Archive for October, 2006

Punch Line

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Hoo boy, this is gonna crack you up.

So, Jordana and I went to a play last night (more on that anon) and we were walking home at about 11:15. We live in a pretty nice neighborhood and we almost never feel threatened on our walk home. Every once in a while there will be a group of kids, and I like to make sure I know where they are, but other than that, I’ve never felt the least bit weird walking home.

So, last night, we were walking and laughing, we were in a pretty good place, which usually happens when we’re up and around. As we got to our block, I noticed there was a guy in front of us who was staggering a little bit. I felt Jordana stiffen up, and I instinctively moved her to the other side of me, knowing we would eventually pass this guy. He was little, but he was staggering, could barely walk in a straight line.

As we closed in on him, I recognized him. I mean, I had known who he was the whole time, I sorta recognized the ponytail and, of course, the stagger I knew was that of a guy who was a hopeless shit-faced drunk on his way home. As we passed, he was trying to eat a peanut, and the effort of it almost caused him to crash to the ground. As I passed, I sent Jordana ahead.

“How you doin’ there, Buddy?” I asked.

“Oh, hey Sean…” He couldn’t focus on my face, but he could slur out the name of his landlord.

“Kinda hard to eat peanuts and walk at the same time”

“Sure,” he said, “and I have to… I have to *PEEL* them… The SHELLS.”

“Are you doing okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just…” he could barely put his sentences together, ” I’m trying to… do this… and get home.”

“How’s it going upstairs?” I asked, already knowing the answer. He’s supposed to be out by the first. He had promised he would be out by the first.

“I’monna need another week one more week.”

“Another week…”

“Yeah, izzat gonna be a problem? I’m sorry, man, I wanted to be out by the first, but I’m tryin’ to do it myself, all myself and I’m not havin’ all the… stuff, y’know?”

“Yeah. You need another week?”

“Izzat gon’ be okay?”

I mean, no, that’s not okay, but that’s not what I said. “Yeah, we’ll work it out. I gotta get up there as soon as I can, my mom’s gotta be able to get in by the 17th, so… we’ll work it out.”

“I’m sorry…” he just looked down. “I’m just so sorry. We couldn’t get the other apartment together in time, and I’m doin’ it all myself.”

“Yeah, okay man” I headed downstairs, Jordana was already in. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry…” he wandered into his apartment.

At two in the morning, I finally called his phone. He came in, turned on the TV and passed out, and the sound was rattling throughout our bedroom, and we’ve got an agreement that he’s supposed to turn his stuff off by one. I dialed and as soon as I heard the phone ring, I heard something fall to the ground upstairs and a scramble for the phone.


“Hey man, this is Sean downstairs.”


“Hey, I need you to turn the TV off, it’s…”


He hung up the phone. Twenty minutes later, the TV was still blaring, and it continued for the next three hours. I didn’t have the heart to call him again.

I Don’t Suck

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I’m lying, I do suck at a lot of stuff, but I’m really happy with the things I can do when I’m left to my own devices. This blog *will* actually suck, because I haven’t taken pictures yet, and I don’t have time to describe it, but…

I guess this is what I’m saying. I had a young friend ask me how he should go about attracting girls, and I spent a long time trying to figure out what to tell him. Obviously, you should be yourself, but that doesn’t help anyone. When you get around hot girls, you start freaking out and stuttering and getting all weird. So, then you’ve got to have confidence, but still, you can’t tell someone to have confidence, what does that even mean?

So, what I ended up saying is that he should aim for competence, not confidence. Be excellent, be good at stuff. Aim to being a success at any tiny thing, and even if you suck, aim for enthusiastic competence. If someone wants to play tennis, then get a raquet and go out and *suck*, but try. Have confidence in your enthusiasm.

I might be wrong, but I’ve always been most attractive to people when they’ve witnessed my accomplishments. When you come across star fuckers, they aren’t attracted to fame, they’re attracted to the assumed accomplishment that fame entails. I’m a guy with the body of an amateur golfer, and a face that looks like someone took a bowl of vanilla pudding, threw in a box of chicklets and then trimmed their hair over it – there’s nothing about my ridiculous looks that’s gonna grab the ladies. And yet, I’ve almost never had any trouble being attractive.

