Sunday, October 25, 2009

i want my MTV2!!

A DAY IN THE MIND OF A NEW YORK ACTOR
(an account of my work on a one-day TV shoot, filming a five-second promo/lead-in for a series of horror movies airing on MTV2)

I want my MTV too? No, that's not it.
I want my MTV to...play actual music videos?
I want my MTV two? Closer...
I want my MTV2! That's it, now we got it. I want my MTV2.
I show up for the shoot fifteen minutes late, unusual for me, a result of my first-time bike ride from my temporary home in Flatbush. The ride to 27th St. takes an hour and fifteen minutes(!) Gotta move back closer to Manhattan. But no one seems to notice. I know that there's going to be a big chunk of time devoted to getting the actors into scary makeup, and then a lot of waiting.
Here's Brandon, the producer who made all the arrangements over the phone. He had my headshot in his files for the past couple years, and when the need arose for a serial killer, he remembered my eyes. He's every bit as friendly and cool in person.
There are three actors on the shoot today. Back to the green room to meet them...here's Josach, an African or island man already in zombie makeup and costume. Very friendly. And here's Saglara, playing a bloody corpse-ghost type. Wow, so cute. Asian women kill me. Ooh, intelligent too. Speaks three languages, including Russian. I keep butchering her name. Okay, got it.
And here's Margo, the makeup person. Very friendly, she thinks we've worked together before. It's possible, but she doesn't seem familiar. She says they want a killer with pale skin and smushy scads of red lipstick. And my costume? Ah, a black rubber butcher's apron, with long matching gloves. No shirt, dialing up the sexy? Yes, i remember Brandon asking whether i was still in muscled shape. Cool. I'm there.
And here's the director, Charlie. What a sweet, friendly young person. The crew, too. What a fun day this shall be. Charlie wants more transsexual? That prairie dress, will i fit into that, they wonder? Probably not? They don't know me and my 36-28-35 measurements, do they? Fitting like a tight second skin, the dress is a smash! The crew loves it, it's the hit of the day so far. Party on.
The smushed lipstick is too Heath Ledger? Okay, Margo cleans it up. Still too Jokerish, we lose the lipstick altogether.
I watch Saglara being filmed. It's a green screen studio, with the acting in a tight space. Mostly bunches of scary faces and screams, with a few menacing walks toward the camera. Between takes, i hike up my dress and pull my boxers to super-wedgie levels. The crew is disgusted and delighted. Brandon says it's the first time in his life he's been happy to see a man's ass. Good times.
And here's the MTV rep. Hello, another attractive Asian woman. And how genuine she seems. She's just happy to be here, to watch it all happen. Okay, her ass is a little thin...no matter! She's great.
Back in the green room with the actors, we talk about Mark Twain, travel, and racism. Saglara is of Kalmyk Mongolian descent, and was the victim of racial violence in Russia. She says American racism is tame. I ask her to talk about the attack, but she demurs. Too bad. She mentions her boyfriend, and that she likes drinking and clubbing. Okay, my little fantasy is going poof. Ah well, she's still bright and fun. I ask her to call me an idiot in Kalmyk, but she doesn't seem interested. She was so friendly at first, but now she seems faintly standoffish, perhaps even to me personally.
I'm on! The prairie dress has been nixed, as Margo hands me a plain old bloody white apron. Really? Seems like a bit of a wet noodle compared to my first two costumes. And a white T-shirt? Dialing down the sexy, too? How lame. I tell Charlie i have three looks for him. #1 is eyes narrowed, #2 is open and penetrating, and #3 is wide-eyed maniac. And here are my toys, a cleaver and a machete! They bloody them (and me) up. I do all sorts of looks and swipes at the camera, and a scary charge. I do screams too, though i'd imagined they wouldn't be recording audio. Our voices might not end up in the final cut of course, but i'll strain my vocal cords a bit in the pursuit of horror excellence. Charlie asks me to do a maniacal laugh, but it comes out pretty flaccid. And with one of my forward attacks, i realize it would have been perfect if i had grabbed camera eye contact firmly after the slashes. That's the problem with these shoots, there's little or no prep time, it's just in and out bang, you're done. You try to keep a million subtleties together in your head, but when the camera rolls you have to let go of a lot of structured thought. Sometimes you end up forgetting things (and sometimes the same thing over and over), but that's the price of being alive in the moment, for this pea-brained actor anyway. With one day of rehearsal, i'd be better. But i know not to be hard on myself, and some of my moments have actually felt really cool. With skillful editing, they might come up with something wonderful.
Lunch break! I get a veggie wrap, and a Naked protein shake (my favorite). Brandon's taking very good care of us. And here's a fourth actor, Danielle. She has to be at a bartending job at three, so has precious little time. She's got a scrubbed all-American look. Very attractive. We actors have lunch in the green room. Danielle mentions her boyfriend in passing. Okay, nix another fantasy. As we finish eating, they want to get her wrapped, so they'll finish me after her.
I finish my Twain short story. I nap through Danielle's costuming and shooting.
Back on set! And my final prop...a chainsaw! I have them tape down the, um, unused electrical plug at the end of it. I slash. I scream.
After i'm done, they put some of the crew into makeup and costume, and shoot them, mostly for fun.
When the shoot wraps, Brandon tells me he thinks my footage will be the stuff they use most. He and other crew members are complimentary of my work, in a way that seems a touch more sincere than the regular bullshit. I get $150 for my efforts. Not much when you consider that MTV is attached to the project, but the experience was great, they were done with me in under eight hours, and i can now give you and my nephews a laugh.
Coming soon, to a cathode ray tube near you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

shannon, jenn, abbey's friend

WOMEN 37-39
Shannon
After graduation, i returned for one WCU production as guest artist, and hooked up a couple times with Shannon. She wore makeup and had fashion model looks, with long wavy hair and heavy breasts. She was a little soft around the middle. Kissing and disrobing in her dorm bed, she wanted to have sex. I said we shouldn't go any further. If she had depth it wasn't obvious, though i didn't try too hard to find it.
Jenn
A tech student at Rider College, where i did a show as guest performer. We spent a night cuddling in her dorm bed, and i’m pretty sure we kissed. She was sweet and interested, but i didn’t feel as strongly…
Abbey's friend
An actor buddy's wife's friend, we hooked up and disrobed a couple times. She had burn scars over her mid-torso. I told her truthfully that it made her no less attractive to me. I'm sure i didn't act assertively enough to keep her interest, though.

