Saturday Morning Post #83: Between Zero and One (Part 3)

In the third and final part of another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, our hero is dealing with a major internet outage circa 2001. In the first part, he learns that his high speed T-3 connection was accidentally backhoed up by the power company and won’t be fixed until the end of the week. Unable to wait that long, he decides to venture out in the world to find that most low-tech of replacements: A dial-up modem — but he’s finding the real world to be just as frustrating a place.

The cabbie, who was wearing a gigantic blue turban, didn’t speak much English and he really couldn’t drive that well, but Tyler didn’t care. At least he was getting somewhere, heading toward his target. The meter ticked away faster than they seemed to be moving, but whatever. It would be worth every penny once he was back home, back online, back in business.

It was three o’clock already, most of the day wasted. Naturally, the advertised air conditioning in this taxi wasn’t working, so it was very warm, and the back windows only went down halfway. It was hot and stuffy and Tyler dozed off — he’d been awake for at least twenty-four hours straight now. He woke up to a rapping on the window. The cabbie, opening the door, gibbering at him, a stream of incoherent words, then the absolutely intelligible “Twelve-fifty, you pay.”

“Right,” Tyler scraped the gunk from his eyes, got out of the cab and gave the driver twelve-fifty, starting away, then noticing the man staring at him with evil intent.

“What?” he asked. The driver glared at him, eyes narrowing. Tyler thought about it a moment, then remembered vaguely. Taxis were not exact change only and certain people expected a gratuity for doing the job they were getting paid for without screwing up too badly. “Oh, yeah,” he said, looking in his wallet. The smallest he had was a five, which was way too much, right? He tried to calculate fifteen per cent in his head, got as close as somewhere around two dollars. He handed the five to the cabbie, said, “Give me three back,” but the cabbie nodded and smiled, hopped in the car and drove away.

“Hey!” Tyler shouted, but it was no use. The little thief. And it really couldn’t have been a twelve dollar trip. He was only five miles away from home, tops.

Five miles from home, but half a block from his goal. That was good. Anyway, he could write this whole trip off, it was a business expense. He walked to the mall, in through one of the anchor stores, dodging his way through the endless racks of women’s clothes and around the perfume counters. Nothing to see here, nothing of interest, but it was like running a maze to get to the mall proper. How could people shop like this? It was chaos, dashing around, picking through shit, lugging it around, taking forever to check out. Having to repeat the process anew at each store. And why was it that ninety percent of most malls sold nothing but women’s clothing and shoes? Where were the guy stores? Damn few and far between and, even then, half of those only sold men’s clothing and shoes.

Tyler finally made it into the mall, which was eerily quiet and empty at this hour on a weekday. Encouraging Muzak tinkled through the air. It felt safe here. Serene, like a vision of some science fiction utopia from a bad seventies TV movie. Of course, it was a given that, in utopia, something always went wrong. Tyler should know. He’d been there, and now he wasn’t.

He walked down the wide, bright, tiled pathway, remembering a long unused route to the computer store. Halfway down, on the right, just past the Hotdog on a Stick place. And, sure enough, that strangest of food emporia was there, complete with some unfortunate teenage girl in the ridiculous multi-colored outfit, tank top and hot pants, steroidified gob hat rising high above her head, as she bounced up and down on a wooden oar, perpetually making lemonade.

He couldn’t help but stare for a moment. Whoever had come up with that outfit and that preparation method had pulled the perfect scam. “Let’s see. How can we get teenage girls to jiggle their titties around in public in a tight outfit? Aaaah, I know.”

The girl gave Tyler a dirty look, finished up with the oar and vanished into some hidden back room. Tyler let out a single snorted guffaw, then went on past the place, around the corner to where —

“Oh, shit,” he said out loud, getting a nasty look from a passing old woman. The computer store was gone, replaced by a goddamn Starbuck’s. He stood there for a long moment, then looked around. Now what? He wandered back to the center court, bumped into a mall map, an elaborate lit-from-behind thing on an angled pedestal. It looked like prop from Star Trek.

Tyler stood over it, looking for the “search” button, finally remembering he was only looking at dead, non-interactive Plexiglas. So he’d have to do this the old-fashioned way. He scanned the index, down an endless list of “Women’s Clothing” and “Shoes” and “Home Furnishings.” The damn thing wasn’t even alphabetical. “Gifts and Cards,” “Food,” “Entertainment.” Finally, “Specialty Shops,” all three of them — but one of them was called “Nerd Up!” He knew that name. High tech gadgets and gizmos, software, hardware. Perfect. He looked at the map, found the place — naturally, it was as far as possible from here — and started walking.

The dweeb behind the counter laughed at his request. “A modem? A modem… you mean like, the plug into the phone and wait forever at fifty-six modem, that?” he giggled. Tyler nodded. “Yeah, you know, my grandfather used to have one of those.”

“Stuff the ‘tude, it’s temporary,” Tyler answered. “My T-3 is down.”

“Ah. So you’re a victim of the great fiber-optic fuck up.”

“You heard about that?”

“Who hasn’t? The power company and the ISP have been all over the news, pointing at each other. The network is going to be down a month, at least.”

“Where can I get a modem?” Tyler practically begged.

“I don’t know, maybe I can pull one out of my ass,” the clerk shot back.

Tyler grabbed the kid by his lapels, got in his face. “Good, let’s try that,” he said.

“Hey, easy,” the kid answered, giving a weak smile. “We really don’t have anything that low tech here. Did you try Computer Avenue?”

“You mean the Starbucks?”

“Oh, yeah, right. Forgot.”

Tyler let the kid go. There had to be a modem in this store somewhere, but the kid wasn’t even going to go out of his way to look for it. “You’re sure there’s nothing in the back room?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” the kid sneered. “Sorry. Have a nice day.”

Tyler wanted to punch him. Instead, he stormed out of the store, sat on the nearest bench, tense, trying to figure out what to do. This whole process would have been so simple online. Of course, if he were still online…

“If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the ointment,” he remembered from somewhere. That was always the problem. Not the machines, not the technology, but the people behind it. They either designed it to be as fallible and stupid as they all were, or let it run afoul through negligence. It took a bad driver to make a car crash, a careless mechanic to let a plane fall out of the sky.

Human error. That was the bugaboo, the fly in the ointment, the serpent in Eden. Back home, online, everything was fine. Seek anything and ye shall find, and comparison shop and buy and never even have to put your pants on.

Humans are flawed and, though it had been years since he’d been to church, ever since his mother’s funeral mass, he couldn’t help but think of original sin. He’d believed all that hoo-hah once, sincerely. But the more he saw of this imperfect world, the more he doubted that there could be any intelligence behind it. The more he’d gone into his online world, the more he became convinced that everything that mattered was all just a series of zeroes and ones. On and off, good and bad, something and nothing. In this equation, the machines were the ones. The people were all just zeroes.

He noticed a sign in a clothing store window, hanging between two male mannequins, beckoning the gullible. It read “All two suit’s, $199.95.”

“Jesus,” he whispered. “All two?” And what the hell was up with apostrophes, anyway? Had everyone forgotten the difference between plural and possessive? He had bitched on that topic in chat once with a friend in London, who typed back, “You Americans love to stick them where they don’t belong, but over here, we have the nasty habit of leaving them out.”

Add, subtract. One and zero. Something and… nothing.

He stared at the sign and it made him angry. Stupidity and negligence. Laziness. Original sin.

The phrase “all two” is wrong, but the phrase “all three” is correct. Why? Because English has a word for “both.” And Tyler knew enough Spanish to remember the words “ambos,” which meant the same thing. It was probably true in dozens of languages, one of those hard-wired realities that couldn’t be avoided. But why? What was the big deal with two, anyway?

Monogamy, Tyler realized. That had to be it. Humans were monogamous, or tried very hard to be, and so the basic unit of happiness was two. Sure, add a baby and you got the happy family of three, but having a kid wouldn’t get you laid. Since humans loved to cater to their own most base instincts, that was the search that mattered. It wasn’t about fight or flight. It was all about feed or fuck.

And hence, a different word for two, because two really was another kind of one all by itself. So what was this whole religious obsession with three? It didn’t fit the basic design of things. Zero, one, both. No, maybe that was the problem. In trying to push threes, religion had moved out of sync with nature, and so split up to provide coherent views for separate societies. Gods are always the color of their people, after all.

And the religions of the Gods Who Do Not Fuck were the judgemental ones. Especially the big two (that number again) of pushy proselytizers, Christianity and Islam, one born of the other after the mother was stolen from a third religion. And it was Tyler’s mother’s religion that had the big “virgin” fetish.

But where did they find all the big virgins?

And zero and one lead inexorably to two, but you could only get both with a pair of ones, never with a zero involved. What had stuck him in this hellish place right now, thwarted and alone? People.

He stood and wandered the mall, finally reaching a far corner where, improbably, they had planted a carousel in a huge, round atrium. It revolved to a happy calliope tune, all white paint and gold gilt, pastel colored horses leaping up and down as it revolved. Mirrors around the central core made the whole thing seem vertiginously deeper than it was, and round white bulbs flickered on and off, chasing themselves along the edges and lines of the thing.

It was a beautiful, flawless machine. Tyler just stared at it, feeling the small rush of air as it turned past, watching the murals above the mirrors, which revolved with the canopy, their blurring motion giving them a strange sort of life-like hue that was not in the original painting.

