Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can't Touch This!

Unable to shake the Ass-Magnet following me and Cecilia (my car) up and over the canyon, unable to see his headlights behind us as the hyper driver attempted to jam his hood ornament into our collective tailpipe, and also unable to pull aside on a winding single lane road, Cecilia did as any self-respecting annoyed automobile in Los Angeles would do, and slooowwwed waaayyy dooowwn just to intentionally piss him off.
And angling into the right lane as the canyon became two paths at the red stop light at top of the mountain, I hummed an impromptu little tune that I like to call “Please Don’t Have a Gun in your Glove-Box!”; carefully ignoring the overly-caffeinated, aggressive fist-pumping, clearly-late-for-work, hate-monger in the (likely) bullet-proof SUV to our left.
Sure it was a potentially dangerous and ridiculously childish act of passive/aggressive behavior on Cecilia’s part, for which (in the moment) I had absolutely no explanation.  After all, she’s generally a rather forgiving car, respectful and courteous as much as possible, and always more than happy to believe that the Gutter Snake that cut us off in traffic was suffering from an acute bout of ‘karmic’ diarrhea and found him or herself in desperate need of reaching a bathroom.  (The Germans call it “Schadenfreude”.  I, um, that is, Cecilia calls it “Polite Indiana Upbringing Justification for someone behaving like a Tool”.)  
But waiting in heated anticipation for the green light at the Mulholland Raceway down to The Valley, and much like an ankle-nipping Chihuahua convinced that she can out-bite a pit-bull; Cecilia revved her engine menacingly…
Ooh, the moment was intense!
Ooh, the light was forever red!
Ooh, I think I bit a knuckle. (Ow!)
Whilst I don’t recall whistling for him, there he appeared anyway; another High Horse from my stable, a reticent gelding named Temperance, hoof firmly clamped on Cecilia’s brake pedal.
And as the light turned green, Belligerent SUV Guy barreled passed all three of us in a blur; a cramped trio of me, a tiny albeit feisty Toyota with a mind of her own, and one protective pony at the helm.  (In hindsight, I was rather glad to find myself clip-clopping down the canyon straddled atop Temperance.  After all, the last thing Cecilia needs is more ‘street attitude’ from sporting a bullet hole in one of her door panels like a badge of courage…)
“So the Wardrobe Department ladies were all very nice, but also very specific that I bring formal black pants, a white shirt and not just black shoes, but lace-up dressy black shoes” my fellow Stand-in Brian shared, having been unwittingly recruited to be a Background Performer the next day.
“What are they asking you to do?” my friend Dev and I wondered as we all headed to the parking structure.
“Just cross camera behind the actor in the restaurant when he’s on the phone” Brian shrugged good-naturedly.
“Like they’re even going to SEE your shoes?” I scoffed (a big fat dose of Cecilia’s spunk at standing up for the underdogs apparently having brushed off on me).  And just about to hop on the nearest soap box to orate at length my discontent with self-important Tools assuaging their insecurities by taking advantage of ‘the little people’, I felt the gentle nuzzle of Temperance by my side, encouraging me to shut-the-f-up, hop onto the saddle and clip-clop as quietly as possible into the elevator. 
(I know – it’s amazing that all of my High Horses can fit into such tiny structures!)
Waiting for the actual shooting scripts to come down to the stage the next morning, I retrieved the previous day’s pages and fumbled for a pencil in my bag.
“Happy Thursday!” one of my pleasant crew members smiled, plopping down in a Directors chair with a plate full of breakfast stuff.  “Do you have your notes?” he asked eyeing my script.  “What notes do you even take?” he furrowed his brow, shaking his head, seemingly shocked that I do anything more at work in his presence than move from one piece of tape on the floor to another.
And just like that, there I stood; me as Self-Important SUV Guy, me as Self-Important Hollywood Department, and me as Self-Important Almighty Stand-In; all rolled into to One Very Defensive Red-Headed Tool.
