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Thursday, 29 July
Night Terrors

And again with the rehearsals, every night this week, which isn't surprising, since we open next week, but JESUS CHRIST MAKE IT STOP. I know I shouldn't bitch about a situation that I knew full well what I was getting into, but then again, if I can't bitch here, where can I bitch, apart from my home, my work, the theater, and various other nooks and crannies on the Web? Nowhere!

Feeling stressed out as well, our lunatic Teutonic director has become alarmingly ticcy. We were rehearsing some of the manic little musical ditties that are part of the show, and the actor playing Fourth Leper hit a sour note. S. (the director) flinched in a violent and disturbing manner, writhing like a salted slug, and in his wracking misery, he inadvertantly flung a sharpened pencil away from his body. It flew like a missile and sank with a dispiriting PLURT right into the eyeball of our Second Attendant, who screamed miserably and clawed his ruined face before falling down dead on the grass. The rest of the cast nervously stopped singing gradually, winding down like a tired Gramophone.

After a silence, someone said, "Shit, man, there goes Leper Four. Now what?"

S. stalked the fringe of the "stage" menacingly. "FUCK ZEE LEPER! Louzy zinger, the fuckink leper! I replace him with anybody!" He noticed a dog running in the park. "HUND!" he screamed. "I get zee dog to play zee leper!" He was becoming more and more crazed as he cast about for more insulting choices to replace our fallen, pencil-pierced comrade. S. picked up a small stick. "Stick! Stick plays Leper Four! Stick has just as much stage presence! Vee do not need terrible fucking dead actor with poor reaction times!"

We stared at him uncertainly for a moment as he madly capered with his stick, until presently the actress playing Papal Attendant said insinuatingly, "I hope Mr. Stick there can sing alto." S. froze for a moment, anxiously caressing his beloved stick, and then collapsed to the ground in a boneless heap, and then began lowing miserably into the turf. "AAAAOOOHH-HOOOOOO!" he moaned horribly. "Ziss show, she is up zo many butts!" The cast stood around uncomfortably. It really was a horrible noise he made; it sounded utterly hopeless and damned, like someone being forced to watch Tom Green.

To make things worse, night was encroaching on us, and this brought a fresh horror: mosquitoes. Waves and waves of ravenous mosquitoes. They attacked the cast like an Egyptian plague. As you might imagine, it is difficult to remain "in the moment"--as we bullshit artists like to say--when you are being assailed by millions of tiny pitchforks; we howled like coyotes. "I say, Father Frapper--AAAAHHHHH!" I yelled at one point, as a buzzard-sized mosquito landed on my chest and promptly speared my heart with its proboscis. Within seconds, the beast had expanded to the size of a basketball, filled with tomato-colored arterial blood; I batted at the thing feebly, and it finally fell off my chest and lay on the ground, waving its horrid legs in a happy expression of blood-gorge.

Another chilling scream erupted from the actor playing Third Melon-Eater as he was borne off into the night by a horde of the winged horrors. We saw his frantically waving limbs framed against the bright moon as the vicious insects carried him off to certain death, and heard his dismal cries for help, which we were unable to answer. It was all we could do to beat back the remaining insectile waves. S. thrashed at the air in furious self-defense and howled imprecations at the bugs, the terrible show, his miserable lot in life, and at the loss of precious human life.

"FUCK!" he bellowed, "Ziss iss all fucked to fuck! Anozzer actor gone!" He sounded desolate. "I need anozzer dog, zen. Or anozzer stick. I do not care." He wept with despair, and crumpled again.

The actress playing Angry Mob murmured in my ear. "I hope stick number two can sing tenor."

Tuesday, 27 July
At The River

For a couple summers in high school, I worked at a river rafting company. My father was working there at the time, and he got me a job schlepping shit around, washing rigs, occasionally driving here and there; your basic scut work. Whatever.

By the second summer, they had started to think about grooming me for a spot as a river guide, which now seems utterly hilarious: I was, then as now, a puny endomorph ectomorph (I am incapable of keeping those terms straight), ill equipped either mentally or physically to challenge Ma Nature in all her roaring, spuming glory. River guides essentially row all fucking day long, pausing now and then to heroically battle whitewater rapids that are trying to hurl you into hidden rocks. Then at night, you have to cook everyone's fucking dinner. I was a kid who liked crossword puzzles and had a disturbing affinity for Arby's.

But when do adults ever notice anything about teenagers that isn't some sort of weird projection laced with no small amount of hostility? "Look at that little turd," I imagine them thinking. "He needs some growing up! And responsibility!" Yeah, because teens take to that shit like ducks to water. This is like playfully throwing a live grenade at Bill Buckner and shouting, "Think fast!"