The carousel was almost empty, a few kids scattered here and there on the great leaping beasts, animals frozen in time, painted shades of lavender and pink and yellow, manes gilded in gold trim, black-iron bridles in their mouths. A sign proclaimed that this Merry-Go-Round had originally been built in 1920. Imagine that. Back when people still cared, didn’t make stupid mistakes. And that was why this machine, so improbably anachronistic, had survived into another century.

The atrium stretched to a dome a good fifty feet up. Tyler went to the escalator, wound his way to the top, a fourth level food court with a big hole in the center, a vantage point to watch the carousel from above. The carousel was even more amazing from this point of view, a giant circle turning steadily counter-clockwise, white painted square-tube spokes radiating from the center, the secret rods that made the horses leap visible, all the pretty lights strung out, cheerful.

It was the simplest of machines, really. A wheel with a few fancy gewgaws. A gigantic zero, but in turning, it became something. It made people happy, however briefly.

Tyler watched it, hypnotized by the motion, leaning on the railing and staring down. Then he noticed the pentagon in the center, anchor-point for the light strands on top. That was an interesting choice. Then he realized that these lights were strung out to form a five-pointed star, inside a circle. That was kind of spooky. He was looking at a huge pentagram, hidden on top of this kiddie ride, turning to the left, alternately one point up and two points up, from white magic to black magic, good and evil, off and on. And five was just two plus three, both plus all, the collision of nature and belief, reality and illusion.

Tyler had been riding his own carousel, blithely thinking the horse would take him where he wanted to go, but he’d been spinning in the same circle for more than a year. Sure, it kept him fed, made the house payments, afforded him all kinds of toys. But he was the only one in that house, the only one enjoying it. He had friends all over the country, all over the world, but all of them were just words onscreen, maybe the occasional blurry, jerky video feed, reduced to binary bits and pieces, digital information, all just so many zeroes and ones.

It took losing that connection to make him realize he wasn’t even connected at all.

It was nice standing here, actually. And maybe that design on the carousel really wasn’t some sigil of evil. After all, it was a star, a guiding light, pointing the way. It was completely out of his control, but that was how Tyler had landed here in the first place, losing control of his world. Maybe he had to give it up completely to get it back.

He watched the thing turn, big wooden circle sweeping over a gray and white checkerboard floor. From here, he could see that the murals were pastoral, green and blue scenes of idyllic countrysides from never-never picture books. Each one was the size of one of the mirror frames, which made perfect sense. As above, so below. Symmetry, order, rational thought.

And this would be how he decided what to do next. Of course. It was staring him in the face. The wheel of fortune, the answer to his dilemma. When it stopped, if the murals lined up with the mirrors, he would live with his current problem, explain to his clients that he was taking time off, try to get the car started, go out and do… something. If they did not line up, he’d find that modem, somewhere, anywhere.

The carousel was so perfect, perfect because of its simplicity and its beauty, its having a place in the world and a function.

It was slowing down. Tyler watched, a little dizzy as he tried to follow the spokes. Yes, it was slowing down, ever so gradually, losing speed. He would have his answer soon.

He glanced at his watch, not out of urgency, but rather curiosity over how long this process would take. There didn’t seem to be any brakes on the thing. They were just letting it wind down at its own good pace, the master of its fate, uninfluenced by anybody, yet influenced by everything — the people on it, air resistance, gravity, probably the rotation of the earth itself. Everything in the universe was focused on that spot, on that wheel.

One minute. It was still turning.

It was going half the speed now, and slowing down less quickly. After another minute, it hadn’t seemed to have gotten much slower at all. Tyler leaned his elbows on the railing, looked straight down. He could see people on the ride going through the ready to get off motions. So it must have been slowing perceptibly. But it had been three minutes by now and it was still turning, the star still spinning.

Molasses time. At four minutes, the carousel looked like it was going to halt at any second, and yet it kept going, creeping, murals turning above mirrors, star ever-pointing in a different direction. Momentum and inertia. He thought of a roulette wheel, decision actually made long before it came to a standstill, and yet invisible until just before it stopped. It was like that now, the edges of the murals lining up with the mirrors and then moving out of sync, but oh-so-slowly, teasingly. Tyler held his breath, watching.

The murals aligned with the mirrors as the thing seemed to have exhausted all its energy, hesitated. Yes, of course, it was a big, perfect machine, everything had to line up, everything had to fit, his decision had to be escape to the real world. Tyler smiled, then his expression changed to blank disappointment as the murals crept ahead a few inches and the whole thing stopped, out of alignment, imperfect, flawed.

“Damn,” he said, smacking the railing with both hands. And obviously, somebody hadn’t done their job right at some point, something he realized as the railing pitched forward, broke free with his full weight on it, tumbling him over and headlong, great white motionless star below growing rapidly closer to his face.

He did notice on the way down, though, that those lights were so very pretty as they blinked, on and off, bright and dark, one and —

Zero.

* * *

Friday Free-for-All #79: Retail

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments. And wow. I normally do multiple questions here, but I had no idea that the subject of my very few years in retail would have so much material.

Have you ever worked retail?

I’ve worked retail two times in my life, once in a mom-and-pop operation, and the other for a corporate big-box. I worked for the former for about three years. I walked off the job in the latter after less than a month, if that.

The mom-and-pop operation was a pharmacy located in a hospital complex, and you’ve probably seen the type. It’s the place on the ground floor of the building with medical offices where you can get your prescriptions filled, but it also specializes in candy, cards, balloons, and gifts you can grab on the way up to visit grandma on the fifth floor of the main building.

The owners were a Japanese couple, Akira and Alice, and Alice’s sister Agnes also worked there. They were actually great people to work with, although Aki had a really strange sense of humor, especially since I was the only gaijin in the place, so he made fun of me a lot for that, but I always had the sense that it was just some sort of bravado masking affection, and it was entirely cultural even though he was a first-generation American.

I inherited this job from one of my roommates, and had it junior and senior year of college, and then a year or so after school, even though my commute suddenly went from just under six miles to just over 26 miles after I’d moved back home.

I basically worked the front counter in the store, as well as did inventory and stocking the shelves, and I also did delivery rounds every afternoon to a bunch of mostly regular clients, including some pretty famous ones, since this particular hospital had an orthopedic group that dealt with the L.A. Lakers, L.A. Kings, UCLA Bruins, and a lot of Hollywood A-listers.

But I really did love a lot of the regular clients who weren’t famous, and we all got to know each other pretty well. A lot of them were total characters, like the old Italian man (judging by his real name) who had been a boxer in the 1950s, but with an Irish moniker, or the kind of imperious and stern woman whose entire porch was enclosed in wrought iron, and whose German shepherds would come out in advance of her and keep an eye on me the entire time.

I could easily see that she had a large, framed picture on the table just inside the door that was a photo of a man in 1950s era Soviet military uniform, presumably her late husband. Oh yeah — she wore a sidearm, too. But she was an incredibly generous tipper.

I also delivered to various doctors and employees in the complex, but the most interesting one was an eye-ear-nose-throat specialist who would get a special delivery about every three months.

My boss would go into a secured room to package it up in a brown paper bag that was stapled shut and which had an NCR form from the Federal Government stapled to it.

The first time he gave me this delivery, he told me, “This is one ounce of 99% pure government cocaine. Take it to this doctor and get this form signed. If you don’t come back with the form, don’t come back.”

If I remember correctly, the price the doctor paid for it was something like $99, which was far, far below what the street price of coke that pure would have been at the time — not to mention that the volume would have at least doubled if not tripled due to it being cut, so I was basically walking a couple of blocks carrying a bag worth the modern equivalent of close to $55,000.

Although I only did it a handful of times while I worked there, the one adjective I could use to describe the doctor on the receiving end was “perky.” And he always, always tried to jokingly talk me out of his having to sign the form, but that was always a hard “no” from me.

That NCR form was the government paperwork required for any controlled substance with a medical use, and it certified that the pharmacy got what was delivered and that it was sealed, and that the doctor got what the pharmacy had gotten and it was sealed. The doctor kept a copy, I took the other two back to the pharmacy, one of those went into my boss’s files and the other got sent back to the government.

I casually mentioned to one of my roommates after the fact that I’d delivered 28 grams of 99% pure government coke to a doctor and I could see his eyes light up as the numbers danced in his head, but before he could say anything, I just sternly warned him, “Don’t.”

Another notable part of my education came via a cardiologist who had a habit of coming in around the end of day on Fridays and giving my boss a prescription he’d written for himself. My boss would return with a small yellow box, hand it over, and ring it up to the doctor’s office account.

Technically, since he was a cardiologist, amyl nitrate was something that would very normally be used in his practice. Just not after hours on a weekend. This was when my boss explained the concept of “poppers” to me, and also when I realized that doctors were not above dipping into their own stash, or taking advantage of their own godly powers to dispense drugs.

Back to our mortal customers, though, my favorite was a woman in her mid-90s who shared her first name with my paternal grandmother. She was pretty much blind, but always glad when I made a delivery, and at the end of every transaction after we’d had a nice chat, she would reach into her jar and tip me with a giant handful of change from it, apologizing for only having pennies.

My roommate, Carlos, had told me about her, and assured me that she knew that they weren’t just pennies. I’d regularly leave her place with seven or eight bucks in change weighing down my pockets. Awkward and bulky, I know, but she was terribly sweet and it was all worth it.

In fact, when I finally left that job to go on to my first adulting office job, she was the only regular client that I made an unscheduled visit to, just to let her know that it was my last day, and that the boss’s son was going to be taking over my job.

Even though I hadn’t delivered anything because there was nothing to deliver, she still tried to tip me, but I politely turned her down. I can only assume that she’s no longer with and has been gone a long time now, but she was one of the bright spots of that job.

