Sunday, April 27, 2008

Things we didn't know we'd learn; 1963

I know what you're thinking. I know I've waited many years for this post, two to be exact, and I've hesitated for two or three days thinking about what else to say about 6th grade and the fall of 1963 but really this is the thing that matters most. It's some time around the middle of the afternoon on a lovely late fall afternoon. It was warm. I remember that. We were in Mrs. Fuller's math class. God knows what we were learning. Some dim precursor to Algebra? It couldn't have mattered. Mr. Campbell walked in and pulled Mrs. Fuller out and they talked, like adults do about things that matter to adults, and Mrs. Fuller walked in to tell us the President had been shot. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas in the afternoon of November, 22nd, 1963 and we were shocked. Huh.
That seems stupid saying that but we were. Shocked. Stunned. Only one other event in my life made me feel like this and that was in September of 2001 when I watched two airplanes hit the World Trade Center. But back then this was something you didn't even know how to acknowledge. What did it mean? Why was he shot? I mean, really? Why would anyone shoot the President of the United States. It wasn't a Russian. It wasn't like we had just ended a great Civil War. So we all sat in class like little fools and looked at each other and then we were sent home. After an hour or so our teachers sent us home. To be with our parents.
They were no better than us. Ed Campbell who had witnessed the slaughter of Korea and who rushed out like a hero to put out fires, Mrs. Myers who seemed stalwart and brave and strong, Mrs. Ferrera who laughed with us and told ribald jokes, they all looked like little puppets who had had their strings cut and they said things and did things but they didn't know why or what they were saying and we walked home.
When I got home my mother was sobbing.
When I got home my mother was sobbing.
Her ironing board was in the living room and she was in the first living room and she was crying. I don't believe I am making this up. This is what I remember. It was embarrassing but she was in tears. The tv was on and there were people talking about the President and by now it was clear he was dead. He'd been shot in Texas by a man and he was dead.
It seems so stupid from this great remove to say we loved this man. We did. He was a joy. He and his family were funny and real and just like our own even if later we were to find out this was all a fiction. He was like my father. He played touch football. My father did. He had back problems. My father did. His wife was beautiful. She looked like my mother and my aunts and my beloved Irish cousins. Jesus.
My mother had been watching a soap opera. She never watched another to the end of her life.
The facts played out on television like nothing we had ever seen; though they would play out that way again and again over the next several years. We were exiled to play but everytime we ducked into the house the President was dead.
You could make up lots of dumb shit about this. We were, after all, only sixth graders. We knew absolutely nothing about politics. To us he was like God. We admired and loved him and his family. We had not had the tragedy of WWII or WWI or the Civil War or any other horror brush up against our stupid little lives. This was like getting smacked really hard with the hand of reality and no one tells you it is reality.
I would imagine there are worse things than public tragedy. I know my mother's death affected me more than the death of the young man who was President. But I know that this event marked my childhood just as clearly as the two towers falling marked my adulthood. That's an odd thing. How public events become private events. How you can remember every smell and hesitation. The ironing board. The quiet streets. The shocked looks of adults. The newsreels, the tv news, the man with a gun the twisted body of Lee Harvey Oswald, the smoke drifting across Brooklyn, the candles burning in doorways all over Jersey City, the ironing board, the gun, the smoke.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Newspaper Routes