they call us babes in arms

BABES IN ARMS
THEATER 23
-summer 1989
In my fifth year with the Pennington Players, i finally landed a lead. And wouldn't you know it, this was the first year we didn't play at Washington Crossing State Park. I was crushed. We performed at Villa Victoria Academy, a girls' school. Traditional auditorium, blah blah blah. Hmpf. Oh well. Judi directed, and my loyalty to her and the company made me not grouse about the choice of show, one of those insipid musicals wherein songs appear for little discernable reason. BABES IN ARMS had no plot, only a theme: "plucky kids face problems by putting on a show!". Okay, maybe i groused. But damn it, i was a lead, so i was going to enjoy it. I played Gus. My counterpart was Joyce LaBriola, a blossoming young woman who had been with us a couple of years. Our duet was "I Wish I Were in Love Again". Offstage, Joyce was dating the first male lead, newcomer Joe Southard, and he and i hit it off. The first female lead was Amy Gilroy, last year's Katherine. The third female lead was Randie Brotman, whom i had befriended two years before, and who had taken a summer off for self-image issues. She was now a very talented and mature sixteen, and rightfully playing an older role. She developed a monumental crush on me, and deflecting it while growing as friends was no mean feat. We nine "babes" had a great time. I had a couple dates with one of the girls, but didn't pursue it further. Randie's older brother Adam was a "babe", and i thought the world of him. He had a few throwaway lines which he somehow made incredibly funny ("Lunch, yeah!" comes to mind). The audition process had been very validating. Walt Cupit, last year's Pippin, had gotten a supporting role, which he then dropped out of. Assistant director Cathy told me that i had rated higher than Walt in singing and acting, which was nice, as i had wanted to be Pippin very much. I had also been attracted to his girlfriend Amy, and they were no longer together. She was bright-eyed and beautiful, intelligent and open, silly and spunky. During BABES i spent a lot more time with her, and toward the end of the run i told her the two ways i had been jealous of Walt. She said i might have been a better choice for both jobs. We were interrupted just after she said it. It was one of those moments when something you never thought you could have, suddenly becomes possible. And to this day, it is one of the mysteries of my life why i didn't rush through the door that opened that night. Was she seeing someone new? Was i afraid of failing? John Kling played the uppity southern businessman who seeks to buy our barn (or some such nonsense). In one scene, i stand up to his bluster and he ends up on his derriere. It was our first real scene together after four years, and it was nice. Later on he pulls a ladder out from under me as i'm working in the flies. Betty Henninger was back, and Diane Wargo, a longtime Player, was our den mother. Also back was Charlie Leeder, as Fleming, the nasty landlord. It was great having him and his puns and all-nighters. He had one voiceover speech, which he beautifully ad libbed from night to night. One of the greatest misread lines was Amy's. She says "What do you think of that, Flem' old man?", but it sounded like she was saying "Flemo-man", and it stuck as Charlie's superhero nickname. We all made fun of the show, but had a kinda sweet time, truth be told. One of my funnier moments was when i'm supposed to enter whistling, thinking there's no one around. I couldn't whistle, so i came in singing the title song, in a thrash-rock style. It got the best laughs in rehearsal, but worked in performance, too. My high point was at a "babes" party. A couple of the guys had left, so it was Adam and i and the girls. We played Truth or Dare, and Randie asked how many of the girls had been attracted to me. I tried not to let my eyes widen as all hands went up. They told me not to let it go to my head, that it wasn't like i was Superman. I did my best not to, girls, i really did...but it was the first time in my life i'd had an oversized dose of female sexual affirmation. Later on that summer, a big group from the show came to see me in my next play, which made me so happy.

Genesis 1-3

1:27
In this verse, God is referred to as "He".  As far back as history records, humanity has been almost entirely male-dominated.  This explains why God would be conceived of as male, but such a paradigm implies inherent male spiritual superiority.  The "superiority" of males has never been proven, and not for lack of trying.  Through observation of nature (where both male and female dominance can be found), or through the dictates of logic and reason (which show all humans to be basically alike in intelligence and capability), there is no justification for the notion of male superiority.  The impartial "eyes" of God could not view gender as a sign of lesser or greater worth, and the notion of God being male is so obviously flawed and provincial as to be unworthy of consideration.
3
According to verse 5, Adam and Eve did not possess knowledge of good or evil before they ate of the tree.  Yet they were punished for choosing to eat of it.  If they were not capable of distinguishing good from evil, it is preposterously unjust to punish them.  Also, observations of serpents reveal no abnormally malicious subtlety, nor any uniquely "evil" characteristics, therefore it seems unreasonable to attribute to them these traits.
3:22-24
Assuming that the tree of life exists, and we never hear of it because all die who see it, it shouldn't be hard to at least prove it's possible existence, and thereby begin to verify the veracity of the Bible. First one must locate the general area of the tree by finding the one spot on the earth where people go, but never return from (Palm Springs doesn't count). Then march a single-file line of people into that area. When screams of death come from the front, give orders to turn back. The people remaining would describe what they experienced. Anyone truly seeking to prove the truth of the Bible could have done this centuries ago, yet no one's bothered. Hm.

my dream band

If i may be indulged in a flight of fancy, inspired by Wilbury dreams...
On piano, Bruce Hornsby. For those of you who don't know him, do you recall the piano playing on "The End of the Innocence", or "I Can't Make You Love Me"? That's Bruce. He's the only pianist i know whose style is so distinct as to be instantly recognizeable.
On guitar, Mark Knopfler. Ditto for his guitar playing. The former front man of Dire Straits, he may not be the best picker ever, but with the way he expresses music, he's my pick any day of the week.
On bass, Roger Waters. He's been waiting for an opportunity like this ever since Floyd broke up, even if he didn't know it. His solo stuff has been great, but it's time to feel his one-of-a-kind presence in the context of a band again.
On drums, Don Henley. As though having Waters wasn't enough edge, let's add Henley's vocal and lyrical bite.
It was tempting to add one more player, but i think the synergy of the group would be best served with these four alone. A fifth person might fragment the band. Leave these four to stare at each other and create music that rises above their individual talents and personalities. The sound would be stripped down, with beauty and rawness both. Has there ever been a classic four-piece band with this instrumental lineup? How is it possible that i can't think of one? Of course the mind boggles at the thought of these four as collaborative songwriters, but i think the musical flavor they might create would be as memorable as the songs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fifth of July

