Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another opening, another show

I have acted in plays since I was 15, when I was too shy to interact with most people, or at least girls. Scripted words were a godsend. Sometimes it even said, right in the script, I had to kiss them. So I kissed them. I mean, it said so right there. "They kiss," was one memorable stage direction. My first kiss, in fact, was not romantic but in service to a musical. I paused. I looked out at the director for confirmation. "Kiss her," he said. So I did. 

I'm rehearsing a play now. Although I do not live in my hometown, the play's there and our rehearsals too. This has caused past and present to sort of shimmer for me, blend together, fade in and out of each other.

We rehearse in a hall where, 41 years ago, I slow-danced in the dark with my junior year sweetheart at the Girls League Formal. It was a girl-ask-guy dance they apparently don't even have any more. 

I practice our scenes now mere feet away from where Michelle and I swayed all those years ago in the humid, teen-scented dark...can it be?...almost 15,000 days ago. I remember the spot, because I kissed her while we danced, something I had never done before in public, a bold move, even in the dark. 

Sometimes at rehearsal my eye lingers there under the bright fluorescent lights. In daylight, there is no magic to the place. The ancient window curtains have collected the dust of decades and the wooden stage on the far end has some spongy boards. But, like any place out of memory, it retains a certain romance.

I think she broke up with me later that night. I can't remember. If not, it was pretty soon after. I couldn't tell you why. She probably still could. 

Near a '60's looking sculpture in the foyer I eye a wall where I remember tossing my cream-colored tuxedo jacket and salmon bow tie onto a pile of the same. A hundred teens dancing in one room can generate a lot of heat. I did the rest of my dancing in my ruffle-fronted shirt, sleeves rolled up. Was there a disco ball or does memory play tricks? 

Today in the spot of the tux pile is a clothes rack hung with all our show costumes. My tux is black this time, the tie, grey.

Every time I pull into the parking lot outside I remember the same lot, 40 years ago. I disembarked from a public school bus one final time, the bleary morning after Grad Night. Our parents drove us to the party alone, but a bus brought all us graduates home together. 

Grad Night sucked. It was not at Disneyland, as is customary now, but in a ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel across the street. I guess they figured if it had the name Disneyland in it, we would be placated. It was lame. 

I had to wear a suit and tie. There was a hypnotist at about 2 a.m. who made my classmates cluck like chickens or become stiff as a board. There was dancing. I don't remember getting on the bus, but I remember getting off in this very parking lot, the sun too bright after an all-nighter. Parents waiting in their cars to take us home, like kindergartners. 

I pull up to rehearsal and the bus shimmers in the morning sun 40 years ago. 

This is roughly show #30 or so for me, lifetime. There have been many other tuxes, and suits, prayer shawls, jockey silks, tights. I am not as shy as that teen, but I still appreciate someone providing me the words. So often the right ones are nowhere to be found. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

To some, we are dead ringers

I work at a public library desk and I have a coworker who patrons constantly think is me. He looks nothing like me, but he IS the other middle-aged balding, graying white guy. 

So when we have a shift change at the top of the hour, often a patron he helped earlier will come back by the desk and thank me. I usually just smile and nod. "You're welcome." Often a patron will walk in the front doors and say "Remember me from last week? You were right. I went home and tried rebooting and it worked!" I have never seen them before. 

It's O.K. We all look alike. 

We have a young Latina who also works the desk, and a middle aged lady. They don't get mistaken for each other by the public, understandably. But for Gaetano and me, it happens constantly, almost daily. 

His name is Gaetano, so even our names look similar at a glance on our nametags. He is Italian-American. One time a woman walked up to me, clearly having had a previous conversation with him, and she opened with "So are you FLUENT in Italian or just speak a little?" I said I was George and the only Italian I know is fuhgeddaboutit. 

People are generally embarrassed to get us wrong. If I'm being honest, it's kind of entertaining.

