Friday, May 22, 2009

"Breasts"

Breasts: A Documentary
-directed by Meema Spadola
1996
Woman or man, if you have any intimate interest in breasts, you must see this film. Filmmaker Meema Spadola interviews twenty-two women aged 6-84, most of them topless, on every aspect of life in which breasts are a part. This film takes you all over the place, emotionally. I had a mildly prurient interest in seeing it, and i didn't think it would make me squeamish, but it did. There's a lesson there. Of the breasts we will see in our lives, at least 90% of them will be in movies. Oops. Hollywood breasts are pre-screened at best, and plastic at worst (except for PERSONAL BEST and DOOR IN THE FLOOR, of course). How this affects women's body images is lain naked (so to speak). There may be moments you might want to look away, but even then you'll be filled with sympathy and admiration. For anyone who would love a woman, and any woman who would love herself, this film will challenge you to be honest, and give you understanding and perspectives it might otherwise take a lifetime to collect. The best bits are the mother/daughter interviews.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

dear sarah

Dear Sarah,
Today i wrote an article about the year i worked for a coffee company...and tonight, before i lay me down, i re-read your coffeehouse ramblings. I had the thought in the past week that if i tell you how really sad and empty i am, you'll turn away in disgust. I was massaging a friend the other day, and afterwards we were sitting there still touching, and i looked peaceful, but the truth is i felt empty. Touching her should have been a joy, but it just choked me with the reality of how empty it made me feel...and reminded me that empty is how i've felt with so many in recent years. One of the reasons i broke it off with Ann was that being with her made me feel "less empty"...but that's not the most flattering tribute, especially when being with me made her feel much more. I love her, so it hurt to not be able to give her as much.
Today my neighbors moved out unexpectedly, the young couple. I guess it's just as well, as there was grief potential in my attraction to her. She always left her panties hanging in the shower. We had a connection, and i wonder whether it was an accident that after they left, there was one pair still hanging there. Knowing how much Stanley and Robert hated the drying panties, i took them before they threw them away. I breathed them in while touching myself, and i'm going to keep them.
I wish i could hear you read aloud the words you wrote. The mindlessness you want so much is what i cry for in my deepest place, too...my inside starts to gasp and turn inside out when i think about not being able to be mindless with someone.
You are not ugly. You are beautiful.

bucks county coffee boy


When i was finishing my master's, i got a call from an old neighbor, Kathy, whose son John was a great bud. She had split with John Sr. and married Rodger Owen, owner of the Bucks County Coffee Company. She asked whether i'd consider being at the center of the company's new marketing campaign. They wanted someone to travel around a five-state area, giving away free coffee in a customized 1950 Chevy panel truck. My curiosity piqued, i headed to NY for auditions. In a fancy Manhattan advertising firm, i met with the Owens and the suits. Rodger was an affable, guarded fellow. I was offered the job, which was to consist of event appearances, visits to the forty-three coffee kiosks, and stopping people on the street. It sounded like a hoot, and at $12 an hour, i was in.
I tell people about my one year "in the corporate world", but that's a little misleading. It was fun, independent, and i brought joy wherever i went. "Rob, the coffee guy", that was me. After i left, my successors had to go by the name of Rob, because my name was everywhere.
My vehicle was a pip. It had an oo-gah horn. The panels were tan and brown, with company logos and coffee mugs. In the back, i could carry up to twenty-four gallons of coffee in space age, six-gallon insulated shuttles which kept the coffee at a servable temperature for twelve hours. I was decked out with all the fixings. In summer i carried iced coffee. I wore khakis and classy, cotton company shirts. If i needed to go on foot, i had the jet-pack. I could strap four gallons of beverage onto my back, with a nozzle dispenser at my side and creamers and sweeteners in my belt pack. I was a one-man coffee band. I showed up at openings and fairs and parades and car shows, just giving away the good stuff. At least they assured me it was the good stuff...we had dozens of varieties we sold in our kiosks, and in the high end grocery stores which carried us. The company was a nut company as well, and i loved nibbling the snack mixes when i got home from my day's adventure, often long after the other workers had left. I was often there and gone in the morning before anyone else too. The coffee maker for my shuttles was an impressive piece of $40,000 hardware. The filters were about two feet wide. A couple times i did a gig without the truck, and when that happened i was given one of the company Lexuses. I once tried to estimate how much i was entrusted with, and it was in the hundreds of thousands.
There was a bit of an irony in all this, in that i didn't actually drink coffee. Ha! So i had to lie about that in my public persona (i did like the iced coffee, though). The public always reacted extremely well to me...they usually just smiled goofy smiles. Once in a while i got a coffee afficionado who would talk my ear off, and test the coffee knowledge i had been able to absorb.
Our market area was Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. When i spent a day at one of our kiosks, the baristas and managers were excited to see me. The truck and i were on posters, on "I saw Rob!" coupons, and a billboard in Philadelphia. There was a game on the company website called "Rob's Coffee Adventure". We filmed a commercial, but i don't know whether it was ever finished. After six months, i was given a raise to $15 an hour.
I had the most fun when i was freelancing, and always pushed for more of that. My girlfriend, whose best friend worked in one of the kiosks, loved it when i let her ride in the truck. I got my first disconcerting mini-taste of celebrity, when someone recognized me outside of work.
It was a solitary job. Sometimes days would go by without seeing a single other person at the warehouse. I only had after-hours silliness there one time, when a local barista i had become chummy with visited me with her friend while i cleaned up, and we had a whipped cream fight that sprawled over the entire spooky place.
I did develop one very gentle and enduring crush that year, with Rodger's secretary Nora. Her presence melted me, she looked a little like a monchichi, and it was only my professionalism that kept me from telling her how i felt. I wrote her a loving letter when i left, but never heard back.
After one year, i was starting to feel that i had gotten all i was going to get from the job. Even though it was indeed a hoot of enormous proportions, i was ultimately selling something which i didn't feel passion for. And my Mom was never thrilled with me being there, as the company had "unhired" her husband Chuck. So when my grandmother in Florida fell down and couldn't live alone anymore...it felt right on several levels that i move on from this chapter of my life. The day i went to tell Kathy, she started talking first and told me that it didn't make sense for me to not be on salary. I told her i had come to that same conclusion, but then i told her about my grandmother. She was understanding and appreciative, and gave me a hug to speed me on my way.
The sweetest gig i did in all my time there was when i parked the truck behind the crowd at a Pete Seeger state park concert. It was amazing.
At the office, one of the VPs and i estimated that i had given out fifty thousand cups of coffee. I have a little replica of the truck, which Rodger gave to me after one of his friends made it for him. It was a wonderful year, and it ended in a way that was just right. I smiled at life, and headed down to the sunshine state.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Salem Harbor Country Club