Nevertheless, I began going on short trips, learning the whitewater biz. This was, of course, more fun than job: spend the day on the rapids, help out the main guide with some light cooking duties, haul some shit for the customers, done. I did this a while, and then the owner asked me if I was ready for "the next step." Is there ever a good way for an employee to answer this question in the negative? "Sorry, boss, no . . . I'm actually happy just marking time." "No thanks! I'm really very slow, and I can barely keep up with what I've got now."

The "next step" turned out to be quite the step: it was a six-day extended river trip down the Salmon River. I was to be at the aid of S., the only real guide for the trip, as it was, unusually, for only two customers. (Most long trips were composed of either large groups or several small groups scheduled together to defray costs, which were prohibitive. For one couple to book a dedicated trip for only themselves must have cost a mint.) However, as a sop to get me going along, I could also ask a friend of mine to go on the trip as well, gratis, with the agreement that we would both be helpers to S. This sounded too cool. Six days of whitewater rafting with a buddy? Why the fuck not? So I asked my pal Chad if he was interested. He sure was.

(Normally I don't give out first names here, just because nobody I know needs to be associated with my dumb site by name. However, some time ago, I learned--at a catastrophic ten-year high school reunion, actually, but that's another story--Chad got eaten alive by bone cancer at the ripe old age of 26, so I don't think he'll mind. Chad, my man, I'm sorry--I'm working on the cancer thing, buddy, though too late for you. But stories never die, so here's one of yours for you.)

So Chad and I went on the six-day trip, with fearless S. at the helm. Our two customers, a middle-young couple from Chicago, seemed mirthful and giddy at the outset; almost like newlyweds. Their names totally escape me, so let's call them Fuckface and Dingbat, appellations which might indicate some of what was to come later.

One of the first things you should understand about reputable river trips is a cardinal rule: Pack it in, pack it out. You heard me: everything. Including the various unfortunate glops and jellies that the body regularly harfs out as it must. To this end (har har), Chad and I set up, maintained, and carried around a giant military ammo can (everyone's stuff was packed in these, as they are watertight and indestructible) filled with the group's undifferentiated, roiling shit. S., needless to say, was delighted with our help in this area. "Time to pack up the head, boys!" he'd crow, eyeing Fuckface as he was feebly groping Dingbat in the morning before we got underway. We'd trudge over to the giant ammo can, and couldn't help ourselves but to stare hopelessy inside every morning; we couldn't help it. It was like looking at a train wreck. One morning, Fuckface called after us: "Sorry, guys! If it makes you feel better, I'm still burnin'!"

Fuckface rapidly became The Enemy. Dingbat was slightly less offensive, mainly due to her penchant for exceedingly tiny bikinis. It became ever more horrifying to watch Fuckface paw shamelessly at the shrilly giggling Dingbat as the trip went on, mainly because Fuckface was so tirelessly idiotic.

Fuckface had really only two modes of conversation: Aggressive Interrogation and Mysterious Boasting. Both modes were utterly intolerable, and Chad and I learned early on to respect S.'s boundless patience when dealing with Fuckface, which was nearly constantly.

Mysterious Boasting was uniquely horrible in that it was a sort of tireless litany involving Fuckface's various business victories that nobody understood, including Dingbat, whom we privately doubted understood much of anything. For Dingbat was the sort of woman that could be fascinated by bark molds, briefly, before some other weird mind-flare eclipsed that bit of ephemeral interest, and she moved on blithely, adjusting her bikini in fascinating ways. This was probably why she and only she could be kept seemingly rapt by the Mysterious Boasting of Fuckface, an interminable monologue of unbelievable sameness: Fuckface was mostly proud of the innumerable ways in which he had fucked over his customers. And he told everyone about this, all the time. On one particularly heat-stroky afternoon, lolling about in the raft, Fuckface was retelling a story about how his customers were all avaricious dust-fuckers and could all eat several dicks, or something. Chad and I stared at the sky hopelessly, and S. rowed on, ever stoic, and then I heard myself say, "Yeah, fuck the customers." The raft went silent, and I could feel Fuckface staring at me, but he seemed at a loss as to what to say. A few minutes later, he resumed his tirade, and I looked over at Chad, and observed that he wore a tight smile, and that a small tear was escaping his sunglasses. S. rowed on serenely as ever and fixed me with a look that suggested that I might be in charge of the shitcan for the next few nights.

As for Fuckface's Aggressive Interrogation, this was even more strange. All I can do is offer examples.

Fuckface: (Spying a bird in the sky) Hey, S., what kind of bird is that?

S: (Looking up) How about that. It's a bald eagle.

F: (Pondering) No, it isn't.

S: (Slowly) I'm pretty sure it is.

F: No. That's not an eagle.

Note, now, that Fuckface was about as woodsy as Bob Newhart. He didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. He was just being Fuckface. Another example (I swear to God these are true):

F: (We're on shore, touring an old, abandoned ranch; he spies a woodshed) Wow! Hey, S.! How much wood could that thing hold?

