Sunday Nibble #64: Out of the ashes

As of today, it will have been fourteen days from my second Moderna vaccination, so I am now technically immunized against COVID — well, at least most strains, although it’s not clear yet whether this vaccine also works against COVID-19 variants alpha, beta, or gamma.

In case those designations don’t look familiar, it’s because they’re new, and are designed to follow the same recently introduced guidelines that ended the practice of naming a virus or flu strain for the area it was first spotted.

So I’ll be keeping my mask on in public for a while even though California is set to end the requirement on June 15th. It’s still not clear whether Los Angeles County is going to follow suit, though.

But the main thing is that it does feel like we’re reaching the beginning of the end, at least in some places in the U.S. But even as we slowly emerge back into some form of more public and social life, the signs of what we lost are starting to become apparent.

It reminds me of another great plague, the bubonic plague that struck London in 1665. It hit the cities particularly hard because they were crowded and unsanitary. A lot of people who could fled to the countryside as the city of London basically shut down.

This included a 23-year-old Isaac Newton, who found himself isolated in his country home in Woolsthorpe. As a result, he started to develop his theories of optics and gravitation, as well as create (or possibly rediscover) calculus.

Then, in September of 1666, London burned down. The Great Fire, as it became known, devastated everything within the old Roman walls as it tore through the city over the course of four days. The problem was a lot of wooden construction, jammed together haphazardly, but the actions of the Lord Mayor didn’t help at all.

Fire-fighting practice at the time was to create firebreaks by demolishing adjacent buildings that weren’t burning so that the fire couldn’t jump, and then focus on the structures that were on fire. But Mayor Thomas Bloodworth was having none of that. In a classic and short-sighted case of “buildings are worth more than people,” he refused to authorize the tearing down of a lot of warehouses because they couldn’t contact the owners.

Ironically, if he’d just had two houses torn down at the beginning, they might have stopped the thing at the bakery in which it started.

That’s not the only irony, though. The fire itself actually helped end the plague because it either killed or drove out the rats that were infested with the fleas that spread the infection.

Now, Los Angeles hasn’t burned down. Sure, lots of Southern California likes to burn up regularly, but our irony is that we tend to only lose rural neighborhoods while the cities, which are mostly concrete and steel, stay intact. But the city has burned metaphorically and, in a lot of ways, what we lost over the last year may have inadvertently helped slow down the spread of our plague as well. And, unlike Bloodworth, our mayor actually did the right thing, even if far too many people got selfish and bitched and complained instead of following the rules from the beginning.

Yes — if we had all just completely locked down and stayed at home for the first six weeks, we probably would have slowed things way down. But we didn’t learn the lesson that Bloodworth ignored as well: Sometimes, in order to save a lot of businesses or properties or homes, you have to intentionally destroy a few.

In fact, as of February 2021, Los Angeles County had lost the most small businesses of any county in the U.S. These were mostly restaurants and bars, small retail stores, salons, and gyms. The general category of “personal services business” was particularly hard-hit, especially because there were so many such businesses in the county.

But there were bigger victims. Larger retailers like Fry’s Electronics folded, and K-Mart and Sears shuttered a lot of locations. A huge movie chain, Pacific Theatres and Arclight Cinemas, shut down permanently, putting the status of L.A.’s historic Cinerama Dome in limbo. (That one particularly hurts because my dad was one of the architects involved in its creation early on in his career.)

Surprisingly, AMC survived despite rumors of it going bankrupt in 2020, and it’s now re-opened and thriving. And at least some of the arthouse cinemas live on, like the New Beverly, which just re-opened this past week. Of course, that one is owned by Quentin Tarantino, who’s got the money to have kept paying for the lease while it was dormant.

Just too bad he insisted on opening it with one of his history-mangling messterpieces.

As an antidote to that, the Nuart also survives, and that’s good news, although they do seem to be focusing on longer runs of obscure documentaries instead of the “you can’t find this online” arthouse stuff they used to thrive on. And, sadly, nary a sign of the return of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yet.

Then again, that film is rapidly creeping up on 50 years old. On the other hand, it was so far ahead of its time and so much in tune with current attitudes that I don’t see why it wouldn’t still play with current Gen-Z audiences.

Don’t dream it… be it.

Between the original film and the 2016 TV remake (which decidedly does not suck), it covers all of the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC bases. Although the fact that they missed getting that remake done during the 40th anniversary year is just sad. But bonus points for casting Tim Curry as the Criminologist.

So… do I think that everything is going to go back to normal in a couple of weeks? Oh, hell no. And I’m going to be keeping my mask on for a good while after this. Why? Because being able to unmask depends entirely on having been fully vaccinated, and I still don’t trust people enough to not lie.

I mean, come on. People have no problem lying about their untrained mutts being “therapy dogs” in order to bring them everywhere — even though, legally, “therapy dogs” are not a thing, and it’s only trained service dogs that should be allowed.