With a wankerish name like Salem Harbor Country Club, i knew my time there would be temporary. My final college summer was a short one, because i spent a month of it in China. Steve, the head manager at my Chi-Chi's job, asked me whether i'd help run a food stand by a country club pool. Swayed by his $6 an hour and the perfect timing, i agreed.
It was a bit of a drive, almost thirty minutes. There were two of us on staff, and Steve came around occasionally to restock us. The other guy was older, and more experienced with food. He had the energy of a rock band roadie...kind of hippieish, with a proclivity to get the work done and have a beer or toke. There was a hard edge in him somewhere, but we got on okay. He had been to one of Harry Chapin's concerts, which was very muchly cool to me. We usually saw each other for about half an hour a day, when he came on for the evening shift. For the first time in my life i was in charge of making food product all by myself, mostly burgers and dogs. The days were pretty relaxed. I cooked for myself, and became friends with the pool staff. They were nice. There was one lifeguard named Jade, and watching her in her red bathing suit, my hormones did backflips. She was small and busty, and didn't lack for male attention. She responded to my interest a bit, and we almost got together. My partner looked at us and said, "Man, she is gonna steamroll you". There was perhaps a touch of self-satisfaction and jealousy in his assessment, and i wanted to prove him wrong. But in the end he was quite right. If i'd been more of a party boy, she might have been mine. Even though it was possible all she had going for her was sex appeal, i was still sad. There may have been a primal part of me that wanted her simply because every other man did, and that's "the girl" i had never had.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chi-Chi's

