Category Archives: theatre

Eyes of a stranger 09/24/16

The manager looked at me with a blank look. “What was your order?”

“Eight everything, eight plain, and fourteen sesame.”

Her blank expression turned into the crazed worker whose associates screwed up and she was getting blamed for it. Her head slightly tilting to the left as her lips curled into a demented smile.  She had a rough morning.  The take out line was around the corner.  She was understaffed and there were lots of screaming babies. “I’m sorry, there is a fresh batch coming out soon, can you wait twenty minutes?”

That really wasn’t a question. If I wanted my damn bagels, I would have to wait for them.

“Can I get you a coffee while you are waiting?” She nodded to the cashier who took over while she ran to put out more metaphorical fires in the back.

The cashier smiled at me. “What would you like?”

“I’d best have decaf. I’m going to have to call the wife and explain why breakfast will be late.”

That was a lie. I have no wife. No kids, who will greet me like a conquering hero when I return with a freshly baked bagel breakfast. I have nothing to rush home to.  I buy two dozen bagels so I don’t have to come down here for another month.

So why do I feel the need to tell this person whom I never met and probably will never meet again, that I had some semblance of a normal life? She didn’t care.  I am just another customer, one of hundreds she will see today. As long as I am not a prick and make her life a living hell for a minute or two, she will forget about me as soon as I exit the store.

Why should I care what people think of me? Probably some basic human need to be accepted, to be loved. Why look for acceptance in the eyes of a cashier?  Why look for love in the eyes of a stranger?

I took my decaf making no attempt to complete the charade by placing a fake phone call to my fake wife. I headed to the milk bar.  Poured 2% into my coffee but only a few drops came out.

I looked at my almost black coffee debating whether it was worth going back to the cashier to ask for more. There was a teenage girl standing impatiently behind me waiting for a straw. She probably had some important business on her cell phone to attend to and my getting some milk for my coffee was standing in the way of world peace! I took a sip.  Damn, it was too dark to drink!

I headed back to the cashier. There was a customer who thought he was very funny.  He wasn’t.  The cashier smiled at his joke but he wasn’t done and kept going for another thirty seconds.    Tick, tick, tick. She smiled, he droned on, and I waited with the empty 2% thermos in my hand. Tick, tick, tick. Finally he got his change and left.

“This is empty.” I handed her the container.

She took it, turned to the small refrigerator behind her and filled it up. I accepted it back without a word. I filled my coffee cup to the brim but did not put the lid on correctly. When I turned to go, it spilled on the floor.

A older woman at the table closest to the bar looked at me as if to say, “Well, you gonna clean that up?”

If I didn’t catch her eyes, I could have just left. If I didn’t have lingering mother issues, I would have left. But I did, and I do, so now I was obligated to clean it up or else every customer in the place would think ill of me.  Here we go again! What the hell do I care what these people think of me? If I wasn’t stuck here in this coffee shop purgatory waiting for my bagels, I would be gone and life would be perfect.  If someone slipped on my light decaf coffee, it would be their problem.

I smiled weakly and tossed several napkins on the floor and swished them around with my foot. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Now I was going to have to pick up dirty floor napkins that I touched with my foot.  My life was spinning out of control!

I picked up the ball of dirty towels and tossed them in the trash container and then I turned to my coffee cup. Crap, I didn’t put the lid on properly because I was so concerned about the stares of those stupid table people! Now I had dirty napkins hands!  AND I had to wash them!

I took the cup with my left hand trying to balance the loose lid on the top while not spilling anymore of it. I headed into the bathroom to wash my hands.  But the lid was sliding off and I became overly concerned that whatever was flying around in the air of the men’s room would end up in my coffee.

Oh hell, it stunk to high heaven! Why do people do their number two business in public restrooms?  Even though, I didn’t have to use it, I gingerly peered into the bowl.  It was worse than I imagined! What sort of beast could produce something so large? Now I would not be able to get that image out of my mind for at least the next three hours.

I washed my hands quickly and fixed the lid on my coffee cup wondering how much of that thing in the toilet ended up in my coffee. That was not the biggest of my concerns. I turned to the door. There were people beyond.  If I opened the door and the smell wafted out into the dining room, everyone within smelling distance would think I was responsible.  But what was my choice?  Should I stay in the restroom and pass out from the fumes?  What would the headlines in the papers read, “Man drinking coffee in the bathroom dies from the stench of his own stool!”  A picture of me lying on the floor would go viral.

