Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Hollywood Thanksgiving

As an Actor by name and most often a Stand-In by trade, I learned decades ago that as long as you believe that you ARE the role you’re playing, your performance will come off with complete honesty and an audience will buy it. Take all the classes you like, but if there’s no commitment to the part you’re playing it simply doesn’t matter how much money you spend with acting coaches teaching you to be an oak tree or a slice of sizzling bacon.
“Are you studying with someone?” the very first Director that I ever worked with asked me squarely on the spot.
“Um, no Sir; never took a lesson in my life” I confessed, staring uncomfortably at my gym shoes and waiting to be canned after my first week of employment in Hollywood.
“Well thank God for that” he smiled. “Don’t. Then you won’t screw it up!” he chuckled, patting me on the back, his Italian tasseled loafers carrying him away to his directorial podium.
In hindsight, that was probably the best advice I’ve ever been given in my career. Standing-in for multitudes of characters over the decades, as long as I honestly believed it, so did everybody else!
Well, with one slight exception: Having rehearsed a scene all day with my ADs and PAs for back-up a few times as we stormed into a restaurant as ‘an Angry Mob of People’, I suddenly found myself waiting alone outside the main door of the set while every other crew member was tending to their regular jobs for a Network Run-Thru.
But mustering up the proper amount of fury and blasting through the entrance on cue all by myself as ‘an Angry Mob of People’ I raised a resolute fist in the air and shouted the only word that happened to occur to me:
OK, so, not my finest moment…
But darn it, I BELIEVED I was ‘an Angry Mob of People’!
(And rather rewarding to hear the laughter of the writers and producers who were trying desperately hard to believe it too!)
Reassuring my heroic feline sidekick Pretty that I had to get up early for work (untrue), I set the alarm clock, went to bed on time and took a shower in the morning. Drying my hair, applying make-up and squirting on some perfume, I almost believed the lie myself.
But scooping up my cat in her relaxed trusting snooze, stuffing her into a crate and motoring boldly to the veterinarian for her tooth extractions, I realized that the brave face I had put on was even less convincing than my absurd one-woman performance as ‘an Angry Mob of People’…
“Where’s Pretty?” a technician called out, stopping to pat the head of a mangy-looking dog with cataracts that was currently urinating on the floor.
“Um, over here” I squeaked, (momentarily distracted by an odd random thought that should Disney or Pixar ever need someone to do voice-overs for an animated spineless jellyfish, I’m their gal!)
But mustering up a pant-load of courage before handing over the carrier, I took a deep breath and looked at the technician squarely in the eye: “You WILL take good care of her” I stipulated in a low voice with a raised eyebrow, “and I’ll tolerate nothing less.”
“Yes of course” he replied meekly, an intimidated audience of one, succumbing to my less than perfect (yet still apparently effective!) impersonation of Sean Connery.
Retrieving my heroic feline sidekick (minus five teeth that they creepily gave me in a plastic baggie as souvenirs – EEK!) I curled up with Pretty as she napped on a blanket.
Yes, The Universe was almost beginning to make sense again when the telephone rang.
“Package from UPS” the driver announced as I buzzed him through the security gate. “It’s kind of heavy” he added, handing me the monster box after I opened the door.
“The calla lilies are in bloom again!” I swooned ala Katherine Hepburn.
“Hunh?” the delivery guy responded waiting patiently for a signature.
“Sorry, this is my new TiVo Premiere” I shook my head, scribbling my name on a computerized tablet.
“Well then your world just got a whole lot better, didn’t it?” he laughed, casually walking back to his truck. (Oh, the irony!)
Gingerly unwrapping the World’s Greatest Technological Advance in the History of All Mankind Whatever Was Ever Created, I stepped outside the realm of my normal acting abilities to channel a completely different persona. Yes, this performance would require an entirely different skill set…
And in the blink of an eye, I became what my friend Mike Taylor – a professional Hollywood Electrician – refers to as a “Juicer”.
Dust bunnies be damned (although they were more like a tufted colony about to unionize and kill me in my sleep), I dug in and got my hands dirty. And once the path had been cleared, all that was left was to hook up the proper cables. “This goes here, that fits there, this is input and that one’s output. All that’s to be done now is to plug it in!” I beamed to my dentally-challenged kitty (whose face currently bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker”).