The only time in my life that I’ve come across women who were repulsed by me, which, by all rights, they should constantly, was when I was desperately failing, living in LA and drinking myself into a stupor. I had no plan, I wasn’t good at anything, I wasn’t trying to do anything, and I’d hook up with nasty girls because smart cool girls wouldn’t give me the time of day. Once I started focusing on wanting to be a success, I met an awesome girl.

All this to say, I’m almost done building the kitchen and dining room in my half of the house. Starting in two days, I’m gonna be re-building the apartment on the top floor, which is gona take virtually all of my time, so I may not be posting all the much. I just wanted to mention really quick that, despite feeling like so much in my life has been not living up to expectation, I’m still pushing forward with some measure of enthusiasm, and when I screw up, at least I know that my learning curve is continuing to speed up.

I’ll post pictures of the kitchen and dining room. Hopefully with before and after, if I can find earlier pix.

Pot Roast

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I love to cook. There are a couple of things I do that really give me a sense of peace, and although golf is one of those things, I’m not gonna talk about that. Probably not every again, if I can be disciplined. But cooking, I really love.

There is something about having in front of you a stack of stuff, especially when that stuff is in your fridge or pantry or drawer and you can just roll up your sleeves and use your intuition. Almost any pasta dish, I can do something awesome for you. Anything in the sandwich category, and I include all of the wrapped stuff like burritos and calzones in this, I can take care of. And, I’m really pretty good with sauces, I can make gravy and bechamel and marinara without much worry.

Baking I can handle. I don’t have quite the same gift for it that I do for stove-top, but I can handle it. Every once in a while, a loaf of bread or a plate of cookies comes out *really* good. Growing up, I always thought of baking like a science experiment, like if you’re off by an inch the whole thing is gonna suck. But I’ve actually made quiche and even souffle without any problems, and I’ve varied bread recipes to the point where I’m better off now if I don’t measure and I let fate determine whether there’s too much flour or not.

This cooking thing extends to building stuff as well. I love building things, and again, I’m not talking about Ikea furniture. I’m talking about doing all the measuring and cutting from raw lumber, and using screws and glue to make somehting work. A couple of days ago I built a massage table for Jordana, with a hole cut out for her belly and even though it’s ugly as hell, it was a joy to make.

The thing is… after all this, I just have never been able to make a good pot roast. I make a *great* turkey, I’m not kidding. If you had my turkey… well, let’s just say that last time I made a turkey, I didn’t get to the table fast enough to eat *any* of it. That skill extends to chicken as well, although since that is basically the staple ingredient in anything I make I can’t really take too much credit. Stove-top or oven, I got chickens pretty well covered.

I just really wish I could make a pot roast. Just the beef, the tiny strings of melt-in-your-mouth beef. No bullshit, no raisins or bits of celery, just the pot roast and the accompanying gravy, that’s what I want to be able to make. Either my mom or my dad made it when I was a kid, and it was, hands down – lights out, my favorite meal ever. And both parents were great cooks with their own things they did well, but that pot roast was the best thing ever.

The thing is, my mom says it was my dad, and my dad’s had all these cooking lessons and I don’t trust his memory. The recipe has been lost.

Last weekend, I went to an Amish Buffet in Lancaster PA, and they had pot roast. You could grab a slice of it if you were really careful, but mostly it just melted on the serving spoon. On the plate, it didn’t pool, there was no grease, and when you put it in your mouth it turned into beef flavored butter.

If any of you out there that read this (I’m looking at you, Mac) know how to make the perfect roast, tell me about it. If I try it and it works, I’ll have you over for dinner. I’ll make a salad so you won’t feel unhealthy. Salad, root vegetables, maybe some biscuits.

But trust me, I’ll only be eating the roast

Rescue Work

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Many of you who know me know that I have an irrational reaction to our tenant who lives upstairs. It’s more than irrational, it’s actually an over-the-top hissy fit kind of reaction, the sort of thing that sent me to a therapist who, while normally opposed to medication, suggested that a little happy pill might make my life a little smoother.

