I Can Catch the Moon in My Hand

FAMEJust a few minutes ago, I finished watching a French movie called Beau Travail that I’d dvr’d on Turner Classic Movies, it is a movie about, wait, never mind, there is no need for me to tell you what the movie is about, there is no reason for you to watch it.  It’s boring and it’s not even long.  For 90 minutes, I sat on my couch, sipping a little whiskey and eating cheese and crackers, wondering why I was watching this movie.  My answer came at the end, or rather, after the end, when after the credits, TCM played a mini-documentary about the making of my favorite movie (one of my favorites, anyway) Fame.

I remember when I saw Fame for the first time.  It was the summer between my 6th and 7th grade year, in the living room of my childhood home (imagine that!) and I watched it on HBO with my cousins Tracey and Stacey who were visiting from Colorado.  I already loved anything theatrical (I was just coming off of that Charlie Brown high from 5th grade) and something about the movie: the songs, the dancing, the acting, hooked into something inside of me, something at my core.  I remember how nervous the Montgomery character made me.  Gosh, I thought, I wouldn’t want to end up like that guy!

And even though I was a land-locked Kansas boy, I dreamed that one day, I would attend the High School for the Performing Arts.  Alas, that did not happen, but I did make my way to New York eventually, and from the minute I stepped off that Greyhound bus, I did feel like I’d entered a city that pulsated like the choreographed, gritty, magical, mercurial 1980 New York that Alan Parker gave me (ME!) in that movie.  And if you’ve been reading this blog, even just a little, you could understand how this movie might have resonated with me through the last 35 years, through every phase of my life.

Which brings me back to tonight, those few minutes ago, when this documentary came on my television.  And I loved watching these young actors, kids at the time, talk about the characters they were playing.  I always think of those actors, Irene Cara, Maureen Teefy, Paul McCrane, Barry Miller and the rest, in this revered way, the way a freshman looks up to the seniors at his high school, but I was struck by the fact that these actors were probably 16 to 20 at the time, just babies.  The documentary showed behind the scenes of filming many musical scenes, including Hot Lunch Jam, I Sing the Body Electric and of course, Fame, where the entire cast is dancing in the street, on car roof tops and such.  Perhaps it was the whiskey, perhaps it was something purer, but I felt the need to rise up and dance along with these teenagers, my idols, as they danced through the streets of Manhattan.

Where am I going with all this?  Well, I’m not completely sure.  I will say that one thing I love about art, be it paintings or music or movies, is it’s propensity to incite time travel.  As I watched this documentary, I was every age I’ve ever been since I first saw the movie.  I was 12 and 17 and 24 and 34 and 39 and 45.  And then I thought how wonderful it is that a movie or anything, really, could make this 45-year-old get up off his couch on a Tuesday night at 10 pm and dance without abandon.  It makes one think that they could live forever.

Off Avail

TokyoI had it all planned out.  My blog would have begun: “I’m waiting to board my flight to Japan.”  On Tuesday, I found out I was “on avail” for a commercial that was to shoot in Japan.  I’ve never been to Japan. I would love to go to Japan. For those that don’t know what “on avail” means, it means that the casting people have checked with your agent as to your availability.  You haven’t been booked, but they’ve narrowed down the job to a few candidates.  So, for the last few days, I’ve been walking around thinking about Japan and how nice it would be to book a commercial before the end of the year, if only for tax purposes alone.  So, I was really excited when I found out that I was on avail.  My excitement wasn’t even dulled by the fact that they’d put an unusually high number of people on avail.  But I didn’t want to jinx it by talking about it. I only told a couple of people.  I didn’t even talk about it in code on Facebook.

Just about an hour ago, I was watching an episode of Sean Saves the World (which is really growing on me, by the way) and there was a point where it was revealed that Megan Hilty’s character had lived in Japan and my phone rang, I kid you not, at the moment she was speaking Japanese.  It was my agent calling.  “Well, you won’t be going to Japan.”  And then she told me that they’d cast someone else.  I think she sensed my disappointment and though she’s always been kind, she was just so sweet about the way she broke the news, I started crying after we’d said our goodbyes and hung up the phone.

And I lay on my couch, trying to go back to Sean Saves the World and that game of Candy Crush (don’t judge) I was playing, but I couldn’t.  I just lay on the couch being sad.  I thought about a conversation I’d had with someone recently where they were talking about someone as “an actor, but he never works.”  I try not to say things like that about people, I know how challenging this industry is, but the truth is I’m sure I’ve been described a million times as an actor who never works.  Or seldom works.  