S: (Examining) Oh, I guess about ten cords.

F: (Pondering, then, with finality) No, it wouldn't.

Again: Fuckface, I am certain, had no bloody idea what a cord of wood even was, much less any eye for the storage capacity of a woodshed. It was simply his paid-for right to be correct on any given question that might come up on the trip, because, well, he was Fuckface, and S. was just some dumb hick. It blew us away.

One memorable highlight of the trip was S. explaining to us that we'd be taking a mid-day break at a place with a hot spring. It was, he said, regularly frequented by naked people. Chad and I spent most of the afternoon furtively clinging to rocks, spying on the, yes, many, many naked people innocently frolicking in the warm pools of water. For two boys whose exposure to naked people had been entirely through pornography, this was, well, weird. Hairy people with bellies and remarkable sags: we were horrified and entranced. Fuckface and Dingbat hung back by the raft, unwilling to participate; in Dingbat's case, this disappointed us, but we were thankful not to see a naked Fuckface, who, with his ratlike moustache, we realized resembled a kind of malignant Gallagher.

On the final evening of our trip--where, to S.'s woe, Fuckface scattered salad makings on the beach in an attempt to attract mountain goats, as if they were placid zoo beasts that he could pet--S. appeared suddenly with glasses in his hand for Chad and me. They were filled with Tequila Sunrises; Fuckface and Dingbat were wrestling awkwardly in the river surf. "Here's to our last night with these goddamn shitheads." His bloodshot eyes attested to his helpless inability to keep away from the sauce on this final night of our hellish trip with these people, who continued to quack and slosh in the water. "I'm going to beat that fucker with an oar if he tells us any more stories," S. gasped.

Everyone got loaded that night, and Dingbat performed a strangely disjointed and unerotic dance at one point (from our point of view), finally collapsing onto the sand into an untidy heap. Fuckface, ever the hero, wandered away from the heap of limbs that was his companion, and defecated audibly into the distant ammo can, occasionally crying out, "Wow!" at his efforts. "Wow!" Chad and I looked dismally at each other, anticipating the awful morning to come. S. beamed at our misery as Fuckface stumbled back to camp. "What's'at tree?" asked Fuckface truculently, pointing at nothing at all. S. glanced around patiently and said, probably making it up, "That's a cedar." Fuckface stared. "No, it ain't," he said decisively. We went to bed.

Some months later, the trip only a memory (though comedy gold for Chad and myself), we found this out: Fuckface was some sort of quasi-executive at his Chicago company, and Dingbat was his secretary. (If I were making this up, I would be more inventive, I swear.) They were both married, but not, as they say, to each other. And better, Fuckface had used company funds to finance the entire trip. And last we heard, both were out of a job, and both were out of a marriage.

I try to imagine Fuckface explaining this to his panicky lawyers.

Lawyer: Okay, Fuckface. We need to get your side of this.

Fuckface: Awright. First of all, who is this Dingbat person?

L: Uh . . . she's your mistress. Everyone knows this. She's your secretary. You took her to Idaho on a river trip.

F: (Pondering, then with finality) No, I didn't.

(The lawyers cast glances at one another.)

I can just see it. In a fairer world, so could Chad. Tequila Sunrises all around.

Thursday, 22 July
Unfortunate Things I Have Said During The Rehearsal Process

"You looked like you were trying to eat your way into the earth."

"Sorry about pissing all over your shoes, there."

"Those children can all go fuck themselves."

(Referring to our music director)
"Don't miss J. in Sadwich, his new show where he spends two hours eating a sandwich and occasionally bursting into tears."

"I don't have to listen to you, because you're gay."

"The theme music for the leper scene should be either 'I Go to Pieces' or 'Eyes Without A Face.' " (Worse, this was a recycled joke, meaning I have had more than one music/leprosy conversation in my life.)

"She's what I imagine a disease would look like as a person."

"This line is, well, acne. I hate it."

THE WINNER:

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to continue to think of your mother as retarded."

Tuesday, 20 July
Lies, Damnable Lies, And Theater

Rehearsals continue apace for my upcoming show Red Noses, which is being played outdoors at a local park; to this end, we have occasionally been meeting to rehearse on site outdoors. Such as yesterday, when we met for a casual four hours of actorly horseplay (or, given that the actors are vocally competing with overflying planes, childrens' birthday parties, and roaming packs of feral dogs, "hoarseplay").

The weather was intermittently overcast during the afternoon rehearsal, with temperatures soaring into the high 70s, which, by Seattle standards, is roughly equivalent to an industrial kiln. It doesn't help either that Seattle residents tend towards the fishbelly-white part of the body spectrum, at least amongst its Caucasian population, but it's also worth noting that one of our black actors also promptly burned horribly. Seattle likes to think of itself as diverse, but in reality, living here actually promotes physiognomic changes that tend towards the whitest of white. In fifty years, every Seattle resident will look like Jonathan Pryce, and will behave like the terrified children in The Others.