And yes, my old boss and the pharmacy are still around. But this is the end of my TED talk on my pleasant time in retail. Let’s get to the one that sucked.

This job was actually during my sophomore year in college, and happened because I was interning in Hollywood, which was a bit of a shlep from my campus near LAX, but found out that Big Box Retailer down the street was hiring, and I figured that if I could coordinate hours between the freebie intern thing and the paid job it would make the 17 mile commute worth it.

Except… number one was that I did the intern thing during afternoons and business hours, while retail store wanted me mostly weekends — after I had specified when applying that I was only available weekday evenings.

This was also when I learned that those big box retail stores don’t work quite the way you think that they do.

Sure, they have a bunch of different departments, like men’s and women’s clothing, electronics, toys, nowadays groceries, books, hardware, sporting goods, whatever. You may think that all of those departments are run by the store itself, but they’re not.

Nope. Think of each one as a totally separate store under one roof, each one run by a separate management team, but with those managers pitted against each other to show corporate the best sales results in a sort of unstated hunger games competition.

Now add on ridiculous micromanagement. For example, as I learned on my first day because I arrived early and eager, clocking in more than six minutes early would make my manager freak out, because that meant they had to pay me for an extra quarter hour.

Also, my manager was named Tudy. Not Trudy or Judy. Tudy. And that always bugged the fuck out of me, as in, “Why don’t you have an actually grown-up name again?” Okay, maybe it was immature, but I was only 19 and the name made it all but impossible to take her seriously.

The department I worked in was electronics, so I was consigned to be one of those people behind the glass counter with the locked shelves dealing in cameras, computers, gaming consoles, PDAs (which were still a thing — the data assistant part, not the inappropriate making out) cordless phones, and the like.

I also had a co-worker who was apparently the horniest thing on Earth and who I think was hitting on me in veiled ways. I should have taken him up on that, but since I was young and stupid, my perception was that he had to have been over 30, so not attractive. Photos I found later when I was past 30 (because we still sold Polaroid cameras), told me otherwise. He actually was cute.

Technically, we made commissions on our sales, although I don’t remember ever getting a single check. I think there may have been some sort of probationary period involved. I honestly don’t remember. But as the scheduling got more ridiculous and Tudy tried to get me to come in at times that I possibly couldn’t — like when I was in class or interning — I’d had enough.

One Sunday when I was supposed to come in that afternoon, I was doing a photoshoot for an actor friend, we were running over, and I just couldn’t deal with it, so I called up, couldn’t get hold of my manager, so left a message for another one that I wouldn’t be in.

A few days later, I was at the bank to deposit my paycheck, as we did in those days, and guess who winds up in line behind me? Yep. Tudy. And she tries to chew me out in Karen fashion. “You do not just call some other manager if you’re not showing up. How could you do that, blah blah blah.”

One of the most satisfying moments of my life. I turned around and told her, “I quit. Now stop talking to me.”

She was livid, but I never went back there again — to shop or to work.

My other sort of retail experience was delivering pizza — another job I got on the recommendation of a friend when I was sixteen. Now, the legal requirement was that drivers had to be eighteen, but the warning bells should have gone off when the owner just told me to write down that I was eighteen years old and sign it, and then I started immediately.

This was in the days before GPS, so I was stuck with a Thomas Guide and instinct. It was a school night as well, but from the time I started at six p.m., the deliveries didn’t stop. I’d take three out, then come back to four more, and I was the only driver working.

And the shift didn’t end at ten p.m., like it was supposed to. It went on to midnight, and then to two a.m., and I’m sure that the owner of the franchise was breaking some serious child labor laws by that point, but I finally managed to get out of there by 2:30 a.m.

And I’d certainly gotten an education in the meantime on my rounds. It was surprising how many people would order pizza, be given a delivery time, and then immediately start fucking, so I was greeted by more than a few sweaty boyfriends in hastily pulled-on swim trunks or, in one case, nothing at all.

There was also the guy who tried to pay for the pizza with his wife’s sexual favors, but even though I was in the closet at the time, I knew that I wasn’t into her and he was pretty ugly.

Lessons learned:

Mom and pop pharmacy, where the owner is a highly trained professional who has to deal with government regulations on a daily basis — an excellent experience where I was treated well, and the customers treated us with respect.

Big box retail where the bottom line was everything — management treated us with contempt, talking to customers frequently felt like talking to a wall, and the in-fighting between departments was ridiculous — although it never stopped the 50-something menswear manager from spending way too much time over in Women’s petites, flirting with the teenage women working there.

Independently owned big-name pizza franchise with an owner of dubious morals — abuse of employees and labor laws, and the customers were just as bad. Incidentally, when I showed up on my second day, made it through two hours before I made a quick stop at my parents’ place to go throw up in the bathroom from stress, then came back to the store and quit, he didn’t seem at all surprised.

I’m guessing that his drivers turned over more frequently than his pizza dough did.

If you’ve never worked retail, you should do it once, even if it’s just taking on a seasonal job down at the local mall. It will open your eyes about how much people in these positions should really get paid, show you what terrible people a lot of customers and managers are, and teach you to respect the people who are really the ones keeping our day-to-day lives running.

Hint: Not a one of them is a billionaire entrepreneur, real estate developer, banker, stock broker, realtor, Hollywood producer, or their ilk, because those people only take, then don’t give.

Nope. Go learn to appreciate your sales clerks, stockers, checkers, baggers, delivery drivers, medical workers, sanitation engineers, electricians, plumbers, janitors, cable installers, housekeepers, and anyone else who tends to be invisible to the people who most rely on them.

Spend a day in retail, and learn empathy.

Theatre Thursday: When things get meta

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years now since I was blessed to be part of Playwrights’ Arena’s amazing project in celebration of their 20th anniversary called Flash Theatre L.A.: 20 in 2012.

What this involved was a playwright creating a short piece designed for a specific environment, most often also involving singing and dancing, then a rehearsal period on weekends, usually at the then home of Playwrights’ Arena at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) which, I can tell you, felt like the most New York experience possible in L.A., especially if one took the Metro down to Pershing Square, walked to the theatre, and it was a misty morning on a weekend in February.

Good times.

During that year, I performed in 13 out of the 20 performances, which took place everywhere from the very west side to the very east side of town, and from as far south as the Adams District to as far north as Silver Lake — although a lot of our stuff happened in Downtown L.A., which is where the performance I’m thinking about took place.

It happened in Pershing Square, so was within walking distance of the theater, and it was a piece called Meat by Donald Jolly. (The original idea had been to stage it further east in the warehouse district, with most of the cast lying in the back of a truck, but that was beyond our means.)

The division of roles were: A) The “meat,” which were a bunch of people in skimpy bathing suits with all kinds of anti-capitalist slogans drawn on them; B) The radical faeries, who would ride in and save the day, and C) The Authorities, who would try to stop all this shit from happening.

I was cast as one of the two Authorities, and my counterpart was an actor named Bill. I’d worked with him a few times over the whole Flash Theatre thing, and we had definitely bonded because we were about the same age (i.e., older than a lot of the other cast members), had the same weird sense of humor, and had already been cast in roles that got weirdly intimate and, even though he was straight and I was not, it worked out, because he was cool about it and I wasn’t attracted to him anyway.

Funny how that works.

But… getting back to Meat… We all marched from the theater to Pershing Square, and this got a lot of attention mainly because there were a ton of half-naked people on the streets of DTLA, plus a number of them also decked out in glitter and boas and riding scooters or the like. Then there were these two white guys dressed like Secret Service.

We got to the venue. We took our places. And just as I was about to launch into, which meant that I was supposed to charge our audience and tell them, “Nothing to see here, please disperse,” an actual security guard got up in my face and told me that we couldn’t perform there.

Well… that was kind of a problem. I knew that I couldn’t launch my own character in his face and tell him to step off, because that wouldn’t end well. At the same time, the idea of a muggle screwing with my show really pissed me off.

So I did the only thing I could do, which was to give him the look of death and slowly point at Playwrights’ Arenas artistic director, who I knew for a fact had it covered when it came to the whole “Yes, we can perform here” angle.

The guard headed over to talk to Mr. Rivera, I launched into my shtick (and actually scared the shit out of a couple of good friends standing in front because I committed to it so hard), Bill got into it as well, and the whole thing finally came off, ending with the Radical Faeries glitter bombing the Authorities and wrapping us in boas until we wound up mesmerized and dancing together to the music that had started playing, which I think was the song Sway with Me.

But it was definitely my weirdest Flash Theatre experience ever, because someone who was the real-life version of the character I was about to play tried to fuck with what we were all about to do, and I essentially managed to misdirect him so that he could be neutralized, exactly like my character and Bill’s in the show.

Wow. Trippy.

Postscript: Years later, I volunteered for the annual Playwrights’ Arena fundraiser, Hot Night in the City, just before the year of COVID, and my job was as off-stage announcer and various wrangler of stage equipment. I was stage left, and the other guy was stage right, and we were also working various other prep stuff together for a long time.

He looked familiar, but we didn’t recognize each other until we finally did. It was Bill, and the reason we didn’t recognize each other is that we’d both lost a shit-ton of weight since 2012, and both for very similar reasons.

This was also when I found out that he was about five years younger than me, but my journey had been through congestive heart failure that had led to a weekend in the hospital, me quitting smoking, diuretics squeezing a lot of that weight out, and then a change in diet doing the rest.

In Bill’s case, he had to have a triple bypass or something like that, but otherwise the same idea. That experience led to major lifestyle changes for him as well.