THEATER 22
-spring 1989
The third show of my junior year was Sandi's, a delicate, beautiful piece by Lanford Wilson. Set in an old country house in Missouri, it's a story about family, youth, growing old, giving and receiving love, and coming to grips with what we are and aren't. The writing is funny and seamless. I've never done better acting, or been in a better play. The keystone was Betty Morehouse, as Aunt Sally. She was a non-student friend of Sandi's, in her sixties, and her spunky grace enriched us in ways no student could have. Lou played Kenny, the homosexual paraplegic writer trying to come to grips with his life. A new student played his lover Judd, and their sincere, gentle chemistry was more touching than i expected. He and i got along great. Karen Paxson played Kenny's cousin, a somewhat drug-addled singer who is on the verge of her big break. Karen mixed understated and over-the-top beautifully. Jeff Bleam played her sleazy husband, who isn't as in control as he thinks. I played Wes, the musician they bring along on their trip to the family home. Wes is a childlike hippie who seems more dippy than he actually is. Finally, freshman Kathy Herd played Shirley, the precocious fourteen year-old niece. Kathy had the biggest, brightest eyes you've ever seen, and she was perfect. She develops a crush on Wes. Greg Longenhagen taught me to play guitar for the role, and in one scene i'm strumming a tune i wrote myself, as Kathy rattles off a huge declamatory speech complete with an intention to marry me. She romps off, i gently strum, and softly say "far out". The sun sets, and the first act ends. The beauty was beyond words. My funniest moment was a huge speech i gave, with a folk tale about an Eskimo who saves his village by farting. Up until then, Wes never said more than a word or two, and everybody is a bit slack-jawed. Jeff and Lou then rip into me, mirroring our offstage pasts, yet it was somehow perfect. I had wanted the role of Kenny, and i'll be forever grateful Sandi had a better idea. One of the show's profound moments comes when Betty says that there's no such thing as death. Life goes on, then stops. You can't worry about the stopping, she says, you have to worry about the going on. The interchanges between Sally and Wes were fed from the love between Betty and i. I think we were each other's special favorites. Why did this show work so well? Especially when it was a small cast with my nemesis Lou, and the abrasive Jeff? A lot of that antagonism was turning to respect by this time, i guess. At the core of the play were four actors who knew each other very well. Add a stranger, a mature professional, and an embodiment of youthful enthusiasm…whatever the reasons any play works, i've never been involved in one more sweetly beautiful. The connection between actors and audience was so humbling. With THREE SISTERS and ON TIDY ENDINGS, it capped a year that was the equal of anything i could have hoped for (and that's saying something). It all culminated with the department banquet. I was up for an award for best supporting actor, for Wes, and i was a bit ambivalent. I found the Oscars embarrassing, how people took a popularity contest so seriously. The idea that art can be measured…i had always idolized George C. Scott, who turned down his Oscar. But i loved the attention Wes brought. Long after the show ended, Wes impressions were still flying around. I decided that it wasn't the Oscars, and that the voters were just my peers, trying to express how much they liked something. That banquet night, i won. I went up to the podium, accepted the pin, and after a couple moments of silence, gave a smile and a Wes-like "wow".

Sunday, October 18, 2009

tribal relations

Modern humans live lives radically different from the ones evolution prepared us for. If you would know yourself, and understand modern problems from a more elemental level, you must understand the life humans lived for our first 200,000 years.
Archaeology tells us our social unit was the tribe, numbering 100 persons or so. Biology tells us this too; a recent study revealed that the maximum number of people our brains can relate to as distinct individuals is around 150. Beyond that, we have to resort to hierarchy and stereotype.
Tribes were largely egalitarian, with little or no concept of private property. They were also the original idle rich. Creature comforts were easily met with two to three hours of work per day, leaving the rest of the time for leisurely pursuits. So if you decide to disparage Uncle Moe for doing nothing but sitting on the couch and expelling gas from both ends, or your step-neice Ashley for her inability to hold down a full-time job, the scientific arguments will be on their side.
You can read the writings of Marshall Salins and Richard Borshay Lee for more tribal insight. The angle that popped into my mind is interpersonal relationships.
In a modern society, how many people of your peer group will you come into contact with in your lifetime? Thousands is a conservative estimate. For the more mobile, tens of thousands is possible. If we include our "peers" from movies and television and the internet, 100,000 is not out of the question.
How many peers did tribal life prepare us for?
Let's postulate a tribe of 120, and break the tribe into age groups. For most of human history, we didn't live past forty, so let's say there are four peer groups by age in each tribe: children (1-10), youths (10-20), adults (20-30), and the elderly (30-40). So the size of your peer group would be one quarter of the tribe - thirty people. Halve that number, as the idea of men and women as peers is a revolutionary new concept in the course of human history. You're down to fifteen people.
Fifteen peers.
How did you get along with the other kids in first grade? Was there one you hated? Were you popular but lonely? An outcast with one true friend? A leader loved by all? Somewhere quietly in the middle?
Imagine time freezing in first grade, and the members of that class being the only peers you get for the rest of your life.
In my own childhood, each new grade brought a subtle reshuffling of my place in the class, which stayed largely the same until third grade, when my personality burst within the group dynamic, and i became the class clown.
I had never been that before, nor would i ever be again in such an unqualified way.
But in a tribal society, there is no third grade. Imagine the childhood peer you got along with least. Was there one particular person dedicated to making your life miserable? For me it was an arrogant churl named Dean. Now imagine that person being there, close at hand, your entire life. Tribal interdependence precluded homicide or running away. Modern life allows us to discard individuals we don't like...maybe not always right away, but always eventually.
How much better at conflict resolution were we, as tribal humans? Or how much better were we at simply accepting a certain amount of unresolvable misery?
What if your greatest nemesis had never been a part of your life, or what if he or she were with you every single day forever? How would you be different from who you are now? Maybe your nemesis would eventually become a friend. All sorts of miracles can happen...it took me a couple decades, but i've grown attached to Yoko's stuff on DOUBLE FANTASY.
And romantically...suppose you met your true love in fourth grade? Or tenth grade? Or when you were seventy-five, like Tony Randall? In a tribal society, that's not gonna happen. You're frozen with first grade. What if there wasn't any girl or boy you particularly fancied? That's your life, huckleberry. So much of our lives are consumed by the search for that special one who is right for us. But in a tribal society, that's nonsense. Maybe you get lucky, but i'm guessing not many love stories for the ages came out of tribal societies.
Or maybe our modern expectations are the myth.
Think about all the relationships in your life that didn't work out. Then imagine that you could never walk away from them. But wait, the fact that you picked such and such a person in the first place...if that had been your choice in a tribal society, you had a pool of fifteen from which to go shipoopie shopping. Where do you go if the relationship goes sour? Obviously, the person you were with had been your best option. Move on to choice #2, who's probably not available anyway?
The answer is you didn't move on.
Compromise. Acceptance.
Skills we have moved away from in this post-post-modern world.
How many failed relationships would we have worked at harder, if we didn't live in a world where humans are dispensable?
And i understand that "failed relationship" is a prejudicial term, based on the fallacious belief that humans are monogamous. Must a relationship which provided intimacy and healing, but fell apart, be labeled a "failure"?
No.
Just take care that your head isn't so far in the clouds, that you miss the chance to love the person or people who are standing in front of you. Maybe your last love wasn't perfect, but maybe "perfect" is some bizarre modern tyranny, leading many to lives of unfulfilled searching, or marriage number five.
Of course, there's the story of the lovers who are peas in a pod, finding each other only after a long road of loneliness. I'm not suggesting a return to tribal ways...and the freedom to leave someone is not one i would wish to lose. But perhaps the degree to which we view a new friend or lover as dispensable, perhaps this attitude needs more scrutiny than we give it, particularly through the lens of the lives that evolution made us suited for.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