As the rehearsal began, I and the other actors and I lolled about bonelessly under the beating sun, wanly smoking cigarettes while our imperious, Teutonic director strode about waving his arms madly at the park scenery and emitting clipped commands to nonexistent assistants: "Zat tree is NOT GUT! Ve must strike zat tree! STRIKE IT!" He stared wildly around at nobody. "GOTT! Ze fringe theater, she is a mangy bitch. I haff nobody to verk vitt here," he noted morosely. He noticed a small refugee from the adjacent childrens' birthday party lurking about the periphery of our "stage," staring with wonder; despite the incredible heat, the child wore a full-body Spider-Man suit, replete with rubber mask. It must have felt like wearing scuba gear into a sauna. S. (the director) tried to recruit the poor little fool: "YOU! DER SPINNE-MANN!" S. screamed lustily, "Remove ze tree! You haff powers!" The little Spider-Tyke ran away fearfully into his mother's arms, clearly disturbed. S. swiveled his neck around at the rest of the park, apparently scanning for any other 3 1/2-foot-tall superheroes that might be lurking nearby to help with tree removal, but sadly, nobody like Kapitan Amerika or Wunder Frau showed up to help S.'s set-logging needs.

At this point, the actress playing "Flagellant 2" burst into flames, sending an impressive column of flame into the sky as she howled piteously. The unlucky actress had been seen earlier applying pure forty-weight motor oil to her nearly pearlescent skin in an attempt to stave off this incendiary result, but to no avail, and she burned like a flare while S. jumped up and down in apoplexy. "NO! NO! NEIN! ZEE FLAGELLANT, SHE BURNS!" The rest of us knew better than to try and move; we were being relentlessly beset by angry swarms of photons, and any false move could be our last. I idly mourned the woman while also pondering what kind of project I had gotten involved in that required the presence of multiple Flagellants. Then I passed out briefly and experienced strange dreams about dogs licking my heart until I was revived by the wife dribbling cool water onto my cracked lips.

"Wake up," she whispered. "I don't want to die alone." That's always what you want to hear. In fact, that's how she wakes me up every morning: with some horrifyingly dire implication, or a diabolical Situationist brainwallop. For instance, this morning, she viciously jabbed me in the lower spine with a salad fork. "That's how meningitis feels," she cooed. Or last week, when she convincingly bellowed, "EEL ATTACK!" and then dumped a box of moldy banana peels on me.

In the end, obviously, we (the wife and I) somehow endured the day, while others succumbed to violent heatstroke, dehydration, or the dreaded Estonian Cellular Die-Off, which claimed our unfortunate "Mr. Dibble," the character who rather improbably dispensed homespun wisdom over a cedar fence. The last did not concern S. too much: "I don't get ziss fucking play at all. Go home. I must drink now!" He shook his head. "I need much brandy. Zo many dead actors. And yet you scheisse-narren remain!" We hung our scorched heads, brooding.

Fringe theater, when you get down to it, is a real fucking drag. Long live fringe theater.

Thursday, 15 July
Towards A Poor Toilet

Lately I've been sacrificing most of my free evening time rehearsing for the show I'll be doing in August. This means I've been hanging out at a certain theater--home to a company that I once was a member of, but have since amicably parted from, officially--and it bears some describing.

When most people think of theaters--live theaters--they probably think of things like velvet seats, or polite bartenders in well-appointed lobbies, or maybe just the cheerfully low lull of erudite conversation. (Some people, when confronted with the phrase "live theater" might just think of strippers. Which, depending on the play, could also be true.) The point is, the concept of "going to see a play" carries certain cultural connotations, like casual wealth and slight ostentation.

Fringe theater, most of the time, carries no such cachet. Least of all in this one. It is, without doubt, the dingiest, dankest, bacilliest theater that ever existed. It is, in fact, less a theater than it is an abandoned garage with pretensions. It is an enduring wonder to me that it has never been condemned, most likely because any sane inspector would flee from its haunting decrepitude in fear for his safety (stumbling perhaps as he crossed the noxious sewer grate that decorates its streetfront, and routinely emits horrifying, Plutonic odors).

Let's just start with the bathrooms. The men's has a door of sorts constructed of 3/4" painted plywood, and a yellowing printer sign above the crapper with the cautionary message: "I'm an old, cranky toilet!" An ominous plunger crouches near the bowl, presaging dire visions, such as you dancing anxiously in pisswater overflow, or worse. If one is feeling really courageous, he can cautiously lower his ass down onto the seat (trying not to think of how many varied asses this Methuselan receptacle has patiently met over the years) and then be treated to a strange kind of circus ride or well-rendered video game: CLUNK! What the fuck? The bowl just listed to starboard! Hey, I'm a sailor and I'm taking a dump! Woo woo! GANK! Now to the other side! Most of it's getting in the bowl! What the hell is anchoring this toilet? Safety pins?