It was in the fall of 1963 that I began my first real job. Up until then I'd mown some lawns, raked a few, and shoveled sidewalks when it snowed but basically had no real daily responsibilities. Then my friend Chris DeHart offered me his Woodbury Times newspaper route. On the surface it sounded like a good deal. You delivered the papers daily, collected the weekly subscription fee on Friday or Saturday, had Sunday off and lived like a prince. It turns out there were some minor problems with the economic model.
I believe at the time the Woodbury Times, now the Gloucester County Times, cost five cents an issue. Five cents! I would deliver them to people and my cost would be three cents. Thus netting me a profit of two cents for each paper delivered. Each customer would receive six newspapers a week, so my weekly profit, per customer, would be twelve cents. I had twenty five customers. That meant I stood to make the princely sum of three dollars per week. For this three dollars I would drive my bicycle around my neighborhood for perhaps forty five minutes a day, tossing newspapers onto porches or sliding them through mail slots or whatever particular quirk a customer might have for accepting the paper. This meant I was working...around four and half hours a week to make three dollars. This puts my hourly rate at about $.60 cents per hour. This was a lot of dough. I think. I mean my allowance was twenty five cents for Christ's sake! But it turns out there were some negatives.
Number one was people didn't pay you. I'm talking grown up, mature men and women stiffing some little twelve year old kid for the vast sum of thirty cents. But you still had to pay the man. That's what the guy from the newspaper was called. The man. He would come by every Saturday and collect your three cents per paper. You had to have that money no matter what. This created numerous problems. Like, number one, what do you do if significant numbers of people don't pay? Or what happens if you're a lazy nincompoop who doesn't really make a sincere effort to collect the money because you're scared to ask grown ups for money? Or, just for the sake of argument, suppose you don't exactly deliver the papers in the orderly, on time fashion your customers expect? And then they say, "I'm not paying for that paper, I never got it!". This could lead to serious cash flow issues. Your vast three dollar profit could end being at most seventy five cents or less. And this for hours of hard works! Or, to be honest, less than committed, hard work. Actually, kind of lazy half hearted rolling around the neighborhood on your bicycle daydreaming and not doing a very good job kind of work. That would probably accurately characterize my work ethic at twelve. Non-existent. To be very honest I'd fire my ass if I worked for me now. i sucked. I was unmotivated, lazy, bored, and lost in a world of fantasy. Delivering the news of the day in a timely fashion was the very last thing on my mind. Collecting funds from surly, angry old people was definitely not something I wanted to do.
I lasted three months or so. I was an abject failure and happy to turn in my bag and go back to playing football and running in the woods. I would try this money making approach again, more on that in the years to come, but I should have looked closer at the business model, the employee profile, etc. I was doomed from the start.
Some boys are born newspaper delivery boys. Others were made to daydream about repelling Russian hordes. I think I fit in the latter category.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Poetry Derived from Play

Oh, by the way, here's a poem that came out of the work I did for the play. Enjoy.
Dreaming of Imps

Last night there was an imp in my bed.
Well, not really an imp;
a small demon, I guess.
I woke up and must have frightened it
because it scurried off to hide in the shadows.
But I saw it.
The color of a young roach.
Then it was gone.

There was a time such things were with me daily.
Demons and imps and shrouded ghouls.
Lingering by my bedside as I lay sleeping,
dreaming horrible dreams of a good life.
A life where I had a job and friends and ate food
in restaurants.
A life filled with nice clothing and cars.
People who laughed at my jokes and forgave my foibles.
The demons watched me twitch in sleep and giggled
at my travails.

I was very sick for a time.
I came so close to death it seemed almost like I was dead.
I spent much too much time with demons and angels.
I ate too little and slept too little and sweated through the night.
I woke each morning drenched from my dreams.

I haven’t been sick for years.
Not like that anyway.
Oh, a flu now and then, or a sore throat,
but that’s been it.
Till that imp leaped up and licked my face.

Perhaps they never left.
Perhaps I’m still desperately ill.
This is the dream I dream.
My car, my dogs, my new suits, my beloved.
All just fodder for their little jokes.
There should be an insecticide for demons and imps.
There should be some poison I could set out
for them to find and eat.
It might be unpleasant to find their swollen little bodies but
except for a day or two of stink it would be better to have them gone.

But it seems to me that there is no poison they wouldn’t love.
No death they couldn’t cherish.
No desire or whim that wouldn’t amuse them.
Dreams and imps.
Poisons and wishes.
All things to think about as we kneel at the foot of the bed
to say our little prayers.

The Play in Various Forms and Permutations

Well, over the past several days two interesting things occurred. First, Bob Thomas thoughtfully recorded the first night's performance. If you'd care to listen to me on opening night here then is the performance, warts and all. Just follow the link:
Let me know what you think.
That night there was a talk back following the performance. You can catch the recording of that event, again, courtesy of Bob, on You Tube. Here's that link:
Finally, during that talk back there was discussion about others doing the performance. I had sent the script to my friend Jim Maddox who recorded it in his voice. I'm still too stupid to figure out how to upload the mp3 so for the time being, if you'd like to hear Jim's take on me in NYC please send me an email and I'll send it along.
To all of you who came, many those who couldn't here is a meager substitute. Of course you don't get to see my acting talents in all their glory but what the hey.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sixth Grade September 1963