I can give you the rundown on it, but it’s tough because it goes right to the root of some of my worst feelings about EVERYTHING. Let me just do a quick break-down. The guy is a chainsmoking drunk who considers himself a musician, despite the fact that he practices twice a month, at an intolerable level, and plays two gigs a year. He’s about 45 and divorced with a ten year old daughter and a wife who doesn’t like him very much.

Just look at the description, and you can tell why this guy is pretty much the Ghost of Christmas Future. How do I know that when I’m 45, I won’t be divorced, living in a one bedroom apartment above some real musician, drunk off my ass and wondering where my life went? I was *this close* to being this guy. Jesus, I had to quit telling people that I was an actor because the fact that I wasn’t getting paid to do the shows was humiliating.

So, he comes home every night, stumbling, crashing and watches TV for an hour, from 3 to 4, before passing out. Then he’ll get up, start playing Billy Joel and Bob Seger songs on his electric and amplified piano while singing into a microphone. I can’t even hear the TV in the *basement* when he does this.

Pretty quickly, I set some ground rules for him. After midnight, he needs to play piano or watch TV with headphones. So, then he came crashing home and just spun around in his living room for two hours dropping change and shoes and hammers and cutlery… And his living room is right above our bedroom, stretched over us like the skin on a drum.

This is getting long, so let me jump forward.

Two months ago, I told him my wife was pregnant and that he needed to move out. My mom was gonna move in up there, and we need her here to help with the baby. My mom’s not very organized, and she can’t do dishes worth a damn (I remember bitching to her about dishes in high school, showing her that there was still food on the plates when she’s done washing, and she said “the person *drying* is supposed to get off whatever I leave on there!” I said, “But mom, there’s still FOOD on here!” and she said, “What are you bitching about? I just washed it, it’s *clean* food!”) but she is amazing with babies, so calm, so put together, and she has boundless love for the grandkids she’s already got.

Now, I felt a little kharmic bump when I did this, like I was driving this guy to have to go find another apartment just because I’m a neurotic asshole. I had thought to myself, countless times during the year and a half that he lived upstairs, “this guy is going *nowhere*. If I asked him to leave, it would at least shake him into doing *something* with his life”. But that thought existed only in moments of longer harangues in my head about how much he was making me crazy.

About nine months ago, he told me he had given up drinking. Which I responded to with my usual spoken “that is really great, I mean it, that’s just such a smart move” and my usual internal, “man, when people *tell you* they’re about to change, then the telling is the important thing, and this will never take.” But, as the months stretched on, I didn’t smell anything on him, I didn’t notice him coming home and passing out with a giant thud. He still staggered once in a great while, but he’s basically given up drinking.

About four months ago, he told me he had quit smoking. Again, “Great” (“riiiiight”). But then I heard him. He *had quit* already. Two months. He’d been smoking for some 35 years, since he was 11 or 12, and he hadn’t had a cigarette in two months. This was really exciting to me, mostly because I own his apartment, but partly because it seemed he had actually changed something destructive about his life in his *late 40s*.

He came and rang my doorbell an hour ago because he saw a friend of mine letting himself in, and the light was on and the mail was all spread out. He was worried about us, about Jordana, and my friend came and got me. I had been hoping he would be out by the first of November so I could renovate his apartment before my mom and the baby come, and I was hoping he would be telling me about that.

“Listen, man,” he said. “I’m definitely gonna be out by the first. I’m moving a lot of my stuff into storage bit by bit, but I’ll be out by the first.”

“That’s perfect, I really appreciate that. It’s tough to move when you’ve got a lot of stuff, a storage place is a good idea.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a smaller place, so all the music stuff is going into storage until I need it.

“Did you find a place here in Astoria?”

“I’m actually moving back in with my wife,” he said.

I was stunned. “That is… Oh my god, that is really great!”

“Yeah,” he smiled to himself. Like, not a smile of *joy* or anything, but more like relief. Like a guy might smile when he’s lying on the beach and the battle is over and he looks over and notices that neither he nor his good friend are dead.