It's really very strange. Then, just like in video games, there might be a bonus round for the lucky player, and the toilet overflows onto your feet, and you grab at the plunger to stab at the beast, but nobody ever gets many points in bonus rounds, and you count yourself lucky that hey, you never liked those shoes anyway.

The main theater itself--again, it's just a reconverted warehouse space, resplendent with the kind of invisible black grit that only lives in your hair or, more happily, insistently under your fingernails--is a dismal place with primitive electrics and an utterly unsolvable humidity problem: it is always either (1) gaspingly arid and intolerable or (2) so thick with mugginess that ones lungs feel like wet wool. On some amazing occasions, it can be both within the same day. I call those days "weekdays."

The whole place deserves to be hung with colorful banners, reading "DISEASE VECTORS WELCOME HERE!"

There is also the shop area, where in addition to dozens of cans of donated paint ("REJECTED COLOR: 'Rancid Come' "), there is also a horribly undifferentiated pile of donated "wood": that is, boards. Unfortunately, these boards were merely the result of deconstructed pallets that someone had assaulted with a hammer; nobody had bothered to remove the dozens and dozens of staples. Great! Someone donated a bunch of horrible garbage that even hillbillies wouldn't deign to either (1) snort, or (2) burn.

This is how classy fringe theater can be. And for all that, I continue to do it. I have no explanation.

I'm tired. I'm making no money doing this. The hours and the unbelievably draining schedules suck. I'm 35 years old and still playing make-believe. I'm still frantically battling recalcitrant toilets.

And I tell myself, again: Here we go again.

It's not so bad.

Tuesday, 13 July
Alive, He Cried

On my way home from work today, I ran into a particular fellow who is an acquaintance of mine. He's tangentially involved in the "theater scene," sort of, and is well known for his, uh . . . "proclivity" for . . . erm . . . well . . . "drinking." He's basically someone that whenever he comes up in conversation, you can hear the scare quotes. And this is me saying this.

I didn't see him at first, because he was across the street from me, but I soon heard, "Skot! Skot!" and looked over to behold him skittering across the busy street like an agitated chicken, dodging angry, bleating cars. Presently he arrived at my side of the street and stared at me liquidly with kelp-colored eyes.

"What are you doing?" he asked, weirdly emphasising the last word, as if he had caught me doing something shamefully illicit. I looked at myself briefly to make sure I wasn't absentmindedly wandering around with my cock hanging out or something before answering. "Just walking home!" I said, too heartily. Like when you bellow at crazy people as if they were somehow hard of hearing, or maybe just particularly immune to bonhomie. He blinked languidly. I said, "And you?" He fixed me with a strange grin. "I'm vandalizing the neighborhood!" he hissed, and produced some stickers. "Want a sticker?"

Boy, do I! I totally didn't scream in my head. In truth, I was rattled. He looked terrible. He didn't seem quite in charge of his body, as if he were receiving somatic instructions from Altair, and there was perhaps some signal degradation. His skin tone also was of a queer hue, as if he had been built out of some strange filler ingredient that you see on junk food labels, like carageenan or guar gum. His hands shook slightly as he unpeeled some stickers to give me, and for some reason I noticed his palms were weirdly, shockingly pink; the color of Bazooka gum, or certain dogs' assholes.

We made some more vaguely comprehensible small talk about various shows around town, but I was preoccupied with the thought that normally, this fellow was legendary for being almost impossible to get in touch with. Friends have traded stories of unbelievable frustrations about this guy, all revolving around his incredible talent for being extraordinarily elusive when it comes to contacting him. Then, today, I'm innocently walking home, and he all but crawls out of a manhole and grabs my leg.

This is really the wrong image I need to take with me as I go to sleep. Walking home happily, and then being clawed by some strange thing erupting from the nether depths. "I'm made of guar gum and beet greens!" he is going to shriek in my dreams, this alarming, hungry C.H.U.D.

"Want a sticker?"

Boy, do I!

Friday, 09 July
Bitter Pill

INTERIOR. A WOMAN is reclining on a couch. Her attitude is vaguely post-orgasmic. She runs a hand through her tousled hair and addresses the viewer.

WOMAN: Let me tell you about my husband. He's a good man, and I love him. But a few years ago . . . we had . . . problems.

CUT TO: A bedroom. The HUSBAND, naked, is standing by a fully-made bed, staring disconsolately at his apparently uncooperative, wrinkly, flaccid penis. He taps at it curiously, and then waves his arms in a gesture of helplessness, causing his member to wobble ineffectually.

CUT TO: A bathroom. The WOMAN is bitterly sobbing and tossing handfuls of water on her face, which is in a rictus of sexual frustration. She opens a cabinet and hesitatingly brings forth a mighty dildo and stares at it contemplatively. Minor key piano chords underscore the poignant scene as she absently strokes the shockingly pink apparatus.