“Well, there’s the blocking of course, where my lovely Actress moves on stage” I started slowly, in case the monkey with the banana in his paw was having difficulty keeping up.  “Then there are subtle notes – is she throwing one line over her shoulder for example, that affects the Audience Switcher?” I continued gently.  "Then there’s the Lighting Department’s concerns as to whether my Actress is being shadowed or shadowing another actor on camera in which case we need to adjust positions or the DP will remind us that “without lighting, it’s radio”” I added respectfully; “and naturally I have specific notes on which props are important camera-wise (and for Network approval), as well as the most significant notes from the Director” I concluded, ending the kindergarten tutorial of why my humble occupation might deserve at least one tiny ounce of respect.
“Huh.  Who knew you guys interact with so many departments?” he mused, wandering off for a plate of bacon and some face time with his I-Thing.
But six hours later (on the rarest of rare occasions!), my actress signed out on a camera-blocking day at 2:10pm.  And with my AD Diddy’s initials on my voucher releasing me from work I gleefully ordered a pizza to-go from a local Valley eatery.
Smiling at a group of “ladies who lunch” that were laughing and enjoying cups of gelato outside the dessert shop next door to the Italian restaurant, I maneuvered Cecilia to a vacant area half-way on the sidewalk so as not to block in anyone.  And darting in to grab the greasy box of cheesy heaven that would likely feed me for the entire weekend, I returned to my car door only to be verbally assaulted by one of the ‘ladies’.
“Excuse me!  Excuse me!” she shouted, Botox-lips licking her spoon and moving her enormous Jackie O sunglasses from her face onto her well-coifed head.  “I’ve had to wait FIVE minutes for you to move your, your TOYOTA” she yammered disdainfully, “so I can finally get out!” she ranted, pointing furiously at her Lexus.  “That’s SERIOUSLY RUDE of you!” she wailed, crocodile tears imminent if I didn’t react quickly.
“I’m so sorry!” I apologized honestly.
“Well…!  OK then!” she bellowed (potentially late for a terribly critical mani-pedi at a nearby nail salon???), leaning back against her bumper in a well-rehearsed pout, comforting herself with a couple more spoonfuls of gelato.  
Dear Diary,
I’ve learned some crucial life lessons this week and for that I am most grateful.
#1.  The primal human urge to justify our existence in the world is quite powerful; a ‘matter’ of proving our “Matter” in The Universe.
#2.  The importance of feeling self-important is illusory – no one else is looking in the same reflective mirror as you.
#3.  Toyota is the parent company of Lexus.
Cheers to the underdogs,
~MC (P), aka “The Hammer”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Prince Charming and What's-Her-Name (A Love Story)

Like a dramatic scene from An Affair to Remember, he glanced across the street and all I could say was “Hello.” 
Taking a step forward then back as he almost became unfortunate golf-cart road-pizza in the midway at the studio, we eventually made our way (in slow motion) to a reminiscent hug/double-cheek-face-kiss. 
“How are you Darling?” he wrapped an affectionate arm around me, the smell of his leather jacket so familiar, even after over a year apart from working together on a painfully tedious show that brought a unique closeness to the cast and crew during brutal 14 hour days.  (Now, not to prick you with a thorn in the rose of my potentially beautiful cinematic moment, but seriously, fourteen hour days on a multi-camera Sit-com?)
Nevertheless, we had bonded together there; and even with the passage of time I was certain that despite his proper English upbringing, our reunion would be a teary one regarding the forbidden romance that might have been were he not my Director.  And flashing back to sentimental moments of loaning him my lighter (our hands touched at least TWICE during those six months!) and exchanging a most proper British hug at the wrap party (“Sorry, I probably smell like beer and stale cigarettes” he had said apologetically (oh, the blatant seduction!)), I gazed into his big brown doe eyes on this day, in this new year, awaiting the heartfelt words that he could finally, openly, express to me now that we were no longer co-workers.
“That was nearly a frightful recreation from the horror film Final Destination” he shuddered as the golf cart sped away.
(Okay.  So perhaps it wasn’t the most romantic opening line I’d ever heard…)  
“So what are you working on, Luv?” he asked good-naturedly, my lil heart leaping at his recollection of the secret nickname he had called me for half a year on camera (a subtle yet undeniable declaration of his undying passion for me) that he happened to occasionally use on other people in order to throw off the scent of anyone who might become suspicious of his actual feelings.  And sharing the happiness at the success of my current show and the likely longevity of the series, he embraced me once again.  (!!!)  “Well, I’d best be heading back on stage before they start looking for me, but I hope to see you this week Luv!” he smiled.  (Incorrigible!)