Recently when I relieved Gaetano from desk duty, within five minutes of each other, an old guy thanked me for giving him extra computer time and a woman happily held up a book and said "I found it. The title was just a little different than I thought." 

I never saw them before.

It happens to him after I leave the desk just as often. Even our fellow staff, if they have just come on shift and only see one of us out of the corner of their eye, will call us by the other's name. They are apologetic, always, since they know it's a "thing." They even have a nickname for us. 

They call us "Georgetano." 

Turns out we both went to the same high school, although a dozen years apart. We're both dads. We both deliver a wry punch line quietly, with a straight face. We often wear the same library logo polo shirts. How can we blame the public? Some people couldn't tell Redford and Newman apart.

That is why it occurred to me that I could totally commit the perfect crime, as long as it occurred in the library. A whole string of witnesses would swear they saw Gaetano do it. I have to figure out the details still. We have worked together for 14 years, all of them leading up to this moment. The doppelgänger denouement! It is destiny. 

Or, to borrow a library phrase, it is way overdue.

Except I just wrote about it. Crap. Or did Gaetano just write about it? Ha! That would really show premeditation on his part. Oh, he is totally going down. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Patreon supporter week - The History of Sleep

My column this week goes out exclusively to my Patreon supporters. For a buck a month you can access the full column, "The History of Sleep," the first paragraph of which goes like this:

"We spend a third of our lives asleep, and that does not even count the time during the Masters Tournament. How we sleep has undergone drastic changes over the millennia. Evolution suggests that first, like The Godfather's Luca Brasi, we slept with the fishes. Then as we developed limbs, we probably slept under a bush, because predators would never think of looking there. Then in trees. It wasn't until some brainiac discovered that caves keep rain off that our sleep customs advanced..."

From there it goes into the history of early mattresses, which I will just say involved small animals.

Do you have a buck this month? And next? Then join the fun here.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Subject line: You have been hacked!

I recently received a threatening extortion email; yet more proof that what the email scammers around the world really need more than money is English language instruction. Dear extortionists, here are some tips, using your own email as an example:

Hi There,

[This is an inexplicably folksy start. I would have gone with "Achtung" or maybe at least "Dear Sir or Madam."]

As you can see from the subject of this mail we have hacked your system. To demonstrate you we have COMPLETE access we have emailed you this e-mail from YOUR very own acccount. Look into the "From" mail address.

[Thank you. I would have never thought to look in the "From" mail address.]

We have downloaded all your social media friends, your files and your data to our server. We have COMPLETE access to your system for a few months now, 

["We have HAD complete access." This is a common mistake.]

this is because you check out mature internet sites 

[Mature! This is a great word choice. You figured out that if you use the word "porn," your email will go straight into my Junk folder. I have to give this one to you.]

and one of these websites was corrupted with a virus that mounted itself on your system, opening a backdoor to our server. 

[Amazingly, "Backdoor To Our Server" was one of the titles I was watching when you caught me. What are the odds?]

You can alter your password but it isn't going to help, our backdoor will always allow us FULL access. Don't stress, we will inform you what to do.

[Whew. Thank you. Not stressing. Inform me.]

Once in a while we activated your video camera and recorded some very exposing clips of you while you "satisfied" yourself (you know what we mean) enjoying mature content. We can forward those exposing videos to all your contacts (we posses them on our server) and basically destroy your social life and the relationship with your nearest and dearest. 

["Nearest and dearest." You have been reading Amish romance, haven't you?]

Consider the disgrace! I don't believe you want us to do that so we will give you a way out, a way that you can go on to live your life like this never took place.

[This never took place.]

When you opened this e-mail a disguised . pixel initiated a timer on our server, from now on you have six hrs (yes, only six so you better start without delay after browsing the instructions) to do the following below:

["Six hours" is good. First rule of sales, right? Create urgency. But a "disguised pixel"? You are sending me an email extorting money. Why pretend to disguise a pixel? It sounds like an idea from, like, the fifth guy in your hierarchy who you decided to humor because it's not as bad as his usual bad ideas, so why not throw him a bone?]