It was a very weird reunion. But again, very meta. He and I got cast in the same roles for theater. We just had no idea that we’d be cast in the same roles in real life.

Small planet, eh?

Image source: Downtowngal, (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday Wonders: Equinox

Welcome to September 22, the date in 2021 when the Earth stands up straight and faces the Sun head on. Well, side on. The point is that on this date the Earth’s poles point at exact right angles to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, so it marks a change of season. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, this is the first day of fall, and days will begin to grow shorter as the north pole starts to tilt away from the Sun. Meanwhile, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, today is the first day of spring, as the south pole starts to tilt toward the Sun. Oh, don’t worry, though. It’s not like the Earth is literally rolling over. The actual angle of its axis is always the same — it’s just its position relative to the Sun that changes, depending upon which quarter of its orbit it’s in. Today, though, magic happens, as the length of day and night everywhere on the planet is the same — but it’s not 12 hours, because a day is not quite 12 hours. Rather, one day is 23 hours and 56 minutes, so on this day each side of the globe receives 11 hours and 58 minutes of daylight. Close to 24, but no cigar. Each day is missing four minutes, and yes, over the year, the time on your clock technically gains because of this, but that is part of why we have leap years and all that shit in the first place. And the fact that the Earth’s axis is tilted and the apparent height of the Sun in the sky plus the length of day changing regularly is probably what led to human civilization in the first place. As soon as people noticed that the spots on the horizon where the Sun rose and set day-to-day changed, and then started to notice how high it did or did not make it into the sky by noon got folk to taking notes. Next up would have been timing the periods between its rise and set over the course of… well, it’s not defined yet. Figuring out the timing might have been tricky when there was no way to actually tell time, so maybe those first experiments just meant tracking the length of an object’s shadow right as the Sun rose and when it set, them recording the length of each one and comparing it to each subsequent day. This wouldn’t give you a length in terms of hours per se, but it could tell you, for example, how long the shadow on a particular day was. Since the Sun doesn’t cast shadows at night, this gives you length of daylight, and you can then compare that length to the length on other days. This will tell you the rate of change per day, as well as give you the relative lengths of longest and shortest days. Repeat the experiment until the pattern starts to repeat — i.e., you hit the same shadow length you started with and see the same lengths appear over the next, say, dozen measurements, and now you suddenly know how many day/night periods there are before the Sun returns to where it started. People may not have understood the concept of orbits yet and probably thought the Earth was at the center of everything, but only because that’s exactly what it does look like from down here, but it did give them a starting point from which to be able to predict the regular course of the Sun. Finally, key these measurements into the seasons, as in when is it cold, when is it time to plant, when does it flood, and when can we harvest? Eventually, over time, ta-da: You’ve created the calendar, and the basic parameters of Earth-Sun dynamics, plus axial tilt dictate the creation of four annual divisions; call them seasons. Of course, some cultures, who tended to not be agricultural, watched the Moon instead, and also divided the year into months (literally named for moons in many different languages) although not seasons. However, since the lunar month wound up much shorter than the solar month after one Earth orbit was divided appropriately, lunar calendars would always lag behind. This is why, for example, the Hebrew calendar has to add in an entire month every so often instead of just a day, and why Jewish and Islamic holidays seem to slip around the Gregorian calendar. Here’s a nice irony, though. The ultimate holiday for once-a-year Catholics, Easter, is itself set based upon a lunar calendar. The date of Easter is set as the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. If that equinox is on a Sunday itself, then Easter is the next Sunday. Why this is the case, I have no idea — but events in the Islamic Calendar, as well as things like the Chinese New Year, are also set based on a particular New Moon, although they are all at different times of the year. If you’re part of the early agricultural movement, though — which led to permanent settlements and cities and irrigation, and all kinds of fancy shiz — then your city is probably going to have a nice observatory, but it wouldn’t be bristling with telescopes, which would not be invented for thousands of years. Rather, it would be a prominent building or even a temple-like structure — think Stonehenge — with very specific architectural features designed to align with the movement of the Sun, Moon, and possibly certain stars to become one giant indicator of when those significant dates passed. For example, a slit in one wall might direct sunrise light on the first day of summer onto a specific plinth or marker, or maybe even a mural or statue depicting the god or goddess of the season. Likewise, the same slit would hit a different marker for the first day of winter. Those two are easy because the sun will be at its northernmost point when summer starts and its southernmost when winter starts, which is why you can use the same slit. Spring and fall, being equinoxes, both come in at the same angle, so the light would hit the same place. However, the good news is that if you know which one was the last season, then you know what’s coming, so spring always follows winter and fall comes after summer. Somewhere around these times, these early astronomers may have even figured out the concept of the analemma and begun tracking it. This is the huge figure-8 pattern that the Sun, when recorded at the same time each day (usually noon) makes over the course of a year. Tracking the Moon would probably allow for the ability to predict solar and lunar eclipses — at the time, probably more useful as a political/religious function over anything else. “The Moon is going to die on Tuesday, and it will be your fault unless you pay us tribute and fealty, peons!” Ewww. Out front would be a huge sundial to impress and mystify the populace who, of course, would never be allowed inside such a sacred space. Same as it ever was. Except… We do have access to this knowledge now, and the short version of it is this. The Sun is the center of our Solar System, mostly by virtue of having 99% of its mass, and holding everything else in its thrall via gravity because of that. There are two planets closer to the Sun than Earth — Mercury and Venus — and both of those are barely titled. Mercury is off-axis by barely 3 hundredths of a degree, while Venus is inclined at 2.6 degrees. However, since Mercury is tidally locked with one side boiling and the other frozen, it’s not likely to benefit at all if it suddenly tilted. As for Venus — this is our solar system’s true shit-hole planet, with the hottest temperature and thickest atmosphere, a hellscape where it rains sulfuric acid constantly. If we look at the rest of the solar system, the only planets that come close to having the same axial tilt are Mars (25.19º), Saturn (26.73º) and Neptune (28.32º). Meanwhile, the planet Uranus has the most extreme tilt in the solar system, with its axle rolled over a full 97.77 º, which indicates that, at some point in the past, Uranus must have gotten rammed pretty hard by some asteroid or even a small planet. The end result is that Uranus always keeps its pole pointed at the Sun, alternating between north and south so that its seasons basically travel sideways — although those seasons aren’t much to speak of there, because the surface is pretty much a nearly featureless ball of methane with some lighter clouds in high latitudes (or is that high longitudes?) and, as recent studies have determined, there is also a big, dark spot on Uranus. Of course, we wouldn’t even know about the other planets and stars and so in if we hadn’t started looking up to figure out what was going on with our own Sun and Moon in the first place, and Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto (not a planet) were not even discovered until modern times. Uranus wasn’t even named until the late 18th Century, but the convention of naming planets over Roman gods carried on, and the place got its name at the suggestion of German astronomer Johann Elert Bode. Whether or not he knew about the comedy potential in English of that name choice is anyone’s guess, but officials agreed. And although it’s properly pronounced “OO-ra-noos,” almost no one says it that way, and so stories about the sixth planet are always unintentionally hilarious. And it all started in ancient days, when the first farmers started to pay attention to the change of seasons and tried to learn whether the gods had left them in clues in the heavens above, eventually leading to an understanding of the cosmos that required no gods at all but adhered to its own inexorable set of laws that were an intrinsic property of reality itself. Thanks, farmers! Images: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Talky Tuesday: Assuming gender

Since English has no grammatical genders, learning a language with them can be daunting, but fear not. Here are some quick tips on the concept.

One concept in other languages that just boggles the mind of native English speakers is the idea of grammatical gender. It has nothing to do with the actual gender or sex of the person being spoken about and, naturally, inanimate objects tender to be neuter, or have no gender.

Well, at least in English.

Most commonly, languages will either have no gender distinctions, two distinctions (masculine and feminine), or three (masculine, feminine, and neuter.)

Some languages go a little nuts with it, though. Polish technically has five genders — three variations on masculine, plus feminine and neuter. The masculine genders indicate whether something is a human being, a living creature but not human, or an inanimate object, although those last two are not really used anymore.

Bantu languages tend to go the most extreme, with Ganda having ten classes and Shona having twenty — singular and plural are considered distinct genders. Meanwhile, Ganda genders follow characteristics of objects, so pertain to things like people, long objects, animals, large objects, small objects, liquids, and so on.

So if you’re trying to learn a romance language with only two grammatical genders, consider yourself lucky.

Oh — also, do not confuse a language without grammatical genders and gender-neutral language. The latter tries to eliminate sexist terminology.

English still has some gendered nouns that are slowly being eliminated, like the pair waiter and waitress, which are being replaced by server. But note that the two nouns are otherwise not distinguished by articles or adjectives, although they may take different pronouns.

So, for example, “the happy waiter” and “the happy waitress” are both grammatically correct. So are the phrases “He is a server” and “she is a server,” with the pronoun being the only gender distinction.

English used to have a lot more gender-specific work roles and job titles, but these are going away as well. For example, any terms that used to end in -man, like Chairman of the Board, Fireman, Alderman, etc., is being replaced with terms like Chair or Chairperson, and Fire Fighter.

For some reason, probably having to do with Chicago politics, “alderman” is proving to be a holdout, despite efforts to change it.

There are also other gender terms like actor and actress that are changing so that “actor” is now used as the gender-neutral term for either, and a number of gendered terms that already fell out of use years ago, like baker and baxter, aviator and aviatrix, and seamster and seamstress — although the last one is a little odd, because seamstress stayed, while the former was replaced by tailor.