It was always nice to go to school in Wenonah. The first days were warm with that beautiful September warmth and you had the idea that you'd do great this year, really great. Sixth grade marked a change for us. In order to get us used to moving around like robots in our new high school we would move around in Wenonah school. From teacher to teacher, subject to subject, classroom to classroom. In theory this would have us up and running on day one at the new HS. In fact it was sort of stupid. We knew everybody. We'd had all these teachers. My math teacher was Mrs. Fuller from last year for God's sake! I think we had Ed Campbell for History but jeez louise this was no stretch for any of us. I mean, what, walk upstairs to a classroom or down the hall twenty feet to another and all with the exact same people? We would not, repeat not, be ready for Seventh Grade.
But we felt all cool and shit and that meant a lot. For the first time in our little lives we felt like we were in control. It was a lie but it felt like it. After school we'd ride our bikes to my house and sit on the curb and talk about the Beatles. There was some weird rule that you had to pick your favorite Beatle. As if I gave a fuck. So I picked George who really didn't do anything. One thing about the Beatles, and the Beach Boys, and some other bands was they had long hair. Okay, not really long, but long enough.
This got me thinking about growing my hair and wearing cooler clothes. Bad thoughts all. My hair was a disaster. Three cowlicks, no hope. Cool clothes? We shopped at JC Penney's for Christ's sake. I couldn't even get Converse sneaks...I had to get the cheap Penney's knock offs. We did go to a mens wear store in Pitman though to pick out our fall clothes. I actually had some vague say in what I wore. I have no idea what I picked only that in all my pictures I still look like a geek.
And our new classes? We were learning about New Jersey history. Apparently over the summer the state decided we should know something about this pisshole so they taught us about the Lenni Lenape and Governor Morris and we had to know all the counties and stuff. As if in Gloucester County we had the vaguest conception of Jersey City or Hoboken or Newark. There were only two negroes in our school!!!
But we were cool, we were cool. We passed through the hall like little gods, lording it over the 5th and 4th graders. When we got home we'd make fun of Chuckie Holstein and his little friends. We'd break their club house and laugh and laugh. We ruled.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Play and the World

Okay, I've done my stint on the boards. Perhaps there is more to come but thats for another day and another post. For now just let me say thank you to Steven McCasland, my director, my collaborator, my friend and to Teresa Carson for her help, and to Johanna for her patience. I had a chance to see how another world of art works. I'm not clear where I stand within that world but it might be we can expand on that. I think I should tell you that it was scary as shit to act. And scarier more to go back to the time when I was sick. I haven't been there in a long while and each time we rehearsed and each time I practiced and memorized I went back. Not good. Not good.
The night after our first performance I dreamed about illness. People filled with cancers and pus and their heads splitting open and then when I awoke I saw a little demon scurry off the bed.
Like they were waiting for me still. Like they wanted me still. No normal person wants them to come back and I'm not that abnormal. On the other hand the work seems to resonate in ways I hadn't expected and perhaps we can put it out into the world and make it a positive thing in ways poetry isn't. We shall see. We shall see.
Today I got to see a production of Steven's of Medea. It was rich and strong and clear. The man has a talent and a vision and he will be a great director and producer. His actors were powerful and passionate and you could hear their pain and anguish. Not too shabby.
So, for now my theatrical ambitions are tabled but they will rise again. Tomorrow we return to 1963, Sixth Grade, Dear Mrs Myers, Kathy Collinge, Sex, the Beatles, oh, the horror, oh, the horror. Ha ha. Back to Fun.
God bless Steven and his vision and God take pity on me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Day One Redux

Well, I did it. Or really, we did it, Steven and I. Or more appropriately Steven, Kerrie, Teresa, Johanna, and I. Because each of them had a hand in this thing. Johanna for giving me the space to rehearse and memorize and for living with me while I was basically insane. Kerrie for helping Steven with the sound and set and actually making believe it was a good play so I'd calm down. Teresa for introducing me to Steven, helping to shape the play, and sitting in on our rehearsal. And of course Steven, the shaper of my words and the man who taught me how to act.
I think we did good. I think we'll do better tonight so I hope that those of you who couldn't come last night will be there this evening. It was fun. So...I'll see some of you tonight!
Meantime, thanks to some marvelous suggestions, especially you Jules, we're already working on ideas for how to expand this for a wider audience. Look for more Fun and less Me. Until I return to normal on the morrow, I remain, your thespian correspondent.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fun Being Me...THE PLAY!

Hi everyone, I'm psyched for Saturday and Sunday and hope to see some of you. If you're planning on coming and haven't rsvp'd please do so toot sweet as there are security concerns. An email to my director, Steven, will do the trick. The appropriate email is
I hope to see you all as I blow my lines, vomit on stage, and crawl, weeping from the stage. Or not. This is theater, who knows whats in store. No dull poetry here. Come one, come all, all for a measly five bucks!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Play Flyer

Bob Thomas was kind enough to do the conversion of the pdf to a jpg so here's the flyer! I do hope some of you will be able to attend! Please, if you are coming, remember to rsvp to by Tuesday of next week. I need all the moral support I can get!