I don’t really want to put too positive of a spin on this, just yet, because for the next few hours, I’m fully committed to feeling sorry for myself.  If you see me on Monday, and I’m still mopey, you can spray me with silly string, but for now, I just want to be sad.  That being said, it was nice to walk around for a few days, at work, while swimming, walking through the Asian section of Cost Plus, planning my next blog, all with the hope, belief even, that I was headed to Tokyo in a couple of days.  What’s the Japanese symbol for hope?  With luck, someday, I’ll find out.

Free to Be You and Me (for Mrs. Tideman)

8257387187_038ba4cf63_zToday is Marlo Thomas’ birthday!  Happy Birthday, Marlo!  When I think about Marlo, I think about her iconic 1970’s tv special, Free to Be You and Me.  And when I think about that, I remember my 5th and 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Tideman, who introduced that tv show and soundtrack to me and the rest of the 4th and 5th graders in her combined class that she taught back at Washington Elementary.

I don’t remember ever having a creative awakening before Mrs. Tideman’s class.  I’d had good teachers, I’d had bad teachers.  I remember doing fairly well in spelling and math and less well in history and science.  But Mrs. Tideman is the first teacher that expanded the concept of education into things like writing poems.  We had to write a poem every few weeks, and I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m bragging (glory days and all) but I was a pretty good poem writer.  I had a knack for making things rhyme, it came to me fast, in quite little time.  And though my penmanship could have been neater, I even mastered the concept of meter.

At one point during my 5th grade year, Mrs. Tideman announced that we were going to put on a play.  It was called, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”  There would be auditions and rehearsals and two performances in the school gymnasium.  She gave those of us who wanted to audition, copies of the script.  I auditioned for Linus, Snoopy and Charlie Brown.  And while I still contend that I could have played Snoopy, I was actually born to play Charlie Brown.  I was Charlie Brown, and at ten, I always felt that the world was against me.  Plus I was horrible at sports.  So, there is some irony in that the first time I felt like the world was rooting for me, was when I played Charlie Brown.  It was a life changing experience. 

The next year, when by some miracle, she was now my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Tideman brought in the cast album (or maybe the soundtrack) to the musical, “Oliver!”  She announced that this was the play she’d hoped to do that year, but she had to have an operation.  She told us that she loved teaching kids, but she’d always dreamed of having her own child and she’d been unable to get pregnant.  She then explained that she was going to have an operation to increase her chances of getting pregnant.  And then she told us she was going to be gone for several weeks.  And then we listened to “Oliver!” and it seemed even more of a dirge of a musical than even Charles Dickens could have imagined.  And the weeks that she was away were unendurable.  And when she came back, we were all so happy, but also scared because for awhile, she seemed quite vulnerable, not like the old Mrs. Tideman.

As an adult, I think about how she and the administration would have wrestled with just how much to tell her students.  I’m sure there are things they kept from us, as protection.  (There is also the possibility I might be remembering it slightly differently than how it really happened.)  But the experience was one of my first lessons in the frailty of life and how adult life (like childhood life, but with more at stake) did not always turn out the way you thought it would.  I’m grateful that she opened my eyes to my own creative possibilities, but more than that, she opened my eyes to the way life works, like what a mother will do for her unborn, unconceived child.

The good news is that after we graduated 6th grade, Mrs. Tideman became a mother.  If I recall, her daughter’s name was Katie and she’d been named long before she was born.  Katie would be about 35 now.  (Dang, I’m old!)  I have no idea where Mrs. Tideman is today, she moved away and even with several internet searches, I’ve never been able to find her.  I’ve even tried to find Katie.  And for the record: I’m no amateur at google sleuthing.

Getting back to Free to Be You and Me, I’m posting the opening credits here as my little tribute to Mrs. Tideman, a teacher who took my hand and asked me to come along, and lend my voice to her song. Free to be you and me, indeed!

These Are the People

tenneseeI’m reading Costly Performances right now, an account of the last few years of playwright Tennessee Williams’ life, written by his friend, Bruce Smith.  It is a funny, sad, informative, salacious read.  Last night, I read a passage about the opening of his last Broadway premiere, Clothes for Summer Hotel.  It did not look likely that the reviews or following box office would be good, but after the show, as they stepped into the alley, Tennessee and Bruce were met by a group of fans.  One man, in particular, held out a stack of books and said, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Williams, would you be kind enough to autograph these for me?”  Bruce Smith, who was there, thought that the fan was imposing too much by asking Williams to stand there in the rain and sign 12 books.  Williams graciously signed each one and then moved on to every person standing in this line, people who probably not had even been inside the show for financial or booking reasons.