Not to mention that the anti-vax crowd actually crosses political lines. You’ll find just as many on the far right as on the far left. Yes, for different reasons, but same end results. They’ll refuse the shot, but then lie about it in order to regain their “freedom.”

So even as Southern California and Los Angeles pull that phoenix trick and rise from the ashes, I’m still going to take precautions. Meaning that this mask is staying on my face in public until we’ve vaccinated the fuck out of everyone and/or there have been no new cases of COVID-19 of any form diagnosed in the state for at least three months.

So… see you next fall, maybe?

Friday Free-for-all #22

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

If you had a personal mascot, what would your mascot be?

This is actually a rather easy question to answer, because if I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be this animal. People who know me might think I’d say dog or wolf, but that’s not it. My choice is both more fabulous and less real.

My personal mascot would be a phoenix, not to be confused with the mythical Russian firebird (Жар-птица) or the Native American thunderbird — although the latter is considered a relative.

All three also happen to be models of cars, although to be honest the only one that’s visually appealing to me at all would be the Pontiac Firebird, especially later models — although the emblematic bird decal on the hood is a must, even though it seems to have only been a thing during the second generation in the 1970s.

But that isn’t my firebird because mine isn’t a car anyone really remembers, plus it uses fire in a different way. The Russian firebird launched its flames outward. The phoenix self-directs them.

You’ve probably heard the legend. The phoenix is a very ancient bird to begin with, but every so often, it will return to its nest, spontaneously burst into flames, and die in the fire — except that it doesn’t, and the bird is resurrected anew and young again from its own ashes.

That’s something I’ve done in my own life, metaphorically, over and over again. The phoenix regularly faces catastrophe, but survives. I hate to give any attention to a transphobic TERF idiot, but here’s a bit from the Franchise that Shall not Be Named in which a phoenix does its thing.

Certainly, the entire 2020 experience is setting me on this course again, since it managed to take away so much of what I knew and loved and did. I am finally about to sort of get back to work, most of it remotely from home, but at the same time I have, for the moment, lost live theatre, as audience and performer, as a part of my life until who knows when.

I also miss seeing friends in person, the comfort of a hug, and the warmth of a voice that comes through air instead of wires.

I have a feeling that 2020 is going to turn a lot of us into phoenixes, or at least cast us into the fire. Whether we come out of the ashes or not is entirely up to each of us, but it is always better to decide to persevere and win than it is to give up.

And if you’re having trouble dealing with the flames, reach out. Even if we can’t (well, really shouldn’t) touch physically right now, we can do it emotionally across the distance. Think now about what you’re going to be once the flames subside and you poke your head out of the ashes, comfortable in the familiar and nurturing home of your own nest, born anew to take flight on your next adventure.

Yeah. I’ll take that mascot, please.

Reboot

If I were ever to get a tattoo, it would be a phoenix rising from the ashes, because more than any other mythological animal, this symbolizes the regular pattern of my life.

Long-time readers may have noticed that last June, my posting frequency dropped off, and my last post was almost exactly two months ago, with my review of The Play that Goes Wrong. Ironically, this post comes a few days after I returned to the same theater where I saw the aforementioned play, the Ahmanson, to see John Leguizamo’s critically-acclaimed Latin History for Morons.

The reason for my sudden radio silence is that sometimes life catches up. I posted about it in the excerpt from Chapter Thirteen of my book. Long story short, the company I’d worked at for ten years imploded, and I was laid off in September, 2017, although I freelanced for them through March 2018. It was this sudden unemployment with a generous severance on top of having saved up a lot, though, that gave me the time to write the first draft of the book between September 2017 and February 2018.

Of course, in my first draft of Chapter Thirteen, I solved all my problems, got over my depression, and everything was great… except, what I didn’t know at the time, was that the recovery was temporary, and that chapter is going to need a huge rewrite and/or become a, “Hey, if you want the full story on this one, read the sequel.”

At the time, I was lining up a lot of freelance clients, and getting a lot of promises of work, and everything seemed great. This is also when I got more involved with my improv company ComedySportz L.A., moving onto their staff as Box Office Dude after I applied for a full-time position as Office Administrator, but it was one of those cases of, “We’d already picked someone internally, but you impressed us for asking, so here’s this other thing.”

So… for a while, things were still kind of fun. I was getting unemployment, had a lot of money in the bank, and was bringing in grocery and entertainment money from the Box Office gig. ComedySportz L.A. also hosted the ComedySportz World Championships that year, so I wound up an insider fast, and pretty soon was working every box office shift. I also got to meet a bunch of great improvisers from all over the U.S. and a few from the UK, and even got to scrimmage with them in an evening of non-stop improv games.