“I gotta tell you,” I said, “my parents split up when I was in junior high, and if suddenly, out of nowhere, somehow they coulda worked it out… I mean, it’s crazy, but if suddenly, my dad had moved back home, it would have just… it would have been the *world* to me and my little sister.”

“Yeah, our girl is really happy, and I’m just…” he looked at me kinda hard. “Look, the baby? It’s gonna make your hair go gray and it’s gonna make you sleep like shit and it’s gonna make you wish you were a better guy every single day, but it is totally worth it. There’s nothing like it. I get to see her every day now, and it’s the best thing that’s every happened to me.”

“And your wife is cool?”

“She’s great,” he said, not totally believing it. “The space is small, and it’s hard for her to let me back in, but this last year I think… I think she’s *careful*, but still, she’s great. It’s so great for our daughter that I think… That just really helps.”


I think the good news is that people can change their fortunes, even when they’re in their late 40s. I’ve begun to worry that the ruts I’ve been riding in are gonna define me forever, but this guy turned his *LIFE* around. I know that I kicked him out because I didn’t want to have to listen to him having a life that I barely missed having, but the fact is, I bet he’s got a story to tell now. A broken bone will set stronger at the break than the rest of the bone, and it could be that his life has made him stronger than a careful, well planned life would have.

I guess I just feel a little less guilty, but mostly, I’m just so thrilled for him.

Christmas Creeps In

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

I had left UNC and was living in an apartment over my friend’s recording studio, way the hell out in New Jersey. When I look back on it now, I can’t believe how long I lived there, it was basically all of August and September, which is a long fucking time to crash at somebody’s pad. I was living with a girl at that point, and she moved up with me to stay in this three room crap-hole with no kitchen, mounds of stored equipment and a couple of giant boxes of porn. The girl and I slept on a fold-out futon, and every once in a while we had to find somewhere else to sleep, if a rock band from the city was staying out there for a week. We’d come back from staying in the sleaziest motel in New Jersey to find cocaine tracks on the laminate furniture and porn remnants strewn everywhere.

I had been offered a tour with Theatreworks, which I now believe is one of the very best theater companies in New York city. They’ve employed more people than the WPA in the thirties, and if they weren’t sending out small union musicals for kids to enjoy all over the country, then Equity’s unemployment rate would leap by about 15%. But, since they didn’t want to cast the girl I was with, I turned it down. Strange to think of now, had I taken the tour and gotten my equity card, I would have had six months employment, I would have dumped the girl, and I would have been living in New York since ’96. Instead, I turned down the tour and, in January moved to LA with the girl who would eventually break up with me because she simply couldn’t stop fucking the busboys at her waitress job.


It was getting to be the first of October, and I had turned down the jobs offered to me, either because I was taking the girl seriously, or because the money was terrible and I had no way of getting into the city every day because the train was expensive, and our car needed to be parked somewhere and that was outrageous. I was starting to get freaked out and desperate.

At the same time, a lovely little theater company in Rome, New York was looking for three cast members who could do their Christmas musical. Their biggest concern was that they had a small two room apartment to house the actors, and cramming all three in there was tough if two of them didn’t want to share a room. Plus, they only had one car to let us use, and they’d discovered that two cars was really important.

It was, perhaps, the single greatest auditioning experience of my life. I came in and sang and they fell in love with me, then my lady friend came in, and they found out we were a couple, and BANG, they gave us contracts.

We got the scripts in the mail, and as I looked through the three acts, I thought to myself “Um, this seems like three and a half hours of show.” It wasn’t that we had two weeks to rehearse it that worried me, it was that… I mean, it’s THREE HOURS! Who the hell, outside of Wagner, wants to watch three and a half hours of theater! Especially when one of the acts is a Christmas Review containing “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

(I will eventually come up with a list of good Christmas carols and bad Christmas carols, but, trust me, Do You Hear What I Hear is on the list. I believe that Charles Manson could have gotten off if he had just played a recording of that song for the jury and said “This is what our culture has come to! Don’t you see? I had to kill SOMEBODY!”)