wheeeeee!

I've discovered a website called NakedWorldRecords.com. What delight. They give links to all sorts of naked firsts, mosts, and greatests. If you've never danced naked, swum naked, run naked, or played in the wind and sun naked, you're not quite alive. There are only one or two links which are idiotic, and i bless the fine folks who created the site. They're doing their part in the upward rise of the human spirit. I especially recommend the most naked people in a phone booth, the figure skater, and the first naked drum ensemble.
http://www.nakedworldrecords.com/index.htm

Friday, October 16, 2009

depo girl, park girl

(It seems these two, not Amy, are the last romantic connections to be recollected...several years after i finished the first draft of the memoir. If you're following along chronologically, pardon this backtrack [though it's vaguely possible the first part is a fast forward].)
WOMEN 35-36
depo provera girl
The memory of her is murky...i'm not even 100% sure she existed. The memories seem too detailed to be a dream, yet i can't place her chronologically in a way that feels right. I can't recall how we met, but we dated in my fourth(?) year of undergrad. She was younger. She had a second-floor apartment in the middle of town, with a window overlooking the street. It was very cool, we could look out at the people below, and all through the night the sounds of street life never died away completely. That window was abnormally low, and i remember very much wanting to have sex with her from behind, while she kneeled and leaned out the window, but we never did. She didn't have any connection to the theater department, and seemed almost too normal for me. I mean that in both directions; i was faintly mystified over what she saw in me. She was attractive, fun, a bit tall, with long dark hair, and maybe a league below me in intellect. She was on depo provera, a hormone birth control...patches, i think? We either had sex for a month or less, or had a relationship that was sexual but unconsummated, perhaps because we started to get into some physical/emotional issues she had, and the relationship became one of therapy. I remember singing Monty Python's "Medical Love Song" as i drove away from her building, maybe for the last time. Our affair ended abruptly but benignly, and why, i can't remember.
park girl
A hazy college memory. She was one of those outdoorsy hippiesque girls who are the coolest girls in the world, and she had a grad school level brain. We had one memorable date in a state park. We explored, we ran, we had fun...we made out, and it was great. We got naked. I remember her giving me a lesson on how i'd always be able to tell fake boobs from real. The real ones would sag to the side when the girl was on her back, and the fake ones would point up. I laughed, and affirmed my preference for real. We went back to town, and she was everything i could have wanted...yet i let her fade out of my life. I kicked myself for walking away, even while i was doing it. Maybe she was too real and available, and i was afraid of failing...maybe something else didn't feel quite right...and maybe i couldn't get past her saggy breasts. They really fell to the side, in retrospect more than average breasts, which was a strange effect, as she was in good shape. Don't bust my chops, i've done so plenty for both of us. But i still had had almost no experience with real breasts. Living in this repressed society, virtually all of my familiarity with breasts was through movies...and at the time, i still couldn't fully grasp how movie breasts were different from real ones.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Tidy Endings/Am I Blue?

THEATER 21
-spring 1989
Early in the semester, i auditioned for student-directed one-acts being staged in the studio theater. I got cast as Arthur, the lead in Harvey Fierstein's ON TIDY ENDINGS, and also a small part in AM I BLUE?. The first thing director Rob Diremigio told me was that he wanted a straightforward performance, unlike the Fierstein flamboyance of the original production. That suited me fine. It was an incredible piece, about a dead gay man's ex-lover and ex-wife coming together to sign papers, then fighting over pieces of a dead man's memory. Rob and i got along real well. Playing the ex-wife was Bree, a junior new to the department. She turned in a seamless, heartrending performance. Diane DeNoble played Bree's lawyer, and freshman Chris Moody played the son. Diane and i had no scenes together, but she was great. Chris did some wonderful work, and he and i hit it off. The bulk of the play belonged to Bree and i, and there was an affection between us that fed our work immensely. The show song was the poignant "Landslide". Our show was the last of three. It was the first gay character i ever played, and Rob's directing us past the surface of these characters was perfect. It ended up being the first play i was ever humbled to be a part of. I'm tempted to put it in the category of plays that had no right to be as good as they were, but it all felt so natural and right that i hesitate to do so. I'd never been involved in a production that affected so many so visibly. We could feel the audience's energy, and hear their gasps and crying. Our characters fought to protect our places in the dead man's life. The one moment i'll never forget was with a biker-type student i'd met once or twice, who had been dragged to the show unwillingly, and in the hall afterward he and his friends came up to me. He stood there trying to talk, but couldn't. He kept on crying…i'll never forget it. I constructed a show plaque for Rob, made of wood and seashells. AM I BLUE? starred Jim Sioutis and Laura Mealy, and was directed by Jeff Bleam. Directing brought out the best in Jeff, it was the most gentle and human i'd ever known him. Laura was a sophomore new to the department, and i started to develop a lasting crush on her. Jimmy was still the happily abusive so-and-so i had grown to love. My part consisted of three or four lines as an offstage barker trying to get Jim to bring Laura into the bar. It was great fun. I had always been glad i had friendships outside the department, it seemed healthy. But it made for talk. Anything, even the absence of something, made for talk. Because i didn't drink, word went around that i was an alcoholic. Because i didn't date anyone in the department, i got a reputation as a homosexual. And that spring, i got a reputation i could not trace. Word went around that i was extremely well hung. Damned insensitive rumor mill…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