You also now know where the surname Baxter came from — the same place that Baker did. And yes, there’s a reason that occupational last names are so common in all languages. That’s because a town might have only one baker or miller or blacksmith, so someone would become known as John Baker or Tom Miller or Joe Smith.

This is really amusing when you realize that Giuseppe Ferrari and Joe Smith are exactly the same name.

But back to the gender thing and why it can be so daunting to native English speakers. In some languages, like Spanish, it’s well marked, so that masculine and feminine nouns will generally end in -o for the former and -a for the latter… but not always, and more on that in a moment.

In others, like German, there are broad rule for what words are masculine and feminine, but a lot of the time it’s a total crapshoot, and you can’t get any clues from the spelling. Neutral complicates it further and, on top of that, things don’t always line up, especially when it comes to animate objects and people.

In German, horses and girls are both neuter, for example.

But getting back to Spanish, genders are generally a lot clearer because of the o/a endings, and nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and articles all match:

La mesera alta.

El mesero alto.

These refer, in order, to the tall waitress and the tall waiter, although use camarera and camarero outside of Latin America.

This all makes sense for student learners until the day that the teacher writes, “El agua está fria” on the board, and people freak out.

They will either focus on the “el” and ask why agua is masculine, or they will insist that agua is feminine and ask why the article is wrong.

Welcome to your first grammatical exception — although this one isn’t quite what it seems. If you were talking about “the waters, “las aguas” would be perfectly fine because the word is feminine. So what’s going on?

This one exists strictly for ease of pronunciation, and it’s the same thing that we do in English when we replace “a” with “an” before certain vowels, like “an elephant,” or “an opera,” but “a universe” or “a unicorn.”

The emphasis in “agua” is on the first a, so it’s very hard to say “la agua” with those two stressed a’s banging into each other. On the other hand, the “l” en el bleeds in very nicely to that stressed a, so that’s why it’s done.

This is true for any word in Spanish that starts with a stressed a, including el águila (but las Águilas), and so on.

This eventually starts to make sense, and then we get the next gender-bomb with something like “el problema.”

Again, the words ends in -a, so it should be feminine, right? Except that this word comes from Greek, where it is masculine, so the gender came over directly into Spanish, and so we have a whole class of words from Greek, generally ending in -ma or -ta and sometimes -pa, that are masculine: el problema, el programma, el planeta, el cometa, el mapa, etc.

Unfortunately, you really just have to memorize them, because a word like etapa (meaning a period of time or a stage in some process) is feminine — la tercera etapa del cohete, the rocket’s third stage.

Once you’ve had fun with those, we get to the words for the hand: la mano. And yes, mano is feminine, for the same reason those Greek words are masculine, except that in this case, “mano” came from Latin, and the form of the word that got adapted into Spanish was feminine.

“Necesitará una mano lista para enfrentar un problema duro.” You will need a ready hand in order to tackle a hard problem. Note how the articles and adjectives appear to not match their nouns at all. Get used to it.

Don’t worry. It gets worse!

Further into occupations, you might learn the word dentista — ella es una dentista. Now, you could assume that the corresponding sentence would be “él es un dentisto,” but you’d be wrong. The correct phrase is also “él es un dentista.”

This is another class of words, generally ending in -ista, that are invariant, and frequently refer to occupations or ideologies. “Socialista” is another one that does not change, regardless of the actual gender of the socialist.

The same applies to nacionalista, capitalista, comunista, marxista, machista, and so on.

Finally, there are words that take on a particular gender because of what is missing. For example, “radio” can be either masculine or feminine, but there’s a good reason for that. When you’re replying to an actual physical device designed to receive and play radio broadcasts, then it’s masculine: el radio. However, when you refer to the broadcast that’s played on el radio, then that is la radio.

The reason for this is that the medium or radio is short for “radio difusión,” or transmission by radio, and since difusión is feminine, so is the shortened form.

You can see this in words like la foto and la moto, which are short for fotographía and motocicleta. This is also why days of the week are all masculine — the word for day, el día, is masculine — and why the hours of the day are feminine — because they pick up the gender of the word for hour, la hora.

Month is masculine, so I’ll let you figure out which gender applies to the names of the months.

So it’s not a system that is as hard as it seems, and while there are some exceptions, those exceptions actually follow their own rules. You can’t always assume the gender of a noun, but once you know what it is, remembering it will gradually become second nature.

Good luck! ¡Buena suerte! — because, in Spanish, luck be a lady.

Momentous Monday: Oh, and this one time, at band camp…

Okay, I never actually went to band camp, but I was in marching band for my junior and senior years of high school, so I am an official band geek.

The reason it wasn’t all three years of high school is that I was a keyboardist, so I didn’t even think that they’d need my skills. I mean, I could have strapped on my accordion and carried my amp around in a little wagon, but that would have been heavy and difficult.

I somehow got talked into joining, though, and I don’t remember whether it was because I was in the school’s jazz combo/class first and because there was only one instrumental music teacher, or whether friends talked me into it. But starting my junior year, I joined the band as a drummer.

And yes, my second year of high school was my junior year because, at the time, we were still on a program that had K-6 as one school, then 3 years of middle school and 3 years of high school.

And yes, I did become a drummer because it was something that pretty much any musician could instantly adapt to, since we could read music and had a sense of rhythm. However, lest that imply that drummers are stupid, it comes with a caveat.

The non-drummer in the band general stuck to the non-complicated percussion — bass drum or tom-toms. All you had to do was make sure the drumheads were tightened, then hit them with mallets.

The trained drummers got the instruments like the snare drums, multi-toms, or glockenspiel. The first one, while not tuned, makes use of, well, a “snare,” which is a series of springy wires strung next to each other and held taut.

A snare drum has two heads, one on the top and one on the bottom, and the snares make contact with the bottom head. When the player strikes the top head it makes both it and the bottom head vibrate. This in turn makes the snare vibrate, but since it’s made of metal in a semi-spiral pattern, when it vibrates it buzzes a bit.

This is a big part of what gives a drum roll, which is mostly snare, its distinctive and drawn-out sound, as well as makes this drum itself stand out.

The last two are tunable percussion, with multi-toms, also known as tenor drums, comprising three or four connected drums of different depths and/or diameters, hence of different pitches. They also lack a bottom drum head and snare.

These drums are capable of playing tunes, or at least bass-lines, and a drummer can play notes in succession or several drums at once. (Really skilled players will have two mallets in each hand on quad-toms or an extra in their dominant hand on tri-toms in order to be able to cover all the notes.)

Finally, there’s the glockenspiel, which is essentially the metal version of a xylophone. In case you’re wondering why they didn’t just call it a xylophone as well, that’s because the name “xylophone” literally means “wood sound” because the instrument is made of wood.

Change the composition, change the name. A glockenspiel is basically a keyboard layout over a few octaves, and the marching band version is basically worn as a flat tray strapped over the shoulders, kind of like a cigarette girl set-up, if I may get very vintage in a reference.

Now, it seems like a no-brainer that I would have been perfect for glock, except that either our school already had a player a year ahead of me who wasn’t giving it up or we didn’t have the instrument at all.

Anyway… I think probably because I was by far the tallest member of the drumline, I wound up playing the bass drum, which is the big one worn sideways, and which generally has the school logo or mascot on it.

This also gave me the honor of starting off our opening march before every football game, which was an awesome sense of power. We’d begin with a very slow entrance from the end zone to the tune of some Toreador themed trumpet melody (“Toreadors” was our team name), and then it would end.

After a dramatic pause, I would pound out four beats and we would snap into our opening number and march out across the entire field to play the rest of the opening tune and the the school fight song — which meant that I was solely responsible for setting the tempo of our opening.

Yes, if either of the drum majors had pissed me off that day, I’d give it to them double-time. It was the one moment of the show they had no control over.

Thinking back on this, it’s just another reminder of something that I’m really not constantly aware of, but it’s pretty much true. For my entire life, I actually have been performing, whether it’s been on a stage or before any kind of official audience, or whether it’s just in so-called “real life.”

Until we reached a time where kids in elementary or middle school were able to comfortably come out to their friends and parents without fearing retribution up to and including death — and that’s still a damn small and privileged percentage — the queer person’s defense was performance.

In daily life, we had to play the role of a “normal” straight person, pretending to be interested in the same things, blending in. in effect, we became extras and atmosphere in the stories about the straight “cool kids” in school.

Although it was a big surprise, or perhaps not, how many of them turned out to be queer after all.

This is probably why so many of us gravitated to theatre, dance, music, or other performing arts in the first place. Everything we were doing was already a role. Might as well make a profession out of it, right?

The best part was that while you were performing, you could get away with anything. Think of closeted but later outed celebrities of the past who could play the most flamboyant (20th century code for “queer”) of characters on TV or in film, but then butch it up on talk shows and say that it was all an act.

Paul Lynde? Charles Nelson Reilly? JM J. Bullock?

Then look at the modern flipside of that, where Jim Parsons, a very openly gay member of Gen-X, starred in a very popular TV sitcom that ran for over a decade in which his very fussy, prissy character was portrayed as straight, but in real life the actor never had to shut up about who he was, and seemed to be even more loved because of it.

This metaphor really holds for people in the performing arts in school because sort of the same phenomenon happens. Your peers — fellow performers — kind of get an idea of who you are, and vice versa, and no one makes a big deal about it. You’re all on the same team, whether it’s the marching band, the cast of a show or drama department members, or a dance company.

This is just like Hollywood in the closeted days. People in the industry knew who was fucking whom and whether they were straight, gay, or bisexual. All they cared about was that the news didn’t leak out.