It was great because it left my days free and I was still picking up freelance gigs here and there. The pay at CSz wasn’t great and the hours were far from full-time, but between that, unemployment, and freelancing, I was kind of breaking even-ish. I’d managed to Tarzan-swing my way all the way to the end of 2018, and an unexpected boon that came at the start of 2019 kept me going.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that this entire time I was applying my ass off on job sites for fulltime work in what I’d been doing — content creation and editing, writing, proofreading, SEO, and so on. A lot of the time, when I’d see a referral on Big Name Job Site, I’d go find the listing on the company site instead, to make sure it wasn’t stale old crap, and then apply directly.

And… my god, the ghosting in job applications is as bad as it is in dating apps. Here’s a simple clue, both for HR people and thirsters: If you’re not interested in someone, say so. “Thank you, but we decided to go in a different direction.” “Hey, nice photo, but you’re not my type.” It’s simple, it’s factual, and it’s not an insult. But it does tell the hopeful applicant to stop wasting their time.

The other waste of time? Online job boards. Sometimes, even personal connections don’t work, particularly if you’re making a big jump from one career to another.

Remember: I’ve worked in entertainment or creative fields, or adjacent to, almost my entire adult life. I started right out of college in an office job for one of the big entertainment unions, but wound up being fired after a department split and new pig of a manager whose biggest issues with me were probably that I was openly gay and didn’t have tits. This almost exactly coincided with me finding out that my first ever produced full-length play was going to be done by South Coast Rep, which was a huge deal. This is called “starting at the top.”

After the whirlwind of fame and fortune from that production, I bounced around, with only one muggle temp gig as an accountant for about a year and a half. Otherwise, I received a fellowship for a screenwriting program sponsored by Universal Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin’ Entertainment, worked as listings editor for a specialized LGBTQ community directory that was the first ever on the internet, worked for Spelling Television as a script coordinator for Melrose Place, 7th Heaven, and the show you’ve never heard of, Safe Harbor. I even wrote for 7th Heaven briefly (as in one episode that I still get residuals for), which amuses people who know me, because it’s got to be the biggest sensibility mismatch of all time.

After that, I passed through Warner Home Video and Dreamworks Animation SKG in long-term temporary assignments, then wound up at the Dog Whisperer’s own web company as a “two day” emergency temp thing. Except that they liked me, kept asking me back, and then hired me full time about two months later.

So now we’re caught up, and back to that whole “particularly if you’re making a big jump from one career to another” thing. I even signing up with a traditional temp agency, and despite my experience, they refused to even see me because their clients didn’t want people with no “office experience.” Well, where the hell do they think people in entertainment-related fields work? Hint: all of my full-time entertainment jobs were in actual offices. Only the productions, which were 99% theatre, took place in, well, theaters.

But the lack of “Yes, and” from all these applications finally got me to such a point of desperation that I applied for a grocery stocker job with a certain large, local chain whose parent company rhymes with Ogre and the chain itself rhymes with Alf’s. They gave me a phone interview and offered me a position, which would have meshed with my box office schedule. The problem is that they were offering less than small company minimum wage (by about 20 cents an hour), and they probably used some “This store only has X employees” BS to justify it despite being a huge chain. Although how they can get away with paying less than minimum is beyond me. No wonder the checkers are talking about striking again.

Another chain, which rhymes with Nader Blows, pays a lot more to start, but I didn’t get to them before circumstances intervened. Just as I was about to pull the trigger and sell my soul to a grueling and stupid night shift weekdays, late shift weekends, no life ever routine, the summer bailed me out, because ComedySportz suddenly needed someone to help them coordinate enrolling high school students for their annual summer improv camp, and wrangling the paperwork (i.e. the parents), followed up by the same process for preparing for the start of the new High School League season, so I was in the office a lot, and it got me through June, July, and August, since it became almost (and sometimes more than) a full-time job.

And then, the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” came true in spades. After all the fruitless job searching and résumé sending, an old friend’s wife referred me to a friend/client of theirs in desperate need of an administrative assistant in about the most non-entertainment, officey field there is: Insurance. Specifically, health insurance, and he specializes in guiding people through the maze that is Medicare.

I started the job on August 27 — exactly 12 days shy of two years managing to survive without any fulltime day job. And so… it’s back to a regular schedule and stability, and I hope that I’ll be posting here again more often. Of course, it might also interest you all to know this: I registered this domain and started this site while I was literally sitting in a hotel conference room, working as Check-In person and general assistant for a marketing seminar run by the two aforementioned people who got me this current job, and I did this right after I’d lost my fulltime job with the intention of using this blog as a marketing tool for the book and myself.

In the two years since then, it’s become so much more. It’s appropriate, then, that this latest Phoenix rise happens in September. Finally, I should also point out that while my site’s colors are definitely a nod to nostalgia for the naughts, they are also symbolic in this context. Orange represents the flames into which the phoenix falls, black represents the ashes of the abandoned and old, and white represents the purity of rebirth. Plus orange is my favorite color.

Image by Mystic Art Design.