Oblivious to the whereabouts of my future fiancé (who may or may not have entered the Men’s Restroom), I lingered outside the stage door busily familiarizing myself with the names of our guest cast on the call sheet when I heard the distinctly familiar English accent shouting out to me. 
“Good morning Penny” he waved cheerily, as I looked up in utter surprise.
“Good morning” I beamed; chin-to–shoulder like a schoolgirl.
“Have a brilliant day Penny!” he added, buttoning his statement with two thumbs up.
(Oh, the implications spoke volumes!)
Clearly other people on the studio lot had deciphered our secret code, and the only obvious choice he could make was to call me by my first name so as to seem more credible as a Director.  (After all, digging through countless lists of crew members would hardly look professional had he deigned to have to “pretend” to “re-discover” my first name!)
And whilst I couldn’t quite place a Cary Grant film in which that particularly charming English actor enthusiastically gave his leading lady a hearty ‘thumbs up’, I was certain that the conveyance was yet a further silent declaration of our unspoken bond.
But as many of the fabulous love stories in Hollywood tend to end tragically, alas, so did mine with my beloved Englishman.  (Thankfully, no golf carts were involved.)
Engaged in casual conversation with my ‘future ex-husband’ and two of my co-workers the next day, we chatted for an eternity (or a few minutes) and eventually parted ways amiably at the end of a lunch break, the last tryst we would share until our paths will hopefully cross again.
Sure the differences in our ages would forever be an issue (he’s nearly a decade younger than me), he’s easily mistaken for an actor (or an underwear model), and whilst my ‘on-lot-cred’ may have leapt exponentially in the eyes of female Executives motoring about the studio eyeballing the handsome Brit talking to me, I had to accept the inevitable fact that he would always be a Director courting other shows…
And walking into the Ladies Room, I sighed a melancholy sigh.  (Is there any other kind?) 
But as I’m no longer one who indulges in the misfortunes randomly doled out by The Universe, I courageously faced the world ala the disabled Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, resigned to sacrifice my selfish desires for the greater good.  And taking to heart the joy of seeing my own long lost love, I vowed to cherish the moment of our last encounter and smiled bravely at the mirror – a powerful image that would stay with me for an eternity…
Not unlike the dazzling engagement ring on Kate Middleton’s finger, the chunk of oregano from my garlic bread and meatball lunch glistened brightly, an extraordinarily magnificent leaf perfectly latched securely onto the front of my left tooth.
Stalking you all with love this Valentine's Day,
~Princess P

Thursday, February 3, 2011

pièce de résistance

“Je m’appelle… Monique.  Repetez!” my High School French teacher Monsieur Kline (the Maurice Chevalier of northern Indiana) instructed me theatrically in the proper pronunciation of how to repeat the sentence “My name is Penny” en Francaise. 
“Je m’appelle Monique” I ‘repetez-ed’ obediently.
Now while I may not have been destined to be the next Madame Curie, neither was I intending to become the Madam of the local ‘bunny ranch’ in the 9th grade.  (I mean seriously, in just what Provence does “Penny” translate into “Monique”?) 
“Je m’appelle… Raoul.  Repetez!” he renamed my annoyed friend RJ.  “Je m’appelle… Brigitte.  Repetez!”  he continued.  “Je m’appelle… Chauntelle?” he paused, most unaccustomed to facing anyone of actual French descent.
“Oui!  Je m’appelle Chauntelle!” she smiled brightly.
Suddenly swathed in purple and green robes, checking my dramatic eyeliner in the mirror and continuing my on-going battle with my husband Maurice, father to my daughter Samantha and Gran papa to Tabitha; I magically turned ‘Derwood’  into a warty toad with a flick of my wrist.
(It seemed the right thing to do at the time.)
However, bolting upright, flourishing an arm and announcing “Je m’appelle… Endora! in my bed, I reconsidered my previously enthusiastic choice of an evening of cocktails and a marathon of “Bewitched” television re-runs…
Of course the dream meant nothing to me at the crack of noon on a hiatus week.  Most likely, the trip down memory lane had been induced by one of the television shows that I cherished in my youth and my subconscious had simply selected a random event (one Maurice to another) from my past, corresponding to a more innocent time in life. 
