Unwittingly recruited into participating in the Special Forces Black Ops (my battle-scars from years ago not entirely healed), and less than quasi-comfortable with the idea of returning to the front line, I accepted the patriotic duty placed upon my weary shoulders and geared up for the mission at hand that would ultimately take me once again well out of my comfort zone…
But owing the patriotic regime of young recruits standing boldly by my side for thirty episodes of our Sit-Com I eyed the cross-hairs on the ‘site’, poised my finger gently on the trigger, and with a lung-throbbing exhale sniped the RSVP “yes” box for attending our Season One wrap party.
Plopping down on the bed the night before the festivities with maps of the world on my computer (a coping tool I often use when having to traverse more than five miles deep into the Valley), and consulting my highest-ranking most trusted confidant, we put our heads together in an effort to plot the perfect stratagem:
Task #1: Arrive at work in the morning in normal attire despite complete exhaustion from shooting five episodes in a row of our Sit-Com. Critical note - maintain sunny disposition. Check!
Strategically, this was the simplest part of our tactical planning, as having a limited number of scenes and no more pre-shoots for our final show, there was no critical need to conspiratorially whisk away my lovely Actress into the Hair/Make-Up ‘Head Quarters’ prior to the audience arrival.
Task #2: Remember that “an army travels on its stomach” – i.e. procure food from final catered meal at 2:30pm with which to take home, feast, and most importantly, feed kitty sampling of “people food” in humble pagan ritual so as not to incur the wrath of feline contempt for staying out on a late-night mission (the corporeal punishment for which is usually the one-step-too-late discovery of a carefully deposited ‘land mine’ on carpet or bedding).
Again, strategically, the thought process was infallible on paper, but what I hadn’t counted on was the rapidity with which our well-organized troops completed the camera-refresh day, and my dismissal from work an hour early. And slinking home empty handed, I surreptitiously snuck in the door of my humble bat-cave, only to be immediately stared down by the oppressive glare of my feline sidekick Pretty (aka my high-ranking strategic planner), standing guard, rowrring cheetah-esque and licking her lips in anticipation of the usual Friday fare of salmon, whitefish or cod.
But I was a soldier! Brave! Fearless! Adaptable!
And resorting to Plan B, I did as any proper operative would do under duress:
Task #3 (Plan B): Take a nap!
Snoozing most contentedly under the gentle breeze of the air conditioner on a warm afternoon in Los Angeles, my feline companion tucked neatly into the crook of my arm (snoring like a cantankerous Longshoreman); my mind quietly prepared for battle.
Task #4: Select appropriate ninja wardrobe for combat.
Hmm… Black tee-shirt? Check!
Task #5: Await sundown, then prepare to greet the enemy…
Arriving to the gala of our TV show’s wrap party around 9:30pm in an armored tank (OK, my friends Lori and Tim's Honda) I surveyed the territory, checked in as mandated with all proper identification and smiling at the ‘generous’ gift of two free drink tickets stealthily made my way towards the bar. The hi-def screens overhead offered a slide-show of all the hard-workers behind the scenes, a well-intended collage of the below-the-line crew, intermixed with an odd collection of high-ranking officials feasting on designer cakes somewhere in the need-to-know-only base of the Producer’s HQ.
And scanning the power point presentation for at least one recognizable person from my humble department of Stand-ins, I was actually saddened to see that not even ONE of us had been included in the array…
Newly Motivated Task #6: Deploy first strike.
Recoiling at the shrill initial Call-To-Arms I lingered behind the troops, taking the time to pluck a few dastardly pieces of mint leaves off my teeth from the unfortunate choice of indulging in a vodka mojito. (After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Federal Agent friend “Rose”, you never rush into a potentially dangerous situation; and number two (that I’ve learned from working in television), try to avoid at all costs having creepy leafy green things lodged in your dental work.)
Ultimate Task #7: TAKE NO PRISONERS.
Having chewed my way through a second mojito like a billy goat on a fresh lawn, I spat some foliage into a napkin, tossed it aside and hitching my pants up ala Barney Fife, confidently made my way into the Briefing Room.
And there, crouched malevolently in the dark, with an eerie ruby spotlight overhead which sharpened only half of the indiscernible features, the enemy clad in black looked up at me with glowing eyes as crimson as the devil incarnate.
“Hey…?” I offered cowardly, gently stepping closer to re-con the assessment of danger, only to find myself gripped in a frighteningly powerful maternal hug by our reflectively-bespectacled, mild-mannered Unitarian church-going on-set teacher whose violent tendencies throughout the season appeared to be limited to wielding a dull needle whilst cross-stitching avian themed throw pillows.
“Hey!” I hugged her back (knowing full well that in the trenches of laser tag war, her ass was mine!).
“WOOOOO!!!” the men scurried in, high-fiving each other, claiming seats under various lights and cheering testosterone-astically.
“WOOOOO!!!” the female corps followed seconds later, bursting in estrogen-astically.
“WOOOOO- EEK!!!” I chimed in terrified-astically.
“So who hasn’t played laser tag before?” the bubbly Game Master girl inquired as I slowly raised a solo tentative hand. (Leave it to the Unitarian to sit quietly and sacrifice me to the lions.) “Well, then I’m required to start from the beginning!” she began again cheerily, much to the groaning chagrin of all the previous hard-core players who had already suffered through the safety speech three or four times. “Sooo, what’s your name?” our hostess wanted to know.
“Penny” I whispered, hoping to maintain some secrecy with regard to my Covert Op.
“Let’s welcome Penny!” the Game Master cheered enthusiastically, encouraging everyone to bring me into the fold with thunderous applause. (Bloody hell!)
Yet convinced that I could still pull off the mission successfully, and ready to arm myself for battle, I steeled my nerves and hoped beyond hope that sitting under the golden light bulb of “Team Yellow” (yeah, that’s a name that clearly arouses fear), no one else would be able to discern just which shade of pink embarrassment my cheeks were sporting.
Unfortunately however, the mortification didn’t end there, as the hero of our Sit-Com suddenly felt the need to share my full name with his all of his family. “No, seriously guys, that’s her real name!” he laughed. “How cool is that?!” he continued, fist-bumping his brothers as my face effectively achieved government level Code Red.
During what had seemed like the longest twelve minutes of my life in a black-lit labyrinth, I shot the embroidery bird-lady repeatedly (who merely cowered in a corner and refused to budge); jumped up and down every time I heard my vest announce “Target Acquired!” (not realizing that I was the one who had been “acquired”); and bolting out the door at the buzzer to check my brilliant stats on the monitor, scanned for my super secret code name “VORTEX”.
Alas, Team Yellow came in last; alas my official rank was #27 (of 30?) and a final alas that for what should have been a moderate exercise in adrenaline, cunning and guile, a non-military-trained bead of minty mojito perspiration seemed to be meandering its way down my tee-shirt, pooling most unpleasantly in the small of my back.
But climbing into the armored tank (OK, OK, the Honda!) preparing to head back to Camp West Hollywood, I couldn’t help but smile.
After all, the hero of our Sit-Com – 1990’s teen idol heartthrob Joey Lawrence – shot me dead in laser tag SEVEN TIMES!!!
Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilcoxen
Wishing you the best outcome with whatever battle you may face today,