We began rehearsals, and I also hustled myself out as a carpenter for building the set. An extra $6 an hour, on top of the several hundred we were getting a week to act. But, the cool thing is that I spent all that time with the husband/wife team that run the company, and I got to exercise every ounce of my talent.

I’m not saying the shows were great, by any stretch. The first act was a straight up Christmas pageant, where we somehow married “It’s A Marshmallow World In The Winter” with “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”. I got to wear a sparkly bow-tie and spangled vest with a tux shirt, and I’m pretty sure I got to sing a solo in the middle of “I’m Gettin’ Nothin’ For Christmas”. The second act took place on a train car in the mid 30s, I’d guess, where I played a singing waiter and I got to play guitar. Because guitar was big in the 30s. The last act was set in present day, but I played the ghost of a woman who lost her husband in WWII.

We opened after two weeks with a flawless set, perfectly off-book and on key, with a Christmas show that lasted four hours. And four hours is a long time, definitely, but when you are doing the show for the strictly over-70 set, you can imagine that bathroom breaks were long, hearing aids went up and down, and there was a lot of LOUD snoring.

Oh, and yeah, you did the math right. I got the gig the beginning of October, and we rehearsed for two weeks. Look, I’m not making this up, I’d tell you the name of the company, but there is the farthest outside chance that the couple who still run the theater have heard of google, and they’ll show up here and get hurt by my slick ribbing, but I’m telling you, this Christmas show opened, not just before Thanksgiving, but BEFORE HALLOWEEN. We had a couple of days when it was HOT.

Now, after we opened, the producers, being no dummies, realized they needed to drop one of the acts, and the one hour train ride with the inexplicable and barely understandable immigrants and the anachronistic busker/waiter would have to go. With that removed, it also dropped one half hour intermission, so all we had to do was tighten up the two other pieces, and we were right at two hours.

(I’m sorry, permit me a little aside here. Why a half hour intermission you ask? Well, that’s gonna lead me to something else. The performance space was one end of a restaurant, a buffet with long tables. I gotta say, some people just know how to make money, they really ought to just be allowed to print it, for chrissakes. They had a restaurant that was never completely full, so they just built up one end of it to look like a performance space, replaced the area in front with long tables and set up a buffet. Instead of charging for a $8 meal, they charge $65 tickets and pack the place with octogenarians. Which means that the first five minutes of the first act, during the opening monologue and number, one of our responsibilities was to gently remove people’s purses, canes, keys, wallets, even FEET, from the front lip of the stage, and to sweetly try to make sure everyone is either awake for the show, or will remain asleep for as long as they need.)

(But why a half hour intermission? Because there was one toilet for the men, one for the women. Including the actors.)

(((I’m sorry, let me be a little bit more specific here, because often “toilet” means “the room wherein several stalls and urinals are held”, and that’s not what I mean at all. I mean “one toilet”. For each. Which means there was a long line of men waiting outside, and one old guy inside staring at his dick, praying that the pee would come out at some point.)))

(((((Yes, I know. But for the grace of God, and one day… I know, I know.)))))

So, let me talk about this last piece, because it really is a touch of brilliance. The producers were the husband/wife team, but the director was the husband, and he had also taken on the role of “playwright”. Now, this guy was corny as hell, he was a bigger punster than my Jewish friends, but he was also wicked smart and as pragmatic a man as I’ve ever met. His advice for producing is stuff I’ve held on to tightly.

(He said “advertise a comedy, but give the people a drama.” Everyone likes to think they’re going to see a comedy, and it gives people permission to laugh at stuff, but what people really want, when they’re sitting there in the dark, is a tight drama. He said “build every set with the basics first and flourishes next.” I’ve lived to regret ignoring this, since my garage now has two sets of baffles in it. He said, “Producer, Audience, Playwright, Director, Designer, Actor,
in that order.” By which he meant, if an actor was having a problem, it would have to be passed up the chain of command, which would be four levels away from importance to a producer. If the Playwright had a problem, it was only one level away. The audience was the final arbiter.)