VOICEOVER (WOMAN): I mean, I won't piss on your shoes and tell you it's raining. It was bad.

CUT TO: Back on the couch. The WOMAN'S face slowly breaks into a gently lascivious smile.

Woman: That's when we found Turgidin.

MUSIC: The raucous opening chords from Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" are heard, culminating in the scream, "I'm BACK!"

CUT TO: The bedroom, which looks like it barely withstood a Panzer attack. The HUSBAND is doing an awkward and clumsy dance about the room, clutching his genitals gingerly but happily with one hand, while giving the camera a delighted thumbs-up with the other. The WOMAN lies on the bed, dazed and clearly incapacitated with post-coital pleasure. She drools slightly onto her pillow while the HUSBAND continues to hop around and coo at his revitalized penis.

ANNOUNCER VO: Turgidin. Why not make your poor wife come for a change, limpy?

CUT TO: Virile, confident HUSBAND, cuffs open-buttoned, neck open, twirling about with his wife. The couple exchange meaningful looks.

ANNOUNCER VO: After all . . . shouldn't it be . . . about her?

WOMAN: Thanks, Turgidin! (She smiles coyly while clawing at her man's zipper.)

ANNOUNCER VO: Take Turgidin. If not for your wife . . . then for your mistresses.

CUT TO: Slutty blonde in hotel room. She grins as HUSBAND, naked and startlingly erect, emerges from bathroom. Both grin and laugh.

ANNOUNCER VO: Turgidin. You need boners. We need money. (Hushed, confidential voice) Discontinue use in case of liver spasms, bleeding eyes, or exploding knees. In some cases, Turgidin can cause menses changes, particularly in men. Consult a physician for gender reassignment.

Wednesday, 07 July
That Good Night

I've started rehearsals for a new show going up in a month or so. It's called Red Noses by Peter Barnes, and it's set in France, 1348, so it's plague-tastic. The basic plot is, a (possibly unhinged) priest founds an order of buffoons--the Red Noses--who combat the plague by wandering the countryside clowning around, making terrible jokes, and putting on ridiculously absurd morality plays. It's a measure of the play's sensibility that one of the first victims (and there are dozens of victims, many of which manage to walk onstage, gasp out a few lines, and then die) is named First Attendant, who complains that it's difficult to care about the little people, like First Attendants, who die before you get to know them. "I'm an extraordinary person!" he exclaims. "I'll tell you a secret!" Then of course he immediately dies.

The director of the piece, with whom I've worked before many times, obviously has a complete understanding of my comedic talents, because out of a 40+ slew of characters, which run the gamut from bawdy nuns to murderous mercenaries to malignant corpse-gatherers to syphilitic priests to expressive jugglers, he has cast me as . . . the po-faced, humorless pedagogue. This may have been due to the pre-casting discussion I had with him: "I don't want to fucking learn how to juggle. And I'd rather not sing. I certainly don't want to do any goddamn Theater 101 buffoon work. Jesus, don't even talk to me about mask work." Basically, I was saying to him: Don't make me work. Well, problem solved. For most of the play, I just stand around being a complete pain in the ass, which, I must admit, I can do.

(I'm exaggerating, of course: I do love the role. But I'm not exaggerating much.)

Last night was first readthrough, which is just what it sounds like, and just as thrilling as you might imagine. The actors introduce themselves around, and then read the damn play right off the page. First reads are wholly useless except for two things: One, for some reason, they are very good for predicting how long the final show will end up being; and Two, much like day one of any grade school year, you have to start somewhere, even if it's just wasting time to get it out of the way. And it might as well be with some good laughs as people botch lines, burst out laughing at jokes, and hearing people innocently butcher unfamiliar language. This play is good for that, for many reasons. One, Barnes was a wordy motherfucker who never used one word when he could riff with five; two, the play is filled with mouthbreaking French names and locations; and three, sometimes actors just aren't familiar with certain terms. Favorites from the first read included things like "anathema" being pronounced, many times, "an-a-THEEEEE-ma!"; "Genoese" pronounced as "Genovese," which introduced a tantalizingly weird Mob element to the proceedings; and, my favorite, "Oyez! Oyez!" being pronounced phonetically. OH YEZ! OH YEZ! I don't know why it cracked me up so. I imagined it to be the sound produced by an orgasmic harelip.

So we're off and running, and well, if my posting habits start to slip, then you know why. I'm out making ART! On the STAGE! (Well, grass. This is an outdoor show, a new experience for me.) And pretending that live theater isn't a DYING FORM! Which let's not pretend it isn't. But it's okay. The patient is critical, but it seems to be a tenacious fucker--it'll still probably outlast little old me. But more and more, I think of live theater as that poor First Attendant, crawling and beseeching the audience to listen, because he's an extraordinary person.

