White. Both very large women who wore Mu-Mus and Birkenstocks with pantyhose. I believe they may have both worn wigs. The only reason I am hesitant about this is because I don't understand why they would have chosen these wigs. Miss White had white curly hair and Miss B had a brown greyish curly mop.

This was in San Jose, California. You didn't walk down long stuffy waxed hallways like schools in Illinois to avoid below zero temperatures. To go to the boys bathroom (a frightening destination whatever the climate) you had to go outside and cross a large sunny concrete courtyard. I tell you this not because it has anything to do with anything. Just to remind myself of the feel of California. Cacti and palm tree landscaping. Those dry bark wood chips on the playground (another frightening place). The boys bathroom, playgounds, parties- I don't like places where you encounter other people and are expected to socialize with them solely because you are in their proximity.

I don't know if Miss B and Miss White were married to men or not. I do know that they were lesbians. Any two portly teachers, with complete disregard for fashion, who insist on having their classrooms combined are lesbians in my mind whether or not they actually are. I can see them intimidating tall, lean, eighties mustached principals and school district superintendents- insisiting that it was their way or the freeway.

Each morning we were given mylar packets of something called Swish! and a paper cup. We were told to swish this mixture of flouride and artificial sweetener for 30 seconds and spit it in to the cup. California must have been pushing dental hygiene for children.

The atmosphere was dictatorial. I realize I would have gargled gasoline if thats what I was told to do by these ladies. They had a reputation for being evil. Something I never witnessed. They just looked crazy and mean.

We had to memorize poems every month. Standing single file in line, we waited our turn to recite with Miss B. or Miss White. Like a literary DMV. They looked at us over their thick glasses and either passed or failed us. We were then waived away and it was the next persons turn.

We watched a seventies Canadian public television show called "Wordsmith." It taught us the basics of word building- latin and greek root words. We took very difficult exams every quarter based on what we had learned from this program. Those who passed the tests were invited to a buffet held in the classroom. Those who failed the test were sent to the library. I think I only made it to the buffet once. It was a St. Patrick's themed affair. I remember mini bagels colored green. And I remember the greek and latin root words and still use them to decipher words I don't know.

Miss Benassi used those scented markers whenever she needed to make a sign of some sort. She would use all caps to write "Math Test Today" and then outline the letter with a very thin Sharpie. I still use this technique from time to time and think of it as very elegant and sharp looking.

I was not a very social child if you can believe that. I think I was already blanketed by mild fear and depression at this age. My goal was to make it through the day and go home to listen to my records- The Sound of Music Soundtrack or "Barbara Mandrell Live!"

One or two children would be offered the opportunity to leave class early each day and work in the lunchroom. A sweet deal as far as I was concerned. Helping the cafeteria ladies set up milk cartons or small foil trays of warm food. Then I worked the milk line. Passing out chocolate or plain white milk to my customers.

I did have one friend named Cykathia. A black girl, with braids that defied gravity. She was a tough, funny broad who liked my style I guess. This choice of friend continues to this day. Any friends were never met outside of school, however. I don't remember this every being requested by me or suggested by my parents.

After fifth grade, we moved to Illinois. Sixth grade, whether just by the nature of it being sixth grade or because it was a new school- it was very difficult. Puberty taking over young brains like very serious cases of schizophrenia or psychosis. These groups of children seemed to know each other from birth. I was a strange outsider with a potbelly, bad teeth and an appreciation for the arts. No one was having any of it.

I miss the weather in California. The dewy mornings and gentle warm sunlight. Smells of Eucalyptus and Pine. I don't even know if there was Eucalyptus - but something cleansing, mentholated and sweet is in the air. Maybe it's a blip in my medication, but I just realized that is where I want to end up. That's where I want to expire. On cool sheets in Northern California.