My first college summer, i came home and decided to get a job with more social prospects. There was a huge Mexican chain restaurant on the outskirts of the mall called Chi-Chi's. Throughout high school my family had been secret spies there, getting free meals in exchange for reports. I loved the food, and got a job as a busboy. I was curious about waiting tables, and wanted to move one step closer to it (which turned out to be as close as i would ever come...there are just way too many idiots and boors running around with a charge card). Bussing was a lot of fun, though. There were four dining rooms. We busboys (and girls) probably had the most cushy job in the place. Everybody else was in constant motion, but we had some down time. There were two bus stations, and usually five or six bussers on duty. We set and cleared tables, and brought out chips and salsa. But mostly i indulged in my favorite bus activity: eating chips and salsa.
You don't understand. These chips and salsa were really, really good. The salsa was made by the cooks, and stored in thirty-gallon plastic drums in the walk-in. We made the chips ourselves. We pulled them out of the freezer, separated them, and put them into huge fryer baskets. We pulled them out, and salted them. If you got the timing right and didn't skimp on the salt, they melted in your mouth. At the bus station, we stored them in heated drawers. We ate 'em until they came out of our ears, and somehow never tired of it (well, the diehards like myself never tired of it, i guess). Ohhhhhhh, i wish i had some right now. Chips that came to the tables lost heat quickly, which i think was the secret ingredient in making them irresistable. We also had soda guns in our station, and my favorite drink was a cola/orange hybrid. Another duty was singing the birthday song. Staff would gather around the birthday customer's table, armed with tambourine and sombreros, and sing a peppy "Mexican" birthday song. Though i was an actor, i found this duty insipid and embarrassing, and became expert at avoiding it. Ole.
Anyway, i got along well with the other bussers...and to an unusual extent, also with the cooks and hosts and waitstaff and dishwashers and bartenders. Which actually was the key in my Chi-Chi's vocational expansion. A few weeks into my second summer, the cooks were short a prep person as i finished a shift, and asked me to fill in. I happily did so, and before long i spent a few weeks doing food prep. It was okay...on a social level it was a little more fulfilling, as you could be yourself more, out of sight of the customers. There were two Chris's back there. Chris#1 and i actually talked about real stuff, and Chris (Space) Marnie was just a tall, way-out, certifiable loon. They didn't like each other, but i was friends with both. I also filled in as a dishwasher. But kitchen work became boring pretty quickly.
It was a special project, which led to my next position. The restaurant was being re-decorated, and they asked for volunteers to be on the overnight wall-painting crews. I volunteered. The project took over two weeks, and it was the most on-the-clock intensive work of my life. With bussing and painting, at one point i worked 21 hours straight, with 41 and 45 hours of overtime in consecutive weeks. I was so conspicuous on the paint crew, the head manager Steve asked whether i'd like to do other maintenance projects. Liking the prospect of independence, and the $4.5o an hour he offered, i accepted. After a couple weeks of spot work, i suggested that i do maintenance full-time. I had realized that, with roads on all sides and three parking lots, keeping the grounds picked up ought to be attended to daily. I proposed that as the core of my duties, and that i come in every day of the week to tend to it. I would do other projects as they came, but some of my days would involve no more than the grounds, which took two or three hours. Steve gave his approval. He gave me a lot of independence to find my own work, and do it at my own pace. I came and went, a sunshiny presence. It suited me so well i did it the rest of the summer, and the following one. By the end of that third summer, i was making $5.50. Every day i'd be out there, in a rather zen place. I'd usually be singing. Most days it was "Jesus Christ Superstar" in its entirety.
The managers were a mixed lot. Steve was a bit dour. My favorite was Jim, who was rather smooth, but with a dry sense of humor. He was forever flirting with fellow manager Kerry, who was a bit of a blonde sex goddess. She would humorously rebuff him, but i think he finally wore down her resistance. Tom was a more serious manager, and he put me through my one ethical dilemma there. One night, he told me to carry a bunch of frozen steaks out to the back lot, where he would load them into his car. He wanted my complicity in an act of theft. In my mind, i froze. Looking back, i can't help thinking of Milgram's experiment. He was my boss, what was i to do? It was so surreal, i'm not even sure of what i did. I think i chose a middle road, not helping him, but not turning him in. It's even possible i did what he asked. The experience felt vaguely like a test, like he was probing my worthiness for management. I also remember him walking away, and not going through with the theft. Isn't it amazing that i can't remember? To me, it felt like i failed the test...but i might have felt that way no matter what i did.
In my first summer, i had my one grand Chi-Chi's social misadventure. There were twin sisters on the wait staff, Mindy and Milsey. They were pretty stunning. I favored Milsey, and by favored i mean starry-eyed...and she and i actually hit it off. We talked when we could, usually about how her boyfriend Fred wasn't treating her well. Fred was a busser i had never got on with. He was at least a head taller than i, and a bit of a lout. Eventually Milsey and i swapped phone numbers, and spent time together outside of work. Fred didn't take well to this, but i was willing to chance any hell. Co-workers told me that Fred said he was going to kill me, and tried to warn me away. One of these was a waitress and single mother of a small child. We always had very nice talks, and she said that she would step in if Fred tried to hurt me. I think she really meant it. She moved away that summer, and in retrospect not only was she genuinely sweet on me, she also had more to offer than Milsey...but i never walked through that door. I was intimidated by the child, i suppose. And as for Milsey, perhaps we all have a time in our life when we are blinded by something shiny and insubstantial? Or perhaps many times. One surreal night, we walked in her neighborhood and had a drive-by by Fred. We cut through yards to elude him. We mostly just talked, though we did finally kiss that night, just once. But within a couple days, she was back with him and giving me a cold shoulder. I walked around in confusion, until Mindy told me that Milsey had been using me. At that moment, it hurt, but i felt like i would have done it the same way again if given the chance. Bravery? Idiocy? The power of sex? Yes, yes, and without a doubt yes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Paperback Booksmith