Below you will find our bitcoin address (copy/paste it with no spaces, it is case sensitive). We want you to transfer $575 in bitcoins to this address.

[A specific number is good when you are lying on a first date about how much is in your bank account. When demanding money, though, round numbers are best. $500 would have been a lot cleaner. Also, you DO understand that the current price of one bitcoin is $3,588, so I, what, I buy 1/6th of a bitcoin to send you?]

If you don't know how to make use of bitcoins you can use Google and search "How to buy bitcoins", it is quite simple and you can purchase them instantly.

[You might want to avoid putting Google in my head, because I might then naturally Google "bitcoin email hack scam."

If you do this inside of the given timeframe our server will notice the transaction to that address and the timer will quit counting. We will remove all the data we posses of you, 

[This is the second time you have spelled it "posses." Just for future reference, "posses" are groups of lawmen tracking down bad guys. Strunk & White, in their definitive writing book "The Elements of Style" would probably suggest the following alternative: "We will remove all the data we have of yours." Please consider the edit.]

terminate the backdoor on your system, and you will without doubt never ever hear from us again. 

[Again with the "backdoor." I sense a fixation.]

No one will ever know this occurred and you can proceed with your life. If you don't do this..... you are aware what is going to occur and you know what impact it will have on your life.

Our btc address: 1BKSFvjb46DZCw9AWibBzLjKPjsdubWmEt

[Wait wait wait. You guys used my password to for your bitcoin address?!]


[A final word of advice. "Good luck" is never hyphenated. Never. Even if I had believed you owned embarrassing footage of me, I would not have paid you just on general principle. I bet you think it's a "doggy dog world" too. Sir or madam, I bid you adieu and wish you well in your future endeavors, which you can hopefully find in a less hit-and-miss line of work that matches your skill set, like lobbying.]

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sick With The Epic Ick

There is sick, and then there is SICK, and I have been both this week. When I am sick I feel as if I have never been well and that I will never be well. As you can imagine, this attitude is fun to be around. 

I started sneezing an unusual number of times two weeks ago, my usual indicator of oncoming sickness, but I brushed it off to allergies. This is like a coal miner who, seeing the canary dead, says to himself ehh, he was probably old. 

I should have started sucking my customary Cold-Eze, which promises to "lessen the severity and shorten the duration" of your suffering. I lost two days' battle prep to my wishful thinking.

When on that Wednesday I got the irrefutable scratchy throat of doom, the enemy had already entrenched. Thursday I missed work, a rare thing. Friday I came back, with a low Lou Rawls rumble of a voice and a stuffy nose, prompting a coworker to ask, reasonably, "What are you doing here?" 

It was then I realized I had the Epic Ick. Not your usual cold, but the one you've heard about in low murmurs from friends this season. "Oh, I had that for three weeks," one will say. "Never had one hang on so long," another will say. 

Googling "flu season" I get a lot of results saying last winter's was a horrific one, which I had not known. Dodged it somehow. Thousands of people died, mostly elderly, but not all. This year's impact is not legendary, except to me. I missed two more days of work, unprecedented.

In the drug store cold remedy aisle I met another guy one night. "You got the cough?" I asked. He nodded in commiseration, like another lifer in the prison yard. I grabbed some goop. He said "Good luck." Fellow sufferers are instant friends. It is a wonder this country has not healed its political wounds on that truth alone.

The symptoms have not been worse than ever, except the tickle, just endless. The 8:00 tickle, which comes on as reliably as a "Rocky" sequel, and causes fits of coughing which leaves my stomach muscles aching. Perhaps I will finally get those six pack abs. I cough so hard the pressure in my head causes blue flashes behind my eyes, as they are squashed up against my skull. 