R.P.G.B. foreword

A REASONABLE PERSON'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE
Foreword
This book is a critical analysis of the Bible. As such, it deals with god, divine revelation, and such. For agnostic reasons, it would be ludicrous of me to claim to have any knowledge of things "not of this world". To an agnost, an atheist is as ludicrous as a theist (okay, perhaps not as ludicrous, but certainly as unfounded), for they both claim divine knowledge. I am delighted to leave such claims to others.
Why this book? Because some claim the Bible was written by god. Not inspired by, written. A surprising number of those people haven't read the Bible, however. This book is for them, and for others who might have an atheistic, agnostic, sociological, satanic, comedic, perverse, or passing interest. This book takes the words of the Bible, and applies to them a test of reasonableness. For such a test, we must make assumptions about god's nature. These are they:
(1) God exists.
(2) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
(3) Morality, as an unchangeable standard of right and wrong by which humans may be judged, exists.
(4) God, the source or perfect measure of morality, is righteous and just.
(5) Human nature, such as it is, is the same as when the Bible was written.
These five are by no means necessary, nor even the most reasonable assumptions. Indeed, "most reasonable assumptions about god" is a contradiction-in-terms. These assumptions simply serve to establish a common ground on which discussion can be held. There are many different conceptions of god, but i attempted to choose one which would be agreeable to the greatest number. The Bible i used is the revised standard. To avoid needless repetition, i usually remark upon a particular type of occurrence only the first time it comes up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

oh jenn, no...

I recently watched parts of the Jennifer Aniston film MARLEY & ME. It was hard to look at. My friend Mike was watching, and called me over to see the aftermath of Jenn's facial surgery. He was having trouble watching, too. And let me profusely apologize to Jennifer beforehand, if her surgery was facial reconstruction after some industrial accident. But the otherwise inescapable conclusion is that Jenn felt she wasn't beautiful enough, or young-looking enough, and had her face carved up.
Is it possible it's still going to get worse, before the human race pukes in self-revulsion, and screams "NO MORE!!!"? I read the other day that there was recently a beauty pageant, strictly for women who'd had cosmetic surgery. Some of them had had their entire bodies reconstructed.
There was no report of protesters at the event.
There is something primal in the human psyche, a feeling of revulsion when one comes face to face with one who has been disfigured. We might wish it weren't so...but it is. We can learn to get over it with someone we love, but confronted with a stranger who's been mutilated, an involuntary feeling of shock or horror arises. In social situations, we choke down this response, and do our best to act like nothing has happened.
The fact that Hollywood is willing to trot out people who have been obviously mutilated, is a fascinating commentary on our society's greed. There can be no question that the studios are aware of the knife edge they're walking, in banking on the surgeon's skill to deflect our innate revulsion.
And oh Jenn, sweet Jenn...i stood up for you over the years. I defended you against the naysayers and Friends-haters. I took joy whenever you did a good movie. And i know that to a certain extent you are a victim in all this, of a society that values a woman only inasmuch as we want to fuck her, and that the woman we want to fuck must resemble an adolescent.
But some excuses only go so far. A lot of people on this planet face unspeakable hardships every day, Jenn. You're a pampered millionaire, and you've been given a platform from which you can literally affect the world. The roles you take and the choices you make affect millions, if not billions. Can you not wrap your mind around how you just fucked up the psyches of untold young minds who look up to you, or want to be like you? How many millions of girls will someday allow themselves to be cut open, because of what you've taught? How many millions of boys will someday shatter a woman's self-worth because she's doesn't look like you did five years ago?
It's uncharacteristic of me to attack like this, particularly when i haven't walked in your shoes, and i know that you probably need a hug right now more than you've needed one in a long time.
I know all that...but unholy god in hell, Jenn, what have you done?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

naked laura's better place

I dreamt the other night about laura, a college friend. I had an epic crush on her that lasted at least a year, but she never responded. Attraction can be easy to deconstruct, sometimes in ways that aren't flattering. Something about chasing the ones who run away? I'm not saying i wanted laura because i couldn't have her...but the way my crush played out, unfulfilled, it would be stunning if she hadn't burned into a corner of my spirit like few ever have. I do think it's possible to fall in love when there's no initial attraction, but thinking about my dream, which was intimate and naked, i fall back on that flash of instant desire. Most humans are too complex and unpredictable to be understood through generalizations (and nowhere is this more true than with sex), but from the second i met laura, i wanted her. Despite the occasional imperative for rationality in the face of irrational desires, there is a part of me that thinks we're fooling ourselves if we disregard the instant rush of attraction we feel for some people. Where does it come from? Body chemistry? The playing out of stimuli programmed into us while we're infants? Genetic memory? Shared human consciousness?
We can go years wishing for a taste of that rush, we can even leave lonely trails of rejection and frustration fooling around with those who don't measure up...but in a moment of truth like the one that played out in my dream, the lesson echoes: abandon rationality, ye who seek to steer the course of desire. Our desires may be shallow, frustrating, or illicit, they may make us happy or miserable or both, but perhaps the only path to happiness is embracing desire without censor or guilt.
Like almost everyone, i've walked away from romantic opportunities in my life. Having once tasted a healing intimate relationship, the thought of settling for less became laughable. I don't regret that path, but it curiously flies in the face of one of the songs that touched me deeply when i was young, "A Better Place To Be", by harry chapin:

It was an early morning bar room
and the place just opened up
And the little man came in so fast
and started at his cups
And the broad who served the whisky
she was a big old friendly girl
Who tried to fight her empty nights
by smilin' at the world