And humming Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” whilst dancing a minuet in my socks in the kitchen, I threw my arms in the air in gratitude as my coneless companion feasted on a saucer of milk, and my TiVo Premiere recorded TWO SHOWS at the SAME TIME, while I was paused on, and watching ANOTHER ONE!!!
Wishing you all the true meaning of a Thanksgiving, whatever you believe it to be,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Looking For That Finish Line!

Working in the television entertainment industry is always a bit of a gamble. Will I get a pilot? Will the pilot go to series? Will the Network order more episodes?
Feeling like I hit the Trifecta on my current show and knowing that I’ll be gainfully employed well into next year, I expected nothing more than the equivalent of a relaxing pony ride in the park during my current hiatus.
Instead, I found myself to be the lagging nag in a six week race for the money…
A major part of working in Hollywood is anticipating the unexpected and socking away some spare cash for the random weeks of unemployment. Crew members come and go from show to show, locations change from studio to studio and while one might occasionally pine for the stability of an office job and the constant reassurance of a paycheck, I learned long ago that this little Trotter (me) simply can’t compete with dedicated desk jockeys. I admire and respect them and acknowledge that they are lengths ahead of me in the race, but as my friend Ellen so aptly stated the other day, “Yes Penny, you could be pulling in $200,000.00 in a different career, but you’d be spending at least $100,000.00 on therapy.”
Good point!
Meanwhile, having spent an entire afternoon whinnying and kicking up my hooves obstinately in my stable whilst trying to unfreeze my TiVo, unplugging and re-plugging, swatting away icky dust bunnies, chatting online with a representative and eventually ordering a new unit from the TiVo people, I chomped at the bit knowing that the ETA of the new DVR would be arriving in three to five business days.
“And the supposed benefits of this upgraded box I’m receiving as a loyal customer is what?” I pawed at the floor, aggravated at the inconvenience of having to shell out my hard-earned hay.
“Well, you’ll have complete compatibility with High Def recording should you eventually choose to upgrade your analog television set; and while you currently have/had 40 hours of storage, with the new unit you’ll have 450 hours of storage.”
“Whoa!” I think I heard myself mutter stupidly, followed immediately by the noisy scrounging around for my nearest available credit card.
But neighing at my sudden inability after six years to pause or fast forward through annoying advertisements on TV, I was flat out ready for the glue factory. The career that will ultimately pay my pension in old age at the stud farm was driving me bat-sh*t crazy…
“How many millions of times do I have to sit through the same stupid commercials over and over?!” I snorted to my feline sidekick Pretty (whom with a plastic cone still strapped on her head and an abscess tooth had absolutely no pity.)
I suppose I was still reining in some pent up frustration when I finally settled in to watch my favorite Thursday night CBS television line-up. And while I’ve never personally worked on any of the shows, I couldn’t help but cheer for the on-screen credits of my friends!
What I hadn’t anticipated however, was my complete inability to coordinate my personal timing with live airings on television…
Now if you’re comfortably seated, the commercials seem to linger for EONS – “Buy this!” “Eat this!” “Drive this!” “Take this pill!” “No, take THIS pill!” “Shop here!” “Buy this!” “Shop here!” “Take this pill!” “Don’t drive that, drive this!” “No, take THIS pill!” all of which after six years of having TiVo had become a blessed fast-forward blur.
But reconciled to suffering through the countless ads I attempted to adapt myself.
Seriously, how difficult could a simple hiccup in my TV viewing be?
Sauntering into the kitchen for an evening cocktail and finding the ice bin low, I emptied two trays, filled them with water, placed them in the freezer and poured a drink. Meanwhile, meandering back to the TV I discovered that the first third of “The Big Bang Theory” was already over.
What the…?
Vowing to make better use of one of the next commercial interruptions, I ran like a race horse for a bathroom break, realized I hadn’t yet washed my face for the night and by the time I had cleansed and moisturized, I ended up missing the middle third of “Bleep My Dad Says”.
What the…?
Not surprisingly, by the time “CSI” and “The Mentalist” rolled around I had (necessarily) emptied the kitty litter box, poured another cocktail, and spent five minutes (times three!) gently holding saucers of milk under my coned feline companion’s chin who after two weeks still hasn’t become accustomed to her big-headed parameters.