I decided to leave the bathroom. I always wonder about people leaving public restrooms with drinks.  Were they drinking while doing their business?  This was all too much.  I opened the door quickly and got out into the dining area without being noticed.

I sat down at a two top table and buried my thoughts into my coffee. I’m doing ok.  I’m doing ok. All will turn out well if I could just hold on for another minute or two.

“Here you go sir, sorry for the wait.” The manager said bringing the bagels over to my table.

I jumped slightly, startled at the proximity of my bagel bags. I thought I covered it up well although the manager did have a smile on her face that was larger than the regular customer service smile.  I got up quickly and paid for my order.

Stepping outside to freedom I exhaled deeply. I was free, but to do what? Go home and put the bagels in freezer bags, wondering how much I would be able to fit in each bag?  Could I fit eight in a bag?  And what happens if there is an extra one?  Do I mix everything with the sesame or even worse, the plain?  Will the plain retain its plainness in a bag with other types of bagels?  Sounds like a political conversation.

As important as that all seems, I longed for the excitement of the bagel joint; where orders are not filled in a timely fashion and loosely placed coffee lids create danger at every turn. I turned to enter again but realized I couldn’t go back in again. Not now. Ah well, there is always the next time. There is always the next time.

Advertisements

Monday Night Poetry and Music

Tonight I am going to Monday Night Poetry and Music to read some of my stuff.  It is at the East Bay Meeting House, 160 Meeting Street in Charleston.  It starts at 8.  Hope to see you there.


The Extra

 

Sitting across from 157B, waiting for my shot.

Sounds fabulous. Sounds glamorous.

Haven’t been in a film since N.Y.,

Close to thirty years ago.

Last Exit to Brooklyn, or was it the one

That I dragged my brother to?

 

He thought it would be cool.

So I took him along.

We spent twelve hours in a smoky bar,

Atmosphere created by six fog machines,

Filling the space and making it hard to breathe.

Drinking colored water,

And waiting until,

The shot was ready,

And the lights were turned on,

And the cameras rolled,

And the stars walked by,

And that was it.

 

Then the crew and the extras spent another three hours

Getting background shots

As the stars were in their trailers

Doing whatever stars did in their trailers

And my brother and I

Sat and waited and talked.

 

We hadn’t been close for a few years.

We grew apart as brothers often do.

I don’t know why he wanted to do this.

It was my tenth extra gig.

I was used to the boredom,

The waiting for those few moments of excitement.

 

Maybe he wanted just to hang out with his younger brother.

Maybe he had something to tell me.

If he did, I don’t remember.

I remember he was sick by the end of the shot.

Sick of the fake smoke.

Sick of the fake drinks.

Sick of the deadly repetition

And the deadly silence in between.

We ran out of things to say after the third hour.

The shoot lasted twelve.

 

The director approached me,

Bringing me back to the present.

She asked me if I smoked.

I told her, if she needed me to smoke, I’ll smoke.

I hadn’t touched a cigarette in over twenty years.

Gave it up before my daughter was born.

She said if I didn’t mind.

I said I didn’t.

 

So I stood with my back turned to the camera,

With a cigarette in my hand,

Waiting for “Action”,

Taking a puff

And walking away from the camera

And out of the frame.

 

We filmed it again and again, and again.

Waiting for “Action”

The cigarette in my hand.

I took a puff between shots to keep it lit.

And then it was gone.

I asked for another.

 

After the third cigarette

They gave me a lighter

So I could put the cig out between takes.

 

After the sixth cigarette,

They gave me a pack

So I didn’t have to ask again.

 

I thought of my brother.

I thought of my daughter.

I thought of my own life

A bit actor in my own story.

 

And then the director called “Action”

And I took a drag,

And walked away from the camera.

And out of the shot.

 

Ten seconds later,

I was once again standing where

I was standing a moment before,

Having done nothing

Accomplished nothing

Again standing where I began.

 

I lit another cigarette

And took another long drag.

And stood on my mark

Because that is where I needed to be.

Again with a cigarette in my hand,

Waiting for action.

 


Nagg and Nell

I’m 57 today.

I teach in a middle school.

I teach theatre.

Today, I showed my class Samuel Beckett’s Endgame.

 

Seeing an absurdist play is never a good idea on your birthday.

Absurdism states that life is absurd, hence the name.

Relationships and language are futile to Beckett.

We are all on our way to oblivion alone and nothing can delay the inevitable.

 

Nell and Nagg, Hamm’s parents, reside in garbage cans.