And she said "Hey Bub, It's, It's been awhile
since you been around
Where the hell you been hidin'?
And why you look so down?"
But the little man just sat there
like he'd never heard a sound

The waitress she gave out with a cough
and acting not the least put off
she spoke once again
She said, "I don't want to bother you
Consider it's understood
I know I'm not no beauty queen
But I sure can listen good"

And the little man took his drink in his hand
and he raised it to his lips
He took a couple of sips
and then he told the waitress this story

"I am the midnight watchman
Down at Miller's Tool and Die
And I watch the metal rusting
I watch the time go by
A week ago at the diner
I stopped to get a bite
And this here lovely lady
She sat two seats from my right
And Lord, Lord, Lord she was alright

You see, she was so damned beautiful
that she could warm a winter frost
But she looked long past lonely
and well nigh on to lost
Now I'm not much of a mover
or a pick-em-up easy guy
But I decided to glide on over
and give her one good try
And Lord, Lord, Lord she was worth a try

Well I was tongued-tied like a school boy
I stammered out some words
It did not seem to matter much
'cause I don't think she heard
She just looked clear on through me
to a space back in my head
It shamed me into silence
as quietly she said
'If you want me to come with you
then that's all right with me
Cause I know I'm going nowhere
and anywhere's a better place to be
Anywhere's a better place to be'

Well I drove her to my boarding house
and I took her up to my room
And I went to turn on the only light
to brighten up the gloom
But she said, 'Please leave the light off
oh I don't mind the dark.'
And as her clothes all tumbled 'round her
I could hear my heart

The moonlight shone upon her
as she lay back in my bed
It was the kind of scene
I only had imagined in my head
I just could not believe it
to think that she was real
And as I tried to tell her she said 'Shhh...
I know just how you feel
And if you want to come here with me
then that's all right with me
'Cause I've been oh so lonely
Lovin' someone is a better way to be
Anywhere's a better place to be.'

Well the morning come so swiftly
as I held her in my arms
And she slept like a baby
snug and safe from harm
I did not want to share her
or dare to break the mood
So before she woke I went out
to buy us both some food
I come back with my paper bag
to find that she was gone
She'd left a six word letter saying
'It's time that I moved on.'"

You know the waitress she took her bar rag
and she wiped it across her eyes
And as she spoke her voice came out
as something like a sigh
She said "I wish that I was beautiful
or that you were halfway blind
And I wish I weren't so goddamn fat
I wish that you were mine
And I wish that you'd come with me
when I leave for home
For we both know all about emptiness
and livin' all alone"

And the little man
looked at the empty glass in his hand
And he smiled a crooked grin
He said "I guess I'm out of gin
And I know we both have been, so lonely
And if you want me to come with you
then that's all right with me
'Cause I know I'm goin' nowhere
and anywhere's a better place to be."

This song touched the part of me that perceived how sex was treated as a conquest, or a reward for beauty or wealth. The part of me that thought love should be given, without asking "What's in it for me?" The part that saw sex simultaneously degraded (cheapened by people using each other) and undeservedly elevated (an idiot could perceive that it was a bodily function no more or less special than breathing or crapping).
I always wondered how harry reconciled the sentiment of the song with his marriage. As a white boy from the suburbs, i was a long way from hippie free love...but that's where i intended to go.
Somewhere along the way that train jumped the rails, but a little part of the dream always refused to die. I always believed it might live again, were i but to find people capable of loving as a gift, not a negotiation.
In my current rawness and loneliness, the resonances of this song ring anew, but in ways confused. There is a young person i know, who wants my love much like the love in this song...and though i've never felt that rush of chemical/spiritual love for her, i like her, i respond to her sexually, and just want to give freely. But when we get too close my spirit fractures, knowing she and i are probably incapable of caring for each other in the deeper ways we need.
And then i go back to the song, and think about an element that didn't make much of an impression on me when i was young...how the woman, after loving the little man, disappears, almost as though her act of giving made her as sad as it did happy. Perhaps the truer interpretation is that she was so damaged that nothing touched her. It would be nice to think of her as an innocent who understood love, but had been spiritually isolated and destroyed by an uncaring society.
But that's probably reading far too much into it.
Would i have wanted laura back then, knowing she didn't love me as i did her, and if having her meant i would lose her?
I think i would have.
Yeah...hell yeah i would have.
As life went on, i came to a place where i wouldn't have wanted someone who didn't want me equally.
But now, in this sad time, i think of another woman i want who is unavailable, and think that if i could have her, i would, and forget the consequences.
To be good and noble requires almost superhuman effort in this society...to elevate yourself to a place of pure giving is almost impossible when all around you are focused on nothing but their belly button, and never give without a price tag.
I love you all, said the smiling, sad fool...

naked laura

I dreamt i was alive in the aftermath of the apocalypse. Everything was shaded in bleached yellows. Some had survived, but we knew that our time was short. I found myself with Laura Mealy, on whom i'd had a long, unfulfilled college crush. We walked together. She was sad and empty, but i was happy to be with her. We came to the house where my Dad had lived. I told her she ought to shower. She let me lead her there. I walked to the sink in another part of the bathroom, which was at least 15'x10'. I came back to her. She had undressed, and stood under the water, unmoving. I washed her. Touching her was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. After i'd finished, i realized i needed pants. I saw a pair of Dad's. As i stepped into them, i realized that i could fit into just one pant leg with ease.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Three Sisters