When Smith asked him about his graciousness in what was a trying time.  (His play did open to poor reviews and the show only lasted a few days on Broadway.  Furthermore, the opening date had been decided to coincide with his 69th birthday, so they were en route to a less than festive birthday party/opening night party.)  Tennessee only said, “These are my people, I know these are my readers, people whom I’ve communicated in some quite human and genuine manner.  That man who wanted me to sign all those books, I know he’ll have to sell them, probabbly to pay his rent.  These are the people I relate to and for.  They’re all so far removed from the group inside the theatre.  And to think that some one critic in there is going to decide against their being able to see one last big play of mine.  I could feel it as we sat there during the performance of the play.  They’re warming for the kill, baby, they’re warming for the kill.”

I can’t stop thinking about the image of Tennessee standing in the rain, signing autographs and making connections to people like, well, people like me.  Around that time, I was a 12 year old boy who spent every Saturday at my local library.  About 12 was when I discovered, and discovered would be the word, the play section in the upstairs aisles at the Independence Public Library.  I would sit for hours and read plays and leaf through the pictures in “The Best Plays” series.  It was my window into a world that I dreamed I’d be a part of.  It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.  So, when I read this, it affirms what I always believed when I read Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, or saw Jessica Lange do A Streetcar Named Desire or watched Night of the Iguana and Summer and Smoke and Suddenly, Last Summer on TCM.  I know what Tom was trying to leave behind when he told Laura to blow out her candles because all of these characters and stories had been written for me and about me and to me, like a love letter.

“I Went to the Stork Club!”

One of my favorite William Inge characters is Irma Kronkite in Picnic.  She’s a school teacher who lives with her mother and every summer, she leaves Independence to go to New York where she studies at Columbia in hopes of completing her Master’s degree.  In every one of the few scenes that she’s in, she talks about the things she did in New York, at one point, excitedly sharing that she went to the Stork Club with a fellow (male) student.  “It was nothing serious,” she tells her friends.  “He was just a good sport, that’s all.”  I love her because I get the sense that her reality is those precious weeks in New York and during her long months in Kansas, she is merely marking the days until her return to the place where she is the happiest, where her life is the richest.

Eric and I have started planning our yearly New York trip and I must say, I kind of feel like Irma.  In the next weeks, I’ll scour the internet for hotel and flight deals.  I’ll make notes about exhibits or shows I’ve read about in New York magazine.  I’ll find popovers with strawberry butter, John’s pepperoni pizza and La Bella Ferrara’s cannoli making guest appearances in my dreams. I’ll remind Michele that we’re going back to Eataly, now that we’ve figured out how best to navigate it.   I’ll Google Earth Manhattan neighborhoods, make a list of streets that I haven’t been to in years, promise myself that this time, for sure, I’ll finally make it to the Cloisters.

I’ve talked about my years living in New York and it’s the only city that I know I’ll always feel like both a local and a visitor, it’s ever-changing and ever-constant.  The New York that Irma Kronkite visited was probably a little different from my New York, or Alicia Keys’ New York, but I’m sure if she heard Alicia sing: “these streets will make you feel brand new,
big lights will inspire you” she’d think, oh yes, that’s where I belong. And she wouldn’t be alone.

Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: My Funny Cater Waiter

catering nightmareIt seems like just yesterday, Michael Patrick Gaffney and I were standing on the corner of Castro and Market in short shorts and tank tops hollering, “Coupons for Party!  Who wants a coupon for Party?!?”  In truth, that was 17 years ago, when we were at the beginning of our enduring friendship.  We’ve acted together and we’ve catered together and I must say, in both situations, it’s a pleasure to be by his side.  I asked him to guest blog and he graciously accepted.  While not everyone has catered or waitered or cater waitered for a living, I think his story is universal.  Who among us is living a life that turned out exactly the way they thought it would?  Recently, a blogger friend of mine wrote, “What will survive us is Love.”  I completely agree and I must say, I know few people that are as loving or as loved as my friend Michael Patrick Gaffney.

 

My Funny Cater Waiter

I was sitting in my therapist’s office on Tuesday…It’s worth noting that this is the therapist I have been trying to break up with for a few months now because he cried during my session TWICE!  And he stood me up once and is quite aware of my abandonment issues.  I have been dealing with an anxiety disorder for awhile now and he finally asked me, “What are you most afraid of?”  I sat there for a moment and thought for awhile and finally I said, “I’m afraid I will become the oldest living cater waiter.