I take to sleeping in the living room in a chair, so my sinuses can drain the tickle. Lying down is impossible. So I bundle up and try to sleep sitting up, rain sounds from a white noise app coursing through my earbuds, drowning out last week's actual rain sounds, which were not loud enough on their own to cover the dog's nighttime hacking cough.

Reaching the two week mark I can tell I have finally turned the corner, just a week later than usual. I slept lying down, the first time in five nights. My stomach muscles have returned to their pre-illness lethargy. The tickle has retreated. Still, I can tell it will be most of a week before all symptoms are entirely gone, a personal record. 

I used to think Dennys and flu shots were for old people, forgetting that according to Dennys and doctors I now AM old people. I will be getting the shot from here on, because while it was fun to get a ton of movies watched, they haven't made a movie yet which was worth the demon tickle. Although "Rocky" comes close. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019


I was 22 when she kissed me for the first, and last, time. She was 39, maybe 40, gorgeous, a total stranger. 

This is a true story. 

I had just graduated college with a theatre degree and was spending six weeks at a prominent professional theatre which had a summer acting conservatory. (Folks, I could not GET enough theatre.) So each day I would drive most of an hour, don my tights and recite Shakespeare sonnets in the tiny black box theatre or from the rolling grass hillocks outside the complex.

One day a staffer I had never seen before poked her head in the rehearsal room and called me out of class. Twenty heads went up to watch me go. I did not know what was happening. A death in the family? Egads, and me in tights? 

She explained that actors were auditioning down on the mainstage for the upcoming season's Chekhov play and the guy who normally "read" scenes with the actors was unavailable, so Martin suggested they use me.


He was one of the two co-founders of this famous theatre, and the year before he had actually come to my college a few miles up the road to direct us in a classic piece of Irish drama. Our professor and he were old pals. I played a great part, and got to work with this esteemed professional director.

He kicked our butts. Our young ivory tower-dwelling butts. 

"I didn't believe you. Start over" was something I had never heard before from a director. He made us better. Exponentially better. See above: butt-kicking.

"You're a good actor, George" he said to me once. I was 21, and coming from him, it was heady stuff. That sentence continued with a "but..." but there is no need to elaborate. You and I are busy people, dear reader.

So a year later in Martin's own theater, he had tapped me to help with auditions, something he knew I could learn from, something I would appreciate. Let's be clear—I wasn't auditioning for this professional show, just reading scenes with the "real" actors. 

I played a young man my own age. I acted one scene with ingenues my own age, vivacious and gushing. And I played another scene with middle-aged actresses, auditioning for the part of my mother.

That's when she walked in. I'll call her Emery. Emery Eldridge. Her name was all alliteration, and her long, wavy blonde hair framed a Hollywood-perfect face, which is why I never forgot either. 

It was a scene in which my hand is injured, and the mother is doting, cooing and leaning close and being over-attentive. I had played the scene a few times already. It was a little disturbing, kind of incestuous. Then Emery took it up a notch. She fawned on me, caressed my hand, then leaned in and kissed me right on the lips. Mama!

I was not expecting that.

The director was not expecting that.

I have to think she got the part right on the spot.

See, auditioning requires a different set of techniques than performing the final product. One key goal of an audition, when you are up against so many other talented, beautiful people, is to be memorable. You may do things in an audition you would never do in performance, just for effect. 

Emery had an effect.

My first thought was oh wow, I am getting kissed. She is kissing me. She is effing kissing me right here! This is a good kiss. 

My second thought was, oh crap, she's blocking my script. Do I have the next line? 

I hated to break the moment, but I wanted to be a pro. Didn't want to miss a cue. So I found my place and we finished the scene.

There was small talk between her and the director, the other founder of the theatre, who I had never met before. Another heady moment. Then I did it. I waited for a lull and then went for the laugh.

"Um," I said, "You know...that wasn't quite right for me. Could we do it again?"

I was 22. 

The balls. 