He says, "I'll tell you a secret . . . " And then he quietly dies.

Tuesday, 06 July
Our Country's Sort Of Good

Heigh-ho and a happy past Fourth and all that (for non-Americans, if any: Just hi, I guess). The weekend at Chez Pfaff was mostly low-key and for me, at least, slightly longer, which was nice. The wife did not manage to get the 5th off, and because she is a much less infantile person than myself, managed even not to get cranky about it. If I had had to go to work today, God knows I'd be rending garments, weeping to the skies and performing various other etc. Biblical expression-of-nameless-grief kinds of things. Instead, I was able to sleep in and then watch baseball, which is about as nonbiblical as it gets.

Friday found us staying in and watching a movie, the latest box office catastrophe perpetrated by Mr. John Woo, Paycheck. A most ironic title for a movie based yet again on a Philip K. Dick story, who himself spent a large part of his life searching for same. At any rate, the movie surprised us in that it was not as horrifyingly terrible as we were expecting it to be (this is a quintessentially American thing to do, it strikes me: to willingly pay for a product that one feels certain is going to lead to profound disappointment). This despite the best efforts of veteran movie-ruiner Ben Affleck, who toyed briefly with the notion of actual acting in Good Will Hunting but has since only committed grave filmic crimes. I need only cite here Daredevil, a film so ghastly that it moved Pauline Kael to claw her way out of the grave to pan it. ("Death will not stop me from condemning this movie . . . ")

This is not to say that the movie was good; rather, it was merely less disappointing than we had expected. It was sort of like getting excellent service at Arby's. The final product might be gray and dank and unpalatable, but at least you felt unhassled and full-bellied. I was even able to forgive the scene (which I had joked about well in advance, so there was much laughter) when a door opened and, per the Woo canon, a white dove flew out. You have to kind of give it up to a director who so tirelessly sticks to such a dull, unimaginative visual metaphor whose presumed emotional freight is so embarrassingly tiny.

Nothing interesting happened on Saturday, unless you count the enthusiastic droves of people who flocked down to the pool, which lies right outside our patio door. What people failed to realize, however, was that the early part of the day was a bit overcast and chilly, so the pool hadn't had a chance to really get up to speed. So the annoyance of having to listen to the slap-slap of bare feet on concrete was somewhat allayed by the endless reactions to people joyfully leaping into the startlingly cold pool. Sploosh! (Pause.) "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! IT'S FREEZING!" This happened over and over, causing me much joy. Sploosh! (Pause.) "AAAAAAHHHHHH!" Sploosh! (Pause.) "My pacemaker! My pacemaker stopped!"

On Sunday, the wife and I strolled over to our friends' place a couple blocks away to eat many buckets of chicken and drink beers and basically waste time until nightfall when the fireworks would begin over Lake Union. The only problem with this idea was, once people had eaten and settled in with beers, there wasn't anything to do but sit around and mock things (this is what happens when actors get together). So we turned on the TV, that most mockable of media. We were instantly rewarded with visions of Barry Bostwick, garbed in an alarming cobalt suit, yell-singing something at us from the bowels of Washington D.C., surrounded by thousands of aggressively white people who cheered and generally went crazy at pronouncements to the effect that America is pretty swell. It was, of course, gaspingly horrible, and we ate it up, even when appalling entities like Clay Aiken were trotted out to tonsil up some patriotic rah-rah vibratos: my friend P. remarked, "If I were fourteen, I'd totally be in love with him!" I understand. However, this is why young teenagers don't get to vote. Ten years ago, we might have had to endure President Carrot Top and his cabinet of Jerky Boys.

When we got bored of that, we also found, on public TV, for God's sake, an extended commercial for old Lawrence Welk DVDs. They showed much ancient footage featuring doddering weirdos in mindbending toupees, and frighteningly corseted women attempting to breathe, and of course footage of old Larry grabbing old, startled women and forcing them to leadenly dance with him. He would seize their arms savagely, and the poor old hens would try and make their legs work while Welk grinned vampirically, as if to say, "America! I'm eating your old women! And I'm loving it!" This is to say nothing of his vaunted side players, who were visions of horror. At one point, they showed a terrifying she-beast gnawing relentlessly on some forgotten melody, and I screamed, "It's Divine! She's going to eat a dog turd at the end of this song!" Sadly, that particular episode had not been directed by John Waters, so we were denied that payoff.

Later, of course, we retired to view the fireworks, which, seriously, are really boring. The wife and I viewed them from our patio, and it says something when the loudest cheers are reserved for the smiley faces. "SMILEY FACE!" screamed the people on the balcony. Wow, yes . . . it's a smiley face. Do you also scream at Ziggy cartoons? Because that's just about as exciting. More puzzling was the semi-political commentary: "FUCK GEORGE BUSH!" screamed one guy after a vague purple explosion. Was he seeing something I wasn't? "This is the SHIT!" screamed another after that one pyrotechnic effect that looks like hair growing in the sky. It is? I obviously fail to appreciate the aesthetics of your average fireworks show, which seems to me about as interesting as Laser Floyd. Perhaps if I hadn't given up pot.