I am a professional stage actor but if I am to be brutally honest I have been making most of my living as a cater waiter for the past 17 years.  

I started off in L.A. trying to make it as a film actor and worked as a waiter in restaurants until the infamous potato skin incident of 1989, which abruptly ended my career.  When I moved up to San Francisco in 1996 a friend suggested I try catering work between theatre jobs.  I signed up with a very high end company and began my new career as a cater waiter.  I enjoy it for the most part and have been a part of some incredible events over the years. I have waited on countless celebrities and politicians including; Nancy Pelosi, Sean Penn, Christy Turlington, Hillary Clinton and Tabatha, from Bravo’s Shear Genius.  And although I didn’t serve him dinner, at one fundraiser I met and shook the hand of President Barack Obama.  

But as the years have gone on, I have found myself wearing a uniform more than a costume and my body has begun to tell the wear and tear of the often physical work and long hours.  I find myself worrying about my future and how I will support myself.  Will I become the oldest living cater waiter?  Sometimes I think about how many weddings, fundraisers and bar mitzvahs I have done over the years.  Some of them easy, most of them not so easy, and some of them down right grueling.  I remember one particular wedding several years back.  We were loaded onto a shuttle at 6am and driven down to Montecito to a 48 million dollar estate for a wedding that was rumored to have cost 5 million dollars.  We worked for hours setting up the dining room and by the time the guests arrived I was exhausted and didn’t know how I would make it through the entrée course.  I was assigned to the head table and had several celebrities to serve, including an unnamed romance novelist who chain smoked throughout the meal.  By the time we dropped the entrée I was physically, mentally and spiritually spent. I was very close to tears and my white gloves were filthy with cigarette ash from replacing the ashtray for unnamed romance novelist.  Suddenly I heard the voice of an angel singing my favorite song of all time, “My Funny Valentine”.  I turned around and just a few feet from me was Etta James on stage.  I just stood there smiling with the biggest lump in my throat and gave her a little wave with my filthy white glove and she looked at me and smiled.  Time stood still and for a moment it was just Etta and me and Rogers and Hart.   It is moments like these that make my career as the oldest living cater waiter all worth while. 

Thank you, Etta…and bite me, unnamed romance novelist.

Cream Pies and Such

52162Last night, I did a storytelling show.  It went “okay.”  I’m not going to exaggerate, it wasn’t horrible.  But I will say, it didn’t turn out the way I’d envisioned.  When I was writing it, and practicing it, I had a feeling it was going to be something jubilatory.  I thought it was going to be like the end of Lucas where Corey Haim goes to his locker, finds the letter jacket and everyone does the slow clap and chants “Lucas, Lucas, Lucas,” until he puts it on and triumphantly lifts his arms in the air (roll credits).  My night was decidedly less than that.  I got a few “that was sweet”s and that was pretty much it.

Today, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why last night bothered me so much.  It wasn’t an all-out failure, and goodness knows, I’ve seen my share of all-out failures.  Still, I felt confident about what I wrote, I thought it was craftily woven together.  There was a Fred Gwynne reference that I didn’t explain and I arrogantly thought to myself, if they don’t know who Fred Gwynne is, I don’t want their (blank)-ing laughs.  As it turned out, I did not get them.

Me being me, I stewed about it all day and then tonight, I had a little a-ha moment.  It’s possible that everything really does begin and end with Sex and the City because I remembered Michael Patrick King talking in an interview about the cream pie, how whenever any of the girls thought they had something figured out, they got a cream pie in the face.  And on some level, that’s why we loved the show and them.  

I remember many years ago, I was in Miami doing a play and had met a guy and we’d had a few dates.  And at the play’s opening night party, he was there.  Also in attendance was (surprise!) my on again, off again (his choice) boyfriend from LA.  I felt like Archie Andrews having to juggle Betty and Veronica.  And of course, it all backfired.  It was the last I saw of either one of them.  And I thought then, just like I thought last night, will it ever be my turn to just be the king?  When will it ever be my turn to be Charlie Sheen back when he was cute?  I was Lucas at 16 and Lucas at 26 and guess what, I’m still Lucas.  Would it have killed the universe for me to have sauntered onto that stage, brimming with hubris and unapologetically kicked ass?  Just once?

So now, I sit at my computer, a little buzzed from all the Maker’s Mark I drank while watching Burt Lancaster wear a Speedo for 97 minutes in the The Swimmer.  He was 53 years old when he made the movie and my body has never looked like that. HE was the king.  I, on the other hand, write about kings, dreaming that still someday, somehow, I will be one.