Peers in the industry knew how to keep secrets.

The real challenge was keeping the news from the media — i.e., students not in the performing arts groups — and studio execs — parents, school administrators, and non-sympathetic teachers or counselors.

I can really only imagine what it would have been like if our marching band had gone to actual sleepover band camp, because when we did have parties, we got wild as hell. To everyone else, we may have had the reputation of being virginal nerds, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Two of my high school girlfriends were in band, and so was my first-ever same-sex hookup, as well as a potential second if I hadn’t totally pussied out by not flat-out asking him, “Wanna fuck?”

Years later, I know that his answer would have been “Yes.”

As for the first one, it all happened because of a fluke of band seating in the stands. The drummers were in the front, on the bottom tier, and the brass sat behind us, with the trombones in the middle and trumpets on the flank.

Since I played bass drum, I was also in the middle of the middle, directly in front of the first trombonist. Let’s call him Glenn (not his real name), and we hit it off at our first game in the fall of my junior year.

In retrospect, everything about him sets off my adult gaydar. At that time, though, when I was only 16, I had no gaydar. All I know is that we hit it off immediately, I feel comfortable around him, and while I’m hearing that Tune of Denial playing on one channel in my brain, the other is just mooning over how cute he is.

What? He’s as tall as I am, blond, and really handsome.

About three months later, the day after my 17th birthday, he invites me over to his place to study for a history test, since we’re both in the class. Thinking nothing of it, I go. It’s a Monday, two days after a wild Saturday band party he wasn’t at that devolved into a game of Truth or Dare that, among other things, included the girlfriend of one of the tom drummers in the band being dared to French kiss every guy at the party — and he didn’t seem to have any objections.

Okay, honestly, neither did she, but I didn’t have the emotional or mental capacity at the time to even notice shit like that. All I know is that I was the one who felt violated when she came around and gave me my turn.

And Glenn turned this into basically asking me who she’d kissed, and then how she’d kissed, and then asked for a demo.

The kissing was nice, he was hot, we were horny, although it still wound up awkward and I came and went. We were going go hook up the following weekend for a longer session because his parents were still going to be out of town, but I backed out at the last minute and I think he took that badly.

Suddenly, he ignored me, tried to turn mutual friends against me, and if only we’d lived in a world where we could have just told everyone, “Okay, we tried to hook up, it didn’t work out. Next?” we both would have avoided a lot of trauma.

Yeah, even though folks in the band kind of knew what was going on with whom, we also didn’t really talk about it. And, to be honest, this single experience in high school — being seduced and then dumped and shunned — had a major psychological impact on me that lasted long after I’d gone to college.

In fact, it was only going to college, getting away from what was essentially the small(-minded) town in a big city that I’d grown up in, and meeting new people and having new relationships that I grew out of it and got over it.

I was never in a marching band again, but I also never really stopped performing, so that my college years saw me playing in show combos and bands, and acting in plays, and student videos and films, and more.

But, at the same time, it was a lot easier to come out slowly in college to the point that most of my friends knew that I didn’t consider myself totally straight by sophomore year, and by the second semester of my final year, it seemed like everyone suddenly started to come screaming out of the closet, and it was glorious.

Image source: Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday nibble #81: Me and my Shadow

Seven years ago today, I said good-bye for the last time to Shadow, my middle dog and problem child, although given subsequent events in real life, it seems like it’s been forever.

I’m not sure exactly how old she was. I adopted her on May 11, 2001, which was eleven days after the passing of my dog Dazé. The rescue group thought she was about a year and a half old, which would have put her birth around October, 1999 and she didn’t grow much after I adopted her, so the age was probably accurate.

I set her official “birthday” August 23 mainly because it was close enough, plus that was also Dazé’s official birthday, although in her case it would have been within a week of the truth either way because we adopted her as a puppy and knew how many weeks old she was.

That does mean, though, that Shadow hadn’t quite made it to her 15th birthday — or maybe she was just past it. And we never figured out why she died. Her vets had ruled out a lot of things, including cancer. It was just that she started to lose weight but didn’t seem to have anything wrong with her.

I do remember that after they had shaved her on one side to do an ultrasound, it took forever for that fur to grow back and it never really got to its original length, would did imply some sort of metabolic problem that was interfering with her body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

She was sick for a couple of years, and then one evening her back legs collapsed and she couldn’t stand up. I placed her in her bed and made her comfortable but in the morning she was barely mobile and I could tell that she was no longer happy. I don’t know whether she was in pain, but her eyes told me that she’d given up.

I took her in to the vet at the earliest appointment that day but already knew. They took one look at her and agreed that it was time. While they prepared her by putting a catheter in her foreleg, I ran home and got my other dog Sheeba, because I wanted her to be there — one of the advantages of living five minutes from the Vet’s office.

It was quick and painless and then it was done. The only thing that made it easier was that I was going home with Sheeba and not to an empty home like I had after Dazé died, or like I would after Sheeba died in 2020.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, Shadow was my problem child, so I think that I learned more from her than I did from my other two dogs.

Our adventure together began on that May day in 2001 when two volunteers from German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County (GSROC) brought her over.

Shadow wasn’t actually a German shepherd, though. I couldn’t have adopted her if she had been because of rules at my apartment. They thought she might have been a white German shepherd mix, which isn’t recognized by the AKC, so skates through a technical loophole on the breed thing, but eventually I think I figured out that she was probably a Belgian Malinois mixed with a smaller breed, like American Eskimo.

I’d found her in the first place because Dazé had been an American Eskimo and West Highland terrier mix, and when I searched for Esky mixes, Shadow was the only dog that came up. I wasn’t able to test her DNA before she passed, although I wish that I had because when I tested Sheeba’s DNA, she came up with all kinds of surprises.

Anyway, the volunteers brought her over and into my place, then each of them snuck out when she wasn’t looking, leaving her alone with me. However, long before the first one of them left, she went out onto my patio, curled up against the fence, and just stayed there, looking very apprehensive.

When the volunteers were gone, she wanted to have nothing to do with me, and I had that sinking feeling of, “Oh no. This isn’t going to work, is it?” So I inadvertently did the best thing I could. I ignored her and went about my day.

Eventually, I was in my bedroom, sitting on the bed with my back to the door when I heard the faintest of jingles from her dog tags clinking together and realized that she was standing in the doorway. I didn’t look at her, but instead I slid my right hand pack, patted the bed, and then left my fist sitting there.

I could sense her as she very cautiously approached, gently climbed onto the bed and then walked over slowly, finally sniffing my hand. Curiosity had gotten the better of her, and then she sat next to me.

Right after that, I fed her, and when she realized that I was not going to eat her but feed her instead, all of her fear of me vanished and she was joined at the hip from that moment on.

Considering how afraid of me she was in those first couple of hours together, it’s amazing how much she came to depend on me as her protector. If the slightest thing scared her, she would run right to Daddy, and either try to awkwardly climb onto my lap if I was sitting — even though she could have easily jumped onto it — or to hide behind my legs if I was standing.

At night, she had to sleep on the bed, and as close to me as possible. She preferred to curl up behind my legs, which was fine because I tended to sleep on my side with my legs bent, and she happened to be just the right size, curled up, to fit between my ankles and my ass, and fit into the curve of my legs.

I just had to remember not to move too much at night, because she was definitely a liquid dog, and would flow to fill whatever space was available. If I got too close to my edge of the bed, she’d be right there behind me, as close as possible.

Her nemeses were thunder, fireworks, and loud noises in general. Fortunately, we didn’t have a lot of thunderstorms in L.A., but we certainly get a lot of fireworks at certain times of the year, and the place I first lived in with her was in a neighborhood that seemed to believe that celebrating the 4th of July started around the middle of June and continued on a daily and nightly basis until Bastille Day.

That would get her to climb onto my lap and tremble like a leaf for sure.

We were also in exactly the right place to experience the unique double sonic-boom whenever a Space Shuttle returned to Edwards AFB, which happened nine times during her life.

The thing is, those booms were loud, there would be two of them slightly separated, and they would always rattle the windows. Even when I knew that a shuttle flight was coming in, it was never an exact science to know the moment when it would happen, so there was no way I could prepare her for it.

The only way I ever had luck in helping her in this regard came when we had a very rare but very active thunderstorm in the days before I’d adopted Sheeba.

I’ve told this story before, but the short version is that I heard the storm coming, so went into my office, which was the bedroom on the street side of the apartment, and opened the blinds, then called Shadow onto my lap.

I’d watch for the lightning flash, knowing that thunder was coming, and then would start to tell her, “Her it comes. Here comes the boom. Here it comes. Ready?” or words to that effect, over and over, until… thunder. And then I would hug her and say, “Yaaay!”

I think I even got to the point where I could raise one of her paws up along with the “Yaaay!” part. But I managed to turn it into a game, and  I think this gave her a sense of control, which might have been all that it took.

After an evening of our thunder game, she seemed less frightened by loud noises after that.

When it came to play, though, that was Shadow’s big thing. Dazé would sometimes decide to indulge in a little fetch or tug-of-war, but it always felt more like she was doing it because she thought I wanted to. Meanwhile, Sheeba couldn’t be arsed with any of it. Toss a ball her way, and she’d just watch it pass, then give me a look like, “What? You expect me to get that for you? As if.”

Shadow, though, went nuts for things she could chase, toys she could “kill,” or any other way that she could basically just be a dog and bond with Daddy. By the time she passed, I had one of those plastic storage bins that was absolutely stuffed with her toys, most of them hard rubber or squishy plastic, because she could and would destroy any plush toy in two seconds.