And it seemed that every time I finally made it back to the television, all that was airing for the next gazillion minutes was the constant “Buy this!” “Eat this!” “Drive this!” “Take this pill!” “No, take THIS pill!” “Shop here!” “Buy this!” “Shop here!” “Take this pill!” “Don’t drive that, drive this!” “No, take THIS pill!” stuff.
Say it with me, “What the…?”
As I no longer have a cable guide until the new unit arrives, I’m currently being held hostage by the only three channels I know, i.e. CBS, TNT and USA…
But betting on the long shots, my heroic feline will have her dental work done in the morning, my TiVo will arrive tomorrow as well, and aside from flicking away icky dust bunnies, hopefully my corner of the world will begin to make sense again.
With love and gratitude to all who have been checking in,

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fighting the Good Fight

Ding, Ding, Ding!
“In this corner, weighing in at 123 pounds (on a good day!), wearing blue and white striped boxers and a t-shirt from a television show that she worked on but was cancelled two years ago, give it up for our challenger, ‘Penny the Preposterous!’”  *insert polite smattering of ringside applause*
“And in this corner, weighing in at five pounds and eleven ounces, let’s hear it for our reigning Champion, ‘Pretty the Punisher!’”  *insert raucous uproar*
“Letttt’s get readddy to rummmble!!!”
Round One:
Trying to stuff a resistant cat into a travel carrier is kind of like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Four legs dart out in protest, and just when you think you’ve got a handle on the situation, another arm or leg shoots out of nowhere and firmly blocks any progress you’ve made in the last twenty minutes.  But with a bit of luck, you occasionally manage to succeed…
“You’ll have to wait since you’re a walk-in. Next time you might want to make an appointment” the friendly receptionist recommended who clearly never battled the indefinite time-consuming challenge of attempting to confine a feline in a box.
“Thanks for that.”
Round Two:
“Seriously, it’s not that hard” the completely androgynous technician attempted to assist me in the proper manner of squirting antibiotics into the back of my cat’s throat.  “It helps if you have someone else to hold her down – I have cats too – but basically just put the plunger in her cheek, then aim it backward. OK?”
“OK” I responded, my head spinning and pea-brain quite unclear as to whether or not my response should be politely qualified with a “Maam” or a “Sir”.
“Here’s Pretty!” the technician added, handing over the carrier, my wide-eyed companion mad as hell and eye-balling me like the devil for allowing heathens to strap a plastic cone on her head.
“Thanks for that.”
Round Three:
Underestimating my actual fighting strength and stamina, I fearfully cocooned my kitty in a hefty throw blanket, managed to hold her relatively tightly in a bear hug, and with one lightening fast maneuver squirted a complete dose of antibiotics down her gullet.
Ding, Ding, Ding!
“Ha!” I shouted triumphantly to the invisible ringside crowd, bobbing and weaving as my worthy opponent headed to her respective corner of the bed.
“AAH!” I screamed two seconds later, rushing to the bathroom to sterilize the eight bloody claw marks drizzling in a red river down my left arm.
Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that Round Four consisted of some frightfully scary side effects of the antibiotics (which involved lots of spot cleaning of carpeting, if you get my drift), Round Five included a few panicky calls to one Rock Star Ex-Boyfriend should worst come to worst, and Round Six required yet another trip to the vet -- wherein my worthy opponent weaseled out of her headgear before I got her into the carrier; but was given a two week injection and a brand new cone tied with a lovely gauze bow.
For now, I’m calling this match a draw. There was no TKO, and Pretty’s still got a lot of fight in her!
With gloves off and fingers crossed,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Scariest Halloween...

I’d considered attempting to suck the snot out of my congested kitty’s face with a toddler’s aspirator, but despite her subtle disguise as a mild-mannered domesticated companion I had no assurances that I wouldn’t wind up clawed to death in horrific disfigurement and left to bleed out on the carpet…  
Los Angeles had been cleansed by rain for a week, blown free of smog with high winds, and with what I can only describe as observing my beloved city in High-Def outside the window, my heroic feline sidekick Pretty and I wheezed, snorted and took turns wiping gunk out of our eyes.