After graduating from high school, i sought a summer job before heading off to college. Deciding i'd been around food long enough, i went to one of my favorite places: a mall bookstore called Paperback Booksmith. Four years before, reading "Tarzan of the Apes" had transformed me into a reader, and it was at this bookstore that i had acquired most of my Burroughs collection. The store was intimate and non-corporate. The owner Steve, a middle-aged, mildly serious man, seemed to genuinely like what he did, and worked the store himself. There were only three or four of us on staff. It was fun. I've always had an organizational streak, i can lose myself in arranging a movie or book collection. I made happy use of the employee discount, mostly to increase my Doonesbury collection. It was fun to learn about the book business. After just a couple months, i got cast in two plays at the same time, and i didn't need the money enough to try to keep working as well. Steve was disappointed in me, but nothing was more exciting in my world than acting.
And that's the post. What, i'm not entitled to be boring?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friendly's

When i was sixteen, i got a summer job at Friendly's ice cream restaurant. I was finally making the big bucks: $3.35 an hour, the national minimum wage. The staff was larger than at Haywood's, my $2.85 job from the summer before (my manager there, Chuck, had actually offered me minimum wage to stay, but i had my sights set on new horizons).
Friendly's had actual waitresses, not just counter girls, and i got the job i wanted: ice cream scoop, a job that didn't permeate your skin like other food jobs. The ice cream section was in front, and was almost a separate entity from the restaurant itself. We would take order slips from the waitresses, but had no direct interactions with the rest of the food prep staff. Much of our business was from customers who came to our counter for ice cream only, so i had to learn the workings of a cash register. On occasion we would run a product out to a table, but we mostly stayed behind our counter. We had blue and white polyester uniforms. There were always two or three scoops on duty, depending on the time of day. Since i liked ice cream and people, i liked the work. And the food, too. Longer shifts came with food breaks, and the swiss burger on rye was my favorite.
We scooped cones and bowls, sold half gallons, and made sundaes. Friendly's had a relationship with Hershey's, so many of our items were based on their products. We had maybe twelve different flavors (plus others in half gallons) and all the toppings you could want, including a hot fudge machine which operated at very high temperatures. There was a different kind of cameraderie than at Haywood's, which had had the slight feel of a group of roustabouts. It was a touch more impersonal here, being part of a large chain. There was socialization among the staff, but it was less general and pronounced.
If you ever meet someone with one arm conspicuously bigger than the other, ask them whether they work in ice cream. We would dig down into those ten-gallon tubs, and sometimes the product was pretty frozen. The scoops were mostly, but not entirely, guys. It was fun making sundaes for friends or family, and giving them more than their money's worth.
I developed a lasting crush on a waitress, Sherry. She was in her twenties and engaged, and out of my league i suppose, but it was dreamlike just to be near her. She was beautiful, and though she didn't parade it, achingly sexy. She treated me with a touch of playful affection...and i'm pretty sure that when we parted over a year later, she gave me the tiniest moment of "if only our timing had been...". I'm not even entirely sure it happened, because it was so unexpected and so far out of the bounds of reality that it seemed a dream even as it was happening. I remember seeing a picture of her fiance a few years later, on the manager's section of the wall in a lumber store in New Jersey. I had met him a few times, and i couldn't not like him. I wanted to be happy for her, but inside my heart could only wish that i were the one giving her the world.
My other favorite waitresses were a mom and her daughter, Tammy. They were always fun. Tammy was engaged to Dave, one of my managers. He had faintly purple hair, but he somehow managed to look conservative. He was funny and easygoing, one of the best bosses i've ever had. He also opened up a tiny moment of humanity to me, when he and Tammy left the store. He told me that the ribbing he got from everyone, for his weight perhaps, bothered him deep down. I was taken aback because i had done it too, and the fact that he opened up to me, when i was little more than a kid...i was at once touched and embarrassed, and i'm pretty sure my attitudes about picking on someone, even good-naturedly, were forever changed by the experience.
The greatest moment of excitement i had there was when the hot fudge exploded on me. When the dispenser sat unused, the fudge in the spigot would cool and harden. It would then clog, of course, but if you pushed the pump hard enough, you could usually get it flowing again. One night i pushed on a clogged spigot, but it was too far gone. I tried more force, and BOOM, the one-inch metal cap on the spigot dislodged, spraying a pressurized torrent of scalding fudge. Fortune was with me, as i took it in the torso, and almost none of it on my face and arms. Even through polyester and a T-shirt i got slightly burned, but i was laughing right away. Don't tell me scooping isn't extreme.
After Dave and Tammy and Sherry were gone, a lot of the magic was too. I stayed at Friendly's for two summers. It was fun and comfortable. I got a couple raises, finishing at maybe $3.65. At first Mom or Dad drove me, and i eventually got rides from co-workers, too. My second summer, new license in hand, i occasionally drove myself and was able to offer co-workers a lift. One time i gave Sherry a ride home. I haven't thought about that moment in many years, but the feeling of being so close to her...of feeling her energy and warmth near me, even after she was gone...it's very possible that that drive was the sweetest of my life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Haywood's