Cracked everybody up. Eventually I went back upstairs to my fellow students with quite a story to tell. Emery did get the part. I never saw the show, so I don't know if they used the kiss. I doubt it. It would have been a bit much, even for Chekhov.

I have thought about her over the years, her memorable name. A few days ago, I went a-googling. I was saddened to see she had died in her late 50s, about 20 years after our moment. No details were given, except that a few years after our scene she had left acting and become a humanitarian, working to help the underprivileged around the world, and the planet itself. Her obit said that her college major, at an Ivy League school, was a double—theatre, yes, but also political science. In the end, she wanted to make a difference.

I checked her acting credits on the Internet Movie Database, and she was in everything in the '70s and '80s, cop shows and mysteries and comedies, in shows which can still be found all over YouTube. 

I watched a scene or two. The writing was not exactly Chekhov. Nobody kissed anybody. Elegantly alliterative names were not noted by impressionable young actors. 

There is a theory of the universe that all things which have ever happened or will happen are still going on, just in a different dimension. That right now, somewhere, Emery is leaning in to kiss me. Right now she is kissing me. Right now her blonde hair is brushing my cheek. Right now I am never forgetting her name.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Charles the Chihuahua's continued shenanigans

Our Charles, the chihuahua, is like most dogs, in that he will eat whatever even remotely appears to be food. I often use soft foam ear plugs at night, then set them on my bedside table. Suddenly they began disappearing. On day one I figured I had knocked one under the bed, as I have done many times. On day two I got suspicious, but not so suspicious that it stuck in my mind, the next morning, to secure the ear plugs after getting out of bed. 

On day three it was clear we have a dog who thinks of the world as his own personal foam mini-marshmallow dispenser. Right about then my wife took off for a few days in San Diego and took Charles with her. Not long after I got the following text: "Good morning! Charles just pooped out three of your earplugs, FYI." 

FYI? lol. TMI. 

She also reported that he barfed one up. I am not sure that is all of them, frankly, but if there is still one swirling around undigested in his stomach or gut, we will likely never know. He is already ancient, and his heart doesn't work right, so he undergoes hourly wheeze sessions which, to a visitor, would give the impression that he was going to keel on the spot. 

Charles does not keel. He and his velvet fur may outlive us all. An earplug will not be his end.

Here is my best guess at Charles' thought process on a given day:

"Oy with the coughing again. 

Where are my mini marshmallows? 

Oh good. My harness and leash for walking. I will circle and circle so George can't get them on me. He is so serious all the time. Somebody needs to lighten him up and it might as well be me. I need to impart my excitement to this good man through circling. He doesn't seem to be getting it. I will circle a few more times. 

This patch of grass is not poop-worthy. Walk on, George. Walk on. I said walk...that's it. Good boy. 

This grass smells like pizza. I do not understand the world.

This dirt. Stop here. This is perfect for pooping. I will circle 700 times until my foot placement is exactly right for hunching. You hunch wrong, the Earth spins off its axis, and it's all on me. One circle, two circles, three...

Why does he pick up my poop with a plastic bag? The spot was perfect. We're just going to have to hit it again tomorrow, George, until you get this right.

You know those soft rubber finger-rests they have now on ball point pens. They are delicious. 


Aaaand we're back on my favorite chair. What is that? A fire engine siren? Wolves activate! Aroooooooooooooooooooooo!

Aaaand everybody's at work now. Let's just see what kind of crumbs are on the computer keyboard. Oh yeah. Oh yes. Thank you, universe. Oh crap, George is coming back in! To the chair!

Close one. Seems like he came back for his lunch bag. O.K. we're golden now. Hey Skipper, I'm gonna need that prime spot in the patch of sunshine. Out!

A little snooze? Don't mind if I do."

I will never understand why dogs find their feet so tasty or why each other's butts are so enticing. And they will, I expect, never understand why a person would stick foam inside himself. There is much yet to learn, people, and so so much to sniff.