In this last play, I was a ghost of a woman that was married during World War II. The actress playing the woman was 73 when we started the play, which, I don’t think makes her old enough to have had a husband and kids before the war, but maybe she started early. In any case, the character has a boyfriend that has been pushing for marriage for ten years, asks her every year at Christmas, but, y’see, the first husband was declared dead, but they never found his body.

So, I appear as an imaginary figure at one point, singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, just the first half of the first verse, ending with “and presents on the tree…” and then the show goes on. Then, I come to life as a ghost in my WW II uniform and sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” playing it on the piano in her living room, this time the whole song. We have a wonderful ten or fifteen minute scene, at the end of which I tell her that it’s time to let go. It’s time to embrace the life she still has left, she should marry this man. And then I kiss her good bye and sing a little something I like to call “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”.

Now, this shit was fucking SOGGY. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, which matched perfectly with the fact that, already, there wasn’t a dry seat. All of the “MARGARET, WHO IS *THAT* GUY”s had already been gotten out of the way during the first part of the act, so every single ancient audience member knew who I was by the time I had my long scene. And every single person in the audience saw themselves in Gail, the actress playing the grandmother.

Gail had lived upstate for about 20 years since she stopped acting in the city. She taught acting at SUNY Oswego or something, and now, in her early 70s, she had retired from teaching and just did the odd show now and then for fun. I don’t know how she survived having to listen to me sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” three times a show, two times a day, five days a week for almost two months, but I very quickly found myself thanking God that she was willing.

She was still tall, although not as tall as she had been, and still had a striking frame, although a bit stockier than it once was. Her hair was silver, not white, and cut into a strangely specific long-bob, as if she had gotten a very severe haircut once in the 70s, hated it, and then a month later when it grew in she realized it framed her face perfectly. She had the blue twinkley eyes of a woman that was used to men’s attention, and the earthy slowness to her gestures that implied a sort of center. This was a woman who, for a ringing phone, dropped exactly nothing.

And, the thing I found most attractive, she suffered fools not at all. The specific cast of this show was made up of hippies, gym rats and extroverts, to the point where every single person (except for me, of course) had fantastic bodies, and every single person was completely naked all the time. It’s hard to describe the level of depravity, but I can tell you exactly what each of the women in the cast had their pubic hair trimmed like, exactly what sort of nipples they have. All it takes is one actress to tip the balance toward nudity, and this particular cast happened to have, in every single role, one of those actresses.

Except for Gail, of course. I hung out with the actors and with the woman I was with, but man did Gail have no patience for my bullshit. I would go on and on about something (big surprise) and every once in a while I’d see Gail just glance at me like I was a fucking ASSHOLE. I remember, one time early on, I had a particularly good zinger. I don’t know if it was a pun or an observation or what, but it was powerful and insulting and everyone was laughing and Gail was staring at me. I told her I was sorry, almost as an impulse, and she said, “Don’t you want to try for more than this?” and I asked “more than what” and she said “More than *this*” and she gestured around a room of naked laughing hot girls, letting her hand almost linger on the woman I was with at the time.

And then, every show, on stage, I could tell she was in love with me. I came out in a soldier’s outfit and she had several opportunities to get close to me, and she would climb inside me, almost. The weeks crawled by and we talked more and more outside the show, walking around the grounds together between shows while the girl I was with went to the gym with the other hotties. We were supposed to kiss during the show, just once, just as a good bye, and it quickly became the best moment in the show.

I started dreaming about her. I wanted so badly to talk to her when she wasn’t around. When we had huge snowstorms, I would think about the fact that they might cancel the show, and it would kill me because I wouldn’t see Gail. This woman who was almost fifty years older than me.

It was amazing on stage. After sitting for an hour and forty minutes, the audience that had been spinning and moving and getting up to go to the bathroom and asking for more coffee suddenly didn’t speak. I know it’s because they were seeing one of their own talk about their own lives, but part of it is because there was a sexual electricity going on between the two of us. You can always tell on stage when two people want to be together but haven’t yet, in the same way you can always tell when two people have already done it, and the former is so much better than the latter. When I held Gail at the end, the audience applauded every night, as if it were the end of the show. The end of the show was six minutes later, when Gail’s character accepted the marriage proposal.