And she knew most of them by name, too.

Did Sheeba care when Shadow was gone and the toybox was hers? Of course not.

Despite my presence and protection, Shadow was always a nervous girl, which sometimes turned into aggression toward other dogs but also manifested itself as her suddenly peeing on the floor. And she wasn’t doing either out of any kind of malice. It was just that something would trigger her fight or flight response, and that’s how she reacted.

So a big thing that Shadow taught me was the necessity of patience in dealing with issues like this. After all, if your first instinct when your dog is aggressive toward another one or panics and pees on the floor is to yell at or, far worse, smack it (never do this), you’re only going to make the problem far, far worse.

Gently lead them away from the dog they’re getting aggro at. Put on their leash and lead them outside for a walk when they squat on the carpet. And so on.

The key is not “discipline,” it’s “deflect.” Redirect a timid, scared, insecure dog to what you want them to do, then praise them when they do it.

That was actually what I was doing in the thunder game without realizing it. I never had to tell Shadow, “No! No shake. No scared. Bad!” Instead, when thunder came, I was just there for her and redirected her to having fun.

Success.

This lesson from Shadow really stuck with me, and it applies to people, too. That is, you can’t make dogs or people stop fearing things by yelling at them or berating them. Rather, you can only do it by calming them down, embracing them, and then slowly turning them in the right direction.

Farewell again, little girl. You were special while you were here, and always will be in my heart.

Saturday Morning Post #82: Between Zero and One (Part 2)

In Part 2 of another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, our hero is dealing with a major internet outage circa 2001. In the first part, he learns that his high speed T-3 connection was accidentally backhoed up by the power company and won’t be fixed until the end of the week. Unable to wait that long, he decides to venture out in the world to find that most low-tech of replacements: A dial-up modem. Well, low-tech for him at the time, but the only tech for most people otherwise.

“Piece of shit.”

Tyler banged the dashboard with both hands, then tried the keys again. The starter whirred and chuddered, but nothing happened. It was sounding a little upset itself now, warbling instead of surging. Tyler pulled the keys out of the ignition and sat there, thinking. The battery wasn’t dead, he knew there was gas in the tank, the car had started last time he’d driven it, which was… thirteen, fourteen months ago. He vaguely remembered his father telling him something once about having to start up idle cars every so often, but that had never made any sense. It was a machine, it wasn’t doing anything while it was sitting there, inert. No stress, no wear. You could let a computer sit for years and it would start up fine next time you plugged it in.

Tyler got out of the car, slammed the door and gave it a kick. Well, who needed a car, anyway? There was a bus stop a block away, and that bus went in the general direction he needed to go. All he had to do was go check the schedule…

“Fuck!” he stomped one foot on the porch as he remembered. Check schedule, online, not possible. Again, the phone book was useless. It had some elaborate map of the transit system, with colored lines and arrows and little number tags, but it was like trying to read a circuit diagram for a nuclear bomb. No, not that. Even a nuke must have the same basic set-up as any other bomb. Explosive shit, power source, two wires, a switch and a bang. This was more like trying to trace the intricate pathways through the heart of the world’s biggest supercomputer, and Tyler was the lone little electron who had to go from point A to point B down the shortest possible path.

Well, screw it. The colored line for the bus that ran by his house seemed to get close to where he wanted to go. How long could he possibly have to wait, anyway? He kicked the phone book aside, started for the door, stopped. He was forgetting something, but what?

Ah. Change. Riding a bus always did involve clunky pocketfuls of change, anxiously counted out and recounted and clutched in the hand when the rolling leviathan finally pulled into view and hissed to a stop. He thought about it a moment, then remembered the mayonnaise jar on top of the fridge. It was way in the back corner, dusty and grimy. He hadn’t needed to take anything out of it nor had anything to put into it for a long time. He grabbed the lid, tried to twist it and it wouldn’t budge. Great. Just fantastic. He could understand, maybe, a car being slow to start after a while, but this was a goddamn jar lid, the simplest machine of them all, the one invented by some ancient Greek guy. It was a screw, how the hell could it malfunction? Tyler tried a dish towel, tried to get a wrench around the thing. This was ridiculous. Nothing. What, did some evil change imp come by and krazy glue the thing shut in the night?

Tyler heaved the jar into the kitchen sink, where it shattered, spewing coins all over the porcelain, half of them chittering down into a sinkhole in the drain. At least the stopper was sitting there, but he’d deal with all that later. He picked through the metal bits, pulling out all the quarters he could easily see, avoiding the shards of glass, grabbing up some dimes and nickels for good measure. He counted it out in his hand. Five bucks, twenty-three cents. Good enough for a round trip. He dumped it all in his pocket, where it felt cold and heavy through the lining against his thigh, then headed out the door again into the blinding bright sunlight of this late summer afternoon.

* * *

Forty-five minutes later, he was still standing at the bus stop, anxiously stepping out into the street whenever traffic cleared to peer into the distance, looking for any sign of his impending ride. Every time he thought he saw it, he’d jump back, start counting out his change, not sure exactly how much he needed, only to see that he’d been fooled by a school bus or a big truck. Forty-five goddamn minutes, that couldn’t be right. What good was that kind of transit system? They should have had a bus going by here every ten minutes.

He glanced at the tiny Hispanic woman in the pale blue dress who was standing nearby, full shopping bags hanging from each hand, two young children flittering about her. She just stared at the ground, stoic and patient. Tyler popped out into the street again, looked. Nothing on the horizon.

Another ten minutes went by, another half-dozen traffic checks, and Tyler was fuming all over again. The Hispanic woman had finally glanced his way, noticed him looking, nodded her head and said, “Late, huh?”

“Damn right,” Tyler replied, peering up the street again. This all seemed to be designed to waste his time. Why did this world outside move so slowly? Almost an hour of doing nothing. Tyler debated going back home, trying the car again. Maybe he could get one of his friends to come over and… okay, no, bad idea, since his friends were all over the country, all over the world. Did he know anyone locally? Well, maybe, yeah, but… Tyler rolled his eyes, huffed, realizing he only had a long list of email addresses, no phone numbers. Wasn’t that just peachy‑keen?

Then he noticed the woman picking up her bags, gathering her children close. The bus was coming, halle-fucking-lujah. He dug a fistful of change out of his pocket, turned to the woman. “How much?” he asked.

“Yes,” she smiled and nodded back at him.

“No, I mean, how much is the bus?” he repeated, demonstrating with the change. Before she could answer, the bus steamed right past them. Tyler turned his head, saw that it was empty, a “Not in Service” sign winking at them on its flank.

“Motherfucker!” he screamed, turning like a sunflower to follow the departing traitor, change tumbling from his hand into the gutter. The woman pulled her children close, looking away as Tyler got down and started picking the stuff up. Naturally, it was now all wet and gunky. Oh joy.

Twenty minutes later, another bus finally arrived and pulled up to the stop. As Tyler waited for the woman and her kids to climb on, he looked up the street. There were two more buses on the way, right behind it, pulling toward the curb.

“People suck,” he said to himself as he climbed the stairs, asked the driver how much and counted the right amount out, dumping it into the fare box, then moving about two feet before realizing that this bus was SRO. But it was too late to change his mind. The doors shut and the bus lurched away.

Okay, so he’d have to stand here with all this sardinated humanity. At least he was on his way. Finally.

* * *

“End of the line, everybody off,” the driver announced. People started spewing out both doors, pushing past Tyler, who stood there, perplexed. They were at the subway station, a mile from where he’d gotten on, but that’s not what the map in the phonebook had said. He could have walked to where he wanted to go already, and halfway back home.

He turned to ask the driver how to get where he was going, but she was already gone, as were most of the passengers. He got off and found himself standing in some sort of home for wayward transit. There were eight buses parked in various spots around a semi-circle, people milling back and forth between them and the over-sized, overly festive entrance to the subway station. Now what? He knew the subway didn’t go where he wanted. What were they thinking when they built that damn thing? It was great if you wanted to go downtown, but who the hell ever wanted to go there? And a subway, in LA, which had taken decades to get off the ground and which was only a pale, lame replacement for the transit system the city had had decades ago. A subway in the land of sunshine and earthquakes. Brilliant.

He walked the semi-circle, looking at bus numbers, finally finding the familiar one. The driver was standing on the front bumper, washing the windows.

“Which way does this bus go?” he asked.

Without looking at him, the driver drawled, “East.”

“Thanks,” Tyler replied, heading for the steps.

“Not leaving for thirty minutes, though,” the driver continued, concentrating on some invisible flyspeck.

“What?” Tyler gawked, stepping back. “Is there an earlier bus?”

“That one,” the driver nodded as another bus pulled past them, lumbered for the driveway.

“Fuck!” Tyler shouted, running for the bus, pounding on the side. Amazingly, it stopped and he got on, had to count out the change all over again. At least this one was half-empty. He went to a seat in the back, flopped himself into it and it was a good half mile before he realized they were going the wrong way, back to where he’d started. He grabbed the bell cord, pulled it frantically, heaved himself to the center doors.

When the bus finally stopped, he was right back where he’d started, full circle. Just to add a proper twist to the finger the gods were giving him, another bus going the other way, destination sign announcing exactly where Tyler wanted to go, fumed past and vanished into the distance.

“Everything sucks,” Tyler said to himself as he stared at the bus, just wanting to cry.

* * *

Friday Free-for-All #78: Curse, bar, insect, correlation

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

How often do you curse?

All the fucking time.

What would your perfect bar look like?