“I’b gunda take ah allergy pill” I sniffled, rationing Claritin on a ‘need to nose’ basis as an unpleasant stream of mucus began making its un-lady-like descent from my right nostril.
“Fhewt” Pretty responded, a significantly more elegant sneeze.
My high holy holiday of Halloween was almost upon us, and heading out the door to shop on my “black Wednesday” (aka when all manner of spooky decorations are 50% off!), I was disappointed to see all the best items picked over or gone. Cheery green and red Christmas items already lined the shelves of my local Target, seasonal carols played over the intercom and any hopes I had of replacing my dancing skeleton bath towels was out of the question. “This isn’t going to be much of a Halloween” I sighed, heading back to my car empty-handed.
>>>Friday, Oct. 29<<<
Having mastered the fine art of sleeping ‘til noon on hiatus, I accidentally woke up at 9:30am being stared down by a feline version of Frankenstein’s “Igor”.
With one chipmunk-like puff of a cheek above her right whiskers making her squint unpleasantly, her normal left eye suddenly looked like a bulging Marty Feldman orb in comparison. “What happened to you?” I worried, trying to get a closer look at my cat’s face who immediately became Houdini in her brilliant ability to escape any kind of lingering restraints.
But remembering my friend Ellen’s advice a few years ago when dealing with anxiety, I took the emotion out of the moment, procured Pretty’s travel carrier from storage, and cleaned it with meticulous care should I need to escort her to the veterinarian. The logic made sense. I had adopted my kitty 15 years ago to the day. And at the grown up age of 44, I did what any grown up woman would do.
 I called my Mommy!
“I’ve been staring at Pretty for the last two hours. She’s napping on the bed, she doesn’t seem to be in any pain and she purrs when I pet her. It almost looks like a paper cut on her cheek, and I’ve been reading a couple of books lately, and she wipes her face on the pages when she wants attention, and, and, and…” I blathered on frantically. “What do I do?!”
Having raised two daughters and a handful of household pets, my Mother’s cooler head prevailed. “Cats are smart when it comes to such things. They tend to take care of themselves. Just keep an eye on her, and I’ll call you tomorrow to check in.”
And keep an eye on her I did.
Whilst I have no official proof of such vigilance, I’m relatively sure that I clocked in approximately 36 hours of doing nothing more than staring at my unusually lethargic sleeping feline sidekick for two days…
>>>Sunday, Oct. 31<<<
“Happy Hallowhat the hell…?” I bolted upright, spying the blood on the linens and Pretty looming ominously over my head, a small chunk of fur and chipmunk face clawed out and missing from her right cheek.
“Mowww!” she greeted me brightly, green eyes shining, a normal wet nose running down the length of my arm that had sufficed as an adequate substitute for an overnight pillow. “Mrrrowoww” she continued affectionately pawing my shoulder, an effective albeit transparent craftiness in which to hopefully obtain a saucer of the Great White Nectar (milk). “Nowww” she demanded, taking long stretching strides to the foot of the bed.
And granting her wish of a bit of cow juice, I threw away the older sheets (ironically I’d ordered a new set the night before online) and replacing the linens, Pretty embraced her kittenish favorite games of ‘Bed-Surfing’ (sliding along the top of the slick duvet), ‘Where’s the Kitty?’ (purring in a curled-up ball under the fitted sheet), and ‘Cat-Bat-Napped!’ (where she realizes she’s pinned underneath everything and uses echolocation to find the closest corner out of which to escape and land triumphantly on top!)
Yes her Spirit was back, but half of her face was missing, and I was still a basket case.
“Leave her be. She’ll keep it clean with kitty spit” my Mother calmly reassured me.
Banking approximately 48 more hours of staring at my heroic feline sidekick, I’m relatively convinced that she’ll be just fine.
Sure she’s occasionally annoyed that my constant silent eye-balling her while she sleeps seems to be somehow louder than a helicopter flying overhead and wakes her up intermittently, but hey, that’s the price she’s gotta pay for scaring the crap out of me on Halloween!
Exhausted, (still staring!) but with utmost respect and admiration for those of you known as an actual real Mom,
p.s. Special thanks to ‘Delirious’, and my friend Cyn for holding my email-hand this week!