In the middle of December, the director pulled us aside. There were only about 15 shows left, but the relationship between the two of us was getting distracting to the audience. I laughed him off at the time, but he was right. By the time the other actor came on, the entire audience wanted Gail’s character to die so she could be with me in heaven. It became the end of “Somewhere In Time”. Gail suddenly figured out what was going on and kiboshed me hard. I’m sure she thought all of the affection she was getting from me was identical to her many students, and as soon as she realized that I had a full out crush on her, she sat on it.

I never told the girl I was with. Never really told anyone. She was 73 in ’96, she’s be 83 now, and I don’t know what she’s doing. Gail isn’t even her name, I’ve totally forgotten her name. But my… whatever it was… love affair, I guess, with her was the beginning of the end of that life. I had spent my time making as many pretty girls laugh as I could, and that had been enough for me as an adolescent, and that started to change by early ’97.

It took me years, but every time, after that show, every time I looked at the woman I was with, I wanted her to be more substantial, more relevant. Our relationship was dying long before she started fucking busboys, and she wouldn’t have had to seek out the attentions of busboys if I hadn’t lost so much respect for her that winter. I wanted to share my life with a woman who would laugh at my jokes and then say “what *more* do you want? If you want more, then I will stand by you and get more with you.”

It’s weird to think now, as I do when we’re upstate New York for Christmas, about that show and that time. But the smell and the frozen crunchy snow bring me back to her, and it’s amazing to know that a love affair doesn’t need anything more than a conversation and shared passion, nothing more than a dare to achieve and a circumstantial kiss for it to be capable of changing your life.

Klea’s Christmas

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

My grandmother was an intimidating woman. She was maybe only about 5 foot 8 or so, but to a nine year old, that was just terrible. I feel like I might not have known her very well, I’m sure a lot of other people would disagree with my assessment from a long way’s off, but she seemed to be one of those people you just don’t fuck with. She was incredibly smart, incredibly judgemental and incredibly strong, quick to call you on your own bullshit before you’ve even asked her to. She held the family together through sheer force of will despite several late starts in life, a big crowd of dependents and a crappy husband.

So, naturally, when she told us, every Christmas, that we would be acting out the Christmas story, it didn’t even occur to any of us to complain. Each one of her four kids had pumped out between four and eight of their own children, so there was something in the neighborhood of 25 kids forced into this pageant, and it definitely led to some awkward casting decisions. Naturally, whichever cousin was the closest in age to, y’know, newborn had to play the baby Jesus, and then the pecking order was established, with favored cousins getting juicier roles. There were always more girls than boys, which may have been the only thing that kept my long-haired brothers from having to play angels, but definitely the cousins that my grandmother liked were the ones announcing the visits from the wise men, or getting to be Joseph.

Which left me and my cousin Michelle to play the all-important roles of “Christmas Asses”. I know that one year I played a shepherd, but I think I laughed too much, and from then on, I was an ass. A donkey. I guess if there is a cast of 25, and verisimilitude is paramount, there’s no way to play out the Christmas story without at least two animals near the manger.

My cousin Michelle was born three weeks after I was. It didn’t take much math for either one of us to realize that she’d been named “Linda Michelle” after my mom, Linda, had the unfortunate circumstance of having her fourth boy at age 38, and therefore wouldn’t be able to use her favorite name “Michelle”. When the cousins would come visit, I would sit there just stunned at Michelle’s beauty. I was speechless, I could hardly look at her.

Look, I’m not gonna get creepy here, despite the horrible “kissing cousins” jokes her mom made to us, and despite the fact that my moral compass spun on a whim (thanks to growing up in a classical music family in the 1970s), I never had any feelings for Michelle other than sheer amazement at her beauty and her craziness. Shit just rolled off her when she was a kid. She was the classic middle child, cleaning up after the younger girls, dodging barbs from the older crowd, and just generally doing enough to get by.