But it's all over now. Back to work tomorrow, where I will resume my new terrifying supervisory role. Which I am supremely incapable of fulfilling; I'm going to really irritate a lot of people over the coming months.

Now that's American.

Thursday, 01 July
Movin' On Up

Tomorrow I officially start my new position as Emperor Of The Unlucky People at work, so today I sat down with S., who previously held the position and is herself moving up the job ladder to High Empress Of The Benighted Who Aren't Like Those Poor Fucks Who Have To Deal With Skot. It's hell to fit that on a business card.

I was a little nervous as the meeting was coming up, as I was getting some dire signals via email that I was in way over my head. One such signal was receiving no less than five baffling, incomprehensible Excel documents from yet another ancillary boss-thing, all of them with breezy notes saying, in effect, that the docs all spoke for themselves. Maybe they did, perhaps in Mandarin, but I wouldn't fucking know, because they were all impenetrable, dull, horrible things that I didn't begin to comprehend. My gut started to wheeze with misgiving, and it mumbled to me, You're fucked. Let's get out of here before they find out what a terrible fraud you are. My brain instantly responded: Gut's right. We're dead. Run like the dumb gerbil you are! Run, stupid!

But I did not run, because, Jesus, I need this job. So I did the only smart thing, and washed down some Xanax with a couple belts of whiskey from the bottle in my file cabinet. I immediately felt better, and thought, "I can do this. I will conquer my fears and be a leader. And then I will battle those flying space rabbits and bring peace to Planet Chondarr, which is my destiny as foretold from my youth by Madame Twice-Cutlet, who died too soon in that dune buggy accident."

I probably should have eaten something first, but you don't think of these things when you're so nervous. I went to S.'s office, and she warmly welcome me in. She assured me that it was perfectly normal to feel swamped and over my head.

"It took me months to get used to it," she explained, "even without the prodigious amounts of drugs and booze you apparently consume. You look a little pale. Do you want a cocktail?"

I lowed like a beaten cow. "God, yes, please. It feels like angry dwarves are clawing around in my skull looking for a way out. Either give me scotch or fucking trepan me. The little bastards!" I screamed piteously, and fitfully rapped my skull on her desktop for a while, demonstrating my agony, while S. flapped her hands like nervous birds.

"Coming up! Coming up!" Presently I was calmer, drink in hand, and S. began to tell me about my new and varied duties.

S. said, "Well, I don't have to tell you about the emails! You're going to get a ton of them now. You'll get used to it."

I doubted that. Where other employees, I had noticed, had impossibly subdivided their Outlook folders down to the most exacting criteria, mine still consisted of two main areas of interest: "Inbox," where I kept only those emails where it would be positively dangerous to ignore, and "Deleted Mail," where everything else went, particularly those which I found to be baffling, strange, or simply frightening. When it comes to email, I am of the school of thought that If I Can't See It, It Isn't There. Apparently, this happy state is about to be ruined. I was beginning to see this promotion as my own personal version of the Fall of Man.

S. continued. "Oh, and I have some Excel documents that I'll send you. Stuff like timesheets and all of that, which you'll need to track."

More great news. I understand that many people regard Excel documents as pretty ripping stuff, but I hate and fear that program. This was like hearing that she was going to be sending me exotic spiders from South America. I need Excel documents about as badly as I need the works of Ibsen methodically tattooed onto my asshole. I finished my drink. In my profound terror, S.'s words were beginning to lose cohesion.

"You want to remember to anoint yourself with corn oil," she seemed to say, while I slumped erratically in various non-Euclidean angles. "And when someone has a job issue, you stab them without thinking. Right in the guts."

"Twist that knife!" I screamed. "I'll hang their cocks on my wall!" S. seemed to understand, despite the fact that most of our employees are women. She was gentle.

"You're overwhelmed, which is understandable," she said soothingly. "You should go back to your office and hang out. We can pick this up tomorrow."

"Thanks," I gasped, totally unnerved. "Tomorrow. Then we'll pickaxe the lot of them."

I wobbled out of her office, and finally found my way to my chair. I sat heavily, and regarded Rick, my office piano player.

"You played it for her, you can play it for me," I said. "Play it."

Rick said, "What the fuck are you talking about? Who? Christ, you freak me out."

I wearily put a dollar into Rick's tip jar. "Just play 'Tarzan Boy' for me. Baltimora, he was the man. I want to hear 'Tarzan Boy.'"

Rick said, "That's the worst song ever written." He glumly began pecking out the melody. "I hate this job," he murmured ruefully.

"So do I," I whispered, reaching again for the whiskey. "So do I."










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