But why all the drama?
And then the realization hit me:  I had already read our script for this week and upon scanning the cast list, I was delighted to see the name of our Guest Star, yet another iconic and beloved character from a hit Sit-com (1982-1993).
And like a flashback in High-Def and Smell-O-Vision, there was no need for a translator:
He couldn’t help it; he didn’t mean to contract it, but there the four of us sat in our shared condo at Indiana University on a Thursday night; and while we weren’t so much bothered by one roommate’s crack-like addiction to watching the aforementioned TV show, three of us germ-a-phobic wimps cowered in the presence of the tallest yet scrawniest of our bunch.  
A raging case of Pink Eye had suddenly empowered Drew into a rare valiant attempt to take control over all communal living areas:  and feeling defenseless against the foreign virus until Drew’s antibiotics kicked in, three of us found ourselves succumbing (albeit reluctantly) to all of his demands.
“I will turn this button on with my eye!” he threatened us, stuffing a $0.99 chicken-pot-pie into the microwave and declaring 60 seconds of nuking his first right over RJ’s leftover pizza.
“I will wipe my eye on the kitchen towels!” his reign of terror continued the next day, should Jeanette and I not tend to “the proper women’s work” of cleaning his leftover dishes in the sink.
And in a brilliantly executed coup d’état, we, ‘The Three Musketeers’ banished the tyranny of “King ‘Pink Eye’ Drew” with a revolutionary spray assault of Lysol Disinfectant. (True story!)  
Although satisfied with my expert dream analysis, there still lingered the uneasiness of greeting our Guest Star on Monday. 
Should I maintain a low profile and speak only if spoken to? 
Could I dare to introduce myself and mention that I’ve enjoyed his comedic talents over the years? 
Oh crap, what if I accidentally “Ethel Mertzed” (my verb) the poor unsuspecting fellow and despite his notoriously quirky sense of humor, spewed an unintelligible narration of hosing down his Biggest-Fan-in-the-Whole-Wide-World-Whoever-Lived with approximately 50 ounces of antiseptic?  Would he deem me a certifiable nut-case and have me hauled off the lot by Security, never to work in show business again, establishing a life-long restraining order barring me from ever interacting with iconic celebrities in fear of their lives being “Ethel Mertzed”???
It was a “now or never” moment.
Rising from my chair I extended a hand pleasantly.  “Hi.  We haven’t met yet.  My name is Penny” I introduced myself professionally as my co-worker Dev did the same.
“Nice to meet you both, I’m John” he responded cordially.
“So are you nervous about handling the animals?” Dev (forever cool as a cucumber while I was busy biting my tongue) casually inquired with regard to the macaw and python that John would be interacting with for the week.
“Nah, just glad I’m not doing a scene with a raccoon.  Now those are NASTY creatures!  Hey, did you know they can kill a dog?  Seriously, here’s a true story…” he continued, launching into a lengthy circuitous tale; the likes of which (true or fabricated, I’ll never know) eclipsed any recollections of a scrawny pink-eyed fallen dictator lying on the floor grasping at an inedible Lysol-covered chicken-pot-pie.
And that’s saying something!
As you’ve likely surmised by now, any fleeting feelings of anxiety I had experienced went by the wayside, and by Thursday I felt only the warmest of camaraderie that naturally develops amongst a happy cast and crew.  And frankly, if the only story I would ever tell about meeting our Guest Star involved a rabid raccoon and an Akita, then my life experience was still that much richer.
“PENNY!” my AD shouted, catching me off-guard backstage with a pair of tongs reaching for a brownie.  And scurrying to his side, he asked me if I was good to go in Scene L, as he wanted to keep my lovely actress in the Hair/Make-up room for another ten minutes.
“Yep, got it, copy that” I replied, flipping through my script for a quick glance at her/my dialogue.
And oui, mes amis, today I had the distinct honor of performing (even if only as a Stand-in) with one more of my Hollywood heroes!
Cheers, and ratatouille to all,
~ “Monique”