We had that in common. We were surrounded by gigantic personalities, and, in her case, something even worse. For me, I had four brothers who commanded their own share of the spotlight, I was in line behind the poet-lizard king, the genius introvert and the screaming menace, and after I was born, almost immediately, there was Princess Diana. I love my siblings more than anything, but it was a big fucking mess growing up, and let’s just say, you yelled for what you needed, you ate fast or you didn’t eat at all, and nobody had much time for silent suffering.

My cousin Michelle had it one step worse. First of all, there are six girls in her family, all of them like shining jewels of beauty and neurosis, each accomplished in their own way. Second of all, whereas I had ADD, which is something that translates into failing grades by high SAT scores, she had profound dyslexia, which translates into a sense that you’re just stupid. On top of that, she and I shared a hardcore punk attitude, fewer inhibitions and more, shall we call it, experimentation than most of the people in our families, but her crowd were a bunch of right wing Christians. I had sex with my girlfriend when I was too young, and my mom told me it was a bad idea. Michelle did the same with her boyfriend, and she literally couldn’t talk about it to anyone.

And, of course, the worst thing. She had had an older brother, three years older, who was killed in a horrible car accident and, essentially, Michelle was born to replace him. The only son of an only son, died tragically in a way I don’t think I can bring myself to describe, and Michelle was born a year later. But Michelle was just a girl among five other girls. She was born and never knew that she would never be able to fill that void. The boy who died would always be there, just over her shoulder, as a comparison to what might have been, and Michelle wouldn’t ever be as perfect as the boy who wasn’t there.

So, while I was always the smartass, earning my Grandmother’s disapproval the old-fashioned way, Michelle was always disliked by my Grandmother for totally unfair reasons. And the two of us, we got to be Christmass asses. Generally, this meant wearing fur coats and standing off to the side mewling and creeping, which, of course, meant that we forgot about the Christmas story and started playing, like kids. Strange, that during a performance I wouldn’t recognize the fact that we had the grown-ups in rapt attention, staring at us.

But maybe not. My cousin Michelle broke up with her high school rock and roll boyfriend senior year, and within two years was married to a returned missionary. She’s three weeks younger than me, and she now has five kids, damn near teenagers. She lives in a track home in Utah and pounds anti-depressants, like so many of the other Mormon women I’ve known. She has chosen the life that was forced on her, imposed on her. Where once she had been the sexiest, freakiest girl in our high school, she quickly became just another Republican, switching medication every eight months, trying to keep up with her kids and her husband, and running a beauty salon out of her kitchen.

And I’m sure there was a moment, some moment in 1987 when she looked around and saw the look of betrayal in the family’s eyes, when she realized that if she kept her shirt open and her skirts short, she’d be writing checks that her parents religion couldn’t possibly stand cashing. There was probably that horrible movie moment, when the camera spins around the room and she sees every scowl, every shaking head, every disapproving look and she swallows hard and gathers her sweater around her open shirt and realizes she’s not wearing her temple garments underneath.

But before that moment, long before, when she and I both had the disapproving looks from all around, but for some reason didn’t quite care yet, when her beauty may have been unmatched. Her sky blue eyes and long features and crazy swept hair, it’s no wonder that my brother’s wife and my wife look very little like each other, but both look like her. There was a time, when we were both eight years old and wearing fur coats, standing to the side of our well-liked cousins that got to be shepherds, who were standing next to our very-well-liked cousins that got to be Mary and Joseph, who were standing on either side of a piece-meal manger that contained whoever’s baby was youngest, who was really just standing in for that little boy from year’s ago who died when he was still the Christ child, who will always be the kresh baby… there was a time when she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

So maybe it isn’t strange that I didn’t recognize this, my earliest public performance, as something that I would obsess over for the rest of my life. Because it was my first experience with a beautiful, crazy, mysterious woman. Art would become the thing I work at and commit to, the theater would become a sort of salvation for me, the answer to my neurosis and the balm for my screaming mind. But this, a girl who’s beauty is beyond explanation, who’s mind is beyond understanding and who’s affection is like a homecoming… even at eight years old, long before the complications of boy/girl relationships would mean a
nything to me, this was my first introduction to pure love.