Hamm himself is blind and cannot stand,

So he is pushed around by his servant Clov, who cannot sit or lie down.

Hamm calls his parents damned fornicators, blaming them for his very existence.

They don’t pay attention to their son.

 

They reminisce of the time they lost their shanks in a bicycle accident.

They can hardly see.

They can hardly hear.

It is too painful to touch.

 

I used to have a picture of an old couple sitting on a park bench holding hands on my wall.

This was my idea of true love.

They have each other and that is all they want.

Their life is not futile because they have each other.

 

Nagg and Nell do not have a park bench.

They cannot smell the flowers on a warm spring day.

They cannot hold each other’s hand.

They are stuffed in garbage cans, in a cold dark room.

 

I once met a man who at 77 found the love of his life.

He had been alone for twenty years.

His daughter convinced him to go to a Valentine’s Day dance.

He saw that familiar stranger from across the room and was thunder stuck.

 

Nell and Nagg do not have a Valentine’s Day dance.

They cannot hear the rhythm of their youth.

They can’t recall that moment when they fell in love.

Their struggle is all that they can feel.

 

But they are alive.

Nagg can hardly hear Nell

But hardly is more than not.

Nell can barely see Nagg,

But barely is better than not.

And the anticipation of another moment

With their soul’s one and only

As they rise from the darkness of their metal caskets

Gives them hope

If only for another moment

One single moment,

One fleeting moment.

 


Holidays

There are many ways of celebrating this holiday season

New Year’s ball dropping, campfire making s’mores, Christmas caroling

All of them are better with family and friends

Sometime we take for granted the gifts we have

And I’m not talking about the ones under the tree

But what of those people who have no family, no friends to share this spirit of joy with?

 

Our soldiers on foreign lands

The elderly in nursing homes

The homeless on the street

What does the holidays mean to them?

Standing outside in the cold looking at the logs burning in the fireplace

What can we do too bring love into another’s heart?

 

So before that meal

Before that football game

Before opening your gifts

 

Give thanks

Because there is little difference between you and them

Think

About those in need,

Do something

For others who are hurting or in pain.

 

 

 


“The instant you speak about a thing you miss the mark.” Anonymous

Shut-up.  It is not necessary to talk as much as we do.  It is not necessary to explain your actions.  Why explain yourself?  It is almost as if the only way most of us can substantiate our lives is if we talk ourselves into existence.  Our actions truly speak louder than our words.  If someone doesn’t understand you through your behavior, he won’t understand you by your words.

 

This says something very important to us about our acting.  If we have to explain our character to someone before that person understands him, then we are not doing a good job.  Your character’s actions should speak for themselves.  If you are off track you should know it by your explanations.

 

I have also found that whenever I talk about a project in the midst of the project, it dissipates.  It is never as strong as if I had just presented the finished product.

 

Let me give you an example.  You tell someone a wonderful idea.  She will tell you all the reasons why it won’t, can’t, shouldn’t happen.  You start to doubt yourself and soon you believe that it probably wasn’t that great an idea to begin with.

 

I say all ideas are equally good but they can become brilliant when accomplished.

 

No one sees life like you do.  To give them an idea which has not been fully thought through is courting disaster.  It is much easier to criticize than to applaud and most people will take the easiest path.  Give the person a complete performance and then go on your way without explanations.  Let them decide by and for themselves if it was meaningful.


Finding the Truth

“If you cannot find the truth right where you are,

where else do you expect to find it?”  Dogen

 

A similar Zen expression goes “The only Zen you will find at the mountaintop is the Zen you bring there.” Zen and acting are both an exploration of self.  You do not have to look beyond the skin you inhabit to find everything you are looking for.  Understanding comes from within you and so you must be the subject of every character investigation.

 

Every character, no matter how different from yourself, is easy to find. Just hold a mirror up to yourself.

 

Imaging – Write down a character description for three very different characters.  Commit these descriptions to memory.  Stand in front of a mirror and stare into your own eyes.  Start to describe the first character.  Try to see in your own eyes the essence of that character.  Look only at your eyes.  Describe the character out loud in the first person, using phrases like, “I am an alcoholic.”  Try to see him in your eyes.  Keep repeating the description until you feel that person.  Say another description.  Widen your vision to include your whole face.  See that character in your face and then your body.  When you feel one with the first character, close your eyes and let that character go.  When you open your eyes again, see yourself.  If you feel up for it, move on to the second character and then the third.

 

After completing this exercise, you will see that any character can be created by looking within.  That is where you should begin every characterization.