THEATER 20
-fall 1988
Back at WCU for my third year, i finally declared my major...theater. Fall auditions were held for a Chekov drama, directed by Jay. I read it, and within a year had read every play Chekov wrote. I had been starting to believe that Jay didn't like me. But surprise, i got cast. I played Kulygin, the cuckolded husband of Masha, the central sister. The talented John Biehle had returned to finish his degree, and was cast as Masha's lover. Troy Wenger played the doctor, Chebutykin, and was excellent as always. Colleen Corbett played Masha, and delivered a powerhouse performance. A new transfer, Andy Green, played one of the officers, and became a friend. Katie and Stephanie Lord played the other sisters. It was my first play with Stephanie, a talented sophomore with whom i maintained a mildly adversarial relationship for three and a half years, which wouldn't change until our last few days, when we learned that we had both been intimidated and attracted all along. Katie opined one night that all actors must know their niche, and that mine was selling oatmeal. Hmf. Lou played the brother, and his unsympathetic wife was played by Diane DeNoble, a senior with a teensy forehead who was lusted after by many, including myself a bit. My fake sideburns became the object of cast and crew mirthful derision. They were described as two broom-ends stuck to my face. It was during this time, at Katie and Colleen's prompting at a party, that Lou finally talked about why he had hated me all these years. He was evasive, but when they pushed, he talked about me getting the senior lead in high school. He admitted that i wasn't really that bad. We didn't run into each other's arms, but respect began to replace the enmity. When an actress dropped out, longtime tech Caitlin was pressed into service as Anfisa, the aging maid. Her performance was curious, and the funniest graffiti i've ever known appeared on the toilet wall of the men's dressing room, stating simply "Anfisa was here". Those three words entertained a room of men for weeks on end. One of the most surreal stage moments i've ever been around involved freshman actor Mike who went into insulin shock onstage, and kept repeating the phrase "Balzac was married in Berdichev", until someone got him sugar. Biehle was great onstage and in the dressing room, where he would lead riffs on alternate Russian names like Jakmiov and Scrachminutz, and would walk into a room declaiming how it smelled like unwiped buttock. Onstage, the show gave me some of the most beautiful audience response i'd ever experienced. My character is aware of his wife's infidelity, but maintains a happy face. On some nights i could feel the audience gasp as one during some of the scenes between Colleen and i. In one review, my work was written of as the best of the show. It felt great, particularly when i got the impression that Jay wasn't happy i had been praised so.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

goodbye lafayette

Last night i moved out of my leaky little home on Lafayette Ave. Almost suprisingly, i was emotionally affected. I had spent my last few Bed-Sty months paying no rent, as compensation for a ceiling that wasn't entirely successful at keeping rain an outdoor event. October came, and though i hadn't found a new home, i moved out as i told my landlord i would.
As a landlord, Henry was catastrophic. He had the communication habits of an addict, and his likeable maintenance man, the same.
Such is New York.
I suppose i was emotional because there were both misery and happiness in my seven months there. I lived the physical manifestations of stress for the first time in my life, in the form of a sickened feeling, and being unable to eat. For the first month, when the leaks were the worst, i was a veritable prisoner to the place. It may be a long time before the sound of rain doesn't make my stomach faintly knot up.
On the happy side, my neighbor Adam was a gem, a classy, rambling man who loved his dog, shared his beautiful garden, and seemed one with the neighborhood. My housemates were human...struggles with alcoholism and a vandalizing ex-girlfriend were most memorable...but they were good people who kept problems to themselves, in a clean, happy home. When Ricardo was vandalized, he decided to not file a police report which would have necessitated the arrest of a single mother. My housemates thought highly of me. I'll miss them, just as i'll miss the most beautiful rhodadendron you'll ever see. Hand to Hera, i believe it grew ten feet in the months i took care of it. While there, i experienced one of the best sexual relationships of my life. And with my writing, i was creatively alive in the world, sharing my dreams of a new day, and a better way.
When i told Henry i would be out in a few days, he offered one of the upstairs rooms to me. I told him there had been too much damage done. He lowered the rent. I said no, and he lowered it again. Perhaps the cynical view is the correct one, in that he simply realized i was one of the best tenants he was likely to find...but i'd like to hope that maybe he felt bad about his shortcomings, too.
He is one of a small handful of people in my life i've had practice conversations in my head with, trying to come to grips with their perplexing or hurtful behavior.
It was time to go.
I'm in Flatbush now, for a little bit anyway. Determined that my fourth room search in a little over two years won't be urgency-driven, i'm going to patiently wait for that little home that's just right. Facilitating that is my friend Mike, and his wife Sandy. When he heard my story, he offered me his large guest room, for as long as i need. He won't hear any talk of rent, and he moved my stuff with his car. I'm actually very happy with the way it's working out, as this time will give me a chance to know him better. We've been good acquaintances for over a year, as moving co-workers. He's a musician with professional biking aspirations. The only downside here is the extra long bike ride to Manhattan.
Flatbush actually lives up to its name, so far.
The building i'm in is a bit fancier than my last few, and the crack house is much closer.
Such is New York.
I'm also living with a chihuahua who bit my ankle and threatens to give himself an embolism with his barking, plus a pit bull/basenji who is passingly gentle, a black and white cat named Mr. Martin, and a street cat who, because of infant malnutrition, will never grow to full size.
Such is New York too.
But New York is also some of the best people i've ever known, like Adam and Stanley and Robert and Ricardo and Mike and Ann.
Seven years ago, i moved here from a little island in the Gulf of Mexico. Last summer, i felt for the first time the urge to live near warmth and water again. I may heed that urge in another year or so. Perhaps as my NY swan song, i'll produce one of my plays in the summer Fringe Festival, then...i've never lived in California or the Rockies. New Zealand might be nice.
Or some place as yet undreamed of...
As for now, i'll look for a loving home, where i won't live with one foot out the door.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

stephanie lord

WOMEN 34
A year younger than me, we spent most of our college theater careers together. A good actress. More than good. Wonderful voice. Passionate. Bright. In her first year, i opined to some theater colleagues that her performance in a play didn't quite merit the gushing it was prompting. Maybe i honestly felt that a little, but essentially i was just a jerk who was threatened by a freshman being gushed over. I never considered her romantically, because i never had any reason to think she might consider me. Three years later, came a bittersweet moment. She was set to graduate a semester early, and i a semester late. I don't remember how it came about, but i invited her to watch a black & white movie. And for the first time ever, we hung out, just the two of us. She had lyme disease, and had also been hurt when she'd fallen asleep at the wheel. That night we found out that we both had assumed for three years that the other wasn't attracted…wrongly. We had been intimidated by each other. It was too late to discover what we could have been, but for one night, the first-love college romance i was never to have was right there...two outstretched hands away. A romance that could have gone anywhere. I found out she'd always felt a bit of an "outsider" in a department that had embraced her…which was perhaps a fair description of me as well (my non-drinking setting me apart). With her it was earnest christianity, but unlike my romance with Chris, that wall seemed laughably leapable. But too late…she was engaged to some Fred fellow, and moving to Florida. Oh Steph. Here's a sigh for you, wherever you flew…

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

um, no baby seals?