The summer i turned fifteen, i took my first hourly wage job at Haywood's, a fried chicken restaurant converted from an old Red Barn. The minimum work age was sixteen, but there was a loophole which allowed fifteen year-olds to work, as long as they didn't go over a certain number (thirtysomething?) of hours a week. Minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, but because of my age they were allowed to pay me $2.75. I remember being excited that summer when i got the first raise of my life, to $2.85. My sister had worked there before me, so i was introduced to everyone as her little brother. She must have been liked, as i was treated okay.
Haywood's was fun. There was a bit of the "this idiot place" to the mood, but the workers liked each other, hanging out after work and such. Being so young, i didn't do much of that, but a couple of the oldest guys, brothers named Steve and Rick whom everyone respected, took me under their wings (haha) a bit. In retrospect, they may have been happy to have the chance to score points with my sister, but they were genuine too. Everybody jokingly called the place Bobo's Burger Barn, because the owner Boris was maybe the tiniest bit creepy. The manager was a really cool guy named Chuck. He had a nice sense of humor and kept the place running well, if not always by the book. I remember one time i spilled an entire rack of freshly-cooked chicken. He looked down at the mess, then out front to see if any customers had noticed. He looked back to me, and gestured to put the chicken back on the rack.
Most of the girls worked at the counter, and most of the boys in the back. I ended up doing lots of cleanup and food prep, most memorably dislocating innumerable chicken thighs and scooping glandular yellow goo out of them. I loved sneaking chicken salad out of the walk-in fridge, especially when Steve made it.
I also gained points with my peers and managers one day by volunteering to clean the bathroom, in which a drug-addled customer had voided machine-gun diarrhea over the walls.
One Sunday morning Rick told me to come in extra early to help him open. It was the first time i'd seen a cook do the open, and it was a little impressive. After firing up the grill, he flipped a few eggs on it, and made us a very tasty breakfast. Somehow, eating that meal was maybe the most grownup i'd yet felt in life.
There was one girl who worked in the back. She was cool, funny, and not at all snooty. She was a couple years older than i, and one night while we were finishing up after closing, she gave me the first sexual proposition of my life. I was cutting tomatoes and she backed me up against the table, asking me whether i'd like her to fondle my tomatoes. A part of me wanted to say yes, but i wasn't at all sure. I croaked out some attempted joke, put a tomato in her hand, and beat a hasty retreat.
The coolest thing that happened that summer was being electrocuted. We were operating some appliance with an ancient, frayed extension cord, which was lying on a metal table. Steve was touching the table, and dropped a wet dishrag into my hand. A jolt of current suddenly travelled from the cord to the table to Steve to the rag to me. I felt my senses scramble into complete incoherency, then into an insensate state. I woke up some seconds later, with Steve looking down at me like i might be dead. The current hadn't affected him at all. I was up and joking within a minute.
Looking back, i realize that at that time in my life i was close to making the life decision to not drink alcohol. I had been drunk once, at Erik Berger's bar mitzvah, and hadn't cared for it. For additional teen identity crisis reasons, i was soon to put alcohol and other things out of my life altogether. Drinking was a part of the Haywood's scene. My youth had kind of excused me from that, but i think i realized that next summer, my non-drinking might set me apart. Because i liked the people there, leaving instead of being different may have suddenly seemed preferable. So at the end of the summer, tired of smelling like a days-old french fry and determined to make my way in a place not blazed by my sister, i set my sights on the Friendly's ice cream shop across the way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

bedford avenue blues

My new bike route to Manhattan takes me through a long strip of Brooklyn's Bedford Ave., perhaps the most orthodox Jewish street in New York. Ringlets, shawls, and eraser-hats everywhere. I feel a special connection to the Jewish culture, because with my name, people have often wondered whether i were Jewish. I've had Jewish friends, dated Jewish girls, and as an actor of Aryan stock, i've somehow played an inordinate number of Jewish roles.
The most startling sight i've seen on my ride was a pre-kindergarten class of thirty or so boys walking down the sidewalk. These three and four year-olds were mirror copies of their elders...shawls, ringlets, the whole guacamole! They looked so adorable, i wanted to run over and eat 'em up. I told a friend, and he thought their treatment was perverse and pathetic. In general he's right, of course. They were, nonetheless, too cute.
While i'm far from a casanova, i'd have to give Jewish girlfriends a slight nod over others. Did you ever hear that old bit...
OLD WOMAN: You need to find a nice Jewish girl, and settle down.
YOUNG MAN: But i'm not Jewish.
OLD WOMAN: You won't be sorry.
My limited experience affirms that stereotype. Jewish girls seem to like sex more, or be more in touch with their bodies. It makes me wonder whether there's a connection between that and the fact that Jewish men regularly rise to the top of the comedy scene. Like the comedian might have said, "There's a chink, a wasp, a nigger, and a kike on the comedy bill tonight? Well, two out of four ain't bad." Is it the undercurrent of misery in the Jewish culture (and the drive to escape therefrom) that lets loose all this laughter and fucking? Are Jewish women as good in bed with men of their own faith, or does dating outside the tribe "free" them? Are Jewish men good (or funny) in bed? Why is it easier to imagine that they're funnier with gentile girls? It's hard to deny the cultural dourness, all that weeping and ashes and sackcloth...for anyone with a free spirit, a truly sane reaction would be to make a joke, or hump something.
Or maybe Jewish comedians are successful because the Jews own the comedy clubs too! Oy-ha! (i made another funny)
Or with the girls, maybe i've just gotten very lucky two or three times. Give me that circumcised pole, you goyishe beast!
I guess we need more research. I'll find Giggly Ruthie, you get Squiggly Sarah.