It would be a little bit Magic Castle piano room, where Irma the ghost hangs out, and a bunch of connected theme rooms, probably representing different decades from the 1940s through now. The drinks here would be served for the mind via the visuals and atmosphere of the place.

The piano room might be the prologue to everything else, covering everything from the 1890s to the 1930s, and the layout would be somewhat of a labyrinth, creating a kind of internal pub crawl.

Oh… and there’d be no alcohol, but you could get any kind of smoothie, shake, juice, or other beverage you could think of — iced, frozen, warm, or hot.

Toss some celebrity comic impersonators in the appropriate decade rooms, or some acoustic tribute bands in others. and there would definitely be a rooftop patio with a 360 degree view of the city, and no loud music so that people could actually talk, although maybe there would be rooms with themed entertainment.

A lot of you are probably still boggling at the idea of a bar with no alcohol but it did say to describe my perfect bar, after all.

What animal or insect do you wish humans could eradicate?

Without question, the one that has killed the most humans: The mosquito. They carry a number of diseases, many of them fatal, they’re particularly hard to spot even as they’re biting you, and they like to go after certain people more than others in particular.

Note, though, that this doesn’t apply to all mosquitoes. Most of them leave humans alone. It’s just the females from 6% of species that drink our blood to nourish their eggs, and only half of those that carry the diseases that kill us.

The only purposes mosquitoes serve is as food for other animals, primarily fish, as well as pollinators, so we can’t get rid of all mosquitoes. But, as noted above, we don’t have to, and science has already figured out how to genetically modify one dangerous species, Aedes aegypti, so that female offspring do not survive to adulthood, so do not reproduce.

The altered genes in question are initially produced in laboratory-raised eggs, which are then released into the wild. After they hatch, the females die out, but the males go on to mate with available females, who bear female offspring with the self-limiting gene that also kills them before they can mature and reproduce.

It’s a brilliant strategy that does not kill off innocuous species, leaves plenty of fish-food and pollinators around, and cuts down on the ability of certain mosquitoes to infect and kill humans. Win-win.

What’s your best example of correlation not equaling causation?

This one is a no-brainer: All of the “vaccines cause autism” nonsense. The idea was created, pure and simple, by the now proven to be fraudulent “findings” of Andrew Wakefield, who faked his data, lied to people, and created a generation of scientifically illiterate parents who fell for exactly the fallacy mentioned above.

The “correlation equals causation” fallacy boils down to this. A person did Thing A. Not long after, Thing B happened. Therefore, Thing A caused Thing B.

It can be really tempting to think things like, “My daughter got her MMR vaccinations on Tuesday, and a week later, her doctor said she was on the spectrum,” or “They gave my grandmother a flu shot, and two days later she had a stroke and died.”

The problem here is that, to the uninformed, it can absolutely look like the former caused the latter. But let’s look at a couple more examples.

“Tuesday night, my husband forgot to take out the trash. On his way home from work on Thursday, a garbage truck hit his car, killing him.”

“My father decided that the fire insurance rider on his homeowner’s policy wasn’t worth it for the extra cost versus benefits, so he cancelled on Monday. The house burned down on Thursday.”

While there are plausible connections between the events in all cases — medical procedure, then medical problem; garbage fail, garbage truck; fire insurance, housefire — it should be obvious from the last two that what’s really at work here is coincidence and selective attention.

In the case of “vaccines cause autism,” though, there’s a lot more going on, and a big part of it is due to how we have changed the concept and diagnosis of autism and being on the spectrum over the years.

Statistics weren’t even tracked until 2000, and the definitions of autism have also changed since that time. Prior to the 21st century, only children at the most severe end of the spectrum were classified as autistic, although kids were getting vaccinated just as much, especially from the 1960s onward.

So what changed? Nothing about the vaccinations, really. It was everything about how autistic children were classified and, indeed, the creation of the idea of “on the spectrum,” which greatly expanded the number of kids who could be considered to fall into the criteria.

But, all of a sudden, it looked like every other kid was being diagnosed, and the diagnoses always happened right after the time they finished their first round of childhood vaccines. But the former was simply an artifact of statistical processes.

If you don’t diagnose condition A until after Thing B has happened, then it’s very easy to create this fake correlation equals causation idea in people’s minds, and that’s exactly what happened here.

“My kid just had their last round of vaccines, and now they tell me she’s on the spectrum. Of course they’re connected!”

Or not.

But this kind of scientific ignorance and total stupidity has led the dangerous anti-vax mindset we have now, and it’s going to do way more harm than good.

Theatre Thursday: Fun times

People have asked me, “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had acting in a play,” and I’d really have to answer… all of them. That even includes the “excruciating when I look back” elementary school efforts, and the few times I was a musician for a musical — but that’s its own kind of acting.

I think I only did three of those, off the top of my head, and only three as a performer, well technically.

See, this also brings up the less traditional “play” plays that I’ve done, meaning most of the year 2012, during which Playwrights’ Arena celebrated their anniversary by doing 20 Flash Theatre Plays in various locations in L.A.

Each was only performed once and not in a theatre, but in a public location, ranging from the parking lot of a pet food store in Culver City to a cemetery in the Adams District, to Union Station downtown, and several street locations in Silver Lake.

I participated in 13 of them, and it was intense. A lot of them were, in fact, mini-musicals, with singing and choreography, and we’d basically just erupt into the location, do our thing, and then vanish.

A lot of fun, but if you’re wondering about full-length plays, then these weren’t them.

But sticking to stage plays, including musicals… I think I wind up with a tie in my head between two very, very different shows.

One was Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, which I’d read long before I did it, and was always fascinated by because it was just so… fucked up. To me, it basically represented an artist who was at height of his fame and power, but also at the height of his addiction, so that he could shit anything out on stage and Broadway and the audiences would eat it up.

Except that, with this one, they didn’t, and it only lasted 60 performances, mainly because it was just too weird and idiosyncratic.

The other was The Pension Grillparzer, adapted from John Irving’s The World According to Garp, itself being a story-theatre style telling of the story within the book that is Garp’s first sold short story.

The nice part about this one was that we all worked with the creator/director who adapted it from the book, so it was an original work but its second production.

And… it’s still hard to judge which one was more fun.

What I can tell you is that Camino Real was never fun for our audiences, and since we all got to be so in their faces, I learned that firsthand. Don’t blame us, though. It was entirely Tennessee wanking all over the page, and even we didn’t know what the hell the script meant.

But we got to play a lot of weird-ass characters, and to this day I’m still good friends with quite  a lot of that cast, a few of whom are sadly now deceased.

It did give me the opportunity to work with the legendary Malachi Throne, although I was way too young to have any idea who he was. However, I did know that he was a funny and gracious man behind the scenes, and since I was technically playing Jesus to his Satan in the show, he always gave me stuff to play off of.

Oh yeah. My character in the play was The Dreamer, and my only dialogue was in Spanish, which was fine with me. I was this mystical and powerful badass in a leather jacket, black jeans, and black and silver eyeliner, who eventually drove off the angels of death, and generally led around my blind mother, who was so much the Virgin de Guadeloupe that it was ridiculously obvious.

One of my fond memories from  that show, near the end of Act II — Mom gave a long monologue while holding the “dead” hero, Kilroy, across her lap, Pieta style and draped in an American flag. Except that she couldn’t hold him up for that long, and I had to support his shoulders, waiter-tray style, while pretending that I wasn’t under cover of the flag.

At the same time, all of us on stage had been directed to drill eye contact with the audience — normally a big no-no — and then ever-so-slowly turn our heads and keep shifting that contact from one audience member to another, stage right to stage left, during Mom’s monologue.

For me, this was one of the most weirdly gratifying moments, since I was sitting about four feet from the front row, and I could absolutely sense how damn uncomfortable it made everyone.

Our ridiculously hot stage manager (Hi, John!) timed this for us in performance, bless his heart, and the scene generally took seven minutes. But the audience discomfort was kind of the point of the whole scene. Tennessee was deep into his “Fuck all y’all” mood by that point, after all.

But… lest you think that torturing audiences brings me my biggest joy in theater, the show that’s tied with Camino Real is kind of its polar-opposite. Sure. It’s dark and twisted, and almost everyone dies because it is John Irving, after all. But… it was an absolute blast to do.

The main reason was because Mollie Boice, the adaptor and director, gave us the text and let us loose. Since it was basically story theatre, it was in the form of the actors reading the non-dialogue lines (i.e. the “he said/she said/they did this”) and then performing the dialogue when it happened.

It made for a really interesting structure. On top of that, my main character was a depressed, unicycle-riding bear (in Irving? Quelle surprise!)

Anyway, a lot of the time when I wasn’t the bear, I was a random human staying at the Pension, hanging in the background and providing all of that narration. When I was the bear, I got to go all animal on stage, and it was wonderful.

Basically, as long as I didn’t maul any fellow actors, I had free rein, and according to reviews, I king of stole the show just by being there, and the only concessions to bearness were a big, brown furry hat, and an oversized brown sweater.

The unicycle itself, I had to mime, because there was no safe way to ride one on our limited stage, plus which I never could master riding one in the first place.

But playing the bear was fun, because I basically got to turn my brain off, not worry about dialogue, and react to everything in the moment. Plus, I trained myself to be able to drool on command at key points during the evening, and hearing the audience cringe and “Ewww!” to that made it all worthwhile.

So, there you have it. My most fun moments on stage have been playing Mexican Jesús and a depressed Bear. For those of you who are actors, what are yours?

Image source: Camino Real Cast, The Company Rep.