How does a committed anti-capitalist ask for (gulp) money?
Like this.
I live as a freelancer, doing things i genuinely like or love (actor/editor/mover/mascot/director/art model/tree trimmer/woman wrestler), making enough to cover my creature needs and have time for writing. No one tells me what to write, how to write, or how often to do so. For better or worse, i'm as close to a pure voice as you're likely to ever find.
So everybody in the world give me a penny?
If that doesn't pan out, how about this: everybody who loves or is amused by me, send one dollar a month. If you want to give more, that's fine, but i'd rather you try to find one more person who thinks i might be worth a buck.
We'll subvert the system. For a writer (or most anybody) in this society, the path to success is a lurking minefield of compromise.
Not that compromise is evil.
Except when it is, particularly in a capitalist society.
Pure voices of outrage or joy or lust or hope get distilled.
They get lost.
Or funneled. Most successful writers find a niche, and milk it 'til the cow runs dry. But what about someone whose style isn't easily pigeonholed? What am i? Social critic? Humorist? Seer? Poet? Sci fi geek? Champion of nakedidity? To become successful, i might have to be only one.
Look at the labels to the right of this column. They represent four years of my life, trying to write something that touches you, and billions of others.
Does ambition like that take a bit of arrogance, and no small amount of ego?
Yup.
But the one thing i have going for me, the only thing that sets me apart from just about every person you'll ever meet, is that i understand how full of shit i can be.
I've taught myself to recognize it in me, and others. I try in my feeble way to avoid those pitfalls.
Sometimes i succeed brilliantly.
Am i a good writer? I have moments.
Whatever i am, you might never meet another with more integrity.
Worth a buck?
If i can get a thousand such supporters from this world of billions, i'll be able to explore more, read more, and write more.
If i get two thousand, i'll have medical insurance for the first time in over a decade, and you'll get to read about Antarctica, intentional communities, public streaking, or my career as a Hooters girl.
Send an e-mail to nakednursing@yahoo.com, and i'll give you the address to send your buck.
If you can't afford a buck, i'll send one to you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

scene of the crime

Months ago, after A and i broke up, i posted a trifle called "wrob quiz":
http://nakedmeadow.blogspot.com/2009/05/rob-quiz.html
In it, i asked the reader to guess which among four of A's qualities had bothered me. The piece was about me. It was about being amused with one's own personality quirks. She soon told me the piece hurt her. After hearing her explain why, i agreed that i shouldn't have been surprised at her hurt. I told her i hoped that one day she'd appreciate that it wasn't about her though, and that only during a time of heightened emotions could she have reacted so. I let it rest, saying we'd come back to it later.
The daunting thing is finding the right time for such a conversation. Too early, and objectivity is impossible. Too late, and it feels pathetic and irrelevant. I've touched on the subject in a couple e-mails to her this week. She's responded with silence, so i'll finish the conversation with you, instead.
Lucky you.
At least you get to judge me. People like that sort of thing.
The four qualities?
She smoked. It had been a minor irritant, but i'd gotten over it. I could live with a little ashtray breath. Is there any inherent value judgement in saying someone smokes, when in fact they do?
She was out of shape. Not a lot. With smoking, you could make a case for addiction making her understandably sensitive, but it's hard to pass off being out of shape as anything other than a life choice. I was a tiny bit disappointed, in that it meant she probably couldn't keep up in all the activities i love...but i got over it, as it's not even healthy to try to integrate your lover into every aspect of your life. I also would have been more lustfully gratified had she been in shape, but i accepted that part of her with a smile. Is it hurtful to say that someone is out of shape, when in fact they are? Isn't that like saying it's hurtful to say that someone doesn't wear denim, when in fact they don't?
She believed that things happen for a reason. I didn't necessarily agree. Maybe she was an idiot, maybe she was right. I found it kind of cute, actually.
She dyed her stray grey hairs, a choice she first made during our time together. It was a choice i was never able to come to grips with. It just pushed too many of my buttons...the fact that we live in an ageist society, and the horrific lengths people go to "fight" aging, instead of accepting and venerating it as a healthy society does. We're all so damaged, almost incapable of real self-love (now there's a song Lennon should have written). I had thought her greys cute...
Anyway, i wrote the piece because i wanted to know whether anyone could guess which of those four things had actually bothered me. I was inviting the reader to laugh with me, or at me. If some reader happened to think about grey hair in a new way, that would have been a bonus. We do what we can.
A couple of her friends called me a jerk. Which maybe i was, but i'd like to hope that all i was guilty of was indelicate timing.
You make the call.

Friday, October 2, 2009

you're a good man, linus

YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
THEATER 19
-summer 1988
My very first two-show summer. After a performance of PIPPIN, a friendly fellow from the audience asked whether i'd be interested in auditioning for a production of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. I was, and i did. His name was Phil Rieschick, and he was directing the show for the Mill Hill Playhouse in Trenton, which was across the Delaware from where i lived. I got cast as Linus, which was very cool, and rehearsals began at a Trenton dance studio. The cast was a sweet little group. I loved my part, particularly my "Blanket" number. We needed a baby blanket. I mentioned this to my mother, and a couple days later she came to me with one. I asked her where she'd gotten it. She said it had been mine. I gave her a long puzzled look, and told her i knew nothing of this. She smiled a misty smile (my Mom, i think i'll keep 'er). Performances were in an old church building, which was so cool. Grand architecture, in a neighborhood which had become a little rough (our posters advertised patrolled parking). It was beautiful. It was also the first time i was ever pursued for my autograph. Well, not me, but Linus. There were dozens of starry-eyed tykes to meet after each show, asking us to sign programs. To them, we weren't actors. I had a wonderful time with it, and was always the last one to get back to the dressing room. For a show about innocence, things got a little racy. During one performance, Charlie Brown propositioned me backstage. I thought he was joking at first, but he sure wasn't. Snoopy was played by fourteen year-old Jenna Barnaby, who was talented and fun, and who had a crush on me from day one. In my mind i said, "Pleease come back in ten years". Lucy was around my age and very sweet, and one day asked when i was going to ask her out. I almost rose to the bait. Schroeder was played by a wonderful guy named Kerry (who thankfully didn't give me the eye). The play was just a sweet, sweet time.