president?

I had won the presidential election. I was in a large hall, with a small multitude of people. We had to quickly pick a vice-president, and were screening candidates. There were a handful of my people handling this, among them Jimmy Smits, who was my vice-president (don't look for consistency here). We were picking people to interview, and i saw one unassuming character who wasn't even trying to put his name forward. I liked that, and remembered his name. Jimmy was very excited about it all, and when we gathered our group to confer, he said he wanted to see the same unassuming man, whose name was Santos. After another few moments, i realized that JIMMY was the new president, and that i had gotten him elected. I must be his chief of staff, then. It suddenly made sense. I almost spoke up to question the wisdom of a chief of staff who can't remember he's not the president, but i let it slide. We then all went off to the white house, but i can't remember those parts clearly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

quiz you, i will

Quiz time! Name the film to which the following movie taglines belong. As if that weren't excitement enough, i translated them into Yoda-speak. Highest score wins a Dagobah bungalow.
1) In check. Relax. A shower, take.
2) In their hands, her life was. In the mail, her toe is.
3) The weekend this is, that play golf they did not.
4) In space, hear you scream no one can.
5) A disease, crime is. The cure, meet.
6) Young, they are...in love, they are...kill people, they do.
7) An epic, it makes Ben Hur look like.
8) Continues, the adventure does...
9) Laugh, you will. Cry, you will. Hurl, you will.
10) Looking for America a man went, and find it nowhere he could.
11) Cry for it, women do. Die for it, men do!
12) Believe a man can fly, you will!
13) Afraid, he is. Alone, he is. 3 million light years from home, he is.
14) Sits, he does. Stays, he does. Shoots, he does. Scores, he does.
1 - PSYCHO
2 - THE BIG LEBOWSKI
3 - DELIVERANCE
4 - ALIEN
5 - COBRA
6 - BONNIE AND CLYDE
7 - MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL
8 - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
9 - WAYNE'S WORLD
10 - EASY RIDER
11 - REEFER MADNESS
12 - SUPERMAN
13 - E.T.
14 - AIRBUD

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

i died the other night...and panties!

I had one of the most stark, intense dreams of my life a few nights ago. In a world of darkness and foreboding, i am with two companions. We are well-dressed, with a dark, expensive car. They say we must get in, and go quickly. We do so, in the pre-dawn mist. They are in the front. I am filled with uncertainty about the choice we are making. Almost immediately, we see ahead of us two policemen, their car parked by the side of a cliff. My companions say we must get by them. The officers are down on one knee, their guns pointed toward the road. As we zip past, i hear two shots. As time freezes, i feel bullets tear through my neck. I know i will die, and have a few moments to absorb this reality. I do not speak to my companions, for they, like everything, are now irrelevant. There are no words. Only emptiness.
I wake up.
I have never died in any dream i can recall, nor been shot. I suppose it's not entirely surprising i had this dream now, as my life has been filled with wounds and siege lately. And it also may be relevant that before i went to sleep, i learned that i may have exposed myself to herpes.
I share an apartment with a young latino couple, and an older gay couple. The woman regularly leaves her panties up to dry in the shower. This bothers the other couple, but i don't mind, i actually like it. Over the past few weeks, i've had a growing urge to touch the panties. Once or twice, i've done so. Yesterday, i had the urge to tear at the panties with my teeth. The curious thing about this is that i'm not particularly attracted to her. She wears makeup, and seems mousey.
Ah sex, you encumbered, twisted, beautiful bastard!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

graduate assistant

One of the coolest jobs i ever held was graduate assistant. In my mid-twenties, i got a master's degree in philosophy from West Chester U. of PA. It took me three semesters, and i was the department's grad assistant for the last two. The department had only one assistant, and it was only part-time at that, but it was a nice boon in reducing my tuition. The fact that there was only one, also made it a nice match for my personality.
My two semesters covered a transition between department heads, and i felt honored to be the only assistant who ever worked for both Dr. Claghorn and Dr. Platt. Ostensibly i assisted the entire faculty, but it was the department head who had use of my services almost exclusively. George Claghorn, who specialized in early American philosophy, was a gentle soul who had been the heart of the department for decades. He seemed a relic from a more courteous time. He sprinkled touches of humor into his serious-mindedness, and his soft laughter was a joy. During my semester with him, most of my duties consisted of researching 19th century Boston newspapers, collecting references for a book he was writing.
Thomas Platt, an Episcopalian minister who specialized in ethics, had a wry sense of humor very much in line with my own. He had been one of my favorite undergrad professors, and had even loaned me one of his clerical outfits for a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest". The semester i spent with him provided more exciting duties. I tutored undergrads, and covered classes for professors who were absent. There was also some clerical work, which was fun because i thought the world of Dr. Platt's secretary, Gerri. That final semester i also revived the long-dormant philosophy club, the only organization of which i've ever been president. We met weekly, and i was able to bring together a core group of about ten regulars. We also had regular newcomers, in part because of my posters. I would advertise the week's activity, making full use of my aforementioned humor. It was very gratifying knowing that the club became strong and vibrant, and continued after i left.
My courses were pretty wonderful. Debating and wrestling with deep issues came very naturally to me. Strangely though, my elective courses in psychology ended up being more exciting, as they dealt with more concrete realities.
One of the most memorable moments came one afternoon while lounging on the quad, a grassy area at the center of campus where students played and relaxed. I was with five or six philosophy M.A. students. We had been volleyballing or frisbeeing. We had all known each other for at least a semester, and were among the brightest in our department. Despite our familiarity, we didn't know each other inside and out, and part of that came from how we approached our studies. We focused on questions more than answers, and didn't demand that everyone take a stand on every issue. So very often, each other's core attitudes were unknown. And too, in a program which lasts only three semesters, deep friendships are more rare. There's a smaller pool of students, and from that pool, the odds are long that the even smaller handful you could really connect with, will be there at the exact same time as you. So you might have only one or two semesters with those few you might develop a close friendship with.
Anyway, the group of us on the quad enjoyed each other's company, and on that day, a moment of unforgettable resonance occurred. A pair of evangelical students came up to us, and began witnessing. After a minute or two, one of them asked a direct question: did we believe in God? We had a moment's hesitation, in which we exchanged the briefest of glances. None of us knew the rest of the group's answers to that question, and the thought of alienating each other a tiny bit probably played through most of our minds.
I doubt anyone expected what happened next.
One of us answered "no".
Another voice said the same.
Then another.
One by one, we all answered "no".
It was a moment of affirmation and beauty. We knew that we represented some of the best minds from the communities that had molded us. And in a moment of synchronicity, we knew that we had each figured something out, in spite of the cultural influences most of us had grown up with. The evangelical students had perhaps chosen that question because in any group of more than two, it was a question almost guaranteed to provide at least one ally.
But they quickly realized they had asked the wrong question, as several of us began dismantling any proposition they offered up. They soon accepted the obvious, and beat a retreat.
In retrospect, it was the tiniest bit unfair, like picking on younger siblings. They were of good intent, but middling intelligence.
As they left, we looked at one another...and i think there was a tiny element of redemption for most of us, in what had taken place. Religious folk are almost by definition sanctimonious, a fact that is frustrating for those who take a more humble approach to life and knowledge. Religious folk even delude themselves into believing that their approach to life is rooted in humility, but to claim knowledge of "God" requires an arrogance of stunning proportions. And the fact that our group had discussed god in great depth, yet remained ignorant of each others' beliefs...it was simply a very profound moment of synchronicity.
A moment to feel that, despite the barbaric ignorance and superstition all around us, the world of tomorrow will indeed shine with brother and sisterhood, and truth.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Labor Ready

During a fallow work period in my Florida life, between theaters i ran and at a time when acting jobs were scarce, i became abruptly homeless. I still had my freelance tree trimming, but this crisis came during the summer, when the snowbirds (and income therefrom) were away. I needed regular income, and quick.
I had been living with Shane and his girlfriend Angelina, in Megan's condominium. Shane was one of my oldest FL friends. He had acted in my shows, and been stage manager for many more. Angelina was his girlfriend from Utah, who had moved to be with him. Megan was Shane's father's girlfriend. We paid her monthly (at the time of the crisis, however, i was the only one who was up to date with rent). Shane's dad, who was visiting from NY with Megan, had become direly concerned. In the parlance of his religion, he felt Angelina was a dark mass who would bring Shane to an early death. Even though i was more than a little sympathetic to his concerns, i had long since made my feelings known, and was now content to support my friend in whatever he did. Shane's dad and Megan made an ultimatum: either Shane put Angelina on a plane back to Utah forever, or they would have to leave the condo immediately. Unless i supported this ultimatum, i would have to leave too. Shane stood by her, and i stood by him. We gathered our belongings into my station wagon, and left.
I contacted friends who might be able to help us, and within a few hours, my waitress friend Jenny had offered her guest room. She was on the mainland. We moved in, and shared the apartment with Jenny, her two ferrets, and her occasional boyfriend. She never asked for rent, but i gave her a little money when i could. Shane and Angelina didn't respond well to the crisis...for the 6 or so weeks we were there, they barely worked. On top of that, they kept their part of the house (and often the kitchen) a mess. It embarrassed me, and eventually i chastened them, with some good effect.
When we were shown the curb, i had just paid rent, but Megan said it had already been spent. Finding immediate and regular work that didn't feel like prostitution was a challenge. I scanned the want ads, and found Labor Ready.
There are businesses like Labor Ready all across the land. They provide temp day laborers. The workers who end up there are at the bottom of the labor barrel: dropouts, legal and questionably-legal aliens, and people unable to hold a job in the "regular" world. This attracted me on several levels. When i wasn't being creative, i preferred work that was physical, and working at the bottom of the barrel was spiritually appealing.
With Labor Ready, you rarely knew ahead of time whether you'd work on a given day. You showed up at the office around 6AM, and waited while they handed out assignments. If you were still waiting at 8AM, you were out of luck. Fortunately, i didn't have many days like that. This was probably because i established myself as strong and reliable, and also perhaps because i was white and well-spoken, which increased the likelihood of Labor Ready's getting repeat business.
You got paid by check each day back at the main office. After taxes, it came out to about $40. If you got asked to be a crew supervisor, you got $70 (as one of the newer guys, i only got that honor one time). Most jobs involved several workers, though i remember a couple that were one-man. The companies or individuals who hired us generally treated us well. The work was hard, but seldom prohibitively so. One exception to this was the day i literally dug ditches, during summer in south Florida. I've never experienced anything like it, before or since.
But occasionally you'd get lucky in the other direction, stumbling into something almost laughably easy.
After several weeks, i hit the Labor Ready jackpot: a long-term contract (long-term being anything over a day). A construction company from West Virginia wanted to hire three of us for a two-month job building a concrete mausoleum. I and two others, Bart and Arnie, had worked for them already, and they requested us specifically. The long-term contract meant an extra ten bucks a day. I don't remember Bart and Arnie's real names, but they were an unforgettable pair, a Mutt and Jeff who had lived through life's wringer. They were in their fifties or sixties (it can be hard to gauge an alcoholic's age), and had figured out how to make life work for them. They would pool their money, rent a $35 motel room each night, and spend the other $45 on drink. They sometimes saved enough to get a room for the weekend, but more often they ended up on the street. I never saw them drink on the job though, or be unable to work.
They laughed a lot, and accepted me quickly. Their humor had a gallows edge to it, which i loved. Arnie had had a very well-paying corporate job for much of his life, and a family. He now saw his grown children once a year or less.
The WV crew was a fun bunch. There were about six of them. The foreman was Bubba, a big, round man whose accent was so thick that i could only make out about half of what he was saying. He didn't laugh a lot, but he ran a good crew, and gave us all baseball hats when the job came to an end. His smiley-faced, right-hand man was Felton, who was also rotund, and got along with everyone. The youngest was Reggie. He was bright and a little more sensitive and savvy than the others. The crew found out i was an actor, and got amusement out of that, but Reggie was the only one who asked for details. He also told me about his girlfriend and life in WV.
Their crew traveled together for half the year, then returned home for the winter. We worked with them for six weeks. The mausoleum was honeycomb-styled, with alcoves just big enough for a coffin. It was eight stories high, but only 25'. On the ground, it was 20'x40'. The work was fun. The cement truck would show up, and we would have the molds and rebar skeleton in place. We used huge rubber rakes to push and smooth. My favorite part of the job was retrieving the panels after an alcove had dried. We had to crawl inside, and bang the steel panels loose with a ten-pound hammer. It was dusty and ear-ringingly loud, so we wore goggles and masks and headphones. There was a slightly surreal quality to it, as we lay on our backs banging away. The light and fresh air by your feet seemed further away than it really was. The thought that there would only ever be one other human in that alcove...or rather, one ex-human...it was a pretty unavoidable invitation to think about death. I also loved climbing up the open face of the building, without a ladder.
I had my own hard hat, from my theater costume supply. On my last day, everyone signed it. With heartfelt cameraderie, we all said our goodbyes. I drove Bart and Arnie back to Labor Ready, to pick up our final checks. I had decided that that would be my last day with Labor Ready (though they did reel me back for one more three-day construction cleanup job, down in Naples). There were theater jobs coming, and i knew that anything after the mausoleum would be anti-climactic. I had saved enough money that Shane and Angelina and i were now in a place of our own, back on Ft. Myers Beach.
I drove my compatriots to their motel, grasped their hands one last time, and watched them shuffle off into the sunset.